Stir Magazine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. For licensing information on the photographs and illustrations, contact the creator.
Editor: Jonathan Gordon-Farleigh
Producer: Abby McFlynn
Email: stirtoaction [at] gmail [dot] com
At the beginning of The Take, a documentary about the Argentinean Recovered Factories Movement (Fabrique recuperada), Naomi Klein shows an interview she had done a few years earlier, where having presented a list of the ‘gruesome acts’ and horrors of capitalism, the interviewer challenges her by saying “But you’re not giving us any alternatives?” To this, she later admits, “He had a good point…at a certain point you have to talk about what you’re fighting for”.
The reason for the existence of this magazine is the self-evident need to move beyond the idea of critique as a catalogue of crises and problems by producing and referring to various social groups and community’s strategies that will inspire and en-courage us to surmount the particular challenges we face. To be clear, this is not to say that we should stop speaking about the catastrophe that capitalism plainly is but that while it is of key importance to begin with a restatement and review of the problem and clearly announce new problems as they arise, this is our starting point and not where we come to rest.
This point may seem obvious and superfluous to some but it has been evident, for the most part, that critique has been more than adequate in describing and naming the problems we face, but has been insufficient in devising feasible and viable ways of living and exchanging that are not subordinated to wealth creation. It is for us, as the Plane Stupid activist argues, to create spaces outside of the market where our “passions, needs and desires” remain inalienable.
After Alain Badiou, one of the most important recent philosophers, we acknowledge that everybody has an “immediate intelligence” of inequality and this means that we can avoid one of the Left’s main preoccupations: explaining exploitation to the exploited! It’s no secret!
Our task, then, is not a quasi-religious attempt to ‘enlighten’ the ‘masses’ and add to the already overloaded descriptions of the brutal inefficiencies and defects of capitalism (no shortage there!), but rather to share the same recognition as Immanuel Kant who argued in What is Enlightenment? that political inaction is not a result of a “defect of the intellect” but a “weakness of will” – the surrendering and ‘giving up’ of the will and agency that is required for the introduction and application of a new kind of politics: a real alternative. This is to say that there needs to be a shift from only calling state power and the market into question – the need for an alternative, to actually embodying the alternative.
It is on this point, that Badiou’s important intervention against Simon Critchley’s claim that “all philosophy, political or religious, commences in disappointment” is very instructive. Badiou challenges the claim that political practice finds its origins in crisis by saying: “I think that we can have negative feelings, negative experience concerning injustice, the horrors of the world, terrible wars and so on. But all great movements in the political and historical field have been created, have been provoked not by that sort of negative feeling but always by a local victory. If we appreciate, for example, why we have during two years the great revolt of the slaves in the Roman Empire, under the leadership of Spartacus, it is not because slaves have the feeling of injustice…Because they always have that, it is their experience day after day. It is rather because in one small place, a small group of slaves finds new means, finally to create a victory. A small victory, a local victory.”
Well then, what does a local victory look like? It is when academics publish their works in open access journals, it is when airport expansion is resisted and the threatened area is transformed into a community garden, it is when thousands of collaborators build a free software operating system, it is when those maintaining the commons from the intense privatization of our woods and forests defend them, as Edward Abbey always insisted, by using and enjoying it – cycling, walking, foraging. It is when medical researchers make their findings freely available by publishing under a creative commons license (Public Library of Science) that permits any company to manufacture generic reproductions of lifesaving drugs, it is when students find they cannot rely on suppliers to guarantee their food is ethically and locally grown so they teach themselves to set up member-owned and user-driven cooperative cafes that enables them to reclaim control over their food production, and when resident groups who are resisting energy monopolies find that the current legal system is inadequate to their problems and decide to create their own ordinance – a new Bill of Rights.
It is encountering these inspiring and encouraging examples where people and communities have built, as Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons asserts, their “own open, commons-friendly infrastructure”, that we are roused into action.
I hope this magazine will become what academic and activist David Bollier has called ‘The annals of the inalienable’: a collection of all the courageous and inspiring communities whose innovations have empowered them to take back control over all of the aspects of their lives.