The book is placed carefully on the table of the train. Moneybags should be so Lucky by Robert Paul Wolff. A woman is sitting at the table typing away. A paper cup is placed next to her laptop. I notice her reading the title.
‘Have you read it?’ I ask
‘No’, she replies. But she told me she had read Das Kapital and Hegel’s work on the Master – Slave dialectic.
‘It’s a great book’ I say pointing to it lying on the table. The cover has a picture of rotund man. We can assume he’s a capitalist. He wears a shiny top hat, frock coat, breeches and patent leather shoes. He has a look of arrogant self-satisfaction about him.
‘Wolff sets out to try and explain why Marx writes in Capital the way he does’.
‘Is this because of Hegel?’ she asks
‘This is one of the notions that Wolff seeks to debunk. The idea that Marx caught a virulent form of Hegelianism from which he never fully recovered’.
She stops typing and smiles.
‘And as Wolff points out, when he wanted to, Marx could write clearly. As he did in Wages, Price and Profit for example’.
We exchange chit chat life story stuff.
‘Are you working?’ I ask, she is, and returns to what ever is being written on that laptop.
I read some more Wolff and make notes.
Earlier I had been walking up the stairs of the railway station to cross the tracks to catch my train to work on platform 2. I bumped into a friend. After a brief swap of pleasantries we dive into a sharp discussion about the current political situation.
‘I don’t think a lot of management have a clue how to deal with strikes – they’ve never experienced anything like this’.
‘On the other hand a lot of strikers have never been on strike before and there are some basic things they need to learn’.
‘I’ve joined the Enough is Enough campaign’.
‘It resonates. I really have had enough. My gas bill has just doubled’.
‘Mine too. It’s gone up from £100 a month to £200 a month’.
‘I don’t see how people are going to be able to pay it’.
‘Got any holiday?’
‘Three more days and ten days off’.
‘Let’s meet up for a drink when you’re back’.
He makes a gesture of moving an invisible glass upwards.
We wave and part.
I’m walking through the shopping centre with the American woman I met on the train.
‘What do you think of this?’ I ask her.
‘I like it’, she says, ‘when I come through in the evening it’s full of people from all over the world. There’s loads of shops all in one place. There’s some cheap places to eat’.
It’s a crucible. A laboratory in which to study capitalism; but also to study people. Its part of the topography in which people live a little of their lives.
And its the perfect place to consider use-value, exchange value, congealed labour, crystallised labour, the varied properties and characteristics of commodities; that physical form and value form are different things. And Wages, Price and Profit.
In through the revolving doors and into the lift and then at work. Later I’m going to buy some lunch. I have a great horde of coins glasped in my hands.
‘I’ll help you with that’, a work colleague says as she walks past.
‘It’s hard times’. I reply, ‘I had to raid my piggy bank so I can get some lunch’.
It’s street level comedy. It’s what keeps us half sane.
At ground level, where the rank and file live, everyone is talking about the cost of living crisis. It is universal and it affects us all. What will the winter bring? What is going to happen when millions of people are plunged into fuel poverty?
There is no government; just mouth pieces for de-regulated vampire capital. They slide and spin. They never speak a truth. They cannot speak a truth for they are mouth pieces for money – what is money? they are ciphers for capital – where is this capital? They represent the value-form of the commodity. But how can that be made visible? Their lies are not an aberration; they are intrinsic to the relationship between money power and political power. In a world where money value becomes the only value they cannot speak a truth.
It’s a day for conversations. About the French Revolution, the Caribbean, the differences between Paris and London, French and British imperialism, the American Revolution, contemporary America, Mike Davies and the City of Quartz, Guy Debord and The Society of the Spectacle. It is underestimated – or ignored – that offices can also be great centres of cultural production and political opposition.
Out of the revolving door at the end of the day. Into the flow of people who move through the shopping centre. The escalators don’t work. It’s already beginning to look shabby in the corners. There are two groups of police officers. Security guards stand in defence of the commodity-object. But I wonder if those security guards are also thinking about their wages, and how much money is made here, and how much they get paid, but more importantly, how much they don’t get paid. Low paid Deliveroo cyclists, the sharp edge of the gig economy. But what about the mass of shop workers here? What do they get paid? How secure are their contracts of employment. Wages, Price and Profit are key dynamics here. I checked. There are no mentions in the glossy promotional brochures.
The advantage for the working class is that when things start to shift more and more comes out into the open. The unpaid overtime, the actual rates of pay, the management bullying, the unfair dismissals, the anti-union atmospheres, the humiliation of working and having to borrow, the disappointments of the kids for birthdays high days and holidays, the sleepness nights worrying about money.
Kids do a lot of growing up in their bedrooms, out of sight and sound of the adults; but what if those kids don’t have a bedroom, what if they don’t have a bed, what if they don’t have enough to eat. The movement from below will include people with direct experience of this. The fight will widen out. It has to.
The disadvantage for the ruling class is that these thousands upon thousands of grievances are like firelighters in certain conditions and repeatedly add to the flames.
Why on earth is anyone lying awake at night worrying about money? As if it is some sort of natural disaster rather than nothing more than a relationship between the world of work and the world of greed. Burn it in the streets, it quickly disappers. Melt the gold and make statutes to artists and composers, delete all the digital 1s and 0s in the databases that hoard the tax evasion and corruption. The value of money is all predicated on ‘confidence’. Those promises to pay the bearer mean nothing. Money is nothing if there is no confidence that these coins and notes represent some sort of value. And there are other sorts of values; friendship, human life, solidarity, unity. The world of oppositions is now moving into many different spheres.
The more the workers openly discuss, the more that mysterious mist of ‘unity’ thickens. If the mist thickens enough, there will be a qualitative leap. Real workers unity. The spectacle will crack and break. Deep lava like flows beneath the tectonic plates of bourgeois society. Some are now looking for signs of volcanic eruptions.
I take the train to Liverpool Street through east London. It looks bright and cheerful. The sky is just the right shade of blue and the clouds have romantic notions of fluffiness and grandeur. What’s going on a ground level? In the schools, in the hospitals, in the offices, in the workshops, in the shops and markets, what’s going on in the housing estates and tower blocks, what are the council workers talking about? What do the delivery workers think? What ideas are beginning to form?
Out of the station. Into the crowd. I find a place to stand where I’m out of the way of the moving mass. I notice a young Black woman driving a big red double decker bus. She confidently moves the bus into the middle of Bishopsgate. On the other side of the road, outside the Tesco supermarket I notice another bus driver, a young woman wearing a headscarf. She moves the bus confidently into the line of traffic of Bishopsgate. The class is moving. You can see it, feel it, hear it, sense it. The attitudes are changing.
We cannot beat the ruling class through violence. They have tanks and bombs and machines guns and missiles and warplanes. But they cannot do anything about a movement which is united at ground level. This unity will require changes in the heads of lots of people; that change is part of the revolutionary process, and part of the creation of unity. It is a process. That process has been fragmented and only here and there. But now there is an increasing sense that this process of unification is generalising and becoming universal.
I thought this would be an evening to study more of what is loosely described as Gothic Marxism but I find something else. At first it’s a Baroque Marxism but that will need further study.
More importantly I discover, at first in the shopping centres and transport systems, and then in the neat streets of east London, and now at the base of these huge glass, concrete and steel towers something else; a Marxism of the New Modernity. The Modernity of the twenty first century.
Marx is back. Modernism is back. The working class is back. Something new is emerging. It is not yet clear what its shape is, or will be, or how much power it has or will have. The potential can be felt but it moves tentatively.
There’s an electrical charge in the air; the sort of electrical charge before an immense lightning and thunder storm. You can feel it on your skin, you can feel it in the atmosphere.
It’s just the rumblings from afar at the moment and odd flashes on the horizon.
But it’s coming closer.