The Swing to the Right

Opinie, gepost door: op 07/11/2011 11:02:31

Presentation at the Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht. 'The empowerment of the Right/ the dissolution of the Left, 5 nov 2011, Revisiting tactics of the Left against the international rise of austerity and the xenophobic Right.

The following presentation is based upon the text I wrote for the emergency edition of the art magazine Open, which is threatened with liquidation under the current austerity measures. The text was also presented this week at Occupy at Beursplein. It is an analysis of the current moment, followed by a short speculative piece on political strategy. You can see the full text, with video and images here:

Let me start with an ad, signed by the major Dutch museums, which appeared in one of the national newspapers some months ago. The text translates as: "What is now being destroyed, is irrevokably lost. Politicians talk to us". It neatly sums up the political sentiment present at most of the cultural institutions, and more generally, is a good representation of the dominant political response to the current government, both by opposition and civil society. The other side of the political debate, is represented by the following image. It was send to me by someone that took the photo from a train. It is a wall painting that reads: ART MUST DIE. In what follows i will try and make sense of this opposition.

The Swing to the Right

“No one seriously concerned with political strategies in the current situation can now afford to ignore the "swing to the Right". We may not yet understand its extent and its limits, its specific character, its causes and effects. We have so far—with one or two notable exceptions—failed to find strategies capable of mobilizing social forces strong enough in depth to turn its flank. But the tendency is hard to deny. It no longer looks like a temporary swing in the political fortunes, a short-term shift in the balance of forces.”

With those words Stuart Hall opened one of his trenchant analyses on the emergence of Thatcherism. Then, what needed to be explained was how a deep economic crisis presided over by the labour party, became the terrain on which a new, emerging right wing populism was able to establish its dominance. This, on the basis of effectively gaining a series of popular interpellations on how the crisis was “lived”. The political coordinates where we currently start from are different. What needs to be explained today, is how at the end of the 1990’s in large parts of Europe, the emergence of right wing populism took place in a context of economic growth, with the financial crisis yet nowhere in sight. What we are aiming at today, is to understand how to reconstitute a democratic left on the basis of how this crisis is “lived”, in squares, tents, parks, assemblies, demo’s and strikes all over the globe.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Netherlands has experienced a swing to the right, and there is more than a hint of Thatcher in there. These last ten years, the Dutch political landscape has been changed beyond recognition. What has changed, are the very parameters of what can be said and thought. Much of the assumptions where politics in the past were founded upon, have to be reconsidered. The laws of the consensusmodel implied that power was located in the middle. Now it turns out, the game can also be played over the flanks. The old centripetal logic of pacification has made way to polarisation, with the most right wing government of Dutch post war history as a result.
These developments do not come out of nowhere. They appear to be the result of what Gramsci called an ‘organic crisis’. A crisis that consists in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. The old consensus has borken down and the relation between the electorate and its traditional forms of political representation, has shifted. A process in “which the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies, and no longer believe what they used to believe”. "In this interregnum", he added, "a great variety of morbid symptoms appear".

A crisis of a similar nature and magnitude appears to manifest itself in the Netherlands. We only have to look at the traditional powerhouse of Dutch politics, the Christian Democrat Party, which basically ran and controlled this country for the last fifity years. It has seen its electorate flee and became but a shadow of its former self. Other parties are ideologically adrift. The liberal party has turned towards neoconservatism. The Greenleft is no longer left but liberal, while the social democrats are still struggling how to advance after the end of their ideology. The Socialist Party, once-Maoist, now classically socialdemocratic, scores as much seats in the polls as the Christian Democrats and the Labour party taken together. Existing political practice, such as the moderated neoliberalism of the Third Way, multiculturalism, or the poldermodel have lost significance, but new ideas and practices have yet to announce themselves. In that context, the morbid symptom of rightwing populism enters the stage.

What is therefore at stake is not simply who wins the next elections or how the pain of another round of austerity is being distributed. What is on the agenda of the new right is a longterm redefinition of the political landscape, a broader transformation of the political culture. It is well known how Thatcher sold the English social housing stock, in order to change the way voters think, to change the reality on the ground, and to structurally shift the bounds of what is deemed politically possible, towards the right. It is therefore no coincidence that the present Dutch government – which has made no secrest of its inspiration by Thatcher – has proposed a similar right to buy, and its antagonism towards the cultural sector should be seen in the same light. The instigators of the current palace revolution don't believe in the end of politics, they boldly aim to change society. Just as the emergence of the New Left in the sixties heralded a period of twenty five years of progressive hegemony, with the arrival of the new right the object of struggle is the construction of a new right wing consensus that will be the norm in the coming decades.

Now, the Dutch model has never been purely a consensus model. On the basis of classic studies on the Dutch political system, it seems logical to assume history progresses as a succession of periods of consensus and conflict. In the Nederlands, Lijphart's classic work zijn The Politics of Accommodation is the most famous example of such a wave movement. He describes the birth of the Dutch pillarisation system in the beginning of the 20th century, and the downfall of this governmental logic in the sixties with the arrival of the afore mentioned new left. Periods of consensus and conflict each have their own logic, which we must learn to understand to be able to effectively intervene in them.

For the operative logic of the consensusmodel we can turn to Lijphart, who identified a series of rules. Better undertood in the Foulcouldian sense as a series of techniques of a specific Dutch form of governmentaility, that serve to protect and to preserve a given consensus:

Businesslike politics
politics means governing, it is pragmatic and focused on results.

Tolerance: the majority does not impose it’s opinion, but strives to meet the concerns of minorities. Non negotiable disagreement is resolved by looking the other way and/or ‘agree to disagree’.

Summits: the most important decisions are decided upon in summits, behind closed doors if possible.

Proportionality: when distribution resources: subsidies are devided equally among factions

Depoliticization: depoliticizing and neutralising ideological antagonism, by the use of comple language, or by outsourcing decision making to comittees of neutral experts.

Secrecy: during the negotiation and decisionmaking process, the public limelight is shunned. Politicians, journalists and academics act responsible.

Monism: the governability of the country is the greatest good. In exchange for a docile position, the government takes the interests of the opposition into account.

Following Rancière’s statement that “the reciprocal appeasement of the social and the political is the business of the old, an old business which politics has perhaps always had as its essence”, and his definition of politics as “the art of suppressing the political”, the core of Dutch governmentality is depoliticization. This fairly paternalistic and undemocratic regime of the "old" entered in crisis in the sixties under the pressure of the protest movements of the "young". The result was that the consensusmodel started to give way to a conflictmodel, with a different set of rules:

- The exposure of the ideology of the establishment
- Contestation and Conflict
- Appeal to the base
- Polarisation as a means to form an exclusive majority, on the basis of one’s own program
- Politicisation
- Publicity
- Dualism

This period of conflict and polarisation ended at the end of the seventies and gave way to another period of consensus and depoliticization: the no-nonsense politics of the eighties. Of central importance were the Wassenaar agreements, the centrepiece of what became known and wiely celebrated as the Dutch poldermodel. At the end of the nineties, the meteoric rise of the charismatic right wing populist Pim Fortuyn and his dramatic assassination, effectively undermined the consensus, ushering in a new period of polarisation. The rules of the conflictmodel are back in operation, this time centred around the demasking of the multicultural ideology of the establishment.

That the rules of the old business of politics no longer apply, became clear once the new government installed itself. It’s project, according to an official statement was to give the country back to the hardworking Dutch people. It’s official promise was a policy that those on the Right could lick their fingers to. It’s austerity measures have been implemented with downright hostility towards teh stricken sectors. The mantra is no longer that we should all tighten our belts, but rather, the specific targeting of subsidy addicts, the arts and the poor.
In an extremely reductive representation of things, we could take a typical sine wave, what should of course not bes een mechanistically, rather as the contingent reflection of political action.

Monster politics, or the strategy of the double perspective

How can the left traverse this precarious balance between consensus and conflict? How to escape from the neutralising and depoliticizing effects of consensus and postpolitical politics, without being isolated into marginalised identities?

In his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci puts forward a strategy called the double perspective, inspired on the animal strategy of Machiavelli. In il principe, Machiavelli statest that the prince, has two ways of entereing into conflict, through the law or through naked power, as a man or a beast.

“You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man. This has been figuratively taught to princes by ancient writers, who describe how Achilles and many other princes of old were given to the Centaur Chiron to nurse, who brought them up in his discipline; which means solely that, as they had for a teacher one who was half beast and half man, so it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other is not durable.”

Gramsci used Machiavelli’s metaphore of the monster, the Centaur, to plead in a much broader sense for a politics that is always twofold, revolution and reform, tactics and strategies, force and consent, authority and hegemony. Dualities that arise together and have to be thought in combination.
In a simular vein the monster metaphore has been explored for its political merit, by poststructuralist philosophers as Derrida and Deleuze and Guattari. There is an emancipatory reading of the monster as a hybrid character, a transgression of the norm. A monster has a shortage of body parts, it is a combination of heterogeneous elements, like the stitched up body of a Frankenstein.

Monster politics entails polarisation AND accomodation, a politics of the inside AND the autonomy of the outside. It entails tactics AND strategy, immanence AND transcendance, gradualism AND great leaps, it entails a politics that does not fetisjize political identities, but devides them up in their constituent parts, and recombines them. That revolts against any type of purism or parochialism, and is willing to form extraordinary monster coalitions, a politics that wants to escape from the ghetto. Moster politics is the Occupy movement, that appeals to a paradoxical people, through an 'assembly' of contradictory demands. Monster politics is what we see in the squares, tents, parks, assemblies, demo’s and strikes all over the globe.

Global IMC Network Afrika Ambazonia Canarias Estrecho / Madiaq Kenya South Africa Canada London, Ontario Maritimes Quebec Oost Azië Japan Manila QC Saint-Petersburg Europa Abruzzo Alacant Antwerpen Athens Austria Barcelona Belarus Belgium Bristol Brussels Bulgaria Calabrië Cyprus Emilia-Romagna Estrecho / Madiaq Euskal Herria Galiza Duitsland grenoble Hungary Ireland Istanbul Italy La Plana Liege liguria Lille Linksunten Lombardia London Madrid Malta Marseille Nantes Napoli Netherlands Northern England Norway Nottingham Oost-Vlaanderen Paris/Île-de-France Piemonte Poland Portugal Roma Roemenië Russia Scotland Sverige Switzerland Torun Toscana Ukraine UK-GB Latijns Amerika Argentina Bolivia Chiapas Chile Sur Braszilië Sucre Colombia Ecuador Mexico Peru Puerto Rico Qollasuyu Rosario santiago Uruguay Valparaiso Venezuela Oceanië Aotearoa Manila Melbourne Perth QC Sydney Zuid-Azië India Verenigde Staten Arizona Atlanta Austin Baltimore Big Muddy Binghamton Buffalo Charlottesville Chicago Cleveland Colorado Columbus DC Hawaii Houston Hudson Mohawk LA Madison Michigan Milwaukee Minneapolis/St. Paul New Mexico New Orleans NYC Philadelphia Pittsburgh Portland Richmond Rochester Rogue Valley San Diego San Francisco Bay Area Santa Cruz, CA Sarasota Seattle Urbana-Champaign Worcester West Azië Beirut Israel Palestine Process FBI/Legal Updates Mailing Lists Process & IMC Docs Projecten Print Radio Video Regio's United States Topics Biotech