Susan and Steven — 16 Things to be done (Part 2: #13-16) September 26, 2003

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Journalisms — Susan and Steven — 16 Things to be done (Part 2: #9-16) September 26, 2003
“Journalisms:” or “Our Correspondent:” or “?”
The title and mission of this collective project
is a work in progress. But the general idea is
that we cannot be in all places at all times.
So those who would like to can write a “report”
or “editorial” or “correspondence” to share
experiences for the benefit of others.
To take part, send submission or for more information
please write to journalisms@16beavergroup.org
or post online:
as a part of the common project
and the First International Lunchtime Summit
Number 9.
Name: Bruce Barber
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2003, 13:57:49
Place: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Canada
What is to be Done?
In his text Lenin outlined in detail several problems within the social democracy and labour movements in pre-Revolutionary Russia, and argued strenuously for the institution of an all-Russian political newspaper. In so doing, he affirmed the signal role of the media: writers, artists, designers, photographers, the bourgeois intelligentsia, in fomenting revolutionary activity on the part of the masses. On some important levels Lenin echoes the thought of the utopian socialist Fourier, who was among the first to argue that artists should form the advance wing of the (political) avant-garde, a position that you may agree has become increasingly hollow in recent years. In What is to be done, Lenin discussed also the problems of organization within the social democracy movement, struggle and political agitation, what today we would call patterns of resistance, action and intervention in the public sphere. He affirmed that “without revolutionary theory there can be no there can be no revolutionary movement (practice)”(28). Following the example of Frederick Engel’s (Der Deutsche Bauernkrieg, (The German Peasant War 1875), he reinforced the need for theoretical struggle to be placed on par with the political and economic. “Three co-coordinated and interconnected sides, the theoretical, the political and the practical/ economic”(31).
If exemplary actions, are without theory; interventions attempt to put theory into action, to wed theory to practice. Both are intrinsically related to one another, as was understood clearly by those who participated in the occupations, sit-ins, teach ins, theatrical agit-prop events and other forms of protest evident during the 1960’s. However, the intentions and ultimately the “audience” response are different.
The exemplary action consists, instead of intervening in an overall way, in acting in a much more concentrated way on exemplary objectives, on a few key objectives that will play a determining role in the continuation of the struggle.
(Excerpt: for full version see http://www.novelsquat.com/)
Number 10.
Name: Ann Schneider
Date: Sat, 07 Sep 2002, 20:18
Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA.
What is to be Done?
To me, Lenin has always been the example for making revolution, vast, cataclysmic change through force rather than by incremental legal reforms. His views will always echo in the young, the desperate and in the most deprived peoples because they have the least to lose and the most to gain. I think more people are willing to choose violent revolution these days because events of the last few decades have proven the rich are getting richer without any effective restraint on their accumulation. The collapse of Enron and WorldCom in the United States, especially after they raped the people of California and India with one-sided contracts, purchased with political bribes, shows more clearly than ever, Capitalism is Organized Crime. Lenin and Marxists are being vindicated as correct, despite the anti-democratic (to say the least) practices of Stalin. Personally, I am a fan of the non-violent, democratic revolution that brought about a non-racial republic in South Africa. The ANC leadership is highly dedicated to participatory democracy, the slogan of the American New Left. But we don’t have to depend on their individual resistance to corruption because there are new democratic institutions, including, for the first time, one-person, one-vote elections. The new South African Constitution provides for separation of powers and checks and balances so that power cannot be monopolized by one party or one individual. This is how we prevent social change from deteriorating into a mere change in ruling party. Despite the depressing example of Solidarity in Poland, I still believe strongly in the principle of autonomous workers collectives, Soviets. Although that is my ideal, and one of my inspirations, at age 43, I know that a lifetime is short. Now my slogan (as a progressive lawyer) is
Regulate, Regulate, Regulate. Individuals will frequently act selfishly. Corporations will always be short-sighted. A centralized, planned economy is unlikely, given its historical precedents. But, we can perhaps use the examples of Enron, etc., to compel Congress to pass laws that protect our basic needs, such as access to clean water, healthcare and income security, within a capitalist framework.
Number 11.
Name: Paul Bowman
Place: Bath, UK
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2003 11:40:31
What is to be Done?
‘No More Manifestos’
No more manifestos. They’ve all been written. They’ve certainly all been read. All we need is interruption. How? And how can our or any interruptions be heard? And how can being heard make a difference? And who are “we” anyway? These are traditional questions and this is politics and that’s that. Maybe, but, today, what is to be done? In the face of the barbarism of empire, all theory (except perhaps a hint of dialectic) seems superfluous. Should we regress to crude conspiracy theories? Even these are too refined. For there is no conspiracy: The horror is declared, proudly, right in your face, in public, advocated, everywhere: the United States operates, entirely, on the basis of “simple cost-benefit analysis”. And that’s that. I have heard this said, to assure us that everything’s ok… It makes everything far, far worse. But maybe all that need be done is to force a change in what is taken into account in doing the sum (cost to whom, benefit to whom). Everyone knows enough about the blatant corruption and absolute criminality of the present state of the world to know that we need regime changes, and most of all in America. But regime change to what, and how? What’s the alternative, what’s the other “to come”, that would be objectively better? Do we in fact need a new manifesto? It might seem so, but certainly not.
All manifestos are shit. The revolution would consist merely in the shift from tyranny to democracy. It needs to begin in the Great Pharmakon: America. Unfortunately, it must begin there. Why ? Ask a Marxist. Today Marx is right again. But how? Zizek insists that simply taking the power discourse at its (public) word, acting as if it really means what it explicitly says (and promises) can be the most effective way of disturbing its smooth functioning”. This is certainly a powerful position. It is always an attack, always constructive, always other, always offering of the alternative. Do not oppose. To oppose is to oil. Follow this logic: If in ’68 they said ‘be realistic demand the impossible’, today we must be unrealistic and demand the possible, demand what we are told we already have: Democracy, transparency, accountability, justice, responsibility, freedom the very things explicitly declared as present, but always lacking. To achieve any approximation of them would be revolutionary.
Think of it like this:
Blatantly: If we had democracy, we wouldn’t have Bush.
Dialectically (perhaps idealistically, but who knows?): If we had democracy we wouldn’t have such terrorism as long as “we” was not simply “us”.
Axiomatically: Democracy and capitalism are strictly incompatible.
Number 12.
Name: Melissa and Deera Wilson and child
Place: Cambridge, England
Date: March 9th, 2003
What is to be Done?
Teach the Young
Number 13.
Name: Kirsti Kotilainen
Place: Tampere, Finland
Date: April, 2003
What is to be Done?
Two weeks ago I was sure what had to be done was the creation of group
identity: to define who we are and who the bad guy is. This, I figured,
would only be done by doing things together ˆ and preferably breaking some
law or other at the same time. Last week, however, I thought breaking the
control of the corporations on media would be vital so that pictures of
war and suffering would finally be seen unembellished and in the right
context. Earlier this week I was adamant about the need for a utopia ˆ
faith in the fact that things can be different and should be so. Today, I
think there‚s a hell of a lot to be done.
Number 14.
Name: Jeremy Gilbert
Place: University of East London
Date: February, 2003
What is to be Done?
There is a right way and a wrong way to interpret this question of
Lenin‚s. The wrong way is to see it as asking for some programmatic
formula for the re-making of the social. The right way is to see it as
posing the question which is in fact the constitutive question of politics
itself: the question of strategy. How do we go about getting what we
want? As Lenin, and Gramsci after him, understood, this is always a
question of winning hearts and minds, of building popular support, of
breaking down political and social boundaries between different wings of
potential radical movements. For too long, the best known elements of
Lenin‚s thinking have been those which essentialized class identities,
reinforcing such boundaries.
If this and some other of Lenin‚s ideas ˆ his dismissal of Œreformism‚ and
his naïve belief in Œrevolution‚ as a full re-foundation of society ˆ are
at best a hindrance today., nonetheless, his insight into the importance
of strategy is something which we loose sight of at our peril. The great
weakness of contemporary Œanti-capitalism‚ is its constitutive inability
to address this issue. The fact is that Seattle and Genoa did not
demonstrate that capitalism can be resisted, only that it can be
protested. Resisting capital‚s global drive to subject all social
relations to the logic of the market ˆ and in the process to demolish the
democratic gains of the last two centuries ˆ requires that we never lose
sight of this most central of Lenin‚s observations: without attention to
the question of strategy, no political project can succeed. Without an
understanding of the need to build popular coalitions which will challenge
and modify the identities of all their participants, radicalism can only
be, in Lenin‚s famous phrase: Œan infantile disorder‚.
Number 15.
Names: Nicholas Brown and Imre Szeman
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002, 09:39
Place: University of Illinois at Chicago, USA and McMaster University,
Canada respectively.
What is to be done?
This is the question that is not being asked today. Let us call one
possible position the politics of immanence. Better yet, let us call it
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. There is to be no revolution, certainly
no Party; the world to come will arrive through a plurality of struggles
which, taken as a whole, express the desire of the multitude. What desire?
The desire that was so effortlessly co-opted during the Cold War by high
wages in the first world and (relatively) generous development aid in the
third? Or the desire which, after the disintegration of actually existing
socialism, exists only to be brutally crushed in the name of the Market?
For the secret of the story of the immanent desire of the multitude is
that it quietly relied on a prior transcendent revolution. Once the
revolution (or at least its vestige) disappears as Capital’s threat and
horizon, the desire of the multitude has no recourse — except revolution.
And surely we do not need to be reminded that in the wrong circumstances
the Utopian desire of the multitude can be channeled towards the most
obscene ends.
The other position might be called the politics of transcendence; or
better yet Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou. There is to be a revolution,
even a revolutionary party, but revolution is fundamentally a decision, a
risky experiment never guaranteed to succeed, and therefore an
untheorizable particularity. Yes, yes, yes — and a resounding no. Lenin
had a theory of revolution, a very precise understanding of the historical
conjuncture in which revolution was a possible decision. But our
situation, in which no merely national revolution will have much
significance (the choices faced by the few national governments genuinely
on the Left are evidence enough of that), is immeasurably more complex
than Lenin’s. We remember Lenin because his revolution succeeded. How many
failed? The potential cost of not asking “What is to be done?” is a period
of bloody and ineffective rebellions, some of them deeply reactionary.
Neither is invoking “Seattle” much help; the protests against our current
mode of globalization are a sign and a slogan, but not an organizing
principle. And waiting for a Messiah will only waste time. What we face
instead is the hard work, the collective work, of theorizing the
possibilities that inherent in our current conjuncture and possible ways
to proceed. The only thing worse than picking the wrong moment would be
missing the right one, and it may come sooner than we think.
Number 16.
Name: Helen Gyger
Place: New York, USA
Date: August 7th, 9.50pm, 2002, with long breaks and a trip to LA.
What is to be Done?
I find myself veering between optimism and pessimism reading through these
questions, but necessarily falling down on the side of modest but engaged
hopefulness, where what is to be done is still a viable question. In terms
of the burning social and political questions: for me the questions are
structural issues of accessing/effecting power, from empowerment at the
local level to the global balances: government ˆ supra-state- and the
possibilities for social change are in building coalitions of communities
which deliberately interrogate their own forms and methods.
My response to Lenin is mediated by Slavoj Zizek‚s interest in a strategic
return to that decisive moment when Marx‚s sense of an unfolding of
history reached its limit and a way forward had to be found, the
revolutionary movement had to be structured, directed and consequences had
to be dealt with. For Zizek, this Œutopia of the moment‚ seems to
represent both the possibility and the necessity of action, a release
finally, from the ambivalence and deferral of negotiated politics. The
question then is whether this utopian moment can be created outside such
radical historical fissures – or, more constructively, how is to be done.
Perhaps in developing each alternative power structure/community there is
a potential to achieve this kind of disruptive moment, putting into
practice a set of foundational principles and through experimentation
leading on the next stage of what/how is questions. Contingent strategies
perhaps, throwing sticks into the spokes of a juggernaut, but if it
succeeds in throwing it off course or demonstrating its vulnerability,
perhaps that shouldn‚t be dismissed either. In the early 1970s an
Australian construction union instituted environmental bans protecting
inner city communities and bush land, halting $5000 million of projects.
In the end the most radical branch was shut down by more conservative
union leaders, not least because of their progressive organisational
practices: limiting tenure for officials, tying their pay to the workers‚,
including non-payment of officials during strikes, encouraging direct
action and the autonomy of each job site. Choosing to be destroyed rather
than conform or compromise represents the recognition of the exhaustion of
one particular route of resistance, a triumphant failure leaving just
enough space to imagine the next utopian moment ˆ an incremental process
of change, for a modest 21st Century Lenin?