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How should we protest?

The protest movements of the past two decades have failed outrageously. Vincent Bevins attributes these failures to the political strategies of their epoch, which attempted to draw a critical mass of popular support through horizontal, leaderless organization. These movements were often too successful in mobilizing support, and the “instigators”–dedicated to horizontalism–were unable to control the large crowds. Western media coverage or conservative political actors who were vertically organized eventually took charge of the protests and articulated new demands, consciously or not.

Our political dispositions are born from the conditions we are trying to fight. The protest movements of the 2010’s were characterized by a sense of optimistic, digital connectivity which naturally influenced the political strategies employed. The internet stood for the liberal order itself: unprecedented democratization alongside all of its financialized contradictions–all were allowed entry, but the suggestion of flattening national and class distinctions brought to light global liberalism’s inadequacies.

The next historical order–our own–has so far been characterized by the fissure of American unipolarity; the reascension of national interests over transnational finance; and the consequent changes to the relationship between liberal subjects and the international order. The horizontalist protests of the last historical period were only possible because those who participated believed that, through claims of grievance to the international order, their appeals to liberal values and sensibilities could actually produce change. (Most recently, the pro-democracy protests in Israel have used this political formulation to try to oust Netanyahu–but to whom are they appealing? And is it realistic that these benevolent powers will hear and act upon the protestors’ petitions?) During this period (as before), Palestinians tried their luck with non-violent strategies within the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel, as well as through international mechanisms. Clearly, these strategies did not work, and so Hamas has turned to a weak form of state terror which has always appeared whenever an historical order’s institutionalized mode of arbitration fails (which, until recently, has looked like a non-violent aspiration towards western democracy).

The question today is not how to convince the masses or our neighbors–“raising awareness” was the site of conflict in our last historical order. Who will hear our calls for help? Who will care? Certainly not the international order, who fundamentally need the Israeli state to remain unchanged. Consider the BDS movement, which is firmly a product of its time (now our preceding era), using liberal democratic strategies to no serious end–the boycott appealed to the moral strength of the market, states, and international institutions: how long could we delude ourselves of this? Boycotts work in localized economies because of a nominal consumer power; we have no such power in international affairs, and certainly not in the global market. Increasingly, states do not have to entertain this democratic illusion–we do not “buy-in” to state authority, it simply exists, and governments are once again willing to acknowledge this reality.

Meanwhile, activism on college campuses and their institutional responses battle for narratives–where will officialdom land? This form of protest recognizes that larger bodies do not need to grant concessions anymore, but still place faith in their ability to pressure smaller institutions to their will. In short, it is a question of stakeholders’ diminishing power. The strategy of divestment (away from fossil fuels, Israel, et cetera) has transferred our focus from public opinion to powerful opinion: “rather than convince the masses, we will convince the universities (through the opinion of amenable student bodies) and occasionally their investors, since these are the remaining corners of our political economy that the media class endows with moral virtue. And from there, state policies will react.”

Besides union organizing, this brand of college activism characterizes the majority of American protest movements, or at least those which exist outside of the raising awareness model. College activism and protests of its kind have taken the culture war away from the general public and into student union committees, board rooms, editorial boards, and other elite professional forums. Disillusioned with the failed popular protests of the last two decades, these movements have decided to more directly attack the channels of power to which they do have access. It is, on its surface, a more sober diagnosis of where power lies. Nevertheless, these movements mistakenly rest upon the belief that the intellectual and professional spaces in question are 1) able to change in the first place and 2) able to influence the wider political economy. The second point is more fundamental here: even if we were able to gather a few signatures from Harvard professors or, hell, redirect the university’s financial investments, this would not make a dent in the billions of dollars the U.S. sends to Israel. Blocking roads to weapons manufacturers seems more in line with this goal, but this timeless strategy will only temporarily stall today’s political economy. How are we supposed to take an ounce of power, really? Statements? It seems unlikely at this point: the international community merely shrugged its shoulders when Azerbaijan removed 100,000 Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh (and that exodus came more than a month after the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court used the “G” word to describe the situation). Any reforms or challenges to the Azeri or Israeli states are simply not up for discussion; it seems that their resources, strategic positions, and psychological role within the international ruling class are too important.

So how should we protest today? This seems even more important to me than the goals of our protest. As for the method, I have little to contribute. As for the participants, I would ask why we Americans are only interested in hearing about Palestine/Israel from Palestinians or Jews. Why are these the only two groups to be found within Palestinian advocacy groups in the United States? Because we are still of the mind that we must convince states to adopt policies which live up to their own morals and rhetoric–a Jew is saying the opposite of what they “should,” and so you too should reverse course! In the process, we are treating ourselves–the protestors and the neighbors who we are trying to convince–as we would international institutions or state actors. Even between each other, we use the same inert political logic of markets and states. In truth, we must all be moral and political actors because we all have a stake.


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In order to understand the ideological stakes of Julian Assange’s situation let us recall a very simple fact with respect to how we are invited to understand him in the first place. It is not principally a question of any explicit ideological side. We are all generally assumed to be, if not against him, then indefatigably in favour of our own government. This is not, of course, a choice we actually make. Nonetheless, do not be deceived: it is not that you are simply deprived of the right to choose among an otherwise established set of choices, but that the option itself to choose does not even appear. How is it possible that, with respect to so contentious an issue, at least to those minimally aware of the facts, there is this virtual, all-encompassing consensus?

There are those who will injure themselves in supporting Assange through references to journalistic integrity and freedom. These things are obviously worth defending, but they are not really an option. For the same reason, they do not form part of that virtual consensus in which our position is problematically assumed for us. In fact, no content is really going to reveal just how this virtual consensus is possible. In order to understand it, consider how many political topics are viciously divisive today. We cannot make decisions regarding abortion, climate change, housing, Israel/Palestine, etc. This is, in part, because the very way that these issues fragment themselves is part and parcel of an implied discursive consensus they uphold and sustain. For example, if I am asked to choose between the Israeli state and Hamas, is it obvious that this is, in fact, a choice I have to make? The point here, however, is not whether or not you really are free or not to choose, but whether there is a choice in the first place you are invited to make. We may propose, for instance, that there is no difference between the two options, that the difference is entirely virtual, that it represents an infection of a given ideological consensus with itself, with its own universality, and that, to that end, one can explain the virtual impotence of solutions, i.e. the failure of either side to really think beyond the terms of the constituting fantasy of the discursive arrangement itself, in this case, the non-existence, or absolute denial, of the other, on the basis that there is some core inescapability to the problem itself we are invited to solve. This absolute deniability nonetheless allows both sides to exist insofar as they are virtually identical with one another.

This is why Assange appears like a ghost. It is not just that he has dedicated his life to unmasking extensive systems of mass surveillance, state terror, modern-day digitised propaganda, data black markets. It has more to do with the fact that he represents an option we may accurately describe as having been subtracted from the consensus. We agree somehow (or, rather, somewhere) with the terms of his imprisonment and punishment, for which the current judicial impasse consists more in a system attempting (and largely failing) to validate itself to itself, on what basis it agrees to do anything (and in the name of which ideological standing). Nonetheless, it is as though we are not invited into a similar process of division. This is what makes Assange strange: in being disallowed from even choosing him, say, at the level of how I may formally choose either Israel or Palestine, this is precisely what reveals his significance. His significance lies precisely in the fact that he is a consensus we are apparently not invited to decide upon at the risk of causing the ideological circuitry of our collective decision-making to go haywire.

Is it as simple as we cannot risk even the formal illusion of a choice with respect to Assange? It is clear that we simply fail to solve most geo-political issues on the basis of deadlocks which we cannot entirely coherently process. In Assange’s case, it is this incoherence itself which is formally repressed. In the aforementioned cases of political vision, the noise of this deadlock, of this incoherence, nonetheless facilitates some virtual, background consensus with respect to which we agree on certain formal interventions:

In any case, the logic of armed resistance is never questioned; it is qualified. It is for this reason that the category of lie is so ideologically useful (for the sake of this very failed consensus itself): it allows one to introduce some delay with respect to the collective agreement.

By contrast, Assange’s situation is much stranger: there is no apparent incoherent agreement. It is this which is precisely so dangerous about his situation even as it nonetheless cannot manifest itself in the terms of some ideological fantasy, such as in the form of legible choice. To this end, we must reject the easy label that Assange is merely another freedom fighter or journalist, because we are merely serving to invite the process by which he is, like any other of his apparent kind, qualified with respect to his loyalties, causes, etc. The point is not to lose sight of the fact that Assange is simply not decided upon, leading no less to the strange judicial impasse. This all serves to assert one crucial thing, that what Assange fundamentally subtracts (as a naively decidable ideological option) is that the virtual consensus he actually reveals is not even strictly something about which we fantasize.

His revelations regarding mass surveillance and state terror, which involve his own inversion or negation in the form of spying, himself, on state power, on the very military complex itself which regulates itself with political fantasies of its own behavior (the kind of which eventually find their way into common debate), are crucial precisely because, in fact, we do not agree on this form of state intervention. This is the paradox: we can agree (in secret) because we do not really agree. The form of this agreement is the kind of choice which we may make even while we do not call into question the very assumptions of the choice. It is therefore the conditions of “forced choice” (in which we are nonetheless able to fantasize) which are absent from Assange’s case and lead to the strange absence of any serious public discourse surrounding his imprisonment.


One must therefore ruthlessly criticize the attempt of the West to prop up what we may call Putin’s Assange in the form of Navalny. Independent of any critique of Putin, it is not difficult to see in what respect Navalny is an indulgence of our own self-destructive, anti-democratic concept of a true political opponent. His very lack, or apparent and effective lack, of strategy, resulting in his removal and eventual death, are precisely the West’s (and the East’s, for that matter) fantasy of a naive political opponent who chooses liberty for the rest of us—so we don’t have to. This is a dark bargain, independent of any really existing collusion: Navalny was blindly following his own independent political will, but the West’s virtualization of him consisted in viewing him as a freedom fighter (of the kind we like; the one who is not really strategic, but has a nonetheless beautiful view worth memorializing). Navalny is immediately someone we must sympathize with insofar as we must be sympathetic with the general ideology surrounding well-intentioned, but nonetheless doomed, political dissidents. The reason for this is simple: we do not really want a Navalny to succeed; we want Putin to fail. The difference lies in the fact that we are allowed to continue fantasizing about some coherent concept of true political dissidence (something we reject as incoherent in our own states) through Navalny so long as it also indulges our idea of an intransigent dictator, anti-contextual and a-historical (because we cannot admit to having had any hand in his rise), who can only be dealt with by the well-tested scalpel of American foreign policy. Furthermore, we get the supplement of Navalny: we tried to reason with Putin, we even tried romantic dissidence, but in the end, a shameless realpolitik was necessary.

Recall that the decision is then a non-decision: Putin must fail visibly and publicly. He must be, in effect, forced to kill Navalny in order to satisfy the West’s own fantasy of problem-solving. There is no other option but that Putin is a dictator and Navalny is a freedom fighter. In such a situation, the discourse is controlled to such an extent that the “forced choice” comes in the form of an event which really must happen, i.e. Navalny really does die in prison. This is precisely what has not yet happened to Assange: he remains caught up in an impasse of the level of the form of his dissidence itself, because his dissidence is fundamentally of a different order. In a strange way, we must reverse the timeline of events: it is not that, say, speculatively, and Lord Cameron, the UK current foreign secretary, confirms this as the West’s view, Navalny is murdered by Putin following an escalation of events related to his own special dissidence; rather, Putin is himself forced to murder Navalny insofar as it is his own strategy to be viewed as a dictator. He murders Navalny in order to confirm his own rule. He is not, as the fantasy would go, a dictator backed into a cage politically, who then has to strike out: it is the underlying fantasmatic consensus (shared between both Putin and his Western critics) which, in effect, forces Putin to assume his own image as a dictator as his bargaining chip. He is himself threatening to be a dictator, to assume the role the West has assumed for him. This is why it does not matter how Navalny died, even if the evidence is overwhelming that he was murdered, etc. In such moments, we see precisely in what sense current affairs, and by extension history itself, are virtual: it is in responding to the effective idea of these events that Putin satisfies, along with the West, the very ideological setting in which they would like this problem to appear.

The motivation is simple, after all. Even if our universal fails (which it does, that’s why it is universal), we can nonetheless respect our underlying assumptions, those which hold even when we disagree. It is, of course, just this consensus of underlying assumptions, of the state and existence of the virtuality itself of such frameworks of collective political fantasy which Assange has resolutely called into question. He has, thereby, called into question a state-form. This is why, again, Assange cannot appear as any kind of choice: he appears as the ghost of an already extent ideological failure or crisis. He is not a merely sensible choice (in an ideological setting); he is that which points out in what respect the universal only works at the same time as it fails. In other words, we only get our common assumptions on the basis that we get the strange interferential incoherence (i.e. some failure of exchange) which nonetheless does not call into question the aforementioned ideological setting of the discourse (of the strategy) itself—no matter how punishingly virtual (and the virtual really does seem to punish reality). Assange criticizes that we can really have such virtual frameworks at all without inviting more overt forms of political disaster. It is for this reason that his failure to appear as an option reflects his underlying point (along with his impasse): I am the ghost of what you repress with respect to the decisive non-choice of these virtual consensuses. After all, in Assange we find someone for whom even formal (discursive) incoherence is not incoherent enough to capture the precise nature of dissidence.


This is how we should read, in turn, what, or the actual content of what, Assange criticizes. It is right to understand that his role has been to reveal an entire techno-structure behind, not only our surveillance and the privately-owned infrastructure behind it (“Google is a private NSA”), but the acts of state terror which define this specific technostructure. It is not, again, about specific crimes, just as it was not for Putin, which the West has committed. It is about the form itself of what effectively unconscious techno-consensuses have been generated and why and how this precise techno-structure is capable of generating them. There are not explicit decisions made here, as in, specific strategies whose content may be imagined to naively determine the form in which they appear, and yet we nonetheless seem to be lacking the very quality of fantasy which defines the formal incoherence of regular collective political discourse. This is why Assange’s entire message is to say: these virtual consensuses exist, and they are virtual precisely because now we have designed a new techno-structure capable of developing anti-social, i.e. non-discursive, social contracts for collective political fantasy.

It is reminiscent of the hidden political economy of Chat GPT. For instance, the so-called “ground truth” of Chat GPT’s operations remains hidden. This is, ostensibly, an almost commercial aim, at least at the level of a crude analysis of competitive market-based behavior, and yet it is this very analysis which conceals the political implications: the concealment of this “ground truth” enables Chat GPT’s virtual framework to remain as fantasmatic as possible, i.e. it can continue to fantasize for us only if we do not all directly participate in its structural truth. This truth is, of course, insignificant; it is only its virtual form which matters. It is for this reason that we should be similarly critical of Elon Musk’s recent visit to Auschwitz. It is political hysteria at its finest that an ostensible power-broker of this new techno-structure is nonetheless excluded from the ground truth of the political operations of that very techno-structure. He is going, therefore, to an imagined kernel of our ideological zero-level as a political species (in which he will, of course, find nothing, as the great survivors of the Holocaust have attested to), i.e. the Shoah, so as to ascertain what any naive competitor of OpenAI would himself try to do in order to gain the ‘trade secrets’ of Chat GPT’s development. It is, at this point, that we must ruthlessly invert our own point regarding political economy: one should be willing to read Elon Musk’s Auschwitz as his attempt to seek out not some hidden political truth, but, yes, some kind of economic advantage within the techno-structure.

It is the virtual structure of the techno-structure, that is precisely Assange’s mission to expose. The point, after all, is that this techno-structure also has a fantasy effectively of what it is, of what its own ground truth is. If we really get there, you do not see anything; you see some kind of concrete operation. The point is that, rather like our virtual consensus, the question is of how it is generated at all in the first place. Equally, we must pay attention to the fact that, in the end, it is exposing the form of the techno-structure as a virtual generator of political fantasy, or general political consensus, which defines Assange’s deep insight. This form is, then, not reducible to any one specific state intelligence agency, nor to their more overt politicization (through privatization). It has to do, instead, with what respect the techno-structures abuses are themselves virtual. This is the misleading element even of his own informational revelations regarding US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan: it is not about one event; it is about the underlying form with respect to which we have apparently all consented to these crimes.

This is why, again, Assange’s subtraction reflects the situation itself: we have not really consented to anything. A “consent” has somehow been generated through the pure virtuality of the techno-structure itself (for which only now domestic technologies are catching up, e.g. the reason algorithms are useful in domestic contexts is that their capacity for behavior modification is exceptional, which means that algorithms define a very specific form of our labor-based exploitation in the techno-structure, as others have already pointed out). This “consent” is nothing but the form itself which really exists, i.e. the “reality of the virtual” of the techno-structure. This means that what Assange points out is a kind of shadowy infrastructure which coordinates secret or covert actions, but that its role is not simply to naively ‘conceal’ these actions. Instead, its purpose is to exist irreducibly in the role of a virtual generator of hidden consensuses. It is itself concerned with amassing power and technology to the end of ramifying the generation of virtual consensuses. These are the “consensuses” which we do not even choose insofar as they exist, more or less, not to be chosen. The more the techno-structure retains the form itself of its own virtuality, of its effective un-reality, the greater the risk it poses to our political societies.

Once again, it is Assange who we (accidentally) do not choose. Our negation of him reveals precisely what he is as a concept. He comes to identify himself with exactly what he himself has tried to eliminate: he is that over which we do not even have a divide. This is not the classical fantasmatic consensus which ramifies itself through discursive moves. What Assange reveals is that some consensuses are not even formally available to discuss, not because they contain information too sensitive to be revealed (though this is the ideology even power believes), but because they are not really something we fully agree on—or for which the terms exist on which we might agree. This is to push to its end: it is the techno-structure itself which regulates the possibility by which such non-discursive, virtual consensuses are even more efficient ideological operators. We can sustain here, effectively, a society’s position in an imagined, virtual ground-level, where radical, inhumane decisions can be made for us without even having to submit the decision to political inquiry while nonetheless virtually providing it, and giving it the seeming strength of, a really existing consensus.


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This a political journal dedicated to providing a coherent program for political action in the form of sketches. These sketches illustrate in their immediacy an underlying, self-relatingly negative conceptual structure at work in what we call reality. It views formal economic operations as obscuring the politico-social arrangements of the underlying economy, while it views politics as that which qua ideology serves to, more often than not, obscure what remains nonetheless constitutively unthought within these very social arrangements themselves and which therefore can only be addressed directly as economic phenomena. Its purpose is to reveal this underlying conceptual structure to the greatest extent that it can with the end of full-scale mobilised political engagement.