Reclaim the future? An idea whose time has come

This weekend radical activists from across Britain will come to the capital to debate, discuss and plan for a future beyond the dead end of austerity.

This Saturday radical activists from across the UK will converge on Queen Mary University in London for Up the Anti – Reclaim the Future, a day of critical debate and reflection, seeking to bring together a plurality of ideas and experiences from activists and writers on the left concerned to shape a future world.

Since the financial crisis broke in 2008 we have seen a veritable whirlwind of instability, social movement mobilisation, and a pervasive uncertainty about what the future holds. For activists involved in these movements at times it has felt like a new left is being born – only to then seemingly evade our grasp.

It is perhaps little wonder, then, that the meaning of a simple intellectual idea, Mark Fisher’s Capitalism Realism – the widespread belief there is no alternative to capitalism – has resonated across broad swathes of the activist left, as a problematic to be confronted and overcome, if we are to realise radical change.  

Given this backdrop the naming of the event is no coincidence, but for those of us who got behind it at an early stage, it was a conscious choice to actually put on a day of politics that could cohere links strong and durable enough to up the anti and reclaim a future from the seemingly unending abyss of neoliberal decline.

It might be argued that talk of reclaiming the future is hopelessly abstract, somehow not fully meaningful to the practical tasks that movements face. And there also an understandable fear of yet another meeting that makes no difference. Yet, there are in fact very few forums that bring together a plurality of groups, campaigns, collectives, publications, and websites on the left, to address these “big questions” of our time in a climate of spirited and fraternal dialogue.

Perhaps a well-trodden phrase should be slightly recast; if we don’t discuss the future, then we are condemned to repeat the past. In the same spirit, I recently came across an extract from Victor Serge’s Unforgiving Years, that captures perfectly how we need to connect are present struggles to our future aspirations:

The end justifies the means – what a swindle. No end can ever be achieved by anything but appropriate means. If we trample on the man of today, will we do anything worthwhile for the man of tomorrow?

Widely regarded as one of Serge’s bleakest novels, the story is heavily influenced by the distortion of the socialist dream that he had so fervently aspired to. But these words not only provide a powerful ethical critique of the Stalinized communism of the last century, they also opens up a whole terrain of criticism of how our contemporary society has ceased to even discuss a progressive future.

After the financial crisis, neoliberalism has been in large part characterised by the absence of future dreams. No one seriously dreams about a future neoliberal Britain of rising universal prosperity, let alone talks about it. With policy apparently gutted of any kind of ideological inflection and instead articulated as a purely technical series of responses to market exigencies, neoliberalism can promise nothing, so long as it can convince us it is “the only game in town”. The swindle isn’t that the end always justifies the means, it’s that there’s no end anymore; there’s no future that we might aspire to beyond permanent austerity.

If you don’t believe this is the case and want to persuade others a different future is possible, then come and discuss how at Up the Anti on Saturday 1st December.

Up the Anti takes place at the Bancroft Building, Queen Mary University, Mile End, London, this Saturday 1st December 2012. It is sponsored by Occupied Times, New Left Project, Ceasefire, Anticapitalist Initiative, IOPS, Independent Socialist Network, Globalise Resistance, Pluto Press, and Red Pepper. 

For more information and to book your tickets go to UptheAnti.org.uk.

 

About the author

Luke Cooper is a postgraduate student and associate tutor in International Relations at the University of Sussex, a supporter of the Anticapitalist Initiative, and co-author of Beyond Capitalism? The Future of Radical Politics (Zero 2013).