Look at this screenshot. It comes from the Irish Times website this morning.
How do you think about things when it comes to politics? Is everything connected, or do you have separate mental deparments for organising your perceptions of reality? Do you look at the link to the story on smoking and drinking, and file it under ‘Department of Health’ (or ‘Department of Social Protection’)? Do you look at the link to the story on British soldiers shooting to kill in Belfast and file it under ‘Department of The Past (incorporating Department of The North)’? Do you look at the link to the story of blacklisted Irish builders in Britain and file it under ‘Department of Internal British Affairs concerning Worker Discipline’?
Or does everything blur together? Does the health system have anything to do with State violence? Do bullets fired by the British Army in Ireland have anything to do with the decades of abuse endured by Irish builders in Britain? How do smoking and drinking influence emigration? Is there any link between abuse and intimidation of workers and abuse of alcohol? Does the phrase ‘top-up’ have anything to do with alcohol consumption? (How do you top-up someone whose glass is flowing over? How big a glass do these people need?) Is there any link between top ups for top jobs and net emigration? Does alcohol have anything to do with State violence? What is the effect of bullets fired in Belfast on the health system in Dublin?
‘So many reports./So many questions.’ That’s how Bertolt Brecht ends his poem Questions from a Worker Who Reads. There are lots of questions that could be asked, but aren’t. And there are lots more that are actively discouraged.
In his poem, Brecht summons the names of great men and civilisations, and exposes how their myth takes wing at the expense of toiling multitudes. We could say something similar about that fetish object known as ‘the economy’. An economy is nothing without the labour of the producers: those who farm, cook, clean, build, teach, design, calculate, give birth, raise children. An economy can recover on the basis of more suffering and more exploitation, if need be.
But if you look at a news site or listen to a broadcast, the prospect of suffering and exploitation is either airbrushed out or tarted up as selfless and noble sacrifice. Through ‘the economy’, the greater good can be equated to the eternal demand for more suffering, more exploitation, more sacrifice. There are lots of people who elevate themselves to a higher plane of rationality by ridiculing those who believe in God. Many of the same people will tell you that economic growth is always a good thing, regardless of conditions for those who produce. Toiling harder and longer because God is Great is seen as delusional slave morality, but toiling harder and longer because it helps economic recovery is seen as doing one’s bit for society.
“Educate! Agitate! Organise!” is a slogan I encounter at least once a day, usually without reference to any particular detail about who is going to educate whom, who is going to agitate whom or what, and what particular kind of organisation is needed.
But what if people have already been educated? What if they’ve been educated to see the economy as the primary object of social concern?
What if there is already agitation? What if the agitation is directed against forms of social co-operation and ownership because -apparently- they destroy individual freedom and risk economic catastrophe? What if the agitation is directed against politics as such?
What if they’ve already been organised? What if the organisational forms are: self-seeking entrepreneur; struggling debtor; passive constituent?
When we think and talk about politics, about life in common, the first step is often to organise issues in our mind in terms of the State institution competent to deal with them. The broadcasters and journals we rely on to interpret and order reality for us help organise these things for us. We then end up elaborating lots of little views focusing on the narrow and particular, and blotting out the possibility of any kind of broader, more radical critique that goes beyond mere denunciation or one-solutionism. This way of seeing is the way the State sees and organises things. Isn’t there a need to dis-organise before we shout “Organise!”