Turkey’s Failed Military Coup, One Month On

The-Gay-Erdogan
President Erdogan sends the police in to attack gay pride demonstrators and hates images like this

The main question for me has always been who is on the side of democracy, the office of President Erdogan, or the coup plotters.  On the night of the attempted coup, I backed Erdogan simply because he was elected.  But further analysis since, suggests the plotters had admirable goals.  They wanted to return to the secular democracy that is enshrined in the constitution rather than the Islamisation of the country that has taken place.  Under Erdogan, it is said by US Senator John McCain that there are more journalists detained in Turkey even than in Iran, such is the state’s contempt for Articles 25 and 26 of the constitution about freedom of thought and its dissemination, and opinion.  Erdogan is also now seizing extra powers to allow the Presidency to overrule the Parliament, suggesting there is little regard here for democracy.

A bugging question remains however, did the plotters have the support of the population, or at least a large part of it?  If not, that would always make a coup worse than putting up with an elected dictator, because such a coup would be bound to degenerate into even worse authoritarianism.

The editor of spiked Brendan O’Neill, contemplating this issue, wrote shortly after the event that the coup “lacked roots in society; it lacked a connection with any kind of public” and was just the action of a “few thousand conscripts.”  In which case, it would be indicative of a broader theory espoused by spiked – that the public are apathetic in relation to attacks on formal democracy and they need to be re-energised to believe in ‘Enlightenment values’.

But actually the coup did command support from a wide section of the population.  Why else have there been 70,000 arrests, removals, and suspensions of people in the judiciary, media, education, healthcare, and other sectors?  It is reasonable to assume these 70,000 are just the tip of the iceberg in relation to the desire to topple Erdogan, so it’s more than just a ‘few thousand conscripts.’  Although Erdogan’s popularity has apparently grown since he defeated the coup, domestically this is explained as a misleading statistic of an opinion poll of 1275 Turks who approved of him to the tune of 67%, an opinion poll conducted under an official ‘State of Emergency’ where the small sample might feel intimidated to give a correct answer.  And internationally, Erdogan is favoured because of his tough stance against Russia and his support for Islamist fighters in Syria entirely glossed over, such is both the Turkish Presidency and the international community’s faux concern over ‘human rights.’  On the night of the coup, although Western media has painted the thousands who took to the streets as in defence of Erdogan, the truth is far from clear how many supported him and how many were supporting the coup – for example, in some pictures it appears as if the protestors are riding the coup’s tanks in support rather than attempting to stall them.

It is also reported that yesterday a ‘few hundred thousand’ turned up at a pro-Erdogan rally – yet the organisers were expecting 3-3.5m, the actual number fell far short.  Just because the anti-Erdogan camp are not shouting their anger at him does not mean it does not exist – they likely fear for their safety and exist only in individuated ways because of the climate of state terror.

A key thing to understand is the question whether the military were acting as representatives of the state or as representatives of the people.  The military always embodies these two things but in different ratios at different times: thus in 1974-5 in Portugal, an army rebellion toppled a fascist dictatorship.  And again in 2011, the Egyptian military rallied behind the people in toppling Mubarak, before sadly later switching sides and clamping down on the democracy they had previously championed.

Obviously what needs to happen is for the Turks and Kurds to loudly express their voice, but this won’t be helped by all the congratulations of Erdogan or fretting about a ‘crisis of liberal values.’  On the latter, the changes that are taking place in the middle east ought not be measured by yardsticks of stable liberal democracies in the West, but by what kind of vision for a democratic future the struggles on the ground invoke, even if imperfect.  The only thing that’s crystal clear is that more Erdoganism is the road to greater imperfection.

On ‘Estranged Labour’ and ‘Sustainable Development’

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The idea of ‘estranged labour’ simply refers to the character of work undertaken for someone else, under the pressure of coercion or force, and especially when the product of labour is acquired by your enemy.  Labour under such conditions has to take on an ‘estranged’ character because it is not something pleasurable or creative, it is endured as a chore.  With estranged labour, work is just a ‘means to an end’ – physical survival and reproduction of the next generation of labourers, and it is only after the working day is finished that the worker perceives his life begins, yes for those few hours of watching TV then falling asleep.  This is our lives.

Estranged labour has been justified by the ruling class under capitalism in a number of ways.  They’re never honest about it.  The true motive for their imposition of estranged labour on the rest of the population is just to expand capital, the ruling classes’ own alien boss.  If this was made transparent to everyone it is doubtful how long the system could last.  However, they conjure myths about what you are working for, some idea of the ‘greater good’.  In the past this has been ‘for Empire!’ or ‘for the Nation!’  Today, the justification is that we work for the ‘environment!’  Sadly, the only challenges to this symptom of estranged labour comes from people who just want to substitute one excuse for another – their new excuse is we should work for ‘Growth Growth Growth!’  To tackle estranged labour requires a far bolder critique, one which would situate necessary labour in terms of what people need, and reduce necessary labour time to the bare minimum for satisfaction of needs as technology develops (it’s already developed quite a bit, as I’m sure you’re aware!)

So firstly, the justification for estranged labour in terms of the ‘environment!’  Today we are told we are on the verge of environmental apocalypse (a lie), and that people must work to produce wealth that can be used to mitigate climate disasters, stem overpopulation (apparently Africans by virtue of their poverty reproduce too much), to fund expensive green energy projects that would be considered non-cost effective in more rational times, and in other ways to ‘preserve nature’.  This lie for why we produce is bolstered by publicly funded ‘science’ that is open to question, and also structurally reinforced by rules on recycling your waste and monitoring your energy usage, as well as the fact we are bombarded with environmentalist messages all the time in the media.  All of this is loosely banded together under the banner of ‘sustainable development’.  There are critics of this, but as I shall argue later, they are even worse.

This situation, where the ostensible aim of production is for nature, is similar to ancient societies that thought they were working for the gods.  As Karl Marx wrote of this:

“To be sure, in the earliest times the principal production (for example, the building of temples, etc., in Egypt, India and Mexico) appears to be in the service of the gods, and the product belongs to the gods.  However, the gods on their own were never the lords of labor.  No more was nature.” (‘Estranged Labour’, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844)

The gods, since they don’t exist, were never really the driving force for these labours, it was man’s own activity itself, just existing in an alienated form.  And this alienated form emanated from the fact that you had divisions in society, e.g. with the Pharaoh on top doling out orders.  When man isn’t free, you get a society of estranged labour.  Society sustains this set up through the conjuring of myths.  Today, with production for nature, the same thing is occurring.  The great chasm between the capitalist with immense power at his disposal versus the atomised worker creates a new estranged labour and is sustained by the conjuring of the myth your work benefits ‘the planet’.

Hard environmentalists have criticised this situation because they think we are producing too much and still raping Goddess Gaia.  But because no-one wants to regress to the stone age, their ideas aren’t taken seriously.  A far more significant critique of sustainable development is that it is not progressive enough, with ‘progress’ here defined as mankind dominating nature even more, producing more.  This attack on sustainable development that comes from both right and left political quarters holds that deifying nature comes at the expense of expanding the market and stifles growth.  There is nothing humanist about this critique and do not be deceived by the occasions in which human needs are sometimes employed in the discourse to disguise the truth.  The fact is you will still be suffering from estranged labour (because you work for the alien power capital), it is just that the justification for your hard work replaces ‘nature’ with ‘growth for growth’s sake’.

Marx continues: “And what a contradiction it would be if, the more man subjugated nature by his labor [whilst simultaneously deifying her] and the more miracles of the gods were rendered superfluous by the miracles of industry, the more man were to renounce the joy of production and the enjoyment of the product to please these powers.”

Here we have a clear indictment against the 21st century.  Through estranged labour, we do not enjoy work in the slightest because it is not undertaken as part of a communal project, furthermore we cannot fully enjoy the products of labour.  Witness today’s frenzies for calorie counting all foodstuffs, paying a penance to Gaia through recycling as if we have to apologise for consuming the products of our own labour, and the whole hoohar that we must reduce our carbon footprint – i.e. consume less, in an age where we have achieved a great plenty of goods to consume.  From estranged labour flows estranged consumption – at no stage of life do we actually fully enjoy any of it.

There is a solution to all this which doesn’t fit the environmentalist critique (produce less) or the bourgeois-deviant critique (produce more).  We need to change the social relations of production so that we all become equal partners in the production process.  With equality, we can freely associate as autonomous beings, uncoercively producing as and when necessary (which doesn’t mean producing more), developing technology to make our lot even easier, and fully, sensuously enjoy what we produce with no estranged-based guilt trips.

Two Examples of Enlightenment Misunderstanding: ‘Progress’ and ‘Free Speech’

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This blog looks at two cherished Enlightenment ideals – progress, and free speech – and shows why the narrow understanding of these and poor justification for these ideals as perpetuated by the old Enlightenment thinkers (e.g. Bacon and JS Mill) and new Enlightenment thinkers grouped around the radical bourgeois-deviant website spiked-online is not just wrong, but potentially dangerous to society.

Progress

In the origins of the Enlightenment, old and new, the conception of ‘progress’ only entails that progress occurs when mankind increases his domination of nature.  There is no mention of human progress, no discussion of how such progress benefits mankind, it is taken as given.  In fact, as has occurred, the drive for progress has been a mixed blessing for mankind.  Life expectancy, living standards, and efficiency in many spheres increase with progress, but it also extracts a heavy penalty in terms of making work more monotonous and dulling to the senses to the extent that workers become mere appendages of the machine.  It is not that the aspiration to dominate nature is wrong, not at all, the problem is that this progress occurs within the context of exploitative and alienated social relations, those relations of the market.

Progress is really a drive to extract more surplus value from the worker, and therefore impoverishes him in relation to the alien power that is dominating him – capital.  Progress never shortens the working day, indeed it sometimes extends it in the case of white collar workers who now have smartphones and therefore do extra work on the train to work and at home.  The worker’s resistance to that is met brutally with coercion both in the factory and outside.  This concept of progress is therefore narrow, what we want is a society where increasing the domination over nature is truly of benefit to mankind straightforwardly, and that cannot happen until the social relations that underpin the capitalist mode of production are entirely changed.  It is only when labour is emancipated from capital, when people associate freely with one another in production, that progress can be experienced as a good thing, and therefore that mankind’s material progress at last exists in tandem with his human progress.

Tragically spiked-online that emerged out of an ex-Marxist publication, only defends the narrow definition of progress, not this Marxist version, so are making a bad problem worse.  For example, in an article entitled “Britain’s Runway Fiasco: The New Fear of Progress”, Blair Spowart begins by articulating his Enlightenment view of progress, says we need loads more airports, loads more roads, more trains, more everything, before concluding “Right now, much of Asia is living in the future – let’s join them.”  What Spowart neglects to mention is that China, I assume he is thinking primarily of China, is a One-Party state totalitarian police state.  No doubt Spowart doesn’t like those aspects of Chinese society, but what he cannot see from his narrow idea of progress is that the form of the state is necessitated by that mode of production.  If you have the hyper capitalist exploitation that drives “the future”, you have alienated labour, and you just have to have a highly repressive state regime.  The two go hand in hand.  You can’t have market growth without direct repression because workers rebel too much.  So it’s no good spiked-online saying they believe in “liberty” and “progress” – they have to choose one or the other.  I hope they choose the former, and reconceptualise progress in terms of what it does for liberty, not that it is in-itself unproblematically good.

Free Speech

This is spiked’s most famed demand, and it is a good one.  “Free speech, no ifs or buts.”  But rather than justify it in the narrow terms of JS Mill, it is far better to justify it in terms of majority interest.  The principle of majority interest clarifies when free speech is necessary to uphold and when censorship is justified.  Yes, I said it, sometimes censorship is justified.  The principle of majority interest is not the same woolly idea of “public interest” that is bandied about by Lord Justice Leveson in his demands to restrict press freedom, it is the opposite of that.  Public interest as defined by a committee or a judge is not the real interest of the public who are now being denied the choice to read or see what they want ‘in their own interest’.  The idea of ‘majority interest’ by contrast, is exercised by the majority themselves.  It is something they vote on.  Thus in 1985, print workers at The Sun censored the front page that was due to go out.  It depicted striking miners’ leader Arthur Scargill with his arm raised, with the headline “Sieg Heil.”  This was a debased attempt by the bourgeois press to portray Scargill as a fascist, when really he was just a state-socialist.  The workers decided not to allow that to go to print, and the next morning, that issue of The Sun had a blank front page.  This was a case of the majority interest prevailing although it was an act of censorship.

Another example would be the publications suppressed by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution.  They banned some bourgeois publications and banned some rival Socialist groups from publishing because to allow that would be to allow counter-revolutionary forces to organise against an already vulnerable fledgling worker’s state.  This censorship was justified because it was in the majority interest.  This wasn’t dreamt up by the likes of Leveson, we know this was what the majority wanted because they voted on it.

By contrast to these examples of justified censorship, it is usually necessary to fight for free speech under capitalism because it is a weapon of ours against the ruling class.  This Marxist view of the importance of free speech is different to the Enlightenment idea that tries to justify it in relation to some abstract principle because we are talking about what humans need in the here and now to help them have better lives.  Thus all the student union bans in relation to speech are unjustified because they harm the majority.  At university, the majority need to be open to all ideas to expand their minds and hopefully contribute to the future.  And all the government laws against speech crime need to be repealed because they express a desire to cripple worker’s development as people.

The principle of majority interest stems from a recognition of human history as that of a species striving to be free, yet constantly caught up in antagonistic social relations.  The principle of majority interest is a way of uniting in theory when free speech works and when it hampers that overall process of liberation.  Of course, when labour is fully self-emancipated, you can have total free speech forever more.  But a realistic attempt to realise the Enlightenment ideal has to acknowledge there are occasions in the run up when sometimes censorship is the right thing to do.  And that can only be justified with a Marxist view of history.

 

The Death of Living Marxism Explained

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James Heartfield’s 2002 book, “The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained” is an often fascinating account of trends in academia that have caught on, recur frequently in media stories, and have become new principles for the reorganisation of public life.  The idea is that the notion of a human being as a Subject, which is one who has freewill and is entitled to a degree of autonomy, is under attack today.  That view initially emanated from the Enlightenment and was at the centre of the organisation of the ensuing bourgeois society.  But in the 21st century, it is common for children to now stand trial even though they don’t understand the proceedings (a reflection of diminished adulthood) whilst parents are constantly nagged about how to bring up their children.  Under nudge theory, supermarkets are being rearranged (hide the tobacco and confectionary) because our freewill is held to be fragile and a danger to ourselves unless managed by caring professionals.  This blogger has written several articles about how mentally ill patients are treated as beings devoid of any autonomy whatsoever with the new policy coming in of banning them from smoking, even outdoors, when detained in a psychiatric clinic, and beyond.

The book takes apart very well academic theories that became fashionable post-1968, of deconstructionism, structuralism, evolutionary psychology, genetic determinism etc., basically anything that does not hold to the centrality of the Subject, which Heartfield rightly wants to defend.  Heartfield’s most successful strategy for doing this is to reintroduce ‘ordinary people’ in to the realm of academic theory where previously they had been evacuated.  The truth is that ordinary people make countless choices, form contracts, get married etc., every day, and this is oughtn’t be taken as a menacing thing.  It shows that having a society constituted of Subjects works.  And the alternative idea that people are completely incapable of running their own lives can only lead to a powerfully authoritarian situation which would be chaotic, hellish, and uncivilized.  So far so good.

The weak point of the book is where Heartfield accounts for the broad acceptance of the idea of degraded subjectivity.  In his view, the collapse of the left, as expressed in declining amounts of days lost to strikes, and the absolute collapse of far left parties with the Labour Party ditching all its principles, is a real basis on which the idea of degraded subjectivity can grow like a weed.  He says:

“…whatever cause the dramatic decline of working class organisation and militancy is put down to, the fact of that decline is hard to deny, and the idea that the grand narrative of the emancipation of labour was a myth begins to look more plausible.  The defeat of the working class, and its allies on the political left…begins to look like a reasonable account of the roots of the ‘death of the Subject’ announced in the theory of postmodernism.” {my italics}

This will not do.  ‘Whatever cause’ isn’t something that can be brushed over like this, it is the very thing that needs investigating.  In this blogger’s view, the form of organisation of workers has traditionally been rather pointless, and workers have now wised up to that.  That is a good thing.  The forms takes by workerist organisations were varying mixtures of trade unionism, Labourism, Stalinism, or Vanguardism.  It is actually a good thing all these things are discredited in the eyes of workers because they were all on the wrong path.  The end of these wrong paths opens up the potential to explore a new path, an undistorted Marxism with Marx considered here as the key theorist of human liberation.  Therefore, the decline of traditional workerist organisations cannot explain the rise of ideas of ‘degraded subjectivity’.  There is for sure, a historically short period of atomisation following those declines before the working class reasserts itself in a new, better way.  And in that period, we are vulnerable to the attacks from on high of those who wish to take our choices away.  That is all degraded subjectivity is – it is not a new human condition, just a new cloak for repressive social policy.  That is a problem and we must oppose it.  But eventually the working class will rally around a big idea, thereby coming together, and fully sort out the problems.  Heartfield’s book is not the idea that will cause the rallying around.  Nevertheless, it identifies clearly a short-term problem, and gives us good reason to oppose certain policies that emanate from on high.

How am I so certain the working class militancy will return, forcing theory to come to its senses?  Because the outlook of every worker already possesses revolutionary class consciousness.  This idea, from Marx, does not mean every worker is a ready-made mini-Lenin.  What it means is that they are conscious of being one-of-many having to undertake alienating and highly coercive labour which they don’t want to.  It is revolutionary in that their outlook is directly opposed to capital, which runs society.  That condition hasn’t changed, can’t change, didn’t even change in the repressive days of USSR totalitarianism.  Worker’s resistance does already take place in many ways from strikes, go slows, sabotage, malingering, etc.  And it will grow so long as we have free political conditions.

However, there is one important danger associated with Heartfield’s outlook.  The book is open to the misinterpretation that everything that happens today is a manifestation of ‘degraded subjectivity’, and therefore must be opposed.  This is not only wrong, it is extending the timescale of the atomised period and creating a pretty dodgy political outlook.  When Britain was on the verge of declaring war on Iraq shortly after Heartfield wrote this book, the 1m anti-war protestors were seen by Heartfield’s friends as only manifesting ‘diminished subjectivity’.  The online magazine spiked which could have done so much to unite the protestors with intelligent ideas against the war instead just attacked the protestors themselves.  The result?  The war went ahead and half a million Iraqis lost their lives.  And to bring us up to the present, Heartfield’s friends now see the Black Lives Matter protest as an example of diminished subjectivity.  The result?  They seek to quash a potentially vibrant movement that might be able to tackle police brutality and develop new forms of working class solidarity.  Finally, spiked is so obsessed with the idea that the whole of society can be explained through the notion of ‘diminished subjectivity’ that there are things they just don’t cover, lest it remind us of a different era (God forbid!)  Hence spiked has written nothing on the anti-strike laws that have already been drawn up and are likely to go through Parliament just as soon as Jeremy Corbyn is out of the picture.  Therefore it is possible that this book, as a basis for a new politics, actually sustains the very thing it is supposed to be opposing.

The book should be read, but it’s not Heartfield’s best work.

Buy “The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained” by James Heartfield.

 

What Native Americans Can Teach Us About The Idea Of Human Liberation

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High-tech ‘primitive communist’ Chakotay who even former Borg drone Seven of Nine fell in love with in the final season of Star Trek: Voyager

“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” -Massasoit

Human history has been bedevilled by the issue of ownership of the means of production.  It wasn’t always so.  Under the so-called “primitive communism”, there was no concept of ownership of the means of production, which was ‘the land’.  Primitive communists were the hunter gatherers and none of them ‘owned’ the forces that sustained them.  They just used them at will to sustain themselves.  If you think this is odd, it isn’t really.  Even in our society where virtually everything has been privatised, no-one owns ‘the sky’, yet we use it all the time.  Breathing is the first thing a baby does in the world.  Just as it would be weird to privatise the sky, Native Americans did not understand private ownership of ‘the land’, which to them was the entirety of their means of production.

This blog does not argue we should go back to living in a hunter gatherer society.  It argues we have much to learn from these ancient ways, and that if only we could develop a new idea that no-one owns the now technologically advanced means of production, we’d be there – at the stage of total human emancipation.

There is now an abundance of evidence from Native American society before Europeans took it over that there was just no concept of ownership over the productive forces.  Although there was a matriarchal set up, this only meant the women who also took full part in work would encourage the men to hunt and gather.  The products of this primitive work were shared out according to who needed what, be it meat, clothing, or whatever.  This was smashed by bloodthirsty Europeans at the dawn of capitalism, servants of the new Empire of capital.  As researcher Mary Arnold says:

“Since Native American peoples had no concept of land ownership, the European invaders considered the land to be up for grabs. The Europeans used a variety of ways to gain control of the land. They used deception on Montezuma. They ignored Indian political practices by having a few Indians sell the lands. And when all else failed, the federal government passed laws to relocate the Indians and resorted to warfare if they resisted.”

Thus there has definitely been a period of history, prior to the introduction of the idea of private property, in which the means of production – that is the forces available to man to sustain himself – were not considered ‘owned’.  The European invaders with their ‘advanced’ ideas changed all that.  This development was not all bad, it contained some good things.  Humanity became a species where connections were made all around the globe, allowing us the potential to pool knowledge and techniques and develop new frontiers.  The USA today, the world’s leading economy, has scaled heights that were unimaginable to the Native Americans such as putting man on the moon or mapping the human genome.  Life expectancy, and in many respects the quality of life, has also massively increased in comparison to that of the ‘primitive communists’, showing the benefit of development of the productive forces.  Yet something was also lost – not forever, and certainly not to readers of this blog who I hope will take these ideas on board – that something was an absence of inner antagonisms within the society itself that have now become so developed and magnified, they plague everyone’s lives, make them miserable, and even threaten the survival of the human race itself (nuclear war).

Marx initially designated his outlook as “naturalism, or humanism”.  He only later called it ‘communism’ after he saw that the best of the active socialists in the proletarian movement of his day were the communists.  This meant they wanted to topple the system of private property which Marx knew was the basis of the capitalist mode of production that divided society into warring classes, was prone to crises, and failed to enrich individual life.  But what Marx understood as ‘communism’ was most definitely NOT the perversion of it that characterised many countries in the 20th century.  How did the project go so badly wrong?

The material basis for the Marxist project going askew was that the disciples did not understand that the key lay in the issue of ‘ownership’ of the means of production.  Even the great Lenin argued only for social ownership of the means of production.  That was a terrible idea.  ‘Society’ that was in control of ‘the Party’ now became the new owner of the means of production in the name of the abolition of private property!  Private property simply became owned by one entity instead of several, and the basic conflicts within society remained.  To suppress this, the Party had to become a totalitarian regime that directly oppressed the masses.  Terrible result.

But what if instead of society owning the means of production, no-one does.  Not only does this abolish private property, but also social property.  In such a situation, individuals just use the means of production to produce what they and their fellows need, as and when.  Rather than being bled to death as the capitalist and Soviet system entailed, the means of production would be used for human benefit, not its opposite.  The means of production wouldn’t be owned by a single soul, they’d just ‘be there’ like the land was in Native American times.

Best of all, we now have high-tech means of production.  And we can develop the technology even further.  What we are now talking about isn’t the basic subsistence of Native American society, but a life beyond our wildest dreams, full of luxury and devoid of domineering relations between man and man that currently is the source of most of life’s hellish characteristics.

 

The Centrality of the Concept of “Alienated Labour” to the Theory of Human Liberation

 

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Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987)

The patient reports certain symptoms

“Marx’s vision was one of total freedom.  He was concerned with the freedom of humanity and, against that, the inevitable misery and waste of life which characterizes contemporary society.”

  • Raya Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom, p.53

Two world wars later, the continued nuclear threat, ongoing barbarism around the world, the dull monotonous grind of work, and democracy in peril, yes it’s fair to say that contemporary society is characterised by misery and waste of life, just as it was in Marx’s day.  What has changed since then are new political realities.  Public discourse today is preoccupied with issues such as environmentalism, euthanasia and therapy, to name but three issues.  Nowadays if a worker started complaining about the state of the world they are more likely to be packed off to a counselling session where you are told, quite literally, “Don’t worry about things you cannot control.”  Any concerns about the wider world are no longer taken seriously, such is the democratic deficit.

Does this make Marx redundant?  In this blogger’s opinion, it does not.  The issues that preoccupy society, although distracting from the way in which the masses might change the world, ought to be seen as only symptoms of the continued problem of alienated labour that Marx was the first to elucidate.  We can go into the ins and outs of environmentalism, euthanasia and therapy until the cows come home.  Many experts are.  But the real solution to these issues is not to be found in endless debates about them on their own terms, but in recognising them as just the latest reflections in the human brain of alienated labour, with the added twist of what has come to be referred to as a ‘post-political epoch’.

Let’s take those three examples of topical issues in turn.  Environmentalism: the central message is to lower your carbon footprint and crazed gestures such as recycling and smart meters are coming in to create compliance.  But this is a meek existence.  It locates meaning in garbage and electrical consumption, things that should not be of concern to anyone.  It is a symptom of alienated labour in that things are depicted as beyond human control (when they are not).  Humanity has to revel in a self-imposed downtrodden condition rather than conquering the galaxy – precisely the condition workers find themselves in trapped under capitalism.  Regarding euthanasia, it appears we are nothing more than lumps of flesh waiting to be put in the ground.  Euthanasia advocates use of the language of ‘choice’ without meaning that term in any coherent way.  Should we let a 17 year old who has just split with his partner have euthanasia because they are depressed?  Of course not, most euthanasia advocates would agree.  But they would say what of the terminally ill or severely disabled?  Then it isn’t about choice, but about disposing of inconvenient problems.  No wonder disability advocates demonstrated outside Parliament when the Bill was being discussed.  They said “we want to live, not die”, and “we need help to live, not help to die.”   Quite right.  To have a state policy of bumping off inconvenient humans is abhorrent.  This is symptomatic of alienated labour in the way it makes a fetish out of miserable, unfree life and proposes death as the only solution.  Regarding therapy, psychiatrists have now expanded the definitions of mental illness to encompass virtually any emotion or character trait.  These anti-humanists want everyone on the couch, the better to rule their lives in miniscule detail.  The human subject is therefore not self-determining, but vulnerable and alienated.

Now, what would we make of a doctor who, instead of diagnosing an illness, merely addressed certain symptoms, occasionally and vaguely.  The failure to not only ignore treating the illness but not even diagnose it, or abjectly refuse to try to diagnose it, would make them a poor pharmacist, let alone a terrible doctor.  This is the case with those who discuss those three issues without digging beneath the surface to see what they are indicative of.

Of course, at this stage, it might be objected that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  To see Marxist-identified reasons lurking behind these issues is to ignore the fact that this is the new political reality and one cannot contribute to the further development of mankind unless we confront them in all their detail now and ignore what I madly think they are ‘symptomatic’ of.

Certainly they are a new political reality that must be overcome for human autonomy to begin to flourish, but it is key to this overcoming that the new political reality is recognised as a myriad of symptoms of an underlying problem: alienated labour.  Undiagnosed, alienated labour will just get worse and worse such that in my previous blog I wrote about an embryonic idea in the USA that there are now ‘airborne glutens’ that can trigger horrible reactions in coeliacs, therefore requiring that taking sandwiches to work should be banned.  How bad do things have to get before we wise up and confront the core of the problem – alienated labour?  If we fail to do this, worse and worse crazy symptoms will present themselves over time, mystifying the integral problem even more.

It is a case of what computer scientists call “GIGO” – Garbage In, Garbage Out.  If you’re worried about the garbage content of contemporary ideology, look at what is fuelling it, and to do that, you have to look at the character of our daily lives.

So what is alienated labour?  To that I now turn.

The patient receives a diagnosis

Life is experienced as miserable and human lives are clearly being wasted in factories for production’s own sake.  In one’s couple of hours of free time, we only vegetate in front of ‘Game of Thrones’ looking at someone’s flaccid wiener because our minds have been so ruined by capitalist production, that’s all we can do.  What was the point of the human race?  What was the point of those historical giants such as Aristotle, Shakespeare, Goethe, Darwin, JK Rowling, if we’re just going to waste our lives like this?  It doesn’t occur out of choice, it occurs out of compulsion: capitalism has us over a barrel, and the only road to freedom is to overthrow it.

Dunayevskaya, understanding Marx, says:

“[The labor of the worker subject to the power of capital] is still labor, but it turns out to be an alien power because the labor process which extracts his labor from him is a process that has transformed the machine into an accumulated dead weight resting upon him, the living worker….  Labor under capitalism is the very specific function of a man working at machines to which he becomes a mere appendage.  His labor, therefore, is not the self-activity, the creative function it was under primitive communism where, in mastering nature, man had also developed his own natural capacities and talents.  Labor in the factory is alienated labor. ” (p.56)

Rather than other people’s labour in the creating of machinery ostensibly to assist the worker, the machine appears as something horrible, something one is slave to.  This is because the whole experience of going to work under capitalism is unfree.  At work you cannot escape your fate because you are under the supervision of a hierarchy of officers and sergeants.  It transforms the labour process into something horrible to be endured rather than an expression of creativity to make products to satisfy the needs of one’s fellow man.  Machinery hasn’t shortened the working day (although class struggle has a little), it is just used to pump more blood out of you.

Furthermore, the more one works, the more one is subject to the domination of the very thing that is oppressing him: capital.  Alienated labour creates more and more capital, and your wages only exist to keep you going at a socially acceptable level in order to extract more labour from you the very next day, the next day, and the next day after that, and evermore.  Your wages also ensure you are able to reproduce the next generation of labourers.  The more you work, the poorer you become in relation to the mass of capital that is now dominating the entire globe.

This is the objective basis for much of life’s misery, and it gives rise to miserabilism in our ideology – the way we think.  Our diagnosis of what is wrong in our heads has therefore led us to look at what is wrong in our real, material lives.  Looking at what is wrong at the heart of reality will now lead us to some radical treatment options.

 

The patient is recommended a certain treatment

We will now look at three treatment options.  The first two don’t work, and been proven so historically.  The third is the most radical, and our best hope.

  • Redistribution of wealth. This has been proposed by the Pope of all people.  Good luck convincing your paymaster of that from your position of bondage, but it won’t work anyway.  The central problem causing your misery is alienated labour.  Will a few extra quid make that go away?  Of course not, you are still in the factory.  The only way redistribution of wealth could possibly tackle alienated labour is if everyone became a billionaire and didn’t have to work, but then nothing would get done.  If nothing’s being produced, there’s nothing to consume.  Your billion would become worthless.  And so you return to bondage.
  • Voting for a socialist. No socialist politician has ever done away with alienated labour, indeed it’s not the kind of thing that can happen from on-high.  In the USSR, the bureaucratic regime actually intensified alienated labour with camps all over the place.  A left-of-centre politician such as Jeremy Corbyn’s beefiest concern is to nationalise the railways.  So what?  What difference does it make to the alienated workers if their master is a Fat Controller or Jeremy Corbyn, the character of their work will still be the same.  (I for one am for the abolition of train drivers and station staff as I think the whole thing will be automated in the future).  But worse still, what do we gain with a ‘socialist’ government?  The workers are still in the factories, indeed that is the condition of the faux socialist’s rule, no matter how principled they are.
  • Overthrow capitalism. We need to be clear about what we mean by this.  Firstly it is necessary to grasp that the capitalist system is based on having two main classes – the capitalists who are propertied, and the proletariat who are propertyless.  (By property we’re not interested in TV’s, cars, etc., but the big stuff – ownership of the means of production).  The only way the proletariat can survive in this situation is to sell their labour to a capitalist, but as we have seen this only leads to alienation and a furthering of the initial class divide.  This has led some Marxists in the past to claim “the abolition of private property” is the answer, and structuring a communist regime around this principle.  Sadly, this is not a radical enough demand.  What happened in the USSR with this approach was the state came to resemble a giant capitalist – alienated labour still existed under this ‘socialised’ property arrangement, indeed it got worse.  But if we understand private property as a consequence of alienated labour, a different solution presents itself.  Private property is itself the form taken by the products of labour at a historical point where man is not yet in control of himself.  It is not enough to abolish private property and then magically all problems vanish.  The ongoing quest is for man to gain full control of himself and organise new relations of production, relations that are freely determined by confident individuals who only work because they value the human race, yet mutually decide to reduce the necessary length of the working day to a minimum.  Therefore, private property isn’t an inevitable consequence of any labour – the idea that every object needs an owner is specific to our times, not forever – private property is a consequence of specifically alienated labour.  It is a defect in the current character of the labour process (chiefly that it is policed) that produces private property.  Only workers that are objectively degraded as a proletarian class rather than members of a freely associating human race, can produce the alienated form of private property.  As Dunayevskaya says:

“Private property arises not because the products of labor are alienated from the laborers.  That is only the consequence of the fact that his very activity is an alien activity…When the division of labour…has reached the monstrous proportions where all science, all intellect, all skill goes into the machine, while the labor of man becomes a simple, monotonous grind, then the labor of man can produce nothing but its opposite, capital.  All concrete labours have been reduced to one abstract, congealed mass.  Dead, accumulated, materialized labor now turns to oppress the living labourer.  This mastery of dead over living labor is a class relationship.” (p.56)

Therefore, the abolition of private property has to co-exist with an abolition of all objective class divisions and humanity re-emerging in a free, unfettered, and equal condition.  Dunayevskaya goes on:

“’Not until the transcendence of this mediation (abolition of private property) which is nevertheless a necessary presupposition does there arise positive Humanism, beginning from itself,’” said Marx.  In a word, another transcendence, after the abolition of private property is needed to achieve a truly new, human society which differs from private property not alone as an ‘economic system,’ but as a different way of life altogether.  It is as free individuals developing all their natural and acquired talents that we first leap from what Marx called the pre-history of humanity into its true history, the ‘leap from necessity to freedom.’”  (p.58)

And

“For Marx the abolition of private property was a means toward the abolition of alienated labor, not an end in itself…He never tired from stressing that what is of primary importance is not the form of property, but the mode of production.”  (p.61)

To overcome alienated labour, workers will have to politically associate with one another in the common goal of trying to overcome their subjugation, with the desire to fundamentally change the entire way in which work is conducted.  That will similarly alter the entire lives of everyone on the planet for the better, and fundamentally change the character of society, perfecting the human race itself.

Gluten Free Diets: Middle Class Snobbery?

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I am a vegan and have adopted a gluten free diet.  Right, now I’ve established my moral superiority over you, let me tell you what to think.

Coeliac disease is a severe auto-immune illness that causes the body to attack the intestines whenever one eats gluten that is found in common foods containing wheat, barley or rye.  Potentially it is believed that if untreated, those with the condition might develop bowel cancer, osteoporosis or infertility.  And their day to day lives, unless they adopt a gluten free diet, are blighted by stomach pains, diarrhoea, vomiting, fatigue, and anaemia.  If you have these symptoms and cannot explain them, for sure see your GP for a simple blood test to check if you are coeliac.  Fortunately, this condition is only diagnosed in 1 in 100 people (20 years ago it was even less – a quarter of that figure).  Coeliac advocates believe it may be underdiagnosed in the broader population by 75%, though what this speculation is based on is unclear.

Genuine coeliacs do need assistance from society with for example, making people aware not to use the same utensils when cooking the different foodstuffs as the tiniest amount of gluten can trigger a reaction, and also help with the costs of buying gluten free food because it is far more expensive.  NHS prescriptions for gluten free food are currently over £100m per year when delivery costs are factored in.

What coeliacs don’t need however, is the wrong sort of empathy where the concerned and healthy dinner party clique jump on the bandwagon and also say they want a gluten free diet.  Such is the fad now for all things gluten free that many celebrities who are not coeliac have adopted gluten free diets in an attempt to cement their fame.  These celebrities include Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow, Russell Crowe, Rachel Weisz, and Bill Clinton (who also converted to veganism), though this list is nowhere near exhaustive.  Furthermore, Nottingham University research has found that there are much higher levels of reported gluten freedom in affluent areas, suggesting middle class types are switching to quinoa for the purpose of distinguishing themselves from the masses.  In the US, polls have found over 30% of Americans now wish to switch to a gluten free diet.  Their ‘awareness’ is in essence, a self-proclaimed badge of superiority over the hordes who eat normal bread.

Of course if one has wheat intolerance but not coeliac disease, it still might make sense to cut out the gluten.  But is that intolerance really as common as is made out?  Unlikely.  With symptoms so broad as “feeling bloated after eating” or “becoming irritable”, wheat intolerance is probably over-egged.  What seems to be occurring, and this is common to many kinds of ‘awareness-raising campaign’, is that those who adopt a gluten free diet see it as a kind of spiritual conversion, a road to Damascus thing.  Hence on internet message boards, a common theme is “I feel so much better now” or “I’m more alive”, when there is no scientific basis for this.

The truth is actually the reverse – adopting a gluten free diet, unless necessary – is usually bad for you, both in terms of your health and your humanity.  On the health question, as reported in the journal Scientific American, Katherine Tallmadge, dietician and author of “Diet Simple” said, “Studies show gluten-free diets can be deficient in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc.” That is, they’re worse for you than a normal diet.  Being malnourished is a far more pressing health problem than occasionally feeling bloated.

The craze for gluten free diets is also bad for humanity.  Not only is it a way for the middle class to advertise and conceptualise their undeserved higher social status, it also leads to some bizarre policy ideas that emerge from professional brainstorming sessions.  For example, if gluten might make workers irritable, does that affect their productivity, and therefore ought gluten products be banned in the workplace?  Furthermore, there is now an idea of “second-hand gluten exposure”, based on the formula of second-hand smoke that was used to outlaw smoking in any public building in the Western world.  ‘Naturopathic’ Doctor Lola Spring explained, “Our study has quite convincingly shown a link between exposure to airborne glutens and joint pain, skin problems, asthma, fatigue and mental fogginess.”  This very unconvincing study which thankfully is not yet accepted by the scientific community had children locked up in rabbit-style hutches to control the variables!

The blogger who reported on this study wrote, “New York City lawmakers are already considering regulations on gluten ingestion in the workplace. Are laws that restrict a parents right to eat pasta in their own home next? Probably. I don’t know. I just don’t know.”  Although the point about NY lawmakers cannot be verified – I believe it exists only very embryonically at the moment – the way irrational policy often emerges today from zany health panics is well established.  Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen by asserting that if you adopt a gluten free diet not out of health necessity but to say something about yourself, you are being ridiculous.  So ridiculous you may become to believe in ‘airborne glutens’.

Finally, am I being anti-choice in criticising people’s decision to adopt a gluten free diet?  Of course everyone should be free to have the diet of their choice, no matter how crazy it appears to others, but only a fool would choose to restrict their choices in this way.  And when those choices acquire the status of virtue, it is clear it’s not really about choice, but demonising lesser mortals and their cheap Tesco Value bread.  No-one’s saying the gluten free alternatives should be banned, but this new breed of ethical consumers do need to be held up to ridicule.