Brian Holmes on Sun, 27 Apr 2008 22:13:14 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> V2-Day or on the political agency of radical comedians

Snafu, this is a brilliant post on the Grillo demonstrations, excellent 
and clear, particularly this:

> what left-wing
> analysts seem to miss altogether is that the power of this grassroots
> movement does not reside in the expression of a particular political
> tendency, but, as Walter Benjamin used to say, in its "organizing
> function" i.e. in its ability to turn consumers into producers and
> “readers or spectators into collaborators.” (1978: 233) Obviously, this
> organizing function is not detached from the content, so to speak, of
> Grillo's message: only by portraying the establishment as a monolithic
> block, can the subjectivity of vast numbers of former "spectators" be
> mobilized and set in motion. 

What you're getting at, it seems to me, is the way the old Gramscian 
idea of mobilizing people against a "power bloc" takes on a new life 
through the organizing techniques and appropriation possibilities of the 
Internet. That's a major lesson for radical-democratic politics, which 
seemed to be making it through the ambient haze in the days of the 
anti-globo movement, back when net-organizing was new. Since then it has 
declined and not only gone untheorized, but above all, largely 
unpracticed. Still it's an amazing possibility and it's great how you 
show all sides of it, including the center-left worries that their 
newspapers may decline if subsidies are cut, which is of course a real 
possibility. And the absence of decent newspapers is becoming a real 
problem everywhere... because newspapers, too, are necessary for the 
Left to exist politically.

I gotta add something here though:

> In the end, the difference between Colbert and Grillo boils down to a
> very basic difference between U.S. and Italian capitalism: while
> American capitalism valorizes anything that is moneymaking, so that
> Colbert has his own TV show simply because he is popular, Grillo is
> banned from the mainstream media because the Italian bourgeoisie have
> historically resorted to authoritarian measures as a means of enforcing
> an otherwise uncertain political leadership.

Yeah, but another corollary difference is the sheer existence of the 
piazza in Turin where the people gathered on April 25. What the Italians 
call "scendere in piazza" has no real translation in American English 
anymore: because there is no common sensation of "taking it to the 
streets," except maybe in post-hippie anarcho-punk San Francisco. 
Colbert is a man with an audience glued to their screens, not a man with 
an unpredictable crowd of political revelers collaborating on a change 
in the way that society relates to itself here and now. Whether this 
possibility of "taking it to the streets" could be reinvented in America 
is maybe up to the Latinos, since the great immigrant demos of a few 
years ago were the closest thing that the US has recently seen to an 
embodied mass movement. Yet it is disturbing the way the previous 
Seattle movement was nipped in the bud -- a big attempt to retake the 
streets was really repressed, in the most brutal possible manner.

As to the question of whether new forms of electronically mediated 
social change are possible -- well, I won't repeat anything about past 
disappointments, but let's just say your analysis of Grillo's success is 
something the European and Latin American Left should pay attention to. 
Is something like that possible in the USA? Maybe, but no one has done 
it. Despite an impressive flowering of radical essayists, comedians, 
documentaries and Internet media, the US system of social control has 
worked almost perfectly across this whole nightmare period since 9-11. 
If anyone sees the cracks in the wall please let us know!

best, BH

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