I guess that most people following the news media in the UK will consider that the process of Brexit (Britain’s exit from the European Union) is an unbelievably confused and confusing botch up. Media observers around the world also seem unable to make any sense of the numerous bickerings among the UK political class concerning the terms of the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, if one starts from the many political opinions being voiced by all and sundry over this issue it is difficult to make any overall sense of what fundamental problems are preventing a solution. ‘Why can’t they just get on with it’; is frequently heard. Contradictions together with opinions not based upon any reliable evidence are part and parcel of the daily torrent of media speculation but the underlying motives of the current fiasco are rarely exposed.

So analysing the various strains of borrowed thinking, identifying the many cases of confirmation bias, and following the useless combinations of abstractions around the Brexit issue, is a recipe for getting lost in a maze of conflicting ideas. And they are often ideas which are largely disconnected from real life and the real concerns of people who occupy the lower regions of our capitalist economic and political pyramid. Indeed, it is rarely pointed out that exiting the EU as well as the original joining the EU are decision processes exclusively initiated and guided by the UK economic and political elites. By utilising their positions of influence they have managed at each stage to convince large numbers of the public of the in or out decisions importance whilst simultaneously creating an enormous amount of internal and external confusion over precisely who really stands to gain.

Rather than analysing the current bewildering spectrum of political ramblings, I suggest we could achieve more overall clarity on what is really going on by reminding ourselves of two important points. First, this elite squabbling is nothing new. The issue of membership of European structures has always divided the British political class from way back when the European Coal and Steel Community was initiated in 1951. Secondly, it also helps to be clear on what the real underlying economic/financial forces and possible elite motives are behind the disagreements over EU exit terms. Historically this division has manifested itself most strongly within the senior members of the Conservative Party – but not exclusively. Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister during the Second World War – 1939-45), for example, was for post-war integration in Europe, but strongly opposed to British membership of it.

Before EU membership.

In assessing this reluctance by the British elite to join a European Federation of states, a frequently missing, but very important historical fact, is the economic dimensions of that second world war. From 1919 to 1938 British and European Capitalism had been in the doldrums. Large scale unemployment and poverty for working people had broadly followed the financial and economic downturns, which characterised that period. So the Second World War was not simply a one-dimensional anti-fascist political fight against Nazi led Germany and it’s allies as it is often portrayed. It was also a massive military defence of the economic, financial and political advantages gained by British elites during the establishment of the British Empire.

A German controlled consolidated Europe would have threatened much of British Capitals 18th and 19th century international hegemony and so from the elites perspective it had to be stopped – and this was not for the first time. A previous Germanic expansionary bid in Europe had been stopped by the 1914-18 war. Therefore, with regard to the EU it is not just the general importance of these aspects of the capitalist mode of production (ie. economics, finance and politics) which need to be grasped, but also how they differentially effect the British elite and their international supporters. It is these contradictions which explain their irreconcilable differences and lies at the bottom of the decades long Europe in or out tug of war within the British Establishment.

Military defence of international economic, financial and political advantage as these effected the British elite was something Winston Churchill, for example, was strategically clear about in directing military operations during the Second World War, much to the annoyance of the USA military elite. UK capitalist interests pre and post war were still overwhelmingly for maintaining a dominant position in the markets and sources of raw materials which were the legacy of that earlier Empire and were later embodied in what became known as the British Commonwealth countries. European countries at that time (and even much later) were seen by most British elites as holiday destinations or secondary markets for goods and services but also as potential rivals for essential markets and raw materials.

So apart from a few among the financial, economic and political elite, after the 1939-45 (second) world war there was no majority for joining a federal Europe, precisely because there was no pressing economic, financial or political motive for doing so. According to a majority within the elite, Britain, was still ‘Great’, and was second among the worlds two premier and now victorious superpowers. They felt that Britain could, by maintaining a ‘special relationship’ with the USA, still go it alone at this side of the Atlantic. This sentiment among the elite majority remained largely the case for a decade or so up until the eventual decision to join the European Economic Community, for by then the economic situation in Britain and elsewhere had changed dramatically.

Rival economic powers such as America, and the revitalised previously defeated countries such as Germany, Italy and Japan had by a decade or so become economically stronger and Britain relatively and absolutely much weaker than when it controlled a thriving empire. Post-war international economic competition was increasingly fierce in the decades after that second world war. In addition, independence for many former British colonies eroded many of the special privileges that had once benefited British capitalism. As a consequence an increasing section of the economic, financial and political elite in the UK could see the obvious writing on the wall. Britain as the former workshop of the world with its empire status was something rapidly disappearing into the past. Being part of a growing European Common Market was therefore seen by an increasing number among the elite as the only realistic future.

Yet despite the emergence of such sober and scaled down post-empire perspectives, the economic, financial and political elite were still sufficiently divided upon the issue of Europe that they could not reach a consensus for joining this developing project. Many among the elite could see economic, financial or political advantages for them to join, others only saw personal economic, financial or political disadvantages from membership. Hence the long running (and often bitter) disagreements among the elite over being part of Europe which surfaced frequently. The only thing the elite could eventually agree upon was the tactic of having a referendum to decide whether the UK should join or not.

Accordingly a campaign was initiated in 1970 during which each side of the elite presented to the electorate the supposed advantages of joining, whilst the other side of the elite warned the electorate of the disadvantages of joining. In other words, the elite persuasively drew the mass of the population into making a decision which would primarily benefit one side of the ruling elite or the other. The promise (a hollow one at that) was that joining the European Union would benefit everyone. The yes vote won and the UK joined in 1973, but this did not end the elite divisions, because it did not end the fundamental differences in economic and financial needs or perspectives of the various economic and financial elites. Nor, from the standpoint of the working classes, did it end the economic and social decline of the UK workforce as a whole. Nevertheless joining muted the elite bickerings for a time as Britain was integrated into the European Economic Community.

Britain in the EU.

Meanwhile, in the UK the struggle between capital and labour continued. A ‘Winter of Discontent’ (1978/79) had witnessed the working class in the private and public sectors of employment, still trying to defend their pay and conditions against effective reductions imposed by employers and the government. Growing unemployment and reduced real term wages and salaries, had added to the structural problems of welfare state capitalism in the UK. The defeat of striking coal miners in 1984/85 further reduced purchasing power of the British working classes and increased state expenditure whilst simultaneously reducing state tax revenues. Yet the free movement of labour and capital (enshrined in the European Union Articles) ensured that employers could import cheap labour if British workers could not (or would not) work for low pay. Or alternatively owners of capital would be allowed to freely export it if better profits could be made elsewhere.

The de-regulation of financial markets in 1986 (the so-called ‘Big Bang’) and the full acceleration of the neo-liberal phase of globalisation enabled many fortunately placed people and companies to become super rich and super powerful. Thatcherite, neo-liberal, share-price populism (privatisation of gas, electricity, water, telephones, council houses) along with rising house prices also served to divert attentions from the growing structural problems of British welfare-state capitalism and masked the further domination of the financial services sector. Through inflation, unemployment and government policy a gradual reduction, of what wages and salaries of the masses could purchase, was temporarily offset by the extension of loans and credit card debt. On the surface, and in financial services accounting terms, it appeared that the British economy was booming and Europe along with it. But in fact living standards and unemployment for many working people were still getting worse whilst economic activity was being kept temporarily afloat by huge amounts of public and private debt.

And that was not all that was wrong. Since the domination of capital is a global phenomenon, it’s tentacles reach everywhere. Non-European countries with lower wage costs were quickly able to successfully compete on the world market with European Economic Community countries both in quality of products and cost. They were also easily able to penetrate European Economic Community internal markets and sell their products there. Take Japanese motorcycles, cars and electronics for example which flooded in. Or better still consider the example of South Korea. With low wages and 60 hour working week this small country single-handedly practically demolished the shipbuilding industries of all the advanced capitalist countries. In other words in general, British industrial capitalists producing commodities were losing out, whilst in general Finance capitalists loaning out out capital were gaining.

Between these two sectors the rift was growing. And note the following carefully: Membership of a club of nation states, such as the EU does not (and did not) remove or even mitigate the competitive nature of the capitalist mode of production for those producing goods. The examples of Greece, Portugal and Spain should make this fact abundantly clear. EU membership has neither protected the living standards of the blue and white-collar working classes or the professional or small business middle-classes in all E.U Countries and least of all in the cases of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Not only workers lost their employment, but small and medium capitalist concerns atrophied or collapsed. Only the finance capitalist concerns and a few fortunate industrial companies survived and prospered.

For example, the importance of financial services such as banking and insurance to UK business activity has now grown to become the largest proportion of British economic activity, whilst manufacturing and other goods sent to the EU has shrunk a relatively small proportion. So, here again the two bases for new and renewed tensions among the pro – capitalist elite in Britain (commodity capital and finance capital) has continued to develop. Some had become richer by being in, others had become poorer and wanted out. Yet other sectors such as career politicians feel their path to the Brussels gravy train now threatened. Hence, the conflicting opinions, the ambiguity and confusion.

After Brexit?

So while things were in an upward trend for banking and Euro MPs salaries and expenses, etc., things were going downhill for many – including working people – even before joining the EU. And despite some exceptions, for increasing numbers, the downward spiral of living standards and job security whilst inside the EU continued. Unlike the older generation, this historic pattern has not been experienced by the young people of Britain and Europe, and this perhaps goes some way to explain the different generational attitudes toward EU membership. Our older generation are understandably deeply cynical about the elite and this capitalist focused European union. Yet will leaving the EU really halt or reverse this decline as many older voters to leave hoped? Alternatively, would staying in improve things as many young people thought when they voted to stay? To such questions we can add another. Has staying in the EU halted or reversed this decline for ordinary people in France, Greece, Spain or Portugal? The answer is of course – no – for this decline has little to do with being in or out of the EU, but everything to do with the trajectory of global capitalism.

And it is not hard to predict the downward direction capitalism, particularly finance capitalism is taking all of us – in or out. Financial speculation, privatisation of public services and ever increasing lending is all the finance sector can do with their loan capital, when funding commodity production leads to relative overproduction – and it is – on a global scale. So as noted, the fundamental splits and divisions among the elite have not lessened but increased. Some still want out; some still want to stay in. However, another layer of disagreement has now emerged around the terms of the Brexit deal. The political elite in particular are now also split on the question of tariffs, borders, payments to Brussels and free movement of labour. But part of the split is not over tariffs or no tariffs; borders or no borders; payments, or no payments; or free movement of labour or no free movement of labour. It is about what level of tariffs, what kind of border (real or imaginary) how high the payments to Brussels will be, and how much movement of labour there will be.

Even out of the EU, under the current mode of production, UK citizens will still pay direct and indirect taxes and will still face employment competition, from low paid immigrant labour for the constantly reducing employment opportunities in UK based skilled and unskilled occupations. It is also clear, that the majority of the politicians in the UK Parliament have not grasped that the problems humanity faces are caused by the entire mode of production, not this or that tariff or back-stop borders. They too cannot see the wood for the trees. Once more, and before too long, more of the UK public will find out that they have again been conned by representatives of the political elite and their wealthy backers. For in or out of the EU, the situation for working people in general will not improve. The five-fold crisis of capitalism is global. In or out of the EU, unemployment, precarious employment, public services, public welfare, financial stability, ecological destruction and pollution will get worse, not better.

However, as we know, certain sections of the UK elite, inside or outside the EU can protect and increase their wealth and avoid taxation by clever manipulation of the rules. Likewise, movement of labour does not seriously effect economic, financial or political elite occupations in general. Despite this there is still a desire among the elites of most sectors of the economic and financial system within Europe to dominate the others. Such is the level of competition among some financial and political sectors within the EU that the UK financial sector, in particular feel it is time to get out. Indeed, it is arguably the desire, for banking regulation within the EU, particularly by German and French elites which is the prime motivation for the British finance sector wanting out and swinging it’s intellectual and financial muscle behind the campaign to leave.

Despite the lessons of 2008 financial crash, the last thing the UK bankers and financial institutions (and their affiliates) want is for their speculative activities to be regulated. And incidentally this section of the elite are no more competent than are the political sector. Neither group could see the full implications of their self – serving daily activities. The 2008 financial crash came as a surprise to those whose investment strategies caused it and incidentally they have been busy ever since creating more speculative bubbles which in time will also burst. The politicians who voted to invade Iraq allowed themselves to be fooled by dodgy dossiers and couldn’t see beyond the next parliamentary session or by election. So we shouldn’t expect anything better than short sighted self-interest, masquerading as public interest, to emerge from Brexit debates and decisions. Which is precisely what we are getting.

But whilst we are being continually bombarded by claim and counter-claim around Brexit discussions and deliberations we should not fail to note and remind ourselves of the following summary of verifiable facts: In all the decades of post war neo-liberal development, the economic and social condition of the bulk of the workers and lower middle-classes has deteriorated in most countries – whether in or out of the EU – or any other block of countries, for that matter! The condition of the working and lower middle classes in the United States of America, for example has nose – dived drastically after the few post-war years of relative affluence for some fortunate sectors ended. Understandably, the elite along with the media on either side of the Brexit and Trump wrangle and tangle fail to mention these facts for it might shift attention from the localised symptoms to the universal cause of them – the stage reached by the capitalist mode of production.

Over the same period, the fate of workers and lower middle-classes in Argentina and the rest of South America has suffered drastically at the hands of the global capitalist elite, particularly by the ‘conditions’ imposed by the IMF (International Monetary Fund). The situation, for working people in the ex – colonial countries of Africa and the Middle East, to provide yet another example, has reached such crisis levels that, (despite the Arab Spring uprisings), civil war and physical destruction of communities has become endemic rather than peace and prosperity. Again the elite and the media utterly fail to draw attention to these facts of global relative and absolute dispossession of working class economic and social well being inside or outside of economic or financial associations such as the EU .

Of course, in contrast with these global effects of international capitalism, the fate of the working classes in Europe is less severe, than their counterparts elsewhere. However, it is still not what by now should be the birthright of every human being. Adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, leisure and safety should be the guaranteed expectation of every human being. These expectations, I suggest were the content underpinning the way ordinary people voted for and against leaving the EU. As I wrote on this blog at the time, [‘In out -Shake it all About’] many ordinary people thought their lives would be better by staying in the EU, whilst many (slightly more) thought their lives would be better by getting out. In that sense there was largely a unity of content in voter aspirations but the referendum form presented by the elite created a false and divisive choice by what was dangled in front of them as an absolute necessity for an improvement in their lives.


If for example, membership of the EU had delivered excellent or even uniformly reasonable standards of living for all Britain’s blue and white collar working class members, can it be supposed that so many millions would have voted to leave? Essentially the same disappointment behind the UK leave vote is being manifest by working people in the rest of EU countries. This is because these modern standard of living basics expectations are being denied to increasing numbers of the non-elites within Europe as well as without. As a consequence protest movements are inevitable. Despite the current different forms of activism and action, this is the universal substance of the majority of the discontented struggles around the world. From the Arab Spring to Brexit and in between and beyond, the struggle for adequate food, water, shelter and safety are the main motivation of the mass of ordinary people who are stirred into protest. Of course, this universal discontent needs to find a more universal and fitting form than the current retreat into nationalism or religious bigotry.

Increasingly, the pro-capitalist elites use the states armed forces to discipline or suppress protests against this unnatural situation of poverty and hardship alongside obscene wealth and luxury consumption. That too is a universal response to crisis by the various pro-capitalist elites. There is undoubtedly growing universal protest and universal oppression in the 21st century and 2019 will be no exception. It is clear that the elites in control of the nation states of Europe and elsewhere do not see their role as enabling and facilitating the above noted basics of human well being for all, but see their responsibility as defending the capitalist mode of production and their parasitic position within it – at all costs. So Brexit aside, with regard to the EU, it is an undeniable fact that working people, white-collar and blue, not only in the UK but in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and now France (yellow vests) are daily registering their disapproval of EU neo-liberal capitalism. The voters of these countries just haven’t been given the choice to leave or stay – yet!

The real important issue facing the current working and middle-classes of Britain, Europe and the rest of the world for a better future is not the elite-led Brexit campaign or any other nationalistic or chauvinistic ‘back-to-the-future’ campaign. When a global mode of production is constructed so as to be unable and unwilling to deliver the above mentioned basics of modern existence to all its citizens, a really intelligent species, particularly the young of that species, should be organising to change that mode of production. They and we should not be taking sides in the petty squabbles of a Brexit divided pro-capitalist elite who use the masses as voting fodder to settle which of their sides gets the biggest share of our communally created wealth in the future. From the perspective of the bulk of humanity within the UK and Europe as well as the rest of the world, Brexit is a trivial distracting pantomime that solves none of the crucial economic, financial, political, ecological and climate issues facing the bulk of humanity and the planet.

R. Ratcliffe (January 2019)

Posted in Critique | 5 Comments


Recent events, again reveal that for the capitalist elite, business considerations, come before all else. Profit and revenue streams are exposed as the twin real-world Gods worshipped by the capitalist class. It is the single-minded pursuit of profit which can and often does, render the capitalist class indifferent to any remnants of morality or humanity that remain within their ‘official’ world views and adopted religions. This observation is nothing new. In Capital volume 1, Marx included the following quote in his chapter on the genesis of Industrial capital;

“…With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 percent, will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 percent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent, positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, or a risk it will not run…” (Quoted in Capital volume 1 Page 760.)

It is a matter of historical record, that business as usual during the formative stages of the domination of capital, involved chasing resources for profit whatever this involved and wherever they could be found – even if this was at sea or on foreign soil. But I suggest that in substance it hasn’t really changed since those earlier times. I have frequently heard from capitalist apologists that modern capitalism is no longer the raw predatory system it was during its early development or it’s later colonialist and imperialist forms. Killing people who get in the way, armed invasions, conquest and slavery in pursuit of profit are alleged to be things of the past. Except, when we stop to think about it – ‘everybody knows’ – they are not. Slavery has just morphed into modern forms – so much so that detection and prosecution of it now has a place in law enforcement in many countries. Armed invasions have not really ended, they have merely been scientifically modernised, and new pretences invented to justify them. Similarly, the killing of opponents by political elites is still practised with impunity. Only a few decades ago in 1983, for example, an Amnesty International Report on ‘Political Killings by Governments’ noted that;

“Day after day Amnesty International receives reports of deliberate killings by the army and the police, by other regular security forces, by special units created to function outside normal supervision…by government assassins…… Or tortured before they are killed…….Sometimes, the killings are ordered at the highest level of government….Governments try to cover up the fact that they have committed political killings. They deny that the killings have taken place…” (Amnesty 1983 page 5, emphasis added, RR)

Does any of that ring a bell in 2018? With the development of drones and smart bombs, the situation has got even worse in the years since 1983. Agents of governments getting up close and personal to ‘bump someone off’ has been largely superseded; by considerable global distance, the use of a satellite linked computer screen and a button to press; but not completely. The cases of Kelly, Litvinenko, Skripal and now Khashoggi – to mention only the most recent ones – have indicated that ‘specialists’ in that most inhumane line of business as usual are still being paid out of citizen’s tax payments. Presumably they are salaried and/or rewarded whether they bungle the operation or not.

Whatever we think of these and other state orchestrated violent actions, under the capitalist mode of production, most of us have no say in what is done by the state in our name. That also goes for the deployment and delivery of weapons of mass murder/destruction as when a countries combatants and non-combatants are frequently bombed into oblivion. Whether the atrocities are large or small, we are paying for the ordinance and delivery systems to eradicate members of our species at the whim and fancy of a select few in the highest positions of political, bureaucratic and military power. We can protest and demonstrate, but to no avail.

How states get away with individual murders.

To get away with murder it helps to have friends in high places. Control of a nation-state is even better. However, you still need friends in those high places. That way the crime scene can be cleansed of evidence, and specialist teams of detectives will be held back and not allowed to follow the evidence or given permission to become fully operational. It helps also to have an embassy which is off limits to independent scrutiny and where such activities can be planned and ‘executed’. Otherwise, once a murder is suspected, yellow tape goes up, police cordons are deployed, forensic experts move in, suspects are rounded up, DNA samples are taken from walls, ceilings, carpets, vehicles, people, clothing and processed methodically. The states elite can avoid or circumvent such inconvenient details and processes and just deny anything happened. Or if that’s not possible, deny any connection with the obvious chain of events.

Mysterious (or mythical) rogue elements can also be blamed or invented, for any undeniable atrocity, or failing that, the obvious perpetrators can be temporarily arrested and then released for lack of evidence – easy, since the evidence is no longer there. Later, sometimes much later, perpetrators can be rewarded as they were undoubtedly promised prior to their calculated inhumanity. In an extreme case with potential negative repercussions a fall guy or two can be sacrificed to the expediency of engineering a ‘satisfactory’ (sic) closure to the whole business. That way everyone can be effectively encouraged to move on. This pattern is as old as the existence of organised and armed elites and despite modern universal human rights rhetoric and due process legal requirements, it is still repeated – as everybody knows. What is perhaps relatively new is a return by the modern elites to the arrogant brazeness of the ancient elites when confronted with their malfeasance.

Such brazeness is demonstrated in the case of the assassination of the Saudi critic Khashoggi. Even without access to the Turkish tape recordings, everybody knows roughly what happened, who was involved and who in a highly authoritarian elite system must have authorised the brutal assassination, but that doesn’t matter. The elite strategy is to just keep denying it. And it seems as if official denial will work yet again. Of course it only works because economic considerations and its companion in crime political considerations, come before everything else. Real estate investments, oil company supply chains, weapons sales, financial deals and the profit streams that flow into the bank accounts of the elites, all must be protected by silence or turning a blind eye. Individual human rights remain as just abstractions on paper, more in the form of window dressing to cover up what is really going on inside the system, than descriptions of what will actually happen. In reality all this plausible (and implausible) denial is just business as usual. And it’s the same with mass murder.

Getting away with murder on a massive scale.

It cannot have escaped the notice of anyone other than those not in contact with any form of information, that large-scale murder is being perpetrated in many parts of the world, particularly in the middle east and Africa and that the weapons and support vehicles supplied to carry out these large scale murders are manufactured in highly developed capitalist countries. In other words supplying the means of killing on a large scale is business as usual for a number of branches of capitalist production. Without large scale killing, weapons manufacturers would have to shut up shop or manufacture other things and ancillary suppliers would have to down size their manufacturing capacity. There is therefore, among some sections of capitalist industry, a perverse material incentive to be content with global instability and hostility if not a motive to actively promote it, via their political and military connections.

Since war has long been good for business, a period of mass murder as currently practiced in Syria and Yemen, by bombing, shelling, missile delivery, for example, must be openly or secretly welcomed by those who manufacture these body shredding and building shattering materials and the means to deliver them against their unfortunate victims. What profitable months and years these last decades must have been for these manufacturers of tools of calculated inhumanity and genocide and their shareholders. War profiteering, of course, is as old as war, but of course it doesn’t stop at guns and bombs. Destructive hostilities must also be seen as a boon by other sections of the capitalist economic and political elite also; for after destruction comes reconstruction.

Architects, engineers, construction companies, building supplies, etc., are usually eager to step into the newly created apocalyptic landscape and profit from such war-delivered opportunities. As far as I am aware, the profits made by the Anglo-Saxon military industrial complex during the first and second Gulf Wars, have never been publicly assessed, but there were glimpses of the billions made and disappearing during the post-invasion reconstruction free for all in Iraq once Saddam had been toppled. My guess is the combined profits of destruction, supply and reconstruction, if known, would be astronomical and that much of the money will have been ploughed into the life – styles of the rich along with the campaign funds of political parties dedicated to keep the insanity of economic competition and war moving along.

This is without mentioning the thousands upon thousands of dead, men, women and children and the devastated lives of millions of human beings – which in fact, along with profiteering, is also rarely mentioned in the popular media. Indeed, it would be hard in imagination to devise such a perverse incentive as the economic reality developed under capitalism. The complimentary and ‘logically’ (yes logically in terms of capital) reinforcing activity cycle of calculated profitable competition, followed by profitable destruction of a competitor or reluctant client, followed by calculated profitable reconstruction, is a form of collective insanity for the human species in economic terms, let alone in species terms. No other species routinely works out the means to destroy large numbers of its own kind and then implements these means on a systematic and regular basis. Two capitalist inspired World Wars in the 20th century, with tens of millions dead and scarcely a year without some military activity or slow genocide since, are examples of this schizophrenic insanity promoted by the elite and their capitalist mode of production. The incessant continuity of this creative destruction and self – destruction also denies in reality the recent hypocritical rhetoric of remembrance.

The probable wishes of the millions who died fighting the 1914-18 war, a war to end all wars that they signed up for has been largely ignored as well as forgotten by those elite, wreath laying, hypocrites who have not only benefited economically from the deaths they celebrate, but benefit politically from appearing to care about this ultimate sacrifice of a generation. All this celebratory saluting and posturing they invariably carry out before (or even after) signing the orders to bomb this or that city or town in some far away place or mobilise yet more armed troops to meddle in yet another proxy war. Yet such was the experience of the horrors of total war and the inhumanity war created in the 19th and 20th centuries, that bourgeois ideology was obliged to at least insert some theoretical distance between itself and the most extreme forms of aggressive economic expansion.

The production of a Human rights rhetoric.

Ideas for ‘a perpetual peace’ and ‘Courts of Arbitration’, had been launched in the late 18th century (Kant) and early 19th, but American elites (James, Taft, Carnegie et al) led the way in the 19th and 20th with formation of a number of organisations such as the ‘Association for International Conciliation’. The main motivation of many of the US elites, whose donations and prestige headed the ‘peace movement’ at that time, was not wanting to interrupt business as usual. The reason being that at that time America had won enough territory and resources by war from the Native Indians and Mexico, it had no urgent need for further expansion. Not so in Europe. The industries of many small developing capitalist countries were already outgrowing their resource base and market access and many of their business and political leaders were eager for more of both. The dominant elite just needed an excuse. Hence, the Crimean War (or, Britain and France preventing a land grab by Russia – thousands dead!) and then the first full-on block buster performance – the First World War (Britain and France countering a land grab by Germany and achieving their own land grab in the middle east – millions dead!) followed by the second atomic performance in World War Two (countering German and Japanese land grabs – many millions dead).

Very little peace, conciliation, arbitration or humanity between nations were displayed during those years. Nevertheless, the prosecution of the Nazi elite form of aggressive expansion at Nuremburg in 1945-46, required some sophisticated intellectual rebuff to their actual war conduct as it did with regard to Japan. This was done by western legal representatives mining the thin layers of humanist thinking laid down between the many centuries of sectarian intellectual sediment deposited by competitive religious elites. Intellectual fossils of humanism were found and retrieved amid the detritus of religious, racist and eugenic nonsense which had by then spread it’s suffocating and distorting cloud upon human thinking across the globe. However, in these so-called human rights provisions of the reinvigorated League of Nations/United Nations, etc., armed hostilities were not to be ended! How could they be under an expansive, industrialised competitive form of economic production such as capitalism? Everybody knew war was economics and politics by other means.

However, in future civilian targets were to be excluded from any armed outcomes of this capitalist competitive struggle for markets and resources. At least that was the theory underlying the much vaunted political rhetoric. Yet how often has that provision been fulfilled in practice? Was it fulfilled in the Korean War? In the Vietnam War? And what about the armed invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Libya, Syria and now Yemen? To understand this bicamerial mentality (or split personality) of the modern pro-capitalist elite we need to recognise that the capitalist mode of production is now a global economic system with an insatiable appetite for resources and markets. Elites living within the countries with the most advanced productive techniques will use every method to ensure their producers get the most resources and markets possible. In a sense, they have to do this because the capitalist method of production is the foundation upon which their entire lives depend. Unless they undergo a sudden epiphany and wake up to the fact that their system and their role in it is the problem for humanity and not the solution, they will blindly carry on.

So the fact that there exist eloquent discourses and solemn documents containing ideas of human rights and the need for due processes does not mean they will always be acted upon. Indeed, if such ideas get in the way of business as usual, in all probability they will not be. That is the message openly delivered by Donald Trump to the press when asked about possible censure over the assassination and dismemberment of the mildly dissident Khashoggi as well as the bombing and starvation of the people of Yemen. You see accommodation to the needs of the regime which implemented these callous and brutal acts is good for business. They invest a lot in America and UK and buy a lot of American and British products, particularly weapons. Left unsaid in many such interviews was the fact that a lot of profitable investments in Saudi are made by American and European elite individuals and businesses which may be threatened by any form of censure of the perpetrators of these crimes. Hence the almost universal lack of robust condemnation or meaningful action.

Business as usual for many of the elite means eagerly cutting deals with dictators, strong men and perpetrators of genocide as long as the profit or salary is large and safe enough. The unique thing about Donald Trump is that he is brazen enough to admit it openly. You see, its a no-brainer for a capitalist with no moral aversion to crimes against others. Dictators and strong men can offer near monopolies, prime locations and guarantees to favoured people and so cultivating a friendly working relationship with such regimes (Saudi, Russia, North Korea etc.) is often a temptation too strong for some – including Mr Trump and his family. However, he (and they) are not alone, as you might think from the barrage of criticism he is getting from a section of his class and the media. Many others in America, UK and around the globe adopt the same business strategy but unlike the current US President they like to pretend to be appalled at such horrors. This allows them to appear different in substance to such openly brazen representatives of their class. But behind any crocodile tears their substance is just the same as Donald’s. It is the location and capture of profitable returns on capital and negotiating sources of revenue stream. Most of the political and business elite, after uttering or muttering disapproving platitudes are happy to keep their focus on the personal upside and maintain a discrete silence with regard to the ‘dark side’ of business as usual with authoritarian regimes.

For this reason, looking the other way, turning a blind eye along with initiating competitive wars of one kind or another, (economic, financial, military or civil) are an inevitable consequence of the elites own survival as a class. And since most of the elite will not be in the direct firing line, the decision to unleash military engagements and engage in regional armed conflicts will be taken far more easily than would otherwise be the case. This itself is bad enough, one might think, but human focussed destructive war is not the only war ‘business as usual’ capitalism is engaged in. The very same underlying assumptions of the competitive need for profit and ever increasing productivity in production techniques and methodologies requires, the most cost – effective forms of energy supply, resource extraction, transport systems, distribution networks and waste disposal methods. Whilst cost-effective does not necessarily mean the cheapest and easiest (although it often does) it does imply it will certainly not be the most expensive and safe methods which will be chosen.

Getting away with killing other species.

The past cycles of ‘business as usual’ governed by capital has led to the present situation of extensive air, sea and land pollution, climate change, species reduction and even species extinction. The incessant search for raw materials with which to manufacture commodities, the need to sell them on a massive scale in order to realise the surplus-value embodied within them has led to large scale overproduction. Overproduction of commodities, overproduction of manufacturing waste products, overproduction of energy sources (carbon and nuclear) and the overproduction of used and abandoned products is now – business as usual for capitalism. The phenomena of relative over-production still exist (ie. producing more than can be sold at a profit), but in terms of, climate change, fresh water use, air and sea quality we are approaching absolute industrial overproduction. And in spite of that obvious fact most of the elite think we need even more production and productivity!

Yet these aspects of business as usual amounts to the equivalent of a war against the natural world as it evolved over millions of years to sustain all forms of life. Since the natural world of climate, weather patterns, air, water and soil quality, are the foundations upon which nature and humanity has evolved and upon which we still depend, this industrialised war against all these natural resources is also an indirect war against – ourselves! It is another example of the near insanity of a species which is now – courtesy of capitalist mode of production – producing tools and processes aimed at it’s own partial or absolute (ie. nuclear) destruction. This is not only directly through competitive wars involving genocidal levels of attrition but also indirectly through the incessant destruction of the very basis for our own natural existence.

Global capitalism is akin to a huge factory churning shiny new and enticing gadgets and objects out of the front door whilst at the same time oozing out dangerous liquid and powdered chemical filth from the rear door and belching out noxious poisonous fumes from its chimneys. But because as consumers most of us have become so enamoured and fixated with the gadgets and gizmo’s pouring out the shop front that we choose to ignore or tolerate the fatal contamination of our environment via an endless discharge out of its less than enticing and frequently putrid backside. (genuine Eco-Warriors are excepted from this criticism.) For this reason the existence of a 24 hour, 7 days per week, global production, consumption and disposal system will continue for now – and all the consequences briefly outlined here (and elsewhere) are likely to increase. For like drug addicts, the capitalist elite are on the one hand in receipt of a huge profit-stream, fiscal ‘high’ from the investments and sales of the gizmos/gadgets and on the other, in a state of denial about the long term effects of their addiction to profit on the health of the entire planet.


We need not be fooled by the capitalists and pro – capitalist politicians into thinking that working people need capitalism to provide jobs otherwise we would all be homeless and starving. This is a frequent ill-thought out threat presented by politicians and pundits who thereby only demonstrate their own ignorance and bias. For a start many people are homeless and starving whilst living under the capitalist mode of production and the numbers are rapidly increasing not reducing. Second, not all occupations which earn a living are based upon the return of profit from capital. Elsewhere on this blog I pointed out that all the states employees (local and national) in all countries are working for non – profit organisational forms and that includes the well paid political class and many of the simple minded pundits noted above. Third, not all forms of production need to be polluting and most skills are transferable. The skills it takes to design and manufacture a complex weapon can be transferred to making medical equipment or something else not lethal. Planning for destruction can be transferred to planning for construction or reconstruction. Most human skills are transferable and where not, new skills can be learned given sufficient incentive.

With time and commitment available to produce much needed commodities, (ie without the need to make a profit) waste can be minimised, and methods devised to minimise or eliminate excessive energy use. There are alternatives to producing for profit and already two – thirds of workers in advanced countries are employed in non-profit public services and often on better terms and conditions than those in the private sector. So we needn’t be fooled by the pro – capitalist lament that we need to work faster and work for less or they will take their profit-making, precarious, polluting jobs elsewhere, for there are alternatives. And I don’t mean the state-capitalist alternatives of Fascism, Bolshevism or Maoism. It just requires the will, determination and numbers to make some radical and revolutionary changes. And yes another world is possible because half of it (the public and cooperative sectors) has already come into being. They just need extending to all, democratising and redirecting into saving the planet and it’s inhabitants rather than destroying them.

The bulk of Humanity may not yet want to recognise, fully understand or positively confront any of aspects of the six – fold crisis of the capitalist mode of production, but that doesn’t mean they will be shielded from its effects. The looming crisis in one or other of the six areas (financial; social; political; economic; environmental; or legal) will visit them sooner or later, if it has not done so already. Sadly, modes of production are not changed by people until these crisis symptoms have negatively impacted the lives of more than just the usual exploited and oppressed groups of society. The latter have learned to put up with the many negative aspects of the system they have been born into. On the other hand, those who currently benefit from the system, marginally or otherwise, are yet to wake up to the full import of their pro-capitalist actions and ideas. The crisis in one form or another may have to shake them quite violently to finally rouse them out of their virtual dream world of present and future technological fixes and face stark reality. Meanwhile keeping alternative ideas alive and in the public domain is the best that us old revolutionary-humanists and exhausted activists can do.

Roy Ratcliffe (November 2018)

For those interested in the ‘Business as usual’ phenomena in the realm of British politics, I recommend; ‘Parliament Ltd.’ (A journey into the dark heart of British politics) by Martin Williams. Although he arrives at reformist conclusions the evidence he uncovers is compelling.

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A wrecking ball is an extremely blunt instrument used in the demolition trade to demolish crumbling and outmoded buildings. It is less destructive than the explosive charges used to bring down tall buildings, but like that method it also smashes through everything in its path. It is not an instrument capable of selective targeting. Masonry, glass, wood are all the same to this swinging ball of metal on a long chain. Metaphorically speaking, the western pro-capitalist political elites have for decades directed economic and political wrecking balls against the living standards of the working classes of their respective countries. They have swung them repeatedly at the trade unions and all but demolished these defensive institutions of the working classes.

The political elite of all complexions have swung economic and political wrecking balls at the wages of working people and reduced these to the point where wages for millions are below official poverty levels. Not content with this punitive level of demolition w ork, the elites have also swung austerity wrecking balls at many of the public institutions which for a time ameliorated the lives of working people. Libraries, Museums, Parks, Swimming Pools and Youth Clubs are among the low-cost services used by working people, in their leisure time which have disappeared or been allowed to atrophy. Free higher education, which allowed some children of working people, to attend university has been abolished in favour of imposing considerable financial obstacles and burdens on those dedicated individuals who persist in trying.

In addition, the landscape and infrastructure of many working class towns and villages looks as if an actual wrecking ball has been at work in some areas whilst in other places, boarded up shops, factories and commercial properties look as if they are just waiting for their turn to receive the same destructive attention. Within the span of one generation hope and aspiration for a better future has all but died within the working classes of Europe and North America. Over the same period the promises made by a once grateful capitalist elite for the working class sacrifices during the Second World War, have been cast aside. Everything, working people have previously done; strikes, demonstrations, petitions, appeals, letters to the media, formation of self-help groups, community initiatives etc.; have failed to stem the progressive destruction of their communities, by the neo-liberal policies promoted by all political parties.

For decades, no matter which traditional political party, (left, right or centre) got in power, the wrecking balls were relentlessly targeted toward the demolition of working class communities. Resistance has proved futile. But this process has left a strong legacy of resentment and anger based upon the unfairness of the present mode of production. For example; after interviewing over 5,000 people from depressed communities in France and Germany, the authors of a report (‘Return to the Politically Abandoned’ at, concluded the following;

“Media and politics at the national level are criticised for not having properly adopted this ‘citizens agenda’. This problem also results in a sense of unfairness and disadvantage. As such, when people in these regions devalue others, especially migrants, they do so as a reaction to their own experiences of devaluation (this follows the ‘logic of comparative devaluation’). Importantly, the interviews demonstrated no intrinsic patterns of xenophobia.”

This research replicates that done in the UK by Demos (see ‘Neglected Voices’ on this blog and/or for the original documentation.) and shares similar conclusions. Since everything else has so far failed, this has led to a new tactic by some workers. No longer able to promote beneficial reforms, actively resist or attempt to reverse the neo-liberal direction of capitalism, many working class voters have found an alternative way to at least partially hit back at the existing state of affairs. This alternative, has taken the form of voting for political candidates, (where they surface) who are in some way or another anti-establishment. Any new political candidates with convincing rhetoric against the liberal left perpetrators of neo-liberal economic policies and their divisive pursuit of identity politics, is enough to attract a vote from sections of the working class. The backing of such candidates, often right wing radical ones, is frequently a temporary expression of ‘the enemy of my enemy, is my friend syndrome. A mistaken tactic indeed, but in the present circumstances an understandable one.

There is undoubtedly a hope among many voters that such candidates, if elected, will at least take a ruthless intellectual and public swipe at the world view of the neo-liberal elite of left, centre and right persuasions. And a hope among many others that such candidates once elected will take a legislative wrecking ball to many of the established economic policies and state – funded stipends of the current self-satisfied political classes and their supporters in the media. That very few such radical candidates have emerged from the left of the political spectrum explains why many workers have chosen right – wing radicals to mount a frontal assault against aspects of the ‘system’. This in part explains the attraction in the USA, of Donald Trumps slogans of ‘draining the swamp’; and, ‘making America great again’, along with his war of words with much of the news media. It also goes some way to explaining the vote for Brexit in the UK. The job for the boys European Parliament swamp is much resented by many unemployed workers and those in poorly paid precarious employment. Getting out of the EC can be viewed as one way of stopping mega payments going to line the trough which the bureaucrats are getting fat from. And this tactic is spreading.

The election of Messias Bolsonaro in Brazil is yet another example of what I have metaphorically characterised as wrecking ball politics developing in the western hemisphere. As noted above, other examples have been the election of Donald Trump in the USA and the Brexit vote in the UK. My contention is that a section of the electorate in Europe and the west have all but given up with the bourgeois establishment parties of right, left and centre and since in contemporary politics there are no viable alternatives, they are not just voting against the established parties but voting for what can appear to be wrecking ball candidates. That is to say that the voter disgust in the crumbling outdated political structures and state institutions of the west (and their elite incumbants) has not quite reached the conclusion to pull the whole economic and political edifice down and erect something different, but large numbers are happy to see a wrecking ball in the form of a maverick politician swung at certain aspects of it.

In the USA, Donald Trump, during the election campaign, promised to take a swing at the ‘job-robbing’ global industrialists, (and instead create jobs for American workers) he promised another big swing at the establishment-biased media (characterised as manufacturers of fake news) and yet another swing at the jobs-for-the-boys establishment corruption, (also metaphorically characterised as draining the Washington swamp), all of which he did in speech after speech. Since election he has continued to do so. Perhaps that was all a section of the electorate expected of him and as long as he keeps doing this he fulfils such limited expectations. Republican retention of the recent senate elections would seem to confirm this, even if losing the house does not. Other supporters of Mr Trump may have other expectations, but of course Mr Trump is a commercially based capitalist and his political wrecking ball swings have his own pro-capitalist agenda to guide it. Consequently he will only take a swing at those things get in the way of his view of how US capitalism should function.

Incidentally, the recently publicised difference between the so – called nationalism of Donald Trump and the internationalism of Macron, around the remembrance events of the 1st World War, is a manufactured sham. Capitalism and its competitive impulse cannot be contained within the geographical limits of a continent, let alone a single country, as the two World Wars demonstrated. [see ‘1914 – 18, Capitalism’s First World War’, etc., on this blog] Both of these elites – as with all global elites – have vested economic and financial interests across the globe, whether as businesses, investments or lucrative consultancies. However, with the exception of countries within the European Community, their political interests can only be served within the boundaries of the nation state. Hence, their contradictory assertions.

Brussels, while it lasts, offers yet another lucrative avenue for some failed European politicians as the trajectory of the greedy UK Kinnock family dynasty illustrates. The source of many apparent contradictions and split personalities among such elites is to be found within these two areas of the capitalist mode of production. Their economic and financial interests have long outgrown national boundaries, whilst their electoral interests have not. As a consequence, what emphasis such elites place upon each aspect or how often they irritate each other and fall out can vary from time to time. Their deeply divided minds reflect their deeply divided interests.

In France, disillusionment with establishment politics of left, right and centre saw the election of Macron as a more polished and refined European wrecking ball to take what was thought of by many voters as a much needed demolition of party political corruption – in all its forms. Predictably, this personification of a French pro-capitalist political wrecking ball has also his own class agenda and has already targeted the socio-economic interests of the very voters who helped to push him into the political arena. Now it is the turn of Brazil and here we see, perhaps more clearly, the reason for the election of a maverick with an anti-establishment agenda. The corruption of the liberal socialist left in Brazil, with its top – down state controlled agenda, has disgusted many voters who aren’t dependent upon patronising state handouts. This dependency also indicates why this form of left retains its popularity amongst those who cannot see beyond the domination of capital.

However, to continue with the slum clearance analogy: in real ‘on site’ demolition work, wrecking balls don’t always swing in the way the onlookers would like them to. Even the operators can be at risk from an accidental trajectory if it unexpectedly swings toward them. Like an unrestrained pendulum wrecking balls can actually flail this way and that and they can also be directed at one or two targets most of us would not want to be hit. And of course, that is exactly what is happening with the election of these political wrecking balls. Things are still getting worse for working people despite any amused satisfaction at the infighting among the political elite. How long it will take, or how many undeserved targets will be needed to be hit for the personified wrecking ball tactic to work its way out of the voting psychology, is not easy to calculate. However, wrecking balls, even political ones, are not tools for construction but are only good for destruction and this will eventually become clear to everyone, as will the need for an alternative strategy instead of  a limited tactic.

Meanwhile, the spectacle of the pro-establishment left and right verbally jousting with each other and maintaining that only they are the arbitrators of ‘truth’ and consequently the only reliable shepherds of struggling humanity, is at least extremely amusing. Providing that is, that the working classes don’t get drawn like lambs to the slaughter into joining one political side or the other and become irreconcilably split over which set of arrogant exploiters and oppressors they would prefer to be ruled by. If this should occur it would certainly not be a laughing matter. For that way engineered political divisions can be eventually transformed by degrees into civil discord and civil discord can then be manipulated into civil wars as well as international wars.

That is to say the type of wars, in which the working classes become the two opposed sets of cannon fodder in furtherance of rival elite supported solutions to the crisis of the capitalist mode of production. This is no empty or wild assertion for such a political bifurcation and divisive downward progression occurred in at least four European countries during the 1920’s and 1930’s (Italy, Germany, France and Spain, for example) and has again occurred in the countries which took part in the 21st century Arab Spring – Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. These represent further examples of the slippery slope of choosing an apparent lesser evil and watching it become the evil it had previously manage to mask. And all those those sequential politically engineered transitions from initial hope to desolate tragedy have been anything but a laughing matter.

Roy Ratcliffe (November 2018)

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Thinking and language.

It is obvious that thinking precedes language and that thinking does not entirely depend upon language. New born babies do not have language skills, which they have yet to acquire, but anyone bringing up children from birth know that new-born’s are thinking. Their eyes, ears, taste and touch senses are very soon operating satisfactorily and the experiences gained are being processed and stored in their developing brains. Staring, head movement, smiles, and coos, along with cries and occasional giggles on being tickled are the main outward expressions of the fact that thinking is going on in their heads. Well before they can speak, they can find things funny, which requires a sophisticated brain process of knowing something is different and in a certain context that difference is also funny. Indeed, I also know from direct experience, that babies between 1 or 2 years old, before they can speak can learn to communicate with their parents by sign language, if only by a limited number of signs. This, pattern of learning and development through into adulthood is evidence, that thinking does not require language or any previous form of two way communication, but it is also evidence that language acquisition requires thinking.

Indeed, we humans have the ability to think about language and understand its many contradictions, if we care to. Undoubtedly, thinking should determine the language we use, but if we are not careful language can also determine how we think. These facts, along with the knowledge that many animals and birds think and even reason, without spoken and written language, does not diminish the importance of language in the development of human thinking. Language has been rightly claimed to be one of the most important social inventions and developments that humanity has created and crafted. Its acquisition and development over thousands of years has undoubtedly had effects upon the evolutionary expansion of human knowledge and skills along with the increased capacity of the brain. Language undoubtedly accelerates individual learning by codifying and socialising knowledge within and across communities and generations. Language is how we get most of our information about and knowledge of the world. Language has become part of what it is to be human. So much so that children in general become fluent speakers, well before school age. Indeed, it is hard to get them to keep quiet as question after question is uttered in search of information to expand their understanding and vocabulary.

However, language is such powerful and versatile tool that we know from experience that it can be used in four distinct ways. First; to impart accurate information. Second; to obscure, distort or deny accurate information. Third; to spread misinformation or disinformation. Fourth, to create imaginary information. I think it fair to say that all members of the human species use language in each of the four above – noted ways in their daily lives. Consequently, we have all been in receipt of a mix of accurate information, inaccurate information, misinformation, disinformation and imaginary information, delivered by strangers, friends, family members and even our most intimate partners. And, if we are honest, perhaps being guilty of those other uses of language ourselvelves. Nevertheless, accurate information is commonly held to be the preferred default mode for the ‘civilised’ and humanist use of language. However, it must be obvious to almost everyone, that in fact outside of good science, history and academic discourse, language in the public domain is used more to avoid accuracy than to enhance it. Capitalist sales and marketing, for example, more often than not, use language in the second way to avoid telling accurate information about some aspect of their products, services or production processes.

Politicians, Governments and Financial Institutions, all indulge in the use of language in the second and third way, to spread misinformation or disinformation about actions and decisions, they would prefer their citizens or voters not to have an accurate knowledge about. If dodgy dossiers and state-sponsored poisonings are not enough to convince the reader of this practice, following the ‘official’ language used by the various state elites around the ‘disappearance’ of the Saudi critic Khashoggi, should do so. That particular example will provide the reader with the latest, and an even more bizarre example than usual, of this second and third misuse of language by elites. Coincidentally, in an article printed in the Washington Post in the aftermath of his disappearance and later admitted death, Mr Khashoggi, had written;

“A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche,…and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative.”

Of course Mr Khashoggi was referring to the Saudi State, but his remarks are equally applicable to many other states and even those with a modicum of press freedom, come pretty close to emulating this domination of the public psyche with false narratives. Its simply how elites operate to survive, they just can’t help themselves. And although fiction writers are the ones who predominantly use language in the fourth way (to produce imaginary information), it cannot have escaped our notice that, this fourth category also makes frequent appearances across the board in commercials, newspapers, the above-noted dodgy government dossiers, ‘official’ investigations, state cover ups and carefully crafted political statements.

For the record, although not usual, imaginary/fictitious information is not entirely unknown in science, history and academic discourse; statistics have been frequently made up, dubious hypothesis often described as fact, creative imagination woven skilfully to assert, connect and even disconnect historical facts. Nevertheless, despite numerous malicious aberrations such as those mentioned above, the humanist essence of language use I suggest ought to be the accurate conveyance of information between each other. None of us like being mislead, even though it happens to us all the time under the present class based mode of production. So in this third article I will continue to make the case that revolutionary-humanists should aim for the utmost accuracy in their use of language and should challenge misinformation and disinformation and inaccuracy whenever and wherever it arises. I suggest, a healthy criticism of almost everything that exists is much better advice, than believe everything you read or hear.

Word accuracy and meaning.

In the first article in this series of three (ie Ways of Thinking -1 ) I shared a list of stages in a process of thinking which combines the best aspects of materialist and idealist thinking and builds upon them to embrace a dialectical method of understanding grounded in reality. The first of these stages stressed the need to accurately know what something is identified as – ie word accuracy. This is important in public written discourse, because that is different than personal dialogue. In spoken dialogue, language and meaning can be dependent on context and how a word is stressed, but that context can be entirely missing in written communication. The author Dostoyevski in one of his diaries recorded how he heard six drunken male friends use the same inappropriate swear word with different stresses, volumes and body movements to express six different views on the same issue during their way home from the inn. I am sure the reader can confirm a similar or parallel example to that from their own experience. Among close friends and partners it is often the case that sentences started by one friend can be completed by another. This dialogue aspect of language is – in most cases – a directly negotiated communication where meaning can be communicated by body language, volume, tone, facial expression and prior understanding as well as fewer words. In dialogue, word accuracy is not always essential, for meaning, even if it is always desirable.

A recognition of this fluidity with regards to the words and concepts chosen in communication suggests the following. That in serious written or spoken communication of a factual kind, the accurate use of words and descriptions is necessary for at least two reasons. First, because the negotiated context and emotional contact of direct speech communication is missing. Second, because deliberate or accidental use of inaccurate words and descriptions leads to confused, mistaken or distorted thinking. Furthermore, in a world in which most of our information and knowledge comes to us via others, rather than our own direct experience, we need extra care. When important issues are being considered, we at least need to be sure that words and concepts are being used accurately. It is here that we need to recognise the effect upon language and thought of modes of production in which there are unequal class divisions. In such cases, the dominant class, tends to monopolise the production of information and ideas, via its domination and control of those occupations which demand a high degree of literacy and self-confidence. As Marx noted;

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch, the ruling ideas: ie., the class which is the ruling ‘material’ force of society is at the same time its ruling ‘intellectual’ force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations,….” (Marx. ‘The German Ideology’. Section 3.)

This ideological domination leads to an increase in the frequency of monologues, in which the representatives of the ruling class tell the rest of the population what to think and how to think via the media in all its forms – school, church, cinema, television, radio, magazines, newspapers, books, pamphlets, posters, etc. With few exceptions, all of these deliver un-negotiated, unchallenged, monologues to the rest of society. Thus there is a constant stream of one – way communication via the designated ‘expert’ representatives of the systems ideological workforce. Only by way of exception do voices which explore the deep seated contradictions of capitalism reach the ears of the oppressed and exploited. In contrast, this bourgeois and petite – bourgeois directed monologue of communication attempts to describe the capitalist mode of production, from which they benefit, in the most positive ways. When negatives are noted they are generally characterised as unintentional consequences, to be gradually reformed rather than structural contradictions, which are an integral part of the capitalist socio-economic system.

Language and borrowed thinking.

The result of this constant barrage of biased, language-based information is that a lot of it is uncritically absorbed by those who are subjected to it. It enters the store of knowledge in peoples brains as borrowed thinking, only later to re-emerge as if it were actually their own thinking. Of course, there is no serious problem with this monologue process, as long as what is borrowed from it is accurate. Accepting accurate information and understanding from others, as the basis for, and supplement of, ones own direct experience and understanding, is an important aspect of the social life of humanity. But under complex and unequal societies, such as ours, it is up to the receiver of information to check and ensure accuracy and not to assume it. For, as noted above, the second socio-economic use of language (to obscure and distort), the third socio-political use (to mis-inform or dis-inform) and the fourth entertainment based use (to create imaginary entities) are also part of what is transmitted by the representatives of the dominant class and these motives are frequently stitched together in colourful linguistic patchworks of skilful deception. Consequently these fabrications of facts, fictions, distortions and even omissions are part of what is received and borrowed.

So it stands to reason, that various strands of this mixture of accurate, distorted, misinformed, dis-informed, and imaginary information also enters into the general understanding of populations and emerges later as the general consciousness of millions. Many of whom then exert a social pressure on others to conform to all sorts of inaccurate and misguided understandings that they have previously borrowed and absorbed. Relevant examples, of such borrowed thinking, to this particular article being that men are cleverer than women; that human beings are split into biological races; that nations, capitalists and workers are a ‘natural’ geographical and economic phenomena. And again it doesn’t matter how many people think something is correct, that fact does not by itself mean that it is. As previously noted, millions thought the earth was flat and that the sun went round the earth, but that huge number didn’t mean that they were correct.

With the above in mind, any honest reader will hopefully admit (at least to themselves) that much of their knowledge and opinions have been taken on trust from ‘official’ (or non-official) sources and therefore, in actual fact have been borrowed – before later being accepted as their own. These authoritative sources, will have been parents, teachers, significant others, preachers of their particular religion, politicians, newspapers, television, radio, books, magazines etc. For this reason all of us need to question what we think we ‘know’ far more than we have been accustomed to do. For the question arises as to how many of these sources of our knowledge are accurate or have not had their own particular slant or twist on things added to the monologues directed at our eyes and ears. And also how many of these ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ information agencies are simply regurgitating information and opinion they too have previously uncritically borrowed from other sources?

The chain of serial information and opinion borrowers along with promoters of myth and misinformation can be surprisingly and revealingly long. This process, once recognised, should alert us to the fact that much of what we have learned needs to be at least challenged and in a great many cases, actually overturned. And I don’t just mean the obvious fictional cases of the alleged existence of angels, unicorns, tooth fairies, father Xmas, Yeti’s, alien abductors or those mentioned earlier. My experience – if it is typical in any way – suggests that too much already threadbare ‘hand-me-down’ knowledge, spread by written and oral language over generations, is still circulating as fact, when there is no evidence to substantiate its validity. Indeed, we should be quite dismayed that much of the knowledge we have taken on trust and paid for in various ways, was in fact incomplete, misleading, distorted or even frequently more in the nature of fiction rather than fact.

How else than borrowing and assimilating ideas can we account for the fact that millions of children over successive generations across continents were (and are) born without any understanding of religion or any thoughts of an invisible, all – powerful male god, end up believing, without a shred of reliable evidence, one or other of the sectarian versions of these warring patriarchal religious fantasies? Yet they do. The self-serving elite – generated ideologies such as religion, nationalism, sexism and racism, etc., have to be taught via language and learned in an atmosphere of fear or deference until they have become individually and collectively embedded ideological reflexes, reinforced by repetition, ritual and peer group pressure. There they stay in the memory structures of the brain until the elite need them to be fully acted upon. Defend your religion, your nation, your race, your gender; eventually one or more of these mantras become the linguistic calls to arms in which one section of humanity will, on the basis of flawed, borrowed thinking, be urged to denigrate or purge another section of humanity either intellectually or physically. And who can deny that this isn’t still being done and will not continue in the future?

Language and the struggle against oppression – 1.

As noted, one of the means of perpetuating and rationalising oppression and exploitation is via the use of language structured in such an ideological way that it plausibly denies that oppression, exploitation and discrimination are a structural part of the socio-economic system. The dominant ideology invariably blames one or other of the victims of the system for the predicament of another victim or for their own predicament. In the last article I gave the examples of how the poor are frequently blamed for their own poverty because of bad attitudes and/or culture. Yet in such cases, those so criticised and labelled are often unable to reply to their critics because they may lack the opportunity, the means, the skills or even the awareness of the need to question and argue an alternative. Yet one of the most basic and important skills for anyone regarding serious issues is to question every meaning in general and test the accuracy of the words being used in particular. This is because words are the building blocks of language and language is the means by which understanding or misunderstanding is transmitted. I suggest a successful struggle against oppression cannot be achieved on the basis of inaccurate words and misunderstandings borrowed from bourgeois ideology.

One of the most glaringly obvious inaccurate use of words (and associated concepts) in terms of bourgeois oppression of a large section of humanity is that arising from the adapted and then borrowed term ‘race’. The concept was developed by the European bourgeoisie in order to explain to themselves and others why they should be able to dominate the people and resources of the world. However, it was only fully perfected in the 19th century. Economic class and maleness had been used as a distinguishing feature to explain privilege and the lack of it for supposed lesser human beings (women and workers) within the newly developed capitalist nations. Capitalism, of course, is founded upon prejudice and discrimination of the most fundamental economic kind.

To use an analogy, discrimination and prejudice are part of capitalisms DNA. However, class and gender discrimination were inadequate concepts to apply to the people of foreign lands, when capital needed to systematically extend its theatre of operations across the globe. The idea of classifying peoples as distinct groups of varying supposedly inferior and superior characteristics and qualities, solved the intellectual and practical problem of occupation and resource extraction. The overall concept of discrimination just required a convenient term to label it with. The word ‘race’ was therefore developed to try to give some plausible explanation of why some human beings could and should be treated as curiosities or sources of cheap, coerced labour.

So in fact the concept of ‘race’ is a fictitious category and was invented to exaggerate secondary superficial differences in order to further mercantile and industrial exploitation during the Colonialist and Imperialist stages of capitals globalisation project. [See ‘The Invention of Race’, on this blog]. In a typically dualist and complimentary reflex two other words borrowed from the colour pallet and already conveniently associated with cleanliness and dirtiness became deliberately attached to the ideology of race – white and black – and was then applied to people. Hence forth bourgeois language contained two more associated fictions, for whilst there is discrimination based upon skin colour, there is no such skin colour as white and no such skin colour as black. Nevertheless, despite this obvious falsehood, bourgeois ideology was (and is) so dominant that it was able to impose these false categories and their derogatory associations into everyday consciousness.

Just how successful this double invention of false categories was is revealed in the following extract uttered by Senator James Eastland at ‘White Citizens Rally’ reproduced from Robert Caro’s book, ‘Master of the Senate’.

“In every stage of the [Montgomery] bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinking niggers…African flesh-eaters. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives…All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers.” (From ‘Master of the Senate’)

Although this fabricated distortion of reality was blurted out in 1956, the ideas it expressed still exist. Furthermore, because the words existed and persisted, it was assumed the borrowed categories associated with mythically created racial types, actually existed. Its use became so dominant that even those who were opposed to its purpose – exploitation and oppression of the other – nevertheless accepted the fiction and carried on using the borrowed terms.

Even many dark skinned people accepted the prejudiced description of being ‘black’ with the end result of perpetuating a double fiction about themselves as having black skin and of being a different race to those fictionalised as having white skin. Some only challenged the association of black as being without merit and the ‘black is beautiful’ movement displaced an incorrect aesthetic negative by a correct aesthetic positive but only at the expense of retaining the negative fictional dualisms of black and white skinned people and the equally fictional dualism of race as establishing superior and inferior races. And again it needs to be emphasised that just because the language and thinking of millions of individuals continues to operate with these fictional categories around ‘race’ created by bourgeois ideology and uncritically borrowed, does not mean they are accurate descriptions of the real world.

As also noted elsewhere, prejudice against other human beings is now rampant and takes numerous forms. Any form of hierarchical society will necessarily accumulate multiple means of discriminating between those at the top, those at the bottom and those in between. And of course, socio-economic discrimination is the trigger for the development of prejudice. Capitalism is one such a hierarchical form of society and has acquired multiple means of discrimination. Secondary identities such as gender, religious belief, age, sexual orientation, skin colour, ethnicity, lineage, nationality, and even regional accent differences (abbreviated here as G-R-A-S-S-E-L-N-A) are being used by many to discriminate against people for jobs, educational opportunity, housing, partners and many other things. It is also a fact in such societies that many of those suffering from prejudice are deeply prejudiced against others who do not share their particular secondary identity.

Many dark skinned males, for example, are as misogynist, homophobic and nationalistic as many light skinned males. Nevertheless this prejudice – as with all prejudice – is not natural. Prejudice has to be socially taught and learned. And if one type of discrimination and prejudice is experienced as inhuman, then it follows that all forms of discrimination and prejudice may be experienced as inhuman. All forms need to be combated, not just one. The invention of race and it’s institutionalisation, merely demonstrates the power of the dominant ideology (as borrowed thinking) to trap people into a virtual world of thought processes whilst living in a real world which so clearly contradicts them in so many ways. The capitalist mode of production is the real root of the problem, not any of its victims, but bourgeois ideology conveniently blames the victims.

This symptom also indicates that accurate thinking requires accurate words and concepts and that inaccurate words can lead to inaccurate thinking. For there is now a virtual world being projected onto the real world by many commentators in which pale-skinned workers are held to have more in common with pale-skinned capitalists than with dark-skinned workers and dark-skinned workers have more in common with dark-skinned capitalists than with pale-skinned workers. That is a convenient reversal of reality as the ruthlessness of dark-skinned capitalist elites against dark-skinned working people is daily demonstrated in business and politics the world over. Take for example, Africa, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen – just to name a few places where a dark skinned elite class daily oppresses, tortures and even kills dark skinned workers and critics. The same goes for the ruthlessness of pale-skinned capitalist elites against pale-skinned workers, as contemporary events the world over as well as history also demonstrate. Europe, perhaps being the most obvious current arena of the deliberate and ruthless impoverishment, by pale-skinned elites, of millions of pale-skinned working people in Greece, Portugal, Spain. And in other countries such as the UK only to a lesser extent.

When ideas contradict reality, it is the ideas which should be suspected and rejected not reality, and yet these false borrowed ideas continue to be used to divide working people on the basis of skin pigmentation. Instead of an intellectual and practical wedge being driven between pale-skinned workers and pale-skinned elites and another driven between dark-skinned workers and dark-skinned elites as a prelude to other joint struggles against all forms of socio-economic prejudice, we have intellectual wedges being driven between workers on the basis of fictional constructs such as ‘racial’ characteristics and secondary features such as skin pigmentation, and not only by the bourgeois elite – but also by their opponents. Despite this divisive concept being the direct intention of the linguistic inventors and promoters of racial ideologies among the bourgeoisie and petite – bourgeoisie, some among the oppressed are unwittingly keeping that part of bourgeois and pre-bourgeois ideology alive and distancing themselves from or practising other forms of discrimination.

Perhaps this is because it is easier to continue using established categories, particularly given that the vast majority also continue to use them, than to directly challenge bourgeois ideology and to stand against the by now vested interests in perpetuating the falsehoods they are built upon. However, if we are genuinely against discrimination and prejudice then we need to be against all forms of irrational discrimination and prejudice, (ie all of G-R-A-S-S-E-L-N-A categories attracting prejudice and discrimination) not just the one which effects us personally. Otherwise we are not against discrimination and prejudice in general but only against it happening to ourselves or our group. And if the latter is the case then we don’t represent humanity as a whole but only our own section of it. Consequently we would not be equipped to help found human society anew. It should also be obvious that united, all those discriminated against may succeed in ending discrimination and prejudice, but divided no group will succeed in ending it.

Language and the struggle against oppression – 2.

A similar criticism as made against racial ideology can be made against patriarchal ideology (religious and political) which falsely asserts that men and women are static opposites and that women are inferior to men and should be subordinate to them. This sexist attitude is yet another form of elite invented false thinking which is then uncritically borrowed by millions of men, (and even some women) – including men of all skin shades – when in fact these male chauvinist assumptions do not stand up to serious scrutiny. The biological structure of humanity (as with most other forms of life) is embodied in two essential elements, sperm and ovum, developed in two locations, male and female bodies. However, from the species perspective (the deeper natural bio-reality) the sexes are not separate dualistic entities but essential parts of the dialectical whole.

For the species to reproduce the two elements cannot remain separate but must be integrated for each act of reproduction. The two, the sperm and ovum, must become one and in the majority of cases the partners also must become intimate. Importantly, biologically speaking, the female body provides the major functioning parts in the reproduction process. It does so in terms of supplying needed DNA and Chromosomes, pregnancy, breast feeding/immune system start up and early nurture. From the species perspective, the inferior position of women in patriarchal societies, including our modern society, is a total reversal of the natural evolution of humanity over millions of years. Second class status for women is undoubtedly a historically determined elite male invention delivered by misinformed language and borrowed thinking into the minds of millions and needs to be reversed by more accurate language and thinking in order to accurately reflect the importance of the other half of humanity.

The above noted pattern of human evolution is essentially true of the second class status of those who work in producing our goods and services. Working women and men engaged in the production of the essentials for living; food, water, fire, shelter, clothing etc., have been the active economic foundations of all human societies and recognised as such during the larger part of the four or five million years of human hunter/gatherer evolution. Indeed, in hunter/gatherer modes of production women as gatherers produced far more food (between 60% -80%) for their communities than men. And for millions of years, everyone, who wasn’t too young, too old, or too ill was an active productive worker. It is only with the development of class based societies founded on agricultural production, that the social status of working people has been gradually and fundamentally reduced first by slavery, second by serfdom and now wage-slavery to be below that of intellectual classes and land owning, or now capital-owning classes. Yet economically workers are still the most important of the present classes because without workers providing all the above noted essential elements of living and now more, the rest of the classes – middle and upper – could not fulfil their own privileged tasks.

At this point it needs to be acknowledged that many anti-capitalists have also been seduced by deference or laziness into uncritically borrowing their thinking from previous anti-capitalists who claimed to have a monopoly of accurate understanding of how to end capitalist oppression and exploitation. I did so myself out of deference when younger. Four glaring examples of this tendency have been the followers of Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Mao. Any serious and accurate study of the above elite male writings and actions will reveal not just the shortcomings of the language and concepts these men used, but also the disastrous and inhuman methods they employed to further their own elevation into positions of power and influence over the rest of the working populations of their respective countries and nations. During the Arab Spring events most of their anti-capitalist followers demonstrated they did not even understand the difference between uprisings and revolutions. They lacked accuracy in understanding the very words and concepts they used. [For those interested in my own contribution to the de-construction of the ideologies and practices of Bolshevism, Stalinism and Trotskyism see my book ‘Revolutionary-Humanism and the Anti-capitalist Struggle’ and the articles ‘Marxists against Marx’; ‘The Revolutionary Party’ and ‘Uprisings and Revoluions’, on this blog.]

Finally, for those who seek to work for a better world I suggest it is essential that they cease to uncritically borrow their thinking from any source. Their own accuracy of language and the conformity of their own thinking to actual reality is necessary as is the critical examination of what others have to say or write. The guideline list provided in ‘Ways of Thinking -1, is reproduced again below and can be used to test the accuracy and reliability of what anyone has written or said, including myself and themselves. So when you get the opportunity why not give it a go?

1. Accurately know what something is identified as. (are the ‘correct’ words being used?)
2. Accurately know what something is comprised of. (is the ‘actual’ content being described?)
3. Accurately know how it came into being. (is it’s ‘real’ history acknowledged?)
4. Accurately know the natural or social context it depends upon. (is it’s place in the chain of existence accurately located?)
5. Accurately know the objects internal contradictions and process of transformation whether characterised as germination, transformation or decay. (are it’s positive and negative potentials considered?)
6. Accurately grasp the direction or potential direction any transformation can take. (are the various levels of enquiry being combined into an enriched idea of it?)
7. Test each stage of understanding against reality, (is serious unbiased observation and self critical study being practiced?)
8. Always maintain certainty with an element of doubt as new or unforseen developments can occur. (are sectarianism and dogmatism being avoided?)
9. Always remember that the essence of humanities thinking is achieved as a natural, social species, not as an imaginary spiritual creation of individuals, nations, religions or races. (is human diversity represented as a slight change in human ‘form’ rather than as a substantial change in human ‘essence’?)

Roy Ratcliffe (October 2018)

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In ‘Ways of Thinking (Part 1)’, dialectics was described as a system of thinking, which unlike dualism, asks much more searching questions and does so over a number of stages, before coming to any conclusions. Even then the method of dialectics does not consider these conclusions as necessarily fixed or final. This reluctance or refusal to be dogmatic is because, new evidence may come to light or old evidence re-evaluated so as to refine the conclusion or even in extreme cases overturn it. For this reason, real-world dialectical thinking transcends all forms of dualism, dogma and intolerance due to their presumptions of possessing the ‘truth’. This second article will attempt attempt to substantiate that claim mainly by providing examples of dialectical understanding as applied to the spheres of nature, economics, ecology, society and politics.

However, before that, it should be noted that religion for centuries, has also been based upon, dualism, dogma and intolerance. Papal authority, for example, dogmatically relying upon what someone had written in the bible and what appeared in front of their eyes, considered that the sun went round the earth. They severely censured those who contradicted this assertion. For those who had accepted the religious form of dualist thinking, there could be no other explanation. Nevertheless, there was. However, the dogmatic rail tracks the religious intellect was trained to run upon could not conceive that their ‘borrowed’ way of thinking was incorrect and so they silenced and punished any alternative way of reasoning. [See ‘Religion versus Women’s Rights’ on this blog.]

As discussed in part 1, dialectical reasoning, recognises the difference (the contradiction) between the outward appearance of something and fully understood essence of it. This essence containing far more than first meets the eye and involving internal and external connections. It also accepts that the essence of ones idea of something, once seriously considered, may contain it’s own dynamic contradiction which sooner or later will change how that something is understood. This is no more than a belated recognition that the ideas of us natural beings as well as our bodies, can undergo a similar evolution or transformation as the natural ‘things’ we study. Some ‘things’ seem fixed and unchanging, (as do some ideas) but sooner or later they reveal themselves to be in the process of change. The ‘thing’ (or spacial position) of the ‘thing’ has changed into something else or moved somewhere else, or even both. A recognition of this general process suggests the ideas about about our world should at least try to keep up with changing reality and not wilfully or neglectfully get stuck in the past.

Before going further it should also be recognised that these changes, in the natural world as well as in the social and emotional realm of human affairs, are not undertaken or achieved without some difficulty. Births and deaths can be painful; engineering and metallurgy can involve quite extreme and often dangerous processes; developing high level skills can take time and excruciating effort. Change of any kind invariably involves stresses or strains of one kind or another. Dialectical thinking stems from a recognition of the connection between real world contradictions and the changing thought processes needed to take stock of this. Therefore it is to be expected that changes in understanding may also be accompanied by difficulties. Accepting new ideas and paradigms of thinking is not always easy for many people. However, painful this process is for some, the change element in the real world should by now be more acceptable to modern thinking, since science and technology has increased awareness that everything seriously studied is in a state of change. Consequently, methods of thinking have evolved as the following examples hopefully make clear.

Dialectics in the physical world.

Laser measurements have disclosed that even things as seemingly eternal as mountains, continents and planetary orbits are subject to small but accumulating changes, when not changed rapidly by irregular occurrences. Weather patterns, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, eclipses, shooting stars, asteroid collisions etc., are no longer thought of as acts of an imaginary god, or gods, but are understood as natural occurrences, where, small quantitative changes (such as result from saturation, pressure, speed of movement or position) accumulate to create a sudden qualitative change. The contradiction being that something seemingly stable becomes by degrees unstable before a change occurs and a further stage of seeming stability may or may not present itself. In other words, the appearance of something, at any one moment, is not necessarily the full essence, the completed process, or even the potential metamorphosis embodied within and around it. The fact of, and the process of, quantitative alterations leading to a change in quality, is part of the dialectical understanding and again modern life is full of such examples. I shall just outline a few more of the obvious ones, in each category just to emphasise the point.

It has long been observed that gradually decreasing heat within water, beyond a certain point, changes it into a solid – ice! Increasing the heat within water beyond a certain point, changes it from a liquid to the gaseous form of – steam. Both are examples of the fact that ‘wholes’ contain contradictory elements and that processes of quantitative changes (internally or externally generated) can result in a new quality – steam or ice. Steam, a new quality of extremely heated water, once harnessed was used as a source of power to usher in the industrial revolution by driving complex machinery. This was another qualitative and dialectical transition within mechanics, and one which branched off in many directions. Furthermore, real world contradictions don’t end there even in the case of water. We also know that water can extinguish fire, yet the gases which are contained within water – hydrogen and oxygen – both initiate and/or sustain fire. How counter-intuitive (or rather dialectical) is all that? Until we know more about the abstract category ‘water’, our initial idea of it as just something to drink or wash with isn’t wrong, it is just incomplete.

Similarly, mixing chemical substances together in certain proportions, (or dividing them up) changes them into new solid, liquid or gaseous compounds. Some mixtures having explosive consequences. These are processes now developed into massive global and mostly dangerously polluting industries. Again, in these areas we have quantitative changes creating new qualities. Our modern world is bursting at the seams with examples of this dialectical process applied within and onto capitalist production methods. This fact alone should stimulate a dialectical understanding and it does to a certain extent within the fields of applied science, engineering, technology, plate tectonics, plant biology and even human biology. Once thought impossible, heavier than air vehicles now criss-cross the skies and even visit other planets due to the planned alteration and accumulation of quantities of materials into new complex combinations and design qualities.

In other words, from these various accumulated quantities of knowledge, skills and materials, new qualities have emerged in the various methods of production and final construction and not just in metallurgy and chemistry. Body organ transplants are now routinely possible, but such organs are never independent. They are dependent upon a donor and successful medical integration. Test tube medical science can now artificially replicate some parts of the natural human fertilisation process, in which two discrete and separate qualities, sperm and ovum combine to create multi-cellular quantities and finally after many further transitions a new quality – another unique human being. The connectedness of stages, and the transformation of quantity into quality has long been evident in the natural world and in the evolution of plant and animal life forms, even though this natural process was not always fully understood, appreciated intellectually, or the analogy applied to other fields of study. For generations, the prevalence of empiricism and dualism and the lack of knowledge meant that many processes of change, as with planetary orbits, weather patterns, etc., were seen as mystical, magical or the unseen actions of the gods – who were imaginatively conjured up abstractions for just that pre-scientific explanatory purpose.

Yet, even in times past, certain specialists often had a dialectical understanding of their particular field of study. Indeed it was impossible not to have it to some degree and be successful in many specialist areas. However, even there, the intellectual framework of dialectics was (and still is) frequently left in the locker rooms along with any specialist tools and clothing when the working shift was over. The phenomena of dialectical and sceptical scientists etc., busy with understanding contradictions during the working week and becoming religious, gullible, dualist-minded citizens on Saturday or Sunday has never been an uncommon symptom. The result has been that the dialectical method of thinking has been rarely applied to societies and modes of production. Or to modes of thinking in general for that matter. In these particular areas of concern and in the lives of most people, dualist thinking continues to reign. The bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie in our era has accepted and championed dualism in economics, politics and social life, because it expresses, their economic and social reality as well as their class needs.

Dialectics in social affairs.

In modern social affairs, for example, the Conservative (or Republican) minded bourgeoisie generally consider ‘bad culture creates poverty’; for the Liberal/Labour (Democratic) minded bourgeoisie, it is often the opposite; ‘poverty creates bad culture’. These are two ends of a dualist conceptual spectrum view of the working class or the non-working – under-class. That way both political wings of the ruling elite consider the problem of poverty as being mainly the fault of the current poor themselves. Accordingly, the poor are considered to need patronising support or harsh penalties of one form or another. A warm bath or a cold shower: more benefits or less benefits, job counselling or job compulsion, etc. The preferred remedy being dependant upon whether the political left, right or centre expresses the viewpoint. On the surface these contrasting petite-bourgeois views of the poor may seem opposed, but they are connected by the fact that they conveniently avoid the spotlight falling on the capitalist system which has created poverty from its domination centuries ago. It also avoids recognising the fact that culture in all its forms, is to a considerable extent, a direct or indirect product of the dominant economic system.

In contrast a dialectical explanation examines the role of capital and labour in the production of the essentials and non-essentials of life along with the role of technology in capitalist production. It notes how this technology regularly replaces workers by machines and draws some obvious conclusions. If the system regularly creates armies of unemployed and precariously employed workers, with no other alternative, then certain connected things are sure to follow. Among the resulting symptoms are the many citizens who consequently sink into poverty and some into antisocial ways such as theft, drug addiction, gang membership etc. The dialectical contradictions and real-world connections are all there just waiting to be recognised for those who want to take their thinking further. So a fuller version of capitalist socio-economic reality, for example, reveals that increased social productivity and therefore an increase in the mass of economic wealth at one end of society, produces poverty at the other. How contradictory is all that? Yet bourgeois dualist forms of thinking are content to just stay in the virtual world of surface abstractions and discuss culture and poverty without their connection to the mode of production. Isn’t that a convenient way of thinking, if the rest of us just accept it?

An interesting dialectical contradiction also exists with regard to ownership and control under the capitalist system. Normal capitalist legal logic suggests that if you pay for something or part of it you are entitled to control or at least part control of it. The buildings and inventory of hospitals, schools, military, air force and naval establishments, along with local and national government building/contents, for example, are paid for by public taxation, yet these goods are not owned and controlled by the public. Instead, they are rigidly controlled by a relatively few and usually unelected elites. Yet these few controlling elite actors cannot operate these complex buildings and organisations themselves, but need those who have no ownership or control of them to operate them. This they do by granting working people access to do work, and then lock them out when their work is not needed! The same goes for private industry and commerce. In each case only those who do not control them can make them function, whilst those who do control them cannot possibly partly staff them, let alone make them function. And again in this economic relationship we have a bizarre reversal of logic rationalised as a desired state of affairs and presented by bourgeois dualistic reasoning as ‘natural’.

A more fundamental example applies to two of the categories of the means of production under capitalism – workers and the main tools of production represented by capital. To the bourgeois economic dualist, Labour and Capital are two polar opposite categories to be taken for granted as ‘natural’ with just the separate problems associated with this productive bifurcation to be worked out. Of course thinking about this ‘appearance’ a good deal further, suggests that it is not ‘natural‘ that some people own large amounts of capital whilst others own none. Nature does not produce owners of means of production (capitalists) and non-owners of means of production (workers), nor their opposed interests. It takes a socio-economic system to do that and a warped one to boot. Hence dialectical thinking goes further than such surface abstractions and reveals more. By reflection and critical thinking it notes the following. That in this case also the tools of production, (factories, machines, planning, development etc) presently owned by relatively few individuals, have become so complex and extensive they can no longer be operated by those who own them. In other words a dialectical reversal of historic tool ownership and use. And again, on the other hand those who can operate them, the workers, are now collectively too poor to own them.

This contradiction is even greater when we consider that the tools of production, buildings and machines, were also not built by the owners but by other workers, who also do not own them. The fact that owners cannot operate them and the workers cannot own them – is a massive social contradiction with unresolvable problems (as long as this division continues) effecting employment, over-production, climate change, pollution, health and safety, to identify just a few. What appears on the surface of bourgeois society as a static dualist opposition between capital and labour, is in fact a volatile dialectical opposition which involves perpetual class struggles over wages, safety, employment, wars and now increasingly environmental issues. The resolution (the human negation) of this fundamental contradiction of economic and social class differences, within humanity, will therefore not be achieved without considerable difficulty both in fact and in the depth of understanding needed. A later section will indicate that particular difficulty being revealed in contemporary politics.

Dialectics in ecological and economic affairs.

The development of the capitalist mode of production, since the end of the Second World War, has seen remarkable technological and social progress. Full employment and mass industrialised production had been the foundations which supported the post -war development of welfare states and the liberal-democratic political systems which were integral to them. However, the sheer quantity of scientific and technological inventions has led to a new quality in production methods and materials. Automation, artificial intelligence, advanced computer controls have permeated all types of production, transportation and sales outlets. The capitalist mode of production has also led to serious environmental pollution problems and increased ecological devastation. The pursuit of profit via the unrestricted production of commodities and services has progressively increased the quantity of products available. That quantitive increase in new stuff, has qualitatively changed the problem of disposing of unwanted old stuff and the non-degradable waste materials used in their production. The examples of plastics, petroleum products, nuclear energy and anti-biotics, almost serve as metaphors for capitalism in general.

Plastics, in various forms, were heralded, when I was younger, as as long lasting wonder materials with so many positive uses that some had yet to be discovered. Now, there is so much indestructible plastics in the environment that when broken down they have entered the food chain at a microscopic level and if not already there, are on the way into the bloodstream and internal organs of animals and humans. And with likely devastating consequences. So a sequence of quantitative increases in technical and chemical know how produced a new quality – plastics, but this new quality under the incentive of production for profit became a new quantity, which has led to a further (but unwelcome) negative quality – macro and microscopic pollution – on a global scale! This type of dialectical process of quantity into quality (and increasingly negative quality into negative quantity), fuelled by capitalism, can be replicated add nauseum. Each addition of atomic power production, for example has added up to a qualitatively new problem of disposing of its radioactive residue; more and more fossil-fuel energy use (quantity) has had a qualitative effect upon planetary warming; quantitive increases in anti-biotic uses over decades has led to the new negative quality of drug resistant bacteria. Capitalist production is killing, animals, insects, birds, environments and humans. Like cigarettes, it should come with a health warning.

But this is not all. The automation and computerisation, mentioned above has also led to vast reductions in the numbers of workers required to sustain or increase the current levels of production. The thousands of factories with thousands of workers inside, producing stuff each day during the 19th century, are now almost a thing of the past – at least in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and America. The resulting large-scale unemployment and low-paid precarious employment has drastically reduced the amount of taxes paid to governments; less money in wage packets has also reduced the amounts workers spend in consumption. So the reality is that increased production on the one hand, restricted consumption on the other, together with surplus commodities and shrinking state revenues, are all due to the same economic process governed as it currently is by capital and greed for profit.

This symptom of relative overproduction demonstrates dialectical transformation in the field of economics, which is just one more dialectical transformation among many currently at work. Otherwise positive developments become channelled into a negative outcomes courtesy of the capitalist mode of production and greed for profit. At the economic and financial levels, this new productive quality has led to overcapacity, overproduction, economic stagnation, financial instability and downward spirals into recessions. At the social level, both of these latter quantitive reductions have led to reductions in the quality and quantity of welfare provision. The two aspects are not separate and independent, as everyday dualistic thinking would suggest, but connected and dependent. Yes, here in the social world as in the natural world, dialectical processes can work in an ascending or descending direction; in a positive or negative way. However, the domination of capital over our present mode has the uncanny knack of making most of the positives negative.

Moreover, the much touted progress toward fully automated and future artificially intelligent algorithm-supported production methods are set to take this process even further. Already, factories exist staffed mainly with robots, linked to computer technologies and capable of self correction and improvement. Ultimately, from this scenario, capitalist production now and in the future doesn’t need many workers to produce more and more ‘things’. However, to return profits on invested industrial and commercial capital, there still needs to be millions of paying consumers to buy them or future production will be stopped. So who is going to buy what is produced to prevent this? This contradiction represents a massive problem, but only under capitalism. The current speculative ideas of giving ‘things’ away or giving money away to buy them – on such a general scale – such as the unworkable Universal Basic Income (UBI) or the unequal Job Guarantee Programme (JGB), points to more than the need for further petite-bourgeois patronising charity. For those who can see beyond surface phenomena, it is another pointer to the need to go beyond capitalism.

Yet even with the already existing levels of production, the world is coming apart in so many ways and in so many places. At the same time the dominant ideological mode of viewing partial realities is incapable of joining the dots and revealing their links to the capitalist mode of production. Mainstream bourgeois thinking has yet to catch up with reality. Nevertheless, the quantitive changes in production methods are not only leading to the above noted changes in the amounts of pollution, ecological damage, war ravaged countries, saturated markets, large-scale unemployment, precarious employment and reduced amounts of consumer taxation and spending, but also to changes in consciousness and political preferences among voters. Much of the latter changes being understandably contradictory since politics is part of the problem – as will be indicated in the next section. Despite such contradictions, most citizens are responding to their direct experience of one or other of these changed and changing economic and social realities. Very few are likely to be fooled by internet ‘fake-news’ or Russian/Chinese manipulated propaganda.

Dialectics in political affairs.

The above mentioned voter response to the changes outlined in previous sections represents a transformation in voter attitude and opinion, which is likely to continue. And here in the field of politics another dialectical transition can be witnessed. The years of increased quantities of incompetence, lies and broken promises which mainstream politicians have perpetrated upon the public has produced a qualitative change in voters opinion of politics and politicians. Many people no longer believe what they are told by politicians and their paid servants in government, academia and the media. They are questioning whom and what they vote for. Politicians the world over, are again no longer trusted and capitalist, along with state-capitalist political systems are viewed with disdain, if not outright hostility. Politics is increasingly being seen, not as it is presented, – as the rational solution to social problems – but as part of the irrational problems facing humanity.

And the political contradictions are growing. There are now virtual civil wars taking place within the political establishments of many countries between left liberal/democratic and right conservative/republican. There is a deep split developing between these twin establishment political elites, over how to rescue the capitalist system from its obvious contradictions. One set of the international political class has started to reject neo-liberal globalisation and seeks solutions within an authoritarian nation state, whilst another set seek to reform neo-liberal globalisation and give it a more humane face. On the world stage these positions are personified by Donald Trump in the USA and Macron in France, but the trends, to a greater or lesser degree, are global and are visible in most countries. This contemporary split is similar to that which occurred during the last global crisis of the capitalist mode of production in the mid-nineteenth century. And now, as then, both these pro-capitalist currents need to appeal to the working classes as these are the voters in the current and coming electoral wars and of course, the shock troops in any future civil wars.

The elites nationally and internationally are at ideological war with each other, working people would be wise to avoid joining any side in this self-defeating spat. For distortions are being piled upon distortions; intolerance upon intolerance, misrepresentation, upon misrepresentation. The petite-bourgeois concept of fair play has all but disappeared from public discourse, along with innocence until proven guilty. Guilt is assigned to whole swathes of people based on nothing other than a common identity. All men are predators; all pale-skinned people are racists; all gentiles are anti-semites; all Muslims are terrorists; etc. Deep pools of anger and frustration among many citizens, are being manipulated and guided by politicians into verbal stand-offs between secondary identities, such as gender, skin colour and sexual preference – any form of identity except class is being highlighted and championed! Shouting matches are now in vogue where no evidence is required to substantiate a polarised opinion, only partisan assertion.

Taking political sides on any so-called ‘politically correct’ issue, has become an emotional reflex, impervious to any request for sufficient evidence to substantiate any dubious assertions. Indeed, even requesting evidence becomes perceived by either side as an act of hostility or disloyalty. Twenty first century politics is reviving and updating its 1920s and 30’s surreal period. To the unattached observer, this spectacle presents something of a theatre of the absurd, except that in certain circumstances, ideological civil wars, can be transformed into actual civil wars. Those who doubt this possibility should reconsider the Aryan ‘identity’ issues and nationalistic descent of parts of Europe (Italy, Germany, France and Spain) in the mid 20th century economic and financial crisis. The collapse of Lybia, Syria and Yemen in the 21st century, which in those cases went from initial citizen protest to sectarian civil wars based on contrasting Islamic or secular identities, demonstrates such possibilities – when taken to extremes – still exist.

This quantitative and qualitative (dialectical) change in how bourgeois democracy is viewed has also had further global repercussions. The decades – long experience of of western capitalist democracy by citizens of many middle eastern countries, for example, has changed their view of its supposed benefits. From initially welcoming secular politics as a means of supplanting (negating) pre-existing theocratic or aristocratic oppressive systems, large numbers have now decided otherwise. A hundred years of European and North American interference in the former Ottoman Empire region (NB. epitomised by Sykes/Picot/Balfour and Bush x 2) has seen many people there reject exploitative, manipulative, bourgeois secular democracy in favour of a return to Islamic forms of governance. The historic move from 2000 year old religious and despotic forms of politics and governance which was negated through the ‘reformation’ struggle in Europe was then reversed (further negated) in Europe during the 1930s in favour of authoritarianism. A similar pattern has occurred in the middle-east with Egypt and Iran being prime examples. Religious and despotic forms of politics and governance are being artfully resuscitated in every part of the region.

This political negation of the negation is being demonstrated in practice, and not only in the middle-east, but globally. In terms of humanity, this trend represents another change but one which is again definitively backward. The status of workers, trade unions, women and gays, being the most clear indicator of how backward this theocratic and authoritarian reactionary development is. Governance by religious minded people who believe in mystical fictions such as gods, angels, devils and a heaven staffed with virgins is seen by millions as preferable to governance by people who believe in capitalist exploitation and military interventions to ensure their profitability survives. Here in Europe and the west, there has also been a rejection of neo-liberal economics and the bourgeois democratic political forms established to govern it. Some of this also represents a step backward, not forward towards a positive post-capitalist future, for here too there is an increased leaning toward authoritarianism. However, looking for a strong man (or woman) to sort out the contradictions has been tried a number of times before – and failed. To keep trying the same thing and expecting a different result is not really sensible. So the question is why is this happening? And the answer is not simply one of voter nostalgia or stupidity as some fixed-rut observers have suggested.

The lack of dialectical understanding in the political mindset over generations was starkly revealed in 2016 and continues today. For example, those citizens who voted the way the elite wanted them to vote were viewed as responsible, whilst those who did not were viewed as despicable – or stupid enough to be influenced against their will by foreign powers. Political dualists typically see two opposed groups of citizens who need to be praised, tolerated or vilified depending on which side they have voted for. Considered from a deeper understanding, however, this difference was clearly superficial and inaccurate. In essence both sides of this particular working class divide were wanting things to get better, they just differed in how that could be achieved. The immediate form of their protest against their situation (voting on elite-provided petite-bourgeois solutions) did not adequately represent the content of it, and this shared content, where it is allowed expression, may yet create another dialectical change. But emphasising a dualistic difference of skin pigment, gender or sexuality, as fundamental distinctions is useful to the elites. That way they create a virtual world of separation among working class human beings based upon ideologically derived differences rather than the unity of their shared oppression and exploitation. This allows the elite to divide potential opposition to their economic system and avoid any responsibility for what transpires due to their own actions.

Whatever area of life we consider, dialectical reasoning and understanding leads to very different conclusions than simple empiricism, idealism or dualism, as we have seen and would see more if we cared to look. For it is now becoming clear, to those who are able to consistently go beyond those first surface levels of thinking, that the post-Second World War, American-led, liberal world order, at the political and economic levels, is now progressively unravelling. The capitalist economic system is going down and the dualistic-minded elite globally who live on its proceeds, are on a course to take us down with it – if we let them. The capitalist mode of production, economically, financially and politically is certainly not in crisis because of foreign manipulation or citizen stupidity, but because of its own internal contradictions. Its positives are turning into existential negatives, which urgently need to be seriously examined and definitively solved. Dualist methods of thinking cannot begin to adequately explain and help positively intervene in this evolutionary and transformative socio-economic process, but dialectical methods can.

Dialectics reveals that class is the fundamental division within capitalist societies and whilst class struggles can include support for other identity struggles, the opposite is not the case. Secondary identity is too narrowly drawn and consequently too weak to include or remedy the negative situation of other identities, let alone to remedy those associated with class. In fact identity politics is in direct competition with other secondary identities for remedial action and is consequently divisive and reformist rather than revolutionary. Us first, and us too, forms of organisation go no further than confronting specific surface symptoms of the capitalist mode of production, whilst ignoring the causes embedded in the foundations of the mode of production itself. Consciousness of fundamental class divisions and dialectical understanding offer an alternative way of thinking for revolutionary – humanists, to acquire and promote in active opposition to the current dangerous domination of dualism in politics and social affairs.

Roy Ratcliffe (October 2018.)

Posted in Critique | Leave a comment


In a previous article entitled ‘The dangers of Dualism’, I pointed out the pitfalls of being drawn into dualistic ways of thinking. However, that article only touched on an alternative and more thorough way of thinking. This article, and one to follow, will attempt to remedy that deficiency and supplement the ideas suggested there. Hopefully, this will help make contemporary and future activists, anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists, more aware of the partially lost alternative and more complete way of thinking established in the 19th and 20th century. But, more than that, I hope the articles will assist them in taking on board and using this radical alternative to the dominant mode of bourgeois inspired thinking.

The death of the hope for an alternative form of society to the present one, due to the monstrosities of Bolshevism, Trotskyism and Maoism, was not just a physical set back for working class attempts at post-capitalist reconstructions, it represented the simultaneous atrophy of much more. What was also lost, due to its associations with the ‘leaders’ of these practical and theoretical distortions, was an advance in the mode of critical thinking. Yet this alternative method of thinking had already been further developed and refined which enabled two important developments. First, a coherent understanding of modes of production in general and their role in the formation of classes. Second, a lucid criticism of the capitalist mode of production in particular.

The method of thinking I refer to, is known as dialectics, and although it has been around since the ancient Greek period, (eg. Heraclitus etc.) it took on an increasingly important development during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In the 18th century a philosopher named Immanuel Kant wrote extensively of dialectics, particularly in ‘Dialectics of Pure Practical Reason’, but it was Hegel (another Philosopher) in the 19th century who developed the method further before Marx, as a Young Hegelian student and later revolutionary-humanist, saw an important flaw in Hegel’s (idealistic) form of dialectics. However, it is worth considering Hegel’s interpretation of, and contribution to, that method of thinking for Marx considered him; “…the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner”. Also, Hegel has been much overlooked by many within the anti-capitalist movement so that is an additional reason for including him in this article. Hegel wrote;

“Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition within itself……….Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world: and it is ridiculous to say that contradiction is unthinkable. (Hegel’s Logic.)

The term contradiction in the dialectical method does not have the same meaning as is used in everyday life. It does not mean a verbal disagreement between people who simply contradict each others point of view. Contradiction here is used in the sense of things being opposed to themselves, or within themselves. Self-contradiction if you like. Hegel uses the example of a bar magnet with positive and negative poles of opposed attraction within one piece of metal. Cut a bar magnet in half and the poles aren’t actually separated as might be expected. The metal is in two halves but there isn’t a separate positive pole and a separate negative pole. Each half takes on a positive and negative aspect for as opposites they cannot exist without each other. He also mentions that setting of on a global journey eastward will eventually find the traveller back in the west.

Hegel concludes from these, and other examples, that frequently supposed opposites do not actually exclude each other as common-sense and dualism might suggest, but are interdependent. He goes further and suggests that at bottom or in ‘essence’ they are the same. Moreover, Hegel suggests that to know something by its concrete immediate character only is not to know it fully. Initial observations and immediate conclusions offer a limited perspective and stop at a partial one-sided, incomplete stage of knowledge. To Hegel this limited way of thinking is to view things by an inadequate form of thinking by means of a mere abstraction. It is to miss out its inward and developmental character from the effect of internal and external contradictions and changes.

The example of a plant seed is used by Hegel to illustrate his contention; that everything which exists stands in correlation, and this correlation is the veritable nature of every existence. What he was getting at in this and many other examples, was that to an initial surface consideration, a seed just seems to be a single ‘thing’ (or ‘being’ is a term he often uses). It is a ‘thing’ which can stay as as it ‘is’ and complete for long periods of time under certain dry conditions. However, under certain other conditions, it has within it the potential to become the plant, which itself has within itself the potential to produce new seeds, before withering away, and so on. Negation is a term frequently used in this philosophical context. The seed negates itself by becoming a plant; the plant negates itself by producing seeds. But these negations are not simply negatives, their results are positive. This result, to common-sense represents a paradox, but only to dualistic modes of common-sense thinking, not to nature or to dialectical thinking. The completed process represents Hegel’s negation of the negation which results in a new positive.

So a developed idea of a particular seed, (or anything else) containing a description of size, shape, weight, density, colour and internal structure may seem to offer a comprehensive basis for knowledge, but compared with knowledge of the whole natural (or social) cycle it is not. Therefore, it makes very little sense to always stop the investigation of the ‘thing’ or ‘situation’ in isolation. Without knowledge of how its process correlates to its material, biological or social composition and how this relates to the rest of its material life-cycle and environment, the understanding is severely limited. Therefore, knowledge and understanding of just one dimension of nature and life in general is not just limited but can be actually misleading. And not just with regard to plants. To stop at first and second levels of empirical observation regarding the things around us, for whatever reason, is to impose a self-limitation on our understanding. But that is not the only danger attached to such limited empirical methods of thinking.

The empiricist method does consider the real world and then not only names the real things in it and categorises them, but frequently makes them into abstractions, which are then given an imaginary independent life of their own. Real things can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted and weighed, that’s how we (and the empiricists) know they exist. However, not every word, describes something which actually exists. There are many words for which there is no corresponding ‘thing’, and not just in the case of imaginary beings. Space and time are examples of such rational abstractions which cannot be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or weighed, but are thought by many to have an independent existence. Yet they only exist as abstractions in thought, tools of thinking, transformed into vocal speech or writing on paper.

Hegel, also gave the example of the difference between abstractions and real things by pointing out that we can eat cherries and plums, but not fruit. Fruit is just a collective category or tool of language and thought, not some ‘thing’ that actually exists. Common sense expressions such as “I eat some fruit for breakfast this morning”, are not really accurate. They rely on the intelligence and discrimination of the hearer to assume bananas, apples, grapes etc. Or he or she may ask which fruit, if sufficiently interested. These may sound trite and inconsequential examples, but the same ingrained habit of assuming abstractions exist is replicated on many more important issues, particularly in the fields of religion, economics, social and political life.

To paraphrase Hegel; to actually maintain the idea that something has only a unilateral, independent identity is only possible by abstracting away from it all its other important attributes and connections. Left at that abstract stage, understanding is not only deficient and misleading but dangerous, particularly when wielded by those with the power and influence, to promote such one-sided, incomplete and judgemental impressions and abstractions. Economists, Financial ‘experts’ (sic) Politicians, Lawyers and Media Pundits are among those who most frequently operate with abstractions (imaginary and otherwise) and are most practiced at selecting one-sided, incomplete representations of reality as long as it serves their purpose.

Fake news, propaganda, redacted or censored documents, plausible deniability actions, misinformation, withheld information, etc., are the most obvious common symptoms of this phenomena. And just because some examples of one-sidedness, are so bizarre that they are obviously fake, doesn’t mean that other more subtle variants do not occur which are not always detected and pass for valid assumptions. These examples, along with abstractions are the means of maintaining that these manipulated realities represent a (or even ‘the’) ‘true’ picture. However, the elites success in promoting these one-sided and often deliberately misleading caricatures and stereotypes of reality is dependent upon their audiences being trapped within the same limited method of thinking. The elites depend upon the bulk of society being unable or unwilling to deconstruct or fully challenge what amounts to intended or in some cases unintended distortions of reality. If seeing is not always accurate and can be manipulated by peer group suggestion – and it can – so too can thinking.

How dangerous limited ways of thinking can be – even within the radical left – was demonstrated by the acceptance in 1930’s Germany of Stalin’s instructions to categorise German Social Democrats as Social Fascists and not to join joint them in the struggle against the Nazis. Clearly, this politically driven categorisation was an abstraction and a distorted dualistic one at that. Tragically, the category was sufficiently accepted by the rank file CP members, that it split the potential anti-fascist opposition to Hitler and probably hastened the Nazi conquest of state power. Had sufficient organised opposition to Nazis materialised, it may or may not have prevented a capitalist war, for capitalism has many economic motives for war, other than a dehumanised dictator, but it would have possibly prevented many of the atrocities associated with the Nazi regimes leadership of it.

So from a revolutionary-humanist dialectical and even a scientific perspective, abstractions and dualisms can be problematic whenever and wherever they arise. Hegel again; “The abstract understanding with its ‘Either-or’, may struggle against this (dialectical) conception of nature”. And;

“Not that such analysis is illegitimate: we only mean that the external and mechanical relation of whole to parts is not sufficient for us, if we want to study organic life in its truth. (Hegel. Logic.)

We should note that Hegel is not making the case for the emergence of a condition of ‘false consciousness’ in contrast to ‘true consciousness’ (another frequent misleading dualist abstraction) by the uncritical and imaginary use of abstractions. Abstractions are not necessarily illegitimate forms of analysis, although as noted above, if they are non-existent or distorted, they can be. In fact rational abstractions can also be the starting point for a more thorough understanding of natural and social life, providing they are not considered as the end point for understanding, as some like to assume. Marx, for example, began his most famous work – Das Capital – with the abstraction ‘commodity’ rather than a particular commodity such as an hammer or kettle, however, he did not stop there but went on for another 3 volumes.

To develop thinking further, as Marx did, our thought processes need to go back to the chosen starting point – object or subject – and uncover and discover what has been abstracted. When that is done it becomes possible to reinstate those internal and external attributes and thus modify and supplement our ideas of the starting point. In other words, in regard to Hegel’s example above, we need to go back to the seed and having comprehended its full life-cycle development, now understand it in a new inclusive and inter-dependent light. One final extract from Hegel, will illustrate both the difficulty of reading Hegel due to the 18th century translated words and concepts he uses, but this also sums up his own explanation of the dialectical approach to thinking.

“Conditions of a thing seem at first sight to involve no bias any way. Really however an immediate actuality of this kind includes in it the germ of something else altogether. At first this something else is only a possibility: but the form of possibility is soon suspended and translated into actuality. This new actuality thus issuing is the very inside of the immediate actuality which it uses up. Thus there comes into being quite an other shape of things, and yet it is not an other..” (Hegel. Logic.)

It may help the reader to decode and understand the above extract by again thinking back to the example of the seed and plant noted above. The seed is Hegel’s actuality which contains the germ of something else as a possibility (eg the potential future plant). This possibility is translated into actuality from within the actuality (the seed) itself. And thus comes into being another shape (the actual plant) and yet it is not another – it is itself in another form. So far so dialectically good, but with Hegel we are still immersed in the realm of ideas. Hence his ‘Thesis – anti-thesis – synthesis’ continuum. Of course Hegel did not have the benefit of present day knowledge of micro – biology, cell/gene structure, and DNA, so his ‘germ’ idea contained every facet of the future form in extreme miniature. However, unlike, many philosophers before, and many who followed later, he had the process broadly nailed except for a couple of other important points.

First, his search for accuracy in understanding (which he considered as ‘truth’) was also aimed at proving by ideas the existence of something out of nothing (ie philosophically justifying the biblical creation myth) by God. This was a common obsession with many philosophers of that period and before. Second, his accuracy and truth seeking was to perfect the idea, which in the form of the ‘absolute’ idea, he also thought was evidence of the existence God. Eg.”Ultimate truth is..uncovered through…the history of ideas”. In philosophy, the linguistic abstraction ‘truth’ is invariably considered absolute, whereas in science the linguistic abstraction ‘accuracy’ is usually considered relative. [The latter being a more rational word and concept to use than the former.] This starting and finishing with the idea (as dialectically perfected) was why Marx stated Hegel’s views on the dialectic were idealistic and needed to be inverted (stood the right way up) in order to be a rational method. Thus, for Marx, dialectics;

In its rational form, it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension an affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time, also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.” (Marx. Preface, Capital Volume 1.)

This last quote demonstrates Marx outlining the critical and revolutionary role the dialectical approach plays when rationally applied within and to modes of production. The key broad elements in this approach to thinking with regard to modes of production, and other aspects of life are 1. a recognition of the existing situation; 2. A recognition of its transient nature; and 3. the recognition of radical/revolutionary change. Points 2 and 3 are the parts the bourgeoisie and their supporters are in denial about. In his notebooks, known as the Grundrisse, Marx provides some additional points on how to start from the abstract and work toward understanding the interconnected detail and the processes involved in the real world as distinct from the world of ideas. First, the difference between idealistic dialectics and materialist dialectics.

“Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself, probing its own depths, and unfolding itself out of itself, by itself, whereas the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind. But this is by no means the process by which the concrete itself comes into being.” (Marx. Grundrisse.)

The idealistic form of dialectics always returns to contemplation of the idea for further refinement or perfection – as the test of its relevance. Essentially it is satisfied by asking; does reality conform to the perfect idea. If it doesn’t the temptation is to select from reality only those aspects which fit the idea. In addition this method frequently ushers in the battle of ideas syndrome, in which competing ideological sides each claim – in front of a panel, membership or readership – that their ideas are the best. The idea which finally wins approval is judged to be correct, just because it won. In contrast, materialist dialectic always starts from and returns to experimentation and detailed rigorous observation of reality for conformation of the ideas relevance to it, and asks; does the idea reflect the reality including the reality of potential and actual change. If it doesn’t then the idea isn’t accurate. Unfolding reality becomes the criteria for judgement, not the static opinions of those listening to the pros and cons of the ideas. The rational form of dialectics rises from the abstract cognition of reality by successive determinations of thought, as assisted by many observations of reality. This leads to a progressive improvement of the concepts used. Thus the concrete reality is apprehended by the brain as;

“..a totality of thoughts, concrete in thought, in fact a product of thinking and comprehending; but not in any way a product of the concept which thinks and generates itself outside or above observation and conception; a product, rather, of the working-up of observation and conception into concepts.” (Marx. Grundrisse.)

Anyone who has opened any of the three volumes of Marx’s Das Capital and looked at the contents list will recognise the enormous effort of the working up of observation and concepts undertaken by the author. Years and years of intensive research went into detailed analysis of the capitalist mode of production. How accurately it reflected the reality and the dialectically changing reality of the economic, financial and social conditions, can only be understood after reading it thoroughly and familiarising oneself with the socio-economic situation itself. But elsewhere Marx went even further than the above quote and reasoned that human beings are part of nature and therefore their abilities are natural abilities, including the ability to act upon and think about the objects and relationships around them. Therefore, the objective product of human activity confirms the objective activity of humanity and also the correctness of human thinking. It is practical activity which confirms the accuracy of human thinking, not the elegance, multiplicity, or intricacy of their ideas. Prior to that, Marx had already concluded that;

“…consistent naturalism or humanism distinguishes itself both from idealism and materialism, constituting at the same time the unifying truth of both.” (Marx. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.)

As noted earlier, the 19th century words and phrases used by those who improved the dialectical method of pursuing knowledge and understanding, can be somewhat obscure. This is particularly applicable to those who wrote in a different language and were later translated into English. So rather, than simply quoting them in summary using their often convoluted words I offer the following guidelines, (or check list for evaluation) presented as stages, that I use myself in my own effort to unify the insights of materialism and the world of ideas within a dialectical framework. They were formulated after reading Hegel, Marx and Engels on the revolutionary-humanist and dialectical method of enquiry. This suggests the need;

1. To accurately know what something is identified as.
2. To accurately know what something is comprised of.
3. To accurately know how it came into being.
4. To accurately know the natural or social context it depends upon.
5. To accurately know the objects internal contradictions and process of transformation whether characterised as germination, transformation or decay.
6. To accurately grasp the direction or potential direction any transformation can take. (ie. By the working up of the five levels of enquiry into an enriched idea of 1.)
7. To test each stage against reality, (experimentally or by serious observation and study.)
8. To always maintain certainty with an element of doubt as new or unforseen developments can occur.
9. To always remember that the essence of humanities thinking is achieved as a natural, social species, not as a spiritual creation of individuals, nations, religions or races.

The question of accuracy is often one of degree, because it it is not always possible to test this criteria given that accurate information and evidence are not always freely (or even expensively) available. Utilising the best available evidence at the time and admitting this is the honest way to proceed, if waiting until better arrives is not an option. The dangers of ones own confirmation bias as well as others bias also needs to be kept in mind. I suggest the integrated combination of these stages of knowledge is what separates the dialectical process of thinking from all other methods. Just grasping stages 1 and 2 accurately is enough to get by in many realms of life providing they are accurately understood. Stage 3 needs to be accurately contemplated for any level of understanding and positive interaction above naming and categorising. Many commentators fail to go beyond this 3rd stage.

However, it is the fourth, fifth and to a lesser extent the sixth stage which determines the more scientific approach to understanding and intervening in the natural and social arenas of life. Nevertheless, it is the inclusion of the sixth, seventh and eighth stages which transforms thinking into a forward looking and revolutionary mode of understanding. Many of these levels or stages of knowledge and understanding are well established in some areas of human endeavour, but not others. Engineering, building, science, medicine, for example, could not function effectively without using 4, 5, 6 and 7 (ie testing results) levels of understanding. It is the 8th and 9th which are frequently missing and wilfully disregarded in much of religious and political thinking in the 21st century as it has also been in in the past. In my opinion it is all these stages or Ievels of understanding, which need to be kept alive and continually championed, not just the easiest or most convenient.

R. Ratcliffe (September 2018.)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, Critique, Marx, Revolutionary-Humanism | Leave a comment


Everybody knows the dice are loaded.
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
Everybody knows the war is over.
Everybody knows the good guys lost.
Everybody knows the fight is fixed.
The poor stay poor the rich get rich.
That’s how it goes.
Everybody knows.

Sometimes it takes a poet to capture the spirit of the times in a few words and images and Leonard Cohen in this poem certainly put his finger on much of the malady facing humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries. The first verse of the poem ‘Everybody Knows’ reproduced above is an excellent example. Furthermore, practically every verse in this poem turned song encapsulates some aspect of life during the neo-liberal phase of capitalism. For a start, in the game of life, under this system, the dice are certainly loaded against the working classes and in favour of the elite. Many of us have metaphorically had our fingers crossed most of the time. If Mr Cohen was referring to the end of the Second World War in the third line of the above verse, then certainly many of the good guys lost out. An estimated six million lost everything, including their lives. My father, part of the allied air force, in the UK sent here and there to fight fascism, survived but certainly lost his hair, his health, his teeth, his sense of fairness and eventually his job when he returned to civvy street in 1947.

He was one of a whole generation of Western pale-skinned working class survivors of that total war against fascism but who also thought they were fighting for something positive – the right of nations to self-determination. Yet he was accused of being a fascist when he later objected to economic immigration taking away much needed UK jobs and houses. Apparently he felt that he and his mates hadn’t fought for the freedom of ‘others’ in order to be economically and culturally replaced by them later or by their children later still. Millions had died, some from his own Nissan hut, in that war against an authoritarian version of capitalism categorised as fascism, but that didn’t matter. When capital and its supporters needed cheap labour in the UK, and recruited it from around the globe, people like dad became classed as neo-nazis, for objecting. No more evidence for such ill-thought out venom was deemed necessary than opposition to the importation of cheap labour. A fact which said more about the accusers than the accused.

He was not on his own. The same thing happened and is still happening in the rest of Europe and North America and perhaps elsewhere as an older generation that gave practically everything, except their lives and like dad, were (and are) routinely, unfairly and simplistically categorised as being the very thing they fought against. Dad was bitter about many things that had happened to him during the 1930s and the war, but like millions of others, grumpiness, a quick temper and an acid tongue did not induce him to become something he had fought against. Nor did many of that older generations children turn to fascism, practically everyone of my generation knew from parents, school and community the general reason for what what had taken place between 1939 and 1945. And of course, referring back to the poem, after the war was over, the class struggle to survive was in fact still fixed and everyone knows the poor stayed poor and the rich got rich – stinking rich in fact – whilst many of the poor got literally stinking poor, particularly in old age. And;

That’s how it goes –
Everybody knows!

Everybody knows the boat is leaking.
Everybody knows the captain lied.
Everybody’s got that sinking feeling.
Like their father or their dog just died.
Everybody’s talking to their pockets.
Everybody wants a box of chocolates.
And a long-stemmed rose.
That’s how it goes.
Everybody knows.

I shall assume that the boat leaking in this second verse refers to our mode of production which includes and supports the economy, culture, finance, politics etc. Practically everybody, except those in denial, knows that in all of these institutional arenas morality, integrity, fair play and honesty are indeed still leaking out of the system fast. Moreover, everybody knows the captains of industry, commerce, finance, education, state institutions and politics have lied and continue to do so when it suits them. Faced with a patriarchal, sexist political elite – all of whom are in the system for what they can get out of it and lie about their motives and deals – choosing who to vote for cannot be based upon their morality, truth or honesty – other criteria kicks in – and it has now kicked in big time.

And of course, millions of citizens globally, some worse than others, have now got a permanent existential sinking feeling concerning their present and future situation. It is one similar to, and frequently involves, the death of a significant other. In addition, everybody knows that our culture is based upon how much we have or don’t have in our pocket. It is also common knowledge that retail therapy, buying stuff, (epitomised by the box of chocolates) has become the ersatz (and diabetic inducing) sweetener for a lost sense of community belonging, well being and self-esteem. That’s currently how it goes. And of course, everybody knows. And that’s not all they know.

And everybody knows that its now or never
Everybody knows its me or you.
And everybody knows you live for ever.
When you’ve done a line or two.
Everybody knows the deal is rotten.
Old Black Joe’s still picking cotton.
For your ribbon and bows.
And everybody knows.

Bourgeois individualistic dualism now rules and everyone knows it takes the form of competition (there’s only one winner attitudes and practices) between individuals for jobs, homes, prizes, esteem and even partners. Everybody knows its a me, me, me culture and even the much needed me too movement starts with me and does not embrace the needs of poor ethnic women or those of the working class. Everybody knows we will soon be forgotten, unless we are lucky enough to have written a book, a piece of music, a poem or made an outstanding painting or statue. Simply emptying our bins, cleaning our streets, keeping our electricity and water flowing, growing our food, making our clothes, nursing us back to health, driving our trains and buses, etc., (just some of the real essentials for life as we know it) will not prevent us from sinking into a thankless obscurity.

Everybody knows the post-slavery deal and pre and post-war New-Deals were rotten and the majority of dark-skinned people along with poor pale-skinned people are still routinely entrapped in modern forms of debt and trafficked slavery. They are still relegated to the bottom of the current capitalist constructed socio-economic pile. And in this regard, everybody knows who still picks cotton and in particular who sews our third world manufactured clothes – because the latter is printed on every shirt and dress label. And yes again – everybody knows – that’s how it goes.

Sometimes it takes a poet only a few short stanzas, to make obvious a whole picture that should be obvious to all, and however artistically, tell it how it is. The poem goes on further with a some references to more personal issues which I will omit. Those interested can always obtain the poem or the song, which I strongly recommend, for it is well worth reading or listening to. Finally, I am no poet but inspired to write this short article by Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows, I offer my own feeble updated contribution to what everybody knows before signing off.

Everybody knows the seas are rising.
Everybody knows its getting too hot.
Everybody knows there’s too much rubbish.
But everybody wants more than they’ve got.
Everybody knows the worlds in trouble.
Yet everybody stays inside their bubble,
And buys more clothes.
That’s how it goes.
Everybody knows.

Yes indeed, Leonard!
Everybody knows – everybody knows.

Roy Ratcliffe (August 2018)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, Critique, dispossession, neo-liberalism | Tagged , | 16 Comments