we are

hope is precious
it must be rationed








click me


The Dusty Hat

China Miéville

I came to crawling, my ears screaming. The fire door had blown open and was going whump, whump, swinging to and fro as quick as my heart, and as it flipped open and closed I saw through it to 2F, where the swallowed cries went on.

Maybe it was just that I was disoriented but I hope it might have been bravery that made me stumble towards the room. I think I was shouting.

Amid the rush of air something skittered. The dusty hat. It flipped over and over and rolled on its brim. I half-stumbled past the hat, a shoe, a long rag, to the threshold.

A glimpse only. No sign of the old man. A whiteboard covered in markings too small to read. The History Man waving his hand and coughing, his eyes wide. The air seemed thick as if with smoke. The hack, impassive, looking up at me, holding something hidden in her hands, something alive and twitching.

I ran back the way I’d come in a panic I did not understand and could not control. I scooped up the dusty hat and kept going, almost falling with every step, hurtling down the stairs. Maybe I’d have slowed if I hadn’t heard something coming behind me.

I ran, ran out, ran into the night and through the main building, down the main street to where the trains waited and on to one, begging it to drag me away.

 

I don’t know how to say what I have to say to you. If I say, ‘I find that my choice is whether to not be or to be,’ it’ll worry you. I could maybe say, ‘My choice is how to be,’ but that leaves so much unsaid.

When a robot vacuum cleaner hits the sofa leg, it might veer left, might go right. Is that choice? I don’t know yet which way I’ll veer.

The time I’m talking about is just before you got that last text from me, to which you didn’t immediately reply, because it was in the middle of the night and it made no sense. I know later you came to my ruined house and couldn’t get in, and no one could find me. I got your messages, but I couldn’t answer. I saw how you all looked.

How do I tell this?

It’s hard to think sometimes amid the clamour of argument. The politics of objects. All our conversations compete.

YouTube videos might be conversing among themselves – their lists and references and cuts parts of their dialect. When we bounce from song to nonsense to meme, we might be eavesdropping on arguments between images. It might be none of it’s for us at all, any more than it’s for us when we sit on a stool and intrude on the interactions of angles of furniture, or when we see a washing line bend under the weight of the wind or a big cloud of starlings and act like we get to be pleased.

 

I rushed through the city as if it might open up under me. My heart kept on like that swinging door. When I got back to my house I sank into a chair as if I was deflating. I sat against the dark. Hours seemed to skitter. I thought of calling someone. To say what?

I didn’t know what I’d seen. I didn’t know what I was thinking about or why my heartbeat wouldn’t slow.

The crack in the ceiling and the wall could have been wider than when I left. It seemed plausible to me. I felt as if I should get out of there, and then, in a rage, as if I was fucked if I would do that.

I poured myself a glass of water. I didn’t like how it looked at me.

In my study I sat under an inadequate lamp and listened to a scratching within the chimney. I’d never begrudged that perch to whatever bird it was, where it flapped and softly banged and scritch-scratched, and sometimes sent down little lumps of sooty brick. This time though it sounded as if its mission was to descend.

I made sure the iron flap was closed and smashed my glass in the fireplace where anything would have to come down.

Outside my window the darkness pooled between the roofs. I didn’t know when I’d picked it up but I had the hat in my hands. I held it over my head as if I would put it on but God knows I didn’t.

I still couldn’t get those accidents out of my head. I flicked again through a list of them on my glowing phone. At last I found what I knew the man’s words had put me in mind of: the Boston slick, a century ago, the bomb-like explosion of a silo and millions of gallons of molasses rushing in a tide to reconfigure North End into a sump of ooze, a brown swamp broken by a few tough dripping verticals like the front, in the recently halted war, the city stinking sweet as a pitcher plant and the alleys made troughs of syrupy slop that rose in moments of upheaval, the engulfed thrashings of drowning, the dead in a sugar-trap, to be found glazed days later, dogs, stiff-limbed horses, rats, twisted women and men, sticky, terrible candies.

 

I don’t remember sleeping. I don’t feel as if I did, but there was a moment when I sat alone staring at the light and the tiny words in my hand, then a moment of shift and a moment that I blinked and tried to rise into a lurching room and a huge breaking sound, an effortful breaking sound. Everything swayed. I gripped my chair. My phone went flying and I dropped the hat. My room pitched. I started to slide as if into a sea.

The motion stopped. Grudgingly the floor righted. I got to my knees. I got to my feet. The floorboards vibrated too much but they held. I stood in the sepia light of my lamp, gripping the hat.

The old man was by the door.

I was still. I held my breath. He stood with his hands together. There was no more sound in the house and none in the street beyond.

The man looked down at where my phone shone. Still the screen describing that old disaster.

No war without class war, he said, as I grabbed. The company blamed anarchists for that explosion, he said. A stab of class spite. As if anyone was behind that vicious viscous salvo but urschleim. The Great War was not finished whatever they said at Compiègne. There were other combatants, still are, weaponising ooze, he said. That was a salvo of something against something.

I lurched for him, yowling, trying to get past him and out to take my chances in London. To push him was to push a thing with curious weight and texture. He pushed me back and stood between me and the door watching with a calm sad stare. I shrank from the attention.

The reason I’m here is to say thank you, he said.

The reason I’m here, he said, is because you have the platform.

It isn’t safe, he said. It’s only the solidity and solidarity of the wall with you against the break that keeps you standing. Your house is done.

He looked at me beseechingly. He said, the platform.

I held out the hat. He took it and breathed out and it was as if smoke came out of his nostrils. Thank you, he said, and flipped the hat in his hands like a jaunty fop and put it on his head. For the first time in my company, he smiled.

The fissure’s been watching you, he said. It’s a loyalist crack. The split was against you in the split.

He flicked the brim exactly as I’d pretended to, and just as when I’d pretended, dust billowed. It went up and stopped. It didn’t dissipate or settle into a chalky layer. It stopped and waited in a cloud that looked around while I watched, and while I watched like a film run backwards it de-billowed, un-gusted, anti-plumed to snap back to the felt.

It’s a viewing platform, he said. For a scouting layer.

Dust rose and fell from it. He hadn’t flicked it.

Thank you for taking them and keeping them safe, he said, they were disoriented and who knows what might have—-? Then he interrupted himself and said, Meat and matter’s on its way. You have to come while you’re quick.

‘What did you do to History Man?’ I said. I was glad I didn’t have a cat or a dog because I thought they’d die from being in the room with him. All the wood was creaking. My floorboards muttered and he muttered back.

It knows you helped one, he said.

He didn’t sound posh: the way he said it the word ‘one’ was guttural and class-weird. He looked at the books on my walls. I had an image of him standing over me while I lay by a quarry under light as grey as bones while water hit the rocks. (That was when I took out my phone again and texted you my last text. A FLOODED QUARRY, I wrote. In the morning when you found it you responded ???????.)

 

You might think I’ve read it all, he said, but it’s a rare day in someone else’s house if they’re a reader that there are books I don’t not know.

‘What happened in that room?’

A contentious meeting of the tendency, he said. He looked out of the window into a night getting blacker against shines of neon. We heard the clawing within the chimney.

He said, There was a split.



Want to see more? Make this happen.


Neoliberalism as the Agent of Capitalist Self-Destruction

By Neil Davidson

1

The neoliberal era can be retrospectively identified as beginning with the economic crisis of 1973, or, more precisely, with the strategic response of state managers and employers to that crisis. Previous eras in the history of capitalism have tended to close with the onset of further period of systemic crisis; 1973, for example, saw the end of the era of state capitalism which began in 1929. The neoliberal era, however, has not only survived the crisis which began in 2007, but its characteristic features are, if anything, being further extended and embedded, rather than reversed.

Yet, although neoliberalism has massively increased the wealth of the global capitalist class, has it also restored the health of the system itself? The crisis which gave rise to neoliberalism was, after all, caused by the end of the unprecedented period of growth which characterised the post-war boom, and the consequent accelerating decline in the rate of profit, unimpeded by the countervailing tendencies – above all arms spending – which had held it in check since the Second World War. These levels of growth were never resumed, but it would be wrong to claim that capitalism experienced no recovery after 1973. The boom from 1982 to 2007 was certainly uneven and punctuated by particularly sharp financial crises and recessions in 1987, 1991, 1997 and 2000; but these were normal expressions of the business cycle and only a misplaced fixation with using the unique and unrepeatable period between 1948 and 1973 as a comparator could justify treating these as symptoms of crisis. When crisis did return in 2007–8, it simply proved that neoliberalism was no more capable of permanently preventing this than any other mode of capitalist regulation.

Neoliberalism does, however, represent a paradox for capitalism. Its relative success as a ruling-class strategy, particularly in weakening the trade union movement and reducing the share of profits going to labour, has helped to disguise that some aspects of this mode of regulation are proving unintentionally detrimental to the system. Serving the interests of the rich is not the same – or at least, not always the same – as serving the interests of capital and may, in certain circumstances, be in contradiction to it. Simply doing what the rich want is unlikely to produce beneficial results for the system as a whole, although it may help increase the wealth of individual capitalists. For not only are capitalists generally uninterested in the broader social interest, which we might expect, but they are also generally incapable of correctly assessing their own overall collective class interests, which might seem more surprising – although as we shall see, it is a long-standing phenomenon, observed by many of the great social theorists from late eighteenth century onwards. As a result, capitalist states – or more precisely, their managers – have traditionally acted to make such an assessment; but in the developed West at least, neoliberal regimes are increasingly displaying an uncritical adherence to the short-term wishes of particular business interests. This is not the only emergent problem: the increasingly narrow parameters of neoliberal politics, where choice is restricted to ‘social’ rather than ‘economic’ issues, has encouraged the emergence of far-right parties, usually fixated on questions of migration, which have proved enormously divisive in working-class communities, but whose policies are in other respects by no means in the interests of capital.

The self-destructive nature of neoliberal capitalism has nothing necessarily to do with the removal of restrictions on markets. The rise of neoliberalism made it fashionable to refer to Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, the assumption being that neoliberalism is in the process of realising Polanyi’s nightmare: reversing the second part of his ‘double movement’ – the social reaction against markets – and unleashing the mechanisms that he saw as being so destructive of society and nature.

Leaving aside the fact that capitalism was always capable of producing social atomisation, collective violence and environmental destruction, even in periods when the state was far more directly involved in the mechanisms of production and exchange then it is now, there are two problems with this position. First, rhetoric apart, capitalists no more favour untrammelled competition today than they did when monopolies and cartels first appeared as aspects of the emerging system in the sixteenth century. Second, one would have to be extraordinarily naïve to believe that the neoliberal project has been about establishing ‘free’ markets in the first place, although this myth has been assiduously perpetrated by social democratic parties who, eager to disguise their own capitulation to neoliberalism, emphasise their opposition to the marketisation of all social relationships, even though no-one – except perhaps the followers of Ayn Rand – seriously imagines this is either possible or desirable. In what follows I will mainly draw on the experiences of the UK and the US, since these were the first nation-states in which neoliberalism was imposed under democratic conditions – unlike Chile or China, for example – and where it has in many respects gone furthest. To understand the real nature of the difficulties inadvertently caused for capital by neoliberalism we have to begin with the role of capitalist states ‘in general’.


Want to see more? Make this happen.



Labour, Pasokified.

Richard Seymour


We were exhorted by Labour’s supporters to ‘vote with hope’ in this election. What now that hope has been so cruelly dashed? What now that neither the ‘Edstone’, nor ‘Milibae’, nor pink buses for women, nor condescending to Scottish voters has been enough to deliver victory?
 
For Labour, the result is just marginally better than in 2010, when it incurred its worst election defeat since 1918. This was not inevitable. In 2012–3, during which period Labour flirted with opposition to austerity, it consistently led with over 40 percent of the vote. In this election, it gained just over 30 percent, compared to 29 percent in 2010. The only major Tory slayed was the despised Esther McVey in the marginal constituency of Wirral West. In other marginals, such as Nuneaton, the swing to Labour was pitiful. In North Swindon, a safe Tory seat since boundary changes in 2010, the Tories actually gained. Worse still for Labour, Ed Balls supplied the Tories with their ‘Portillo moment’, losing his seat in Morley and Outwood, not from incumbency but from opposition.

Why is Labour’s result so poor? It is not because of the overweening strength of Conservatism. Overall, the Tory vote has barely shifted from 36.1 percent in 2010 to (as of writing) 36.8 percent. The Tories have been in a crisis since 1992, since which time their vote has oscillated between the low to mid-thirties. In previous elections, a vote share of this scale would have left the Tories on the opposition benches. This is not, chiefly, a Tory surge, but the confirmation of a Labour collapse. Labour’s total enervation is also reflected in the turnout, which at 66.1 percent was barely a point above what it was in 2010. And while relatively affluent voters turned out to support Cameron – with a 75 percent turnout in Thornbury and Yate, where the Tories overturned a 7,000 Liberal majority ­– working-class constituencies had some of the lowest turnouts in the country. In Manchester Central, turnout was 52.9 percent. The exceptions to this pattern are where there was some sort of alternative. Across Scotland, turnout was 71.1 percent. In Bristol West, where the Greens came second, turnout was projected to be approximately 85 percent.

So, Miliband’s failure is a confirmation of Labour’s degeneration, its crisis, not of Tory strength. In fact, both Labour and the Conservatives are in the middle of a long-term crisis, which neither has done anything to reverse: the question in this election was, whose crisis is worse?

Unsurprisingly, and highly satisfactorily, the Liberals have been crushed, their share of the vote falling from 23 percent to 7.7 percent. Indeed, this is the big shift in the 2015 election: the collapse of the Liberals and the rise of the smaller parties. I want to point out something of great importance regarding the Liberals. I said previously that the reason their leadership didn’t care about getting mauled in the elections was because they were preparing themselves to act as kingmakers in future coalitions, as exercisers of ‘responsible’ political authority, detached from their base but integrated into the machinery of government. This, let us be honest, is where they’d rather be. And in the last few days, we’ve had Nick Clegg saying that a government without the Liberal Democrats involved would lack legitimacy: even knowing that his party would be hammered into fourth place, he still saw a central role for his wheelers and dealers. In effect, the Liberal apparatchiks chose, with the Orange Book coup against the centre-left Kennedy leadership, to turn their party into a mandarin, de facto apparatus of an increasingly post-democratic state.

The obverse of the Liberals in this election is the SNP. Every tendency in advanced post-democracy is being reversed in Scotland, where working-class electoral participation and party membership is rising, not falling. The SNP took fifty-eight seats, up from six in 2010. The tsunami-like proportions of this wipe-out may be exaggerated by the electoral system, but the swing is huge and signifies something far deeper than a shift in voter identifications or, God help us, a ‘protest vote’. Old right-wing Labour stalwarts like Tom Harris, interviewed on STV last night, demonstrate some vague comprehension that since the Independence referendum, something at the deepest strata of Scottish working class consciousness shifted. But neither he nor his political confederates get what shifted, or why.

The referendum ‘No’ coalition signified everything that was wrong with Westminster politics: all the main parties in it together, on the side of militarism and the multinationals. Despite Gordon Brown’s absurd ‘big beast’ posturing, despite all the talk of the ‘UK pension’ and the ‘UK NHS’, Labour attacked independence from the right, from a position of loyalty to the state, to the war machine, and to the neoliberal doctrines of the civil service. Miliband, during the election campaign, tried to reassure middle-class voters that Labour utterly ruled out any SNP influence on policies like austerity or Trident. And while the Labour Party tailed the Tories on austerity, mimicked Tory language on welfare, and practically grovelled on immigration, the SNP defended a simple, civilised position: no austerity, and no demonising the poor or immigrants. In England, Labour aping the Right led to the base staying at home, as they have done in growing numbers since 2001. In Scotland, working-class voters had a tried-and-tested reformist alternative, with an optimistic political identity linked to a profound socio-demographic shift, and were able to rally to it. And now, with England cleaving broadly to the right and Scotland shifting left, it’s hard to see how they current constitutional arrangements are sustainable. Scotland will simply not assent to being governed by the Tories, and Sturgeon will be under huge pressure to deliver another referendum.

There will be more to say, on the other side of the political spectrum, about the farraginous hordes that are banging at Cameron’s door, but for now it’s worth pointing out how many of them there are: almost four million in this election. UKIP is England’s terrified, resentful answer to the SNP. While the SNP were able to capitalise on the sheer detachment of the Westminster centre parties with a centre-left nationalism, UKIP linked Britain’s growing crisis of democracy to European domination and a series of reactionary gripes about immigration, political correctness and uppity Jocks. Only the perversities of the electoral system prevented UKIP from gaining the fifty or sixty seats they would have gained on this basis, if their vote were more geographically concentrated. As it is, Douglas Carswell, the least UKIP of UKIPers, is the only one to have held onto a seat. What is particularly absurd about this is that the distribution of UKIP’s votes points to its political strength: UKIP managed to eat into Labour heartlands almost as much as Tory seats, making UKIP possibly Britain’s first truly successful, cross-class, populist formation. In Sunderland, for example, it drew tens of thousands of voters, a surge first noticed during the city council elections last year when it took almost a quarter of the vote. Of course, the party is still very fragile and schismatic: its momentum may now dissipate, and it will be much weaker now that Farage has resigned the leadership. But the basis upon which they won these votes was ideologically hardcore, with Farage using the televised debates not to broaden his support but to consolidate his base. If the dominant parties are forced to accept PR, as seems increasingly likely, this signifies a major realignment on the Right.

Finally, there is the Left. The results for TUSC and Left Unity were predictably nanoscopic. The major left tributary of disaffected Labour voters in England was the Greens, who did well to get 3.7 percent of the vote, a four-fold increase on 2010. In addition to keeping Brighton Pavilion, with a 10 percent swing in their favour, they also came second with a swing of 23 percent in Bristol West, where the sitting Liberal was overturned. And they came a good third in a number of constituencies, such as Norwich South, or Holborn and St Pancras where Natalie Bennett got over 7,000 votes. I think this represents something more than a protest vote. Once more, if we get anything like proportional representation, the game is up: in those circumstances, the Green vote will easily surge past 5 percent toward the double figures, and the Pasokification of Labour will take another lurch forward.

This election has been about the collapse of the Labour Party, of labour-movement politics and more generally of representative politics: precisely as I warned. The hope we were exhorted to embrace has been hugely devalued by overuse and by misapplication. There is no hope in the Labour Party. It has neither the political will nor the resources to reconstitute itself, nor would it have a clue how to do so if it did. The Left has to accept reality, and move on. Rebuilding is a slow, difficult, thankless task. In the meantime, hope is precious: it must be rationed.


Want to see more? Make this happen.



Re-asking the Housing Question

By Mary Robertson

Chronic under-supply, crippling unaffordability, and – for the first time in a century – deteriorating physical conditions, are pushing housing to the forefront of political and economic debate in Britain. It is an indication of its breadth and severity that we are spoiled for choice in seeking a headline figure that encapsulates Britain’s housing crisis. A twenty-six percent increase in homelessness since 2010; average house prices more than five times larger than average incomes; ballooning social housing waiting lists; or three quarters of the British public agreeing that there is a housing crisis in Britain – all these things and more point to Britain’s growing inability to house its population.

But its escalating problems are also making housing a site of intensified struggle. A scattering of local defensive actions across London have turned into some of the most vibrant and inspiring campaigns seen in Britain in a long time. For the most part, these are campaigns led not by the usual suspects or dedicated activists, but by people directly affected by housing issues and new to political action. Significantly, for a generation of leftists accustomed to political defeat, housing has also proved the site of some rare, if small, political victories, such as the New Era campaigners ousting their American buyer or Focus E15 forcing part of the Heygate estate into use. The momentum building around housing struggles raises the question of whether housing can be a site of transformative social struggle.

It has been a long time since housing garnered such attention. Significant improvements in housing in the inter- and post-war periods relegated housing to the relative political wilderness. Viewed from a longer perspective, however, housing problems are not new. The nature and inevitability of housing problems, and their potential for transformative change, were discussed by Engels in his pamphlet ‘The Housing Question’ in 1872. Engels argued that capitalist society would fail to provide workers with sufficient or adequate housing, and that the contradictions and uneven development of capitalist society would generate recurrent housing problems. With the housing question resurfacing so forcefully after decades of progress in the middle of the last century, this insight seems highly prescient. However, while there is much in Engels that remains relevant today, the nature of the housing problem has inevitably been transformed by a century and a half of capitalist restructuring. Most notably, the growth of primary and secondary mortgage markets has embroiled housing in financial markets and made housing a site of speculation. To comprehend the present crisis, Engels’s analysis needs updating so that it is able to grasp the novel features acquired by the housing question in the era of financialised capitalism.

Engels’s prognosis for housing was paired with a thesis about the nature of housing struggle. While he granted that housing problems might be temporarily mitigated through the actions of states, capitalists, or workers themselves, Engels ultimately saw housing problems as a reflection of, and subordinate to, the exploitation of labour under capitalist production. Consequently, he argued that the housing problem could only be definitively solved through the overthrow of capitalism and not through isolated struggles around housing:

As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of life and labour by the working class itself.

Accordingly, he insisted that workers, not tenants, are the agents of revolutionary change, derisively dismissing Proudhon’s suggestion that ‘[a]s the wage worker in relation to the capitalist, so is the tenant in relation to the house owner’ as ‘patently untrue’. As housing struggles emerge at the forefront of contemporary resistance, this thesis demands to be revisited. In particular, is there anything about the financialised reincarnation of the housing question that alters or elevates the transformative potential of housing struggles today?


Want to see more? Make this happen.

Marxism for Whores

Magpie Corvid

My story is the same as many thousands of people who have found themselves unable to find steady, decently paid work. Our story is about austerity ...

Read more »

Neoliberalism as the Agent of Capitalist Self-Destruction

Neil Davidson

The neoliberal era can be retrospectively identified as beginning with ...

Read more »

Labour, Pasokified

Richard Seymour

We were exhorted by Labour’s supporters to ‘vote with hope’ in this election. What now that hope has been so cruelly dashed?

Read more »

Re-asking the Housing Question

Mary Robertson

Chronic under-supply, crippling unaffordability, and – for the first time in a century – deteriorating physical conditions ...

Read more »