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Creative subversions: a politics beyond

representation in the UK
‘We(s) write as students, University for Strategic Optimism-ers, self-ascribed activists,
friends...the list is infinitely long. We do not write or speak from one ground, nor do we
represent ourselves on these multiple grounds. These categories or identities have no
logical essence or order but are fluid and are evoked in specific contexts that allow for no
systematic unity.’

Britain is not at a cross roads: before us there do not lay routes


from which to choose, rather there exists space to command, to
commandeer. Recent student uprisings are about much more
than cuts, they stand against the eviction of democracy from
politics and simultaneous eviction of people(s) from public
space.

The illusionary integrity of British democracy means little in the


face of a controlling minority that cannibalises revenue from
the country’s lands and extends its parasitic operation through
the expropriation of citizens’ tax into a system of private
wealth. Its formal inauguration started with Magna Carta; today
the erosion of public agency and public space has found a
bedfellow with neo-liberalising tropes of governance.

The feudal regime of monopolising land and extracting the


labour of its inhabitants without genuine reparation remains
integral to the spatial reality of Britain. More than 50% of land
ownership in the UK is unaccounted for, while 37 million acres
of land (two-thirds of Britain) constitute ‘private’ ownership.
Twenty-four million dwellings stand on 7.7% of British land. The
modern twist which compounds this inequality manifests in the
form of neoliberal economics. Rhetoric lionising the ‘devolution’
of power may sound progressive, but the word may easily be
substituted for ‘marketisation’. The governing coalition’s
ideology is corporative not communal, their goal is the
dismantling of any social and communal forms to render them
exploitable to capital.

Since the 2010 parliamentary election when a Conservative-


Liberal Democrat coalition came to power, citizens have been
instructed that due to our government’s debt we, the people(s),
must forfeit rights that have historically been the foundation of
society. In recent years the British government has readily
propped up corporate banks in the name of society only to now
sacrifice one of society’s essential foundations: education.

The government claims that their restructuring of the education


system will make universities more economically efficient and
facilitate the fairer selection of candidates. Yet the proposed
changes have revealed their priority is to restructure the
foundational logic of learning towards economic expediency,
instrumentalising all knowledge towards economic ends at the
expense of that which enriches the social and public sphere.

Attempts to privatise the university epitomise this, based as


they are on the principles of boosting competition to increase
economic efficiency. The most profound effect however will see
people’s ability to access education overwhelmingly
predetermined by their individual financial background. This
will polarise the institutional ecology, fast-tracking the
economically privileged to the most elite universities. This
marketisation agenda also manifests within those funding
structures which survive this privatisation. The government is
privileging the ‘hard’ sciences and instrumental social sciences
(i.e. economics and law) over arts, humanities and other social
sciences, imposing arbitrary research standards designed to
reduce the value of research to a crude economic calculus.
Whilst ‘hard’ sciences are valuable for society they do not have
sufficient critical capacity to guide on the moral, ethical and
political questions that we must engage with at every level of
our lives.

The government, in appointing the market as exclusive arbiter


of value within education, is deliberately undermining the
humanities' status in favour of disciplines whose end result is
net private profit. This complements a wider coercion into
financialised and managerial modes of work, not just in
universities but across public services. Managerial imperatives
and C.E.O.-style leadership have become the normalised
internal structures in various sectors across society.

Such a move is evident in secondary education with changes to


funding and the introduction of 'academies'; in Universities with
the withering power of their board of governors to keep in
check the solely economic interests of their C.E.O.-style
leaders; in the cuts to National Health Service funding to coerce
people into private healthcare or be forced to go without; in the
cutting of legal aid and the replacement of genuine workers'
organisations with ones which are led by corporate-style
figureheads whose interests are indistinguishable from the
mainstream interests of political parties. Those that question
the normalisation of these ideological interests are harassed
and witch-hunted, such as the whistle-blowers in the NHS who
have brought to light the deaths and endangerment of
hundreds of patients under the auspices of mis-management.

It is within this context that we have witnessed and participated


in some of the most creative protests and direct actions of
recent decades. Our sentiment carries with it the rumbling
sensation of a destabilising and fracturing of the normative
capitalist ordering of space and time. Students and workers
across the country have been challenging and subverting what
has now been starkly revealed as the desiring-machine of neo-
liberal logic: its bleak ‘commonsense’ that seeks to reduce our
lives to a base functionalism where everything, including our
hobbies, interests, desires, joys, and excesses, are given their
proper place and time as long as they do not undermine the
productivity of our monadic working capacities and
‘citizenships’. Places and times of subjecthood(s) are proscribed
and conditioned by aggressive marketing so as to complement
and enhance, as Foucault might term it, the ‘biopolitical’, or
rather, the government’s maximum extraction of labour from
the people(s) at its most cost-effective rate. Life itself becomes
just another surplus to be reinvested into circuits of ever-
enhanced ‘efficiency’.

Of course, not everyone in society is subject to this ordering of


time and space. Those who elude such an ordering are not only
those that own capital in the orthodox Marxist sense, but those
who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo -
where wealth and knowledge is concentrated amongst a very
few whose positions and organisational structures tie other
‘professional’ workers into hierarchical socio-economies – those
who are figured as untouchable by the protections of the
political establishment. Mainstream political parties have
refined their political duplicity to a performative art. In collusion
with the mainstream media, these politicians project the
appearance of concern, albeit to the interests of the centre,
whereas privately they gladly and sincerely vouchsafe the
interests of an economically powerful elite. Hence, when the
thousands of protestors first marched and occupied the
Conservative party headquarters at Millbank on 10th November,
it was not some ‘violent’ catharsis of a naive group, or the
criminal act of a selfish few, as has been articulated by a
plethora of useless commentaries. On the contrary, it was a
declaration that we(s) will not be fooled by our politicians’
appearances. ‘Representation’ is the contriving of various
appearances: where our allegedly representational democracy
manifests the appearance of democracy, the irruption of
embodied direct actions discloses the politics of appearance
and disowns it. This initial rupturing of normative spatial order
has cleaved the physical securities upon which government
writes its authority from the discursive mythologies that prop
its ‘legitimacy’ up. A lightening flash of illumination has
reinforced the lucid and energetic perception of the deep
cracks and splinters that pervade the structure of the economy,
and reveals thus the edifice of ‘right’-as-property upon which
its apparent stability relies.

Since Millbank there have been two days of national protest,


each time gaining in strength, with thousands of all ages taking
to the streets. They have voiced their indignation at the plight
of future generations’ educational chances being reduced to
the will of the market, with good cheer, true camaraderie and
critical insight. Their acts cannot be seen as negative reactions,
but positive projections for thinking and acting out other
possibilities, other visions of society outside of this current
market-led order. Whilst the three days of national protests
have been geo-spatially large enough to capture the attention
of the national media, there have been hundreds of smaller
acts which have manoeuvred in terms of different kinds of
spaces and modalities for the freeing of action from normative
uses of space.

Such acts include the viral-technological appropriation of


leading politicians’ social-media presences; the dispersal of
subversive and creative notions of the future across cyberspace
and between and through a message of enduring solidarity; the
reclaiming of universities, banks, high streets and
supermarkets as spaces of public belonging and right; the
powerful gestures of high school children walking out from their
local schools; rousing rallies at local councils to stop
committees from pushing through financial cuts behind closed
doors; and the table talk amongst friends and families to make
sense of events occurring.

These acts are communal and inclusive in nature and mobilise


without need or desire for hierarchical planning. The
fragmented nature and sheer diversity of actions in opposition
and over-coming of what the government promises the nation,
is their greatest strength. Proof of the effectiveness of the
actions so far becomes apparent when we observe the
government’s totalitarian modes of addressing them, which
speaks more of its fear rather than the legitimacy of its force.
One recent example suffices: On the 24th November in London
near Whitehall, the police pre-emptively adopted what is known
as a 'Kettle' formation, aborting a legitimate march from its
inception. For more than 9 hours the police encircled
protestors, imprisoning them in subzero temperatures, without
access to water, warm clothing, medical treatment and only 1
toilet cubicle for more than 3000 people. The police rhetoric of
'preventative' action (prevention of rioting, or damage to
property) with the formation of a tightly packed 'chain' of police
bodies, backed with a garrison of vehicles and a reserve force
of riot police, horses and dogs, is not only an inhumane and
disproportionate use of force, but in fact reveals something
much deeper about the state of mind of the political
establishment. It shows them to stand as agents of a defunct
parliamentary politics; politicians fearing that they are exposed
as without credibility, legitimacy, and authority vis a vis
democratic representational politics.

This fear is not confined to the state’s instruments of physical


force, but has also been manifesting itself in the mainstream
media. This hegemonic media has been deliberately circulating
a discourse of blame and hypocritical moral outrage against a
supposedly ‘violent minority’ versus a ‘peaceful majority’. Such
a spurious and oppressive binary-logic has come to condition
and divide not only our politics but also presumes to instruct
the people as to how to identify identity vis a vis an illusionary
Other; at the level of gender, ethnicity and class as
simultaneously individualising and universalising: The net result
being the imposing of a homogeneous and thus endlessly
marginalising narrative upon the national imagination.

Instead of focusing on exposing the genuine structural violence


that is soon to be inflicted on generations of British children by
a remote class of political elites, the mainstream media have
deliberately employed tactics which cynically exploit certain
supposedly signifying instances to attempt to create divisions
within the student body. One such instance upon which a
simplistic narrative has been hinged is the consistent
referencing of NUS President Aaron Porter’s condemnation of a
‘violent minority’ at the Millbank protest. Far from weakening
this student movement, these tactics have given it a greater
strength and dynamism as students bypass homogenising
political models such as the NUS, rejecting ‘representation’.
Instead, students are using direct-action, performative and
discursive modes of struggle to express their indignation and
expand the notion of the ‘political’ that has been foreclosed by
neoliberalism, as well as enacting new ways of being together
across and within already intersecting socialities.

The various demonstrations that have unfolded in recent weeks


in the U.K are not contingent events. On the contrary, this is
the beginning of a resistance movement that, whilst triggered
by educations cuts, has gained momentum across all sectors of
society. Those that have taken part in the movement have
formed a de-centred strategic alliance rather than being
members of a homogenised and hence recuperable unity. What
minimal unity exists centres on our common opposition to the
current government's neo-liberal ideological agenda that will
impoverish us all. The disunity of this movement is its greatest
strength because it allows the diversity of lived injustices to be
heard, destabilising any positions that assume to speak for all.

We(s), as students of the University for Strategic Optimism1,


support all initiatives to reclaim public space and public
education, to politicise and to draw out the latent political
which inhabits the spaces in which we exist. We(s) oppose not
just cuts to university funding but cuts across our public
1
http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com/
services. The physical and discursive violence of the
government through the instruments of police and media acts
is an affront to people's legitimate right to question the
decisions of a coalition government on a weak mandate. The
dual aim of their actions is to cease this democratic movement
and to disguise the fact that Conservatives, and especially their
Liberal Democrats coalition partners, only 6 months ago
refused to acknowledge the possibility of such extreme new
policies before the general election. Indeed, only 10 months
ago many Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament signed
personal pledges to oppose any rise in tuition fees.

Whilst attempts are made to foreclose our imaginations, our


imagining of a sustainable and egalitarian society is perfectly
viable outside the narrow terms of neoclassical economics.
With this vision unfolding, we(s) will continue to resist, not least
through defending our legitimate right to protest. We(s) will not
be intimidated either by aggressive police attempts to exclude
democratic opposition from public space or the mercenary
scribes of the mainstream media who obediently disseminate
UK government misinformation. Both police and press have
shown themselves to be the foot soldiers of the state and
integrated within its doctrine of neo-liberal violence.

We(s) demand depth, breadth and autonomy in education, not


the baseless pitting of sciences against humanities. We
demand an education that is not instrumentalised for financial
gain but offers no other justification than that of learning itself.
We will continue to highlight the agenda of those who want to
extend their private wealth at the expense of the population
and the ideals of democracy, denouncing their rapacious
command of the productive wealth of our society.

The parliamentary vote on the government’s education


proposals is now only days away, but all protest movements
remain committed to fighting for a non-elitist, non-corporate
society before and beyond the coming decision. We are
bringing back the commons and this is only the beginning.