February 22, 2006

Pessimism of the intellect

Reader Noel Douglas takes me up on a couple of points from the last post.

'A past that was not - in one sense - even mine, that was over before I was born in July 1968. Yet the reverberations continued for a few years yet

I think the Italian hot autumn, miners bringing down the government here in 72/3, Chile '73, Portugese Revolution of '74 to name but a few were a little more than reverberations! Anyone of those winning could have altered the course of history...

>Only by a collective action that seems inconceivable now

Well as a fellow natfhe member I hope you're coming out on strike soon! That plus what looks like it could be the biggest strike here since '26 over pensions coming up could make big differences here in the coming months, and I don't think the general situation is as overwhelmingly pessimistic as you make out, having been involved personally in things like Genoa, the general strike in Spain in 2002 (one of a number of one day general strikes in Europe in the last few years), the scale of the anti-war movement, the world social forum process (where Marker is a regular), the 'no' vote in France, the weakness of the US is iraq, and the exciting developments in South America, added to the general crisis of profitability of global capitalism, (hence the neo-liberal assault on public services) means whilst that we are in for a rocky ride in the next few years there is hope. As you accurately described in your piece on the Arctic Monkeys, modernism was about interrupting the norm, and just such 'interruptions' could burst out at any moment, and in fact they often happen when things seem bleakest...

to return to '68 for a second remember people who should know better were saying the working class were bought off and dead 5 months before May, there's no reason to presume Revolutionary ruptures may not be round the corner (even if that corner is a few years long)

as the old saying goes - 'don't moan, organise!' '

Yes, but as another old saying goes - 'pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.'

Well, that 'seems inconceivable now' was a deliberately weak claim, and the whole bleak tone, I'll admit, more an emotional response than a rational assessment of what could happen. Events by their nature are unforseeable (even though they do not 'just happen' as spontaneous efflorescences of desire - they can be organised and prepared for). With Natfhe merging with AUT, there is perhaps some hope for a general campaign on education, but even if such a campaign were to happen, it couldn't succeed without a massive cultural shift away from capitalist realism and its assumptions. Which is why Arctic Monkeys on teevee isn't just a matter of entertainment or aesthetics, it's part of the ambience of Restoration (the not-so-hidden messsage: things can never change). The problem is that capital is innately and essentially global (and by that I don't just mean planetary, I mean abstract, irreducible to a particular location) whereas its opposition remains local, tied to specific sets of interests. Capital thought very carefully about how to break labour; it seems to me there's still not yet been enough thought about what tactics will work against capital in conditions of post-Fordism, and what new language can be innovated to deal with those conditions. Because part of the difficulty is that capitalism has appropriated 'the new' as its own, whereas we are largely reduced to clothing ourselves in the shabby remnants of a century ago. To reclaim the 'new' can't be a matter of adapting to the conditions in which we find ourselves - we've done that rather too well, and 'successful adaptation' is the strategy of managerialism par excellence. Paraphrase of a manager (and Natfhe member) at our place after a union meeting today : 'Incorporation was done solely to make our working conditions worse and lower our wages. But all we can do is deal with how things are now. We have to 'manage' things. Anything else is not realistic.'

It's clear: what we need to do is identify a Now that is break from capitalist realism.

Posted by mark at February 22, 2006 12:20 AM | TrackBack