In the psychoanalytic movement there were a number of dark horses, but none are darker than Wilhelm Reich. At one time he was Freud’s favourite and headed the Vienna seminar group which dealt with therapeutic practice. By the time he died he had been imprisoned for selling sheds that promised to cure cancer, had burned his books and therapy centre, and spent a number of years travelling around the desert shooting his sex-energy through sky-trumpets to make clouds. His works have had occasional influence – his Mass Psychology of Fascism was apparently hurled at police during May ’68 and his “orgone” theory of energy was incorporated into Scientology – although he has yet to be reintroduced to academic circles. To be honest, I don’t personally have any desire to see him return. I do, however, highly recommend his book, The Function of the Orgasm.
The Reverend Cornelius Blow once said that great men do not write their own books but have books written about them. Indeed, as academics write “intellectual biographies” that explain great thinkers’ ideas by plotting their development against important moments in the subject’s life, so particularly egotistical and/or marginalised figures attempt to do the same thing for themselves. The result in a case like Reich’s is a fascinating inversion of the “great genius” narrative. All along the world was calling him crazy… and it turns out they were right. Although reading The Function of the Orgasm, you’d never know it. In fact, the act of reading the book is a great practice in practical scepticism. The thing with Reich, it turns out, is that he had a tendency to be way ahead of his time on a regular basis and in a number of things has been proved in the right. The question for the reader is where to draw the line. What is radical / possible / questionable / total bollocks? We’ll return to the bollocks momentarily…
The psychoanalysts whose names are still remembered all worked together when it came to the central theory but are today better identified by their individual “heresies” from Freud’s initial concepts of the Oedipus complex, sexuality and the unconscious. Adler dropped sexuality and replaced it with a desire for power. Jung made the unconscious a “collective” entity within cultures rather than individuals and replaced sexuality with spiritual energy. Otto Rank fixated on returns to the womb and Freud did the opposite, positing a “death drive” to account for the things “sexuality” couldn’t seem to explain. Reich, however, pretty much tows Freud’s original line throughout his dealings with the psychoanalytical movement – even after Freud himself has given it up. His research specialised on the orgasm. If neurosis was based on sexual traumas and inhibitions then unhealthy minds would be unable to achieve “orgastic satisfaction” and will adapt “repressed/repressive” character traits based on their sexual hang-ups.
Interestingly, it is Reich’s “orthodoxy” that appears to hold him back as psychoanalysis moves on. Where most analysts were starting to consider the “genital” bit of sexuality metaphorical and the “unconscious” a scientifically mappable, empirically verifiable entity, Reich believed the unconscious to be a working metaphor for the inconsistencies between people’s thought patterns and their physical sexual desires. Stop me if I’m wrong here, but on this part of the argument I think I’m taking Reich’s side. In fact, it’s almost trite these days to point out that the people’s attitudes to sex tend to get increasingly weirder the less of it they have; just look at the church.
Another place where Reich was on the right side of history was in his social concerns. Being more interested in the practical side of psychoanalysis than the theory he set up a number of clinics to help develop new types of therapy – some of which were free. As the result of doing so he found that mentally ill people living in crippling poverty or wageslavery tended to have illnesses rooted in their living conditions, as did women in oppressive marriages or from violently patriarchal families. Where the conservative Freud talked about the “reality principle” and aimed at bringing people back into line with “civilisation” as it was, Reich wanted to overhaul society by improving housing, increasing worker’s pay (ideally through socialist revolution), liberating women, and legalising homosexuality. During Hitler’s rise to power, Reich even took to pamphleteering against “fascist repression”. In a rather tragic touch of desperate naiveté, part of his plan to end the “nationwide neurosis” involved providing free contraception to all that wanted it.
In a way, it’s this kind of desperate longing to free the world from oppression that can be seen to lead to his “madness”. The book carries you through his clinical experiences into his anti-fascist experiences and out the other side having acquired a lot of social theorising on the way through that is too sympathetic to his point at the time for the reader to properly consider. However, it’s this subtle change that spell’s the doom for Reich as a thinker: he goes from having a theory, testing it and adjusting it to having a theory and then just going out and looking for evidence that proves it.
Pretty soon after this point Reich decides that nervous ticks “prove” that the body is a “bladder” of sexual energy that needs to be regularly released through orgasm. The character of a repressed person is “armour” made of past experiences that stops the bladder emptying as “proved” by the movements of particular types of amoebas. Reading some very early papers on the workings of nerves, the “orgone energy” that fills the bladder is “proved” to be electrical. (“Orgone energy” is blue by the way, and fills the cosmos – and you know what else is blue? The sky. Yeah. I know. Mind = blown.)The book also begins to fill with jargon-terms for barely explicable things and endless diagrams and lists that, when they do make sense, seem wildly arbitrary – as if someone asked you to separate animal noises according to whether they are red or blue. Some of the little asides that are thrown in are fascinating just because you begin to wonder whether there’s an element of truth to them in their pure obscurity. One of my favourites is his passing comment that Chinese people can’t breathe very deeply. Why would anyone think that? Well, Buddhism celebrates calmness which represses orgone energy and deep breathing is necessary for orgasms… this aside was casually brought in as if to cite some widely held bit of common knowledge.
But the fully developed madness isn’t what makes Reich’s book a good read. It actually gets a bit depressing, especially when he gets on to his plan to cure cancer. It’s rather the parts immediately following his expulsion from the Psychoanalytical Society due to his anti-fascist publications. Filled with a revolutionary zeal, Reich begins to make logical jumps in the interests of his Big Idea. They’re the kind of jumps that every academic has made at some point but, without his peers to check his excesses, Reich never returns to check his workings and so spirals off into fantasy. The error that stood out most for me comes as part of his work on whether the “libidinal fluid” hypothesised by Freud is at work in the genitals during sexual arousal. A laudably empirical study. However, for the interests of finding a balance on his table of results for “smooth-muscular softening” in a certain part of the vagina (I couldn’t quite work out which part he was referring to myself) he opposes it to a “smooth-muscular softening” of the testes during arousal. Reich - a human male in possession of a pair of testicles that have been on his person every day of his life – believes that the movement of the scrotum is solely related to arousal. Even the most genitally unaware male in the world can disprove this scientifically simply by taking a hot bath on a cold day. I may not be an expert on “orgone energy” or “smooth-muscular softening”, but I know bollocks and, dear sir, that is bollocks.
Nevertheless, it’s that kind of credulity testing that makes Reich’s The Function of the Orgasm a great experiment in reading. In fact, if it wasn’t for his attempt to be scientific I doubt whether the weaknesses in Reich’s argument would have been enough to keep him out of academia. One needs only to look at the return of Lacan in theorists like Zizek to see the value placed on “social psychoanalysis”. Considering some of the conservative places that psychoanalysis leads today, an alternative-timeline Wilhelm Reich that gave up seeing his work as a hard science and switched to writing social theory would at least offer a radical alternative. But maybe that’s why I could enjoy reading Reich’s book? Reich was mad and Reich is dead. Now he only matters to mad people or dead people. (And I don’t mean the mentally ill here – they’ve luckily been kept well away from psychoanalysts for a long while now). It’s now possible to read Reich knowing that his opinions have no influence and whatever you think about them doesn’t matter that much. It’s a perfect, frustration-free environment to test your critical skills so that, come the next Big Idea, you’ll be sharp enough to point out the bollocks but (perhaps more importantly nowadays) also be able to judge the merits too. With contemporary thought in the state it’s in, I foresee wading through a lot of bollocks before any solutions present themselves.
Below is an email that I sent to the Guardian regarding their obituary of Eva Figes. It's very long and perhaps of no interest to the vast majority of people to whom the name Eva Figes is unknown. I happen to love Eva Figes' books and I'm not too keen on the Israeli occupation of Palestine, so it upset me to see the death of one of my favourite authors used as an excuse to engage in a little re-writing of history in the standard zionist style. In spite of this I've hopefully retained a certain level of objectivity in my criticism (that's the whole "academic standards" thing I mention in a moment of snobbishness). The article is available here - http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/07/eva-figes
To the editor of the Guardian,
I'm not usually one to complain of newspaper articles - it seems somewhat redundant considering no-one's forcing me to read your paper - but I felt compelled to share my thoughts on your obituary of Eva Figes, written by Eva Tucker. I'm currently writing a PhD thesis on Figes and the group of writers surrounding her so it makes me a touch defensive when I see inaccuracies printed. It is my understanding from the article that the author knew the late novellist in person far better than I, yet I don't think that should render my input invalid. As this obit may be the only contact that most people have with Eva Figes now that she's passed it's a shame to leave them with a bad impression.
Anyway, here's a couple of inaccuracies that I noted:
- The biographical information in paragraph four (which I assume stems from her work Little Eden, or a review of that work, or perhaps a personal conversation) talks about her being called a "Jerry". There are a couple of other minor niggles here that can be excused for purposes of concision but I think this one is particularly notable considering what comes later. The bullying that Figes writes about happening when she moved to England was actually due to her being Jewish, and she notes in Journey to Nowhere that she escaped the "collective guilt" of her German nationality by referring to her Judaism. Perhaps she was called "Jerry" on occasion, but it would not be the most obvious thing to take from her memoirs, as it makes her experience of anti-semitism appear somewhat conspicuous by its absence.
- The reading of Journey to Nowhere is so biased that I can only assume the "acme of fury" described was an act of projection on Mr. Tucker's part. The considerable research that went into that book is dismissed in favour of ad hominem attacks on Ms. Figes and "Edith" - the starting point, not end point, of the book's argument. I am aware that journalism cannot be judged by the same set of standards as academic criticism, but any balanced reading of the text would consider the quotation about Israel's right to exist as an abberation in terms of the overall tone that is introduced at a climactic moment for effect, rather than symptomatic of the entire work.
- In terms of hard factual innaccuracies, the phrase 'she called German Jews who went to Palestine in the 1930s "Hitler Zionists"' is just wrong, and cannot be excused as subjective interpretation. "Hitler Zionists", "yekkes" and "soap" are listed by Figes as terms used by Palestinian Jews to refer to the German Jews forced to Palestine by Hitler as they were uncomfortable with the fact they did not share a language and the more cosmopolitan Germans were not part of the settlers movement out of choice. Eva Figes is writing against these terms that she had encountered as part of her research - using them as an, admittedly crude, counter-argument to Israel's current ideological interpretation of the holocaust and the political power which that lends them internationally.
Apologies for the lengthy email. I don't expect anything to be rectified as I realise that most of my points could be considered "my point of view". It would be incredibly appreciated, however, if you did something at least about the glaring error regarding "Hitler Zionists". You are essentially calling a recently deceased woman an anti-semite by attributing to her words which she was herself condemning. Ironically, it is this kind of irresponsible conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-semitism that Eva Figes was warning about.
As a final note I think I should mention my favourite of Figes' novels, 1969's Konek Landing
- an experimental work that very subtly investigates the post-war European landscape from the perspective of a stateless Jewish boy. It is a work of incredible beauty and compassion that has never properly been identified as part of the holocaust writing canon, although Figes has mentioned in numerous places that she considered it her most important novel. You are of course free to publish whatever obituary you wish, but I would suggest that an inclusion of a novellist's most important novel would not only be of worth from the standpoint of the general reader but may also help to counterbalance any nasty insinuations made by a journalist who does not seem familiar enough with her work to offer criticisms in a responsible manner.
Thanks for taking the time to read this if you have reached this point. I wouldn't blame you if you gave up after the bulletpoints! I really appreciate the fact that the Guardian published an obit as I believe Eva Figes to be unfairly neglected as far as modern British writers go and anything that may inspire someone to pick up one of her books is great by me. I am also sure that Eva Tucker believed wholeheartedly that her apology for Journey to Nowhere
was the right thing to do when defending Eva Figes as a writer. I only wished to have it noted that I respectfully disagree.
“Be an individual!” It’s a radical concept. Dangerous, even. But then I was raised as a rebel. A no-good iconoclast setting out to blow minds, smash the system and show Mr Government and the brain police exactly where they could stick their conformist plastic straightjackets. That’s what I realised watching television the other day… but we’ll get to that.
In order to get to that point I’ll have to present to you a stilted history of the music industry and popular culture that is encapsulated by a single song that I somehow remember my mum singing to me. Although I have no images or other associations attached to that memory, so it may have never happened and is actually screen memory created for some strange unconscious purpose. That song was this song, “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_2lGkEU4Xs
Reynolds was part of the 1960s folk revival that, through the likes of Bob Dylan, ended up introducing adult material into pop/rock music which had previously been made up of songs aimed at young teenagers. Before all that, however, it was part of a larger movement associated with equal rights, pacifism, and left-oriented ideas that was ostensibly about revolting against America’s morally bankrupt contemporary ideals but, except for some notable exceptions, was more rightly about a sense of individualist authenticity being preferable to conformism. Notably, the song rose to popular fame after this happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La21jYGIQ8k&feature=related
Pete Seeger represents the ultimate in liberal-socialism: big hearted and concerned for his fellow man (and occasionally women, why not?) whose enemies are things like big business and pollution. Seeger smiles at you from your TV and has a little joke at the expense of those other
people. It’s never you.
I mean you
don’t live in a ticky-tacky house do you? No, I didn’t think so. Thanks to Peter Seeger, we could all agree that we were individuals and, after all, isn’t that what really matters? Of course, once we’ve established that we’re all individuals then those bourgeois individuals who own the music industry can begin pumping out cheaper, more appealing renditions of that message on records that, thanks to the individuals whose labour they purchase for a few dollars an hours, can turn them a healthy profit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cevVf27ephs
So eventually the demand for this particular brand of sanctimony is met and the world moved on. The bourgeois individuals come to win their hard fight to “be themselves” and accumulate wealth, becoming the dominant social class whose notions of individualism now form neoliberalism. These individuals now be themselves by cutting back the government that wastes their hard-earned taxes on keeping the working class in those much-maligned ticky-tacky boxes who – thanks to the insight that Pete Seeger gave us – can only possibly be living those lives because they refuse to be individuals. They must be stupid or lazy or hate freedom or something.
Of course, some of these individuals now start to realise that the people in the ticky-tacky boxes are having a hard time of it, so they decide to make a sitcom that can help attract advertisers to recommend these people things to buy. Maybe that’ll help them to be less conformist, I don’t know… So they make the TV show Weeds
about a mom who is forced into growing dope because only being a radical dope-peddling individual will save her from the poverty that conformism inevitably leads to. To drive home this point, a number of radical new bands - all carefully branded in order to represent a certain facet of the “selves” which their consumers are “being” – come along to cover a song from back in the day when people were probably more authentic or something for some reason nostalgia… the most hilarious of which is this ditty from the impeccably named “Rise Against”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE64L8PlQgc
Perhaps inspired by this particular little “meme” (not to undermine their obvious creativity which is, after all, what individuals specialise in) a group called “Walk off the Earth” that specialise in being individuals online devise a video abounding in the symbolism of the individual. Cardboard – not like the nasty cardboard that they have in warehouses and things, the nice cardboard from playgroup – is rolled and cut and sticky-taped and glued into a twee approximation of what a ticky-tacky house might look like if people were only as imaginative and individual as this band. They wear coloured T-shirts that show they’re different… but all the same really! (which is deep) And they play instruments that are made out of boxes which manage, like themselves, to be superficially original whilst fulfilling all the qualities that constitute what everything has been all along. Plus, if you like this kind of thing you might enjoy 02 products, because it was their idea all along: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LM8JhvfoqdA
So, eventually we reach the point that those revolutionaries dreamed about so long, long ago… where we can all sit back in our NON ticky-tacky houses and watch our NON ticky-tacky televisions where we can see the best NON ticky-tacky corporation to purchase mobile phones from in order to call all our NON ticky-tacky friends and do stuff that free, creative individuals do in a world without conformity, because conformity was something that happened in the long, long ago… like poor people.
And finally, in this apotheosis of mediums – the Youtube Ad – we can finally hear the last verse of this song that has brought us all the way to this point:
Then we thought more,
And we did more,
And we took away the complexity,
And we all smile together
As things began to change.
Then the tide turned and the rules changed
And out came the possibilities,
And we all lived much better,
And we’d never be the same,
Money, Tickets, Shopping,
Things are Changing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbbmfB6NZxI
Dare to be an individual, just like everybody else, because money is basically butterflies.
Just a quickie on the Marple Supermarket situation (note the dropping of Tesco – my bad!)… anyway, a group has come about on Facebook that’s “Yes to Tesco”, essentially making the argument that cheaper food is better for low-income people and local businesses will continue anyway as only rich people can afford to shop in them thus shall continue to.
Now, I don’t want to be the sort of person that joins a group just to spout off – I believe that’s the sort of thing people call “trolling”, which doesn’t sound too flattering – so, y’know, this’ll just be between you and me my delicious imaginary reader.
My key argument against this stance comes from Mark Thomas. In terms of the movement of money, 70p in the pound stays in the local area when spent in local shops whilst 70p in the pound leaves the area when spent in a branch of a large corporation. The “velocity of money” created by simply having money in the area moved between local businesses creates growth within the local microeconomic climate – taking wages up with it and costs down. In terms of local entrepreneurs this makes small businesses more viable, increasing their number and exponentially increasing the velocity of money yet further. In terms of the working class there are not only better wages and a lower cost of living but also an increase in these jobs and more potential for progression upwards. It’s this kind of effect that contributed so much to the baby-boomers generation during the 1960s – not the “hard-work and nouse” line they enjoy spewing out with utmost entitlement.
The chances for someone to “work their way up” within a corporation is basically nil. Wages are fixed nationally, usually at the minimum wage without any extra benefits, and this will not change – especially with the millions corporations can spend on union-busting lawyers, company-managed unions and workplace intimidation. The outsourcing of admin coupled with low job security means that the positions to be “worked up” to are inevitably taken by graduates brought in fresh to the company. Similarly, this same lack of job security means that the minimum wage employees can be sacked at the drop of a hat. As there is no way to organise the labour force the corporation has full power (and economic resources) to conduct mass lay-offs, safe in the knowledge that there’s a million more to fill the vacancies.
Local businesses cannot afford to do this, which means they cherish their staff more and thus provide better opportunities and support. If they don’t, then the staff is small enough to organise effectively against them. The livelihood of the small-business owner is directly tied to their staff. Corporations have no connection to their staff and have been known to run an entire wing of their operation at a loss – purely to drive local competition out of business and cement their stranglehold upon the local working class.
This is how capitalism and the free-market inevitably lead to monopolisation whilst all the while genuinely offering free choice. The trick is that it’s a forced choice – they know which card you’ll pick all along. Undercutting local businesses by running at a loss puts them out of business. The prices then go up, wages fall, and the sensible choice is then to work for the corporation as there is no where else to go – any surviving establishments will have to cut their wages too. The local economic microclimate is dominated by a single monopoly that drains the resources from the area, essentially creating a sink-hole to drain the finances of the entire community and spew them into the pockets of those at the top. These people don’t pay taxes by the way, nor do the companies. Everyone in the country suffers. Well, except for them I guess…
Anyway, I’ve gone on quite long enough for now. It’s late and I’m rather tired. In summation then, large corporations are not good for those on low incomes. They lower incomes in fact, whilst making those incomes unstable and increasing unemployment. In this sense, there are no true individuals as each individual choice is a choice regarding society.
Oh, and as to the proposed “replacement” of the swimming baths. A privately owned leisure centre may be better than a publically owned one – just as BUPA is “better” than the NHS, but we can’t all afford that – and no-one but the shareholders have any say on how it’s run. Again, the free choice involved here is the choice to surrender your own power. The loss of political and economic power within the working classes has been the prevailing trend within this country for decades – and it’s made all the more pernicious thanks to its ideological mantra of “free choice”. Supermarket chains offer you the choice to reduce your expenditure at the same moment they reduce your income and eliminate your workplace power. The price is cheap, yet the cost is great.
The fight against a monopolistic supermarket is only the beginning in the fight for working-class rights. We must organise, strike, and resist persecution in every workplace. We must express our solidarity with those doing the same elsewhere. Don’t ask for cheaper commodities – demand better pay! It seems to me that this is where all this organic energy should be spent. 
Having lived in West Didsbury where cupcakes are £3 I can see how this premise makes sense on an individualist, emotional basis 
See Tescos or Stagecoach for the most obvious examples, although the practice is rife. ASDA, or more rightly Walmart, is equally if not more vicious.
(Quick comment prior to this blog post - I wrote this during the heat of the riots and the vicious backlash. I did not place it upon my blog at that time due to a genuine fear that the publication of a dissenting voice may lead to state persecution, if not arrest. These fears remain, yet my cowardice doesn't. I apologise for such gross hypocrisy and also for the hyperbole here, but these are times wherein such things are rife - this is, however, no excuse.)
I am deeply shocked and morally sickened by this country following yesterday’s riots. Yet it is not the criminals that illicit this response in me but you, the British people. A more bloodthirsty gnashing of hysterical teeth I could not imagine from this nation that so often praises its own liberalism. Previously sane people are now calling for martial law, suspension of communications, rubber bullets and water-cannons, curfews, an end to human rights, a restoration of the death penalty, bringing back the cane, an outright genocide aimed at wiping out the entire working class. Yes, some of these are meant more seriously than others, but not one of these things should ever be meant any way but ironically by anyone with an ounce of sense and humanity. We should look on these things as the backward, totalitarian methods that they are. We should consider them on a par with thumbscrews – which, judging by the internet and the radio, some of you are probably in favour of, you Nazi bastards.
Wow, that’s a lot of hate in that paragraph. Well let me tell you that it’s a tense time for the person seeking freedom right now. Here’s a handy set of reasons why it’s not a good idea to demand the state conduct violence upon your behalf:
- The moment the state operates it sets a precedent. Today they may be rioters that are shot with rubber-bullets and hosed down with water-cannons (both weapons that are potentially lethal and often maim very seriously) but tomorrow they will be protesters. They will be trying to stop a war, or protect equal rights, or perhaps even complain about police shooting someone dead, and they will be treated with as much violence as you would wish upon these rioters.
- Once a liberty goes, it goes forever. It will not come back for many, many years and most likely it will take numerous deaths to get it back. Our freedoms are considerable (not perfect, however) in this country, yet each has been won through generations of suffering and struggle. What may seem a justifiable action now in emergency circumstances will erode a right that it will be incredibly difficult to win back. The basic rights to communication, fair trials, free association, free speech, free movement – these will go the moment a curfew or some other draconian measure is enforced. If you wish these stripped from other people, you do not deserve them yourself.
- If the police are not accountable to law then they are no better than the criminals they arrest. We, as a society, employ police so that they can exert the amount of force our laws have seen fit to grant them in order to maintain those same laws. A member of the police does not act as a free individual but as an organ of the state. To respond to extreme violence with extreme violence illegitimates power – it is a declaration of a fascist state, the act of fighting against which is in fact the only moral choice. According to many comments I’ve seen, a lot of people would welcome this state of lawless oppression. Just for this instance, you say? Oh, my wonderful imaginary reader, once you grant the police power, they will use it to its fullest extent – it is inherent in their nature.
But what good are these liberties? They don’t defend us from crime! No. They don’t. Yet they determine what crime is, and how we deal with it. In doing so, they determine what is not a crime – and what is not a crime is what makes up society. Like the prime minister of Norway, we must now ask for more democracy and more freedom, not less. We must refuse to move an inch when it comes to freedom – and we must demand more of it. Otherwise, the next person to be “mown down” or “strung up”
will be you.
You don’t have to be a Marxist to see that poverty caused these riots. Why would anyone do this unless they felt as if they had no place within society? How could they? It is inconceivable. That doesn’t make them right – it makes them very wrong in fact – but it does prove what decreasing our freedom leads to. These people are crushed beneath the weight of poverty and can only see a way of getting free through operating outside society, as criminals. They have as little respect for their own lives as they do for others’. How could someone consider themself so worthless? Only if all potential is lost, when they are a slave to conditions set entirely against them.
This is why we must demand more freedoms – freedom from poverty and disease, the rights to work, housing, food, healthcare, education, direct democracy and democracy within the workplace. Only by fighting for these freedoms can we bring an end to oppression, both physical and mental, and finally live in peace together. For until we have overcome jealousy and anger then we shall never conquer hate. Until we are all free to live in society then there shall always be those outside it, attacking it, and making life worse for all of us. 
Both things I’ve seen seriously posted online by serious people I used to respect.
As of a few days ago I was made aware of the potential for a large-scale Tesco supermarket to arrive in Marple on the site of my old college (then Ridge Danyers, now the Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College – CMSFC for short). I’ve conducted numerous hours research piecing together the disparate pieces of this puzzle in order to present myself with a clearer picture of the current situation. As always, this began purely on a gut instinct that this is probably not a good thing, backed up with a few discussions wherein people from varying shades of political opinion expressed similar inclinations. Into the third day of research now (in between my actual work!), and I’ve decided to do a wee blog in the hope that I might structure my stance upon the issue. Economic Ecology of the Area
As a community Marple ticks many of the boxes of the standard suburb; a significant working class contingent providing the labour necessary for the town’s industry – largely services – utilised by the commuter-class operating as a satellite of Greater Manchester. Also notable is the great number of pensioners and, in the disputed area at least, college students.
The current economic situation in Marple can be understood in direct relation to this community. The current supermarket is the Co-op – slightly more expensive than most supermarkets yet founded on a liberal tradition that similarly informs Marple’s traditional voting record. There is also a Tesco in Stockport providing a cheaper alternative for those with access to private transportation (ie/ the commuting-class) and an Iceland in the Marple Precinct providing a local cheaper alternative to those without (the central-Marple working class). Alongside these are a number of independent butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers and newsagents as well as independent clothes shops, beauty parlours, a cinema, art and jewellery… and the like. Their survival in relation to the supermarkets, as well as local demographics, can be attributed to a lack of monopolisation in relation to their particular services
The construction of a Tesco within Marple will obviously disrupt the current economic situation in Marple on a local level. The extent of the scheme – rumoured to include alterations to Marple’s road structure that will be bought off with large “public” facilities – suggests that the new Tesco will also expect to attract shoppers from around the surrounding area also.
In response to this, I believe that the demands made by “Marple in Action” are incredibly reasonable and justified
- if not far reaching enough for my, admittedly Marxist, liking. Why my hard-line stance? In order to answer we must move beyond the realms of liberal capitalist assumptions regarding supply-and-demand and into the realm of power structures. Tesco – Capital as Power
The extent of Tesco’s monopolisation is not comprehensible within the prelapsarian wonderland of Smith and Keynes wherein supply conforms to demand and the free market conforms to some warped notion of Darwinism. The extent of Tesco’s sharp-elbowed growth is well documented upon the “Tescopoly” website in direct relation to the endless complaints of communities into which it had moved.
Yet these complaints continue to go unheard.
As a private company Tesco has no imperative to consider human beings, being an engine of capital and that only. However, those that must, by their very nature, consider human beings are also towing the line of finance. An informative piece from the Independent
on local councils demonstrates the means by which Tesco subverts democratic process.
In terms of this particular issue, a request was made for information he Marple comment board to our own council confirmed that all discussions have been “informal” and therefore not accessible to the electorate.
Couched in the language of bureaucracy, the response makes it clear that this matter is between big business and those currently holding power – although these individuals, through their “informality” are not responsible to their electorate at this time.
In short, until those in power deign to consult the community that elected them, which is not a legal necessity until the consultation stage, then we have no say. Tesco, however, very evidently does - right down to personal meetings with these officials. If consultation goes through in the standard fashion (ie/ with absolutely minimal advertisement to the community as to when and where it will be held) then it may even reach planning stage. At this stage, consultation is mediated and then (as in the case of Stockport’s Tesco
) ignored by the company as it sees fit. The Site
What perhaps makes this situation different from the standard corruption inherent within our system of capitalist-centric government is that the site proposed for this new Tesco is that of our local sixth-form college, CMSFC. Utilising legislation brought through in 1992 (with certain aspects coming into operation in 2008, it would appear
) this public institution is not answerable to elected officials as it is operated by an independent “corporation”.
In terms of this “corporation” and its conduct regarding the sale of the Hibbert Lane site, the emphasis has been almost solipsistically fiscal. One publically available record of this comes from minutes to a meeting in March wherein, in full-blown managerial jargon, it is made clear that this issue is considered to be private information regarding only the “corporation” and the corporation of Tescos (and/or other buyers).
That this publically financed institution refuses the local community any say is a given under our current regime of elective oligarchy
. That it needn’t answer to the local authority, however, means that we cannot even attempt to hold our elected officials accountable for the actions of the institution. CMSFC has all the legal rights of a private company in terms of dismissing our demands, yet it is we that pay for it. That we cannot even buy shares in this “corporation” in fact makes it even less accountable than Tesco itself. What is to be Done?
It would thus appear that liberal democracy has once again cauterised the vessels of public dissent upon receiving its fill of its lifeblood – the electoral mandate to govern. The community of Marple must now beg to its elected oligarchs that they may, as avatars of elected power, think it in their best interests to side with us over the great God Mammon. In less flighty terms, we must write to our MPs
and contribute to the petition.
However, in these climactic times we can also look around us to the examples set by other local movements in defending their own communities. The “Save Levenshulme Baths” campaign succeeded in saving its local baths from the Conservative cuts through mass action initiated by (if my personal discussion one of them can be cited) a small handful of people initiating a huge public momentum.
Perhaps such a campaign could be looked to in order to inform Marple’s movements? It must of course be taken into account that this campaign was fought against “democratic” power directives where this campaign must be directed against the inhuman engines of capital and monopoly.
Similarly, as this campaign is essentially petty-bourgeois in nature (regarding, for the moment, small businesses over actual human community) systematic boycotts can also come into the equation – most notably of the Stockport Tesco which, as we have seen, has illegally exceeded its planning permission. Plus, it must be asked of the workers at CMSFC whether this sell-off is within their interests and those of their students? Recent successes in fighting against management at my personal establishment (The University of Salford) directed by union activity makes a good case, however partial our outcomes, for a combined front of solidarity against this sale. CMSFC was founded on the principle that the unity of two colleges (Cheadle and Marple) would improve the students’ lot. Can this sell-off be accounted for in light of that principle? I would suggest that this sell-off represents a failure of CMSFC as regards its founding logic of “bigger is better”. This should be a matter of concern for their union – the only institution within the CMSFC that approaches democratic representation.
Furthermore, I would return to the initial point of the economic (thus political) situation as it exists in Marple. The voting record of our constituency is heavily of the Liberal Democrat/Conservative bias, with spikes of Labour votes consistent with New Labour’s “blue labour” appeal.
A mass movement will undoubtedly resort (if we can assume as much) to conservative, reactionary “fear of change” and bleeding-heart liberal outcry against the hard-done-by business owners. In terms of realpolitik it is clearly in our interests to work alongside these interests. However! the case I lay out is one against the corrupting force of our current system of government and the overwhelming power of capitalism to have “money talk” more than human beings. This is the same ventriloquist schtick that the Lib Dems and the Tories (and even some democratic socialists, not to mention New Labourites) have won votes on more consistently than Britain’s Got Talent
. But I’ve never been that impressed by the talk of puppets…
I am of the opinion that a grander movement of the community that may occur from this campaign could be beneficial to the people of Marple in the long run. Now the chickens have come home to roost we will perhaps see them for the vultures that they truly are. Whether or not we chase them out of the coop is the prerogative of the people of Marple.Footnotes: 
Much of this is taken from residents’ comments upon the “Marple Community Forum and Noticeboard” (and my own experience, admittedly) - http://www.marple-uk.com/smf/index.php  http://www.marple-uk.com/marple-in-action/  http://www.tescopoly.org/  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/tesco-bullies-councils-to-get-its-way-523197.html  http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/tesco_or_sainsburys_buying_up_co 
“In Portwood, Stockport, Tesco built a Tesco Extra hypermarket which failed to comply with planning conditions. At 120,000 sq ft, the store was 20 per cent larger than the size limit that Stockport Borough Council had imposed on it when it granted planning permission.”
This is a quotation, yet my browser failed to load the details. The link is for the page it was taken from - http://www.marple-uk.com/smf/index.php?topic=3554.msg15340#msg15340  http://www.camsfc.ac.uk/assets/file/Govenors/instrument-and-articles.pdf  http://www.camsfc.ac.uk/cmsfc-about.asp?AboID=43 
Section 14 - http://www.camsfc.ac.uk/assets/file/Govenors/Minutes%20of%20meetings/F&G%2001_03_11m%20Section%20A.pdf 
I apologise for this odd use of terminology but, as far as I see it, a government that ignores its people based upon a mandate to govern given by the people cannot be called a democracy. It is the election of officials who command people - they do not govern upon their behalf.  http://andrewstunell.org.uk/en/  http://www.marple-in-action.org.uk/ 
This is a link to an article prior to their success, yet I feel it gives more of an impression of the movement than the later articles that tow the line of the taggers-on in power - http://manchestermule.com/article/fight-to-defend-levenshume-baths-gathers-momentum 
Massive apologies, but the website I took this from has now ceased to exist. I’m sure there’s plenty out there but my internet is going to slow for a full-on search at this time.
Not really a blog this. I just felt like posting this letter of what I done writ in response to the head of our Student Union. He rather annoyingly keeps using his "anti-cuts mailing list" to send out bulletins on how the SU is working hard to comply with all management demands. Sure you'll pick up the gist anyway, fair imaginary reader, as you always were so smart. And yes, I was feeling rather silly today...
I am well aware of the University's plans for massive job cuts and the campaign of intimidation that they are currently undertaking to implement this. I am also aware of the ludicrous line of argument they have taken by way of explanation - "restructuring", "streamlining", "difficult economic circumstances" - which becomes more transparent by the day as massive new building projects are announced. Your email has served only to confirm that the Student's Union is in total compliance with these schemes. Such compliance is totally at odds with any notion of protecting the "student and learning experience" as I see it. Students do not in any way benefit from the university's increased profitability, they benefit from access to quality teaching and support staff. This can only be maintained within a stable workplace environment - that which management is attempting to dissolve.
I nevertheless realise that as a member of the Student's Union I have little or no say in Student Union matters and thus my above points are rather redundant. My complaint is more one of semantics. A lexicological protest if you will. You see, the medium via which I recieved this email has been labelled the "anti-cuts mailing list", yet within the body of this email I found no evidence of any anti-cuts sentiment whatsoever. This is a dangerous precedent to set. Imagine if my subscription to the Campaign for Real Ale newsletter resulted in my recieving adverts for Carling or WKD. It just wouldn't do.
I therefore respectfully request that you either stop the dissemination of pro-cuts materials using the anti-cuts mailing list, or else change the name of the mailing list. Perhaps "cuts information mailing list"? That sounds non-partisan enough. You see I would not seek to stifle the SU's ability to communicate its message, but there are numerous other means by which this can be achieved. As a serious point, such a misnomer as "anti-cuts" may lead students to believe that this mailing list is representative of all anti-cuts action being taken on campus; such a message will surely result in the sense of apathy you yourself complain of so often amongst the student body.
All the best,
Josef A Darlington
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.
“Are you a Marxist?” she asked me. “I… don’t know” I replied. Why the hesitation? What would I have said if I’d had the chance to think it over? Well, I guess I would have said “I’m a theorist”, or maybe given a less pretentious shrugging of the shoulders. As it turned out, she was SWP and it therefore, necessarily, a priori, followed that she immediately became far less interested in speaking to me. It struck me that I’d unwittingly walked into a den of reverse-McCarthyism. If you aren’t with us you’re against us. Exterminate all rational thought. Cake or death?
Of course, orthodoxy to a particular party line isn’t really that intimidating in the flesh – it just seems a bit childish and cliquey. It demonstrates either a self-limiting of thoughts based on emotional preference or, as is often the case with conservatives, a fully-fledged state of denial. It’s why I’ll probably never join a political party no matter how much I’m in favour of their particular policies. There’s too much of the ideological fuzziness. Calling the SWP a Marxist Party is surely just as much a mixing of philosophical jurisdictions as calling the Tories a Keynesist Party, or the Lib Dems a Millist Party?
That was a little misjudged comedic hyperbole for you there, my sumptuous imaginary reader, but I think you get where I’m coming from. Oh, you don’t? Well, allow me to continue. It’s my contention that Karl Marx was a theorist, not a politician. Where other theories of society begin with the sacred notion of the individual, Capital begins with the exchange of commodities. It’s a philosophical building-up from first principles as sound (if not moreso) as Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding or Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason – the arguments are even structured relatively similarly. The revolutionary point being that societies aren’t collections of individuals, individuals are formed by societies. Marxist argument, from these principles, can safely do away with epistemological speculations as the singular human understanding has little significance when we regard society as a whole. The point of all this, that which carries Marx beyond my conception of him as a philosopher into other’s conception of him as a politician, is the fact that the epistemological “what people think” is inherently ideological and must be seen as such.
Now this is where Marxism draws its strength, but where manifold variants of leftism fall flat. We see it when we argue that education is a right; art and culture are worthwhile for their own sake; the forests are what make our country great; the NHS is a wonderful tradition; bankers and MPs are crooked liars and cheats; libraries and post offices are pillars of the community; the police ought to be respectable. As lovely as these things are, these arguments are the same arguments used by reactionaries since time immemorial. The high, clear air of sweet-smelling, creamy old England. “But isn’t this just the language of politics?” you ask, my phantasmic friend. You’re very pretty you know, and may be right...
The right have stopped playing this game though. “Duty” and “honour” and all that bollocks have been steamrollered under the ideological imperative to privatise. It’s not just luck that it’s worked either. Try telling, as I have, some drunken old landlord that education is a right when it’s what “my ‘ard earned taxes done paid for” – he doesn’t give a shit about Milton. No, we must defend society through our superior thought. Privatisation will not improve the economy, it will damage it, and the reason they want it is that deregulation places power in the hands of owners over citizens. Their NHS plans will not only add to this evil “bureaucracy” that they pretend to hate so much, but will also be more expensive and less effective. The arguments are simple. The tories are wrong because they make no economic sense. Having an ideology of the free market does not equate to an understanding of economics – it actually hampers that understanding.
And in case there’s anyone left who really believes that politics is anything but economics, then I’d ask them to look to Egypt. If we fought a war in Iraq to bring “democracy” to the Middle East – costing us billions in cash and thousands of human lives – why are we so reticent to accept democracy when it’s given to us for free? The West does not believe in democracy, it avoids it at all costs. The West actively installs and supports dictators around the world whilst giving only the bare resemblance of power to people in its own countries. But then I’m anti-humanist, so it doesn’t matter much to me either way. The people must have the power because it is logical. All domination and exploitation is inherently self-contradictory and massively flawed. The highest ethical impulse is that against hypocrisy. If these thoughts are Marxist then call me a Marxist. If not then just call me “anarchist”, everyone else does…