Review – ‘Move into the Light? Postscript to a Turbulent 2007’

By Gareth Brown

Move into the Light? Is an A6 sized and freely distributed booklet intended as a follow-up to the larger, newspaper-format publication produced by the Turbulence collective (and simply entitled Turbulence) for distribution at the 2007 G8 summit at Heiligendamm in Germany. For Turbulence, the collective commissioned 14 articles from around the global anti-capitalist movement, asking authors: “What would it mean to win?” In a sense the two publications are a sort of before and after consideration of that question with Heiligendamm as the central event to which they are anchored. That is not to say that their enquiry was ever intended to be limited to a consideration of what it would be like to somehow ‘win’ an anti-G8 protest or that it has been treated as such.

The authors begin with an analysis of Heiligendamm, its similarities and differences to previous summit protests, its successes in transcending limits identified in those protests, and the new ground it may have opened up. They consider the degree to which the movement has developed processes of cross pollination, which overcome, rather than reaffirm existing identities, to be of chief importance amongst these. They then look at how the movement has responded to the new ‘legitimacy’ of the G8, evidenced at the previous summit at Gleneagles where an extremely sharp P.R. offensive centred on the government-sponsored Make Poverty History had seen 300,000 people turn out to welcome and ‘lobby’ the G8 in favour of debt-relief in Africa They point out that although the de-legitimacy of the G8 was crucial to movement’s strategy in Heiligendamm, the G8 was once again one step ahead and was now seeking to draw legitimacy by seeming to respond to concerns about climate change, something to which the actions carried out in Germany failed to convey a political challenge.

The following chapter is largely concerned with the ‘climate camp’ in the UK. It is a particularly astute analysis of a movement that is often thought of as either marginal to the radical left, or a purely liberal phenomenon, or simply not worthy of consideration. The authors posit that a major problem with the movement against climate change is that it has failed to take into account the relationship between capital, limits, and crisis, and that it hasn’t yet moved on from fulfilling a sort of educational out-reach role. ‘If the whole emphasis of environmental activism over the last few years has been on raising awareness, then 2007 must have been the year when ‘we won’. The issue is now everywhere, and everyone, politicians and big companies included, talk about it’ It isn’t true that a the whole emphasis of environmental activism over the last few years has been on raising awareness as this ignores the, at times sizeable, eco-insurrectionary tendency which only ever employed ‘awareness-raising’ as an occasional element of a strategy much more concerned with qualitative, rather than quantitative, sabotage. However, this does not detract from the point of their argument which is that it might be more useful were the fight to take place on the terrain of production and social reproduction rather than public opinion. They suggest a rethinking of climate change along the lines of metabolism. ‘The Earth’s metabolism…runs at a slower speed that the metabolism of contemporary capitalism’.

The remaining chapters deal with the re-emergence of the left at the institutional level in Latin America and the various impoverished attempts by the established left at providing any sort of convincing analysis of, let alone solidarity with, the insurgents of the Parisian banlieues.

The authors have an amazing knack of writing about ideas that are fairly complex in simple terms that are easy to get to grips with and of ensuring that their arguments are ever harnessed to actual lived experience. There is certainly no way you could accuse this writing of being ‘academic’ (although it undoubtedly will be, seeing as the word currently is used for the dismissal of anything remotely complicated). It is occasionally a little clumsy as can often be the case in pieces for which multiple authors are responsible. The most unfortunate victim of this clumsiness is their central metaphor, that of moving into the light. The whole booklet begins with a proverb which I assume is of the authors’ invention. It concerns a man searching for his car keys under a street lamp. A passing woman asks him if he’s sure this is where he has lost them and he tells her that he thinks he lost them somewhere else but that he is looking here because this is where the light is. The importance of moving outside our comfort zones and of approaching things as an unforeseeable process of becoming is then discussed numerous times and in numerous different ways throughout the writing. From this I would infer that the authors would recommend moving out of the light and into the unknown and unknowable, the darkness. But no, ‘Dare we lay this wager? Dare we make this leap of faith? Dare we leap through those gaps, into the unknown, into the light?’ I am left somewhat confused by this. Perhaps I missed something.

A large number of texts of the ‘where next?’ variety are actually ‘Here next!’ texts in disguise. This keenly observed ‘end of year review’ poses the question genuinely and seeks to be nothing more than a marker along an open and exploratory flight line into the unknown and should be commended for it. It is a rare thing.

This review of Turbulence 3, Move into the Light? Postscript to a Turbulent 2007, was originally published in Issue 1 of Phosphor: A Surrealist Luminescence.

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