I am thrust into the conclusion that without David Cameron I would not be the theorist I am today. A terrible concept perhaps, but like all concepts of any worth it both springs from solid grounding and indicates the way forth to better, firmer, more fertile grounds…
The theory that I have written so far was passed around our bi-monthly discussion group where fellow PhD researchers comment on each other’s progress. Although I felt my grounding of the novel in its actual being (rather than ephemeral thought) was reasonably sound on logical principles, I was hoping for some help in connecting it to “culture” – something I’m also chasing in terms of actual being but haven’t fleshed out systematically. Well, this is the problem I wanted help with, although it wasn’t the problem I encountered.
Too hugely egotistically to complain at the time, the real problem was the fact that everybody agreed with the completed part of the theory (oh, sweet applause!) without really seeing the point of the incomplete part, or treating it as a different theory altogether. For me, though, without the link to “culture” this is barely a theory at all. Something had happened that had made analysing the novel seem pointless in-itself yet massively vital for social progress as a whole. At the same time it struck me that although I could still see this, the drive towards it was far murkier and fuzzy than I remembered it was during writing.
So, I went back to context. At what point did these ideas form into recognisable shapes that could be formulated properly? Well, in short, between the end of November 2010 and mid January 2011 – the era of state violence and student aggression. Tramping snowed-in streets between political meetings had seemed to be getting in the way of my work at the time, but its message, motives and movement clearly filtered through. Complex ideas simplified, got cut, else proved their necessity when faced with the most brutal counter-arguments. What initially took months of pondering and page after page of writing was boiled down to 3,000 words that, if they didn’t find a suitable reason for existence, would end up being thrown out too. The moment was revolutionary – everything said was political, and our survival depended on its defence.
Conflict that with now – why so weary am I? The movement has lost energy, but not ground, and much that we looked forward to has actualised – the support of the unions, if not student ones, for example. But where are the sites? What was police-lines, snowy streets and heated arguments is now the organised march and the booked communal-space. Just as violence fails to erupt on the streets, it also fails to erupt where it previously shouldn’t. The endless calls for solidarity have dried up as the factions are now separate and content with that. The Roscoe “autonomous students” won’t share a room with the SWP – now neither drive towards protest in any meaningful capacity. What has gone is the state of emergency. Without constantly being faced by arguments you disagree with it is remarkably hard to form a cohesive argument. Too much will be left to slide, remain unstable, carried on by prejudice.
In spite of common sense, then, it would seem that it was the huge, pointless arguments that provided the strength of the left. Solidarity is an important concept as it asks not for people to agree but only that they barely tolerate each other – if it is not being called for then there is too much agreement going on; we will lose our focus, our creativity, we’ll get ideologically flabby. That is why I should really thank David Cameron; if it wasn’t for his single-minded determination to destroy the country then I’d never get any decent work done. God bless the mental neoliberal prick.
“The law has been passed. The cuts are going to come in. Nothing’s going to change that. We need to work with the government to get the best deal for the students”.
Yes, that was actually said at a Student’s Union election debate in February 2011 – the day after students re-occupied Roscoe building in Manchester and the Salford Uni Anti-Cuts group had held a meeting planning numerous teach-ins and a teach-out, with talk of local direct action. So much for context, step up our plucky hero:
“Question! If you’re here to stand up for the government and the management against the best interests of the students you represent… well… let me rephrase my question – what is a union? Does anyone here know?”
The stock response was that a union was “there for the students”. Then they all did Tony Blair impressions. Then they went back to discussing how to get cheap nightclubs to let in students for even cheaper…
If only there was some sort of institution that historically emerged to defend the rights of those on the wrong end of the capitalist power structure. If only the proletariat had some way of organising and representing itself rather than standing aside and submitting wholeheartedly to the government and the bourgeoisie. Well, as students at Salford (one of the best British Universities for working class history) had no idea, I’m sure that such a mythical thing, if it had ever existed, must by now have slipped beneath the sands of time. Oh well, at least we can now stand in a sweat-drenched room drinking watered down beer for fractionally cheaper.
But wait, surely we can use our unquestionable faith in the free market to solve this problem? Something progressive, to do with enterprise and competition and choice! Well, at the root of the free-market system is the belief that private individuals may buy and sell commodities without restriction. I think we’d all agree with that (except for all those innumerable exceptions when we don’t want our food to kill us and our children’s toys to give them mercury poisoning). Individuals should be free to buy and sell at whatever price they like – their ability to sell being regulated by the markets: supply and demand. Ooh, doesn’t it make you feel all warm, imaginary reader, like a big oily cuddle!
A truly “free and equal” market would obviously entail all “individuals” beginning from the same starting point, they being “individuals” and not members of society or anything. Now, as we don’t believe that this system would be prejudicial enough in favour of us, my bazillionaire fairy friend, we allow each new generation to inherit whatever their parents leave to them. Some end up having things to sell, others sell themselves in the form of labour.
Now here I am selling myself – my body expends its energies and experience that it may function as an engine in the production-line of the education industry. Surely I am thus my own commodity? I must surely therefore have the right to ask whatever price I like at market? If I do not wish to sell my commodity – labour – for the price offered then there is no need for me to do so.
Like all “individuals” in this free-market utopia, I rely on the collaboration of a “company” in order to compete with other completely autonomous and free “individuals” and the completely autonomous and free “companies” that they depend on to live and, in turn, dictate their lives. My “company” happens to be the people offering similar commodities to me. We have complete control over whether or not we bring our goods to market, me and my company do. So if you try and take the piss then none of us will sell you our labour. What an invention! I’m a genius! I think I’ll name it my great uncle, Mr Tradington Yunion – we call him Trade for short.
Ay, but here’s the rub - and never fear intrepid reader, I shall be gentle – I refer here to my membership of the UCU, not of the SU. No, it is not even the sale of commodities that the Student’s Union is defending; it is the purchasing of commodities. To speak in terms of the mad Adam Smith fantasy world of the free-market - we have gone to the market and bought all the debts from the down-and-out gamblers. We will pay you to build your house for you. We will come together as a group of consumers and fight for what colour of glass you’ll slip into our sandwiches at lunch.
Free-marketeers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose…
No literally, you have nothing to lose. You don’t actually own anything you know. Yeah, that’s what a mortgage is. Psht. I give up.