Love Each Other

We don’t really have a government in England. There is a small group of political millionaires who belch out their bigotry and prejudices. Many of them make a great deal of money through corruption and the high paid jobs that await them in the private sector. Earning dividends from the privatisation they push through while holding Ministerial office.

The theoretical basis for all this is a garbled understanding of Ayn Rand (what else could it be), an Idiot’s guide to Milton Friedman, the discordant songs of Margaret Thatcher and the contents of the Daily Mail. But if you’re rich, you don’t need much theory to understand your own class self-interest.

The millionaire MPs are surrounded by pressure groups (rich ones), lobby groups (of capitalist industries) and think tanks (well educated people who express a great deal of ideology of a certain sort).

But government? An institution which exists to help with the administration of the needs of the people; stuff like housing, health, infrastructure, education? No, we don’t have that at all. Even the administration of things has been turned into revenue streams – for a select few.

This might explain the lack of balanced view, an aversion to nuance, a predilection for division, bullying and hostile rhetoric. The constant whipping up of hate and aggression is deliberate. It divides people, it poisons the atmosphere of daily life.

The police and the local authorities do little about it. If a working class kid lies in court their sentence is increased. If senior politicians lie their supporters say, ‘oh it’s who they are’. And laugh, and rustle the pages of the Daily Telegraph in search of more vinegar to feed to their existing bile.

The whole ghastly edifice of Parliament creaks ever more loudly with ever more open corruption. Incompetence. Lying. Untruths. Hypocrisy. It creates a constant storm that showers toxic dust across the people and the land.

And yet at ground level there is a lot of camaraderie and kindness and solidarity and humanitarianism. Despite the oppressive odds. Or perhaps because the intensifying struggle of class interests is also a struggle of the good aspects of humanity against the venal and narcissistic elements of humanity.

I got a bit lost in the supermarket.

It’s a good place sometimes to day dream and study anthropology and discuss politics and philosophy. A big supermarket in a working class area is a certain leveller. It brings people together and it’s also a significant workplace and large employer of local labour.

Supermarkets make a lot of money and they have done very well in the past 12 months with inflation running at over 10 percent. And that’s an average. Some goods (herbal teas for example) have gone up much more. I noticed today that a tin of mackerel is now £1.20 when it was £1 a few weeks ago. That’s a 20 percent rise.

Supermarkets are nodes of capital investment. The buildings and land must be paid for. There is the ever present danger of competition. New stores, cheaper prices elsewhere, the impact of the decline of consumers purchasing power. The need to spend money on advertising, inventing new products and conjuring up new needs in the heads of all the customers.

In general I like supermarkets.

They are full of contradictions and unities of opposites and much that Hegel, Marx and Engels could spend some time considering, while the three of them eat chips and eggs and sausages with tea and two slices in the cafe (which is generally good quality and well-priced). I should very much like to be on the next table listening in.

‘Can you pass the ketchup’
‘I don’t mean the HP sauce, I want the red one, the tomato one’.
‘Can you really believe this is the realisation of the Idea?’
‘The starting point for political economy must be the commodity’.
‘Yes, well they didn’t have supermarkets when I wrote the The Phenomenology of Spirit
‘I rest my case’, Marx begins, and to the waiter, ‘can I have another couple of slices please?’
‘You have always lacked a real historical method’.

There is a sense of public opinion in a supermarket, and how to behave, and a general level of politeness.

‘After you’
‘No, you’re next’
‘Do you mind getting me some of those, I can’t reach’
‘Do you know where the mustard is? I can’t find it, they’ve changed all the shelves again’

On one occasion I asked one of the workers in this particular supermarket where something was (I can’t remember what now), she held me gently by the arm and led me past a couple of aisles and then pointed to where it was. It was such a lovely thing to do.

I helped an elderly woman recently. She had struggled to reach some crackers and dropped them on the floor.
‘You can’t have those’, I said, ‘they’ll be all crumbs’.
I stuck that packet behind some eggs and got here some that should all be in one piece.

I bought some fish. It’s a well regarded fish counter. They sell scallops and they are just as good and a lot cheaper than some more expensive supermarkets. But today I wanted some fish for making fish cakes.

‘Do you want it by weight or price?’ the fishmonger asked me. He seemed in a cheery mood and it infected me.

‘Not that bit’, I pointed to the top piece of thick cod loin. ‘What about the bit underneath. I need about 600 grammes’.

He picked it up and showed it to me as if it was a new born baby. And then he weighed it and it was 587 grammes. A very big grin on his part.

‘You won’t get closer than that’. A small triumph for both of us.

At the checkout the woman behind me commented that it wasn’t very easy to push your shopping along the rubber belt.

‘It sticks’, she said.
‘I know’, I replied, ‘but I would rather use this than the automatic tills. I just can’t get on with them’.
‘Well you put your stuff in the bagging area’, she continued, ‘and it tells you there’s a problem’.
‘People need jobs, that’s the thing’, I added
‘Of course they do’, she said
‘But really’, I went on, ‘all the boring work should be automated. Robots could do loads of things. And we could all enjoy ourselves’.

She looked at me quite intently. We’d be sharing glances while we talked and sorted out our shopping. Putting the big bag of potatoes at the front so they will be the first into the bag. Don’t want them to squash the parsley.

‘A lot of work is really boring’, she said, sorting out some packets of chicken thighs which were cheaply priced. ‘Just the same thing, over and over and over again, all day’. Her words had the sound of a lot of experience in them.

I talked to the cashier about different types of fish. She had some Sea Bass recently which thought might have been better.

As I left I remembered all the things I’d forgotten to buy. And I had some wrappers and things in my pockets that I wanted to put in the bin.

There was a spruce looking elderly woman standing by the only bin I could see, leaning on a trolley.
‘Is that a bin for anything?’ by implication, it wasn’t just for glass or paper?
‘You can put anything in there’, she said, ‘I feel like jumping in myself’.
‘Oh it’s not that bad!’

I walked through the park to M&S to complete the shopping process.

United Reformed Church of St Columba, Destroyed by fire in 2007.

While I was waiting in the queue an elderly man was talking to the cashier. He was putting his hands in his pockets looking for his wallet. Perhaps in his eighties, he was dapper looking. I noticed he was wearing a pair of nicely polished Chelsea boots. It’s so easily forgotten that people who are now in their seventies and eighties lived through the sixties. Drugs, Bob Dylan, protest, the Prague Spring, Paris May ’68. The radical tradition continues. He was putting a large pork pie into his bag.

‘I’m sorry to hold you up’, he said, almost apologetically.

‘Blimey’, I replied, ‘don’t worry about that. There’s far too much rushing around. Got to have some time to have a bit of a chat’ (who do I sound like I thought? this voice doesn’t quite feel as if it’s mine, but I like it all the same).

‘Just take your time’.

He finished his conversation with the cashier and said goodbye to her and then he turned to me and said, ‘thank you very much and have a good day’, and he had the brightest eyes and big grinning smile.

Christopher Alexander would call this the quality without a name.

‘Thanks for waiting’, the cashier said when he’d gone.

‘Well it might be the only person he gets to talk to all day – or for a few days’.

‘You wouldn’t believe the number of people who tell me that I’m the only person they’ve spoken to all day’, she says, swiping a packet of scones through the system. She shook her head and that look and movement said a great deal about England in March 2023, and how people are treated, and corruption, and the lack of government, and the attempt by some people to generate an endless air of poison.

‘I had one old bloke the other day and I said to him ‘you have a nice day’, and he said, ‘I will now’.

There is an enormous disconnection between ground level and the top. The elite who claim not to be an elite. The establishment antis. The public school boys culture.

But the world at the ground level needs socialist politics. We need socialist political leadership. We need working class socialist politics instead of chatty liberal anger.

It is a enormous task and there are no short cuts either in politics or strategy and tactics.

So much hangs in the air. But how it will crystallise is uncertain.

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