I took the early train. The man at the station is friendly and we had a chat about the morning so far; although it was still early, a lot has happened. The train had few people on it but I had work to do, and in that state, one rarely notices. Thick fog everywhere, but I wasn’t really looking.
London was colder than I was expecting but not by any means cold enough for the middle of January. It should be much colder. There is a trick being played. This trick is described as ‘ideology’. Few are clear as to what this means. But it swamps us all, a fine mist; it’s everywhere. In the early morning, how the street we live in is constructed, what we eat, what we see, what we think, what we are. This ideology is everywhere and yet what, exactly is it? But it is constantly working against the interests of the workers.
I plunged unexpectedly into Pimlico. The streets had been walked many times before but never really studied. Now the walking became more systematic and the research started. A large set of notes were quickly accumulated and diversions, tangents, half formed ideas, outlines of observations and impressions collected and curated. The fog began to clear and what lay hid beneath the streets was gradually revealed. Part of the process of learning how to see is working our way through the fog of ideology. It confronts us directly with categories such as sustainability, community, opportunity. These keywords are actually written on the hoardings of the developments and appear in the glossy brochures and websites of the main capitalist interests in the area.
The International Workers of the World – The Wobblies – had a theory of the universal condition of the working class and therefore a universal interest of the working class, and therefore; the possibility of a universally organised working class.. It is more apparent that there is a universal condition of capital. Just look around. The same glass steel boxes everywhere, some moulded into eccentric shapes. Everything looks the same, the same vibe, the same idiom. The two great classes created by Capital (which in turn is created by Labour) are coming into sharper relief. The ruling class is conscious of its universal character, not so the proletariat. It is fragmented and divided. But here now the challenge; what power, a unification of the workers?
There were some photographs that I really wanted to take but I’m not sure how it could be done. The first was the man selling the Big Issue in the street by a side entrance to Victoria Station. He kept saying, ‘I’m homeless’, ‘I’m homeless’ in a thick Scouse accent. A great industrial city wrecked by neo-liberalism and the imposition of some anti-architecture And sweeping with his arm the crumpled copies of The Big Issue he held. His hair thick, unkempt and raggedy, a desperation in his face. He is surrounded by billions of pounds of investment in construction projects and yet in this sustainable world of community and opportunity there isn’t so much as a small room with a single bed and access to a bathroom and a kitchen for him. Or safety and security and permanence. There wasn’t a line in the Gantt chart, not enough slides in the PowerPoint presentation; no, sorry, the spreadsheet doesn’t have enough rows.
‘Look, you can clearly see; in all our project plans, there is no space for you’.
‘What’s that you say? You’re homeless?’
‘There’s cost savings and efficiencies you know. It’s tax payers money’.
‘What’s that you say? How much are the consultants paid and what do they do?’
‘What’s that you say? Couldn’t you just provide a small room for me somewhere? I won’t be any bother’.
‘Call the police, call security, there’s a communist here, they must be removed’.
All of London’s great writers are represented here: Sylvia Pankhurst, Rebecca West, Flora Tristan, Thackeray and Dickens, Marx, Booth, Mayhew, Orwell. But it is Marx more than anyone else who explains the dynamic forces which create Capital itself and it’s role as a primary determinant. You can almost taste the capital in the air. It is sucked from the life blood of the passers by and through a strange process of alchemy is turned into glass, steel, concrete and stone. It is as if the three volumes of Das Kapital come alive and are played out as a promenade performance on these streets.
The second photograph I wanted to take is the man who shuffles slowly in front of me in Lupus Street. He is the shapeless form of an indistinctive layer of the proletariat. Dark shapeless trousers. A jacket which hangs in such a way it might be far too small or really much too big. His shoes have worn and split in different places. His gait is awkward, stilted, slow and unwieldy. He clutches a plastic carrier bag as if it has some great importance. Perhaps it has. His last coins spent on potatoes and an onion to last three days or more. He carries a greater weight than the plastic bag but he keeps that to himself.
Victoria is a mis-mash of mistakes, mis-haps, mis-identification. The earlier charm has been eradicated. The shiny new space is charmless, characterless and antiseptic. This is the world of Landsec, a central London property developer which owns 2 million sq feet of development in the area. It has an annual turnover of over £7 billion and claims:
Their property portfolio in Victoria and Pimlico includes the Nova Building, Cardinal Place, 123 Victoria Street and the Zig Zag Building and 62 Buckingham Gate.
I wrote to them to ask if they recognise any trade unions among their workforce but they have yet to reply. It is a curious type of community building which excludes organised labour.
What it was like to be on the streets that day. The atmosphere, the air, the sense of something; what was that something? At least a sense of being alive. That was felt; and the enigma, the enigma of people passing in the street; the enigma of buildings, closed, closed off. The raw power of Capital; cold, cruel, indifferent to anything but its vampire need for more blood, more capital, more profit, more power.
I entered a building later that was full of warmth and enjoyment and fun. Chicken nuggets were put in the oven and tomato ketchup poured into a bowl as a dipping sauce. There were cups of tea in abundance, mince pies appeared, some biscuits. Each small part felt it was something to do with a bigger something but that bigger something was really nothing at all. There was an exchange of presents of books. One of which was Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table. The recipient held it in their hand, reading the text on the back and then the brief biography of Levi and the opening paragraphs. They too are a scientist. I watched how absorbed they were letting the silence and thoughts fill the air. Then they put the book down and the conversation started once again. The whole afternoon was infused with the quality without a name.
That’s what goes on inside so many places that seem cut off. I don’t think it’s people cutting each other off. It’s something else and I would like to know where that comes from and what it represents and in who’s interest it is to divide us and rule through lying, croneyism and corruption. That’s the smell at the top.
But a lot of the air on the ground is red.