The power of collective joy

In a world of isolation and a left which tends towards despondency, collective joy is our weapon against neoliberalism. Sam Swann reflects on The World Transformed 2018

October 1, 2018
5 min read

The closing party at The World Transformed 2018

The Labour left is flexing its muscles these days. It’s all very exciting. And last week muscles were most certainly flexed at The World Transformed (TWT) – Labour Party Conference’s radical sister festival, designed to develop ideas, self-educate, form and strengthen relationships with comrades new and old. We could revisit our histories, and dance till the early hours with the some of the best of the left. Radical ideas were the order of the day – John McDonnell spoke about being ‘In And Against The State’,  solidarity with Palestinians was pronounced confidently and loudly. We discussed how to battle the far right, we heard about Cybersyn, we workshopped policies for radical cultural change, and – most importantly I would argue – we partied together. Fomenting radical ideas for change is a key part of realising lasting political change. But crucially, we also need to connect to what that change might feel like. We need to glimpse the radical possibilities of a world founded on ethics of togetherness, rather than the miserable isolation of neoliberalism.

Dramatic readings of plays composed by children.

While the intellectual prowess of speakers and participants alike was an inspiration to behold, it was the parties that got me really hyped. After a less joyful, more tumultuous summer than last year, the Left’s spirits needed a lot of reviving. In the Acid Corbynism session, Plan C’s Keir Milburn took us through some thoughts on Mark Fisher’s (sadly unfinished) book Acid Communism on post-capitalist desire. Afterwards, Nadia Idle facilitated a consciousness-raising workshop letting us consider the last time we felt free from work, when and why we are bored, and when was the last time we felt collective joy. Participants had the most lovely things to say about family, trans pride, singing, sex, football, dancing and as one participant Paddy Bettington said “many of us have been feeling this collective joy over the past few days at TWT”. This workshop was followed by some more talks and discussions before we all cleared the chairs and had a big old boogie.

This collective joy – where we feel an elation, connection to others and to a sense of something greater – is a powerful and maybe even indispensable tool for the left. We know that neoliberalism is relentless in its assault on our mental health, dividing us, making us feel alone and alienated. Facilitating collective joy gives us the potential to – at least momentarily – resist this alienation. This is essential for our movements. We have to make sure that we connect and reconnect with each other emotionally and not just cerebrally – to build the bonds of collective struggle, and to make sure successive rounds of radicals aren’t lost to burnout and atomisation. Not just as a means of continuing our struggles against neoliberalism, but to create the utopias we want to see. In the now. Otherwise what kind of world are we fighting for?

A packed discussion

The wilderness years may have fostered a despondency on the left, when we had to constantly defend and justify our politics and our selves, rarely fighting for, usually defending against. Now is the time for us to be on the offensive. TWT has shown us what is possible over the past few years. An incredible contribution to the left, especially impressive when you consider the core organising team are aged 23-27.

We seem to have left TWT re-energised, with our sense of communal worth reinvigorated by all kinds of events based around the basic but potentially transformative principle of fun and togetherness unconstrained by market forces or neoliberal norms. There was a mixed-gender 5-a-side football tournament won by Legends FC, a team made up of players who did not know each other beforehand. There were film screenings; reading groups; a placard making session; a kids play writing workshop lead by myself; the list goes on and on. This is a powerful form of organising; one which couples the ideas that could transform the world with the feelings which make it happen . This collective joy helps us feel solidarity, and we are reminded that we can all be involved, we do have something to contribute, we can feel less powerless, see ourselves and others anew, and feel less alone in a system that extracts profit from our solitude. Collective joy is our weapon against neoliberalism. And it is a weapon that will only get more powerful if we acknowledge it and harness its power. See you on the dance floor comrades.

Want to know more? Read Kier Milburn’s piece ‘Acid Corbynism is a gateway drug’.

Sam Swann was a volunteer at The World Transformed 2018