The New World in Our Hearts

Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campiglio (eds.), What We Are Fighting For: A Radical Collective Manifesto

Pluto Press, 224pp, £14.99, ISBN 9780745332857

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

The cover of this collection of essays announces that ‘millions fear what the future will bring but also dare to dream of a different society.’ No-one would deny the truth of both those propositions. The age of austerity, the latest stage of neo-liberalism’s assault on the majorities of the world, has thrown a curtain across the future, and condemned us to live in a perpetual repetition of an intolerable present. Across the spectrum of official politics, parliamentary parties merge into what appears to be a single speech, reproduced in many languages, that glumly announces that this is how the world is – we can do no other.

The book’s title seems to acknowledge that a better future - a world marked by social justice, peace and equality - will only be achieved through collective action and organisation. So I approached this collection anticipating an exposition of the nature of that struggle and its participants. Strangely, however, the capitalist class behind the neo-liberal label is never named. And even more perplexing, we are not named either. Poised ‘between the no longer and the not yet’ (an unacknowledged quote from Georg Lukacs), we are ‘a multitude of singular agents.’ That shifting, changing, mass that John Holloway and Hardt and Negri have described elsewhere is by definition impermanent – rebellious yes, but without a clear location in the world from which to organise their response. From time to time, there are references to ‘liberated spaces’ where new and different ways of living can be tested. The Zapatistas are clearly the model here, though they are not mentioned.

The problem, however, is that the liberated spaces that do exist, like Chiapas, are surrounded and besieged by the armies of the state, defending the interests of the capitalist class it represents. Some of those spaces, like the Mondragon cooperative in Spain, are mentioned here. They may all represent the dream in different ways. Yet they remain isolated examples, whose moral credentials are not matched in any way by the creation of political instruments that can bring change closer.

This radical manifesto celebrates the infinite variety of rebellion, of insurrection, that has given us all moments of hope and inspiration in recent years. Yet Federico Campagna, one of the volume’s editors, argues that we should

‘free ourselves from the paralysis of endless waiting ... only occasionally interrupted by pathetically impotent marches, or by equally pathetic, merely self-validating assemblies – we opportunists should reject the tiresome discourse of “changing the world”. Changing our lives would be enough of a change!’

This is astonishing stuff. Where is the radicalism then? And what is this a manifesto for? Since almost all of the authors contemptuously reject strategic political organisation as ‘vanguardism’, we are left only with the promise of individual salvation. Like most active socialists, I would join Saul Newman in celebrating the tumbling of icons, the unmasking of the politicians and the interests that sustain them, the rising of the masses, the refusal of discipline. The difference between us is that this must be more than a temporary symbolic act, but one step – however hesitant – on the road to changing the world. But since that has been rejected a priori we are back to Mark Fisher’s call to ‘disarticulate technology and desire from capital.’ But there are no alternative spaces in a globalised world; so how do we go about ‘disarticulating’ the class that controls and produces both?

Franco Berardi echoes Campagna by denying the possibility. ‘Revolution,’ he says, ‘is an old metaphor for social change’. To dream of revolution - of a world run by and for the majority, the propertyless, the exploited - is not just old hat, it is arrogant. To talk of such possibilities, Berardi insists, is tantamount to ‘almightiness’, placing ourselves in the position of god in the quasi-religion that is socialism. I hope it won’t be considered unfair of me to quote Berardi’s solution :

‘I call insurrection the disentanglement of the tendential potency of the social body from the present Gestalt.’

The obscure language says very clearly who this volume is directed at. It is not the collective whose power could transform society, but a small self-defined group who stand aside from such nonsense.

All the writers appear to agree that we should celebrate insurrectionary moments, but any attempt to set them in the context of a developing organisation, to add them to the collective sum of knowledge that will inform our future struggles, commits the sin of the vanguard. The new definition of radicalism, and radical action, that this volume proposes emerges from an autonomist movement which insists that the battle to overthrow the state is in fact, in every conceivable instance, a veiled strategy for taking it over for oppressive purposes.

The clearest essay in this volume is the last, a collective entry by the South London Solidarity Federation. Perhaps unintentionally they provide a crystal clear answer to the arguments for spontaneity and the suspicion of organisation:

‘Wherever you look deeper into “spontaneous” actions you find agitators laying the groundwork. Although we accept that for most of the time we are going to be part of a militant minority, we reject the ideas or the organizational models of vanguardism...’

As someone who was worked for most of my life to build such an organisation, this seems a pretty good definition of what see as our role and method. In fact the whole essay is an argument for activity informed by the idea of ‘the new world we carry in our hearts’ (the words of Buenaventura Durruti quoted by the authors). For vanguardism here we should read Stalinism, which is the enemy of every socialist and every revolutionary because it turned the message of self-emancipation upside down and made a grotesque caricature of it. The caricature of the revolutionary tradition which informs this collection is similarly damaging, not because it is a competing theory but because it abandons the possibility of revolution altogether – and never answers its own question: what are we fighting for?