From Bob's archive: Optimism and pessimism, January 2011

This post is from exactly a decade ago, 20 January 2011, and was part of the "Carnival of Socialism" where different socialist bloggers would round up what was going on in the socialist blogosphere. This post marks my engagement with a couple of historical shifts that, looking back, seem very important now. The 2000s had been a period of economic expansion in the global North, which came to an abrupt end in 2008 leading to a period marked by harsh austerity and also by increasingly sharp resistance. (For me personally, in the 2000s I had been increasingly dis-engaged from the radical left, but the age of austerity and resistance made me re-engage more.) 

There is an added note of poignancy in that the "recent victim of the government’s slash and burn approach to the public and voluntary sectors" mentioned in the first section was my friend Shaun Downey, who died some months later, after having been made redundant in the post-2008 cuts. 

Globally, 2011 was a high point in the age of resistance: the year, as Paul Mason put it, that it kicked off everywhere. This post was written as the so-called Arab Spring - the jasmine revolution, as I preferred to call it - began. The post ends saying Egypt is the next one to watch, and five days later the Egyptian revolution broke out, whose brief flourishing and brutal crushing has summed up the dashed hopes of the last decade. 

I am not republishing the whole post, just some short extracts, with some corrections. 

"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." --- Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms

“Very often, optimism is nothing more than a defence of one’s laziness, one’s irresponsibility, the will to do nothing. It is also a form of fatalism and mechanicism. One relies on factors extraneous to one’s will and activity, exalts them, and appears to burn with sacred enthusiasm... It is necessary to direct one’s attention relentlessly towards the present as it is, if one wishes to transform it.” --- Antonio Gramsci The Prison Notebooks 

My themes for this edition are optimism and pessimism. You all know Gramsci's adage, "optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect" (actually, he took it from Romain Rolland). Gramsci was condemning the anarchists for their intellectual optimism about human nature and about the masses' capacity for self-emancipation, which for him was a key justification of the need for a Leninist-style vanguard party to tell the masses what to do. 

I oscillate between hope (anarchist hope of the intellect as well Gramscian hope of the will) and despair, and in this edition I sum up some of the reasons, based on some of the top socialist blogging of 2011 so far.

As one recent victim of the government’s slash and burn approach to the public and voluntary sectors writes, 2011 is going to be a very bad year. Not a week goes by when I don't hear from a friend or acquaintance that they've got their redundancy notice or, if they're lucky, just a cautionary redundancy notice. And these people, in Hemingway's phrase, are the "very good, the very gentle and the very brave" - while the un-good, un-gentle and un-brave in the world of finance are rolling in it once more. Or, as Norbert puts it, "Britain today is akin to living three hundred thousand fathoms under a sea of wealth, that’s if you consider that we have the highest levels of income inequality for over half a century. Household and personal wealth of the top 10% of the population is 100 times greater than that of the poorest 10% and 30% of children live in poverty." In this context, the struggle against the austerity regime is surely the highest priority for blogging and non-blogging socialists in the UK, and in the other countries where the social sector is similarly being eviscerated. [...]

Turning from the local to the global, Terry Glavin, Canadian social democrat, is blogging about Iran, from the perspective of working class solidarity, in a post entitled “Will you be a lousy scab or will you be a man?” While my location in inner South London gives me cause for pessimism, Terry's more global perspective gives him cause for optimism. He sees a coming convulsion led by the youth, things getting better, and an "anti-totalitarian surge". Kellie Strom also highlights the same anti-totalitarian wave in the Mediterranean.

Other bloggers with good posts on Tunisia's "jasmine revolution" include River's Edge (on the socialist role), Latte Labour (on the UK media coverage), James Bloodworth (on the American connection), Terry again (on the Islamists), Mick Hall (pessimistically hoping it won't be more of the same), The Commune and Phil. A choice phrase from Phil: "Saudia Arabia, long the Costa Brava of forcibly retired tyrants". The (over-optimistic?) conclusion: "With sustained struggle and determined action, the dictatorial obscenities of the Middle East could be entering their final days. Let despots everywhere tremble as the revolutionary gale howls about their ears."

Probably the best blog for resources on Tunisia is Airforce Amazons, although Entdinglichung is also good of course. And from Phil I see Tunisia Scenario. Oh, and Egypt is the next one to watch.


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