The Centre Cannot Hold: Fluidarity, Not Solidarity

We don’t have to agree about everything to form a movement

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source: Bruno Perrin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

The vote for Brexit in the UK — and the growing likelihood of other countries’ exits from the EU — has drawn disdain from the establishment: the elite policymakers, politicians, bankers, and others ensconced in large, neoliberal-leaning institutions (which includes progressive and liberal newspapers, surprisingly).

The Exiters are attacked on many levels — for lying about proposed reallocations of funds, for racism and xenophobia, for turning their backs on a dream of a united Europe and the peace dividend it has created — some of which are justified. Yes, some of those arguing for Exit are xenophobes, some have fabricated benefits, and some politicians are exploiting the political upheaval for personal advance. However, none of these are characterizations of the Exiters as a whole, only traits of some.

The fact is there is no center to the Exiter movement: it’s all edge. It’s not a coalition pushing for a specific set of outcomes, but instead an inchoate rejection of the status quo and the ruling elite.

Which is an attack against the Exiters that in particular stands out for me: we can see statements like this, making case that the Exit idea is flawed because those supporting it have not come to some joint agreement on how it is going to work, what principles should guide it, or who will be leading the effort:

The referendum was unusual, because it pitted a government on one side, “Remain,” against a loose coalition on the other, made up of Conservatives, some Labour legislators and U.K. Independence Party supporters. The Leave side never had to hammer out an agreement on how to proceed if it won, said Tony Travers, a professor of government at the London School of Economics.

“There was no coherence, because it wasn’t a political party fighting for government, but an odd coalition fighting against something, but with no consistent view of what it was fighting for,” he said.

Even on the economy, the Leave side was made of free-market economists who believe in no tariffs at all, those who believe in trade deals and protectionists who want to shield the declining working class against globalization, Professor Travers said.

“And now the government will have to be reformed as if it were representing the Leave side and yet represent both, a one-party government that must reflect the schism in itself,” he said.

In the aftermath of the Leave campaign’s victory, the political editor for Sky News, Faisal Islam, asked a Conservative member of Parliament who supported leaving the bloc to see his camp’s plan.

The legislator replied, according to Mr. Islam: “There is no plan. The Leave campaign don’t have a post-Brexit plan.” Then the legislator added, “Number 10 should have had a plan,” referring to the prime minister’s office.

This criticism of Brexit is much like that leveled against Occupy: a movement loosely aligned against an interconnected network of evils, but Occupy’s advocates couldn’t agree on how to change things, what to change, and who should be doing what.

Social theorists like Zygmunt Bauman and Frederic Jameson have made the argument that in our era average people are divided against themselves: they cannot find solidarity in the way that labor or civil rights movements of the past have been able to. We lack the sense of shared identity — shared adversity — that makes solidarity possible. This state is an outcome of cultural forces which line up to divide us.

But a movement to reject the status quo and to demand change does not require a comprehensive alternative platform of programs, goals, and initiatives: it does not require agreement on a detailed future, or an institution to create such policies. We need only to share a hatred for the way things are. We do not require solidarity to want to topple the system, we only need fluidarity, the transient and shifting sense of being aligned in opposition to those who want to steal the future.

In effect, the establishment is saying political opposition requires a clearly defined platform of specific policies and an institutionalized body of supporters who line up for those policies across the board. However, the times we live in require a more agile approach to politics, and finding the future.

We may not have all the answers, and more importantly, the questions that those in power want answered — demand that we answer — may not be the right questions.

And they’ll start by asserting our movement is illegitimate because at the foundation we are fluid, not solid. But any efforts to change this world — the one we live in, not the one in the shiny stories we’ve been told — will require a grassroots fluidarity, not solidarity.

It’s ok that we don’t agree on everything, now and going forward. We can fall out, later on, over a hundred thousand less important questions, once we have confronted and taken apart the way that things work now.

So when they say we have to offer a comprehensive scenario of how everything will work — a complete world order of taxes, trade, health care, militarism, economics, education, and business — before we can start dismantling the current regime, before we start the Human Spring: they are wrong. We don’t have to know how everything will work out to reject and to tear down what they have offered.

Fluidarity, not solidarity.

Originally published at in 2016.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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