Greetings young comrades! (Can I call you comrade? Thanks!). As self-appointed spokesperson for Bristol’s long-time socialists, anarchists and communists, I wanted to write you a letter to say thank you for what you did on June 8th.
Photo: Arvind Howarth, Rowan Quarry and Chris Instinct
Of course, on one level it wasn’t much. A five-minute walk to the polling station, a tick in a box. For a party that, in the end, lost the election, and in a vote that meant very little for Bristol, what with only one seat out of the six in Greater Bristol changing hands (and Tory MPs still in two of them). Well short of the socialist utopia. Irrelevant to the anarchist methodology. For communists it doesn’t tick anything on the list of even transitional demands.
But politics, and culture, work on a different level to the simple facts of the matter. Politics is about power, who runs the show and who suffers. Power is felt, not measured, and I haven’t felt this good in a long time.
I’m 46 this year, and I became a socialist at the age of 10. Thatcher gave me lots of reasons, but it was her letting Bobby Sands starve himself to death that did it for me (if you know any people my age, ask them about it. They might remember, they might not). Then, at around 28, at the turn of the 2000s, I started thinking of myself as an anarchist. That meant summit protests, demos, climate camps, social centres, that kind of thing.
36 years of ‘being a lefty’, 1981 – 2017. Unluckily for me, 1981 – 2017 turned out to be 36 years of power-draining defeat after defeat for Left politics and culture, in Bristol and the rest of Britain. Capitalism, liberalism, consumerism in the good times. Then, whenever the bad times came, a lazy drift and a hidden push towards bigotry and fascism. The Left disappeared from the political conversation in working-class communities.
36 years of defeat. It gets to you. Folks got mad, folks got desperate, folks burnt out, folks got cynical. Many socialists became ‘pragmatic liberals’, many anarchists became nihilists, many communists joined the Legion of the Damned (better known as the Socialist Workers Party).
Many kept the faith, did good work – but always on the fringes, finding small ways to not feel totally powerless. Shaking our fists at mainstream culture as it swerved away or passed us by. Slowly losing hope.
Then, all of a sudden, one Thursday, you came along. Untainted by defeat, immune to empty threats and promises, undaunted by the impossibility of the task. In your tens of thousands, ‘normal Bristolians’, you stood up and shouted “Down with the corruption of the Old Order!”, “Out with Apathy and Pessimism!”, “Up the Workers!”, “All Power to The People!”.
You restarted The Revolution. Thank you.
Now what? Well, “Live Working or Die Fighting”, a book by Paul Mason, is a good place to start if you want to know your place in the Grand Scheme of Things. Revolutions have flowered regularly in the history of Britain, including in Bristol, and so far all have failed. Or won a bit, for a bit, but for a revolution that’s still failure.
So far no-one has worked out the winning revolutionary recipe. How much discipline and how much freedom? How much necessary practicality before you lose the revolutionary purpose? When is the time to act and when is the time to reflect? How do you deal with those that refuse to be free? So many potential problems, so many possible wrong turns, no respawn. Through “praxis” (Google it) you need to create a new, winning ideology that fits the 21st Century, not the 19th.
We can help you do that, walk beside you, but don’t let us lead you. Show us how it’s done. We have nothing to teach you about your revolution, we can only show you where ours went wrong, and what we could have done about it. We can also tell you, through experience, where the power lies, where it is strongest and where it can be beaten.
The fight will be hard, you will lose battles, but one day you will win the war. It will take time, you will need patience, especially with one another. Because all the while, the Old Order will be infiltrating, agitating, pulling and pinching at you, trying to drain the resolve from you. Prying at the weak points, widening divisions. Planning and praying the revolution will fail, as all the other revolutions have failed.
Yours won’t fail. None have been as well prepared as you (by many of us, who bore, raised and inspired you!). None have faced an enemy so tired and wounded as yours, so zombified, bankrupt and discredited. Victory for the Revolution is not only possible, it is inevitable. It will not be given, you must take it. Take Power, for the sake of us all!