March 24, 2013
[originally published in The Paper, Ed 1]
1. The violence comes in waves of shock, panic and terror. As the waves crash, outrage emerges as the universal emotional condition: so commonplace as to become another affliction like an obsession with the weather. People are outraged about what is being cut and from whom. Others are outraged about occupations and property damage. With baton charges and things thrown from roofs. People are outraged about the complicity of the TUC, the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats and the so-called self-interest of students and public sector workers.
Outrage flies in all directions, creating a numb sense of brutality. There are two faces to this brutality. It is productive of both our ability to solve the twin crisis of profitability and governance and to their policing of our labouring bodies.
2. But outrage gives us no special insight: it is mere reaction. So it must be put to one side. We need to see why our struggles, actions and protests have invited the intensity of violence that they did. We must look to what the theatre of baton charges, horse charges and late night imprisonment meant.
3. The police are not merely an agent of repression. The idea of the police evolved from a set of practices broadly concerned with the conduct of the population in market towns in the 16th century. In the moments before the dawn of the industrial revolution, when the working classes of Britain were still coming into being, the police were fashioned into an instrument capable of maintaining the people of the nation in ‘good order’. As economically productive bodies, part of a nation, as opposed to troublesome and disobedient bodies arrayed collectively against both the merchants and state.
4. This implies a second function: the maintenance of the nation’s productive forces in relation to other nations. The police enact violence within the nation to bring peace without. They maintain the nation’s productive forces so as to maintain an equilibrium and make possible an economic system that spans a world.
5. To ask what the police mean now, what their violence is in aid of, means asking what a productive population looks like today. What specific population is needed to maintain both the European project and a world-system in the midst of crisis.
6. At first glance we can see the work of violence is confused. The police are uncertain as to their role. We can see that our rulers are divided, unclear what next steps to take. The contradictions, inconsistencies and errors all speak of a confusion of rule. The continuation of Thatcher’s project is by no means the only option for those that govern us: it is just all that they can think to do. It is a stuttering, ad-hoc process, but no less real for it.
7. This stumbling neo-liberalism further divides those bodies that labour with hope, those who have access to wealth and social mobility from those who do not. The ever-shrinking aspirational class stand in contrast to the increasing number of those without aspiration or potential. The apartheid society grows as cancer.
8. Aspiration and hope operate to discipline the behaviour of those governed bodies that are yet to benefit from the neo-liberal order. If their aspirations are met then the government is legitimated and their acquiescence is procured. Civil society needs no policing.
9. Beneath civil society exist the ever-swelling ranks of the excluded. Their numbers grow as neo-liberalism organises a scarcity of hope: an austerity of future. The boundaries of civic life retreat and the so-called squeezed middle are the most recent bodies cast adrift.
10. Those excluded are both inside society yet outside civic life: they are an necessary residue. An included exclusion. A monstrosity. They are the source of terror and fear: of moral panic and perverse neo-Victorian fascination. Characterised by the pity, anger and terror they invoke.
11. Monstrosity must be confined. Its conduct directed. It is the excess of bodies and under-waged labour that makes possible those forms of labour most profitable to the neo-liberal regime of accumulation. Without nannies, Pret –a-Manger temps and drug dealers there is no finance industry, no creative classes, no productive elite.
12, The monster must be conquered. But its conquest is always doubtful.
13. To contain and confine the monster – this is the role of the police. They manage those that must serve in order for the professional class to produce. They contain the excessive life that cannot be allowed to find expression. The police then, manifest themselves as a continuous occupation: their right is that of conquest and their technique that of commandment.
14. Their role then is to manage the decline of those who but yesterday were to rise to take their place amongst civil society, and fulfil their aspirations. They are to contain the animal spirits of the governed. The colonies come home.
15. In a colony, forms of punishment are inseparable from forms of productive labour. Confined. Immobilised. Commanded. The colonies come home. Low waged labour, precarious, without progression and with debt beyond hope of repayment. The ASBO and the kettle both match the labour to be performed. Workfare, zero hour contracts and temp work: these are the punishments of the excluded. Once we look, we can see clearly how our confinement allows others to move. How our servitude makes possible their freedom.
16. And what of the maintenance of Europe and the world-system? Here we find the police serve as little more than window dressers, maintaining the appearance of an ordered society of well mannered debtors.
17. We live in a world of appearances and expectations: a regime of debt, speculation, and expected returns. We live in a world viewed as an investment opportunity and managed risk. Here, in this world, the police maintain the appearance of a productive population, entrepreneurial, able to work the double shift and always pay its debts. The appearance maintains the flow of capital, the expectation of return.
18. What is vital is that it appears as though investors will get their money back. The much spoken of end of neo-liberalism has failed to come to pass. We are still governed by its logic of debt and prospective return. Our inept rulers with their clueless grins maintain the project because they have no other.
19. So the police contain the disorder because if it is not contained, it might seem as though we are uncontrollable. Order will be established in the streets solely because it must appear that the streets are ordered, so that shopping can continue safe from … something monstrous. The project must appear to continue apace or the flow of capital that sweeps up precarious lives and puts them in motion to generate profit will dry up. If it stops moving it ends. The function of debt – its centrality to accumulation – demands the appearance of future return.
20. But this containment is precarious. The proposed intensification of the neo-liberal project is an experiment; the ruling class is not certain of the method with which to proceed. We can see their confusion with the half efforts, U-turns and disagreements publicly aired. They do not know if their methods will succeed in restoring a measure of profitability and growth. Our strategy then is simple. We must be uncontainable. We must disobey. To render payment uncertain: future returns impossible. We must disrupt the smooth flow of investment, speculation and return. We must be an uncalculatable risk.
21. This will not come from isolated moments of rebellion. Our exodus from servitude must be sustained and our insurrection continuous. We must refuse to pay our debts as well as their commands. We are the body in the street that refuses to move. Resisting an occupation means organising a base from which to refuse. We have no independence if we cannot maintain our bodies and our rage. We have an excess of life, of capacity, but no means to put them to use.
22. We must therefore, wherever possible seize the means of reproduction. In doing so we break the flow and refuse to allow ourselves to be kept busy in our bit part roles. Truly monstrous, we must make them fear our disobedience. By not only our actions but also by taking that which we need to make our own lives beyond the wage.
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