Home > The 'Solidarity' Group > Solidarity and the Swamp: Up to Our Eyes and Sinking (Class and consciousness)

Solidarity and the Swamp: Up to Our Eyes and Sinking (Class and consciousness)

I don’t know what the heck this it about.

What differentiates Solidarity from the traditional left is the insight that the consciousness of the working class becomes revolutionary only when it is no longer imposed from the outside. But in recent months there has been little sign that either this insight or this differentiation are taken seriously any more. Only the indiscriminate use of the word “we” has been able to provide any semblance of general agreement within the group.

Where the perspective of class has not been totally absent – as in hollow statements about the universality of one form of oppression or another – we have been treated to definitions of class and consciousness which owe more to theoretical speculation than t any observation of social events. Nowhere is there any conception of everyday resistance to capital being implicitly socialist and potentially revolutionary. Socialism, if we are to believe the latest pronouncements, is now to be a matter of “the way people relate to each other”. Political discussion has been reduced to a series of moralistic propositions about personal conduct.

The present insistence on small workshop groups intended to solicit the fullest possibly participation does not derive from any mistaken notion of self-activity. It answers to the sense of exclusion suffered by radical intellectuals who find themselves deprived of any social anchorage and so attempt to construct an artificial identity by using the group as a crutch. Introspection, allied to a dogmatic assertion of the general validity of personal experience, is accompanied by anxious glances in the direction of “consciousness-raising” groups, irrespective of their political colouration, aims and practices.

The end result is not merely a failure to make the crucial distinction between what is personal and what is social and public, but also an equally debilitating avoidance of argument. Debate now means no more than a frenetic search for areas of agreement and an endorsement of attitude which alternate between patronage and sycophancy. And this has resulted in accusations of oppressive behaviour and bad faith in place of any political response to attempts to challenge the ideas and assumptions underlying this egocentrism, despite the fact that many of these ideas have been borrowed uncritically from groups still seeped in leninist practices. It comes as no surprise that debate has been replaced by a ritualized evocation of oppressions, real or imagined, since to challenge a person’s ideas is now held to be an assault on the personality. A stultifying atmosphere has been created in which certain forms of expression and activity (notably formulas of support for and agreement with any opposition to “sex-roles conditioning”) comprise of a new orthodoxy, and all ideas which pay lip-service to it are accepted as equally valid and equally inviolable.

It is not our intention to issue a call for ideological purity. But it is necessary to challenge the dubious assumptions which support prevalent notions of personalized politics, since their practical result has been an abandonment of any revolutionary perspective rooted i the social realities of class domination. What we find instead is the cerebral prescription of “emancipated” consciousness, itself merely an extension of alienation, although in a form to which the enlightened can give their assent.

Consciousness is not the monopoly of small groups, the be manufactured in isolation from the class struggle; it is both a component and a product of social (and not personal) relations which can be understood only in class terms. The whole spectrum of neurosis, anxiety, guilt, self-censorship, and privatised solutions are social manifestations resulting from sacrifice and submission in pursuit or defence of class (and sectional) interest. And it is in these terms that the present avoidance of political debate within Solidarity must be seen.

The proponents of personalized politics have recently introduced several amendments to “As we see it”, apparently with the intention of eviscerating its content. As a gesture of their disillusionment with revolutionary socialism, their action gives eloquent testimony to the present uncertainties and divisions within the group. Yet it is difficult to see how these can usefully be discussed, let alone resolved, as long as we are offered unsubstantiated and insistent assertions in place of reasoned argument.

Bill Beveridge
Paul Gordon
Dave Lamb
Keith Millar
Peter Silock
George Williamson

2 July 1979


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