‘BEST WORKERS IN THE WORLD’ – 2.

In the previous article “Best workers in the world”, I drew attention to the re-emergence of authoritarian, nationalist, one-nation ideas which are being promoted and implemented by various right-wing political parties throughout Europe and beyond. I used some of the ideas expressed by Donald Trump in his speech at Davos, to the US Senate and his State of the Union speech to demonstrate this, for three main reasons. First, because Donald Trump is currently one of the most prominent and widely followed international politicians; second  because the ideas he has expressed are particularly clear examples of this re-emerging trend, and third;  because given the common experiences of working people internationally this type of post-neoliberal thinking has made these ideas increasingly attractive to many working people. 

However, as yet such ideas have not been attractive to large majorities of working people in their struggling communities.  Perhaps this is only because, as yet, they are being uttered by right-wing extremists and therefore, by this association, are suspect.  Here is just a reminder of one example from Donald Trump; We must invest in our people. When people are forgotten the world becomes fractured. Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all” (Trump at Davos). A ‘bright future shared by all’; who wouldn’t want that? Here in the UK essentially the same message (a fairer Britain for all) is being peddled by the Teresa May wing of the Conservative party, also with mixed Thatcher and Cameron tainted results. But pause for a moment and imagine the effect of such ideas if, or perhaps when, they are being mouthed or penned by seemingly sincere left social democrats such as Bernie Saunders in the USA, Jeremy Corbyin the UK, or their analogues elsewhere. These ideas would then be far more influential, but nonetheless, equally misleading.

Misleading, because achieving a bright future for everyone is an impossible pipe-dream under the capitalist mode of production. Not even in boom times has capitalism created a bright future for all or fairness for all. Yet this fact is nowhere being admitted. Whilst the technological level of production achieved under  the pressure of competition is truly impressive, the social, moral and ecological condition it has created is in many ways the opposite. As a socio-economic system capitalism is only capable of delivering nightmares from one side of the globe to the other.  This fundamental structural flaw in the current mode of production is largely ignored or emphatically denied by the whole spectrum of establishment politicians – including many on the left. Mainstream politicians and their supporters are in complete denial concerning the systems many corrosive contradictions of which their privileges and ideas are an integral part.

Rival sections of the pro-capitalist elite, (left, centre or right politically) pretending to know what is best for the future and really caring for the welfare and well-being of workers, are now, as in the past, a dangerous threat to collective humanity. Perpetuating and spreading illusions about what lies ahead, is not what should be done to people we really care about. The underlying economic ignorance and self-serving motives for such pretence by political elites need to be exposed for what they are – strategies to ensure the survival of capitalist-based, resource squandering, over-producing, vastly unequal societies. As we already know from the history of capitalism so far, societies, whose entire logic puts economic and financial profits before people, before the environment, before peace, before sustainability, before clean air, clean seas, animal welfare, etc., etc., are the problem we all face, not part of the future solution.

Economic crises create political changes.
If we stay with the example of the USA, for the moment, and precis the social and economic conditions there, we will reveal the nature of the fertile ground for planting the message of one people, one nation, one strong elite to ensure it. It is these conditions which have provided the underlying basis for an enthusiastic response from large sections of the electorate to the above-noted Republican rhetorical concern for their welfare. By doing so we will also find a striking similarity to what is taking place within all the ‘advanced’ (sic) capitalist countries of the globe and some of the less advanced. In two previous articles, (‘Neglected Voices 1 & 2′) the deteriorating situation of the working class in the UK was examined so it will be useful as well as logical here to consider that of their American counterparts.

In his book ‘The Working Class Majority’, Michael Zweig calculates that, economically defined, two – thirds of Americans are working class. This is despite patronising and misleading claims by some commentators that working people are actually ‘middle-class’. And it is this working class, in the USA which has suffered most during the neo-liberal phase of capitalist economic and financial development. If this is doubted, just consider the following short summary.

It is estimated that between 1970 and 1980 in Ohio 50,000 jobs were lost in steel and related industries and unemployment there rose to 25%. By 2009 the general unemployment rate for those American working people on the lowest 10 percent income was 31%. By the same year it was calculated that manufacturing jobs in America were down to 10% of non-farm jobs and one third of these had gone by 2000. According to Molly Line (in ‘Job Hunt: Blue Collar Workers Struggle Most’) one in every six blue-collar workers lost his or her job in the post 2008 recession. Between 2000 and 2008 the poverty rate in some large metro areas in the US grew by 25%. In 2009, the National Centre on Family Homelessness estimated that 1.5 million children in the USA were homeless. Also in 2009, Elizabeth Warren wrote the following;

“One in five Americans is unemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payments on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filling for bankruptcy every month. The financial crisis has wiped out more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings.”

In May 2011 a poll concluded that 69% of Americans were worried about having enough money to live reasonably; 41% were afraid of losing their homes. According to Matt Miller (in The Upside of Downward Mobility’) close to 100 million Americans were in families that make less real income than their parents did at the same age. According to the US Bureau of Statistics, 40 million Americans are not entitled to paid sick leave. If we add to all this tip of the iceberg set of problems facing American working people, environmental issues, such as the water poisoning at Flint in Michigan due to local state efficiency cuts, land and water contamination by Fracking in many rural areas, collapsing infrastructures, drug addiction and gun crime in urban settings then the combined effects on working peoples’ thinking cannot be surprising. The general situation was even worse in 2016 so why wouldn‘t many of these workers listen to and act upon the words of someone from the elite who wanted to; “...use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes…” (Trump at Davos)

True, many such words have been used before. Hardly any politician, Republican or Democrat running for President in the USA would now or in the past miss an appeal to the disaffected working class voters. After all they need as many votes as possible on election day.  Yet, despite the increasing disillusionment of those who have heard it all before, from the mouths of Kennedy to Clinton and seen little or no subsequent action, it is a message many of them would still wish to hear – if sincerely meant. And would not such a voice be particularly listened to if that person was not one of the usual professional politicians either, Democratic or Republican, in the US (or Conservative or Labour in the UK etc.), who have done nothing but neglect their situation for four or five decades?

In the USA arena of 21st century economic and social crisis can it really be surprising that so many listened to the revamped message of one, people, one-nation, one strong protective government when someone different, such as Donald Trump, articulated it? After all, in the absence of revolutionary anti-capitalist perspectives there are only the following few options to choose for indigenous American workers of whatever shade of skin they are born into.

a) Do little or nothing apart from survive and see what happens. Apart from occasional strikes, petitions, demonstrations and voting for established parties this has been the default option for the vast majority suffering under one or more of the many negative symptoms produced by capitalism.

b) Choose to not vote at all from disgust or disillusionment or vote for alternative politicians in the hope for something better.

In the absence of revolutionary-humanist anti-capitalist ideas and actions, these are exactly the limited choices being made currently by large numbers of working people everywhere. But if those above are as yet the limited collective choices facing working people, the choices facing the pro-capitalist elites are also limited. Faced with social tensions due to the systemic crisis, the option of continuing to peddle the same neo-liberal message of the recent past or dust off and scrub-up the previously discarded paternalistic ethic of a more distant period, has split the elite both ways. Hence the current war of bitter words and back-stabbing actions between them. Interestingly, a related phenomena in terms of middle-class voting is also beginning to emerge in some countries as it did after the Second World War. Many of those with a stake in the present system are wishing to conserve their situation by backing left reformist politics.

This move is in stark contrast to those who among the new generation of working class feel they have been abandoned by left reformist politics and are seeking more radical, anti-establishment, albeit reactionary nationalist, forms of politics in the hope of raising their situation. In other words, the ‘established’ reformist left politicians are losing much of the working class vote and are gaining votes from the liberal-minded middle class. It is now becoming clearer that the traditional so-called political parties of the working class, are in reality what they have always been – parties of the middle-class. By the same measure it is also becoming much clearer to the working class that in reality they have no political party they can really call their own. Hence the present period of political apathy, voter instability and unpredictable party-political personality changes.

However, to return to the previous point; in face of the developing crisis, the paternalists on all sides need more than just the context of austerity and the refurbished petite-bourgeois rhetoric noted above. They need to spread divisions among the oppressed and exploited.  

Creating enemies within and without.
So this reformulation of aspects of pro-capitalist one-nation ideology is only a beginning. It is obvious that to survive a severe crisis, any top-down form of society needs more than hopeful sounding, jam tomorrow, ideas and patronising sentiments. Faced with a large majority suffering in various ways from the effects of a decaying mode of production, unity of the oppressed against the system must be avoided and opposed at all costs. So first; human enemies without need to be identified or created, in order to present a threat common to all. Second; human enemies within need to be identified or created, in order to divide the masses. If the two projected threats can be linked in any negative way, so much the better. Furthermore these two designated scapegoats eventually need to be progressively demonised.

The political logic for this elite survival strategy is obvious. Labelling at least two human ‘sources’ as enemies within and without allows blame for any problems encountered during the elite promised process of ‘lifting the burden of the people’ to be deflected away from them and onto the scapegoats. That way away the elite and the mode of production they uphold and defend – the real enemies of humanity – are spared serious scrutiny. It is interesting to note that historically and contemporarily, the enemies within are rarely if ever, defined in economic class terms, for that would draw attention to the class nature of capitalism, and the real nature of problems and solutions. Instead, they are predominantly defined in cultural, nationalistic or political terms. Given the nature of bourgeois nationalist ideas, enemies without are of course more often than not defined in nationalist identities.

In terms of the USA, the current enemy ‘within’ are seen by the Democratic wing of the elite as being Trump and his ‘despicable supporters, more of them later. The enemy of choice ‘without’ for the dominant Democrats is clearly still Russia, despite its transition from Stalinist Party authoritarianism to Putin style capitalist autocracy. They are eagerly cranking up anti-Russian rhetoric to a level reminiscent of the Cold War period and this is serving essentially the same elite-centred purpose. Furthermore, Democrats in the US conveniently wish to pin the blame on Russia, for their own poor showing in elections. Some Democrats would have us believe that the reason they lost the Presidential election, was not due to general voter disgust or disdain with their party and candidate, but due to Russian meddling. They are not even against insinuating that people who did not or do not vote for them, must be witting or unwitting dupes of Russia – a sort of sinister (or confused) 5th column – and therefore a potential enemy within.

In contrast, from the renewed Tea-Party, Trump, Republican perspective, the enemy ‘within’ is combination of the bureaucratic ‘swamp’ and the political correct brigade whilst the enemies without are not Russia (where lucrative financial deals can still be made) but Iran, China, Korea and other rogue (or Trumps defined ‘shit-hole) countries immigrants. In the UK the scapegoats without are defined by some Brexiteers as the French and German-leaning Brussels bureaucrats of the European Economic Union, whilst those within are currently the non-invited immigrants from wherever they originate.

This pattern of enemy within and without could be demonstrated to exist elsewhere but that would require far more space and time, than currently at my disposal.  However, the above illustration, together with its most extreme historical expression in 20th century Europe, (Fascism) is enough to identify authoritarian nationalisms, enemy within and enemy without longevity and the progress of its currently mutating forms. But to grow, such ideas and forms also require more than just the fertile ground of degrading austerity and social concerns within communities, noted above (and in ‘Neglected Voices). Since establishment politicians are now so poorly regarded  they need help in creating the above noted divisions. It is here that in terms of identifying their helpmates in manufacturing scapegoats within, we need to confront a double standard often introduced by those on the left who have departed from a working class position and adopted a petite bourgeois one. 

Double standards concerning the ‘despicables’.
First of all we need to recognise that in most countries, the opinion makers and dominant public commentators occupy a middle-class social and economic position. Therefore, the voices and opinions of the middle-class are those which dominate the professions, the media and all branches of politics. These people are invariably the human instruments and amplifiers of bourgeois and petite-bourgeois propaganda. Such socio-economic categories of the ‘middle’ are the creation of the capitalist mode of production during the formative periods of its development. Historically, the middle-classes grew exponentially and benefited considerably during the periods of colonial expansions and imperialist control of the major global sources of raw materials and markets. Incidentally, as non-producers of capital, they were (and are) paid out of the surplus-value extracted by the capitalists and the state from productive workers at home and abroad.

Whether they fully understood the source of their substantial income stream or not, the middle-classes were frequently enthusiastic supporters of, and eager participants in one or other aspect of the global expansion of capital. During those periods, they either patronised or demonised the indigenous peoples who were forced to contribute to their stipends and who sooner or later complained bitterly. These global expansions of capital involved armed incursions which took away or destroyed the the established economic and social life of the indigenous peoples of most of the world and left them destitute, dependent or in millions of instances – dead! 

In many cases, the initial European explorers were met, by the indigenous peoples with curiosity and even friendly support. It was only later when their entire life-styles were progressively threatened that invaded peoples resisted in more determined ways. Indigenous peoples rebellions took place in India, Africa, Asia, North and South America, the Middle-East, Australia as well as Oceana. Their opposition to pro-capitalist incursions was also frequently declared by the representatives of this class to be despicable (and even worse terms were applied) and their efforts described as ‘resisting progress’ toward a better world.

Later still, organised liberation struggles in many countries replaced earlier forms of anti-colonial, anti-settler resistance but still with the intent of reversing the infiltration of Europeans and of getting most of them out of their countries. Due to the breadth and depth of historical research, the modern, middle-classes, have learned the negative reality which accompanied these colonial and imperial conquests and incursions by pro-capitalist Europeans, and have largely modified their views.  The left – orientated elements of the modern middle-classes have even become critical of these Colonialist and Imperialist episodes in the history of their respective countries. Many became retrospectively supportive of the indigenous peoples rights to resist the 18th and 19th century settlement of strangers among them and of the many forms (peaceful or not) this resistance took.

In the opinions of many left-leaning, middle-classes, rebellions and peaceful resistance by indigenous peoples to threats to their way of life, were no longer actions to be criticised or brutally put down. Instead they became rights of resistance to be retrospectively championed and defended. Skin pigmentations or differing modes of production, were no longer accepted by the ‘politicallycorrect’ left as a sufficient reason to deny the right of 17th, 18th and 19th century indigenous peoples to defend their preferred ways of life. Nor was it deemed valid to demonise them as ‘despicable’ and subhuman for doing so. In the consciousness of the left-leaning middle-classes the resistance of native populations to unwelcome dislocations of their ways of economic and social ‘being’ became legitimate forms of indigenous peoples struggle. Retrospectively, for those with an ounce of humanitarian concern, the centuries of resistance by dark-skinned people’s in Africa, less dark skinned peoples in North and South America, or the Middle East along with those in Asia and Oceanic Islands were seen to be ‘understandable’ and inevitable.

Step forward to the 21st century and witness how pale-skinned working class sections of humanity are now automatically and routinely being labelled, by some of the left-leaning middle class, as fascist or racist for wishing to defend their existing ways of living. When these now indigenous peoples and communities wish to protect their way of life from unwelcome and uninvited incursions and dislocations of it by pro-capitalists and their agents of change they are deemed well out of order. In North America, Europe and elsewhere, pale skinned indigenous working class communities are being demonised by some on the left for doing more or less what all indigenous peoples of whatever skin pigmentation shade have done in the past. That is to say try to defend their way of life using the only means available to them. Instead of supporting their rights to do so, whilst denouncing any fascistic style violence against other victims, they are not only being vilified generally by some on the left, but abandoned to the dubious attentions of the right-wing nationalist authoritarians and their above-noted ideological entrapment strategy.

The abandonment of a class analysis of capitalism, by the liberal and the reformist middle-class ‘left’ has rendered them incapable of distinguishing hardly anything in humanity beyond biologically-determined gender differences or the artificial and racist-inspired ‘identity’ designations of black and white. I describe the latter designations, as artificial and racist, because in fact there are no black or white skinned human beings; in reality these descriptive terms belong only to the artists or decorators palette. Like race, the terms were borrowed political applications and pejorative inventions imposed upon people, during the colonialist period. The terms were used to further imply a good and bad distinction between European pale-skinned conquerors and dark-skinned conquered. The fact that these terms are still being robustly applied to human beings (also in the form of defensive ‘identity politics’) is testament to the power of bourgeois and petite-bourgeois ideology in dominating the language and discourse of human relations. This domination is also  testament to the relative weakness of a revolutionary-humanist tradition with which to counter it.

So because of the rarely challenged popularity of these artful political identity designations it still needs to be frequently asserted that in the real world of collective humanity there are no black and white human beings, just as there are no biological races. The real socio-economic world is now made up of dark-skinned capitalists, pale-skinned capitalists and shades between as well as female capitalists. There are also dark-skinned workers, pale-skinned workers and shades in between as well as female workers. The same pigmentation range also applies to the middle-classes. That is the visible reality which – for those who want to see – stands glaringly opposed to the linguistic distortions imposed upon it by the past and present needs of a pro-capitalist elite. It is only in fictionalised bourgeois or petite-bourgeois ideological descriptions of the human species that there are two opposed dualistic categories of black and white people etc., and the illogical racist extension of this fiction to suggest the existence of inferior and superior peoples.

And, whilst it is important to recognise any violence and injustice of previous generations of working people perpetrated against indigenous peoples, this recognition cannot be an excuse to inflict indifference or vengeance upon current generations of working people, who had little or nothing to do with this whole elite – promoted capitalist driven era. Furthermore, dispossession, conquest and ethnic cleansing led by powerful (and arguably extremely despicable) elites have occurred from the periods of the ancient Empires of Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome, through to the middle-ages leaving most countries inhabited by people of widely different origins. Very few of us presently located anywhere are descendants of the original occupants of the land we live in. To pretend or assert otherwise is evidence of a politically motivated viewpoint not a historic one.

The past is past and can only be sensibly used to learn the lessons and improve how we treat each other in the present and future. That is a composite task for humanist motivated historians and academics, but for the few remaining anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists, there is another. That is to support the rights of all workers to collectively and humanely defend their standards of living, warn them about the divisive strategies and tactics of the pro-capitalist elites and to explain the inner workings of the capitalist mode of production. It is also a fact, needing constant repetition, that pale-skinned working people are also victims of the capitalist mode of production, even if in some places not to the same extent as their darker skinned brothers and sisters. Our task is certainly not to vilify or demonise them because through long struggles, many of them have moderately improved their living conditions. Any attempts to turn them or dark-skinned workers into the enemy within needs to be vigorously challenged.

Challenging ALL the dominant messages.   
And of course, as already mentioned, all this political re-positioning by the right and centre is not just occurring in America and the UK. Elite voices in Europe and elsewhere are expressing similar ideas in the hope of influencing workers to vote them into office and keep them there. As mentioned in the previous article, it is the authoritarian, nationalist, one people message which needs to be challenged and confronted, not any particular mouthpiece who utters it. Abstract concepts such as nationalism and people serve to ignore or deliberately disguise the fact that there are economic and social-class structures which are international and interdependent. From a revolutionary-humanist perspective, there are no national solutions to the current multiple crises (economic, financial, social, political and ecological) caused by the capitalist mode of production.

There are no authoritarian solutions to these problems either. In fact the current economic, financial, political, academic, scientific, medical, military, regulatory, legal and sundry other authorities have got us into the above noted problems in the first place. Not one of them, left, right or centre, for all their so-called status and qualifications, had the foresight or determination to warn about, help avoid or prevent, financial manipulation and asset bubble collapses, crop failures, animal diseases, relative overproduction and destruction of commodities, military inspired war disasters, air and water pollution, ecological destruction, de-forestation, anti-biotic resistant bacteria, drug addiction, sexual predation, honour killings, female genital mutilation, fundamentalist terrorism and many other problems humanity now needs to overcome. It would be an extreme example of myopia or wilful self-delusion to think that with more authoritarian powers granted to elites than they already have, they will do anything but make matters worse.     

Capitalist ideology and practice is based upon creative destruction and destruction always comes first. It’s advocates destroy previous methods of production, as well as modes of production, in order to replace them with their own preferences. Capitalists destroy land and sea resources to recklessly extract the raw materials they need to fuel their production and transportation methods. They deliberately destroy other economic communities in order to create markets for their goods.  Where not prevented, they even destroy the health and safety of workers by long hours and unsafe practices. Capitalist and pro-capitalist elites at times even try to destroy entire communities and nations. Witness Iraq, Syria, Yemen to name just a few recent examples.

In two previous world wars, they have tried and succeeded in destroying as many of their rivals citizens as possible and as much of their infrastructure and productive capacity as could be achieved by the then available means. It is such a dominant way of thinking that pro-capitalist ideology has permeated and saturated the minds of the pro-capitalist elites in all the various departments of modern life irrespective of whether they are conservative, liberal or left leaning in their political disposition. For this reason it is the ideas of this entire political spectrum which needs to be exposed and de-constructed and these exposures taken to the working classes, wherever they are, whatever their circumstances, and no matter how they have previously voted. Workers of the world still need to unite; for they still have only their chains to lose and a better, more sustainable, future to create.

R. Ratcliffe  (March 2018)

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Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, dispossession, Ecological damage., Nationalism, neo-liberalism, Politics, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“BEST WORKERS IN THE WORLD”

The title of this article is a phrase from a speech at an international conference. However, it was not, as the reader might think, at a conference of trade unionists, nor of left-wing anti-capitalist radicals addressing a like – minded  audience.  If you, the reader might have thought so, you would be wrong. And actually, this was not all that was said in praise of these workers. It was also stated that they “really make our countries run” and “make our countries great“. Nor was it Bernie  Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn or some other social democrat who went on to say much more about the importance of workers and their families at this particular conference.  It was actually said by a right-wing capitalist exploiter of working people and their families who just happens to be the current President of the United States of America. Yes it was Donald Trump at Davos in 2018!  So I guess many people (including the Davos elite) might have wondered just what the hell was going on? But apparently not many in the mainstream media, for the bulk of their attention was elsewhere.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that the smoke and mirrors around the faux pas and comings and goings of the White House and the numerous minute forensic style investigations were absorbing the interests and energies of the media and politicians of all sides. However, this toxic mix of who leaked that’, ‘who spoke to whom’, ‘who knew what’ and ‘when did they know it’ at the frequent mad-hatter style media gatherings is not really what is important. I suggest more of us need to pan back from this microscopic self-indulgent, petite-bourgeois political introspection and see the bigger picture, for there are global implications involved. The bigger picture is, of course, the increasing dysfunction of the entire economic, financial, ecological, moral, political and social system – internationally! And as a consequence, what is increasingly important, as the crises of the capitalist mode of production deepens, are the programmatic changes that are now either occurring (or about to occur) in the political programmes of pro-capitalist elites world-wide.

The most high profile and transparent example of these political re-positionings in the west has been the modifications the Tea Party, Bannon and Trump wing of the Republican Party have made to their public appeal to the US electorate in 2016/17. Therefore, it is revealing that essentially the same political message has been retained and repeated by Donald Trump at Davos, at the US Senate and in the State of the Nation speech. For this reason I intend to focus on the important changes in emphasis revealed within these speeches for I contend these are not the result of his own individual ideas, but represent the thinking of an ascendent section of the elite class, whether these are dark skinned, pale skinned or female members of it. These ideas will therefore, have a life independent of the present incumbent at the White House and also independent of North American Continent.  They therefore need to be taken seriously rather than simply being dismissed as the off-the-cuff ramblings of a man out of his depth in the muddy (or swampy) waters of US politics.

The speech at Davos.
The speech at Davos is probably the most condensed articulation of the new thinking within the Republican wing of the pro-capitalist elite of the USA and points to its future development and use. To me the most strikingly obvious observation to be made of that speech is the following. Out of the 1,905 words spoken at Davos, 528 of them were aimed directly at the working class. Or to put it another way, more than one quarter of his speech was not primarily aimed at the assembled elite listening to him but at the working class electorate in the USA. Having declared to the assembled rich-list ‘guests’ that American workers were “the best workers in the world” as noted, he didn’t stop there. Here are a few other extracts from those 528 words to give a fuller flavour.

In rebuilding America we are also fully committed to developing our workforce. We are lifting people from dependence to Independence because we know the single-best anti-poverty program is a very simple and very beautiful paycheck. To be successful it is not enough to invest in our economy.

In continuing he went on to speak about the ‘forgotten’ people (ie the white-collar and blue-collar workers, the unemployed, single parents, pensioners, impoverished students etc.) in this increasingly ‘fractured world’ and then declared;

We must invest in our people. When people are forgotten the world becomes fractured. Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all. The nation’s greatness is more than the sum of its production and a nation’s greatness is the sum of its citizens, the values, pride, love, devotion and character of the people who call that nation home.

In drawing attention to the considerable economic, financial and political power of those assembled economic and political elites present, he included the following;

With this power comes an obligation however, a duty of loyalty to the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are.Together let us resolve to use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes and to empower their dreams.

He closed his Davos speech with thanking the organisers and then added the following remarks.

“…but most importantly, thank you, to all of the hard-working men and women who do their duty each and every day, making this a better world for everyone. Together let us send our love and our gratitude to them because they really make our countries run. They make our countries great.

Speech to Congress.

These worker orientated themes were repeated in his speech to Congress were he declared a desire to “reward good workers” and promised to “protect American workers”. And concluded with another  rhetorical flourish;

“….my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.

To emphasise this targeted focus on the situation of the working classes and poor he then went on to define them in the following manner.

They work in every trade. They sacrifice to raise a family. They care for our children at home. They defend our flag abroad. They are strong moms and brave kids. They are firefighters, police officers, border agents, medics, and Marines.

State of the Union speech.
The Presidents State of the Union speech was much longer and covered more ground than the previous two. Drug addiction, the Wall, controlled immigration, terrorism, rebuilding the nuclear arsenal, North Korea, Iran and support for Israel against Palestine were mentioned.  But even among these (and numerous other issues he mentioned), he still managed to fulfil his role as Republican promoted pied-piper of capital with a mandate to lure workers into supporting what is shaping up to be the first stages of a new form of unified authoritarian nationalist ideology.  For example;

So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream.

All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.”

Our task is to respect them, to listen to them, to serve them, to protect them, and to always be worthy of them.”

Most of the above ideas and sentiments, if not all, could have come from the mouths of the Democratic wing of USA politics and indeed many have and undoubtedly will do so in the future. This is because, as noted earlier, they are not simply the ideas of the individuals who express them publicly, but are those which represent the logical way forward for the pro-capitalist elite particularly in their moments of economic and social crisis. By the way, one nation, one people, with the elite as strong-arm guardian and protector of everything, uttered by Trump, is not a new ideological formula. Nor is it one specific to the United States, it has been a constant mantra of the bourgeoisie internationally, since the pro-capitalist revolutions of 1641-1650 (England); 1770 – 1780 (American Colonies); and 1789 -1793 (France).

So all the above noted speeches contain just a collection of words mouthed at one time or another by practically every politician in every country on the planet. Even the appeal for the rival political parties and business elites to put aside their differences and work for the common good is simply a repetition of a regularly recurring mantra, particularly in times of difficulty. Trump at Davos, Senate etc., is merely articulating a common ideological position and global-wide political reflex; in order to head off potential civil disorder. What is relatively new is the identity of those who are proposing new deals, or in the case of the US, a new, New Deal. The tactic now, as in the past, is to make an offer of cross-party reforms and later water them down. However, the 21st century US elite (as with the European and UK elites) are not yet sufficiently threatened by civil discord for most of them to put aside their differences and form a united front. That will perhaps come later.  

Authoritarian Nationalism.
If we carefully examine the ideas presented by Trump at Davos etc., it becomes clear that they are a mixture of facts, condescending generalisations, patronising praise and nationalist elite-centred sentiments. What is relatively new is their packaging together by right-wing politicians and again this is an international phenomenon

First the facts.
Fact 1. Working people are the ones who made the international gathering of rich at Davos – rich. As workers around the world, they made the products, as customers, they bought the products, as workers, they also transported the products, and as workers they kept the power systems going for production and the roads repaired etc., for transportation.  ie Trumps the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are…”
Fact 2. Working people (of the world) work every day in the above roles and as retail workers, service workers, teachers, health workers, social workers, voluntary workers etc.  and make the world a better place for everyone. ie.Trumps.., hard-working men and women who do their duty each and every day, making this a better world for everyone.and “..they really make our countries run. They make our countries great. They work in every trade.

These two elements of this recent pro-capitalist, right-wing perspective have been borrowed from the left. The usual right-wing upside-down ideology which argues that it is capitalists who create all the wealth and benefit workers by generously providing them with much needed jobs has been turned the right way up. In these speeches, Trump and his right-wing advisers have unwittingly admitted what has previously been denied – the labour theory of value! The reality of human societies is that wealth comes from the efforts of workers who produce goods and services. It is now correctly revealed by this section of the ‘right’ that it is workers who provide the labour and services which are the foundation of all capitalist societies and apart from nature, the sources of all previous and present wealth. Of course economic systems with workers providing the foundations of societies by low paid, hard work and the elites enjoying the superstructural wealth benefits, is nothing new and is seen by the Trump’s as ‘natural’ or God given when in fact it is neither.

The ‘rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, all things bright and beautiful, the lord god made it so’  rationalisation, is an ancient religious justification for accepting extremely divided societies.  There is, however, a more rational and secular explanation. The present system of hierarchical exploitation was the result of capitalist revolutions which not only removed Royal lineages from direct power and control, but also removed working people from direct access to the main means of production. Historically, societies with extremes of Poverty and Wealth are not the results  of natural processes but socially created ones. That, among other things, is the missing dimension from such right-wing speeches and for obvious reasons. These half-borrowed left revolutionary-humanist facts about the position of workers  have been stitched together with nationalist bourgeois propaganda, by the right and then embroidered with patronising praise before being offered as an infected comfort blanket to those who have not yet been able to deconstruct them. 

If we take such a tapestry of contradictory ideas seriously, as I suggest we should, then it is inadequate to refer to them using the practically useless abstraction populism. What we are witnessing in the liberal democracies (and many non-democracies) are the progressive stages of justifying and/or establishing a commitment to return to something which is by no means popular – ie forms of authoritarian nationalism. This is a return which would  allow the upholders of the capitalist system to have sufficient support and resources to survive the coming storms. In the liberal democracies, unlike non-democracies and one-party sham democracies, the more ruthless forms of bourgeois nationalist ideology only get increased emphasis when it is most needed. And it is most needed by the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois classes again in this 21st century period of systemic crisis.

This is also why – in various forms – authoritarian nationalism is being articulated and put into practice again in practically all countries of Europe, the Middle-East, and the rest of the World. The UK, France, Germany, Poland etc., all have their mini-me Trumps in waiting whilst in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Turkey, Saudi, Russia, China, for example, their (more or even less refined) big boss Trump’s are already ensconced in power as varying personifications of this elite class trend. In many cases, these figureheads who are used by the dominant political and economic mileus to articulate their interests, will be elevated, supported or even demoted, depending upon how successful they are at dividing and fooling the masses. However, we can be sure of the following. The above menu of ideas that the dominant class now needs will be retained and even further refined and enthusiastically promoted as and when felt necessary. How successful these ideas are in fooling and dividing the bulk of present generation of humanity remains to be seen, but as we shall see later they are once again, in the absence of alternative explanations, becoming attractive to embattled and struggling working people.

For this reason these same ideas will undoubtedly be taken up, sooner or later, by other less crude and callous figureheads than the current crop who are by no means the perfect vehicles to save the capitalist economic and social system from its progressive descent into yet another socio-economic abyss. This is why combating the figureheads and their immediate followers, instead of the core ideas, is a recipe for seeing them pop up in a new form and in a new, perhaps more agreeable, or even in some cases (ie Erdogan, Sisi, Assad, Putin etc) a more ruthlessly-powerful, mouth.  Meanwhile we need to recognise that the success of this elite strategy of recruiting the masses to one nation, one people, one elite-run, state-power, and ignore essential class divisions, requires two further elements to help it weather the coming storms.  They are the creation of enemies within and without as scapegoats, first of all to be blamed and then to be sacrificed. That is another hot  issue which will be covered in the next post.

R. Ratcliffe (March 2018)

Posted in capitalism, Critique, Ecological damage., Nationalism, Politics, Reformism, Religion, The State | Tagged | Leave a comment

NEGLECTED VOICES – 2.

In the previous article a selection of eight categories of voiced concerns by ordinary working class people (white-collar and blue) were reproduced from the 2018 Demos report At Home in One’s Past’. In this second article a further selection of voiced concerns will be reproduced from a further eleven categories reproduced in the full report. The interim comments and conclusions contained in ‘Neglected Voices – 1’ will be supplemented by others in this article.  As was the case there, a link to the full Demos report will also be provided at the end for those wishing to read it for themselves.

Housing, Relocation and Gentrification.
Since the changes in housing provision introduced during the Thatcher era of privatisation, housing costs are being largely driven by market forces. Those with access to sufficient funds push house prices and rents up; those who haven’t are pushed down the accommodation chain. Increasing numbers of the latter are being pushed down as far down as a park bench or shop doorway. Affordable housing is increasingly scarce and this is negatively effecting working-class families and communities.

“My children, they can’t live near me, they can’t afford to live near me.”
One of the worst things is, they sold council housing, they should never have sold social housing.
The council done it all wrong, they got rid of all their caretakers that use to live on site to keep the people safe.
I lived two doors away when I moved away from my mum, and my sister moved opposite. It was a community and there was other people there, they lived there, they grew up so we all looked after each other’s children, so we all looked out for each other. It was a community.
These singles mothers who have been there shipped out of London to somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, they’re losing their support system, their family.
I used to let my kids play round the front and my Mum she would come round at eight o’clock at night and shout at all the kids ‘get in’, and my kids would come running. It was a community.

Economic and social dislocation and alienation at the heart of the capitalist economic system by working for a wage or being unemployed, is now being amplified through urban renewal schemes and relocations. It has now led to increased alienation from the social life of the working community itself. This process has also added further stresses to the lives of those who suffer from it, including increased concerns about personal security and feelings of insecurity.  

Personal safety.
They’re allowing criminals back onto the street, when they’ve served 50 per cent of their sentence, and well that’s crazy to me. You know, if they’re given a 15-year sentence then they should serve a 15-year sentence. And if they don’t behave, then extend it.
I read in the paper actually, that these British people are fighting with ISIS and the idea now is…to give them houses when they come back and give them jobs. Can we have a referendum on that? I think I know what the answer would be.
I often feel scared when out on my own now. I wouldn’t walk on the streets alone.
I didn’t used to feel so afraid, but the streets just don’t feel safe at night any more.
I made my husband bring me in tonight because I didn’t want to walk through the city on my own, because eight months ago, I was coming out of where I was working one night and I was a bit scared. I was getting in the lift to the car park, and I was thinking, I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable here.

Political Correctness.
There are too many do-gooders around to tell you want you can’t do, rather tell you what you can do.
We’ve got too many political correctness people, too many do-gooders trying to run the country.
At work we have an equality and diversity team, so I get what they’re doing, don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant stuff. But there’s an inordinate amount of resources for the needs of two people, when there are 3000 people overall. So think it has to be proportionate.
People are very afraid to stand up and say well I think that’s wrong, because then they get this label to say that they’re against you know, liberalisation and things like that. So people who want to speak out are frightened of that because they get labelled.
It’s the minority groups who have ruined the country. Because every time they [the Government] come up with something, there are groups that will protest and say this is against my rights, so then the Government thinks, ‘Well we better not do that’ and they go off to something else. And I am sure that we are dominated by small groups of people who don’t like something – if they don’t like something they make a lot of noise and so the Government backs down because it’s easier.
It feels like you’re standing on eggshells sometimes.
In speaking to or referring to someone from the Caribbean, now I’ve always referred to them as being coloured, but now…you can’t say that.
We can’t even call a blackboard a blackboard anymore, I mean what is all that about? I mean it’s an absolute joke! If someone’s black, they’re black and if someone’s white they’re white — what difference does it make?
I mean, can you go into Homebase and buy black paint? So what’s the problem?
On the telly where [they’ve] just done a report about all the ethnic minorities, [they focus on] what they feel, but no one comes to the Whites and asks us how we feel.
All the politicians and the big wigs in power are bending over backwards for all the ethnic minorities in this country.

I have commented on the phenomena of political correctness in an article of that name on this blog and welcomed the critical contribution to confronting this attack on freedom of thought and expression in the book review ‘Being in Time’ by the author and musician Gilad Atzmon. This also appears here on ‘critical-mass.net’. The voices above suggest that criticism of political correctness is not just the concern of writers and academics anxious to defend the right to criticise anything and everything they think deserves it. Its one-sidedness is grasped at grass-roots level.

One sided Tolerance.
If you’re a Christian, and I say something about Christianity that you don’t like, you may retaliate verbally and discuss, but you would accept it. But if I said something to you as a Muslim, I would be so condemned as racist or religophobe, or whatever. And I think the balance has swayed and tipped too far in the other way.”
There’s too much focus on tolerance for us, and I don’t think there’s enough on the other side and we’re not meeting in the middle. This is the thing, I’m all for tolerance if it’s an equal street not if it’s, you know, 75 per cent one way and then we’ll be tolerant when we fancy it.

Immigration.
Too many people coming into the country and taking from the country, you know benefits and everything else, when they haven’t paid anything into the country.
The West Indians that came to this country in the late-40s and early-50s were invited here by our Government and they worked and they got their own houses…they didn’t take other people’s jobs away, and they went were the bacon [jobs] were.
The immigrants that got in now, they’re not working, or they’re working for their money and sending it off.
Councils, Government, people, they’re all scared to say anything. It’s like nursery rhymes, all the words are changed in case somebody gets offended. Christmas, people are talking about Christmas cards, “don’t say Happy Christmas, say happy festival time, because you may offend somebody”. And that is taking our identity away.

I have dealt with the effects of economic immigration upon working people in a number of articles, most recently in ‘The Dangers of Dualistic Thinking’.  It is clear from the above comments that an element of confusion on numbers exists. There are those who are perceived entering the UK in order to exploit the benefit system and those who are entering to work and pay their way in taxes and national insurance contributions.  The exact proportions of these two categories are not clear to most people,  probably because there are no trustworthy statistics available. Which leads on to the next section.

Welfare contributions.
Too many people coming into the country and taking from the country, you know benefits and everything else, when they haven’t paid anything into the country.
There’s also quite a lot of people coming in for health tourism and that’s a massive draw on the NHS. They try and charge back for that treatment but there just isn’t the system there to do that. If we go on holiday to Spain or whatever, what’s the first thing that happens? Healthcare insurance!
It’s the type of people that are coming in, not just quantities.
Whether it’s picking fruit or what have you, or joining the NHS, what people were against, and me included, was people coming to the country that have no jobs that couldn’t speak English and just drained the country. We all play taxes; we’ve paid taxes all our lives.
You have to have a percentage of immigrants. To build your society. But it does need some control over it. Personally, I would go for a system as I say, other countries have, where you have to show what you are going to bring to the country. Just make it fairer.

Integration.
One of the policies the Government brought in was to clump all the faith groups together in the same space, which maybe good initially because then they can set up community but then all of a sudden you just get clumps of different people that don’t want to mix together.
When I go back to see my mum, it’s not a safe place to walk about and when I were there it was. […] Maybe that’s because of the different groups that aren’t coming together.
Down in [redacted] Street, you’ve got Romanian Gypsies going up and down, and they don’t think twice about urinating in the middle of the street without even going and hiding behind the bush. They even defecate as well.
What’s different is, there’s no integration. We’ve got ghettos all over this area, there’s children that are starving, people can’t mix, you’re not allowed to speak to somebody. You’ve got poor girls in the Asian community that are being sold to people abroad to get them into the country. We fought for years for women’s rights, to be able to wear what we want, equal pay. And the thing that angers most is that we’ve now got a whole society of men that have no respect for females, and yet females have fought for years to be able to wear what we want, do what we want, live an independent life.

If the situation with regarding the travellers toilet habits mentioned were based upon first hand evidence, then it would be a genuine cause for complaint but of course it would be unfair (and an example of irrational prejudice) to apply it to all travellers if this was indeed implied. To my mind the last example of this section of voices raises an interesting contrast between the life outlooks of elite women in contrast with non-elite women. The first are currently correctly campaigning against sexual predation and harassment in politics, entertainment, media and business. However, most of these well paid middle-class women are largely overlooking the fact that in 21st century, low pay, poor work conditions along with rape, forced marriages, genital mutilation, acid attacks and even honour killings are daily faced by some sections of lower class women. It seems that for this elite section of femininity, equal pay and opportunity within their elite circles is more important than extending the principles of economic and social justice to their sisters below them.  This goes some way to confirm that Bourgeois Feminism, as with bourgeois equality in general is not extended to the whole of humanity and therefore fail the test of being universal principles. 

Politics and Government.
We are limping, limping along I think, and that goes back to the crash of 2008, and we never recovered from that. Maybe the seeds were sown, and then Brexit occurred and the state of our economy is such that there is just not enough money in the pot to pay for all the things we expect to be provided for us.
There’s such a mode of apathy at the moment and despondency with the Government. The fact that no one believes that they’re going to do anything for the country anymore.
None of them have done a day’s job, then [they’ve] gone into the trade unions, then gone from trade unions to be a Member of Parliament. They don’t do nothing for us.
They are literally in ivory towers in Westminster…it’s frightening. They are completely aloof left and right.
There’s a lot of people in positions [of power] judging aspects of life that they’ve never experienced. They said we’re all in this together, and they’ve got their noses in the trough ripping off the expenses and it’s us lower beings that have got the runt of it. It’s always been the case.
With the politicians we have, personally, I don’t believe 90% what they tell us and [they are] confusing us by telling us, ‘one party says…this party says…’. They constantly contradict each other!
There are just so many petty arguments back and forwards regardless of whether you voted Remain or Out, but this just looks so childish. You realise how much all parties are alike.
Now, they just care about themselves and their own policies.
It’s just about scoring points and not about working together for the country as a whole.
They promise you everything, until they get in power, until they get in position and then you don’t exist.
All their interests are to line their own pockets, the politicians.
You know, if you watch these debates in parliament […] they play around with figures. So Labour plays around with these figures and they sound good, then the Conservatives play around with these figures and they sound good.

Britain and Empire.
We’re a country that used to have an Empire and be very, very important and now we’re just a country, a small country. A small island in the middle of a little sea.
Those from an older generation have a larger sense of pride. Whereas I see our Empire as, you know, we went and plundered the world, and took advantage of, like the Romans probably we did some good things. So I’m not ashamed of it but, I don’t think it was marvellous, wonderful thing.
What, when we used to rape and pillage and take other people’s stuff? I don’t want another Empire.
We’re proud of a country that was supposedly top in the world, but most of that was down to bullying and slavery. If you look at history, I’m ashamed of my history.
The influence will be different rather than an empire. We controlled a lot of Africa etc. by a physical brute force and that’s not a case anymore.”
If we go back to far in history we only got rich by, what’s the word, raping their countries and taking all the money from them. They’re [immigrants] like what you moaning about – you’re only getting your comeuppance.

I personally found this section interesting and somewhat surprising. It is clear from this section that the decades of elite, state-sponsored propaganda on promoting ‘British Values’ of Empire and Commonwealth has not been very effective. The elite touted vision of a ‘land of hope and glory’ has obviously been exposed as the ‘land of rape and one-sided story’. It seems that the left anti-capitalist critique of the Colonialist and Imperialist phases of capitalism, despite being articulated by a few and relatively powerless voices in British politics and social life, has nevertheless been more successful.  That is encouraging indeed. 

Self help.
[The Blitz spirit] I think it’s still underneath the surface.
People rally round. I mean look at when we had all the floods, I mean they came from far and wide, didn’t they, to help out. So I think whatever happens in the country, it won’t be the Government that rallies – it will be the people.
There still is a community spirit when there is an emergency, like with Manchester, or other crises this year.
I work in safety and obviously I have loads and loads of stuff to read but there were no Government support [for Grenfell fire safety], but what happened the people, the people bounced up and sorted it out. So in that way, we have that types of pockets of resilience.

Foreign Aid.
We need to cut foreign aid…I don’t know how much it is, but it’s a lot. We should put it back in our economy; it would help a lot, dealing with cutbacks on law enforcers, police, NHS and all that. So cut back on things like that, ‘cause then we can use foreign aid for our aid, you know what I mean, it makes more sense.
We’re the first ones to put our hands in our pockets, you know, help people and all that, but now we got to worry about our own country and get back on our feet and once we have, we can start helping out again but, but we got to look at our own country first.
We tend to throw a lot of money away, I mean…this foreign aid, which is absolutely ludicrous how much we give. I don’t say don’t give anything, but we give like 13billion pounds a year and it goes up with inflation every year, it’s 0.7% of the GDP, so you know that could be put to the NHS, it could be given to pensioners you know, and I think it’s horrific and yet there’s no Government prepared to do anything about it, ‘cause it’s set in stone?
I think personally we do need to help but I think it’s excessive at the moment.”
I think we should put more into our own country. Do they give us anything when anything happens over here? We’re self-sufficient, we sort of, you know the bombings, we rectified all that didn’t we? We didn’t get any aid from outside countries. The fire early on this year at Grenfell Tower, did they help us with that?

Further comments.
The above extracts (together with those in ‘Neglected Voices – 1’), are not the only ones in the full Demos report, but they are sufficient to reveal a spread of opinions across generations, across different sections of the working class and across different regions in the UK. The ‘voices’  express a comprehensive range of concerns with everyday life from the perspective of a broad swathe of the working classes. They also reveal three other factors. First, a well – considered and balanced (if incomplete) view of what is going wrong with economic, social and political life in modern Britain including the past brutal essence of colonialism.  Second, a recognition of the need for citizen self-activity rather than reliance on the state. Third, as was mentioned in part 1, they also reveal a very limited understanding of the underlying economic causes of the internal symptoms they have comprehensively outlined. The absence of this understanding leaves both white-collar and blue-collar working people vulnerable to accepting some pro-capitalist narratives and rationalisations with regard to their contemporary situation and their expressed concerns.

In this latter regard we need to keep in mind that there is currently an almost white-hot war of fractured legitimacy between rival political elites and their supporters as they desperately seek to gain (or regain) power to govern nation states. It has been said – with a considerable degree of accuracy – that the first casualty of war is truth. Dissemination of one-sided, doctored or false information is a routine now set within well worn bourgeois intellectual grooves. And by the way, the creation of ‘Fake News’ emanating from both sides of rival elites is nothing new; it is at least as old as  the disputes within and between Persia, Athens and Sparta in the ancient Greek period. At the present level of competitive skirmishes the current elite divisions are largely taking the form of a vicious war of words as each side, distorts reality, misrepresents the views of the other side, fabricates facts and motives, takes words out of context, takes emotional ramblings as facts – and much else – all in an effort to gain influence and political advantage over the other.

The ultimate prize of all this regurgitated bile and imaginative invention is of course to gain (or regain) political power. However,  before that, the intermediate target of all the present misinformation, disinformation, fabrication and confirmation bias is to win as many ordinary citizens to one side or the other.  There is an urgent need among the elite to divide the working classes into two opposing and strongly biased sides each with pre-formed opinions and set political habits so they can be used when necessary as reliable voting fodder. That process, if fully successful, would also act against the possibility of any serious form of unity among working people, a development which of course would be dangerous to both sides of the bourgeois elite. Hence, the recently emerged rhetoric of concern for all those ‘left behind’, epitomised by Donald Trump in the USA and Teresa May in the UK. For example “..a duty of loyalty to the people” (Trump at Davos 2018) and ‘a country that works for all’ (May at Tory Conference 2017). As the crisis deepens, this sort of ‘concerned’ rhetoric will be the bait increasingly dangled in front of working class audiences, many of whom, in the absence of any alternative, may well be persuaded to swallow it, hook, line and sinker.

So as a reminder to all of us on the anti-capitalist and revolutionary-humanist left I suggest the following. Beware of taking sides in these Punch and Judy pantomime struggles between the political elites and beware of helping one dysfunctional side or the other to win workers to support their greed inspired battles. I suggest it will be wiser to let them get on with hurling their bitterness and poison at each other. They are hell-bent on discrediting each other – as the ‘voices’ in an above section have already recognised. Beware also of blaming the working-class victims for not always seeing through this distorted socio-economic and ecological mess we are all in. For some on the left to expect a more sophisticated level of consciousness than that already determined by working peoples economic position and the current level of knowledge delivered to them by the media and existing education system is to expect miracles. Since miracles don’t happen, hard work is needed.

To berate or castigate working people for not already having arrived at an all-round critical class consciousness regarding the contemporary world is to my mind an arrogant and sectarian attitude of self-inflated superiority. In addition such attitudes conveniently dodge responsibility for tackling the crucial issues facing humanity. For in reality, rather than in reformist dreamland or dystopian nightmare there remains the difficult task of disseminating to working people an improved knowledge of the capitalist economic system that will assist them to further navigate through the confused and manipulated products of neo-liberal socio-economic and political thinking. I suggest that this task can only be undertaken by those who have recognised its urgent necessity along with the necessity to educate ourselves as well as revolutionising our own practical activity.

R. Ratcliffe (February 2018) 
For a direct link to the full Demos report see;
https://www.demos.co.uk/project/citizens-voices/

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, Critique, neo-liberalism, Politics, Reformism, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged , | 2 Comments

NEGLECTED VOICES – 1.

Over the past several decades of national (and international), social and political turmoil the popular media (Television, Radio, Newspapers, Magazines) has remained dominated by the opinions and assertions of the 20th century educated middle-classes. This is a mileu whose representatives already think they know what is right and wrong with the world, how it should be modified and ultimately what the world should look like in the future. Paid to sit around studio tables in front of cameras, they confidently express their opinions on every conceivable topic. Even when they disagree, they do so only on minor points and it becomes clear that the future they seek is one very much tailored to their own needs and desires.

Therefore it is not hard to deduce that the majority of them envisage a present and future world in which the working classes, dutifully produce all the goods and services necessary for a comfortable middle-class existence. Nor is it hard to deduce from their discussions that they have a shared expectation concerning working people now and in the future. It comprises of the following. That ordinary working people will deferentially accept the inferior remuneration and status granted to them for providing these much needed necessities and luxuries to the classes economically and socially ‘above’ them. At best they have a scenario in mind, which is very much in line with the post-Second World War consensus. In the UK, a sort of renewed ‘Spirit of 1945’ welfare condescension but with ample air miles, prestige cars and luxury hotels for those on higher incomes to ‘experience’.

The bulk of this class are employed in the middle to higher reaches of education, government, media, the arts, law, military, business and politics. Economically and socially they lie between the super rich and the relative poor. Hence, their middle-class status. In most cases, they have a prejudiced view of ordinary working people as being inferior, in intelligence, culture and motivation even though they rarely express this publicly. It is an attitude they share with those at the top of the wealth pyramid of the capitalist mode of production, who are also rarely openly candid about this prejudice.  Only occasionally, does this prejudice get exposed publicly as when some working people are described as despicable or they are referenced as living in allegedly ‘shit-hole’ countries.

For this reason the nuanced views and opinions of working people (the ‘despicables’ in the US, or the Brexit/UKIP voters in the UK) are of little real interest to those who are rich, in government, in the media or in politics. By and large, these groups pretend to value working peoples ‘human rights’ but only as long as working people conform to their own neo-liberal, politicaly-correct world view of what is acceptable.  Nevertheless, their combined actions speak louder than their frequent rhetorical words or occasional crocodile tears. Zero hours contracts, low pay and austere public services are an infringement of basic ‘human rights’ for working people, but little or nothing was done or said by this class to oppose them. Much earlier, the destruction of trade unions and the removal of free school milk for working class children under Thatcher brought forth no protest from this tier of UK society.

Middle-class complicity in the multiple denial of human rights for workers has been obvious for decades to anyone from the white-collar or blue-collar working class. It became glaringly obvious to those more recently born into the working class who complained and we’re ignored more recently at Grenfell Tower. Even the politicians who seek election or re-election by knocking on working class doors every five or so years to secure a much needed vote, merely listen politely – when they have to – and then pass on to canvas the next on their quinquennial ‘to do’ list. The reason is simple. Politicians of left, right or centre persuasions, don’t need to ask ordinary people or listen to them, because politico’s already know what’s best for us. They have already made their minds up on what we need or had them made up by their executive committees who finalised their election manifestos. You see they have already done the thinking for the rest of us.

The media, when it suits them, broadcast occasional events where ordinary people are allowed, in a controlled fashion, to put questions or venture a short opinion, to be ignored or cut off short as the time or inclination of those in control dictates. But that’s been about the best of it!  At least until now! For in the UK a little light has been recently shed on the neglected voices of those at or near the bottom of the income and wealth pyramid. 

Demos: and ‘Citizens Voices’.

Between October and December 2017, Sophie Gaston and Peter Harrison-Evans, on behalf of the organisation Demos, led an extensive series of focus groups across England, as part of the research for the project At Home in One’s Past. They have produced a report which gives voice to those citizens so often neglected. The report identifies the locations and participant mix as follows:
“These focus groups have convened a diverse mix of citizens by age, socio-economic status and ethnicity, however the majority of participants have been over-55s and White British. Locations have included a wide range of cities, towns and suburbs, such as Bermondsey in London, Havering, Birmingham, Leeds, Yorkshire, and Sunderland.” (Page 1.)
The title of the report (‘At home in One’s Past’) hints at a strong nostalgic emphasis for undertaking the research, but nevertheless as the authors conclude, the responses also produced valuable insights into “citizens’ perspectives on our contemporary politics, society and culture”. And it is this which to my mind throws a useful and most illuminating light on the current consciousness and understanding of ordinary working people – in their own words. I shall quote a selection of these views and opinions in roughly the same order as presented in the report and make brief comments upon them. However, even a condensed number of extracts from this useful report would make for a too long article so I will consider half of the published categories in this article and publish the rest at a later date.  The words of the neglected voices will appear in italics and bounded by quotation marks.

On De-industrialisation.
Years ago, there was thousands of jobs; loads of different factories, shipyards, coal mines and now there’s nothing at all.
The North-East, it was a big mining area. I mean, when I was small, my dad was a miner. All along the North-East there was all these coal mines.
They could open all the factories again […] It would give everybody like more job opportunities but then that gives us back our status as well.

Although the heading is De-industrialisation,  the real concern shown by these quotes is lack of jobs. From my own experience, the closure of mines, factories, shipyards, etc., would have not been a serious concern if these dirty, unhealthy, dangerous jobs had been replaced, one for one, by other forms of reasonably paid employment, but they weren’t.  In fact the term De-industrialisation is only accurate when applied to the western hemisphere, since in many cases these industrial activities were shifted elsewhere on the planet where the returns on capital were higher. The planet is arguably far more industrialised now, than when the industrial revolution occurred in Britain and Europe and more than it was in the immediate post Second World War period.

On the lack of good jobs.
There was no zero-hour contracts kicking about then, now there are loads kicking about and […] they’re not good jobs at all.
It was a time when you had pride in yourself when you had jobs like that.
It’s impossible today to get a job being a single mother. It really is, I’ve tried for years.
Jobs were secure then; no job is secure now.
I think the businesses as well, work on the basis that we can pay people a low salary, a low wage because it’s going to be made up by Government benefits.
I think things have changed a lot. When I got my degree, you felt like you were guaranteed a good job, whereas for lots of kids now, they’re coming out of university, working in call centres…Or you know, [they are] a lot less paid than you’d expect from a graduate.

Again in this section of the focus group discussion, the central concern is still jobs, and in this case also secure jobs.  Even some middle class graduates were (and are) experiencing the same difficulty in obtaining secure, well paid, meaningful employment. And the voices confirm that prospects of economic and social advancement have dwindled considerably, hence, for some, a hint of nostalga. Eg.

“My own parents, my dad was a docker, my mum used to work as a dinner lady and […] they ended up buying their house; they ended up quite well. My daughter […] she works long hours […] and she can’t afford to buy her own home!
Living on benefits.

Lack of jobs have long been a feature of working class life, but the short post-war period of relative full employment in the UK was destined not to last. Closures, changes in methods of production, capital expansion abroad all created unemployment and the need to fall back on benefits.
So, we kind of get less than nothing. Because we get, we don’t have any jobs, and then everybody gets into trouble for not having a job, but then there isn’t actually any jobs to get!
It seems there’s a big divide between them and us, people kind of think people who are on benefits are kind of cheats. And many things feed into that. Television programmes, all sorts of things.
It’s not even just the working-class anymore, it’s like, what about the people that want to work who’re on income support, who’ve got kids and they’re like living on nothing to try keep a roof over your head and food on the table…it’s just impossible.

Rising Stress levels.
The lack of adequate income and income security due to persistent unemployment, low pay, zero hours contracts and/or reducing benefits all create rising stress levels. This cannot be surprising particularly in the class which has no capital, little savings and parents who may well be in  the same or similar circumstances. Eg.
It’s got so much more stressful and more worrying and more concerning, thinking about ‘are we actually gonna have food on our table?’, and ‘are we actually gonna have roof over our heads?’ So yes, life’s got a lot more stressful.
Things go wrong really quickly now, don’t they? I mean, they spiral very, very quickly from the point where I can be in my house, in my job, driving my car, and lose my job, not pay my bills, get repossessed, and be out and living in a hostel. […] it’s so easy, it is so easy.
It’s easier to fall down a level than it is to go up. It’s easier to fail now than it’s ever been.
One of the questions I always have in my mind is […} if I lost my job today how would I feel? I’d be quite frightened. You just think to yourself, right all my bills are still going out and I really need to get a job, will I be able to fall into something just really easy? You can send 100 applications off and not get any replies.”

These extracts do not reveal the exact levels of stress being experienced by these individuals – and the thousands like them – but it does not take much imagination to understand that most will be desperate and many desperate enough to change their normal behaviour or even previous voting patterns. An underlying theme of these four headings is also an awareness of the unfairness of their situations. For example;

Pensions.

We’ve all been penalised because we’ve got to work longer now.
We’ve worked all our lives, paid into the system and we can’t, well I can’t have my pension until I’m 66 now.
Anybody over 50 should have been able to get the pension when they should have had it. We have worked all our lives and we’ve paid into the system.
I worked at [redacted] for 20 years, paid into the pension all that time, and 10 years after I left, I got a letter from the pension people saying I may not get a pension when I come to claim it, because the money that they paid in, they invested into Icelandic banks, and Icelandic banks went tits up. There’s nothing you can do about it and it’s absolutely scandalous. They’re just playing with your future.”

The gradual reduction in the relative purchasing power of state and other pensions over the past several decades has led to hardship for many pensioners and the need for what should be embarrassing remedial measures. The winter fuel allowance was only granted because large numbers of pensioners in the UK were having to choose between keeping warm or eating sufficient food during the winter period. Free bus passes were another implicit admission that after a lifetime of labour working class retirees were so poor they could no longer afford basic elements of civilised life. Yet despite these ‘sweeteners’, obvious bitter problems of relative poverty still exist as does a sense of unfairness in the treatment of the elderly as well as undoubted stress levels for some.

Health concerns.

I worked in the NHS […] for about thirteen years and I was really proud to work for the NHS, because the NHS as a body had a really good ethos for caring. Then what happened […] it was all about business focus, it wasn’t about care. Care was a secondary element. In two years’ time, the NHS really went downhill. Today, I think the NHS is really, really on its knees.
It’s down to austerity, with the cutbacks in social services, there are more problems landing in the door of A&E. A&E get criticised for not meeting targets, but the problem is social care is not there within the community to the extent it used to be.
You go to A&E on any night of the week and a lot of the people going in are on first name terms with the staff because they’re going in time and time again, because really they should be in a care home of some description.
If we’re a civilised society, we should be providing care for the more unfortunate in society. And we seem to have just washed our hands of that.
We need to go back to grassroots that we used to have. I mean, the ethos of the NHS was free care for everyone and unfortunately now that’s not possible for many reasons. I think the main reason now is that the investment’s not there.
What they’re wanting is a superman on £2.50 an hour, so they’re wanting people to be able to perform at this top end and do everything, whereas at one point, three people may have split those roles and done those roles really well. [Matrons] now, they’re having to look at bed management systems, IT systems you know, it’s all business, business, business and whatever care is secondary.
[In the NHS] they have this horrendous term called “essential criteria”, and there’s six of them, and if you don’t meet one of those you just go in the bin.

Again, in these extracts a sense of unfairness and hidden worry is revealed about any onset of illness.  Health service personnel are under undue stress themselves even though they are in full-time employment.

The rich.

Well I think rich people are taking advantage because, if a rich person crashes their car, they’re not bothered, they’re going to buy a new one. And they’re not really worried about their insurance going up, but yet it affects people who have to use a car to get to work and stuff…they can no longer pay for it.

Again in this contribution what comes across most is unfairness. Here it is expressed in relation to the knock on effects of increased vehicle insurance premiums on those who need a vehicle for work. It is clear that cut backs and privatisation of transport systems have added extra stress and expense into the lives of many working people.

Break up of Communities.

I think it probably started in the 80s, I’m biased, but I can remember Thatcher saying ‘there’s no hing as society, only the individual’. And I think the balance changed a lot.
I think society is based these days on greed and materialism. I think that is the root of evil, the reality of everything now.”
People are less willing to help other people. So, because you kind of, you become in your own little bubble, that’s where you see that, the rise of the, of a more sort of selfish being.
It takes a community to bring up a child and if you haven’t got a community this is where the problems start.
There was a lot of community cohesion there, and as you say, everybody knew each other. We lived in flats and everybody knew each other. […] You know the maternity clothes got passed round. the kids’ clothes got passed round, and you know, none of the kids felt awful about wearing the kid round the corners’ clothes second hand — they just accepted it. I don’t know if that would happen now.
People are isolated and don’t look out for each other.
They started demolishing rows of terraced houses where people knew everybody in that street and started putting everybody in high rise flats, then nobody communicated anymore.
[In] the street, you won’t say a thing now, you’d be frightened of saying something.
Right now, if I saw a woman in a car that broken down, there was a time when I would have stopped and said ‘Can I help ya?’. I wouldn’t dare now! If you saw a child in a street and you thought that child was lost, you wouldn’t dare to approach that child now because of what consequences of that simple action might be.

This group of voices express concerns about changes in social housing, the increased emphasis on individualism, conspicuous consumption and socially engineered tenderness taboos, all of which have tended to erode any actual and potential human social solidarity. Hence again, for some an element of nostalgia has crept into their negative feelings about the present.

Interim summary.

In the first eight categories, the overwhelming impression given by these previously neglected voices are existential concerns about everyday life under the current neo-liberal phase of the capitalist mode of production. These concerns extend across the age gaps, between young and old, between unskilled and skilled workers and indeed they extend to white-collar university level areas of economic and social achievement. Growing numbers of young, old, skilled, unskilled and those on unemployment benefits are all now leading a precarious and stressful life in 21st century Britain and have been doing so for many years. Although they experience this precariousness in different social settings and individual households, it is something they all have in common. It is a precariousness that stems, not from individual failure, but overwhelmingly from the general socio-economic conditions of life.

However, what also becomes clear from these neglected voices is that there is an incomplete awareness of the the economic causes of their current situation and no awareness at all that there could ever be an alternative mode of production to the current one. This cannot be surprising, since publicly available information concerning changes in past modes of production, which led to the present one is practically non-existent. It also cannot be surprising, therefore, that there is little or no optimism of things getting better in the future. For millions, the future is bleak. This goes some way to explain the rose-tinted socio-economic nostalgia among some of the older generation, (not shared by the young) for how thing we’re in the past. Looking back and grossly overlooking the bad bits, (of which there were many) only becomes attractive when there is nothing better to hand now or look forward to.

What is missing among these voices so far and which could unite many of these, young old, skilled, unskilled, unemployed sectors of society is a more detailed knowledge of the capitalist system. That would explain the inevitability of their various situations and that of subsequent generations unless the present mode of production is ultimately changed. Clearly that knowledge and understanding cannot and will not come to them from the existing elites who control the dominant means of intellectual production and consumption, so it must come from elsewhere. (More on that in ‘Neglected Voices – 2’.) Until it does, can it really be surprising that there will be no really unified responses to the increasingly precarious and extremely stressful situations working people are in?

Can it really be surprising that, ordinary working people turn this way and that, trying different things and in the present absence of positive collective responses will in many cases also attempt to look after number one? Such varied and volatile working class reactions as those now occurring may cause additional problems for the left – but that is the nature of the period we are in. It is what it is; not how we might want it! As I see it, the problem to be solved from a revolutionary-humanist perspective is not only to more accurately interpret what is really going on within working class communities (blue and white-collar) and the many contradictions there, but also how to engage with these communities in order to help develop their understanding into something more unified and more positive.

 R. Ratcliffe (January 2018)
For a direct link to the full report see;
https://www.demos.co.uk/project/citizens-voices/

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, neo-liberalism, Politics, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

THE DANGERS OF DUALISTIC THINKING.

Let me first make clear what I mean by the term dualism before moving on to describe and analyse it’s uses in politics and the media. The dualistic mode of thinking is a conceptual framework which divides practically everything in the world into two (polar) opposite positions or sides. Dualism is a simplistic and restricted intellectual framework in which important issues are presented as having only two basic alternatives – things are either black or white, so to speak. The real world of colours, shades of grey or contradictions are excluded from discussions or assertions when they are governed by dualistic reasoning.  For example in religion, where dualisms abound, we find; God and the devil; good and bad; right and wrong, believer and heretic, Jew and Gentile, etc. In addition, the reader will note that within most religious and political dualistic frameworks one of these sides is generally designated as positive and the other side as negative.

Dualism also exists in a less problematic form in the common sense uses of concepts such as up and down; left and right, in and out etc., but these trivial everyday uses are not my concern.  The intention of this article is to point out how this form of crude reasoning is used for particular purposes and how it invariably fails to represent reality. In bourgeois and petite-bourgeois politics and social affairs it is frequently used by social democratic, as well as right-wing thinkers, to advance their own political agendas. Understanding the use and limitations of dualism is important, because dualistic reasoning has become a powerful tool in the hands of the elite and their sycophantic servants not only in religion, but importantly in the media and politics.

In fact whenever we hear an argument or discussion (or read one) in which only two sides or alternatives are presented, alarm bells should ring, no matter who formulates them in this way. Furthermore, whenever, only two alternatives are presented in such a way that one alternative is made preferable to the other then multiple alarm bells should ring. This is because it invariable involves an invitation to take defensive or offensive sides without any serious alternatives being explored. In religion and other (more secularised) branches of politics, for example, the suggestion of a choice between good and bad or right and wrong, often leads to a distorted us and them mentality, whether this is from within a religious denomination, a political grouping or a national government.

It will be recalled that after 9/11, George Bush famously expressed a dualism publicly (with regard to his so-called fight on Islamic terror) in exactly that form; i.e. you are either for us or against us. By adopting this tactic he and his supporters managed to convince many (both among the elite and general population) to view the world that way.  Yet, as was the case with the eventual Iraq war, millions of citizens around the globe didn’t fall into this dualist trap. They just didn’t see these as the only two possibilities. Millions of people were opposed both to religious forms of terror and to the Republican Bush and New Labour Blair inspired ‘shock and awe’ state orchestrated terror. So much so that huge demonstrations took place  against war.

Unfortunately, the latter two political epigones of capital and their supporters had sufficient power and elite support to ignore other alternatives and pursue their own version of good versus bad. Dualistic reasoning even emerged in the form of a further closely related rationalisation in respect of the war against Saddam Hussein. Some politicians asserted the invasion of Iraq to be the lesser of two evils, when arguably it was the greater. This devastating war and it’s aftermath has powerfully demonstrated both the limitations of dualistic frameworks and their fraudulent use by one-sided and self-serving politicians. And as we shall see in a later section, they are still desperately using these tactics as the multi-dimensional crisis of the capitalist mode of production continues to grind out its by-products of targeted poverty, environmental pollution and financial instability.

Lesser evil-ism and party politics.
The development of two – party political systems epitomises the dualism at the heart of the bourgeois mode of production where the means of production have been separated from those who produce. Economically Labour and Capital (i.e. workers and means of production) have been made to have separate social class existences and not surprisingly this fundamental bourgeois inspired and created duality has been mirrored elsewhere, including in politics. In most countries, two political trends dominate the competitive endeavour between elites to govern nation states. For example; Conservative and Labour in the UK; Republican and Democratic in the USA. In other countries the political names differ, but the two party alternating system of parasitic governance is essentially the same.

This dual party system reinforces four important bourgeois ideas. First; that the realm of economics is independent and separate from politics, when clearly it is not. Second, that the governance of societies requires politicians and states.  Third, that there are usually only two serious alternative political parties to choose between. Fourth, that it is a privilege for ordinary people to be allowed to choose who governs them. When both these main parties (and their alliances) are exposed as serving the needs of the system and not the population in general  – as is now the case in most countries – this too gives rise to the previously noted lesser of two evils opinion. The lesser-evil rationalisation is the dualistic fall-back position.  Internationally, the working classes are now being approached by the media and politicians on the basis of choosing the lesser of two evils.  Yet it is obvious that not everyone is swallowing this self-serving political message.

As the credibility of politics and the capitalist economic system has sunk to an all time low, with little or nothing positive or inspiring to offer voters except more of the same, some voters have turned to more radical right-leaning nationalist fringe parties in the hope (albeit a mistaken hope) for something better. Yet when ordinary working people are seeking more radical alternatives, many on the left have denounced them – and without a shred of verifiable evidence – labelled them as proto-fascists. Instead of welcoming their break with the dual political faces of the capitalist ‘establishment’ and rigorously exposing the right-wing parties as a dead end, they are urging workers to adopt a position of lesser evil-ism. In the USA this amounts to left groups and left individuals,  advocating a vote for Clinton – style democrats as being a lesser evil than republicans.

Apparently it matters little that the Republican and Democratic parties are the two Janus faces of the pro-capitalist political establishment both of which are responsible for the present crisis riddled system. It matters not that Democrats have waged as much war against other countries as the Republicans, or that each have oppressed American working families and indigenous native Indians to a similar degree. Instead, these left social democrats try to frighten the naive into choosing between an imaginary rise of Fascist authoritarianism, supposedly inspired by Trump – style republicanism, and an equally imaginary anti-fascist democracy, supposedly inspired by the Obama and Clinton Democrats. This perspective is offered despite the fact that 20th century history demonstrates that authoritarianism is just as much a product of splits within the working classes and left and centre social-democratic politics as it is of right-wing nationalist politics.

Naturally the Democratic bourgeoisie in the USA welcome this injection of left energy to their tactic of saving capitalism by their own more subtle, or rather more Machiavellian, methods. The Republicans on the other hand are able to point to the rapacious record of the Democrats both internationally and within the USA and welcome support from the extreme right.  Both sides are now able to blame each other for all the many negative aspects of modern life in the USA and at the same time spread anxiety about the results of their opponents side being elected. In this way another two important outcomes occur. First, the capitalist mode of production again escapes serious scrutiny. Second, the working classes become divided along the same lines as their respective economic and political elites.

Essentially the same dualistic pattern is emerging throughout Europe. There, as well as here in the UK and elsewhere, lesser-evil dualism is operating at two levels. The first level is within party politics, which parallels that in the USA, with rival political parties blaming each other for the financial, economic, social and environmental crisis. Here too we also also have a social-democratic and moderate left singing to the lesser of two evils hymn sheet. In the UK many on the left are calling for working people to vote for the Labour Party as the lesser evil of its non-identical – but still its bourgeois political twin – the Conservative Party. Yet here also both parties are the loyal defenders of the capitalist mode of production which is the underlying cause of all the financial, economic, social, moral and environmental problems most people face. Lesser evil-ism amounts to sowing illusions as neither party wishes to seriously challenge or change the present capitalist system.

In Europe (as was the case in the UK) the same dualistic political game plan is also being played by the elite and additionally in regard to the European Economic Community. In the Brexit campaign here in the UK, both sides played the dualistic lesser evil card. For some it was the lesser evil of staying IN, whilst for others it was the lesser evil of getting OUT. This is  mantra is also being repeated within other Europe countries. Millions of workers in the UK became convinced by one side or another in this political charade, and voted for or against. So in this case too we also had working people divided over how to make things better whilst the system which exploits and oppresses them avoided serious scrutiny. And over here too, workers are being encouraged to blame each other over their mistaken lesser-evil beliefs as their present and futures lives continue to deteriorate.

Practically everywhere the political left has abandoned any form of critique of the capitalist mode of production and opted instead for supporting what it mistakenly considers the lesser of two evils. And isn’t it obvious that choosing between two evils is still choosing an evil and shouldn’t this be made absolutely clear and an alternative perspective offered? Considering their system is in serious systemic crisis, things couldn’t be working out better for the ruling classes on both sides of the Atlantic. And perhaps not surprisingly, they have growing support from within the ranks of the traditional workers organisations – the trade unions.

Capitalism and Trade Unions.
Trade unions are a by-product of the capitalist mode of production. Historically, trade unions were set up by working people who found themselves exploited in large numbers during and after the industrial revolution. In industry, mining, agriculture and commerce, large companies replaced small ones and workers were grouped or ‘combined’ by the hundreds or even thousands. It became possible for workers to combine their own meagre resources to form organisations aimed at collectively resisting employer impositions or to achieve better wages or conditions. After lengthy opposition from employers organisations and unfriendly governments, trade unions eventually became an accepted feature of life in the developed and developing capitalist countries. In the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and the West, Trade Unions and their officials, even became respected and rewarded with government posts and honours.

Over time, the attitude of sections of the pro-capitalist elite toward trade unions changed from opposition to collaboration and incorporation. Over the same period of time the attitude of the trade union leadership to employers and the capitalist mode of production also changed from hostility to collaboration and even co-operation. Trade union leaders and officials went from being low-paid, overworked, vilified individuals in the 18th century, to highly-paid, well resourced and handsomely pensioned in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Many of them have become a routine part of the capitalist ‘establishment’ and remain entirely loyal to it.  So ‘establishment’ are they that many have been co-opted into financial institutions, or appointed onto international capitalist organisations and even invited as pro-capitalist apologists to appear on Television. In Europe many have become well – heeled bureaucrats riding on the EU gravy train and in England some are even offered (and eagerly accept) the stupid anachronisms of knighthoods and peerages. 

Incidentally, this pattern of trade union leader turned active participant in pro-capitalist economics and politics has worked it’s way through to the ex – colonised countries of the world. It is now not just a European and North American phenomena but an international one. Argentinian trade union corruption may be hard to beat but many others are trying. For another recent global example, just look at the trajectory of many in the South African ANC including the next in line to be president of South Africa. When they were being persecuted by the white ruling class, they appealed to workers of the world to support their cause. Many of us responded. Now, they don’t need us as they have replaced the white ruling class, and become a wealthy black ruling class. It cannot be surprising, therefore, that wherever trade union officials exist, their varying points of view – more often than not – orbit around the central body of bourgeois capitalist ideology.

Like comets or other such circulating bodies in the solar system, their eliptical orbits around the centre of capitalist ideology make trade union bureaucracies and left social democrats appear at times to be travelling away from it. However, the gravitational attraction of money and power holds them in its grasp and their ideological trajectory returns them sooner or later towards capitalisms centre of power and influence. In previous articles I have outlined the past role played by social democracy and trade union officialdom in stabilising and rescuing the capitalist mode of production, particularly during periods of severe crisis. [See for example; ‘The Nazis; A double warning from history’. and, ‘Fascism: can it happen again?’ on this blog] I will conclude this article with the following critique of a contemporary attempt aimed at trade unionists, by trade union officialdom to get working people to help save the capitalist system from its own internal dissolution and self-destruction.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
In any serious crisis in which the lives of millions are being devastated by economic, financial, social and ecological problems it is obvious that those suffering from such effects will sooner or later try to identify the cause. It is during such periods that the role of those who wish to perpetuate the capitalist mode of production, from within the trade union movement is revealed. For a start, they do not seriously critique the capitalist mode of production, but critique left and right political groupings and their supporters. They invariably blame the victims. If the reader doubts this consider the following facts.

Having previously organised an international conference of over 100 trade unionists, from European countries, primarily from Germany, Hungary, Poland and Greece an organisation named Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung published its latest ‘Mitte-Studie’. This 100 page ‘Study’ was published as a comprehensive report entitled ‘Trade Unions and Right Wing Extremism in Europe’.  Their research had revealed that, at least in some cases, trade union members were actually more likely than non-union members to hold hostile views toward people unlike themselves. That is to say trade unionists were more likely than non-trade unionists, to be against immigrants coming into their respective countries for economic reasons.  

Since trade unions were actually created to protect workers jobs salaries and working conditions, then it cannot be surprising that trade unionists would be hostile to the recruitment of cheap alternative labour by employers. It would not matter whether these workers were imported into their countries or not. Maintaining jobs , wages and conditions is the traditional reason for the unions existence. Yet the report simply classifies this understandable defensive reaction (related to the capitalist search for high returns on capital) as a kind of intellectual infection. Indeed, the report suggests that based on evidence they have uncovered;

We need to acknowledge that membership in a trade union does not provide immunity against infection from the far right.” (Page 10)

Note that any rational hostility by trade unionists to imported (and highly competitive) labour has been redefined as an infection carried by the political far – right. The authors cannot accept that many workers are intelligent enough to have made their own assessment of economic immigration,  so they conclude they have been infected by an alien virus. Amazingly, amid the 21st century ongoing economic and social crisis, the current priority problem for trade unionists has actually been radically redefined by the authors of this document. It is NOT how protect jobs or overthrow the system which exploits all labour – indigenous or foreign – but how to immunise workers from an implied intellectual infection. The document goes on to explain that it is important to draw a clear line between right-wing political extremists and those moderate politicians who support capitalist forms of democracy.

It is especially important for the trade union movement to draw a clear line against right- wing extremist as well as right-wing populist parties and movements, since they call into question and/or actively oppose the foundational values of our democratic, pluralistic, rights-based society. (Page 7)

So there we have it in a nutshell. The foundational values of ‘our’ (sic) society which are to be defended against right-wing anti-capitalist critiques are those based upon a pluralist rights-based capitalist democracy. Incidentally, the document chooses to include a lengthy quote from a right-wing publication to make sure trade unionists know what they should oppose. The quote contains the following anti-capitalist rhetoric;

“Free-floating global capital blurs the boundaries between the political authority of one state and another,  robs nations of their autonomy in taking decisions and acting, and leads  to forms of capitalist governance without a government elected by the  people. By attacking key principles of nation-states such as territoriality,  sovereignty, and legality, globalisation destroys the only conceivable geo-political spaces of popular government for the benefit of anonymous, supranational power structures…….Unbridled capital pays no heed to territory, people and  standards. This fact harbours within it the prospect that, if this development continues, there can only be a future for unscrupulous profiteers  and mere alms for the people suffering from this trend, who are at risk of dissolution.” (Page 18)

Here the author/s have stumbled across, but steadfastly ignored, the real danger of right-wing authoritarianism. It is most dangerous when, in a severe economic and social crisis, authoritarians are allowed to appropriate elements of a correct anti-capitalist analysis, without any serious challenge to their motive for doing so. Interestingly, this is not the first time this has happened during a capitalist crisis. The attraction of the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the German National Socialist Party (ie the Nazis) for millions of German workers during its growth in the 19th century is a lesson obviously ignored by these 21st century social democratic trade unionists. That particular European occurrence was no exception, for during the same 1920’s and 1930s crisis period, anti-capitalist rhetoric was replicated in the early development of Italian Fascism. This too seems to have escaped the attention of the well-funded authors of this social-democratic defence of the capitalist mode of production. 

The free movement of capital and labour.
Throughout this extensive document there is no mention of the legitimacy of a trade union or left anti-capitalist critique of capital – just more of the same social-democratic rhetoric of ‘rights-based’ bourgeois democracy. According to this document, a partial and one-sided anti-capitalist critique must be rejected, not because it is partial and incomplete but simply because some right-wing authoritarians are mischievously using it. In contrast, this form of ‘respectable’ trade unionism is openly exposed as supporting and promoting the current rights-based society and no other. That is to say, the current right of workers to be exploited, the right for the privileged to excessively consume, the right for the poor to live in poverty and the right of the masses to observe the pomp and extravagance of the elite.

In other words this document supports what already exists economically, financially, socially, politically and ecologically – ie neo-liberal, finance-dominated capitalism. But what exists now is exactly what needs to be seriously challenged from a working class and humanist perspective. Yet within this so-called worker friendly document there is not even a serious reformist call for a campaign for the right to work with good pay, conditions and pensions for everyone. The only ‘right’ to to be rigorously defended by left social-democratic tendencies of this ilk, is the entitlement of workers to democratically vote between those who want to govern them and who then pay themselves high salaries and excellent pensions.  The document continues;

The slogan of the far right is “Only the nation can solve social problems.” The truth is just the opposite: social problems can only be solved internationally! precisely for that reason it is crucial that workers should not allow anyone to play them off against one another. To the contrary, in the globalised world of work there has to be a fair balancing of interests.” (Page 7/8)

Note that it is social problems, not economic or ecological problems which are to be solved by this documents nod to a capitalistic form of internationalism. It seems the world of economics is to be left as it is, which can only mean an internationalism of the neo-liberal kind. However, it is the last sentence that clearly confirms the pro-capitalist essence of the documents purpose. In the globalised world of work (ie. workers of the world working for the capitalist class and competing with each other for fewer and fewer low-paid jobs) there has to be a fair balancing of interests. This, of course, is exactly the purpose of the European Union – a so-called balancing of the interests of capital and labour. Capital has to be free to move about so the same applies to workers – they have to be free to move about.

This ‘balance’ – which is in reality a massive  ‘imbalance’ – is nothing other than the already realised 21st century world in which capital is free to roam the world in search for cheap labour and secure profits, whilst workers are free to constantly search for whatever dwindling number of jobs they can manage to locate. And in reality, rather than in rhetoric, the ‘search’ by capital prevents the workers ‘search’ from being achieved. It also results in the current low pay and insecure ‘balance of interests’ with austerity for the many and obscene wealth for the few.  In case this central message and ultimate purpose of the document – defence of the bourgeois system and its almost worthless human-rights – has not become obvious throughout, page 73 makes it explicit. It does so by mentioning the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which it correctly says;

“….is based upon the principles of democracy and the rule of law..It [.and..] ensures free movement of persons, services, goods and capital…” (Page 73)

Having falsely identified the current socio-economic situation as one of working people abandoning the ‘established’ political parties by becoming infected with a right-wing intellectual virus;  having highlighted the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the right and failed to provide a left alternative anti-capitalist perspective, the authors of this social-democratic diatribe do not stop there. They then urge trade union representative bodies to adopt their own social-democratic motives and implement the following programme of action.
The trade-union worker’s representation body shall communicate democratic values to young people more intensively again. The participants also plead for the maximum possible participation of young workers and trainees in trade-union organizations.” (Page 99)

To sum up.
Social democracy and the trade union movement, led by their 21st century bureaucratic elites have already failed to explain the causes of the current and past crises of capitalism and how it systematically creates poverty for its members, non-members and voters. Some trade union officials are again suggesting the movement is to be used to deliver the basic democratic capitalist values that the capitalist states educational system already has embodied in its curriculum. These are precisely the bourgeois democratic values that the system has taught to the very workers and trade unionists who are rejecting them left, right and centre – and for very good economic and social reasons. 

With  friends like the people who crafted this document, along with those who paid for its publication and who supplied its content, the working classes, don’t need any other enemies. Yet they do have them. As the capitalist mode of production reaches the  limits of possible expansion, working people, the world over are faced with more than one sort of pro-capitalist enemy to combat. First, the right-wing authoritarians who occasionally pretend to care about the dire circumstances of workers and add a morsel of anti-capitalist rhetoric in order to trick unsuspecting people into thinking they are substantially different than what has gone before.

Second, the left leaning social democratic tendencies (political and trade union) who keep their authoritarianism hidden – but ready in waiting. The latter’s authoritarianism, will be brought out in the open when the working classes, white-collar and blue, conclude that it is necessary to change the system rather than continue to suffer under it.  Before that the social democrats will undoubtedly copy the right-wing (who used Reagan and now Trump in the USA) and use every media and show business trick (Oprah for a future President?) to try to fool the electorate into thinking these ‘stars’ are going to be the acceptable faces of capitalism. Meanwhile I doubt that British celebrities such as Naomi Cambell or Simon Cowell will be approached in the UK – at least not in the short term.

Third, the sectarian dogmatism and dualism (tied as they are to ‘you are either for us or against us’) mentality among the anti-capitalist left who introduce ideological confusion and division among the oppressed. However, in this latter regard, reports here – as elsewhere – indicate that working-class understanding is rapidly becoming seriously critical of everything that currently exists. Long may this last.

R. Ratcliffe (January 2018)
PS.  For an interesting alternative take on the lefts abandonment of anti-capitalist critique see –
http://www.ips-journal.eu/topics/democracy/article/show/has-the-left-sold-out-2415/
There is also another suggestion by a Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung supporter on how to win the working class back to illusions, that capitalism can be made to work fairly – at http://www.ips-journal.eu/storage/topics/democracy/article/show/getting-the-job-done-2511/

Posted in Critique | 8 Comments

MEN BEHAVING BADLY!

At last the habitual sexual predation of Western elite males upon female employees is being highlighted internationally in film, media and politics. Nevertheless, I suggest these current ‘revelations’ are just the tip of a huge patrifocal iceberg of men globally behaving badly toward women; not to mention to each other. In terms of men behaving badly toward women, we can also expect routine sexual harassment and predation to be perpetrated by elite males within other areas such as industry, commerce and finance.  Nor should we omit their male counterparts in public, private and legal institutions, including the many charities.  In fact it would be more accurate to conclude that sexism, sexual harassment and sexual predation occur in all walks of life – not just among the elite. It is everywhere!

Although not originating in the modern era, sexism and sexual predation is nevertheless an almost universal aspect of modern capitalist societies. Furthermore, as the recent spate of revelations indicate, under the capitalist mode of production, where economic, social and political power has broadly and exponentially accumulated among men, opportunities for sexual predation are multiplied and along with this, the power to obscure, hide, deny or silence victims is much greater. Women thinking of speaking out against powerful, or even less-powerful, but nonetheless influential, men, are compelled by their circumstances to consider the consequences of revealing such inappropriate sexual behaviour. Jobs, careers and even long term relationships can be damaged or even ended by speaking such truth to power. And of course peoples lives have frequently been ruined by powerful offenders. Some of the past and present elite administered ‘gagging contracts’ and ‘punishments’ have been revealed by recent public disclosures, but we may never know more than a fraction of the events and imposed silences which have occurred.

Historic roots and contemporary manifestations.
The recent exposures of elite males, merely confirms what many (if not most) citizens have witnessed or at least suspected in their various areas of employment or among their national and local communities. Sexual predation by men against women is not only widespread but also has a long tap-root in history. Whether, the historical records of the land and resource grabbing battles of the ancient Persian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman empires are considered, it is not hard to find examples of male harassment, rape and the enslavement of women being granted to the victors and consequently women ‘taken’ as trophies of male aggression. However, the main conduit connecting those past male attitudes to women to present attitudes have been the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Elsewhere on this blog I have written about the religious ideological conduit of religious inspired patriarchy: see for example; (‘Religion versus Women’s Rights’; ‘God and Gender’ and ‘The shooting of Malala Yousafzai’; among others). Here I will just provide a flavour of the poisonous attitude to women contained within the so-called sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

“And Moses said………Now therefore kill every male among the little ones and kill every woman who has known man by laying with him....But all the female children who have not known man by lying with him, keep them alive for yourselves.” (Old Testament. Numbers 31. verses 15, 17 and 18.)

“Let the woman learn in silence and all subjection” (1 Timothy 2 v 11) “...they are to be under obedience as it is said in the law..” (New Testament 1 Corinthians 14 v 34)

“Good women are obedient…As for those from whom you fear disobedience….beat them.” (Surah 4: 34)  “Women are your fields: go then, into your fields as you please. (Qur’an Surah 2: 223)  

These extracts indicate the historical roots and predatory sexual nature of patriarchal physical and mental control of women in their monotheistic ideological form. By the way; keeping the child virgins for yourself; subjecting females to obedience; and euphemisms for penetrating women whenever men want to; are not the only oppressive examples within these three scriptures. As already noted, it is this Abrahamic religious male covenant which has been the dominant means of conveying the ideas and practices of domestic, social and sexual subservience of women to men from antiquity to our modern global cultures.

Not one of these three male-dominated religions has expurgated or publicly denounced the numerous instances of misogyny, discrimination and oppressive sexual behaviour written into their so-called ‘holy’ texts. And yet they are also still granted ‘official’ status in country after country. The expectation, and in some cases the demand, (embodied in these dominant religions of the near east and west), that women should be subservient and readily available to men for sexual and domestic services has monopolised cultural norms throughout the middle ages and regrettably lives on in the 21st century. Is it not the case that women still need refuges to escape from men who try to beat them into submission?

The validity of the above assertions is also evidenced by the continuing struggle for equal representation and equal pay in industry, commerce, finance, sport, education, health, legal, political, trade union and state institutions. So not surprisingly, these are the very arenas where they are also frequent victims of sexist remarks, inappropriate groping and sexual predation. All this is despite the fact that in the 20th century a Women’s Liberation Movement emerged in the USA and Europe, which challenged many, if not all the cultural and ideological assumptions of modern patrifocal societies. Yet these three religions and their scriptures continue to be held up by most elite males as valid institutions and reliable texts we should all follow on our journey through life. And when you consider what these texts advocate it is not hard to see why so many do so.

For this reason, the challenge to patriarchy initiated by the Feminist Movement in the mid- 20th century needs to be taken up again – and not just by women.

Women’s Liberation and Feminist thinking.
Those who are appalled by the recent revelations of sexual predation may be interested to learn that an important catalyst to the birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 20th century came from a similar experience of women in male dominated left-wing led liberation struggles of the 1960s and 70s.  Although this initially took place in the USA, it was quickly followed by women in Europe, but it was Feminist women in the USA who led the way – this time. There they had experienced sexual harassment, sexual predation and also being ‘used’ in other menial ways in the various campus, anti-war and civil rights struggles. A few, fed up and disillusioned by this experience, spoke out and quickly broke out of this left leaning patrifocal straight-jacket. In doing so their actions struck a chord with many other women, who joined the movement.

From that moment two important developments took place. The first was that women began to form women only groups in order to discuss and decide what they should do with regard to a range of problems they faced. Second, in a few places, mainly academia, an extremely thorough examination of male chauvinist attitudes and male-stream thinking began. [For a review of these developments see ’20th century Feminist Frameworks’ on this blog]. Both these developments were very threatening to men and many men reacted negatively. In many places Feminists were ridiculed, trivialised or simply ignored. Nevertheless, they continued to exist and produced many serious critiques, numerous successful campaigns and some helpful guidelines.

Among the latter was a suggestion that has relevance to the main subject of this article – inappropriate sexual advances between people, particularly those from men to women. It was the following:  In the absence of real equality, if men really wished to be sure that they were not utilising their positions of absolute or relative power differential over women they should NEVER initiate any sexual advances to women to whom they are attracted. Instead, they should wait for an unequivocal indication or invitation from the woman. Even when this happened it was essential for men to make sure, as far as possible, that this was a genuine attraction and invitation and not the result of some major or minor power differential. Those of us who took that advice to heart, may have given an impression of disinterest at times and missed some of the rare opportunities that may have presented themselves but at least when relationships did blossom it was certain to be by mutual consent and for mutual benefit.

Biological urges, cultural preferences and social constraints.
It is clear that in species which reproduce sexually, there is built into both genders a pleasure component which make sensual and sexual activity (potentially) a very desirable interaction. The human species is no different in that physical regard but humanity has evolved cultural preferences and social constraints which in general should mediate and even moderate the nature of this interaction between two people.  So on the evolutionary base line of mutual sexual pleasure (with procreation as result) has been built a complex of emotional, cultural and social factors, which serve to modify, mediate or even curb the urges emanating from that evolutionary procreative base line. Emotions such as love and tenderness, along with behavioural characteristics such as kindness, altruism and reciprocity enter into the relationship between human beings, particularly between partners within sexual relationships. 

It is the complex package of emotional and behavioural characteristics which have been largely ignored or cast aside by men who sexually harass, inappropriately touch and otherwise bypass the requirement of mutual consent. The ultimate ditching of all humane sentiments with regard to sexual relations, is of course the moral and criminal act of rape.  The latter is something which occurs on a massive scale during wars. In my opinion this condemnation should extend to any act of forced penetration (rape) whether outside of marriage and partnership or within it.  However, at this point I suggest it is important we ask ourselves how and why these emotional and social requirements (restraints) are so often set aside, particularly by elite males. 

It is here that the previously noted differential economic and social power structures between men and women come into play. The emotional and social norms, are flouted, set aside or completely ignored, because this can be done with impunity. The power structures in general, allow the perpetrators to silence, cover up or transfer blame away from themselves – if – the transgression comes to light.  And in such cases, the other individuals in the same (and complimentary) power structures generally collude and accept the perpetrators version of events, for they too rely on or benefit from those structures and differentials. If the power structures didn’t exist then these habitual acts of sexual harassment and predation along with their ‘cover-up’ would be less likely to occur.  Nevertheless, that would still leave a residual problem of modern male patterned sexuality.

Objectification, Fixation and Conquest.
Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s a paper entitled ‘The Socialised Penis’  was circulated among some men. I think the author was named Jack Littewska or something similar. Sadly I cannot remember it accurately. However, in it he did describe the general socialisation process of 20th century male sexuality which rang a bell (some of us discussed it in a men’s group) and goes some way to identify another element of men behaving badly – at least in terms of sexual relations.  He noted that during the first stirring of interest in sexual matters for most men in modernity, the curiosity about the female form was frustrated by the taboos concerning nudity and sex.

Beyond a certain age the only naked body most people actually saw (until much later) was their own. Any witnessed pleasurable fondling of the penis or clitoris was invariably met by adults with shock, embarrassment and censure.  Young people were supposed to ignore, deny or even feel ashamed about this aspect of the biology of their young developing bodies. And if they were not, no effort was spared to make them feel so. At best they were told it is very naughty, or ‘dirty’ to touch themselves, at worst that it will make them go blind or lead to mental disorders (Baden Powell). At a wider level, sex outside of the matrimonial contract was declared abnormal, dangerous and disgusting. At least that was the message being transmitted via cultures dominated by religion. Something I guess which is the experience of both genders growing up and continues in the 21st century.

For many boys and young men, therefore, the curiosity concerning the female naked form was mainly satisfied by photographic images in magazines which from time to time were passed around discretely.  When these images of naked women began to arouse erections in boys or young men then it was obvious that something was being skewed. It wasn’t a real person stimulating that arousal and climax, but a passive image – a virtual object. The sexual Objectification of women by (and for) young men had begun. This Objectification of the female form was also being amplified by Film, Newspapers, Advertising and Magazines, etc. In the mid to late 20th century, the Objectification of femininity in the west had become a cultural norm.

Top shelf magazines would have pages and pages of photographs of different women in different poses which would allow, many possibilities for arousal and climatic satisfaction to be achieved. But notably without any need for consent, any problem of refusal or any need to satisfy a partner. A different image (or more) each day could be used for such satisfaction or gratification if ones stamina would allow. Young men sexually socialised in this way were teaching themselves and their peers that their own un-negotiated sexual needs were what mattered. Does that ring any bells?

The women and girls in these magazines and books of photographs were all of a certain size and shape conforming (within narrow limits) to the 20th century culturally perceived parameters of female beauty. Indeed, during the time I speak of there was little or no fast-food, processed food or couch potato induced obesity, so the photographic images of women were not very far from the reality of the bathing costumed women one saw on holiday.  Nevertheless, alongside the sexual arousal and climatic satisfaction by passive images – often explicitly posed – arose the idea of the perfect female form. The Objectification process was now reinforced by multiple images of passive and always available ideal forms – ones ultimately to be sought in real life.

After a prolonged period of such image objectification there tended to be added an element of Fixation as one or other element, breasts,  buttocks, vaginas (generally the three dominant fixations because previously hidden and rarely seen) or even thighs or arms were viewed as particularly arousing. None of this, despite its out-of-sight subterranean existence, was considered a serious problem. Even some mum’s became used to turning a blind eye to erotic magazines ‘hidden’ away.  However, the stages of Objectification and Fixation didn’t necessarily end the secretive process of sexually socialising the male penis and the brain. A possible, and in some cases a probable, later third phase after Objectification and Fixation was described by the above noted author as Conquest.

Conquest was the term for the real world application by men of the now internalised virtual world of female Objectification, Fixation and orgasm. The acquisition of a real world substitute for the passive, willing partner image, which was always available for sexual satisfaction and who could be put aside when another attractive female was spotted on another page of life’s unfolding story, became an ambition for many men. However, once a real life substitute for any of the now internalised ideal female forms and positions was located, the process of sexual satisfaction then involved an active element whose resistance, initial or otherwise, had to be overcome by Conquest. The Conquest stage could be achieved by various means, stealth, bribes, special pleading, seductive persuasion, intoxication, declarations of love and if these failed using any advantages of strength to force compliance.  NB: for some men the subsequent act of real coitus itself often occurred whilst having a virtual fantasy image in mind, rather than reality.   How skewed was (is) that? Any more bells ringing?

Revolutionary-humanist thinking.
During and in the aftermath of the Women’s Liberation Movement it became possible for men – who bothered to seriously listen to Feminists – to reject the model of male behaviour and thinking handed down by generations of religious zealots and related patriarchal male-chauvinist bigots. It was also possible to reprogramme the previous objectified relationship between sexual arousal and the subject with which it was aroused. Recognising women as active equals, with ideas, emotions and experiences which themselves were a source of attraction or in some cases, repulsion, regardless of whether their bodies conformed to some previously idealised requirement became possible.  It also became possible for men sexually socialised in the previously noted way to join those men who had escaped this problematic process.  But of course, this does not mean this reprogramming happened generally among men, for there were counteracting tendencies and ideologies, which are obviously still in existence and still need to be overcome.

I suggest that it is obvious from all I have written above (and in the other articles mentioned) that the three Abrahamic religions are conveyors and purveyors of patriarchal and patrifocal attitudes which are given an imagined higher-power authorisation for the social and sexual subjection of women to men.  As long as these ideologies are supported by elites and a majority of citizens, then these ideas and attitudes to women will continue, albeit they may ebb and flow with stronger or weaker currents from time to time. It is also obvious, I suggest, that as long as any economic mode of production, such as the present capitalist based one, creates huge differences in power and wealth and promotes the parallel subjection and objectification of women, then elite and general sexual harassment and predation will continue along with attempts to cover them up.

However, until such time as both institutions (religion and capitalism) are discarded as being outmoded and detrimental forms of human economic and intellectual activity, there is still much we can do. Exposures, of sexual predation and cover-ups should continue and any instances of such behaviour should be publicly aired. This should also be the case among the contemporary left for sexism and sexual predation still exists there as it did when it stimulated the Feminist rejection of it in the mid to late 20th century. [For its recent existence in a so-called revolutionary anti-capitalist group See ‘Clinging onto Patriarchy’ on this blog, and the book ‘Revolutionary-Humanism and the Anti-capitalist Struggle’ linked in the About section.]

I again contend that humanity needs a new set of ideas more in keeping with reality as it is emerging. That is to say; a set of ideas, and practices not fixed, like those in religions and the capitalist mode of production, and also not based upon biological or ideological prejudices. A set of ideas and practices that are not indifferent to the fate of the planet and all its inhabitants whilst being truly humane and truly revolutionary in wanting to transforming the planet into something fit for a species which classifies itself as wise.  I suggest Revolutionary-Humanist ideas offer such a possibility.  To sceptics I will suggest a line or two from the John Lennon song ‘Imagine’;

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you will join us, and the world will live as one.”

R. Ratcliffe (December 2017)

Posted in capitalism, Critique, Feminism, Patriarchy, Politics, Religion, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged , | 4 Comments

CATALONIAN INDEPENDENCE.

The limits of bourgeois democracy revealed.
A decision by the citizens in the Catalonia region of Spain to have a referendum on whether to declare independence, has clearly revealed the limits of bourgeois democracy. In response to this aspiration for independence, the political and bureaucratic elite in the central government of Spain declared that the citizens of Catalonia have no right to decide on such a possibility. In line with this bureaucratic dictat, they threw the armed police power of the bourgeois state into the the region in an attempt to  prevent them doing so by voting. Peaceful voters in many parts of Catalan were violently man-handled and injured by Spains armed guardia-civil, (real-world robo-cops) simply for being in a voting centre to register their vote. It mattered not whether their intention was to vote for or against the independence proposal; the intention to vote and their presence at a polling station was enough for Catalonians to be percieved as a malicious enemy and be treated as such.

Lets be crystal clear on the logistics of this development. A small number of politicians, holding central government posts and their bureocratic advisors felt able to declare illegal, something the local elected government and many thousands of Catalonia tax-payers thought they were, or ought to be, entitled to. Not only that but this cabal were attempting to physically enforce their minority opinions upon the whole of Catalonia and the rest of Spain. This aggressive response indicates that the modern political elite in Spain, (as elsewhere) when faced with widespread active dissatisfaction are little different in attitude to the Kings and Queens of the fuedal era or the more recent European dictators such as Franco, Mussolini and Hitler.

Their actions amount to a modern version of powerful elites demanding the rest of its citizens, just do as they are told and wait until they are informed when, where and what they should do, including what they can vote for and when they can vote. True to form, the still existing parasitic royalist hangers on in Spain, along with the politicians in the European Community condemned the peaceful voters of Catalonia but failed to condemn the gratuitous violence of the Spanish central state. And of course, this is a case of dejavue for Catalonia. For it is not the first time the people of Catalonia have been the victims of aggressive state centralists.

Homage to Catalonia.
In the not too distant past, the people of Catalonia also actively defended their rights to self-determination against a royalist – leaning and controlling elite. This occurred during what became known as the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). As a volunteer, fighting on the side of the Republican – minded citizens, in that conflict, the author, George Orwell, wrote a book entitled ‘Homage to Catalonia’. In it he describes the ups and downs of that particular struggle against both authoritarian oppression and its soft-cop twin – bourgeois democracy. In the book, he describes, the left-sectarian in-fighting which split the republican forces and sabataged any chance of success against Franco’s fascist forces. A further important conclusion he came to is as follows.

“It is nonsense to talk of opposing Fascism by bourgeois ‘democracy‘. Bourgeois ‘democracy’ is only another name for capitalism, and so is Fascism; to fight against Fascism on behalf of ‘democracy’ is to fight against one form of capitalism on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any moment. (Orwell. Homage to Catalonia.  Appendix 1.)

George Orwell’s book, ‘Homage to Catalonia’ contains an extremely important reminder of bitter lessons learned in the past, but which are now largely forgotten. Unlike his later critical but fictionalised books on Bolshevism and Stalinism (ie ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’), this one was based directly on his personal experiences and detailed observations. They are observations and conclusions which still have relevance today, not just within Spain, but globally. Right-wing authoritarian tendencies are again on the increase and the same trap is being laid for modern-day unsuspecting citizens, by the democratic bourgeoisie. Its ‘us or the right-wing extremists’, is the intellectual subterfuge the social democrats use to confuse the trusting or naive.  For although it is unlikely that full-blown Fascism or Stalinism, will raise their ugly heads once more, similar divisions between a democratic bourgeoisie and an authoritarian one are again opening up. In the USA, for example, a choice between Trump and Clinton is being created as if they were opposites, when in fact they are just two versions of neo-liberal capitalist aggression and exploitation.

In the case of Catalonia, this modern day bourgeois response to an expressed desire for independence clearly demonstrates that the top-down relationship between elites and the population has not changed significantly under the capitalist mode of production. And, as noted, this phenomena is not isolated to Spain. The modern invention of voting for political governance, reluctantly granted to us lower orders, is still only allowed when it suits the elite – otherwise they claim it is illegal. In other words belonging to a democratic community and voting is not a right but a temporary privilege to be granted or revoked at the discretion of the dominant elite.

If further evidence is needed of the international character of this bourgeois phenomenon of denying the right of citizens, to self-determination we need only to consider the response of the Turkish elite to the Kurdish struggle for independence, the reaction of the Arab Spring elites in Egypt, Syria and Yemen to their citizen aspirations for change, or that which greeted the Greek effort to control its own economy in the debt crisis of 2014. Ordinary people are supposed to ‘know their place’ and not to ‘assume’ to rise above it. But these reactionary and authoritarian responses by the various elites – including the Spanish central government elite – has also indicated far more than this arrogant, authoritarian reflex.

The above are all examples of the growing schism between 21st century elites and their civil society populations. As is the case with Catalonia, they all reveal that under severe crisis situations, even modern elites arrogantly overestimate their power with regard to the functioning of societies. By failing to grant much needed radical and manageable reforms to their citizens, they provoke further resistance which threatens the very basis of their rule. With reference to the underlying cause of the growing splits between ordinary people and the political class, the depth and breadth of the crises facing humanity cannot be overstated. Even taken at its face value, the bourgeois mode of production, is in urgent need of radical reform in at least six areas, one or more of which bear untollerably upon one section of the population or another. They are as follows: The economic system, the financial system, the political system, the legal system, the moral system and the ecological system.

The six areas of crisis.

1. The economic system, on the one hand, is excessively producing (ie overproducing) and stockpiling commodities and capital whilst on the other it is excessively producing precarious forms of employment, unemployment, global poverty along with vast inequalities of wealth. 2. The financial system has come to control and aggressively dominate every aspect of modern life. The banks and financial institutions dictate policy and practices to governments, politicians and citizens, whilst creating asset bubbles and financial instability whilst being extravagantly rewarded for these activities. 3. The political systems have abandoned all real attempts at achieving social equality, fairness and justice for the majority – although to a man (and woman) – they still hypocritically mouth egalitarian rhetoric. In reality they are all dedicated upholders of the system of exploitation even as it deteriorates.

4. The legal system has long been an agent of bourgeois rule, but it has now bandoned any post Second World War semblance of humanity or humility. It has become nothing more than a system of parasitically extracting revenue from all and sundry, whilst penalising or abandoning those who have insufficient funds to meet their exhorbitant legal charges. 5. The moral systems of modern bourgeois society, are infused with a poisonous mixture of patriarchal, racist, sexist ideas blended within a culture of insatiable greed. In pursuit of wealth and power, anything goes. Predatory wars and ethnic cleansing; predatory acquisitions of companies and public resources; predatory sexual manouvres and conquests (internal company harassments and rapes) along with racist forms of imperial style predation are all part and parcel of bourgeois religious and secular morality. 

6. The ecological system balance, upon which –  in the final analysis – all the above sub-systems ultimately depend, is being eroded, degraded and frequently totally destroyed by the needs of the capitalist mode of production. The productive activity of humanity, governed and controlled as it mostly is, by the needs of capital and capitalist profit-based economic activity, is polluting land, air and sea, by its unsaleable finished products, it’s waste material products and the escape of numerous other liquid and gaseous by-products, into rivers, land, sea and air. Even from such a brief outline of the six areas mentioned it is obvious that separately  each one of them is in need of either radical alteration or complete termination. Together, they represent a daunting existential challenge facing humanity.

Increasing citizen discontent.

It is a progressive recognition of one or other of the systems many failures that has motivated the open demonstrations of citizen discontent which have characterised the 21st century.  Uprisings in the middle east, independence or cessesionist movements in various places, along with anti-war demonstrations and altered voting patterns in the west are evidence of the global extent of this grass-roots dissatisfaction.  As yet (and as already noted) this citizen disconnect from politics and the bourgeois state is expressed in reformist directions such as demonstrations, petitions, exiting from the European economic community, right-leaning nationalist tendencies and independence movements such as in Catelonia.

Paradoxically, all these varying responses to the structural crisis of the capitalist mode of production are aimed at clearing up one or other of the many symptoms whilst falling far short of diagnosing or identifying the cause. Such reformist responses are inevitable because the vast majority of those who see the need for change have not been given the intellectual tools to understand the underlying cause of the symptoms. The forensic economic analysis of the capitalist mode of production by Smith, Ricardo and Marx have not been popularised or even been given their proper credit within academic institutions. Understanding capitalism without the instrumentality of their analysis is akin to trying to understand cellular biology without a microscope; the solar system without a telescope; advanced physics without the tool of mathematics, or medicine without a knowledge of the internal structure of the human body. Without such socially developed aids, nothing better than, guess work, speculation, wishful thinking or the equivalent of attaching leeches are to be expected.

Yet, despite this drawback, in any serious struggle to deal with symptoms and reform the system in one way or another, the underlying reality of the problems and the available solutions to them will be revealed. As the multifaceted crisis continues to develop, elites who tread such stubbornly arrogant, anti-reform paths as those noted above, may be confronted by increasingly desperate populations determined to struggle for what they construe as their basic rights and taking hold of the analytical tools they will need. During such struggles, it will become obvious, if it is not already, that societies function as a result of the large-scale cooperation of ordinary citizens. When that voluntary co-operation is removed, the crises begin to take on a broad social dimension rather than a narrow political one. Politics will be seen as the problem and not the solution it promises. Uprisings and mass demonstrations, for example, reveal the extent of dissatisfaction but a general strike by paralysing economic activity can reveal just who is necessary to society and who is ultimately superfluous.  

All Pyramids are built upon bases.

Modern civil societies are certainly governed in a top-down fashion, as were many previous feudal and pre-feudal ones, but this political reality is an inversion of economic and social reality.  Societies are actually created and sustained by a bottom-up system of integrated, cooperative physical and intellectual labour. Without working people creating and maintaining the supply of food, water, clothing, building, electricity, transport and all the other services such as health and education, there would not be societies for politicians and other elites to exploit, distort or despoil.  Once this fundamental socio-economic reality is recognised, political and economic elites become seen to be part of the problem, not part of a solution.   And with the further analytical recognition that stripped of its mysticism,  Capital is revealed as nothing more than the accumulated results of past labour and surplus-labour syphoned off by the elite into bank accounts and possessions, certain things follow. At that point then the reality of how societies really work will become chrystal clear.

Without a solid and sufficient sized base, the further construction of any type of pyramid cannot be achieved.  And this universal fact applies to the social sphere as well as the architectural.  The foundations of all societies, past, present and future have been and will continue to be, the skills and energies of those who provide the necessities for long-term human survival – sustainable sources of – food, water, clothing, housing, energy, education and health-care. How these necessities are predominantly produced defines and details the mode of production which in turn determines what kind of hierarchy and elite emerges from within it. However, once a mode of production – as guided by its elite – ceases to satisfy the essential needs of a majority of its people, then change becomes necessary. The current mode of production is dominated by the owners and beneficiaries of capital, spread across industry, commerce and finance and it is this mode of production which is increasingly failing to satisfy the short and long-term needs of humanity and failing to adequately protect the other life-forms.

Capital is the root problem.

In all the above-noted areas of crisis, the profit-driven motive of capital investment has not only massively over-produced commodities and services, but created huge commercial outlets, extensive polluting transport systems and astronomical concentrations of financial assets, all of which have spawned the numerous negative symptoms now threatening human communities and non-human life-forms across the entire planet. Furthermore, in order to compete with other (foreign-based) concentrations of capital for sales, each (indigenously-based) national concentration has progressively increased the complexity and productivity of the fixed means of production.

Automation, computerisation and integrated input and output production flows have massively reduced the need for human labour, whilst simultaneously increasing the mass of produced articles needing purchasers. Capital therefore needs more people globally with wages and salaries to buy the increased mass of finished articles it produces, precisely at the same time as it is globally reducing the number of people employed by it and lowering the general levels of pay. So the Capitalist mode of production is continually undermining 1, it’s own economic foundation – sufficient purchases of its own production – and 2, it’s social legitimacy – the creation of peace, meaningful employment and adequate welfare provision. Unemployment, poverty and therefore disatisfaction are consequently rising in every country fuelling the existing and future uprisings, protests, nationalist feelings, rebellions and independence movements.

Furthermore, at the global level, the owners and/or controllers of capital, particularly finance capital, are now able to exert influence and even manipulate the activities of whole nations. By effectively controlling the size and location of the means of production, the form and means of distribution and the monetary means of exchange they have become a financial power above the considerable power of the various nation-states. Personified in the form of the executives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) (OECD, WTO etc.) and other global institutions, (financial and academic), they draft and impose treaties (Maastrichts, North Atlantic, etc) and partnerships (Public and Private etc.), and are beyond any form of democratic control. Behind the liberal-democratic political facades, and the permitted acts of voting, it is they who are able to ultimately control bourgeous democracies.

A further measure of influence and control over nation-states, by the owners and controller’s of capital, particularly finance-capital is obtained through the medium of loans to governments. Such are the costs of propping up nation states, to maintain politicians, armies, navies and air forces, that taxation has long been insufficient to finance them. Added to this, funding the post-Second World War welfare-state systems in advanced capitalist countries has increased state expenditure, whilst the above noted technical advances (automation etc.) and industrial relocation have reduced taxation further. Governments – all governments – are  technically bankrupt and totally dependent upon loans from the owners and controller’s of international finance-capital. This gives the latter a considerable degree of influence, not only upon the loan-interest charged, but, as recently witnessed in Greece, upon what a country does and how it manages it’s affairs.

To sum up. Globally we are witnessing an emerging, but as yet, only partial recognition of the negative effects of this neo-liberal phase of global domination by capital. As noted above, one or other of these effects  have caused uprisings on the one hand, (in the middle-east and North Africa), changes in voting habits on the other (in Europe and North and South America), together with a tendency to retreat from this control by movements for separation (Britain) or independence (notably Scotland and Catalonia). But given the global tentacles of capital, is voting differently, physical separation or independence the complete answer?

Independence and cessation: But from what?

Whilst it should be supported, it needs to be recognised that leaving larger neo-liberal amalgamations, such as the European Union, (as Britain is attempting) does not free people from entanglement with the capitalist mode of production. Nor does it permit an escape from the machinations of its international neo-liberal representatives.  Movements for independence such as those in Scotland, Kurdistan and more recently Catalonia, should also be supported for they too are attempts at anti-neoliberal self-determination. However, we should be under no illusions that such traumatic ‘separations’ will solve the wider or deeper problems facing humanity. Independence from certain political aspects (EU or central government control) of the latest neo-liberal phase of capitalism, will not remove the financial and economic tentacles of neo-liberal capital which now stretch around the world and across national and political boundaries.

At best such movements of self-determination – within the capitalist mode of production – will create a large degree of solidarity and more importantly, the struggle to achieve this status may remove any remaining scales from the eyes of those who as yet cannot see the real source of their problems. Attempting to escape the unwanted clutches of the global economic, financial and political elites will undoubtedly provoke further draconian levels of reaction from them. Their salaries, pensions and careers depend upon the greatest possible number of tax-payer contributions to fund their lavish life-styles. Viewing us largely as millions of milch-cows, they will do all they can to hang onto as many of us as possible.

The process of seriously trying to wrest reforms from an entrenched, reluctant and arrogant elite, will create a further dynamic which will potentially go beyond reform.  In situations of crisis, when there is a growing recognition that radical changes are not just desired but urgently needed, yet are being stubbornly resisted by those in power, then the stakes can become proportionally higher. For example in Catalonia: How quickly will the left posturing bourgeous politicians back down and betray the reformist struggle they currently seem to favour? Will the right-wing bourgeois  central powers (left or right) arrest those they consider ring-leaders or figureheads? Will they declare martial law or impose direct rule? How will the ordinary working population react to having their aspirations savagely quashed? 

The unfolding answers to such questions will reveal how well both sides have prepared themselves and how determined they are to succeed. At the moment the battle in Catalonia is around ideas and constitutional issues. However, in future it can become a practical battle between the people and the elite over what another world will look like and how society will need to be organised so that humanity as a whole can benefit from the advances already made in the skills, technology and understanding of our species.  Elsewhere, the Kurdish struggle for independence for example, already has an armed wing, honed in the battle against ISIS. Other struggles have become bogged down in sectarian political and/or religious turmoil. As yet there is no universal understanding of what humanity is struggling against, nor is there a general vision of what should replace the present moribund capitalist system.  

Yet in many ways, the future has already made an embryonic appearance, in the form of non-profit – making public services and production for need rather than profit-led greed. For a period after the Second World War, in most European and western societies, energy, transport, communications, water, education, health-care, social services, plus the civil service, government, army, navy, airforce, parts of the legal system and some forms of commodity production were all run on a non-profit basis. And some still are. True, many of them were badly run and only reluctantly supported by ambivalent governments, but that could be easily remedied. Ceasing to build social and institutional pyramids within them and replacing them with communal control would be one way.

Just how dependent upon public services are private profit-making enterprises is revealed by the fact that they still don’t build their own roads, railways, bridges, tunnels, power stations, communications systems or fund their own armies, navies, civil services or police forces. For these essential aids to their activities, they have depended upon, and been parasitic upon, public (ie social) provision. This reliance is further revealed by the banking crisis of 2008. It wasn’t the banks who saved the banks from the consequences of their reckless and greedy speculation. It was the government as representatives of the general population – as a whole. Isn’t it time whole communities really controlled the mode of production rather than – as at the moment – the mode of production via a parasitic elite controlling whole communities? However, for that to happen, a revolutionary transition needs to take place. Another re-shuffling or refurbishing of the political class or yet another re-drawing of the boundary lines upon a new set of maps, will not usher in anything substantial different.

R. Ratcliffe  (October 2017)

For another interesting analysis of the events in Catalonia and Spain see Vincent Navarro at https://www.socialeurope.eu/happening-catalonia-spain

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, Critique, neo-liberalism, Politics, The State | Tagged , , | 3 Comments