Why “I am literally a communist, you idiot.”*
See also: https://www.jacobinmag.com
“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me”. (Hamlet. Act 2 Scene 2).
Rowland Atkinson and Don Mitchell in ‘Fracturing Societies’ also paint a rather bleak picture:
“The world feels like it is falling apart, and maybe it really is. Maybe the weight of human misery, the collapse of civil societies, ethno-national tensions and divisions, political exits and polarization and the accelerating ecological crisis, maybe all of this make things different this time.”
We may be living in the post-capitalist interregnum in which the old order is dying but the new is yet to be born (Streeck 2016). Wallerstein et al (2013) also predict a collapse of capitalism, following on from Jared Diamond’s own version called ‘Collapse’ (Diamond 2005). There is nothing inevitable about capitalist progress, and indeed something in the idea that capitalism, and the progress it creates, also creates crisis which in the past has been solved by war and creative destruction.
Many people living in ‘late modern’ capitalism, our era, are teetering fearfully on the edge of technological innovation(Varoufakis 2018). Many others are oblivious, or indifferent, to social structural and technological change. Most of us seem to worry about money, job security, relationships and health (Pomlett 2016, Champion 2014). Worries about Artificial Intelligence (Bostrom 2014), Automation, Digitalisation, or Social Media effects on democracy, appear to be the preserve of the professional commentariat. And yet, these disruptive forces may sweep away all current social, political and economic relationships, which for some may well be catastrophic. Creative Destructionand revolutionary changes in the instruments of production have transformed, and will transform, all relations in society resulting in uncertainty, constant change and revolution. Human societies have never had to experience the rate of change and disruption now in force. Already the few are benefitting from this process, as they always have, while the many face insecurity, precarity and disenfranchisement even in ‘Level 4’ countries*.
Matthew D’Ancona (2018) writes:
“…our traditional institutions have been radically weakened in the past 20 years: public trust in parliament, government, traditional media and the financial order is in the gutter. The immune system of our old-fashioned political structures is well and truly shot. As the Oxford academic Philip N Howard argues in his fine book, Pax Technica: “The state, the political party, the civic group, the citizen: these are all old categories from a pre-digital world.” To understand the new world, Howard continues, we must look at it “as a system of relationships between and among people and devices.”
Howard is optimistic about the future despite this warning.
Some may celebrate ‘progress’ and refer to increases in life expectancy, technological innovation, decreases in relative poverty and the growth of ‘middle classes’ in India and China as further evidence of the benign march of capitalism. They point to philanthro-capitalists, they point to corporate social responsibility, they point to the sum of human happiness, they point to billions being lifted out of poverty and advances in public health and medical technology as ‘proof’ of that progress. And in many ways they are right. And in many ways they are wrong.
Hans Rosling (2018) provides a good deal of data to argue that although ‘things are bad’ they are also getting better. It is easy to read his book and interpret it as praise for free market capitalism. It is not. Rosling provides data to show certain metrics are improving but little detail on whythings are improving and no social theory to explain the processes. He does provide some insight to the various methods that work, and as a public health professor supports a mixed bag of tools to achieve success. He neither supports free market capitalism as the answer to everything nor state planning. He also outlines five global risks we should be worried about (2018 p237):
- Global Pandemics (such as flu).
- Financial Collapse.
- World War 3.
- Climate Change (breakdown).
- Extreme Poverty.
These risks he argues require global collaboration and global resourcing, but this smacks of global governance hated by right wing libertarians especially in the US. Any activities for capital accumulation that disregards these risks is at best diversionary and at worse likely to exacerbate or bring them about.
‘Progress’ is a thesisthat creates antithesiswhich leads to a new social and political forms as synthesisbefore the cycle keeps repeating.
‘Progress’ also occurs alongside gross wealth and income inequality, ‘epidemics’ of anxiety, and depression and alienation, alongside greed, waste and both bullshit jobs and bullshit products. It leads to biodiversity loss and mass extinctions, ocean acidification, climate change and the potential for the transformation of democracy into authoritarian populism and plutocracy. Ecologically,we have crossed 4of the 9 planetary boundaries deemed necessary to stay within a ‘safe operating space for humanity’ (Rockstrom et al 2009, Steffen et al 2018).
The ongoing economic and social crisis in Greeceis merely an example of what capitalism can do. Some Greek hospitalsdo not have nursing cover at night, and some have withheld birth certificates for women who cannot pay their bills. This is in 2018, in a level 4 capitalist economy. Elsewhere, doctors in the United States talk about ‘shit life syndrome’(Hutton 2018) to describe unequal health outcomes related to poor material conditions, which is not an aberration but a key feature of capitalist economies (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009).
We are pigs with snouts firmly in the piss filled trough, snuffling around for acorns while actually being fed the remains of our own kind, unaware that the slaughterhouse knives are being sharpened to separate our brains from our bollocks in order to fill the bellies of gluttonous bourgeois plutocrats. We feel some form of misplaced pleasure but we don’t realise much of it comes from the anaesthesia induced psychotic K hole like trance, induced to protect us from the sound of sharpening steel. In space, no one will hear us squeal.
Yet, despite the gloom, communism is, according toAsh Sarkar,
“…about the desire to see the coercive structures of the state dismantled, while also having fun.”
It is about freedom, not adherence and obedience to the ‘Big State’ or to ‘The Party’ or to ‘The Leader’. It can be expressed through anarcho-syndicalism…or any political structure that breaks bourgeois power and the coercive arms of the State and Capitalist business imperatives.
It is about Liberty but not Libertarianism,whose adherence to laissez faire capitalism indicates its actual attachment to the continuance of shackles as it disbands the protective arms of the State to hand power over to capitalist elites who would then operate with even more freedom.
It is about Liberty as an “association in which the conditions for the development of each (person) is the condition for the free development of all” (Communist Manifesto 1848).
The principles for liberty and rights such as the French ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen’ (1789), is used to support libertarianism by bourgeois apologists but only in an abstract way so as to actually uphold oppression.
Article I – Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.Yet it is the complete disregard for the common good and often denial that there is a common good, by the bourgeois, that uphold social distinctions and erode equality and freedom. Social distinctions under bourgeois social relationships are based on the good of their class not the common good. Equality and Freedom under bourgeois social relations are thus defeated. “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau 1762).
Article II – The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression. Yet, under bourgeois social relationships, Liberty is a chimera, Property has been stolen, Safety is oft disregarded in favour of capital accumulation and Oppression runs through society like a cancer. When the only thing you have is your labour to sell, you are not free…you are a wage slave.
Article III – The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it.The nation does not exist as a common entity for all citizens, the bourgeois class has expropriated notions of nationhood for their own ends and then claim authority for its self-serving actions using the nation as justification. The bourgeois classes in each nation have often sent themselves and their proletarians to war against each other in the name of the ‘nation’.
Article IV – Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the fruition of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law. The common actions of the bourgeois class routinely harms others by disregarding externalities and claiming freedom to operate in the market regardless of social, environmental and political consequences. They cannot see harm, the see only profits. Thus do they extinguish Liberty. The borders are set in law drawn up by the bourgeois for the bourgeois but claiming to be in the common good.
Article V – The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order. In failing to either see harm to society, or in the denial of the existence of society the bourgeois fail to draw up law that forbids harm to society. It has taken the action of socialists, social democrats, communists and enlightened humanitarian capitalists to curb the actions of the bourgeois. The latter was to protect themselves from themselves.
Bourgeois liberty is the liberty to blind oneself to reality while chaining themselves and others to the machine of capital accumulation.
It is not relevant that capitalism is good at solving crises, although it often is, it is rather that it creates crises as an endemic characteristic, which force the search for solutions upon capitalism. The chief danger now however, is that the ecological crisisin particular could bring to an abrupt end this phase of human development with catastrophic consequences for nature and humanity. There may well be a ‘Black Swan’future.
Totalitarianism as Communism
The spectre of communism is spattered with the blood of the victims of millions caught up in violent revolutionary change. The enemies of communism took at face value those who claimed the title for their destructive forces. They should have known know better. A claim of virginity after a career in the whorehouse should be treated with just a little suspicion; those who are too ready to believe in the prostitute’s claim to sanctity deserve the plague of the pox their prejudice enjoins. However, the lure of the harlot’s bed proved too persuasive to ignore, so capitalist apologists did not bother to examine their own blood stained sheets of denunciation of hypocrisy before happily poking the anus of tyranny.
For many, ‘communism’ is synonymous with Totalitarianism rather than what it actually is: a wish to see a stateless, classless society in which we are freed from the shackles of waged labour. Due to Stalin et al’s claim to the word, self-serving bourgeois ideology and general ignorance, for many ‘communism’ is synonymous with tens of millions of deaths and nothing else. Their ignorance blinds them to objectivity so that they also tend to view capitalism as a bloodless, blameless engine of human progress and prosperity while they blithely brush imperialism, colonialism, genocide and slavery under an ideological carpet.
Jordan Peterson is contemporary critic of Marxism:
“I have been studying authoritarianism on the right and the left for 35 years. I wrote a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, on the topic, which explores how ideologies hijack language and belief. As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs. I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.” (Peterson 2016).
These are some of the ‘murderous ideas’ Peterson objects to:
- Alienation: from nature, from work, from others, from ourselves.
- Surplus value, Exchange value, Use value.
- Labour Theory of value.
- The Commodity and Commodification.
- Means, Mode, Relations and Forces of production.
- Class struggle and class consciousness – e.g. Serf v Lord, Subject v Monarch, Labour v Capital.
- Internal Dynamics of Capital Accumulation and Surplus Capital Accumulation Problem.
- Species Being.
- Contradictions of Capitalism.
- Historical Materialism and Metaphysical Naturalism.
- False consciousness.
I don’t see genocide, white supremacism, imperialism, colonialism, religious bigotry, intolerance and hatred, and slavery in that list. Peterson himself says of the far right that ‘racial superiority’ is a demarcation, but for the far left the best he comes up with is ‘equality of outcome’ as a marker. The latter is of course a straw man. Equality of outcome is not an aim of communism.
In the UK, ‘postcolonial melancholia’ (Gilroy 2005), which is a sickness that affects all social classes, is diagnosed by a rose tinted view of Britain’s imperial past. For its sufferers, they may develop the view that while a few dead ‘fuzzy-wuzzies’ was regrettable, uncivilised nations should be grateful for our intervention. ‘Postcolonial melancholia’ results in historical myopia and retreats towards nationalism. Its symptoms might include a bit of racism mixed with xenophobia. One of its signs might include ‘white supremacism’. This is the antithesis of internationalist communism. Post-colonial melancholia is a seed bed that gives rise to the murderous ideology of white supremacism. It might be better for Peterson et al to focus on that.
The easiest and laziest way to dismiss communism is to describe it as the defining feature of Totalitarian States and to ignore Capitalism’s own bloody history. There is nothing in Marx and Engels’ Manifestothat provided a detailed blueprint for Stalin or Mao.
The Communist Manifesto is polemic not a plan for the death squads.
Scratching away on a fiddle does not make one a Mozart. Black liquid is not necessarily a Guinness. The sermon on the mount does not validate the Catholic church’s use of the inquisition or the witch trials of Salem. The ‘Wealth of Nations’ did not mandate capitalist exploitation of European colonies and the genocide of indigenous peoples in North America, Africa and Australia. The misapplication of theory or labels is of course not new.
Marx himself is quoted by Engels as disassociating himself from Frenchcommunists by saying “Now what is known as ‘Marxism’ in France is, indeed, an altogether peculiar product — so much so that Marx once said to Lafargue “ce qu’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas marxiste”(“what is certain is that [if they are Marxists], [then] I myself am not a Marxist” (Engels – Letter to Bernstein, 1882).
So it is stillnecessary to state that communists are not Marxist-Leninists, Maoists, Stalinists or any other ‘insert name’ ist. As a communist I do notbelieve in using Gulags or Labour camps, both of which are the very antithesis of Marx’s communism and have their roots in totalitarian political theories which all too easily give rise to nationalism, xenophobia and fascism. Some communists abhor the State (some do not) which all too readily has been captured by the bourgeoisie in order to exercise political power in their favour. Marx was clear on this point:
“The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (1848 p25).
Stalinist ‘communists’ captured the State but did not abolish it because they feared external interference (correctly as it turned out) but instead of freeing workers, kept them in chains in order to build what they saw as a communist society. The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat was taken to its extreme as a justification for totalitarian rule and mass murder. It became an end not a means, it became a justificatory ideology rather than a tool for freedom.
‘Dictatorship’ of the proletariat should replace the current ‘Dictatorship’ of the bourgeoisie. But ‘dictatorship’ means a huge variety of different organising principles, it means opening us up to new forms of living and organising rather than the labouring under the stifling dead hand of neoliberal capitalism being dictated to by plutocrats and bourgeois apologists. Slaves requiring freedom must dictate to their masters to let them go. The powerful and wealthy rarely, if ever, freely give up their power and wealth without resistance from below.
The bourgeois ‘most revolutionary class’ has imposed its world view and political systems across the globe. There have been challenges of course but in 2018, the bourgeois class has few opponents. Socialists, Social Democrats, Feminists, old style ‘Communists’, Environmentalists of all types, all exist within a bourgeois dictatorship, the creaking hegemony imposed by a new form of capitalist imperialism, especially in the West, as ‘neoliberalism’. The existence of elections and competing political parties does not negate this concept of dictatorship. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not mean, for me, abolition of current forms of political expression by force or violence. I do acknowledge that some argue however that the bourgeois class will never relinquish power without violence as we have already seen in the bourgeois use of ‘structural and institutional violence’ (Galtung 1969, Barak 2003).
To see bourgeoiscapture, one only has to look at who the capitalist class executives are (e.g. Koch brothers) and the political power elites (e.g. Bush, Clinton, Trump, Thatcher, Blair, Cameron) and note funding for political parties and political thinks tanks such as the UK’s Institute of Economic Affairsin the UK and the Cato Institutein the US. Organisational forms and institutional arrangements may vary around the globe, but the underlying trend confirms State capture in the interests of the bourgeois class everywhere. Xi and Putin are thoroughly bourgeois, regardless of history or current forms of political structures. Chinese and Russian claims to communism are as fairy dust to reality.
According to the Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels 1848):
- Communists are not defined by being members of a separate party opposed to other working class parties. If there is a ‘communist party’ it stands alongside and not against Labour parties.
- They do not set up any sectarian party principles of their own.
- They foreground the common interests of the working class regardless of nationality.
- They everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. Internationalism is thus a key feature.
Orwell in ‘England your England’ however, reminds us of the power of patriotism, a force communism may never be able to defeat and which, if true, will often lead to war based on bourgeoisnotions of patriotism and competing nationalistic bourgeois self-interest for capital accumulation.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, is the ‘old lie’. That is why wars such as 1914-1918 was such a tragedy. The bourgeois class in Germany and Britain set the working class of each country against each other. Even members of the (unreflexive) bourgeois class were drawn into a self-defeating conflict by bourgeois ideology. Just as Marx presciently described in 1848, the German and British bourgeois classes fought for supremacy and access to global opportunities for capital accumulation, drawing upon flag waving national myths as justification.
In the modern era, the working class in the UK’s military, fight in the middle east for the bourgeois interests of the petro-dollar and the military-industrial complex. The cover for this is the ideological war against ‘Islamism’, whose fighters are themselves part of the globe’s ‘losers’ (Enzensberger 2005) fighting back against bourgeois values, values masked by the ideological veils of Capitalist Christianity and Enlightenment progress. The Muslim working class in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq suffer alongside the atheist working class of Accrington, Sunderland and Ipswich. The ideological veil of religion, as false consciousness, is tragically being used to galvanise the peasant class and working class and even educated ‘middle classes’ to kill those who should be their allies, as well as killing those who represent bourgeois values.
If you doubt that Islamist terrorism is also a class war veiled by religion, consider the target of 9/11. It was the symbols of US Capitalist power that were struck on that day, not apostate Muslims, their mosques or Christian cathedrals or churches. This requires consideration. The contemporary proponents of Wahhabism/Salafi suggest that many Muslims have lost their way, and fail to enforce sharia law. Thus their targets are other Muslims who they see as apostates. A purely religious cleansing would see attempts to clean up Muslim countries from their apostate heretics. That is indeed part of the strategy being carried out. But it is not the only strategy, because they also attacked symbols of (atheist/infidel) Capital. Why? One answer is that the US is the ‘Great Satan’ using its power to interfere in Muslim homelands. Another is that Osama Bin Laden fully understood bourgeois infiltration into every aspect of global culture and resisted US capitalist domination. The religion of the bourgeoisie is not really Christianity, it is capital accumulation, which threatens Wahhabism/Salafism far more than the followers of a secondary prophet. The ‘most revolutionary class’ thus is confronted by resistance from below.
The aims of Communism (as expressed by Marx 1848 p 46-47):
- The formation of the proletarians into a ‘working class’.
- The overthrow of bourgeois supremacy.
- To hold political power for the working class.
Note that these are broad polemical general aims…they do not mandate gulags.
I would add:
- To hold political power to rebalance our relationship with nature.
- To liberate everyone (bourgeois and proletarian) from the shackles of capitalist imperatives.
- To encourage the withering away of the State.
- To reduce nationalism and xenophobia to the status of cultural artefacts, as evidence only of our infantile past.
The first three arose from Marx’s analysis of actual existing class relationships in 1848 and still apply from an analysis of currently existing class relationships in this historical moment. Political institutions have changed, organisational forms have evolved, productive forces are dynamic, ideological perspectives have morphed, but the underlying class relationships are the same. The fourth arises from the science and literature around ecological sustainability. The last three from Marx’s philosophy.
Not one of those first three aims is a detailed policy or party strategy. They do not imply violence or force. They could be achieved through democratic means by consent of the people. However, we must acknowledge that force and violence is to be expected fromthe bourgeois class as they defend their class privileges. During the 1984 miner’s strike in the UK, force and violence was State organised to deliberately crush ‘working class movements from below’. Margaret Thatcher was a class warrior, and she knew it. The United States has been following a foreign policy using force and violence (Ambrose and Brinkley 1997) from the Truman Doctrine onwards to fight ‘Communism’ across the globe. Putin and Xi use force and violence to crush dissent of any kind in their own countries. Merely discussing the ‘overthrow’ of supremacy will bring forth resistance from bourgeois nationalists even at the earliest stage of its articulation as an aim. Witness the vitriol against the socialist inclined Jeremy Corbyn who calls for the overthrow of bourgeois supremacy, summed up in a slogan ‘for the many, not the few’.
These aims mean confronting ideology and engaging in criticism of bourgeois assumptions. They mean mobilising ‘social movements from below’ (Cox and Nilsen 2014) in order to usher in a ‘more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’ (Eisenstein 2013). Any talk of change will invite ridicule at best from the various arms of the Ideological State Apparatus, but make no mistake, the Repressive State Apparatus of the bourgeois class will be mobilised to use violence. It has a long history of doing so, from Peterloo onwards (Hernon 2006).
The future is an undiscovered country, but the present may be mapped. A communist frame of mind is critical, analytical and visionary. It is not prescriptive and does not lay down detailed economic policy. It doesask of any economic and political structure: “who benefits, and is that benefit equitable?”
It also provides the answer.
It also points to the contradictions within current structures and warns us against the dangerous paths that contradictions and conflicts can lead us towards. Paths we have trod before and one ecological path that we have never had to address at a global scale.
Rapid technological change, the ecological crisis and the potential renaissance of fascism are just three aspects of the current capitalist landscape.
Graham Scambler argues:
“Significant segments of populations can be fooled, and they are presently at risk of being so in England/UK. Moreover, they are fooled in a carefully planned and strategic or amoral manner, and in ways that impact on bank balances. Follow the money. Proto-fascist initiatives are striking cords through Europe and elsewhere, and the dangerous half-wit Trump is President of the USA. UKIP or a successor could yet re-emerge. Hitler was democratically elected in the 1930s because he appeared to offer a (Weberian ‘charismatic’) exit route from economic crises and their psychosocial concomitants. I have no hesitation is asserting that the hard-core, transnational capitalists and those of the political elite under their (financial) sway would prefer a fascist regime functioning in their interests than a democratic option that threatened their accumulation of capital and/or cosy, ‘gated-community’ detachment from the travails affecting many of the 99%. In that event, repression amounting to armed ‘policing’ would logically follow: it’s what fascism is“.
(See ‘The Supermanagerial Reich’ for historical antecedents).
I assert that current globalised capitalist relations provide fertile soil for disillusionment, disengagement, defeatism, and disenfranchisement of the ‘losers’ (Enzensberger 2005), the peasant and working class of the world, currently referred to as the ‘left behind’ which all to easily morphs into religious fundamentalism, nationalism, xenophobia and fascism (Lucassen and Lubbers 2012, Mieriņa and Koroļeva 2015). Reasons for far right voting are complex but involve anti migrant feeling, euroscepticism and religion (Allen 2017). These are people who see that the conditions of freedom for a wealthy minority in developed countries are not the same conditions of freedom for themselves. The losers get sick, the losers get angry, the losers get even (Enzensberger 2005).
In places like Lincolnshire, high levels of EU migration which is a facet of globalisation, and facilitated by free movement of people alongside free movement of capital, helped fuel the Brexit vote, the result of which encouraged openly nationalistic sentiment. Globalisation, European integration has also seen inequality grow while the working and middle classes have seen their living standards severely challenged. Marche (2012) suggests these groups are vulnerable to fascist and ultra nationalist groups such as the Greek ‘Golden Dawn’, Front Nationale (France), the German AfD, Pegida and the Hungarian Jobbik Party. Thus, indigenous populations around the globe facing the influx of huge reserve armies of labour that global capital requires, misplace their anger at the symptom and not the cause. Politicians largely ignore this fundamental contradiction of capitalism and instead of addressing working class concerns, merely left it to ‘the market’ to sort out. Well, the market does not care who gets ‘left behind’ or why. Neither does it care for the consequences. The EU’s handling of the euro crisis and its treatment of countries like Greece has emboldened the ‘Ultra-Right’ (Varoufakis 2014).
Populist leaders have encouraged anti migrant feeling either knowingly, in which case history should damn them, or unknowingly as a result of muddled headed thinking about sovereignty rooted in post-colonial melancholia in the UK, or in ‘primacy’ in the US, ‘reversing humiliation’ in China or ‘reclaiming the fatherland’ in Russia. Each nationalistic bourgeois class in each country vie with each other for supremacy and, as before, could initiate yet another catastrophic bourgeois war.
Notwithstanding nationalistic sentiment in many countries, fuelled often by capitalist political elites who write of ‘swarms’ and ‘rivers of blood’ and ‘foreign voices on London trains’, an important driver for social upheaval is rapid technological development which rapid capital accumulation facilitates.
Europe has not been overtaken by the far right, but there are signs of their growing strength. See this series of articles on ‘The Conversation’:
In 2018, ‘Tommy Robinson’ (Stephen Yaxley Lennon) was released from prison, on bail, following a contempt of court conviction. Founder of the English Defence League, Robinson is developing an online presence. He is a ‘correspondent’ for the Canadian rebel mediaoutlet and is lauded by the US alt-right. Robinson is joined on Rebel media by Mark Latham, former leader of Australia’s Labor Party. People like Robinson:
“…operate in a world of networks, in which the traditional divide between respectable politics and pub-and-terrace thuggery has been abolished and replaced by a web of filaments and connections that, through intermediaries and algorithms, ultimately link the Trump White House to the Kremlin, hacker camps, and thugs posing as enemies of the establishment. Nobody incarnates this new landscape of far-right connectivity like Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, who is now busily at work withnationalist parties in Europe. Bannon has been in direct contact with Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, and has expressed support for Robinson as a “solid guy”. (Mathew D’Ancona).
Of Bannon, John Harriswrites:
“Steve Bannon, the former strategy guru to Donald Trump…is now spending half his time in Europe and plotting the arrival of something called The Movement, a pan-European populist organisation. Bannon has reportedly been talking to (Boris) Johnson and hailed him as a key player on the world stage; his encounter with Rees-Mogg late last year similarly convinced him that the MP for North East Somerset and descendant of coalmine-owners is “one of the best thinkers in the conservative movement on a global basis”.
Nationalism is trying to become mainstream in which slogans like ‘America First’ start to take on more sinister overtones.
“a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells” (2018 [orig 1848] p xvii).
‘Creative destruction’, disruption, revolution, change and technological development are all hallmarks of capitalism and celebrated by Marx and Engels. We inhabit a world in which no one is in control, one in which a further divide is opening up: that between those who own and design machines and software and those who only build, repair, use and work with them, or who are displaced by them.
Uncertainty and change characterise social life so that:
“all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profane” (1848 p xii).
Silicon Valley tech billionaires are among the vanguard tearing up assumptions and business models. They programme software spells and conjure up practices they are not in control of.
Marx welcomed theindustrialversion of technological development because:
“…man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind” (1848 p xii).
This was hope, and still is. Capitalism proved however to be quite the sorcerer. Many became aware of the social realities, while many others were bewitched, bedevilled and beleaguered by the rapid social and technological transformations capitalism drives. Many are so afraid of the changes unleashed that they did turn, and are turning, to ‘strong men’ for solutions.
Varoufakis (2018) argues that current technological development means we must stop and consider what sort of society and social relationships we want, because Capital “saturates and bleaches the human spirit pale…unless it is socialised we are in for dystopic developments” (Varoufakis 2018 p xix). How do we face the irrational beast that cares not a jot for human happiness; merely tech development, change, and capital accumulation?
Technological development will free many from drudgery while many current forms and structures of work for many are alienating and enslaving. If automation restructures working life then we will have a question to address as:
“We can no longer hide behind the inevitability of work and the oppressive social norms it necessitates” (Varoufakis 2018 p xv).
Automation and digitisation holds out both hope and horror (another dialectic). Hope because it frees us from drudgery, but horror because unless the fruits are equitably distributed how will we live? Bostrom (2014) opens up the question of the control of humanity by artificial intelligence and just as the fate of apes is under our control, then so might our own fate be controlled by AI.
A crucial question then is: who will ultimately benefit from these technologies? Marx asked and answered that question in 1848, and it is still relevant. He argued that in being ‘the most revolutionary class’ responsible for unleashing the forces of technological innovation, the bourgeoisie might create the conditions for their own destruction. Bostrom’s ‘Superintelligence’ thesis might be another crisis of capitalism that capitalism might not be able to solve.
We now live in a world in which global wealth is concentrated in very few hands. Technological progress may well further concentrate that wealth. The power they wield is unparalleled in human history. The tech at their disposal is beyond comprehension to most, probably even to themselves. What (‘Superintelligent’) magic now is being unleashed? What solidity has melted into air, along with the polar ice caps?
What sort of society do we have when you strip away ideological veils and turn off ‘Love Island’?
‘Unpalatable Truths’(Scambler 2018)
Graham Scambler very helpfully wrote out a series of assertions, which he says have an empirical basis, which I have reproduced in full here. It seems to me to adequately describe the contemporary scene against which libertarian communists would set their face. They provide the backdrop for why the current social and political order is as unjust and dangerous to ordinary working people, and to nature, as it was in 1848 and is therefore in need of critique.
- Capital accumulation on the part of the new transnational super-rich and their well remunerated facilitators in the Tory Party, together with a Tory-lite Blairite rump in the Labour Party, easily trumps all else. This can be seen in any number of policies such as privatising and deregulating bus services and then running them only if they are profitable, regardless of social value. There are just enough ‘one nation’ Tories to resist the full implementation of such policies across all areas of social life.
- Policies are literally ‘bought’ by a hard core of capitalists from politicians of this ilk. Investigate the linkages and renumeration for ministers.
- The capitalists – largely transnational, post-national and nomadic rentiers, financiers, CEOs – don’t give a shit about the Daniel Blake’s of this world, let alone the 40% in developing countries who are neither producers nor consumers and therefore redundant (they would not be missed). The treatment of Grenfell Tower residents indicate such disdain, while the building developments in London will do little to alleviate housing needs for those on the median wage.
- The deals done by this select band of capitalists and elite politicians, amounting to well under 1% of the UK population, are strategic, clandestine and independent of issues of morality. ‘Greed is Good’, ‘Inequality is Good’ ‘The triumph of the bottom line’.
- Neoliberalism and the political device of ‘austerity’ have been, and still are, being deployed as an ideological warrant for an accelerated transfer of capital to the rich at the price of an enhanced exploitation of the middle- as well as working-class employed, as well as benefit cuts for vulnerable groups like the long-term sick and dis-abled.
- Another aspect of this transfer of capital, and an exemplar of ‘bought policy’, is the selling off of public assets to for-profit providers, notably in relation to the NHS and other ‘basic services’. The ‘revolving door’ means that many elite politicians who act as conduits are personally rewarded for their corrupt interventions.
- Hard-core capitalists, and the leading politicians only too comfortable in their pockets, afforded loyal support by the mainstream media, much of it owned by non-dom, non-tax paying proprietors, as well as by television channels, including the BBC, are neither accountable nor answerable to any democratic body.
- In this context racist ‘populist’ appeals – most conspicuously augmenting and playing on Islamophobia – are a calculated political device.
- The well-documented political and media bias against Corbyn’s Labour, and the constant personal smears, are a function of the threat he is seen to present to vested capitalist and elite political interests, as well as – via his support of Palestinian rights – to the racialised domestic and militaristic foreign policies of Israel (the West’s geopolitical satellite in the Middle East).
- As the capitalist world order destabilizes, political repression, already being (mis)used under the rubric of anti-terrorist legislation to enhance the surveillance of ‘dissent’, is likely to be ramped up against oppositional politics of all kinds, even more so in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’.
- If Corbyn were to be elected PM there would be an immediate capital-led, transnational campaign to bring him down, initiatives beyond mere smears involving fabricated or ‘fake news’ disseminated by the mass media, and rapidly extending to ‘capital flight’ and concerted attacks on the economy and sterling.
- The only route to survival/durability in office for a ‘non-compromising’ or socialist Corbyn-led Labour government would involve an extension and mobilisation of an effective extra-parliamentary movement base emergent from, and consolidated out of, a deep crisis of public legitimacy confronting a split Tory Party.
The economic, political and social world we inhabit, described above in the 12 points, is based on a contradiction; a contradiction that is also now playing out towards environmental catastrophe. We are turning our world into a ‘sterile promontory’ and a ‘foul and pestilent congregation of vapours’. This contradiction is rooted within ourselves; our ‘nobility of reason’, our ‘infinitesimal faculties’ which nonetheless could reduce us to nuclear dust or authoritarian dictatorship. The contradiction is also expressed in our relationships with each other as human beings and has existed for as long as there have been human societies beyond hunter gatherers. It is a very human contradiction. If we don’t change course at the global scale, we will continue to alienate ourselves from each other, from ourselves, from work and from nature. The fundamental contradiction arises as class struggle, of that between Capital and Labour.
When Ryanair pilots go on strike and O’Leary resists unionisation, we see it clearly. When nurses are forced to take a pay cut, when ministers argue for labour market ‘flexibility’, when new pay and conditions exclude holiday and sick pay…… There is no escape from the fact that the interests of Capital and Labour are at odds. Capital requires profit maximisation, a return on investment for capital accumulation (Harvey 2011). Workers’ rights and pay get in the way of that. The argument against minimum wages (for the benefit of Labour) is dressed up as a ‘jobs or wages’ point, so they argue we should abolish minimum wages (which benefits Capital). The hatred of health and safety and environmental regulations or planning laws in many a vitriolic pronouncement is really a hatred of anything that gets in the way of capital accumulation. Only when it is the capitalists’ ‘backyard’ that is at threat do regulations suddenly appear to be a ‘good thing’. Competitors abroad undercutting your business? Lobby for tariffs and regulations and controls. Free movement of people and capital disrupting your business…..? Steel workers paid too much in Pennsylvania, coal miners striking in Yorkshire? Buy your steel elsewhere where steel and labour is cheaper, and close down the mines.
You can’t beat the logic of capital accumulation under bourgeois property relations.
Communists have been castigated for wanting to abolish private property, an aim which sends shivers of fear and hatred behind the twitching lace curtains of every middle class Daily Mail reader in the English Shires and from behind hay bales in the backwoods barns of the Bible Belt WASPs in the United States. However, this aim has been wilfully misrepresented by the bourgeois class, the truly ‘most revolutionary’ class.
It must be noted that not all conservatives are thoroughly bourgeois, many resist capital accumulation for its own sake and wish to conserve and protect traditions and structures from ‘unfettered capitalism’.
It is why some conservatives accept the National Health Service, public investment in roads and railways, education and social care. They support tax for the ‘public good’. They face others within their own parties who would destroy these aspects of the social fabric in favour of purely market solutions in order to better facilitate capital accumulation. They use arguments about efficiency of the private sector and the primacy of consumer choice as a veil to cover their class interests.
As already mentioned this position has been wilfully misrepresented by bourgeois apologists who fear for their property. However, it is not as simple as the critics want us to believe.
“The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of Communism” (Marx and Engels 1848 p.47).
The working-class home owner, the artisan baker, the self-employed plumber have nothing to fear from communism. No one is proposing to take away personal private property.
Rather it is proposed that there be ‘some form’ of common ownershiprather than bourgeois ownership of the means of production, that ‘ownership’ should operate for the ‘common good’ rather than individual gain at the expense of all. Communism emphasises the existence of community, of one class of society, in which no one subgroup gets to exploit the others. It is not about equal property relationships, divvying out all property equally among society’s members. Neither is it about State ownership. Individuals could still ‘own’ a business and the property attached to it but instead of running it purely for personal or shareholder gain, it should ensure all the workers and society share equitably in the benefit.
“from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is a philosophy not an economic programme or strategy.
In any case, the meaning of property is contingent upon the historical context in which it exists. Bourgeois property exists within the capitalist historical context and is therefore a human construct rather than God given as some imply.
We must note that property relationships across history have been subject to change. The French Revolution abolished feudalproperty in favour of bourgeoisproperty. It is the latter that communism is aimed at:
“The distinguishing feature…is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property” (Marx and Engels 1848 p 48).
This is because products and services within capitalism are necessarily based on exploitative class antagonisms giving rise to bourgeois property and property relationships.
It is worth quoting the Manifesto at length at this point.
“In this sense, the theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: ‘Abolition of Private Property’. We communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man’s own labour…the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence. Hard won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of the petty artisan and of the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it and is still destroying it daily” (Marx and Engels 1848 p 48).
The history of capital accumulation by dispossession shows how the working class were stripped of access to the means of production by, for example, the enclosures. Born into nothing, the working class have only their labour to sell in order to survive. Today billions share that experience. Born into nothing. No silver spoon. They have no choice but to enter into bourgeois property relations to survive. Hence the imperative to work and the use of the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ as an ideological weapon. ‘If a man does not work, neither shall he eat’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10). This focuses on the lazy and feckless but neatly deflects from another question: “why do I not have access to or common ownership of the means of production?”. Migrants move around the world looking just for that opportunity, stripped as they are of access to the means of production by war, poverty or illness while global corporations engage in resource extraction and exploitation.
The current structure of property relationships, backed up by legal and ultimately by military force, is that of bourgeois property relationships within which workers do not receive the full value of their labour in order to provide profit for the employer. Bourgeois property relations also excludes the working class from owning personal property unlessthey sell their labour within those currently existing property relationships. The wages workers then receive within pre-existing bourgeois exploitative property relationships enable some to own personal private property such as a house. However, even if many working-class people do get to own personal property it is at risk by the current existing political structure that may well require them to sell it in order to pay for their own existence when they need care.
The working class gets born into nothing and many will die with nothing even after a lifetime of work.
“Wage labour does not create any property, it creates Capital, a kind of property that exploits wage labour and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage labour for fresh exploitation” (Marx and Engels 1848 p 49).
The working class can by hard work, luck, skill and intelligence join the bourgeois class and benefit from bourgeois property relationships. If they do well within the system, the system pays them back. However, the system remains. Class relationships do not disappear simply because one is the son of a bus driver who then becomes Home Secretary.
So, bourgeois property is based in the Capital-Labour relationship which underpins any form of social mobility and status differentials people may wish to experience.
The relationship is exploitative because Capital is a collective product, resulting from the united action of allmembers of society. Capitalists cannot do what they do without the work of all. Capitalists benefit from the totality of collective labour by being able to appropriate the surplus value created. The working class can also benefit by investing the capital they earn in such instruments as pension funds or shares. Regardless, it does not alter the basic foundation that the rewards are not equitably distributed. What is equitable or ethical about a footballer being given £50,000 per week simply because he can? This is the ethics of amoral capitalism; despite any claims to the contrary it is not rooted in any ethical framework such as Virtues Ethics, Utilitarian/Consequentialist Ethics, Deontological Ethics, Religious Ethics, Ecological Ethics, Humanitarian Ethics, or Care Ethics but purely in the debased ethics that arise from the exercise of Market Power.
However, in current existing property relationships capitalists declare that certain work (care, cleaning, catering) is not really work at all and should either be done for love, or for very low pay. They therefore also benefit from exploiting low paid or unpaid labour. They wage ideological war on this point using arguments about human nature and the essential traits of women. They use all the cultural tools at their disposal in order to force working class women to look after children and elderly parents for little or no financial reward or security. They abhor any welfare state provision that supports women in this regard, and currently are using Austerity to roll back supporting structures for these women. Within bourgeois property relationships, processes of capital accumulation attempt to exclude, and do exclude from their legal accounting practices, paying for the foundational and vital work provided by many working-class women. Despite their subjective evaluations of their social position, or their willingness to play the part, many working class women are objectively slaves…relying for sustenance on someone else (e.g. the State or a husband). Many have done so because they have internalised bourgeois ideology or are forced by circumstance.
Capitalism enslaves everyone, both bourgeois and workers, in its claimed and now actual ‘universality’ and irrationality. Its many stupid apologists pronounce the ‘end of history’ and the death of ‘communism’ by which they actually mean Totalitarian Maoist, Soviet and other State capitalist systems. They argue “There is no alternative” so they surf the waves of wealth and privilege unable and unwilling to confront the forces so unleashed. Not only do they not pluck imaginary flowers from the chains that bind their own ankles, they place bigger bouquets and shove cocaine laced nosegays into their faces in valiant defiance while forging new chains to replace the worn.
I assert that many Conservatives are not capitalists either. They honour tradition, loyalty, sanctity, order, and conservation. They too are often appalled at the creative destruction unleashed by forces they cannot control. Too many have been haunted by the spectre of communism and have been unable to root their fear in unjustified, and ignorant analysis of Marx. The more enlightened have worked with socialist and social democrats and yes with communists if they but knew it.
The shire Tory lamenting the loss of the local bus service, the closure of his local bank or post office, the new housing development on the edge of his village, the motorway tearing through his meadows, the cut to services for his elderly mother, the disappearance of butterflies and moths…is no friend of capitalist fundamentalists for whom profit and progress triumph over everything else. He is at one with a communist for whom community is more important than capital for capital’s sake.
Varoufakis (2018 p xxii) urges intelligence and the application of rationality rather than “sermons on the injustice of it all, denunciations of rising inequality or vigils for vanishing democratic sovereignty, (nor do we need)…regressive escapism to a pre-modern, pre technological state… (clinging) to the bosom of nationalism”. We need to shine a light onto the irrational drive for accumulation for accumulation sake which results in workers receiving low pay, precarious employment, insecurity and exploitation. Capitalism’s irrationality lies in its inability to rationally use the machines it creates for the benefit of all.
Capital is its own greatest threat.
So, there is the requirement is to push capital to its limits while also limiting its consequences for the environment, for the human body and spirit while preparing for its socialisation. More robots, more green tech, green communication and green transport. While at the same time politically we need to organise to protect the weak. We must harness the urges of the philanthro-capitalists and punish the self-serving tax evading plutocracy. The sustainability of the political, social, ecological and economic systems must be the focus in the face of endless and self-destructive compound growth and capital accumulation. New forms of political structures must be found.
David Harvey(2009) outlined 5 broad tendencies operating since the 1970’s in opposition to capitalism:
- The vast array of NGOs often focused on single issues: poverty, environment, women’s rights …
- Anarchist, Autonomist and Grass Roots organisations.
- Transformations in traditional Labour parties including Social Democratic, Trotskyist.
- Social Movements guided by the pragmatic need to resist displacement and dispossession rather than political philosophy.
- Emancipatory Movements organised around issues of identity – women, gays, ethnicity, children and religious minorities.
“But there is a lot of work to be done to coalesce these various tendencies around the underlying question: can the world change materially, socially, mentally and politically in such a way as to confront not only the dire state of social and natural relations in so many parts of the world, but also the perpetuation of endless compound growth? This is the question that the alienated and discontented must insist upon asking, again and again, even as they learn from those who experience the pain directly and who are so adept at organizing resistances to the dire consequences of compound growth on the ground.”
David Harvey(2009) also argues “Horizontally networked as opposed to hierarchically commanded systems of coordination between autonomously organized and self-governing collectives of producers and consumers are envisaged as lying at the core of a new form of communism. Contemporary technologies of communication make such a system seem feasible. All manner of small-scale experiments around the world can be found in which such economic and political forms are being constructed. In this there is a convergence of some sort between the Marxist and anarchist traditions that harks back to the broadly collaborative situation between them in the 1860s in Europe”.
Paul Hawken wrote of the ‘Blessed Unrest’:
“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refugee camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.
You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power… Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.”
The alternative is liberty as freedom of the human mind, body and spirit. Liberty, autonomy, individuality and spirituality are to be found in Marx and Engels’ philosophical writings. Their anger was directed towards the bourgeois class who in claiming to defend liberty actually enslave and deny it for everyone. Liberty for all is sacrificed on the altar of capital accumulation.
To be a communist is realise that contemporary societies are grossly unjust, that there could be a better way.
It is to realise that the root of injustice is class struggle rooted in the material conditions of everyday life.
It is to realise that we are alienated from ourselves, from each other, from the nature of work and from nature itself. It is to realise that until we understand that there is a truth obscured by capitalists’ ideology such as “There is No Alternative” that we will continue to live ‘one dimensional’ lives either blighted by precarity, inequality and premature death or consumed in chasing glittering spectacles in order to damp down deeper seated feelings of estrangement.
It is to realise that unleashing the forces of production not only has created unprecedented wealth and progress but has damaged the biosphere so as to usher in a new era: The Anthropocene and the sixth mass extinction.
It is to realise that bourgeois class relationships and their notion of property and politics need to be ultimately abolished.
To be a communist is to wish to be free, and that until the conditions for the freedom of one person is extended to all, there is no freedom. Bourgeois freedom is a bastardisation, focusing as it does mainly on the freedom to accumulate capital, an aim to which all other freedoms are subjugated as ideological slaves.
To be a communist is to aim for a classless society and freedom from the shackles of wage slavery.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”.
(Marx and Engels 1848 p21).
Communism aims to abolish class struggle by abolishing bourgeoisproperty relations and the bourgeois class. It is, for me, an aim, an aspiration and a vision. It is not a rigid set of economic and political principles or projects. It is not a party. It is a call to pluck the imaginary flowers from our chains so that they may be cast off to allow the plucking of real flowers. How we get there is open for intelligent debate. The meaning of ‘bourgeois’ property relations is outlined below.
Bourgeois commentators like to deny the existence of class, but merely asserting that it does not exist, does not make it so. Gravity is not nullified by the inane ramblings of a madman who thinks he can fly naked from the top of a cliff, but for a copy of his personal theory of flight which is soon to be ripped from the fingers of his hand as he swallow dives towards the truth. He will deny the truth even as he falls, until it hits him full in the face, too late! The bourgeois laud the middle class and have declared that “we are all middle class now”. Modern forms and relations of production (mechanised, automated, financialised) are however facilitating the splitting up of society into two hostile camps: non-working shareholders and non-owner wage-workers. The middle class is set for extinction which no amount of avocado smashing or latte drinking in gentrified cafes will prevent. Class is not defined by high or low culture but by our relationships to the means of production.
Do you have only your labour to sell? Do you have a portfolio of bourgeois property? Which class do you identify with despite your objective social, political and economic position?
The binary bourgeois-proletarian schema of class is an ‘ideal type’ rather than an empirical description of current social class. Graham Scambler outlinesa class schema for debate. It is based on his blog – ‘taking social class seriously’ – in which he posited a (neo-Marxist) breakdown of social class.
“For me, (urgent questions need to addressed at)certainly less than the 1% pinpointed by the Occupy Movement. The members of this population comprise what I call the governing oligarchy: namely, the hard core of (transnational) capital owners and the (national) political elitewhose ‘cooperation’ they purchase (the ‘greedy bastards’). I went on to offer my own schema, re-fashioned ‘meta-theoretically’ (see my blog) from the (theoretical and empirical) class analyses of Clement and Myles. In this tongue-in-cheek update I suggest new rubrics for the social classes I identified”:
Bourgeois (my addition).
Category (A): Capitalist Executive (significant, largely transnational and ‘detached’ owners of capital).
- SOCIAL CLASS I. CAPITAL MONOPOLISTS(hard core of heavy capital-owners who are ‘players’).
- SOCIAL CLASS II. CAPITAL AUXILIARIES(soft auxiliary core of heavy capital-owners who are non-players).
- SOCIAL CLASS III. CAPITAL ‘SLEEPERS’ (insider higher management, light capital-owners who support players)
Bourgeois and Petit-Bourgeois (my addition).
Category (B): New Middle Class (managers in the service of capital):
- SOCIAL CLASS IV. INSIDER HIGHER MANAGERS (‘Co-opted’ higher/middle managers who support players)
- SOCIAL CLASS V. OUTSIDER HIGHER MANAGERS (higher managers, independent of players)
- SOCIAL CLASS VI. MIDDLE MANAGERS (middle managers, independent of players)
- SOCIAL CLASS VII. CAPITAL ASPIRERS (‘aspirational’, petit-bourgeoisie, independent of players)
Bourgeois and Petit-Bourgeois (my addition).
Category (C): Old Middle Class (established professionals)
- SOCIAL CLASS VIII. INSIDER PROFRESSIONALS (‘co-opted’, high-status professionals who support players)
- SOCIAL CLASS IX. OUTSIDER PROFESSIONALS (high-status professionals, independent of players)
- SOCIAL CLASS X. SEMI-PROFESSIONALS (semi-professionals, independent of players
Proletarian (my addition).
Category (D): Working Class (waged workers)
- SOCIAL CLASS XI. INSIDER WORKERS (‘co-opted’, supervisory, waged workers, support players)
- SOCIAL CLASS XII. OUTSIDER WHITE-COLLAR WORKERS (non-manual waged workers, independent of players)
- SOCIAL CLASS XIII. OUTSIDER BLUE-COLLAR WORKERS (waged manual workers, independent of players)
- SOCIAL CLASS XIV. OUTSIDER SEMI/UNSKILLED WORKERS (waged semi- and unskilled manual workers, independent of players)
If a classless society is to be achieved, these distinctions as power and control distinctions would be reduced to nothing in terms of ‘pay based status’ as a result of the abolition of huge disparities in wages and wealth. There would still always be status differentials but not based in the cash nexus. There would always still be jobs, but they would not be rooted in bourgeois property relationships. The semi and unskilled manual worker would not be disadvantaged to the same degree they are today. The Capitalist Executive (Monopolists, Auxiliaries and Sleepers) would have little political power or control over capital ownership.
This outline of Marxist philosophy focuses on 3 key ideas and underpins communist thinking:
1) Material Conditions. To understand our experience as human beings we must begin with rooting that experience in the material conditions of everyday life.
2) Dialectical Materialism. Those material conditions of everyday life are characterised by conflicting social forces, the outcome of which ‘highly structures’ our experiences.
3) Alienation. A result of our current material conditions of life is that we are alienated from our human self, from each other, from nature and from work.
Marx’s understanding begins with the acceptance, his first premise, that it is the material conditions of man which set the conditions for everything else, including man’s consciousness and his ‘ideas’. Thus his philosophical position is that of metaphysical naturalism.
- Material Conditions.
‘The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature.’ (Marx and Engels 1846).
The focus is on the ‘physical organisation’ of human existence; the ‘struggle for the pacification of existence’ (Herbert Marcuse). Supernatural explanations (God or gods) for the condition of humanity are not needed. It is this premise that has led many to reject Marx from the outset, as it is atheist in nature. History does not progress through ‘global consciousness’, ‘the universe’, ‘ideas’ alone, or though Allah’s or God’s will, or as a manifestation of Hegel’s ‘Geist’ (Spirit), but through the changing material conditions of existence, and the struggles of humanity to pacify the conditions of their existence. Look to how human beings in their physicalexistence organise themselves in their struggle to exist in a material physical world, as a starting point for social analysis.
Of course, one is free to posit notions of ‘consciousness’ or ‘God’ as drivers for human history but we have no reason to believe they do…and plenty of reason to think they do not.
‘In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material lifeconditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.’ (Marx 1859).
Marx suggests that primarily we need to feed, drink, clothe and house ourselves and to do so we must enter into social relationships to achieve this. An examination of history reveals the form of those social relationships (the serf-lord, the working class-bourgeoisie) that exist in a particular economic mode of production (pre-agrarian, feudal and then capitalist). It is the ‘mode of production’, currently capitalism, that ‘highly structures’ the form of social relationships, and the ways we think. Therefore, the feudal serf-lord relationship was swept away with the rise of mercantile capitalism, by the revolutionary bourgeois mercantile class; it simply could not continue to exist as a dominant way of organising social life. One could no longer think or act as a feudal lord when the feudal mode of production disappeared, just as a feudal lord could not think like a merchant capitalist trading in goods across the globe because that mode or production did not yet exist. In the same way, under a communist society, no one would be able to think like a bourgeois as bourgeois capitalism would no longer exist.
Of course, even in 2018, there is actually nothing to stop anyone trying to act like a Feudal Lord, and indeed it could be argued that some capitalists are trying to actively reconstruct feudal relationships based on their personal capital accumulation. Ironically, the capitalist mode pf production could actually be swept away not by socialists or communists but by the neofeudalists! If it is true that 80 people own as much wealth as 50% of the global population, we might indeed be seeing the vanguard of neo-feudalism which will do away with democracy. The capitalist mode of production might, right now, be undermined by its own productive forces as wealth and power accrue to fewer and fewer people. This ‘new class’of plutocratic bourgeois may well sweep away old forms of bourgeois property and social relationships. Mercantile capitalism was swept away by Industrial capitalism and now in its turn is being swept away by financial and rentier capitalism aided by automation and digitalisation?
The form of the social relationships of production, e.g. proletarian – bourgeoisie, workers-ruling class, are defined by the modeof production. In the modern industrial era, this relationship was characterised by who owns and controls capital (the main means of production) and who does not (and only has their labour to sell). Under Financial and Big Tech capitalism people are splitting more and more into two main classes: The share owning and tech savvy capitalists and the non-owning working class. Or perhaps into neo serf-lord relationships?
The small and medium business owner (the petty bourgeois) is as much at risk of dispossession as the working class by these much wider forces and relations.
- Dialectical Materialism
A dialectic may be expressed as ‘Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis’. For example: Bourgeois Class (thesis) opposed by proletarian Class (antithesis), the struggle between the two leads to a new synthesis. Another dialectic is that between reality (thesis) and appearance or ‘imagined’ reality, (antithesis), the outcome is a new synthesis:
“Ever since the cognitive revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions and on the other hand the imagined reality of Gods, Nations and Corporations. As time went by the imagined reality became ever more powerful so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google” (Harari 2011).
Rivers, trees and lions ceased to be part of our hunter gatherer reality only to be commodified under capitalist relations of production into resources for human consumption and spectacle. Other imagined realities have refashioned our material existence in ways impossible to have foreseen, creating the basis for new imagined realities in an ongoing thesis-antithesis-synthesis series of cycles.
Thus, objective material existence exists in a dialectic relationship with subjective imagined reality. Our consciousness of things is both called forth from objective material realities (thesis) but thenconstructedby our (bourgeois) imagined realities (antithesis) which refashion the material world (synthesis) and on again in a new dialectic.
For bourgeois apologists however, the imaginedrealities arethe objective realties.
A foundational contradiction of bourgeois thought: the difference between reality and appearance, this is fetishism. It masks, disguises and distorts everything that is going on around us (Harvey 2014). Bourgeois property relations take on a life of their own while masking antagonistic class relationships, which if referred to at all in bourgeois thought is done so merely to refute their existence.
Currently, ‘superintelligence’ is an imagined reality (thesis), but we are on the way to thinking of it as objective reality (antithesis) and at some point our relationship to it, will create a newreality (synthesis). It is possible that ‘superintelligence’ will get out of our own control and create for usa new reality.
Dialectic Materialism. The second premise, born out of empirical study, is that material existence includes the opposition of social classes that, through conflict and struggle in relationship to each other, gives rise to a new social order that in time may itself be challenged. To understand social development, start with existing material conditions and then see that there are ‘dialectics’ or opposing social forces/classes at work. Social relationships results from the interplay of these two classes.
Modern, globalised (post-industrial/financial and industrial) capitalism shapes our lives in deeply profound ways and it is to the nature of the 21stcentury forms of capitalism that we should look to understand our modern worlds, both social and of ideas.
Historical Materialismis the application of dialecticmaterialism to history and sociology. It is the view that social, political, artistic and cultural life is highly structured mainly by the material facts of economics and the forms of social relationships thus created, and not God or by human reasoning alone. We are born into those material worlds and social ‘facts’ which create for us highly directing structures but they do not determine our actions.
“Human beings make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under self-selecting circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past” (Marx. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).
The material fact of being born in the UK in 1975 highly structures aspects of your existence and choices (how you speak, what you wear, what job you do, what music you like etc). You are not determined by your class, gender or ethnicity or place and time of birth, but you are highly structured by those circumstances of the past. If you were born in 2005 or 1915 in China, consider how the material conditions of history would have structured the very essence of your being.
To apply the dialectic to history, an examination of history indicates that a dominant class (thesis) in any historical era gets to set the social and political agenda. If the subordinate class (antithesis) accepts the ruling class’ view on the proper social order, then society ‘settles’ for a while (synthesis).
However, as the forcesof production (labour power, new technologies) change, this impacts on the socialrelations of production. This eventually changes the modeof production. The change of mode of production, from feudalism to capitalism for example, was not inevitable. Many so called ‘primitive societies’ have had, and still do, sustainable social structures with an unchanged modeof production, i.e. hunter-gatherer, for centuries. Their forcesof production (labour power and technology) are static.
Marx realised however that capitalism was an extremely dynamic mode of production capable of unleashing upon the world social and technological revolutions never before seen or experienced. The current mode of production, capitalism, may produce new forcesof production (new forms of labour power e.g. Automation and new forms of technology, e.g. AI) which might result in new social relationsof production that might be a dystopia rather than a utopia. We could have a new class structure: Technocratic Bourgeois Plutocracy (the 0.1%) and a mass of Precariat Proletarians (the 99%). Who knows?
Current analysis should thus focus on the material conditions currently existing, at this point in history and seek to show that there are conflicts of interests. It is to the resolution of those conflicts, and the rise of new forms of conflict, we should look to divine which way the wind is blowing. Nothing is inevitable. Progress can be reversed.
A defining characteristic of capitalism, Marx suggested, is that it alienates man from himself, from the true nature of work, from others and from nature. Alienation is suggested as a third premise in understanding modern existence, especially in terms of mental health and ideas of well-being. Anyone who only has their labour, skill or knowledge to sell in return for a wage or salary may reflect on the alienated meaning of their existence. Billions of workers are engaged in low pay, repetitive, ‘bullshit jobs’ and precarious and zero contract hours to produce ‘stuff’ that ultimately is unsatisfying, and which paradoxically leads to the consumption of more ‘stuff’ as a means of escape.
Alienation may be partially moderated by consumption and by accepting the dominant ideas of what is the ‘good life’. In Roman times this was understood by the Emperors’ provision of bread and the spectacle of circuses. The plebeians needed distraction to prevent them from seeing the true nature of their subjugated existence. Sport, soap operas and celebrity culture may have a similar function today. Other ways of ameliorating this alienation is through organised religion or a spiritual quest, or one can resort to easing the anomic pain with drugs and alcohol. One recent book urges us to merely ‘F*ck it and be at peace with the world as it is’. We might also engage in art or philosophical musings to escape the feelings of disconnection from ourselves, our work, each other and from nature. Guy Debord wrote about the ‘society of the spectacle’, in which human life has been replaced with the ‘spectacle’; the decline of being into having, of social relationships mediated by images.
Alienation is one of the internal contradictions of capitalism, in that capitalism produces it and may be destroyed by it.
Means of production: land, tools, technologies
Forces of production: labour power and knowledge of technologies
Relations of production: the totality of social relationships that people must enter into to survive.
Mode of production: a combination of the forces of production and relations of production. Two modes are feudalism and capitalism.
If we do not benefit from the full fruit of our labour, if a tiny few are accrueing wealth undreamed of ever, if billions are excluded from owning the means of subsistence let alone of production, if the planet is being trashed…why do we let it?
The ‘poverty of philosophy’ is its concerns with abstractions, ideas, ‘facts’ or consciousness devoid of their material context. That is, a philosophy or any understanding of how the world works which does not take into account the material conditions that man finds himself and the power relationships that result, is an empty philosophy. Removing the analysis of power relationships allows the ‘bourgeois class’ to promote their own interest in the form of ‘Ruling Ideas’ (currently TINA: ‘There Is No Alternative to capitalism’). Therefore, encouraging people to ‘find themselves’ as part of ‘new ageism’ without a class analysis lets the bourgeois class completely off the hook because this requires no changes whatsoever in the mode of production. Capitalism can embrace any amount of ‘new age’ philosophy and counter cultural phenomena as long as they do not challenge the basic power structures of wealth accumulation and ownership. Witness the rapid assimilation and commodification of punk culture in the 1970’s.
The ’Divine Right of Kings’ was one such ‘ruling idea’ forced upon and accepted by populations so that monarchical rule could not be challenged unless one also challenged hegemonic religious ideology. We know the history and the price paid by millions for challenging that dominant and hegemonic ideology. Contemporary Monarchy in the UK is a cypher for class relationships built upon this rich tradition and history. UK monarchists fear republicanism not only because they distrust alternatives but because of the domino effect. If society can rid itself of Monarchy…what else might it turn to? Monarchists should not worry so much….the republics of this world have safely protected alternative hierarchies based on class.
A modern form of ideology is that of Neoliberalism, with its focus on individual solutions within free markets, as solutions to all social and political issues. It dovetails well with those ‘new age’ concepts of ‘mindfulness, resilience, meditation and zen’ of the ‘happiness industry’ as both ideologies (neoliberalism and new age) ignore wider social and political structures to search for individual fulfilment through individual effort. We train nurses in ‘resilience and mindfulness’ to cope with the appalling structural conditions in which many work rather than changing those conditions.
The counter culture in the 1960’s was initially threatening to bourgeois values. In inviting young people to ‘drop out’, and with the advocacy of using LSD, it was feared that capitalism would be deprived of workers who would shoulder their share of the work burden. The protestant work ethic would be threatened, so how else are you going to get factory workers turning up? Of course the actual argument was couched in terms of ‘drugs are bad for you’, which is seen an easier sell to otherwise rebellious youth rather than ‘drug use may make you question the system’ which is not, and may actually be quite an appealing reason to take drugs.
The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, and which has control at the same time over the means of mental production, and over thinkers, as producers of ideas, can sell and promulgate those ideas as the ‘right’ ones. The bourgeois class used to regulate the production and distribution of ideas and define them to serve their own causes. They still own vast swathes of traditional broadcast and print (now online) media. Universities used to be islands of critical thought often opposed to mainstream bourgeois interpretations of the world. Billionaire backers of bourgeois ideology (and their co-opted academic celebrities) now attack many Universities for ‘bias’ and question why there should be public funding for the humanities.
The advent of digital media has changed that control. However, even though everyone can now easily publish their views, there is still the battle over the platforms and opportunities that provide the means to be listened to. Who gets to say which blogger, youtuber or academic becomes a youtube celebrity? The superficial answer is ‘the consumer’; yet ‘the consumer’ is merely someone who is an unreflexive creation of consumer capitalism who has accepted normative assumptions about social life.
Dominant bourgeois ideology does not mean there will not be rebels in thought and deed, only that ruling ideas, such as the protestant work ethic, tend to become ‘taken for granted’ and ‘common sense’. Anyone not willing to take part in selling their labour is classed as deviant or criminal. Thus, we have social and political issues with ‘out groups’ such as travellers, chavs and skivers. Take the 40 hour week, often accepted as ‘just the ways things are’ and not as John Maynard Keynes thought they might be over 60 years ago. Why is a 20 hour week seen by many as unachievable?
Countervailing voices are pushed to the margins and tolerated as long as they don’t do anything in practice to change things. Bohemians and artists can exist of course and develop their own views, but they do so within dominant cultural markets in which a few artists who are ‘acceptable to bourgeois values’ (Ed Sheeran, JK Rowling) are the ‘winners who take all’. Art thus mirrors wider capitalist work relationships – millions do it but a tiny few take the rewards.
Countervailing voices in the Humanities are currently under attack from bourgeois thinkers such as Jordan Peterson who has tapped into the fears and anxieties of millions of young white men who feel excluded and under threat from ‘uppity feminists’, gays, and ethnic minorities. These young white men are also uncritically reflexive about their own circumstances and long for the days of white male supremacy. Some call themselves ‘incels’ (involuntary celibates) who in reaction to not getting the sex they think they are entitled to have become vitriolic in their verbal attacks on women.
Escaping from these social relations of production is increasingly harder to do as more and more people in a globalised economy become part of the overall mode of production we call globalised capitalism. Culture becomes more global, notions of beautyare becoming more homogenised, women particularly are crafting and constructing themselves using consumer products marketed at manufacturing their dissatisfaction. Globalised markets require globalised labour and migrant flows are a concomitant of that. Anti-migrant feeling fuelled by populist nationalism thus misidentifies the source of discontent i.e. migrants instead of Globalised Capital flows. Migrants are merely the (non) working class forced to sell their labour wherever they can. They are also victims of nationalisms, colonialism, imperialism, religion and poverty.
The ruling class, identified by Scambler as the Corporate Class Executive and the Political Power Elite, has at its disposal a Repressive State Apparatus: Police, Military, Executive Government, and an Ideological State Apparatus: newspapers, broadcast and online media (e.g. Breitbart), the churches/mosques. They also fund ‘think tanks’ such as Cato (US) and the IEA (UK). These often act as agents of social control trying to prop up the legitimacy of current power structures and the structures of rewards and punishment. Ruling class interests are better served if the subjugated classes accept their position themselves and regulate themselves by accepting, as natural, the ruling systems. Democracy in this schema is a chimera, the State (party politics) exists mainly to serve the interests of the ruling class:
‘the modern Cabinet is but the executive committee for managing the affairs of the entire bourgeoisie’ (Marx, 1848).
Ideas, and the definitions of ideas, such as the ‘rule of law’, ‘market forces’, ‘free trade’, presents particular class interests as being in the general social interest. It is as if these ideas float down like manna from heaven untainted by the need to serve a particular class interest. This may lead to hegemony, the political, social, ideological, economic dominance of one class over others in a system in which all are supposedly equal. A result of which may be that the subjugated class, by accepting the tenets, ideas and concepts of the dominant class has a false class consciousness, i.e. a false understanding of their true social position and interests. That is how you get low paid workers supporting social securitycuts for low paid workers. It is how you get Rust Belt Americans voting for a narcissistic billionaire.
The goal of philosophy should therefore be to reveal the true nature of abstract concepts, e.g. ‘parliamentary democracy’, as arising from the material existence of those who produce them and the struggles of opposing social forces.
Reflecting on such a critical philosophy leads to certain questions. It may be argued that Marxism assists in developing a necessary critical perspective in that it’s key concepts asks us to engage in criticism which has:
‘plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.’ (Marx 1843-4, p 244).
There is a need to get beyond the illusory to the real, to separate fantasy from reality, to free empirical butterflies from under the wheels of philosophical fantasy. Marx argued that there is a material reality, often hidden by delusion, deception and class interests.
We may suggest and do so above, that in the current era a global multinational corporatist classexists for whom such concepts of the maximisation of profit, shareholder value, the extraction of natural resources on an industrial scale and the value placed on market solutions to various social, political and health issues are dominant. It wants and needs a healthy workforce only as long as the costs are not threatening to profits. Hence the health needs of poverty stricken, war torn Africans are not a priority. The health care needs of unproductive members of society: children, students, the elderly, the sick, learning disabled and mentally ill, are a costly burden to be born if possible by individuals and families. This in practice means care is to be undertaken by women supported by patriarchal notions of biological determinism of female nurturing.
Apologists will say that there are philanthro-capitalists (e.g. Gates Foundation) funding projects and research to end poverty, disease and to address climate change, and that indeed only capitalism produces the wealth that can do so. They will point to huge successes in this regard while downplaying the failures as necessary evils. Marx would applaud this progress and did so. This orientation to human welfare by some in the capitalist class has come about despite andnot because ofcapitalism. Because the ills that capitalism also spawns were seen by all; they were exposed and opposed by environmentalists, communists, socialists and social democrats and also by enlightened capitalists and therefore this is a dialectic reflexive response by some capitalists in an attempt to ameliorate its excesses. It does not alter the foundational contractions of capitalism, which in its latest forms threaten to undo the successes of the past. If communists et al are silenced by the forces of laissez faire neoliberalism, then who will act to address the challenges of technological disruption, climate change and authoritarian nationalist populism? Their only answer is ‘the market’. However, ‘the market’ cuts bus services, railway lines, child care services and any aspect of the social fabric that does not turn a profit.
Despite the concept of ‘corporate social responsibility, the Capitalist mode of production has no other driver except capital accumulation. It is up to real people to decide what that actually means for social and political relationships.
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