What if we build it and they don’t come? That was the experience of the left during the crisis - decades had been spent building organisations and a model of how crisis would create revolution but when the crisis arrived the left discovered that the masses weren’t convinced. The expected pattern of crisis leading to small strikes and protests, then to mass strikes and riot and then perhaps to general strike and revolution didn’t flow as expected. Under that theory the radical left would at first be marginal but then as conditions drove class militancy to new heights the workers disappointed by reformist politicians and unions leaders would move quickly to swell its ranks.
Regular readers may have noticed I’ve recently starting tagging articles & blogs with Networked Revolution some of which don’t appear to have a direct connection to the revolutionary implications of social media. This is because I’m using this tag as a catch all for the blogs & articles I’m publishing questioning how we traditionally understand revolutionary organisation in the new conditions of today.
I’ve expanded this beyond simply being about the technology to the behaviors this new technology makes possible and also the conflicts it is creating. One aspect of this is the material looking as the arguments around what is often called ‘intersectionality’ although in terms of left practice the term micropolitics may be more useful. In meat space I’ve had a few people asking me what I’m up to, surprised I suspect that I’ve been quite sympathetic to this set of ideas and methods while most on the left (particularly those over a certain age) are unrelenting in their hostility. Someone even told me I’m ‘playing a clever game’ so I thought it might be a good idea to clarify that this is a genuine exploration and explain some of what has prompted it.
This article is an attempt to investigate certain problems of the left via the lens of micropolitics and macropolitics, terms first introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (henceforth D&G). Faced with the challenging nature of texts from post-structuralist thinkers like D&G or Foucault, many people make the assumption that they are really motivated by an elitist desire to confuse, intimidate and befuddle the masses and divert theory into useless abstractions, far removed from the concerns of ordinary people for social transformation and liberation from oppression and exploitation. However a careful reading of D&G’s Micropolitics and Segmentarity chapter in “A Thousand Plateaus” (ATP) reveals they have two main objects in their theorising there - to make sense of the experience of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s and the (then) more recent uprisings of Paris May ‘68. We will try to extend that to looking at more recent problems, passing via the Poll Tax riots of 1990 to looking at today’s current controversies around intersectionality
IMAGE: By Azirlazarus (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
For the last couple of months the radical left, across the English-speaking world, has been in the grip of a furious online debate around intersectionality. Near the start of that period author Mark Fisher published an article with the title ‘Exiting the Vampire Castle.’ In this piece he portrayed those who favored an intersectional analysis as monsters engaged in a campaign of online bullying which is intended to bring down important left leaders like Owen Jones and Russell Brand. In a later interview with Doug Henwood he made it clear that the intention of the piece was to exclude such people, including anarchists, from left debate.
Horizontalism is an emerging term used to describe the key common characteristics of the waves of rebellion of the last decade. Occupy in 2011 was the peak to date but the term Horizontalism itself appears to originate the rebellion in Argentina after the 2001 banking crisis there. Marina Sitrin in her book on that rebellion says the term (in Spanish obviously) was used to describe the neighborhood, workplace & unemployed assemblies that emerged to form "social movements seeking self-management, autonomy and direct democracy." [Translation into Catalan] [Greek]
Image by Author:Meeting in Gezi Park, June 2013
The nostalgic left is a bit of shorthand I’ve started using for those on the left who have reacted to the disintegration of the old left by wishing for idealised simpler times. And perhaps more strangely blaming the collapse on what they see as threatening new developments, like intersectionality. They hold such newfangled nonsense responsible for the current failure of the left to get an echo from the general population.
Over the last couple of years the WSM has been going through a process of re-examining the way we relate to people interested in what we have to say. Alongside this we have recently begun to try and get a better understanding of what it is we do. Both these processes have some major implications in reaching an understanding of what the usefulness of a revolutionary organisation is in the modern era of broad and loose social networks.
There is a long standing and in my view pretty counter productive hostility between left political organisations and the radical counter culture. This piece grew out of a reply to ‘The Limit’s of the Counter Culture’ which is part of an online publishing project of Chekov Feeney. Chekov was a member of the WSM for many years and is using this project to slowly reveal his new analysis of radical politics and other ways things might be done. I’ve known him for about 15 years since we met in one such counter cultural political space, the short lived Garden of Delight in Dublin. In any case what started out as a somewhat annoyed response to his piece sat on my drive and grew and grew as I edited it into something more constructive and ended up far too long to post as a comment on his site. So rather than wasting it I’m posting it here.
The revolutionary paper used to be at the centre of activity of almost every small revolutionary organisations. Every member would be expected to play a role in relation to that paper and because of that would develop & defend an organisational identity based around the content of the paper. For 99% of them that role in relation to the paper would be restricted to selling it but all the same it helped make them part of an organisational collective identity.
It used to be that revolutionary organisations had a monopoly on revolutionary knowledge. That was one of the reasons people joined and worked with them. But now anyone who can use google can access vastly higher quality information on revolutions than I could in 1980's Dublin by going to SWP meetings or buying left papers.