“Timber! Timber! More wood, this is war!” The runaway train in the Marx Brothers’s film Go West! has become the most accurate picture of capitalism these days. The passenger’s luggage, the on-board cargo, and then the wooden frame of the train cars themselves are hurled into the furnace to make the train run faster. In the mad rush to keep things going everything is taken away. The train of our modern social system is arriving at the station stripped of its entire structure: rights, guarantees, life, wealth, healthcare, bonds. There is neither an overall plan nor long-term prospects: resources just continue to be funnelled into the machine to fuel the fire.
Deep down something is broken. We act as if nothing happened, but we know it. Budget cuts to social programs, gridlocked political debates about the most basic of our rights, news from abroad about the imminent collapse of the Euro. We cling to the remote possibility that things will just stay the same, that we can just return to “normal.” Capitalism is improvising, but so are the movements that oppose it. No compass is of any use now, the maps that we have are falling from our hands and we just don’t know where we are headed. The only thing that we can do –or so it seems- is to follow the events of the day: Obama’s speech yesterday, Apple’s taking advantage of corporate loopholes today, and tomorrow we’ll see. Time is out of joint.
Protest seems pointless. The Greeks have made more than ten general strikes without being able to slow one bit the absurd speed of the locomotive, or at the very least to decrease its terrible power of destruction. It is as if the established powers had been disconnected from society and there was no way to reconcile them. Indeed it’s scary. The capitalist rhythm of destruction has accelerated a thousand times since 2008. Achievements that required decades of work and struggle are being cancelled in seconds. And we don’t know how to stop this.
If everything has to go down, we can at least take part in the sinking. The normal, the obvious reaction, is anger, hatred, violence. Legitimate -and indeed useless. Your head keeps banging against the wall, your anger growing more and more, blind and desperate. But the wall does not yield.
They set the agenda.
They set the timeframe.
They set the stage.
Has anyone out there have seen Michael Collins? The movie about the life of the Irish revolutionary leader opens with a recreation of the Easter Rising of 1916. The IRA has momentarily taken an official building, but the English are about to obliterate them. Not for the first time: according to the standards of conventional warfare the IRA is losing every battle. Within the organization there are those who think that continuing the “blood sacrifice” will help to bring about the birth of the Irish nation: repression will unleash energy for the cause. Worse is better.
Michael Collins thinks nothing of the sort. While in prison, he proposes a radical strategic shift: “from now on we will act as if the Irish Republic were a fact. We will defeat the British Empire by ignoring it. Not by following their rules, but by creating our own”. Thus began a historic guerrilla war, which for years made the British go mad, and ultimately forced them to negotiate for Irish independence.
What Collins decided to do was to stop banging his head against the wall. He did not simply want to be right, nor was he ready to sacrifice anyone and everyone for the sake of a better future. What he wanted was to live and win. And winning implies the creation of another reality: the real opposition has to start building a new reality, which is paradoxically based upon a fiction (we should act as if the Irish Republic was a fact).
Fictions are serious things. The eighteenth-century French revolutionaries decided to “act as if” they were no longer subjects of the old regime, but citizens able to think and write a constitution. The proletarians of the nineteenth century decided to “act as if” they were not the mules that society forced them to be, but people like all other people, capable of reading, writing, speaking and organizing themselves. And they changed the world. Fiction is a material force as soon as we believe in it and begin to organize ourselves accordingly.
Let’s not complain, resent, react, or sue, but rather: act as if the Republic of the 99% were a reality. Instead of playing their game by their rules, let’s fight to ignore those rules and create others. What could this mean?
First of all it would mean issuing a statement declaring a massive break with the rotten reality of economics and politics. A quiet sincere gesture to convey a single message: “you’re fired, we’re saying goodbye.” It would be our version of the Tennis Court Oath. Then we should decide what possible, practical consequences would derive from the impossible: if the Republic of the 99% was a reality, what would it be? We would set the timeframe, the subjects and the scene. Make them exist and be respected; make them last and grow. To put it short, inhabit here and now another country: real and fictional, visible and invisible, intermittent and continuous.
The best way to defend something is to reinvent everything.
Not for you and your folks, but for the 99% (we’re all riding on the same train).
And our revenge is to be happy.