Revolutions and the "the Spirit of the Blitz"

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Dec 29 2011 13:26
Revolutions and the "the Spirit of the Blitz"

It has struck me that many accounts of revolutions (particularly spain) have similarities to the stories about the spirit of the blitz. Paris, Ukraine, Spain were all short lived and happened under war like conditions. The feats of solidarity, production and community have seemingly been repeated under non communist circumstances. Equally the emotional experiences seem to have been similarly powerful across the board.

Clearly the proposition that war, external enemies and general others create a positive environment is a fundament of right wing ideology. The annoying thing is that our revolutions and historic examples have all (?) been under such circumstances and it could be argued that the conflict was the condition required to sustain the movement?

You could also argue the opposite that somehow war allowed the "natural" (terrible word but the best I've got) behavior and community to come out through the cracks of society.

This is all very vague and confused I'll be impressed if anyone can grapple and squeeze the real discussion out of it. You have to put ideological blinders on and ignore the awesomeness of the forms of organisation and lots of other stuff. The untangling of the similarities and differences between typical war situations and the above revolutions would be interesting.

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Dec 29 2011 13:44

I don't think it's about the external threat, so much as the suspension of everyday (alienated, capitalist) norms, allowing latent sociality to assert itself. So that happens in the face of bombings like the Blitz or revolutionary violence, but also in a smaller scale on a train that breaks down or whatever. This review of John Holloway and Rebecca Solnit goes into it a bit:

Aufheben wrote:
In the UK, we have the well-known image of the ‘Blitz spirit’ – a reference to that time in World War II when German bomber planes rained down missiles on London and other cities; and in response to their shared plight neighbours who barely knew each other spoke for the first time, and found strength in each other’s company, and in their collectivity itself. While the ‘Blitz spirit’ may be at least partly rhetoric used by politicians to get the working class to accept adversity around a goal defined in national terms, it has an important grain of truth. Solnit’s thesis is largely based on the argument of an American sociologist, Charles Fritz, who was inspired by what he saw during the Blitz. Fritz argued that ‘everyday life’ was the real disaster, that events such as earthquakes, bombings, etc., which sweep away everyday concerns and differences, bring into being the sense of connectedness, sociality that we feel deprived of ordinarily.

While Fritz did not go so far as to historicize the capitalist nature of disaster, to link it as Bordiga does to the enhanced need to destroy and produce again,3 his argument about the emptiness of everyday life was about as radical as it gets in academic sociology, and that part of his work remained unpublished and lost for years. Mainstream ‘disaster’ sociology took up the anti-panic thesis; yet while it has replicated the finding of his massive survey that social cooperation is more common than ‘a war of all against all’ in emergencies and disasters, it has largely explained this in terms of the maintenance of the existing social bonds (family, friendship, social roles, etc.) that structure everyday life rather than the emergence of new collective relationships, let alone related this to alienation. But for Solnit, as for Fritz, features of the improvised social life in disasters offer a glimpse of what could be in a new and different world, rather than a mere continuation of the old one.

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Dec 29 2011 14:48
Joseph Kay wrote:
I don't think it's about the external threat, so much as the suspension of everyday (alienated, capitalist) norms, allowing latent sociality to assert itself. So that happens in the face of bombings like the Blitz or revolutionary violence, but also in a smaller scale on a train that breaks down or whatever.

I like your optimism. Presumably it will be near impossible to actually find out, suddenly I feel the revolution need to happen now otherwise I'll never find out wink

Personally I become inappropriately happy when the shit hits the fan whether at work, at sea, in the wilderness or whatever. The interesting thing is that really we're always in trouble due to all sorts of issues environmental etc. but we aren't "allowed" to do anything about it. One of the appealing aspects of revolution is that it should enable us to work on the real issues that will always be confronting us together. So in some sense perhaps the blitz spirit (I am now throwing up a little in my mouth every time i write those words) can exist long term.

Joseph Kay wrote:
This review of John Holloway and Rebecca Solnit goes into it a bit:

Great, I assumed someone had written about it but forgot to ask for references. The quote also adds all the caveats about the mythical and propaganda aspects of the blitz spirit I left out. Sounds like an interesting book... wish my reading list was shorter or my available time more generous, I'm suspicious the conclusions might be very ideologically based though.

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Dec 29 2011 15:06
Cooked wrote:
I like your optimism.

It's not necessarily optimistic... the 'community' produced could be fiercely nationalistic for example (like the Blitz). More an observation that something social which is absent in much of everyday life re-emerges whenever everyday norms are suspended. But social doesn't necessarily mean 'communist'. In 'Debt', David Graeber makes a distinction between 'human societies' (based on direct social relations between people) and 'commercial societies' (where social relations are mediated by things, principally money). but he's at pains to point out 'human' isn't the same as 'humane' - slavery is a direct social relation for example. i guess i'm making a similar point: a latent 'human sociality' emerges when normal life is disrupted, but the content of that is contingent on lots of factors and isn't inherently positive. I'm kind of rambling now...

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Dec 29 2011 15:28
Joseph Kay wrote:
... i guess i'm making a similar point: a latent 'human sociality' emerges when normal life is disrupted, but the content of that is contingent on lots of factors and isn't inherently positive. I'm kind of rambling now...

Not rambling but getting closer to what I was looking for in my initial post. The untangling of the aspects of human sociality that were expressed in the situations mentioned in OP. Perhaps the answer is stupidly simple and reside only in the politics as expressed by the movements. You could also argue that under capitalism the moments of solidarity are necessarily precisely moments whereas communism aims for the extension of this moment indefinitely.

To my mind there is still a frustrating overlap with right wing ideology. I'm probably exaggerating as the means of achieving the solidarity (or unity) are vastly different and most importantly the cost in life and misery. Come to think of it makes *all* the difference.

(this style of arguing with myself in one paragraph is perhaps better done in some diary with a small brass lock wink

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Dec 29 2011 15:41

There's probably a lot of sociological literature on this ('group solidarity' in general, whether nationalistic, class-based etc), only i've never really read any sociology so i wouldn't know where to start (except wikipedia, obviously).

As a hypothesis, i guess you could argue capitalist society is based on separation, so forms of community are either exceptional (in struggles, in disasters, in war) or imagined (as Benedict Anderson describes nations). Communism would be the creation of a durable human community, which is only possible by the fundamental reorganisation of social relations. So whereas commodity exchange dissolves all social ties, gift exchange (or something like free access communism) produces social solidarity and ongoing mutual obligations. I really need to read more anthropology as well tongue

baboon
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Dec 30 2011 18:25

The ideological basis of the "spirit of the Blitz" is, I think, the bourgeoisie hijacking a community of action faced with adversity. Only small events, but the reaction of some Londoners to the blitz itself was to protest and demonstrate against their own state. Similarly, the bourgeosie kept the underground stations locked at night and also put armed soldiers on their doorways to stop people seeking shelter from the bombing. There were protests and demonstrations against this too, forcing the ruling class to let people in. This didn't stop the war machine filming people sleeping and feeling generally safe and calling it "the spirit of the blitz". Even in Nazi Germany during the war, the Gestapo was so concerned about the respect continuingly being shown to Jews by workers that it was forced to send examples of the latter to concentration camps amid a publicity campaign.
So coming together to face adversity is very much a class issue and doesn't necessarily mean identity with the interests of the nation state - ie, we are not "all in this together". Fighting adversity doesn't necessarily mean defending the state - in fact any effective fight in the longer term means a direct attack against it.

It's true that revolutionary heights have been reached with a strong background of imperialist war. I don't find this particularly surprising. The Franco-Prussian War, the Russian-Japanese War of 1905, the global revolutionary wave of 1917 and Spain 1936, which itself was a dress rehearsal for the second and more deadly global conflict. The bourgeoisie, particularly the Allies, understood this as World War II was coming to an end and unleashed fire, death and terror on working class concentrations, particularly Germany which had been pivotal from 1918-23, and also with Churchill using the SS to slaughter workers in northern Italy. The bourgeoisie has used war to further crush the working class but it can be a unifying factor within the working class for its own class interests. The perspective today, for a time, is not for global imperialist war but war, a permanant feature of capitalism now, should be a factor in the development of class consciousness.

JK above mentions Rebecca Solnit and her book "A paradise made in hell" is worth a read. It shows how events like the San Franciso earthquake and the flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina showed the fear and ruthlessness of the ruling class when faced with the ruled/oppressed plus adversity. Their first response is to defend capitalist interests, look after themselves (like the black mayor of New Orleans and his entourage in their luxery hotel) and then to attack the victims. There was further evidence of this contempt for the suffering of the masses with the Haitian earthquake and the imperialist circus that surrounded it and then tramped all over it. And yet within these events we see the bravest of actions, of thousands and thousands of heros, of mutual help, selflessness. We have a good fairly recent example in the UK with the Hillsborough "disaster". Here we see the solidarity and support of the working class for each other and the contempt of the state for it to the point of being totally complicit in manslaughter. And to top this off, the vile and baseless fabrications of the bourgeois press around the slaughter.

There's nothing new about this. Malthus himself was puzzled and bothered by the phenomena of mutual assistance among the poorest of the poor. And the roots of this social cooperation are laid out in Darwin's "The Descent of Man..." and the shorter, more precise version in my opinion, Alfred Russel Wallace's "The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced from 'Natural Selection'". Like Marx, both Darwin and Wallace stood Malthus on his head, in this case in respect of the history of humanity being anything but "dog eat dog".