Maybe it makes sense to reflect, in the quiet aftermath of a period of activity, in order to gear up again for more, necessarily thinking this never stops, that the to and fro alternation of theory and praxis is never only rhetorical.
The protest at Millbank in 2010 was both organised and a surprise because it exceeded an official NUS-declared ‘end’ of the rally. The surprise was the palpable shared and active demonstration of intent that contagiously and somewhat spontaneously led thousands of protesters to the same end. Even if the Police also wanted to make a point about the erosion of their conditions under austerity, and so stepped back so as to underline by that withdrawal, the significance of their potential service as protectors of Capital.
Subsequent arrests were not as significant as the events – a raid on the headquarters of the ruling class party offices of course gathered world-wide attention – but less than ideal was the lack of support given to those arrested, and that as a response to austerity and education policy changes underway, this was all rather late.
In the December 2010 rallies, a massive success of mobilization and catching the mood of the nation. Significant positive media reportage in the run up to the rallies, though this turned towards a search for sensational images and descending into farce as the tactics of Police kettle and the staged sacrifice of a Police Van on Whitehall, and perhaps the Prince Consort and his ride in Regent Street were simply front page ‘splash’ journalism. On the one hand protesters learnt that a passive response to kettling at the beginning of the kettle was a trap, on the other hand multiple separate actions – University for Strategic Optimism, Precarious Workers Brigade etc – and groups leaving the rally to roam central London provoking multiple encounters did symbolically threaten and frighten those in charge of the Capital.
In the context of Tunisia and Egypt and the so-called Arab Spring, the March 2011 trades union called rally was too long in coming, and followed a predicted route, also for too long. That the anarcho bloc followed a visibly different route and tactic was impressive, and the proliferation of multiple groups and actions, despite co-ordination problems and sometimes lack of leadership or direction, including a foolhardy self-kettling media grab high-end shopping trip (Fortnum and Masons), meant that enthusiasm and attention were high. Much of this energy then took organisational form and coincided with a resurgence of zine and samizdat publications, citizen journalism and blog posts, public meetings and the like. The anti-cuts groups and the plethora of other campaigns and issues – libraries, interns, pensions – indicated a visible left culture ascending.
August 2011 – the culmination of the proceding year and undoubtedly London’s response to the counter-revolutionary machinations in Egypt, Libya, etc., and a co-ordination of concerns about policing, deaths in police custody (the death of Smiley Culture was also part of the story, as well as the immediate catalyst of the Tottenham uprising, the killing of Mark Duggan), bank bail-outs, austerity, youth unemployment, ruling class privilege, and the arid cultural alienation not mitigated by endless television talent shows and vacuous celebrity tittle-tattle. The media sensation of burning buses and police vehicles, followed by ‘opportunistic forms of aggressive late-night shopping, leading to a heavy-handed and last-ditch severe law and order crackdown, especially after the protests moved towards slightly more affluent suburbs on the third day, like Ealing, still requires discussion. Three days in August showed how fragile the bourgeois social compact was, and the clean-up broom teams in Clapham and the subsequent hand-writing of press pundits, as well as the excessively harsh sentencing of offenders for very minor crimes, have not eroded expectations that this fragile compact will crack again. Considerable effort by researchers (the Guardian/LSE) and institutional programmes, youth, social care, police liaison, council (inner city cleansing) and local government does not, with the evidence of a double-dip recession and ongoing austerity still in place, mitigate the expectation that things will kick of again soon.
Subsequent rallies saw the mobile kettle tactic keep apart the Occupy movement, the Sparks, and the Trades Union rally. An aggressive campaign of overpolicing and militarisation of London in the lead up to the Olympiss, means public dissent takes different forms. This builds upon the need for organisation and the effervescence of new political thinking and critical experiments, in the groups that formed around Arts Against Cuts, UfSO, Precarious/Carrot Workers collective, The Paper, Anonymous, The Indignatios, the flourishing zine and samizdat culture, and the significant inter-relation between the Occupy movement and critiques of its neglect of race in its 99% slogan. The efforts of astute protesters to plan in an alternative and longer frame – rejecting the lesser austerity of the Labour Party, the merely reactive anti-cuts tailism of the Trotskyite Left or the rejectionist grunge-fashion posturing of the Anarchists there is a renewed will to build a communist future for London, Britain or Europe. More than Occupy, more than Uncut, more than a defence of the now corporatized University, more than an anarchist t-shirt slogan, more than a newspaper-seller from hell, more than a conference on ideas or a guest-speaker series, more than the talking heads of Marx Reloaded, more than a moan about the precariousness of all wage labour, more than this rotten system and its corrupt leaders, its greedy pampered bankers, its degenerate and deviously biased newspaper magnates, its criminal tax-avoiding luxury-yacht, racehorse owning ‘captains’ of industry, its mining industry-funded pompous bastard monarchy, its endless dull spectacle of Beckham and Circuses, its broken, abject, pointless routine of surplus and the wrong sort of excess. Everyone agrees Another world must be built, and in the last years its architecture has been put in place – the political events of the last two years point the way.
The still slower work of reading to prepare and analysis is not to be dismissed as indulgence. There is no time for this now, the need to act is greater. Urgency, however, breeds contempt, half-cocked adventures that seem useful but end in recuperation, at best, reinforcing the repressive apparatus and defeat more often. A salutary reading of the Eighteenth Brumaire or Herr Vogt should temper any expectation that things were easy. If that were the case, by now word will have gotten round. It is no surprise that the ruling classes find organisation and mobilisation of their defences a matter of slow but deliberate decision. They have long practiced the forms at which their defence will proceed – from the manuals for counter insurgency – COIN – written to aid the military with ethnographic and sociological data, to the officer training schools that teach a total war against Islam scenario that entails the bombing of Mecca (May 10, 2012, Wired). In the institutions that replicate the class hierarchy, through to the military budgets that approve tanks, warships, ground-to-air missiles and global weapons sales, the platitudes of humanitarian tolerance pale into comedy when we consider just how far Capital will go to defend the privilege of its best of all possible worlds.
It is important to take analysis and organisation together, asking what are the current conditions and what are the possibilities? the composition of the class forces and their relations? What are the tactically vulnerable points at which the analysis of forces might open up potentials. An assessment of conditions is necessarily framed alongside questions of capacity – of what is, and what is needed.
Repressive state apparatus and global militarism
– police power, terror war
– security state, governmental/control society
– global crisis, constant anxiety, volatility
– infotainment as news, reality TV, celebrity, comedy, talent shows, sports
– social network, capture of new media by corporates, privatisation
– alternative low budget and low impact blogosphere, zine, samizdat Lefts
– weapons industry, lords of death
– mining, climate, sweatshops,
– border control, labour flow management, ethnic cleansing
– education geared to national industry
– health in the lab-coat pocket of Big Pharma
– transport and communications infrastructure automatised, digitised.
The repressive Police power and terror anxiety maintained by constant station announcements, overt Police presence, anniversary security scares – another underpants bomb, May 2012 – requires channelling hostility to cuts and austerity measures to protect banks and capital. Focus upon salaries of executives and shareholder meetings as if these were forums of democracy. Those who don’t have shares vote by remote for Britain’s Got Talent. Meanwhile, deportations, institutional racism, general racism, anti-Muslim and reinforced blanched hierarchies of opportunity, despite, or even reinforced by, liberal sentimentality.
Media narrowcasting under threat by new platforms and possibilities engenders a massive effort to monetise and control, and corral, the social network, itself already at the start a military asset. The prospect of critical journalism undermined by the appearance of even-handed reportage. A focus on excessive bonuses or expenses obscures the inequity of any bonuses or expenses for millionaire entrepreneurs at all – the creation of a climate of unfocussed public disapproval carefully managed so as to avoid focus upon war, mining, pollution, class, race or violent crimes. Privatisation as a system wide strategy is not examined by the episodic and sectoral focus of both mainstream investigators – Offcom, Offstead etc are not the investigators we need, trades union sectoralism is insufficient unless and until it calls for a general strike.
‘they have something of which they are very proud’ – Nietzsche
Is it that we are fighting to preserve the University or the education ideal? Or is this fading image not also one of the tricks and mystifications, deceits and evasions of a neoliberal terra forming that has remade all values as money. Monetisation of the research agenda, blink, course development, blink, quality assurance, blink, corporate sponsor, excellence award, commercial start-up, blink. The fee regime, the estate redevelopment, the porters, security, blink, the brand, the font, the ‘I study at …’ blink, relocate the bookshop, redesign the forecourt, rename the Green, summer school, conference services, champagne Lasalle, the international recruits, the UKBA, Santander Bank, blink, information retention, 2015, Goldsmiths Online, podcast and blink, community liaison, gallery extension, honourary award, blink blink kerching.
The time is ripe for a far more public inquiry into the character and composition of the educational institution today. Not because the privatisation and operationalisation of research is a new danger – that alignment with corporate and national interest was long underway. No, because the engagement of investigators, detectives, citizen journalists, factory inspectors, co-researchers, amateur historians, activist hunter-seekers, is itself an organizing tool that must turn research from its somnambulant sleepwalk into its ideal commercial form as market intelligence. Providing instead the militant forums for thinking and critique that will be part of a sabotage from within of the myth of neutrality of research may be the only justification for the institution of the University today.
The ‘white man got a god-complex’ said the Last Poets, and any idea that research with impact isn’t open to wholesale subservience to the false deification of money-theism really does not know what blasphemy could be. Money-theism in the university takes the spectral form of supposing that knowledge is valuable to the extent that it secures research council approval as funds. Money begets money.
Teaching and learning by-the-numbers means the imbrication of slogan versions of ideas with accreditation – the lesser of the two oldest professions. To demean teaching by both demanding money for it and refusing any substantive critical thinking, including self-criticism, is the aggravation of incoherence. This is not to say that there should be no funding for higher education – the point is that the provision of well-educated pliable automatons for industry is not something for which I think we should charge parents, or even students. Corporate employers benefit from free training when they find labour power available for hire already equipped and ready for waged employment and so corporate taxation and university funding through an at least seemingly impartial state mechanism, would only be a transitional phase while we inculcate in our students those habits of criticism that will necessarily be dysfunctional for capital, would build another world, and prevail against the inevitable counter-insurgent forces that will attend its birth pangs.
The model of the Factory Inspector is set out by Marx in ‘The Working Day’ chapter of Capital, volume one, not as an uncritically approved figure of unassailable credentials, but as an advocate of investigation that does a service for the working class ‘that should never be forgotten’ (Capital). The Factory Inspector is Leonard Horner, his work appeared in the Blue Books, which were parliamentary reports, appearing at least annually, and read by Marx as key sources for his examinations of conditions in the industrial factories of 19th Century capitalism and of the struggles over wages, hours, child labour and education that surround the introduction of the Factory Acts (ensuring a modicum of education for children, and limits on the number of consecutive hours they may be forced to work).