I want to begin, and I even want to title my intervention today with a single word. The word is still—and for my intervention title I will add a question-mark next to it, for reasons that I will explain in a second.
Those of you acquainted with Paul Mason’s work, to which today’s panel is dedicated, will be aware of the fact that this single word is all that separates the title of the first and the second publication of Paul Mason’s “Why it’s [still] kicking off everywhere”. Let me begin with a comment, one that I would have most definitely preferred to address to Paul Mason himself,alas he is not with us in the room this morning. I find it extremely strange to be addressing a global revolution, a rupture, a revolt—call it what you like!—with the word still—a word that denotes continuity, that denotes calmness, idleness. The waters of a river are either furious, or they are still; they can never be both. To claim that a global uprising continues still is, then, in the way that I understand it, a considerable contradiction in terms.
The title of today’s session has posed a considerable obstacle for me. When a close friend enquired about it, and after I explained what the session was about, they responded, “but it’s not really kicking off everywhere any more, is it?” In any other case, I may have had quickly agreed to their comment. But, I think, feeling somewhat obliged to defend both my participation to the panel and the panel itself, I decided to fight back. And so let me start with my friend’s conviction, one that you might be very familiar—and might even agree with, in which case I will do my best to convince you otherwise in the few minutes that I’ve got at my disposal today. The conviction is that these “global revolutions” that Mason spoke of have truly died away. I think it is a most telling sign of our times to see that in the short time between the re-publication of Mason’s book and now, it is hardly possible for most to say it is “still” kicking off “everywhere”; not by a long shot. It is true: if by “kicking off” we mean the Arab revolutions, the battles of Syntagma square in Athens, Occupy and the like, then the situation appears mostly bleak: gone is the turbulent 2011, quickly giving way to a depressingly stale 2012—and the early part of 2013 does not look quite promising, either. I do, by the way, expect that by the time that we finish our session, news from London regarding the parties that will follow Baroness Thatcher’s funeral might paint a very different picture; but I am not quite holding my breath. In fact, this insecurity about where and when it may kick off—my inability to tell whether tonight’s funeral proceedings in London would turn into a good riot or not, although my gut instinct would say that is very likely—speaks volumes about our uncertain world and about the misty terrain we are traversing at the moment. But more on this in a second.
For now, let us go back to this idea that the global revolutions are over. And let me take the example that I know best, that, of course, of Greece. We have spent way too much time with comrades and acquaintances trying to understand if the upheaval has really died off, if the situation in the country is reaching some sort of normalcy. And by doing so, I am afraid, we might very well be missing the blatantly obvious. Instead of describing this “obvious” in words that I might not master that well and in some time that I do not quite have at my disposal, I have decided to use three very simple photos. The first two photos depict the same event. Here in the first one, a bunch of people fighting the riot police. This is Greece, so nothing really that abnormal so far. What is quite abnormal though (particularly in the second photo) is the setting in which this mini-riot seems to be taking place. Everything else is familiar to us, except for the setting: this is a riot taking place in the middle of a forest; the ancient forest of Skouries, in the Chalkidiki region of northern Greece. For the past few months, the locals of Skouries have been fighting the commencing of a mining operation to extract gold, lead by the canadian company TXS Gold and fully supported by a government eager and anxious to sell off as much as possible in as little a time as possible, at zero gain for the people. If this reminds you of the policies of a certain somebody who is being buried in the city of London as we speak, I suspect you might be right. But let’s take a look at the third photo. A sense of relief here, this one doesn’t quite throw us as much off guard, does it. The setting is familiar (there is a road, there is a building) and so is the picture of demonstrators fighting the riot police. There is only one problem: the “demonstrators” fighting the police are all members of the notorious Golden Dawn, the neo-nazi gang that became a mainstream political party in Greece, currently polling at over 10%, comfortably making it the country’s third largest party.
The neo-nazis were protesting against the use of the old military barracks, which is what the building that you see in the background is, as a concentration camp for undocumented migrants in the city of Corinth—euphemistically called a “migrant hospitality center” by the government, which plans to set up one of them in every major city in the country. These are images of events that have taken place in the past few months, comfortably shattering the question of whether it is “still” kicking off everywhere. Of course it is! And it keeps spreading. Inside these walls, only last week, the mostly Afghan undocumented migrants locked up revolted; their uprising went entirely unnoticed by the media (I actually wanted to include a photo from it but there is absolutely nothing to be found) even though just under 50 migrants were arrested on the day, by riot police who stormed in their camp. I think by now I have enough stories of violence and racist attacks that would be enough to ruin everyone’s morning. The migrants that I have interviewed for a new collective project that I am working on, have only too often described to me the situation that they live in Athens as one of a “war”. An ex-soldier from Burkina Faso told us that the everyday reality in Athens is much more tense for him than it was back there, during war-time. For this person, it is kicking off every day, everywhere. As my time is now drawing to a close, then, let me articulate the criticism that I have first against Mason’s critics (who argue the global revolutions have come to a halt) and then to Mason himself, who thinks these revolutions just continue (“still”). For the first part, to those who think that the world has quietened: I think that you, that we (the global antagonist movement) might be looking at the wrong place. Even if the “usual suspects” are burning out, heavily repressed, faced with the contradictions and the limitations of their ideological boxes (this is all most definitely happening to us in Greece!) that does not mean to say that new actors are not coming into play,whether we like it—and them—or not. And at the same time, by extension, a criticism to Mason: there is simply no way that a revolution, let alone a global revolution, would simply and merely keep going, “still”.
A revolution, this insane coming together of so many antithetical forces, can never be still. It might die off, it might prevail, or it might merely see new actors coming to act along with the old ones—and this, I think, is what we are witnessing at the moment. In a way, I think, we might be vindicated in having tried to use the term “social antagonist” to describe our movement, instead of say, anarchist or anti-authoritiarian. As the crisis of legitimisation of power that the session abstract talked about deepens, there is, quite literally, a race for the hearts and the minds of the people going on, or else, a frantic race to fill in this void. And to understand this situation as a type of stillness does us the least service.
Swiftness, I think, is the word and the tactic that we might be looking for!