It has become a truism to say that we must adjust our political imaginaries in the face of the economic crisis, yet the sheer scale and duration of the crisis has made this a difficult thing to do. We are already five years into the great recession and as the Eurozone teeters on the edge of collapse there seems little realistic prospect of a return to the old ‘normal’. But just as the economic situation has had waves of collapse, faux recovery and renewed crises, so the social struggles and movements thrown up in response have been through waves of intense activity followed by the dissipation of energies and then the re-emergence of struggle in new form. This wave pattern has been hard for people to get their heads around. Dissipation can seem like defeat but within the stretched-out timescale of the great recession it might just be a pregnant pause. This problem has presented itself as a sense of a lack of continuity and cohesion which has been heightened by the geographical and temporal dislocation of struggles. Huge social movements are springing up around the world but they are peaking at different times. This, plus the geographical distances involved, makes it difficult for struggles to cohere together on a global scale.
A good example of this problem can be found in the seeming isolation of the hugely significant but preposterously under-reported three month long struggle against increased tuition fees in Quebec.
A student strike has been supplemented by road blockades and regular night marches of inspiring scale. But despite the scale and longevity of the movement, and the resignation of the education minister this week, the students’ victory is not yet assured. The Quebec government seem set on a strategy of escalation, passing draconian new anti-protest laws and seeking a version of the militarised roll-back of democracy in evidence right around the world.
It’s this context that made us so excited to receive a review of our book from a participant in the Quebec struggles. It’s a lovely review which proves that the concept of a moment of excess is easy to grasp when you are actually within one. Yet in many ways our attitude towards moments of excess has shifted since we first started writing about them. At first we were concerned with how to engineer moments of excess, how do you get into one? Now they seem to be generating themselves and the question has changed to how do you get out of one? Or rather how do you exit the high points of struggle with increased capacity for the struggles to come? How can we navigate these inevitable periods of movement dissipation and politicise the moments of collective sadness that follow collective joy?
As the Quebec student movement faces up to a crunch point of repression, these may seem premature questions but they seem apt from our viewpoint in the UK. The answers that the Quebecois eventually find might also help us answer our other question: how can struggles cohere on a global scale? After all, if movements are peaking at different times in different places, then it’s not just their high points that need to resonate but their modes of persistence as well.
PS yes, this post was just an excuse to link to the review.