Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Sailor, Richman – Poorman, Beggarman, Thief. Considering politics as a skill, and skill as a manipulation of tools, it is necessarily a danger that we enter into a discussions couched in a mechanistic ‘boy’s own’ metaphoric code. Is politics always warfare? Does technology necessarily invite this overly excited tropological tone? I tend to think such quibbles misconstrue a difference (in terms of male and female, aggression v passive and other all too neat structural shortcuts), and generalise as duality differences that are many. Nevertheless, at risk of deploying such mechanistic abstractions, but with an aside that claims this as a manipulation of convenience, it is worthwhile, perhaps, to attempt to survey the field of those with whom we might make alliance. Metaphorically, then, this is a question of armoury first of all, and the question, always an artifice itself, is one of finding how to plot the technological assets on offer. Amongst those who we might be tempted to think of as allies there are some with skills that could be more dangerous on our side than not.
First up, the tinkerers – those who think that things can be improved with a screwdriver. A little tightening here, a little looser there. These people are the ones who deserve our contempt because the are content to ignore the structural thievery that is at the basis of production, and with deft use of reform and care, they believe they can, mostly, with only occasional lapses, make things work. This is more or less a way of easing a conscience which needs to tinker with reform to palliate even if slightly the contradictions it sees, but will not allow to disturb; a kind of guilty denial which no doubt with good intentions declares itself against exploitation and the brutal effects of competition and profiteering, and yet rests content with ‘improvements’; thus we should maintain ethical standards, the morality of honesty and dedication, committing everyone to the protocols of acceptance, where everyone is urged to work hard, to obey the law, to save in the bank, to revere the flag. Workers and bosses alike to collaborate in all seriousness, for the good of all. Even sometimes with a fair sharing of the benefits (but not of the profits). This screwbrained coterie could never imagine that the fair exchange of the market place and the ethic of work and competition are ever so ‘just’ rewards for the dedicated dead.
The second dangerous alliance is with the tailorers. Those whose neat seamless stitched up conception does not admit of a flaw in the material and would have us all woven quick smart into the one weave. Everyone into the same suite, all to enjoy the easy life of the bourgeois; an abstraction which offers an idealised reality torn from a singular experience of comfort and privilege and generalised as suitable – and fitting – for all. But even assuming that everyone would want to be got up in this outfit, the sweatshop and backroom fittings remain invisible, kept out of sight and out of mind. We may well all be capable of being equally well dressed, but only some of us fit the fashion magazine image of this utopia, and there is not much hope for the tailored simplicity of the programme that imagines such is readily available ‘off the shelf’, so to speak. With sewing machine, scissors, measuring tape, needle and thread this customised future looks smart but cannot recognise the difficult work necessary, not only one size does not fit all, but the viability of such a uniform future is blind to the ragged edges and wear and tear of the here and now. This impossible uniformity would offer a well groomed civilised magazine image, and never disrupt the straightjacket restrictions of the marketing system that produces fashion and its papered-over miseries. Those who wish to fight capitalist production by claiming the benefits of bourgeois life for each and very one (of their chosen friends) do nothing to disrupt the free marketeering logic on which capitalist relations are based. For sure, this is a directive for the ever smoother Taylorised deception of a grinning monkey in a tuxedo.
The Soldier is a killing machine. Don’t believe for a minute all those advertisements offering training and a career and a lifestyle in the army. Its a trick. Every cog in the machine a killer. The military of the capitalists is against us – there can be no alliance with them. Nor can there be any truck with those who want to talk to cops – to call them workers, to de-role them or some such. A worker in a uniform is a bourgeois cop – Trotsky will do here for once. There is a simple contradiction between the forces that will constrict us: the test is at the point of transgression – at a certain limit of the law, force becomes immovable. The end result of effective reform would be prison for all. Instead then, we too need be soldiers. Such machines are necessary in warfare, and here is where only perhaps a radical communist cultural studies also recognises the responsibility to kill. What to kill? To destroy the exploitation at the heart of capitalist production. To abolish the state, to destroy the relations of exploitation and oppression, to fight against the forces that maintain privilege. Kill, kill, kill. We shall have veins in our teeth. Is this just a macho thing? Is it only rhetoric? Along the way we may need to kill this off as well.
Militancy would not be the only skill of an anti-capitalist commentary however – there is another, more important, more abstract perhaps, even ‘theoretical’ aspect – and that is the replacement, the skill of the sailor charting uncharted waters, striking out into new seas, adventure over the horizon. The future society glimpsed only briefly in the contradictions of capitalist production (the contradiction between its awesome power to create and its destructive effects, for an obvious example). The skill here is not to accept any compromise – to destroy the old to make way for the new. And to search this out in conscious clarity and purpose. Raise the Jolly Roger over this sentiment, Unlike those, who at the verge of historical capitalism, would have been unable to describe why and where their activities would lead them – not even naming the future as capitalist – it is the case for us the future could be planned, creatively – though this future is now also unspecified and yet to be invented, all of us together, the task and responsibility we share.
In the metaphors deployed here there might also be another correspondence – the reformist opportunist becomes rich, the utopian idealist poor, the soldier begs to differ, the thief steals the future (nothing wrong with this code, eh). What language games amount to is not an analysis, but a tool for thinking, for organising. The skill of setting out the sides, the contradictions and the organising apparatus – question everything. There is much more to be done here beyond a silly limerick. Nevertheless, its done. Tralalala.
an ode to consultants and Brandsters