The word ‘agate’ had to be looked up because I realised I only had a vague notion of what ‘agate’ might be. It seemed a small, trifling thing, referenced in Franz Hessel’s lovely book Walking in Berlin. As he describes, ‘In the evening of that overfilled day, I was welcomed into the home of an elderly lady who produced keepsakes from her chests and escritoire, things that once belonged to her forebears in an old house on Stralauerstrasse….I’m allowed to touch an agate tobacco tin’.
The prose is light and airy but on closer, and slower, reading it reveals an intensity and detail which becomes at times cinematographic. It is as if the reader is next to Hessel in the streets of Berlin in the 1920s. Suddenly it becomes alive,
‘The swift, firm big-city girls with their insatiably open mouths…’
‘When twilight falls, old and young women lean at the windows, propped up on pillows…’
‘…to stare at the backs of the children’s knees as they play at hitting a ball against a wall….Long-legged girls – enchanting to watch. They hurl the ball by turns, their hands, heads and chests twisting as they do so; the hollows of their knees seem to be the centre and the origins of their movements’
He is walking through the streets, observing and then writing and in the process he captures the life of those moments in the city for a much longer time. Who will remember a day or two later about the big-city girls walking through the streets or people leaning from their windows in the evening to discuss the days events or the children whirling in constant motion as they hit the ball again and again against the wall? But here it is for us to all read when time has distorted sense and vision and that Berlin which exist in the 1920s was blown to pieces and burned down long ago.
What happened to those big-city girls and playful children? Concentration camps, fire-storms, hell-storm aerial bombardments, endless sexual violence. It changes so suddenly, from what once seemed normal into an inferno of the new possibility, where all life is subjugated to depravity. A few bits and pieces, favourite books, mementos from this or that special day, the smile of a friend, the quality without a name of meeting someone you really get on with in the street; they’re gone, and their end was terrible and dreadful.
Competition seeps into everything and presents itself as something natural, like the sun, the moon and the waves. Something there since time began, lingering still when all time has finally gone. It is even presented that there is a competition among wars. But there is no competition of war. The effects on people are always the same. There becomes a standardisation of hell and death and fire and barbarism and the ripping of the psyche into such a mess it may never heal.
War is not an aberration of some sort of ‘normal’ (whatever that means) functioning of capitalism, it is intrinsic. The reality is presented as fragmented and shattered; here we are in England in this English normality. A glimpse in a shard of a broken mirror of destruction in Yemen. A quick fly past of the bombing of Aleppo on the television news. The Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund buys a football team and executes 81 people. The Prime Minister makes his idiotic gawping face while he makes the son of a KGB official a life peer. Allegations of corruption are furiously denied. Behind the scenes lawyers swiftly move. Across the global internet money secretly moves as lines of 1s and 0s from one hidden bank account to another, deeper and deeper into the matrix, further and further away from scrutiny, more fluid than ever before. Sometimes turned into buildings which stretch through the sky where it will be impossible to make any links, to find any connections as to which dictator lies so close to which politician and their friends.
It is not a competition of wars but a competition of classes; and competition within classes. A global ruling class with shared interests but each component deeply suspicious and fearful of each and every other component. They must all make money, they must all defend their enormous wealth not just from the poor but from each other. But their wealth and gold and coin and capital and monetary investments eats their soul, corrodes their nervous system, produces fearful, paranoid demons within their brains. What if their are losses? Is this capital growing fast enough? Are these profits what we need? What are the others planning? Where are the enemies hiding? Who are the enemies?
There are so many of them. Hiding in kindergartens in Kyiv. In Sanaa, even the dead retain their enemy status, in Homs every market stall holder, teacher, plumber, office clerk, transport worker is an enemy. In Britain and the USA every trade union member and political opponent is an enemy, in Russia every anti-war protestor is an enemy. Children seem to be the biggest enemy of the global ruling classes because they are the group which is most heavily targeted and produce the greatest numbers of casualties. How dangerous they are these children with their teddy bears and toys and funny observations on the world.
It is a strange normality which can so easily carry on as if nothing is happening when a great deal is happening. It is a strange normality where in this street people are peacefully enjoying an after work drink in the early evening, and in that street people are screaming under piles of rubble while more and more rockets continue to smash into what was once their homes. It is a strange normality where it is unclear what set of criteria is being used to decide which despot is a friend and which tyrant is now an enemy. Shopping centres and supermarkets, a great source of profit. But quickly destroyed and people now drink out of puddles and eat rats. We have to conclude that this is how the so-called normal of capitalism looks. That’s how capitalism is. In which case, watch out because if this is the normality of capitalism, war could be coming to a town or city near you, all too soon.
I took these photos on a trip to Calais from 25 – 28 February 2022. There was a lot of writing on that weekend but it will be some time before that’s put into a readable form. While looking through them again it struck me that these ordinary day scenes are all in the front line of the new reality of the widening and intensification of capitalist war.