On the basis of their radical un-freedom, which means that they cannot do anything, the lumpenproletariat is entirely free, and can do anything. This is the horror of the existential condition of the poor in contemporary England. This is why England shook in August 2011. The existential freedom of the lumpenproletariat was made apparent to everybody – they are uncontrollable because they have nothing to lose. We only need to read Marx to know that the lumpenproletariat is not political, but is instead driven by base desire, and this is still the case today. Similarly, consideration of Sartre or Fanon teaches us how people respond to processes of brutalisation. If you treat people like scum, they will behave accordingly.
From the 6th August to 10th August, the scum of England’s major cities took over – they expressed their freedom.
In their pre-political condition, they are the perfectly attuned to the demands of protest in post-political society. As Miliband illustrates, politics is irrelevant today. He symbolises the meaninglessness of politics. The violence of the lumpenproletariat however, which expressed protest through illegal consumerism, struck at the heart of the neo-liberal system. Why ?
Against the standard metabolism of the alienated worker-consumer, who produces in order to earn a living wage and consume away the horror of her situation within the capitalist system, the lumpenproletariat fails to produce and takes what she wants. She takes out of the system without putting anything back in. She subtracts from the metabolism. She consumes to excess relative to her productive value which is zero. This is unbearable for the system. It cannot cope. Thus we may conclude that today protest and resistance is theft.
The looter objectively protests against the neo-liberal post-political system by opposing it on its own terms. Her protest is not political, but totally economic. Is this not the other side of the strike ? The striker withdraws her production in order to short circuit the capitalist system. This is largely irrelevant today because of anti-union legislation and the presence of a permanent reserve army of labour. The strike is, of course, also rendered irrelevant in a developed country like Britain because all meaningful productivity has been outsourced to the third world. The worker thus has no power.
But this situation has not simply destroyed the worker as an active subject. It seems that it has also fatally undermined the economic position of developed nations like Britain because they now have no productive capacity. In the wake of the collapse of the virtual economy, which was based on the circulation of nothingness and the trade in futures and various financial instruments, the great problem of a Britain is that it does not make anything. In this respect we might say that the Thatcherite revolution which destroyed the working class also fatally undermined itself relative to other productive nations such as China and India. To paraphrase Marx, neo-liberalism has always been its own grave digger. Of course, nobody foresaw that the destruction of the working class would so fatally undermine the British economy in the long term. Indeed, it is a strange coincidence that in the same moment that it became clear that Britain was in such a dire position economically relative to other productive nations, the old working class came back to haunt middle English consumer society in the form of the new lumpenproletariat.
But is it really the case that the worker has been completely disempowered ? If she cannot withdraw her labour at the stage of production, then perhaps she can stop consuming and strike against the aspirational values of middle England – bigger car, bigger house, longer holidays. Unfortunately, this simply leads to productivity without the carnival of consumption – there is nothing truly revolutionary about not consuming because the other side of middle English ideology is a puritan hatred of enjoyment and an anal sadistic need to hoard money and things. The true revolutionary today is, therefore, the looter who disrupts the capitalist metabolism at the level of consumption. She attaches herself to the system and drains it like a vampire – a vampire attached to a vampyric system. The system cannot support the parasite and neo-liberals make no bones about this fact. They openly admit it. As various right wing commentators in Britain explain, the scrounger is intolerable to normal society. The truth is that the scrounger is a silent unknowing revolutionary.
Consider the language of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: is the looter not a kind of desiring machine? Her desire is not constrained by the rules and regulations of the social system, even though she is so clearly criminalised by her failure to fit in. But in this respect – in respect of the way her desire is ultimately unstoppable – she is also true to the neo-liberal system. Unlike the worker, who takes a hit for the banker who continues to consume to excess and moralises about the poor for their apparent enjoyment, the looter refuses to reform her behaviour. She desires and enjoys and rejects the masochistic tendencies of middle England. A true utopian who refuses to give up on her principles and desires, the looter consumes even though her consumption is legally impossible. Her criminality, thus, resides in her conformity to the system. She is a monster, a vampire, in a monstrous vampyric system. She is the horrific subject in the horror story of English neo-liberalism. She is the uncomfortable truth of our miserable society.
(Manchester, 2011, september 15th)
Texte © Mark Featherstone – Photos © 1 : Les mots ont un sens – © 2 : Planete HD – © 3 : arthymus
Bloody Winter / L’Hiver sanglant
Workshop proposé par D-Fiction sur le thème de l’émeute et de la publication exclusive du journal de travail de Mark Featherstone :
Part 1 : Let England shake : the politics of the August Riots
Part 2 & 3 : Let England shake : Reasoning Riots in the English Context
Part 4 : Let England shake : The Rioter as Lumpenproletarian
Part 5 : Let england shake : The Looter as Desiring Machine
Part 6 : Let england shake : The Sick Society
Part 7 : Humanité de l’insurrection : Paris (germinal – prairial, an III), Londres (août 2011)
Part 8 : Let England Shake : Rats and other Vermin, the Pathological Other
Part 9 : Une émeute de rêve
Part 10 : Let england shake : The Normality of Crime