Article published on Fluor, 1 (december 2011)
INDIGNATION AND POST-POLITICS
It is difficult not to feel solidarity and affinity with a social movement of the dimensions and content of that which has been unfolding in Spanish cities since May 15th, with its direct precedents in cities in Tunisia, Iceland, Egypt, Wisconsin, etc., and with replicas in many other capitals around the world. This is not only because it is indicative of a massive and irate reaction to increasingly unacceptable social circumstances, but because of what it has entailed with regard to retaking the streets as a stage for civil struggles, and incorporating or reincorporating thousands of people into the political debate and action. Nonetheless, that positive assessment of the response on the part of the citizenry to the abuses of political and economic power should not be incompatible with a balanced consideration of the nature of the movements that have adopted the model provided by the indignant people of Spain.
It is a matter of ascertaining whether we find ourselves before a style of mobilization befitting what Zizec has dubbed post-politics, the current phase of what in practice is a colossal process of de-politization and the ultimate triumph of a sort of emotional reformism, based on the conviction that a moral improvement of the capitalistic system is possible and urgent, stemming from a heightening of the values of an abstract conception of democracy. Or, what amounts to the same thing, the strengthening of an imaginary egalitarian ecumene based on the autonomous, responsible and rational individual, a free agent aware of his or her potential to facilitate all types of changes, for whom any identification other than that of citizen is precluded. We encounter the hard core of what authors such as Habermas consider to be the republican concept of politics, a mediating artefact that permits and regulates the self-determination of supportive and autonomous aggregations consisting of free and equal individuals who are conscious of their reciprocal dependence, who, outside the State and the market, reach understanding through horizontal exchange wherein the arguments are continuously renovated.
That species of radical democraticism—the “real democracy” in the name of which the initial 15-M protests are organized—is founded in a dialogue-based coordination of strategies for cooperation, affinity and conflict that are formulated in the very course of their development. The deliberation is carried out in the field of action and translates into the circulation and consensus of opinions between private, conscious and responsible individuals who rationally exercise their capacities and their rights to speak up and act with regard to issues that concern everyone. And this takes place in a setting—the public space as framework which is abstract and specific at the same time—wherein the plurality of presences and interests is subjected to pertinent, rational and justifiable rules of action whose generation and maintenance do not depend on legal norms, but on the self-organization of beliefs and initiatives.
In that self-managed system of discussion and action—of which the assemblies in Spanish public plazas would be a dramatization—individuals do not only reach their maximum level of political institutionalization, but also their highest level of symbolic effectiveness, as protagonists of a civil life conceived as a life of and among fellow citizens who cooperatively generate and control spheres in which any historical genesis or socio-structural constraint is set aside, a species of limbo of coincidence whose inhabitants reach agreements about what to do and what to say in and before each situation. That no-man’s land, in which pure communication rules, operates as if the means of production, exchange and distribution had been obviated and as if conflicting social sectors had decided to pact a species of truce.
So, according to what has been expounded thus far, we would be before a revitalization of the old subjectivist humanism, with the relative novelty of a militant circumstancialism—which gives rise to what has been called movementism—practiced by individuals and groups who meet and act pursuant to specific causes, at certain moments and in very restricted settings—here and now—renouncing any organic structure, any clear doctrinal allegiance and anything resembling a project of social transformation or emancipation that exceeds a rather hazy vitalism. These movements take to the ultimate consequences the logic of citizenship, the current ideology of choice for social democracy and what remains of the old revolutionary left: an accord of incommensurable heterogeneities that, however, engage in momentary cooperative arrangements for the purpose of achieving shared objectives.
Those forms of mobilization—of which 15-M would be the apotheosis—prefer unconventional and spontaneous forms of activism, led by conscious and motivated individuals who renounce or reject anything that resembles an organizational or doctrinal framework, who seem to come from and eventually return to a species of unstructured void and offer themselves as primary elements of volatile yet potent unions based on an effervescent mixture of emotion, impatience and conviction, without flags, without hymns, without leaders, without centre, alternative mobilizations without alternatives, which are founded in abstract principles that are essentially moral in nature and for which the conceptualization of the collective is complicated, if not impossible.
One of the preferred figures for that communitarian individualism or of that individualist communitarianism, based on a groundswell of sympathy between subjects, is the Internet, which is no coincidence, considering the fact that the sociability that it enables, as a paradigm of networked relations, a paradise where the utopia of a society of unanchored individuals has finally been made tangible, in a universe of instantaneities. It is also the utopia of the band or herd, opposites of flock by definition, and becomes a perfect metaphor of the small, and sometimes grand, hyperactive group that gets together to take action. Similarly, we could draw parallelisms with mythical figures such as the tribe or nomadism, ways of evoking and invoking a new egalitarian primitivism, which is none other than a new form of undifferentiated group, based on empathetic solidarity created through dialogue and synchronous agreement between people who are ethically demanding with themselves and with the world. Among other effects, this type of conception of political action outside politics translates, indeed and as we have seen, into the institutionalization of the assembly as the quintessential instrument of and for arrangements between individuals who do not accept being represented by anything or anybody. This radical form of parliamentarianism consists in an inorganic organ whose members spend their time negotiating or discussing amongst themselves, yet have grave difficulties negotiating or discussing with any external authority because in reality they have nothing to offer other than their communitarian authenticity, and the organ is more an intralocutor than it is an interlocutor.
The activism of this type of movement is expressed analogously, just as we have been able to see taken to an exasperating extreme in the case of the indignant Spaniards: a generation of small or large bubbles of collective lucidity that operate like spasms in relation to and against certain circumstances that are considered inadmissible, initiatives of oftentimes unfriendly appropriation of the public space that can be especially spectacular, stressing creativity and borrowing elements of the popular festival or the artistic performance. The mobilizations derive from specific campaigns, for which provisional mechanisms and means of coordination can be established and then deactivated afterwards…until the next opportunity in which new coordinates and issues regenerate them from little more than nothing.
Every mobilizing opportunity—every call to action, every occupation of the street or plaza, every assembly, every event—thus establishes an intensely experienced communicational truth, an exaltation in which the relations of production, the family or institutional dependences, have vanished. This is society conceived above all as happening, as generation of groupalities in an on-going process of structuring, based on a floating connection, consisting of open codes, emotional intensities, waves and rays of reciprocal interactivity between individuals; social life as a chain-link of momentary coalitions between subjects who define what happens as it happens and confront problematic emergencies by administering them from a cooperative rationality produced from within each particular circumstance.
A provisional yet satisfactory refuge from the elements of the existing social and political structure is thus constructed, serving as an ultimately illusory emancipation from the gravitation of the classes and enclassments, a momentary victory of reality as interpersonal construction upon the real as objective experience of the world. A dream from which, sooner or later, one ends up awakening.
[Photo by Julio Albarrán]