Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Trump wins - reaction

It took me a week to respond to brexit and I felt very late in doing it so I'm getting my thoughts out on Trump right off the bat, right here on the sofa I woke up on.

"I don't understand" this is the middle class liberal catch phrase this morning. No, you don't understand do you? This is what we've been telling you.

You don't understand that a lot of white people are horrible racists, you don't understand that black and brown people have grown up with this their entire lives, it's not something brand new to 2016, you don't understand that the world wasn't 'basically fine' until the UK voted for Brexit and the US voted for Trump.

And...You also don't understand why, however deluded it was, that voting for Trump was a protest by some people, a lot of whom have nothing, or are loosing what little they've got, hope included. You can't understand what there was to protest about, why poor white people would have anything to moan about because you only talk about privilege and oppression to put them in their place because you know better and your superior and better educated.

The world was shit before, but you didn't understand then either so you haven't got a clue what's going on now.

"I'm scared" this is the next thing they say. Scared of what? You'll be the last ones to be affected by any of this, yet you are the ones that quake in your boots at the first sight of far-right populism, never mind fascism and run to try to make alliances with bankers (Paul Mason). All this while working class people have been beating back fascist street movements for years. If you're supposed to be 'left wing' you can shove it up your asses. Let's all jump on a plane to Canada just because they've got some trendy asshole prime minister and run away.

Do black people who have been shot down in the streets, thrown into prison en masse and executed by the state and had any meagre wealth they had managed to get completely wiped out by the recession have an overriding reason to be "scared" now that Trump has won?

Do asian people in the UK who were sent of to Guantanamo, spied on, had rocks thrown at them, sent to re-education courses and had their kids taken away for fear that they might be extremists if they spoke out about Biriths imperialism have something brand new to fear because of the Brexit vote?

Do any of them have the option to run away even if they wanted to?

Get it together or shut up.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Lenin and the state - an anarchist perspective

State and Revolution - 99 years later from an anarchist perspective

In some ways reading through Lenin's 'State and Revolution' as an anarchist there are surprises. Although he specifically criticises anarchists on a number of occasions he's also very clear on his views of the state:
  • The workers should smash the existing capitalist state in the process of carrying out a violent socialist revolution.
  • In place of the state the workers should institute something called - 'the dictatorship of the proletariat'. This is nothing but a transitory form of social organisation designed to protect the achievements of the revolution from capitalist resistance (or is it, more on that later...). 
  • The state will wither away as the higher state of communism arrives. At this point it will be unnecessary. 
Lenin is adamant that the difference between Marxists and Anarchists cannot and should not be boiled down to the statement that Anarchists oppose the state whilst Marxists do not. The ideas about the use of a 'state' in a transitional period after a socialist revolution are obviously not the same as the anarchist ones but at least the overall picture amounts to something we can engage with unlike the idiots that he derides who have tried to either avoid the question of the state and the revolution altogether or have even gone as far as to show reverence for the state and a belief that gaining power in the current existing capitalist state is the goal. For Lenin the existence of the state is evidence that the class struggle is still unresolved. Once it is over then there will be absolutely no place in society for the state.

The use of a 'state' after the revolution

How would Lenin's 'state' be organised?


Lenin discusses the question of how to talk about this revolutionary workers-state (bearing in mind that it is a something of a paradox in itself and must only be seen as a transitory phase). He quotes Engels:
"The free people's state has been transferred into the free state. Taken in its grammatical sense, a free state is one where the state is free in relation to its citizens, hence a state with a despotic government. The whole talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word. The 'people's state' has been thrown in our faces by the anarchists to the point of disgust..."

It's interesting that Engels believed that what he and Marx were proposing may not have deserved the label of a 'state' at all but the labels that we decide to use for things are obviously far less important than the content behind them. What is it about the proletariat state (or commune) that Lenin was proposing would make it different to the existing capitalist state?
  • Wages would be flatter. There would not be any highly paid positions that would make the people that occupied them into a class above the rest of society (Lenin did not expect to be able to get rid of money and wages - of sorts - straight away).
  • There would be no distinction between the legislative and the political. All positions would be elected ones (this is as opposed to now where powerful 'civil servants' or bureaucrats make a lot of important decisions and are never subject to elections). 
  • All officials would be subject to immediate recall at any moment - there would be some mechanism whereby the mass of the people could remove officials they were unhappy with easily. 
  • There would be no possibility of using the honour gained from occupying an important position in the state to turn it into material gain, like "retiring" from politics only to walk straight into a very well paid job in the private sector (clearly this would be impossible anyway because we're talking about a society where the socialist revolution has already taken place). 
Is this enough to satisfy anarchists that what Lenin was proposing was not really a state at all (in the sense of the word that we use it, the sense in which the state is something bad, a tool for hierarchy and oppression)? 

I think the answer is no. Anarchism is broader than Marxism, it contains wider range of ideas under it's roof and there is slightly less need for intense debate about which of them are true anarchism and which are not. This means that there are some anarchists for whom Lenin's description of the differences between his 'state' and the current state would be almost enough to satisfy them. There are many others would would need to add some or all of the following principles of organisation in order to ensure that the method of organising society was not really a state (in the sense in which anarchists talk about it):
  • Not only should the officials be subject to immediate recall they should also be strictly delegates of the people, not representatives. The difference being that they exist to carry forward the expressed will of the people of their neighbourhood or industry, not to 'represent' them in a vague way that leaves room for making decisions on behalf of the people. 
  • Direct democracy should be prioritised over any kind of representative democracy, and consensus decision making is better again. Pragmatic anarchists of all types recognise that we will not always have luxury of insisting on consensus decision making which can be a long process but the technology that we have available to us today makes the prospect of widespread use of surveys and referendums on a huge range of issues very possible. 
  • The opportunity to be ignored. As mentioned above anarchists have a wide range of views but for many, even if begrudgingly, they will admit that an anarchist society musty offer individuals the chance to be left alone if that is what they really want. It is unlikely that many people will desire this, especially since those who refuse to participate cannot be allowed to be a cost to the society of those people who do join in.
There will be other points that I've neglected to mention but these serve as primary examples of the things that would be needed for anarchists to be satisfied that, whatever the label, the organisation of the post-revolutionary society was not going to risk becoming a tool for reinstating hierarchy, oppression and exploitation. 

What would Lenin's 'state' do?

In many parts of the book Lenin gives his 'state' very light duties. The most commonly repeated one is that it is mainly, or possibly solely in existence to protect the revolution from any capitalist resurgence or resistance. The idea that it is not to be seen as an instrument of force against the majority, the proletariat, but only to defend them from counter-revolutionaries. In this sense it represents the idea that workers will need to remain armed and organised after the revolution in order to ward off attacks. Despite the fact that Lenin seems to think that anarchists would have a problem with this I can't think of a single reason why anarchists would disagree. 

The problem comes as he begins to add in further duties to his 'state' as the book goes on. Taking a rather different tone he says:

"We, the workers, shall organize large-scale production on the basis of what capitalism has already created, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing strict, iron discipline backed up by the state power of the armed workers..."

Lenin is ultimately unclear and contradictory as to what it would do, he is clearer on how it would be organised. Anarchists now are likely to be backing off completely...

This kind of state is not the same thing as what he spoke about in passages earlier in the book where it was just armed and organised workers defending the revolution against any attempt to reinstate capitalism. This is not the kind of state that withers away. Lenin isn't particularly clear as to how the state would wither away anyway but at least if he'd just stuck to the one about how it existed only protect the revolution we could have agreed that on paper it should work. 

The real difference between anarchists and Marxists

The real difference between anarchists and Marxists isn't necessarily a 'difference' at all. Many anarchists completely agree with Marx's critique of Capitalism which he wrote about in Das Kapital, many anarchists would be comfortable with the left-communists or council-communists ideas about social organising (i.e. they would be satisfied that they were sufficiently libertarian to be generally acceptable). The difference is that anarchists don't limit their struggle to the economic struggle against capitalism. 

Anarchists are aware of and are against other sources of hierarchy and oppression in society such as social hierarchies by gender, race and sexuality and purely political hierarchies. Anarchists are aware of the links between the different forms of hierarchy, how they influence each other and feed off each other. They understand how the state was necessary to clear the way for capitalism and how it continues to maintain it and offer it stability, they also understand how the specific forms of social hierarchy such as modern racism have their roots in the history of capitalism and serve a place within capitalism to strengthen it and divide the working class.

But also, they will not forget the fact that patriarchy has existed for thousands of years in various forms, or that there exists a political class who often seek political power as a goal in itself and feed off their desire to wield power over other people to the detriment of other people etc. etc.

Anarchism is fundamentally different from Marxism not in it's approach to capitalism, not even necessarily in it's approach to socialism and revolution and (at a push) not necessarily even different in it's understanding of the state, both before and after the revolution. On a fundamental level it's different by degree, by the fact that it's fighting against a broader range of issues than Marxism sets out to tackle (only capitalism) which also influences the way in which it fights against any individual one (such as insisting that the fight against capitalism must not replace the current system with one which develops the chance for another source of hierarchy to strengthen itself and take hold of society in a new way that again will need to be fought against). 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Kingdom of God and the Revolution - Part 1

What is the revolution?

Historically whenever one group of people finds themselves oppressed, exploited and belittled by another they usually begin to conceive collectively of a time when the situation will change. Either for a brutal reversal of the situation or of a new world where people treat each other with dignity and equality. Examples can be found in ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature or the stories told by Black slaves which featured a thinly veiled version of the world around them told with the main characters represented by animal figures, sometimes resulting in the animal figures representing the slave masters being torn apart. There are many others.

Under the current world economic and political system, a system called capitalism by the majority of English speakers, most fully formed of the ideas about revolution have been laid out by radical socialists (especially anarchists and other libertarian socialists).

Socialists of all brands believe that the current system whereby the majority of people have little economic, political or social power are used and abused for the purposes of those who have it all is wrong and should be overthrown and replaced with something better. Many socialists also realise that even those people who do wield the power are themselves possessed by their own master, capital or, as Christians have understood it the demonic force of Mammon.

Capital is not simply equal to money. Capital is money which is used to generate more money. It is money which is invested in private property (property which is neither occupied nor used by the capitalist) which is protected by the state, or is advanced as interest bearing loans. It returns as rent, interest and profit and sometimes directly as taxation and it has grown because it has been used as a vehicle for stealing the wealth of people who actually do the work. It leaves most of the workers in a state where they only have access to just enough resources to be able to survive. This isn't just something that naughty capitalists do when they break the rules, this is the basis of the entire world economy.
Eventually this system will fail. The workers (which largely = everyone who works for a wage in order to get by) will put an end to it and replace it with a system where the economy is run democratically for the good of everyone. 

Capitalism in it's purely economic form comes as part of a package of other systems of hierarchy which are linked but are also separate issues in their own right such as the domineering of the state as well as a social hierarchy in which people are categorised by skin colour/ gender/ sexuality etc. and those people who fit into more categories that come further down the food chain end up being used by those further up. All of this has to go. 


What is the Kingdom of God?

The Kingdom of God is a theme of Jewish apocalyptic literature which was taken up by Jesus. Jesus taught that a time was coming where the old order, at that time of a world dominated by the imperialist Roman empire was going to be overthrown and replaced by a society of God's design - one where love is the foundation for social relations, not a struggle for dominance. Early Christians wrote that creation was going to be "liberated from decay" (Romans 8:21) and that the Kingdom of this World would be transformed into the Kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15). Jesus talked about it in even more direct and practical terms when he quotes Isaiah in Luke 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

The year of the lords favour was a reference to a Jubilee year, where debts were forgiven and property was returned to it's original owners. So we have a massive redistribution of wealth, prisoners being set free and even physical ailments like blindness getting cured.

The Christian church has tended to spiritualise the reality of all this away. Making out that the good news to the poor was mainly to do with the fact that they would be rewarded in heaven, that the prisoners being referred to were prisoners to sin and the bling were those who couldn't see the truth. The reason for this horrible misrepresentation has been due to the fact that throughout most of it's history the church was in service to 'the empire' of it's day. Whether that was the Roman empire or the Christendom of medieval times or even as a justification myth for 19th century European colonialism and all the horrors that went with it. 

It's only been more recently that the capitalist system has no longer had a need for Christianity's justification myth, and has come up with it's own in modern liberalism that we have come blinking back out into the light and been able to see the last 16 centuries for what they have really been. A betrayal of Jesus and his message on a grand scale by the church (obviously not including everyone, there have been many notable heroes - or saints - who stood up to all this). 


What is a coup?

A coup is where one group knocks another one of the top spot but leaves the power structure below them in place.

An Eschatological Revolution.

The coming of the Kingdom of God can and should be understood and spoken about as synonymous with the coming revolution for Christians. The revolution is our eschatological hope. It is not a coup. The task of the church is to begin to deconstruct and drive back the forces and powers of this world, looking forward to a time when God will sweep our efforts into completion and smash hierarchy, oppression and exploitation to pieces. The coming Kingdom of God will not be a coup, God is not going to swoop into the top spot and bump Satan off into the fiery pit. God is coming to transform the world and to turn everything upside down. When you read the New Testament with this understanding in mind it actually makes a lot more sense.

(I'm calling this part 1 because I imagine one day I'll have more to write about this so I'm really just leaving the door open for a sequel). 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Against Cultural Capitalism

Intro

The far-right claim that Cultural Marxism and political correctness are destroying western society. It's a delusion. Cultural Capitalism not only sounds better with it's nice little alliteration but it's the real culprit. Cultural Capitalism has got into our heads to the extent that it seems to justify all kinds of horrors and causes us to assume things as a given and as normal, when they're actually weird and new. It causes us to accept things that we should hate and to be calm when we should be angry.

This blog post will take a look at some of the real heritage of British people and see what has been at the root of it's destruction as well as how people resisted.

Culture wars?

"Cultural Marxism is succeeding in its war against our culture" wrote Paul Weyrich a pasty, sweaty looking, now dead American conservative, in 1999. In his famous letter he went on to advocate that his followers "look at ways to separate ourselves from the institutions that have been captured by the ideology of Political Correctness, or by other enemies of our traditional culture".

It would be nice if we could stop this here.

There is nothing of any substance in the rest of what he wrote. There is nothing precise which would suggest what it was that he was actually trying to stand up for. No, it was just the ramblings of a control freak trying to push his vague, fringe ideas out onto the unsuspecting public by invoking the scary name of Marxism. Not only that, but his 'take home message' was that conservatives had already lost. All that remained was to organise a retreat without too many more casualties.

Pathetic really, it would almost be cruel to draw further attention to the whole thing.

The trouble with just dismissing time-wasters like Paul Weyrich is that they never actually did retreat into obscurity as was promised, not in the US and not here in Britain either. They stuck around, hovering on the edges of society like voyeurs gazing at the action. Their fascinations have centred especially on things that looked like resistance to the heirarchial structure of society that they were desperately trying to tell everyone was 'traditional'. Even though they claimed to hate feminists, black people who stood up for themselves, organised labour, gays etc. they focused their attention on little else. This is why, for many of them, the subjects of their obsessions came to represent a fetish that they are profoundly embarrassed by. This in turn has only made them more zealous.

So the need arises to provide a response. A limp arrow has been shot, let's fire back...

Who were we?


First of all; who is the 'we' that's going to be discussed here? I'm addressing so called 'white people' , particularly the white working class in Britain.

We know that all around the world there are other groups of people with their own native cultures which are a great source of pride and identity for them. We may be aware of cases when, confronted with imperialism, these people have reasserted their cultures and defined them intentionally as being opposed to capitalism and Western colonialism. But what about our heritage? Did capitalism dominate so early and so thoroughly here that any opening resistance that we put up to it, whilst it was still completely alien to us, has long died and been buried?

The far-right like to talk about heritage and traditions because they know that these things are important to most people but let us not allow the deluded racists who talk about 'white pride' and 'traditionalism' to try to tell us who we were. If we do let them tell us who we were it will affect who we think we are now, so it matters. The good news is that we can discard their ideas just as Paul Weyrich's ideas because it's their hatred/fetish around feminism, anti-racism, anti-capitalism etc. that really defines them. They don't offer anything of any real substance and they know very little about any kind of traditional culture that has existed in this part of the world. So, all that is really needed is that we tell our own story and watch it sweep away the crumbs of their crumbly ambiguity. Cultural Capitalism will be revealed as a modern creation, invented to get in your head and convince you that all the things you should hate and resist are just common sense and inevitable parts of the world we live in. 

Diversity

The joke political party Britain First will enthusiastically tell you that they're standing up for "this nation" but they're just the source of some of the most explicit rhetoric, most politicians make the same mistake. So, with a sigh, I suppose the first thing to point out, just as the people of the various native American tries have to do when they are referred to as 'American Indians'; that we can not be thought of as a homogeneous unit.

Claiming to represent the national interests of Britain, is almost as bad as accepting the label 'white', who wants to be 'white'? 'White' and we are 'British' are specific political definitions only. On one level they are sort-of meaningful because they are taken seriously in the society we live in (and we can't live in a fantasy land) but on a deeper level they're utterly void.

The British Isles, as it sometimes called (the name in the Celtic languages usually translates to 'West European Isles'), is an archipelago in the North Atlantic, on the North Western edge of Europe (from here on in referred to as 'these islands'). A number of very distinct cultures have developed here historically. If you could go back in a time machine and ask them how it feels to be 'white' they wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about!
The Highlands of Scotland.
Language is one of the primary vehicles for culture and to get a sense of the diversity we can see that as of now there are 8 still-living languages that originated here. Each attached to a particular group of people who, in many cases also had their own dress, their own music, their own sports etc:
  1. English (Germanic) - spoken by around 60 million
  2. Scots (Germanic) - spoken by around 1.5 million
  3. Welsh (Brythonic Celtic) - spoken by around 700,000
  4. Irish (Goidelic Celtic) - spoken by around 95,000
  5. Angloromani (Romani)- spoken by around 90,000
  6. Scottish (Goidelic Celtic) - spoken by around 65,000
  7. Cornish (Brittonic Celtic) - spoken by around 500
  8. Manx (Goidelic Celtic) - spoken by around 100
If we were to include the Channel Islands there are a further 2 J√®rriais (1900) and Guern√©siais (200).  

Assuming that there isn't a huge amount of people speaking multiple languages there are almost 2.5 million people who regularly speak a native language other than English on these islands.

One of the most recent areas where Cornish was spoken as a community language.

Historically there were even more:
  1. Welsh Romani - A mixture of Welsh language and Romani language spoken until the 1950s.
  2. Norn - A north Germanic language spoken in the Orkney and Shetland Islands until 1850.
  3. Pictish - Spoken in areas of Scotland up until around 12th Century.
  4. Cumbric - A Celtic language in Cumbria spoken until 11th Century (some words still in use now particularly by Shepards, especially the numbers).
Already you might be getting a sense of why it's worth knowing a bit more about who we really are. It blows Britain First's sad, impoverished representation out of the water.

The English language(s)

Even within the English language itself it's very clear that there is diversity. In my opinion the language known as English is better understood as two languages mashed together. Notice how there are two words for almost everything: 
  • help/ assist
  • old/ archaic 
  • buy/ purchase
  • ...the list could go on and on...
A lot of other languages don't really have that. In all cases the words that sounds a little bit 'colder', more precise but also more detached are the Latin based ones - or what should be known as a modern form of Anglo-Norman. The warmer, more everyday sounding word is the one that has it's roots in Anglo-Saxon. Just think of the difference between what you'd expect if you were offered a "hearty welcome"  or a "cordial reception". Working class English speaking people, ever since the Normans installed their ruling class over us have tended to use the Anglo-Saxon words, even though we're now bilingual and are capable of using modern Anglo-Norman around certain types of people when it's necessary (like at a job interview). 

The land

These islands have the second most unequal distribution of land in the world. 66% of it is owned by only 0.36% of the population. Only around 2% of it is actually built on, yet according to the right wing Cultural Capitalists... "we're full".

Primitive accumulation

Burying the Child by L L Davidson - The Great Irish Famine
The story of how our land was taken away from us and turned into 'private property' is a long and brutal one. Everywhere in these islands it involved extreme, systematic violence. In Scotland and Ireland, the first countries subjected to colonialism by the English elite, it reached genocidal proportions. Soldiers marched thousands of people a day off the land that they had always worked and lived on. Huge famines were caused and over 1 million people starved to death and millions more were forced to become refugees.

Scottish families were evicted en masse and their houses destroyed
What was happening was the very final act of destroying our real traditional ways of life based around small villages and the open field system and common lands (historians such as J.L and Barbara Hammond treated feudalism as largely this traditional set up just with a layer of exploitative landlords stacked on top) or as clans. Karl Marx called this process 'primitive accumulation' and wrote that "The history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire".Without it, and all the immense pain and suffering it caused, the actual economic system known as capitalism (or, Industrial Feudalism) could never have worked. Marx again wrote: "They conquered the field for capitalistic agriculture and made the soil part and parcel of capital and created for the town industries the necessary supply of a free and outlawed proletariat".

But they weren't free, their condition came very close to resembling slavery. Many of those people who were forced off their lands were literally sold by agents, to capitalists in the towns working for 16, 18 or more hours every day. The average age of death in these cities sank as low as 20 years old, or even less.

Some comfort can be gained from the fact that we, before Cultural Capitalists managed to tame most of us, were an absolute nightmare to employ. E.P. Thompson records that we were in the habit of striking the overseers in the factories, wandering away from our work, beating up bosses that abused our children and so on...

Fighting back

"As for this little fire, don't be alarmed. It will be a damned deal worse when we burn your barn"

(A threatening note left at the site of an arson attack against an expropriating land holder in England in 1830).

Irish land war
So we have a story of the many diverse groups of people on these islands who, all at around the same time were ripped away from their traditional ways of life with extreme violence (and it must be said, mainly at the hands of the English elite and their local helpers). Over a million starved, millions fled as refugees and those who remained ended up as wage slaves in the cities, dying after a few years of misery. Cultural Capitalists don't want you to think about all that, and they certainly don't want you to know that the common people fought back.

Scottish land war
The people of Ireland and Scotland rose up in revolt, known as land wars. In England there was everything from rioting, to attempted uprisings, destruction of capitalist machinery, threats, individual terror attacks. Everywhere there were attempts to assassinate those people know locally as the biggest culprits.

Ned Ludd - English folk hero
Even much later on as the decades wore on the memories of the lost land and the lost traditional ways of life remained with the sons and daughters and even the grandchildren of those people who had been first expropriated from it. E.P Thompson wrote: "Faced with hard times and unemployment in the brick wastes of the growing towns, the memories of lost rights rose up with a new bitterness of deprivation".




Our Propaganda

A 'World Turned Upside Down' print
In the times before you could make anti-capitalist memes on for your Facebook page the people of these islands found ways to express their discontent in catchy messages. One of the most popular was the 'World Turned Upside Down' prints. They contained pictures of things like fish, fishing for people, trees cutting people up with axes, wives beating up their husbands etc. the point of these was to show that they could conceive of another world. That they were well aware that things were not necessarily bound to be this way forever.



An anti-capitalist meme with top-text and bottom text
An other similar theme that common people brought up traditionally to help them think about another world was what the English used to call Cokaygne, a mythical land where no one had to work and everything you could want was close at hand. Pictures of it show peasants lying drunk on the floor with food and drink all around them. This was something that they could shove in the face of Cultural Capitalist types of their own day.






Conclusions
The history of capitalism's attack on our traditional ways of life bears little difference from the way it has attacked the lives of other groups of people around the world. Also our efforts to resist were very similar. The difference is that it happened here first and we have been living under this system for the longest. We have forgotten that there can be anything different to capitalism which makes it harder for many people to pick up the fight. Cultural Capitalists know nothing about our heritage and traditions. What they do know a bit about is the history of our ruling class which, unless they really do belong to this, they falsely identify themselves with. It's no good dreaming of a return to the good old days if you would have been working yourself to death down a mine if you'd been alive at that time.


Friday, 19 August 2016

'The tendency of the rate of profit to fall' explored

(Warning - lots of talk about factories. Can't avoid it when discussing Marxism because it's all commodity production. This is a problem for me. I'll come back to it to offer a solution at a later date).

'The tendency of the rate of profit to fall' (TRPF) that socialists often talk about is a so-called law of economics 'discovered' by Karl Marx.

The general idea is that only human labour creates 'value' in products (the Labour Theory of Value - LTV). Marx's given reason for this in Das Kapital is pretty weak: He says that if we are able to exchange products of different types they must contain something within them that is comparable. E.g. why is 1 laptop worth the same as 2 phones? Laptops and phones are very different things, how have we been able to establish a way to compare them? Marx says it's because laptops require twice as much work to produce them as phones.

The trouble with this is that it's not hard for someone who believes that things only have as much value as someone is willing to pay for them at any given moment to come along and claim that it's demand that is comparable across products of different types, as well as the rate at which that demand can be supplied (this is the subjective theory of value - STV). The point here is that the fundamental question that the LTV deals with should not be seen as the conundrum over how we can compare and trade products of different types. That's an uninteresting conundrum and trying to solve it with the LTV doesn't get us anywhere.

I think there is a better basis for the LTV but we'll get to that below.

Another difficulty that Marx skips over is the relationship between his theory of price and his theory of value. We're told to assume that price averages out at value over time. What Marx doesn't say and what Marxists don't seem to mention very much is that the only mechanism which could make that happen would be market competition and that this law would hold more perfectly the freer the competition and less perfectly in a world of subsidies and regulations etc. In a world of subsidies and regulations it's quite possible that some things could be consistently priced at much higher than their true values and others much lower.

Anyway. Back to the TRPF.

Capitalists who own all the factories where laptops and phones get made have to pay both the wages of the workers who make the laptops and phones but also various other costs. Especially the costs of all the equipment the workers need to do their work and even for the factory itself. Marx recognised that there was a general trend whereby, over time, the proportion of capital that capitalists had to spend on wages was going down in comparison to the proportion the had to spend on all the 'stuff' (not sure if that still holds true in a world where cheap 3D printers are coming out or not?... skip over that thought for now).

BUT.

The money they were having to put into the 'stuff' was only in order to remain competitive. It didn't actually produce new value in itself, only human labour working through the 'stuff' could do that. So (as the theory goes), as a smaller proportion of capital was being invested in labour a smaller proportion of their capital was actually producing them surplus value (i.e. a smaller proportion of their money was able to turn into more money through exploiting labour and not paying people equal to the full value of the things that they create).

So, back to this business about a better basis for the LTV:

There is obviously a principle involved here that hasn't been mentioned by Marx (or by any Marxists I'e ever spoken to). This principle is that there is something unique about human labour. That there is a moral factor within our economic system whereby if a person does some kind of useful productive work (making things for which there is a demand) they are owed something back for it - just by rights. Naturally we might assume that if they've lost an hour of their time (doing work that they certainly wouldn't have chosen to do for fun) then they really deserve to be paid in money that is roughly able to buy products that take an hour of someone else's time to make them (obviously we'd have to account for intensity of work and the level of skill involved, as well as the pay for any other labourers whose work was necessarily involved like people to transport stuff around etc. if we were getting serious here). So the 'value' that Marx talks about is like a debt that has been created towards the worker per 'amount' of labour they'e had to do (something that only makes sense in an economy where the worker doesn't own the things they've produced - otherwise would be no debt; you'd just want a coat and you'd make one and it would be yours). So what capitalists are really amassing is unpaid debts. If someone has to work in a bakery for an hour (the time it takes them to make 60 loaves of bread) in order to get the money to buy 1 loaf of bread the capitalist is monetising what has been held back.

It only works with humans because you can't amass debt to a machine. At the risk of sounding ridiculous; why can't you get into debt with a machine? The real reason is that machines aren't sentient. Machines just cost what they cost to run. You can't force them to do the same amount of work on half the fuel. The machine does not say to itself - I've lost an hour labouring away doing something I didn't enjoy here, I need to be compensated fairly (i.e. with the product of an hours' worth of someone else's time). Only humans who have suffered having to do the unwanted hour of work when they could have been chilling out on the beach can say that on principle they should get a fair deal. So if the human body was reduced to machine and if there were a class of people who couldn't conceive of anything more than being fed and watered and rested ready for another day of work and had no other desires at all then it would be absolutely fair to just pay them to cover this bare minimum but there is no such class of people. Everyone's life matters and everyone wants to do more than just survive. That is why something different happens when the capitalist tried to get away with paying a human with the bare minimum, it becomes exploitation.

But isn't this all getting a bit abstract? If you had a factory in which machines did everything and people did nothing (and I mean machines literally did everything: Mined raw materials, powered themselves by the sun, made the stuff and delivered the stuff straight to the consumer) would your products suddenly not have any value and not be able to be priced up and sold?

No. It's not about individual factories. If one factory did it the owner would probably be making loads of money. If every factory did it and the whole economy was fully automated (but still owned by capitalists) then market competition between them all would be driving prices down to zero eventually because there was no actual cost involved to any human person at all in the process (and this is aside from the fact that demand would completely dry up because no one would be getting any wages any more).

In a fully automated economy, eventually things would probably just have to be given away for free - or, in a darker version of this tale, the ruling class might decide that the entire working class were now just a great big waste of space and try to kill us all. Possibly with the help of their machines...

So, what have we concluded?

Various things really. Mixed bag.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Elect this you bastards [kicks ballot box over]

Every election is the same.

I'm reminding myself here as much as anyone else!

It gets advertised and hyped up so much that it feels like it matters loads at the time and that this one is different/ more significant in some way. They're all the same, always, things stay shit whatever the outcome.

No matter who gets elected the economic pressure to do what all other candidates would also be forced to do is always too strong.

Trump would do the same basic things as Hillary, so would Bernie have, ultimately so would Jezza here in the UK. If they deviate from the set path ahead of them they will crash the system and they know they can't do that and so ultimately they don't do it. They follow the logic of the system and they package their policies differently to make it possible to just about distinguish between them.

What happened in Greece last year was absolutely instructive on this. It was what finally convinced me that it's never ever going to work, nor will it even help (I had long had a belief that it was a failed strategy but I wanted to watch closely to see what would happen in real life): A whole party of Corbyns got in, (not one party split between Corbyn types and Blairite types) and they still gave in under pressure and did what they had to do, what the system made them do, betraying everyone who voted for them and finally they became the enemy.

Left wingers saying that they can take you back to the good old days of the post-war decades with council houses and hospitals for all are lying or they're stupid. They can't do it and they won't do it.

Then on the other hand you get a right winger talking about building walls and kicking immigrants out. No they won't (which is good obviously). Open borders is a weird coincidence for us because capitalists want it too (and we've never actually won open borders like we won weekends and 8 hour days, we only win open borders when we cut fences, not when the EU erases them within Europe but lets third world refugees die attempting to enter from the outside). If you think for a second a Prime Minister in the UK could seriously consider sending all Eastern European migrants back to Eastern Europe because of 'Brexit' then you're an idiot. What Prime Minister would allow the catastrophe this would result in happen on their watch? Hospitals having to close for lack of staff, transport networks not functioning... won't happen.

Equally, anyone who thinks that Trump would really be able to build a big wall and kick all the Mexican immigrants out of the USA is plain wrong. American businesses are reliant on cheap labour from illegal immigrants. The right wing leaders are still awful but there is no reason at all to think that it's absolutely of critical importance to vote for some slick fake lefty just to stop them doing something insanely evil like this because they simply won't (what is really dangerous from the right wing is the movements of ordinary people that get caught up believing the crap that the politicians preach distracting people from the real struggle and in the worst case they could manage to bring about their own revolution if they aren't stopped).  

Politicians all end up the same because they have to be. They manage capitalist economies and they ensure that they keep working. That's the job.

Few or none have the strength of leadership or the willpower to resist the pressure and I genuinely believe that if someone was strong enough to do that they would end up having a little accident (see the history of left wing leaders getting bumped off or kicked out in coups in Latin and Central America before you say anything about conspiracy theories).

The revolution can't happen that way. It never will. Stay strong. Don't believe the hype.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Identify Yourself

Introduction

The relationship between so called 'identity politics' and libertarian socialism within the anarchist movement is not as clear as it needs to be. Even in the 'libertarian' and the 'socialism' we have two elements for which the relationship between them needs to be made as clear as possible.

Two theories that don't work

1. There is more than one distinct revolution[s] to work towards. These can be pursued separately.

This fails because even if it was practical to attempt to rile people up into rebelling against each source of authority separately the first 'revolution' in any order would be ruined by the fact that the others had not yet been completed. It also fails to take seriously enough the fact that systems of hierarchy are linked.

  • If we work towards libertarianism without simultaneously working towards socialism and social equality we risk bringing about anarcho-capitalism or a society based on the patriarchal family (or similar). 
  • If we work towards social equality without simultaneously working towards socialism and libertarianism we could risk bringing about the assimilation of oppressed 'identities' into capitalism through them becoming just another marketing target audience (like having expensive t-shits declaring the wearer to be a feminist etc.) or assimilated into the hierarchy of the capitalist enterprise or the state (like having a female prime minister that claims to be feminist and also says she'd drop nuclear bombs on enemy nations even if hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed). 
  • If we work towards socialism without simultaneously working towards libertarianism and social equality we could risk creating an authoritarian version of socialism (which would be crap whether it descended into state-capitalism or not) or a socialism which maintained existing social hierarchy and left white, straight males with disproportionate decision making power at the expense of everyone else. 

2. The existence of the state and of social hierarchy flow from economic sources therefore anti-capitalist action is the only thing worth concentrating on.

Conversely, as opposed to the heresy above, this one fails by not giving enough credence to the fact that social hierarchy and political power really are distinct forms of domination which could and have existed separately from capitalism and are equally destructive. Social equality and libertarianism cannot be relegated to mere symptoms and the fight for them cannot be relegated to simply an optional extra or a recruiting ground to get people interested in the 'real' struggle. Anarchists who are most strongly influenced by Marxism often fall for this one - we sometimes describe them as being 'workerist'. They fail to convince many oppressed groups that they are truly on their side.

An Anarchist Creed


Anarchists aren't the first group to have had to wrestle with a trinitarian problem. So, rather than re-invent the wheel I present to you the Anarchist Creed (based on the Athenasian Creed of the 5th/6th century).



We oppose one hierarchy in trinity, and trinity in unity; neither confounding the sources; nor dividing the essence. For there is one source of the state; another of the capitalist system; and another of the bigotry. But the hierarchy of the state, of the capitalist system, and of the bigotry, is all one; the destruction equal.

There is no easy way to get around our problem without resorting to a statement like this. 
[This is not intended to imply any relation to the actual Christian theology of the Trinity (obviously), it's purely coincidental that the solution for both can be stated in a similar way]. 

Identity politics and anarchism


Identity politics should be understood by anarchists in a positive and joined up way, accepting the complexity and the unity of aspects of hierarchy as different groups face them and attempt to dismantle them. 
Identities do mater and therefore identity politics matter. 

The relation to libertarian socialism can be found partly in different starting points they put people in, in relation to the dominant system (i.e. defending a better way of life against it, being in a position where there is a residue of a better way worth reviving against it or not having actually been assimilated into it and therefore feeling pre-disposed against it in some way). 

Identity politics also relates to libertarian socialism in that the oppression people experience that is particular to their identity is a form of hierarchy which is both related to and distinct from both the state and capitalism. It's worth understanding how they are linked and promoting that understanding and it is also worth appreciating that they also matter independently in equal seriousness. I.e. there is nothing more right or wrong in saying that capitalism is just used as a way to maintain social hierarchy than saying that social hierarchy is just used as a way to maintain capitalism - and therefore there is not really any point in talking about which is the original sin that led to all the rest.

Example 1 (defence): Consider the position of the people of West Papua. Both the state and capitalism are alien to their culture and therefore to their identities, most have not internalised either as being valid or desirable (I won't comment on social hierarchy within their society because I don't know enough to talk about it). This means that they actually have something worth defending - i.e. talking about revolution to them is meaningless, specifically on account of their cultural identity and personal experience. Talking to them about defending their way of life against these invading hierarchical social structures is much more relevant and shows you've actually grappled with the situation.

Example 2 (revival): Many modern day Celtic people (people from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and the Isle of Man - especially in areas where their languages and a distinct identity is still present) have been largely assimilated into the nearby English or French dominant social structures. Their previous social arrangements were far more egalitarian - almost to the point of being anarchist. Through language loss (which has a huge impact on culture and society) and the creeping in of exploitative models of land tenure and hierarchical political structures there is less and less within these societies left worth defending (which is why left-nationalism doesn't work). Despite this though there is a sense that capitalism and statism are not very Celtic and a residue of anti-authoritarianism built into their identity. Talking to Celtic people about a revolution in the same way as you would for a working class English person (who in many cases is having to do more work to understand their identity in relation to the ruling class because it is less obvious to them) is less relevant than talking about a revival of ways of life that have been largely lost to the (resented) English/ French ruling class' imposed ways.

Example 3 (assimilation?): In the UK, if you take the entire non-ruling class (you'll see why I'm not using the term 'working class' in a moment) and add up all the women, all the ethnic minorities and all the LBGTQ people you've got a clear majority. In fact women alone are in the majority. The capitalist-statist system does not have room to assimilate all these people on an equal footing (not that equal assimilation within capitalism is any kind of a goal anyway). If everyone were treated equally there would be no one left for the ruling class to scapegoat and no one to carry out the bulk of unpaid work. Both have proved necessary for this system to function. Therefore the system is already seen as somewhat alien and hostile to the people who are left out due to these identities. But if all you can talk about is how in a factory... (you start with factories too, don't lie)... in a factory the boss appropriates the surplus product and pays the wage labourer only enough to survive while keeping the profit etc. etc. you are making assumptions that aren't true because you haven't understood that the identity of the majority of people isn't based solely on their relationship to the means of production. While there are ways to show how it is linked, and these are valid, this doesn't mean that it's just a symptom of the 'real' problem.

Monday, 27 June 2016

It's Complex, Stupid - The Versatile Brexit

This is not propaganda so don't expect it to be

There are two different modes of writing to be done during a political upheaval.

First there is propaganda. Propaganda shouldn't be nuanced, it doesn't have to be specific - you can promote compromises for certain groups to rally around. It just has to be something that will make sense to lots of people straight away and be hard for the other side to counter.

The other mode is analysis. When you analyse the events you don't do it tactically because you know it won't reach even 10% as many people as you would if you were spouting off one-liners or creating political cartoons.

This is intended as analysis:

The European Union is not your friend

To be specific, if you consider yourself to be anti-war, an internationalist and/or an anti-fascist the European Union is not your friend.

War

One of the big claims about the EU has been that it was set up to maintain peace in Europe after the first and second world wars. In this it has been hailed as a success but wrongly so.
  1. Most EU powers have been busy waging war imperialist wars around the rest of the globe. Read here for more: Is the EU a force to stop wars? 
  2. Even within Europe the EU has not only failed to prevent war but EU powers acting through NATO have been actively involved in European wars. Read this for more: The Bloody history of NATO's intervention in the Balkans. 
  3. More recently EU expansionism against Russia led to a right wing coup in the Ukraine and subsequently to the current low-intensity war going on in the east of that country. 
Internationalism

Another big argument for the 'remain' side was the importance of maintaining international solidarity with ordinary Europeans across the continent. Hmmm... the gap between perception and reality is quite significant here:

Try this one on for size: The EU is a vehicle for Anglo-German imperialist domination of the South

"Instead, we need to consider the working class movement as a whole across Europe. As I write this, French workers are striking and rioting against labour laws that the government intends to impose to make it easier to sack workers. Last month, the Greek government passed a budget for the next round of austerity enforced by the Troika. In Portugal, the trade union struggle and the Left is on the rise. Countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain have become debt colonies for the parasitic finance capitalists that gain their share of surplus value through debt, interest and extortion".

The EU might seem friendly and progressive to certain sections of the UK population but in much of Southern Europe it takes on the role of the right wing conservative party, enforcing heavy austerity measures.

Anti-fascism

Last but not least we've all noticed that there was significant support from the far right for the Brexit vote. Those left wing people who voted to leave (not me) did so in the hope that despite the fact that they were doing the same thing as much of the UK's organised fascist movement they would achieve different things with their vote. They have been criticised for being naive and allowing an explosion of far right activity. A deeper look might reveal more:
  1. Organised fascist street groups are not at their peak in the UK right now, far from it. Not so very long ago the EDL used to be able to bring out thousands of people: two thousand in Birmingham in 2013, one thousand in Preston in 2010, one and a half thousand in Newcastle 2013. Both the EDL and other Neo-Nazi fringe groups simply cannot get more than a few hundred at most out to any demo these days. This is down to the hard work of anti-fascists who have long been committed to cleaning up Britain's streets. 
  2. Back to internationalism - remember that far-right coup that the EU contributed to in the Ukraine above? Well if we think the resurgence of fascism is bad here in the UK take a peak at how bad it is there, all used for the benefit of EU expansionism: BBC report on Neo-Nazi threat in Ukraine and here when between 40 and 100 anti-fascists were massacred The Odessa Massacre how could anyone who calls themselves an anti-fascist give any support to the EU? The Bristol - Ukraine antifascist solidarity group certainly don't feel that it deserves any support: 'Report and Photos from Bristol - Ukraine anti-fascist solidarity meeting'.
  3. Both sides of the campaigns leading up to the EU referendum spoke about migration as if it could be taken as an assumption that it was a bad thing suggesting only different measures to control it. 
Anti-fascists worth their salt do not fight fascism in order to defend the status quo. It's not always easy to get this right because even most conservatives are afraid of fascism and see it as destructive and an anti-establishment force. To anarchists, fascism can only be seen as a disgusting contender for what happens after the status quo fails, it must be beaten so when that failure comes it is anarchism that succeeds instead. Most anti-brexiters aren't seeing it that way. They are simply shocked and outraged at a side of life in the UK they had previously overlooked.

You aren't really that friendly with the European Union either

The EU hasn't been any kind of ally and you (most of you) haven't cared much for it either - until very recently.

In the last EU elections in 2014 only 35% of people bothered to vote and of those 1/4 voted for UKIP. The time before that 1 million people decided to hand the BNP a vote to be their MEPs and that time turn out was even lower at 34%.

The truth was that most people never gave a much of a crap about the EU until they decided that they desperately wanted to stay in it or get out of it.

The far right are certainly not your freinds

The fact of the matter is, that whilst the above facts absolutely prevented me from voting in favour of remaining in the EU the sure knowledge that a vote to leave it would be interpreted as support for the far right prevented me from voting to leave it either.

What has been really upsetting is the hurt this has caused migrants as well as many other brown and black people living in the UK - Solidarity with migrant communities after Brexit people's lived experience are not debating chips, they are real and they matter.

Had there been a strong left wing movement to exit I would have voted for it (explicitly pro-migrants rights I would add). But there was not. A decent attempt at a 'lexit' campaign was made - see the website here: http://www.leftleave.org/ It railed against:
  • The EU's big business agenda
  • The recent horrific treatment of refugees at Europe's borders
  • and the view that the EU has won worker's their most cherished rights while they have been able to simply sit back, vote and watch the good times roll in. 
...but sadly it was barely heard about outside the relatively small socialist circles.

It has not always been the case that EU membership has been considered lefty or progressive. It was the Conservative party that originally took the UK into the EU under Ted Heath in 1973 and at that time the Labour party were the ones divided on the matter with those on the left such as Tony Benn being most explicitly against it.

Unfortunately whilst damaging the EU may ultimately help avoid further wars, cruel austerity and fascist coups in other places - the people of Britain may find it a struggle to make the most of our freedom from this corrupt club. The lies of the right wing 'Vote Leave' campaign are quickly unravelling and many people on both sides are going to be left bitterly disappointed and angry.

Anarchists should be attempting to rile everyone up into revolt from now! Don't let this opportunity be wasted.

Conclusions

There is no case for remaining in the EU but the campaign to get out of it has been pure poison. All we can do now is try to convince more than 52% of the country to unite around a left-exit. Considering many of the 'leave' voters were sold on thee idea that the NHS would be getting extra funding this may not be too hard to do in theory.

Attempting to over-turn the result is simply not a viable option:
  • If you know anything about the far-right in the UK you know that they thrive on feeling like the victims. They will not know what to do with a perceived 'win', in fact it might shut some of them up eventually. On the other hand they will know exactly what to do if that 'win' is then snatched back from them by students and urban liberals (in their eyes). So will many of the other 52% who have no connection at all to the far right but see them as the only organised group who appear to be standing up for them. 
  • The EU doesn't deserve your support anyway. Why not simply continue to struggle for open borders, migrants rights and welcoming refugees? There is no reason to think that any country leaving the EU has to become less accepting of migrants. 
Accusing every person who voted leave of being an idiotic Sun-reading bigot is also not a sensible option:
  • We have no idea how many left-wing people actually voted to leave for the reasons stated above. I have no pretensions that it was a majority but it was probably more than people think. Many will have felt they had to do so on the quiet considering the frantic noise going on all around them. (Edit: we now have data suggesting that around 21% of people who think that immigration is a good thing voted to leave the EU, as well as 51% of the people who think that Capitalism is a bad thing - confirmation that if you are rabidly siding with the media on this you really haven't been paying attention). This is not to diminish the reality of the spike in racism right now - the point is simply that the situation is more complex than it's being made out to be. 
  • Even if the 'leave' voters simply believed that they would be given some dignity and the NHS would get some extra funding, is the answer now to attempt to degrade them further? NO!
  • This hands the far-right a win on a plate. The referendum was not truly about immigration, nor was it a poll to see how many people were racists or fascists. It was made out to be but really it was a simply in/ out choice on the EU. Why concede to them that it was anything else? Why tell them that the silent majority really did support them all along?
It's up to us all now. 

What do we do next? 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Memoirs of a time traveller

Memoirs of a time traveller

  1. Departure
  2. Awake
  3. The deep
  4. Inside
  5. What the water gave us
  6. Apocalypse
  7. The sick and the dead
  8. Submission
  9. Deeper and deeper
  10. Subterranean
  11. Safe
  12. Dragging up the past
  13. Die die die

Departure
There were seven of us when we went. We were so excited. Two of us had been picked through a selection process out of hundreds of thousands of applicants. There was the man who designed it and the assistant who helped him build it and then there were the three guys that had we’d heard about but hadn’t met until the night we were leaving, MI6 or something. We didn't get told much. It doesn’t matter now.
When I arrived it was like I'd almost forgotten the real purpose. Temporarily I was more excited about going up to the top of the Shard. I was looking forward to seeing the views and meeting the celebrities, royalty and stuff who were waiting for us at the party on the 35th floor.
To be honest the evening was over in a flash and considering everything that has happened since I find I can barely remember a thing about it, just a vague memory of warmth, good food and interesting company. The minutes leading up to getting into the time machine I remember in perfect detail. We’d been over it time and time again, practising, hearing the scientists describe what they thought we might expect to experience. The more honest ones amongst them didn’t mind admitting that they didn’t know what to expect really, that they, truthfully, had no idea what effect it would have on us, what we might see… no idea about anything. They only really had some theories which were so vague and also wildly different from each other as to be useless in my mind.
The inventor said he could have made it look like anything, as long as it was some kind of metal box that could fit all the equipment and stuff in it. Why he’d chosen an old fashioned caravan was a mystery but I could kind of appreciate that it was quite cool, in a bit of a predictable way.
Getting in, the countdown, the noise, the headache, the blacking out… for a split second we felt a kind of acceleration, everything was speeding up at an incredible pace, but nothing more.
Now silence.
It was the first serious attempt that had been made to create one and this was the first attempt to use it. We wouldn’t be coming back, they didn’t work like that. And you couldn’t set an exact date, they didn’t work like that either. Or at least this one didn’t. We were told that it was going to send us about 20 years into the future in a matter of seconds. That was all this model was capable of. We’d all chosen to go, knowing (or at least believing) that our friends and family would have aged 20 years and who knows what else might have happened in what would feel like the blink of an eye for us. My biggest worry was over whether the building would definitely be still there. We knew that we would “land” (for want of a better word), in exactly the same place as we’d set off, the designer seemed absolutely sure of that.
What if the shard gets blown up in a terrorist attack before we land? We’d drop all 35 floors worth of empty space and be smashed to pieces! These were the kinds of things I worried about but I was told to stop asking about it more than once!
Awake
Still silence.
I had that horrible sensation that you may have had before as well; when you are asleep, or just very gradually waking up and something is bothering you. Maybe not everyone experiences this but sometimes I wake with a stomach ache or a fever. I feel uncomfortable, I roll around, I know something is wrong but it takes a little while before I realise what it is. At first you’re just annoyed but it gets worse until you become fully conscious. Enough to be capable of asking yourself what is wrong. As I gained consciousness, I could feel the wind, the first thing I said to myself in my mind was ‘it’s windy, why is it windy?’ that was all, just those words.
I was completely dazed and confused. My mind started racing, where was I? What had happened? Everything was blurry, my eyes weren’t opening properly. I couldn’t remember what had happened at all; drunken night out? Kidnapped? What? Any possible option probably meant that I'd made a very foolish decision somewhere along the line.
Then the noise came into focus, if noise is something that can come into focus. What was that roaring and crashing noise?
I sat up suddenly, my memory coming back like a tsunami hitting my consciousness all at once. I lent on my arm pushing myself up and twisted around.
What the hell?
The machine was in pieces there was debris everywhere, I had a cut on one thigh but it didn't look too serious.
Very little remained of the fancy party room that we’d left from, back, what now must have been, 20ish years ago… (What a strange thought!). A looming dark sky was above me but it was not the night time. A very dark grey thick cloud, unusually thick, covered the whole sky. Kind of like how it can go during a thunderstorm. There was only light rain, a very constant drizzle hitting my face sideways, being blown by a powerful wind. I was absolutely terrified. At least the building was still standing, I thought, at least as far as this floor anyway, what a miracle! Only as far as this floor, like the rest had simply been sheared off. What a miracle!
Another minute went by of just staring straight ahead, eyes unfocused, not looking at anything trying to take it all in, paralysed. Finally I began to turn around, trying to place myself amongst my surroundings and gain some context for this shocking awakening. Where was everyone else? As I looked I saw that only Claire was visible, lying in a twisted heap a few metres behind me, no one else was to be seen at all.
“Hey!” I said over the wind… “HEY!!”, again, much louder…
She moaned loudly in pain.
I crawled over, water dripping off my hair, arms shaking. “Hey” I said, much more softly now “you okay?”
“What the fuck? ...What the fuck?” Came the quiet response. Although it may not have been directed at me.
“How long have you been conscious?” I asked
“I don’t know. Maybe an hour. I can’t move, what the fuck is going on? Have you been able to see anything?”
All I knew was that something dramatic had happened. Something bad. I let myself fall onto my left side next to her “what is that noise? It sounds like waves”
“Have a look. Stand up and see if you can see anything. Why isn’t anyone here? Why are we alone?” Evidence that she was feeling like I was.
I stood up.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sight.
The deep
I literally cowered, ducked down and covered my eyes.
Never had I had such a strong physical reaction to a sight.
The tops of one or two of the other tallest buildings were visible above a vast turbulent sea stretching out as far as I could make out. Crashing up against this huddle of twisted decaying buildings.
The water was tinged red and was full of debris. The waves were breaking up against the sides of the buildings but there was nothing else to be seen, in any direction. All the noise, the crashing, scraping, roaring became more terrifying the moment I could see what was producing it. It all seemed to become so loud it was deafening.
I couldn’t look.
“What? What?! What is it?” Claire demanded. “What the fuck is it? What can you see?”
“U….. u…. u… I… the… just the world... everything... what’s happened… ?” I sat back down, head in between my knees.
“Just tell me!!” She screamed over the gusting wind.
“I'm going to have to help you up, I can’t fucking tell you, it’s fucking awful, I don’t even know what to say” I kneeled up, put my hands under her arms and helped her to her feet as I got to my own.
“Oh my God… oh my God” She shook her head and then stopped and looked at me, paused and began to speak, decisively. “Let me put my arm over your shoulder. We need to get closer to the edge and look down, I want to know if there is anything down there or just this water”
“How could there be anything?” I shot back “it’s going nearly to the top of that building over there, that one was over 100 meters tall, I can remember it!”
“Shut up and help me walk!” … her eyes stared in front of her, our clothes flapping against our bodies.
We hobbled towards the edge, looking out towards the horizon, if anything it was darker the further away you looked, the darkness of the water and the clouds meeting at the horizon made it difficult to distinguish where exactly one started and other finished. The wind and rain battered against our faces. There was so much debris in the water that the noise of the waves was louder than I’d ever heard waves before. It was truly the most terrifying experience you can imagine, like walking too close to the edge of a deep canyon an only realising it a step away from the edge. The only difference being that in that situation you could jump backwards. I wanted to jump backwards. Away from this whole reality, it felt dangerous to be anywhere near any of it but there was no way to go back. No way to go anywhere. This was not just a sense of impending doom, I was used to that, it was in my nature. This was a sense of absolutely imminent, chaotic, out-of-control doom. What was going on???
As we got closer to the edge we got back down on our hands and knees, there was a few inches of broken glass left of the windows in certain places but apart from that there was nothing, it wasn’t like going out on a viewing platform of a high building with a big guard rail and safety glass. It just dropped off. We weren’t in any kind of shape to be trying to walk near the edge, my legs were still shaking and Claire needed my support to even stay upright. We crawled, brushing aside the clutter that was strewn across the floor to make space to put our hands. As we got to the last few feet I got down onto my stomach and pulled myself to the edge so that my body was lying flat, facing down and my head alone was just sticking out over the edge.
Claire looked at me, “how many floors down is the water? 10? 15? The waves look like they’re sweeping right through one of the floors, a lot of the glass is gone.”
“yeah…” I mumbled, wondering where she was finding the strength to act and talk this way. She was trying to gather information as if she was forming some kind of plan. I suppose she’d been conscious longer than me, I’d only had 5 minutes to take any of this in. “What has happened? What could possibly have happened?” I moaned.
She looked at me, on all fours right next to me.
“Look I’m wondering that two but it doesn’t matter right now does it? What matters is what we do next. What matters is deciding what we do about this. The way I see it” she continued “is that this is bad and there’s clearly nowhere obvious to go. Either we just throw ourselves off the edge now and be done with this awful future or we can pull it together and try to get downstairs, maybe find someone else or some way out”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing “I’m not throwing myself off anything! I can’t even process what’s happening here, give me some time at least!” …Pause... “Fine let’s try to get downstairs if we can”.
Inside
The way down the stairs wasn’t easy, we had to climb over all kinds of crap at first but once we had turned the first corner it was basically empty, and after the next corner it was pretty much pitch black. Our hands feeling along the side of the walls. We went through the very first door we came to. We wanted to see what kind of state the building had been left in. If it was a mess, we decided, then that would be a clue that whatever had happened had happened gradually, maybe people had time to loot the place. If it was pristine then we’d know what this was a sudden incident.
The doors pushed open, and we entered a corridor, it was part of some kind of office suite. There was a little kitchen area, empty, a bathroom, empty, and then finally a huge open planned office, completely empty. What did that mean?
Why there was nothing at all there, in any of the rooms, was confusing. There weren’t papers all over the place or furniture overturned like you might see in a disaster film, it was just eerie and empty. The noise of the outside was now distant. It felt like we were inside a ship. The building shook slightly from the impact of each wave.
“Now what?”
“Oh come on, help me out a bit here” Claire rolled her eyes.
“What does that mean?”
“We’re in this together, why don’t you make a suggestion? Don’t just ask me as if I’m in charge here or something!” I stood there awkwardly.
“Well we’d better keep checking other floors I suppose”
“Let’s go” she said, almost cutting me short.
She was walking by herself now and was already hobbling back towards the door. I followed.
It was the same for each of the next 5 floors, we didn’t spend long on each, just a quick look. Absolutely nothing there on any of them. The windows were all intact until we got to the fifth one down, some of those were broken reminding us that we were getting closer to the water. It was cold, it was loud and it was windy in there, and I shivered as the breeze hit my wet clothes again. I was so aware that the floors above us were the only vaguely warm comfortable space we had any real chance of accessing. A tiny remnant of the world we were used to that hadn’t been reclaimed by the water. Even if it was just empty office space!
“Let’s just go back up one floor and stop to think for a second” I said, back out in the stairwell, in the darkness. I still felt like I needed to rest and process this ridiculous scenario.
“No. I’m going down as far as the water”
“Why? What do you expect to achieve?”
“I just need to look at it up close, I think it’s going to help understand what’s gone on here”
What was the point in arguing, why bother? I just went too. We edged our way down the stairs, not bothering to check the floors below, just heading down and down until at the top of a flight of stairs we could hear water swelling around not far below us. Neither of us dared go any further.
“We can’t see anything useful out here in the darkness” I said, nervously “there is another door here, let's go inside”
If I’d been counting right we were 12 floors down from where we began. As soon as we opened the doors the cold wind hit me, it was howling around the whole floor and there was a disgusting smell. Out of the first corridor into an office and we were hit by spray instantly. My eyes closed and my arm came up over my face. When I looked up again Claire was already half way across the room, absolutely determined to get near the windows (which were almost entirely shattered). It smelt like rotting, like you’d get sick just from smelling it.
We arrived at the windows, the highest waves were breaking splashing up as far as just a meter or two below us. I finally admitted to myself that I hadn’t wanted to see the water, I realised that I was scared to be so close to it.
What the water gave us
Tentatively peering out to my horror a large amount of what was floating in the water, as well as cars and trucks and other assorted unspecified crap, was people. Flailing around, bloated and grey there were thousands and thousands of people.
“uaahhuaa” – I let out some kind of noise and fell backwards onto my ass. Claire’s face turned to me, mouth open. Then her face screwed up in disgust.
“What does this tell you?!” I screamed.
“That the water is full of dead people! What the fuck do you want me to say? Ahhhh!” She raged in frustration, hobbling right past me and began pacing.
“Okay… okay… something awful happened, some big disaster. Everyone drowned, the sea levels rose suddenly… so, maybe not global warning… what else could have done it? …” I was speaking to myself really, I knew it, I was staring at the floor, mumbling.
“FUCK!!!” Claire was back in the window space, screaming at the top of her lungs “FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!!!!” Then one more scream five seconds later but the tone had changed dramatically, one of those screams that started silent but turned into a chilling high pitched wail “aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!... SHIT!!!!!” she recoiled in terror, falling next to me just as I was trying to stand up. We were inches apart, just close enough to hear a whisper “they heard me” she whispered and scrambled to her feet, hobbling towards the door. I chased, “what? What do you mean? Hey! Who heard you?” no answer.
We were out the door, running up flights of stairs as fast as we could, I stopped asking questions, knowing I wouldn’t get a response. In my mind this was only revealing that the one person who I had been kind of depending on so far was actually unstable and crazy. Maybe it had all got too much. She was counting off the floors. “This is it, in here!” We burst through the door, back onto the first intact floor, breathless and in pain. The door swung shut. Claire grabbed my shirt, pinning me against the wall, “when I shouted they heard me!”
“Who?”
“The people in the water, they heard me”
“They were dead, Claire! Wasn't that obvious to you? They were dead people floating in the water”. I was sounding condescending now, annoyed that I’d hurt my leg trying to get keep up on the stairs. “Look, how could you even know that they heard you, what an insane thing to say, just calm down”
“When I shouted they all started moving”
“No they must have just been rolling around on the waves or something, surely?”
“No... I know what I saw. Hundreds of them were turning, looking for me and they started thrashing frantically” She was hysterical, tears running down her face.
I could feel the colour draining from my face, I could feel the sweat on my palms, I could feel my eyes welling up in fear. “no” I was shaking my head “no, no what? … no”.
“Yes!”
Apocalypse
We stood in silence. I believed her, I wasn’t hard to convince when given bad news. “Let’s go!” I said, “come on let’s go”
“Let’s go where? There is nowhere to go”
She was right.
We opened the door of a bathroom and closed it behind us, instinctively trying to hide from the threat. Were they really dead? Were they coming after us? I couldn’t think straight from fear. In a blind panic I felt in the darkness for a cubicle and locked myself inside.
I could hear Claire sobbing outside. The sobbing slightly echoed in the bathroom, minutes passed and I began to feel a strange unexpected peace, I could hear my breath, I could feel the cold ceramic of the toilet with my hand. I could hear my heart beating. I felt safe, like being under a duvet. “Claire, come in here”.
I opened the door, she stumbled inside and I locked it again. I was calm now, I’d come through panic and out the other side. Into some kind of nirvana.
When the piercing shrieking outside got loud enough to be undeniable I could feel my pulse raise, I was aware of this but now somehow removed from the situation. “They’re coming” I said, soothingly, as if I was trying to be reassuring. Why was I accepting of this? I knew why. Because it couldn’t really be happening. When you feel like you’re watching yourself on a screen as I often did, somewhere miles away, safe and secure it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bit unrealistic. It is happening, it’s part of the story!
The door outside, the one that entered the office suite swung open so hard I could hear it hit the wall.
I looked up I had a sudden urge to climb. Without thinking about why I climbed onto the toilet and put my hands onto the tops of the cubicle walls, pushing myself up until I was sitting on the corner where two sides met. My head had to duck, I was right by the celling. Still not really knowing what I was doing I pushed upwards, the ceiling tiles came out of place easily. I stood up on the side of the cubicle, my head poking right up through the hole I’d made in the ceiling, there was a good few feet of space. It was still pitch black. There was no way I was going to be able to stand on these tiles, but it seemed like it might have been fairly realistic to be able to stand on top of the dividing wall between the bathroom and whatever was next door.
The shrieking was getting louder but this was all happening in seconds. “Claire, take my hand, now!” I managed to pull her up through the darkness. We were now holding onto some pipe work in the ceiling space. “we should be able to step on top of the dividing wall, it’s going to take a little bit of a leap of faith, come on!”
We stepped out into the darkness.
“Shit!”
My foot was going straight through, I fell side on straight through the ceiling of the next room which was another large office space. Claire came down falling on top of me. My shoulder was dislocated, I could feel it instantly. I rolled over to get up but they were already swarming in, running across the room. Bloated, grey, mostly naked bodies. The noises they were making and the looks on their faces made them look enraged, what had we ever done to them? I thought … what a stupid thought…
We scrambled to our feet and ran but saw no way out, we were cornered. The windows were intact, the glass was far too thick to break and there was no door. More and more were piling through the door at the other side of the room, the noise was unbearable. We looked at each other, we looked back at them, the first of whom were almost upon us, there was absolutely no doubt that this was it, they were going to kill us. I just knew and I could feel it, they were angry, they wanted to rip us to pieces…
“The lift!” I screamed.
Behind us as we had stood up was a lift entrance and the doors were already a few centimetres open. One of my arms was swinging uncontrollably from the shoulder as I sprinted towards it, hoping Claire was with me. With my one working arm I managed to pull the lift door open. Grabbing Claire around the torso I pulled her inside. We tumbled down the shaft together.
We hit water.
Equals now.
The sick and the dead
To my intense relief the grey bloated... things... were not tumbling down on top of us. In addition to this small mercy the water inside the lift shaft was still and did not contain debris.
There we remained in the water. Minutes passed. Holding the cables of the lift. The urge to speak was strong but the difficulty of thinking up anything to say was stronger. At one point I almost signed 'what a day' but I just couldn't bring that kind of banality into this situation.
The topic of conversation inside my head was fixed squarely on how death would come for us, now that we had avoided a meeting with those who had already perished.
We would not live long enough to starve, or to die of thirst (I had involuntarily tasted the salty water as we landed in it, we would not be quenching our thirst with this). We were going to die of hyperthermia instead. Probably within a few hours. At least once we had become numb this would be a peaceful exit.
Long watery silence.
Only a little bit of light was making it down to us from the open door up above.
Maybe I wouldn't say anything else at all. Maybe I had already said my last words. Maybe I would just let us die in silence. At least I'd never have to account for whether it was a weird thing to do or not.
Then the cable moved.
“This cable just moved!” Wow, I was already having trouble moving my jaw from cold. Also, the cable had just moved! And I had broken my silence.
Underneath the water, far below us, the lift was coming up.
It touched our feet, gently. Raising us out of the water, moving more slowly than a lift usually would, especially in such a tall building. We continued to rise, as if we were ascending to heaven. We crouched down on top of it, moving up into the brighter light coming from the open doors.
Claire was just looking at me. And I was looking at her.
As we neared the doors I became aware that there would be no way to close them. The peace broke and we quickly moved over into a far corner to avoid being detected.
For 2 or 3 seconds we could see directly back into the office we had come out from. The dead were still present in the room but they were silent now, standing mournfully still. The lift glided past in silence. We had gone unnoticed. Now it was dark again.
“Well this was fucking unexpected!” - Claire had recovered herself from the shock. I was very pleased. I needed her to be this way again.
The lift finally came to a stop now we had to find a way out. Our presence in this world had not yet been detected by anything living. We were going to have to make ourselves known.
We stamped on the roof of the lift. “Help! Help us! Help” we cried almost in unison. Muffled voices came from below.
In a moment the lift moved down. Just a meter or so. And the doors opened. Light came in. The water was still dripping from my clothes and hair. I was beyond cold.
I crawled to the edge, desperately and awkwardly, putting weight only on one hand, hoping for the brief warmth that we might all feel from the surprise of meeting other people. I think I even grinned. Stupidly.
Maybe it would be someone who remembered the time machine, maybe they'd figured out when we would be arriving, maybe this was a rescue.
The lift was in such a position that the opening for us was up near the ceiling, but easily big enough to escape from and the lower half of the opening was down further than it should have been, forcing the occupants to climb up to get out.
Wide eyed I thrust my head out of the gap, I was face to face with them. Two skinny, bearded older men and a woman along with one younger boy, probably in his teens, also very skinny. All staring up. Claire hung back, peering out of the darkness just behind me.
“Hey!” I said. Instantly feeling like I was being too giddy.
One of the men spoke. To my surprise it was in another language. One which I could not identify. He was speaking to the boy.
“He would like to know, who are you? How did you get here” said the boy, in English but with a very strong, again unidentifiable, accent. His clothing was ragged, his cheeks were sucked in and his eye sockets were all sunken.
Maybe this was not a planned rescue, I conceded in my mind.
“We came down from the roof” I answered. Concerned not to get onto the subject of time travel yet. Who knows what these people knew and did not know.
My concern was misplaced. It quickly became obvious that they had no desire to stop and have a full conversation about how our seemingly unlikely meeting had come about. At least not here and now anyway.
The men were climbing back down into the lift itself as I climbed down from the roof, clumsily but thankfully landing on my feet. I could see that they were picking up a body and heaving it out. Claire was getting down from the top too, her legs hanging over the edge as she lowered herself out. I helped her, so as to avoid her falling onto her injured leg. We were weak. Cold, tired and both hurt. We still looked better than this skeletal group.
“She is sick. She needed air and sunlight” said the boy, noticing that I was looking at the pale body of the woman being held between the two men. They had hauled her up out of the lift. The implication was that she was still alive. It wasn't easy to tell.
There was a definite business-like air to the activity, everyone doing their bit, quickly, and glancing around the room constantly as they picked her up, the three adults sharing her weight. They spoke to each other in the tone that their actions suggested. Short bursts. Although I could not understand the words their speech implied they were only talking practically about what had to be done, their faces looked grave but determined.
We were on the top floor. We followed them up in silence, back onto the roof. Not much sunlight here I thought.
Submission
The boy was stood still, watching, arms folded, a little way apart from the rest. Claire took this as an opportunity.
“Where have you come from?” She asked him.
“What do you mean?”
“You just came up out of the water riding in a functioning lift. Where have you come from? What's down there?”
The boy stared at her, his mouth opened slightly, but he was slow to speak.
“You have come from the dry land” he informed us, clearly believing that he had just worked out what was going on “Why are you asking these things?” mouth still hanging a little bit open. The others were still tending to the woman.
“Look. We haven't come from any dry land. We came here in this, see all this shit lying around here? We travelled here in this” Claire gestured at the wreckage. “believe it, or fucking don't believe it but we just arrived here from, like, 20 years ago. It's obvious that a lot has happened and I've got to be honest with you I need some answers!”. She strode towards him.
Her raised voice had alerted the skinny men and the conscious woman. Their heads turned around awkwardly from what they were doing. The oldest man began what seemed to be him telling the rest of the group to carry on. They were dressing a wound I think. He stood up and was walking towards us, his hand brushing away hair that had blown into his eyes.
The boy looked to the man and began translating the story so far, their heads down, but with eyes mainly on us until the man put his hand onto the boy's shoulder. “he's reassuring him” I whispered to Claire. Reassuring myself. “You know what else?” I said and she leant in a little, as we mirrored the boy and the man “they weren't that surprised too see strangers that means there's got to be a fair few living people still living”.
We were brought into the huddle around the sick woman who was lying on the floor. The man was rapidly explaining something to the others. What he said caused them to stop what they were doing. Some sharp words were exchanged.
“You must come with me” said the boy.
Ordinarily you would become suspicious in this situation. The reason that we said nothing at all, got up and simply followed him back to the lift was something that could only be fully obvious to us who were there: We were stood on top of the tallest building around, surrounded by a turbulent ocean, the remains of only a handful of other ruined buildings were visible under a dark sky which was now getting darker fast. We were in the unusual situation whereby we had no reason to fear anything that could be done to us. Death had seemed certain on a few occasions already today. I can only speak for myself but I would have accepted either death finally coming or answers, either one quite happily. Claire said nothing yet but I felt tension building in her silence. She followed in line.
We returned to the submersible lift. The doors closed and a red light came on. The boy rolled up a plastic sealant that covered the door and secured it closed. A lever was pulled and we began to descend. The red light reflected on our wet faces, we stared ahead blankly. The boy did not know where to put his eyes.
As water trickled in through the cracks he fixed his eyes on me.
Deeper and deeper
“Do you know where you are?” he asked
“Yes I do, but I don't know when we are” I said to him, feeling like it was safe to be straight with him now that we were alone.
“You travelled through time but you do not know when you have come to and I do not know when you have come from.”
“You knew that?” Claire asked him.
“The brother informed me. It is the first time I have met you. One of them can remember you from long ago”.
“Before all this?” I asked, excitedly, “before we left?”
“No, from the last time you visited” the boy did not anticipate the confusion and shock this would provoke.
Both of us pushed off away from the walls we were leaning up against. We stood poised to receive more information.
“Yes! And? Keep going! Explain that!” I was getting impatient now; feeling like I would have made a much greater effort to explain anything I knew to people in such a bewildering situation as we were.
“Look you're going to have to assume that we haven't got a fucking clue about anything. Tell us what's happening. What do you mean last time we visited? What happened here? How long has the world been this way?” Claire snapped at him.
“What way?” said the boy quietly, cowering a little.
Claire grabbed him by the neck. The water was now up to our ankles. She splashed through it with him slamming him against the far wall of the lift “Tells us everything, right now you little shit!”
He was whimpering.
“NOW!!” she roared.
This felt wrong but I stood looking on, like a voyeur, unable to take my eyes away and in no mood to stop the proceedings . I was desperate to know what he would say.
She relaxed her grip a little.
He spat out an answer rapidly “You have come here many times. You have not been here since the oldest brother was young but in his story he says that you have been coming here for as long as people can remember. Many hundreds of years at least I think”
“When did the sea rise up to this level? Do you know that?” I asked him.
“No” he said shaking his head just a little bit, nervously. His eyes staring back. “No. I do not know”.
“What about the people? The dead people in the water? They chased us earlier, they nearly got to us”
“They are ghosts, from long ago. You came close to them?” He looked impressed. “We are afraid of them. We do not allow them to come close to us. They would rip us apart. They would eat us. You should not disturb them”
“Fuck”
This was too much. My hand came up to my forehead. I stared upwards into the red light.
Subterranean
The lift stopped. The doors opened and the foot or so of water spilled out into the tunnel ahead. We were clearly below the surface. It was a long corridor. The floor was tiled, the walls were a little bit rough but more or less straightly cut into the rock. Electric lights were fixed to the roof every few meters. It was low level but it was possible to see clearly enough.
This was a relief. This was a place of safety. And a place of anticipation.
Eventually after some time walking through the tunnel we reached a metal door in the side. The boy pushed through it and held it open for us to enter. We walked into a larger space, a room, empty but surrounded by doors which were all gated with bars. Like the centre of a prison wing. The light was still dim but it was clean and warm.
The boy appeared to have recovered from his ordeal at Claire's hands in the lift.
“This is our home” he said, holding up both arms, the palms of his hands facing upwards. “There is only one other who resides here right now, her room is down here on the left” he pointed as he began to walk towards the occupied cell/ bedroom... whatever they were... “I have been told I must bring you to see Karina, our mother. She will be able to speak with you and settle you”.
Karina's 'cell' was comfortable. The barred door was wide open. There were books everywhere, on shelves, on the floor in little stacks, some on a counter top opposite her bed. She had a large bed almost the size of a double and much of the walls were covered with a sackcloth type fabric. Karina was sat in an armchair which was up against the back wall, facing us. She was a little larger than the others, she appeared to be in her late 60s or 70s. Her greying hair was long and hung down in front of her shoulders down to her stomach.
The boy stood there in the doorway, we were just behind him.
His mouth was opening. He was forming the first sound of a word he was about to say when an alarm sounded.
Karina's eyes widened slightly, she had only had time to stare at us for a second no one had managed to get a word out. The boy turned, paused for a second and began to run back towards the entrance to the corridor.
“I have to see to this” he shouted without turning around.
Safe
“Get inside” instructed Karina, in a warm but firm motherly tone. “Close the door... Yes. Now Lock it”
I realised that her accent was an English one, of sorts.
Claire was bolting the door shut, I took a few steps into the room to give her space to do it, facing the old lady. This was easily the most homely environment we had encountered here but I felt awkward. The emotions of the day were catching up, I suddenly realised how tired and thirsty I was. I felt like I'd just been pushed out onto a stage with no introduction.
“Sit”
“Okay, thanks”
“Can I get you something? Water?”
“Yes please”
“Yeah, me too please”
“You just sit there, let me get it for you”.
We were handed tin flasks from the counter top across from the bed containing cool metallic tasting water.
“Have some of these biscuits too”
“Oh, okay thank you”
“Yeah, brilliant, that's great, thanks for that”
Claire was the first to speak. For the first time since before we left she was calm. I'd forgotten what her voice sounded like when it was softer. I worked on re-setting my shoulder. Karina was settling back into her chair.
“Sorry we didn't get a chance for introductions, I'm Claire and this is ****. I have no idea how this is going to sound to you but we've just arrived here... In a time machine... On the roof... [longer pause] like I say, I have no idea how that's going to sound to you. [another shorter pause] Do you know anything about us?”
“Yes dear. Don't you worry about me. I am not shocked by this. By your presence here. But I think you will be. You may have questions... Let me try to settle your minds. Ask me about some things that are bothering you. Your eyes are narrow, your foreheads are wrinkled. You've been concentrating hard, you are tense. Relax. Let us talk.”
Shoulder = fixed.
I looked sideways at her but then straight ahead at thee wall as I spoke. “We were under the belief that twenty years would have passed since we left our time. That's not the case is it?” I asked.
Claire nodded, looking at Karina, agreeing that this was the first topic we wanted to cover.
“I'm afraid not”
“Have you seen us before?” I asked
“Yes dear. 42 years ago you were here before. And many times before that. Your visits have been recorded. I am the only one who reads and writes in this place. I keep the books, I'm slow I can't do much else these days”.
She was on her feet again, bending down, her arm holding the edge of her chair picking through a small pile of books on the floor at the foot of the bed. She handed us the one she had been looking for. It was a journal, backed in felt. On the front was written:
THE VISITORS
Tentatively I opened the first page. It was the beginning of a log.
As I leafed through each page had a number at the top with a dash and then the words 'A Visiting'. Below each was a short paragraph or two detailing the events of many previous visits. Claire leaned over. There could be no doubt that we were the subjects on which this book had been composed.
Some times more of the original crew had survived, often it was just the two of us. Sometimes our bodies had been found lifeless on the roof – sometimes badly decomposed. Presumably on these occasions we had died at some point during long gaps between their visits to the surface. Quite often we'd been found sheltering on the highest intact floor of the building.
Having darted about the pages chaotically I decided to return to the beginning. 102.
“what year is it now?” I asked, turning my head upwards towards Karina.
“It's March of 546”
“546? What do you mean? It was 2016 when we left?”
“ahh yes. Some of my oldest books do cover the old world dates” she said “the first year in our system was the year after the climax of a terrible war. Many years ago, to us, there was a war so great that the old world was destroyed. This corresponded with the year 2027 in the old dates.” She sounded studious and quietly authoritative. Clearly someone well versed in ancient history.
I was adding the numbers up in my head, brining in fingers and looking upwards and slightly to the side trying to calculate it.
“557 years” she said “I'm sorry to be the one to let you know. Your world is long gone”.
I'd noticed.
The yawning began, I couldn't concentrate any more. Sleep was coming whether I liked it or not. We were put into two adjacent cells, on Karina's advice we bolted the doors from the inside.
Dragging up the past
I awoke at some point after a sleep. It felt like a long sleep. There was no way of knowing. Maybe another 557 years had passed. I sat up, my feet came down onto the ground and I sat there for a bit, just thinking and waking up. Like any other morning.
My body knew when the time was right and without having to think about it I stood up, unbolted the door and walked outside the cell. Claire was sat cross legged on her bed with a pile of books. Completely engrossed by the look of it. No one else was around.
“Morning” I said. Ironically.
She didn't look up.
“Come and look at this” she said.
She closed the book she was reading and flopped it down onto the bed in front of me with a little flair of drama. Karina let me take a few to look at.
“That's from before” She said “From our time”
I looked down at a blotchy history book with a weird name; 'Peace and Wars 1878 – 1950'
“You tell me if you are aware of any of the events that book describes” she challenged. “tell me if any of that looks familiar?”
“O...kay”
One hand on the spine of the book, the other flicking through the pages.
“Fuck”
It didn't look familiar at all.
“Where are we? You tell me how can that be?” Claire asked. She had the tone of someone who had been ripped off and was about to march back into the shop and complain.
Our voices had been heard, Karina appeared in the doorway.
“No one else is here” she said.
She was worried.
“I thought they must have come back in the night but I've checked. No one else is around”.
My heart was in my mouth. Not because I had any knowledge of what was usual or how worried we should expect to be but because we had neglected to tell anyone that the dead were occupying one of the floors a few down from the roof in huge numbers.
I swallowed. Lots of times. Karina walked away purposefully.
“Claire we forgot....”
“I know” she interrupted
“Fucking fuck, shit, we've fucked this up”
This was the first time I'd felt responsible for anything since arriving.
“What are we going to do?” I whispered,
“Nothing, what can we do? Don't say a word about this” She told me in no uncertain terms. “Lets go and see if we can find her”.
Die die die
We found Karina walking slowly down the corridor towards the lift. She was almost there as we came up behind, jogging the last little bit to catch up with her. She heard us and turned around.
“I'm going to have to go up” she said, definitely, like she was expecting us to try to stop her.
I still had no bearings for what was okay. Maybe she went up there all the time. Maybe this would have been considered outlandish by anyone else.
We reached the lift and she pulled a lever. The discussion was over.
The doors opened. The sight was horrific. The two men, the conscious woman and the boy were dead. Lying there, much of their torsos all ripped/ bitten apart. What was really shocking though was the zombie still eating them.
It leapt out at us, running. It's head protruded out ahead of it's body, arms down by its sides, mouth open like it was just going to run straight into it's prey and take a bite. I shoved it sideways. I'm reasonably strong and I went all out. It was enough to knock it off course.
“Get it!” Shrieked Karina, not in fear but as someone shouting orders.
It swerved back, letting out wild terrifying noises. Claire's foot came crashing down on it's thigh, enough to get it on the ground. I think I even heard a bone breaking. I started to kick it in the side, over and over again. Ribs were breaking, it's skin was tearing it still struggled, trying to move its mouth towards my legs. One last stamp on its head and everything stopped.
The lift had 5 more of the dead in it, but they were dead, dead. Mainly slumped behind the bodies of the others.
Karina was less upset than I'd expected. I wondered how well she knew them. I didn't know how living arrangements worked here.
“We have to go. It's going to take some time to get out the other way. Come on”. She was walking away, back down the tunnel.
“Where?” I asked, standing still. It wasn't like the previous day any more where I had followed blindly not caring what happened next. I was calm and rested. I had tasted safety in the most terrifying world imaginable.
“There is another way out, we have a long walk. Supplies are very low. The others would have done this journey today or tomorrow. I don't want to be down here alone with nothing. There is no guarantee that anyone else will visit here for some time”.
We walked for hours, I think. The further we went the worse the quality of the tunnel got. Soon there were no more tiles on the floor, after that the lights went, we only saw one very irregularly revealing that we were in a much more cave-like tunnel now. The floor remained mostly even though so we made good time.
Like any long walk you get time to think. Conversation was non-existent. My mind went over and over the facts of the situation. What was known, what could be speculated. Was this another dimension? Another planet in a far away corner of the universe? Was this a place with different rules – like ones where the dead can attack you? Where ever we were the Shard was still present though... was that even the Shard? It was barely recognisable if it was, maybe I'd just assumed that much... So many questions... I was in no mood to talk through all of them with anyone else right now. I was doing my own thinking. Getting lost in thoughts, it was actually kind of nice.
“Okay. We've arrived. This is the beginning of the steps. This is the way up” Karina told us.
We began to climb a staircase. It went straight up but the steps were not steep. The ceiling was low. There was no light coming from the top. After a few minutes. Karina stopped. She was feeling for the door, whatever she was doing it was making a grinding noise and as she pushed the door open and bright light flooded in I could see that she was turning a wheel which had kept the door locked from the inside.

(I'm still writing this - I put it on the internet so I don't accidentally delete it or drop my laptop in a river or something).