In Vancouver the discussion over the use of demands is coming to head. This is being brought about by the escalating grassroots campaigns for social housing and the states increasing ability to co-opt those movements. Social housing, or the demand for affordable, decent housing, has existed as a central demand for no less then seventy-five years. Veterans returned from imperial war rioted for the privilege to live. Numerous tent cities, squats and occupations have all defended the desire to sleep in some kind of peace.
What has changed is not the need for housing, but rather the form in which social housing has taken. Up until a couple years ago social housing was not much more then a network of buildings built and owned by the state and operated by various social agencies. In 2007, an aggressive campaign for social housing turned its direct actions towards the demand that the state purchase shithole hotels and convert them into social housing. The state under mounting mobilizations, conceded and over the last couple years purchased dozens of hotels and converted them under their control.
What constitutes as a paradigm shift, a reconfiguration of models of control, is the creation within these hotels of a highly sophisticated network of authoritative domination; by assimilating within each structure the various, formerly ‘independent’, agents of administration, such as the police, welfare, probation, and medical services (: some refer to this structuralized violence directed at the individual body as ‘Biopower’). Under the smoke screen of social housing, these hotels have been recast as ‘Community Care Facilities’. These facilities no longer fall under the Residential Tenancy Act- a series of housing laws that symbolically gave rights to the tenant, and allowed for political traction in the efforts of organizing. Now these hotels, turned institutions, are under the direct control of the state, which has in turn established an operational coalition called Partners in Action.
These partners in (re)action create a nexus of power between BC Housing, which owns the hotel- the service provider that regulates the tenants- and the Vancouver Police Department who reinforces the domination.
The Vancouver Police Department’s protocols within the Partners in Action help articulate the states campaign within the DTES to unify all services, surveillances and communication under one centralized authority: 1. Officers will be assigned specific hotels. 2. Partners in Action decal will be visible to deter criminal activity, 3. A brochure is provided to outline rights of NGO and VPD, 4. The Province and NGO will provide descriptions of hotel to VPD, including information and overview. The VPD will forward this info to E-comm. so that officers being deployed to the residents will be aware of any special needs, 5. VPD has provided direct contact info to NGO to enhance communication, 6. New recruits will receive training at the hotels.
These institutions created by the states capture of positive political mobilization, speak directly to the reality of fascism and its political recurrence under the guise of reform. These institutions differ in no way to the imperial imperatives of Empire in this global civil war. The creation of camps under a declaration of a state of exception (in the case of Vancouver- the Olympics and so-called emergency shelter act) is the political space in which total control operates. As has been observed elsewhere, these camps can be seen as social laboratories from where more generalized means of control are mediated out against larger metropolitan populations.
The demand for social housing is the demand for these camps. As was witnessed with the relocation of those from the Olympic tent city, the victory of our demands intern our comrades inside an institution where one has to be let in and allowed to leave, where no friends are permitted to visit, no rights to reference against violation, doors always open to cops, welfare workers and doctors, all information shared with any entity of the state, omni-present surveillance. Is this what we fought for, is this what we will continue to fight for?
In the 1970’s the Japanese and Downtown Eastside Residence Association’s campaigned for and succeeded in achieving a moratorium on the construction of Community Care Facilities (at that time called Special Needs Residential Facilities). They claimed that the government would create a mental asylum out of the DTES. 35 years later neither organization any longer exist. In contrast to the protests against those camps, we now protest for them. Has the role of the activist in this class war, as escalator of antagonisms, been mutilated to such a point that we now act on behalf of the state- to directly and at a grassroots level, regulate poverty and administer domination? Why, when we demand autonomy for ourselves and our movements, do we demand control for others?
Is the demand for social housing, and the example of these care facility’s too extreme? Or perhaps an isolated phenomenon? What are the other instances where popular revolts and their slogans were appropriated by the state? One could mine a infinite amount of examples from the ecological movement- the current green capitalism. Colonization has been a series of adaptations to anti-colonial resistance, creating in many of those movements a culture of collaboration that further strengthens the occupying powers. A montage of examples could be given regarding women’s and queer liberation, workers organizing, harm reduction, animal defense, ECT.
The point is that capitalism has systematically overcome each campaign and transcended all relations, leaving behind only fascist reforms.
So, does a movement that makes demands further entrench fascism (this is not to suggest that these movement are in themselves inherently fascist, rather the inevitable response of the state is to retaliate and administer)? In Vancouver we can reflect on the struggles situated around 3 programs; (1) demand something, (2) demand everything, (3) demand nothing.
(1) Before the capitalist crisis of the 30’s and the proletariat response, revolt was destructive. From the indigenous resistance to invasion threw means of direct warfare, to the workers utter sabotage and total destruction of the employer’s production. When capital began to restructure itself around the economic depression, the labor movements began specializing their rebellion and articulating their needs to the government and owners. Many of these demands were based on survival, the need to work so as to eat. Others, used demands as popular slogans to mobilize the multitude towards socialist ends; or in some cases the demands as sheer antagonism, as in the case of the popular challenge, ‘bread or blood!’ following the second world war, when finance capital reasserted its control, workers revolts where forced into a mediation process by trade unions. From here demands became the discourse of bureaucratic unionism.
(2) In the 60’s and 70’s youth movements, like the yippies, where inspired by the cultural revolution of the dropout movement. Demands for everything for everyone and against everything where used for the creation of potentially revolutionary situations. Demands were more a compass in the revolution of everyday life, rather then a negotiation with Babylon.
(3) A growing insurrectionary current in the anarchist milieu is taking its inspiration from the various social ruptures happening in (for example,) Greece and Chile and countless other metropolis uprisings and land re-occupations. What connects so many of these spread out irruptions are the absence of demands, or rather they’re demanding nothing.
On the question of the service of demand in the popular movements of Vancouver, we are assisted by the global groupsicles of friends who ‘On the one hand desire to live in communism, and on the other wish to spread anarchy.’ Paraphrasing some of the contemporary thoughts on ‘demands’ coming from the reading circles, occupations and barricades, we are able to maneuver the programs of our past, in search of how it is to be done, now.
To some, demands simply serve as political traction from which to organize broad and popular support in the social war. Demands symbolically bridge populations otherwise divided, while also creating a space for strategy (demand for housing=squats). The conflicting response to this is that all demands and activisms that follow from them lend only to the expansion of the desert- the blackhole from which Empire assimilates everything.
A negotiation between these forces could see that the demand is a tool of self-organization. It unifies separated individuals against a common enemy toward a common good. The demand becomes self-mediation, a self-constitution of the undifferentiated masses into a singular one, a subject who demands. Demands, in other words, are processes of subjectification. Individuals act as a class, and in that class action, they become subjects and no longer merely objects of capital.
We who are exploited by domination are unified by the very basis of domination. This creates an identity of the exploited. This identity is crafted in struggle, and becomes the basis of a community. The community can outlast the struggle for a particular demand, or not.
If the struggle and the demand unify people who aren’t unified, then the next step is to destroy the basis of that unity in a way that allows for a new unity unposioned by the centrality of our servitude to capital. The conditions for a real unification will arise through the overcoming of this negative-form of community (the relationship founded upon shared domination), a form born through the demand-struggle, and carried beyond it by the demandless one.
‘From struggles over immediate demands to revolution, there can only be a rupture, a qualitative leap. But this rupture isn’t a miracle.’
The demandless struggle, call it insurrectionary/rebellion, reveals the totality of the enemy one fights and the totality of those who fight it. This is not a flash in the pan, post-politic theory, even old man Marx knew that in such struggles, ‘the proletarian lays claims to no particular right because the wrong it suffers is not a particular wrong but wrong in general.’
The refusal to demand is the refusal of mediation in conflict. The disallow of domination to regulate antagonisms. To steal away from fascism its regenerative powers of Reform. This strike at the level of language becomes not a verbal cry for a better world but a mute rejection of the entirety of this one. ‘After a battle in the social war subsides, only the ruins left behind can tell its story.’
To demand something, to demand everything, and/or to demand nothing. What is at stake is not housing. Rather, the state is currently in a position that it can give everything or nothing- as it so wishes. We, one the other hand, seem powerless to give and take. We are trapped in an impossible exchange. We need to create and destroy, give and take our own. We need to demand from ourselves a heightened level of desire. Yes, we want housing for our sisters and brothers, but not in a police state. There still remains in theses hotels the potentiality to spread anarchy and build communization. Communes, tenant councils, squats, community defense; these are programs that we can demand from our movements.