It has long been a recognised phenomena, that the bourgeoisie and petite-bourgeoisie when facing criticism, are prone to ‘blaming the victim’. The bourgeoisie and the petite-bourgeoisie rarely accept any blame for the very many negative symptoms which arise from the capitalist mode of production from which they benefit. Instead, where negative symptoms are exposed, the blame for these is transfered to those who are the victims of the capitalist system. The capitalist system by its constant warmongering creates refugees, but rarely owns up to this. In this way refugees are projected as the problem and allows them to be blamed for a situation they have no control over. Bourgeois ideology requires a shifting of systemic blame to scapegoats.
For example, until recently it was common in rape cases to blame women for dressing provocatively or putting herself in places of danger. The fact that male socialisation is saturated by bourgeois patriarchal assumptions about women is ignored. Structural unemployment, among white and non-white people was (and still is) too often blamed upon lazyness and lack of education. The fact that jobs have disappeared or been replaced by automation is conveniently forgotten. Drug addiction and gang violence in inner cities is blamed upon lack of effective parental supervision. As if inner city, depravation, unemployment and neglect had little or no bearing on the problem.
Such is the ideological domination and power of the representatives of the bourgeois system that they regularly induce other sections of the oppressed to join in the blame game. Some conventional women are persuaded to blame non-conventional women for what happens to them. Some workers join in the vilification of the unemployed as scroungers who they have to support out of their taxes. Working class commuters are encouraged to blame striking or working to rule transport workers for any inconvenience they encounter rather than the greed of privatised transport companies.
Students, squeezed by the cuts to education are encouraged to point an envious finger at pensioners, with little regard to the life times work they have expended on the system or the fact that they themselves will be the next generation of pensioners. Getting the victims to blame each other, rather than the mode of production is a very productive tactic for the elite. That way they can step back a little and just supply ammunition in the form of distortions, fabrications and rationalisations and let the oppressed slug it out. Is it not truly pityfull when some on the left join in this elite ‘blaming the victims’ game? Shouldn’t the left be stridently opposed to both sides of the pro-capitalist political divide?
More recently half the working population in the UK have been blamed by the European neo-liberal establishment for voting to exit the European Union. In the USA, nearly half of the working population have been pilloried by the neo-liberal establishment for voting for Donald Trump. Yet these various developments, such as the emergence of Trump, Farage, Le Penn etc., are nothing more than the political symptoms of the the current five-fold crisis of the capitalist mode of production. The fundamental socio-economic contradictions ripping apart the capitalist system and causing such political bifurcations are invariably ignored or not even recognised by the ‘establishment’. However, even for some left commentators, these symptoms are being treated as if they are the cause of the problems facing the various national populations at large. Yet it should be clear that chasing the symptoms whilst ignoring the cause is a self-defeating process.
Another of these symptoms, is the reaction of the social-democratic left who have once again failed to recognise that contradictions in the socio-economic base of societies also give rise to contradictions in how people react to them. This problem is particularly relevant to the consciousness of the classes which are most burdened by the effects of the crisis – the working classes. Even though the pro-capitalist elite are themselves split into pro and anti-Brexit, pro and anti Trump, pro and anti Le Pen camps, etc., workers are pilloried when similarly effected. According to many neo-liberal pundits, workers (the so-called despicables) are supposed to think outside their current existential circumstances and think like their middle-class social-democratic betters. Everywhere, such dualistic thinking trumps (pardon the unintended pun) the dialectic and bifurcates the intellect of the social-democratic and even many of the unself-critical left.
Suddenly the neo-liberal establishment (with collaboration from the social democratic left) have encouraged demonstrations against immigration bans on Muslims from the seven countries previously flagged up by the Obama administration. Muslims have had the the sh..t bombed out of their communities, by the US and European neo-liberal political elite for at least a decade with very little concern shown for them. How hypocritical is that? Suddenly they really care about them? I suggest dumping Trump is what they really care about. They do not like his negative remarks on Trade Deals, unelected Judges, Washington bureaucracy, curtailing the freedom of indigenous industrial capital, Secret Service machinations, positive remarks on relations with Russia and more importantly because he won the election. For these reasons, among others, they are out to get him. There is no real need for anti-capitalists to join in the anti-Trump fest. He and the Democrats are the two janus faces of US capitalist rule. We need only let both wings of the pro-capitalist elite destroy each other and while they are busy, get on with the serious task of campaigning and organising against both sides and their entire system.
And in view of the recent anti-Trump/anti-Russian propaganda, is it not worth reminding everybody just who has done the most invading over the past decades and one of whom is also suspected of being behind the killing of Martin Luther King and many others the US elite were scared of? Are the Government’s of the west really any better than Putin et al? In Europe, campaigns have been activated to prevent Donald Trump visiting or speaking when practically every other head of state has been welcomed by elite fawning and extravagant banquets in the UK and Europe. This is despite the fact that many of these heads of state have overseen the most brutal forms of oppression in their own countries and have also been guilty of systematic torture, war crimes as well as crimes against humanity, in others. Why did the elite not call for a ban on all these? Hypocricy over here strides about dressed in regal and faux fur clothing.
The current anti – Trump fever has so infected the brains and thinking of so many neo-liberals and social democrats that they probably now appear to the working classes of the world as first rate hypocrites. They do not care enough for working class Muslims to have institutionally demanded an end to the drone war, the bombing campaigns, and the resource pillaging of many of their middle-eastern and North African countries over the past decades. They are so little concerned with women’s rights, that they still haven’t granted them equal rights in pay and equal institutional representation in the advanced countries, let alone anywhere else. In championing immigration, they show little or no regard for the fact that many immigrants will be forced into low-paid non-unionised jobs and some will be inducted to the underworld of modern day slavery including sexual slavery. As a economic and political class, the neo-liberal and social-democratic elite over many decades have never seriously demonstrated that black lives and jobs matter. Now they really care about how easily they get through passport control?
In their support of religion the neo-liberals and social democrats also show little regard for the fact that all the major religions, are oppressively patriarchal and prejudiced against women, homosexuals, other religions and those of no religion. These same elites and their supporters have never urged campaigns and demonstrations against this obvious form of oppression and discrimination. Over two or more decades, they have not been sufficiently concerned with the lives and welfare of the indigenous workers of all countries, to prevent large-scale unemployment, welfare reductions and community depravations. But they suddenly turn on the latter when they turn to the only seemingly radical alternative offered to them. And by the way; where is the radical political alternative to the present dual party system? The system and it’s supporters among the economic, social and political elite – including the so-called radical left – never blame themselves for not being able to offer a healthy radical alternative to the working classes. It’s all the fault of the working classes particularly when they vote the ‘wrong’ way.
In defence of all the victims.
But there is a different perspective from which to view a class – riven society such as the capitalist mode of production now spinning around the whirlpool of a five-fold crisis. This alternative viewpoint is not too difficult to understand for those with a genuine commitment to the working classes, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability etc. It was a perspective most clearly developed by the revolutionary-humanist Karl Marx in the 19th century, but tragically distorted in the 20th century and neglected in the 21st. Consider the following;
“The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life.” (Marx. A contribution to the critique of the political economy.)
The current mode of production is based upon the domination of capital. If we agree with the conclusion Marx came to, then it is the domination of capital which determines the general character of the social and political processes of life in the current and past few centuries. It is this system which dominates not just what people do but also how they think. Competition for jobs and resources are at the heart of the capitalist system and competition separates individuals from each other. This is a practical competitive schism which is particularly severe amongst the working classes and moreover it is way beyond their control. It follows from this fact that solidarity is extremely difficult to achieve. To wish otherwise is tantamount to wishing away the reality of the capitalist mode of production – easy but futile. Further;
“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.” (ibid)
In other words, in general, it is not what people think which determines how they live but how they live which in general determines how they think. And how the working classes live within capitalism is different than how the other classes live. For this reason working people’s consciousness will have some differences to it than the consciousness of other classes. If their position in the division of labour within the capitalist mode of production creates different concerns than the position other classes adopt, this is not because of some difference in intelligence. They are disproportionally more effected from globalisation and immigration. If their consciousness is more practical, immediate and less effected by abstract intellectual concerns and historical considerations than the middle-classes, this is a product of their position as wage-slaves, not a lack of intellectual potential.
If workers live in a society dominated economically and intellectually by a racist and sexist, male dominated elite, then it can hardly be surprising if those subjected to the dominant ideology absorb some of these values. If many sections of the working classes have little time for, or access to, further education, cultural exchanges and expressions of international solidarity, this is not their fault. On the contrary, it is the fault of an economic system which condemns them to such impoverished socio-economic circumstances. In addition if some sections of the working class feel that the rest of society, with its more privileged workers and middle-classes doesn’t care what happens to them, then it cannot be surprising if they adopt a similar attitude in return.
Past class solidarity, built upon huge capitalist factories and industries, has effectively disappeared over the past decades of neo-liberal globalisation along with the industrial form themselves – at least in the west. Therefore I suggest it is arrogant and churlish to expect high – minded solidarity to automatically flow from those at the bottom or near the bottom of the current socio-economic pyramid, whatever their colour, age, gender, religious or sexual preference. In the west in particular the decrease in industrial workers and increase in public service workers has created its own problems of struggle.
If capitalism during its neo-liberal stage has become a system of economic and social existence in which a version of bourgeois individualism has finally come to dominate all classes, then we shouldn’t be surprised if solidarity among and between communities is now in short supply. If it is now a cultural norm, for everybody to look after No 1, then blaming just one group and not another for doing exactly that, is simply helping the elite to create scapegoats. And I suggest as anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists we need to firmly resist making any section of the working class – black workers, white workers, Muslim workers, women, young, old, etc., – the scapegoats for a system in an advanced stage of systemic crisis.
Socio-economic class and revolution.
It has become clear over successive generations that the capitalist mode of production cannot adequately employ all the members of society. For this reason it has become an existential problem not only for the majority of the working classes of the world, but for all life forms on the planet and the eco-systems upon which all life depends. Capitalist forms of production, in pursuit of profit are on the one hand consuming essential raw materials, faster than they can be replenished, and on the other, producing waste materials quicker than they can be safely recycled or disposed of. This mode of production is like an uncontrollable cancer eating away the essential elements of the planet.
There is now in all countries the spectacle of a minority with more wealth than they can possibly consume in one lifetime, a majority with only just enough and another minority with far too little to support an average lifetime. The military industrial sector of the advanced countries has ably assisted, if not actively promoted, the current global distopia of armed warfare in civil and national guises. Over successive generations, the capitalist supporters of the system have demonstrated their complete unwillingness and inability to radically transform it. From the perspective of the majority of the worlds populations, a revolution has become increasingly necessary. However, revolutions, require the solidarity of large numbers to initiate and sustain them. So where could such numbers come from, or more accurately which of the main classes might supply these numbers?
Could it be the upper classes who live off the earnings of private capital in one of its numerous forms? I doubt it. They have no incentive to sufficiently lower their standards of living so that the lowest may have theirs raised. Would the change agents and numbers arise among the middle-classes? Again I doubt it. Their best efforts to date have been to suggest slight reforms in order to lessen the rate of exploitation or ease the burden of ill health or old age amongst the working classes. Again apart from a few individuals these middle-classes are more likely to wish to conserve what they have and become even more reactionary when the system looks like being threatened by a radical transformation.
That leaves the working classes, blue collar and white collar – warts and all. Yes warts and all! It is still the fact that potentially this section of the capitalist economic and social pyramid have the most reasons for not opposing and even welcoming such a transformation. In addition, they are the only sections of society which keep the foundations of any social system going. Without workers people cannot eat, be housed, clothed, kept warm, nursed, and educated. The accelerating precarious economic position of all working people under 21st century capitalism means that sooner or later they will have to act in concert if they are to resist what is increasingly in store for them. But of course, as already noted, the circumstances of increased competition for jobs and resources makes such solidarity extremely difficult. It certainly cannot happen overnight. It can only happen as a result of a long (and perhaps slow) process in which this result is worked for by all those already conscious of this need.
With this in mind blaming the victims and making impatient and unrealistic demands upon working people to immediately alter their consciousness to coincide with one derived from a different set of circumstances, is unrealistic and counterproductive. Working people will invariably make mistakes, like voting for Trump, Farage, le Pen and others still to come, hoping this will help their future situation. This stage, or stages, are clearly part of the process the working classes need to go through in order to begin to reflect and think differently. Traversing those stages, I suggest, is not helped by the left adopting a ‘holy than thou’ position and ranting at them. Instead we need a process of patient reasoning and admitting – that we get things wrong too! It should be obvious that a revolutionary alteration of their understanding requires extreme circumstances not the bombarding of working people with derogatory slogans and phrases. Or as Marx put it;
“..the alteration of men (and women RR) on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; the revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.” (Marx. German Ideology.)
I further suggest that, the role of those anti-capitalists who have a love of humanity is not to play schoolmaster in order to lecture the systems victims on what they ‘must’ and ‘must not’ do, at every twist and turn. Nor is it their role to be acting as ‘prophets’ in order to teach their hoped-for future disciples the ‘truth’. Neither should we be condemning those who currently refuse to listen as despicable heretics, as the Bolsheviks, Maoists and others once did. In view of the examples of 20th century ‘vanguard’ anti-capitalist leaderships in the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, I see no reason to abandon the following 19th century revolutionary-humanist position adopted by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in this regard;
“The emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves. We cannot therefore co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic persons from the upper and lower middle classes.” (Marx Engels. Selected correspondence. page 307. )
Roy Ratcliffe. (February 2017.)