Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Danny Hayward

Would it be useful to organise ourselves? In what way? e.g. form a faction; produce agitprop material; create a website; produce collective statements for website, perhaps weekly.

1.  The question demands that we think about what organization means for radical politics under present conditions. It also demands that with think about what other organizations we relate ourselves to. 

2.  Presently there is no existing revolutionary structure in the UK within which artists could form themselves as a faction. There is no mass organization whose aims and objectives could guide the political activity of cultural producers or that could provide for them a politically sympathetic audience.

3. Wherever a mass organization structured around workers' material interests reaches a certain size, it is compelled to become a cultural, as well as a strictly “economic”, institution. As an intelligent historian wrote of the early period of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, “The greater the masses of workers that joined the party, the less the party could afford to be content with their merely political and scientific enlightenment, that is, with a vulgarization of the theory of surplus value and the theory of evolution.”

4. Since the adoption by the SPD leadership of a militaristic stance within the German Reichstag, the arrogation by the German state of the various social services discharged by the revolutionary party, and the failure of the Spartakus insurrection, no revolutionary party in Europe has attempted at a wide scale to provide for the “exterior” or material needs of its membership. As revolutionary mass organizations became institutions organized principally around ideas, the requirement to codify, to integrate, and to dogmatize their programmes grew more and more pressing. As their jurisdiction was restricted to the interior lives of their members, revolutionary parties come to resemble state churches.

5.  In the twentieth century avant-gardism has understood itself as the scourge of the vulgarized and barely credible dogmas of the mainstream of radical politics. By scourging dogma, avant-gardism mimics the ideological activity of a mass revolutionary organization still undivested of its original principle of unity in the material co-ordination of human needs.

6.  At the same time, avant-gardism misprizes the forces active in determining the relationship between the “interior” (intellectual) and “exterior” (material) needs. Wherever avant-gardism misprizes these forces and takes up arms against dogma, it conceals the conditions in which dogma is capable of being overcome. The division between “interior” and “exterior” needs is conflated with the divisions between mind and life, speaker and audience; on the fault line between speaker and audience, there opens an abyss into which can be thrown unending quantities of “non-dogmatic”, “critical”, “autonomous”, or even “linguistically innovative” or “post avant” writing. At the bottom of the abyss you can see the White House.

7. There is a basic continuity between the increasing importance in revolutionary theory of the “essential” doctrines of Marxism, on the one hand, and the real transformation of class relations to the detriment of the propertyless, on the other. As the global proletariat is deprived of the means to order - or even meaningfully to regulate - its own conditions of life, its theoretical representatives become increasingly concerned to sophisticate the categories in which its “essence” is expressed. With each new exaction placed upon the proletariat by capital, the exact definition of the proletarian “essence” undergoes a new upturn in significance.           

8. By attempting to turn outwards too quickly, revolutionary poetry - or any other species of avant-gardism - overlooks the basis of revolutionary inwardness (its stewardship of a dogma) in the external development of class relations. In these conditions, the replacement of the dialectic between material needs and intellectual life with the flatly straightforward opposition between ideas and audience, in which ideas are only distinguishable on the basis of whether they are doctrinal or apostate, jaundiced or deranged - this replacement does not permit a supersession of existing limitations but only pushes them outwards into an empty auditorium. The first practical suggestion I would make is that we talk more concertedly about finding the resources to formalize among ourselves a newly intensive process of association, a much more regular process of small group affiliation, of collective critical research into new developments in shared languages whose potential to be bent out of shape or ground into fragments is perhaps the only general basis for our intimacy. Our friendships have to be staked on this; our larger organizational commitments may yet be renewed by it.

9. Unlike the categories of political economy, poetry will never be essential to a correct definition of capitalist society. In this sense, it will never need to exist - but it is exactly in this sense that it has something to contribute, because it is only by an internalized conflict between dogma and that which dogma defines as inessential, only in the contusion of dogma, rather than in its concealment, that a revolutionary politics - truly a politics, rather than a geometry, or another species of theoretical fatalism - might begin to revive itself.   

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Anon: Some notes on the counter-EDL demonstration 27 May 2013

1. The disproportion between EDL and anti-fascist demonstrators was sharp and markedly depressing. It seemed patent to everyone to whom I spoke that there was very little for anti-fascists to do except to shuffle into position and to play the role of demonstrators. Actual resistance of any kind was out of the question.

2. Once they’d been released from the police pen (itself apparently a tactical decision by the cops, who were keen not to create too much tension on a Bank Holiday in the city centre), the EDL members were left to scatter into pubs or to march around Westminster in small groups. The police did very little to pursue them or even to keep them under close surveillance. Groups of 60 EDL, moving at a leisurely crawl, were usually accompanied by two or three police.

3. EDL members are conscious of the fact that they possess an exoteric and an esoteric discourse. In public they defer slavishly to what they assume to be “liberal” ideas. Like the liberal state with its checks and balances, they want to “protect” society against “fundamentalism”; like the National Trust, they want to “safeguard” English values; like the judiciary, they want to ensure that the “rule of law” isn’t bent out of shape by the decadent inattention of political elites and the fantastical moral scruples of “the left.”

4. In private, some attendees of EDL demos find it difficult to align their public commitments and their political activities. Asked how they can justify the slogan ‘Muslim violence off our streets’ in terms of a general commitment to the rule of law, they disclaim responsibility for the slogan.

5. The anxiety is connected to a more fundamental desire to shield their positions from the accusation of racism. EDL demonstrators have black friends, admire “the” Sikh community, or are themselves “mixed race”. The obvious tendency of the line of argument is to identify the concept “racist” with the person of the “white supremacist”.

6. The argument that says that this indicates a step change towards a “new” far right, the sophistication of obsolete racial “biologism” into cutting edge “culturalism”, is barren, for at least two reasons. Firstly, “racism” does not evolve like electronics commodities in a marketing schedule. The EDL is not Racism 4 and consumers will not be attracted by its new gyroscope. Secondly, the argument implies a certain measure of triumphalism, as if the recrudescence of racist street movements is a blessing in disguise, a great leap forwards only masquerading as a small step back. The background assumption is as follows. “Antiquated” racial supremacism that identifies racial superiority in the degree of cranial curvature, or which fishes it out of a “gene pool”, is superseded by a modern racism which at least has the decency to accept that the “people” who exist beneath their “identities” are capable of being retrieved for a well-integrated, stable, and “value”-rich polity. But the idea that beneath all of the clutter of “identities”, “beliefs”, “values” and “cultural dispositions” belonging to a person there lies a neutral and politically acceptable core is not automatically more humane than the “old” idea that a person is fixedly identifiable with his or her genetic inheritance, because it legitimates an endlessly more violent and imperiously intrusive stance on the part of those who take themselves to be competent to define what it is that we have at our “core” and who see in it the reflected image of their own preferences and interests. It makes no difference whether these people are on the “far right” or stranded at sea in the middle of the “centre left”.   

7. Liberals are also accommodating to the EDL’s account of class. In television debates featuring EDL leader “Tommy Robison”, host and guest engage in a kind of barter of discursive favours, in which Robinson permits himself to be ridiculed and intellectually subordinated by his patrician host on account of his accent, solecisms, malapropisms, lapses of memory, and habit of self-contradiction in exchange for a tacit commitment on the part of the host not to question the claim that, precisely insofar as he fails to speak coherently, Robinson is able to “represent working class people”. By respectively constructing and tacitly affirming this account of “class”, derisively identified with speech habits, guest and host both get what they want, since while the host enjoys the reaffirmation of the innate superiority of his powers of expression and ratiocination, the guest is permitted to claim a spurious representative authority whose subordinate role is not painful but is in fact exactly what he wanted all along. The reassuring “triumph” of the liberal host in this situation is basically akin to the “triumph” of the consumer removing her comestible from the tray of the vending machine.

8. Just as the inadvertent triumphalism of the soft sociology of the “new far right” palliates the EDL’s racism, the slogan “racist scum” helps to confirm the organization's account of class. Not only does it bring unavoidably into mind the image of the bourgeois “street cleaners” who acted out their own purposelessness by pretending in August 2011 to clean up already clean streets; more generally it fixes a redundant adjective to what already ought to be a dirty word, raising into peripheral view the connotation that the EDL are something in addition to being racists. For the EDL this will sound like a resounding affirmation of their own delusional self-identification as representatives of “the” working class persecuted by ignorant middle class “do-gooders” or “liberals”.

9. In arguments concerning standards of sanitation, the ultimate arbiter will always be the liberal state. Its expertise in these matters is undisputed.

10. Unlike in previous EDL street demonstrations, the participants in central London on Monday were largely though by no means exclusively young. Youthful white English “patriots” whose own conception of national solidarity is conditioned by the propaganda and employment prospects offered by the British Armed Forces will in many cases have been participating in EDL street action for the first time. That the EDL presence was so unchecked either by anti-fascists or by the police means among other things that these new attendees will have enjoyed their day out. This will be a matter of jubilation for the racist ideologues at the head of the organization who can now anticipate future opportunities to influence these peripheral members and to organize them into cadres.

11. Now that the old anti-fascist front organizations are disintegrating (along with the parties for which they acted as a front), new responsibilities emerge for anyone interested in participating in anti-racist street actions. The sense of unpreparedness yesterday among the friends and comrades who turned up in central London was palpable and painfully dismaying; and yet it also presages an opportunity to assert publicly with a new and striking clarity a better account of capital and race than the account which resorts instantly to obfuscatory slogans about Nazism, and which rules out also the blockheaded liberal argument that the “new” racism is an index of social progress. There is work to be done here, and gains to be made, against the intensifying brutality of the “national discourse” and the policy outcomes – the racist violence – in which that discourse inevitably terminates. Petrified silence would be the most clamorous act of submission.   

also published today on Mute

Keston Sutherland

Saturday, 25 May 2013

William Rowe: The Danger We Face

'movement is to be in this place and not be in it' - Hegel

'the shit-money is not afraid'

The danger we face is that the enemy - call him IDS of the dictatorship - is fashioning forms of fascist subjectivity out of resentment and sacrifice. Resentment for the Daily Mail readers and sacrifice for middle-ranking State employees (Civil Service, NHS, Universities)  - not to mention the reduction of intellect to servitude in state schools by the Gove edicts. [i.e. that's a form  of sacrifice]

The danger we face is not the enemy's will to violence, the viciousness of his law-preserving violence, but that - now that social democracy is historically finished  - the preparations for mastery that he is making, in the sphere of policy and propaganda, are not matched by our own preparations and propaganda.

As the structure by which politics gave a meaning to space breaks down, so space is invaded now not so much by human replicants and zombies (Sean Bonney's The Commons showed how the abolition of the commons turned the dead into zombies) but by class hatred whose image is a death's head that stares at us from the future. 'Death digs most deeply the jagged line of demarcation between physical nature and significance.' (Benjamin, German Tragic Drama) Benjamin, of course, had natural history in mind. The IDS death's head is an image of the future. [physiognomy, as Jacob said]

(i) Fear is a major part of the current political paralysis. The logic of it is wait until a greater threat overcomes your fear. The danger there is that time plays into the enemy's hands, while he plans ahead. Our response should be fear is not something that has to be suppressed, but taken all the way.

(ii) See Hegel's dialectic of the Master and the Slave: 'For this consciousness has been fearful, not of this or that particular thing or just at odd moments, but its whole being has been seized with dread; for it has experienced the fear of death, the absolute Lord. In that experience it has been quite unmanned [melted], has trembled in every fibre of its being, and everything solid and stable has been shaken to its foundations. But this pure universal movement, the absolute melting-away of everything stable, is the simple, essential nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure being-for-self.'  (para 194) This unbinding is to be understood as the basis for emancipatory will. [can I find an image of this?]

Their law is not adequate to the situation they face, therefore they're changing it to archaic eschatology. (Thanks to Jacob Bard-Rosenberg for this) The proletariat, and any act that gives it an image, are simply evil, in the archaic sense.

(iii) What of the poem in this situation? Hegel's Master and Slave again: 'If consciousness fashions the thing without that initial absolute fear, it is only an empty self-centred attitude;  for its form or negativity is not negativity per se . . . If it has not experienced absolute fear but only some lesser dread, the negative being has remained for it something external . . . having a “mind of one's own” is self-will, a freedom which is still enmeshed in servitude.' (para 196)

For 'the thing' that consciousness 'fashions', read the poem, i.e. poetry based on fear which has become emancipatory will. And 'having a “mind of one's own”' is obviously bourgeois consciousness, rather than emancipatory consciousness. But why this passage through death?

(i) In around 1920 the Peruvian poet César Vallejo wrote (LV)

              Samain would say the air is calm and of a    
       contained sadness.

              Vallejo says today Death is welding    
              every frontier to every strand of lost hair, from    
              the dish of a frontal bone, where there's    
              seaweed, lemon balm singing sacred mastic    
              trees on guard, and antiseptic poems without    
              an owner.

Samain's poem, which Vallejo is quoting from, is set in front of a hospice - a place where people go to die - . His own poem, which is written against Samain's, presents disjoined things: ok, so it's the disjunctive poetics of the avant-gardism. But the poem says 'death is welding' these things together.  This can be read in two ways. 'Welding' takes us to the factory, so this is something like the dead labour which forms the time of capitalist production. But more precisely, death is welding 'every frontier', i.e. every limit, i.e. where things become other than what they are and pass through the negative. Here the meaning would be everything passes through the negative which for the Subject is death.

(ii) It's a question of drawing out, from death, the implication of un-binding, of 'absolute negativity' in Hegel's terms. When the historical order - its language and its narrative - breaks down, new and more virulent phantasms arise, even though dressed in farcical costumes. See UKIP for example: 'the Rumanians are coming' even though the Rumanians are not coming. These phantasms justify the detention centres for immigrants, where the law is suspended. The same goes for the imaginary hordes of disabled people who are destroying the society. In this situation, what's needed are new gestures, new meanings which we can stand by. But they will have to be placed on a ground that . . . reaches beyond the current order.

Who's not afraid, in our situation?  What's not afraid is the money itself. Therefore the money is the un-dead - of the dead labour of millions. It can't fear death. We have to get to the same place from the other side, i.e. not the side of dead labour. What is the other side? What poetry needs to be in this situation, changes.

Examples of preparation (there are many more?): Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, Benjamin's One Way street, and in our own time, the work of CADA and Raúl Zurita, during the dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile. The aim of CADA (which means Collective of Art Actions) was entirely to de-specialise art:  that the society itself should become the work of art. (?a [utopian] converging of the social in art and of art in the social). Members of CADA took enormous risks, because of the necessity of the situation. They painted the slogan NO + (no more . . . ) on walls, i.e. no more . . . for people to complete. A masturbation in public. Raul Zurita burned his cheek. And so on. As Benjamin wrote, 'Under these circumstances, true literary activity cannot aspire to take place within a literary framework.' (One-Way-Street)

The current period is similar to that of Chile in the 1970s with regard to literature: it will have to take new forms. I guess everyone will agree with that, in abstract. One of the things we have to think about - this is my sense of the situation - is how the massive loss of belief  - in politics, to put it at its most general, but, of course, also in capital - can take 3 forms. 1) cynicism or despair. 2) attempts in one way or another to hold on to where we are - this corresponds to 'the lesser dread'. 3) preparation in the face of the absolute fear. An example of this might be George Jackson's letters from prison.

Jacob Bard-Rosenberg: On Militant Poetics and the Physiognomy of Judges

“On the terrestrial globe there is an uncounted, unnamed multitude, whose suffering would not be sufficiently allayed by sleep alone. For them wine composes its songs and poems.”[1] Baudelaire’s sentiment requires recomposition today, tracing the relations of a multitude, its suffering under the cutting edge of the newest technologies, and a negative poetry emanating precisely from the objectivity of those technics. For Marx that multitude’s upkeep as paupers counted as ‘faux frais’, an incidental expense, of capitalist production and accumulation.[2] Or rather, capital’s means of disavowal of responsibility for that suffering - the gaol and courtroom –  were nothing less to capital than the oil greasing the piston or the bandage covering the stub of the severed finger. These mediations were not, in Marx’s and Baudelaire’s time, capital itself. Together with the suffering Lumpenproletariat whom they would legislate most brutally, the judges of the mid-nineteenth century occupy a liminal position of capitalism: not themselves productive of value, but rather the precondition of generalised exploitation.

Fast-forwarding 150 years, Justice Vos, a high-court judges, gave a lecture for KPMG in the wake of the August riots titled “The Role of UK Judges in the Success of UK PLC.”[3] “I want to address a subject I feel very strongly about.” he begins “It is the question of what can be done to promote the aspects of British business and professional life that are thriving.” continuing, he marks his repression: “our legal system is widely acknowledged to be long on integrity and short on corruption.”[4] - This, in a speech at KPMG on how judges can promote business. The contradiction achieves its highest expression under the proclamation:
We need a Unique Selling Point – the management consultants’ favourite thing. We need to offer something the world needs and cannot get elsewhere, if we are to succeed in the modern world. The USP is the quality and integrity of our professional services.[5]
Sweet selling of integrity, like the Kantian broken promise. The victims of law, the suffering multitude understand this contradiction viscerally. Vos’s speech hints at a history of that last 150 years, in which the violent administration of that multitude has been transformed from a mere incidental cost into an industry at the heart of capitalist accumulation in the UK. It is easy to take from this a history of the reconciliation of two ideals: the administration of so-called justice, and the accumulation of capital. But the interlocking of these concepts never appears: this imageless unfractured monolith. This history of idealised forms leaves no room for poetry to breathe:  juridical forms, the value form, the commodity form, poetry must fracture these, speaking the silent mechanism, the history within the machine, under whose dominion this transformation came to pass. Perhaps the poetry of that multitude resides within – or explodes out of – the objectivity of the experience of technics of this juridico-economic synthesis, in the texture of a specific piece of capital: the 21st century judge.

I have spent several months of the last years in court, and want to think through the qualitative strangeness of judges qua capital. They are indeed a strange capital; in each judge the state invests for decades nurturing the latest technological developments in class hatred. This process has natural-historical consequences – traces are left in the extremes of bodily excess and mental poverty. I notice, for example, that judges don’t have lips. I can’t tell how they were removed; more likely they are curled inwards, as the sides of their mouths strain outwards. That effort attempts to provide support for the cheeks – to maintain a semblance of plumpness through taut skin pulled over hard muscle. There is little softness – certainly no passion – only its appearance at a distance, an illusion perpetuated by strain. The foreheads seem to stretch backward while eyebrows furrow in contrary motion.  Beneath, eyes are used for pointing. All this straining changes the appearance of aging: skin lacks depth, with the texture of sandpaper but more friable, as if it would disintegrate under your teeth.  The skin is always stretched, with a reddish hue: a sign of unjustified, unreasonable health. It is unusual to see health in the old today, particularly amongst those attending court with the misfortune not to be judges. Even where judges are fat, the skin is taut, clinging to them – their faux frais of production are diets and personal trainers. Lips are not required for healthy eating and jogging.

Counterposing this image of health, Walter Benjamin wrote a physiognomy of the Lumpenproletariat in Marseille:
In that little harbour bar, the hashish began to exert its canonical magic […].  It made me into a physiognomist, or at least a contemplator of physiognomies […]. I positively fixed my gaze on the faces that I had around me, some of which were of remarkable coarseness or ugliness. Faces that I would normally have avoided for a twofold reason: I would neither have wished to attract their gaze nor have endured their brutality. […] I now suddenly understood how, to a painter […] ugliness could appear as the true reservoir of beauty – or better, as its treasure chest: a jagged mountain with all the inner gold of beauty gleaming from the wrinkles, glances, features.[6]
Beauty is in the eye of the bekifft. The beauty of the multitude is no longer for them but snatched from their apparent barbarism, by a wandering observer. They, the undernourished, the coarse and broken, they without a name, the depth of those wrinkles in their faces, like mountain crevices, with beauty springing from their depths, in opposition to the tight skin of judges. “The dialectic cannot stop short before the concepts of health and sickness.”[7] Adorno says.  The dialectic transposes into the question of physiognomy with which we return to our judges, diagnosing the sickness of the healthy:
The traces of illness give them away: their skin seems covered by a rash printed in regular patterns, like a camouflage of the inorganic. These very people who burst with proofs of exuberant vitality could easily be taken for prepared corpses, […] Underlying the prevalent health is death.[8]
Death was at stake in the autumn of 2011. In Tottenham I saw looted spirits being emptied on to the street, so that the bottles might be used – spiritually – as missiles against the police. As the judge is sucked from the edge of capitalism inwards, wine is emptied from stolen bottles, which fly into the faces of coppers. Baudelaire gives wine a “spiritual voice”, it says “Man, my beloved, I would pour out for you, in spite of my prison of glass and fetters of cork, a song full of brotherhood, a song full of joy, light and hope”.[9] Today only the prison is left: In our miserable times we still have the bottles, shattering.  After the riots one of the last remaining traces of humanity of the judges was abolished: courts, for some weeks, functioned all night; the 24-hour judge was born.  No more wine and no more night, no place of passion.

One of the most beautiful passages in Adorno’s book, Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy describes Mahler as a vagrant:
The power of naming is often better protected in kitsch and vulgar music than in a high music that even before the age of radical construction had sacrificed all that to the principle of stylisation. This power is mobilised by Mahler. Free as only one can be who has not himself been entirely swallowed up by culture, in his musical vagrancy he picks up the broken glass by the roadside and holds it up to the sun so that all the colours are refracted.[10]
Within the prevailing crisis all those colours are irrelevant. Only red matters, drawn from the faces with that broken glass, so that the strained skin might at once break, relax. In the combination of the broken glass and the skin of judges’ faces, in this passionate reconciliation, might we not find peace and depth, poetry of a new humanity?

Perhaps this is all caprice. But a militant poetry of the unnamed, uncounted multitude can never be satisfied with monolithic conceptual accounts of the law and capital, but arises in the objectivity of both law and capital at precisely the moment when that objectivity becomes autonomous of its function – in the traces and spaces, natural-historical textures and refuse it leaves behind, as material, out of which this poetry will compose itself.

[1] Charles Baudelaire, ‘Wine and Hashish’ trans. By Maurice Stang, in Hashish, Wine, Opium: essays by Charles Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier, p. 75.
[2] Karl Marx, Capital Volume I, p. 797. 
[3] Mr Justice Geoffrey Vos, ‘On the Role of UK Judges in the Success of UK PLC’, KPMG Lecture, 18/10/2011,
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Benjamin, ‘Hashish in Marseille’ trans. by Edmund Jephcott and Howard Eiland, in On Hashish, p. 50.  
[7] Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 73
[8] Ibid. p. 59.
[9] Baudelaire, ‘Wine and Hashish’, pp. 70-71.
[10] Adorno, Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, trans. by Edmund Jephcott, p. 36.  

Jow Lindsay: Poets as Activists

Note: I delivered a version of only the first part of this ((1)-(3)).

(1) Writing exercise.

Quietly, without talking to each other:  what might plausibly occur within the next five years, which would significantly alter the context in which we do activism (and criticism, writing, etc.)?  Write down an event, an occasion, or a nexus of circumstances. The tricky part: try to think of something no one else here will.

Okay? We done? Forget that for now. Next, try to think of something which could form the initial basis of a small working group. It could be anything at all: a plan of action, an issue, method, skill, topic, theme, problem, goal, relation with another organisation. Write that down too. Put loads if you like.

(2) Interlude.

While waiting for some people to finish, the rest of you might think about this: are progressive and radical aims categorically opposed?

Or must we consider their frictions and tensions on a case-by-case basis?

I believe the latter! An example of something which is both a stepping stone towards "soft," humanised, social democratic capitalism, AND towards radical stateless forms of social organisation, is country-by-country reporting of corporate tax.

BUT I also think those of us who agree on this - that progressive and radical aims are not always everywhere mutually exclusive - will be unable to persuade very many people that it is true. So I also think we need to anticipate that the assumption that they are will permeate the communities in which we conduct our activism.

[To discuss later: Other concrete examples? Affirmative action, all women shortlists, quotas etc., considered not as supremely enlightened nudging, but as a tool actually capable of that cliché, smashing the existing social order?]

(3) Outcome of writing exercise.

Take a look at the first thing you wrote: your plausible prediction. Could it also be an example of something which a working group might address?

It may seem counterintuitive to prepare for what may never happen, when disaster is all around us right now. But there are many forms of preparation. Preparing for what may be can be a way of processing and responding to what actually is. Preparation could be choosing topics to become experts in, for instance, so that we know who to go to help us learn, as certain topics becomes more sharply relevant. Preparation could be gaining varied and diverse skills in many different areas, which might be shared with the group as they begin to look more useful. Preparation could be starting work now on extremely likely events: the next General Election. The people and institutions many here might designate "the enemy" -- corporations, states, right wing activists -- are constantly forecasting, analysing, and preparing.

[To discuss: of course, people and institutions many here might consider allies also do a lot of planning -- perhaps green activism in particular. Climate Camp didn't just happen. Perhaps some people here are already involved in long term planning? Anyone want to share experiences? Or perhaps that's better left for working groups].

[To discuss: what is "the present moment"? How long is it? What is the role of "urgency" in how we do or don't co-ordinate ourselves?]

Here are a few of my suggestions: there are riots again this summer. There is a flu pandemic. There is a terrorist incident: Islamist, leftist, right wing, ambiguous. Utilities catastrophes. One of us is invited to a party at 10 Downing Street, how do they best comport themselves? A major economy defaults on its sovereign debt. The UK is locked under heavy snows - no one saw that coming. A violent change of government in a European country. A further wave of NHS privatisation is announced. A major new deployment of British troops. A major tax haven is afflicted by an ecological catastrophe. The pound rapidly depreciates. Here's a nexus of circumstances: it's 2017, Scotland is leaving the union, and the rump union under a Lib-Lab coalition is holding a referendum on EU membership.

[To discuss: but how does this relate to fear? How does it relate to refusing official versions of the future?]

[To discuss: dilettantism.  Perhaps not so much a "risk," just an inevitable part of the bell curve?]

[To discuss: that desire, "enough talking, we want action!" Cf. Harry / Walter Benjamin on the judge's violence. Cf. this: "you take the guy on the left. Okay, on three." Obviously we don't want action without thinking and talking. We want praxis, you could say.] [I think if we're honest with ourselves, we know the kind of talking that's really characteristic of praxis. It is dense with promises, for instance.]

[To discuss: I meant to look this up earlier, but ran out of time -- possibly I can look it up in Keston? -- Marx has a reputation for being deliberately vague about post-revolutionary society. First: do those who know his work think that is the case? Second: if so, what is the rationale? Third: is it applicable today? Should we be describing in concrete, minute detail the kinds of futures we desire? In five years, in ten years, in fifty? And learning about this detail, arguing about it?]  [Example of my attempt to write a constitution for the UK. An absurd labour, but what if there were even just twenty lawgivers, who all knew what the others were up to?]

[To discuss: did people mostly put down suggestions that are downbeat, gloomy, catastrophic, calamitous? Of course, whether they are finally ultimately undesirable partly depends on what we can come up with to respond to them!]

[To discuss: the system of domination is incredibly strong and fluid. We talk about co-ordination, building solidarity, raising consciousness, transforming culture, ideology, language, and those are certainly the most important projects. But as a typical poet and student of the humanities, I have a pocketful of reasons why the prognosis for those projects isn't great. Ideology is impervious to ideology critique. Recuperation makes all tools temporary. But I suspect that sometimes the machinery which sustains our social order has to operate near its top capacity. The social order whines and shakes. Pieces rattle and might even fly into a new configuration.]

[To probably not discuss: If I understood Marxist economics better I might be able to say this so that it sounds less stupid, but it seems to me that market relationships should be counted as part of the means of production. Markets are located in the world, in institutions, customs and habits.]

 [To probably not discuss: Sometimes I get a massive crush on the police. When they really are protecting me from someone, for instance. Can I take precautions against my own disposition to compromise and skive at  times of unpredictable social upheaval? Can we talk about this without always employing the terminology of steadfastness, weakness, foxholes?]

(4) Practical / administrative suggestion / non-suggestions.

Many of us are already doing activism. Whatever comes out of today, I think it will be most useful if it is not only compatible with existing activism, but also nourishes it. I think it should feed, rather than drain, our personal capacity.

It should be autotelic, you might say. Or more simply, it should be fun. Adorno famously suggested that fun was a medicinal bath, which is great, because medicinal baths are really fun!

So what fits that criterion? What energises, nourishes?

First of all, we should do this again some time, y'all! Perhaps a little more frequently than once a year?

In terms of rubric I think we could keep poetry to a minimum. We are poets - I'll use that as shorthand for poets, ex-poets, scholars, critics, fans,  friends of poets - our discussion & activism will inevitably be permeated by poetry. What would happen if we just focus on politics, activism and revolution? Don't "ban" poetry from the agenda or anything, just don't make it the main reason we've all got together.

(Of course, funding applications & any prominent public presence,  would need to be full of tact and tactics).

[Note: For instance, have a book table and readings, and leave it at that].

Secondly, we should keep in touch in-between.

[To discuss: Golden Hex. UKPoetry, etc. Sharing tales of derring-do as well as of laziness and frustration could be fun. A place where you can have a hilarious big grumble about your non-poet comrades and activist friends? It would be amazing if the convention was that we can all share words about the political work we are doing - however small - or are not doing, and it never be interpreted as dismayed or proud or passive-aggressive! But if we end up bickering, it could still be worth having - it's just a matter of setting up the right filters and folders in your email, so it's a conversation you can check in on, rather than one that confronts and disheartens you].

Thirdly, I wonder if working groups for these more speculative projects, these luxurious counterfactuals, could be fun? They could be both online and face-to-face. But I think there ought to be a sense of accountability melded with our revels.

[To discuss: Adding suggestions to those put down in the writing exercise. Circulating this list. What if we pick problems in the next few days and form groups around them? Then we could definitely be demonstrating six months' worth of work when we all get together again?]

 [To discuss: Not just fun, also therapeutic. Stabilising. A relief, a support, a solace. Also: where you go when you know you need to be set right?]

[To probably not discuss: maybe shouldn't call them working groups?]

[To probably not discuss: another interesting feature of the slightly longer time-frame is the way it could hybridise certain features of horizontal and hierarchical organisational structures. That is, a group whose number was called by history -- the "UK exits the EU" group when the UK exits the EU -- has a certain temporary authority, evoked naturally by sensitivity to initial conditions, path dependence and lock-in. There would be no presumption that the group should give them any special deference, or anything like that: they wouldn't necessarily be the last word on the matter, but they would probably speak the first words].

(5) But what should we be doing AS poets?

Is my answer to that, more-or-less, "nothing"? Is poetry just a distraction, a will-o'-the-wisp legging it into bogland?

PRETTY much, yeah. Try just for a moment to ignore the disanalogies, & hear something true in this analogy. What should we, as pastry chefs, do? How can pastry cheffery respond to the constantly shifting, often intellectually, emotionally & materially  overwhelming nexus of global capital, the state system,  patriarchy & other forms of domination?

We might laugh at the pastry chefs! But the pastry chefs might respond: we have a community (or at least, a sort of weird distributed neighbourhood). Moreover, we have a network of chefs who are tutors and administrators at chef schools, who can sometimes access funds to buy bus and train tickets, and book rooms we can meet, in which there is coffee we can drink. We share a complex, intellectually intricate passion which gives us a way of talking & bonding with & energising each other, even if we only know each other a little. In our tasting sessions, where we display our  latest inventions, we have inexpensive and ever-ready solace & entertainment, & to hold such sessions in the midst of political activism may change the collective mood in some vital way. We are all over the world. Some of us love each other. Some of us are colleagues. Some of us have children together.

(6) Poets and their powers!

I wouldn't for one second equate pastry cheffery with poetry or with pushpin. But I think it is interesting  that the sociological form of poetry, if I can put it  that way, even emptied of everything that makes poetry  poetry, is already a pretty alarmingly good platform for political activism.

To finish, I hope to make amends for this crude pedagogy by suggesting some specific things which poets can accomplish as activists better than anyone else. These are frail ideas: I'd love to talk about them, but I'm more likely to renounce them than defend them. I wonder if you can see anything in them which you might strengthen?

Remember I'm talking about a mix of poets and other writers and artists, plus critics, scholars, fans, friends, ex-poets, etc. (And obviously I don't mean all poets).

(a) Negative capability. Romantic irony. Dwelling in contradictions. Containing multitudes. I've mentioned the version of this which feels blazingly important to me right now: getting together as poets, and yet focusing on things other than poetry, poems and poets. Pastry chefs couldn't cope, but I think we can.

[Note: Poetry-phagic/memento mori fashion in naming of poetry events currently giving way to an interest in welfare state, institutions, organisations? From Verse Hearse and Against to Dole, Syndicate, Benefits. (Throat Cuts Not Benefit Cuts has a bit of both)].

[Note: These are dark times in which, paradoxically, citizenship is possible only on the margins, only underground. I hope we  can know that what is specific to us must seldom take priority  in what we strive for. We are voices on radios, retweets, bodies in the street.]

[Note: Perhaps ask Jen to repeat point about Graeber?]

 [Note: Perhaps relates to humanities / liberal arts education together with amorphousness of post-neoist poetry . . . I feel confident to speak against poetry because I know that poetry will flow around whatever is created to keep it back].

[Note: But do we sometimes congratulate ourselves for assimilation, rich variety, etc. when actually e.g. Marxism, anarchism & various identity politics well-represented, but not perhaps e.g. associationalism, development and aid discourse? Multiple specialist knowledges on which reproduction of social order partly relies. Radical theory is perhaps theoretical not by virtue of form - speech, words, words, words - but because it is empty of those knowledges.]

[Note: Cf. generally Middle English charge of hypocrisy: "for someone who hates capitalism, you're pretty keen to sell your art!" or "if you love the planet so much, why are you printing all these flyers? Why did you fly to China?]

[Keywords: contradictions, essentially contested concepts, overconceptualisation, blether]

Closely related:

(b) Poets are good at getting bored and wanting to skive. Poets are also good at knowing about damaged life + the absence of the transcendental signified. Nobody's perfect eh? Nor do we ever express ourselves perfectly. Might as well give each other the benefit of the doubt. No point in laying the blame for impersonal endlessly self-replenishing violence at the feet of its latest unlucky conduit. Could poets be particularly tolerant of terminological diversity, rather than insisting on the use of shibboleths?

Hold up a second. Co-ordination and unity remain the priority. Unity within the left, unity between leftist projects & those  rooted in identity politics, unity with less politicised elements of working classes, global unity, unity even with the third sector and the private sector's own baffled, despondent moralists within sustainability and corporate social responsibility. BUT THAT SAID, I think there is a significant side-project which is NOT to do with unity, but to do with skiving the work of achieving unity. How can we work towards the common good without common ground? How can we harmonise our activity without necessarily really understanding one another, let alone agreeing?

For instance, I am interested in steering around any plans which require a consensus that does not yet exist, however gentle & rational that consensus seems.

[Note: e.g. I'm interested in occasional imaginative and perceptive choices of language which let sleeping essentially contested concepts lie. Sometimes if I express myself in a careful and/or unusual way, I don't have to have that long flurried debate which mainly only blurs the world and leaves the real material loggerheads from which it spouts intact and undepleted. I don't think we should stop talking about violence, but I often find it helpful to talk about vandalism, or blood shed, or wage labour, or "talking loudly over people" instead. Disagreements can dissolve with that kind of specificity. Or they can be deferred, but the deferral may be all that is needful].

[To maybe discuss: sped through those unities with embarrassment. Why? Cf. e.g. “unity between feminism & women.”] [Keywords: Critique of humanism. Sense of systematicity].

[To discuss: Forgiveness, tolerance, tenderness, acceptance, negative capability, openness, "beholder's share"].

[To discuss: Poets & intersectionalism. Mainstream / "vulgar" intersectionalism whereby unique meanings are impossible, all meaning being reducible to a set of coordinates in warring categories of class, gender, statuse, wealth, race, ability, sexuality, beauty, etc. At the same time, vociferous critique of unchecked privilege can be transformative in a way sarky comments & rolled eyes fail to be. Also: important to DO intersectional critique, rather than endorse intersectionalism as a superior brand of feminism, class politics, race politics, et al.). Also: role of passions? Not just quasi-indifferent interest in disciplining others, but the outburst? A space in which candidly taking offense can truly be collectively liberating? Is this just impossible?]

[To discuss: Acts & statements have ideal implications which are not necessarily materially realised. "Reconciliation in the performative abstract of real antagonisms," a definition of idealism which has stayed with me. But also: "the performative antagonism of differences which, left to  chance, might do no more than briefly brush into each other. More concretely: when do we call out privilege? Perhaps if there is a community, however inchoate, it should be not incidents, but patterns of behaviour. Must be done generously: risk of confronting someone with a "dossier" of all their abuses of privilege.]

[To discuss: I don't know if we really have any special talent at avoiding talking at cross-purposes. You'd think we might be, being so sensitised to the ineradicable fruitful ambiguity of language, and to the non-identity of concept and thing, and all that.] [But then, I feel like I personally have had more than my fair share of imaginative forgiveness in these communities, almost as if it's gone about that the throat I so often bare may be toxic?].

[To discuss:  I am often tempted to hurl accusations of idealism at poets. I'm tempted to go, '"We need poetry which is..." is categorically wrong, as "we need pastries which are..." is categorically wrong. That cannot be what is needful.' But often I need to check myself. I think maybe these moments involve a particular disadvantage that pertains to poets but not to pastry chefs. The stuff we write, for reasons which are partly mysterious to me, can only be grasped with a terminology which is political through-and-through. But it is also intricately equivocal. A good working assumption is that a seemingly intelligent individual making an apparently exaggerated claim for the efficacy of poetry does so in the context of a life of pragmatic political reasoning and practical political work, and indeed that their poetics are only intelligible within such a context. Indeed this alleged idealist may well steeped in such practical political work, if they feel that the distinction between it and poetry is something that can go without saying, though the two share so many textures and structures. Of course this isn't always true, but it often is, and it's a good assumption. I wonder if anyone can think of any specific examples of poets arguing about the political efficacy of poetry, even though they completely agree? I can if I have to.]

[To discuss: categorically wrong in the same sense that "we need to eliminate the idea that..." is categorically wrong? That is, idealism / Marxian ideology?]

[To discuss: ask Keston to repeat the thing about "applicability" being a bit of a funny concept?]


(d) I am interested in ratcheting activism. Gains which may be small, but are very difficult to undo.

[To discuss: Relationship between entrenchment & cultural production per se. Justin's example of ruining someone's reputation as peculiarly difficult to undo.]


(e) I am fascinated by a kind of Hippocratic nonmalifence as applicable to activism. "First, do no harm." How, under conditions of such social complexity? How can we do actions which may accomplish little or nothing, but are guaranteed not to interfere with thousands of other simultaneous worthwhile projects. Is this perhaps just  impossible?

And as we've already talked about

(f) Prepare for the future. Imagine the future. The ones we want, and the ones that might be. We'll figure out how to connect them eventually.

[To discuss: normalising detailed exploration of speculative social orders. We're going to have conferences, aren't we? Let's have conferences about how journalistic ethics, or payroll and HR, or librarianship, or rigger erector certification, or digital archiving, or refrigeration industry, or workplace dispute resolution, will change under radically egalitarian circumstances such as all things held in common. My sense is that such speculative constructs are more tenable grounds for critique than, say, dogmatic anthropology ("human nature/human condition is such-and- such"), or the most conspicuously unfulfilled official values of our society (e.g. liberty, democracy, prosperity -- cf. Jen on confronting capital with its hypocrisies)].

[Note: Compare Sean / Brecht didacticism vs. suggestions.]

(g) Many of us are good writers.

[To discuss: We needn't only write poetry & criticism about poetry. News, opinion, political analysis, broader cultural analyses & critique, debunking, public / class interest research, even forums and message-boards.]

[Cf. Selena's question about audience. There are platforms, if we are prepared to inscribe the Palimpsests of Permanent Depression. There's the internet, especially online wings of print journalism. Wikipedia. 3,000,000 hits for Maggie in April. Nearly 60,000 for UKIP, 200,000 for David Cameron. 150,000 for Muslim, 380,000 for Islam, 170,000 for feminism, 40,000 for intersectionality, spoon 12,000. The radio. World Have Your Say, Any Answers, etc. etc. I text in to Radio 1Xtra often signing myself with your names BTW. Difference b/w crankish venting & agitprop is determination, coordination. There's also family, friends, students, colleagues . . .]

 [To discuss: Can we write more simply? Can we express ourselves more plainly? We can have a sophisticated understanding of simplicity, by all means! We are academics but we are not only academic writers: can we popularise radical political philosophy? We know there is no such thing as the general reader, but that shouldn't be an excuse! That should be our starting point!]

[To discuss: Perhaps these are genres that have no more transformative  power than poetry. But perhaps that's something we'll never know. If any of us have a hunch that they do have such potentials, shouldn't we pursue them now? If we do it together, it might be fun.]

[To discuss: mere "transferrable skills"? Why do we sometimes think we are "co-opting the enemy's language & concepts,"  sometimes think that they are rather infecting & subverting us? Cf. SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Time-bound activism.]

(h) Relatedly, we can articulate new political positions that are difficult to pigeonhole.

[To discuss: dishonest? Not for me for complicated reasons. The twin provisionality of a view I recognise  both as leftist and as my own, (a) that it waits on the realisation of certain material conditions, (b) that I may say I no longer believe it, or that I was pulling your leg. For me, (a) takes priority. AND YET].

[To discuss: compare difference between traditional social realism & Keston's use of term].

(i) Relatedly - and I'm afraid I'm being  impossibly crude again - we can attack the good guys. This could include  us. This could include critique, satire, translation, narration, recontextualisation, a kind of strange detournement.  I don't feel we should necessarily feel like we're playing catch-up, & forever trying to be more like movements for whom political struggle is their sole raison d'etre. We
speak from a slightly different place.

[To discuss: Steve's question to Danny?]

[To discuss: the danger of producing rhetorical grist for right wing / liberal quietist mills].

[To discuss: the danger of participating in hyperfragmentation of radical politics].

(j) Recruitment? Come for the weird, weird, weird poetry, stay for the social justice!


The only document we wrote. I may have lost a few bits, sorry. & I think there were a few bits that
were just notes & doodles. If I've left anything vital out maybe someone will say. Some of these could be suggested topics for the next big meeting of this kind. And/or a small group might pick
one as a project to work on. And/or it could be a list we keep adding to.

1       Impact of global warming on natural resources, animal populations, human communities
2       Middle class coming nearer the poverty line.
3       Propaganda aimed at many different sorts of people, not just "natural" allies
4       Links with trade unions
5       Subjectivity - how to engage people not included, not like us ...
6       Practical activism. What laws / attacks on groups are happening? How can we prevent them? Investigate SPECIFIC THINGS. Think about the consequences of this.
7       A European general strike.
8       Militant wildcat strike in British factory
9       24 hour general strike
10      Police strike
11      Organisation of rent strikes
12      Help for the evicted
13      Affiliation & the state of revolutionary organisation.
14      Korea / China conflict.
15      North Korea launches a full scale military attack on S. Korea
16      Violent change of government in European country
17      A coup (not in Britain)
18      Major new deployment of British troops
19      Further rise of UKIP etc.
20      Rise in right wing terrorism
21      Leftist terrorist incident
22      Islamist terrorist incident
23      Small group assignments
24      Sea levels rise, massive removal of people to interior lands
25      Group formation around super-local site specific slogan placement
26      Culture jamming
27      Neighbourhood panel
28      Bus shelter, [street & road Job Centre sanction busting]
29      High profile death of protester / activist
30      Future event: interruption to the flow of elections
31      Action: [word jams in shopping centres] (crossed out), writing [slogans] (crossed out) poems on people's bottoms
32      Criminalisation of squatting in commercial buildings
33      How might critical writing be done in prisons?
34      Left Unity sweeps the polls
35      Establish what poetry does well; DO IT BETTER ([is preparatory to poetry])
36      Major European economy defaults on sovereign debt
37      Pound rapidly depreciates
38      Collapse of Chinese banking system
39      Esperanto
40      Volapük
41      “Esperanto”: how can we create languages, platforms, institutions which bring together disconnected struggles, improve mutual comprehensibility?
42      EU referendum in 2016
43      Define the means of production in the places we live
44      Ecological catastrophe in London, emergency services and hospitals can't cope
45      Multilingual / multinational poetics events galvanising pro-Europe feeling
46      Situationist adornment of government posters with actual truth, e.g. speech bubbles
47      Print & distribute fake Sterling with internationalist messages hidden
48      Flyer in front of specific businesses
49      Tobacco made illegal
50      Collective shoplifting
51      Collectively shoplift and stockpile tobacco
52      Promote mixed arts encounters
53      Thinking while moving - walks
54      Thinking in costumes
55      Happenings with people we've never met
56      Tactics at protests, combating police, e.g. kettling
57      Squat a building, create Occupied Centre for Militant Poetics
58      Aliens
59      Communications
60      Parliament surrounded and cut off by a ring of 100,000 people demanding a Constituent Assembly
61      Slogan production
62      Analysis of language of Prime Minister's Question Time, circulation of notes
63      Dissolution of public universities
64      Address to financial system
65      Address transnational European dimension
66      Corporation tax, tax havens, capital flight, country by country reporting, unitary taxation, different kinds of state
67      Increased repression - raids on Leftist papers etc.
68      Workhouses
69      Massive food shortages because of bees
70      Blockage of bourgeois media, i.e. prevention of distribution via hacking and physically
71      The Singularity
72      UK withdraws from Human Rights Act
73      UK exits the EU
74      Kidnap IDS
75      Expanded privatisation of NHS
76      Questions of publication, specific Qs in location of group
77      Margaret Thatcher dies again
78      Someone in the poetry community will be on live TV: what should they speak about?
79      Analyse patterns of public "debate" on e.g. immigration, find ways to derail / disrupt
80      Conference to include workshops by non-poet activists
81      Workshop on representations of capitalism
82      Ambiguity of language
83      Children and literature
84      Action against poverty amongst children
85      Amazon succeeds in swallowing us all
86      Utilities catastrophe
87      Huge rise in price of water globally
88      Plague (or flu pandemic)
89      Bird flu ... No seriously
90      Build a ram
91      Fly bombing for poetry readings
92      Next General Election: what can we do?
93      Referendum on Europe
94      Exit EU
95      A UKIP Tory supply and confidence arrangement
96      Military dictatorship in Greece
97      The collapse of the Eurozone
98      Tory / UKIP coalition
99      Hung parliament in 2015
100     Coalition collapses or amicably disentangles into a supply and confidence arrangement this summer
101     Slogan creation and imaginative dissemination
102     Intervention and infiltration into organisations and events
103     Public [calumny?] of the enemy
104     Define the enemy
105     Form cadre within existing issue specific activist group
106     Biological crisis
107     Mass progressive movement
108     Slogan MAKING and - key - SPREADING, ie putting in right ground
109     Finding or developing spaces in which people who don't write poetry, or make art, then do. Would this help create a sense of "self development" and self-organisedness or is this just wishful thinking?
110     To agitate against the resulting increase of cuts and erosions of workers' pay and conditions
111     Final privatisation of language / knowledge
112     Police nano bots
113     UK drones (ie in UK airspace)
114     Total surveillance via nanotechnology
115     Languages as a common [scribble]
116     Building a Twitter account with 100,000 followers to tweet, test slogans and push out content
117     Develop a new revolutionary aesthetics for above
118     Social media & agitprop
119     Subtly rewrite all of Wikipedia
120     Criminalisation of social networking
121     The language uses of Palestinian refugees
122     Kate Middleton gives birth to centaur
123     The newly developed super wheat advances wheat intolerance, previous forms cannot now grow. A food shortage becomes immediate in the West
124     Bacteria will create a lot of tsunamis over the world
125     Bio poetic rehearsals to transform
126     Long history of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse in the royal
family is exposed
127     WWIII
128     Civil war England / Scotland
129     Quakes from fracking
130     Sean Bonney gets shot by a rubber bullet while reading at a police line, he dies and his death is taught on school syllabuses
131     Start writing elegies about Sean, talk about how awful it is that Sean is dead
132     Disappearance of Jow Lindsay
133     Jow Lindsay policeman?
134     Something bad happening to Lenin's corpse
135     A reviewing circle: every book is circulated and reviewed by everyone
136     Reading Hegel properly
137     Read more books
138     Permeate poems through new outlets
139     Disappearance of vowels
140     Scotland turns
141     Bad survivalism
142     Regular coordinated calls to radio slots e.g. Any Answers, change terms of debate
143     Riots occur this summer
144     Critique all aspects of culture and society not just poetry
145     Links with leftist musicians even if their music is terrible

I've mixed the order a bit to draw out a few patterns, & hopefully to suggest a kind of swollen & bulbous version of the present moment. My original idea with this exercise was that small groups might be formed by people signing up to work on a particular topic. But I suspect that'd only really work as online groups, & there seemed to be much more support for forming groups on a geographical basis, (& maybe on the basis of mixed ideologies, aesthetics, perspectives,
& people not necessarily just going with their closest friends ... & with one eye on inclusiveness while also being, I dunno, a bit realistic about it for now anyway).