Back in July Leeds Plan C hosted ‘WTF Is To Be Done?’, a three part series of reading groups on the subject of organisation. We’ve collated some notes from those discussions into a single document in order to use it as the basis for a follow up discussion on October 7th.
WTF IS TO BE DONE #1 15/7/13
Discussion of The Lessons of 2011: Three Theses on Organisation. By Rodrigo Nunes: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/lessons-2011-three-theses- organisation
Nunes organizes his article around three theses:
1. It is Possible to Have a Mass Movement Without Mass Organisations.
2. Organisation Has Not Disappeared, But Changed.
3. The Primary Organisational Form of 2011 was Not the Assembly.
The first thesis lead to some discussion about what we might mean by a mass organisation and whether we could say that the age of mass organisations was over. Membership of political parties, trade unions and civic organisations has declined sharply right around the world over the last thirty years. In the UK, for example, membership of political parties has declined by more than 95% from its highpoint in the 1950s. What might have caused this and what are the consequences for political activity?
Nunes’s first and second theses are another way of saying that the decline of the mass party doesn’t mean the end of mass politics. Part, but only part, of the reason why mass politics is still possible lies with modern networked technology, such as the internet and more latterly, social media. By arguing this Nunes is critiquing people such as Malcolm Gladwell who argue that social media can only produce weak ties between people. We all know the critique of clicktivism. Such weak ties can be useful for spreading information but to effect real change requires the sort of sacrifices that can only be sustained by strong ties. In response Nunes says that if you look at 2011 you can see an interplay between weak and strong ties, with the former often turning in to the latter when a certainly level of intensity was reached.
Our discussion of this began with an argument on whether or not we actually lived in a world of weaker ties than say the ties of the Fordist era of the 1950s. One view put forward was that the ties of people working on a classic Fordist assembly line were often not particularly strong, after all talking at work was often banned or heavily circumscribed. In response some argued that even the weakest ties produced by Fordist style work had a much greater chance of quickly becoming strong ties during periods of struggle due to the clear commonalities of experience and interest of all concerned. The greatly increasing geographical and employment mobility experienced in contemporary life has greatly diminished this clarity of common interests.
Perhaps the main argument of Nunes’s article is in his third thesis, which goes on to say that even though it seemed at the time that the General Assembly was the primary organizational form of the 2011 upsurge of struggle, with examples in Tahrir Square, the Spanish 15M movement and most prominently with Occupy, this assumption is wrong. In fact the primary organizational form, or at least the one that best captures what was new about the cycle of protests, was what Nunes calls ‘distributed leadership’. By this he means: “the possibility, even for previously ‘uncharted’ individuals and groups, to temporarily take on the role of moving things forward by virtue of coming up with courses of action that could provide temporary focal points for activity”. To understand this we can think of how the originally small UK Uncut group produced a form of action that spread around the country not through any formal pre-existing links but because it acted as an example that made sense to people.
Our discussion of this revolved around whether we should suspicious of the notion of ‘distributed leadership’, or ‘leadership by example’ because of its similarities to the idea that there is a ‘marketplace of ideas’, which seems akin to the faith in market forces: the best idea will always come out on top. The response to this critique was two-fold. Firstly that the critique itself might be seen as a symptom of neoliberal hegemony as it expanded the concept of ‘markets’ beyond its specific meaning, of coordination through prices signal’s under the pressure to maximize return on investment, to a meaning so general that it includes any form of coordination except hierarchical command. If we add to this the tendency to use the word market as a synonym for bad then we open ourselves to the argument that any family resemblance to a synonym for bad also equals bad. This isn’t a good mode of argumentation.
A more satisfactory rendering of the critique poses it in terms of the kinds of subjectivities presupposed in “distributed leadership”. Does the phenomena that Nunes has identified rely on the spread of neoliberal subjects, that is people trained to see things in terms of markets and decision-making as an affair of rational individual seeking to maximize their utility. Previous social movements have been characterised by a break with neo-liberal subjectivities whereas, if Nunes is to be believed, this one might constitute an uncanny doppelganger. Is this a movement doing a new thing? Is it a movement turning the tables on capitalism and affecting a radical recuperation of its imaginary denizens? Or is it a movement failing to make the break?
It also raises the question of what it means for an idea to work. Does something catch on when it can be shown to have set an effective example or has it set an effective example when it can be shown to have caught on? Such questions seem crucial to those on the left trying to act as an amplification/articulation device within emerging movements. This doesn’t necessarily cast doubt on what Nunes is saying but it does make an important difference to where to push, where to pull, where to amplify, and where to watch. The Free Association text “On the Uses of Fairy Dust” might be of some use here.
Two questions raised but not resolved are as follows:
– If all three of Rodrigo Nunes’ theses are correct, what is the role of political organisation in general? And do we still need a specific political organisation to perform those functions?
– Can we understand the Spring (post-Woolwich) resurgence of the EDL with reference to those theses? If so, do we still need some sort of framework or ethical principles/communist invariant to steer us (because distributed leadership can also characterise the far right or reactionaries)? Traditionally that framework would be provided by a founding statement, Aims & Principles, or allegiance to a flag etc. How can that framework now emerge in the absence of mass organisations?
WTF IS TO BE DONE #2 23/7/13
Discussion of Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide by The Free Association: http://freelyassociating.org/rock-n-roll-suicide/
This article begins with a vignette of David Bowie killing off his personae Ziggy Stardust. This is used as an analogy to ask the following questions of political organisation:
When do you know it’s time to stop doing what you’re doing and try something else? How do you know what to take with you and what to leave behind? And how can you truly ask ‘What is to be done?’ without past experience overcoding your answer?
At the end of the article the Ziggy Stardust vignette is returned to this time in the relation to why people come to identify with a leader, an organisation or a set of political ideas. The psychoanalytic concept of transference is used to think about this problem and Ziggy Stardust is held up as an example of a possible type of useful transference in which the explicit inauthenticity of a character allows people to recognise their transference and move on when the time is right.
In our discussion of the article we started off asking whether this use of Bowie as a model/analogy was too limiting? The general dynamic of Rock ‘n’ Roll is one of identification and imitation, often operating on the level of desire and therefore not fully present to those involved. The kind of ‘leadership’ involved in Rock ‘n’ Roll is often a troubling one. At its worst it mirrors the model of the crowd put forward by late 19th century Crowd Theory (Gustave Le Bon), which was also the starting point for Freud’s theory of groups/leaders. The basic model is that of a Nuremburg rally, in which all desires must move through the transcendent figure of the leader on stage and where the feeling of crowd togetherness comes only through a shared figure of identification. The Sex Pistol’s designer Jamie Reid was well aware of this dynamic and portrayed it in a series of “Rock music = Fascism” posters.
The music industry, of course, is deeply embedded in capitalism. The criterion of success is record sales (revenue generated for the record company). That’s an external value, easy to measure. In that sense, killing off Ziggy Stardust can be seen as an astute business move, to create a new identity and develop a new market. And capital loves “novelty”, the constant creation of “the new”. In this sense, “knowing when to stop” can be straightforward, a matter of figures on a balance sheet.
But we could also see it less cynically. Perhaps Bowie killed off Ziggy because of “artistic integrity” – that’s more of an internal value, one not always so easily captured (although this is still not autonomous from capitalist notions of “success”). Indeed through the late 1970s and early 1980s Bowie collaborated with people closer to conceptual artists, such as Brian Eno, and produced albums with little regard for their salability or potential popularity. In the mid-1980s he underwent a volte-face, specifically setting out to become a global star and sell as many records as possible – this change was signaled by collaboration with Quincy Jones.
How useful is psychoanalysis as a model? The analyst’s relationship with the client is not always transformed. Indeed transference can happen both ways, through counter-transference. This is where the abuse of power can happen.
But consideration of the way desire works is crucial. This is how we operate as human beings (and when the Left do badly it’s often because they come across as inhuman, monstrous or robotic). Music is a great example of something that can touch people’s lives at a very profound level. We talk about music “moving” people.
We discussed the idea that the SWP has acted as an entry point into politics for thousands of people. It was suggested that the disillusion that sets in with the SWP might act as a kind of recognition of transference, similar to the way that the Free Association talks of Ziggy Stardust’s suicide as revealing the transferential effect. However the dynamic of transference often includes total identification followed by total rejection. This doesn’t mean that transference is recognised and overcome but can be triggered by the unrealisable expectations that are projected onto the object of transference.
More generally, we need to be wary of the limits of “therapy”. Sometimes it can appear as a smoothing out of the rough edges of our lives, a way of accommodating ourselves to the brutal separations imposed by capitalism: a “healing” that is not about collective transformation. The government’s move towards funding Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as opposed to ‘talking cures’ is certainly motivated by the former’s emphasis on learning to cope in order to fit back into existing society rather than revealing and dealing with underling causes. But we also discussed the way that we all can fall into using excessive talking in an anti-therapeutic manner, talking without pause, on topics we are comfortable with, can be used as a mechanism to avoid considering more difficult and disruptive topics. We can recognise this practice in ourselves during political discussions. Isn’t this why consideration of transference might be useful?
Is the discussion of transference timely or necessary? Have there been any strong, transferential leaders in recent European, networked movements? Where are the 15M figureheads?
This lack of leaders in some context doesn’t mean they are absent in other contexts, Latin America (Chavez), other parts of Europe (Beppe Grillo, Syriza/Tsipiras). But the lack of apparent ‘leaders’ in recent ‘horizontalist’ movements was the impulse for the Free Association’s look at the Assembly form and Consensus-Decision Making process in relation to the transferential function.
CDM works well as a decision making process as long as the conditions are right. It needs stable conditions, favourable affects, a shared commitment to the process and hopefully clusters of strong bonds in the shape of affinity groups. More than this though it works best where the objective is already agreed. (During the Anti-Globalisation cycle of protests the disruption of the summit supplied the pre-set objective.) When all these conditions are met then CD-M can be a remarkably effective form of coordination, which can, when using spokes-council mechanisms, scale up to several thousand people.
During Occupy it seemed that the GA’s often took very few decisions and met very few of the conditions that allow CDM to be effective. Instead there seems to have been an emphasise on testimony and allowing all present to fully express themselves at the expense of effective decision making (the time pressured nature of summit protests, where decisions and coordination had to take place, made the emphasis fall more on efficient decision-making).
The General Assemblies of Occupy seem to be more about assembling previously disparate individuals and forces through a recognition of commonality, what the FA have been calling, the assembly moment. The “We are the 99%” tumblr is an example of this recognition of commonality through repetition. When you see so many other people in the same situation as yourself then our problems must be structural and not, as politicians and the media constantly say, the result of personal failings.
Perhaps there are three levels to “politicisation”:
1. Anger/outrage (like Holloway’s “No!”)
2. This is the raw material for contentious politics but if it is to be move to collective action then it needs an assembly moment. The vehicle for this could be a general assembly or a political party or something else. This is the point where you realize the commonality of your experience and the structural and therefore mutable causes of your problems as well as the first intimation that collectivity is possible. This is also the entry point into a wider “movement”.
3. For a transformative Left politics, however, the assembly moment is not sufficient. It must be followed by the development of a collective consistency that allows you to gain collective control over both the objective of your collective action and also the mechanisms through which your collectivity is held together. It’s these two functions that present the Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide questions with which the Free Association article begins.
The second stage is an incredibly liberating and empowering moment (which is why so many loved the experience of Occupy or anti-summit camps, etc.) indeed mechanisms of transference seem to be involved here. But it’s unlikely that the organisation form for the second stage will be the best form for the third stage. So it’s crucial not to fetishise the second stage and mistake it for a universal organizational form (the danger with talk of pre-figuration). The transference must be used in the second stage but then recognized and overcome in order to move to the third stage. Indeed this might be where the stagist metaphor breaks down as the third stage may involve the serial repetition and then overcoming of the second stage.
Following this discussion of what assemblies are good for we progressed to discussing their drawbacks. CD-M is not very good for strategic thinking, it can struggle to accommodate new events, and it can tend towards inertia. The group that did most to codify and develop CD-M, the Movement for a New Society (MNS), decided to lay down their organisation in part because of the difficulty of developing strategic thinking through CD-M. There was some discussion on why this might be so. It was suggested that an over emphasis on respecting other people’s opinion prevented productive division emerging; the fear of causing offence preventing ‘bad’ ideas being challenged. In reply it was argued that demanding robustness from others in discussion risked reinforcing existing social divisions, some of which manifest itself through differential confidence in public speaking. It was suggested that the ability to produce new thought and meaning was a better axis of critique of CD-M, which has an in-built bias towards the existing orthodoxy of the movement. It’s easier to gain consensus around a proposal close to existing practice than it is to gain consensus around the need for a radical break.
This production of radical breaks, new problems and innovative thinking is a function that presently seems to be fulfilled by ‘distributed leadership’. One way to think about this function is as what Deleuze and Guattari call a transversal mechanism; indeed Guattari actually constructs the concept of transversality out of a critique of the concept of transference.
Arguably Occupy fetishised the Assembly moment. This glosses over the absences – those who can’t make meetings, those who haven’t yet identified with Occupy. A fetish for presence as Nunes puts it. It can also mask the tyranny of structurelessness. For all of Occupy’s claims to horizontalism, there was always a structure: at Occupy London the media tent was a dark forbidding presence literally at the centre of things – power was not strictly hierarchical but definitely concentric. Making things happen is difficult without clear declaration of how things actually work.
There was some discussion about whether horizontalism necessarily tends to inertia. The example of Madrid was offered where the 15M movement literally moved out of the city centre and helped build an anti-eviction movement around housing. But how was this organized? Was it through agreement hammered out in the assemblies or through leadership by example?
Both the Assembly moment and viral leadership depend on being instantly understandable; they must make sense without the need for detailed explanation. This partly explains the need to move on from the assembly moment. There is a similar dynamic in campaign politics and the demands that are raised there. Calling for the abolition of wage-labour literally makes no sense to people at the moment. But the problem with demands that stay within the sense of society is that they are bound up with a world we want to leave. So anger at the bailout of the banks is reduced to a demand (= a request) for a cap on bankers’ bonuses.
Can icons (and transference) help lift us out of today and allowing us to imagine a different future? One of the ways this is discussed is as a communist horizon or the communist invariant. The fact that the demands that everything should be held in common, Omnia Sunt Communia, was raised during the 16th Century German Peasant war is presented as an example of the recurrence through history of the idea of, and demand for, a society of non-domination. Knowledge of this recurrence can help orient contemporary struggle and lift our horizon beyond the constriction of possibility by existing society. But how can knowledge of the communist horizon be presented and (re)presented in new, non-wooden forms? Perhaps wristbands are not enough. Can Icons embody the communist horizon/invariant?
Bowie was so otherworldly that he always seemed futuristic, but you could maybe say the same about other icons?
The Free Association article talked about the differences between Che and Subcommandante Marcos. If we were looking for a contemporary figure wouldn’t we put forward the Guy Fawkes masks adopted by Anonymous and prevalent at Occupy (and else where)? We might also add Pussy Riot, similarly masked, this time in coloured balaclavas. (The French Intermittants with their white masks might be another precursor here). Is this politics as performance? Pussy Riot, for example, conceive of themselves as conceptual artists or a punk performance art collective.
There is a long history of political icons or characters that were be adopted by people in struggle: Captain Swing, General Ludd, and the Rebecca Riots. Rather than being futuristic these often these harked back to long established moral economies now under threat from the development of capitalism. But the icons did represent a different world to the newly hegemonic one.
Is there a periodisation to the need for masking? Ludd, Swing, Rebecca, these were all pre-modern forms of struggle that required masking because of the illegitimacy of protest and struggle. They disappeared during the ‘modern’ period, characterised by political representation, democratic rights and eventually high unionisation levels. Are these older forms re-emerging because we are exiting the ‘modern’ period? We have also exited the ‘repressive tolerance’ of the Social Democratic era and are within a well established ‘phyiscal force’ neoliberalism. Guy Fawkes masks around the world are met by the same faceless Robocops who react to all protest with near lethal levels of violence.
Can we have an icon that figures, and allows us to grasp, the shape of contemporary class composition? Occupy and the 99% did represent a return to the figure of class but it was far from clear what that figure would look like. We can look at the creation of San Precario, the patron saint of flexible/precarious workers, as an example of conscious experimentation with the use of icons in this way. EuroMayDay in Milan wanted a common figure for all the different experiences of precarious work and played on the notion of Catholic saints to do so.
But San Precario also shows up the potential dangers of this approach, the aestheticisation of politics. An Italian comrade at the discussion recalled how there was a real drive to make politics “sexy”: marches turned into parades, and there was a triumph of style but content sometimes went missing. The lesson is that we don’t just need to make our propaganda and actions look ‘sexy’, we have to make sure they connect materially with what people are doing and experiencing. The example of Planka Nu in Sweden (insurance fund scheme for fare-dodgers) – picking up what people are already doing and amplify the “communist” content, by making the actions more collective and part of a wider, political narrative. It’s interesting to note that the recent Brazilian protests ignited from a free public transport campaign.
Is branding inherently capitalist?
Rather than the aestheticisation of politics, how do we re-politicise aesthetics? In the 1920s, the artistic avant-garde was totally tied up with the imagining of different worlds and the real attempt to build movements. Art today is just another niche market for consumption by the middle class.
There is a certain inertia created by the excessive flows of information in contemporary, networked society. There is a lack of focus. Do Beppe Grillo and The Five Star Movement show the possibility of a ‘media’ figurehead allowing a moment of focus, allowing a lot of people to ask the same questions at the same time? In theory the 5 star movement follows a network logic of bottom up policy and face to face meet ups, in reality Beppe Grillo hasn’t loosened his grip, devolved power or committed figural suicide. Perhaps we should think about the figure of the facilitator in distinction with the figure of the leader?
We ended by returning to the idea that different organisational forms might fulfil different political functions. Different periods (different levels of intensity) might require different political functions. Perhaps we could think about an ecology of different organisations *and* of different organisational forms. Whereas Leninist parties tended to be monolithic and monopolistic, we need to develop different ways of coordinating ourselves and keeping these different functions joined up.
If these functions aren’t always being fulfilled by the same contiguous organisation then a new protocol of relation is needed. How do we keep these different forms together so they cohere rather than being atomised and solipsistic? Perhaps we could think of them operating within a shared culture, with shared practices (in the same way that Occupy jazz-hands were adopted and adapted across the world). Bowie fans could recognise each other whether on not they were at a gig: commonality. Perhaps we need to recognise that the interrelation between different organisations and different organisational forms is a political function in itself and that the right form for this interrelation, the right technology for it, changes over time. At different times the newspaper or the magazine might have fulfilled this role but now something else must take its place. We need mechanisms though which different organisations and traditions can contaminate each other and build commonality. This was one of the reasons that the social centre in Leeds was named the Common Place. We need common places.
If we abandon the monolithic & flattening notion of the party, we need to allow for the possibility of mistakes, inconsistency, experimentation. Monolithic parties can never admit either mistakes or the initiative of other groups. Distributed leadership only works by people & groups fucking up again and again: “Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
WTF IS TO BE DONE #3 5/8/13
Discussion of the chapters ‘The Future of The Radical Left’ and ‘Drawing Conclusions’ from Beyond Capitalism: The Future of Radical Politics by Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy
Reading a text that emerges from what is arguably a very different political tradition to those from which most of the participants in the discussion had emerged proved to be quite an interesting experience. One of the key affects was that the limits of the political imaginary within which it operates were laid immediately bare. These limits though apply mostly to the solutions it offers or, more importantly perhaps, to where it searches for those solutions than to the problems it deals with and the questions it asks.
Firstly, the text is an attempt to deal with the weakness of the labour movement and the question of how to generate an active politics in an era in which social democracy no longer seems viable. Secondly, it can be seen as an attempt to get to grips with the constantly shifting nature of the what-is-possible. These problematics are ones we recognise and it is perhaps on account of this that it’s quite easy to grasp an almost intuitive affinity to the authors’ project. On its broadest level, the authors’ meet these problematics with the diagnosis that something is wrong with current left organising that renders it unfit for purpose, that something needs to change, and that addressing this requires something new. In this we would also find agreement.
The differences really start to emerge when we examine the arena from which Cooper and Hardy try to draw solutions. This displays some key limitations.
1. They have an extremely narrow understanding of the labour movement – Within the two chapters we read, there’s no explicit definition of what they mean by this (though there may well be earlier in the book) however, it is strongly implied that we are to understand this in a very traditional sense of unionized workers. The result of this is a total failure to assess the innumerable innovative struggles around non-unionized work that have emerged over the last few decades, from struggles around social reproductive and unwaged labour to struggles around currently ununionizable precarious labour. In fact, there is nowhere in the text any concerted effort to address the radical transformations in the way labour has been organised and value extracted by capital over the past few decades (long ago outmaneuvering the unions and socialist parties in their current form).
2. Social movements are seen as external to the labour movement – This is a result of the same limitation. Because struggles around work are reduced here to struggles around waged labour, the authors cannot but see social movements as expressions of ideological rather than materially based struggle. We would contend that these are the crucial sites of innovation for struggles around work – For example we might argue that both Occupy and the 2011 summer riots in the UK were struggles around unwaged social reproductive labour
3. The analysis tends to be of what bodies say rather than what they do – In the Nunes text that we read in the first session, he makes explicit reference to this problem. We could perhaps see this as a natural pitfall within traditions that organise around position papers and aims and principles. Despite Cooper and Hardy’s admirable highlighting of the problems inherent in this approach, they don’t really go beyond in it in their analysis of left organisations and movements. So, for example, the various examples of left reformist projects are all discussed on the basis of their stated aims rather than their actual roles, functions and affects. Perhaps more problematically, the same approach is taken to both what they call the anti-globalisation movement and Occupy, neither of which has an ‘official voice’
4. They understand becoming political as becoming a/the party – The party form is of course a very specific means of collective organising. Why this is treated as synonymous with political is not address in the text.
In addition to these limitations there is a constant slippage between calling for something ‘new’ and calling for something ‘renewed’, which are two entirely different, in fact opposed, things. On the one hand we need a ‘new’ means of organising, on the other hand we need a ‘renewed’ union movement, a ‘renewed’ Marxism, within which we need to avoid the temptations of left reformism and ambiguity. In practice, it is difficult to see how this amounts to anything other than ‘holding the line’ or maintaining fidelity to a particular course. They examine this issue of ambiguity in relation to the anti-globalisation movement, which they see as having drifted rightwards from its original ‘anti-capitalist ethos’ to a more ambiguous ‘another world is possible’. Actually, we would contend that the movements and events that kicked off that cycle of protest (Birmingham 98 etc.) were deeply ambiguous and all were much in agreement that we would far rather be part of a huge ambiguous movement that a tiny one maintaining purity of vision.
So the arenas in which solutions are sought here is one bone of contention. Another would perhaps be the solutions themselves. These are vague and few, in fact the entire text amounts to little more than a call for some manner of new forum for developing collective strategy for the future (- we agree). They do offer a couple of insights into what exactly needs to change however.
1. The Sect problem – The endlessly circular sect/unity question that is endemic to Marxist Leninist culture become more complicated in this text. On the one hand they call once again for ‘real unity’ seeming oblivious to the fact that virtually all sects think themselves unity project to which not enough other people will subscribe and virtually all self declared unity projects are thought of as sects by all the other self declared unity projects (left-wing unity produces the sect in a closed ring of symbiosis). On the other hand they talk in glowing terms of attempts to develop pluralist projects. We would suggest here that what this reveals is that Unity (neither a likely nor even desirable prospect) is not the most useful term around which to frame our organising. The problem, for us, isn’t that sects continually form, preventing us from achieving ‘real unity’ but that in obsessing about this political twin-set, we fail to think sufficiently about co-ordination.
2. Bureaucratisation – For Cooper and Hardy, the current left is unable to reassess the social environment as it changes, to remain supple and dynamic, due to a debilitating entrenchment of organisational bureaucracy. The means we have at our disposal for renegotiating ideas and allowing for new input are slow, complicated, and obstructive. We would all agree with this assessment and see it as less contentious than point one – Where we go from the recognition of this problem however is another question.
These issues begged a number of questions for us and, as in all half decent reading-group sessions, led to some long tangential discussions not based on the text.
We found ourselves discussing at some length struggles around production that don’t fit in to this narrow notion of a ‘labour movement’. In particular, we talked about struggles around social reproduction. Greece seems to be a bit of a laboratory for this at the moment. A couple of us had recently been at a gathering in London where someone had given a report back on their engagement with struggles in Greece. She talked about Golden Dawn’s food distribution activity. These she characterised as ‘machines for producing gratitude’, telling us that there’s actually a very specific set of conventions around the receiving of these packages that involves shaking the hand of and thanking the Golden Dawn activist who gives it to you. We talked about the extent to which Social Democracy operates in a similar way, wherein one has Tony Benn or whoever to thank for aspects of the welfare state rather than struggling workers in Glasgow who successfully terrified the state well enough to make welfare a possibility. The weakness of working class struggle at the present moment creates a situation in which this discourse of gratitude (and organising around gratitude) becomes very easy. The idea is central to the Tories’ creation of the figure of the welfare recipient. In this figure not gratitude but passivity and reliance have been produced (of course this is a cynical argument intended both to grow passivity and reliance and to shift it further onto the terrain of the market). We asked ourselves how one might replicate this focus on social reproduction whilst avoiding the creation of machines to produce gratitude and instead creating machines to produce pride and dignity, and how we might push these machines beyond a situation of the creation of reliance and passivity onto a situation of empowering self-replication.
Social reproductive struggles in Greece also provided us with an illustrative example in Syriza of a body who’s stated aims were not necessarily reflected in the function they actually fulfill. On the one hand they’re a fairly typical social democratic electoral project whilst on the other, activists within Syriza are absolutely central to the linking of rural farms with the urban poor, beginning to build a situation in which real autonomy of social reproduction becomes a possibility.
The other significant strand to our conversation outside the text was around co-ordination. One participant recounted a story of having been at the launch of the Beyond Capitalism at the Up The Anti gathering, whereat some poor soul in the audience had managed to beautifully caricature the left by denouncing another audience member on the basis of their position on North Korea, despite this being somewhat remote from the matter in hand. This part of the discussion also produced a few questions that we hope we’ll be able to build on when we carry this forward: Assuming a supersession of the ouroboros of sect/unity, How do we determine what we need to agree on to co-ordinate and what form that co-ordination take? And, leading from this, do you need a separate political organisation or do you just need community campaigns? Waiting in the wings of this last question, as always, is the question of what we actually mean when we say community. These questions stated in bold above seem like the crucial ones to take away from this session and incorporate into the discussion to follow.