17 July 2007

Return of the son of disconnected thoughts

People want to believe. People want a religion, a painkiller. Alienation and powerlessness to actually change their lives has knocked holes in their psyche that need to be filled by something, anything. Salespeople know this. Sales and other forms of mind control wouldn't work if the mind wasn't looking for something to control it in the first place - a "Big Other" (as the Lacanians say) that can take your powerlessness away.

The point of "motivational psychology / magic" is being able to - as the Subs say - "pull the wool over your own eyes". You wouldn't be able to "programme your own reality", though, if you deep-down didn't despair of actually be able to do anything to change things in the real world. Well, you wouldn't have to. You would be able to change things in everyday consciousness.

As it stands, your everyday consciousness is the consciousness you need to survive in a capitalist economy - to be an employee who gains the bosses' good but not bad attention, an efficient manager who maximises surplus value, a dynamite salesperson. At work, that is. You get home and you get to be a "good family man / wife", or whatever mass-produced consumption-related identity you've decided to buy. Goth, party girl, Magus, huge fan of reality TV, whatever. The only thing in common that these have is that they fill niches in a media/consumption environment rather than being in a position to change that environment.

Sadly, "revolutionary" is - for the most part - just another of those identities. Look at the industries that have sprung up to enable the "anarchist lifestyle" - organic stores, radical publishers, politically correct musical groups, etc. The Marxist sects can also be seen (for the most part) as parasitic growths on the yearning of people to believe in something. Just like Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Neo-Pagan sects, for that matter. Religion is still the opiate (painkiller) of the masses, for a wider definition of "religion".

Any "scene", or community, or whatever, must be analysed with the tools of dialectial materialism. Where is the money and the surplus labour going? Who pays and who benefits? Is it going into creating real things in the real world or into supporting someone's lifestyle?

Lukacs said: "The Soviet is the end of alienation", because only the workers' council form can actually, consciously, change social reality. The best an individual can do is psychically "dope themselves up". This can of course be used for positive and negative goals. A painkiller can encourage you to lie around and stare at the ceiling, or kill your family, or it might take the edge off enough to allow you to accomplish something in the real world.

The early Christian writers said "we believe because it is absurd". The rationality we are taught to survive in the real world shows us that any efforts to change the world are doomed to failure. "Painkillers" - sect organisation, in this case - which enable us to act "irrationally", can bridge the gap between that reality and a future reality where workers solidarity and revolutionary political activity will be really, truly practical. This, I think, is what Gramsci meant by "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will".

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The death of independent working class culture came at the era when the ruling class needed to impose - not only passive habits of submission and deference - but active consent to the system and integration of the proletariat with middle-class cultural norms. That is, the era of universal suffrage and mass consumerism. This is one of the reasons that simply attempting to re-run 1917 doesn't work. Gramsci worked it out - the Tsarist state hadn't come nearly as close to incorporating the working class in "national" (bourgeois) culture as they had in Western Europe. And it's gotten much worse since then, to the point that working class culture simply doesn't exist in much of the world any more.

In our "First World" societies, industrial production has been mostly exported and we now have the birth of a service or info-processing working class. This has smashed all the old cultures and traditions of solidarity, and the new working class hasn't had the space to build new ones. We need a new "culture in opposition" - not a separatist "Proletkult", but a culture which fights the ruling class tooth and nail for everything that's good in culture (both mass-market and niche-market) as well as setting out to create our own free, open source, culture. This will take the form of a "historic bloc" (in Gramsci's terms) between a section of the cultural/ ideological intelligensia (a new middle class layer) and a new, rising layer of proletarian organic intellectuals, who may well grow precisely from those newly-proletarianised layers who went through "new middle class" education and training but lost out in the struggle for jobs.

A real international socialist movement would put as its first priority intersecting with the spontaneously arising working class cultures of China, India and South East Asia, but that's a bit beyond our means right now.

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One of the essential contradictions of bourgeois ideology is going on about globalisation on one side, and then pretending that there are still such things as "national economies" on the other hand. The reason why there are info-processing, high-skill jobs in the West is precisely because the industrial heart of the world is now on the northwest of the Pacific.

Paradoxically, the very high-skill nature of the economy has led to the debasing of those skills and shoving people with training in cultural production and ideology into the new working class. The solution is of course not to run into the past and try to restore an industrial base in one country, but to struggle in international solidarity, and realise that only our bosses benefit from their oppression, or ours.

There's a difference in Venezuela - the Government's effort to build an industrial base there is correct because there isn't ANY sort of real working class at the moment, which is why the revolution is growing in such a weird shape. The popular masses, the base of the Bolivarian project, are mainly petty traders and casual workers in the cities who live off the trickled-down oil rents. Only a working class based in commodity production can build a social base for real workers power. The contradiction is that funnelling the oil rents into the social missions has opened up the very space for popular revolutionary consciousness that might bring this about.

2 comments:

  1. "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will"


    Dear comrades, I have been thinking a lot lately about Marx's assertion that religion is the opiate of the masses and the fact that the basic religious impulse has been ubiquitous throughout human history, even in what Marx called "primitive communist societies," societies in which alienation is virtually unknown. The classical Marxist objection to this seeming refutation to the idea that religion is merely the result of human consciousness alienated from itself is that such societies are pre-scientific and thus inclined towards superstitious interpretations of the world.

    I am not wholly convinced that the "religious impulse" is as naive as many believe. In fact, stripped of symbolism and all mystification, it is none other than a yearning for freedom - a basic human tendency, Marx argued. I would say that Marxism is actually a manifestation of that tendency, but with a "this world" orientation.

    Of all the worldviews that have influenced me, Marxism and the nondualism at the heart of the eastern philosophies are the top two. Religion certainly has the potential to help maintain a stratified social order (just look at the Hindu caste system and the frightening ideological marriage between Christianity and capitalism). But when you strip Hinduism of all its complex signs and symbols, the stifling burden of tradition, you find a core that is truly *radical,* potentially REVOLUTIONAY if it is actually experienced: that is none other than the realization of one's essential identity with everything which exists, with the Absolute.

    Now, such a realization might just make one ambivalent to "worldy" issues and drop all aspirations of changing things at the systemic level. But is that necessarily so?

    People who claim to have experienced this state of unity say that they see themselves in all beings and thus strive towards compassion. Marx said that the non-alienated human being is free of the dualism posed between human and nature, and between individual and society. In fact, the acheivements of society are *eir* acheivements, and the workings of nature are *eir* workings.

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  2. The realization of unity cannot happen along purely rational lines, as that is just not enough. An elementary understanding of scientific principles are enough to show you that all things are interconnected - in fact form an irreducible whole - but such knowledge is usually not viscerally *transformative,* not in the sense that so-called "religious" experiences are. I say that this is because thinking, by definition, involves discrimination. Thinking IS discrimination. Glimpsing the absolute unity of reality is a step outside thought. It is inherently irrational, but not necessarily opposed to rationality. Obviously I propose a dialectic here.

    What I dislike about atheism - and I was an atheist myself for a long time - is that it just doesn't go far enough, usually. It takes us to the edge of the Abyss and yet most people remain right on the precipice. The notion that there is no God implicitly suggests that the creation IS the creator, as the reality of an outside originator is denied. The implications of this should be obvious. What I'm trying to demonstrate through my own dialectical self-birth is that my twin impulses - for nondual realization and for revolutionary social transformation - are not at odds, are in fact two sides of the same coin.

    I find this passage of Marx's, in the Philosophic and Economic Manuscrips of 1844, to highlight my point. It sounds like Marx saw the edge of the Abyss, but didn't exactly jump in. At any rate, it's an interesting passage:

    A *being* only considers himself independent when he stands on his own feet; and he only stands on his own feet when he owes his *existence* to himself. A man who lives by the grace of another regards himself as a dependent being. But I live completely by the grace of another if I owe him not ony the sustenance of my life, but if he has, moreover, *created* my *life* - if he is the *source* of my life; and if it is not of my own creation, my life has necessarily a source of this kind outside it. The Creation is therefore an idea very difficult to dislodge from popular consciousness. The self-mediated being of nature and of man is *incomprehensible* to it, because it contradicts everyting *palpable* in practical life.

    The creation of the *earth* has received a mighty blow from *geogeny* - i.e., from the science which presents the formation of the earth, the coming-to-be of the earth, as a process, as self-generation. *Generatio aequivoca* (the spontaneous generation) is the only practical refutation of the theory of creation.

    Now it is certainly easy to say to the single individual what Aristotle has already said. You have been begotten by your father and your mother; therefore in you the mating of two human beings - a species-act of human beings - has produced the human being. You see, therefore, that even physically, man owes his existence to man. Therefore you must not only keep sight of the *one* aspect - the *infinite* progression which leads you to further enquire: "Who begot my father? Who his grandfather?", etc. You must also hold on to the *circular movement* sensuously perceptible in that progression, by which *man* repeats himself in procreation, thus always remaining the subject. You will reply, however: I grant you this circular movement; now grant me the progression which drives me even further until I ask: Who begot the first man, and nature as a whole? I can only answer you: Your question is itself a product of abstraction. Ask yourself how you arrived at that question. Ask yourself whether your question is not posed from a standpoint to which I cannot reply, because it is a perverse one. Ask yourself whether that progression as such exists for a reasonable mind. when you ask about the creation of nature and man, you are abstracting, in so doing, from man and nature. You postulate them as *non-existent,* and yet you want me to prove them to you as *existing.* Now I say to you: Give up your abstraction and you will also give up your question. Or if you want to hold on to your abstraction, then be consistent, and if you think of man and nature as non-existent, then think of yourself as non-existent, for you too are surely nature and man. Don't think, don't ask me, for as soon as you think and ask, your *abstraction* from the existence of nature and man has no meaning. Or are you such an egoist that you postulate everything as nothing, and yet want yourself to be?

    You can reply: I do not want to postulate the nothingness of nature. I ask you about *its genesis,* just as I ask the anatomist about the formation of bones, etc.

    But since for the socialist man the *entire history of the world* is nothing but the begetting of man through human labor, nothing but the coming-to-be of nature for man, he has the visible, irrefutable proof of his *birth* through himself, of his *process* of *coming-to-be.* Since the *real existence* of man and nature has become practical, sensuous and perceptible - since man has become for man as the being of nature, and nature for man as the being of man - the question about the *alien* being, about a being above nature and man - a question which implies the admission of the inessentiality of nature and of man - has become impossible in practice. *Atheism,* as the denial of this inessentiality, has no longer any meaning, for atheism is a *negation of God,* and postulates the *existence of man* through this negation; but socialism as socialism no longer stands in any need of such a mediation. It proceeds from the *practically and theoretically sensuous consciousness* of man and of nature as the *essence.* Socialism is man's *positive self-consciousness,* no longer mediated through the annulment of religion, just as *real life* is man's positive reality, no longer mediated through the annulment of private property, through *communism.* Communism is the position as the negation of the negation, and is hence the *actual* phase necessary for the next stage of historical development in the process of human emancipation and recovery. *Communism* is the necessary pattern and the dynamic principle of the immediate future, but communism as such is not the goal of human development - the structure of human society.

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