As with many things influenced by the capitalist mode of production, the motives for political correctness are not all what they seem. On the surface, the promoters of this strand of bourgeois ideology seem to be concerned with how people ‘feel’ and appear to be anxious not to allow any disrespect to be shown to others. However, dig a little deeper and its true purpose can be seen to be fuelled by power, ambition and monetary concerns – not concerns for humanity. Those arguing for political correctness are highly selective in who they defend and who they attack; who they support and who they neglect. They are far from being universally benevolent. Some advocates of political correctness stayed silent on, or colluded with, the war on Iraq and the bombing of wedding parties in Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly the origin of the concept and practice of political correctness lies in the field of politics. The clue to its evolution and function clearly lies within the term itself – politics – and the less advertised, behind the scene, links to the economics of capitalism and state capitalism that politicians have.
In passing it should be remembered how Political Correctness was used under Fascism, Bolshevism, Stalinism and Maoism – all variants of capitalism, state orchestrated in this case rather than corporate. Under those particular political elites, any and every form of critical discourse, sarcastic comment or harmless joke against the ‘leader’ or the ‘system’, was met with savage reprisals. Within a short time of these elites gaining power, such was the oppression meted out to critics that self-censorship was practiced by all but a few. Indeed, in some of these former ‘systems’ and more recently others such as Egypt, ISIL and (last week) Turkey, such savage retaliation can still occur. Political correctness, whether exercised officially or unofficially, means pressure to never do, say or think something that the elite and their supporters do not like. The more power the elite have the more they are able to sanction or silence criticism with the most draconian measures of punishment. At the moment the western capitalist based elites and their supporters usually only detrimentally influence their own critics by neglect, disaproval or censure, for they are still platonically wedded to a modicum of free speech. But for how long?
‘Money makes the world go round’.
Under the normal phase of the capitalist mode of production, it is not productive activity which determines how money moves around, but it is the way money (in the form of capital) moves around which determines productive activity. Under capitalism, making money is the primary concern which dominates all else. Whether by working or investing for profit, obtaining money determines, how we live, where we live or even if we live. But everyone knows that the economic and political elites get the lions share of the available wealth distributed on the distorted ‘money-go-round’ of capitalism. They also have most to lose if anything interupts or interferes with the steady flow of cash which is channelled into their bank accounts.
It is potential social disturbances effecting these elite-destined power and cash steams which the concept of political correctness is designed to prevent. In the west, it is a concept originally coined by those whose cash flow is gained exclusively or predominantly through the bourgeois economic and political processes. Its open purpose is to modify attitudes and circumvent criticism of issues which are of vital concern to the economic and political elite. For example, issues such as religion and of course, the form of immigration practiced under the capitalist mode of production. In other words in the west, the concept of political correctness is yet another form of bourgeois and petite bourgeois intellectual thought control. Its undeclared purpose is to deflect a serious examination of the exploitation and oppression at the heart of capitalism and it’s desire for the ‘free’ movement of capital and labour.
The term has also been taken up as a valid form of linguistic currency by others within the middle classes, but for very different reasons. Nevertheless, even these particular dealers in political correctness and it’s associated boo words are also under the shared illusion that politics and capitalism are natural and therefore eternally valid forms of human interaction. In fact modern politics along with such terms as ‘political correctness’ are nothing more than social constructs manufactured by the bourgeoisie during the 20th century of their epoch. Like any other coin of the realm, ‘political correctness’ has two faces – a heads and a tails so to speak. The main side, the purpose for which it was fairly recently minted, was to avoid offending or alienating sections of the producing, purchasing and voting public in the modern mixed urban and global settings spawned by capital. But before exploring this aspect further, let us remind ourselves of what we already know.
‘All my troubles Lord, soon be over’.
The bourgeois (capitalist) mode of production has in the past few centuries, forcibly created a world market for its goods and services. During the periods of Colonial expansion and Imperialist control, the bourgeois economic and political elites had no fear of offending anyone or any group who stood in their way. With swords and guns in hand, they conquered lands and peoples. They bought and sold human beings, ethnically cleansed native populations and decimated indigenous peoples. Later still they bombed them into submission or into an early grave, whilst continuing to use the most foul language and disrespectful terms to describe them. The inhabitants of the Niger region of Africa or gentlemen of the western orient were shortened into nasty and frequently used expletives.
The elites who instigated and orchestrated this brutal extractive process, needed by the accelerating productivity of the capitalist system, were deeply racist and sexist and were mainly men. Until the advent of universal suffrage, their positions of power were not substantially reliant upon upsetting anyone and so as noted above, the names they chose to apply to their victims in Africa, Oceana, the Americas, and Europe were highly offensive and derogatory. In the 19th and 20th centuries whole departments of middle-class bourgeois intellectuals created fields of so-called science based upon the alleged and in most cases manufactured inferiority of the different non-favoured, non-white ‘races’. Since these males dominated society, they also dominated the intellectual discourse within bourgeous culture and their racism and sexism permiated down the class structures into popular culture. And sad to say pockets of it still persists in all classes and genders.
‘The times they are a changing’.
However times have changed and the pro-capitalist political elites in the ‘advanced’ capitalist countries have by now assembled a cultural mix of religions and ethnicities in all the major towns and cities who are not only cheap sources of labour for production, distribution and sales, but voters in elections and consumers of capitalist commodities and services. So now there is an urgent need not to offend any section of global society in case those offended cease to purchase goods and services (the primary vehicles of profit) from certain suppliers, cease to supply essential or ‘strategic’ raw materials, or fail to vote for an eager new candidate or currently incumbent politician.
Hence the the fear side of the political correctness coin. So much fear exists amongst the economic and political, elites that they will not publicly condemn any cultural or religeous backwardness unless they are forced to. Hence female genetal mutulation, forced marriages and honour attacks have until recently, had a blind eye turned to them. The fear of offending Zionists Jews has resulted in silence or muted complaints against the continuing slow genocide of Palestinian life in Gaza and the West Bank. The patriarchal ideology and practices of all the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are passed over in silence or even colluded with as if they and the capitalist mode of production were not the most significant parts of the problem facing humanity. Atrocities done in the name of Islam are classed as terrorist in order to avoid confronting the fact that some terrorist acts are directly inspired by Islamic religious ideology and their mainstream religious texts. Atrocities done in the name of the ‘war against terror’ are classed as self-defence in order to avoid confronting the fact that they are inspired by neo-liberal capitalist ideology. This type of hypocricy is all part of the broader spectrum of bourgeios ideology along with its recent appendage, political correctness.
‘Old man river’.
Then, as mentioned earlier, there is the other side of the political correctness currency which has a different motivation. This stems from a knowledge and understanding that the Colonial and Imperialist period of denegration of foreign peoples, women and homosexuals, was incorrect, inhuman, counterproductive and needed to be corrected – at least verbally. The concept of Political Correctness therefore had a warm reception amongst some sections of society. Not wanting to perpetuate the negative stereotypes of those who were once forced to plant and pick cotton, tobacco and sugar cane etc., this section of society in the name of ‘acceptance’ also kept silent or turned a blind eye to patriarchal and brutal practices such as child marriages and genetal mutulation, long condemned within the advanced capitalist countries. In this section of 20th century society too, there was no longer a need or desire for a crude derogatory regard for other cultures and ideas,
From the compensating and welcoming, non-judgemental perspective, the rights of women and children (or rather lack of them) were viewed as culturally and religiously specific. The right to openly criticise religious ideas and practices were (and are) seen by many in this mileu as phobic abberations. Political Correctness guru’s have wielded mis-used terms such as anti-semitism, (when they were actually witnessing Judeophobia), Islamophobia, (when they witnessed anti-Muslim racism), and racism (when they encountered ethnic or social intolerance). These accusations they levelled at anyone and everyone who dared raise an intellectual eyebrow let alone engage in any form of rigorous criticism against reactionary actions and ideologies. Some of these political correctness wielding individuals used (and still use) their positions of power and influence to ruin the careers and reputations of those who could not be silenced by any other means. As a result, self-censureship became part of the political correctness exchange currency within the so-called democracies. But at what cost?
The cost of political correctness can now be measured by the changes in politics itself. A resurgence of right-wing political movements is gaining ground because the politically correct left has abandoned a radical criticism of the capitalist mode of production and it’s reactionary and aggressive symptoms. The social-democratic left is in total denial concerning capitalism and crisis and the radical anti-capitalist left is in sectarian melt-down. Once again (as in the 1930’s) the main orchestrated radical voice arguing against the ongoing symptoms of capitalism in crisis are from the right-wing nationalists. These proto – fascist parties and individuals are correct when they say 21st century immigration is primarily a way to lower wages in the advanced capitalist countries.
They are also correct when they point out that the welfare system provided under the current neo-liberal economic and political structure are being stretched too far and applied unfairly. They are also correct when they argue that the EEC is a bureaucratic gravy train for business, banking and the political elite. In these and on other issues they are not original but merely echoing what large numbers of ordinary people already think. Being right on some issues of course does not mean that the right-wing proto-facists are not without extremely dangerous dispositions. However, it is far too simplistic to deny or ignore these realities because the proto-fascists constantly dwell upon them. Of course, what these right wing petite bourgeois elements do not say is that all these symptoms are the logical outcome of the capitalist mode of production in the 21st century. But neither do most of the left. And there is the danger.
‘You’ve got me, under your spell’.
While the ‘left’ has been intellectually hypnotised by the concept of political correctness swinging purposefully before their eyes, the ‘right’ appear to address reality – at least as far as some of the symptoms go. It cannot be surprising therefore if many people threatened by unemployment, low pay, deteriating welfare, health and educational opportunities are listening to the right-wing politicians rather than the left. The amazing response of much of the politically correct left (and even some of the so-called anti-capitalist left) to this outcome is to blame the white and blue collar victims of bourgeois practical and ideological domination. Workers (as yet not revolutionary minded) who want to protect themselves against unemployment, low pay, over crowded schools, poor housing, and hospital waiting lists – and say so – are designated by the politically correct, as racists or closet racists.
As perhaps could have been predicted, this ‘political correctness’ syndrome leaves no option for an anti-capitalist struggle based upon class, since class divisions are ignored, glossed over or dissolved by the acid of political correctness. Instead, there is a taking of sides over a distorted form of cultural and religious relativism. Political correctness is certainly not an aid to critical analysis of anything let alone the critical analysis of the capitalist mode of production and the manifold symptoms which emanate from it. Political correctness is nothing more than a means of curtailing analysis of anything the economic and political elites along with their petite bourgeois supporters deem detrimental to their interests. It is the thin end of the wedge being driven into the (perhaps no longer needed?) bourgeois notion of free speech. As such it can be extended to anything the elite designate as in the ‘national interest’ which of course is bourgeois interest carried into the insitutions of the state.
Politics is part of the problem for humanity, not part of the solution. One only needs to consider the recent events in Europe and North America with regard to the political elite, to appreciate that this is the case. Their evident self-interested manouvres and back stabbing during and after the 2016 Brexit, on the one hand, and their imposition of austerity, as in Greece etc., on the other, (how politically correct is all that?) is a sufficient indicator of the problems they cause and the incompetence they display. The working class and those identifying with working class struggles against the capitalist mode of production needs to be guided by political correctness like they need an additional (non-natural) hole in their head.
Roy Ratcliffe (July 2016)