Although proposing the creation of zones for temporary autonomy appears as a practical alternative to the structural constraints bound up within both the politics of conventional reformism and of conventional revolutionising, really it remains only an idealised image of ‘real world practice.’ And if we interject, stating our reservations, right from the beginning, then the object of temporary autonomy suddenly resolves, and thus problematically, into focus.
Very often, the purpose of proposals for alternatives to conventional practice is to suspend or evade critical awareness. We are now armed with highly developed critiques of established processes and organisations, but lapse immediately into second order naïveté when imagining other means of proceeding - one-sided investigations into structural constraints tend to reproduce all the errors of allegiant modes of involvement. Whenever we are confronted with the limits and failures of given forms of practical activity, we erroneously fall back into evangelising for alternative solutions, which in the vagueness of their presentation, at the least seem to provide a minimum definition of revolutionary engagement.
Temporary Autonomy is the conceptual repackaging of avant-garde Happenings and Situations on one side, as this combines with an inherited awareness of general insurrectionary activity amongst peasants and early proletarians on the other. The continuity within avant-garde traditions alongside the severance of this constrained activity from popular insurrection is historically conclusive - ‘autonomy’ (as a temporary suspension of business as usual) becomes both a compensatory activity, a sort of obligation to perform some sort of autonomous actions as the vehicle for delivering the impossible burden of creativity (taken to its most developed form), and also a swerve off the path towards ‘revolutionary terror’ (temporary autonomy is after all, just playing) - at least we did something, at least we tried to live.
The Temporary Autonomous Zone is, in essence, an aesthetic ideal but the autonomy of the aesthetic as a general category, clearly not grasped by autonomists, is paradoxically conditioned by its integration into the social totality. Aesthetics only escapes determination to the degree that it reflects back upon its own chained, and subordinate, condition - by opening the floodgates of over-determination, and constantly increasing the registers of description and interpretation, aesthetic activity becomes unstable: of the world but not for the world; for the world but not of the world.
We should briefly consider here some of the drawbacks of aesthetically ‘making things happen’ and of carving out a space for free expression. Not the least of these drawbacks is the association of migration, innovation, and new territory, with emancipation - the ideal of permanent festival implies both a trail of destruction in the perpetual moving on towards the new, and the separation of the function of festival itself from the relations of which it was once a regulatory expression. Instances of misrule suppose the generality of rule which autonomy negates. What is autonomy but the unrestricted prowling of innumerable predators (all the time pretending a little touch of harry in the night) that are enabled by the creation of yet another gated community, another iteration of the masque of the red death.
All activity, and especially the activity associated with creative autonomy, is necessarily also suppressive. That which violently occupies a space, by implication, seeks to expel what is already present and thereby secures the territory, becoming a fortress, against invasion of other forces. Then, autonomy inevitably is also the denial of autonomies.
The situationist presentation of the subjective pole of historical movement, which they characterised as the suppression and realisation of existing historical tendencies, is presupposed in any project directed towards autonomy. Unfortunately, the driven nature of the individuals involved (driven by the psychological damage that drives them to formulate regressive notions of autonomy) will ensure that they always re-instate the constraints of the same within experiments of difference and otherness (a fatal case of ‘you can take the boy out of Newcastle...’)
The set of ‘direct’ and participatory behaviours idealised in the conception of autonomy (by which we understand the expropriatory and secessionary manoeuvre of self-separation) supposes that the cost of realising ‘immediacy’ in direct relations amongst participants must be the suppression of the greater part (the autonomic domain) of the human community. This would include not only ‘passivity’ or non-specific, non-goal orientated and non-creative activity but also the vast reserves of shared unconscious structuring (the hooks and levers) built into and implied by human intercourse.
Autonomy, by subduing the objective in this space, thereby severs itself from the work of every apparatus of social commonality - the autonomists, in their autonomous state, are bereaved of all reference points but those contents that they may bring immediately to their conscious praxis.
Creativity, under autonomous circumstances, being deprived of whatever is bound into whatever is not autonomous, tends to reduce to a mere representation of, a play at, creativity. But it was never the role of anarchists to ‘be creative’. Anarchists have no purpose but first to enact their refusal of all authority, and then to refuse the terms of that refusal - the terms and register by which such refusals become possible are entirely context-specific. Idealist concepts of ‘zones’, supposing a revealed or declaratory element, deny the possible need for slipping across borders.
Unfortunately again, we already exist in variations of that ‘strange place’ inflicted upon populations by the constant revolutionising of capital. Autonomy, paradoxically, is imposed objectively by the doubled process wherein labour is separated from its product and also expelled from the productive apparatus. We are forever being thrown out of our world into some catastrophe - then, to throw, when we are being thrown, becomes an exercise in redundancy, a demonstration only of the incapacity to defend boundaries.
In the context of objective unhoming, subjective autonomy becomes the political equivalent of craft activity, an attempt to realise by retrieval, that which has already been suppressed. Autonomy is driven by a gentrifying nostalgia to reassert the primacy of living labour in circumstances where making do and mending (self-managed war communism) is a treadmill type activity deployed by the state of interregnum until capital floods back into the territory.
What is Islamic State but an autonomous zone? In the cleared space of Year Zero, Robinson Crusoe, eternally shipwrecked, eternal steps upon the wet sand of some Tarkovskian island, as that might be situated on the surface of Solaris. The flight of capital from IS-type contained sets of territorialised relations (where the strategy of degrading and destroying value) operates as a regulatory homeostatic function upon the general metabolism (for example, deterritorialising a set of relations around oil reserves, putting the reserves beyond use, and securing the price of commodities in general). The creativity of capital as it generates its own autonomous zones is always far beyond the capacities of even the richest revolutionaries.
It is possible for us to imagine that the path out of the compensatory image of autonomy begins through the querying of the desire to become autonomous. At some, post-autonomous, point, it is realised that the subjective work of emancipation is not engaged via the suppression and realisation of existing forms (the human community does not suppose an ahistorical representation of the historical will to expropriate at all) but works through its therapeutic relation with the traumatised world by permitting all existing things to pass into obsolescence, and thereby putting them beyond use.
As a principle of social organisation, communism is the suppression of use value, it relaxes the tension in the things that must be exchanged, and the revolutionary proletariat is its agency of decommission - it must not occupy, but will always vacate (thereby enacting the radical separation between the expulsion and the abolition of labour). Or rather, as a subject form, it occupies only so as to vacate this world, and at a higher level.