BMW’s decision to sack 850 agency employees at its Cowley factory in Oxford, giving many of them only an hour’s notice and with no intention to offer any of them a penny in redundancy pay, is an act of sheer industrial brutality. This is no way to deal with the worldwide difficulties in the motor industry.
Please sign the petition and join the campaign to get BMW to treat people with respect, to put people before profit and to save manufacturing in this country.
There’s no doubt that the six weeks from March 28th – May 4th offers our anarchist movement a chance to move out of the shadows. Against the background of recession there has been rioting across Europe from Riga to Sofia. These are riots not by activists but by poor people hurting badly. The Greek uprising has provided a fine example of anarchists being prominent in a wider social movement for radical change. In Britain the war on Gaza and the Heathrow runway decision has brought protests – and direct action – back on the street across the country. They are not yet focussed on the recession but they may become so.
The G20 summit in London on April 2nd provides an opportunity for all these strands across Europe to come together as in the PARIS DECLARATION calling for a mass demonstration in London on March 28th – Saturday before summit – and across Europe on April 1st-2nd. In London the Trade Unions, Stop the War are organising marches on April 2nd. ?THE BEHEADING CAPITALISM? event by the folks behind J18 is planned for the same day. Other anarchists are planning a large entral London anarchist rally on the night of April 1st with speakers from across Europe. After G20 the European leaders move on to the NATO summit in Germany – sure to get the anarchists back on the streets
To often momentum is built over a few events then dribbles away. But this year we have the Mayday marches, a planned UK anarchist conference in London over May2-3rd and a Reclaim the Streets event in Brighton on May 4th. The fates are with us comrades, the sheeps entrails are promising, all we need are a few portents and omens to kick the whole fucking thing off,
JOIN THE SPRING OFFENSIVE!
Anti-globalisation activists are plotting a mass demonstration against bankers in the
heart of the City, the Evening Standard can reveal. —- Police are on full alert ahead of
the protest, planned for 1 April – the day world leaders arrive in London for the G20
summit. —- Thousands of demonstrators, including anarchists and anti-aviation activists, are planning a series of protests, aiming to capitalise on disenchantment with City financiers blamed for dragging the economy into recession. —- The event, dubbed ‘Financial Fools Day’, is likely to cause mass disruption as demonstrators try to block traffic and buildings by lying in tents and sleeping bags across the road. —- One source suggested the protest would include a “spectacular action”. Organisers said on the Climate Camp website: “Join us for camping, workshops, protest, positive alternatives, direct action and community.
“We need to stop this foolishness… Bring a pop-up tent if you have one, sleeping bag,
wind turbine, mobile cinema, extra shoes, action plans and ideas… let’s imagine another world.”
Protesters hope to mobilise “anti fat-cat” sentiment among students and workers affected by the credit crunch as they demonstrate against the financial system, and are inviting activists to “set up camp” in London’s financial centre.
One environmentalist source said: “People are angry about losing their jobs and bankers still getting their bonuses. People are also up in arms about the Government bulldozing anti-airport legislation through as we saw with the third runway at Heathrow.”
Despite police becoming adept at controlling such demonstrations and preventing widespread disorder of the type that occurred during the May Day and poll tax riots in the Nineties, there are fears small groups will wreak havoc.
Police sources said: “Angry activists and aggressive City trader types are a volatile mix, as we have seen before.”
During the 1999 City Riot, which left 46 people injured and caused up to £2 million
damage, fights broke out between City workers and anarchists protesting in the streets and in private premises.
The April protest has captured the imagination of anarchists. Some are plotting further
demonstrations against the G20 on the day of the summit on 2 April.
One protester said the example of Athens, where young Greeks have been rioting for several months since police shot dead a teenager, could provide further inspiration.
An anarchist blogged: “The combination of the recession, the inspiration of the Greek
anarchists and the G20 summit being in London on 2 April gives us the opportunity to
mobilise far larger than usual numbers on to the streets… Seize the time.”
Summit protests and the economic crisis
Summit-hopping is so last year. Or is it? When we began conceiving this issue a few months back, it seemed like everyone was gearing up for a busy 2009: NATO’s 60th anniversary party, the G20 summit in London, the G8 in Italy, the UN’s climate summit in Copenhagen… Ten years on from the ‘battle of Seattle’, 2009 was set to be the return of summit-hopping.
However, so far, anti-capitalists in Italy appear to have made little progress in mobilising against the G8 summit in July. What is more, everyone is talking about the UN’s climate change conference next December in Copenhagen. This comes with the awful package of environment minister Miliband calling for a mass movement for green capitalism and an austerity deal. The threat of another paralysing ‘Make Poverty History’-style mobilisation looms. On the other hand, there are, of course, some summits that continue to attract fundamental antagonism. The EU’s meeting on immigration in Vichy, France, last November was one example, despite a lack of mobilisation from the UK.
There is something that is fundamentally different from the previous decade of large anti-globalisation mobilisations: neo-liberalism itself is in crisis! The policies that were promoted by the anti-globalisation arch enemies (WTO, World Bank, IMF) are failing not only in Argentina and Mexico, but also in Europe and North America. The current financial crisis provides a platform for a systematic critique of the current economic system.
Maybe we should be excited that suddenly everyone is talking about the economy. Or should we? Many analyses of the crisis seem to be putting forward reactionary solutions. For a start, who we blame will define how we respond. Socialists blame bankers, government ministers and conservatives (and increasingly liberals) blame immigration, environmentalists and the middle classes blame the mass consumerism of the working class and the corporate media blames everyone. And what, then, will the response be? Anti-consumerism and austerity politics? Economy-boosting interest rate cuts? Tougher immigration controls? Urban riots? Blame creates hierarchies and characterises anti-globalisation protests. If we are to build a collective, emancipatory response to the crisis we need to be critical of any strategies that ignore the realities of life in capitalism, that fuel moral superiority and reinforce class divisions.
Furthermore, with every crisis comes a new conspiracy theory. The problem with these ‘explanations’ is that a capitalist crisis is not the result of the errors of a ‘small and elusive group of people’ as the conspiracy theorists want us to believe.
We live in a system that is antithetical to our needs, and importantly, our desires.
Crises are inherent in capitalism. There is no solution that will make capitalism free of crises. We can demand more regulation of the financial sector or the nationalisation and democratic ownership of banks. Still, capitalism’s crises are based in its inherent contradictory character with the desire to produce for profit-maximisation rather than social needs. And this will always be the central goal of capitalist production. A crisis won’t change that. There are more crises to come, with indications that speculation with raw materials and food could lead to much bigger misery than the bursting of the credit bubble. It is contradictory and irrational to produce, distribute and exchange resources as is done in a capitalist economy, thus capitalism without crises would be an oxymoron.
The left should take the crisis as an opportunity to push for more, to push for a system that puts our needs and desires above profit, to avoid limiting ourselves and scapegoating others. At a time where political leaders are making our demands seem reasonable (whether that’s the nationalisation of banks or a strong climate deal), we should not settle for compromise but demand the impossible!
Despite these new opportunities, there are few signs for a new wave of summit protests that can escape the attempts by governments to recuperate them. Protests are not happening outside summits now. As we write, they are happening in suburbs and big university towns. The migrant youths of St. Denis, the anti-CPE students, the Anomalous Wave movement and the Greek anarchist youth all dominate the headlines, rather than the plans for opposition to the G8 or G20. Also in Britain, radical anti-capitalist protest is no longer connected to the anti-globalisation movement, but is at the radical edge of the failed anti-war movement of 2003. Maybe in 2009 ‘suburb-hopping’ offers new opportunities for resistance?
Article by Andy Newman Taken from Socialist Unity – 22 Febraury 2009
On Friday I was visited by Julian Corbett, from the Public Protection Department of Wiltshire Police.
He came to ask me what my relationship was with wannabe Nazi terrorist, Mark Bullman (pictured), and to warn me that Bullman is now out of prison, and is looking for me - I have moved address since he went to prison. Bullman had been sentenced to 5 years for racially aggravated arson, but has now been released after two and a half years. (Bullman also goes by the name Mark Bullock)
As I have reported before, in August 2006, BNP supporter, Bullman attempted to burn down the Broad Street mosque in Swindon using a petrol bomb. Mark was the registered fund holder for Wiltshire BNP, and actively campaigned for the party in the 2006 local council elections, just four months before the arson attack. Strangely Mark used to write to me while he was on remand, and even telephoned me from prison – not in a threatening way, but for a friendly chat.
He had left the BNP shortly before the fire bomb attack to form what he called the “1290 sect”, named after the year the Jews were expelled from England, and he wrote to me: “I only attacked the mosque because there is no synagogue in Swindon, and it was close enough for public consumption”. The fuse used for the fire bomb was a rolled up BNP leaflet.
It since transpires that Danny Lake, (former leader of the YBNP and also from Swindon, and who has since been expelled from the BNP), had raised concerns about Bullman with Nick Griffin, but the BNP did not consider Mark Bulman’s mental instablity, propensity to violence and gross anti-Semitism to be a problem. Bullman was supported by Wiltshire organiser, Mike Howson, and Danny Lake claims that Howson encouraged Bullmans’ extremism. Ironically, the main plank of Mike Howson’s campaigning in his native Corsham is “law and order”.
Mark’s letters to me, which I passed on to Searchlight, were filled with a virulent hatred of Jews, mixing up three themes. i) racialised anti-semitism; ii) Christian anti-judaic traditions; and iii) opposition to Israel’s War in the Lebanon, and the occupation of Palestine.
Bullman started ring me regularly late at night sometime during 2005. I decided when Bullman contacted me that it was simply safer to talk to him than snub him, and establish a human relationship, and impress upon him that I was a real person with young children, not just an objectified “enemy”.
I knew that it was him who had fire bombed the mosque as soon as I saw the pictures, because the Swastika daubed on the outside wall was identical to the rather idiosyncratic style that Bullman had used in letters to me. But before I could go to the police I heard that Bullman had already been arrested, indeed he had turned himself in and confessed.
The police decided to contact me after Bullman told his probation officer last week that he had visited my old address, in Avenue Road, where in Bullman’s own words “a communist lived” and Bullman told the probation officer he wanted to apologise to me.
Fair enough, I actually take that at face value. For all his weaknesses Bullman is a troubled and actually quite likable lad. He seems to have always been a bit of a misfit, and found a group of friends who accepted him through football hooliganism and far right politics. It was quite spooky having the police do an audit of the security of my house, and checking out the approaches to it in case they decided I was in serious danger and they had to put me on a rapid response list.
I was actually quite encouraged that they were also assessing the risk to Bullman himself. The bewildered lad has been playing games in his head with his Nazi fantasies, irresponsibly encouraged by BNP activists who exploited him. And his attempts to contact me suggest that he is drawn back to revisiting the same haunts and habits that he was in before his arrest.
Bullman fire bombed a mosque and daubed it with Swastikas. I am prepared to be understanding to Bullman only because I have had personal contact with him, and I have some partial insight into what a troubled and unhappy young man he is; who really needs help and not to be further ostracised and isolated from society. But other people might be less understanding and charitable about what he did than I am.
What really is scandalous is the way the BNP used this young man. They had no problem with exploiting his obvious mental distress, they had no problem with his open support for genocide against the Jews, instead they encouraged him, they used him up and spat him out.
Paolo Virno and Judith Revel revisit the Foucault/Chomsky debate*
The discussion that took place in 1971 between Chomsky and Foucault is a very interesting stimulus for us, which we can only engage with if we get into some detail. When they ended their encounter, these two left a whole load of questions open, and these questions are also our questions today.
Those who study Foucault and Chomsky are usually profoundly dissatisfied with this meeting. Both camps claim that the two weren’t at their best and that for the first half of the conversation they were talking at cross purposes, on different wavelengths without understanding one another.
The dialogue is divided in two parts; in the first half human nature is the topic of the discussion. In the second, the two try to bring out ethico-political conclusions from what they said about human nature.
Chomsky, like other intellectuals, experienced his two main passions like a schizophrenic. He’s been either a great linguist or the leader of Porto Alegre. The link between these two elements is practically invisible and in places he theorises the impossibility to find a sustainable connection between the study of the mind and politics. But it is difficult to sustain that the two were equally important for him. This debate is the only occasion where the two elements are connected. Chomsky is the father figure of the philosophers who reacted against weak thought and against the postmodernism that developed without a bone structure, as a resignation and a ironic acquiescence. This reaction took the form of a materialist thought that was embodied in the cognitive sciences and conceived of language in its relation with the totality of nature. Its results have been profoundly dehistoricising and depoliticising. The cognitive sciences are deeply apolitical, they look at what is immutable, what endures, what continues and fail to relate these studies on what is constant in humanity with what is as human as social and political conflict. For Foucault human nature is an epistemological indicator. The problem with Foucault is that he dissolves metahistorical into historical differences, as Timpanaro said: if you want to dissolve human biology in social relations, when biology is not thematised as an invariant, when it is enclosed in the changing nature of social regimes, then it reemerges as a religious call. If you don’t deal with what’s metahistorical, you kick it out of the door and it comes back from the window in the guise of spiritualism. It is impossible to dissolve this biological moment into history. This for me is not Foucault’s position. It is also wrong to take it as Chomsky’s position.
Let’s start from the present. Until the paradigm of postfordist labour was defined, production was equated with commodity production. Reproduction on the other hand was equated with biological reproduction. We inverted production and reproduction, and production is no longer the serial production of commodities (which is reproduction) but it is understoof as the production of children as much as value, subjects, etc.
There is a strange articulation of the connection between linguistic analysis and political analysis and praxis. The embarrassing thing is that it is true that Chomsky doesn’t relate his work as a linguist with his political work. In 1971 Foucault was shifting from linguistic to political analysis, for the former leads him to the latter. One of the things he says is that linguistics always excludes creativity and entails talking about rules. So, how can you invent a language? I came from the human sciences where the idea of discovery was automatically reduced to an individual, the genius, inspiration. Mine was an attempt to take knwoledge away from the individual and play it on the plane of history, to read the rules and determinations in it.
These are the questions for me:
1) When we talk about production and Chomsky talks about creation are we referring to the same thing? Foucault never talks about creation, he always talks about production.
2) The idea of a metahistorical invariant is very seductive because it allows Chomsky to account for two things: the creativity that is excluded in the variables, and intersubjectivity. Whats is puzzling is that there is never a mention of a creativity that is common: communication is secured cause we have the same faculty, but how do we produce together if we each create independently? If we posit at the basis of language and politics the idea of a human nature that has to then be secured through a just political system, we are positing human nature as a metahistorical invariant. Is this not ahistorical? When Chomsky says that we must fight the state, the problem with human nature is that we are confronted with a version of State power. Foucault cannot accept this because for him power doesn’t exist; there are only relations of power. All relations of power are not reducible to the state or to political relations. The school, the university, hospitals, etc. are all realities that can be instruments or places for the application of power. Power is diffused. This is the first reason for Foucault’s rejection of Chomsky’s ideas.
Let’s agree on what is invariable – that is to say, what in a determined historical period is given as a structure or modality that somehow, whatever the applications of power, remains constant. This constant is not a negative thing in itself, because power is not negative and it produces. The real drama of the confrontation with power is not only that power is not one single thing, but also that it is positive: subjects who are invested in relations of power produce lifestyles, practices and inventions. This way of inventing within power, is not what Chomsky calls creation. The crux of the matter today might then be that we need a political subject – I call it this way but it might also be called human nature. We need a common belonging, a common-ness (comunanza), a similitude, a non-identity, so that an acting or subverting in common, or the common, i.e. political subjectivity, rather than being the presupposition in history, is itself produced by history. Do we need this notion to conceive of the common or is the common what is actually produced? The problem is the status that is granted to the idea of invention or production.
Concerning what Paolo said about the transcendence that comes back from the window: this is not a good enough reason to reintroduce it, also because a problem arises in the section of their discussion on disobedience, on the illegality that confronts the legality dictated by the State, and the hyper-legality in terms of ‘real justice’: these figures of sabotage and blockages are often necessary, but they don’t really produce anything. What comes after you’ve blocked a train? What have you invented? It has not produced new forms of the political; it is something you can do on your own. So instead of carrying out counter-power operations, opposing power in all the forms it can take -Foucault says- you should be able to disconnect what is the creation of the political form from what later becomes the reality of another political power.
What is meant by ‘opposing’? Struggling? Seizing power? The relation between power and counter power is completely dialectical, symmetrical. How do we introduce a dissymmetry between power and counter-power? By saying that political praxis is not counter power. In order to break the symmetry something needs to be produced. What does power produce? Value, because power puts to work, not just individuals but also the life of populations, and treats them as pure labour force. The value produced is the value of commodities. What can a response against liberalism be then? To impose another type of value and another kind of production. If I take something and appropriate it, I only change the form of belonging, I do not change the structure of belonging.
What if I produce more as well as appropriate? What do we produce in surplus? We produce invention. We do it from within. We produce subjectivity. That is for cooperation. Neither reappropriation nor expulsion of power from life. When the problem of multitude appears in Deleuze of multitude, this is what it is. When I say multitude, I posit something of a common before experience, before relations, before production. If I say multitude I mean what produces action.
For Foucault language produces thought, and experience tells us how we say things. In the 60’s Foucault only used to talks about invariants, even though they were historical, epistemological invariants. By doing so, Foucault told us that the production of discourse, whatever the fields of knowledge, is determined by a certain number of partitions that are functional to a kind of power, since Hobbes. What do I make of the eventual production of language? And there he starts analysing the production of wild languages for 10 years, those of the crazy people, authors etc. This project could not carry on, because admitting that crazy people can speak to power in a non instrumental way, and that some exoteric words have taken place, one cannot say anything more than that some have tried it, whether consciously or not. And saying that an individual did it means that it is a project of solitude, and solitude is the opposite of multitude. That individual dimension is unmanageable.
Second problem: why give language any specificity? Is it possible to conceive of the attempt of going against- or rather of avoiding and taking the floor from under the feet of power- as only being linguistic? Foucault says I only played the game of the response to power on the discursive field. Language is not alone in producing value. There also is the invention of different strategies, being together etc. produces value. From the 70′s onwards the discursive is only one of the figures of his analysis.
Other forms of production of value are the ethical relation to oneself, as a relation to ones’ body, and from there emerges the thread on sexuality. Then there is the relation to others-how I manage others, also within the relations of powers that I produce. Why make of language then the basis for production? If anything, language (productive language, the postfordist language that entails another production that relativises commodity production) is one form of productivity. But to go and play human shield, is an invention, a common invention, with bodies. It is not the reappropriation of what has been stolen, but the opening of a new form of life.
We’ve always talked of biopower and biopolitics. The former is something historically determined, an invention of the birth of liberalism where power decides to exploit not only the labour force of the hands, but the whole of life (sexuality affects etc). This is not the reabsorption of natural life, of physiological life. This is the reappropriation of an already political, social life. The response to biopower in its reabsorption of political life is what we call biopolitics, which is not the recuperation of natural life, but of political life, of value producing life, within cooperation. I think that is what has been happening recently, the formation of something that is not a movement or multitude but movement of movements or multitude of multitudes.
The stake in politics is to produce oneself, to produce others and to produce other. Human nature doesn’t interest Foucault cause it is not needed, what is necessary for if not to pose limits? There’s an image in Deleuze book on Foucault, there are two ways to navigate: one is to throw a line and follow it, the other is to go, without knowing where, but whilst going, problematising the going, with whom, the fact of going. I imagine myself in the ship and turning around I see the scia of the ship that is a becoming, a non-anticipating becoming, a productive one. That is the closest figure to the acting of the multitudes that we try and define in this phase.
*This is the translation of a partial transcript of the recordings of a seminar series that took place in Rome in April and May 2002 with Virno, Revel, Bifo, Lazzarato, Fumagalli and Negri amongst others.
Creating a new public sphere, without the state – Paolo Virno
This interview illustrates the move amongst the post-Leninist Italian radical left
towards an anarchist view of the state, as well as Virno’s insistence that the
concept of ‘multitude’ does not replace the concept of ‘working class’ and his
controversial assertion that fear and insecurity – which he calls ‘precarity’ –
define the globalised world. It is therefore useful in understanding both the recent work of other Italian post-autonomia theorists such as Toni Negri and the
preoccupation with ‘precarity’ amongst much of the ‘activist’ milieu (4,000 words).
Interview with Paolo Virno By Héctor Pavón 12-24-04 Translated by Nate Holdren
Paolo Virno maintains that we live in an epoch of crisis that, as occurred in the 17th century, requires rethinking every concept and category. He wagers on a democracy of the “multitude” that no longer should take power but rather should create a new public sphere that disregards the State and valorizes the individual. [In] his last book, When The Word Becomes Flesh*, he returns with scientific and philosophic reasons to a materialist vision of life.
“The future can be charged with promises but can also be full of terror.” Here, with brute realism, Paolo Virno – Italian philosopher and a main contemporary thinker in Europe and in some Argentine intellectual circles – refers to the present. “I want to elaborate a materialist philosophy that takes as its point of departure the fact that the human being is a linguistic and political animal, as Aristotle said. The biological condition of our species provokes the fact of speaking and doing politics. The materialism that I propose seeks to unite nature and history,” says Virno, as a declaration of principles. Marx, Hobbes, Spinoza, Deleuze and Simondon are his canonical references. Among his books is Grammar Of The Multitude, which outlines his political-philosophical ideas and shows him to be a key author for understanding the readings of “multitude” made by another better known Italian: Toni Negri. But Virno questions the postulates of Empire and Multitude, written by Negri and Michael Hardt, for he considers the idea of Empire as analysis to be “premature”. Virno’s name began to be heard in Argentina around the cacerolas** in December 2001. When he linked these events with the protests in Seattle and Genoa, his interpretations received as many polemical responses as supporting opinions. Now When The Word Becomes Flesh is being published in Argentina (by Tinta Limón and the Cactus group). This is a complex book of profound philosophical reflections on language, human nature, the concept of multitude and Ludwig Wittgenstein. From Rome he spoke of his philosophic passions in a friendly and generous manner.
Héctor Pavón: We live in a new epoch that, as such, needs new values, new concepts. But who thinks them, who constructs them?
Paolo Virno: This is the problem of new political forms. I think that we are in a situation rather similar to that of 17th century Europe, when all the categories, all the concepts that now seem obvious, trivial, and common, were invented. At that time the idea of the central nation state was created, and concepts such as sovereignty and the obligation to obey were invented. My impression is that we are going through a period when all of these concepts are in crisis, and others are being constructed. Who constructs them? This is a very good question. We should not think that philosophers or thinkers are the ones who invent political concepts, because this is a conception of the political taken from the worst of Plato or the worst Illustration. These concepts emerge little by little within collective experiences, by trial and error. A new mode of being in the public sphere is emerging, a mode that is characterized by the fact that the state has become old and inadequate, like the typewriter compared to the computer.
HP: The present seems full of fear, of anguish, of the known and the unknown; it is an era of uncertainty. Where is the exit: in philosophy, art, psychoanalysis, politcs?
PV: I believe that fear is a diffuse feeling, characteristic of our epoch. It is a fear in which two previously separate things become merged: on one had, fear of concrete dangers, for example, losing one’s job. On the other hand, a much more general fear, an anguish, which lacks a precise object, and this is the feeling of precarity itself. It is the relationship with the world as a whole as a source of danger. These two things normally were separated. Fear for a determinate reason was something socially governable while anguish over precarity, over finitude, was something that religions or philosophy tried to administer. Now, by contrast, with globalization these two elements become one. We should note that when I have fear of a concrete danger I also feel all of my precarity with respect to my life, the world as such, and the meaning of my life. We experience in social situations – like the crisis in Argentina two years ago, or the life of immigrants that come to Europe – at the same time a concrete social economic problem and a relation with the world that appears to us with all its drama. I believe that what could constitute a remedy, a cure for this anguish and fear, is the construction of a new public sphere. I understand by public sphere new forms of life that no longer have obedience to the state and the obligation to waged labor in a work stripped of its meaning that is beneath what women and men can do with their intelligent collaboration. A new public sphere where singularity itself can be valorized, without converging toward a type of transcendent unity that is something of the sovereign, the state.
HP: You have said that today the objective of politics is happiness. An expression that could seem poetic, but what is its social interpretation?
PV: In speaking of happiness, many people perhaps thinks of that article of the United States Constitution that speaks of the right to be happy. I think above all of the use that Hannah Arendt made of the expression public happiness. It is difficult to think of a happiness that is a secret possession, a private good. Happiness is something related with the fact that our mind, mine, yours, is always as such a public mind, social, and can only realize itself when it is in relation with its fellows. The idea that we are minds in ourselves, complete, and that only in a second instance do were place ourselves in relation with others seems to me to have little credibility, it is false. And so I think that the state of well-being that we call happiness is something that can and must come with time. I think that in ’68 in Europe or in the US or in Latin America, on occasion we were personally happy. There is a point in which what happens around us and what happens in our most intimate feelings has a very strong relationship. The nexus between politics and happiness has been denied for a long time in the name of asceticism, of the separation between the public and the private, but there comes perhaps the moment to think of a new link between the two.
HP: The union between nature and history is the basis of your materialist philosophy. How do you understand this union and what political implications does it contain?
PV: I believe that by human nature it is necessary to understand the set of invariant conditions that are always true and that constitute the base on which our lives change. There exist fixed conditions, constants that are always the same that permit a certain mutability in the human being, large changes in modes of production, customs, cultures. When we speak of a new epoch, we speak of how these invariant conditions – that is human nature, like the faculty of language – emerge in one manner or another, like the “always present”, the truly perpetual, in a historical society that changes. We understand human nature to be a set of conditions that are open to history, temporality and mutability; this set of conditions can be reduced to the fact that we are linguistic animals and that we are not born knowing what to do, but rather that we learn. In globalization, precarity, instability, the absence of a determinate environment, which is an element of human nature, becomes also a social characteristic, a sociological characteristic. For immigrants, for example, the fact of having to modify multiple times in their life their working knowledges, or rather, an element that had always been true, acquires a particularly strong visibility.
HP: When you refer to the virtuosity of people and their actions, are you thinking of particular models? Where are virtuosos found today? In which world or discipline?
PV: At one time, when someone said virtuoso, they thought of the great ballerina, the great pianist. For me, the characteristics of the virtuoso is much less artistic, much less sublime, today it is found in mass intellectual labor and in the postfordist economy, based on communication, culture, information. Frequently at work – in postfordist work – it is necessary to improvise, to know what to do in an unforeseen situation: the characteristics of the virtuoso don’t end in an object: rather than something that is an end in itself, it is a relationship with the one who listens, with a public. These characteristics today are present in industrial labor. They have been socialized.
HP: The historian Jacques Revel says that we fear the future, we seek refuge in the past and overestimate the present. Are we living in a present that resists being past?
PV: I believe that a certain fear of the future is due to the end of the idea of progress, the idea that the future could be better than the present. Now we are faced with a totally contingent future. That is to say that it can be charged with promises but also be full of terrors. It is as if we lacked an ethics, a habit of how to face a future that is not guaranteed by the idea of progress. This is why there is a certain fear of the future. I have the impression that there is a total concentration on the present itself and that in order to order it and comprehend it, figures of the past are evoked. It is a matter, however, of an evocation that functions as an attempt to try something new in the here and now.
HP: You don’t believe that the cycles of capitalism and empire, or imperialism, are a déjà vu – this figure that you worked with in El recuerdo del presente?
PV: It can appear as a déjà vu only because contemporary capitalism evokes human nature as such, but in a very particular historical configuration: exploitation. On the other hand, in contemporary capitalism there is precisely this union between that which is always worthwhile and that which is worthwhile only now but can also be modified. This is where the impression of déjà vu arises from. Capitalists have always said: we are an economy linked to human nature. This is true and false at the same time, in the sense that with capitalism, when one speaks of labor power one refers to some human gifts that were always present in an absolutely particular mode that in fact is not the only possible one.
HP: The British historian Seton Watson has said that the Balkan people produce more history than they consume. Can this idea be extended to all of humanity? Does the world produce too much present and memory?
PV: Absolutely. It’s an excellent phrase. In El recuerdo del presente I claimed the opposite of what Fukuyama said about the end of History. We are living in a situation of excess of History. What does this excess consist of? Certainly many historic events happen, but the excess consists of the fact that in these historic events the human capacity to make History becomes a historical object. That is to say, our historicity, the capacity of being able to make History has become an object of praxis. For example, we make and we have History because we have language and because we are potential beings. These two things, our potentiality and our linguisticity, i.e. conditions of History, today come to be the raw material of the globalized economy. The worker should be open to potentiality, should be communicative. In place of speaking of the end of History, I spoke, together with Seton, of an excess of History or a hyperhistory. We lack an ethics and a politics adequate to this excess, and that is why there is a situation of anguish, of fear. There is uncertainty with respect to political forms, there is a crisis of the State but there is no already defined alternative. Why? This excess of History constitutes a disproportion with respect to our habits, our ethics, and our political categories.
HP: You said that the concept of multitude can have a certain familiarity for liberals because it values individuality. But don’t you think that it will also frighten them, because it leads to a communist multitude?
PV: Absolutely. The liberal idea of the individual and the singularity of the multitude are like twins, but also opposites. They are very similar, but with profoundly distinct meanings. Because the liberal thinks that the individual is the primary element and then tries to understand how the individual acts in relation to others and to the state. From the point of view of the multitude, the individual, the singularity is the result of a process. This is why we can speak of an old philosophical concept, the principle of individuation of which the singularity is the fruit, the result of a process of individuation, of differentiation. All of us, you, me, are irrepeatable singularities, but this is so because we arise, on the contrary, from universal common elements. Both of us, you and I, have characteristics that pertain to the whole species: the faculty of language, of thought, that later singularizes. As such, the individual is a result of common and universal elements.
HP: The multitude says no to representative democracy and proposes a participative democracy. But all modes choose governors. They vote in Argentina, Spain, the US… the people still vote.
PV: Certainly, they vote. They vote as they do other things that don’t count very much. The problem is not to not vote but rather to construct forms of democracy that are adequate to these productive forces. Contemporary production has come to a point that is much more complex, much more mature than the administrative and legislative apparatuses of states. The question, then, is what type of democracy. It is not a matter of simplified democracy, assemblies, direct democracy, but rather the contrary. Non-representative democracy should be translated into politics, into new institutions, as can already been seen on the level of global production. In saying non-representative democracy it is easy to think of the myth of direct democracy, which naturally is a beautiful myth. But it gives the idea of a simplified and elementary politics. This is why the question is what is adequate to the complexity of social production in which all the cognitive and communicative capacities of the human animal are valorized, which Marx named with the beautiful expression “General Intellect”, the social brain which is a pillar of modern production.
HP: With respect to the taking of power you have called those who return to this idea “enemies”. Who incarnates the role of enemy?
PV: I think the problem of the political enemy still exists. It demonstrates, on the other hand, that we are no longer in an easy sweet world. The multitude does not have the problem of taking power, it has the problem of limiting it and making the state decline, constructing new institutions and a public sphere outside of it. From this point of view there is an enemy, but it’s more like the Pharaoh in the book of Exodus in the Bible, who pursues an exodus, a flight. It is not a matter of a flight in space. It is a flight in the sense of exiting from the categories of state institutions. There is an enemy, but it is not the enemy that is confronted and has constituted the model for civil wars or is behind the idea of taking power. It is an enemy that hobbles, sabotages the construction of non-representative democracy, new communitary experiences.
HP: Does the multiculturalism that runs through the West help the formation of the multitude, or is it an obstacle to it?
PV: The multiculturalism that counts is the one that is given within experiences of social struggle and the construction of a new public sphere. A species of Kantian multiculturalism runs the risk of being like a good electoral proposal. One can speak of a virtuous but impotent multiculturalism. To me what seems important, by contrast, is a discourse over singularities. And singularity, not of the liberal type but rather of the multitude, is exactly the result of many factors, some of which are multicultural. But what counts is each One with all of its irrepeatable character that is the fruit of being, in every case, a Chinese immigrant in California or an Italian in Argentina. But each One is the aspect that counts, the valorization of its singularity. Rereading Marx, today after the crisis and end of socialism, of the dictatorial and odious regimes that were real socialism, what comes to mind is that he is in many aspects a thinker of singularity and its valorization. There are phrases in which Marx says: the individual must be valorized in the face of all abstraction above it. A phrase that today could be taken as a liberal one, when in reality it means the opposite.
HP: And the future of the working class? What is its role inside the multitude?
PV: The working class exists. Only in the mode of being multitude and not that of the people. It should not be believed that the multitude says goodbye to the working class. The working class is a scientific concept. It means who ever produces profit, surplus value. The socialist and communist movement thought of the working class in terms of the people, something compact, unitary, that at bottom wants to constitute a new State. In my opinion the working class today thinks in terms of multitude, of rich singularities, but it is always a matter of the working class.
HP: And after the invasion of Iraq, does real History begin, the “after the Berlin Wall”?
PV: Yes, exactly like that. I think that the ’90s were years of waiting, an interregnum, while the true post-Wall period began recently with Bush and the invasion of Iraq. What a terrible theorist of the political, Carl Schmitt, called the nomos of the earth, the global order. The redefinition of this order began with the war in Iraq, not with Clinton in the ’90s which was an intermediary place, a period of waiting, like an intermission.
HP: You don’t think that the Bush government shows where the heart of Empire is and who its leader are?
PV: Yes, I think that it demonstrates fully what is decisive in political thought: the relation of force. The fact that politics has been spoken of for some years without thinking more on the relation of force only demonstrates that politics has not come to be thought, to really be spoken about. Personally, as for the concept of empire, I have many doubts because it seems to me an attempt to photograph the post-wall situation of the end of socialism, taking the Clinton administration as the model. What new words should we adopt to name the new global order? What will we understand exactly starting from the post-Iraq development, in the next few years, in the relations with China. How to say it? Since recently we have faced the beginning of a redefinition of the forms of global domination. It is very premature to situate this, for example, in “Empire”.
HP: You belong to an Italian generational group that struggles for the revolution. The state repressed you, you were imprisoned. Are you disillusioned with the world we live in today? Would you prefer to have lived in another epoch?
PV: No. I say without reservation that this is my present. That does not mean approving of the world as it is. I consider it extremely rich and interesting, despite being dramatic and tragic too. I think that recently something like what was for some time called communism has become actual, a question of common sense. Not something extremist. What is to be done, what political and social forms is to be given to human nature? I return to a phrase of Walter Benjamin who said something like this: “To criticize the present, to feel the horror for some of its aspects but to belong to it without reservations.”
HP: For you, what is the meaning of the word revolution today?
PV: Perhaps we could do without the word revolution because this model was that of taking power and constructing a new State. It may be better to speak of exodus. I think that the model of exodus is a rich one. Exodus means, more than taking power or subduing it, exiting. Exiting means constituting a distinct context, new experiences of non-representative democracy, new modes of production. It offers a third possibility, and I am not speaking – please! – of the “Third way” but rather of a politics of the extinction of the state being positively constructive, opposing the word republic to the word state. This means constructing a non-statal republic with a movement that emerges more from exodus and positive experiments than from revolutions in the classical sense. The latter were an intelligent activity for many generations, but lead to the idea of constructing a new state. The point is no longer a monopoly over decision, which is to say multitude: many, plurality.
HP: Have you continued to observe Argentina after the crisis of 2001, with this new government?
PV: Yes, I have tried to keep myself as informed as possible. And in this new government what has interested me a great deal is how it could function. Because it contains an ambivalence. Is it possible that it could open, even involuntarily, constitutional spaces to the movements of struggle that were given during the crisis? And, naturally, in other aspects, it is a government that should reconcile itself with the global order, with globalization. It is a two-front government, like Janus. I am very interested in understanding concretely the conduct of this government. I remain for the moment with this word in my mouth: ambivalence. But I try to understand more.
The first ever PPS-UK Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be held at Cardiff University on Saturday the 21st of February 2009 from 1-5pm. Attendance is warmly welcome by all PPS-UK members and those motivated by Participatory Vision. Participatory Vision, and Parecon in particular, is growing in support globally with chapters springing up in different countries around the world. Given the current worsening economic conditions, continued lack of meaningful participation in the running of our lives, and ongoing oppressions in all areas of social life, the time is ripe for people to hear positive vision for alternative social institutions that foster values that we hold dear rather than trample them. Please go to our website to view the forum thread for more information, suggest content for the event, and signal your attendance: http://ppsuk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_fireboard&Itemid=62&func=view&id=638&catid=5 The event will serve two important purposes: 1) AGM: Give us the first proper chance for all (as many as possible) of us to meet up and plan/organise PPSUK’s strategy for the coming year(s)and to work on projects etc. 2) There will be a space for folks to do workshops/talks. The idea here is to give people a chance to practice talks in a friendly ;0) environment but also a great chance to get input on vision in the different areas of participatory society that people are interested in.
The Congress of South African Trade Union is pleased to announce that its members, dock workers belonging to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) achieved a victory last night when they stood firm by their decision not to offload the Johanna Russ, a ship that was carrying Israeli goods to South Africa. This, despite threats to COSATU members from sections of the pro-Israeli lobby, and despite severe provocation. The Johanna Russ, flying an Antigua flag, is owned by M. Dizengoff and Co., an established “pioneer of the modern era of shipping business in the Middle East” and shipping agent for the ironically named Zim Israel Navigation Company. (Ironic because, last year, the same SATAWU members refused to offload the Chinese ship An Yue Jiang, which was carrying arms and ammunition destined for Robert Mugabe’s army.) The worker action last night took place despite attempted subterfuge on the part of the owners of the shipping company. There was an attempt to confound the plan by arriving earlier than originally scheduled, which was 8 February. Dates for the berthing of the Johanna Russ were changed constantly. Yesterday morning, SATAWU members were told that the ship would dock this morning (Friday) at 02:00. Thanks to the vigilance of the dock workers, SATAWU discovered that the ship had docked on Wednesday morning and was due to be offloaded last night at 21:00. But the vigilant workers were on guard and immediately they realised that it had docked, they then refused to handle it, despite pressures from management. SATAWU members maintained their refusal to offload the ship and also attempted to ensure that scab labour would not be used. A few hours after berthing, at 23:00, the Johanna Russ sneaked out of the Durban Harbour. From the beginning of this action, COSATU workers remained resolute about their position and were convinced that, following the recent Israeli massacres in Gaza, they will take determined action against Israel. Israel’s terror included flagrant breaches of international law, the bombing of densely populated neighbourhoods, the illegal deployment of chemical white phosphorous, and attacks on schools, ambulances, relief agencies, hospitals, universities and places of worship. COSATU has now decided to intensify its efforts in support of the struggles of the Palestinian people. The worker victory in Durban yesterday spurs COSATU members on to more determined action in order to isolate the Apartheid state of Israel. Other Cosatu unions are currently in discussion about how they might also give effect to Cosatu resolutions on boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, including a refusal to handle Israeli goods, and continuing pressure on our government to sever diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. The momentum against apartheid Israel has become an irresistible force. We are proud to stand with the millions around the world who say ‘Enough is enough’. They are doing what we asked them to do when we faced the apartheid regime in our own country. COSATU and the PSC call on all people of conscience to join us in boycotting Israeli products and institutions until a just, democratic state, with equal rights for all comes into existence in Palestine. This is just the beginning of a solidarity campaign which will continue until the demands of the Palestinian people have been won.
A short survey of some roots of the present economic crisis from a UK perspective – and the tasks ahead for both the ruling class and the working class, employed and unemployed alike.
(Though the article suggests that the State will clamp down hard on the growing unemployed masses, it may be that a scarcity of sufficient jobs of any kind to force the jobless into and rising costs for mass workfare programmes will limit the proposed increased repression of the workless.)
Originally written for Wildcat (Germany).
On January 8 Nissan sacked 1,200 of the 5,000 workers at its Sunderland car plant (Wearside, North-East England). Some reports said 800 permanent and 400 temp and 800 ‘permanent’ jobs would go, others that it would be ‘mostly’ temp jobs. The Nissan plant, which began cutting production and hours in October, had introduced round-the-clock shifts to meet demand in January 2008; it was ‘widely regarded as the most efficient in Europe’ (Financial Times), and had supposedly ‘revitalized’ local business (Nissan’s own supply chain, where at least another 5,000 workers are now threatened, plus petrochemicals, paper and ‘high quality’ call centres) through the example of its kaizen/’lean production’ model. The case was the most prominent in the UK so far of mass layoffs by a profitable and solvent ‘lean’ employer. In a sense Sunderland is unusual among the parts of Britain affected by industrial shutdown in the 1980s, in that the ‘replacement’ for the shipyards and coal mines involved at least an element of new (i.e. downsized and ‘flexible’) manufacturing. Outside its reindustrialized outposts, though, Sunderland, along with other historically working class parts of the country (including much of London, eg. ex-Ford Dagenham and pre-Olympic Hackney/Tower Hamlets), has experienced the same things more or less uninterruptedly throughout the financial/services boom: persistently high unemployment, state and EU-funded ‘urban regeneration’ projects bestowing a few fragile retail and hospitality jobs along with real estate gains and ‘creative’ fees for a micro-minority, and prodigious growth of government agencies administering ‘social exclusion’. The Nissan layoffs show that ‘social exclusion’ is something no-one is safe from now, to the point that the term loses whatever meaning it ever had. Behind all the state agencies’ efforts to pathologize it, ‘exclusion’ essentially means having no realistic individual hope of ‘prospering’ individually as a rentier, a business-owner or a professional in a financialized economy. This hopelessness is clearly no longer exclusive: it can happen to anyone (it always could have done, but until recently ‘anyone’ wouldn’t have believed it), and it is happening on an enormous scale right now. The near future of class conflict will depend on the reaction of those workers who find themselves flung into this condition, together with that of those have never known anything else.
The nature of the crisis in the UK follows directly from that of the16-year ‘boom’ that preceded it. The role of rising financial asset prices (i.e. expanding claims on value produced elsewhere or in the future) as the ‘engine of growth’ was not just a matter of the portion of ‘GDP’ attributed directly to financial services (officially 33 per cent in 2006): this hypothetical revenue, i.e. credit, flowed into the much larger business and consumer services market, paying almost incidentally for the low-wage, quick hiring/firing jobs of the local ‘employment boom’. In this context, ‘wealth creation’ in the UK was not primarily dependent on surplus value from labour in the ‘services boom’ jobs. Rather, claims on flows of value from elsewhere in the globalized economy, refracted and magnified through ‘complex financial instruments’, flooded the economy, temporarily funding something like a giant job-creation scheme (or workhouse). The meagerness of real wages from the jobs ‘created’ this way forced those workers with access to mortgage or consumer credit into systematic dependence on it. (Meanwhile of course, for many others, state benefits and/or high-risk income from the ‘criminal’ economy remained the only options.) Of course these phenomena were by no means unique to the UK, but the precocious development of the system in this country, the unusual dependence of ‘national’ and household incomes on the bidding-up of financial assets, corresponds to the relative seriousness of the crisis here[1.].
The role of the state in supplementing ‘employment growth’ through the financial boom in this most deregulated or ‘Anglo-Saxon’ of economies may be less well known. On November 23 the FT reported that two thirds of the jobs created between 1998 and 2006 ‘would be classified by most people as being in the public sector’. State employment rates were significantly higher among women and in the regions hardest hit by manufacturing job losses over the last 30 years, with the North-East at the top of the list. As the Daily Mail commented, “the government has based agencies and set up Quangos such as One North East in the region to tackle unemployment caused by the decline of traditional industries such as coal mining”. Which is to say, it’s not just a matter of adding to overall job numbers: many of the jobs are directly concerned with processing and policing the unemployed, or otherwise administering coercive ‘care’ to a disorderly low-income class. The ‘public sector’ designation here does NOT mean the workers are directly employed by the state, with protected wages, conditions and pensions. The ‘public sector’ has been drastically overhauled over the last 10 years under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) system, which instals private contractors (actually often chains of contractors, with one hiring another for each particular function) as ‘service providers’ in the medical, welfare, transport, housing, education, waste disposal, policing/courts, immigration control and military sectors. The contractors put up the initial capital, which they borrow privately, and they hire employees on typically ‘flexible’ private sector terms. The state contracts to pay the money back over several decades, thereby indebting itself more than it would otherwise, but keeping public borrowing and spending officially off the books[2.], as well as avoiding responsibility for the workers and for any damage done to infrastructure or ‘service users’. This arrangement means the myth of relatively safe ‘public sector’ jobs is likely to disappear quickly, along with a lot of existing ‘public services’, as the PFI contractors struggle to refinance their private debt. It was reported on January 14 that contractors have failed to raise the initial money for major projects in the last year, with the number of new PFI deals almost halved. On the same day Deloitte published a report calling the crisis an opportunity for ‘radical transformation’ of the public sector in a ‘market-savvy’ direction.
Thus the whole configuration of the deindustrialized ‘boom’ economy, which detached returns on capital from labour income, making the whole edifice dependent on complex financial claims, now ensures that neither profitable manufacturing nor the ‘state sector’ is any refuge from the crisis. So far there has been almost no sign of a confrontational class response to the crisis as such, either through strikes rioting of the kind seen in Greece and Latvia or even symbolic protest through the ‘official channels’[3.]. Unions volunteered for wage cuts to save jobs at JCB and Corus; JCB accepted the offer then sacked the workers anyway. This kind of fear and demoralization surely has something to do with average household debt of £9,600 excluding and £59,670 including mortgages, with the total amount just above GDP at £1,456 billion.
Private capital (apart from banks) has so far deflected hostility by pleading helplessness . In the meantime the state has been asserting itself along all the lines of class confrontation, acting as planner, financier, ‘employer’ and unemployment/’exclusion’ manager. The government’s approach to imminent mass unemployment amounts to a buildup of outright war on the unemployed, with new legislation to be passed in spring, pilot programmes in ‘socially excluded’ areas[4.] before the legislation, and full implementation in 2010-11.[5.] Private and ‘voluntary’ sector dole policing and the attack on incapacity benefit, which absorbed hundreds of thousands of unemployed during earlier attacks on the dole[6.], are longstanding but until now slow-moving policies. The decision to legislate now, so that the new regime comes into force over the next two or three years, may indicate state planners’ idea of the time-frame for the arrival of depression-level unemployment. This timing ensures that full implementation of the new dole policy will more or less coincide with generalized ‘austerity’ (i.e. shutdown of state-funded reproduction services, users charges for those remaining, regressive taxes), as required by the Treasury insistence that the recent bailout borrowing and deficit spending should have zero fiscal impact in absolute terms, with the budget to be fully balanced again by 2015-16.
All this raises the question: what kind of ‘strategy’, if any, could be underlying an all-round attack on real wages and the unemployed during a recession in which circulation is atrophied and there is no work available to impose? Is the argument of George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici that the ‘Western’ proletariat is being prepared for ‘Structural Adjustment’ applicable, given the difference between (in the case of the UK) a bankrupt ex-industrial economy and those where agricultural/mineral-exporting debt peonage was imposed before full proletarianization ever took place? In this respect the term ‘Structural Adjustment’ may not fit, but certain capitalists and their intellectuals have been demanding for a long time that the expectations of ‘Western’ proletarians should ‘catch down’ with those of the low-wage world.
What kind of class response can be envisaged, then, if mass unemployment, semi-employment and pressure on the wages of those still employed throw large numbers of workers into the condition known until recently as ‘social exclusion’? In the present context of fear and retreat, this can only be considered the future tense (near as that future may be), or in the form of very open questions.
A crucial general factor must be the development or otherwise of some kind of solidarity between the newly ‘excluded’ and the so-called ‘underclass’ already in that position. Closely related to this question is that of the relation between ‘permanent’ and temp workers. Also, any emerging sense of common interest will have to deal with complex forms of individual and micro-communitarian competition existing on both sides of the line between the (former) ‘respectable working class’ and the (perpetually) ‘socially excluded’. For instance, will shared material experience tend to dissolve or exacerbate animosity around immigration (or the hallucinatory ‘common sense’ idea of it) and ‘ethnic identity’? Could the willingness of many proletarians to fight the state as well as each other over ‘race’ issues conceivably be turned into class hostility as more people find themselves in the same position across ‘ethnic’ lines, or must it be manipulated by state, media and ‘community leaders’ into intra-class sectarian disaster?
More broadly, will drastic change in material conditions be enough to undo a deeply ingrained ideological-cultural assumption that ‘getting out’ (as in ‘out of the ghetto’) or ‘moving up’ individually and competitively (whether as a business owner or a professional) is the only rational aspiration for proletarians? This assumption has been strengthened over decades by real factors: the withdrawal of the basis for survival for the ‘working poor’, eg. council housing, state pension; relentless official emphasis on ‘training’ and ‘personal development’ as the solution to all problems[7.]; disappearance from collective memory of any instance of material improvement on a collective basis.
If the stakes and complications of any near-future class confrontation can be conceived this way, perhaps it’s possible, even more tentatively, to imagine some factors which might contribute to its outbreak:
> New unemployment on a massive scale, coinciding with the introduction of the most punitive dole regime ever. Dole offices are already fraught, violent places; what will the arrival of thousands/millions of workers unused to such humiliation mean?
> Opportunistic employers seizing on the crisis as the chance to finish off long-running labour disputes and recalcitrant workforces. Of course this could also just mean quick capitulation by the blackmailed workers, but might a strike like last year’s at the Post Office be taken further in the absence of the illusion of anything to lose?
> New redundancies, wage and benefit cuts and shutdown of basic services in areas where strong collective memory of struggle over similar things during or since deindustrialization exists, eg. the North-East (miners’ strike, 1984-85), Liverpool (dockers’ strike, 1995-98).
> Ever-increasing regulation and policing of social reproduction (biometric ID database, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, state intervention in parent-child relations, etc). This is presented by middle-class campaigners as a ‘civil liberties issue’, but it really has more to do with attacking the semi-legal or illegal means of survival of the ‘socially excluded’: ‘benefit fraud’, informal labour, small-scale drug trade etc. Policing of these things has been used quite successfully so far to provoke division between the ‘respectable’ mostly-working class and the so-called ‘sub-proletariat’. But will it still work this way if a lot more people suddenly find themselves depending on these ‘grey markets’, or officially ‘anti-social’ forms of social collaboration, in order to survive?
Based on what I can see right now I’m quite pessimistic in the immediate term, but this doesn’t necessarily apply at all to the situation in a year’s time. A class confrontation that looks like a damp squib from the proletarian side at one moment might become explosive not long afterwards as ‘objective’ conditions come to be experienced ‘subjectively’ in a more collective way.
[1.] Predictions of the scale of economic collapse correspond strikingly to the scale of the last decade’s financial asset-driven ‘growth’, eg. the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development forecasts approximately 750,000 job losses over the next 18 months: “equivalent to the total net rise in employment in the preceding three years”. Oxford Economics attributes the fall in per capita GDP from the top to the bottom of the rankings of “major” economies to “the bust in financial markets”. (For more in this vein see: www.wsws.org/).
[2.] For an account of how this works see David Morrison, ‘PFI: is Gordon Brown “financially illiterate”‘: http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/pfi/pfi.htm
[3.] Exceptions in the UK have included small-scale strikes over wages by London bus drivers, Glasgow ‘community service officers’, Merseyside council workers, Southampton care home workers, Wembley (West London) pharmaceuticals workers and ‘further education’ college staff at a number of sites across England. None of these has been explicitly crisis-related, but striking for wages at this time nonetheless stakes an implicit claim against those of the abstract ‘economy’ and returns on capital. For ongoing coverage of strikes at all levels see http://libcom.org/ and www.wsws.org/. See libcom.org in particular for coverage of events in Greece, and see http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/jan2009/latv-j16.shtml for an article on anti-austerity rioting in Latvia.
[4.] Glasgow, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Norfolk and Lambeth (South London)
[5.] The most widely-reported aspect of the attack on the ‘economically inactive’, as proposed in December in the report of Professor Paul Gregg and now on the legislative agenda, is a massive acceleration of the push to move claimants off ‘incapacity’ (i.e. sickness) and single parent benefits onto Job Seekers’ Allowance, which would mean a substantial cut in benefits to £60.50 a week and much heavier pressure to grovel actively for and accept any kind of work going, regardless of things like physical unsuitability or availability of childcare. Less well-publicized but equally explosive is the regime proposed for ‘job seekers’, based on what Professor Gregg calls ‘work-equal activity’, i.e. nine to five attendance at privately-run dole offices in order to apply for jobs by computer, under supervision and with regular interrogation by employees of the PFI contractor (who are paid according to the number of people kicked off the dole). Aside from the matter of how few low-wage jobs are found or offered through this kind of formal process, rather than by physically turning up where work is available and/or through informal social contacts, what’s really striking is the way treatment of claimants is equated with punishment more openly than ever, just when unemployment is starting to increase out of control. In his mildest language, Prof. Gregg says recalcitrant claimants, eg. those who show up late for interviews, should be sent ‘written warnings’, a term borrowed from workplace ‘disciplinary’ procedure; for repeated offences they should be fined. Even more telling is that Gregg wants ‘work-equal activity’ to be ‘like school detention’: i.e. the whole condition of being a benefit claimant should be equivalent to that of a child being punished at school, and the experience should be similar. And futhermore the term now used instead of ‘workfare’ for forced labour imposed on dole claimants is ‘community service’, which until now was confined to criminal sentencing. Reinforcing the impression that criminal justice machinery is being imported into the management of unemployment, if any doubt remained, is the use of ‘lie detector’ tests on claimants, which has already been underway for a while in some areas, to be ‘rolled out’ nationally if the ‘trials’ [sic] are ‘successful’. Surprise surprise, they were a great ‘success’, and the introduction of the system everywhere was announced late in December in the ‘Queen’s speech’, which sets out the government’s policy agenda for the coming year. The lie detector software is used on phone calls from benefit claimants: it supposedly picks up anomalies in speech patterns, so that those who talk the wrong way (such as… callers who for some reason find life on £60 a week ‘stressful’ and can’t hide it in their voices? Or…foreigners with strange ways of pronouncing English words?!) can be called in for further interrogation. (For some time now claimants have been forced to contact benefits offices by telephone, regardless of whether they actually have one. This may or may not suggest that the lie-detector was a longstanding plan).
[6.] See a series of articles by Aufheben at http://libcom.org/aufheben, in particular the pamphlet ‘Dole Autonomy Versus the Re-imposition of Work’.
[7.] Thus the aptly-named ‘Crisis’, a charity that helps state agencies harass the homeless into job training, advertises using the slogan, “we see the person, not the homelessness”. It’s hard to think of a more succinct way of stating where the state and its ‘voluntary sector’ allies assume the problem lies.