Monday, 27 January 2020

The History of Now (2008)

The History of Now: a work in progress
Written By: Julienne Ford
Date: April 2008
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 31: Summer 2008  

I started the current project modestly and reasonably enough by attempting to revise the labour theory of value (yes already I have made some enmity!) to produce a practical economics that factored in environmental justice as well as making it possible for alternative communities to infiltrate, and hopefully to some degree subvert, the global corporate concentrations of capital.(1) This meant that I had to go into the details of the carbon trading concepts and the history of its development and gradual adoption by capital and its lackeys. (Incidentally, the carbon trading bank through which these tokens are traded exclusively is owned by the best mate of the guy, Aubrey Meyer(2), who managed to get the scheme adopted!). So I read closely most of the Schumacher briefings and engaged with the position of the Resurgence people. In particular I was struck by a popularisation of this position by David Edwards.(3) This book seemed to sum up the whole thrust of a loose grouping of Fabianish artisans connected with Summerhill and Dartington Hall, as well as the Resurgence people (who include some who were at various times insiders in the Blair circle – e.g. Mulgan.) They do concede that corporate capitalism is destroying the Earth as well as the psychic and physical well-being of the majority of the people on it. Their analysis is lifted straight from Marx but not attributed to him: terms (e.g. the word “monetocracy”) are invented to purvey this framework as though it has sprung afresh from a new paradigm. That’s ok with me actually, because if this gets a Marxist critical perspective understood and adopted widely among well-meaning, rather well-heeled, people, who are worrying about the future of their children, then it is all to the good. However, what I won’t swallow is the claptrap that the ‘monetocrats’ need our sympathy even more than the dispossessed and oppressed because, apparently, they have less chance of seeing the world as it really is. Nor can I accept the ridiculous attempt to tame corporate capitalism rather than destroying it. This is, after all, the same guff that morphed into the ‘third way’ with which New Labour continued the historic process of social democratic collusion with capital by controlling the population on its behalf - this time, rather than achieving this by some amelioration of the worst of the emiseration, they did it by naked terror and unconstrained exercise of illegitimate power.

Another aspect of this green Menshevism is the widespread demonisation of Marxists, revolutionaries and freedom fighters, which ascribes to us some kind of thirst for ‘the Terror’ akin to the Bush/Blair idea that Muslims celebrate death rather than life. These people carefully pick the objective conditions from between the lines of the monetocratic conspiracy (drawing on excellent writers like Chomsky, Zinn, Pilger, Glasgow Media Group etc.) but when talking about ‘anarchists’ or Marxists they rely heavily on the very same propaganda that they have just exposed.

The politics of the ‘Green movement’ and especially the British Green Party has been, and remains, opposed to left-wing insights, tending to caricature us as Stalinist, macho, intolerant and innately predisposed to violence. This stereotyping is partly based on ignorance of the actual writings of Marxism-Leninism, Mao, and the Panthers etc., partly on a lazy reliance on media information on anything outside their own experience, and a little bit on deliberate obfuscation. The Lovelock ‘Gaia’ notion was a godsend (ha ha) to those who wanted to make a premature closure to the top of their paradigm. When Lovelock started saying that the crisis was now so urgent we had better have nuclear power some people thought he had ‘lost it’ or been nobbled. But actually his Gaia hypothesis is fundamentally conservative theology, a physical-world equivalent of Talcott Parsons structural-functionalism(4) , i.e. a batty teleology which says leave alone and all will work out for the best. He never was any champion of oppressed and dispossessed humanity.

But, just as the ‘tipping point’ has been reached in recognising the environmental crisis and its urgency, so I believe this point is fast approaching in the bigger awareness of the relationship between that crisis and the structures of exploitation. I have great respect for popular writers like Naomi Klein and George Monbiot who make it fashionable among the chattering strata to decry capitalism itself. And more and more ‘soft’ movements like the eco-village networks have come to understand the importance of bottom-up structures for decision making. Liberation movements from the Zapatistas to ‘God’s Bollocks’ in the Lebanon are an inspiration which historians may recognize as echoes from earlier liberation movements, and which have fired the World Social Forum and reminded many movers and shakers that prior to the twentieth century this is how all the progressive movements in the so-called first world operated. The struggle of organised industrial labour is clearly tied to specific historical circumstances and, though it must not be abandoned, it cannot be enough in this century when the bitter fruits of the changing structure of industry (so aptly and irritatingly explained by Hobsbawm(5) have to be reaped by the “excluded”(6) and by the New Deal family with its two overworked parents whose next baby is being headhunted for one of New Labour’s baby-ASBOs.

At the same time the internet obviously gives globalisation a hint of optimistic possibility, of HP Newton’s Revolutionary (as opposed to reactionary) Intercommunalism.(7)

My own position was wrought from Newton’s idea of Revolutionary Love refined by the theory and praxis of the New Jewel Movement in London and Grenada. I now see this as a form of anti-imperialism which has benefited from third world liberation struggles as much as from that of the industrial working class in the imperial nations, and has benefited most of all from international solidarity.

I cannot stress strongly enough that whatever one reads from ‘engaged Buddhism’, ‘deep ecology’, Earth-First type anarchism, European and Asian Trotskyism, modern ‘Eurocommunism’, Rastafarian Rodneyism, radical Islam, the UK ‘nationalists’ and Alliance of Green Socialists, etc. - we are all ‘singing from the same sheet’. One has only to look at Castro’s study of liberation theology or his latest (2007) essay on international solidarity, to appreciate the synchronicity of the Zapatista metaphor that we make the road by walking – and as we walk we talk: we debate, we argue, we progress both dialectical theory and praxis.

I call this position dialectical universalism.

Stringent dialectics easily dismisses the terrible mistakes of diamat and Stalinism. Rather, I suggest, it is worth rehabilitating(8) the dialectical method as understood by Engels(9) and showing how pushing to the negation of the negation is the form of reasoning which suits our evolving human consciousness.(10) When Greimas’ application of Boolean logic(11) is applied to it, it becomes absolutely transparent and easy: one is left marvelling that such blundering forms of cognitive manipulation as induction and deduction ever became hegemonised to the extent that they did.
Universalism argues cogently for a permanent progression of abstraction, taking the perspective further and further away, like Giodarno Bruno’s idea that if a point of light is removed to infinity it illuminates the whole sphere. Diamat was an attempt to close the paradigm prematurely with some stupid metaphysical materialism that was strangely identical to the kind of scientism now paradoxically expounded by American Fundamental Christianity.(12) Postmodernism rightly ridiculed this. But Engels had already demonstrated that empiricism spawns its own crazy idealist metaphysic.

Atheism as an ideological commitment is another mistake shown up for what it is by dialectical universalism. Many of us reject deism but that does not make us atheists. It’s not a question of choosing a god (or gods) or being ‘an atheist’. Presumably an atheist is someone who doesn’t accept any faith, not someone who doesn’t believe in a god (otherwise Buddhists would be atheists). Any notion of transcendent properties, even something like ‘collective conscience’ or, say, ‘the proletariat as the universal class’ posits a noumenal entity which helps make sense of the entire paradigm. I don’t really care if people believe in fairies as long as they are universalist fairies who won’t stop flitting around and jingling their annoying little bells until all the people of the earth ‘not only control the productive and institutional units of society ... but have seized possession of their own subconscious attitudes towards these things’. (Newton(13))
Universalism does not require unanimity of taste, preference and practice. It is nothing like the ‘integration’ which New Labour wants instead of ‘multiculturalism’. We don’t all have to have identical beliefs and values. Any fairy or god or philosophy is good enough as long as it is predicated on our human responsibility to the overall collective, and recognition of the consequences for all of the behaviour of each. Sidney Webb(14) gives data on the Soviet education system in the 1920s when Russian was the second language in all schools and many vernacular tongues were given written forms for the first time – and not in Cyrillic but in the Roman alphabet. 100% literacy was achieved in less than a decade, showing that it is possible to do this in a vast, diverse system and not just in a tiny island like Grenada.

Personally I think Paul Kingsnorth’s prescient slogan ONE NO AND MANY YESES(15) is spot on. More and more people can see what is wrong with global capitalism but only idiots would wish to replace it with another hegemony.

So now, as I see it, the task is not so much to write out a useful synthesis (though I am determined to have a bash) as to work out the structures of support and solidarity, of information-sharing and inspiration, cooperation and coordination, and of spreading the word far beyond the traditional spheres of socialist sympathy that will enable us to seize the coming moment and avert the present catastrophe in what Bunny Wailer has so aptly called ‘the nick of time’.(16)

With regard to such structures I am convinced that the most pressing task is to work out how to use Web 2.0 – perhaps with webcams etc. – to create a form of universal videoconferencing that enables a system(17) of thousands of ‘workshop groups’ (perhaps of about fifteen members each) to discuss issues, distil conclusions and have those conclusions presented at plenary sessions, then translate into further discussion and keep repeating the process. It is a process that could properly be called participative democracy: as opposed to representational ‘democracy’ where you get a chance to choose between tweedledum and tweedledee every four years and ‘whoever you vote for the government gets in’, taking over the authoritarian structures of repression and putting their own brand-stamp of ‘leadership’ on them. If we cannot do this we must drown in our own self-righteousness as the tide of toxic, radioactive emotional subjectivist sewage rises above our pathetic appetites for self-aggrandisement.

1. The current (2008) formulation for this is ‘An appropriate planetary economics would not be based on exchange value in the global market but on usefulness in specific times and places, as mediated by mindfulness, both in the identification and rejection of (displaced) exploitation and expropriation, and in the defence of indigenous autopoesis’. Julienne Ford Never Point at a Rainbow: dialectical universalism and the project of humanity (Superscript, August 2008)
2. Aubrey Meyer, Contraction and Convergence (Green Books, 2000)
3. David Edwards, The Compassionate Revolution (Green Books, 1998)
4 Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action (Free Press, 1967)
5. Eric Hobsbawm, The Forward March of Labour Halted? (Verso, 1981)
6. The collusion of social scientists with the entrenchment of the term ‘excluded’ to refer to those outside or ‘below’ the organized working class is as much part of the rightward shift of the discipline of sociology as it is a continuance of the deliberate ignorance of the role of the dispossessed, wretched, enslaved, imprisoned and so-called ‘lumpen’ brought to the centre of the historical stage in HP Newton’s analysis. H P Newton and V I Lenin, Revolutionary Intercommunalism and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (Superscript, 2004)
7. Ibid.
8. Such a rehabilitation would have almost nothing in common with Zizek’s defeatist attempt at the same task. The Parallax View (MIT, 2006)
9. Friedrich Engels, The Dialectics of Nature (Progressive, 1954) and Anti- Dühring (Progressive, 1947)
10. I have found nothing on this topic as enlightening as E V Ilyenkov, Leninist Dialectics and the Metaphysics of Positivism (New Park, 1982)
11. A.J. Greimas, Semantique Structurale (PUF,1995)
12. Woods and Grant also make this point, Alan Woods and Ted Grant Reason in Revolt: dialectical philosophy and modern science (Algora, 2002) Vol 1 p.215. A similar position from outside a Marxist perspective comes from Tina Beattie The New Atheists (Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd, 2007)
13. Op. cit.
14. Sidney Webb, Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation? (Longman,1935) p.67 Vol 2
15. Paul Kingsnorth, One No, Many Yeses (Free Press,2003)
16. Bunny Wailer, Blackheart Man. (Tuff Gong circa 1971) See also Walter Rodney, Groundings with my Brothers (Bogle-l’Ouverture, 1969) and Horace Campbell, Rasta and Resistance: from Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney (Hansib,1985).
17. This system would be a worldwide network of internet workshops based on the model developed by the Peoples’ Revolutionary Government in Grenada which was used so successfully to restructure the entire (colonial) education system, and create a level of literacy far exceeding that of the UK today.

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