Analysis by Caroline Skelton.
At the Social Movements, Resistance and Social Change II Conference in Auckland last year, there was much talk of the “commons”, and also of the need for the left to embrace dissensus as a way to challenge the status quo, especially that of the current “neoliberal” consensus.
The importance of the Commons to the political left
There was much discussion of the “commons” (crucial natural and cultural resources available equally to everyone). Such analyses incorporated aspects of the labour movement, union and work-based politics with issues of environment and climate change. The foregrounding of environmental issues is a way in which class-based left wing politics of the 21st century differs from much of that from earlier in the 20th century. The environment is a common good that sustains us all: climate change impacts on everyone.
The focus on the world we all share, makes a sharp difference in values, ethics and approaches between left (valuing the commons and how it means we must all work together collaboratively and share resources) and right (valuing private property, competition and individual efforts ,while dismissing the notion of the commons).
Various conference papers focused on research related to collaborative ways of working. As with the collective actions in Italy (referred to in my earlier conference report) examples were provided of existing practices that could be developed to move beyond the current destructive politics of the right: practices that need to be nurtured, and developed in a move away from the status quo of vast inequality gaps, life-damaging poverty, unaffordable housing, inadequate incomes, precarious living, and unsustainable environmental policies.
Rancière, the police order, and dissensus
A few presenters talked about the “police order” and Rancière’s writings on consensus and dissensus. Rancière was critical of the way any consensus marginalises some groups of people, meaning their voices are rarely heard, or at least not heard positively. Dissensus comes from actions that will disrupt the consensus and provide a space for the previously silenced people to be heard Tim Lamusse’s presentation used the example of protest and the attempts by authorities to silence the protesters: “Contesting heteronormativity: Queer politics of intelligibility, speech and protest at the 2015 Auckland Pride Parade.”
Once gay pride parades were protest actions against marginalisation, brutal abuse, and suppression of LGBTI voices. Now the parades seem to embrace the social, economic and political status quo in many ways. At the 2015 parade, a group, No Pride in Prisons, protested against police inclusion in the parade, and as a result were treated harshly by the police and/or security guards.
After the parade, Lamusse was reported to have said, on behalf of No Pride in Prisons:
“we wanted to highlight the fact that the queer, Maori and Pasifika communities are disproportionately harassed and targeted by police.”
The group claimed that three protesters were assaulted by police.
And Chris Trotter pondered on the “corporate slickness” of current Pride parades. [The featured image is taken from that post]
In Lamusse’s conference paper, the police force was part of his analysis of the consensus maintained by the police order.
However, the police order does not necessarily relate to judicial institution. It’s any institution or process where consensus dominates, pressuring and enticing people towards certain kinds of behaviour, attitudes and beliefs.
Possibly the interest in Rancière was partly due to the current “neoliberal/neoconservative” consensus, which has resulted in socially, politically and economically destructive inequalities of income and wealth. This consensus has been embraced to some extent by left wing parties today. Today, with the focus by most political parties on attracting the votes of “middle New Zealand”, those living precarious lives – the unemployed, underemployed, working poor, sick and disabled – tend to be treated negatively, and/or their voices are silenced, their experiences become invisible.
The consensus needs to be broken for left wing politics to gain wider acceptance once again, and be incorporated into a swelling grass roots movement of movements.
It’s easy to see why Rancière’s theories have gained some attention from those involved visual arts (as reported here), and for those looking for imaginative ways of giving visibility to those whose voices have been marginalised and suppressed.
The recent rise in popularity of the likes of the Scottish Nation Party, UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the “socialist” US Democrat primaries candidate Bernie Sanders suggest the beginnings of a break from that consensus.
The throwing of the fake dildo at Steven Joyce in protest at the way the TPPA is “raping our sovereignty” is such an imaginative action of dissent.Peter Jackson waving the NZ dildo flag was part of John Oliver’s response to the dildo incident and Steven Joyce.
The widespread and diverse responses to this act provide a lot of material for evaluating the success of such actions in breaking the neoliberal consensus, and contributing to a way forward for the political left.