You see, running an occupation is like making love to a…anyway, what gets me, watching things from afar, is the utter confusion that seems to be prevailing with regard to Ireland’s still nascent occupations.
No doubt the people who have braved the floods and wind and cold and threats of petrol bombing and knives getting pulled on them and managed to maintain an occupation are not all that confused at all, at least in terms of the amount of work they have to put into things in order to keep the occupation going. The confusion seems to reign at a different level, at the level of where exactly these events fit into the wider political moment, or perhaps as some see it, at the level of how to make these confused people fit into the wider political moment.
There is a process of discussion underway at the Occupy Dame Street assemblies, geared towards the question of whether or not the assembly/camp/whatevah ought to agree to the invitation from Dublin Council of Trade Unions to participate in the preparation of that organisation’s upcoming Pre-Budget Demonstration.
The demonstration will, according to the Dublin Council of Trade Unions Facebook page, demand the following:
- Stop the policy of austerity – reverse the cuts.
- Tax the wealthy not the needy.
- For a public investment programme to create jobs.
Personally, I see nothing wrong with any of these demands. Or rather, I should really say that despite my previous reservations about what the articulation of demands actually achieves, the actions being demanded here are consistent with a struggle against austerity politics of the Fine Gael/Labour coalition in collaboration with the European Central Bank and the IMF. Moreover I think a mobilisation of trade union power is an indispensable condition for both protection against further hits and, at some point, their reversal.
But nonetheless, whilst I will attend this march and bring the family, I am quite wary of the idea that there ought to be a group participating in this demonstration under the name ‘Occupy Dame Street’.
Let me explain, as briefly as I can before I get on to the fun bit of this post.
It is plain that we are living in a time of immense concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many, and it is out of this predicament that the ‘We are the 99%’ arose. But there are political-institutional ramifications to this concentration of wealth and power, briefly put: the control exercised by finance capital over institutions that have long pronounced themselves democratic (sovereign governments) and those that never have (the ECB, the IMF, NATO, the World Bank); the concentration of control over mass media in the hands of a few oligarchs; the dismantling of welfare states, labour rights and social provisions established through long labour struggles; the marketisation and privatisation of all that is public and held in common. I could go on, as I have elsewhere, ad nauseam.
It’s therefore understandable that people who see themselves on the left and hankering for some urgent coherent resistance movement should see it appropriate that the occupations, particularly Occupy Dame Street, should play some part in the struggles of organised labour, given that they operate in the image of effective political action conducted elsewhere, particularly in the United States with regard to Occupy Wall Street, Oakland, and so on. And given the fact that organised labour has played a significant role in maintaining these occupations, and given moreover the fact that these occupations have spurred on a greater militancy on the part of unions, the participation of Occupy Dame Street would appear to make perfect sense.
‘Appear’ being the operative word. Care needs to be taken not to try and superimpose what is happening elsewhere onto what has been happening with the occupations in Ireland. But if the problem of getting a satisfactory resolution from the Occupy Dame Street assembly, so that it forms part of a broader movement against austerity, is causing frustration, it cannot be treated by ignoring what the occupations in Ireland hold in common with the occupations elsewhere.
There are plenty such things, but here I’m referring specifically to the modus operandi of assembly-based decision making, according to which anyone may attend, and where consensus is required in order for a proposal to be passed. It is a mistake to see this as some sort of kooky confection, when in fact it is an elemental component of the occupation. The horizon of these occupations, even if it is not that well articulated at times by certain people, is different to that of the demonstrations which demand that those in power hear and grant their demands: it is absolute democracy.
If people find it hard to understand why Occupy Dame Street is reluctant to participate in a given march or demonstration alongside other groups, it is because the way they pose the question to themselves contains a category error.
Occupy Dame Street, as with other occupations elsewhere, in terms of its effective operation, and despite people’s attempts to identify a ‘core group’ or the ‘leaders’, is an assembly of whoever turns up, not a group with a fixed identity.
It is no more to true to say that the people at Occupy Dame Street have confused political ideas, or are rampant individualists, than it is to say that the people at Occupy Dame Street are members of political parties whose political ideology contains the ontological presupposition that the masses are at any given point stupider than they are.
In order for Occupy Dame Street to take part in someone else’s march alongside other groups, it would have to constitute itself as a group. In this case what there is now would no longer exist. The problem of understanding why Occupy Dame Street appears so intractable in engaging in joint actions with other groups will not resolved by insisting that reality correct the category error.
The important thing that Occupy Dame Street possesses –and this is something it shares with other occupations elsewhere- is its capacity to enact an agora
based on the equal voice and participation of all, that refuses representation or incorporation by the power of the sovereign, or by any other entity that seeks accommodation or usurpation or imitation of the sovereign.
It is this radical refusal –of representation, of the idea that the reigning political order has any legitimacy- from which it and all the other occupations and acampadas
derive their power.
This is true even if the assemblies are idiotic and mind-numbing and even if you have any number of people who turn up and say things like “we want political reform”, “the government better pull its finger out”, or “we need real capitalism, not this bailing out of the people who gambled” or “why won’t Michael D come and speak to us?”
If you are concluding none of this is of any importance, you probably want to stop reading now, before it gets into Abraham and Isaac, Freud, jellyfish and Robert Johnson.
The piece below comes from July of this year, when the camps in Spain were agonising over the question of when or if they should pack up their tents and move elsewhere. It is by Raimundo Viejo, and was originally published on his blog, On The Wobbly’s Road. It adopts a creative problem-solving approach to the problem of how to act decisively when faced with an oppressor power: in this case, liberal democracy. I hope it gives a better understanding of what is at stake in these events, and the problems and the possibilities of the organisational forms employed.
Bear in mind that ‘medusa’ means both the monster of Greek myth and also the jellyfish.
The Dance of Medusa
The latest assemblies (and quite a few of those still to come) passionately debate the persistence of the acampadas. In metropolitan areas, the extension into neighbourhoods may be taking some time, but the expansion phase seems to be reaching maturity, covering practically the entire territory. Paraphrasing Nietzsche: “the movement is growing, pity the sovereign who makes room for movement”.
In some small and medium population nuclei (the fringes of social networks), however, important tactical changes are beginning to be experimented with which will mark the deployment of the movement. In Toledo, for example, the centre has already dissolved, ceding protagonism to the neighbourhoods. This is undoubtedly a simpler decision than that of Sol or Plaça de Catalunya. In the metropolitan “epicentres” an unequivocal signal is awaited to make the decisive step. The fetishism of the acampada may turn out to cost the movement too dearly and at this time vectors are needed that look towards creative, mobilising and timely exits.
Debating amid uncertainty, getting it right in decision: democratic politics
In the debate over the dissolution of the assemblies, the main stumbling block is the inevitable uncertainty that always invades people who have to take a decision. It is only through interpretative frames inherited from the past that one can operate with certainty. However, certainty does not mean getting it right. Getting it right, in fact, depends on the combination of chance and ability. Furthermore, the old ideological certainties (even if they were successful interpretative frames in the past) never work as guarantees of anything when the situations have changed. And still less in moments of constituent rupture like the present one, where the force of the event calls everything into question, where the multitudinous expression of the political overwhelms the impoverished ideological machineries of the past.
The time and place of the decision always produce a horror vacui. The explanation is based on the decision being constitutive of politics: it is the political in itself. Politics is not a question of power; and still less power in that funcionalist conception that understands it as the capacity to oblige someone to do something she does not want to do. Politics interpellates us around the deciding: who decides what, how do they decide it, with whom do they decide it, against whom is it decided…That is why politics is also conflict, because most times decisions cannot be made unless it is against someone (against the oppressor, against whoever holds power). To believe that dialogue will solve everything, that it can avoid every confrontation is simply false.
The main problem of the assemblies in taking a decision about the acampadas is not, therefore, a matter of the mechanical reproduction of old prescriptions, but a contentious experimentation of theoretical practice in the frame of a struggle against an oppressor power (even though this power is exercised through the least bad of methods: liberal democracy). At moments like the present we must try to formulate alternatives in the absence of organisational models that can be easily (immediately?) understood. The absence of empirically established reference points can end up channelling deliberations towards the repetition of past errors and the attempt (which will fail in advance) to put into practice organisational experiments totally alien to the social body that is the protagonist and that gives life to this process: the multitude.
Do it yourself: a process without an instruction manual.
We lack, therefore, an instruction manual for deciding about the acampadas. But this does not mean that we cannot use our ingenuity in order to find answers to our questions. To this end we possess a formidable cerebral machinery capable of associating ideas, of developing concepts in common and of formulating intelligent responses in a collective manner.
In this post we set forth a graphic image, a visual poem of the natural collective intellect that allows us to intervene in the autonomous development of the current process. On the far left many seek their old certainties and prefer to preach their obsolete Leninist What is to be done?; or their old anarchist manual. It’s a safe bet there will be a Trotskyist who will speak to us about permanent revolution. The old stratagems of the farthest left have shown themselves, however, since the beginning. As the movement has gone on the squares have become a perfect diagrammatic device for detecting the border between collective intellect and psychopathological identitarianism.
In this marketplace of certainties other sects have also appeared, religious ones, and new age groups for soft heads and conservative postmodernities. We also have people who resolve everything with a properly functioning State, as if the State-form were not an intrinsic element in the configuration of control. And we have more than enough cynical reason and an enormous amount of innate pessimists; passive-aggressive psyches that have already foretold failure no matter what. What they don’t explain, by the way, is what it is that makes them waste their time among us, the multitude. There is nothing so easy as to hold certainties: just turn to superstition, to transcendentalism, to mysticism or to statistics.
And if everything has to change, what will we be left with? The structure of the decision
Experience brings us, however, to address the problem from another point of view, to wit: the point of view that situates itself within the structure of democratic decision. In democracy she who decides well (correctly) does so always in the best exercise of her capacities, but also always within a margin of uncertainty. By contrast with authoritarianisms (and this is why power has chosen limited or liberal democracy) democracy institutionalises uncertainty by way of its own procedures. Contingency is inevitable, it is true: the contingency of an entire political order inherent in any constituent rupture requires a complete democratisation, it can be done, and it is called absolute democracy.
We are referring to that democracy in which participation is direct or under an imperative mandate; that which does not know any limits in its themes of debate, that which takes sovereign decisions without its subordination to any co-ercive power. A democracy which , since it is not the object of bounds that are temporal (legislatures) or spatial (parliaments, governments and other spaces of power), develops in a way that is unlimited, process-based, democratising all that is democratisable; starting with democracies that are truncated, representative or liberal. This is the democracy that has started off in the squares, transforming them into authentic agoras.
Politics reloaded: a new political grammar
To be able to debate everything, to be able to change everything (to assume the constituent horizon of absolute democracy) entails, inevitably, that politics should be questioned starting from its most elemental and self-evident foundations. Thus, for example, we need to question the individual, but not so that it can be itself, in the manner of psychoanalysis, but rather to redefine it as a symbiote, schizoanalytically.
A different political anthropology
The symbiote was an alternative at the onset of modernity, when life was still developing in spaces that were very marked by the common, and capitalism still had not constituted its own subject: the individual; that unencumbered self, impersonal, without singular attributes derived from the common; a narcissist and possessive self, opposed to a we open to the other and based on solidarity.
Althusius, the political theorist of the federal principle was perfectly conscious of the need for a political anthropology founded in a different singularity. He found it in the symbiote, which exemplified the slow process of formation of the social body that begins with the mother-child relationship. Althusius was perfectly aware that we are not born human, but rather we become so. See the following case:
Can this singularity freely sign a social contract? Can it render operative the Rawlsian veil of ignorance? The liberal fiction of the contract is nothing more than the reality of submission to a sovereign power that rules us through the medium of fear. Hobbes, as the legitimating theorist of modern absolutism and father of liberal contractualism, knew this well.
A different contractuality
All political theory also needs an idea of the social bond, pact or contract. A bond that must be free and that leads us, through itself, to link political anthropology with the constitution of the social order. The possessive individualism of the modern capitalist political grammar finds its solution in liberal contractualism. This is based, in turn, on the Abrahamic covenant, in the modality of the bond that links Abraham to Yahweh and drives him to sacrifice his son out of obedience to a transcendent power.
In the mytheme of the sacrifice of Isaac, the symbiotic bind of father/son is broken and the patria potestas is instituted. The power of God (the State) is the power of the father to kill his son (from the moment of birth) and, with this, to demand his death whenever he considers it necessary. It is in this lineage that Hobbes speaks whenever he announces the terms in which the contract between individuals is found at the base of the modern sovereign. Foucault put it very well regarding the classical structure of sovereignty: “a power of death, which allows life to be governed (vitae necisque potestas) . Here is the place from which we are governed.
Satan will set us free
The alternative that is found in the Althusian political anthropology (of the symbiote) is formulated in a completely different contractuality: in a contractuality that is not a pact with god, but his materialist negation: the pact with the devil. Against the Abrahamic mytheme, the Faustian mytheme (from the Faust that gives it the name to Robert Johnson and the origin of the blues) it has always been at the root of autonomy. Satan is disobedience of the sovereign power which inaugurates historical movement. Without him there would never have been, in accordance with biblical mythology, a human history.
By contrast with God, whose freedom is always a freedom in obedience, a freedom under the aegis and observance of an absolute power, the devil offers us a freedom based in the structure of a decision which, by being possible, is authentic. Disobedience is the condemnation to fend for oneself, to confront the pain and the reality of the material world without an eternal promise; to abandon, once and for all, the device of transcendence so as to assume the immanent character of decision (that is, the political). With Satan, as with Faust, our decisions have effect over our destiny. With god, as with Abraham, our decision is always supervised, incomplete.
It is not by chance, therefore, that the first modern State should have been the absolutist State (a State legitimised in god), nor that equal dignity from birth had to be invoked (at the start of the first article of the universal declaration of the rights of man and citizen) in order to inaugurate democratisation. In recent times, the global expansion of liberal democracy, we are arriving, however, at a dilemma that is different from that of obedience to God. The question is not liberal democracy yes or liberal democracy no. Rather, the question is: how far should democracy go? Absolute democracy offers us the possibility of an answer.
But absolute democracy will not be a gift of divine origin, as neither was democratisation in its liberal phase. What is needed, from the formulation of an autonomous normative framework, is to produce the concepts that articulate and bring into being the organisational model in order to get beyond this impass of deciding week in week out what to do with the acampadas. And here is our proposal.
Learn from nature: become animal
The other day we referred to the swarm as the guiding organising principle of the multitude. We were referring to the capcity of the collective intellect to organise resistance and to win contests with power through disobedience. Here, finally, is the terrain of the praxis of these days.
Sometimes our theorisations have been accused of unnecessary theorising, or intellectual onanism, of abstruse idealism and things worse than that. The anti-intellectualism that resides in the heads of a political culture marked by centuries of inquisitorial power, pulpits and autocratic preachers is well known. There is nothing, then, like the relation of evidence with the concrete to contrast hypotheses (bearing in mind there will always be the blinder still who do not wish to see).
Watch closely and compare the two following videos. The first one relates to the aerial view of the confrontations between power and the multitude last Saturday in Barcelona.
The second one is taken from nature:
The parallels are obvious. The multitude further up, one could say, deleuzianly, “makes a rhizome” with the shoal of fish further down. Without vanguard parties, the multitude achieves its objective: to recover the square that the sovereign illegitimately denies it, since its decision can only be instituted in the normative contradictions based on the exercise of democracy as an absolute procedurality and the need to limit democracy in order to structure a regime whose power is also defined as power over social body.
What can be seen in this example, against biopolitical domination, is a pre-existing politics, which is born in the moment prior to the constitution of the modern sovereign and which establishes an other institutionality, under a federal (symbiotic) structure of sovereignty, in which being one depends on the rest of the irreducible singularities. We are talking about a “zoēpolitics”, a politics previous to the institution of biopolitical command, a politics capable of acting in the total incertainty of contingency, a politics in which the collective intellect imposes itself on the instrumental rationality of possessive individualism (the scrounger or free-rider from the theory of rational action)
The dance of Medusa.
In the article we have just mentioned, we pointed out a double strategic movement that required our intelligence for organising movement. On the one hand, the moment of antagonism or confrontation with power (however much, unfortunately, the presence of autocratic political cultures, might never allow for the drawing of a clear frontier between us and them, in the manner of Schmittian argument). This is the moment of the swarm of the multitude, the (real) moment that can be visualised in Plaça de Catalunya.
On the other hand we have the agonistic or confrontationational moment (note that to confront [in the original, confrontar] is not to face (enfrentar) between different different viewpoints; the struggle in the agora to adopt the decision that is not based in the liberty of the individual but rather in the liberty of she who thinks differently (in accord with the apothegm of Rosa Luxemburg). This is a fight that has no end, that will not manage to re-establish any hegemony, but rather which unfolds in an unlimited horizon that is a-cratic and constituent. It is, if you will, the constitution of the commons.
Another day we will address the endogenous problem of the movement: the agonistic problem. Now, however, we must focus on the debate about lifting the camps. This deliberation, we were saying, requires the enunciation of a strategic model that integrates, in coherent and natural manner (zoēpolitics) the solution to the equation set forth by the elements of central camps, extension to neighbourhoods, moments of rupture with sovereign power. We propose observing the jellyfish (in Spanish, medusa).
From the Medusian mytheme to the zoological medusa: antagonistic machinery
In Greek mythology, Medusa is a tellurian monster who, owing to her chthonic condition, comes up out of the earth and turns whoever looks at her to stone. But Medusa is also, in the classical work by Freud, the mythopoeic fissure in the configuration of the oedipal psyche. Medusa is the sexuated warrior mother. Medusa is feminine ire. Her dance is antagonism with the structure of the modern sovereign that is established by the patria potestas. Medusa is a matriot, not a patriot. Medusa is Ulrike Meinhof.
In order to resolve the equation posed to the assemblies by lifting the camps let us resort once more to the example of nature. Here is another video that shows us how the medusa-animal swims:
Let us take its dynamic and place in the brain of the medusa (at its contractile centre but which provides its movement with direction) the central squares in which the first acampadas have appeared and from which the modular repertoire of collective action has been transmitted. This focussed and direct decontraction (from the central assemblies) towards the extremes (the neighbourhood assemblies) is what allows the consequent and complementary push forward (the mobilisations for disruptive action that split from sovereign power: for example, that of 15J). Operationalising the model quickly. The decisional series to adopt would be:
Make the centres temporary autonomous zones, territorially unstable (like the shoal of fish that surround the shark in the previous video) and which, moreover contract (disappearing fleetingly from their spatio-temporal location) in order to..
Relocate to the neighbourhoods (the tentacles of the medusa) the production of movement (the movements of the tentacles that expand out shaking the entire territory), that is..
The push that is directed toward the moment of constituent rupture with sovereign power, thereby..
The autonomous and temporary reappearance of the central agora can evaluate its own decisions by organising a strategy for the medium and longer term. Those who are aware of the reflections of Hardt and Negri about the pack of wolves, may object that the plan is to return to that model, based in the centrality of the (armed) vanguard party. This could not be further from the truth. Jellyfish swim in shoals (swarms):
The question, then, is to organise metropolitan areas in accord with the dynamic of the medusa and the whole of the movement, transnationally, in a proliferating global shoal of medusas. The medusa-animal manifests a simple structure, easily reproducible in an artificial manner by the collective intellect. Take a look at this other video:
Mechanical reproduction is simple, but effective. It is not for nothing that the medusas are some of the oldest forms of life that remain extant. Perhaps in their movement we can find the tactical response that we are seeking to the dilemma of leaving the squares.
And if we want to build a resistant, antagonistic machinery, able to confront power successfully, to organise the direction of the movement from collective intellect and to co-ordinate the dynamics of assemblies in a harmonious way, we would do well to become medusas navigating in the ocean of the world to come.