Shuddhabrata Sengupta on Tue, 3 Jul 2001 22:32:39 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Re: New Rules for the New Actonomy

Apropos of 'New Rules for the New Actonomy' 

This is in response to 'New Rules for the New Actonomy' by Geert Lovink
and Florian Schneider, posted on the Nettime List and forwarded on to the
Reader-List by Jeebesh.

While I am in broad agreement with what Geert and Florain have written,
what I am writing here is what I think are a few more postulates that I
hope will lead to further provocations for 'New Actonomists', wherever
they may be. Let more rules lead to the further bending of rules !

It is really heartening to see that the police and paramilitary forces of
the major nation states of the world are nervous about the times that we
live in. it is heartening to see the anxiety in the faces of the powerful
about the people they govern. True, the massive surveillance mechanisms
that they are begining to put in place are signs of their far reaching
power, but they are also symtomatic of their profound vulnerability. Not
even the posession of a stockpile of nuclear weapons, or billions in the
bank can make power rest assured in its infinite invulnerability.

 It is also encouraging to see that corporations are genuinely worried
about protecting themselves and that they now rent nuclear shelters to
keep their mainframe computers safe. Power is scared of its adversaries,
because we are witnessing the emergence of a new kind of adversary, who
does not seek power, or speak power's language.

And it is because of this, that after a very long time, it seems as if
that power (both the state and corporate faces of the chimera of power)
and its adversaries are on some sort of equal ground. Because the
adversaries of power dont want or need to fight back with weapons well
known to the state and to corporations. And because the emerging
adversarial positions care less for legality and more for
effectiveness.Power stands momentarily paralysed, unsure of how to
anticipate the adversaries next move. How long this stateof affairs
continues is anybody's guess. But if the adversaries resist the
temptations to form cabals, that are proto-states or mini-corproations on
the make, if all their secrets are public secrets, if their transparency
is their mantle of invisibility, then perhaps they will be able to resist
for a long enough time the infiltration and the infection of power.

As of now the adversaries betray no centralised agency, or single
location, no 'foreign hand' whose interest they serve, no 'evil empire'
whose minions they are. This makes it difficult for power to handle them.
It is no longer possible for power to queer the pitch of resistance by
blaming any one tendency or even to level accusations of treason,or to
distract those it governs with insinuations that the adversaries are ' on
the payroll of', or ' lackeys of ' any 'other' power.There is simply no
'other power. This solitude of power is its greatest weakness today. it
does not even have a mirror to look at anymore. All it faces is a network
of resistance that can stay alive only if it changes shape, size, location
and colour by the minute.

East and West, North and South, - this 'not being able to put your finger
on it-ness' has been the source of the greatest advantage to the
adversaries of power. That they should act for no one but themselves and
in the name of no easily identifiable organisation, state, party or mass
movement. The explicit visibility of the invisibility of resistance is its
greatest strength. And this must remain if the adversaries are to meet any
of their objectives.

(An Aside : As Grant Morrison had whispered into the ears of a million
comic book readers of the 'Invisibles' series - "When Big Brother is
watching you, it is better to be invisible"...)

Any dilution of the invisibility, or the intangibility of the 'resistant'
intensity of adversarial action to accommodate the interests of any
faction of global capital (say, by acting or by seeming to act in consort
with the interests of those who rule so called 'third world' states, or of
the mafia bosses of 'oppressed nations', or 'cultural minorities', or
other leaders of interest groups or identity gulags, while protesting
against 'globalisation' will only lead to a loss of autonomy on the part
of adversarial positions, and what may be gained is only a dubious
solidarity with third world mafiosos.)

There is a disturbing trend in the 'anti-globalisation' protest milieu in
Europe and North America to uncritically embrace any and every voice that
claims to speak for the 'Third World' or, for oppressed minorities who are
attacked by 'Globalisation'. What these voices often demand is the freedom
from global interference to continue unabated the violence of the state
and of this or that faction of global capital in their own little
backyard. They do not challenge the continued existence of the state, or
the rule of money.They just want, 'their state' and want to mint the money
that smells to them of the mud of their corner of the earth. To ally with
them is to lose the battle before it is joined. Actonomists, beware of
anyone flying any flag, of any colour!

This is because the possibilities of seizing the state and its power as
transformative acts, or channelizing the 'productive energies of the
market' are now only a set of exhausted jokes, anywhere.

It is no longer a question of whether or not you can seize power (within
the state, within cultural institutions, the media ,or within the managing
board of a company through representation of the union on the managing
board), rather it is a question of whether you can deploy means and
responses and initiatives that take power by surprise. That threaten to
dissolve power at every step and every turn.

While agreeing with Geert and Florian, that there should be no hesitation
to learn from Power about the techniques it uses to survive, or to use its
money, or to instrumentally deploy existing institutional mechanisms, I
think it is at the same time necessary to invent and deploy means of
resistance that are un-anticipated and as yet un-imagined.

The fact that a close attention is paid to financial balance sheets by
saboteurs, is natural, and it does take power by surprise, whenever we are
'better researched' on the dynamics of business and capital.It is
necessary to know power better than it knows itself. But that is a
necessary and not a sufficient condition of effective resistance.

Gone are the days when we would have thought that all that is required is
for the right people, for the true representatives of the 'democratic
will' to be in positions of power, for power itself to turn benign. What
is required now is a saboteurs imagination that will render existing
relations of power unworkable,that will render 'representative politics'
unworkable, not on sporadic and spectacular levels, but on an everyday

What is required also is the act of bringing into existence modes of
creative and resistant action that hold in abeyance the conventions of
existing institutional frameworks of bieng. That point to more and not
less pleasurable ways of being.

That demand not self-abnegation, sacrifice, or austerity on the part of
the resisters, but a far greater assertion of desire than even the
consumer economy can accommodate. This means also that we have to bring
into being ways of being together that are conducive to the personal,
bodily security of each individual. A resistant politics must pay
attention to the insecurity that say being in a city entails, and which is
always the argument of last resort that the apologists of the state turn
to when they say - "You need the state to ensure that you don't get
murdered on the street".

The fact is, you do get murdered on the street, and often it is the state
that murders you, but we have to pay attention to and address the fear
that makes people accept the impersonal and continous violence of the
state as a guarantor to the threats to their immediate bodily well
being.We have to ask ourselves how we might begin to answer this fear in
terms that are not platitudes or slogans.

The market must be rejected ultimately because it bores us to death. And
the sate because it leaves us feeling profoundly, personally insecure and
unsafe. We cannot leave the market for a regime that offers monotony, or
the state for a dystopic escalation into generalised violence. A resistant
politcs needs to listen carefully to desire and to fear.

We must reject the existing order not because we want to return to a more
modest way of living, but because we demand more. The failure of the state
and the corporations must rest on the fact that they were unable to meet
the desires of those they governed. A resistant politics that tries to
premise itself on offering less than what the present order holds out
might as well forget attracting any reasonable person. Why should I join
any protest movement that first of all asks of me that I be content with
less than what capitalism offers me. This is why most 'green' politcs,
particularly but not only in the third world appeals either to those who
are fighting for survival, (say, people who are threatened with
displacement by dam projects) or to self abnegating urban activists.
Neither the imperative of survival alone and by itself, nor the anguish of
self denial has any capacity to transform the world.

And to seek to do so on the basis of 'threatened survival' or of 'guilt'
is to miss the point. The focus of resistance cannot and must not be
'technology' itself, or the things that people buy as commodities. Rather
it must ask hard questions about what relations of power are embedded in
which technology, or what social conditions give rise to the creation of
those commodities. It must then engender and practice those social
relations and create the technologies that can give rise to practical
altrernatives to the way we live now. The task of doing this cannot be
held in abeyance, and in a perrenial wait for the revolution to arrive. It
has to be the substance of a lived, perennial and everyday global
revolution.This means more attention to the creation of technologies, not
less. Neo-luddites, can rest and rust in peace, nothing that they can do
will ever affect anything.

Unless and until the resistance to Nike shoes is also able to provide a
reasonable and explicit affirmation to the desire to wear well designed,
beautiful and comfortable shoes ( which are produced ethically) it might
as well forget getting anywhere with most people.It means adversaries of
power must also be designers, creators and producers, both of objects of
use and of beauty.

Too little attention is given within the adversarial milieu to what we
might need to learn and do to be able to produce better and more
efficiently than the existing arrangements of power. This means that we
need to be smarter with technology,and learn how to be seductive with what
we do. It means we must be better than the market at addressing the domain
of desire, and comfort.

It means for instance that the free software movements resistance to
corporate control over software needs to be based also on the promise of
offering code that is not customised for the puritan preserves of geekdom
but that users who are not going to ever enter a 'command line culture'
can feel comfortable with.

This is not dumbing down, this is not compromise, it is about learning to
be smart and seductive as a positive subversive virtue. The imperative of
"speaking truth to power" must now be enlarged to include the necessity of
being more beautiful than power, more comfortable than power, more
convivial than power and even of being sexier than power.The days of
dullness must end.

It is only when the everyday business of going about life requires that
the majority of people willingly abandon the rules and restraints that tie
them down ot the state and to corporations that power will be
defeated.Adveraries of power must work with all their imaginations to make
that option pragmatic, and attractive, on a daily basis.They must do this
with as much energy as they now put into the camapaigns against this or
that manifestation of power. Protest that is un-accompanied by creativity
is a dead bore.

To state all this is not a retreat into some "utopian high ground", or to
spiral into a plethora of small creative actions that ignore the big
refusal.The rejection of power on an everyday basis demands the creation
of a climate of positive actions. We need to build new free software, not
becase we are hobbyists (although there is nothing intrinsically wrong
with that)but because we reject the commodification of code and culture on
a fundamental level. By the same token, our rejection of the regime of
'Intellectual Property' is an empty exercise if it is not at the same time
accompanied by a daily practice of other non-propreitorial forms of the
creation of value, or objects of value. This is the only way we can make
the rejection of power a substantive, living practice. Something worth
doing becase it is pleasurable and fun.

It is utopian to assume that you can reform the state, find breathing
space within existing institutions, find freedom within the market, or
convert the military industrial apparatus into a benign charity. Only a
principled refusal to be "useful" for any of the above instituions can
sustain the adversary to power.

This refusal to be "useful" does not mean that we should refuse to "use"
what is available to us. There is at present nothing outside capitalism.
There is no space that is not a nation state. We must use every means that
we have at hand, without pretending to ourselves that the mere fact of our
using this or that agency of the state, or this or that piece of the
market pie, in any way renders it humane or worthwhile or in the least

We use them because we have to, because they are enmeshed into our
everyday and working lives. But we must refuse to see them as objects
capable of tranformation. They may well transform us, but we can never
transform them (which is why we should never grow attatched to anything
that we use, and treat all means as provisional, to be jettisoned, the
moment other means appear that are better able to meet our purposes)

This does not mean that you ignore institutions, or retreat into some kind
of 'new age' oblivion from everyday life. It means that you take what you
can from those in power who can be persuaded, or fooled into parting with
what they have - money, space, machines, facilities. and then do exactly
what you want to do with them, while preparing diligently the annual
reports and statements that are necessary to further your actions.

In the nineteenth century, those who protested against power, especailly
some anarchists and people who were involved in the then international
working class movement had sometimes to resort to bank heists to sustain
their activity, their printing presses and their lives.

Given that all banks nowadays have surveillance cameras, the latter day
resister's "bank heist" (which in civilised speech we may call "the social
appropriation of accumulated surplus value" ) may well need to be the well
written and well researched proposal and the "quick get away car" may well
be the well written report. High levels of research, preparedness and
discipline are required for both these honourable forms of resource
mobilization. The milieu within which adversaries of power tend to act,
places a valuable premium on slackness and indolence, alternating with
periods of frenzied, exhausting activity. The discipline of subversion
requires higher forms of diligence, which must accomapny the necessary
pleasures of idle fraternization, also known as partying.

There should be no shame attendant to the hard work required to milk
philanthropy in order to further subversive agendas. Those who do this
work are 'operators' and they should be able to say this without the
slightest sense of remorse, nor should it aggrandize them with any pride,
their work is as necessary as that of the visionary, no more, no less.

The money that is held in the bank accounts of foundations and grant
givers, comes from the socially produced surplus all over the world. Why
should anyone be hesitant to lay claim to that surplus. The money that is
in the state's treasury comes from the direct and indirect taxes that we
pay the state to be on our backs. It is a shame that we should have to
work hard to get it back where it rightfully belongs.

Of course, this brings with it the risks of being co-opted, but that means
that every adversary of power must be cleverer than power itself. So that
the revolution continues to have the cash it needs to buy computers and
modems, to learn the skills needed to create astonishingly beautiful
objects of subversive pleasure and provocation.

Finally, do not ever be afraid of setting the agenda for a new global
politics, or a new info-politics, of declaring what you think is
necessary, before moving on to doing it.

Do not ever be afraid of staying ahead of power, of being smarter and
quicker and more agile than power can hope to be.Do this anonymously if
that suits you, or adopt disguises, or speak with the honesty of your own
name intact, but by no means let reticence rule your motives and actions.
Be invisible, but present everywhere, be silent, but leave your message on
the walls for people to glance at as they trudge to work. Be accessible
yet difficult to locate. Be everywhere.

Anything that anyone may have to say may come in hand in the big fight.
The false modesty and the aggravated despair of the self-defeated leftist
milieu of the twentieth century needs to be trashed and trashed hard. This
modesty is the mask of eclipsed arrogance. The state and corporate
interests are not moved by our sensitivities, by our despair, or by our
modesty, they are moved by the fear that we might actually mean what we
say, and that we might act on our desires. Let us just begin to do so.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta Correspondent,
Free Agent & Witness of
Interesting Times

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