Radical politics in the UK

One way to end the government is to become ungovernable

Reflections on social science, honesty, insurrection, communism, carts, and horses.

Reflections on social science, honesty, insurrection, communism, carts, and horses.

  1. I took a bus from Southampton to attend the Radical Left General Assembly in London last Thursday night. I took the trip for two special reasons. The Tory victory completely flummoxed political scientists, so as a political scientist I was especially curious to see how London radicals would start filling this cognitive vacuum left open by the systematic errors of the official intelligentsia. But as someone who came into ultraleft politics through Occupy Wall Street, I have to admit the second reason I went to London that evening: I once again fell for that last temptation of the sad insurrectionary, the hope that someone else might kick off somewhere else. A few people asked me to report back and some others asked me what I thought about it. Here is my report back. There were a lot of people there. Different people said most of the usual things. It was kind of interesting at times and not at others. Most of the time all I could really think about was the image of a cart in front of a horse. Here are my personal thoughts on it. I want everyone there to succeed in everything they want to do and I’m going to do everything I can to help, no less and certainly no more.

  2. As the internet fills with what everyone thinks everyone else should do now that the Tories are in power, here is what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to criticise the Assembly or any of the ideas expressed there. I’m not bothered. I’m glad to see anyone saying and doing anything they want, whether I think it’s ridiculous or not.1 I’m certainly not going to propose my brilliant vision for what everyone else should do. If there is anything I would criticise, it’s the way that our deep-seated, individual wills to power require us to express judgment of others and seek recognition from them at the same time. But I’m not going to criticise that because the only motivation for doing so is to feel smart and powerful. I don’t want to feel smart or powerful, I want collective liberation immediately. We have lots of people who are smart and who present themselves powerfully, but we do not have enough collective liberation. While correlation does not necessarily imply causation, my own wager is that there is a causal relation here.

  3. Most people in the pacified capitalist democracies do not live human lives and few of us still aspire to; I don’t blame anyone, for we have been robbed and we may any day take back what belongs to us, I just think it necessary to take an honest measure of things. I’m not romantically speculating on a mythical age, it is an empirical fact that while humans persist life itself has long been going extinct. While this deserves more empirical attention than is possible here, everything seems to indicate that all of our very capacities for participating in meaningful relationships and taking risks for principled ethical convictions—essential features of any truly human life and certainly basic requirements for any liberal pluralist fantasy of organising out of contemporary domination—were unfathomably stronger across many countries even forty years ago.2 One can debate the details but to speak about movement-building while not seriously reckoning with fundamental changes in the most basic capacities of human beings cannot help but reek of bad faith.

  4. People have meetings and assemblies to talk about how to stop a government. I was barely convinced that it was worth getting out of bed today and I hardly live up to my part in one or two good human relationships but OK, I’ll vote on a resolution to stop the Tory government, because that sounds like something a living human being would try to do. The only problem is that I’m not a living human being. For most people activism means play-acting the role of a good, living human being as a solution to the vexing and intolerably challenging fact that one is actually neither very good nor very living. I work 40-60 hours some weeks and 95% of everything I say on a daily basis is neither lying nor truth-telling but simple functioning for a status quo order which I absolutely know to be wrong. I can’t even smell the roses when I literally walk by roses on my way to work, and someone wants me to vote on what we should name our political movement against the government? I don’t want to do that anymore. I think that honesty is a kind of North star for finding roads to liberation, for it is the only thing that can guide diverse people from diverse starting points to a destination that all parties can trust. I will come to the general assemblies and I will come to the demos and I will stand by eviction defenses and I will continue to write, but I won’t pretend to be alive by pretending to start a movement when I know perfectly well that my main problem, and probably ours, is precisely having lost the capacity to move and be moved.

  5. There is a chasm between what it is reasonable to talk about in serious organising meetings—namely, goals, strategies, tactics, and movements—and what is often dismissed as merely antics, such as the art of well-timed defiant laughter, graffiti, random or systematic acts of queering, unspoken work slowdowns, fun, the aesthetics of walking in mobs, pilfering and shoplifting, etc. These latter don’t qualify as the stuff of “serious organising,” and indeed they are not. What they are, however, are indications or measures of true human life bubbling up through the surface of institutions fortified primarily by instrumental seriousness; these are, in short, the only things in the world that could ever be worth organising, after the fact of their emergence. In other words, organising a “movement” presupposes some excess of human energy already circulating and beginning to escape the institutional order: it presupposes horses to which organisers believe we would do well to attach some carts. But today, those who speak of carts know nothing of horses; while this could certainly be forgiven, it is much harder to understand those cart mechanics who believe themselves independent of the equestrian. On the other hand, those who still ride horses have learned too well to steer clear of these odd mechanics.3

  6. All collectives which are able solve this puzzle, those which are able to become and attract healthy horses and build carts which fit well enough behind them that the horses don’t prefer to flee the stables at night or otherwise die from exhaustion, will be the multiple centers of the present insurrection. For such beings it is always a present insurrection. But what does this imply for those, like me most of the time, and perhaps most people in the pacified Western countries, who are merely isolated, alienated, individual creatures? It follows that one crucial task is to intensify as much as possible the process of more openly and publicly becoming who one is with anyone else mutually attracted—and everyone can be certain of finding mutual attraction somewhere because in some sense this is the core operation of beauty itself, like the flower in bloom. Concretely, this refers to a process which can be summarised as follows.

  7. First, I incrementally remove from my perception of the future those hesitations of calculation and calculated hesitations which together constitute my paralysing anxiety, but which are rooted only in the protection and extension of ultimately false, private investments in the status quo (material and symbolic). Each instance of doing this is well known to free up disalienating and inherently liberatory energies, and each ounce of this energy, being precisely the only fuel that could ever make any honest project run truly, is then invested in those with whom I believe I have the best chance of kicking something off. If they receive it and invest themselves in the same fashion, then this unit has achieved the most basic operation of what is called communism. From even the most minor of such communalisations, be they symbolic or material, limitlessly large groups of militant resistance can then be spun further. Building a movement for true social justice as soon as possible may only mean increasing the density of this web by any means necessary until everyone has freely and sincerely chosen it. Beyond a certain threshold (which some network-analytic research suggests may be much lower than one would think, possibly as low as 10% of people fully defected from the institutions and fully invested in the commons), the generalised ethical insurrection that is real communism becomes a fait accompli.

  8. I want to gain and help spread the will to live at any cost. I don’t want to fight on a plane that’s already been vanquished. To end the new government and all other unjust institutions which dominate our lives, it is enough to become ungovernable. Such a process is as amenable to serious empirical investigation, experimentation, and, ultimately, “organisation,” as any other. But to put this horse in front of our carts in many ways requires us to let go or at least, with extreme irreverence, re-invent quite a many activist truisms, “social movement” wisdoms, and inherited routines. For instance, I doubt that the name of a “movement” is something we should ever be so bored to be concerned with, a name is something status quo investors will impose on us when our will to live has revived enough that we can be said to collectively exist. But this time around it will hardly matter because we will know better than to listen to anything other than what our comrades are saying right in front of us.

    In this light, “organising” suddenly means something very different. It becomes a matter of gaining theoretical mastery over the empirical mechanisms of radicalisation to know and practice the concrete operations which actually increase the amount of insurrectionary energy and decrease the amount of status quo inertia in the world, developing styles of life consistent with these operations but obedient to nothing, such that we become not only able to demonstrate the real and reliable empirical mechanisms which underwrite our own trajectories of liberation and therefore make us a reasonable bet for others to risk themselves on (an instrumental aspect), but also become actual life forces which draw sincere attraction by virtue of our actual truth and beauty rather than sadly begging for it as human beings we are precisely not yet becoming.

  1. I quite liked one pamphlet I was handed, though it’s probably indicative of something that I already read and liked it on the internet the day before, and the person who handed me a copy in London didn’t have much time to chat despite my expression of interest. I don’t blame them, I probably seemed like a cop or something, some random American dude who doesn’t know anybody asking questions about some pamphlet. Still, taken as a whole, I could not help but read into the evening a number of possible blockages or mis-wirings in the circuits that run from different types of public communication to relationships to action and collective change.

  2. Not to mention a slew of other maladies which have been on the rise, including depression, interpersonal mistrust, anomie, and the dominant affect of our moment: anxiety.

  3. It is in this space that I understand the idea of a Plan C: Trying to take seriously the reality of contemporary experiences such as pervasive anxiety through a radically creative politics of openness and the refusal of inherited but obviously failing, activist commonplaces. For instance, the vision of an updated social strike fit to the current moment. Yet this is also a good example of how I am still interested in probing further what political scientists might call the “microfoundations” of such a macro-level vision. I fear that even such nuanced macro-level visions still beg the question of how to get the horse in front of the cart: how to catalyze enough currently non-existing human vitality in enough quarters such that there comes into existence the energy required to withdraw one’s energy, let alone invest it in communism.

Cite this post: RIS Citation BibTeX Entry

Murphy, Justin. 2015. "One way to end the government is to become ungovernable," http://jmrphy.net/blog/2015/05/17/becoming-ungovernable/ (April 24, 2017).