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Analysis & Polemic
"We Have Populism Because There Is No People"
'Quite a number of the terms that we use all the time, and which we thus believe that we understand in all their significance, are, in reality, only fully clear to a privileged few. As in the case of the terms “circle” or “square”, which everyone uses, though only mathematicians have a clear and precise idea of what they really mean; so, too, the word “people” is on everyone's lips, without them ever getting a clear idea in mind of its real meaning'. So said the mathematician and philosopher Frédéric de Castillon, victorious participant in the 1778 contest held by the Royal Prussian Academy on the question, close to the heart of Frederick the Great, 'is it useful for the people to be tricked?' 'Normally, by “the people” we mean' – Castillon continued – 'the majority of the population, almost constantly occupied by mechanical, rough and wearisome tasks, and excluded from government and roles in public life'. Here, we are dealing with the eve of the French Revolution – but in Germany, where nation and people had not yet met, as they already had some time before in England, France and Spain, by way of their absolute monarchies. Thus we are also talking about here, in Italy. Frédéric de Castillon arrived in Berlin having come from Tuscany. Nation and people grew together in the modern age. And what brings them together is the modern state. There is no nation, without the state. But there is no people, without the state. This is important, first in order to understand the question, and moreover in order to grasp it within the time that concerns us, and in which we are engaged. Because the theme is an eternal one, Biblical more than it is historical.
Hermeneutic Antidisturbios: 25S, the Anti-Eviction Movement and the 14 November General Strike in Context
Last autumn, a new and awful form of protest came to Spain. A string of homeowners on the verge of eviction by court orders and the riot police (antidisturbios) committed suicide by leaping from the windows of their mortgaged houses. The growing anti-eviction movement has altered the dynamic of social protest in Spain, broadening and deepening the opposition to austerity already manifested in the 15M and 25S movements. In the general strike of 14 November, called for by the largest unions, ‘everyone except the Partido Popular and Basque nationalist unions’ poured into the streets. Darío Corbeira, editor of Brumaria, sends the following reflection on the context of the unfolding social struggle.
On 25 September, several thousand citizens responded to an anonymous call to surround Madrid’s Congress of Deputies: ‘Surround the Congress, remain there indefinitely. Desert and break with the current regime, demand the dissolution of the entire government, courts and heads of state, and abolition of the existing Constitution. Begin constituting a new system of political, economic and social organization.’ The gathering citizens aimed to convey to the parliamentarians their deep opposition to the austerity program of Mariano Rajoy Brey’s governing Partido Popular (PP) and to the interventions of the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Union. Framing it was a radical critique of the parliamentarism that came out of the so so-called Transition to democracy. As made clear in their manifestos, proclamations and chants, the protesters saw that form of democracy as utterly bankrupt. What began that day has become known as the 25S movement, distinct from but clearly related to its predecessor 15M and the other movements that have emerged from the neighbourhoods, universities, hospitals, cultural centers, and manufacturing areas. All were questioning the perverse effects of neoliberal policies designed by financial capitalism and applied to the letter by the governing authorities. Those effects have shaken the fragile ‘welfare state’ slowly built up since Franco’s death and have undermined all it has achieved by way of diminishing the gaping social and economic disparities that persist in Spain despite the governments of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party/PSOE).
My Encounter with the "Precarious and Service Workers Assembly" of Occupy Oakland
In early spring of 2012, announcements appeared at various internet sites calling for a “Workers Against Work -- Precarious and Service Workers Assembly,” ostensibly connected to or an outgrowth of the Occupy movement in Oakland, California.
The first leaflet I saw for it said this:
“As service workers, we are often both overworked and underpaid; with Management forcing workers to work ever faster in an ever shorter amount of time. Productivity and speed-of-service requirements increase while hours per week are slashed. It’s clear: The harder we work, and the less we get paid, the richer they get! Many of us are already in tough situations as parents, immigrants, young people and students. Racism is blatantly apparent at many of our workplaces, with Latino and immigrant workers confined to back of the house positions, maintaining a racial hierarchy to keep us separated. For some, a job at a restaurant or a café is a 2nd or even 3rd job, a result of the declining wages of other careers. Even worse, we often find ourselves forced into student loan and credit card debt because of low pay. All the while, rent, food, and transportation costs climb through the roof.
From Dining in Refugee Camps to dOCUMENTA 13: The Art of Seeking Sahrawi Independence
There are few recurring global exhibitions of contemporary art more renown, prestigious and selective than dOCUMENTA, held every five years in Kassal Germany. Which is what makes it so very remarkable that one of the highlights of last year's dOCUMENTA 13 was the inclusion of a refugee encampment made by what are arguably among the least known people on the face of the earth--the Sahrawi of North Africa.
Organized by New York artist Robin Kahn, philosopher Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey), and dOCUMENTA 13's Creative Director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and with photo documentation by Artforum critic Kirby Gookin and artist Edi Escobar, the installation was intended to bring attention to the Sahrawi's 38-year struggle for independence. Even more remarkable is that the cross-cultural collaboration came about as the result of a dream. Not a dream of success, as the art world is plethorically marked by, but by a literal dream that came to one of the organizers when asleep. As for whose dream and what it led to, I defer to Robin Kahn's exuberant account below.
The Creativity of the Common
Nuovo Cinema Palazzo
The following considerations are food for thought derived from and developed throughout a series of meetings and debates with the occupants of the Teatro Valle occupato and other subjects sharing the process of creation of the “common”.
The constituent dimension of the common good
Let’s begin with the centrality and historical urgency of the practice we are producing with the creation of the common good. We believe that what the traditional legal models are now compelled to face is, more than the regression of state sovereignty, the relation between constitutions and social autonomies, and the regulatory claim of the first over the latter.
To this regard, our effort is not employed in the direction of a wholehearted defense of the Constitution, nor towards its absolute abolishment. It is rather aimed at creating a dialectic relationship with those institutions in which we find a potential “gap” for creative intervention, therefore penetrating the legal system, regaining the means of affirmation of our struggle, of collective action, and of a new battleground for ourselves and others.
The Strike Wave and New Workers' Organisations: Breaking out of Old Compromises
Over the past weekend, the striking mineworkers of Amplats gathered at a mass rally in Rustenburg and howled their defiance of a series of ultimatums issued by the company. At De Doorns, farm workers are on a wildcat strike - the latest of a series that has become a feature of the South African landscape over the last three months, knocking Mangaung off the front pages. Something is stirring from below…and it is time we got beyond the fear and trepidation that have become the stock response in the media.
After the Marikana massacre President Jacob Zuma appointed the Farlam Commission and also convened an emergency Social Dialogue meeting of Business, Labour and Government in October. The partners released a statement calling on strikers to return to work and for the police to defend law and order and noted that “the wave of unprotected strikes…[could]…undermine the legal framework of bargaining.”
A Letter to Bifo
What are we welcoming you to in post-Sandy New York? How to welcome a friend to a disaster site, especially when the disaster is surpassing our capacity to see it, yet alone bear witness, or act up to it, in response or relation to it.
What is the context here in New York, you and many other comrades must be wondering?
The storms came and went, and we are living in their wake. The city is what you would expect after a very intensive period of resistance, the energies have dispersed but remain tethered. The struggles have coalesced around a few more focused initiatives. What exploded last Fall here in the city is clearly not finished. A lot of people remain involved on an almost daily basis and at this moment, a lot of the work of the last year has translated into organizing relief efforts from the grounds of the most devastated parts of the city.
Culture and Crisis
I] Whew! that was close! I had planned to give this lecture in French; fortunately, the organizers contacted me and asked me to lecture in English instead; and there's no equivalent for "Big Bird" in French. So. Welcome, Everybody! Hello! Hello!... Hey, kids! Can you say PRODROMIC? Prodromic: It's a historian's term, as well as medical. It means that certain events can give a sense of how later events are going to unfold, without necessarily suggesting a cause-and-effect relationship. A prodrome is purely heuristic… never mind.
An Enclosure Called Politics. Surrealism and Electoral Politics
The quadrennial abuse visited upon us by the boosters of the State, and their supplicants, grows worse. This electoral circus (to be clear, I am not limiting my scorn to that baroque institution, the Electoral College, ridiculed by all, even those, worldwide, who genuflect to what they perceive to be more sophisticated governing structures), this circus, I repeat, solidified after years of debate in the United States at the end of the 18th Century, when the assumption that control of unruly social forces belonged to wealthy white men (who, alone, had the franchise), was imposed, though not necessarily obeyed (rebellions repeatedly threatened the new rulers of the former colonies), and amounts to nothing more than a counter-revolutionary culmination of a bloody uprising – erroneously termed The American Revolution – that, itself, foreclosed Thomas Paine’s revolutionary vision.