You know what? I’m just gonna put this here at the top. Then we can talk about stuff for as long as we like. This is a thinky sort of update - you might want to save it for a quiet moment. But right now, why would you not just sign the “for God’s sake just end this madness” petition?
Done? Cool. So…
I’ve been fascinated by revolutions since I was twenty; not just The Revolution, which casts out the old and brings all good things, but revolutions as a class of events in themselves. That’s a bit awkward, because there may not really be a class of events - it’s possible they’re superficially similar but largely different, and we just don’t understand enough to tell the difference.
Sure: a revolution is a rapid radical change of the ordering of things, ideas or persons in which one mode or framing is replaced by another. On that basis there’s a class you can look at. But is Portugal’s 1974 “Carnation Revolution” - which took place after a longish and bloody colonial war but lasted only days and was of itself almost entirely bloodless - really the same kind of thing as the French Revolution in 1789, which was an internal social and political explosion beginning with the storming of the Bastille and famous for the guillotine? Does either of them have anything in common with the sudden adoption of novel ideas termed “scientific revolutions”? And does any of them have anything in common with that promised Revolution which devout Marxists believe will remake political and economic life and usher in a just and beautiful society?
You can’t escape Marx in this conversation, and actually you can’t escape Marx in any real political conversation in the 21st Century, as the extreme version of capitalism we’ve been told for years is normal drags itself to the graveyard of white elephants and the news industry that serves it declares it will last forever. The Star Wars project of the Reagan era toppled the Soviet Union, but - like Obiwan - Marx is ubiquitous in death. Though also widely unread and wilfully misunderstood or misrepresented.
You don’t even have to read the original appallingly dense and jargon-ridden texts. A decent curation, chosen from any good university’s reading list and cross-checked on Google, is enough to be going on with. Marx is simultaneously right about a lot of things and obviously wrong about others. He was brilliant, not infallible, and the deification his writing does no one any favours.
As it becomes more and more important that we move our politics leftwards of the destructive nonsense of neoliberalism - which has lost track of reality and now dances naked to invisible panpipes while demanding with menaces that everyone admire its clothes and thank it for saving us from disasters it created yesterday and by which it (and we) will be swamped tomorrow - let no mover or shaker on the left reference Karl Marx without having taken the time to read him and understand at least a little both his insight and his flaws. The last thing we need is a left movement as vacant as the right it opposes. A revolution - or just an election - taking power from one emptiness and awarding that power to its mood-based, dogmatic negative image is a horror we don’t need.
My not-so-academic fascination is with the moment of decision, the tipping point, which is both an individual thing and somehow a shared one. In the split second or the long dark night, an ordinary person makes a heroic decision. It’s a madness, a frenzy, an enlightenment. To the student of politics, economics and society, critical and definitive; to the storyteller in me, irresistible. What happens? How? Why? Can it be induced, how does it spread, and what does it feel like? Is it thoughtful or irrational or some fusion of the two?
Academic and literary questions with a sharp edge. I’ve been talking more about my theoretical understanding of politics than I usually do on Twitter this week because the whole discussion is becoming live as this remarkable government breaks the UK.
(Click image for the thread.)
I also found myself talking about revolutionary purges - the dark side of rapid change and a thing which revolutionists of all flavours believe they will avoid, without in most cases taking the time to consider how they occur. That thread was trigged by Andrew Lilico saying the economy needed purging, by which he meant, I think, that Liz Truss’s catastrophic swan dive into government-by-wish-fulfilment was not in fact the economic suicide note of a party which has ceased to mean anything even to itself, but a vital spring cleaning which (if you ignore the blood on the walls) will do us nothing but good.
In which he resembles a lot of other ideologues in history who confidently expected their revolution to cease its chaos at the foot of their lawn, and were disappointed.
(Click image for the thread.)
All of which I tell you on this fine Saturday morning for not better reason than that I’m awake and well-rested and the country of my birth - with which I have an increasingly complex and unhappy emotional relationship - is falling apart around me, consequence of one misapplication of popular discontent by careerist politics and likely, by that token, to culminate in a new and more jagged wave.
Cross your fingers my academic interest remains a hobby rather than a survival skillset. I do so daily.
Occasional praxis. Mostly just writing, TV and wine.
Signed and hopeful