08 September 2009

...your future you often have asked me...

There's an important scene in the beautiful film Goodbye Lenin! (which you all should watch), in which our East Berlin hero goes to some kind of West Berlin underground-fetish nightclub and is totally blown away. Now, that's something that always struck me - the idea that Eastern Bloc "socialism" ended up being so grey, boring, aping the most cheesy and unthreatening parts of Western mass culture but criminalising its own interesting dissidents. You would have never predicted that back in the 20's and 30's - Picasso was a socialist, the Surrealists were Trotskyites for God's sake, and generally all the best artists were actual anti-capitalists, rather than posturing "lifestyle anarchists" or insipid Greenie-liberals like they are today.

Obviously, part of the problem was the establishment of "socialist realism" (i.e. bland, feelgood pap) as the official art of Stalinism. But there's also a problem with a rigid centralised political/social structure of any sort, and that's that Stalinists don't really understand the dialectic. Because they think that a bureaucratic police-state structure is pretty much as good as it gets for humanity, they think it's their job to repress all social contradictions. Hence bullshit elections where the "good guys" get 99% of the vote, and all the other nonsense of social unanimity.

I once read an old Soviet propaganda brochure called "What do people talk about in the Soviet Union?" It gave "real-life" examples of random Soviet people having heated arguments on all manner of things, but the last chapter said: "One thing that we never discuss is whether socialism works. That's settled forever and ever and ever." And the Catholic Church is really democratic because you can discuss anything apart from the central dogma. What did Marx say? "All criticism starts with the criticism of religion" - the idea that there is any dogma, anything which can be off-limits for debate, is brain-death and a block on the evolution of humanity. (Note: yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre, or "Islam out of Britain" in Brick Lane, does not count as debate and should be rightly suppressed.)

Learn your Marx, guys! The whole freakin' universe is in contradiction, and always will be, because without contraries, without tension and conflict, there can be no progress. The promise of socialism is that social-economic contradictions (class and inequalities) will be overcome, so that we can learn all-new forms of conflict and contradiction! All the great art comes out of struggle. All bland, boring nonsense comes out of official propaganda trying to pretend that struggle and conflict doesn't really happen in our glorious utopia. The point of the end of the history of class society is that we can start a new history, not a boring "happily ever after" - aka "death", or a kind of C S Lewis afterlife.

This is why the socialist future cannot be a bureaucracy, or a central bank (sorry Lenin), but a network, with interdependent but autonomous nodes of production, of thought, of culture, of art, and yes they must not get on with each other. The main difference from capitalism as it stands is of course that these different centres will have different ways of relating to each other than markets, money, oppression and violence. There's only the vaguest idea from this point what that might look like.

The Holy Qur'an quotes the central intelligence of the Universe as saying something like: "If I wanted you all to be the same religion, I would have made it so. Instead, I gave you several different faiths, so you could vie among yourselves in holiness". If it doesn't have a counter-culture and heated arguments on every subject under the sun, it's not my revolution.