Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear

In these times of crisis, it is crucial to remember that the seeds of a better society already lie embedded in the contradictions of the current one.

In the Western world, at least, Christmas is a profoundly schizophrenic time of year. On the one hand, the holidays bring out some of the best aspects of what it means to be human: people coming together to share food and gifts in a communal spirit that temporarily breaks with the alienation of everyday life. But, at the same time, the holidays shine a light on some of the worst elements of consumerism and false pretense that have come to pervade the social fabric: endless lines of zombified humans stumbling mindlessly through pretentiously decorated shopping malls in search of the latest useless gadget or gift card, confirming once again that the only way to express value in late capitalist society is through the accumulation of entirely useless commodities, even as countless people to go sleep in the cold streets at night.

When Charles Dickens waxed poetic about death, greed and misery in his classic Christmas Carol, he very much had in mind the societal dislocation wrought by early industrial capitalism. Of course the Dickensian critique of capitalism lacked a thorough political economic analysis and ultimately failed to move beyond moral outrage at poverty and the decline of human virtue. But, that said, even Karl Marx opined that Dickens in his lifetime “issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together.” A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, just five years before The Communist Manifesto and the revolutionary wave of 1848. If we were to write A Christmas Carol for our time, would the story really look so different?

Next follows the meat of the article by Jerome Roos to be found here - an interesting take on how communists/socialists could view our way to the future, recognising the positive aspects all around us in our everyday lives, and using them in our struggle in order to overturn capitalism. Let's end with his words:
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

We are living through a moment of judgement in which the fate of humanity is to be decided. In these dark days, when all hope seems lost and even the most communistic of social rituals are succumbing to the spectacle of shallow-minded consumerism, it is crucial to remind ourselves that the seeds for a better world already lie sown in the scorched earth of the present one; and that our challenge as “radicals” or “revolutionaries” is not necessarily the creation of a whole new society from scratch, but rather the liberation and actualization of the hidden potentialities for altruism and communal living that are currently being repressed at the barrel of a gun. This should give hope for the struggle: we do not necessarily have to innovate the new so much as we have to crush the past and intensify the already-existing.

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was ultimately transformed into a better man, embracing the Spirit of Christmas and the sense of joy and community it represented — but not before being visited by three phantoms: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The first showed him his own past self, the child within who had relished in the spirit of sharing; the second confronted him with the thoroughly despicable man he had become, clinging to his money as if there were no tomorrow; and the latter presented him with a terrifying image of what lay ahead if he persisted in his cold-hearted and tight-fisted ways:
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. … It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.
Let us be this gloomy spirit; the cloaked phantom of the future tormenting the miser before bedtime. Let us be the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come — the specter of already-existing communism haunting the capitalist present from the firm grounding of a future yet to come. Let us be the Spirit of Revolution reincarnated, striking down upon the Scrooges of our time right as darkness seems to envelop the world. Merry Christmas everyone. May 2014 mark the year of our ghostly reappearance.


ajohnstone said...

Many thanks for posting this contribution and bringing the website to my attention

Anonymous said...

Why does the posting use the semi-mystical term of the dialectical fantasists, "contradictions"? Why not use a word everybody understands, i.e. "divisions"? The SPGB has done much to clarify Marxism using everyday language -- why not this?

ajohnstone said...

Perhaps the formatting of the post does not make it clear that,except from a short comment by the poster, this blog item is taken from an article written by a non-party member, Jeremy Roos , and it is his use of the term "contradiction". You, however, have usefully made clear how it should be read for others.

Jargonese is always an easily made error by socialists and as you say we should always strive to use simple clear and concise words and explanations. Alas, we don't always succeed. Even yourself may be guilty of it by expressing "contradiction" as a "semi-mystical term of dialectical fantasists" - not my everyday language ;-p