Dusk Somewhere

"Seeing Red" intro speech

Posted at — May 6, 2024 by Izzy Meckler

This past Saturday (May 4th) we held the first event in a new series called “Seeing Red”. I opened the event with a speech describing the aim of the series. This speech is reproduced below, unfortunately absent all the ad-libbed comments and jokes I made in person.

Seeing Red is a new lecture series for building towards a non-denominational small c communist public culture in the bay: We will be bringing in thinkers that we think our movements can learn from, and who we think have something to learn from us.

Today we will have an exchange with Vincent Bevins, about his book – If We Burn – which covers the protest movements of the 2010s. To sum it up, those protests had mixed results and generally speaking did not achieve their initial stated aims.

The broad lesson I would take from the book sounds pretty obvious but it is: in the absence of legitimate left structures of coordination and a strategy for relating to the state, a disruption to the status quo will not result in positive change. It will merely provide an opportunity for the forces which are coordinated to reconfigure the status quo according to their interests. Someone will take advantage of any political disruption. If we are not sufficiently organized to do it, it will be someone else.

To make these lessons actionable: the left currently lacks legitimate structures for coordinating our action, lacks a common cultural and theoretical vocabulary which could support such structures, lacks a shared idea of how to relate to the state, lacks a shared medium-term vision of what to replace this system with. Actually that is a little too binary – these things exist but they are relatively undeveloped.

Behind those lacks is a complicated history which we can’t get into right now.

In any case clearly we will have to build up all these things – structures of coordination, a degree of shared culture and vocabulary, a shared strategic orientation, not just in words, but in reality before there is any possibility of replacing the fucked up world we have now with the one we can see in our hearts and minds.

To start thinking about how we do that, and how Seeing Red relates to that project of reorganization I want to take a moment for us to orient ourselves. Who here considers themselves an enemy of the capitalist system? Who here is down with capitalism? OK you might be in the wrong place

We are all part of the same machine together, namely the capitalist machine. It’s made out of all our bodies and the roads and phones, schools, homes, shops, factories, airplanes, etc. This machine makes noise, it has a rhythm. It Is an evil rhythm that sounds bad.

This machine is going on humming, and it sounds different in different parts. If you’re a worker it sounds like this commute-work-(commute-relax-sleep). If you work from home it has this inescapable monotonous drone work-from-home-work-from-home. If you’re a capitalist, it has a sound which is initially pleasant but which drives you insane if you focus on it too long: Cha-ching-cha-ching-cha-ching. In a lot of the world its sound is arrhythmic explosion of bombs. From Marx we know these rhythms are all synced up with the drum-beat of capital accumulation – money, commodities, more money, more commodities.

Our bodies and psyches all have their own natural frequencies which differ substantially from those that the system is trying to shake us at. This discrepancy produces “unwanted” buzzings (unwanted from the idealized point of view of the capitalist mode of production).

For me this buzzing comes out in part as talking about communism, it comes out as a phone addiction, for someone it might come out as a unionization effort, for someone else it might be watching neo-Nazi Youtube videos for 10 hours a day, or watching makeup tutorials on Tiktok for 10 hours a day, a vague feeling something is wrong, anxiety, depression, hedonism. We’re all experiencing different parts of the same vibration, and due to our position with respect to that vibration and our own personal histories, we start buzzing in a particular way.

Of course this machine is not autonomous, it’s not really something external to us, it’s not an AI unconnected to anything human, that is driving this instrument (at least not yet). It is us, human beings, doing it to each other. I mean in the worst case you could imagine the capitalists build gun-toting drones to follow each of us around and force us to work, but we’re not there yet. So there is some hope in snapping out of it.

How do we do that? Well – on the left our idea is: let’s look at how this system is already making us vibrate, and then let’s see what we can do with that. Maybe we can do a small intervention to bring all those similar vibrations into closer alignment, get some sympathetic resonance going, so that they amplify each other in such a way that the aggregate motion actually acts against the evil rhythms and tones and start to produce new beautiful ones.

Like: Anyway we’re going to work, so we organize as workers there. Anyway we’re forced to pay landlords to stay in our homes, so we organize as tenants there. Anyway we’re looking to blow off steam from the week, and intellectually starved by capitalist culture, so we organize as revolutionary intellectuals and party people on Saturday night.

Why seeing red

One of then mechanisms that keeps this system going on making its noise, or probably any social system, is a notion of what is “common sense”. This constrains and regulates our behavior. The usual capitalist common sense says that getting up and going to work, maybe striving, buying nice things, etc., is the best way you can have a good life. This common sense is re-inscribed by aspects of daily experiences and also intentionally by the capitalist media, but it is now in crisis, as evidenced by the number of people in this room.

There is another common sense emerging: which says we are capable of much more than this, that we can have a much better world than this fucked up one, that that better world it has a name, which is communism, and the way we get there is by getting organized to fight and build together.

Per If We Burn, the development of this new common sense is not automatic — we have to help it along.

Our aim with Seeing Red is to strengthen this emerging common sense. We can do this by getting together in the same room (this one), having a shared cultural experience, bumping up against each other first mentally and later maybe on the dance floor to get that sympathetic resonance going, so we can all align our frequencies and vibrate hard enough that the machine bends into one that amplifies our beautiful natural frequencies instead of squashing them into its demonic tone.