The crisis through the mirror

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When struggles explode in BRICS countries. This is the issue that we present, or better, that the Gezi Commune and the passe livre movement present to us. In first place, they represent an occasion for trying, once again, to make a critical reading on the continual displaying of a Thermidorian image in the current phase.

By now, at the sixth year of the crisis, which in the past we defined as global and permanent, for many it is as if not only the insufficiency of movements but also a structural sense of defeat and irresoluteness should be definitely acclaimed. From here, we can apprehend the choice of shortcuts, no matter if “forward” or “backwards”, if dictated by a naïve good faith or by opportunistic calculation. The result is identical: avoiding confrontation with advancements and blocking points, those are the real centres of the struggles where these exist, or their difficulty to emerge and recompose into a contiguous fabric. “But in Italy there are no struggles!”, the vulgate says, within and without movements. It is maybe the same thing that comrades could have said in Istanbul or in Rio de Janeiro, as well as in the States before Occupy or in Tunisia or Egypt before the revolutionary wave that has turned Northern Africa upside-down. Those comrades would have been unwary, or at least – we can say it today – they would not have considered the more or less deep genealogies that constitute the crucial backbones of those insurgencies. On our part, we are not interested in reading the cabal or being the bookmakers of global revolts: our task, more sober and at the end of the day more demanding, is to attempt to read tendencies, to elaborate political hypothesis, to bet on the different compositions of elements already existing or that are in a chaotic process of formation.

Focusing on this target, these struggles demand that we think about some underlying issues: first of all, is it possible to designate a common paradigm of movements within the crisis? Obviously, we are not talking about a – moreover inconceivable – unitary and homogenous picture, rather of common elements that can allow the various different struggles to merge into a plane of communication and translatability. If we assume that it is possible to designate such a paradigm, how does what happened in Turkey and Brazil modify it? The analytical materials that we present in our Cartography of struggles within the crisis offer significant contributions in this direction of research.       

Paradigms in movement

It has been a long time since we began working on a critical revisitation of the traditional category of “cycle”. We have already ascertained its difficult utilisation for the reading of economic crises: when these occur at a vertiginous and accelerated pace within the span of a few years, when these tend to spread and extend into the normal functioning of finance so as to become permanent, when they proceed from bubble to bubble according to the so-called “boom-bust” dynamic – how is it yet possible to utilise, at least in its original meaning, such a category?

In parallel, relating to the economic cycles, it is probably to rethink the “cycles of struggles”. All in all, they are the very radical reconfiguration of the forms of power, the explosion of the traditional coordinates designed by the international labour division, the end of representative politics and of the State as a measure of the relationships of force (the necessity for struggles to situate themselves in an immediately constituent plane) suggesting that we go beyond the conventional definition of cycle.

However, it may be possible to talk of a “cycle of subjectivities”, that is the common space and time where subjectivities are born and act. Such are subjectivities, those of struggles within the crisis, that seem to share some characterising features: the social and class composition, the rejection of, or at least the detachment from representation, the major spaces of life and activity, which are the internet and the metropolis, some manifestations of struggle (for instance, the occupations of squares and other urban places), and not only an attack on the private but also an increasingly problematic relationship with the public. And, at the same time, they share common problems, firstly that of duration. Or, to put it in other terms, more familiar to our lexicon, the difficulty to join the destituent action (which at times has been extraordinarily sharp, such as during the overthrowing of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt) with a likewise powerful constituent action. The horizontal and extensive plane of mobilisations, their capillary diffusion and ability to multiply, have a hard time in coalescing with an intensive and vertical plane, able to modify the relations of production and force in not only a contingent way.                

However, if we want to avoid being affected by cyclothymia, bouncing form euphony for revolts (made by others) to depression for recoil phases (meant to justify the above-mentioned shortcuts), we should seriously try to follow Michael Hardt’s suggestion: which is to look at the production of subjectivity, not in order to take comfort in the usefulness of conflicts, but because it is on this level – that one of production of subjectivity and its ability to constitute itself in common – that we must locate progressions and limits of struggles within the crisis. Here there is no room for optimism nor for consolatory analyses: what in these weeks is happening in Egypt gives us back the picture of the dramatic nature of the current phase we are living in. But we cannot separate the disturbing risks of reaction from the concrete possibilities that movements within the crisis continuously produce: sometimes it is extremely hard, but we must be here (within), because there is not an outside. Only being within makes it possible to perceive that the game is completely open. Moreover, we have seen how it is from contingent triggers – such as the defense of a park in Istanbul, or the rise of transportation fees in Brazil – that general struggles emerge. This does not mean that they are causal, but that they are able to mobilise and unify deep genealogies and apparently invisible but absolutely present forces.

Considering the way they emerge from the articles in focus, movements in the BRICS (including as well Turkey in the journalistic acronym) put us in front of a new very important element though: they are struggles taking shape within economical contexts characterised not by recession, but on the contrary by growth. Adjectivising the crisis by writing “global” evidently means to assume the intrinsic and deep internal differentiation. More generally, we can talk of the permanent crisis of capitalistic development, of the exhaustion of its promises of social progress. While in Europe and in the United Stats this crisis takes, in a paradigmatic form, the physiognomy of the middle-class in a process of downgrading and precarisation, comrades from Istanbul and Rio tell us a different story. In fact, accordingly with the mediating political function that the European middle-class has historically had, the Turkish one is part of the ruling block, while the Brazilian one never really existed, it is born already downgraded and precarised. It constitutes itself, ab origine, as cognitive proletariat. The compositions of struggles in Europe and North America and of those ones in the BRICS – the subjects at the center of the reflection of NeetWork – display a sort of world through the mirror: on one hand, there is the emergence of the second-generation precarious, who are immediately socialized in a situation of permanent crisis, of downgrading and scrapping of cognitive skills, who – differently from their parents – have never even heard any story of a bright future; on the other hand, the young protagonists of the Turkish and especially Brazilian movements – the comrades explain to us – were raised with the promises of a society in expansion, specifically in Latin America in the difficult transition towards a post-neoliberal society. They are the subjects of an unresolved transition, as Michael Hardt correctly underscores. It is not the case that within the struggles in the BRICS the illusory alternativity between private and public does not subsist. In a certain sense, the already privatised public is the main enemy, that dream of a post-neoliberal capitalistic society which has become, for an entire generation, the symbol of an ascending intellectual and creative force but constrained within the limits of exploitation. However, in the dissolution of the classical economic cycle the world through the mirror produces common struggles, unified by the definitive separation between capitalist development and social progress, that is by the permanent blockade and the attack on the collective potency generating itself within that development and exceeding it. Commensurability is thus produced by the struggles: movements constitute a global plane. In this scenery – to say it with Bifo – the problem is to lead the struggles toward the strategic plane of cognitive work autonomy. This is the issue.

The space of struggles

In the “cycle” we have at this point a problem of places and spaces. On one hand, we necessarily have to deal with an issue: once the metropolis has become productive, which are the places where conflicts take place and value concentrate, those ones where it is still possible to harm the interests of the bosses? On the other hand: after the crisis of the nation-state, which are the political spaces where the global plane can be overthrown into a lever for radical transformation? Today, it seems as if there are struggles harming the interests of the bosses but still not generating recompositive spaces, and recompositive spaces having a hard time in harming the interests of the bosses. It is an issue we deal within the Cloe section, starting from the hypotheses sketched by Simona de Simoni. Let us now focus on some stenographic notes to further develop, or better to question the knot of transnational spaces.

It has already been a long time since we pinpointed Europe as the plane in which to act, the possible middle-range lever between the fading national space and the global one otherwise fleeing. We continue to think it, but at the same time we want to avoid repeating hypotheses as a mantra. Not because they were wrong in principle, but simply because the time when such hypotheses could be politically substantiated is over. Meanwhile, as Christian Marazzi conveys, Europe has become a monster. However, let there be no mistakes: we are not at all thinking of taking a step back, which is going back to the narrow and empty national spaces. Quite the opposite: in order to adequately rebuff any neo-sovereignist temptation (everyday there are more examples of it, especially coming from beyond the Alps) it is crucial to reformulate that hypothesis which used to characterise us. In other terms, we cannot continue evoking that ideal Europe and turning a blind eye to what real Europe actually is, unless we are only to be simple spectators. Within movements the theme of Europe is either not particularly present or sometimes even absent, there is no doubt about it; instead of labeling them as nationalist or blinded by sovereignism, we should rather focus on the reasons behind it, in order not to appease them, but to transform them.

Here the problem concerns the level on which our critique to real Europe and the Euro should be situated, always opposing any reactionary and sovereignist retreat. In fact, if the national space is an empty space for instances of change, the European one does not simply have to be filled, but built along completely new coordinates. This could happen starting from its internal fault lines – firstly the Mediterranean one, where war drums are coming back to the stage – to overthrow into levers of transnational political initiative. In this direction, the suggestions of Marazzi are very important: we must locate some objectives in order to concretely decline the praxis of transformation. Now a discourse on Europe, following Christian, can only begin from the individuation of spaces and elements of the common – which means not from institutional maps but from a cartography of subjectivities, from their forms of life and struggle.

In renewing the immediately transnational plane of political action, we also have to be considering the difficulty in constructing European networks. During the last years we have made many attempts (concerning both European campaigns and subjective sectors, such as migrants, precarious and students), but they all faced the problem of duration. We can see the failure of aggregations based on a single event, as they tend to bet on the recycling of the “no-global” counter-summit rather than on the experimentation of new forms appropriate to the current phase. On the other hand, within this space to be built it is necessary also to think of a new temporality of networked organisational processes. This cannot be limited to the events of conflict and explosion, with the miserable result of sinking down a little time later; neither can it go at the same speed of continuity that networks rooted on the territorial level have. In fact, the various attempts have left sedimentations, tracks and political relations, which surely are insufficient in order to configure new forms of transnational organization but are useful to keep the urgent research needed on that direction alive. Hence, we should not start from zero every time, even in the task of creating something necessarily new and adequate to the potentially emerging subjects. Thus, the main problem is to understand on which levels and through which levers potency can become a space of generalisation.      

In the end, to begin

Let’s conclude with another open problem, including several others too. In fact, the new Commonware project wants to dig into the unresolved knots, into hypotheses to correct and rethink, into conceptual tools that risk running idle. Several times we have maintained that the crisis of representation means externality from the left, especially for the new generations within the current class composition. For goodness’ sake! nothing can inhibit the continued use of that significant, hoping that a new meaning or a set of novel principles will come back to fill it up with possibility and emancipation. Though, we are afraid that this road is not leading us far, unless we are happy just to be storytellers of a tale that has finished. Surely we cannot be happy with such a statement of externality, unless we can fully accept its consequences in terms of perspectives , practices and discourses. For instance, we may say today – meaning a large us, coinciding with the spectrum of movements and, in fact, even with its “leftist” representations – we have probably been too sniffy with attitudes and behaviors, certainly disquieting and ambiguous, on themes such as corruption or meritocracy. But let us be clear: we don’t have any sympathy for the types of discourse against the caste, which are the representation of such a mood. On the contrary, we reclaim the theoretical and political rightness of a radical attack on meritocratic demagogy. And it was correct to point out the lexicon of power and mystification in these types of discourse: as if the future of precarious people had been stolen by corrupt individuals and not by a system producing corruption, and as if there are the judiciary and the prison that can give us back what they took from us and reestablish a mythological – and terrifying – system for which “everyone according to his/her merit”. However, neither do we have much sympathy for a diffused elitiarian disdain towards the “masses”, which did not allow us to understand the ambivalence – real though problematic – of those attitudes and behaviors. Therefore, we threw out the baby (class struggle against a shitty life) with the bathwater; that is the meritocratic and judicial-fetishist discourse. But if we go into depth within these ambiguous attitudes we find, in negative, the material core of the processes of movement – crisis of representation, permanent precariousness, absence of perspectives, debasement and banalisation of consciousness. It has been quite a long time since we said it, but we are having a hard time in drawing practical consequences out of it: struggles within the crisis are inevitably spurious, and probably they will increasingly be as such. Supporters of others’ revolts should at least know that the celebrated Argentinian “que se vayan todos” was born out of a complex of attitudes and behaviors not too dissimilar from the ones mentioned above. In positive, we can say that the constituent plane does not belong to the crystalline purity of subjectivity, which never existed and never will exist, but to the ability of class compositions to create new forms of organisation. 


* Translated by Ivan Bonnin (@ivnbkn).