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Issue 2 - February 1972
Marx - Groucho Style
In a December edition of Socialist Worker, David Widgery, the present editor of Oz, tried to show that the revolutionary poet William Blake should be remembered for far more than his hymn Jerusalem. Blake was also one of the very few Englishmen of the late eighteenth century who supported the French and American 'revolutions' (although he soon realised that these revolutions were not quite what they were heralded to be) and adamantly attacked, until pressurised into other more 'spiritual' directions, capitalist rationality and legalism, racialism, bourgeois morality and the alienation imposed by urban capitalism.

But, by skilfully encapsulating Blake's view of the world within an orthodox socialist perspective, and by labelling Blake as the first revolutionary socialist, Widgery not so skilfully succeeds in missing the very essence of Blake's work. Does Widgery really believe that Blake would not condemn the evils of socialist urbanism as vehemently as those of capitalist urbanism?

The essence of Blake's genius lay in his ability to transcend all 'isms', including nineteenth century orthodox socialism. The theme of his work can be found in Jerusalem itself.

To Govern the Evil by Good... and abolish Systems."

For Blake the rigid and mechanistic interpretation of the universe, with its concomitant spiritual, intellectual, physical and cultural oppression was the sole and all-encompassing enemy of Life.

Solely feeling Blake's own view, and not applying one's own perspective to his work, this must mean he was opposed to all organised systems of action. As he says in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell',

"Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without Improvement are roads of Genius."

In the last issue of Muther Grumble I said that the Left in Britain and Europe has failed to offer any serious revolutionary opposition to the establishment because it has failed to realise that the conditions and prerequisites for revolution have changed since the days of Marx. A straightforward Marxist analysis of society is now far from sufficient.

Of course, if we disagree with them, orthodox socialists will retort either that we have false consciousness, or that although the revolution has not yet happened, it will inevitably do so at a later date (the date of which is of necessity frequently postponed). Radical youth is at present ineffective because, although many have seen and experienced the new realities and possibilities which are outside the limits of the technocratic world view, which are therefore defined by the technocracy as fundamentally irrational, nevertheless they are still operating within the traditional political framework of the nineteenth century.

This seems true for the complete spectrum of left-wing organisations in this country from the Angry Brigade through International Socialism to the International Marxist Group. It is time that the Left arose from their dustbins of history and awoke to the new conditions of 1972. Marx himself said that "the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem to be engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something entirely new, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxious conjure up the spirits of the past to their services and borrow from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and borrowed language."

The content of Marxism, which was so liberating in the context of the newly emerging industrial states of the nineteenth century, is now myopic and conservative in the context of advanced industrial states. As Blake says in 'Milton',

"For the Chaotic Voids outside of the Stars, which are the boundaries of Kingdoms, Provinces and Empires of Chaos invisible to the Vegetable Man."

In his recent book 'Orthodox Consensus and Radical Alternative", Dick Atkinson says that "... the dominant elements in Marx and Marxism are incapable of understanding society ... Marxism is, therefore, at least as responsible as those it attacks for the lack of conflict and radical activity in contemporary social kaleidoscopes. It is the arrogance of certainty, and the terminology, which cut off from political activity all those who in modern societies hanker for some kind of alternative, for some personal extension of control over their lives."

Atkinson says that the scope of Marxists for the radical change which they insist upon is as limited as their unfeeling criticisms of prevailing kaleidoscopes and their insensitive assumptions about what moves real people. Contemporary social life can be understood as a variety of beautiful colours and forms, made grotesque only by the accumulating actions of particular men and particular action-classes.

Brightly coloured patterns exist.

"The point is not just to construct an alternative means of interpreting them by recognising their relation to the actions of men, but, also, to seek to shape and colour our future lives more vividly. The variety and beauty contained in such colours is like the rainbow." But, unlike the rainbow, they can be grasped.

Perhaps the most important preconditions of human freedom are material; these preconditions now exist in the West, albeit in a very unequal distribution, and the questions that now remain to be solved are how to redistribute these materials equally, and how actually to achieve a state of freedom. There appear to be three essentials for a liberated society.

First, is the reorganisation of the ownership and consumption patterns of the produce of advanced technology. This requires the nationalisation of all industries without compensation, the abolition of private property and ipso facto of the rent system, consumption for use and not for profits, control of work situations by the people in those situations, the scrapping of the war machine, and a greater concern with such problems as interest free aid to underdeveloped countries, the cleansing of the air we breathe and the land we walk on, the creation of a viable ecology.

Second, the achievement of these ends by means of unstructured ad-hoc groups, actin spontaneously. Here the role of groups like the Claimants' Unions and squatters is very important. But remember, the type of revolutionary group to which you belong will be the type of society that you create. If you want to substitute one elite for another, to set up new leaders in the shoes of the old ones, then join the nineteenth century Marxist groups.

Finally, and back again to William Blake, there is the liberation of the human spirit. Blake's message was that the gulf between the material and spiritual levels of the members of a society which was just beginning to show a huge increase in the production of material goods, was far too great, that this was the great void between Reason and Energy which stifled Life, which placed man in a mental straightjacket.

Blake's theme was always the liberation of the human spirit from systems, and this was the unifying link between the early political revolutionary and the later Christian visionary. There are many realities. Each man has his own internal reality, and relates and interrelates with the realities of other men.

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And Heaven in the Palm of your Hand
And Eternity in an Hour."

Piere Beirne