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.

12 July 2007

Larry and Doloras sitting in a tree

Traditionally, though, the most useful way of understanding the meaning of "right-wing" has been to look at what people who classify themselves as right-wing have in common.... But this model of the universe has broken down, now that most left-wingers are equally tedious. So perhaps the only true indicator of a human being, in our supposedly-busy but monumentally lazy civilisation, is self-obsession. If you're entirely hung up on your own "lifestyle", whether you think you're a small-l liberal or a small-c conservative [or, indeed, a socialist, anarchist or magickian - DlaP], then you're right-wing. If you're so concerned with the vestments of that lifestyle that you lose sight of anything else, so determined to surround yourself with a fortress of The Right Kind of Stuff that you're incapable of thinking beyond your own self-image, then you're filling the same niche in society that used to be occupied by old-school bunker-mentality Tories. Because civilisation isn't about sealing yourself off from the rest of the world and your responsibility to it, and you don't get bonus marks just for being tolerant towards homosexuals or not using the word "piccaninnies".


See? It's not just me who thinks so. Lifestyles, demographics and nichemarkets are the modern enemy of consciousness.

Thoughts on rereading the Communist Manifesto and Faction Paradox at the same time

The major difference between now and Marx's time (apart from globalisation having advanced to the extent he foresaw) is that it's no longer true that capitalism bases itself entirely on the cash nexus and brute force. The commodification of all human existence led to consumer capitalism, where the mass of the working class have to buy the products that are produced. Capitalism destroyed all the old myths, but then had to create new myths to continually expand consumption and win our consent to the system. It's no accident that psychology was born at the same time as mass consumer society and universal suffrage. Psychology was born because it was useful to try to manufacture our consent and get us to consume.

All citizens of an advanced capitalist state are socialised as consumers and citizens as well as workers. The mass media is used to socialise docile obedient and exploitable workers, and citizens who identify with "their" state, and at the same time wild, crazy and independent consumers. The marketing industries induce wants and needs which can only be satisfied by consumption, or to dress the psychic wounds left by alienation in the workplace. If your job sucks, you get to have retail therapy, or pay to be pampered by a service worker. One side of the apparatus says TERRORISE, the other BENEVOLISE, at the same time. This is what we call a contradiction.

Consuming a good or service is explicitly intended to fill psychic gaps. Consumers pay for the burying and disavowal of labour - not just the sign of people working, but the signs that their goods or services are brought to them by other human beings. The promise of the market economy is that workers are your own "personal slave", with no thought except your pleasure. This is what you get for your money (which is usually earned by *you* having to take your turn in the barrel, so to speak). As Zizek says - everyone knows this isn't literally true, but acts like it's true, and are angry and disappointed when the facade isn't kept up. Note also that in modern capitalism needs healthy, well-fed, educated and skilled workers, so it can't starve us, which means we've crawled up Maslow's hierarchy of needs a ways.

This is one of the reasons state capitalism fell over. Not faced with cutthroat competition, their propaganda apparatus fell way behind that of the bourgeois capitalist countries. The West looked desirable not because of freedom but because of consumer goods. (Of course, this wasn't just appearance - Western consumer goods *were* better, for all the reasons that Tony Cliff explained, plus in the 80's the growth of a true global market.)

Propaganda - both aimed at feelings of citizenship or consumerism - is increasingly filling the cap in the apparatus of social control and manufacturing consent that organised religion used to. Of course, there are "bottom up" ways that people fill these gaps - with subcultures, etc - but even those end up being harnessed to sell more products. Lawrence Miles is 100% correct that the biggest problem with modern consumer culture is that the arts of marketing have advanced to the point where demographic categories have a stranglehold over any mass media culture which gets released. A subculture which does not put itself in opposition to the system quickly becomes a demographic category (hippy, punk, sci-fi nerd, fetishist, goth, etc) and thus incorporated. Ben Watson, too, has noticed that "community" has come to mean "marketing category" in modern jargon.

Members of a demographic category are not in a position to revolt. "The proletariat" is not a product of the demographic-category machine. It's like an evil waste product that corrodes the system from the inside. At least potentially.

06 July 2007

You know me. Prepare to die.

Hmph. No saucers again?

Anyway, the big news is that this blog is about to be kickstarted into life with a series of guest contributions. I won't spoil the surprise of who or what just yet, but I will undertake to act as a bit of a "warm-up act", to make sure you're still watching.

Longtime readers may know that I am impressed by the work of the sci-fi author Lawrence Miles - although perhaps less because of his work (mindfuckingly good as it is in places), but because the kind of things he says in interviews and blogs come off as extremely similar to a lot of the basic ideas behind Chaos Marxism. Unfortunately the site which used to archive his interviews has fallen victim to a time paradox, but behold the magic of intarwebz necromancy! Have a good browse.

I want to point out one of the most interesting ideas that come out of his Faction Paradox mythos. In this mythos based around time travel, all of humanity's history is featured, from the australopithecines to the "post-human" civilisations that will exist after Earth and its sun are no more and beyond. In the entry from The Book of the War on "Humanity", Larry (I think it's him, anyway) explains that in this timeline, just about now, in the early 21st century, (the "Ghost Point" of human history), all human cultural progression stops, and then begins to go backward. At one level this is supposed to explain why science fiction futures always look like, as Douglas Adams puts it, "the present with faster cars and smellier air". But it's also a representation of how the dominant culture thinks. To quote Marx: for the bourgeoisie, history was something that used to happened but has now thankfully stopped, with the right people in charge. If anyone paid me for it, I could write a very interesting Marxist analysis of the place of the Time Lords in the Doctor Who and related mythoses.

In any case, Larry in his other articles rants and raves about what he sees as this closing down of human potential that he sees all around him in the stultification and conformity of the mass media. He's no Marxist - he's a consistent and principled left-liberal who has not become reconciled to the victory of neo-liberalism but can't see any way out of the predicament. I hear his later work This Town Will Never Let Us Go is an extended meditation on these themes, and I may have to write about it.

If Chaos Marxism has any real point, it is to make sure that the Ghost Point is not allowed to happen. Well, of course, it wouldn't, because (given current science and human nature) you could never have a static society, or even one which gradually fell to bits over a long period. The choices are still socialism or barbarism. To quote another, more naive Doctor Who spin-off, "The 21st century is where it all starts." Or, alternatively, stops.

A parting thought - the reason most of this isn't written down in book or academic article form yet is pretty much that I don't want to be one of those wankerish "Marxist cultural commentators" who make a living pointing out the class relations of the lifeboat crew as the Titanic is going down. When Chaos Marxism is presented in for-the-masses form, it will be as a how-to guide. "101 Things An Enterprising Cultural Revolutionary Can Do To Seriously Fuck Things Up, As Opposed To Creating A Niche Market So You Can Buy A Flash Hybrid Car", or something like that. I want this to be eminently practical, and I get frustrated that I haven't got results that would stand up to peer-reviewed scrutiny yet. But I am working on it.