Marginal Considerations on the Present Movement
These few remarks have been primitively jotted down in haste as personal reflections on a bad record. A comrade thought they might be useful to the movement, so I've transcribed them in identical haste, which should excuse their imperfections. They should be thought of as disorderly suggestions read over a stranger's shoulder.
It's rare to have a movement that's popular in proportion to its radicalness, which is true of ours. The sympathy that it gets provisionally comes from the fact that in a society without community, each person's identity is exclusively determined by their function in the production process, by their work. It follows that outside of that work which is the whole of the social existence of the Man of our times, he is but a being without identity, classless, anonymous, just any old singularity, unwaged. As such, the bum is the hidden truth behind all workers when they're not at work; a figure of their existence as a free individual. But the scandal of an empty freedom, a freedom without content, figures in to that as well: the bum's freedom is the freedom to do nothing, since as an individual, all the means of production are refused to him or her. Thus it is around the unwaged/the bum that the primary contradiction of the present social organization is woven: its maintenance requires, as part of the same movement, each person's exclusion from mastery over his or her own activity, participation in his own life, and the total mobilization of his energy in the form of work. For that mobilization, a kind of miracle has to take place where each person is simultaneously at peak enthusiasm and peak passivity. The bum is dangerous to the extent that he seeks to give content to his freedom, and power has understood that. If power is trembling now, it is because it knows that the networks of the unwaged are not only universal but above all radical: not a protest against any particular injustice, but against the pure and simple injustice of their having been marginalized in life; and the particular liberation of each of them is the liberation of all.
There's little doubt that the dominant language presupposes the dominant order. So it can't be adequately contested while the petty, bickering opposition between waged work and joblessness. Upon reflection, it quickly becomes clear that the function of an opposition like that is to hide the essentially passive nature of wage work and the truly active nature of the unwaged or the welfare recipient, busy with their own freedom. And so, the real choice here isn't between wage labor and joblessness, but rather between free activity and alienated activity, which is just a kind of agitated passivity. Though it isn't wrong of the movement to go on advancing, disguised with the name "movement of the unwaged and precarious," which is the only way that the present order can understand and thus falsify it, it should certainly not hide its own radicalness from itself: its true aim is is the suppression of work as alienated activity.
We're lucky that we have the benefit of exceptional historical circumstances. Never, perhaps, has there been a society as hated as this one. The excessive nature of the present social crisis can be grasped positively as a gigantic individual and collective act of sabotage. There's not a housewife left that hasn't entertained the idea that a complete overturning of the present social organization is necessary. It's up to us to make the most obvious contradiction of this society burst, which is that it shows itself to be detestable, absurd, and irreparable, while simultaneously claiming that it's eternal. The present social situation is a "violent state that cannot last, because our fellow citizens are far to disunited to preserve the ancient form of the Republic much longer." In many minds the thought creeps up that there's no more time for secretly deploring our miseries, but that we must risk everything to free ourselves from them, that since the illness is a violent one, the remedy must be as well. We are many, we who silently curse this social order which we must either be the slaves or enemies of. It's already clear that our movement is an unheard of crystallization agent, that it is beginning a chaotic process the result of which will hinge on the slightest differences in its initial conditions: we will either have an entirely liberated society, or an even more totalitarian regime.
It is up to us to realize the hatred that this society devotes to itself, and make it conscious of the object of that hatred: commodity relations, which have devastated everything that once was human about our society. Our movement's function could be to constitute a plateau, a platform for the articulation of all the partial struggles in which we've managed to recognize the universal content of the struggle against the commodity. As pathetic as they may appear, the fight against genetically modified corn, resisting the continued degradation of the most elementary conditions of existence, or the search for alternatives to commodity relations that are awkwardly being sketched out in the Local Exchange Systems (S.E.L.), both have plenty to do with our movement.
Our movement's essential contradiction counterposes the party of partial demands, represented by the associations of the unemployed, and the party of disruption, which so freely expressed itself in the General Assembies at Jussieu. Insofar as they are comprised of reformist and bureaucratic organizations, the unemployed workers' associations have corporatist, categorial, separate interests, and cannot truly desire an effective end to joblessness because it would mean they would have to come to an end. Their only objective is to eternally wage a fight without victory and with absurd content. They have anything but an interest in expanding the movement, which would then escape their control. Their collusion with the spectacular order and its sad soliloquy, ever full of reason, is proven by the nature of their so-called "spectacular" or "symbolic" actions. Because they remain within the sphere/register of representation, they make themselves the necessary allies of the Spectacle, and speak its language of numbers and despicable acts. Thus, when they end up wanting to loot a supermarket, they only do so virtually. They work in such a way as to make the mass of the people that they organize continue going to the cash registers, rather than just going in and consuming right there in the shop, sharing with other customers. Then they negotiate with the management to try to get the right to take out the shopping carts that their henchmen have filled, without having to pay. In so doing, they only work to confirm the sovereignty of power and property, by giving it a chance to make an exception to a new kind of privileged ones: they merely ask for the right to infringe upon rights. Anyway, it's only natural that they speak the language of separation, blind as they are to the political aspects of economics - they can't understand the obvious fact that work now presents itself as a simple process of the maintenance of order by occupying the energies/attention of the greatest possible number of persons; no more than they can see that it is the police forces that in the final analysis provide the foundations for private property. Thus they only express themselves either in the jargon of specialized politics, or in the jargon of economy, but never in the "language of real life," which is the Common attribute of re-appropriated life, of autonomous existence. It should be remarked, finally, that they are not invulnerable, far from it, indeed, because in their internal functioning, as in that of this society as a whole, the management is autonomous of the "base," which is quite often more radical than its own spectacular bureaucracy. We can base ourselves on and draw an advantage from this weakness, there as elsewhere.
A global movement of social contestation has at the least one dimension insusceptible to recuperation: the new and real lifestyles that it experiences in practice. Its explosive power depends on the extent to which it attains to making felt the planetary distance that separates the possible from the real, through its own partial realizations. It is by making the movement of disruption and upheaval passionate that its aims can be made desirable. At such a point of social devastation and desertification as commodity society has brought us to, it's not just love that needs to be reinvented, but the whole of human relationships. Our success will mostly depend on our ability to give a living example of a free and authentic sociality. "Real life" is not mere vain words, nor a poet's chimera; it is so far from being such a thing that one single day of rioting suffices to render death preferable to an alienated everyday life. The experience of such a brutal transfiguration of consciousness is one of those rare things that can bring on a mass desertion from wage society. It's not with any kind of repugnant commiseration that we will win over the other sectors of the population to our cause, but by making them discover their own misery. The disappearance of the masters has not abolished slavery; it has generalized it. It is no longer a question of fighting against the fictitious management/administration of this society, but of self-organizing our lives with scorn for the survival of a Power structure that has only a police existence. The Spectacle colonizes the future; we must take over/occupy the present.
It appears that one of the most urgent problems that our movement has to deal with is how to get out of the ghetto of corporatist demands regarding joblessness, and how to find that exponential tipping point of unrest which will rally the other categories of the population to our side, of achieving a suspension in the tyrannical tempo of production. Such an effect was in part produced in 68 - the difference between the present context and that of 68 has to do with the fact that because the absurdity of this society is today concretely shown, it can be concretely resolved; the 60s had the means to give themselves a revolution without consequence, but we don't - by appealing in the form of written tracts for the constitution of action committees, tracts which would describe what an action committee is, how it can function, etc... The movement's progress saw them flourishing in a celebratory proliferation that alone was able to save the general strike from passivity. But the bureaucratic leftist organizations, which at the time had so much power, managed to infiltrate them, as was to be expected. The present non-existence of such parties allows one to speculate that they would not suffer the same fate today. We then saw the reversing effect of these little groups of a few dozen persons, who carried out their decisions the very second they were adopted. It wasn't just action that liberated them, anyway, but also speech, insofar as it is only to the extent that men have something to do together that they have something to say. The call to self-organization that concludes our communiqué to the headquarters of the Socialist Party only makes sense if we give this abstract formulation an effective, lived content. That still remains to be done.
The strategy adopted by the Spectacle to defeat us is quite clear; it's totally unoriginal. The regime's news organizations, in this first stage, last week sang a funeral hymn for our movement. Then, faced with the relative failure of this maneuver, they resolved to criminalize those who they had not managed to discourage. Finally, the unemployed workers' associations, in their sad struggle for recognition, could easily have undertaken a prudent little war of harassment while waiting for Tuesday's demonstrations, when the CGT and the various allies of the present order had their dreamed-of opportunity to make social contestation into a pretty little funeral procession. Though this movement must soon be defeated, according to their plans, it will only be because it trembled in light of its own radicalness, and because it didn't grasp the universal content of its goal: the abolition of commodity relations, which should have allowed it to gather together in unity within it all the isolated and fragmentary struggles aiming towards said goal. It could also be that it wasn't able to organize its diffusion and communications with the use of its own means. But the last word has still not been said in that respect. Though this whole undertaking is doomed to end in disaster, it will succeed in provisionally shattering the separation of men of good will. And domination has good reason to be disturbed by this, since it's just as dangerous for it as the gathering of a few beings determined to destroy it is - since in normal times it has reason to congratulate itself for its effectiveness in preventing encounters that might be dangerous to it. On this point at least, we've beaten them.
"You're only equal to anyone else if you can prove it, and you only deserve freedom if you can conquer it." (Baudelaire, Knock Down the Poor!)
-Paris, Monday, January 26th, 1998.