The train comes into Liverpool Street Station, platform 17 with a metal on metal sound of wheels on rails, the sound of bombs bursting, machine guns, rockets crashing through the glass canopy, people screaming, playgrounds, maternity hospitals and system-built housing estates collapsing in the explosions and fires.
Soldiers, conscripts, mercenaries, cheap flop house petty thief louts stand in the street. Their faces are covered with stolen clothes. They point guns at an old man who was cycling to the market; he heard there were onions for sale. The bike is on the ground. He stands next to it, half standing, half crouching, his hands raised.
An old blue anorak. It’s filthy, he’s been living in it for weeks. He can’t remember. He ate a dog to stay alive. Is this Thursday? He has no idea. Has the year changed? What difference will that make?
Others with guns stand nearby. One holds his hand outstreched to try to stop the camera recording pictures. One of them kicks the bicycle and then steps aside. They let him pick it up, his hands are trembling, his legs are trembling, he can hardly get back on it. He cycles away, wobblying, uncertain. There might be onions in the market. He prays and prays they won’t shoot him in the back.
The dictators never smile. They have an image to project, to protect; image rights and photographic reproduction, picture manipulation, copyright laws and libel. It’s not so much what’s in the news that should terrify, but all the stuff that’s missing.
Dictators must be careful when they shave. The razor is sharp against the throat. The steel is thin and strong, sharp enough to cut through skin, to cut a vein. The blood would flow in a spout, splattering the mirror, filling up the wash basin. Am I being slowly poisoned the dictator asks? But he’s not sure who he can ask that question to.
The workers are on strike. Railway workers, teachers, civil servants, nurses, driving instructors, drivers, warehouse workers. The working class is slowly revealing itself. It’s all abstract, over there, somewhere else, the agency to change the world; but increasingly it’s all here, all around us.
Railway workers, teachers, civil servants, delivery workers, construction workers, network engineers, factory workers, software developers. What are they thinking? In Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Sudan, the United States of America?
What are they thinking here in the jumble of streets around Liverpool Street, a convoy of buses, they are taking conscripts to the front, a lorry that groans and splutters and slowly moves through Bishopsgate. Revolutionary ideas spark here and there but they fall on to the wet pavements, glisten momentarily, and are then extinguished in the oily puddles.
The immedIate area around Liverpool Street Station is a condensed node of the totality of capitalism. It is a particular representation of the character of production, of the homogenous character of capital and a complex division of labour.
The construction of cities and tall buildings; service workers, highly skilled and technical workers, scientists, the relationship between the control and management of capital in the City of London and global production. The weakness of socialist theory and practice based on factory left-ism. Capitalism is much more intense than that; it’s not just there on conveyor belts, it’s in our souls. While we were dreaming, Capital crawled into our cells and neural networks.
The strikes act as a lens to re-focus theories and practice of class. Mass strikes to topple the Tories. And then what?
Cleaners, train drivers, shop assistants, software developers, construction workers, maintenance workers, bus drivers, librarians, office workers. Factory workers making microchips, monitors, base units, cables.
Pre-fabrication and standardisation of technique, process and mass production. Industrial strength carpets that soak up the blood of workers.
That one’s dead, drag them by their heels to the lift, carry them to the skip, throw them in. Security guards in black jackets, listening to instructions through a plastic wi-fi enabled head piece. Stretching out a hand,
‘You can’t take photos here’.
The workers spill out through the emergency exists. They stand in the service area where the lorry drivers and delivery workers bring in office supplies, boxes of paper, plastic swivel chairs, printer machines, a range of furniture. They’ve stopped work.
‘I started at Exeter this morning, I’m here now and then I’ve got to drive up to Leeds’.
The driver who is speaking is grey faced, his skin hangs uneasily upon his emaciated frame. He cannot remember what the sensation of sleep is like.
The drivers stand around, a new atmosphere, a different tension, unsure. Could they stop work? Could they strike? They don’t know why the office workers have all come into the delivery area. There’s been some dispute on the fifteenth floor. A pulse is coursing through the building, no one properly understands but it’s catching.
Now workers from other floors are walking out. Monitors locked, computers shut down, the lids are being firmly placed on the biscuit tins and boxes of sweets. People are picking up their coats, changing their work shoes for the trainers they travel in. The rumours and murmurs are difficult for the managers to hear. But someone said loudly, ‘Pay the nurses’, with venom; if class fury becomes distilled into a concentrated measure; what then?
In the service area, a crowd. The drivers stop. The construction workers on the opposite side of the street are standing still and looking intently. Some have folded their arms.
An emotion of defiance is crystallising. A big red button on a machine. An emergency stop. A hand covers it. The moment of change. The hand pushes and the machine whirls down and stops. And then another, and another and another. The tower crane operator has an instruction from the ground to stop working.
Values are moving in strange ways. Profits hang suspended. The air is tingling with something else. It’s not quite clear what it is. The security guards are aware of an aching contradiction. They are in the process of changing sides. The orator is speaking to them to; the words have meaning, they listen carefully. Exchange glances. Look at the crowd. The crowd looks like them too.
Global communications are predicated by standardisation. The standardisation of computer chips, software, the exact dimensions of desk top and lap top devices. Internationally recognised protocols; SMTP, TCP/IP, HTTPS, FTP, C++, JAVA. Petrol is produced to an exact formula. Containers are of equal dimensions so they can be transported by ship, lorry and rail from any one node of production to any other node of production.
An international system of banking with agreed standards for the conversions of currencies. The role of corruption and tax havens and offshore finance systems, shell companies and the rule of the kleptocracy. The uncertainty and anxiety of the workers, the fear and paranoia of the rulers.
The shops are all of different colours and design but the process of selling is always the same. A global market of raw food commodities; coffee, tea, sugar.
The streets are simultaneously dark and light. The homogeneous neon light, the dark corners. A drone hovers and picks up the picture. Thousands and thousands of people moving through the packed streets around the station. Thousands and thousands of people on the escalators and stairs, moving in and out of the station, swipe that card, onto the train.
I watch the man who wears a blue vest with TRAIN CLEANER OPERATIVE written on the back. The economics of this are well known; low paid. But what sort of philosophy does this generate?
He is cleaning the hand holds at the top of the seats. He hovers over me and I study his face. He is only inches away from where I sit. His eyes are intent on what he does. His arms and hands follow a process of repetitive movements. His fingers hold the cloth and they expand and contract to cover the area that he must clean. He wears glasses and a well trimmed beard covers his upper lip and chin. Black skin labour; invisible, indispensible.
The sense of exhaustion. Tired eyes, screen burn, repetitive strain injuries, sharp remarks from the boss searing through the heart. It was only a few words but they won’t go away. A deliberate verbal cut that won’t stop bleeding.
I talk to a colleague about joining the union. ‘I’ll do that now’, she says.
A work mate walks towards where I’m sitting at a desk, engrossed in front of three screens. She is carrying a report. I don’t take any notice as she starts to roll it up. As she passes she whips it across my ear and continues on her way without missing a beat.
I make tea, the taps don’t really work. I find the left-overs of a tin of Quality Street and an open packet of bisuits. The sell by date is unknown but they taste ok. I listen to Spek through headphones and disappear into the labour process of typing, adding figures to a spreadsheet, moving images around on a PowerPoint presentation. In the meantime London has darkened without anyone in any of these offices really noticing.
In 1939 there was 87 million square feet of office space in central London. About 10 percent of this was destroyed during the Second World War. By 1966 there was 140 m sq ft. It is now 283 m sq ft. What is this if not the expansion of Capital?
I hold a glass door open for the cleaner who is walking towards me from the service stairs. He is pulling a vacuum cleaner behind him. I keep the door open as he passes through.
‘Thank you’, he says. Black labour (power); invisible; indispensible.
Out into the night, into this extraordinary energy of life. The streets seem impossible, so many people and bicycles and couriers and delivery drivers and buses in a hurry, reluctantly stopping, move along inside. People pass so close to each other but never touch.
I’m standing on the side of the road next to a woman who is texting on her phone.
‘I’m trying to take a photograph of that building over there’, I explain, ‘but you see that person? They wont’ move away. I might go and ask them to’.
She laughs, her eyes smiling, life here in EC2. Her long hair falls over her shoulders and blows away into the night.
It’s not Capital that creates this energy, it’s us. The totality of global production; but what impact on the collective unconscious?
Or should that be; the unconscious collective?
That too, is a potential.