In the superficial descriptions and explanations of the current shifts in voting patterns within Britain, Europe and the US, the mass media and other forms of communication are currently focused upon the issues of immigration, race and religion. These important issues are generally seen as being the primary factors now causing divisions between communities, whether at the local, regional, national or international level. However, in these descriptions and explanations, two contemporary aspects of the five-fold crisis of capitalism are being confused – economics and culture. Something more fundamental than politics is once again producing and exagerating the cultural symptoms of reaction and division – that something is economics.
It is also the case that reactions to immigration, race and religion are being made even more problematic by the overwhelming majority of the media and ‘expert’ (sic) descriptions and suppositions concerning these issues. For they are invariably presented as if they were completely separate from the economic system in which we all live. In this view ‘reaction’ to these issues is just down to ‘backward‘ cultural attitudes. Wherever it is manifested, this failure to distinguish between culture and economics exposes a serious shortcoming. Cultural developments are not independent of the economic base, but arise upon it. Contradictions within contemporary cultural assumptions merely reflect directly or indirectly the contradictions within the economic system.
This glaring shortcoming among the bourgeois intellectuals, cannot be surprising since those who dominate the public discourse on all matters, including politics, (news, media outlets, politicians, economists, sociologists etc.) are not only dependent upon the current capitalist economic system but are also mostly doing well out of it. It is generally the case that the salaries and pensions of media presenters, economists, sociologists and politicians are far above and far more secure, than those of the huge numbers of low paid, zero – hours, precariously employed, unemployed, and state dependent working people. For this reason these commentators focus upon cultural issues and can usually only find minor faults with the economic system which currently dominates the world. Not being as threatrened, they are rendered intellectually myopic or even ideologically blind by their favourable economic position.
However, the socio-economic understanding and perspective is very different for those who are in the majority and not so well situated in the economic system. Those who in the current terminology have been ‘left behind‘ by globalisation or ‘disinherited‘ from the post Second World War social promise of full employment, adequate social, medical and educational entitlement, have a different view. It may lack academic finesse but their understanding is one that sees their primary loss and problems as economic – not political or cultural. If there was full employment in well paid, secure jobs with adequate pensions, good housing for all, good, well staffed schools everywhere and top class, sufficiently staffed, health services everywhere, there would be little or no ‘cultural’ dissent and disruption by ‘despicables’.
In the experience of those in the lower ranks of the capitalist economic and social pyramid, the current crisis in the economic system has everything to do with the contemporary manifestation of anti – immigration, racial methods of exclusion and fears of radicalised religious violence. It should be clear (to those who want to see), that human beings are not born as racists, opposed to immigration or with religious ideas and violent prejudices – these characteristics have to be culturally learned. And learning is either first hand or second hand. However, first hand direct experience is one of the greatest educational teachers.
For example it is overwhelmingly the case that if one human being offers to help another human being without any strings attached, that help will be willingly accepted no matter what religion, colour, or gender the person happens to be. Future friendships and mutual help will be also engendered by such acts. What is true of individuals is also true of groups of individuals. However, if one individual or group of individuals, threatens to harm directly or indirectly another human being or group of human beings, then it cannot be surprising if suspicion, hostility and fear develop among those directly effected. This contrast of direct economic and social existential experiences (or even indirect if reliable) needs to be constantly born in mind when the issues of anti – immigration, continued racial discrimination and understandable prejudice against violent expressions of religious fundamentalism are considered.
As long as cultural issues and cultural divisions are projected as more important than economic, then certain things will follow. Demonstrations and actions will focus on cultural or political issues which will serve only to divide the oppressed and exploited. This is a logical process which is already being demonstrated in Europe, the UK and the USA etc. Campaigns for and against Brexit (or the EU.); for and against immigration, for and against Trump etc., etc. In this kind of climate and on this basis there will be anything but campaigns and demonstrations against the capitalist mode of production. As long as the domination of this cultural perspective goes unchallenged, the real world will continue to be seen upside down and the role of the economic base will be largely ignored. Sadly too few seem to be unable to rise to this challenge. Furthermore it should be obvious that this situation will only be to the advantage of those minorities benefiting from the present system.
Yet the study of history demonstrates that it only takes a few people to keep alive a critical understanding of a particular mode of production. The fact that at any period of time, this critical understanding is not shared by the bulk of the population, does not mean that at some future period that understanding will not usefully inform those who are able to institute revolutionary transitions. The critical understanding of the capitalist mode of production was most comprehensively developed by the revolutionary-humanist perspective of Karl Marx. It is this revolutionary-humanist perspective which was ignored and even opposed by the Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyist, and Maoist anti-capitalists. It is this perspective which needs to be defended and kept alive for future generations if the present generation is unable to make use of it.
Roy Ratcliffe (November 2016)