The lagging of consciousness

I had intended to write an account on the May-June events in France 1968. I changed my mind and decided to write about Britain in 1978. My ‘style’ is I admit abstract, I leave you to fill in the gaps, this is more than applicable to the final two sections. Try to figure out what I mean when I mention ‘actions’, use Paris ’68 as an example…. I hope to return to the things herein and expand considerably, try to clarify. I want to open up a debate, something British Anarchists seem incapable of, most of the time, I wrote this to meet a deadline – the last bit shows it, still I have changed nothing.


Although bourgeois ideology gives the appearance of stagnation, it retains an iron grip. The crisis is not only economic, it permeates far into the social body-politic and beyond. A superficial ‘breakout’ from bourgeois ideology is, admittedly happening, however it’s not as if the population were moving towards an egalitarian or even libertarian perspective. Far from it, the reality is considerably different, as people are shifting, en masse, in the opposite direction, that is towards an extreme right wing ‘populist’ solution. In electoral terms this is reflected in mass support for Thatcherite conservative policies, and to a lesser extent, the national front. This is not in the interest of modern capital, but the ‘breakout’ does not operate on the best long or short term interests of capitalism. The only beneficial aspect for capital is the continuance and extension of atomisation amongst the working class. The only faction of capital that seems capable of manoeuvring capital towards its inevitable goal, state capitalism (within a ‘mixed’ economy – but with the state sector having the upper hand) is of course the party of techno-bureaucrats, the Labour Party. While it is true that ideology blinds the bourgeoisie and middle class as to their best interests within the capitalist framework – as a glimpse at most newspapers will show you – rather than examine the tiresome monetarist theories that spew out of their editorials and the mouths of spokes people for these confused creatures, I think it would be more to the point to see what is going on in the minds of the majority of the population – the working class.
The working-class is a huge majority (although workers themselves don’t constitute all this majority) other classes are a minority, even allowing for the tremendous amount of “over-lapping” between classes. The working-class have been unable to fulfil their Historical task, the smashing of Capitalism and the State, the total dismantling of bourgeois society. The vast bulk of the working-class are the repository of the most backward, reactionary ideas. Let us scrutinise this unhappy state of affairs.


Any nagging doubts concerning the victor of the next general election have been promptly dispelled with Thatcher’s well-rehearsed impromptu outburst on “immigration”. Why do I say this? Surely the British working-class, the 10 million or so trade-unionists would, as a disgusted reaction to this obnoxious woman’s hysterical gibberings, automatically side with “their” Labour patty and unions. No, things don’t happen like that.
The irrational in society overcomes with relative ease things such as “Logic”, “Common Sense” and unfortunately, class-consciousness. The working class in this country is about the most politically backward in Europe, riddled with chauvinism, racism, sexism and other irrationalities and apart from being incapable of emerging from these fixations, seem to be revelling in them, like farmyard animals wallowing in mud. It’s quite obvious that the next general election will be fought not on “bread and butter” issues, but on the most repellent platforms imaginable. “Immigration” which is in reality race. “Law and Order”. Morality. and even the reintroduction of corporal punishment for “hooligans”. “Education” of course, will be a major factor “bring back the three R’s” as if they ever left us… As for economics the conservatives will play on the fragmented subconscious of the working class by attacking social security claimants and the unemployed with “scrounger” scares. By playing on the divisions of the working class by promoting conflict over “differentials”. With the present mentality of the working class it will have fruitful electoral results. It has already.
On the economic level, no-one is impressed by the miserable performance of this government, inflation in single figures, a few more quid in the pocket, the balance of payments reading more favourably, a “successful” wage restraint policy – people are quite rightly pissed off with the whole set up – but because of the prevailing political schizophrenia, many working-class people will move into the other dead end and support the conservative party.


The working class is turning in on itself. A negative despair, combined with an almost total repudiation of the humanitarian aspects of bourgeois ideology. Traditional working class, or proletarian class consciousness, is almost non-existent, confined to ever diminishing enclaves. While the retrogressive elements of bourgeois ideology, like Mary Whitehouse, attack homosexuality in the courts, the plebian National Front supporters are out on the streets, “Queer bashing” wrecking Gay pubs and occasionally murdering. (It is besides the point that many of these “Bashers” are repressed homosexuals themselves) The direct action of despair today doesn’t express itself in “expropriation of the expropriators” – all we seem to be witnessing today is an epidemic of xenophobia and irrationality. As class-awareness reaches its nadir, it re-emerges in a bastardized form, whereby the estranged working class become the aggressive custodians of bourgeois morality. Workers are, on almost every level, tragically divided, this negative dynamic not necessarily permeating from the bourgeoisie above to the working class below, but operating from within the very depths of the lethargic masses. The deeper we penetrate the collective aspirations of the working class the more we encounter despondency. When millions of people go mad with despair, unable to explain the apparent break-down of society (capital) it begins with the frustrated backward and unorganised workers, the unemployed, youth, spreading to the disorientated organised working class, with the traditional fascist cannon-fire [-fodder] the middle class, taking only a marginal role. The 119,000 votes picked up during the last GLC elections by the Front – the huge swing to the conservatives after and even before the opening salvo in the immigrant “debate” shows the current of public opinion is cascading into the murky muddy waters of reaction. The results of the Council elections in May will confirm this trend.
Only a minority of people are voting in elections, not out of any anarchist feeling but because they have been crushed estrangement from the bourgeois-democratic system. Now these people are stirring they seem to be magnetically attracted to the forces of bourgeois and plebian reaction. So oppressed, dejected and weary are the public, that, in what can only be described as suicidal tendencies they would, say, if a referendum on capital punishment were held, vote overwhelmingly in favour of reintroduction of it. The working class is cannibalising itself not “eating the rich”. And as worker fights worker, black workers against white workers, skilled against unskilled, council tennant against squatter – in fact a multiplicity of self-perpetuating divisions, with even separate categories of the working class, turning in on themselves. While this goes on Capital lays the ground work for its continuity.


What about those who claim to be fighting the system? Let us look at our “left”. Our pathetic microscopic left, from the Communist Party to the Socialist Workers and the International Marxist Group who are increasingly operating on bourgeois terrain, and failing, not that they ever operated on a different plane… bourgeois as they are. Their right to work campaigns have proved total abortions along with most of their other stunts. Their “intervention” in the electoral field is a case in point, not only do they totally submerge themselves in the rigmorole of electioneering, even to the extent of sporting ridiculous rosettes, the results are always a debacle. Occasionally they even put up candidates against each other – splitting their diminutive handful of votes further still.
The few people who vote for them are mostly immigrants, who vote not because they are more converted “ultra-left” than the indigenous population, but because the left seem to be the only people fighting an ever-present threat that hangs over them: racism.
It has little relevance that the left are claiming to use the electoral charade as a “platform” and that the real purpose is to recruit members or enlighten the working class with “socialist policies”. The fact of the matter is that they have misunderstood prevailing conditions and have translated a few hundred votes into a spectacular triumph. Although the left have attempted to plunge into working class irrationalities – for instance, cavorting with dockers outside Pentonville singing “Teddy is a Queer” – as shown by the attack on the PIE meeting at Conway Hall the initiative lies elsewhere. It is becoming more difficult for the left to tap this endless reservoir of potential as they are increasingly monopolising the liberal-bourgoise mantle. The left’s analysis of modern capitalism, the contemporary situation, of mass psychology, is totally inadequate, redundant, bankrupt. To attempt such a task would bring into question their whole reason for existence. When these idiots say Benn is a “Paper Tiger” or has “betrayed the workers” they really mean it, what they fail to realise is that the workers hate Benn because they think he is some sort of communist. To tell the truth most workers couldn’t give a fuck. All the left seems to be able to do is stand outside tube stations, rattling off slogans like the mindless parrots that they are.


What about us? Here the situation is little better most theoretical groupings are tending to rely increasingly on a singular perspective. For example the Zero collective. Zero’s reliance on an “Anarcha-Feminist” critique of society – which sees sexism and patriarchy as the enemy, which is rapidly developing into a radical-feminist critique, is a case in point. Groups like this postulate their theories, and running up against a wall of hostility and indifference, they become more inward looking, building little islands of purity, to the exclusion of other comrades and ideas. In fact they become more reliant on their own particular interpretation of sexism. Sex itself doesn’t get a mention, purity and puritanism, twin barriers, complete their self-enforced isolation. Not that they have got much to join hands with, the rest of the “movement” is in an equally abysmal state. A more worrying tendency is that of the “organisation builders” who want to compete with the left. Any attempt to build a British C.N.T. is an absolute superfluous exercise, (in Spain, it may not be superfluous it could be counter-revolutionary). The current state of affairs as I have pointed out, are not exactly conducive towards the dissemination of such conceptions. They never will be.
The idea of calling endless conferences to discuss what should automatically come natural to anarchists is another illustration of disturbing trends, What’s the point of spending a weekend talking about an anti-election campaign? Action is what’s needed, not yap. An increasing number of comrades seem to be living only for the next conference or meeting. The trend towards organising “campaigns” is another error, it has been suggested that an anti-politician campaign be added on to the anti-election campaign. Again with prevailing conditions, an anti-politician campaign can only be successfully conducted on a right wing populist basis. The same is applicable to a disaffiliation from the Labour Party suggestion (Trade Unions have a political levy on their members). The backward proletarians of today would, if given a choice to re-affiliate choose the Conservative Party or the N.F. If the working class were to become even slightly aware of their historical task these campaigns would be irrelevant. Something else would be on the agenda. There is hardly any tendency in the anarchist movement that seems capable of analysing society in totality let alone evolving and implementing strategy and tactics to meet the situation – only a few individuals seem capable of making a start in this direction.


It is maintained by some that Capitalism is decadent. If it is, then decadence has a remarkable resilience. The situation here in Britain has proved the bankruptcy of Historical-materialism if nothing else. Let us not be afraid to move into, a more modernist analysis of Capitalism. Marginal sectors are coming into violent conflict with the forces of the State, but however turbulent these clashes are, unless they spill out into the rest of the population, they are fated to remain isolated. Many young blacks have partially rejected the commodity-capitalist society (at Notting Hill some of the looted goodies were used as ammunition against the police). Society has basically repudiated the young blacks hence their rejection. The blacks rejection due to their relative isolation, lends itself towards reactionary conceptions such as nationalism and rastafarianism, despite this however, they have made the furthest incursions into the area where real possibilities lie… violent conflict with the forces of the State. Whether this is defensive is meaningless – the actions they take are offensive, such as the first Notting Hill Carnival riot. We may be eons away from an Italian situation – while the ragged left shuffled dejectedly around the back streets of Ilford, in Rome school kids and young students took to the streets armed with petrol bombs, demanding the abolition of exams – we must make preparations.
The prevailing attitude amongst anarchists, even those who are groping in a realistic path, is defeatism. Just because the immediate circumstances are bleak there can be no excuse for capitulation – and that’s what defeatism entails – the point is that because the future is so predictable (a massive swing to the right) for us NOTHING MATTERS. We can be provocative , audacious, nihilistic even, the possibilities are endless, we should use our imaginative actions as a rehearsal for the Thatcherite future. Only then will we take part in the first great assault against Capital. For, I am convinced that only a Thatcherite government can induce through their excesses and crass stupidity a reaction that will act as a catalyst. We should be the detonators in such a situation – the question is, are we up to it? I fear not. Some of us are impatient, we can’t wait, we won’t wait……
MW. March.78.

From: Anarchy Magazine (second series) No.26 [1978] p7-11.