But there is spontaneity and spontaneity.
Celebratory techno-utopians and propagandists emphasize the multiple, create, opportunities for engagement new media provide. Similarly, aesthetic anarchists laud momentary disruptions of the everyday, seeing in these disruptions openings into political alternatives. In yet a third vein, theorists and activists extending out of Italian autonomia (and present in dominant tendencies in the anti-globalization movement), appeal to localized disruptions of the multitude as themselves the form of the political at the current conjuncture. This is the setting for the return to Lenin.
For Lenin, the primary question of spontaneity is its relation to consciousness, more specifically, of consciousness of the primary antagonism constitutive of capitalism. The initial outbreaks of strikes in Russia were an embryonic form of consciousness. How should this form be understood?
First, as unconscious. Lenin emphasizes that the instinctive, the spontaneous, is the unconscious. It's an initial moving and reacting in a setting.
Second, the unconscious or spontaneous movement of workers is breaks down previous modes of thinking and being and, in the new space opened up by this breakdown, emerges as a new sense. This sense is more than an intuition; it is a feeling, the embodied experience of possibility. Lenin:
The workers were losing their age-long faith in the permanence of the system which oppressed them and began . . . I shall not say to understand but to sense the necessity for collective resistance, definitely abandoning their slavish submission to the authorities.
Initial spontaneity disrupts, awakens, and inspires. The supposition that things cannot be otherwise is disrupted, even as the capacity to name or designate or communicate this disruption in any sense but through the disruption itself is not yet present but is felt only as an unconscious pressure. What had been taken for granted, assumed, adopted as the belief enacted in everyday practices breaks apart as these practices are momentarily disrupted in protests, destruction, revolt, in unconscious movement (we should note here an explanation for the futility of associating disruption with Twittered actions--these communicative acts accentuate dominant practices; differently put, their unconscious reiterates and reinforces the dominant setting their content ostensibly contests). Disruption awakens feelings of strength and possibility as common action displaces individual submission. The structure of feeling or partition of the perceptible alters; where the dominant sense was one of submission there awakens a consciousness of life and struggle.
This alteration and awakening is a new desire, a desire necessary for revolution, for sustaining revolutionaries through their inevitable temporary setbacks. Of course, the desire by itself is not enough. On its own, it's difficult to maintain. It also needs to be cultivated, directed, and channeled.
I can't count the numbers of times I've been in groups with a great deal of energy and desire for struggle. People want to do something, to change things. On the college campuses where I spend most of my time, these energies tend to accumulate around sex and race, campus violence, salary negotiations, and the compensation struggles of unionized support staff. Particularly on the academic side, the most likely outcome is an immense outpouring of feeling that then dissipates into nothingness, even if this nothingness is accompanied by the introduction of a statement into the minutes of a faculty meeting or the holding of a rape awareness workshop or the production of a letter or appeal to the whole community. The situation of the anti-war movement before the US invaded Iraq, the few protests targetting Wall Street as the economy collapsed, the protests and "occupations" at the New School and in California in the face of major cuts. Feelings awaken, new possibilities are sensed. Then the gap closes up. And it starts to feel like there is no hope; the bad guys always win.
Repeatedly, interesting and committed academic leftists tell me that they want to combat feelings of left resignation and melancholia. One says that's why he emphasizes joy, love, and productive desire. Another says that's why he has developed a massive project for public schools that gets funding from private corporations (as well as city government). Both view resignation as an effect of the failures of an organized Party, democratic centrism, ideological utopianism. For them, resignation is the fault of the failures of Lenin and Mao. Big struggle leads to failure and resignation. Small struggle engenders the optimism of minor results.
I disagree. Could it not be that resignation is the result of an unwillingness to organize, direct, and channel the feelings opened up by spontaneous disruption and result? Differently put, there is a failure here, but my friends locate it in the wrong place. It's not the fault of a Party. It's the absense of a Party. Or, reset in academic theory: it's the cultivation of spontaneity, multiplicity, a naturalized supposition of immanent becoming--our spontaneity, celebrated by theorists as unconscious, infra-sensible, feeling. This cultivation imbues left theory with liberal and capitalist (Lenin says bourgeois) elements precisely because that is our larger setting, the default mode of thinking, reacting, criticizing, doing. The unconscious is structured like a network--through which multiple contributions circulate and which enables a multitude of spontaneities as an unconscious mash-up, pastiche, collage easily capable of swallowing and dissipating our sense of the necessity of collective resistance.
Lenin: There is politics and politics.