[written to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the LA riots, one of the most significant events in recent US history – r&d]
LOS ANGELES, March 3, 1991 – On the shoulder of the freeway, police are beating a man. Because we are in the US, and because the man is black, we will know that this is a routine event, an ordinary brutality, part of the very fabric of everyday life for non-whites. But something is exceptional this time. There is an observer, as there often is, but the observer holds in his hands an inhuman witness, a little device for producing images which are accepted as identical with the real. The images – grainy, shaking with the traces of the body behind them – enframe this event, defamiliarize it, make it appear in all its awfulness as both unimaginable singularity and example of a broader category of everyday violence. The recorded beating of Rodney King marks, as many have noted, the beginning of one of the most significant episodes of US history. But few have examined this event in terms of the transformative effects it exerted upon contemporary spectacle and its would-be enemies. By spectacle, we mean here those social relations and activities which are mediated directly by the representations, whether visual or verbal, which capital has subsumed (that is, remade according to its own imperatives).
For us, the advent of the Rodney King video marks the first major shift in the political economy of spectacle, which we choose to describe as a passage from passive to active spectacle, from spectacle as pacifying object of passive consumption to spectacle as the active product of the consumer (whose leisures or recreations have long since become forms of work). In its classical form, spectacle creates a situation in which “spectators are linked solely by their one-way relationship to the very center that keeps them isolated from each other” (Debord.) But at a certain point in its development, spectacle dispenses with the need for centralization, finding that passive consumers can quite easily be recruited to the production of spectacle. The shift from unilateral toward multilateral relations does not promise an end to isolation, but rather its perfection. We might think of the distinction here as the difference between the television screen and the computer screen, but since we are talking about a set of social relations as much as technological apparatuses, we should be careful to avoid identifying such relations with any particular technologies. The video camera is merely one of many devices which assist in the transformation of administered life into self-administered life.
February 5, 2012
On Saturday night a group apparently semi-related to Occupy Williamsburg threw a party in a vacant condo building. The party and its riotous aftermath have been covered by the New York Times, Village Voice, and the Daily News to name a few, but so far only one statement has been released from the occupationist side: a tract posted on anarchistnews.org titled “Enter the Vandalists” and signed by the “Geiseric Tendency,” possibly a reference to the historicVandal King.
Resorting to an automatism characteristic of their class, the gentry of Williamsburg summoned their militia to dissolve the siege being laid to a conspicuously empty palace of banality, newly erected in the heart of their spectacular playground. The vandalists had recognized the inhospitablility to life of this sarcophagus for the young professional class, and did not shy from the conclusion that it lent itself only to defilement. The object of their critique was not limited to the class for whose consumption the condominiums that cover Williamsburg are produced, but included the extreme boredom that the proliferation of these kinds of spaces induce. The prevalence of the condominium is a symptom of the spreading homotopia that is the Metropolis—the endless repetition of the same forever.
The vandalists will not reconcile themselves to merely appropriating these habitats—designed for gradual atrophy, optimized for the most comfortable postponement of death. Rather, they want to see them recycled in the urban biosphere; turned into manure from which unforeseen species might emerge.
It will not only be the police, the rich, and the reactionary press that will slam the vandalists—activists will likely join in as well, decrying the occupation as not being social enough, not populist enough. Why did it have to be a party, with booze, hip hop music, and NO RULES? Why not an attempted squat? Why was the media not called? Why was the action not ‘consensed’ upon in some public group? No one will understand the vandalists because they are not of either world; they seek neither professionalist capitalism nor professionalist activism. Perhaps if squatting a social center were still sometimes tolerated this desperate mayhem would not have occured, just as if there were anything to be gained from joining Organized Labor or Revolutionary Parties perhaps we would not see the global masses chaotically rising against singular abstractions of all authority (Wall Street, Mubarak, the IMF, Money, etc).
Activists call protests, the vandalists instead call potlucks. Potlucks of destruction.
We can expect more Occu-parties and general bad citizenry from these vandalists leading up to an ultimate act of descecration, an intelligibility strike, on May First.
January 20, 2012
The Great Recession and the Failure of Capitalism, Paul Mattick,Professor of Philosophy, Adelphi University, New York, Part of the 2011 Ethics Awareness Week from the Center For the Study of Ethics.
December 24, 2011
Towards a New Manifesto:
￼Conversations between Adorno & Horkheimer, 1956
A life-long intellectual partnership between two major thinkers, so close that their most celebrated single texts were co-authored and their names are difficult to dissociate, is rare enough to rank as virtually a sport of history. There seem to be only two cases: in the 19th century, Marx and Engels, and in the 20th Horkheimer and Adorno. Might they be regarded as prefigurations of what in a post-bourgeois world would become less uncommon? Their patterns differed. Marx and Engels, born two years apart, were contemporaries; once their friendship was formed, collaboration between them never ceased. Adorno was eight years Horkheimer’s junior, and a close working relationship came much later, with many more vicissitudes: initial meeting in 1921, intermittent friction and exchange up to the mid-1930s, concord only in American exile from 1938 onwards, more pointedly distinct identities throughout. The general trajectory of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research is well known, as over time ‘critical theory’— originally Horkheimer’s code-word for Marxism— confined it- self to the realms of philosophy, sociology and aesthetics; to all appearances completely detached from politics. Privately it was otherwise, as the exchange below makes clear.
This unique document is the record, taken down by Gre- tel Adorno, of discussions over three weeks in the spring of 1956, with a view to the production of—as Adorno puts it—a contemporary version of The Communist Manifesto. In form it might be described, were jazz not anathema to Adorno, as a philosophical jam-session, in which the two thinkers improvise freely, often wildly, on central themes of their work—theory and practice, labour and leisure, domination and freedom—in a political register found nowhere else in their writing. Amid a careening flux of arguments, aphorisms and asides, in which the trenchant alternates with the reck- less, the playful with the ingenuous, positions are swapped and contradictions unheeded, without any compulsion for consistency. In substance, each thinker reveals a different profile. Horkheimer, historically more politicized, was by now the more conservative, imbibing Time on China, if not yet to the point where he would commend the Kaiser for warning of the Yellow Peril. Though still blaming the West for what went wrong with the Russian Revolution, and rejecting any kind of reformism, his general outlook was now close to Kojève’s a decade later: ‘We can expect nothing more from mankind than a more or less worn-out version of the American system’. Adorno, more aesthetically minded, emerges paradoxically as the more radical: reminding Horkheimer of the need to oppose Adenauer, and envisaging their project as a ‘strictly Leninist manifesto’, even in a period when ‘the horror is that for the first time we live in a world in which we can no longer imagine a better one’.
December 18, 2011
[Sic 1.1] Further Remarks
Further remarks and discussion on The Present Moment from Sic 1
Table of Contents
1. Additional remarks on the end of activism
2. “The police is also, opposite to us, our own existence as a class as limit”
3. General remark by Blaumachen on the text
4. Formal subsumption; real subsumption
5. The conjuncture
6. Critique of the conception of theory in the text
December 7, 2011
29. Nov 2011 – Translation of the editorial of Kosmoprolet #3 by Friends of the Classless Society (Berlin)
All over the world, events are keeping up with the pace of a crisis, the end of which was just recently cheerfully proclaimed by people who thought ludicrous amounts of sovereign debt to be the recipe for an economic miracle. By racking up debt to their ears, governments worldwide were able to contain the so-called financial crisis; but then, the rating agencies presented them a bill that they promptly passed on to wage workers. The whole maneuver did not lead to recovery but to an even more menacing state budget crisis, the handling of which through uncompromising austerity measures has aroused anger. Resistance is mounting. We are at the threshold of a social crisis. Those who feel the effects of the governments’ austerity programs in their everyday life are starting to realize ever more clearly that these are not temporarily painful, yet necessary sacrifices. They are becoming aware of the fact that the drastic cuts will not only last for years or even decades, but that their own future is becoming ever bleaker. We are probably at the start of a new era: Ever since society was brought back down to the earth of cold hard economic facts, the culturalist carnival of differences has come to an end. Society’s colorful superstructure has scaled off to reveal, in Orthodox Marxist terms, the drab, universal base. And the crisis has achieved what activists striving to link struggles have been incapable of for decades: millions have taken to the streets simultaneously with the same purpose. All they’re left with is an ever more precarious survival under the reigning conditions. For them, it’s all or nothing.
December 4, 2011
The following text comprises a presentation and analysis of the Occupy movement in the United States, by the Lost Children’s School of Cartography. The text was used as a basis for an event on the Occupy movement, that took place at the Skaramanga occupation in Athens, on November 25th, 2011. The brochure published for the event, including this text in Greek, along with the video screened on the night are available here.
Lost in the Fog: Dead Ends and Potentials of the Occupy Movement
So what do you make of this Occupy movement in America? Of course it is the news that everyone wants to hear about. Al Jazeera claimed shortly after the encampment near Wall Street was founded that the Occupy movement in America was facing a mainstream “media blackout.” But in reality, it seemed that nearly every media source was dedicating coverage nationally and internationally. Despite all the press, if one added up the total number of participants in the fledgling occupations throughout America at that time, he would end up with far less than the total number of demonstrators at a general strike in Athens, or a single American anti-war demonstration from 2004.
This alone should serve as a cause for skepticism, although perhaps it is only predictable that in America, of all places, a social movement would arise firstly as the mere spectacle of revolt. After all, its initial coordinators intended from its inception that the Occupy movement of America be a copy of a copy. The genuine, spontaneous, and seemingly unstoppable surge of rage–the insurrection–in the Arab world had already been watered down into the pacifist indignados movement of Europe. Next the American radicals who called for an occupation of Wall Street would try to copy-and-paste the indignados movement to America by sprinkling a tactic–occupation–on what they hoped would prove grounds fertile enough to grow a movement.
That movement now seems to be swept up in its own momentum, and every day there are new developments in what seems to be a genuinely unpredictable and leaderless social reaction. While the occupations were perhaps first populated by the same cliques of activists who had championed the previous failed American social movements, the encampments and demonstrations have grown because they have attracted the self-identified American “middle class.” As American society comes under further blows of the so-called “crisis” of capitalism, the illusion of middle class comfort dissipates, revealing its previously hidden, but now more apparent, dispossession. The Occupy movement is an opportunity for the middle class to protest the “unfairness” of their proletarianization. In part thanks to widespread disillusionment with political representatives, previously non-activist citizens are suddenly eager to participate in an activist social movement. Paradoxically, the brightest hope we can find in this situation is also the grimmest fact: the increasingly dire economic situation is not turning around, and life will not go back to the way it once was. It is precisely because the movement for a preservation of the illusory American dream is doomed to fail that the Occupy movement has the potential to supersede itself.
Of course, regardless of its active decomposition, the middle class carries its values into the movement–the ideological values of the good citizen. One could characterize the Occupy movement as a citizens’ movement for the survival of capitalist democracy in a moment ripe with potentials for true rupture. Here, self-described radicals, anti-authoritarians and in some cases even anarchists may play the most critical but hidden roles in recuperation, if in their well-intentioned attempt to “build the new world in the shell of the old” they actually succeed at protecting the core of the old world in the shell of the new. (We will elaborate on this in a moment.)
But there is also a beautiful discord within the situation. The Occupy movement can hardly be summed up by any particular ideological stance, and its greatest potentials spring from its chaotic features and resistance to definition. Anarchists who have stubbornly refused any participation in what they have disregarded as merely a bourgeois movement have safeguarded their identities as the most radical of all at the cost of guaranteeing their own irrelevancy in the developing situation. In order to move the Occupy movement in the direction of genuine upheaval, anarchists must participate to cause sustained and intensifying disruption and destruction of the apparatuses of capital in order to make this movement a threat to capitalism, aiming to outflank the state by generalizing these tactics. We will also explore the developments in this direction so far as well as some future potentials.