Living in a material world


There have been a number of times, following the catastrophe of losing Mark, that I’ve imagined I’m on a boat. Behind me is the place where I was married to Mark, the place where we lived the sweetest, loveliest and hilarious of lives together. Today, I feel that I have arrived somewhere new. Since last Thursday I’ve travelled by train from Madrid, to Valencia and then by car to little place in the hills near Oliva, returning to Valencia to spend some time walking, cycling and exploring the city before returning to Madrid. Yet amid all this motion, I have a distinctive sense of arrival. I am in a new place.

There’s a lot to learn about this new place and my life here. Echoes of my life with Mark still sound, I still miss him, ache for him, but I am learning to accept those echoes as if at the end of a stirring, emotional, at times achingly beautiful piece of music. I sit with those feelings, feel the astonishment that something, someone so wonderful was in my life, the sadness that it is over, the bewilderment of loss. But here also, I’m beginning to see the shape of the future, and find myself longing for it.

Whenever I read Paul Mason’s book Postcapitalism, I find I am making connections between his attempt to set out a way out of capitalism and my attempts to build a new life. I’m not sure if this is a valid response, and it’s something I want to look into more closely, but on the train from Madrid, I found myself almost shaking when I read this:

Today we have to learn to do positive things; to build alternatives within the system; to use governmental power in a radical and disruptive way; and to focus all our actions towards the transition path – not the piecemeal defence of random elements of the old system.

The socialists of the early twentieth century were absolutely convinced that nothing preliminary was possible within the old system. ‘The socialist system,’ `[Russian revolutionary and economist Yevgeni] Preobbrazhensky once insisted categorically, ‘cannot be built up molecularly within the world of capitalism.’

The most courageous thing an adaptive left could do is to abandon that conviction. It is entirely possible to build the elements of the new system molecularly within the old. In the cooperatives, the credit unions, the peer-networks, the unmanaged enterprises and the parallel, subcultural economies, those elements already exist. We have to see them as quaint experiments; we have to promote them with regulation just as vigorous as that which capitalism used to drive the peasants off the land or destroy handicraft work in the eighteenth century.

Reading those paragraphs again in the charming La China Mandarina, the call to focus on building the new system within the old suggests an outline of the things that will be important to me in this new landscape. What I sense too, is that having experienced devastation and loss, what I am learning as I rebuild my life could be useful as we seek to move from oppositional politics and begin building the new.

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