I think what is missing here is an initiative with openly integrating goals and with an openly integrating thinking and approach. What I mean by 'integrating'? It is not an attempt for unification of existing perspectives. It is not an attempt at coordination of existing groups and activities either. My understanding of an 'integrating' approach means challenging several spheres of our everyday lives and enabling a plastic expression to emerge from our actions. It is an attempt to find a sense of direction, to connect with history and the city. It is about trying to portray the presence in its flow and with its contradictions. Last but not least it is about sensing where the antagonisms of class are located and how they manifest themselves in the former dockers' city.
During this year Liverpool - Capital of Culture 08 - will be submerged in an avalanche of discourses dealing with our everyday lives. Most of them are ideologically coming from various sections of the ruling class. Especially the more 'creative' industries (e.g. FACT, BBC Radio Merseyside) are and will be active in this field of ideological production. They have been commissioned to 'deliver' various cross-class messages to city residents, e.g. answers to questions like "where are 'we' going?", "who are 'we?'", "are 'we' more free than 'we' think?", "where are the boundaries of 'our' bodies?", "what is the identity of this city?", etc. Discourses on the new, post-industrial and cosmopolitan 'community' will abound making an easy target of the out-dated 'Boys From The Black Stuff'-like traditions and labour sources of identities (sorry, 'nostalgies'!). And of course, the always handy and servile 'creatives' will take care that the ideological production of the ruling class is sold to suspicious and skeptical Scousers in a nice, non-intrusive and 'cool' way, through various dialogical/ participatory/experiential platforms, venues and projects. The methods of fucking up working class people are getting more and more subtle (the subtleness doesn't apply to workplaces of course!).
In such a time of ideological triumphalism of the capitalist dictatorship, for a communist to stay at home would be a shame. What a class conscious opponent should not do either is to gather exclusively with the like-minded, turn their backs to the noisy Capital of Culture, close themselves in safe spaces such as The Casa or Next to Nowhere and watch films about how great it was when 'we were strong and marching...!' I think on the contrary, we should face the city and engage in what is rather than in what was ('Facing reality', CLR James' book in the 50s!). I like the phrase 'exit forward', a strategy developed by British regeneration managers. Yes, capitalism is running along this strategy. Like the ancient Proteus, capital is using its own crises for its transformation and further expansion. Strangely enough the self-proclaimed leaders of the working classes (or the oppressed) are not interested in the presence as it is, they either look to the past or to the future (when they look at what 'is', they usually do it with theoretical categories inherited from the past).
I think an anti-capitalist should be more curious and going with open eyes. Of course we should remind the people the working class history of this place. But on top of that a really alternative project to Capital of Culture should be about the Culture of Capital. Through confronting the everyday culture (relationships between us mediated through commodities), not just the high art venues, we can become aware of complexity of contradictions. Then we will be able to appeal not only to the Left or people who identify themselves with the working class but to all people who feel being commodified and facing an alien and/or crazy world. (As a woman recently said in the discussion on 'Are we more free than we think?' at FACT, she lives in a material affluence but she is not happy, she feels isolated and would like to reconnect with a community, to feel control over food she eats, things she consumes...and the time she lives!... Or a young man in a Campaign for a New Workers Party meeting in The Casa: he is pissed off with the Capital of Culture and wants to do something but he wouldn't call himself 'working class'...)
Fortunately it seems that the few 'creatives' in our movement in the past had been developing some really useful practices which treated their historical presence with respect, sense of continuity and imagination. One of their tools was the workers' inquiry (conricerca).
Workers' inquiry - to sense the time and initiate change?
The project of workers' inquiry can be the missing thing I mentioned at the beginning. Of course anything like 'initiating change' is a very big goal, an ultimate goal or rather aspiration.
We don't know what the change might be like, who would be its protagonists nor which direction it might take... The change itself is outside control of the people starting the conricerca process. However what should be under our control is our very intervention. The goal of the conricerca intervention is political in a strategical sense. Political, because it aims to offer to working class people in this city a picture of their situation as a class. And strategical, because it aims to find and make people aware of the rips in the system where the weak links of capital production are, which can be transformed into struggles against capital. I think if we do not want to limit ourselves to a radical academic research (e.g. the book Merseyside in Crisis, 1980), we have to keep in mind not only the political content but at the same time the strategic spin of the whole process. This might be the hardest task in the inquiry because we are in a situation where there are no radical workers' or oppressed people's movements around and any strategic thinking is dismissed as 'extremist' even by the Left people. A lot of people are politically tired, feel defeated and/or are skeptical.
Despite this I think it is always possible to 'face reality' in a non-reductionist way, embracing the present contradictions and through balancing between them to move towards the 'in, against and beyond'. Even if we will not succeed to get 'beyond' for a second, we have a very real opportunity to find out and articulate how it feels to be 'in and against' in the time of Capital of Culture 08...
Workers inquiry – ideas on what to do...
- to start a study group on conricerca, theory of class composition, theory of value, global political economy/ capital flow, 'what's behind regenerations?'
- history of regeneration programmes in Liverpool and what is different now
- is there a relationship between the defeat of dockers' movement in 1998 and the start of corporate regeneration? what is the relationship?
- to gather information and research on regeneration from official sources
- to build a profile of employment structure in the city (selected areas): character and quality of work, related patterns of life
- to evaluate systems of social services and community development: mapping their integration into the commodified system, how the production of value spread across the 'public' sector in the city
- arts and regeneration: commodification, the role and limits of 'autonomous' spaces
- interviews/talks with working class people and the oppressed and their involvement into the inquiry: mapping potential spaces of rupture and conflict (so that the picture we will be offering will be their picture too, not just product of nights spent at our computers :-))
- existing fightbacks, new possibilities? (local communities and social networks, workplaces, minorities' issues, cultural and net spaces, reappropriations of public space/ creative interventions into street life... but beware not to fall into a single-issue activism)
- the everyday culture of 'apolitical' working class people (questions like: is the situation around Liverpool FC situation political? opportunities for action, supporters networks...?)
- to look at the new organisation of space from the point of view of power and control
- regeneration and the price of land – the impact on rents
- discourse analysis of regeneration: what the vocal critics have to say (e.g. artists, campaigning residents, the Left...?)