Last weekend, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I live in Intellectual Oxford and went to a lecture hosted by the Oxford Radical Forum. Sadly, I'd missed the feminism-focused day (although thinking on, this may have been a good thing - attend something like this and it's only a matter of time before someone gets all PoMo on your ass) and had chosen to attend what I now think of as "Why I can never be a Marxist" day.
The lecture itself, given by Gerry Cohen, was great. He's always good to listen to and knows how to engage an audience. It concerned the fact that Marxism *was* dead in its traditionally accepted form, because the working class (which is central to it) no longer exists in the form that Marx had thought it to exist then. Thus, if Marxism was to survive, it had to change its content regarding the working class. This is a terrible summary of the actual lecture, but doing it justice would take more space than is reasonable on a blog.
I began to have misgivings when I walked into the lecture room and found it dominated by SWP leaflets and pamphlets. Never a good sign. Nor that they'd advertised "Jerry" Cohen on the website, who is actually a completely different person. Indeed, the questions after the lecture indicated that:(a) the terrible stories about Marxist meetings are true - lots of people liking the sound of their own voice and getting impassioned about the fact that "we can rise up and defeat capitalism now!" which they can't (b) most of the people there were there to argue rather than actually listen and (c) the pomposity of Oxford Students is unbelievable. Oh the nostalgia...
(1) When someone took a pamphlet about beating capitalism from the rack and the SWP lady raced after him and told him they weren't free, they cost £1.00, with a completely straight face. Communism for those who can afford it, apparently.
(2) The man who claimed, as a deputy head teacher, he experienced the same exploitation as the workers did in the factories Marx and Engels observed. Yeah, I'm thinking not, theoretically or literally.
(3) The Oxford Radical Forum t-shirts for sale had a design on them that looked like it had been hugely influenced/stolen from the modernist movement, who - incidentally - were the artists of choice for many fascist movements.
(4) Singing "Solidarity forever" and realising that I am deadly afraid of earnestness in all its forms. I can't sit in a room full of middle class students with expensive hair cuts, all singing seriously about the workers without wanting to be swallowed up by a huge hole in the ground. It felt rather like being immersed into a cult, which is rather too much first thing on a Saturday morning when slightly hungover.
Leaving the lecture, I felt like I'd managed to be a horrible, capitalist pig (as I dialed the SO to tell him all about it) and at the same time terribly sad, because somewhere deep inside, I would really love to be earnest and a communist. Sort of. You know what I mean.
Anyway, "solidarity forever" has been going round my head pretty much continuously since that point, especially when coming up against the gross incompetence of FGW. Perhaps there's hope for me yet...