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Motivations

by Daniel Hartley

Manchester, 1977 - by John Bulmer

Many of the contributors to this website will want to share a sense of their personal motivations for taking part, all of which will vary a great deal. For what it’s worth, here are my own:

Why is a group like this necessary? And why now? One could do worse than begin with the collapse of communism. From the great revolutionary movements of the nineteenth century, through their realisation in Russia in 1917, up until the last decade of the twentieth century, people around the world had available to them a lively, present alternative to the capitalist status quo. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, that alternative – which was a failure – no longer exists.

Those born in the West today are bereft of a revolutionary tradition. In fact, they are bereft of a tradition of almost any kind – other than the various religions which many (wrongly, in my view) see as superstitious gimmicks of a bygone era. With the decline of primary industries in many countries and with the increased pervasiveness of privatization, community itself is becoming a thing of the past. Newborns inherit an eternal present of alienated monads which projects itself as an untranscendable horizon.

This would not be a problem if the eternal present weren’t so damaging to the majority of humanity. But it is. So we have a task before us. It is no longer viable or politically worthy to say that being a revolutionary requires being a member of the working-class. There must be new alliances formed between the middle-classes (to which most of the contributors to this website will belong) and the workers. Moreover, we must rethink what we even mean today by ‘middle-class’ and ‘worker’: it is one thing casually to observe that the traditional working-class can now be found in various locations in Asia; it is quite another to think through how this fundamentally alters the nature of the working-class and what is left behind in the West.

In other words, the task of the new generation is not only to act: it is to create a new tradition for its actions. This is part of what this website hopes to do. By bringing together students, professionals and workers to discuss a whole range of issues – from energy production to healthcare, from philosophy to gastronomy – it aims to formulate concrete solutions to current problems. Cutting-edge critical theory will be fused with the day-to-day know-how of the workplace or the home, all the while questioning the very concepts through which we’re thinking the future. (What, for example, is the ‘workplace’? When and how did that concept arise? What would a society look like in which the ‘workplace’ no longer existed?)

It must lead to knowledge, community and action. We must create our own inheritance.

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About Daniel Hartley

Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Leeds.

2 responses »

  1. Thank you for bringing this blog to the Internet; I was introduced by TAC, and am excited as to what it will do.

    I wanted to ask some questions:

    1. In what sense do you see Communism as something lively? I am not convinced that Communism – whatever you choose as an example – was/is not as fraught with oppression as any political ideology, specifically if it is defined in strict counter-distinction to ‘an other’ (i.e. Capitalism).

    2. How do you equate Capitalism with leaving humanity bereft of tradition? Surely, it is only through ‘tradition’ – through reference to what has gone before – that we are able to do anything, thus making either your whole project impossible (i.e. without tradition we can do nothing), or wrong (i.e. we have tradition). Indeed, it is only through some tradition that this blog exists at all. My point is: the notion that we are bereft of tradition is more a symptom of not liking the traditions we have, than illuminating an absence thereof.

    Reply
  2. Hi, cheers for the response. Two great and difficult questions.

    1. By ‘lively’, I simply meant that it was there, it existed, it was a ‘living’ presence. The structure of one’s daily perception (I imagine, and judging from what I’ve read) was not structured by a single totality. The world worked in TWO ways – communism and capitalism. What I value about this is not communism as a viable alternative to capitalism but, rather, that it created a certain critical negativity towards one’s immediate political environment. Precisely by the co-existence of the Two, the One didn’t reign supreme.

    In other words, there are Two Ones: 1. a Bad One – capitalism, an exploiting totality. 2. a Good One – more along the lines of some deconstructive wet-dream of original differential heterogeneity. I’m not particularly taken with either it has to be said.

    2. I don’t equate capitalism per se with leaving humanity bereft of tradition (after all, it’s Marx and Engels who point out that capitalism generates tradition: the communist tradition). Perhaps I should have made that clearer. I tried to link it to the decline of primary industries in the late 70s and early 80s and to the rise of privatization (in Britain) under Thatcher. For me that was a cocktail that led to a weakening of traditional working-class solidarity and community, which one is led to believe existed prior to this period (through writers such as Raymond Williams, for example). Perhaps my outlook is too Anglocentric.

    I think your other point is more poignant – how could we do anything at all without some sort of tradition? But I note that in this context you had to write tradition as ‘tradition’: you recognise that what you’re talking about is secretly almost synonymous with the past in general – what went before – rather than tradition tout court (hence the inverted commas – the hesitancy inspired by stretching a concept beyond its habitual range). Is the past simply tradition? Or is tradition something theoretically separable from the past? Why would we have the term ‘tradition’ if all we meant by it was ‘the past’? Tradition for me implies a legacy, something handed down (‘tradere’ = deliver, hand over) from one generation to another: it can guide certain actions and ways of thinking, it can be wrestled with and rejected, rebelled against or submitted to. (And submission here does not necessarily imply servility – it could assume the form of Badiou’s fidelity to the Event).

    3. Oddly, the thing I like most about your post is the simple phrase ‘Communism…was/is’. That ‘was/is’ neatly summarises Derrida’s Specters of Marx, which I’m reading at the moment, and which is well worth checking out. Perhaps tradition, in my sense, ‘was/is’: to risk utter pretentiousness, perhaps our inheritance is spectral…

    Reply

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