Towards a Republic

A great luxury in the early morning is to have a cup of black coffee with a single spoon of demerara sugar. There was a vague memory, dusty cobwebs in the mind, the last thoughts before sleep.

A book. Which book had I been thinking of? It was noticed by accident while the thought would not form. The Timeless Way of Building. It was added to the increasing pile of books within the suitcase.

Crossing borders is becoming harder and at St Pancras there are four separate checks for tickets and passports. Photographs are taken. There is no opting out. It is a lot of bureaucratic control and it represents a lot of fear and paranoia. Control, systems, control, data gathering, data sharing, data analytics. What’s it got to do with them?

Not so long ago it was possible to turn up 20 minutes before the train set off for Brussels or Paris. Now passengers are told to be there between 60 to 90 minutes early. At busy times there are long queues. I looked longingly at the aisle marked EU passports.

It’s not that I was a fan of the EU but I am even less keen on Brexit. It’s a right wing project and we still don’t know what part dirty money and intervention by third party states played.

I’ve not met many Brexiteers who have said anything coherent about it and some have quite cranky ideas on other things. If nothing else, that section of the left that supported Brexit have lost a great, and ongoing, source of satire. And what about world trade? Where’s the dinner party chatter over that?

There is an unnecessary nervousness about boarding the train even though there is plenty of time. It seems unlikely the train will leave while people are still on the travelator. I let the moving walkway pull me along, looking up to the glass and steel roof of St Pancras station.

There are rows of royalist bunting but there is no atmosphere of celebration. A map is published perhaps of royal street parties. But it turns out to be the location of food banks.

For a couple of hours all the passengers take up train occupations. Half reading, making sketchy notes, watching films on laptops and tablets, pecking away at mobile phones. Eating snacks, sleeping, looking out of the window, day dreaming.

I’m sitting next to a young woman who is absorbed in her phone. When the train starts moving I tell her I’m going to move to the two adjacent seats which are empty. But if their occupants turn up, I’ll claim my seat back.

‘Oh thank you’, she says. No one else arrives. She gets two seats to herself and so do I. Later I glance over and she is curled up on both of them fast asleep.

The trick for me, if it can be achieved, is to fall asleep as the train enters the tunnel and wake up again as the train shoots into the French countryside from under the sea.

It seems greener on this side of the channel, the trees with greater leaf growth, the sky bigger and with lighter clouds and a stronger wash of blue. Something lifts. The daily drip drip of Tory-Mailism. It feels as if that particular tap has been turned off for a while. The air is fresher.

Tory corruption has been splattered across England. The sordid manure they spray has produced a grim harvest. They are not anti-establishment. They are the establishment antis.

A new breed of Tory has emerged who has learned to bow low upon the ground to the multi-billionaire capitalists of China, Hong Kong, the USA, Saudi Arabia and more. The master-slave relationship is changing, and with it too, the change of the master-slave dialectic.

What flames are these?

British Land has a property portfolio in London of around £16bn. But Aramco made $161 bn profit last year. So in the competition of office blocks and land ownership, who will win?

The train seems to be picking up speed as it moves towards Paris. Concrete bridges, overpasses and underpasses, viaducts and railway stations. The metal infrastructure of the electrical grid criss crosses the landscape. Wind turbines on the horizon, red brick houses with red pantile roofs. Villages half hidden by trees and long grass and hedgerows. It might be the middle ages, it might be the time of the Carolingian empire.

The soil is rich and productive in north eastern France and war after war has been fought over it. There is nothing intrinsic about the character of the soil itself that leads to war. There is no technical aspect of soil which is naturally belligerent.

But the soil becomes layered with title deeds, ownership; the land becomes private property, divided, alienated from the producers. Ludicrous reactionaries get over excited about soil while knowing nothing about it.

At conferences in palaces and military headquarters maps are laid out on table tops. Strategies and plans are pinned to the walls. Villages become defence or attack points. Hills become vantage points to be seized, rivers obstacles to rapid movement of tanks and heavy artillery. Aerial photographs and satellite images are studied.

The numbers of troops calculated. How much food they will eat each day, how many bandages and splints will be needed, an estimation of the quantities of body-bags. Bulldozers and digging equipment to get rid of the civilian corpses. Ammunition for machine guns is counted, the artillery shells are moved out of the store rooms.

But none of this has anything to do with the natural characteristics of the land, the woodlands and marshes, streams and hills. Certain classes with their certain class interests turn fields and meadows into trenches and deathly no-man’s land.

The sky looks troubled.

Everywhere this sense of anxiety. The tension and confusion before the storm. We are not ready. In all this time between revolutions when we might have been in preparation it seems we lost our way. What lessons learned? What experiences forgotten? It feels that the result of the coming battles will be determined by chance not precision.

The time before war, in which to develop a revolutionary leadership, is diminishing.

I step from these thoughts into the electricity that fills the streets of Paris. The city is like a mysterious relative to the English. There are stories, rumours, alluring suggestions. But are they true?

The Bengali man behind the checkout till in the supermarket speaks to the French people in English and speaks to me in French. This fills me with a surprising amount of hope.

At a pavement cafe drinking beer. Nothing much to report here. A mixed group of people. African men, Parisian women in groups drinking wine, a young Indian man who speaks in the most gentle way. The barman organises the drinks with rhythm and style.

The Eurostar should run every ten minutes and require no queuing. Just turn up and get on, like the underground. Make it free. Give the mass of people the opportunity for a holiday. The ones who live from foodbanks and sleep in mouldy bedrooms. When are they getting a chance to go away?

If you want to stop refugees coming here, it makes it easier for the so-called authorities to stop you going there. Control, data integration, data collection, data analytics. Coercion. Decreasing the width of the paths that you can walk down. Narrowing the places you can explore. Reducing the opportunities for chance encounters. Not these streets, but over there where capital has more control. That’s where you’ll be herded.

The authorities are increasingly frightened of the movement of people, of the free flow of bodies. It’s not just crossing borders it’s the internal migration too. Squatting made illegal, land made inaccessible by barbed wire, protest made illegal.

The British ruling class – whatever that now means – perhaps ruling class people who define themselves as British? – those people; they are terrified of the French working class. They are terrified of the French revolutionary tradition. They are terrified of the echoes and images and sounds of May ’68. They are frightened of the current protests in France.

They don’t mind the movement of capital and commodities. Those are mute objects. But they don’t like the spread of people and like less the spread of communistic ideas and practical oppositional activities.

In their darkest moments of doubt and paranoia the rich can sometimes feel the deep swirling currents beneath society which at times burst out unexpectedly. Dormant volcanoes are volcanoes all the same. The rich know inside themselves that something’s wrong.

There were a surprising number of industrial workers involved in the French Revolution of 1789 which overthrew the monarchy.

Monarchs should be careful. Billionaires and despots too.

There are masses more industrial workers now. With much greater potential strength.

Revolutions are generally unexpected and unannounced. But after every revolution when looking back the most astounding question is; why did it take so long?

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