Some reflections on the glossary for commons in times of crisis and urgency of building and thinking about solidarity
Glossary of commons needs to be thought as a specific assemblage of critical terms that do not invite us only to reflect around the current pandemics, but the deepening of structural crisis that now spans through what has become of Nature (imminent ecological crisis), capitalist crisis, a crisis of neoliberalism and crisis of liberal democracy. There is then a unique historical moment today: the accumulation and condensations of contradictions and the uncontrolled nature of this and future pandemics / ecological crisis, which means the situation has contingent and unpredictable outcomes. Evidently, the new normal can become even worse, worsening the conditions to live for a large portion of the world population, the question of “surplus population” – those segments that remain “passive” / reserve army of labour but need to “survive” in the meantime becomes very relevant. In this grim circumstances, the last thing is to either entertain a naïve technologistic hope (robotisation, digital technology will save us and simultaneously we will enjoy the basic universal income – not without a serious struggle!) or to simply despair and accept authoritarian turn with its fake news media outlets.
The key question of any critical glossary is not only to select, pick up and refine the specialised terms that relate to this unique situation but if it aims to become useful and commonly used, it needs to address the question of dissemination. What venues to use to present it, who will use it, or how to enable those that now riot, protest, organise – dig through the relevant tool for further, socialised, common discussions?
Specific inter-related terms to propose:
a.) liberation (primarily political, but should be conceived more general);
b.) figure of community-in-resistance (figure of collectivity, stress on visualisation of “common” solidarity)
a.) In my recent work (Kirn 2019, 2020) and in research group Ré.Part I have been invested in research of specific antifascist and partisan sequences, especially those related to the World War II and the Yugoslav liberation struggle. This case study is specific as it relates to the general conditions of war, fascist occupation and a struggle against local collaborationism and representatives of the old Kingdom of Yugoslavia (civil war & revolutionary struggle). However, I believe that contrary to the dominant history that only narrates history from the standpoint of bipolar Cold War, we should insert in a critical glossary all those movements that have dealt radically and in long-term with the notion of crisis, exception, in short term “occupation”. This is even more true that any gesture of resistance was met by repression, and often death, thus the sovereign relation to the border of life and death was evidently in the forefront of such a situation. Furthermore, if the appendix history, academic curiosities, and former memory of Europe hailed antifascism (and to a lesser degree, evidently anticolonialism) as a cornerstone of the postwar reconstruction, then these narratives long ignored the scale and temporality of antifascist and anti-colonial struggle: in case of antifascism it started as early as in 1920 with the rise of fascism in Italy, where Slovenian, Croatian and also Italian communists, patriots, and others organised antifascist organisations, while fascism was not beaten in Europe by mid-1970s (Spain, Portugal); in terms of anti-colonialism the struggle is not yet finished, despite the South African apartheid came to the end in 1990s. Liberation has never been a closed and finished process.
Also, all these views and histories of specific liberation experiences emphasise, as the name says, the prefix “anti”: the latter emphasises the negative relation to the world, so we then speak of the fight against fascist and colonial occupation, fascisation and colonisation of specific societies, of the world itself. This is the urgent matter, one forms a specific collective – we – that resists against blatant injustices and occupation, and would (un)consciously relate to the specific definition of negative freedom (cf Isaiah Berlin) and the famous term “freedom from”.
However, and this would be my stress, any liberation, partisan, antifascist, anticolonial, people’s, national, liberation for “commons” needs to evidence and make clear, that in history and today, liberation always carries a positive dimension, part of the program that during the liberation struggle itself becomes more palpable, organised, taken on the scale of “social reproduction” that counters the dominant strategies of divisions in global capitalism. Thus, liberation became in the past, and then can become in our near future a positive project. If the glossary of antifascist and anti-colonial struggle succeeded in framing a more longitudinal concept, then it was grasped in the term “national liberation struggle(s)”, which had its strong echoes in discussions and revolutionary practice in the late 1960s and 1970s. These struggles did not want to struggle only for land (telluric moment, the trap of Schmitt that plays on the nationalistic card, Blut und Boden ideology), but also freedom, and liberation process that is much more all-encompassing. Toni Negri back in the 1970s rehabilitates the figure of partisan / liberation struggle in such way:
“We began to understand how the freedom won in the fight against fascism and the German Occupation had been achieved by men who shared our feelings, who didn’t just fight against something but rather fought for a new world, one that they wanted to seize by making, experiencing, constituting, and creating it” (Negri, 2017: 545).
This positive moment of “liberation” then relates to the work of masses – not only intellectuals or vanguard party – as it carries the moment of “subjectivisation of masses” (Komelj 2008). If this starts as an openly political process that speaks of constituting new political institutions of mass democracy, new aesthetical sensitivities and cultural (re)empowerment, thus, a specific and lasting encounter between masses and organisation that fights for commons, an encounter of politics and art, and finally new relationship with the commons, their reproduction and distribution. This demands a kind of maximalist ethics that does not concede to mere reform, to translate it, we will only reform the colonial world, we will make fascists more human, and capitalist exploit us a bit more nicely – no, this world pushes the majority of the living beings in a highly precarious and volatile environment, in which life becomes a strategic investment of corporations and new sovereign lords. Struggle for liberation for new commons then need to put the most ambitious goals. We could refine this in terms of the (aesthetical) figure and strategies of liberation, what would be the figure of freedom/liberation today? However, perhaps it would be better to start with the “subject” of liberation itself.
b.) Figure of collective /solidarity / community-in-resistance
Marx and Engels’ manifesto slogan “workers of the world, unite” carries a strong prescription, that is of political, economic, and also aesthetical nature. As Soviet montage practices showed to translate this slogan mean to visualise formally the subject in becoming, future subject, which could draw equalisation of different work (cf Ranciere) that do not seem to have any immediate connections, and even equalisation between reproduction and production (cf Dziga Vertov’s Man with a movie camera). Then, at least from the avant-garde onwards, it becomes of urgency in form and content to make, constitute, re-narrate a subject, new figure – collective / masses / community-in-resistance.
This is of even intensified urgency today because due to the decades of neoliberal individualisation that has seeped into resistance strategies themselves, the figure of a collective, the figure for the struggle of commons need to be re-imagined, the possibility to imagine the new world then arises. Thus, instead of the insistent slippage into the commodification and sticking to great (individual) figures of art and politics of liberation struggle, perhaps it is finally time to locate both in past and present different strategies and artworks that ruptured with the dominant cannon/regime of saying-seeing. What I have in mind is a short analysis of few famous figures from Yugoslav liberation struggle: heroic man, woman, the figure of a woman (as a maximalist figure of liberation), and the empowerment of collective.
Analysis of visual material – the core point would be in the following work:
Dore Klemenčič entitled it Partizanski skeči (Partisan Sketches) and drew it in mid-1943. The drawing that was supposed to become a poster is not a sketch of an individual Partisan figure, nor a caricature that Klemenčič practiced drawing throughout his time in the Partisans. Rather, this poster stands out from his opus since the work displaces the individual Partisan into an abstract realm of various Partisan activities. Klemenčič’s poster to succeed in sketching, thinking and commemorating the entire modality of the struggle. The poster to complicate the more generally expected and accepted canon of the Partisan figure: one of a male or female fighter adorned with guns, smiling and at times carrying the star on the hat. This poster represents the fully armed and empowered Partisan struggle that redefines the notion of a weapon in war: from the obvious rifle to a guitar, a theatre mask and a book assembled under the new flag of the new Yugoslavia, which carries a star. The poster expresses the equivalence of the different arms used in struggle and puts on display deeper solidarity between political, cultural and military work that aims for liberation and arms for universal emancipation. This lucid transfiguration, therefore, displaces the individual Partisan figure as the holder and bearer of plural Partisan activities, while the main protagonist becomes the struggle itself.