Monday, April 10, 2006

orwellian lineage

After Newbury, Guy wasn't anomalous in keeping on fighting for environmental and social justice. In tracking down Störm for the reunion, I found him via the Olan Trust which he established in 2004, among a squillion other things he's been up to. The others have all done a ton of great stuff since then too.

Wasn't it all supposedly 'just a phase'?

Weren't we all meant to be tory voting James Last listening conformist twats by now?

My book about the Newbury Bypass only got criticised in two reviews. One was Living Marxism, whose criticism is a compliment. Their line was that because Jimi Hendrix’s acid dealer believed in a nonsensical theory of imminent global cooling, all theories on climate change are bollocks and all who say so are political imbeciles.

In a private joke with myself, I started an article with the opening line from that review.

The other criticism was an aside in an otherwise positive piece in Do Or Die. They said that many of my ideas were 'quite reformist and unthought-through', which is accurate and entirely justified.

The impact tree protests had on those of us new to truly radical politics was epiphanic. The way it joined up our thinking, so that we swiftly realised this wasn’t about saving trees or challenging Car Culture, it was about opposing industrialisation, the profit motive and all concentrations of power. It is no coincidence that a couple of years later many of us who met on the tree protests were together on the barricades of the big anti-capitalist protests.

At Mary Hare, Suzanne was reading Homage To Catalonia George Orwell's account of his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and we all saw the parallels. Whilst we were not being shot at, we were out making a stand for justice against the power-hungry. Fred Gibson, a Second World War veteran, saw it too and gave his medals to one of us.

Beyond the struggle, there was a commonality with Spain in how we lived as we fought. We were there, everyone equally, deciding by consensus, a living example of much that is desirable but supposedly not possible due to the alleged nasty selfishness of human nature.


I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites.

Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it.

There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilized life - snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc - had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master.

Of course such a state of affairs could not last. It was simply a temporary and local phase in an enormous game that is being played over the whole surface of the earth. But it lasted long enough to have its effect upon anyone who experienced it. However much one cursed at the time, one realized afterwards that one had been in contact with something strange and valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word ‘comrade’ stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality.


Orwell’s personal lesson from Spain matches Newbury for this mix of grand vision among the mud, of having the political truths of our hearts illuminated and proven so that we can never again deny them.

Once you've seen the possibility of your dreams, you are obliged to try to make them happen.

5 comments:

Jim said...

Damn straight!

merrick said...

Who are you calling a damn straight?

Anonymous said...

I reckon James Last-listening would count as non-conformist, albeit in the most irritating sixth-form-show-off 'nobody still alive would possibly want to do this, so it makes me cool if I do' way.

Ditto Tory voting, come to think of it.

John B

merrick said...

John, depends on the circles you move in.

As pointless bland music is still predominant, and as the tories are still alive and kicking (if it wasn't for the Celtic nations, England would have a tory government from the last general election), I'd say both things are still very common, and they certainly represent the narrowness of mind that was supposed to set in as we got older.

Robin McMeekin said...

Merrick, are you still about on this site? It's Robin here. I found this wesbite on google when I searched Newbury bypass protest. I never expected to see this in a million years! It brings back fantastic memories of it all.

I hope you're keeping well, bro, and that you're still fighting that good fight.