Do bee do bee do

beesHere is the first of ‘Eleven theses on art and politics’ for my talk in Copenhagen on thursday (‘Forms of engagement, Configurations of politics’ conference):

1. Do Bees have art?

“what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax.” – Marx, Capital I, p284

In Marx’s passage about the bees and the architects, clearly it is the bees who do not have representation, despite their excellent construction skills. The (human) architect constructs a structure in the mind (or on paper) before building it in the world. We can call this art. If we are to take Marx’s analogy seriously, bees do not have art, they have sting and a love of nectar, but no art.

But if art is different to politics, do bees have politics? Is the art of politics one of opportunity and struggle in the real? Or is strategy and tactics the equivalent of art in the human? Debord’s interest in strategy, as well as that long tradition within communism, will be relevant here. It may be that bees, with their hierarchy in the hive, but also their expansive quest to pollinate, have in fact a politics that can teach us.

But perhaps the bees have been caught up and caged. In England, we are told that bees are under threat and our entire biosphere is in danger if bees cease to do the endless work of pollinating flowers – which connects up nature to culture to economy in ways only hinted at by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Meanwhile, in the advanced sectors of capital:

Nicole Pepperel writes: I have to admit, I’ve never particularly thought about the industrial organisation of crop pollination, until I read this column from the New York Times discussing possible responses to Colony Collapse Disorder – the mysterious plague that causes adult bees to desert their hives, leaving honey and larvae behind. I found this image particularly striking:

“…it is important to add that, here in the United States, the majority of our crops are pollinated not by wild bees, or even by honeybees like mine, which live in one location throughout the year, but by a vast mobile fleet of honeybees-for-rent”.

“From the almond trees of California to the blueberry bushes of Maine, hundreds of thousands of domestic honeybee hives travel the interstate highways on tractor-trailers. The trucks pull into a field or orchard just in time for the bloom; the hives are unloaded; and the bees are released. Then, when the work of pollination is done, the bees are loaded up, and the trucks pull out, heading for the next crop due to bloom”.

(Originally posted by N Pepperell 29/01/2009

Clearly there is a politics of bees, and it is of more importance than we often concede. So, as Adorno says…




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12 thoughts on “Do bee do bee do”

  1. A SPACIOUS Hive well stock’d with Bees,
    That lived in Luxury and Ease;
    And yet as fam’d for Laws and Arms,
    As yielding large and early Swarms;
    Was counted the great Nursery [5]
    Of Sciences and Industry.
    No Bees had better Government,
    More Fickleness, or less Content.
    They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
    Nor ruled by wild Democracy; [10]
    But Kings, that could not wrong, because
    Their Power was circumscrib’d by Laws.
    These Insects lived like Men, and all
    Our Actions they perform’d in small:
    They did whatever’s done in Town, [15]
    And what belongs to Sword, or Gown:
    Tho’ th’Artful Works, by nible Slight;
    Of minute Limbs, ‘scaped Human Sight
    Yet we’ve no Engines; Labourers,
    Ships, Castles, Arms, Artificers, [20]
    Craft, Science, Shop, or Instrument,
    But they had an Equivalent:
    Which, since their Language is unknown,
    Must be call’d, as we do our own.
    As grant, that among other Things [25]
    They wanted Dice, yet they had Kings;
    And those had Guards; from whence we may
    Justly conclude, they had some Play;
    Unless a Regiment be shewn
    Of Soldiers, that make use of none. [30]

    Bernard de Mandeville 1705 ‘The Grumbling Hive’


  2. “But, for things in nature, such as stones, plants, etc., the word ‘soul’…can only be used metaphorically. The soul of merely natural things is explicitly finite and transitory, and should be called ‘specific nature’ rather than ‘soul’.” (p. 430, The Hegel Reader, Houlgate)

    Since bees do not have souls, and art “belongs to the absolute sphere of the spirit” (p. 426), bees do not have art.

    Do they have politics? Of course! By examining their strategies of defense of the hive, they have a sense of who belongs and who does not belong! This is politics at its most fundamental realization.

    I am looking forward to the rest of the theses on art and politics!


  3. Bees and strategy – maybe a kind of crazy, complex systems notion of strategy, e.g.

    Bored at work and trying to come up with names for this publication. Do you think ‘toten Hund’ is too goth? I think it’s way too goth, but I kind of like it because of that. ‘Dead Dog’ would be the punk rock version; way too full on, but it appeals because it’s so unsuitable. Better ideas and suggestions gratfeully received



  4. I think Marx had it correct and it is the inability to differentiate us from bees in the present that is the reason the problem of bees today cannot be posed in anything but a mystified way:

    Disapperances: Reflections on the collapse of honey bees and the Left (

    “The opening sequence of Silence of the Bees is of various panned-out urban scenes of masses of people going to work. The footage has been sped up to eliminate any trace of human intention and to prepare for the bee hive footage to follow. The shot is reminiscent of Dziga Vertov’s experimental documentary film Man With a Movie Camera (1929), which portrays a city waking as its population goes to work in a similar way. Vertov’s city dwellers, however, have a curious relation with the technologies of labor and leisure, one that fits the description of “labor tending into play.” Vertov’s 1920s masses stand in striking contrast to the bee-like masses of the present. An active and political Left made possible the understanding of how social labor could become conscious through the politics of freedom. It is perhaps because the politicization of the labor movement has no “connection with nature”—unlike the labor of the bee hive—that it was able to push against all preconceived limits of how society might be configured. Its social imagination was not limited to merely emulating patterns observed in the natural world. The framing of human labor as somehow “natural” is precisely what the Left challenged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is the disappearance of this challenge that draws us back to look for a “connection with nature” and prevents us from identifying the basis of agricultural problems in our alienated labor”.


  5. The Nomadic Hive Manifesto

    A spectre is haunting Europe- the spectre of debt slaves refusing to pay. All the powers within Europe have entered into a holy alliance to regenerate a failing economy, to realise a lethal dream of returning to business as usual, and to level education and culture, so as to transform the educational and cultural sectors into a consumer society success story.

    Their dream is of an education system in which education means obtaining skills to sell in the marketplace, a system in which to produce research means nothing more than making the country competitive in the global market. The vandalism of arts and humanities in this country is designed to produce a new definition of knowledge, defined as that which an individual can bring to the economy or marketplace. Where is the space given over by the architects of this extreme-make-over for those who have ideas and habits different to those favoured by the holy alliance? Where is the space given over to those who believe universities have a role in thinking and reflecting upon life, and what life can be?

    If you listen carefully, a humming can be heard, the noise of dissatisfaction becomes dissent. The Holy Alliance fears that this noise has become a song on the lips of all?

    Those who have demanded a space apart from this extreme-make-over have been painted as dangerous spoilers or parasites?

    Two things need to be said about all this and the existence of the nomadic hive:

    I. A nomadic hive is an aesthetic practice, not just a means of survival but an aesthetic mode of existence that manifests through producing networks, means of communications, protest, relations and assemblages: collective machines and situations for thinking and acting.

    II. A nomadic hive has a queen (or two or more). The sole role of the queen is to facilitate the reproduction and maintenance of the hive. If the queen becomes more than a facilitator she must be killed.

    III. The nomadic hive must declare its aims, way of life and values, to meet this nursery tale of the holy alliance that leads to nothing but debt slavery.

    A manifesto has to be written.

    On the 9th December 2010, from 16.45 to 19.45, in Room 43 of the National Gallery London, the nomadic hive produced the following manifesto:

    1. The hive redefines public space. The hive reclaims public space and public spaces in private ownership (museums, shopping malls, streets).

    2. Wherever the hive camps is our home.

    3. Movement is imperative – keep moving – but to move or stay is our decision, and our decision to move or stay is our right.

    4. The practice of questioning and critique is central to our movement and this questioning goes beyond the discursive.

    5. The hive has a commitment to dissemination of information.

    6. The movement is an emotional journey – involving thinking and affects.

    7. The hive claims the right to happiness and rejects life as a debt slave until death.

    8. The hive recognises the struggle for happiness is an international struggle.

    9. The hive is a catalyst for change and for difference; it is a spark of light produced by the movement of the hive. The spark of light illuminates a situation for others.

    10. This spark of light, the art of the hive, is produced in and presented within the spaces and situations of everyday life and not just in specialist institutions.

    11. The movement of the hive expands beyond education, beyond the universities, the students and lecturers.

    12. The hive does not preserve the status quo.

    13.The hive does not oppose individualism to the collective.

    14. The hive does not make anything for sale, the hive does not make ‘works’ for he market. The hive aims to change how the art world operates.

    15. The hive is fluid and reassesses itself.

    16 The hive speaks – ‘act now!’

    17. The hive is open on all levels. The hive needs open access at all times for the purposes of exchange, it is interactive and interdependent.

    18. The hive actualises the power we have now.

    19. The hive agrees to disagree and use disagreement as a platform and a starting point for action.

    20. The hive addresses the problem of pedagogy.

    21. The hive does not patronise, but it brings its art to the people.

    22. The hive is not a meritocracy but a passionocracy: a passionocracy of skills, values and intentions.

    23. What can we do? We can produce actions in public and private space to grow the hive.

    24. The internet is a hive – through the internet the hive can cut out the middle man of the mass media corporations.

    25. The hive is viral and online but the hive is an embodied practice – it exists in the spaces we occupy and the way we relate to space and others in space.

    26. The hive exists in opposition to prevailing circumstances. In this, the hive produces a political imaginary – an affirmation of what we can do.

    27. The hive has a honey pump, like Beuy’s honey pump, for energy production.

    28. The honey pump powers different forms of communication – songs, talk, noise.

    29. The hive knows how to get things done, individually and collectively.

    30. The audience for the songs, talk and noise of the hive is everybody – how we communicate is important.

    31. We communicate through language but also without using language, by dancing and pheromones

    32. Trust in the hive. And for people to trust in the hive there must be trust within the hive.

    33. The hive reaffirms solidarity with all occupiers, with all taking action on the streets, with all public sector workers, and all workers, and all involved in labour that produces the social (students, carers, school students).

    34. We oppose the methods that oppress our collective movement.

    35. The manifesto of nomadic hive is in constant development.

    36. The manifesto is drafted through action.

    37. The hive works together, stings and makes honey.

    38. The hive stings but does not die.


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