These are a couple of random thoughts that have been buzzing around my head. Part of this is the idea to maybe finish the Event Horizon trilogy – Event Horizon is the pre-event attempt to set a mood, On The Road is an analysis of how things turned out and this new piece tries to look at how we live after the event. This is tied up with the role of social centres, but tackles wider themes. Maybe we could aim to get it out for the consulta?

Anyway, the thing that started me off was Vernon God Little’s refrain of “what kind of fucken life is this?” In the book it’s almost wholly negative, but we can split this up two ways: 1) What sort of life do we want? 2) How do we live this life? They’re intimately related of course: how do we live this life in terms of survival and how do we live it in terms of the life we desire? Or to recycle a recent book, how can we take those worlds we glimpsed at Gleneagles and generalise them so that they make sense in the rest of our lives?

In the run-up to big events (like Gleneagles) there’s a real rush of energy, a coming-together. Obviously that’s all gone after the event, and too often we see recrimination and a general coming-apart. But it’s not simply how we cope with the come-down. It’s more how we do live this life and still retain all that stuff we’ve gained at the Hori-Zone for example? After the high point of Autonomia in Italy, thousands turned to drugs or cracked up, not just because of State repression but because the forms of life they had been living were no longer sustainable. The (expansive) experiments seemed to have broken down irrevocably. More, the collective body had been decomposed, so attempts to live this life reverted to the level of the individual where contradictions were, for many, too intense to handle.

This sounds like I’m suggesting a survival guide, and I guess I am, but by survival I don’t mean settling for less than life. Life and living now seem to be at the heart of political struggle. We’re constantly creating multiple forms of life, zooming off in different trajectories, in the same way that we don’t each produce a single subjectivity, but collectively produce and re-produce multiple ones, often in conflict with each other.

Something else I’ve been thinking about is the entreprenurial spirit. Before you reach for your guns, hear me out. What set me off was the final programme in the Lefties series which looked at the rise and fall of News on Sunday, a spectacularly failed attempt to have a ‘far left’ national Sunday tabloid (with a lot of the drive coming from ex-Big Flame members). They raised over £6m and one of them commented that they smashed the idea that the Left had to be poverty-stricken – they proved they were the real entrepreneurs. Obviously it’s a very loaded term but it’d be great to reclaim it. We produce wealth; and there’s nothing more ‘entreprenuerial’ than starting a band with your mates. The problem is that we find it hard to sustain this without it being expressed as money, channelled into capital’s circuits. Again we can learn from Italy and the explosion of small businesses after the collapse of Autonomia:

Of course this brings in the whole issue of ‘compromise’, and the lines we can and can’t cross. We keep stumbling across these issues at the CommonPlace in Leeds. Can we have rented social centres? Can we allow money-making events? We frown on ‘profit-making’ entreprises, but making money for charities is apparently OK (including charities who have paid workers?), as is making money to pay our landlord. What about CCTV on door? The balance of ‘political’ vs ‘social’ events?

And all that brings us back round to how we live this life. Look, I didn’t promise this post would offer any way out…

Hey brits-
Have any of you lot ever read the novel A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle?

That book popped into my head on my busride the other morning as I was thinking about Brian’s calling 70s squatting a nascent biopolitics and my calling it a resurgent biopolitics. What follows is a reconstruction of my train of thought, only I’ve replaced all the “I remember this one thing I read once where it said something like, no wait, it was – oh fuck! this is my stop!” parts with quotes I googled for.

So, my first thought was of this Midnight Notes quote, which is from Toward The New Commons:

“[C]apital cannot be society.

We might envision capital as a power grid overlaid on a vast nebula, with the working class as that nebula.(15) Workers are captured by and in some ways defined by the grid. That is the sphere of exploitation. However, the nebula is life: capital must draw on it and cannot survive without it, but the workers have life and can survive without the grid. As others have discussed it, this is the sphere of everyday life, however corrupted and influenced by capital, which seeks to control it and tap its energy and creativity — but no matter how controlling, capital cannot be everyday life, which thus remains a great reservoir of energy against capital. This is in some ways more visible when, as with the Zapatistas, everyday life incorporates social structures and relations that pre-date capital and have visible anti-capitalist potential. But such potential is everywhere — though being everywhere is no guarantee it will be mobilized against capital.

Let us put this just a bit more formally (c.f., Caffentzis, in press). Capital creates identity via work and commodities. Workers sell their labor power and purchase consumer products, thereby creating identities as workers and consumers. Refusal and resistance move in all these circuits. More, it is only because workers can resist and refuse that they have the ability to negotiate to sell their labor power. If they have no autonomous space, if they are fully capital, they cannot negotiate and therefore cannot sell their labor power.

This is another way of saying that capital depends on the life energy of the working class — but that life energy cannot be reduced to capital nor fully possessed by capital. This harkens back to our earlier discussion of homogeneity and diversity: capital must have access to diversity, but must reduce that diversity to a usable homogeneity to control it, while maintaining the diversity in a capitalist, hierarchical form in order to have productive energy.

As capital attempts to control all aspects of life, the logical end of capital is pure machine (as science fiction writers often suggest). Ironically, the total triumph of capital would be the end of capitalism.

It is the space outside of capital, the space of human life not defined by capital, that is the fundamental source of power against capital as well as the basic source of capital itself. That is, working class struggles necessarily come also from outside the working class’ existence as working class and move not only within the circuits of capital but also extend or create spaces outside of capitalist circuits. “

It’s the part about life as a nebula over which capital is a net that I had in my head. To my mind, if we agree with this then I think it is the case that struggle against capitalism can potentially always take a biopolitical form, in the sense that Brian used the term biopolitics about the 70s squatters in the documentary you all watched.

From there, I started to think about what the Event Horizon pamphlet called composition, as opposed to opposition:

“Reclaim The Streets is an excellent example of a shift towards a more compositional approach. But what do we mean by composition? Maybe it’s as simple as acting as though we already exist in a different reality – we reclaim a street and recompose it according to a logic different to that of cars and capital. Without exception, every political organisation in the UK has been left flat-footed by this switch, as the dreamers out on the streets suddenly became the realists. From here on in, compositional tactics are the only ones worth having. “

My friend and translation buddy Sebastian Touza has also used the term composition, he gets it from some Argentine sources and/or Deleuze… he used it for instance in a discussion on Virno:

“Horizontal” relations among the many (what I would call ‘composition’) In one sense, this dimension refers to the types of bonds between the many. A fundamental question is when those horizontal relations define a bond that does not lead to the formation of a One separate from the many, to which the many delegate their power. Another aspect to consider is the “structure” of those bonds and the subjectivity they relate to. For instance, linguistic communication (including Virno’s “common places”), common notions, money, commodities, etc. Which compositions make the many powerful as many and why? Another question arises regarding the universality of what connects between the many and how it relates to the formation of a political subject, i.e. to emancipatory struggles. For instance, does the formation of a political subject originate in the search for communication with other the members of the multitude? Or does it originate in the concrete forms of life a group within the multitude build in their locale (e.g. Zapatistas, autonomous piquetero groups in Argentina, etc.)?

I think there something in common between what we mean by the squatters and related stuff as biopolitics and compositional politics. I think it’d be worth exploring this further.

Thinking about it now (digressing a bit from my reconstructing my train of thought…) it seems to me that some aspects of at least some presentations of class composition analysis present the working class at given points in time as having limited abilities to practice composition, which is a flawed way to talk about history. There’s questions to ask as to why politcs takes the forms it does at different places and times, but I think it’s important not to say that people at certain times didn’t have the ability to practice composition (to compose?). Not composing doesn’t mean inability to compose… There’s a sort ambiguity in Event Horizon about this too – it says that composition is the best idea from here on out, when it was probably a better idea from the beginning. End digression…

From composition and all this past-present-future stuff I thought about this section in Event Horizon:

” in 1955, in Montgomery, when Rosa Parks refused to obey a public bus driver’s orders to move to the back of the bus to make extra seats for whites, she wasn’t ‘making a protest’. She wasn’t even in ‘opposition’. She was in a different reality. It’s a reality that can be traced back to the Diggers and the Paris Communards. We can trace it across the world to Buenos Aires or Chiapas. It’s the reality underlying the slogan ‘Don’t Strike, Occupy!’ of May 1968 and the auto-reduction practices of 1970s Italy. And this reality re-emerges here at Gleneagles”

And this is also linked to the bits with the Smiths quote and about the bodily feelings of these moments – hair standing on end and all that. It’s all connected, I think, in moments of time that connect different moments in time together. That’s where the book A Wrinkle In Time comes in. In the book they use a form of space and time travel called a “tesseract”, the verb form is “to tesser”.

I found a brief explanation of the idea here, which summarizes a conversation in the book:

“Imagine holding up a string with two hands, stretching that string so it is a straight line.

A hypothetical ant on your left hand (point A) could reach your right hand (point B) by walking on that straight-line string.

But is there a quicker route? Yes there is. Bring your two hands together so that the string’s tips touch each other, and there you have the shortest route from point A to point B… and it isn’t a straight line.

It’s a wrinkle.

That is a tesseract.

The theory is that one may tesser through the fabric of time-space in order to get to places quicker. “

Some googling turned up a bunch of science stuff related to this that is way beyond me… Among that was this from some blog which compared the tesseract to time travel stuff involving worm holes (burrows dug by moles/tribes of moles?) and black holes –
like I said the science is all beyond me, but I found it a nice piece of resonance that, from what I remember from science back when I used to know a bit about it, black holes are also called singularities, and they have a part called an event horizon. Nifty.

Anyway, I think the tesseract is a nice metaphor for the type of relationship between past and present, history and politics that I’m keen to see more of and to try and develop both as an idea and practice… instead of just slagging off stuff that doesn’t do this, like the periodizing impulse in Negri and others. It’s like, you know, instead of complaining about what’s on the radio you can just go start a punk band instead, to compose rather than just oppose. (Do I get a point for that? It’s a bit of a thin punk reference but a reference none the less…)

Lastly, I found a long quote from the book here, which if my memory serves follows directly after the conversation quoted above:

“Oh, dear, ” Meg sighed. “I guess I am a moron. I just don’t get it.””That is because you think of space only in three dimensions,” Mrs. Whatsit told her. “We travel in the fifth dimension. This is something you can understand, Meg. Don’t be afraid to try. Was your mother able to explain a tesseract to you?”

“Well, she never did,” Meg said. “She got so upset about it. Why, Mrs. Whatsit? She said it had something to do with her and Father.”

“It was a concept they were playing with” Mrs. Whatsit said, “going beyond the fourth dimension to the fifth. Did your mother explain it to you, Charles?”

“Well, yes.” Charles looked a little embarrassed. “Please don’t be hurt, Meg. I just kept at her while you were at school til I got it out of her.”

Meg sighed. “Just explain it to me.”

“Okay,” Charles said. “What is the first dimension?”

“Well—a line:—— ”

“Okay. And the second dimension?”

“Well, you’d square the line. A flat square would be in the second dimension.”

“And the third?”

“Well, you’d square the second dimension. Then the square wouldn’t be flat anymore. It would have a bottom, and sides, and a top.”

“And the fourth?”

“Well, I guess if you want to put it into mathematical terms you’d square the square. But you can’t take a pencil and draw it the way you can the first three. I know it’s got something to do with Einstein and time. I guess maybe you could call the fourth dimension Time.”

“That’s right,” Charles said. “Good girl. Okay, then, for the fifth dimension you’d square the fourth, wouldn’t you?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, the fifth dimension’s a tesseract. You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around. In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”

For a brief, illuminating second Meg’s face had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles’s. “I see!” she cried. “I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!” “

So I figure, I’m going to start telling people I’m a commonist, an otherworldist, and a tesseractivist.

Them’s my thoughts. Hope this doesn’t you regret inviting me into the blog. (David was worried about nutters from outside the group, I assume this means nutters who are already in the group are allowed to say, right?)

take care,

The reason that ‘Lefties’ appealed to me (apart from the obvious nostalgia) was that it made me think about the question of how we do politics in the absence of events like Gleneagles or Evian. What is ‘politics’? What is ‘do’? I re-read our piece for Derive Approdi and it suggested loads of avenues for us to wander down. I also remember reading on the back of some book about “how can we take those worlds we glimpse in such moments and generalise them so that they make sense in the rest of our lives?”

Of course, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing Big Events as separate from the rest of our lives. But in a way they are separate: part of the dream-like unreality of GE was that I was cut loose from my normal day-to-day life (home, kids, work). I (we) could really act fast and be open to all possibilities because we were stripped bare (insert Carry On joke here). That’s why summits have the potential they have: we can be catapulted into a different way of being far quicker than would be possible if we had to take all our ‘baggage’ with us. But it’s also why the high wears off: because (all other things being equal) it’s unsustainable in the face of ‘normality’. So how do we make it sustainable? Do we even want to? ‘Lefties’ made me think about things the other way round: not how to prepare for summits (as we did in Event Horizon) but how to normalise summit politics, so that GE comes home with us. Does this make sense? For all the talk of not being absolute or ‘having a line’, it’s actually possible to go to places like GE with a ‘line’ and stick to it. But it’s obviously much harder to have a strict line when we’ve crashed back down to earth: no-one’s been able to really sustain the argument against rented social centres, for example. That’s why the 1970s squat scene or punk (score!) were in a different league to the alter-globalisation movement/social centre scene: they appeared to be sustainable if only for a few months/years (or until whichever moment of punk betrayal is your favourite). Dole culture obviously had a lot to do with it, and that’s a space that’s diminished enormously: but the fact that most of us have got ‘jobs’ must also reduce the space for purism.

The whole question of ‘negotiation’/’compromise’ (or whatever term you like) is worth digging into. The best (only?) political discussions at the CommonPlace often seem to circle around these themes. Maybe this is what politics is, that constant experimentation, a (random) chipping away at all that surrounds us. Not in a coherent way (like sinister Trots and transitional demands – “now we must expose the weakness of local government”), but more the way kids will absent-mindedly finger a hole in their clothes. How does this fit in with ‘biopolitics’? Or living a life? And if we ever wrote something on it, could we get an ‘I walk the line’ reference into it?

So something that’s got to be interesting is age/experience in and after the movement. With all the efforts at recruitment no one seems to have looked that seriously at why people drift off or leave, and what happens to them afterwards. The party line is that they get burnt out and tired — charitably: lots of people say they just get too old — but is that right? Does participation in these kinds of moments have to lead to that kind of career path, or are we missing something?

I didn’t see the show but I’m interested that no one disavowed their past. Even the most boring and reactionary ex-punks (cough Lydon cough) still seem to recognise that their moment was something special, where their activities multiplied possibilities. I’m wondering how many of the people who subverted the media line on the summit (surprising journalists by not acting their age) have an affectionate, unnoticed, political/cultural biography of their own.

The difference between the squatters in that lefties program and Autonomia was that the former were mostly members of the International Marxist Group. So their theory didn’t help them much when they tried to conceptualise their practice. At one point someone mentions that many people in the IMG thought of squatting as very peripheral, the ‘workers’ (very narrowly defined) were going to lead the revolution and the IMG were going to lead the workers. To be fair there were some valiant attempts to work out the relationship between the struggles. There was a great anecdote about the squatters road having a representative in the local T&G union branch. And in practice they seemed to be much more flexibility, there were symbolic crossings of the road between the lefty houses and the primal scream therapy house. Where they really fell down was with their mechanical views of what a revolution looks like. So when they are interviewed at the end they’re more or less all anti-capitalist but some say: “well that’s not really on the agenda anymore”. Which means you can look back and see their lives then as failures or as youthful folly. It is great though that none of them disavowed their past. They pretty much all seemed proud of it.

What the Italian Autonomia movement realised was that what seemed peripheral experiences and struggles at the time were actually moving to the centre. So that when we watch Lefties the most anachronistic thing is their faith in the labour movement. It’s the only thing out of time. Just like when you watch the Sex pistol’s film ‘Filth and the fury’ the punks are from our historical period and the conservative councillors aren’t. Which leads me to something else missing from the program. Without that large squatting scene you don’t get punk.

Like Brian say’s the true value of moments like the seventies squatting scene and other such cracks in capital’s edifice is that they provide space for experimenting with the future and that’s a much more productive way to think of revolution. When you look at it like that their revolution really did change the world. The problem is that capital keeps presenting itself as the ultimate limit to those experiments and that’s where the tension lies; between how to live a life and the very real and actually existing need for fundamental systemic change.

BBC4 documentary about (duh) lefties, esp the 30,000 or so squatters in Lambeth in the mid to late 1970s. Took me rushing back to growing up in London (“Lambeth wreckers!”). But if you look at the timeframe, this was all happening at the same time as the emergence of autonomia in Italy: a nascent biopolitics? Struggles around living rather than wage demands or Keynesianism etc. It was amazing to see and hear so many people talking about how they wanted to live, and experimenting with different forms. Of course, altho squats were in heart of Brixton, squatters were overwhelmingly white and middle class (well, at least the ones interviewed were: an inevitable consequence of m/c people being easier to track down by profession). And it’s easy to laugh at the naivety of some of it, the ‘pick & mix’ approach to ‘issues’, and how in the end they failed to do this or that. But that misses the point: as they said, there was a feeling in the air that ‘this was it’, it was really happening. Revolution is a process of experimentation and fucking up, of struggling to ask more and more questions. They weren’t making demands; this was a visible process of people working out how to ‘live a life’. It was heartening to see people in their mid-60s being asked now if they still felt the same way about capitalism and replying ‘yes!’ It all reminded me of the old Casey quote about how all questions are redundant except ‘what sort of world do we want to live in?’

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A technological fix to a political problem? Hmm, we’ll see… But for now, let’s hope it helps us compose our thoughts and jottings into something a little more coherent.

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.