In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I suggested that mass society driven authoritarianism is currently having a considerable hold globally over many people. Totalitarian solutions are being increasingly adopted by the elites in control of hierarchical mass societies and this coincides with certain moods among some sections of the masses. The obvious strategy for the elites is to create a social and political alliance with those among the masses who currently wish to preserve the current hierarchical systems. This strategy is partially succeeding in many countries, as many workers and middle class citizens are voting for populist strong men or women. But that is only to outline the negative side of the dialectic operating within hierarchical mass societies. There is another.
The masses within hierarchical mass societies, although being compelled to compete with each other for jobs, housing and much else, are nevertheless living within the same mass societies! They share not only the same territories and neighbourhood’s, but also experience many of the same multi-dimensional elements of the unfolding crisis. This means the crisis prone areas of health, jobs, housing, social care, low pay, pollution and climate change will probably be paying them more than one visit. Since the present mass society, socio-economic systems are only designed to create profits they will be unable to solve social problems in each of those areas. Consequently, the elites in charge of each capitalist system will be compelled to bear down negatively upon almost all non-elite citizens in one way or another.
This means, the multidimensional aspects of the developing crisis have the potential to be made the source of a common social struggle to both defend and improve the conditions for all working people. Of course, this possibility is made difficult for at least two reasons. First, because there is neither a practical example of a mass society which benefits all citizens sufficiently nor a consistent and plausible description of what such a non-exploitative form of mass society living would look like. (And self-critically we anti-capitalists need to ask – whose neglect is that?) Second, the habitual forms of struggle in modern hierarchical mass societies (both successful and unsuccessful) have been predominantly sectional.
For at least 100 years each waged or salaried category; teachers, nurses, engineers, factory workers, doctors, public service workers, care workers, shop workers and transport workers, etc., have pursued their own sectional struggles and been largely indifferent to the circumstances and situations of other sections of society. Political struggles for justice have followed a similar pattern. For many decades struggles against oppression and exploitation in the advanced capitalist countries have also been conducted in a way which is an almost complete denial of the socially inter-dependent reality of our mass society way of living. Considering that all the working and productive sections of mass society are totally dependent upon each other for everything they do and everything they need, that indifference (and even occasional hostility) to economic and welfare struggles is an enormous and myopic contradiction.
I suggest the challenge for 21st century humanity based within hierarchical mass societies, is to correct this historic negation of the inter-dependent social evolution of our species. We need to begin to organise and act – as the social species we are – and be consistent with the actual inter-dependent way we live within our mass societies. Our ideas of struggle should reflect our inter-dependence and not ignore it. It ought not to be a matter of passive indifference to the rest of us that teachers, nurses, doctors, firefighters, drivers, carers, power and sewage workers, etc., may not in the best of health physically and mentally because of low pay, poor conditions and financial worries. When we need them – and everyone will need most of them at some time – we need them to be in the best of health and focused upon the task at hand, not distracted or impaired by ill health and mental stress.
Instead, of counter-productive indifference and hostility, we should begin to actively support and defend all citizens both economically and socially. We need to function in accordance with our real world inter-dependent reality. A first stage for such a historical behavioral correction would be for those already aware of the above inter-dependence and the massive scale of the problems humanity faces to begin to advocate this and act in accordance with that reality themselves. The pattern of continuing in sectarian isolation from other like minded individuals and groups, needs to replaced by communication and cooperation. A second stage would be for increasing numbers of citizens to begin to demand of governments the modern equivalent of the 20th century ‘inclusive’ peasant demand for ‘peace, bread and land’.
In other words a revolutionary demand that not just our own particular sector of mass society be delivered from existential hardship, but that – as a priority – everyone in all mass societies, should have adequate food, clothing, housing and education – as a right! Such a campaign with detailed examples would – at the same time – be a practical counter to elite attempts to divide the masses along the current (short-sighted) sectional interests. Indeed, given mass society reality, considering the interests of workers as separate is in fact a complete illusion. Countering Totalitarian Tendencies requires an accurate description of realities rather than a regurgitation of seriously flawed ideologies. On the radical left it requires a change to symbiotic cooperation rather than the continuation of sectarian divisions. Even if such a re-orientation should fail to attract sufficient numbers to eventually trigger an uprising or begin an ongoing social revolution, it would still be a considerable advance toward fully reviving the distorted and damaged social essence of our humanity.
Once upon a (totalitarian) time.
For it is a fact that those activists a generation or so ago who in the middle of a previous existential crisis, could envision no other forms of mass society living than authoritarian based ones, could only suggest alternatives to the form and content of the dominating authority – not its abolition. They were thus unable to campaign for non-authoritarian solutions and eventually trapped themselves into only opposing certain totalitarian forms and not all totalitarian forms. Thus, when Fascist totalitarian movements and ‘leaders’ surfaced in the early 20th century, the movements and ‘leaders’ opposed to fascist authoritarianism became communist, socialist or liberal democratic – authoritarians! For example, Bolshevik authoritarians took power in Soviet Russia, Maoist authoritarians took power in China and Liberal Democratic authoritarians took power throughout the Anglo-Saxon West.
The explicit and latent authoritarian mentality of mass society living, noted in Parts 1 and 2, blossomed during the 20th century and eventually could summon up only the above three authoritarian choices to appeal to the oppressed and exploited. Therefore, when, after vicious and brutal total war fighting, each of these choices eventually succeeded in gaining power between 1917 and 1923, their leaders simply continued with elite controlled exploitative and intensive wage-labour (at work); imprisonment and torture (in concentration camps or Gulags) for opponents; political assassinations for rival politicians (and for their own party dissidents); militarised forms of forced labour for additional mass factory production and forced conscription for mass fighting purposes; and, of course continued a ruthless pillage of natures resources.
A serious study of history, which goes beyond superficially understood labels of political identity, therefore reveals that extreme forms of authoritarianism ready to move in totalitarian directions, have more than one political mask for their elites to wear which helps disguise their hideously inhumane intentions. Consequently, in the current growing crisis for 21st century humanity, there is a serious danger that the misperception’s and mistakes of past generations will be repeated. Many of our contemporary activists still mistakenly see the phenomenon of fascist totalitarianism as having no direct ideological connection with the ‘norms’ of mass society modes of production in general nor the totalitarianism of National socialism’s and communisms in particular.
Worse still, some current anti-capitalists clearly do not recognise the essential social and economic identity between mainstream liberal capitalist and the state-capitalist hierarchical mass societies of 20th century Chinese and Russian ‘socialism’s in one country’. It seems for some observers, historically accepted political labels can serve to filter out any underlying problematic socio-economic reality. For these modern anti-capitalists, as with many of their 20th century counterparts, Das Kapital and the Grundrisse are perhaps a couple of thousand pages too long to consider undergoing a thorough economic education, before they start advising others which socio-economic way to turn. Perhaps, like modern college exam guides, pamphlet-ed short cuts in the 20th century were attractive, particularly to those who were moved by a macho urge to ‘lead’ the masses to some imaginary ‘big brother’ salvation.
So to sum up: In failing to unite against all forms of authoritarian mass societies in favour of egalitarian ones, suffering humanity in the past allowed itself to be divided up between different kinds of authoritarian/totalitarian tendencies and after mass murdering each other with a death toll of scores of millions, those surviving the genocidal conflict returned to a system of elite determined wage-labour exploitation and oppression. The academics merely labelled these hierarchical mass society systems as socialism, communism, social democracy or neo-liberalism and these were handed on to the next generation, along with increasing levels of pollution, climate change and ecological destruction.
The question now arises will the history of the 20th century be repeated in the 21st? For example, as the 21st century crisis deepens, will the variously oppressed and exploited, noted previously, line themselves up behind a Right wing authoritarian regime, headed by a future Trump type, a Left wing authoritarian regime, headed by a Xi type or some other populist authoritarian regime headed by a Putin, Bolsenaro or Le Pen type? Or will a new generation of activists, avoid (or step out of) the ideological straight jackets humanity has been gifted by past allegedly ‘strong men’ (sic) and join a new generation of workers in consciously avoiding a repeat of those previous tragedies.
Roy Ratcliffe (November 2022)
PS. The further looming tragedy resulting from basing capitalist mass society production on fossil fuels for both energy and for carbon based commodities has yet to enter the general consciousness of humanity. Spoiler alert: Even with 100% renewable’s, (highly unlikely) wind, tides and solar can only produce alternative sources of energy, they cannot produce alternative types of material for commodities. In the 20th century, plastics have largely replaced, wood, glass, and metal previously used in the mass production of commodities – and plastics come from oil. With a 21st century global population of 8 billion potential customers, are capitalists really going to give up mass producing and transporting commodities in order to give up on oil?
(Totalitarian Tendencies Part 4, is to follow.)