A collective shitting in the pants By William Bowles

27 July 2005

What kind of a mess have our erstwhile leaders got us into? It’s not too late you know, to do something about this gang of murdering politicos who have their cold, hard hands around our throats.

It struck me that the common message I have been getting of late is not only anger and frustration but of fear, not of bombers but of the political class and the growing realisation of what they are capable of and that perhaps it took a July 7 to wake people up to the reality of a desperate ruling class, backed into a corner, whose only way forward (or is it backward) is to rack up the terror, notch by notch, through holding the nation to hostage.

Folks, let history inform us of what this class is capable of, it’s all there, written in blood, there’s no mistaking what they have done in the name of something or other, normally patria and somebody or other’s ‘way of life’ (definitely not mine, nor I suspect, of yours).

Civilisation – Western-style

A Haitian human rights worker says U.N. soldiers blew off this man’s jaw.
photo: Anonymous Haitian Human Rights Worker

I refuse to be held hostage by a 9/11 or a 7/7 or whatever shorthand is used to describe the crimes of our rulers. That ostensibly it’s carried out by some small clique of liberal ‘intellectuals’ (or inspired by them) is neither here nor there. They are the bastard sons of capitalism come home to shit in our backyard, not on Tony Blair and his criminal associates, nor on those who plunder the wealth of the planet in the name of ‘civilisation’ and the GDP.

Those of us who have no doubt foolishly, taken on the task of trying to inform those of us who have rejected the pap fed them by the corporate state, have inevitably shouldered an enormous responsibility that once taken on cannot be lightly shrugged off. But make no mistake, these are responsibilities taken on entirely voluntarily, no force was necessary, not even a smidgen of guilt is involved. Insecure I may be but not guilt-ridden.

I count myself blessed to be able to articulate some of my ideas and above all my passions about life, glorious life, sometimes more coherently, sometimes less. I don’t pretend to have the answers but I damn well know what’s right and above all, what’s just!

So, as Vladimir Illyich Lenin said way back, ‘What is to be done?’. And for those of you who think it’s merely history and maybe not even relevant to our times, let me remind you that it was written in 1902, a time more than comparable to our present circumstances. A time of the embryonic development of a revolutionary party of the workers and peasants in Russia. Moreover, this party in formation followed more than three decades not only of struggle, of victories and defeats but of learning and the development of a theoretical basis for a revolutionary movement.

For those of you who actually venture into the world of Marxist polemics at the turn of the 19th century, the language, the arguments will seem incongruous, opaque even but that’s not the point. They were real debates about life and death issues that hinged first and and foremost on an understanding of what the hell was actually going on and how to formulate a theoretical understanding upon which actions could be based.

Okay, so the chief concern of the time was the development of a consciousness in the industrial working class, led as Lenin pointed out by revolutionary intellectuals, indeed members of an intellectual elite who ironically belonged to the ruling class of the time. Today, we have no comparable intellectual elite able to offer a theoretical basis for a way forward. Sadly, those who claim to be the inheritors of the revolutionary tradition of Marx, argue mostly about the past without it seems, fully understanding the reasons why they argue other than for purely academic purposes (how many ‘real’ Marxists can you cram on the head of pin?).

Indeed Lenin quotes from Engels on precisely this crucial issue:

“It must be said to the credit of the German workers that they have exploited the advantages of their situation with rare understanding. For the first time since a workers’ movement has existed, the struggle is being conducted pursuant to its three sides – the theoretical, the political, and the practical-economic (resistance to the capitalists) – in harmony and in its interconnections, and in a systematic way. It is precisely in this, as it were, concentric attack, that the strength and invincibility of the German movement lies.

‘What is to be done’ attempted to sum up the situation as it stood in 1902, dealing with the major theoretical issues of the times, chiefly that of Social Democracy versus a revolutionary movement, ironically neither of which we now possess since New Labour dropped all pretence of being a social democratic party. And our former industrial working class has been relocated to far off lands, where no doubt they are going through similar struggles to those conducted by our forebears.

We on the other hand, are for the most part, well off, at least in a crass, material sense. There is of course an ‘underclass’ numbering some millions but without any kind of collective being or expression. Such underclasses are a common feature of the developed economies, essentially ‘surplus to requirement’ and hence for the most part marginalised, demonised and criminalised and subject to the full brunt of state repression in all it various and ingenious forms.

What remains of the organised working class are for the most part, employees of the state and relatively well-off. And in any case, trade unions are not going to take political power (we see what happened the last time, it’s called the Labour Party).

Where then is an opposition to come from and what form will it take? What will be its platform for change, for unlike our antecedents whose major concern was first and foremost to challenge the capitalists head-on, in the workplace and through political parties, contest political power through elections? Where the issue was freedom from material want and the realisation that one way to wrest at least a modicum of the wealth stolen from their labours was through the ballot box. To say that our struggle is now as much ‘existential’ as it is material, begs the question.

With half the population somnabulised and in full retreat from reality, safe, they think, for the moment from the world of naked capitalism, subject only to a tiny taste of what is for the Iraqis, a daily dose of ‘civilisation’, what will it take to awaken these slumbering ‘masses’ from the sleep of ages?

As to the other half, well perhaps half are ready for change but bereft of a viable alternative and having lost all trust in politicians of any flavour, even worse of the political process itself, my fear is that it will be too late. This may sound apocalyptic but the reality is that the capitalist class would rather destroy all our achievements than share them, so besotted are they with their possession of power. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we have a ruling class that is possessed of a lethal psychosis, lethal this time, for the entire planet.

This may sound elitist but the reality is that back in Lenin’s time, there was a robust and healthy debate about the nature of capitalism and the theoretical nature of an alternative, a debate conducted by the intellectuals of the time, for without theory there can be no practice.

And I think it’s true to say that from 1917 to the present, theoretical debates, with a few notable exceptions, remained frozen in time, our eyes glued firmly on the Soviet Union as the alleged leader of the ‘world socialist revolution’. Understandable perhaps, given the realities of the time but of little use to us now, except perhaps as a warning not to go down that particular road again. And I think that having learned the lessons of those times, the next time, though inevitably imperfect, we can avoid those particular mistakes from the past.

But the cold, hard reality is that we have been robbed of our intellectuals, our thinkers, the word is virtually a curse! The capitalist state has appropriated most of them and the rest are effectively locked away on campuses churning out ‘learned’ tomes that they share only amongst themselves using a language that has more in common with the scribes of the Middle Ages than it does with unpacking the crisis that confronts us.

Does this all sound totally removed from the crisis that confronts us? Well maybe so, but unless you are of a mystical persuasion, one that believes in some kind of ‘divine intervention’ that will solve all our problems with the wave of some magical wand, without a clear understanding of what the hell is going on, of the political and economic forces at work all around us, we are reduced to baying at the moon or relying on crystals to come up with solutions. And there are no longer any hills far enough away for us to run to.

It’s all well and good cursing Bush and Blair, exposing the hypocrisy of the ruling classes is important, don’t get me wrong, but without a theoretical basis for a practical way out the mess we’re in, we are truly lost.

The frustrating thing is that we do have the solutions. We live in age of unprecedented wealth and knowledge with which to solve most, if not all of the problems that confront us. None of it is rocket science, damn it!

Okay, it means shucking off a whole mess of crap, of self-delusion, of freeing ourselves from the web of deceit that has been woven around us. Yes, it does mean re-ordering our priorities, of re-discovering our ‘collective commons’, that which we share in common with the rest of humanity, but it’s not impossible, indeed history shows quite conclusively that it’s ‘hard-wired’ into our nature. For the most part, people are not nasty or selfish by nature, we will gladly sacrifice ourselves for others for example – under the right conditions.

Let’s face it folks, those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the right place at the right time have it within our power to unleash the forces that can initiate change, unstoppable change. Once moved to action, there is no force on earth that can stop us. But first we need to recover our sense of history and belief in ourselves as independent, thinking beings, possessed of the power to control our own lives, to make the decisions that count.

I was fortunate to participate in a small way, in the struggle that removed apartheid in South Africa. I remember well what it felt like to be part of a vast movement, the elation, the joy we all felt as we celebrated the end of a hated regime. Complete strangers hugging me on the street – Amandla! Damn, but did we party! My belief in humanity not only rewarded but confirmed. Okay, it was but the first and in many ways the easiest part of the journey to accomplish, I’m no fool, but that’s not the point, life doesn’t come with a warranty. What has happened since, was also predictable but that doesn’t mean the struggle was worthless or futile, far from it, it merely shows just how difficult it is.

Should we not have embarked on the struggle? Of course not! To think otherwise is to deny our right to think for ourselves, to struggle. If all struggle is destined to fail, then there would be no change, we would be frozen in time, accepting of a nihilist version of reality. Should the Bolsheviks have said, ‘nah, it’s bound to fail, let’s wait for the ‘perfect’ time’. Of course, there is no ‘perfect’ time, there is only the ‘moment’ when change is inevitable, but as the Boy Scouts say, ‘be prepared’.

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