Disillusioned long ago by Capitalism you look to Marx’s Capital but think, ‘f*** me, that’s a big book.’ Bearing this in mind you go to Marxism Festival 2012 for answers …
Man has remade himself
He looked like Father Christmas in his Coca-Cola red shirt, his spectacled face embraced by a fluffy white beard but it was David Harvey, author of Rebel Cities, most recently, and proponent of Marxism. If he had have been Father Christmas, though, he would have presented us with the gift of ‘the right to the city’, ‘one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights’.
This was the first lesson I learned on Sunday of Marxism Festival 2012, the gist of which is articulated by sociologist Robert Park; the city is ‘man’s most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself’. The city is the reflection of humans’ relationship to nature, their lifestyle, and their aspirations. It is a place where many of us live and work. Its transformation depends on a collective force and is therefore a common rather than an individual right.
The price of fish
Though brief, my time at an understaffed hotel restaurant was enough to make me understand the sentiment of Harvey’s talk. Receiving minimum wage sat uncomfortably with me considering the prices and the wealthy clientele the restaurant seemed to attract, which I was required to serve. This, I found to be an irritating incongruence and far too much for me to get on with if I wanted to avoid becoming embittered. How many hours would I have to work for that steak?! I’m lucky I had other options. But millions of dispossessed people don’t and they work in the cities as waiters or taxi drivers under these circumstances. So much of our lifestyles depend on the exploitation of people who work in the city yet are unable to indulge in and engage with what it has to offer.
Locating oneself on the political spectrum
The morning of the festival I draped, with no agenda, a red jumper around my shoulders; ‘Ha ha, I’m wearing my red cardigan, too,’ was the response to this. Not one for matching, I thought, ‘Why so glad about it?’ And I swapped it for another. Eventually, a connection was made … red … Marxism … ohh. I was faithful to my original decision to wear anything but red due to my lack of political confidence and therefore inability to be tongue in cheek about the matter.
The thing is: I am not one of the people who cannot imagine walking into a restaurant and ordering whatever I like once, twice, even three times a week. I know that sometimes it’s frivolous and wasteful – but I can afford to be so, every now and then. Even though money’s come tough sometimes, I am not chronically poor. I do not fit into this category. At the same time, however, I find myself trying to get by among, ‘a generation grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken’ – a phrase taken out of its historical context, yet remarkably applicable to the present – in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words. My hope is tried sometimes when the world works the way it does, when rebels, or rather, the ‘truest’ of Tories maintain the conservation of the House of Lords, just the way it is, and when our strange predilection for Neoliberalism, which allowing for the fruitful mating of state and corporate interests has ensured that cities are increasingly becoming vast gated breeding grounds for the rich-thus-influential. It leaves the urban process to be moulded by the upper classes – I do not fit into this category, either. But I find myself drawn to the city – their playground – though more in resignation to the fact that this is where the jobs are; this is where the fun happens, than this is where I ‘belong’.
Seeing is believing
The rest of my day I was referred to as ‘comrade’ and was occupied by talks about women’s oppression, LGBT struggles, and their roots in Capitalism. I left these topics feeling far more hopeful than I did Harvey’s, despite his suggested solutions – maybe it’s because I can believe that positive change can occur in these areas; I have seen it happen in my lifetime. However, the situation is not perfect yet and the speakers put up a convincing case to explain why Capitalism continually enables inequality to flourish. Although incorrect, we are often led to believe that ‘women’s rights’ and ‘LGBT equality’ are special interest areas – aspects of other people’s lives – that we can choose not to interact with. In comparison, we are all forced to engage in a capitalist system, which is the stone on which our society, our interactions, and the way we’re told to show love and fondness are found. There is much that requires demolition. It will take dedication and commitment for the world to change, but we’re all just out there trying to get ahead instead of swinging the sledge hammer and starting again on more level ground. It is a question of priorities.
Something to talk about
This is what confounds me. It’s something to do with how short life is. It’s to do with hope and expectations. It’s about all these big questions. I mean, meaning-of-life big questions. It’s about coming to terms with your personal dreams and aspirations and how they can be attained while doing your best for the world, or something. Or at least the little circle that surrounds you. It’s tough, man, and it’s confusing. But we can talk about it, like we did at Marxism 2012.