Midnight over Lake Michigan
This time of year days get noticeably shorter, darkness comes earlier every evening. I don’t know if it is a mood or the season, but a kind of darkness defined by a lack of hope, a lack of a dawn, seems to be descending across much of the world of late, or at least how I’m thinking of it.
Maybe this mood or this season is coloring my thoughts, no doubt it is, but I have lived though every winter in the firm knowledge that spring would come. And last winter was the worst winter on record in these parts. I see no justification for that conviction in the face of the various ruling class storm fronts roiling overhead.
If you are at all interested in an emancipatory project, things are remarkably bad. For this socialist, whose world view shaped in the last century, fourteen years in is a little early to be calling ‘midnight’ on the 21st century, but Victor Serge could have written a poem about Tahrir that sounded an awful lot like the ones he wrote on Madrid. This makes one shudder to think how things might go a whole lot worse in the coming decades if course is not dramatically reversed.
I’m not doom saying, I’m just saying trends don’t point in directions I want to live in. If midnight is not assured, neither is dawn and that is a frightening way to live. Indeed, it is no way to live.
I suppose it has always been that way for those at the receiving end of the logic of capital’s growth and accumulation, but unlike so many past crises there seems so little to root for, even in defeat, these days.
I’m thinking (to mention a few) of the conflagration now taking place in an arc from the Mediterranean well past Persian Gulf into the mountains of the Hindu Kush, of the rising waters of ecological catastrophe and the continued barbarism of neo-liberalism’s dismantling of anything left standing without a price affixed and reassembling it as a derivative. It’s now all derivative, from Beyoncé’s feminism to the community of “social entrepreneurs” that make up so much of what passes for the progressive party these days.
I live in a place where every school district is being charterized and the last memory of the UAW has sold the last cabin up north that a working class person used to be able to afford. Where gardening and making (and selling) your own soap passes for social activism for too many who have now grown up in a world without strikes and without ever seeing your neighbor on a picket line. As someone said some other bad time – ‘things weren’t any before, but they are worse now.”
Of course things aren’t all terrible. Everywhere there this is or that struggle, some of them remarkable and redefining the way we might think about approaching the situation. Some spaces are opening up and it is obvious that whatever deep vein Occupy touched is pulsing in other places. Latin America has and continues to buck some of the trends. But it seems to me that in a world chiefly characterized by the ruling class’s mad avarice and the state and international institutions they operate through not being able to solve, and or even contain, certain crisis (mainly caused by said mad avarice), then the only way to respond, to land blows on that class, is for a some kind of class response.
This is a class society. The enemy, the 1%, are organized as a class in the interests of their class. Even with all kinds of conflicts between and within them, they have common agreement that it is their class which should remain on top. To challenge them at all, we have to do it on the basis of class. After all, it’s not only is it how they they think and how they operate, it’s how they work.
That response is, so far, entirely lacking in this moment and in such marked difference to many of capitalism’s past impasses. There will be no collapse; capitalism has been remarkable in defraying the costs of its own logic over the years. Despite what some on the right may say, the really big debt crises seem easily overcome at least. Capitalism can get out of most problems, if it can force someone else to pay for them. But it will mean further descent into the mire, the fire and the plastic-filled waves of a surging sea and that is plenty bad enough.
The 80s sucked, those years weren’t any better, but now, without an occupied union hall on the landscape and the hard-won power torn from black cities, it is worse. Or, at least it is entirely out of my communist comfort-level. Saying all that, historic developments have almost always defied the preconceptions of what I thought was possible. That’s the way history works, it is always as unexpected in its course as we were once sure.
It’s no use running to the mountains, they have the drones. I am ready, however, to push back on that tsunami of detritus that capital’s earthquakes are pushing on to shore. But it will have to be together, as a class, and it will have to be welding and struggling for power and with something far more than the creative power of the local DIY festival, or we are all assuredly swamped.
Where is that power? How do we pick it up? How do we strike a blow? We have to strike a blow. There’s no shame in going down, far better than us have gone down before, but to go down without fight?
I am reminded of Serge’s passage in The Birth of Our Power:
‘Very likely Dario, at the end of all this trouble we will be shot. I have doubts about today and about ourselves. You would laugh, Dario, if I told you this aloud. You would say, stretching out your great, shaggy, brotherly, strong hands: “Me, I feel able to win all the way. All the way.” That is how we all feel, immortal, right up to the moment when we feel nothing anymore. And life goes on after our little drop of water has flowed back into the ocean. In this sense my confidence is as one with yours. Tomorrow is great. We will not have prepared this conquest in vain. This city will be taken, if not by our hands, at least by others like ours, but stronger. Stronger perhaps by having been better hardened, thanks to our very weakness. If we are beaten, other men, infinitely different from us, infinitely like us, will walk, on a similar evening, in ten years, in twenty years (how long is really without importance) down this rambla, meditating on the same victory. Perhaps they will think about our blood. Even now I think I see them and I am thinking about their blood, which will flow too. But they will win the city.’
If we do not strike that blow, will there still be others like us, after us, carrying our memory and ready to go ‘all the way?”