I walked through Pimlico several times earlier this year. Before more war had started. There was the brink of a new war then in those nervous days in January and early February. Threats and violations. No one was sure that it would happen. When it did, I remember thinking, ‘so this is how it starts’. The start being the potential move into widespread chaos, destruction and immense violence. One must remember that if the world is full of guns and ammunition and militarism and missiles it can hardly be a surprise when yet another war starts.
After the many walks around Pimlico, and late nights of research, I rested. Or rather, I started reading other things. Particularly Christopher Alexander and The Timeless Way of Building. I’m not keen on histories which are full of facts. Not that facts don’t matter, but on a walk, how much do people remember them? In 1906 this happened, and that was followed by another event in 1910. One bloody thing after another.
I think for Pimlico I’m more interested in something else. Why have these garish glass buildings appeared and why do they dominate the skyline in the way they do. They are not even in Pimlico and yet surround it with a stainless steel dread. They don’t emit light but ooze alienation and represent anti-social forces of production. They are all about the organisation of labour in a certain way, with a certain purpose, to a certain conclusion. All this concrete is not accidental.
Alexander points out that feelings are a huge reaction to architecture and planning and the built environment. But they are rarely mentioned with honesty in ‘the discourses’ and ‘the narratives’ about such things. Even less so in the pixelated marketing campaigns or the glossy brochures full of people whose mouths are full of perfect teeth.
Walking around Pimlico thinking about feelings was a very good way to do it. Alexander has been my friend this evening and I’m grateful for his company.
The period of gestation was interesting. Intense study for a few weeks followed by diversions into medieval graffiti and the history of municipal socialism and thinking about war again. My mum’s been really upset by it all. She lived through the war in Silesia and the Russian and then Polish occupation. She talked to me last weekend, upset about a story of rape she had heard on the television.
‘So they haven’t changed then’, she said, ‘they’re doing the same what they did to us’.
Large parts of Pimlico were heavily bombed in the Second World War. English working class communities destroyed by German workers who were so bitterly defeated they were forced into uniforms and marched to war; even those who had always been against war. The brutalising impact of war should never be underestimated. And all war is a defeat for the working class and working class interest.
A great deal has happened since the last time I was in Pimlico. It was only five or six weeks ago. Rumours of war are now the reality of war. The brutalisation of life. The far right hypocrites and liars such as Putin, Trump, Orban, Assad. They welcome the brutalisation. They like crossing lines. First there is a line about not killing people, and that’s crossed, then a line about not killing babies and children, and that’s crossed. There is a layer of people who want to cross these lines. Putin, Trump and all the rest are enablers. That’s partly why they get support.
The atmosphere on the streets has changed. I noticed Pimlico in a different way. But also the magnifying glass I’ve been trying to use has brought everything into sharper relief. The Irish Navvies who built the railways, the railways from Victoria which led to Folkestone and the endless transmission of young men to the war fronts in the First World War, the arial destruction of the area which is now Churchill Gardens Estate, One Bessborough Gardens which is mentioned in the Paradise Papers, a node of tax evasion, shell companies and corruption, Thomas Cubbitt’s speculative building and the development of capitalism.
War sharpens everything. Brings so much into focus. But we shouldn’t concentrate on war. We should concentrate on all the stuff around us which leads to war. I saw strong representations of the working class in Pimlico this evening and strong representations of the ruling class too. But I don’t see so many political formations which are emerging from within the working class to change.
A lens is a useful tool, a good starting point, but we need other tools, for both defence and attack. Solidarity is a tool and so too are picketing, occupations, refusals, protests, hand made placards. We don’t really have any leadership though do we? I mean, Starmer and the TUC?
And yet in the estates I walked through this evening, on the streets, the elderly man struggling with his shopping trolley, the young woman with a bobble hat with a fur bobble, the two women wearing headscarfs who hugged and left each other with kind words, ‘call me, I’m thinking about you’, the working class Black couple who walked past me holding hands with more coolness than several A-list celebrities could ever muster, the young man covered in the dust of a building site, the basic camaraderie. It feels like the working class is in a cage, and it doesn’t know how to get out. And the revolutionaries struggle to find the key. Everyone struggles to find the key.
We need street level socialism more than anything else. It’s not even necessarily naturally there. But there is something there at ground level. If only it could be organised….because I think, that not only are all the questions there, but all the answers too.
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