It was that rather lovely period between the end of the afternoon and the beginning of the evening. This is particularly enjoyable when one has finished work for the day and the light in the sky is rapidly changing. There is a tension between the disappearing sunlight and the emerging neon light. The are complementary powers which understand that it is pointless to fight each other.
I noticed the doorways and reception areas of offices in the West End as I walked from Soho up to Fitzrovia crossing Oxford Street in the process. There were a lot of distractions and a long conversation and meanderings and standing still waiting for a street or window to be absent of people. It was flowing movement with no sense of time. One of those evenings. Perhaps now that the hands of the doomsday clock have moved closer to the hour of nuclear war we start to notice everything more clearly. As if for the first time, with a sense of longing, yearning, that this version of the world may last a little longer. Imperfect, bloody and terrible that it may be, the possibly approaching alternative is unconscionably worse.
The far off wars are becoming closer, the refugees are starting to look more familiar to some Western eyes, even if the names and language are unknown. There is a surprising amount of machismo from some quarters, strange Stalinist tropes from others and timidity, resilience, posturing and resolution in equal measure. The news becomes more difficult to read and even harder to understand; the partiality and subjectivity ever more apparent.
Politicians who are involved in large-scale corruption, widespread lying, cheap tricks and law-breaking are hardly likely to be able to resolve a deepening international crisis. Britain is a military power, the USA is a military power, Russia is a military power, China is a military power. They all have long, bloody histories of oppression, conquest and shocking levels of violence against people less well armed that they are. They are just a few of the military-industrial complexes which dominate the world and they subjugate all people by their very existence. The threat is always present and what has stood for decades can disappear in hours. Much of the time the consequences of their power remains hidden except to those on the front line where capitalist ‘normality’ is ripped apart; in Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine and many other places. The list is long and since the end of the Second World War there has not been a single day of peace in the world.
I realise I am standing on the corner of Fitzroy Street where Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo once lived (at no 20). He formed an artists colony here and founded the Century Guild of Artists in 1882. Mackmurdo was one of the great apostles of Ruskin. He attended Ruskin’s drawing classes, traveled to Italy with him and they taught in the same institutions. This area of Fitzrovia was described by the art critic William Rothenstein as the ‘fashionable unfashionable artists’ quarter’.
The building no longer exists and has been replaced by Carr-Saunders Hall, residential accommodation for students of the London School of Economics. Perhaps the earlier no 20 was hit by a bomb during the Second World War. In 1939, this area, and significant parts of Westminster were industrial areas. The older factory buildings can still be seen in the topography, as can the earlier versions of offices and department stores.
Fitzrovia still has an earlier something….perhaps it’s a harmony, or ‘intactness’ if such a word exists. It is a clearly defined area and the architecture is a important factor of how it is sensually experienced. There is a sense of a different phase of production. This, and the memories of bohemia, artists, literary figures and arts and crafts influences create a certain atmosphere. A striving for a liberation of production from greed and profit and to create a system where the production of objects is an artistic process and all objects emit their own endogenous art signals. William Morris argued that this would only be possible by a revolution against capital which would enable production and art to be started afresh under radically different circumstances.
All human made objects share the characteristic that they are a product of human labour. This is the one characteristic they all have in common. And most human made objects (with the exception of individual hand made pieces) are bought into being not just by labour power, but by the forces and powers of capital. These howling powers scream ‘accumulate’ and have a hunger for more capital which is never sated. Everything is caught in the vortex of the accumulation of capital, of capital expansion, competition, corruption, lies and hypocrisy. It is like a magma from inside the earth itself, generating ever greater heat, and it cannot continue to generate this heat without seismic explosions.
Capital does not neatly generate ideas which clearly explain its workings or produce theories which human agents logically follow. There are options, possibilities, competing strategies which partially reflect the competition within capitalism itself. Should the military-industrial complex pursue the strong state model (with the strong man leader) or take its chances in the direct competition of the world market? If it is weak in the latter, it may decide its strength lies in the former. Which ever route it decides upon (and their are other variations on this theme) the expansion of capital is intrinsically bound up with a constant drive to militarism and war. There is a latent tendency to war in all capitalist production. All commodities are carriers of competition, all commodities are potentially weapons of war.
After the evening’s visit to Fitzrovia I took the train home, tired and on edge. The full enormity of the situation sinks in by degrees. I started reading a collection of articles by William Morris, originally published in Justice and Commonweal newspapers of the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist League respectively in the 1880s. They are collected together in a well produced book Political Writings. It was not so much for insights into war I wanted but insights into the alternatives and what life might be. In a contribution called ‘Art or No Art? Who Shall Settle It?‘, published in Justice on 15 March 1884, Morris writes:
‘…if this social revolution does not come about….art will assuredly perish’
‘It is important, therefore, for the workers to take note how capitalism has deprived them of art, for that word means really the pleasure of life, nothing less’.
And now it becomes more apparent to a larger number of people (many already knew this) that capitalism and the militarism it creates seeks to deprive the workers not just of their homes and livelihoods but so too of their lives. And all the pleasures of life are taken.
Morris was right about the workers and social revolution. Either we deprive the military industrial complexes of their power, or they will deprive us of everything.