✪ 11 and still more Notes on the ‘Disturbances of London’, and England #riot #LondonRiot etc.

First 11 here, Second 11 here.

23. Abandoning rule by law the unrepresentative Government flaunts due process and encourages excessive penalties so as to ‘send a message’ to the youth, since its school holidays for two more weeks, and because they love the repressive apparatus as a Plan B when the bourgeois civil compact of polite society fails. Then while the Police tool up – Robocop, Robotruck, Robo-Judge (the Hanging Judges) – the upstart Vice PM steps in decisively to meet with the victims, let them have their say, encourage reactionary opinion, and distract from economic ruin to which his party leads capital (thanks, good job). This Con-Dem strategy bolstered by a lily-livered compassion they do not ever mean (funds for victims would do it!) and of course no hint of actually talking to, or listening to, the youth.

24. Broadcast media scramble to manage the hegemonic context but they cannot pierce the patina of distrust. Slick suits and lies from ‘scoop’ churnos. For the next uprising, for the one underway, for the new times, the elaboration, exultation and exhilaration of mobile communications is key. Yup. Already the youth know the street is a grid of attentions, announcements, information, runes – ride the electronic grapevine, multiply eyes and ears, many flies on the wall, stop the snitching and pass the parcel. It not news to see this glossed as running wild in the Matrix, fight them till we can’t, People’s CNN, You see he feels like Ivan, how you gonna come?

25. Intellectual response. Pah! Ian McEwan must not be permitted to write a novel about this, with some daft and ponderous middle-class sub-plot. The movie version must not be directed by Soderbergh/Boyle/Linklater/Bresson. Maybe Johnny Marbles can do it. If there must be films, ‘Ghosts of the Civil Dead’ (Hillcoat 1988) and ‘La Haine’ (Kassowitz 1995) are the antecedents. But prisoner support needs more than video nights. Prejudicial trial appeals, if recourse to law and lawyers must be, but a successful defense takes co-ordination and public campaigns.

26. Our media, their media. Proliferate and diversify. ‘We’ have flow, they just eaves-drop and lie at Inquiries. A pie in the eye to that. Make our own Inquiries – the people’s forum does not need a room for a mock trial, the hypocrisy can be shown and detailed everywhere, with amplification and hard focus. This is the first war of media autonomy and the juggernaut broadcasters cannot move fast. Scatter media confounds them, signifying nothing. Rumour, misinformation, disinformation, code – movements beyond legislation and control.

27. Pick your targets, don’t burn people’s houses, creative and symbolic violence can be just as powerful. Part way through La Haine the three friends of the main story are in the centre of Paris and linger awhile on a hill top with a splendid view of the iconic Eiffel Tower, built for the Great Exposition of 1900. In the film there are knowing references to intertextuality, for example in the scene where youths of the banlieues chase away reporters from the news press and also where ‘Hubert changes a billboard ad from “the world belongs to you” to “the world belongs to us”’ The scene that presents a critical inter-cinematic reference is instructive and occurs when, as Gerald Haughton’s review pointed out, ‘one of the three tries to “switch off” the Eiffel Tower by clicking his fingers – like [Leos] Carax’s Mauvais Sang [1985] and [Eric] Rochant’s World Without Pity [1989] – but here it steadfastly remains alight’. Alice Chapman notes the tower is ‘the only landmark we see’ in the entire film, and when the attempt is made to turn it off, another of the youths wisecracks that ‘only works in the movies’. Of course, just seconds after they leave, the tower does power down for the night. Cinema however shows the structure is just as susceptible to attack as other towers are – it has been destroyed many times: in the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds (dir Byron Haskin); it was (accidentally) blown up at the end of The Great Race (dir. Blake Edwards 1965); and melted by Martians (again) in Mars Attacks! (dir. Tim Burton 1996), and subjected to many other calamities, equivalent, if perhaps more flamboyant, than the tragedy that befell the double set of towers in New York (equally cinematic).

28. Does it worry you that some people, scholarly commentators even, me, can describe events like Paris 2005, London 2011, or New York September 11  or London 7/7 as obliging ‘us’ to ‘rethink the terms of social theory’ (Seidler 2007:xiii). With all due respect to the lives lost on those days, it seems obscene that these particular occurrences are the ones to make ‘us’ think. All over the world, and not only in the suburbs of Paris or London, another ‘we’ is subject to a relentless violence, visited by terror, danger, pursuit and threat every day. Social theory needed a rethink long before all this.

29. In 1972 Eldrige Cleaver wrote:

“The real revolutionary element of our era is the Lumpen, understood in its broader sense. What is lacking is a Lumpen consciousness, consciousness of the basic condition of oppression being the Lumpen condition and not the proletarian condition. In order for the revolutionary movement to progress, the Lumpen must become conscious of themselves as the vast majority, and the false proletarian, working class consciousness must be negated.” (Cleaver 1972)

30. In 2005 Immanuel Wallerstein on Paris:

 ‘It amazes me that people are surprised when the underclasses rebel. The surprising thing is that they do not do it more often. The combination of the oppressiveness of poverty and racism and the lack of short-term, or even medium-term hope is surely a recipe for rebellion. What keeps rebellion down is fear of repression, which is why repression is usually swift. But the repression never makes the anger go away’ (in The Guardian, 3 Dec 2005)

31. In 2006, Slavoj Žižek wrote:

‘We are thus witnessing the rapid growth of a population outside state control, living in conditions half outside the law, in dire need of minimal forms of self-organization. Although this population is composed of marginalized laborers, redundant civil servants, and ex-peasants, they are not simply a redundant surplus: they are incorporated into the global economy in numerous ways, many of them as informal wage-workers or self-employed entrepreneurs, with no adequate health or social security cover … (Žižek 2006:268).

It may be possible to disagree with Cleaver, Wallerstein or Žižek on several points here, but when Žižek suggests Marx was contemptuous of the lumpenproletariat, this list of complaints reminds me of the standard enumerations of standard academic class coding – a lament that they need to be organized, by academics! Rather than academics organizing themselves (lol).

32. Let us be careful, then, to read how Marx’s 1852 description of the Lumpen as a complaint about the way certain upstarts put themselves forward as a leadership. His tone, in describing the organization, or not, of the lumpen proletariat or the peasantry is critical of those who would appoint themselves leaders and describe them in these terms. The quotes are long, but we have to open them up beyond the usual known phrases – ‘they cannot represent themselves’ – and look for how Marx examines organizing and who is organizing. In part of his rampaging analysis in the Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx provides a list of those Louis Boneparte gathered together in the Society of 10 December in order to wrest control of the Empire from competing forces:

“On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither” (Marx 1852/2002:63).

This is the most famous description – which is not yet a description of the lumpen, but of those Boneparte recruited to stand in for them. Marx continues further on:

“The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is furthered by poor means of communication and the poverty of the peasants. Their field of production, the small holding, permits no division of labor in its cultivation, no application of science, and therefore no multifariousness of development, no diversity of talent, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. A small holding, the peasant and his family; beside it another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these constitute a village, and a few score villages constitute a department. Thus the great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homonymous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not constitute a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name, whether through a parliament or a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them” (Marx 1852/2002:101)

Marx’s most misunderstood statement perhaps is the one that refers, to those who will support Napoleon III. ‘They cannot represent themselves’, he writes. Of course this is the peasants, the ‘potatoes in a sack’, but this representation of representation must be read in the context of talking about the various social groupings that were the players in a drama, on a stage, where Louis Boneparte (the Nephew upstart) was to strut his stuff. Marx clinches the argument when he says:

“Historical tradition gave rise to the French peasants’ belief in the miracle that a man named Napoleon would bring all glory back to them … But let us not misunderstand. The Bonaparte dynasty represents not the revolutionary, but the conservative peasant; not the peasant who strikes out beyond the condition of his social existence, the small holding, but rather one who wants to consolidate his holding; not the countryfolk who in alliance with the towns want to overthrow the old order through their own energies, but on the contrary those who, in solid seclusion within this old order, want to see themselves and their small holdings saved and favored by the ghost of the Empire. It represents not the enlightenment but the superstition of the peasant; not his judgment but his prejudice; not his future but his past” (Marx 1852/2002:10?).

33. So don’t get sucked in by boss media, there are other stories available. Don’t go calling people peasants (rabble, Racaille, thugs, criminals) when the Society of 10 December you seem to want is a ragbag of bribed and déclassé apologists, pundits and fuck-ups barely able to grasp a picture let alone the big picture. (People coming to get you soon I suspect – your career celeb days are over). Don’t go thinking you have to organize the unorganized, the revolutionaries are not unorganized, they are doing it themselves, they need to do it themselves, and need you to join with them, not parade around with a picture of Trotsky (not the worst you could do, but pointless) or to give oxygen to the clowns that would rule. The Eigtheenth Brumaire of Cameron and Clegg is being written and their strategy is in ruins. Gross and brutal repression in these days incites a hatred of capital that can only be good, step back from the vehicle now, or it burns like Paris 2005. Decommission Robocop. Decomission the commission. Decommission the Kangaroo courts. Stop. Cease. Desist.

First 11 here, Second 11 here.

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