Reflections on the 2010 Olympic Resistance

The purpose of demonstrations & transcending the police

From Liberty Unchained, Friday, February 26, 2010

So, this weekend the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will come to an end. This is, no doubt, the only certain ending for a variety matters that have coalesced around this year’s games. Future iterations of the olympic games will continue to serve as a spectacle to celebrate the state and an occasion to expand global capital. And, perhaps equally depressing, is the prospect that the next sizable mass protest will inevitably touch off another round of the circular firing squad that seems to accompany any radical demonstration nowadays.

Broadly speaking, our internal discourse tends to break down in three ways: militancy (destroying and/or taking), pacifism (obstructing and/or occupying), and conciliation of the prior two positions.

Alongside the obvious political messages found in the signs, costumes, and chants of the demonstrators, the tactical approaches themselves convey political messages. The militant seeks direct physical confrontation with the oppressor both to undermine his power and force him to exert it, though there is the danger of validating the power he possesses and thus the “order” he provides. The pacifist attempts to demonstrate (prefigure?) a response to the oppressor that will provide a stark contrast to his naked power, unfortunately the pacifist’s “tactics” do not confront the oppressor at all and actually respect his power. The conciliatory position is that of respecting a “diversity” of tactics (i.e.: allowing and promoting militant and pacifist action).

To outsiders, they see a healthy measure of impotence on our end no matter what the tactical approach is. Indeed, even the “successful” demonstrations of the past (like the WTO shutdown in Seattle) have essentially been reduced to spitting in the wind, as the guns of state keep on mowing down innocents and the immense, decrepit hamster wheel of capital churns the life out of us.

But all is not so glum, or at least it doesn’t have to be.

Something intrinsically positive is definitely going on at demonstrations, no matter what tactics are used. The vast majority of the negative effects of these demonstrations, and make no mistake there are negative effects no matter what tactics are employed (hence our circular firing squads), have to do with others not ourselves. I think what we’re missing w/all the endless bickering and debate and what the endless bickering and debate really does is occlude the simple fact that these demonstrations can help us strengthen our ties to each other. No matter what tactics we choose to deploy, every demonstration is mostly an opportunity to constitute our transformative community and practice our individual revolutionary potential, therein lies the potential and power that we can find in these mass demonstrations.

Okay, so if the most positive effects of these mass demonstrations have to do w/ourselves rather than others, do we really need these mass demonstrations at all? I think the answer is clearly no, and I’d go further to even suggest that the reason why these mass demonstrations are so attractive to us is precisely because we’re still working with the internalized logics we’ve inherited from the state and capital. So, like those forces we strive against, we gravitate toward thinking that the bigger it is the better … we need a “mass” movement (whatever that is) or we need to pick fights with the biggest baddest cop armies (playing out a David vs. Goliath fantasy). Caught up in these logics, we are also susceptible to the systems of control and discipline that police them.

And, I can’t help but turn to Foucault, if only for a brief explanation of what ‘police’ is:

a program of government rationality. This can be characterized as a project to create a system of regulation of the general conduct of individuals whereby everything would be controlled to the point of self-sustenance, without the need for intervention.

Elsewhere …

Down to the end of the ancient regime, the term ‘police’ does not signify at least not exclusively the institution of police in the modern sense; ‘police’ is the ensemble of mechanisms serving to ensure order, the properly channelled growth of wealth and the conditions of preservation of health in general.

So, according to Foucault, the police are not just a bunch of armored baton-wielding goons patrolling the streets, the police also walk the beat in our minds constantly patrolling our thoughts and defining our political possibilities. To be sure, currently this exercise of power and discipline is meted out in the interests of the capital (the growth of wealth) and the state (the general health). Further, no matter where one falls w/in our ongoing the tactical discourse (militant or pacifist), we are subjected to the same disciplinary process … at these mass demonstrations, especially, we are not only fighting in the physical territory controlled by the state and capital, but we are fighting w/in the mental terrain of the state and capital as well.

That said, we come to some crucial questions …

At moments like these, Lenin wondered “what is to be done?” But, in Tiqqun, we’re reminded that it’s not so much a “what” but a “how.” “What” is the purely a tactical question, and “how” is the more fundamental methodological question about the process guiding the tactics.

I think a better starting point goes back even further … Why? Why is it to be done?

I’d simply suggest we all reflect on this question. It’s not enough to answer the question of why with negatives, ultimate destruction of capital and the state. We must also answer the question of why positively, the creation of a truly free society and the subjects that can inhabit and sustain it.

But, to either destroy or create, we must evade the police (physical and mental) that patrol the political horizon and discover new modes of political activity.


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