The Joys of Opium, or Notes on the “Spanish Revolution”

“To resolve insoluble problems without the aid of the state, that is the destiny of an event. And it is that which makes a people, suddenly, and for an indefinite time, exist, there where it decides to assemble.” (Alain Badiou, Le Monde, February 19, 2011)

To say that one is interested in what is happening in Spain is to be pathetic. Is one interested in sex, hallucinogens, revolution, death? Hate, fear, or love is what is fitting. To be interested is to be indifferent, to have one’s curiosity at most awakened, for it to then move on to the next fleeting thing of interest. The events of Spain demand a passionate response: to be repelled by them or find joy in them. All else is a symptom of tedium and complacency.

Above all, there is the beauty of the movement. The creativity of all that one sees, hears, reads; the mind freed of fear, of habit, discovers its calling to move beyond what is, to imagine realities beyond “reality”. The humiliated, the old, the young, the exploited, the foreign, the different, in sum, the silenced all find a voice. Equality, with freedom, becomes reality, from which lucidity shines forth. Revolutions teach us that to be is to imagine and create.

Poetry takes the streets, the squares. How often has the politics of revolution been conquered by the calculation of utility, reform. A revolution overtaken by increases in wages, fiscal reform, one more school, a bicycle path (does the list of things end?) is a failed revolution. These are but the details. They are not insignificant, but they are what results of revolution, they are its’ consequences, and not the revolution. Revolution is the highest expression of collective autonomy, of the experience of collective intimacy that transgresses the alienation and anonymity of instrumental rationality. The latter is governed by “realty” and overseen by experts. The former seeks no good or purpose beyond itself, and is the space-time in which the community defines itself.

Guy Debord: “It is not a matter of putting poetry at the service of revolution, but putting the revolution at the service of poetry. It is only in this way that the revolution does not betray its very goal.” (Internationale situationiste, n° 8, 1963)

The events of Spain recall Hanna Arendt’s reading of politics, as the space of free creativity, above or beyond the concern with necessity. People gather in squares (that are made public) to debate what kind of world they wish to live in. And yet the acampamientos are not chaotic. As they grow, organisation is required. The acampado of the Plaza del Sol of Madrid, because of its dimension, testifies to this felt need (though other examples exist on a smaller scale). But the collection of rubbish, the providing of food, child care and the like, which need to be carried out, these are not the subject of the assembly. These are activities carried out under the administration of committees created with specific purposes in mind, leaving to the assembly the task of self-creation.

We also however move beyond Arendt, for the division between politics and labour is porous in the acampado. How the diverse committees carry out their tasks is collectively decided within committee, which is a reflection of the politics of the assembly, and the assembly lives in and through, in part, those who carry out the labour. In other words, the acampados live in the rejection of the fiction that freedom is to be found in the freedom from necessity.

The street, the square, moves us beyond parliaments, factories, and other institutions of production. To those who would argue that this thereby condemns the movement in Spain to irrelevance, let it be said that it is rather that which gives it its’ strength, that which allows it to echo politically, both in and beyond Spain. Appropriations of institutions or organisation of production raise questions of production. But revolution are not and cannot be just about matters of production; they must raise the ultimate issue of why produce? The answer to this question is political and only then with this answer in hand can one begin to answer questions about what is to be produced and how.

The square is simultaneously a space of sovereignty and a denial of it. It is sovereign insofar as those who assemble do so freely, collectively. It is not to the extent that it refuses the power that separates, that sustains borders. As the decisions of the assembly do not address issues of production, all those present can take part. Indeed, the assembly is open to everyone, both present in fact and potentially.

For obvious practical reasons, and more fundamentally, for political reasons, the acampamientos of the central squares have sought to reproduce assemblies at the neighbourhood level. On this depends the reality of democracy, as well as the reality of the rejection of the rule of the exception which defines authoritarian sovereignty.

Yet is the movement in Spain a “revolution”? If by the latter is understood the seizing and occupying of a centre of power, or the appropriation of the economic means of production, then no, it is not. But in the reign of Empire, where no outside to power exists, where domination permeates all, the revolution must be permanent, everywhere and at all time.
The contagion of the collective assemblies of Spain’s cities is testimony to their existence inside and outside administered space, to their reality in an imaginary space.

“Opposition under Empire cannot be individuated in a subject, a body, a thing or substance, not even in an ensemble of subjects, bodies, things or substances, but only as the event of all these….There is no “revolutionary identity”. Under Empire, it is on the contrary non-identity, the fact of constantly betraying all predicates…that is revolutionary. Of “revolutionary subjects”, they have not existed for a long time except for power.” (Tiqqun, Tout a failli, vive le communisme!)

Walter Benjamin spoke of revolution as what shatters, ruptures the sequence of linear time, the time of planning and order, of hierarchy and discipline. Revolutions are lived in a suspension of time, a suspension that is also that of poetry, theatre, dance; that of all the arts and of all activities where and when utility is set aside for creation. The beauty of the events of Spain lies in their intimacy, even for those who are not present. Planning is for planners. Creation invites everyone.

El Roto’s iconographic representation of the Spanish movement leaves the flag of the revolution blank, blank to be inscribed and re-inscribed without end. Even in the eventuality that state authority brutally puts an end to it, what is at stake in Spain and beyond is the idea of revolution as the permanent possibility of creating ourselves anew.

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