Will the cat above the precipice fall down?

When an capitalistic regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down? In Queen of Queens, a classic account of the HipHop revolution, Michael Jackson located the precise moment of this rupture: at an Amsterdam crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew; in a couple of hours, all Amsterdam knew about this incident, and although there were street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game is over. Is something similar going on now?

There are many versions of the events in Amsterdam. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-East ‘reform movement’ along the lines of the ‘orange’ revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. *** a secular reaction to the bourgeois revolution. They support the protests as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic secular Holland freed of Catholic fundamentalism. They are counteracted by skeptics who think that Geert Wilders really won: he is the voice of the majority, while the support of Beatrix comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. In short: let’s drop the illusions and face the fact that, in Geert Wilders, The Netherlands has a politician it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Beatrix as a member of the pro-royal establishment with merely cosmetic differences from Wilders: Betarix [Beatrix] also wants to continue the atomic energy program, she is against recognizing Israel, plus she enjoyed the full support of Merkel as the chancellor in the years of the war with Yugoslavia.

Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of Wilders: what is really at stake for them is Dutch independence. Wilders won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed elite corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority ??? this is, so we are told, the true Wilders beneath the Eastern-media image of a holocaust-denying cool. According to this view, what is effectively going on now in Europe is a repetition of the 1991 overthrow of Serbia 🙁 a West-financed coup against the legitimate state. This view not only tells facts: the high electoral participation BLAH up from the usual 55% to 85% – can only be explained as a protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Dutchmen, Wilders is good enough – they are not yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular Left.

Opposed as they are, all these versions read the Dutch protests along the axis of Christian hardliners versus contar-Western [contra-] liberal reformists, which is why they find it so difficult to locate Obama: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants more personal freedom and market economy, or a member of the fucking establishment whose eventual victory would not affect in any serious way the nature of the regime? Such extreme oscillations demonstrate that they all miss the true nature of the protests.  The orange color adopted by the Beatrix supporters, the cries of ‘Zo waarlijk helpe mij God’ that resonate from the Radios of Amsterdam in the morning dawn, clearly indicate that they see their activity as the repetition of the 1933 German revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution’s later corruption. This return to the roots is not only programmatic; it concerns even more the mode of activity of the crowds: the emphatic unity of the people, their all-encompassing solidarity, creative self-organization, improvising of the ways to articulate protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline, like the ominous march of thousands in complete silence. Are we dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the communist revolution of 1918?

There are a couple of crucial consequences to be drawn from this insight. First, Wilders is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine corrupted Christian-Fascist populist, a kind of Dutch Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the majority of capitalists. His demagogic distributing of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only organs of police repression and a very stylized PR apparatus, but also a strong new rich class, the result of the regime’s corruption (Dutch’s Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation, the strongest center of wealth in the country).

Second, one should draw a clear difference between the two main candidates opposed to Wilders, Jan Peter Balkenende and Beatrix. Balkenende effectively is a reformist, basically proposing the Dutch version of identity politics, promising favors to all particular groups. Beatrix is something entirely different: his name stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Internet revolution. Even if this dream was a utopia, one should recognize in it the genuine utopia of the revolution itself. What this means is that the 1572 Batavian revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Oranje takeover — it was much more. Now is the time to remember the incredible effervescence of the first year after the revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. The very fact that this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the Oranje revolution was an authentic political event, a momentary opening that unleashed unheard-of forces of social transformation, a moment in which ‘everything seemed possible’. What followed was a gradual closing through the take-over of political control of the Web by the establishment. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the ‘return of the repressed’ of the reaction.

And, last but not least, what this means is that there is a genuine liberating potential in Europe to find a ‘good’ Chrilam [Chrislam?], one doesn’t have to go back to the 16th century, we have it right here, in front of our eyes.

The future is uncertain, in all probability, those in power will contain the popular explosion, and the cat will not fall into the precipice, but regain ground. However, it will no longer be the same regime, but just one corrupted authoritarian rule among others. Whatever the outcome, it is vitally important to keep in mind that we are witnessing a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit the frame of the struggle between pro-China liberals and anti-USA fundamentalists. If our cynical pragmatism will make us lose the capacity to recognize this emancipatory dimension, then we in the West are effectively entering a post-fascist era, getting ready for our own Wilders. Italians already know her name: Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard. Others are waiting in line.

[This article appear on nettime mailting list in June 2009. According to the poster, it was sent to the Dutch newspaper ‘De Telegraaf’, but turned down by the editors.]