Frontline street

This post is a mediation on the street as a revolutionary front line. The capacity of taking to the street to confront the State directly. The horizon of the political possibilities available to us has certainly changed with the Arab spring and the realisation that austerity Europe can not carry on as it is. Something has to give. The street beckons. However when it comes to the street as a 'revolutionary front line’, our imagination wanders back to May 68 as a sort of auto political default. A critical question thus would be to ask how relevant is 68 to our current day struggles?


What would be the outcomes if we took 68 as a cue. What were the conditions that produced 68 and what came out of it?  Certainly not exactly what the protests in the street had aspired to. Rather than a political revolution, what 68 brought about was a cultural revolution, a cultural revolution that broke down the traditional plinths of bourgeois culture, the nuclear family and Church, and with it all barriers to modernisation. Giving us the liberal society and the golden age of individual consumerism.
We can say that in the past decade with neoliberalism, we have had a counterwave of change, dismantling the stable ensemble of the modern welfare state that blossomed after the 68 struggles. The very faultlines of our understanding of society now move in unforeseen directions. This makes commentators and activists question the use of existing strategies of protest that continue almost unchanged from the 68 era. The French group Tiqqun in Occupied London#4 would go so far as to declare “existing forms of activism as not only irrelevant, but reactionary as well”. The significance of 68 now lies in the spirit of 68, in its symbol as an unified call to revolution by a coalition of workers and students. Frederic Jameson in The Political Unconscious also questioned its value in relation to contemporary social formations given the ‘totalisation’ that made possible the strategies used in May 68 – totalisation referring to the centralism of the French State along with the coming together of often divided spheres of resistance. In comparison today though we may be living under neoliberal totalisation, we can articulate resistance only in fragmented ways through forms of counterculture.
The state of contemporary counterculture is now absorbed into multiple disconnected lifestyles or subcultures as a way of political expression each with its particular mode of practice and of resistance. The consequence is the problem of cultural connectivity between them. Thus, for instance, it is difficult to connect contemporary socialist movements like the Socialist Workers Party with sustainable farming campaigns or the latter with rights for undocumented migrants and so forth. Potential alliances are weak in practice because they are weak culturally so any dialogue or alliance is based on tactical chains – like the ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ paradigm. What remains as default is the defacto uncontested neoliberal playing field as it's hard to link the oppositional practices to unified ends, and so convert tactics to strategy and vice versa. Thus it is conceptually difficult to declare a revolutionary counterculture and remain ideologically consistent as that would privilege the avant-garde of any one particular movement.


If there are gaping holes between countercultures, Chantal Mouffe in On the Political would describe the contemporary political state as one in which there is “no gap left between the forms of state and the state of social relations.” “Democratic confrontation is replaced by confrontation between essentialist forms of identification or non-negotiable moral values”.
The primary non-negotiable moral value in the contemporary Western political mindset, as differences between the main parties of liberal democracy become narrower, is democracy itself with two transparent symptoms. Firstly the increasing resort to by the State to use undemocratic means to uphold democracy, democracy as a self-justifying entity. And secondly in parallel, diminishing public participation in the democratic process, the so-called democratic deficit. And if there is ‘no gap left between the forms of state and the state of social relations’ this degrades what Mouffe declares to be one of main functions of democratic politics, which is that of “defusing potential antagonism that exists in social relations”.


In parallel, the panopticon of the State has changed. The street of May 68 seems invitingly open, virginal, feral compared to the complex means of control and policing today with electronic surveillance, byelaws, virtual tracking. To exercise political agency in today's space means to engage and invent parallel spaces that aggregate, reformat, network autonomous countercultures. This coincides with Tiqqun’s vision phrased nihilistically in terms of a global “civil war” amongst forms-of-life.
How is it to be done? poetically marks the ethical necessity of becoming-anonymous, of dis-identifiying with all received and all possible forms of political classification. To realize this en masse, we must pass through the unchartered waters of the Human Strike, that form of action in which inoperativity becomes synonymous with possibility….
Once this is accomplished, the desertion of activism can begin, in which living (meaning civil not state) communism and spreading anarchy constitute the dual sides of the same structure of revolt.


The 68 model belongs to cultural vanguardism. It parallels in political terms, the revolutionary subject coordinating resistance when and where it is potentially available (to mobilise politically) rather like Leninist cadres tapping the alienation in the apolitical masses. But for the networked counterculture society, it is pointless to think of a body of monolithic inert apolitical mass that can be awoken and then drive though revolutionary change.
Slavoj Zizek suggests that “with the dynamics of contemporary capitalism, the opposition between rigid State control and carnivalesque liberation is no longer functional.” But we should not interpret this to imply that contemporary protest should abandon the frontline along with the modes of active political organisation that enable us to confront the State directly and unmask its power. However the revolutionary frontline deterritorialised long ago. Thus it is necessary to re-think the coordinates that lead up to the frontline.
It's still there of course (right outside the door).