Empire on Lenin - The 'burbs

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Wed Dec 12 19:42:37 MST 2001

--- Message Received ---
From: Victor <vrosado at ic.sunysb.edu>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 12:46:36 -0500
Subject: Re: Empire on Lenin - The 'burbs

Victor: "Riffing on this point, I was wondering how does the rise of the suburb, if
at all,  have in aiding in the 'scattering' of workers.  Someone once told
me that there is no such thing as the working class, because people don't
work and live near factories (?).  And yet I live in between at least 3 huge
industrial parks! And of course my father has to wake up at 3:30 in the
morning to go to work in the city, commuting 2 hours round trip each day.
Also there is some kind of myth floating around that if you live in Long
Island you are middle class or rich."

"What are the political implications of this problem? In other words, how do
you mobilize people and organize when they got to drive everywhere and live
1-3 hours from the major city centers?  I think a ton of practical problems
emerge that no one I know of has begun to address."

"I was wondering if there are any good books on this issue.  If not, I'll
write one some day.  Someone contact Verso for me."

Victor, thanks for raising this and I only wish I knew some books to recomend.

In the early 1980's I spent some years with a small communist cell trying to politically organise in Sydney's sprawling Western Suburbs. We had some small success and failures, but in the end the whole thing was swept away by interfereing left forces from the "inner city". In the short period of our collective work we saw some real problems emerge that were difficult if not impossible at that time to address. One aspect of these problems was that it pushed us more and more to actively use computers as part of our agitation (early days in computer technology) - in effect we were blindly groping towards better communication as a part solution to the political problems we faced.

The suburbs are actually alive with all soughts of quasi-political struggles that are often very hard to see as such. I suppose when workers walked to work and lived together, class consciousness and political direction was easier to see. Not so in the suburbs.

In the suburbs all the social problems cram up against each other in no particular order, while the connection between groups of niegbours and workplaces is practically non-existent, while the interaction between living areas and workplaces (such as industrial parks) are apparently completely ghettosied except when the activities in these parks begin to infringe on living spaces (often in the form of polution etc).

What we did find after a while was that quasi-political activity could be found in almost every aspect of social life, whether this was childcare, health, homelessness, dealing with unions in workplaces, community needs and planning - etc etc. The first problem was there was too much to deal with and too much that required interconnections which we could not supply. In otherwords we found ourselves external to these activities and only able to contribute in the broadest way. Even so simply being present as an uncompromised political group we began to accumulate contacts and eventually asked to intervene in small matters where we could. All this was in its infancy and it took years to establish, unfortunately just as we started to go anywhere the whole thing was sidetracked and destroyed (partly by our own stupidity).

The conclusions we reached (and are still reaching though our correspondence has now dwindled) is that rather than narrow little struggles what we saw was the primary basis of broad democratic struggles. However, what killed this maturing politically was a lack of political resources, especially political communications but also simple things like reading material. Branch organisied political parties cannot really cope with the broad questions daily raised in the suburbs, by the time a particular problem is pared down to something managable, all the resources go into it and the 99 other critical struggles which have emerged in that time are passed over.

On the other hand a cell like structure worked pretty well but was extremely limited at the same time. Ideally the suburbs require the ability to spawn political cells while placing them into a network of other cells and in possession of the resources for self-eductaion and agitation. even a small cell does not necessarily have members which share any definite political struggle (even when made up of friends, sometimes even relatives). The trick would seem to be to allow people the opportunity of knowing what is going on and the right to choose which particular activity they wish to contribute to.

It came down to making available multi-lateral communications where the resources and people in struggle could meet (ie in cyberspace) and then link up practically on the ground (dissolving or comming together on the basis of the ebbs and flows of actual struggle). We concieved then of a structure based around computers and we waited for the technology to mature (we are still waiting), for the demands of this type of organisation are complex both technically and politically.

All this is probably no earthly good to you, but I do believe that the suburbs far from being a lost cause point to a form of organisation and political practice far different to the traditional type. Consider this one problem:

A worker lives 20 minutes from the workplace as do practically all those workers hence they could be spread about an enormous area and rarely see each other except at work. Which means all those conversations which lead to old style class consciousness can only take place at work breaks. Likewise dealing with a bureacratic union (whose officials tend to live in each others pocket) means that the workers are at a constant disadvantage both with the bosses and with sometimes backward unions (where they exist) themselves.

Even when on-site militant organisations exist in a workplace (and I have been involved in a few) the stresses of maintaining it when each meeting requires travelling back and forth for an hour, at a time determined by shift breaks does grind things down (how often I hated such meetings for robbing me of rest, especially when little happens, or most of the others don't turn up).  Technically nine tenths of such meetings are redundant, most if not all could be carried out via electronic communications, what is more the same medium might also have the needed extra resources available.

Suburban life is not conducive to traditional political organisations - but as far as I know no-one has addressed this at all.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

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