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#special issue: Knowledge in Action

George /// Nodes of Crystallization

The Text of a Talk Given at the Street University

Premises

1. On the subjective level, street activism begins with the understanding that it is impossible to go on living the same way. Something has to be changed. I don’t want talk now about the reasons this understanding arises, or whether this is good or bad. As the previous speaker argued, it could very well be the case that people don’t engage enough in personal asceticism. Perhaps. But what I want to talk about is the fact that this understanding arises and it is this that impels the individual to social action on the streets.

2. Street activism is just a means. We can talk about it only in the context of the concrete goals and tasks that any particular action sets itself. It is a pointless exercise to deduce the qualities of street activism per se and then argue over what actions fit this category.

3. All the current trends are mistaken. Of course, I don’t mean to say that social activism is unknowable. Moreover, I don’t mean to say that it’s impossible to take a clear stance on concrete issues. What I mean is that however clear and well-formed our theories and our stances are, it is only social practice that gives us answers to the questions that interest us. And we should be ready to question not only the correctness of our actions, but also the correctness of our initial premises.

The Text of a Talk Given at the Street University

Premises

1. On the subjective level, street activism begins with the understanding that it is impossible to go on living the same way. Something has to be changed. I don’t want talk now about the reasons this understanding arises, or whether this is good or bad. As the previous speaker argued, it could very well be the case that people don’t engage enough in personal asceticism. Perhaps. But what I want to talk about is the fact that this understanding arises and it is this that impels the individual to social action on the streets.

2. Street activism is just a means. We can talk about it only in the context of the concrete goals and tasks that any particular action sets itself. It is a pointless exercise to deduce the qualities of street activism per se and then argue over what actions fit this category.

3. All the current trends are mistaken. Of course, I don’t mean to say that social activism is unknowable. Moreover, I don’t mean to say that it’s impossible to take a clear stance on concrete issues. What I mean is that however clear and well-formed our theories and our stances are, it is only social practice that gives us answers to the questions that interest us. And we should be ready to question not only the correctness of our actions, but also the correctness of our initial premises.

Tasks

1. Theoretical. It is in the course of social practice that we receive information about how society is structured and functions.

Struggle with the dominant discourse. Aside from the “I say” of power and capital, the official discourse also bears within it a wholly concrete ideology, ethics, and system of understanding how the world works. On the other hand, any claim that the content of this discourse can be discussed is a sham because the means of information are monopolized by the authorities and corporations.

Hence:

a. Breaking the informational blockade. The total “I say” of the dominant discourse is thus destroyed. Voices began to resound in our vicinity. A space is formed in which the possibility of speaking and being heard is realized.

b. Creating a new discourse. Unlike the official discourse, the new discourse is thoroughly bound up with discussion and is produced by means of social practice-that is, by means accessible to everyone.

2. Pedagogical

a. Self-consciousness. In the course of practice, the activist listens attentively to himself. He overcomes fear and social habits. He acquires the capacity to be bold and decisive. He learns.

b. Recognizing comrades. Developing camaraderie and collectivism.

c. “The Node of Crystallization.” I’ll give you an analogy. In your high school physics classes many of you learned about the phenomenon of a saturated salt solution. The clear liquid retains its qualities until a grain of sand is dropped into it. Then all the salt in the solution is instantly precipitated, crystallizing around the grain of sand.

Oppressive social reality produces a mass of discontented people. However, this discontent is not manifested until an organizing link emerges.

Street actions are this organizing link. Of course, the masses support social action only when the “solution” has become “saturated”-in other words, during a “revolutionary situation.” But how will we know when it has arrived? Only by trying to find out.

In my view, street activism is guided precisely by the considerations I’ve outlined above. But its concrete form is determined by the means that are available-i.e., the quantities and qualities of the activists, money, connections with other social movements, cars, photocopiers, conspiratorial apartments, and (the most important thing nowadays) access to information.

It often happens that the set of possible actions is not huge, in which case the activist has to act on the basis of only thesis: if there is a possibility to do this and at least a tiny chance that it will help the movement, then I must do this.

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