Hitchhiking

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Wed Jul 30 05:10:36 MDT 2003


I started hitchhiking in the Easter holidays when I was 18, in 1977, in New
Zealand, Kate and me took off to the North Island, visiting Wilderlands
Commune in Coromandel, among others things. My older brother had long blonde
hair and was trying to raise a vegetarian dog, living in a garage on the
property of a Dalmatian anarchist market-gardener near Hastings, who liked
Rudolf Rocker. In Auckland, I took up with a girl called Fiona who trained
horses, her mother was a manager for Rank Xerox. What a sweet, ideosyncratic
innocent I was... life was full of magic in those days, Harry Potter was yet
unheard of. Fiona bought herself a pair of John Lennon sunglasses. I had
read Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land already, and I was reading
Wilhelm Reich and Arthur Janov at that time. Kate ended up as a homeopathic
consultant, maybe she's still there in London. Don't know what happened to
Fiona, maybe she became an artist or designer. My older brother had a
breakdown. I ended up at university.  I hitchhiked more after that, in New
Zealand, and occasionally in Germany and Britain. On the way to Ireland in
1995, the bus took off from a petrol station in Holland, leaving Ripeka and
myself standing there, causing an impromptu hitchhike to Antwerp.

Janis Joplin did this Kristofferson song "Me and Bobby McGee" (Joplin and I
were born on the same day, I realised later):

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train
And I's feeling nearly as faded as my jeans.
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just afore it rain'd,
It rode us all the way to New Orleans.

I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna,
I was playing soft while Bobby sang the blues.
Windshield wipers slapping time, I was holding Bobby's hand in mine,
We sang every song the driver knew.

Freedom is just another word, for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don't mean nothing, honey if it ain't free, na na.
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.

Lateron, in 1985, I had a debate with Geoff about the concept of the song.
"The idea that freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose is
bullshit", Geoff opined. "Yeah, why ?", I said, somewhat derisively, since I
didn't consider Geoff an authority on pop music. "Well", he said,"if you own
nothing, you aren't free, you are a slave, you are totally dependent on the
goodwill or mercy of others. You might think you are free, in some
subjective, individualist sense, like some anarchist does, but it is false.
This notion hinges on a concept of freedom as freedom from constraint, but
it is not a freedom to do anything, positively. The whole point is that the
condition of the working class means owning some personal property which
instills some sense of responsibility, and provides a capacity for social
action, for human development, which wins your own freedom, while at the
same time positing all the contradictions of freedom, because that lifestyle
is contingent on wage-labour for a boss.". But, I replied, this might just
as well make the working class very conservative, and wasn't he just
apologising for his own property ? Geoff got irritated, he said, "with my
house, my car, my wife and my PC, I have a material basis for engaging in
socialist politics for the long haul, whereas you wander around and don't
achieve anything much".

Geoff was very critical of Marxist prejudices against higher-paid workers,
because, he said, this prejudice involved a reductionist,
mechanical-materialist concept of class, which sought to infer a state of
political consciousness directly from the size of the paypacket or work
situation. "Whereas the resources higher-paid workers can access are very
necessary for our socialist project, and also, they have some brains and
sense of responsibility, which the students don't have." Geoff considered
people who have nothing would take risks, because they had nothing left to
lose ("but also get into crime and immorality") whereas rich people took
risks, because even if they lost money, they would still have some property
left over anyhow ("and they get into crime and imorality as well"). He
considered that the willingness of the working class to take risks was very
much materially determined, and cyclical in nature, with successive episodes
of conservatism and risk-taking, the risk-taking being conditional on losing
some of the gains they had previously won, driving them into a fight to
assert their interests. "As Marx says, people never ultimately give up the
things they have won." I was skeptical and cynical about it at the time, and
said so. Geoff replied, "ah yes, but there you have to take into account the
different generations - the new generation has no experience of the gains
made by the previous generation, and therefore doesn't comprehend what has
been lost, the lessons of the past often have to be learnt anew; which is
why we need a socialist party, providing the historical continuity that is
necessary for political learning."

After canvassing thousands of households in our amateur socialist election
campaign in 1987, in which he was the candidate and I the Liaison Officer,
Geoff and I walked through the electorate. "Hell", Geoff said, "Just think
of how long it will take before people here will wake up politically, before
their class consciousness will rise, this could take years, even decades."
We must have gotten about 286 votes with a team of about 20 people
canvassing at various times. I disagreed with Geoff, I said, you're just
orienting to the wrong people at the wrong time, and getting the sequence of
political tasks necessary for the formation of the party in the wrong order.
But he wouldn't listen to me. He was placed in a different position in life,
with a family to support and a mortgage to be paid off. He would say, "you
go and talk to your people, and I will talk to mine, people only attract
people who are like themselves anyhow."

In 1991, I found out that Denis Freney had actually hitchhiked through New
Zealand in the 1950s, but I could find no mention in his autobiography of
this. I wonder what Denis would have thought. Curious chap, was Denis.
Admirable though.  His problem was different from mine.

Funny how computer technology makes a lot of the experience of my generation
an historical anachronism...

Jurriaan






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