In response to the political events of this bleak week, the editors at the Everyday Analysis Collective will be offering their reflections, putting their individual viewpoints into conversation within this serialised report. Here, Mike Watson reacts.
A World Turned Upside Down: Time for the Acid Left
How many of us on the UK left are now carrying around a dull empty feeling at the pit of our stomachs? No doubt millions, as 69 percent of Brits cast their ballot in what has been misrepresented as the Brexit election, but which as actually a plebiscite on our core values. It was — more even than the 2016 US Presidential ballot — the election where post–truth dispatched with truth, and empathy was the proverbial baby thrown out with the bathwater. Not only did Boris brazenly lie on TV, about his 40 ‘new’ hospitals and 50’000 ‘new’ nurses, but these lies were exposed time and again to a comprehending public.
Further to this, the sitting PM was, in the days before the vote, caught pocketing a reporter’s phone and hiding in a fridge to avoid being interviewed. Aside from demonstrating dishonesty and a lack of accountability, behaviour such as this has ushered in a new level of weirdness that Johnson, Cummings, and their inner circle are fully comfortable with. If Trump is the President foreseen in filmic dystopias, Johnson and Cummings are two revelers in a Hieronymous Bosch–ean carnival parade, bumbling, contorted, pitiful, yet a step away from the throne. While you fixate on their tomfoolery, somewhere in the periphery of your vision, some barely perceptible chicanery is taking place, involving market traders, but you’re too distracted to act upon it. Trying to redeploy truth in these circumstances is frankly futile. The weirding of the political landscape needs a new approach: It needs ‘out–weirding’.
To this end we might call upon the term ‘Acid Communism’, coined by the late Mark Fisher to denote a much needed new counterculture equal to the Hippy, Punk and Rave movements of the ‘60s to ‘90s. This idea has recently taken off in the meme sphere with a number of dedicated social media pages championing the Acid Communist and ‘Acid Corbynist’ cause, yet its true potential arguably remains to be seen. While articles, seminars, left tube videos and still meme images point to what Acid Communism might mean, there has not yet been a sustained real world movement of happenings, concerts, seminars and educational events. While the campaign group Momentum have held Acid Corbynist events alongside the Labour party conference for several consecutive years, the term itself was little heard of during the election campaign. After all, the terms ‘Acid’ and ‘Communism’ were hardly liable to have swung the election for Labour. Now that we are no longer in an election campaign, free from the obligations and burdens of power, we have five years to build a far left movement that might achieve for the cultural landscape what the alt–right did globally. The question is: what would constitute an ‘Acid Communist’ uprising?
To begin to answer this we need look no further than Corbyn’s electoral campaign for the irony is that, in our increasingly weird world, the torch bearer of the Acid Left — which is my preferred nomenclature for this new and necessary movement — was the Labour leader himself. It was Corbyn who stood up on national television and championed a Socialist manifesto, who didn’t flinch when Johnson accused him of wanting to dismantle capitalism, and who proclaimed the need for a society in which ‘people care for one another’. Such radicalism made all the dayglo/fractal representations of Marx that fill online Acid Communist communities appear as glib as a Che Guevara mug at a meeting of Labour councillors. Above all it grounded the left in the rationally indefensible injunction to love one another, which right now may be the only message powerful enough to counter the right’s equally indefensible injunction to hate one another.
The other element of the recent election campaign that could prove instructive in terms of building any kind of incisive Acid Left movement is Momentum’s use of ‘dispersed organisation’, itself inspired by the 2016 Sanders campaign. This campaigning system involved a centralised online forum, along with regular video conference calls and tuition videos which together helped coordinate online and real life campaigning. Such tactics could be effectively employed to organise a national and international movement of Acid Leftists ready to carry out targeted online campaigning alongside real world concerts, art events, free schooling, and free healthy food parcel deliveries, all oriented around the fostering of a community consciousness. Liberated from the narrow margins of election debate, which blighted Corbyn even as he pushed them to their utmost limit, a dispersed Acid Left movement could employ a thoroughly irrational aesthetic to accompany real world actions, kicking back against the equally perverse logic of Johnson and Cummings’ neo feudalism.
This coming of age for Acid Communism would see a cradle to grave provision of community care including, though not limited to: rave parties; wellbeing sessions; soup kitchens; day care facilities; and group weirding sessions — whereby public performance happenings would take place to disrupt disinformation spread by the right. By day the Acid Leftist could come to you in a suit, he or she could be a maternity worker, a DJ, a street pusher, a teacher, a pole dancer, a politics student, a game developer. Once deployed online or on the street their role would be to challenge the prevailing doctrine of hate with an irrational and necessary drive towards community and cohesion.
This approach will seem to some to be overblown, outlandish even. Yet ever since the start of modernism — when Kant attempted to account for the existence of a common ethics in the dumbfounded and irrational experience of witnessing beauty — it has been apparent that the communitarian cause transcends the logical faculties. Kant located the sensus communis in the moment that our faculties of judgment evade us when confronted by unfathomable nature. In so doing, he presaged the turbulence of modernism as humanity attempted to equal natural beauty by forcing an ethical system worthy of it. In the end we managed only to mimic nature’s propensity to chaos. Those times are thankfully behind us, yet the right wing has now openly adopted the irrationality that runs through nature as a smokescreen to hide their profit motive. It is up to the left to adopt irrationality as a motor for compassion — the one political calling that can justify our human existence. This is the task of the Acid Left in these coming years.
Mike Watson (PhD from Goldsmiths College) is a theorist, critic and curator who is principally focused on the relation between culture, new media and politics. He has written for Art Review Artforum, Frieze, Hyperallergic and Radical Philosophy and has curated events at the 55th and 56th Venice Biennale, and Manifesta 12. In 2019 he published Can the Left Learn to Meme?: Adorno, Video Gaming and Stranger Things with ZerO Books.