Bringing Community to the Left

domestic labour

John Murray

In the wake of a Tory victory, we have to rethink our logic of association.

What do I mean by a ‘logic of association’?

At its simplest, the logic of association is the underlying connection between all members of a group. For example, in an industrial union the logic of association is a shared set of work conditions.

Movements have to be built on a strong logic, otherwise the members of a group have no reason to be associated with one another. As a rule of thumb, the stronger the logic that ties them together, the tighter the organisation and the more resilient it will be. Simply thinking left wing things is not enough – we have to be materially connected to each other.

That means that when we are looking at what kinds of organisation we need to fight austerity, we need to consider our logic of association. We need to discover our connections, decide which connections have the most strategic importance, and then build a movement which uses them.

Workers connected in a union understand that their connection is that they sell their labour as part of the production process. This is the fundamental connection that makes them the working class, and it has formed the basis of action. Similarly women, ethnic minorities, colonised people and other have all leveraged a connection to build strong movements that have changed history. But we cannot assume that a static association is enough. Instead, we have to organise along ever changing lines, integrating intersectional critiques, involving with people who are not in employment, and responding to the changing conditions of capitalism.

Marxists in the Italian post-operia tradition talk about a ‘social factory‘. Their idea is that production is no longer bound up in factories and in the old working class. It is spread throughout society. There are new logics of association which bring us together as producers outside the factory, in spaces where the old left never thought to go (never thought to go, in part, because there already existed strong forms of mutual support, even if they were unrecognised). This is complemented by an understanding advanced by Marxist Feminists of this tradition that reproductive labour is also part of capitalism, and that occurs outside of the workplace also.

Yes, if you work, join a union and organise your workplace. Respect picket lines, don’t scab, stick up for your colleagues, and bargain collectively. All of these ideas and principles are vital to a strong left movement.

But as well as this we should consider organising as communities, and around the issue of social reproduction. And by communities, I mean something other than left wing people within a certain town or city. A community has as its logic of association a shared common interest in surviving the next 5 years of austerity in tact: they have a common interest in reproducing their lives.

As a community, we have more in common than left wing ideas and cultural references. But if our logic of association is a common interest in surviving, then we should no longer having as our goal a really well attended and publicised demonstrative action (“look how much we hate the cuts!“). Instead, we should be aiming at common material support. That means that we should start by supporting each other, and aim for collective strength.

Thatcher said there was no such thing as society. The kind of world that followed Thatcherism is what we call neoliberal, and it consists of a whole class of unconnected individuals, all suffering but with no connections between them. This is exactly what we have to fight against through the reassertion of community.

If someone is getting evicted, a community organisation should go and block that eviction. If someone is struggling to pay energy bills, we should have a fund for emergency support. If someone is disabled and needs additional help, we should provide it. If someone is short on food, we should redistribute the waste food supermarkets throw out. If people are homeless, we should squat empty buildings. If fascists are in our area, or if the police attack us, we should defend ourselves. In short, we should collectively develop the ability to support our own social reproduction.

The politics of any such organisation will follow from its ability to support a community, because the very act of supporting a community that is meant to be quietly resigned to its own impoverishment is a political act in itself. We will need to communicate more outside of the left bubble, but that will be much easier when we are not hiding away as a clique.

Everyone knows the cuts hurt the poorest and most oppressed. No one needs to be told that yet again. What we do need is to support one another, and build our collective strength so that we can build a political project based not on good ideas alone, but on strong connections, and a strong logic of association. This is not volunteering, this is not charity – it is solidarity and mutual aid in the face of another 5 years of pain.

The anti-austerity movement of the last five years hoped that everyone would decide to be left wing and go on a big demo. At it’s more direct end, we hoped that people would also decide to take spontaneous revolutionary action. But we never built an infrastructural project which could support a mass movement, we just hoped that it would emerge if we dreamed hard enough. This was a historic failure.

Organisations like the Radical Housing Network, however, are winning against gentrification and social cleansing. They are fighting the housing crisis on precisely this community scale, and they show us what is possible.

The left is at low ebb. It is hard to feel otherwise at the moment. But we cannot rebuild it with clever articles, daring direct action and well publicised marches alone. We have done all those things, indeed more than ‘done’ – we have put years of our life into those things. But now we have a chance to reassess, and return to older traditions, of building organisation and infrastructure which will help us survive in the tough times to come and – hopefully, win us a future.

There is a local Leamington anti-austerity meeting on Sat 23rd May, open to all. It will begin at Midday at the Coffee Box on Brunswick Street. 

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