POSTED: October 3, 2018
From an article in Red Pepper by Keir Milburn that reflects on The World Transformed festival that ran alongside this year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool, and posits something called Acid Corbynism:
The coinage was inspired by Acid Communism, a book that radical theorist Mark Fisher was writing before his tragic and untimely death – but the precise relationship between Acid Corbynism and Acid Communism is yet to be pinned down. For me, the clue to solving this problem and by doing so addressing the questions above, is the phrase ‘On Postcapitalist Desire’, the subtitle of Mark’s book. To understand what Acid Communism might mean, and therefore how Acid Corbynism might relate to it, we must start from those desires, produced within contemporary society but whose fulfilment points far beyond the limits of a capitalist world.
Pinning down such desires is no easy thing. It requires us to identify the parts of our lives that are most cramped and constrained by capital’s drive to expand itself. Capitalism is a world in which our own needs and desires are subordinated beneath the drive to add another zero to an accounting sheet. Fisher’s book was partly inspired an attempt to spark a new wave of consciousness raising groups initiated by Plan C, a political group of which Fisher was a member and I still am.
Consciousness raising groups, which were the bedrock of the feminist movement of the 1970s, involve small groups of people meeting to discuss their lives and their problems. In doing so people come to realise they have similar problems and difficulties. In fact, the commonality of problems leads quite naturally to the conclusion that they must have structural causes and can’t be the result of individual failings as might previously be thought. From there we can recognize which of our desires can produce collective action to address them. Consciousness raising groups are machines for discovering post-capitalist, and post-patriarchal desires.
The example of 1970s feminist consciousness raising groups led Fisher to think about the other forms through which consciousness was being raised during that period. These include the heightened level of class consciousness derived not just from high levels of union membership and militancy but also its reflection in popular culture. In fact, the control exercised by working class and, lets be honest middle class, kids over the direction of popular culture and fashion was a powerful form of ‘psychic resistance’, as Bobby Gillespie once put it, against the indignities of class. In the 1970s, a working class hero was something to be.
It was amidst this stew of popular culture and politics that Fisher identified the impact of LSD as another form of consciousness raising, or in this case consciousness expansion. By this Fisher meant not just the direct affects that taking Acid had upon members of the New Left and the counterculture but also the more diffuse effects of psychedelia, which worked through pop culture to embed a notion that reality is plastic and changeable. The Beatles experiments with Acid, for example, led to a burst of sonic inventiveness which did as much to feed a feeling that a new world was being invented as did the change in their clothes and hair length.
From these examples, we can see how consciousness raising encompasses a series of functions. It involves identifying the structural causes of the social constraints that are placed on your life. In addition, it involves the feeling of increased confidence and capacity that comes with seeing yourself as part of a powerful collective actor rather than an isolated individual. And it also includes that expansion of social and political possibility that comes when what is presented as necessary and inevitable is revealed as merely contingent and therefore, in principle, as changeable.
Acid Communism is a politics that puts this last function first. It’s not a programme to be achieved or a final state to be reached; it’s the real movement of revealing and overcoming the premises now in existence with the aim of abolishing the present state of things. It’s an open-ended experimental communism that seeks the expansion of social and political possible beyond the limits imposed by capitalism.
…Acid Communism must be a movement that passes through different iterations. Expanding what seems possible cannot be a one-time deal. Instead each expansion of freedom allows you to see further. Indeed, Acid Communism involves the widening and democratisation of freedom, as ever more people are given the confidence, material security and free time to explore what freedom means. The counterculture of the 1960s and 70s can be reinterpreted on this basis as a mass exploration of new ways of living. In distinction, the neoliberal era can be seen as a period of consciousness deflation or depletion. The reduction of life to a single model, Homo-Economicus. Indeed, Mark Fisher had begun to redefine his concept of Capitalist Realism along these lines, as a conscious project to undermine both the material basis and psychological resources upon which raised consciousness depends.
Do I believe this? I don’t quite know. I want to but I will need to think (and feel) some more before I decide.
Seconds later: yes I do, but don’t quote me on that. Yet.