Revolutionary but how? Thoughts from 9 July 2013
‘New left parties in Europe – lessons, legacies, prospects’ on Tuesday 9th July 2013, in Central London, was a joint open meeting of the International Socialist Network, Socialist Resistance and the Anticapitalist Initiative. Speakers were Richard Seymour (ISN), Jane Kelly (SR), and Luke Cooper of the Anticapitalist Initiative. Facebook event here. Videos of meeting here. Andrew Cooper reflects on the event.
As someone new to this grouping maybe there is something I can see here or offer as a useful reflection. Thanks for organising the meeting and to those that spoke both from the platform and floor. I wanted to say a few things at the end of the meeting after I had listened, but there wasn’t time and this led me to write the following response.
I got into studying Marx very recently after conversations and interactions around St Paul’s and else where in 2011, due to the circumstances and abuses we have all witnessed after the recent financial collapses [Ed. note: see Occupy London site, Occupy St Paul site; Guardian coverage of Occupy London]. Although this formation around the occupy movement has been criticised by some on the left I have never witnessed such a situation where so many different people were talking to each other, architects, unemployed, homeless, students and those seeking asylum for example.
I decided to propose and form a self motivated reading group with others to read Marx’s Capital. I have since discovered that, not surprisingly, there are many other such groups, several of which in Ireland for example. It ended up taking place around a table in the Royal Festival Hall Café as people got evicted from the occupy projects. The first thing that struck us was the contemporary relevance of Marx’s writing and for my part an overwhelming feeling- ‘why didn’t I read this twenty years ago!’
When you talk to people and listen to their experience, and try to move forward your own understanding about capitalism and what we might do instead of capitalism, people are interested and even feed back the concepts interpreted through their own experience; one example being the intensification of the labour process cutting down on lunch breaks and lengthening the working day. Concepts that help us analyse capitalism like surplus value, the falling rate of profit and countervailing tendencies are things people can get into relation with because they already are dealing with the consequences.
What alienates people from thinking about these things are the same forces that cut people off from most resources, time being stolen. Also, it is simply not enough to say or believe we have a revolutionary position towards capitalism. This can be like fetishised radicalism because the question of why we need a revolutionary position towards capitalism has not been broached to others. The necessary learning project is not undertaken; just a blind assumption that it is good to be revolutionary in our position towards capitalism which we think others will see when they are ready. I think though, it has to be a mutual learning experience. What is capitalism? What appears as natural? We must question these things ourselves and encourage others to do so. We live in a symbolic myopic soup, no one is free from it actually; it is vital we examine our own contradictions.
The element of learning is a cultural force and dynamism for potential change because you and others come to realise why things need to change and gain confidence in your own understandings. This is not the case of course when people are alienated from understanding and that is a problem. It was certainly a problem in the group I was in the 80s where people were told what to think. I left it, and these are the first political meetings I have been to since.
We should not assume ‘what we think people know’ or are prepared to accept. If people have had access to knowledge or truths they have a responsibility to get them into relation with others, to actualise the potential of this knowledge; this is not a case of transference of dogma but real production of new knowledge through interaction with others and real experience which we cannot altogether predict. In this case I would suggest a look at Marx’s own view of the dialectic where he describes a planet which is both falling towards the sun and pulling away from it at the same time, the result being an ellipse. What does this practically mean?
Firstly, interdependence needs to be not only acknowledged but also experienced. Secondly the result, if it is a true engagement, is not what is already known. Thirdly, the importance of antagonism resides in the sense that it pushes the symbolic enveloping of understanding. I think without an actual qualitative sensual experience of engagement and the listening to real experience, it is difficult, if not impossible for the new to form. This is crucial in relation to a common evolving body of knowledge we [must] take ownership of. It is important in any democratic organization that seeks to act with as much joint consciousness as possible.
Another observation: during a presentation one comrade spoke about not thinking so much in terms of class struggle uniting us, and he mentioned social struggles. But aren’t social struggles related to class struggle? I don’t think we can completely separate social struggle from class struggle. Class identity, as it is used in the media and popular understanding often obscures how class works in capitalism as a social power relation. Again I think we need to understand what capitalism is as a social machine for the extraction of life-time energy from people. There is an exploited revolutionary class – the majority, and we need to collectively wake up to this…but this involves a renewed understanding of class. Perhaps you think this is too complicated now? Even in Marx’s time there were a myriad of ways that workers were hailed into capitalism. How this learning is achieved in a way that works against alienation is the issue.
Finally, I’d like to mention something that happened a month or so ago when those of us from the reading group did an exhibition of drawings and diagrams made from Marx’s Capital. Richard Brenner came and did a brilliant talk on value, using the drawings in a power point presentation to a very mixed audience of people from the gallery, people from my work [Ed. note: A. C. works as an art teacher], and people that Richard had invited. What was interesting was everyone was taken to a position of questioning, no one was preaching. I would like to repeat this kind of thing where ruptures of symbolic space can be given a chance. Maybe there are other models people can think of to bring people together for this. What is frustrating though is that there is nothing unified as yet to plug this new interest into and take it further to inform political action. But the potential and desire to question is out there when you talk to people. What we need is a giant ear and the will to act on what we hear.
 All pictures and drawings in this post are from Andrew Cooper. Please do not use without permission. The drawings are extracts from the exhibition ‘Capital’ (Andrew Cooper, Enda Deburka, Dean Kenning, John Russell) at Xero, Kline & Coma here, during which Alexander McLean shot the following video of Andrew Cooper responding to questions asked during the opening of the show. For more writing, drawings and diagrams made on the subject Art and Class Struggle go here.