‘Race of Abel, fill up your arks / The flood is coming. Flee!
Race of Cain, your Christ, your Marx / haven’t set you free.
Race of Abel, there is one bother:/ money can’t bribe death.
Race of Cain, kill Big Brother/ and distribute his wealth.’
It is thus that poet Niall McDevitt revisits Abel and Cain 150 years after Baudelaire in the first issue (Winter 2012) of the Strike! Magazine: twenty-four pages (in a trendy half-Berliner format, a là G2) of ‘politics, philosophy, art, subversion and sedition’ that go under the unmistakable title of The f*cked issue. In fact, conciseness and immediacy are the watchwords here: ‘Twenty-volume folios will never make a revolution. It’s the little pocket pamphlets that are to be feared’, we are told by the editors (this is a quote from Voltaire, according to Google).
The first thing to... strike (apologies for the pun!) the reader is the strength and quality of the design. This magazine is provocative and inflammatory (as is the impressive photo by Adrian Nettleship on page 3, a sort of visual manifesto, one may argue), but it is really trendy and sleek too (and, believe it or not, despite the huge amount of coloured ink splashed on the front and back cover pages, your finger tips are not going to get dirty while holding this catchy magazine!).
One of the merits of Strike! is that it overturns the traditional attitude of the Western left for which written words are given priority over visual materials. Here photos, illustrations and artworks occupy as much space (and are as topical) as the written texts, creating a unique ambience: radical ideas are not just discussed, but visually conjured. This is the case, for example, of the iconic representation of ‘individualism’ given by John Hoppy Hopkins. The true nature of the oppressor is unveiled in an emotional, rather than analytical way, as in the grotesque portrayal of The debt collector by Ralph Steadman (which seems reminiscent of the Pillars of Society http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_image.cfm?image_id=4253 painted by George Grosz in Weimar’s Germany). The message can be reduced to the snappy (and yet liberating) ‘Fuck neoliberalism’ in the collage on page 23. My favourite artwork in the magazine is perhaps Peter Kennard’s: a pair of wrinkled hands eating a few, sparse coins from an empty plate. What else has 21st century neoliberalism left us after all?
The strength of these visual materials does not mean, however, that Strike! is lacking of equally thought-provoking textual pieces. In F*ckonomics, mathematician David Orrell dissects the theoretical models (mostly derived from Newton’s rational mechanics, in his view) underlying neoclassical economic thinking. In the age of neoliberalism, ‘our sophisticated mathematical models have become part of the problem, not the solution’, he argues. According to Orrell, neoclassical economics rests on a number of wrong assumptions, most notably, the idea that human beings behave rationally in pursuit of the maximum utility, ignoring the fact that there might be a saturation point beyond which having more money does not make much of a difference. If it is difficult to disagree with Orrell’s analysis, the alternative model that he quickly sketches (‘a new theory’ in which we look at the world as ‘a living system’) sounds a bit nebulous (but this is just a 2-page article, in the end!).
The key issue of the alternative comes up again in Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism. According to Fisher, capital realism is one of the cornerstones of the capitalist order; that is to say, the belief ‘that there’s no alternative to capitalism’. New Labour was ‘the exemplary party of capitalist realism’, for ‘it conceived of its project as a matter of “adapting” to the reality that capitalism has already constructed’. Fisher points out that in his view the anti-capitalist movement should stop discussing why past revolutions failed and ‘claim the future back’ for itself. This also means becoming more plastic (that is, ‘being quicker’ than capital), and genuinely global (‘we need to make the planetary network an intelligent system that can act in the interests of the majority’).
A truly international Left cannot flinch from addressing the key issue of war. As Lindsey German points out in her Why war?, war has been an essential component of the neoliberal order that was established after the collapse of the USSR, from the first Gulf War to Obama’s drones. In order to justify their involvement in these (largely unpopular) conflicts, the British governments have actively promoted a ‘cult of the military’ which imbues mainstream media. The ‘cult of the red poppy’ is a case in point. However, German sharply notes, ‘if we remember how the First World War began, in jingoism and excitement, we should remember how it ended’, that is, in a revolutionary wave.
For all the aspiring radicals, Strike! includes an enlightening Decalogue of what they should not (or should they?) do, or be, in Nina Power’s Dissent: Do not Say No:
‘Don’t have the audacity to be any of the following things, or dare to participate in any sort of group while being it: young, black, Arab, Muslim, unemployed, not in school or protesting.’
If you are curious to know how miserable the life of someone who duly followed such principles to live a “respectable” life might be, you can read the short extract If Only I Was Fucked and Left Alone by Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming. I am not going to anticipate much, but note that the subtitle is An Ode to Escape ...
The issue closes with an imaginary debate between Dead Philosophers in Heaven, featuring (amongst others) Rousseau, Freud, Epicurus and Wittgenstein, in a discussion about what divine intervention they’d like to ask for. The debate is funny and witty, even though I am not quite sure that Karl Marx’s biggest wishes in the present situation would necessarily be ‘drop a big fucking rock on Angela Merkel’.
To sum up, there is quite a lot of food for thought (and the eyes) in this first issue of Strike! The approach of the editors is open and inclusive; the magazine hosts pieces that are politically quite diverse. This is at the same time its main weakness and its main merit, I would argue: it is not a coherent radical project that you will find sketched here, but a wealth of provocative, sizzling, dangerous ideas to think about and discuss.
In the parks, halls and public spaces around Kings Cross
David Harvey, Tariq Ali, Tony Benn, Owen Jones, Nina Power, Sanum Ghafoor, Andrew Murray, Laurie Penny, Lindsey German, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Paul Le Blanc, Terry Eagleton, Paul Gilroy and more...
By Lindsey German
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