The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
A compilation of articles by radical thinkers and activists which doesn't quite live up to its intention
What We Are Fighting For consists of 20 short articles written by various thinkers and activists connected with the anti-austerity and occupy movements that have emerged in recent years.
Where it is at its best, it is essentially Marxism in disguise. Michael Albert's "balanced job complexes" is a concise reformulation of what Marx described as "ending the division between mental and manual labour," while Richard Seymour's discussion of the "new model commune" essentially outlines the functions of the early Soviets.
Occasionally, the Marxism is overt. Peter Hallward's defence of the notion of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a useful reminder that radical forces will be viciously crushed if they ever start to make an impact. As the author of a detailed study of the repression of the Haitian popular movement in recent years, it is a lesson with which Hallward is all too familiar.
Where the book is less good is when it neglects class analysis altogether. Some writers fall victim to the all-too-prevalent trap on the left of treating neoliberalism as a policy choice, rather than simply the natural expression of crisis-era capitalism.
The danger is that this can lead to a deradicalised nostalgia for the days of Keynesianism which is not only uninspiring as a vision of a future society but impossible to deliver for a capitalism operating in a different economic climate, not to mention the immorality of demanding a return to a social democracy that was predicated on colonial and neocolonial exploitation.
As Alberto Toscano points out in his contribution, today it is precisely reformism - with its dreams of reinstating a system that was the product of entirely different social conditions - that is now utopian, akin to demanding that the sun come out at midnight.
Where the book succeeds is less in its analysis and more in its commitment to the process of beginning to map out alternatives to capitalism.
The Mondragon co-operative movement in the Basque country and practical examples of democratically controlled finance from Vietnam make Milford Bateman's chapter interesting reading.
Shaun Chamberlain highlights the importance of creating counter-narratives to challenge the hegemony of ruling class mythology and David Graeber argues for the need to redefine certain key terms such as work, democracy and communism in order to rescue their meanings from the parodies they have been reduced to by the ruling class.
The book's tagline is a misnomer in that it's clearly not a manifesto. But it is a step towards the kind of debate necessary if one is to be written.
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.