From here –
What happens when you degrade and diminish that infrastructure almost to nothing, while wounds of injustice still fester? What happens when the major institutions through which popular political action takes place are either wholly co-opted or die? What happens is something like the student movement against tuition fees in Britain in late 2010. This movement sprang up almost spontaneously – not entirely, as the vitiated democratic structures of the NUS still played a part, if a limited one. It drew in tens of thousands of young people, linked by little more than social media and sometimes their own milieus, but with no relation to institutional politics. It threw the authorities, put the government briefly on the back foot, and provoked frenzied horsebacked repression. And then it died once the bill to raise tuition fees was passed, leaving some minimal, ad hoc infrastructures behind. The grim echo of this defeat were the riots in the summer of 2011.
What happens, alternatively, is something like Live 8 or the Big If campaigns. Neoliberalism, hollowing out democratic institutions, encourages instead the proliferation of new political forms modelled on capitalist businesses: NGOs, for example. NGOs like lobbies and charities can be democratic organisations, of course, but generally are narrow bureaucracies modelled on capitalist enterprises. As a result, those well-meaning organisations attempting to achieve limited goals toward debt-reduction or environmental protection might occasionally need to simulate democratic legitimacy. To this end, they can mimic the basic format of social movements, usually emphasising the “consciousness-raising” aspect of such activity. A series of communicative techniques involving celebrity are deployed, building up to a “big day”: a rock festival or televised spectacle, a moment of ecstatic unity. Some “achievements” are listed – failure is rarely acknowledged – and the people go home, apparently satisfied. But little changes. Rarely are more people actually engaged in politics as a result of such campaigns.
These are the two extremes of a Janus-faced problem: spontaneous but unsustained radicalism on the one side, hypertrophied bureaucratism on the other. The problem is a lack of democracy. The problem is a lack of self-organisation. To see how it can be different, consider another, more contemporary example of a social movement.