anti-NATO protests and the politics of joy

April 10, 2009

The last few days were waterfalls of physical, political and imaginative experience. The debates and practical issues of organization and militancy were fusing organically with hippy, vegan consumerism and playful, symbolic gesticulation. It seems, there is a relatively widespread endorsement of thinking about political engagement generally, in terms of what Michael Hardt called the ‘activism based on joy’ i.e. on collective work instead of the sacrificial commitment to a certain economics of guilt towards the other. The reality of the recent anti-NATO protests, however, seems to show, that such affirmative, positivity could also be a comfortable excuse for the gentrification of the anti-capitalist movememtn and can, if taken crudely, occlude important analysis of the role of the dubious political subjectivities within it.

On the one hand, there was all the solidarity and collective action during the recent anti-NATO days, one of the most exciting things was probably the locals and migrants joining the protests and rioting. People cheered us from all over the place: waving from out of the windows or applauding. The workers at the train depots smiled brightly and raised their fists into the air, while the migrant youth danced around the demonstrators on motorbikes and enthusiastically joined the smashing and burning. At some point little girls ran out on the streets and started jumping on the loan chanting: ‘antifa!’, ‘antifa!’ On Thursday, the rioting in the suburbs sparked by the demo seemed to be hardly controlled by the police. The robocops were running around after migrants shooting at them with tear gas and beating some with their rubber clubs. At one point a window opened and a hand threw a metal teapot or something like this on the head of one of the cops, who was violently handcuffing someone. He got really mad and found nothing better to do than to just shoot his teargas grenade into the window!

On the other hand however, there were certain problems with the concatenation between the population in the area and the activists in the camp. Firstly, none of the farmers or the migrants from the suburbs was to my knowledge, present at the plenums. Talking to them there and then would have been important e.g. the organization of the demonstrations and the blockades etc. True, the organizers of the camp were locals, but it seemed that much of the communication with the rest of the people was done through them and not through some kinds of broader meetings or plenums as part of the regular meeting-program in the camp.

Secondly, despite all the self-affection by much of the black blockers about themselves, they were a problem. The rest of the demonstrators often ran into trouble as they pointlessly escalated the situation with the police starting to shoot tear gas almost indiscriminately. Their seeming obsession with ‘marking of space’, ‘territorial control’ and paranoid quest for ‘security’ as well as for the much beloved ‘spontaneity’ (which meant practically smashing things up like: the post office, pharmacy, cars and bus stops etc as well as the quite legitimately hateful targets e.g. the military barracks, old border control building etc). did at many point brought tension into the relationship with the local population.

The prognosis that one sympathizer at the nettime mailing list recently made about the bb movement, actually corresponds quite well to how many ‘militants’ actually seem to want to see themselves: ‘(…in a tendential hyphothesis) as a potentially emerging …european liberation army of sorts’ (my edits) Seeing such a self-organized militarism on the left, which seeks to ‘liberate the oppressed’, is a cause of concern. It seems, to think that you can smash the state and its structures by simply physically destroying buildings and controlling the space with the help of a ‘liberation army’ is to live in a one dimensional dream-world of military strategists. It’s because the bblockers rarely attended any plenums, didn’t really take part in the collective decision and acted mostly ‘autonomously’, that they often separated themselves from the movement and started to act as a sort of caricatured, headless vanguard party, aparantly, mostly interested in doing actions resembling some kind of street ‘outsider art’.

The creative aspect of bblock’s militancy, which was quite revealing about the movement as a whole. Before going to the demo they had actually erected the ‘barricades’ on the streets leading to the village. To see this amazing piece of ‘autonom’, infantile imagination was utterly fascinating. That construction had no utilitarian function whatsoever. It was art and ‘pure’ art, much better then the john bock/hirschhorn sculptures. To believe that it could really stop the movement of a police van or the robocops one would need to do a rather brave leap of faith, like that they would suddenly want to attack the camp barefoot. The ‘defence’ consisted of: the actual barricade made out of furniture looted from the house near by, with something like a Christian cross in the middle, the quite carefully separated rows of broken glass- presumably imitating the spikes that police uses against the vehicles- and the various metal rods, rather aesthetically arranged. Several Antifa Flags were hung from the houses on either side of the barricades so that one got a rather well balanced composition when one was approaching from the direction of the enemy. Here and there you could see groups of shabby teenagers dressed in black holding sticks or stones. On Saturday, the disused, building of the old border control between France and Germany together with a hotel and a pharmacy were smashed and set ablaze. It produced very familiar, majestic images of apocalyptic rioting and discontent, which made it to the media.

To end these notes, I’ll simply ask these questions.

Does the aesthetization of the political by South Park seems to show capitalist contradictions going mad to the extend, that even fashion trends (bb aesthetics of violence) become capable of mobilizing significant numbers of young people to against it?

Or is it simply, that in the absence of the significant power to prevent yourself from being ‘kettled’ by the police, the only way to resist, in this context, is to resist symbolically, meaning sending signals and images to the Other (the imagined people, workers of the world etc.) who might benevolently Answer if enough agitation is made?

If this is the case, then to what extend does it hollows out politics proper as everything is directed at signalling and demonstrating and not at say broad forms of civil disobedience?

What does it then mean to insist that there be a distinction made within the so called ‘joyous machine’ of protest and insurrection between the ‘politics of joy’, which contains aesthetics as the political and the self-indulgent, militant hedonism, which aesthetisizes politics and directs its seeking eyes towards the Other?