Against Spectacle

k-punk on the G20 protest and the response to the economic ‘crisis’. This follows up on similar analyses from Savonarola, Owen Hatherley (and another), and an earlier k-punk post.

The key issue is how to break out of the logic of protest-as-petition — pleading with the state to be nice, to play the role of the benevolent protector, when in anything like its current form it is structurally incapable of doing so. The response has to be twofold: directed at the level of the political subject and the institutions which it can shape and be shaped by.

Firstly, we need to bury the politics of ressentiment once and for all. It is fatal for all political action to remain an extension of an identity struggle, of simply standing up to be counted, earning the right to say ‘At least I did something‘. This type of politics — as a struggle for recognition, both cultural and institutional — has an important but nonetheless narrow role, and its heyday has long passed. It cannot serve as a paradigm for effective political action any longer. That it still does, with its remnants lingering on in the anticapitalist movement, can be easily explained: it is deeply psychologically satisfying. But it is becoming ever more clear — just think to the actual effect of the huge Iraq war protests — that it needs to be supplanted or supplemented by something different. What is needed is a mode of radicalisation, getting people interested and engaged in political action, but which moves away from a narcissistic model which privileges the authenticity of one’s feelings rather than the long-term impact of one’s behaviour. In short, more hard-headed austerity and less of the carnivalesque would not go amiss. And not for asceticism’s sake, but because it will be more likely to work.

Secondly, a new economism is needed, returning to the sphere of production as the site of struggle. With a moribund political climate (even in these interesting times), this is where capital can be challenged most effectively. David Harvey is right to call for a ‘socialisation of surplus’ — though this ought to be not just at a governmental level (e.g. progressive tax and spending policies) but at the local level. The aspiration would be for workers — both material and immaterial — to have far more control over the products of their labour. But initially it is the conditions of labour which are more readily influenced. Traditionally, of course, this has revolved around matters of pay, hours and especially in cases like industry, safety. However, k-punk correctly centres upon opposition to managerialism as the new great front. I think we should see this as bound up with the demand for worker autonomy — to be free from interfering micro-management and the panoptican-nature of modern working practices. Driving back these sorts of changes is crucial and not just because they are depressing enough in themselves. For, control over the workplace is a crucial part of the socialisation of its products. So too, Michael Albert (parecon aside) is quite right to stress that workplace control, as a platform for creating progressive institutions, is a crucial step towards normalising and reproducing radical ideas in society as a whole.

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