Buying Books, Strikes, Anti-War

The train comes up from the tunnel under the Thames. The Dartford Bridge, a couple of car carrier ships at Purfleet. A Norman church in the distance. An untidy pile of colour clashing blue and green containers. Abandoned here in the Thames estuary, last years trinkets, food that cannot be sold, shoes that the shoeless cannot afford to buy, winter coats which the poor people have no money to exchange for.

Factories and warehouses, a Tesco distribution centre in a deep hole that’s been cut in the chalk. Rainham steel, a garage and car park full of double decker buses. Blocks of flats and plots marked out where more flats will be built. They are made of beige bricks and have no features; nor do they have balcony’s or washing lines.

A long train of chemical tanks. What are those chemicals for? Where will they be taken next? Chemicals for weapons and high explosives. The arms are being piled up on the Ukraine – Russian border. No-one voted for this. On whose authority was this war started?

Militarism sweeps its scaly tail to the left and a village once full of life and people and the silly nonsense of everyday life is now a ruin. A decapitated body there, once a school teacher, an arm in the rubble, the postman, a bloody mess, perhaps that’s an eye hanging from what might once have been the head, the woman who had a little shop which sold things like needles and threads and boxes and postcards and plastic flowers. They lie scattered in the ground.

Militarism moves its scaly body forward, tramping into the mud a cohort of recent conscripts. They lie smashed and broken and bloody on the ground. One or two are still alive. They moan and gurgle and cry in all consuming pain.

Whose side are you on? Putin has been provoked! It’s NATO to blame! Nato has been provoked! It’s Putin to blame! Nazis, Nazis, Nazis everywhere.

Whose side are you on? How many divisions of sub-imperialisms are needed to defeat an alliance of sub-sub imperialisms? If this sub-imperialism invades that sub-imperialism then must we support that other sub-sub-imperialism over there?

The outrage socialists preach outrage socialism and cannot answer – perhaps they forgot to ask – why the audience is so small, why the outrage doesn’t seem to be helping to build the revolutionary movement. Perhaps outrage is the wrong key. But will they find another?

Whose side are you?

That kid over there. See the one crouching by the wall, terrified, silently screaming. That’s whose side I’m on. What are you going to do? I’m not going to join in the war mongering. The war needs to be stopped. But how? It sounds fantastical but the workers in the factories need to stop this war, the workers in the farms, the workers in the lorries, the workers in the offices, the workers in the slums, the workers in the mines.

Look at these hands which make one thousand repetitive movements each day, hold the welding tool, put it on the exact spot, hold for this moment of time, push the tool back, take the next on the line, do this again and do it for every more. In your dreams repeat this endless repetitive motion.

Look at those hands that lift and dig and carry. Look at those hands which gently help the sick and injured, look at those hands which hold the hands of the children and teach them how to read and write and open up the wonders of the world to those curious eyes and minds.

Think of the brains and eyes and minds involved and the beauty and power of life, consciously aware, creatively active. It’s in those hands that lies the power to stop this war and every other war.

On the highway which circles the world the lorry drivers never stop. They see the snow covered mountains in the distance, they cannot remember when they last ate, or closed their eyes. That’s the turning for Kazakhstan, or is it Kentucky? It all looks the same. The standardised architecture of the garages and standardisation of the petrol formula, the processes of loading, moving, unloading, the inside of the cab, the lights on the motorways.

If these lorry drivers can overcome the nationalisms and xenophobia-ism and all the other divisions, then they can stop the war. I met a lorry driver on the beach from Belarus. He said stop the war.

Just image if all the seafarers stopped the ships, if all the engines were switched off, if the machines stopped turning, if the computers and cash tills and conveyor belts and tower cranes were stopped; that power could stop the war.

Militarism creates a vortex of hate and the militarists thrive in that vortex. We cannot be inside that vortex. We must be outside, trying to mobile the force outside the vortex which will bring it all to a halt.

The sea can clear your head.

But so too does the city. The movement, the speed, the light, the noise, the colours. A sense of life and being alive, the organisation, seeming chaos and possible randomness. It is the people which create the sense of potential, possibilities, of all one’s secret desires unleashed, sated. There’s a light show in the sky, deep indigo blues and smoked stained wash, red streaks being buried by the night, yellow fingers of the sunset clawing at the remains of the day.

I remember standing here perhaps 2,000 light years ago. Was it so long? The air was different. It was calmer, there were still particles in that air from the 18th century. That’s all gone. Now all we have is the air of neo-liberal capitalism. It has a harsher taste and contains shards of glass. The particles of hate fall to the ground and lie on the pavement. Don’t step on them for they will lacerate your feet.

On the corner by the shop I stand waiting for the lights to change. A woman cycles past, her black hair is blown by the wind. I notice her long brown suede boots, they pull me into another dimension and then she’s gone, into the streets, night, day and night and light and dark all at the same time. It’s possible to see the moon, even in London, the clouds scattered and tear and rip and there it is again. Something going on the heavens. All the Gods have come together, formed a Holy Alliance in one last desperate attempt to save the world.

It feels like being in a 3-D immersive film, everyone is so alive, a mass and a collection of individuals, social phenomena and yet each with their own film playing in their head.

Skoob Books is magical and filled with sparkling dust that settles on my hands and the shoulders of the green jacket I’m wearing. It’s waterproof and has a hood and a lot of pockets. The first thing noticed on walking down the stairs into the basement is a map of Paris. It is a treasure map, made by some adventurers in the Situationist International. There has only ever been one copy. And there it is, a bargain at three pounds.

Inside the shop, between the shelves, corners that are difficult to crawl into, walking across the tops of the shelves. A copy of Anton Ciliga’s The Russian Enigma the only book I think (from memory) that is referenced in the Society of the Spectacle. You can’t make this up, it has to be generated.

Some of the books are dead. No one will ever read them. Here and there a book glows. If I ever write a book that’s published it only needs a readership of one or two. Perhaps a dozen. It will be a slim volume. That will be the prelude, or preface. An introduction to a much larger work. This larger work will be hundreds, possibly thousands of pages long. It doesn’t need an audience at all. That’s not the point.

A bookshop is an exploration. Here a copy of The Dialectic of Change by Boris Kagarlitsky and remembering how enjoyable it was to read that when it was first published. There was a sense of quiet optimism, a different type of confidence. The world stood still, and now; ‘the world wobbles like a jelly’.

I’ve started reading novels again. King Dido and From the fields, From the City by Alexander Baron, The Trap by Dan Gilray, Rejected and Despised,…..A Flat Tire in Fulham by Josephine Bell, a pot boiler from the early sixties with a rather clever twist. I’m half way through A Tale of Two Cities, Sunday evening reading. Dickens can be kitsch and schmaltzy but the descriptive passages are fantastic.

Should I buy Petersburg by Andrei Bely? There is a ticket from the 1990 Dorchester Festival marking the start of the third chapter. Did the last reader, the person who presumably sold the book, progress further. I open it again. Someone is walking up a staircase covered in grey velvet, this grey velvet also covers the walls. Perhaps it covers the whole of Petersburg. I handled the book. Now I want the book, wants; those curious forces which Marx begins Capital with. I have rarely been disappointed with a book that has been wanted.

The book to be collected is The Paper Metropolis: A Study of London’s Office Growth published in 1962. I introduce myself to the bookshop worker.

‘Ah’, she says, ‘you must be D – ‘.

‘Do you want to look at the book?’ I hadn’t thought of that. I am so pleased to have managed to find a copy in the first place. I agree, this would be useful.

This is exactly what I want.

‘The report of a study of the growth of office employment in London and a survey of decentralised offices: with recommendations from the TCPA (Town and Country Planning Association) for a future policy to resolve the pressingly urgent problems created by the excessive concentration of offices in the metropolis’.

This is dated March 1962.

There are books with intriguing titles such as ‘Radical Technologies’, and then realise I have this book and half read it several times. The whole evening has an ambiance last created by Angela Carter. There are still pockets of this to be found, before the ions of neo-liberalism started the crushing homogenisation of daily life. There are still pockets of opposition.

I walk up to Judd Books and explore the basement. Almost leaving the shop, I stop and pick up Art of the Northern Renaissance: Courts, Commerce and Devotion by Stephanie Porras. I buy it simply on the strength of the title without reading a word. And a copy of Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino on the basis of this one sentence by Gore Vidal:

‘Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvellous invention like ‘Invisible Cities’, perfectly irrelevant.

It takes a few seconds to decide.

London is on the eve of a strike. We were talking about it at work. Someone was speaking a list of who they thought was out tomorrow. She stood in front of two rows of desks and we all stopped.

‘Teachers, civil servants, railway workers, I think the fire fighters have voted to go out on strike too’, she paused, ‘and there’s others’.

We sat around talking. Neo-liberalism, kids going hungry, not enough to eat, the constant lies by the politicians, nothing works, zero hours contracts, the housing crisis, the state of the schools, the state of the NHS, child poverty, cost of living, energy bills, how anyone can be hungry in England in January 2023.

There is an incoherent anger; but what if that turns into an inarticulate belligerence?

People slip in stories about how friends are helping each other in need, good neighbour stories, stuff like that. A basic class solidarity, human if you like, certainly humane.

On the floor of the train, the headlines of the evening paper, ‘Family Food Bills up by £800 a year’

There are a lot of contradictions. Material things like empty stomachs, overdrawn bank accounts, bills that can’t be paid, debts that won’t go away, a million grievances, the invisible push of the bully and the rich-man thief.

Forces are slowly forming, on opposite sides. When will they come out into the daylight?

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