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'In the struggle between you and the world, back the world' – Franz Kafka

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Written by richwill

June 20, 2011 at 8:39 pm

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Le pub est-il une bonne ou une mauvaise chose pour la societé?

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Voila mes devoirs:

De nos jours nous habitons dans un monde où il ya d’une part un excess incroyable de choses dont il y n’a pas besoin, et de l’autre part un manque tragique des choses qui sont bien nécéssaires. Ce surproduction de produits que personne a demandé implique que dans cités comme par example Londres notre éspace publique est durant ces dernieres années colonisé par le pub. C’est bien claire que Guy Debord avait tous le raison quand il parlait de la ‘societé du spectacle’.

A Londres récement nous avons vu un bon example de ça. En suivant autrès cités comme Hambourg, Dublin et Amsterdam, on a introduit içi un systéme de vélos en libre service. Bien sûr, ça serait bienvenu en principe, mais à la difference de les autrès cités, le systéme londrine est ‘sponsorisé’ avec ostentation par un banc, l’un de les institutions plus detestée pour le publique britanique. À mon avis, c’est un example très concret de comme le pub jouet un rôle très important en la devalorisation de la sphere publique, et aussi quelquer chose que en autre pays aurait être vu comme une genre de corruption.

Tout comme le pub a ce habilidade de coloniser notre espace civique, il aussi foncionne pour coloniser notre desir, pour creer caprices superficielles et necessites profondes où n’en y avait pas, tous les deux parfois inconscientes. Il manipule tous les êtrès humaines sur la base d’espoir faux, du peur et de la desespoir, avec l’eternelle promesse de la réussité et d’avantages ou l’aussi eternelle ménace d’échéc et du rejet. Tous ses promesses il est incapable de réaliser.

L’invasion du pub dans notre conscience collectif et individuel aussi implique une intensification de la pression compétitif. Dificilmente on trouve a Londres un ‘pub’ sans un écran grand que emet a tous les heures programmes sportifs sans que aucun personne les voie. Peut-être ne nous interessait pas le golf, mais nous sommes sujets au pub de tous facons. C’est de plus en plus impossible d’éviter.

A Sao Paulo ils ont trouvé une certain solution a ce question. Il y a quatre ans les autorités ont simplesmente interdits le pub, ou, c’est à  dire, ils ont prohibé les grandes panneaux. Aujord hui a Sao Paulo on ne voit pas ça que s’appelle ‘pollution visuel’. Malheureusement, Sao Paulo c’est pas peut-être la meileur lieux a commençer, étant donné que elle est una cité assez laid, mais la idée me semble en principe bonne. Autre reponse a la profusion de pollution visuel c’est ça de Adbusters, un ensemble international qu’est en part inspirée par l’ouevre du susmencionné situationist Guy Debord. Durant cettes dernieres 20 années ils ont fait un projet continu de ‘détournment’, adaptant les grandes panneaux de corporations comme Nike et McDonalds avec ses propres messages radicaux.

À mon avis, il y des claires limites a la éficacité de ce genre de activisme. On a besoin de lancer des défis plus profondes a cette logique de produire biens sur la base de la accumulation massif de capital au lieux de produire biens et organiser les services sur la base de les besoins humaines. Notrès cités pourraient être autres choses que sites du spectacle. Le gens de Tunis et de Cairo nous ont montrés très bien comme les desirs collectifs fondés sur l’éspoir doivent avoir précedence sur les caprices fondés sur l’insecurité et le desespoir de quellqu’uns et l’avidité d’autrès.

Written by richwill

March 8, 2011 at 11:49 am

Mystery Romanian Tory donor condemns plans to privatise blood service

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"Privatising the blood service is a frankly appalling idea"

A leading contributor to the Conservative Party has condemned Government plans to privatise the blood service.

Count Dracula made a donation of £50,000 to the Conservatives before the May 2010 election, but has now broken his anonymity in order to slam Tory austerity plans, calling them ‘a step too far’.

‘When I decided to help Mr. Cameron’s party in their election campaign, I understood that they would do their best to stand up for the interests of business leaders, robber barons and vampires like myself.

‘But hearing of the suggested privatisation of the blood and transplant service has appalled me. Such a move would be the height of irresponsibility. It is totally wrong for a private company to profit from those who volunteer to save lives. I find any suggestion of the private sector becoming involved in any elements of the NBS very disturbing.

‘We know from all the evidence that fragmenting services, outsourcing and contracting out, damages that ethos and more importantly damages the smooth running of the service.

‘How can Cameron and Lansley claim that the NHS is safe in their hands, when they are planning to literally drain its lifeblood.’

Count Dracula is 1,407 years old.

Written by richwill

February 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

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José Saramago’s ‘Seeing’ and the Middle East revolutions

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Events across the Middle East have echoes of one of the later novels by José Saramago. On the BBC World Service just now in response to a question about who is running the city now that Gaddafi’s authority in the area has collapsed, a Libyan interviewee proudly reported that he has never seen the city so clean; the people themselves have swept the streets. John Rees reported that the same had happened in Cairo after the authorities had abandoned the city. In Saramago’s ‘Seeing’, the government leaves an unnamed city in an unnamed country to its own devices in response to a more gentle and mysterious kind of democratic revolution:

‘…at midday exactly, while all this was going on, from every house in the city there emerged women armed with brooms, buckets and dustpans, and, without a word, they started sweeping their own patch of pavement and street, from the front door as far as the middle of the road, where they encountered other women who had emerged from the houses opposite with exactly the same objective and armed with the same weapons…they were not just looking after their own interests, but after the interests of the community as well. It was possibly for this same reason that, on the third day, the refuse collectors also came out onto the street. They were not in uniform, they were wearing their own clothes. It was the uniforms that were on strike, they said, not them.’

What is the cause of the strange and sudden outbreak of blank voting that causes the Government to leave the city without a shot having been fired? The explanation of the Government is clear: the normal functioning of the democratic system has been subverted, owing to a nefarious and possibly foreign-inspired plot which must be uncovered and quashed if ‘democratic normality’ is to resume. The effects of this purported conspiracy are described as an ‘infection’, a ‘modern day black death’ and a ‘tumour’, which has been introduced into the democratic system by ‘vandals, barbarians, savages’ and ‘wretched rebels’. The entire city has been contaminated by this moral pestilence, and the best solution, the authorities conclude, is to lay siege to the city and force it to see the errors of its ways.

The Prime Minister feels nostalgia ‘for the happy times when votes did as they were told’: the voters are seen as puppets that can be easily manipulated. Their ‘normal’ role is simply to periodically cast a vote in order to legitimise the continued existence of the political system. It is their refusal to play this role and by so doing create a legitimation crisis that throws their purported political representatives into turmoil. The high-blown and paternalistic rhetoric of the political parties appears to have no impact on the level of disengagement of the electors from the political system. The political leaders talk of civic duty, the ‘vital importance’ of the elections, and the urgency of a return to ‘normal’ political realities. They are portrayed as motivated purely by their own political survival. They contest among themselves the meaning of the results, with the left-wing party claiming it is a mislaid protest vote for their cause. But all three parties agree that they are facing a crisis and that normality must be restored at any cost.

The citizens react with an ominous silence to the Government’s attempts to identify its cause of the rebellion and its perpetrators. They respond blankly or brusquely to inquiries about how they voted. This refusal to engage with the system in its search for a way to address the crisis is understood by the increasingly desperate authorities to be more of a threat to the legitimacy of their power than electoral opposition could ever be. The citizens are violating the implicit rule that interprets any measure of participation as an act of affirmation of legitimacy. The ‘movement’ has no representatives or spokespeople with whom the Government can come to terms; indeed it is clear that in addition to having no figurehead, the ‘movement’ does not exist. It is made up of ‘thousands of people who do not know one another’ who, with no prior agreement, decided to cast a blank vote and who now respond to attempts to persuade them to engage in a dialogue with the same formula: ‘We don’t owe anyone an explanation’.

This new state of affairs is described as ‘mysterious’, ‘new and unknown’, and ‘threatening’. Eventually it transpires that the reason they cast blank votes was because they were ‘disillusioned’ and ‘could find no other way of making it clear just how disillusioned they were’:

‘They could have staged a revolution, but then many people would undoubtedly have died, something they would never have wanted, (…) all their lives they had patiently placed their votes in the ballot box, and the results were there for all to see, This isn’t democracy, Sir, far from it’.

Since this new state of affairs has, in the words of a newspaper editorial, ‘complicated public life to an unprecedented degree, corralling it into a dark alleyway from which not even the brightest spark (is) able to see a way out’, the Government turns to desperate measures in deciding to abandon the ‘rebel city’ to its own devices. As the Prime Minister explains:

‘…our aim is to isolate the population and then leave them to simmer, sooner or later there are bound to be fights, conflicts of interests, life will become increasingly difficult, the streets will fill up with rubbish…there are bound to be serious problems with the distribution and supply of foodstuffs, problems which, if necessary, we will take care to create…’

The President appears on television to notify the country of the Government’s decision to withdraw their ministries and the forces of law and order. He warns the city ‘The streets will be yours, they belong to you, use them as you wish’.

The siege that they plan to impose on the city will ‘inevitably seriously hamper the smooth functioning of an urban area of such importance’, and the Government expects that within a short period of time lawlessness and social breakdown will ensue and the disobedient population, trapped in its ‘unhappy prison’, will learn its lesson and overcome its ‘wicked obstinacy’. However, as soon as they learn that the authorities are gone, the people of the city take to the streets:

‘The streets, which, up until then, had been almost deserted…filled up with people within a matter of minutes…they resembled two rivers, one flowing up and one flowing down, and they waved to each other from river to river, as if the city were celebrating, as if it were a local holiday.’

No-one goes to work, and despite the hysterical predictions of the Government and the press, ‘there were no thieves or rapists or murderers’: It seems that ‘the police were not, after all, essential for the city’s security’, and the traffic flows smoothly. The predicted collapse into chaos does not occur.

One of the key moments of the novel takes place soon after the Government and the police have  withdrawn from the city. After the announcement of a Government-orchestrated strike by the refuse collectors, a Government-friendly newspaper publishes an editorial predicting that the rebellion will end in a bloodbath, a message which is broadcast and discussed on TV and radio. As if in response:

‘…at midday exactly, while all this was going on, from every house in the city there emerged women armed with brooms, buckets and dustpans, and, without a word, they started sweeping their own patch of pavement and street…they were not just looking after their own interests, but the interests of the community as well’.

It is as if the people of the city have adopted the President’s ironic injunction to make the streets their own and turned it around in order to claim the streets as their own common property in an act of autogestion. With the authorities gone, the city begins to look after itself. Its citizens have shown themselves to be ‘determined to change their lives, their tastes and their style’. Not only have they ceased to play their part in the charade of representative democracy, but their interest in reading newspapers has also greatly declined; the ideological hold that power has had over them is losing its grip. They are gaining autonomy in various areas of their lives, and rather than relying on the abstract entity of the state to take care of the common areas of the city, the people have begun to take matters into their own hands. In Lefebvrian terms, what was the abstract space of state jurisdiction has been appropriated and transformed into lived space. The Government has made a ‘grave error leaving the city unsupervised’.

Henri Lefebvre regarded the street as the place where spontaneity can express itself, ‘an arena of the city not completely occupied by institutions’. It is not so much public as common. As a result of the political crisis and the Government’s departure from the city, social space begins to assume new meaning. In the protests that take place the streets are explicitly reclaimed by the citizens. The second demonstration takes place after Government agents have bombed the metro station in a failed attempt to provoke recrimination and division. A sea of people floods the street in a silent demonstration that makes its way to the parliament building in a clear example of what David Harvey calls ‘targetting power in place’. The street has become a space of meaningful interaction, and the attempts at dividing the besieged city against itself do not succeed, as the city is experiencing the ‘birth and growth of an atmosphere of social harmony, (of) unequivocal solidarity’. Examples of solidarity abound, such as when, to the shock and disappointment of the watching media, those who have returned to the city after their failed attempt to escape are not greeted with hatred and violent recrimination.

Clearly something unprecedented is happening; according to the Minister of Justice, it is as if an epidemic of clear-sightedness has succeeded the epidemic of blindness that struck the city four years before, and over which has lain a code of silence. Whatever this new plague may be a symptom of, it raises questions of urban governance. By whom and for whom is the city governed? It seems that suddenly the governing class are no longer seen as the natural leaders, and that a transition is underway to what the Prime Minister calls ‘something entirely new and unknown, so different we could probably have no place in it’. The authorities see it as crucial to re-establish their rule and to avert what they see as the horror of the subject classes starting to take care of themselves.

There are a number of echoes in the novel of recent and not so recent events in cities in the real world. In his recent book ‘Violence’ Slavoj Žižek makes reference to Saramago’s novel in the context of a discussion of the riots in the banlieues of Paris in 2006, arguing that rather than a revolution, the act of political defiance is one of a purely negative character, a refusal to continue to cooperate with a process that they have come to regard as a charade. It is a movement with no leaders and no demands and as such it can neither be defeated nor incorporated into the system itself. It is a phatic act of rebellion which expresses no deeper meaning than that of mere refusal, ‘reject[ing] the very frame of decision’.

Nevertheless this argument fails to acknowledge that the act of returning a blank vote is not a passive act of pure negation, but a performative one: a subversive act of returning a ballot while withholding a vote. What the Government is faced with closely resembles the legitimacy crisis which Jurgen Habermas argues that government institutions in modern capitalist societies face. Significantly it was also published shortly after the farce of the election count in 2000 in what is purported to be the world’s largest democracy.

One of the clearest historical echoes in the novel is of the Paris Commune of 1871, an event that Lefebvre describes as ‘a spontaneous reaction against the programming and control of [the people’s] lives’. David Harvey records that:

‘When the rural army of reaction was assembled on the outskirts of Paris in 1871 poised to engage in the savage slaughter of some 30,000 communards, they were first persuaded that their mission was to reclaim the city from the forces of Satan.’

The siege of the city in Seeing is a similar struggle over the control and meaning of urban space between the state and what is seen by the authorities as a demonic rabble that has taken over the city. Almost one hundred years after the Paris Commune, the events of May 1968 would be inspired by ideas of reclaiming and appropriating space and time in the city, creating lived space and lived moments, liberating time and space from the confinements of the bourgeois order. Lefebvre wrote of both events that:

‘In 1871 the entire people took to the streets; the bourgeoisie had already left the capital or was preparing to do so…in March 1871 as in May 1968, the people come from the periphery, assembled and headed toward the urban centres in order to reconquer them’.

Another echo which can be interpreted as significant given Saramago’s controversial support for the Palestinian cause, is of the siege of Gaza, which partly results from the refusal of the Western powers and Israel to recognise the results of the election of 2005 in which Hamas was elected to govern. The Israelis continue to besiege and bombard Gaza in the attempt to persuade its inhabitants to vote more appropriately and obediently in the future. The Government’s contempt for the voters in Seeing also recalls Henry Kissinger’s alleged remark in relation to the election of a socialist Government in Chile in 1973: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people.”

Are the citizens who, in the absence of the state authorities, take command of the city in the novel rejecting the notion of democracy per se? It is useful here to consider a rhetorical question posed by Pierre Bourdieu in relation to neoliberalism, urban life and democratic accountability:

‘It can be shown, for example, that the problems seen in the suburban estates of the cities     stem from a neoliberal housing policy, implemented in the 1970s…This social separation was brought about by a political measure. [But] who would link a riot in a suburb of Lyon to a political decision of 1970?’.

Both Bourdieu and Saramago are fiercely critical of the neoliberal model of democracy, with its ideological glossing over of social problems caused by political decisions based on narrowly-defined economic criteria. Bourdieu writes that ‘all the critical forces in society need to insist on the inclusion of the social costs of economic decisions in economic calculations’. The concern in the novel is for a more meaningful form of democratic participation in the life of the community, the city and in society. The anodyne model of democracy which is explicitly rejected in the novel is a managerial one, which is concerned primarily with the reproduction of political power, and not with specific problems and possibilities in the life of a city. A politician from the the right-wing party is described as having been ‘appointed to administer’ the city; the dominant attitude of the politicians in the novel is that of cynicism and self-interest. The democratic system is shown to be merely a machine to produce the illusion of democracy.

Alain Badiou makes the point that capitalism is worldless, in the sense that it is divorced from any specific social field of meaning and can operate with any set of values, adapting easily to purported ‘Asian values’ (supposedly collectivist and authoritarian) rather than being entrenched in the liberal, ‘democratic’ and individualist traditions of the West. The city as we first encounter it in Seeing, as in the other three novels under discussion, appears to have no distinguishing features: no past, no place, no landmarks, and no names. It is the bland landscape of liberal-democratic capitalism, with all distinguishing historical and geographical features and social particularities eliminated, not anchored in any specific time or landscape. It might therefore be thought of as a Fukuyamaian post-historical city. Apart from the designation of three political parties, from the right, the centre and the left, ideology plays very little role, and politics is merely a matter of administration.

The pre-rebellion city in ‘Seeing’ can thus be categorized as another non-place; although the politicians insist that the municipal elections are vital for the future of the city, their rhetoric rings false, as the city appears to have no past, and how can a city with no past have a future? The ‘gentle rebellion’ occasioned by the blank votes, however, awakens the city to its past, to its repressed traumas, but also to new possible futures.

These possibilities can be glimpsed in those moments in the novel where the city itself appears to become the agent of transformation. Previously the citizens have not had ‘the healthy habit of demanding the proper enforcement of their rights’, but after they rebel and the Government deserts the city, the city itself becomes subjectivised in a process which Badiou might well classify as an ‘event’: a collective political phenomenon which seemingly emerges out of nothing, and which then opens the way to new possibilities. The city  is said to ‘[take] the matter into its own hands’. Useful here is Lefebvre’s concept of ‘counter-spaces’: spaces which ‘resist the dominant organisation of space around the requirements of political order’, and which can also be categorised in Foucaultian terms as ‘heterotopias’. The action of the citizens in reclaiming the streets creates spaces from which formal power is excluded. Fran Tonkiss writes:

‘Taking to the streets or the square is both a tactical reworking of space – the embassy or the government building is no longer simply a site of official power, but also a site of protest or resistance – and an enactment in time’.

A heterotopia is a kind of ‘effectively enacted utopia’, and those moments in the novel in which the possibility of a genuinely humanizing urban experience is glimpsed can be characterised as utopian in the sense that they offer what Marx described as ‘fantastic pictures of future society’; a vision of what humans can collectively achieve once their ‘slumbering powers’ have been awakened. For David Harvey:

‘The figures of “the city” and of “Utopia” have long been intertwined, visions of utopia assuming an urban form. In remaking the city we remake ourselves, or as the situationist slogan says, ‘changer la ville, changer la vie’.

In those moments in which the citizens express solidarity with their fellow inhabitants and begin to appropriate and produce their own space, the city becomes a place of meaning: in an echo of the closing pages of Blindness, it also becomes a place of ritual. The moment in which the superintendent drinks from the fountain in the park is described in quasi-religious terms.

It is significantly the only one of the four novels in which the city has a clearly defined centre. As we explored in the chapter on The Cave, within Lefebvre’s notion of the ‘right to the city’, the right to centrality, of access to and participation in the life of the city is key. Writing on the Paris Commune, Lefebvre argues that the workers return to the centre, conquer the city. This renovated centrality is a crucial element in the transformation of the city in Seeing. The people of the city produce their own space, creating a kind of experimental utopia of which Lefebvre would surely approve:

‘[Lefebvre] envisaged a ludic city, such that work would be organised around residence, and in which everyday life would be transformed, and people would be in charge of their lives.’

Written by richwill

February 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The tyranny of structurelessness

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‘The idea of ‘structurelessness’, however, has moved from a healthy counter to these tendencies to becoming a goddess in its own right…If the movement is to move beyond these elementary stages of development, it will have to disabuse itself of some of its prejudices about organisation and structure. There is nothing inherently bad about either of these. They can be and often are misused, but to reject them out of hand because they are misused is to deny ourselves the necessary tools to further development. We need to understand why ‘structurelessness’ does not work.’

As Jo Freeman detailed in the classic essay from which the above quote is taken, in social networks which are initally informal and horizontal hierarchies tend to emerge. If this is not acknowleged and its implications considered in all their seriousness, the current trend for decentred models of political organisation will lead up a series of blind alleys, and two excellent articles from the last few days make this clear beautifully.

In the midst of the swarm of networked intelligence, centres tend to form, which connect to other centres. For example, to know in advance about the Netroots event yesterday, you had to be connected to the right people on twitter and facebook. All nodes are equal, but some nodes are more equal than others.

Organisations develop their own interests, and the initial objective tends to be principally obfuscated by the need to survive. Bureaucracies and hierarchies inevitably emerge. Most social movement organisations go from informal non-hierarchical organisations towards becoming institutionalised and formalised as advocacy groups and mass membership organisations. As they do so, they inevitably slow down and become less reactive, putting more emphasis on their long-term survival and effectiveness, partly because ‘Bureaucratic organizations often are more successful at gaining access to established political channels, being recognized as legitimate movement representatives and at sustaining ongoing interactions with diverse constituencies including “allies, authorities, and supporters”’.

This represents a constant problem for the fashionable model of informal, hyperreactive, mobile, non-hierarchical organisations. New, informal movements will spring up more or less on a whim to replace those that become formalised and hierarchical, but for example in this country no sustainable or effective anti-cuts movement can be built on the basis of a new UK Uncut-style group suddenly springing up every two weeks, while preceding mini-generations of previously non-hierarchical groups turn to the slow and morbid business of lobbying and advocacy work.

As Richard Seymour also points out, the fetishisation of the power of headless decentred networked movements to overcome the ‘old centralised, top-down, upright, phallic feudal army without contradiction’ ignores the fact that power itself is diffuse, distributed, with a multiplicity of centres. The future of the struggle against power cannot be left to the whims of those who are better connected. There is a need for explicit political leadership.

The best thing is for that leadership to be open, elected and accountable, rather than pretending it does not exist. Hence the need for consistent political organisation around a democratically agreed shared programme, on a regional, national and international scale.

Written by richwill

January 9, 2011 at 10:03 am

Why I won’t be voting Labour anytime soon

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Racist c*nt

I fear that anyone following my twitter feed this morning may well have inadvertently got the impression that I don’t like Jack Straw. Just to correct that most unfortunate impression, then: I f*cking absolutely detest Jack f*cking Straw. This is the man who sacked (and nearly drove to an early grave) Craig Murray so that the British government could continue to use evidence obtained under torture, and then lied about it in Parliament (as he also did about the justification of the Iraq War, of course). It is also the man who called the Human Right’s act a ‘villain’s charter‘, who told Muslim women constituents that he wouldn’t attend to their needs unless they flashed him their faces, and who has now, in the middle of an by-election campaign occassioned by the sacking of the utterly disgraced racist liar Phil Woollas, has spoken of white women being ‘easy meat’ for Pakistani rapists. Now obviously the sins of the father should never be visited on the head of the son, but it would be gratifying if up-and-coming Labour star Will Straw could bring himself to make a  statement distancing himself from his racist father (and political sponsor); otherwise, the legacy of New Labour racist left-baiting/Daily Mail-aping opportunist rhetoric may be seen to continue.

Written by richwill

January 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Politics

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Changing the rules of the game

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Over a million people under 25 are currently unemployed in the UK. These are young people brought up in an environment in which every part of their lives is determined by their ability to compete with each other and with people on the other side of the world. Do the recent student protests mean that they have come to reject this whole social model? I don’t think we have reached such a  point. But a great deal of people under the age of 21 are angry that the rules of the game have suddenly been changed in order to make it harder for them to compete.

People clearly want to believe that they stand a chance, or, in other terms, they demand the right to be able to pretend that they stand a chance. Recently, particularly around campaigns like UK Uncut, there has been a lot of discussion of fairness, a rather nebulous category. Of course no-one would claim that the world we live in is fair, but a belief in the brutal fairy tale world of The Apprentice, where through hard work and determination we can enter the world of the superconsumer, or at least can achieve some measure of security and escape the precarity that conditions every aspect of our lives, is becoming impossible. That sense of the individual and collective precarity of our social existence is becoming unavoidable, and the inescapable truth staring young people in the face is that, in the words of Marlo from The Wire, the game is fixed. But it does not automatically follow that they want to rules of the game to be changed, or aspire to changing them themselves. They still for the most part want to play the game, but they want the rules (tax, regulation, trade) to be more strictly enforced.

Criminals like Marlo understand that the game is fixed, but their solution is to play it with more intensity and brutality, to adapt to the underlying logic of capital and act without sentimentality or long-term concerns. Others suggest that the answer, the only means of survival, is to abandon the game altogether, or in real terms, to develop new forms of society within the intersticies of the present one, to ignore power rather than to challenge it.

Such a solution is no more available to the overwhelming majority of working people around the globe than is the ‘option’ of becoming millionaires through hard work and good fortune. The reality is that we all depend to a very great extent on the institutions of the state and the market. The only meaningful option we have is the political one: we have to change the rules of the game. This is exactly what the managerial post-politics of failed social democrats like the Labour Party singularly refuses to do.

So where is this movement to seize control of the game and change the rules to our advantage going to emerge from? For the moment I am still a little inclined to reserve my judgement about the student movement, UK Uncut, and so on. It is by no means inevitable that the mood of the last few months will develop or deepen, and the UK Uncut campaign has already shown signs of a potential collapse into Jubilee 2000-style lobbying rather than direct action. In terms of the students the strategy of the state is to use brute force for the moment, and hope that the students knuckle down once they realise their individual fate is at stake. We live in an age not just of hypercapitalism but of hyperprecarity – the students of 1968 had for the most part pretty secure futures ahead of them, whereas this generation face the prospect of lives of frantic insecurity and the drudgery of endless debt.

This might lead to the development of a culture of devil-may-care radicalism, or it might not. Optimists including Laurie Penny, Billy Bragg and the SWP share the belief that a new political subject has emerged, with an intuitive grasp of the need for solidarity and a voracious appetite for ideas about how things can be made different. As I have argued here, there are certainly a great deal of people angry at their individual plight, some of whom have come into contact for the first time with the stark reality that power does not always have their best interests at heart. But as Laurie Penny has also helpfully pointed out, the media and the language which those of us who believe we have the answers for the students’ plight employ to address and engage with those students are often moribund, ineffective and paternalistic. New means urgently need to be exploited in order to draw out the obvious links between a group of individuals drawn into unanticipated conflict with their circumstances and a wider world in turmoil and in desperate need of fundamental transformation. It is not enough to call for fair play, or to campaign for the rules of the game to be changed – instead we must seize control of the game and change them ourselves.

Written by richwill

January 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm

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