Social Movements and Pseudo-Activity 

From Riots and Political Protest, by Simon Winlow, Steve Hall, Daniel Briggs and James Treadwell, pg 195:

A great deal of contemporary radical politics is dominated by pseudo-activity: activity that covers up a deeper inactivity. Waving placards and moaning about the government are all well and good, but, if no benefit accrues, if policy doesn’t shift, and the system rumbles onwards blithely unconcerned with our dissatisfaction, then we must, in the standard dialectical manner, consider the possibility that this domesticated oppositional activity actively benefits the system we believe ourselves to oppose. Žižek has argued that, if we are indeed serious about holding capital to account and effecting genuine change, we should display the courage to withdraw from this pseudo-activity. Carlen (2014) appears to consider this a capitulation to social oppression and mocks the suggestion that critical academics withdraw from the immediacy of social and political critique to rethink the situation and identify the diverse groups involved in their own inimitable ways in the system’s reproduction. However, even thinkers as radical as Marx and Engels (1977: 573) noted the presence of people in their orbit who ‘ostensibly engage in indefatigable activity’ but ultimately ‘do nothing themselves [and] try to prevent anything happening at all except –chatter’. Action and talk, without prior coherent thought and direction, are always politically worthless and often counter-productive.

I’m interested in the existential role this ‘aggressive passivity’ plays in the life of activists. As the authors go on to write on pg 196:

Žižek (2006: 223) suggests that such a strategy of passive aggressivity is ‘a proper radical political gesture’. He compares this favourably to the ‘aggressive passivity’ of the contemporary Left, in which ‘we are active all the time in order to make sure that nothing will happen, that nothing will really change’ (ibid.).

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