When I was thinking of Brad, his racist comment and his socio-political failure to understand the Occupy view (discussed in this blog), I used the term “political transcendence” – I have no idea whether there is usage anywhere although a search gave some uses. [I don’t know whether I will investigate other usage].
In this blog I want to try and relate this political transcendence with spiritual transcendence, and try to bring the two together. It is often the case that people end up choosing the spiritual path or the political path yet both paths are essentially the same if taken to conclusion.
Political transcendence has a clear meaning to me, and I would recognise people who made such transcendence. My intention in using such a term is not to create something mystical, would probably be refuted by those communists and working-class activists who have “transcended”, and would possibly not want to be associated with by those same people. But in the political arena such transcendence is important.
Let me begin with Trots. On occasions I have had cause to refer to the deep divisions between communists and Trots. It is something I experienced in the 80s, and I shall detail what happened. In London I was not political but became active in anti-racism as a consequence of seeing how the system under-achieved black students. Once I started work in Hove (1987) I did not have a focus group interest (black students), and began to apply my understanding to the wider population. This took me into international politics beginning with NGO groups, and I transitioned into trade union work, my main interest being the local TUC – I became secretary of the local Trades Council. Whilst in that position I saw that the contribution of the Trots was not constructive – instead of trying to reach an agreed view their tactics were to exclusively push their own agenda – all or nothing. However I attempted to work with them, and they attempted to use my position for their own agenda; at that stage it was workable. However I became attracted to Marxism, and eventually joined with some communists – NCP, the New Communist Party. Politically it was a mistake to have joined the NCP, but retrospectively I learned a great deal.
The Secretary, of Trades Council and of NUT, is a political figure attempting to bring people together – working together for the Trades Council or NUT. As soon as I joined the NCP I was rejected by the Trots who were then unwilling to work with me. But being in NCP I learned why Trots were dangerous so I could understand why such animosity exists. Basically it works like this. The fundamental purpose of socialist politics is to work together for the good of the mass movement. Marxism goes into detail to explain how the bourgeoisie exploits the proletariat, and mass movement politics is an attempt to overcome this injustice. The only way the bourgeoisie can survive is by buying off members of the proletariat to work against the interests of the rest of the proletariat. Working in mass movement politics is an attempt to unite all peoples to the commonality of their interests, and to work against exploitation by bourgeoisie – now known as 1%. It is within the context of this purpose that the division between communist and Trots developed.
With this agenda it is necessary to decide on an appropriate strategy. For the Trots they have many different groups and each group has its own agenda. Such agendas can be very specific, and on occasions it is minutiae (in my opinion) that divides them. However Trots demand their own agenda be taken up by the mass movement, and this is where I, personally – and communists in general – have disagreement with them. Determining a commonality within the mass movement requires a disciplined acceptance of what that mass movement wants and enabling it. I learnt this at Trades Council where as secretary I was responsible for implementing policy, and there were many times I had to implement policy I did not agree with. Discipline. Would Trots accept such discipline? In my view it was generally felt they didn’t.
Because I wanted to work within the mass movement becoming a communist was a mistake because it divided me from many people. Despite this, I do not at all regret joining the NCP because I met some good comrades, and they taught me a great deal about Marxism, for that reason I would recommend activists join them. However, at the time communism had many problems. In truth communism as a movement lived off the heyday of the Spanish War, it was like mixing with George Orwell heroes. Those guys have now died, but maybe their tradition lives on amongst those they taught – I hope it has. As my activism ended when I moved abroad, it mattered not that I had been separated.
However as a movement English communism is very hypocritical. It is highly critical of the Trots for their specific agendas, and yet less than 5000 English communists had split into three parties and the one I joined, the NCP, had something like 600 members nationally. Now I understand the reasons for the split, and would argue that the NCP were the genuine communists (hence why I joined them!!). But in truth as a party what was the point? Education, definitely; party, crazy.
Apart from this “Trottish” division there was at the time another major flaw, the party was sexist. It had as a policy that women should not be miners – something like that. The reason for the policy was that miners were exploited so why should women in their party be exploited by becoming miners. How paternalistic can you get; at worst it should have been a clearly-worded recommendation. Now I cannot remember which trades were included in this “miners” category, but it was shameful.
My worst experience as a member of the NCP was during the NUT conference. I was the secretary of my teachers’ association and therefore went to conference. NCP instructions were that I should join the Broad Left within the union, as that organisation was recognised as uniting the union by the NCP. At the end of conference, they had a disco which I duly (dutifully as I didn’t drink) attended. When I turned up I saw a sycophantic display of currying favour with the right-wing leadership of the union who were exploiting members; I felt like a traitor. Because teachers all had degrees they were intellectual and perhaps the most miseducated of the working-class; the NUT also contained a truck load of Trots called the Socialist Teachers’ Alliance. I remember conference as being a battle between the leadership and the Trots – interesting the first time. Every motion included the phrase “up to and including strike action”, and this phrase was argued for by the Trots and argued against by the leadership. The Trots were interested in socialism (their brand), and the leaders were only interested in membership with their subscriptions and ensuing leadership gravy train. My socialist heart was with the motions the STA proposed but I knew they were suicidal – any strike action just reduced membership and was therefore self-defeating. Interestingly I met my previous Head of Department who was a charismatic figure in the STA (maybe I will write in this blog one day about the battles I had with him as HoD but I don’t like being personal on my blog).
After receiving my education, I left the NCP and became non-aligned trade unionist, and remained active for a further two years before I left for Africa. My time as an activist was intense, and I have powerful memories. I had been spiritual first (not as a Buddhist), and underlying my activity was a feeling that people had the right to have time to be spiritual; whereas in practice all they had time for was being wage-slaves. Unfortunately for most the struggle was for more money, and this was especially irking in teaching. Teaching conditions and improved education were closely linked and a charter for improved teaching conditions would have been something well worth the struggle. Once in Africa activism was not appropriate – it was not my country, and I continued with my spiritual development – as well as taking an M Ed.
Retrospectively neither the Trots nor the communists come out rosily based on my experience. Mass movement education was essential, and the communists contributed greatly to that – unfortunately I believe the Trots would say the same thing. Their infighting detracted from the movement, and led to many unconstructive hours. Both suffered from a degree of intellectualism in which their mindsets divided them. In Buddhist terms such a mindset would be called sankara, and Trots and communists clung to their divisive mindsets. This attachment was a strong divisive force in the Labour movement, and was readily manipulated by the bourgeoisie or 1%.
For most the lack of transcendence from liberalism to an Occupy view was based in fear. Liberals often considered the centre of a balance between the left and right, would often claim balance and detachment, neither socialist nor neo-liberal. But for most Liberals there is not the basic understanding that our socio-political system is based on the exploitation of the masses. A liberal might stand for human rights but would not follow that stance through to an understanding that the infringement of those rights was as a consequence of the profit motive and the desire for accumulation. What I describe as the Guardian view sees that the view is more than just rights but fails to see the intention of the exploitation. In truth some of the Guardian view is also based in fear, afraid of the truth, and the implications of that truth.
And what is that fear? A fear of non-conformity, non-acceptance by the group. And such a fear exists within the spiritual world where many people fail to commit themselves because they are attached to desires. This fear and attachment are forces which keep people in line spiritually and politically. But once that fear and attachment is transcended, the conditioning is broken and people see life for what it is, exploitation by the 1% and a need to follow the Path. The similarity between political and spiritual transcendence is the requirement to see through the conditioning, and to accept a lifestyle that is separated from most people.
But also an important aspect of this transcendence is that it brings with it an openness of mind. I have touched on this openness of mind a little above but let me be specific it means not clinging to a mindset – a set of ideas. This is clearly what Trots do, what implicitly the communists do as well, it is also what people of faith do, and it is also what happens to those who are discovering spirituality. This last needs a little explanation. For some their journey means they start to reject the collection of ideas which have the common attribute of “conformity”. As they unravel the mess of miseducation, that academics especially are filled with, they replace it by a different mindset. Typical of this is David Icke who went through his own transformation from sports commentator to new age thinker. Many follow him as he speaks a great deal of truth but mixed up in there are a whole set of ideas that are not constructive yet many people believe they must accept those ideas because they accept David Icke. I doubt that Icke says that.
It is understandable. When we are fortunate enough to reject conformist conditioning there is a vacuum, what enigmatically some Buddhists would say needs filling with “emptiness”. But because of our miseducated minds there is still a need to fill. In my own case for 10 years I sought to fill it with Castaneda, theosophy, occult and many such, until I turned to politics, then travel, back to Buddhism, and eventually rejecting Buddhist dogma some form of emptiness – some form of open mind.
With that open empty mind without conditioning we can go beyond the dogma of our religions or other mindsets, but equally we can go beyond the dogmas of our social conformity, our political idealisms whether Liberal, Guardian or Occupy to a genuine openness that enables a proper circumspection of spiritual reality and socio-political reality. Transcendence.