Beak Street, London, England: 11th June 2013 and two camps cut the capital in two. The heavy black figures,clad in stab-proof vests, weighed down by shining tools of their trade, some seemingly bioluminescent bodies reflecting the dull city lights, form soft, permeable walls of flesh and industrial fibres. Across the tarmac expanse, its broken and uneven surface silent in the summer heat, the masked and black hooded figures of the gathered protesters; their black outfits mirroring their enemy but their bodies more languid and faces more tense, raising an obsidian flag, slashed in half by a diagonal block of fresh blood red. The clash of the police and the protesters at the Carnival Against Capitalism played itself out dramatically: a man seemingly attempting to jump from a roof (or is he fleeing his pursuers?), his body crumpled and crushed beneath the care and security of those of the Met; reports of the laissez-faire use of tasers and rapid Twitter denials; the usual, almost boring when it splashes lurid across the evening news (packaged in easy to digest narratives, troubling no passive constitutions); the press release announcing the number of arrests read out over images of property destruction and hooligans with strange, hyperbolic demands. Days later, the echoes of violence still ringing like some brutal tinnitus, the new logic of urban policing and its attendant open secrets still reverberate in my ears. Again, I see the city of my self-imposed exile convulse with the spectacular rituals of struggle and the accelerated militarisation of the City that forms a central node in the cold global network of finance.
Such scenes are nothing new: we are so exposed to images of protest and police brutality that it is easy to forget that we are not watching some endless dystopian film. The anger as we watch the stream and read the first hand reports is somehow ambivalent- almost as much an automatism as the algorithms of digital trade. It isn’t that the anger isn’t genuine or real but it feels like a cold mathematical rage; almost like that of a cortisol come down, my own anger traces a familiar affective circuit that ingrains itself so deeply into my neurology that it functions almost autonomic. Today, anger and the anxiety that follows it have become affective default settings.
What is new is the level and openness of the police response to a completely legitimate form of democratic protest. As the protesters, assembled anarchists, Marxists and the generally fucked off, opened up a cleavages in the management of public space, and as they disrupted the becalmed tranquillity of the social, those hired hands of the state and of capitalism, the perverse henchmen of Capital (remunerated for protecting the mechanisms of their own exploitation), stepped into perform a sudden, brutal, and unanaesthetised surgery in order to close the wounds in consensuality. What is opened must be shut down; what ever operates without permission must be made permissive; and in the ritualised forms that these clashes take, boredom is a dangerous mood.
Ordinarily the police must justify themselves. Ordinarily, the police respond to a crime. Ordinarily, they must wait for civil disorder before operating as active guardians of that order. On June 11, this logic was abandoned. Riot police are not a new phenomena in London’s streets. What was new was the pre-ordering of London’s iconic red double deckers, a symbol of jolly old London, of tea and scones or the good ol’ Eastender of the BBC and Sherlock Holmes, in order to have bulk mobile containers for those they expected to arrest. Before confrontation the confrontation had already taken place: resistance had been modelled, planned for and effectively co-opted before booted feet had touched the asphalt and the gum-encrusted paving stones.Of course, the precedent of the militarisation of the City was set long ago when, as a response to terror threats, we suddenly saw armed police roaming the Embassy areas, the airports, and now routinely see tasers throughout the UK; the Olympic Games, managed by G4S, were a paramount exercise in the new society of control that functions through a military operating system. Now, protest is treated as anti-social behaviour or terror.
What I find most disturbing about this is the way in which it symbolises the wedding of two form of rationality. The site of London buses used to carve up space and to house arrestees is not just a chilling perversion of a brand image, although that is frightening enough when we consider the lack of response to this (as if the public transport network and its materials were obviously always already technologies of repression). More than this, what disturbs me is the way in which the police response, obviously directed by a higher authority, establishes the total normalisation the social as a military space- wherein any contestation, any democratic expression, any identification of wrong, is a priori an act of sedition that the “public” is happy to see put down. Even more than this, it is the marriage of the logic of the pre-emptive strike with the logistical reason of Auschwitz. Let me be clear, I don’t mean that on the existential, political or social registers that the police response to the Carnival Against Capitalism was in any way on the scale of the Holocaust: what I mean is, that the image of the buses and the rationality that conducted such a scheme clearly resonates with those of the Eichmann run train lines. And all this is taken as normal.
I have read reports that suggest this kind of police action is a response to previous unrest like the London riots of 2011: a vast libidinal discharge that set sections of the city ablaze in a genuine eruption of rage that was no less exhilarating than it was terrifying. What is the new psychology that is taking shape in a city like London and all those other city’s like it across the world? What new psychic co-ordinates are coming into focus after the utter brutality of the Turkish government’s reaction to Occupy Gezi? Is this the emergence of the militarisation of the protester’s consciousness? Surely, given that even those equipped with a theory of class struggle and biopolitical power can’t immunise themselves from the world that they describe. If the city is being militarised then so to are the consciousnesses and bodies that inhabit and are inhabited by it. But in truth, this is merely the city sloughing off its new clothes as cultural centres of commodity exchange. The earliest cities were enclosed by walls and protected by turrets: we might be seeing the return of these siege cities and of siege subjectivities. To speak the language of psychiatry, the city of London is displaying more and more of the signs of a paranoid delusional disorder. Exodus, for the majority, is neither desirable nor affordable. This is an endogenous siege that recalls the schizo-urbanism of China Meiville’s The City and The City: and when the two cities begin to bleed into one another in that novel, the only evidence is a corpse.