Editorial - Occupy and beyond…

Originally published in January 2012.

Much has changed since 2008. The crisis of capital presents itself to us in multiple, shifting forms; sovereign debt, food, energy, housing and the environment are all in crisis, while the date for the ‘inevitable’ recovery of growth and the return of confidence in financial markets recedes ever further into the horizon. Plan A, that of austerity and the further implementation of market based solutions, has, as David Harvie points out in this issue, failed completely; and, meanwhile, calls for a return to a Keynesian plan B seem unconvincing.

Looking back on the last 18 months there has been an obvious increase in political activity against an increasingly de-legitimised political system and against economic austerity. The situation is vastly different to the depoliticised world many of us once organised in. History is once more up for grabs. Yet when faced with the vast scale of the assault on our lives and the potential for positive social change, our previous forms of activity have never looked more impotent. Spectacular activism and alienating, purist lifestyle politics are unlikely to be the forms appropriate for the task at hand.

Over the past 18 months we have witnessed the global explosion of rage we have been expecting and hoping for. Like the crisis itself this has taken many forms, from the return of strikes, to ‘commodity riots’; from the emergence of the graduate without a future to the rise of the global occupy movement which has inspired and frustrated in equal measure. These expressions of anger are shifting public discourses and, at times, winning material gains. But they are also increasingly hitting limits. These limits bound our activity in two dimensions: firstly, the political ideas we are using to express our understanding of the world and communicate our dreams of a better one are reaching the limits of their potential; and, equally, the forms that these ideas are physically taking, the organisational structures through which we move, are also reaching their boundaries. The theory and practice of emancipatory politics must be rethought in light of 2011.

In this issue we hope to return to the topic of organisation. In the first part of a SHIFT exclusive (of which the second will be published in Issue 15), Michael Hardt and John Holloway debate the merits of institutions and organisation. There is certainly tension between, on one hand, the open, networked forms of resistance which erupted in 2011 and which seemed to capture the hearts of a global media - which fell over itself to declare this “twitter revolution” the new zeitgeist - and, on the other hand, more long term, perhaps more rigid organisational structures. Learning to negotiate this tension may well be the key task of 2012. How can we move from resistance to the exercise of an emancipatory political power?

Of course this won’t be easy. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s transcribed talk from Auto Italia’s event “We Have Our Own Concept of Time and Motion” outlines some of the key features of the political terrain in 2012. Bifo argues that the social body has been fragmented so as to be compatible with new forms of work and discipline. Increasing precarity is making the act of solidarity, and political organising, harder than ever. SHIFT will be continuing the discussions surrounding precarity in an online series starting soon.

If the surprises and challenges that 2012 will surely bring are as yet unknown, we can be certain that a vital task up ahead is that of developing appropriate and effective forms of organisation.