Contribution to the Panel

Well, here’s my line. First I'll state what may appear to be the obvious, then I'll show you how I'm against the stream.

We can only build a new society by working together and learning how to collaborate with people, despite the fact that we all have different theories of history and different beliefs. That’s obvious, isn’t it?

And I'm not saying that because I believe that the truth will out and the party with the true and correct program will eventually come to be seen as the bearer of truth and the masses will gradually gather around its banner. On the contrary.

We are all necessarily wedded to our own particular theories, because in fact you can’t work without that. You certainly can’t go out and work for a better world without some vision of what you're fighting for and some theory which you use to coordinate your activity.

But you have to recognise that at the end of it you may have to let go of whatever it is you believe in. And if you haven’t suffered any disappointments or shocks in the past, to prepare you for that, then that’s a pity, because you're going to get that in the future. You don’t know what’s going to happen. And if you're any good, you don’t know what you're going to believe in at some future date.

But it is a fact that we can collaborate in common projects despite the fact that we have different theories, so long as we have a common goal that is big enough to support a project, like S11 or running a candidate in an election or whatever.

Now, that common activity is very important, because if we're talking about organising something, about working out slogans and about where to put your body on the line and how to bring lots of people into the thing, then we're going to have to participate in a common activity system of some complexity, and that’s going to get into us. We're going to have to create an activity system — if you don’t mind me using that word, because obviously I'm trying to make a point here — on the basis of what we all believe in, taking into account everyone else’s ideas, or at least their actions, we're going to build something quite new and participate in that. We're going to challenge ourselves if we want to do something that we can’t do just on the basis of our own ideas.

Now isn’t it inevitable that we're going to change ourselves by doing this? Aren’t we going to create situations where we are engaged in an activity that is beyond our own understanding? Isn’t this bound to change our way of thinking?

Isn’t this common activity then the basis for a new ideal?

So it seems to me that this new movement which hasn’t got a name is a kind of collaboration, so you can see the value in making a study of how consciousness is formed by collaboration, not by controlling other people, or by pumping out information or solving scientific problems but by collaboration.

But the thing is, that this collaboration, up till now at any rate, can only take place by people agreeing not to talk about ideals, by not criticising other people’s ideals and not promoting your own ideals. Talking is for making concrete arrangements or at best for providing information. Not for promoting or disseminating or battling over ideals.

That makes sense of course, because as soon as we start arguing over ideals, the whole thing falls apart. I don’t believe in the same thing as you do, I might agree with you about blockading the Casino, but I don’t do so for the same reason. I might agree about what should happen next Monday, but I disagree with you about what happened 70 years ago and that may be very important to each of us, strange as it may seem.

So we keep quiet about our ideals, while we're busy creating the material foundation for a new ideal, namely a new shared activity system.

But how long can this go on?

This is where I have to part company with conventional wisdom. You can’t build a new society without a shared ideal.

But there’s a huge contradiction within this. Bourgeois society is the ground of what we're fighting against. I mean capital. I happen to believe that you can’t defeat capital without absolutely eradicating the money relation altogether. Now I don’t need anyone else to agree with me on that. There are still lots of people who think it’s OK for the proletariat and the big bourgeoisie to carry on with large scale manufacture so we can all have our computers and cheap industrial products, while a certain percentage of the population can lead a more human existence, provided only that the capitalists stop making war, destroying the planet and wrecking our lives. That’s something we can argue about over time.

Anitra pointed out in her talk that money is the organising principle of modern, i.e., bourgeois society. This is a great system. It’s a system that allows everyone to have their own ideals, their own beliefs, to do what the hell they like in fact, but money will sort it out. Money is an ideal and it gives us freedom. It’s a very special ideal that is both utterly abstract — it’s pure quantity, with all concrete nature abstracted out of it — but it’s objective, material, utterly indifferent to anyone’s opinion about it.

It’s the fact that everyone believes in this ideal — and it doesn’t matter how much of a socialist you are, you believe in it, because you have to earn a living in bourgeois society and you do what you have to do — everyone believes in it and allows money to organise their activity.

We use this external symbol, this ideal, to regulate our own social behaviour. But the fact is that it does a very bad job of it, that’s all, precisely because we have created an ideal which is utterly devoid of human content. Or more exactly, by putting everything human into monetary terms we have turned people into appendage of money, into objects, into non-humans.

But we have learnt to live in a global, infinitely developed division of labour. We have left behind us all the vestiges of traditional modes of existence. We don’t need to lean on the handrail to walk any longer, we don’t need the map to find our way around. We are capable of organising our lives without money. And all these social experiments which people get involved in are explorations of the problem of living without money, of living intentionally.

But we can’t do it without a shared ideal. We can’t replace the rule of capital with a vacuum. And I don’t believe we can do it without introducing the new ethic which is required into what I could call the mainstream of the social division of labour.

And for this, one of the most important discussions which has to happen is that discussion between those old socialists who have hung on to their ideals through the difficulties of the past few decades by working in the mass trade union movement, and those, mostly young, people who are working out new ways of working and living together in an explicitly idealistic, ethical way.

I call the new ideal “a world without money”. But that’s just a way of opening the discussion. I agree with one of the Christians who said at the N11 Conference that we must not rush to give our movement a name. I agree, but in the end it must give itself a name. A name which reflects what it is, when we can see that.