We publish an English translation of this article by our comrades in Spain for the painfully relevant content that is presented here. The worst ills engendered by capitalism – impoverishment, starvation, malnourishment – are of a brute physical nature, but there is also the aspect of capitalism that engenders social alienation, the psycho-social degradation of the very subjective experience of the worker. We members of Gulf Coast Communist Fraction know all too well the social atomization concomitant with the everyday grind of life in the predominantly service-based economy of Southwest Florida that employs the mass of precarious workers. Precarious workers in Southwest Florida maintain the lawns of some of the most expensive properties in the entire United States, properties that are vacant for all but a few weeks due to being some multi-millionaire’s third or fourth piece of real estate, only for these workers to arrive to their own isolated living spaces spending their leisure time alone watching Netflix and consuming drugs. Precarious workers in Southwest Florida serve food, at essentially piece-rates, to the tables of some of the most profitable high-end restaurants located in some of the most expensive shopping districts that regularly attracts bourgeois tourists from everywhere, from the Northeastern United States to Germany; yet these workers are some of the most lonely people one could meet. Real estate and vacation magazines constantly rave about the Naples-Fort Myers area being a must-go vacation destination free of worries or hardships, the popular perception of this area is it being a little paradise detached from the reality of urban or suburban life in the United States. Tourists and “snowbirds” (a colloquial term coined by the local residents to refer to retired bourgeoisie who reside in Southwest Florida during the winter and go back to their homes in the North for the summer) find it hard to believe that any of the local year-round residents of this area, no matter how much of a precarious wage-slave, experience any hardship. However, any year-round resident of Fort Myers or Naples knows the first complaint they have of living here is the profound sense of boredom that plagues them everyday. With over half of residential neighborhoods being gated communities that threaten prosecution if an outsider from another neighborhood enters without proper authentication, an almost total absence of public space, lack of social activities that don’t involve eating at a restaurant or shopping at a store, even these available social activities only being afforded by the bourgeois tourists, Naples-Fort Myers doesn’t have a civil society. All there is to life here is commuting alone in one’s car from home to work to home to store to restaurant to gas station to drug dealer’s place back to home to do it all again. The personal car is the true home of the precarious worker in Southwest Florida, and the commute is their primary social activity outside of work.
We also know very well that the situation described is not unique, and it becomes increasingly apparent that the mind-numbingly artificial malaise that defines life in Naples and Fort Myers is a foreshadowing of the capitalist future to come. This is why, in a sense, we do view our daily activity as communists as resisting the social alienation that blinds us to our class character of human solidarity.
Gulf Coast Communist Fraction
Loneliness? The Communists Don’t Know That
At the time of early workers’ socialism-the Icarian communists in France and the League of Communists in Germany-the social life of the communist militant was intense. The tradition of banquets, inherited from republicanism, was followed by picnics, meadow parties that mixed family leisure, discussion and political formation. In one of the few successes of “The Young Marx”, it shows how Marx and Jenny know Proudhon and Bakunin in one of these Icarian festivals outside Paris. The film, on the other hand, does not show by a long shot what was the daily life of the League workers, whom it reduces to extras and human decoration. The truth is that they were far from it. At the end of the day’s work he stayed to smoke and drink a beer discussing the day’s newspapers, which were bought in common. The famous second congress of the League in which the Communist Manifesto was approved was preceded by months of correspondence between members from all over Europe, meetings and long discussions. And when it was finally held in the “Red Lion” – a hotel/pub in Soho that is still open as a cocktail bar – it lasted for three full days of intense and passionate debates. The importance its members attached to their commitment can be measured not only by the brutal work of preparation and prior debate, but also by what it meant for a worker at the time to travel to London and give up his salary for an indeterminate period… if he was not stopped along the way.
We can imagine the atmosphere of the communist meetings by the accounts of the assistants, for which such trips were great adventures that they described in letters and chats to their companions to the return. Thus we know, for example, that when the delegates to the meeting of Sant Martin in the Fields in which the First International will be born arrived at the sidewalks in which they would work those days, they found a bag of tobacco and two pints of beer. A workers’ congress was a space of fraternal relationship, of listening and reflection. A place where class consciousness developed. That is why the miserable tricks and conspiracies of Bakunin and his sect generated so much violence in the great majority of workers’ representatives. It was the first warning of how poisonous the decomposition of the petty bourgeoisie would become for the communists.
If we go to the Second International, with its weekly assemblies, its workers’ schools, its athenaeums, its village houses, its songbooks… it is really hard for us to imagine to what extent the independent political expression of the class mobilized around a whole form of socialization that multiplied the workers’ struggle and its political representation in every aspect of life. These “little things” help us to understand more than a century, and a few defeats away the deep relationship with the workers party of millions of workers, the drama of the betrayal of social democracy and the strength of the militant behaviors of the revolutionary epoch that followed.
All this that academics today call “worker sociability,” all those “little things,” that experience of fraternity, intellectual self-improvement and continuous political development that socialist life offered, were generators of meaning in the life of each militant.
Small things, without great things abound in human life. But in History, one never achieves great things without small things. More exactly: small things, in a great epoch, integrated into a great work, cease to be “small things”.
This does not mean at all that it was easy or that it even had an understanding of the environment, especially in countries such as Spain, where the proletariat was weak not only numerically. Juan José Morato – a typographer who was a witness, militant and historian of the first PSOE – tells us that in 1882
“The seed from which the General Union of Workers would be born [developed by] widening the sphere of personal relations of the socialist nuclei (…) Not strong nuclei, but rather as an agglomeration of few friends and supporters, all humble mechanical workers, who were always faced with the hostility of the anarchists, the disdain of the Republicans and what was worse, the indifference of the working masses.”
To read Morato is to discover the slow decanting, the almost heroic intellectual effort of those workers who could barely access and even less translate, the European Marxist texts and who had to sustain the effort between repression, forced migrations and the most absolute scarcity. It took them years to get their own weekly newspaper. They never aspired to anything other than self-financing – an obvious thing for an organization that considered itself revolutionary – and little by little they built around it a fabric that pivoted on the “houses of the people”, raised and financed by the meager salaries of the militants themselves.
We can imagine the pride and sense of fortitude given to them by those buildings, modern and beautiful, erected with their own hands and that rivaled the casinos of the provincial chiefs and even, in the capital, with the Circle of Fine Arts of the Republican bourgeoisie. And let’s not talk about literacy campaigns, kindergartens, conferences, i.e. the “little things” next to the resistance boxes and, from a certain moment on, political representation. The life of the militant worker was a life sacrificed by definition, often risky and always hard. But it was full of meaning, collectively and individually. It was exalting and involved the worker from day one in a process of personal improvement, formation in community and permanent collective discussion in which he went from learning to read to write and even to know the rudiments of the art of printing.
Without this school of the Second International it is difficult to understand, for example, how the rank and file militants of the Bolshevik party who maintained the organization and defeated the first great counterrevolutionary attempt, the Kornilov coup, confronted the leadership of the party and coinciding, without knowing it, with what Lenin defended from his Finnish isolation. Isolation that, on the other hand, was only physical, since it did not stop sending letters and criticisms to the Central Committee of the moment.
The experience of communism has always been, from the origins of the movement, the opposite of the petty bourgeois ideology, destined for individual consumption, reducible to “experiences”, aesthetics and attitudes. The activity of the communists has been, even in the worst moments, collective learning and debate. We see it in the testimonies we have left of the worst moment of repression of the counterrevolution, the famous “Midnight in the century”. Even the communists of the generation that lived the most dramatic moments of the defeat of the class and the exile, resumed and reconstructed the militant activity creating collective routines of study, criticism, discussion and intervention, no matter how modest the means and adverse the conditioning factors. If there is one thing the communists have not suffered, it has been individual loneliness.
What About Today?
Today more than ever, capitalism denies us as a class in all its ideological manifestations with the crushing force of its media machine. The union of guilty and denying ideology, crushed in every minute of radio and television, with the precarization of work and life imposed by historically and economically exhausted capitalism is a real machine of atomizing and crushing. That is why the first act of effective consciousness, now as always, is to come together, study and recover the theory and history of our class and begin to understand and analyze reality with these instruments.
We invite you to do what all the generations of communists who preceded us did every day: read the world’s available press. To make it more accessible to you, we put it on your mobile phone through our Telegram channel. They are tools, information, and a minimum framework so that you don’t get too lost in it. Because what is important comes later. The first collective element: the conversation -public or private, whatever is most comfortable for you- on twitter and facebook.
The long dozen of us who walk in and around the daily elaboration of this blog and the news channel are very geographically dispersed. But we always go with the open conversation on the mobile. As we said, if there is one thing that we communists never suffered, it was individual loneliness.