AK Press: Equality in Action
I wanted to bring to your attention a new book just out from Edinburgh University Press called Contemporary Political Movements and the Thought of Jacques Rancière: Equality in Action, by Todd May. AK Press is featured in Chapter 5, “Institutions of Equality.” Todd came out to Oakland and interviewed members of the collective in March of 2009 for the book.
AK does not only promote egalitarianism, it also enacts it. It explicitly structures its internal operations to reflect the kind of society it is trying to promote. The AK collective seeks egalitarianism, and believes that in order [to] accomplish that goal it must embody it in its own operations. Therefore, it structures itself in accordance with the presupposition of the equality of every speaking being involved with it, that is to say with every member of the press. We have seen how that happens, and how the difficulties the collective reflects upon are difficulties associated with maintaining that presupposition in the face of changing membership and the evolving goals and interests of that membership. In contrast to progressive groups that are more avant-gardist, seeking to liberate society from capitalism through more hierarchical forms of operation, AK Press, in accordance with its anarchist principles, operates on the assumption that liberation starts at home. One cannot call for the liberation of others from our society’s police order by means of the construction of an alternative hierarchy with a promise of equality to come later. Egalitarianism, if it is to be had, must be integrated into the process of dissensus rather than lying at the end as a goal.
Because members of AK’s collective see themselves this way, and because most (if not all) of them had an anarchist orientation before their involvement with the press, the mode of subjectification of the collective is less starkly in evidence than it would be for many other movements. Compared, for instance, with the US civil rights movement, the collective sense of exhilaration in seeing oneself as a group in action on the presupposition of its equality is less striking. However, although less striking, it is there nevertheless. I asked several members of the press about whether they saw AK as having realized the hopes they might have had for an anarchist organization. They were all in agreement that AK provides a model for such organization. They all insisted that maintaining the press as such an organization was not an easy task. It involves navigating the conflicts and difficulties mentioned above. That, however, seems to be less an obstacle to than a requirement of egalitarian institutions.
This maintenance itself illustrates an aspect of Ranière’s conception of subjectification. As we have seen, subjectification is, in his view, more of a process than a substance. Subjectification is the name of what people do rather than (or more than) who they become. It is a collective expression of the presupposition of equality, and as such is tied to the activities through which it is expressed. The fluid character of AK’s operations is an example of this. For the collective, maintaining the presupposition of equality requires and openness to the evolution of the membership and of that membership’s interests and involvements. There is no point at which one arrives that can stand as the terminal place for the building of an egalitarian structure. Or, to put the matter another way, the maintenance of an egalitarian institution is itself a process of subjectification rather than simply a product of an egalitarian institutional framework. As Rancière puts the point in questioning the possibility of institutionalizing democratic movements, the press is “tied to the act of its own verification, which is forever in need of reiteration.” AK Press does have, after all, founding principles and a small set of operating principles. However, those principles are designed to foster the process of subjectification rather than to impede the process in the name of an equality that, in the end, can only be had through the attention and flexibility that the presupposition of equality requires.
Other subjects in May’s book include equality in the Algerian refugee movement in Montreal, subjectification in the first Palestinian Intifada, the struggle for equality in the Zapatista movement, and the Upstate Food Co-op in South Carolina as an institution of equality.
Todd May is the author of The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, among other works, a member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, and a former New Yorker that has fallen for the charms of the sweet sunny south.