After the Summer of Love, the Summer of Labour as Counter-Power: Paul Mason.
After the Summer of Love the Summer of Labour as Counter-Power.
Corbyn: the summer of hierarchical things Paul Mason.
Labour can become the counter-power.
My first experience of the labour movement was going to the Leigh Miners’ Gala, in the 1960s, aged about six or seven. I remember, amid the tight throng of people, one striking image: a boxing ring, in which a local slugger was taking on all comers.
The flesh of the fighters was red and bruised. One man had blood on his face, another a stupid smile: the challengers were mainly drunk. They slammed their gloves into each other’s ribs with such force I can hear it now.
And then my father’s hand slid up to my forehead and covered my eyes. “Don’t look,” he said.
That’s what the working class gained by forming a movement of its own. Something that could co-exist with the brutality of everyday life and at the same time shield us from it. Something that allowed you to live inside the system and at the same time nurture the ideal of something different.
Years later I discovered there was a word to describe this: “counter-power”. A set of ideas, traditions and actions that lets you both survive within capitalism and fight against it.
After 2008, the counter-power was reborn. No longer centred on the old working class, it was simply “us” — the crapped-upon masses. The barista, the courier, the lawyer, the shipping clerk. Those were the people I met occupying Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013. Anarchists in black balaclavas yes — but also pissed-off guy with gym membership and a Besiktas season ticket.
The 2011–13 uprisings — Tahrir, Occupy, the Spanish indignados, Taksim, Brasil — were mass phenomena that, even when suppressed and defeated, left a residue: ideas, patterns of organisation, networks, as Manuel Castells put it, of “outrage and hope”.
Finally came the Brexit referendum: the ultimate act of miscalculation, in which Project Fear 2.0 misfired and the UK kickstarted the breakup of globalisation.
You can take the state, said Gramsci: but capital has line after line of trenches and fortifications beyond it.
Corbyn’s victory in 2015, Brexit in 2016 and the near victory of the Scottish yes campaign in 2014 all held out the possibility of a effortless exit from a dying and unpopular neo-liberal structure.
A kind of “free revolution”, handed to you by a hapless elite, where all you had to do was tick a box.
But revolutions are never effortless. The revolution that’s put Podemos on 20% in Spain, and Syriza into power in Greece, involved masses of people on the streets, resisting the elite’s attacks, and creating a new kind of power in communities and on the streets and in universities and schools.
This is the modern counter-power, and Corbyn’s election was only ever a reflection of it.
Detailed comment would be superfluous on such momentous thoughts.
We can only suggest that people read the full version.
Brief Notes for further reflection on Cde Mason’s theses.
- The break-up of globalisation begun by Brexit. Really?
- Near victory of pro-business nationalists in Scotland as a near triumph for opponents of neo-liberalism….sure….
- Podemos, who recently failed to get anywhere near power (despite predictions that they would win) in recent election as example of ‘counter-power’. (Spain’s Conservative PP wins rerun election, Podemos upset by surprisingly low results: 2016 election results PP 33.02%; PSOE 22.68%; UNIDOS PODEMOS 21.11%; Abstentions 30.16% #ELPAIS26J #26J #Spain)
- The latest version of the Indignados, Nuit Debout, in France, already disintegrating in abstraction and futility.
- Ah yes Syriza, Greece. Well.
I never liked Boxing me.
Or the film Fight Club.