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Hope as a Vice

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Writing by William Lewallen-Jordan. Artwork by Annie Whiteson.

As the last of the warm summer air left and we all stepped into the beginnings of Autumn on 23rd September, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, released his ‘mini-budget’ to disastrous effect. The caps on banker’s bonuses were scrapped, conditions around benefits were tightened, corporation tax was cut and new legislation was proposed to inhibit expeditious strikes. This saw the pound fall below the dollar for the first time in history leading US rapper 50 Cent to announce that we should refer to him as ‘1 Pound’. Insult to injury was added by those who profited of this disastrous event for the national economy by shorting the pound. Recently Home Secretary Suella Braverman said it was her “dream” to have a Telegraph front page showing a successful deportation flight to Rwanda. Let’s face it - the list of reasons to be pessimistic about our current state of affairs is long and distinguished.

Yet in amongst the darkness there are reasons to be hopeful. In May last year Kenmure Street in Glasgow was the site of an overwhelming victory for community and decency. Residents stood together in an 8-hour stand-off with Police to stop the deportation of two local men. The battle of Kenmure has reinvigorated community anti-raids groups with deportations being stopped across the country. That said the biggest source of joy has been without a doubt the revival of the labour movement. The resurgence of strong unions driven by their members led to a summer of strikes which saw the largest industrial action in the UK for nearly 40 years. With winter coming into the horizon when the cost-of-living crisis is going to dig its teeth in even further and more ballots being opened for strike action, the stage looks set for a winter of class antagonism.

It is in these moments however, when the oppressive grey cloud of stasis is beginning to break and the possibility for change looks real, that we must not fall into a politics of hope. Spinoza in the Ethics wrote that “There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope” for they are both passive affects. Affects that flow from an incapacity to act upon the world and as Mark Fisher once wrote, “the condition of hope is passivity.” It is in moments like these that we should strive for confidence, which is understood by Spinoza as “a joy arising from the idea of a past or future object from which cause from doubting is removed.” In the current moment I would adjust this slightly as I feel it is not hope that is the dominant passive affect. Rather it is a discontent which has begun to crystalize out of a frustration that has been building after a decade of Tory austerity. Yet, this discontent remains passive. Acting alone, no matter how angry one is, will never lead to change. In the words of the General Secretary of the RMT “It’s no good being pissed off – we need organisation.”

Duhkha, the Buddhist term for suffering, is understood as a longing for things to be other than they are. I have often wondered how this is compatible with agitating for a progressive, emancipatory politics which stands vehemently opposed to the existing state of affairs. How can one do the latter without entering the despair of Duhkha? It seems that this is inevitable for the only way to avoid it would be to bury your head in the sand. But it is not the case that this suffering is all our emotional pot comprises of. This sadness is counterbalanced by the joys of solidaristic struggle. There are some struggles that are worth joining even if you were to know that you would die at the hands of your oppressors. One joins the fight not merely to realize the goal but to fight for the sake of each other. We demonstrate not only our commitment for a worthy cause but our commitment, and the value this encodes, to sacrifice for one another. Moreover, it is a necessity that we face a current arrangement that makes us suffer as joint action to overcome some trivial adversary does not yield these joyous affects.

Antonio Gramsci in his letter from prison in 1929 hit the nail on the head when he wrote that what we need is a pessimism of the intellect and an optimism of the will. We need a collective mind which is attuned to the reality of our position which is contingently weak, whilst at the same time having a positive will. Yet we ought not derive this positive will from passive appeals to hope, some external force. Rather we should look to one another. Joint struggle enables mutual aid which promotes trust which in turn strengthens those bonds that bind us together. This is a real cause for optimism.

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