The $8.25 man, Bloomberg News wrote in December, has worked at McDonald’s for twenty years. Still, he can’t get forty hours a week or anything more than minimum wage. He can’t make rent payments, can’t afford a computer, and has to go to the Apple store to update his Facebook. After picking cigarette butts out of a bathroom drain, he has to clean off before his next job—at another McDonald’s.
The news from Caracas has not been promising for some time. The leader of the Bolivarian Revolution had not been seen since early December, when he travelled to Cuba to undergo emergency surgery for a still undisclosed form of cancer. On March 5, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died in a military hospital.
On July 1st, 2012, the day of Mexico’s recent presidential election, I visited the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, hoping to encounter a painting by Remedios Varo. A surrealist painter fleeing the Spanish Civil War, Varo was among the many notable exiles to make their home in Mexico City during the mid-20th century. I hoped that through one of her Cimmerian dreamscapes I might learn something about the political situation she experienced in the aftermath of the massive Mexican revolutions of 1910 to 1929. It was during the prime of her career following the end of WWII that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), inheritors of the Mexican Revolution, strayed decidedly off-course to embrace a particular brand of oligarchic and authoritarian governance. Their 71 years of uninterrupted rule ended in 2000, but as I arrived at the museum that morning their return to power, in the context of an increasingly bloody “Drug War,” was already presumed.
We’re passing through a low phase in Northern California – a lull that partially parallels those facing organizers from Madison to New York. The rebellious energies so evident recently seem scattered these days, dormant. The universities are quiet. And the forces that had gathered in city parks and squares, most massively at Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza, are largely absent. The encampments are broken up, the assemblies dissolved.
It took a little while for the student struggle in Quebec to gain traction with activists outside of the province. The strike began in February, but it probably wasn’t until late March that activists in Ontario paid it much mind, and not until late April or May that large numbers of people began pouring across the borders into Quebec to demonstrate alongside the Quebecois, to talk to Quebec activists, and to learn from their organizing tactics and struggles so that we could push the movement beyond the confines of the Francophone province and into the rest of Canada.
We’re living in a revolutionary situation. We could reformulate the classical definition in the following terms: the ruling elites of the global capital cannot live as in the past; the workers, the precarious, the students, the poor, the living knowledge refuse to live as in the past. In the global crisis, the transnational struggles – from the North Africa insurrections to the acampadas in Spain or Syntagma Square, from the Chilean university movement to Occupy and the Québec uprising – are composed by the convergence of a downgrading middle class and a proletariat whose poverty is directly proportional to its productivity. In this context, the university is a key site.
Though the basic course of events in Quebec over the past several months has been widely reported, I want to address two questions that might be of greater interest to those struggling in and around universities elsewhere. First, I want to look at how the Quebec student strike articulates, on the one hand, the conflict and interplay between the socialist aspirations and corporatist realities of a public university system, and on the other, the pressures put on that system by the dreams of dollar bills floating through the heads of administrators and the “austerian” belt-tightening of governments. Second, I want to ask, very briefly, whether this analysis has any traction outside of Quebec.
Though my article “The Actuality of the Revolution” centered on Lenin and 1917, it was really about the present. I think this became clearer as the debate on the article progressed, encompassing questions within the Occupy movement. For this reason, I’ve decided not to quibble over details, but rather to review the history in a way that more clearly shows how this debate, and the role the Bolsheviks played in 1917, speaks to our current historical conjuncture. Since the pressing question, the one that tied all these articles together, was actually the question of the party, I will try to clarify and elaborate my analysis of the function of the party form, responding to the three critiques of my original argument.
The future is over. This is the central, bold, and stark claim that Franco “Bifo” Berardi makes in his latest book After the Future. Time will continue onwards, but our collective and personal belief in a better future appears to have collapsed. This is a claim made all the more terrifying by its instinctual resonance. After several more years of austerity and crisis, the Invisible Committee’s rather grandiose claim that “everyone agrees that things can only get worse” appears to be meeting history and moving from the realm of polemical theory to common sense. The modernist dream of unending development has shattered. While the markets remain uncertain of future growth prospects and state administrators vacillate between austerity and neo-Keynesianism, the rest of society seems to be in a state of paralysis, punctuated by outbursts of disorganized rage, such as the riots witnessed in various British cities last summer. Bifo claims we are experiencing the rapid decomposition of the European working class through the intensification of precarity, widespread unemployment, and widespread depression. Hyper-exploitation, hyper-tension and the receding hope of a modest pension are the only things left for those still working in the Prozac and caffeine-fuelled economy of the twenty-first century.
May Day was a gamble for Occupy Wall Street, and a necessary one. Instead of heralding a national renewal, springtime has found Occupy short of ideas and running on vapors. Life after the encampments has not led to a generalization of occupations, and the prospect of reestablishing them in their initial form is remote. The 1st of May was logical timing for a revival – or at the very least, a lifeline, a confirmation of vitality, an open door. Bolstered by the call for an expanded general strike, May Day 2012 smelled of hope, but also desperation. Our sense at the outset was that failure in the streets – whether the result of low turnout, police out-maneuvering, or flat repetition of gesture – would radiate far beyond New York, effectively bringing the movement to an impasse. Although our fears ultimately proved unwarranted, there was little in our experience of May Day that augured an escalation of struggle; no spark to set the summer ablaze.