Bollocks To Theory?

Photo of two policemen standing underneath a "Library" sign. The Library is closed, so security shutters are behind them.

BM Blob's conclusion to Like A Summer With A Thousand Julys.

Submitted by Fozzie on April 15, 2022

How worried should we be about the absence of theory in Britain? It is doubtful if any other country has advanced so close to the brink without ever affirming a need for theory. Nor is it easy to say why this should retard a proletarian movement which is in all other respects so advanced. Yet this uneasy feeling something is not quite as it should be just won't go away.

As it turned out the rioters were more served by 'instinct' than reason. Like the Italian insurgents of '77 they gave as never before short shrift to the 'left'. Unlike the Italians, they seemed unable to go beyond very angry though near sighted denunciations of manipulative practises. No real effort was ever made to generalize the struggle but most everyone, particularly in Liverpool, in a quite casual easy-going way, was free to join in. Deeds substituted for choruses of "class unity".

Altogether there was a near total absence of graffiti. Nowhere on the smoke blackened gable ends could graffiti be found remotely approaching the penetrating, retrospective yet highly topical refrains of the Italian spring, ("Let's retake life", "rest assured I shall not suicide, Italy 77", and "we are realizing culture suppressing it" etc). There wasn't much either in the way of flyers and agitational broadsheets. The best pamphlet to appear in England was "A second blast of the trumpet against the capitalist nightmare". In France a similar uprising would have produced a deluge of leaflets - nevermind the near inevitability of wall-to-wall graffiti. In spite of a much changed situation a direct line of descent from May '68 would be instantly apparent to most people there.

In Britain nation-wide unheavals glance only fleetingly across the oceans and national frontiers. Localized fury never aspires, even if in name only, to a genuine internationalism. Yet home grown class struggle in the UK attracts a lot of attention elsewhere. The wave of strikes that engulfed the UK between 1970/74 were commented on the world over but the UK proletariat remained indifferent to the impact abroad. In 1981 a few weeks after the July days placards were fixed to the backs of lorries in Berlin proclaiming "Manchester, Liverpool, London, Berlin", while graffiti appeared on walls in Spain demanding a Toxteth and Brixton there. And one of the best leaflets to come out on the UK explosion was produced in New York under the name of "Barbarians for Socialism". It is highly insulting to say the UK proletariat cannot see farther than the end of its nose, yet the quality of comment coming from outside Britain continues to mount up putting to shame most theoretical efforts to get to grips with class struggle here.

A troubling, maybe far fetched image sometimes flickers across the mind's eye. The UK in the not-so-distant future has been turned upside down from one end to the other. Young, old, black and white, employed and unemployed have by stages become involved yet not even a muted call for its international extension can be heard above the din of multicoloured little Englanders.

Naval watching in the UK is however very distinct from US isolationism. Historically both have been ill at ease with the Pax Britannica and Pax Americana electing to let the rest of the world go to hell if needs be. However in Britain, it has traditionally taken root as much amongst the centre/left as the outside right (the left Labour Party MP Dennis Skinner prides himself in the age of mass travel on not possessing a passport). And it is not in the main aggressively racialist like some extreme isolationist movements in America which tend to fear New York and Washington more than they do the world outside. Hence immigrants softened up by exposure to this condescending but sympathetic ear attuned to their plight, are more likely in turn to be vulnerable to the narrowing influence of left wing little Englanders.

Once upon a time it might generally have been supposed God was an englishman but not one speck of this pompous self esteem has brushed off on proletarians living in the UK who dares attempt a searching analysis of class struggle in the UK or elsewhere. An utter lack of confidence in these matters easily tips over into a do-nothing paralysis born of inferiority. Which is a shame but before branding it as cowardice we need to know why.

Part of the trouble arises from popularly held misconceptions which automatically confuses theory with academia and paid-up intellectuals. Because the latter have such a high standing in Britain, higher even than businessmen in the pseudo-bourgeois scale of value so typical of the UK, they tend to be bracketed (and rightly too) alongside 'them'. Now 'them' has a special inflection in Britain. It implies a sort of archetypal snobbery against which the exaggerated extreme is alone safe from contamination. The trouble is all theorizing is consequently suspect though the onesided reaction hasn't seriously handicapped the proletariat yet. But it could well do so in the future and prizing theory away from past attempts to pull the wool might save lives and prevent disaster.

STRANGER THAN FICTION: CAPTION FOR LIBRARY PHOTO ABOVE: Hours before the 3 days rioting in Derby word had gone out a library was to be the center of attack. Over the last year or so libraries all over the UK have been invaded as unemployment shot over 3 million. The generally snotty nosed staff are determined to prevent libraries being turned into informal community centers where the unemployed can gather. Tending to treat everyone who uses the library as unemployed their superiority and condescension knows knows no bounds arousing the hostility of every library user. It's a bit like the arguments for community policing all over again. Rather than risk a Toxteth of the bookshelves libraries/or instance in Gateshead on Tyne, are becoming part of the institutionalized strategy for the management of the unemployed. Punk groups for example are allowed to perform on the premises during opening hours. Meanwhile a local library in Gateshead is popularly known as 'Colditz'.

At the moment to step beyond a quite narrowly demarcated territory criss crossed with razor sharp but fragmentary observations, defiant witticisms and knockabout fun is to risk exclusion. Gentle ridicule and less frequently a mockery bordering on plain viciousness clouds any attempt at revolutionary theory which is only allowed to go so far before it trails off into embarrassed silence. Britain's immobile but also moving class-in-itself social apartheid oscillating from one moment to the next between self reliance and lack of confidence hinges on this increasingly precarious balance. But for the time being there's simply no getting away from it: in comparison to France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, the UK is theoretically underdeveloped though it remains on the practical plain quite extraordinarily rich. It is also true that here and there workers in the UK are becoming theoreticians and excellent ones at that. Let's hope that tendency gets bigger and wider until theory in action becomes an unstoppable force.

The most hectic periods of class struggle always leaves time for reflection but it is far from immediately obvious that lessons have been learnt in the UK. But learnt they must be otherwise class struggle in the absence of any mechanistic providence may not keep to such an unswerving course for much longer. There is for example not one instance of a genuinely collective theoretical creation that can stand comparison with the assembly statutes of the Barcelona dockers in their strike of 80/81. And because it was an assembly, others from outside (including foreigners) were given the right to speak and enter. (There have, in parenthesis, recently been joint assemblies of the employed and unemployed in Spain). What finally emerged was a revolutionary tract subsuming trade demarcations (the basis of trade unionism) with the wider realities of class. In the UK the only comparable examples were the occupations of Plessey's in South West Scotland and the Fisher Bendix factory in Liverpool in '72. Following the example of Plessey's, the workers of Fisher Bendix created an open assembly ("our struggle is your struggle") where wives, children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, dogs, cats and lovers could come along and have their say. But it also remained something of a Liverpool family affair and it is doubtful if for example foreigners disseminating revolutionary material and opinions would have been made all that welcome. Still Liverpool has repeatedly defied all expectation.

When comparing the riots in the UK with those in Berlin parallel deficiencies are again apparent in a shared movement whose centre lies outside the point of production. In the aforementioned riot in Berlin, loud speaker vans reeling off the names and other business interests of real estate speculators (including incidentally, the German trade unions) could be heard urging demonstrators from one swank apartment to the next. The apartments were systematically being stoned. In the UK, this extra dimension of clarity was sadly missing. The riots in Britain were, to be sure, more exclusively proletarian than those in Berlin and far more deadly. But after having made due allowance an antipathy to all theory did seem to cramp horizons.

It cannot be said too often: Britain and the rest of the English speaking world desperately needs to set up a radical publishing venture. The need is especially urgent in Britain considering how close the country is to a gigantic explosion, or, catastrophe if things don't turn out right.

If the employed working class doesn't in the near future respond in a revolutionary manner, a death's head psychosis could lie in wait on every street corner. If fresh headway is not continually being made the floodtide of rioting could get jammed up and start to flow in the other way. And if this happens it's no use the workers blaming the bourgeoisie when their own passive toleration of the circulation of commodities and the State is just as much to blame. There are no eternal truths that make the success of the social revolution certain in advance. The goal of an everyday life liberated from capitalism has to be fought for at every stage. Lack of clarity could mean "the common ruin of the contending classes" (Marx). And that today amounts to trillions bending down and kissing their ass goodbye forever.

'We are witnessing the spectacular rearming of our great enemy. The state, something the world's ruling classes do when they want to give an appearance of solidity to the decomposition of its foundations."
(poster on gaoled Spanish Libertarians, 1981)

No amount of window dressing - and there wasn't much of that - can alter the fact that the State in the UK is now making long term preparations for an insurrection. There has recently been two disturbing developments related to the growing power of the para-military. The first consists in offering to young employed from inner cities the chance to get in some army experience. The second involves a revival of the Home Guard (called now the Home Service Force) to guard key installations such as telephone exchanges, electricity transformers, oil pipelines etc, 'against Russian wartime saboteurs'! In short, using the threat of a 3rd world war fomented by the super-powers as a front to put down indigenous insurrection. The army stresses it is not really looking for teenagers (no doubt they are too unreliable) preferring ideally to take on ex-servicemen and ex-coppers. Defence officials emphasised there was absolutely no intention of calling out the new Home Guard to cope with 'civil disturbances' but it would be the height of stupidity to think otherwise.

The lessons of the riots have begun to unevenly sink in all quarters. The State, quick off the mark, is making preparations for its defence well in advance of a potential proletarian onslaught. The proletariat has to take note of this and anticipate some of the problems in advance. Poland has been a testing ground for some of these problems and a clear warning you can fuck around with the system just for so long. Out comes the big stick eventually. The Polish telephone operators for instance, were caught napping by the coup. So the telephone communication system was easily immobilised by the military. Have telephone operators in the UK thought what the consequences might be if telephone exchanges are ringed by armed thugs? Unable to make physical contact with the outside they will be exposed to the most frightening forms of intimidation from 'their' armed guards.

Lastly the advertised holiday with the army for the young jobless marks a turning point in the Armed Forces' involvement with unemployed youth. Ever since the Boy Scouts, the army has settled for making its influence felt in an off duty capacity. The volunteer recruits won't (for the moment at any rate) receive weapons training but they will be subject to army discipline and salutes and more likely therefore to respond positively to an army takeover if it should ever come to pass. It is too early to say what sort of youth is likely to be attracted to this cut price offer. But it could well appeal to repressed, still tentative authoritarian undertones in some of today's youth sub-cultures.

(anti war slogans)

In the exceptionally severe winter of 1886 unemployed building workers and others rioted in central London. Engels condemned the 'opportunism' of William Morris and sundry who saw in these unemployed battles "the first skirmish of the revolution". They were, according to Engels, the work of desperate riff-raff on "the borderland between the working class and lumpenproletariat - ready for any 'lark' up to a wild riot a propos de rien". Drifting back into the East End the unemployed numbering some 20,000 rattled off a chorus or two of Rule Brittania.

This other seaborne 'national anthem' has once again been heard wishing the fleet well as it sailed for the Falklands/Malvinas or rather the Penguin Isles. On a London bus a graffiti read 'Skinheads fight for your country, go to the Falklands' and the number of applicants applying to the naval recruiting office in High Holborn zoomed up. When asked on a radio programme if these included unemployed skool leavers, a spokesman with a kilo of plums in his mouth answered "We are not a recruiting office for unemployables."

This cold water reply sets limits to the hot blooded nationalism of the phantom spray can writer. Together they reflect the potency and limitations of this ad hoc response to the conflict in the S.Atlantic which the State has used to the utmost, tapping both popular imperial residues and the legacy of anti fascism deriving from World War II. Set beside other memories retrieved from the historical deeps, Maggie Thatcher on the even of the Mark No 1 Task Force setting sail opportunely quoted Queen Victoria. "Failure? The possibility does not exist." However against memories of Drake and other expeditionary forces sent to sort out some corner of a far flung empire, were mingled allusions to the Dover Patrol of the second World War and an anti fascist resistance.

Behind the irrelevant and anachronistic facade of territorial imperialism or righteous anti fascism, the hidden purpose of the war is to disorientate the proletariat. Never at any time in the past has the fleet so explicitly put to sea to prevent the proletariat from setting sail in its own drunken boat. To the aft of the unexpected show of strength mounted by the Task Force lies the fear of riots, strikes and a dissident youth whose aggressive energy needs to be nailed with official blessing to the mast of a hooligan patriotism. The unrelenting media swamp operation has drowned any mention (until June) of three days of heavy rioting in Liverpool, and has only partially succeeded in jamming the trouble in the health service, the support striking miners have already given nurses, and the promise of more aid to come from steel workers and water workers. A national dock strike was narrowly averted and massive trouble on the railways threatens. Apart from the hospitals these struggles are-not about higher pay, raising questions of class solidarity, unemployment and the erosion of working conditions (e.g. the Wandsworth refuse collectors strike against competitive tendering).

Counteracting the drift to class unity is the British Bulldog divisiveness created by the S. Atlantic war. Suddenly racial, regional/national differences have taken on an importance once more. Military success has mesmerised many a skinhead. A year ago they ached to trash rich suburbs and were putting out feelers to young blacks who look on the Penguin Isles as just another piece of land. Irish proletarians who over the last few years have never made a big thing out of being Irish, lowered their voices, wary lest anyone think them unpatriotic and northerners became somewhat 'suspect' as 'socialist' by the 'loyalist' south. All this old divide and rule crap has reared its head again but now without any substance to sustain it for any length of time.

The war in the South Atlantic had from the British Government's point of view to be sold as a just war. This is the key to the anti fascist rhetoric, references to D-Day landings, the longest Day, Poland 1939 etc. But the real effect of this propaganda will be felt in Latin America, not in the UK. At a stroke Thatcher ruined the US/Argentinian axis. As the former US Assistant Secretary of State William Rogers said: "We face the erosion if not the dismantlement of the entire inter-American system." Thatcher however is supremely unaware that she might actually be fomenting revolution in Latin America. Formerly, British expeditionary forces were often as not despatched to put down popular rebellion. Now it is the reverse: success for the British military means fanning the flames of social revolution abroad.

Lacking a world view of likely causes and effects, the business in the South Atlantic is a parochial throw of the dice. It has in the UK been a spectator's war, conveying an impression of effortless conflict meant to overawe the proletariat and restore the confidence of the British nation State accustomed to falling flat on its face. This was the pearl behind the successful storming of the penguins massed on South Georgia and the ludicrous despatch sent out by the Commander of the Fleet to Queen Liz. The only concession to anti fascist sentiment - excepting the rhetoric - has been the capture and bringing back of Capitano Alfredo Astiz, the notorious Argentinian torturer. All in all there are built-in limitations to the manipulation of the anti fascist heritage in the UK which the State seems to recognise by not making much of. A tradition of armed guerrilla resistance to an indigenous fascist regime lending itself to manipulation by Secret Services through acts of terrorism is lacking. This rules out any slavish imitation of the Italian-style 'strategy of tension' though the British State has not been averse to using terrorism when it saw fit. The British State has to extemporise ever anew, unable to hit on the right formula for containment. Penguin Islands were a gift horse alright, but how much more mileage can be got out of these remote islands? Interest wanes with victory and mass attention is beamed back from the South Atlantic to the social war within.

Insistent prodding shall keep alive the memory of these events. Threats, real or imagined, of a renewed invasion and bombing raids are going to mean the garrisoning of British troops on the Islands for some considerable time to come. A flotilla of boats large and small are likely to be kept on the ready in the South Atlantic. Cuts in naval expenditure shall be temporarily postponed and the rundown of naval dockyards in Chatham and Portsmouth (scenes of rioting in '81) leading to the loss of 40,000 jobs deferred for a while. One third of the navy, prior to the conflict, was due to be scrapped and some 40 of the jolly jack tars who put to sea were clutching redundancy papers. 1000 professional soldiers were also, due to be laid off. No future but signing on the rock 'n roll.

The navy was however going to bear the brunt of the cuts. Naval high commands threatened with imminent eclipse (minus subs) are staking their survival on this nostalgic Senior Service fag packet Armada silhouetted against westering guns more evocative of World War I than the nuclear/missile age. The rebuilding of the lost ships, the maintenance of an 8,000 mile supply line and the enormous cost of the war nearing two billion pounds will be paid for out of increased taxation and a further reduction in the social wage as money available for health care is snapped up by the armed forces. This is bound eventually to exacerbate still more the social crises which just goes to show what a one-off adventure this has been. In the not so distant past, jingoism and gun boat diplomacy had to be paid for with increased welfare expenditure and domestic reform - the reverse of what is happening now.

The subversive process within has gone too far and bread and water phrases like 'peace with honour' will do little to set back for any length of time the beginnings of a revolutionary unity and totality, the like of which the British proletariat has never experienced before.

The summer riots of '81 were the foretaste of the future for us. One day sooner or later the roof is going to blow off the UK. Faced with an assertion like this most people in pubs, streets, supermarkets or at work tend to nod their heads. The old phlegmatic reassurances that "it can't happen here" has finally gone - let it be forever.

Wolfie Smith
Tucker and June