A couple of points in recent articles demonstrated two perennial problems on the left. One was the desire for strong active government. The other was the use of quotes from Marx to support a political position that essentially contradicts Marx. They are as follows.
Left Dualist thinking.
This first example included a strong critique of capitalism’s neo-liberal stage from a working class perspective. It then went on to contrast the neo-liberal rhetoric of the ‘less state the better’ with the level of support for business from capitalist states. The neo-liberal rhetoric on competition was also contrasted with the actual amount of centralisation and planning big businesses undertook. The 20th century KeynesIan economics and centralised planning was then questionably extolled. It appeared the authors were making the case for big government solutions.
Two problematic assertions then followed. The first was that the “fight against racism” needed a “strong and active government”. The second assertion was that “fighting a global pandemic” also needed a “strong and active government”. It seemed they concluded that since capitalist governments around the world were failing to eliminate the virus of racial prejudice as well as the virus of Covid19 it was because of inactivity or weaknes. Therefore, something more was needed from future governments.
So from this particular perspective the solution to end racism and virus Pandemics, was to choose strong active governments, which would somehow eliminate both. Although a few of the existing strong active governments around the world have done better at controlling the pandemic than weak inactive ones, actually none have eliminated it or prejudice on colour, gender, sexuality and disability.
But that result shouldn’t be surprising. All big government – including strong active ones – are based upon a fundamental form of prejudice. It assumes that some human beings are fit to govern and others, particularly working people in general, are not. All other forms of prejudice stem from this primary practice of governance by elite classes. If the governing elites are predominantly of one particular gender, religion, ethnicity, skin colour or ideology then a pyramid of hierarchy and prejudice of the other identities will generally flow down the social ladder below the ruling class identity. That was historically so in all parts of the world and is still the case in the 21st century.
Moreover, the above idea of centralised planning by a strong government also springs from the material act of governing itself. Ruling elites always desire to plan and control as many resources as possible. Thats how they accumulate their wealth. The modern version of these concepts only became attractive to middle-class intellectuals when capitalism needed to open up the technical and managerial positions within the industrialised stage of its development.
The professional, managerial middle-class, (PMMC) which this economic stage required can lean left, right or centre politically. Moreover, in one or other guise, PMMC individuals and cadres helped initiate and occupy the managerial levels of societies as politically diverse as Fascist, Stalinist, Neo-liberal and Social Democratic. Such governmental regimes were extremely strong and active – particularly in keeping the working classes at work and producing surplus – value. The latter being the source of their governmental income and elite wealth.
Governments, strong or weak are the active authoritarian means by which elites force their particular distinctive form of exploitation and oppression upon essential and non-essential workers. In fact solutions to prejudice and virus pandemics require the opposite of strong active governance. It is local self – governing non-profit, eco-sensitive producing communities which are the future solution for humanity.
Working people need to actively challenge the idea of (and actively dispense with) strong active governments, not champion them. Only by a revolutionary transitional process away from hierarchies and strong government will humanity be able to end the muck of ages prejudices based upon colour, gender, age, sexual-orientation, disability and religion. Which brings me to the next recent left confusion.
Marx on Religion.
This second case was one of utilising the prestige of Marx to support a position of neutrality with regard to religion. These authors quoted Marx’s concept of religion as being the ‘Opium of the People’, but then wrote that Marx;
“…insisted on treating religion as a matter for the individual, strictly separating it from the state and public affairs.”
I will demonstrate below that this politicised assertion severely distorts Marx’s revolutionary-humanist perspective on religion. Whatever, the purpose of this literary distortion or omission, it is a case of withholding relevant information. After writing of the need for a “ruthless criticism of all that exists,” Marx adds, we;
“…have to make religion, science etc., the object of our criticism…religion and…politics…we must take these in whatever form they exist, as our point of departure….religion is a register of the theoretical struggles of mankind….our motto must be: reform of consciousness……by analysing the mystical consciousness…whether it manifests itself in a religious or political form.” (letter from Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher. emphasis added RR.)
In the a ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law’ which contains the above noted ‘opium of the people’ phrase, the following precedes it.
“The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against ‘the world’ of which religion is the spiritual ‘aroma’”.
This is then followed by;
“The criticism of religion disillusions man to make him think and act and shape his reality like a man who has become disillusioned and has come to reason,..Criticism appears no longer as an end in itself, but only as a means. Its essential sentiment is ‘indignation’, it’s essential activity is ‘denunciation’”. (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law’)
One final extract from the many by Marx on religion.
“..we have once and for all declared war on religion and religious ideas and care little whether we are called atheists or anything else.” (The conditions of England. Past and present by Carlisle.)
So Marx – in his own words – did not treat religion as ‘a matter for the individual’. Nor did he separate it ‘from the state and public affairs’. Instead he advocated ruthless criticism, rigorous analysis of, struggle against, denunciation of, and an open fight against all religious and political forms of mystical consciousness. Anything creating illusions and virtual realities was to be openly and ruthlessly criticised.
I hope this demonstrates to new generations of oppressed and exploited blue and white-collar workers, that they should not automatically assume that those who appear to know what they are writing (or talking) about, are as thorough as they should be. Indeed, they frequently mislead themselves as well as others.
Roy Ratcliffe (March 2021)