Who Owns Revolution? Research Time, 23/03/2016

That title isn’t talking about any particular revolution. I mean who owns revolution as a concept. What political approach best typifies what revolution as a political and social act is ultimately for? Revolution’s ultimate purpose.

The most famous photo of Donald Trump's army of
supporters, a reactionary social movement that I
consider America's contemporary conservative
revolutionaries. But can conservatives of this virulence
genuinely own revolution?
When you read Antonio Negri’s Multitude, he starts you with a meditation on contemporary warfare and how it relates to contemporary revolution. Warfare has become – as the parlance of our time would go – biopolitical. It’s fundamentally about controlling an entire population in every way possible. Through the army and police as well as social and psychological weaponry.

And this kind of warfare-as-control is carried out by states. Which is a weird thing when you come to Multitude after reading the first book in his series with Michael Hardt.* If you read Empire you can easily think that he’s describing a world where states no longer have any power.

* A word about Hardt. I don’t doubt that Hardt is an important part of the composition of Negri’s trilogy. Admittedly, I don’t know how they work together. But I have always associated the spirit of their books together with Negri. Perhaps it’s because the voice of someone who has actually been persecuted speaks louder in any collaboration, at least to me. Hardt has been a tenured professor in the United States for years. Negri spent more than a decade in prison on fabricated charges. 

That’s only because what’s most important in that earlier book is describing the essentially different way power operates when organized in a network. The network is the dominant model of how knowledge and power operate today – distributed and centreless, but also electric, rapid, and transformational. 

The state was the dominant model of power and knowledge in the modern era, with its dynamic of command and obedience. Power itself is controlled through a nerve centre that’s typically thought of as the sovereign authority of the state, the institution that calls the (sometimes terrifyingly literal) shots. 

Because revolution is not the same as populism. Rob
Ford was a populist of the Canadian right wing, but
while his politics rode resentment to state power in
Toronto, his ideas were never really about destruction.
State power is the consolidation of sovereign authority through institutions of command and control. Network power is polycentric, with many different power centres working together from their own autonomous but linked domains. When such a network power does political violence, we call it an insurgency. 

If network power is an insurgency, then the answer is clear when I ask who owns revolution? Or so it appears. It would be the insurgency, wouldn’t it? But there’s a catch.

** There’s always a catch, after all.

I’m writing this post before going to bed on the day that Rob Ford died. Over the last few weeks, Donald Trump has consolidated his lead in the race to be the Republican nominee for US President. These two men lead and have led social movements focussed on winning control of a state government. But they think of themselves and promote themselves as figureheads of popular insurgencies.

Those would be insurgencies against social liberals and “downtown condo-bound elites” in Ford’s case. Trump’s movement is far more complex, but he is the American face of racialized conservative revolution of white (and straight, cis, Christian) power against what his popular and populist armies see as a rising tide of black, hispanic, Muslim, and gay groups who seek to grind white people under their boots. 

The fear of white people who feel threatened by the growing social and economic power of those who have historically been oppressed is real. Fundamentally misdirected, but real. It’s the fear whose premise is the notion that someone’s liberation requires someone else’s oppression. 

The new face of American resentment. But only the face.
If the people who used to be oppressed are freeing themselves, then the free ones are next in line for oppression. Trump supporters, on the whole, believe this. They as a network are mobilizing behind Trump, and their potential has far more violence than the similarly motivated motley assemblage of Ford Nation ever did. 

Trump and Ford rallied their supporters, but they don’t command them. Trump issues commands in the heat of his rambling, dictatorial rallies. But the real energy in the room comes from the power of the people themselves. They are a people controlled by their own resentments and fears, but they’re still people acting with the power that they constitute themselves. 

Does networked power alone constitute revolution? Or does the content matter?

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