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Reflections on the revolutionary spirit (from Adbusters issue #82).


The defining problem of modern industrial society is not injustice but alienation. The central task of progressive politics today is to achieve not equality, but liberation.

Clive Hamilton

“We must beware of those who decry the visible forms of violence such as terrorism while perpetrating the invisible, systemic forms of violence that generate the very phenomena they abhor.”

This is the starting point for Slavoj Žižek’s recently published Violence, a collection of revolutionary reflections in which he draws two conclusions of particular interest to future activists and culture jammers. First, it is “difficult to be really violent, to perform an act that violently disturbs the basic parameters of social life.” Most attempts at revolutionary violence, whether left or right, fail to target the basic social structures underlying the systemic violence, which revolutionary forces strive to overcome. Žižek further concludes that sometimes doing nothing is in itself an act of violence capable of toppling those oppressive social structures. He ends the book leaving us with this revolutionary imperative:

“The threat today is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to ‘be active,’ to ‘participate,’ to mask the nothingness of what goes on. People intervene all the time to ‘do something;’ academics participate in meaningless debates and so on. The truly difficult thing is to step back, to withdraw. Those in power often prefer even a ‘critical’ participation, a dialogue, to silence – just to engage us in ‘dialogue,’ to make sure our ominous passivity is broken. The voters’ abstention is thus a true political act: it forcefully confronts us with the vacuity of today’s democracies. If one means by violence a radical upheaval of the basic social relation then, crazy and tasteless as it may sound, the problem with historical monsters who slaughtered millions was that they were not violent enough. Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.”

Micah White

Resistance begins by occupying and controlling the terrain upon which one stands, where one lives, works, acts and thinks. This needn’t involve millions of people. It needn’t even involve thousands. It could involve just a few at first. Resistance can be intimate and can begin in small affinity groups. The art of politics consists in weaving such cells of resistance together into a common front, a shared political subjectivity. What is going to allow for the formation of such a political subjectivity – the hegemonic glue, if you will – is an appeal to universality, whether the demand for political representation, equality of treatment or whatever.

Anarchy should not seek to mirror the archaic sovereignty that it undermines. That is, it should not seek to set itself up as the new hegemonic principle of political organization, but remain the negation of totality and not the affirmation of a new totality. Anarchy is a radical disturbance of the state, a disruption of the state’s attempt to set itself up or erect itself into a whole. In our terms, anarchy is the creation of interstitial distance within the state, the continual questioning from below of any attempt to establish order from above.

From Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding

Because revolution in our culture has always represented an attack on hierarchy, it has always meant upheaval – literally a heaving up from below. But upheaval has no role to play in moving beyond civilization. If the plane is in trouble, you don’t shoot the pilot, you grab a parachute and jump. To overthrow hierarchy is pointless, we just want to leave it behind.

As everyone knows (especially revolutionaries), hierarchy maintains formidable defenses against attack from the lower orders. It has none, however, against abandonment. This is in part because it can imagine revolution, but it can’t imagine abandonment, it couldn’t defend against it, because abandonment isn’t an attack, it’s just a discontinuance of support.

But won’t the powers that be try to prevent people from doing nothing? I can imagine them trying (but I honestly need help imagining them succeeding).

From Daniel Quinn’s Beyond Civilization

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