Tag Archives: Revolution

Wu and the art of ghetto revolution, pt. 2.2

20 Jul

I told you last time around that this post would look at Georges Sorel’s idea of faith, and its connection with some of the ideas expressed or implicit in the Tao of Wu.  I lied, at least in part.

This entry is all about Georges.

The central idea that Sorel fixes upon in Reflections on Violence is that of the General Strike (yes, the capital letters are deliberate).  Old lefties, the over-educated, and people who have been on a protest with either, will know exactly what this means.  Or at least they will believe that they do.

The conventional idea of a general strike is something like the episode which occurred in early May 1926 in Britain.  This was a nine-day long work stoppage by the biggest three of the trades unions, and most other trades unions too, with the aim of preventing cuts in mineworkers’ pay.  If the entire working-class downed tools, the miners would win.  But the Railwaymen’s union leader, J.H.Thomas, cut a deal with the government to bring the stoppage to an end.  And thus betrayed the miners, who were starved back to work several months later.

[We’ll leave the iniquity of J.H.Thomas to a blog entry in the far future, save to say that for years after, every working-class room that he entered started to fill with whispers saying “Jimmy’s selling you, Jimmy’s selling you”].

But even if the betrayal hadn’t come from Jimmy, it would have come from somewhere.  Because the trade unionists and the left of the time were simply aiming to win the miners’ aims within the debate as it existed.  At the point of winning within that debate, they would have agreed to return power to the enemies of the miners, meaning that the betrayal would simply have been postponed.

Sorel’s vision of the General Strike, by contrast, is not something designed to win an argument within the terms of capitalism – it is in the overcoming of both capitalism and of the leaders who define themselves by their opposition to it.  And, as you might gather from Sorel’s text being called ‘Reflections on Violence’, the General Strike understood in this way means a lot more than simply not going to work.  Although Sorel, frustratingly, isn’t about to tell us how much more.  As far as he is concerned, that is for the working-class, inspired by the myth of the ‘General Strike’, to work out for themselves in the act of striking. And presumably, in the acts of violence that will inevitably flow from it.  This violence is likely to be extreme, and offensive, rather than mild and defensive.  Especially given that he sees this radical working-class as remaking their world upon the basis of faith just as the Jesuits and the Reformation did – through faith as opposed to reason.  Conviction and lived experience will supply the details in time.  Or:

the general strike must be taken as a whole and undivided, and the passage from capitalism to Socialism conceived as a catastrophe, the development of which baffles description.

Unfortunately, it is precisely those things that ‘baffle description’ which need describing in order to encourage people to have faith.  This is the trick which has enabled religion, and religion-like systems, to trump reason on a regular basis throughout history – not least during the alleged ‘age of reason’.  And it’s this faith in ‘faith’ – without a willingness to spell out what there is to have faith in, that fatally weakens the Sorelian idea of the General Strike.

Next time I’ll join the dots back to the Wu-Tang.

 

 

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Wu and the Art of Ghetto Revolution, Pt. 1

10 Oct

Last time I was here I mentioned my friend Shady, who responded by asking me to mention him again.

It seems like it was fated to happen regardless, as it was him who provided me with a copy of The Wu-Tang Manual by the Rza.  And when I completed my last entry I had already decided that a (qualified) defence of one of the Rza’s more contentious scientific claims was in order.  Albeit one from his later book The Tao of Wu.

That claim was that sufficient faith could enable somebody to become invisible, and that faith had on one occasion enabled Rza himself to achieve that feat whilst being pursued by a rival gang.  It would be fair enough, at least on the surface, to perceive such a statement as ridiculous at best: and at worst as a straight-up lie.  One of my favourite literary bloggers sees it in precisely that way:

 http://readingpushkin.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/the-world-according-to-rza/

But if we peer just an atom’s depth further,  it reads a little differently.

Let me tell you a rationalist story; a rationalist story of faith.  A story of the New York projects, or maybe an everyday story of Manchester.

Or maybe – please indulge me – a short story for each.

Let’s go in reverse order, and start with Manchester.  If it’s good enough for Engels and Morrissey, it’s good enough for me.

Although during a thunderous downpour  in 1989, it wasn’t so great.  I was an eighteen year old two hundred miles from home  with only pennies in my pocket, a guitar I couldn’t play or sell, and no map or hope of getting a hitch until it stopped raining.  Every doorway seemed to be flooded and every underpass to have turned into a river.  Every house was lit up like it was Christmas, which it nearly was, and it seemed I had landed in the only city in England with no bus shelters.  And no-one on the street who I could ask for directions.   When I followed road signs I found on detours that car drivers would hardly notice, but that took lifetimes on foot.  And when I stopped moving I got Arctic cold.

So I simply walked in the direction that felt closest to South-East.  After five hours of stomping through the rain crying with wet and cold I hit a motorway slip road next to open fields and hedges.  I nipped under a hedge, dumped the soaking clothes I was wearing, put on the only other clothes in my rucksack, nipped back under the hedge and stuck my thumb out.  Maybe I’ve been colder or more desperate in my life – but I don’t remember when.  The smile on my face though, was like a toothpaste advert.  And that smile got me a lift in minutes out of Manchester, even though I knew perfectly well that drivers never pick up hitchers in the rain, or young male hitchers alone, or in the middle of the night, or hitchers who are long-haired and dirty and smelly.  But that was one of two drivers in a lifetime of hitching who insisted on taking me to my door.  Him and his partner, so they said, had only gone out for a drive because they were bored sitting in the house.

Once in a while I think about how my life would have been if I’d lacked the faith to just walk out of the city.  But not that often.  Just when I see somebody being ‘sensible’ or ‘rational’ and denying that faith can overcome impossible odds.

Note that I’m not talking about faith in some transcendent God, or the shallow faith that says that everything will turn out alright in the end.  But the faith that enables the person holding it to do what is necessary to survive in whatever situation they are presented with.

Obviously, all of us run out of that kind of faith in the end, hence the universal fact of death.  But it’s still possible for it to make some difference in even the most unlikely situations.

Such as this:

Everybody knows your face in this project, because you’re one of the beautiful ones.  You’re one of the ones who’s already had the clothes, the cars, the jewellery, the women that everybody wants.  Everybody knows you and there’s even rappers making songs about you, saying that they’re just like you, that one day they’re going to be on a level with you, on a stage with you, on a stage in place of you, saying that they’re better than you, saying that you took every lyric you ever stole from them, saying that you better watch your back and protect your neck.  Saying that all your talk about doing what you do for everybody together is bullshit and that you’re a thief like everybody else, that you’re just out for self.  Saying that you’ve got no magic and they’re going to put you down.

And when you realise that they meant it all along there’s a gang only yards away from you and you’re running like fuck and it doesn’t matter how fast you run because there’s one of them on your heels with pace like Usain Bolt before his first fag of the day and there’s no hope left and all you have left is faith and you pray to whatever is or is not there and to the ghosts of all the chances you did not take and the spirits of the dead red men haunting the ground where you’re about to spill your blood.

Then the sprinter behind you loses his footing just for a second and you round the corner of the block.  You’ve got six seconds, at the outside, to save your life.

You take off your $500 necklace, give it to a little kid and tell him to take it home to his mum.

Tick.

You take off your new jacket, rip out the lining so you’ve got a ribbon to use as a tourniquet.

Tock.

Then you hunker down, pick up dogshit off the ground and wipe it on your jeans (tick) as you fall back into a beggar-style hunch against the wall.

Tock.

You tighten up the tourniquet and start to pull all the faces you’ve seen smack addicts pull.

Tick.  You ask yourself how do they feel when they do that, and you answer that question with every muscle of your body.

Tock.

Your enemies turn the corner.  Nobody’s going to trip up this time.  But they’re too late.  As you mumble into the drool across your face one of them steps right over you.

Tick.

You’re invisible.

——————————

Next time on nosuchthingasthemarket:

                                    Wu and the art of ghetto revolution, Pt.2

                                    … on faith and collective political organisation.