December 8, 2018 at 4:16 pm #169510
I’m concerned about the tendency of left movements (throughout history) to degenerate. It seems to me that beside material conditions being unfruitful for social transformation the single biggest reason for movements going bad is that there is a hard division of mental labour. We all know and feel within the Marxist milieu that theory is very important both as a something to orientate us and be a guide to action. The problem is that there is a colossal inequality between those who have spent a lifetime in academia and those of us who weren’t even fortunate enough to go to university. Marxist theory can be very intimidating if you’re not university educated, I certainly find this. To take myself as an example, I’m not illiterate, I’m not unwilling to learn, I’m not unreceptive to Marxist ideas and I’m not unfamiliar with reading non-fiction and yet I make agonisingly slow progress with Marxist study. I would say that, if anything, I’m more amenable and intellectually curious than most of my peers and acquaintances, many of whom don’t read at all.
Without resorting to idealistic projections of a sudden intellectual renaissance or merely hand-waving the problem away what do we think about this, what do we do about this, realistically.
If Capitalism were to start to falter to the degree that swathes of the working class began to engage they’d still be faced with a situation where they were at a colossal disadvantage when it came to knowledge and theory. They would also be ripe for exploitation by the disreputable cult leaders out there all promising them a glorious victory on the barricades.
Sorry for the ramble.December 8, 2018 at 5:08 pm #169520
The problem is that the so-called left movement is just a reformist trend, it is not a socialist working movement, and it is not a movement either. Marxism is not an academic socialist theory, if you read all our articles and pamphlets you would be able to see that Marxism can be understood by any worker who knows how to read and writeDecember 8, 2018 at 5:25 pm #169526
Thanks for the reply but I don’t think that that really grapples with what I was trying to ask. I think painting the theoretical demands as minimal is grossly underestimating the challenge that we face. Marx is not simple, neither are the intellectuals that followed him. Capital is a torture to read, for example. I just don’t see the regular people that I know reading it under any circumstances. Its also all very well giving people simplified pamphlets that give them a digestible version of the heavy tomes but then there still exists a huge intellectual disparity between those that can use their keener knowledge to undermine the masses that have a superficial knowledge.December 8, 2018 at 6:05 pm #169542
That is the conception of the Leninists and their vanguard party and cadres, that workers are not able to act and think by themselves, they must be carried by their hands like a little baby by the intellectuals.
I have met many workers who have understood Marx and socialism in a much better way than many intellectualsDecember 8, 2018 at 6:19 pm #169547
Capital is only a ‘torture’ to read for those in our culture because of the lack of dialectical knowledge and approach (something I hope to be addressing in next month’s Standard). Marx was an extraordinary polymath and since the dialectical approach to knowledge is holistic many find the multiplicity of historical/economic/philosophical/artistic references in Capital very confusing. Socialists believe in ‘from each according to his talents’ and so some have the interest and capacity for abstract thinking while others do not – but in socialism there is no hierarchy of talents so there is no danger of ‘undermining the masses’ with elitist intellectual double talk (as there is in Bolshevism etc.).December 8, 2018 at 6:34 pm #169561
Capital is a dense read.
That makes it a playground for intellectual bullshitters who come up with a load of esoteric intellectualized mumbo jumbo about what it is all about.
Which they do so the worse thing you can or could do is read other intellectuals interpretation of it.
I have read it.
But I started out as an ordinary comprehensive educated member of the working class and a chemist, and we don’t read books really and certainly not books like that.
Later in life I started reading the 19<sup>th</sup> century fictional classics for another reason.
So I have read them all of all of them; Austen, George Elliot, Bronte’s Hardy, Dickens etc etc.
I think that helped when I went to capital as I had got used to complex grammar, big sentances and all that type of shit that you get in those kind of books.
And I hadn’t been corrupted by reading stuff on Marx by intellectuals and they stuff they write is truly a load crap.
At the end of day capital is an analysis of capitalism.
But capitalism is shit and most people already know it without reading capital and what they think is shit about it is mostly accurate and is in Capital.
So they understand it better than they think they do.
Socialism or communism is much simpler and you couldn’t stretch an analysis of that or even a criticism of it [It doesn’t take long to do the greedy and lazy thing]
over more than one side of A4.
So it is take it or leave it or; socialism or barbarismDecember 8, 2018 at 6:48 pm #169562
Thanks, Dave B. No disrespect to those that answered before you but those responses seem a tad rehearsed, if that makes sense. I’m not looking for catechisms, proselytisms, or rote polemics.
Dave, can it really be that simple though? If it were as simple to understand and as intuitive as you say then surely the SPGB would be doing a whole lot better than it is. I certainly don’t mean that as a snarky comment.December 8, 2018 at 6:53 pm #169563
Having thought about it, Dave, I don’t know if you’ve got that right. Marx certainly didn’t think it was simple. He spent decades trying to educate his peers out of bad economics and bad politics. For example, consider his disagreements with the Lassallians stemming from their misunderstandings on the nature of the state and socialist economics.December 8, 2018 at 6:54 pm #169564
“The problem is that there is a colossal inequality between those who have spent a lifetime in academia and those of us who weren’t even fortunate enough to go to university. Marxist theory can be very intimidating if you’re not university educated, I certainly find this. To take myself as an example, I’m not illiterate, I’m not unwilling to learn, I’m not unreceptive to Marxist ideas and I’m not unfamiliar with reading non-fiction and yet I make agonisingly slow progress with Marxist study. I would say that, if anything, I’m more amenable and intellectually curious than most of my peers and acquaintances, many of whom don’t read at all.
Without resorting to idealistic projections of a sudden intellectual renaissance or merely hand-waving the problem away what do we think about this, what do we do about this, realistically.”
I totally agree with you, Persnickety. There is a ‘colossal inequality’ between ‘Communists/Marxists’ and ‘workers’, and the cause of this lies squarely with Communists/Marxists, starting with Marx himself.
It should be the job of ‘theorists’ to explain their theories in a way understandable to the ‘interested/receptive’ worker, but this has never been done (not just done badly, but not done at all).
I have my own theory why this is so, but I’ll keep it to myself, unless you’re really interested and directly ask me, because it’ll cause no end of trouble to start discussing it here.
But… it should be said, that it takes time and effort to understand some very unusual theories, which Marx put forward, which don’t fit with the ‘common sense’ view of our world, which has been put forward by ruling classes throughout history, and so this ‘common sense’ has become a ‘ruling class idea’, and any opposition to it will appear on the surface to be ludicrous.December 8, 2018 at 7:01 pm #169565
Thanks for the reply but I don’t think that that really grapples with what I was trying to ask. I think painting the theoretical demands as minimal is grossly underestimating the challenge that we face. Marx is not simple, neither are the intellectuals that followed him
I have some sympathy for the point you make but I dont think it is necessary to have read Marx or to have understood him to come to a socialist perspective on life. Marx is useful – particular some of his more readable stuff like Wage Labour and Capital which probably most workers could easily understand – but Marx is not the be-all and end-all and, certainly, we in the SPGB dont go along with everything he wrote. Some of what he wrote is plain wrong or downright misleading but the we are all fallible, including Marx.
Still, there does need to be a minimal understanding by workers of what capitalism is and what socialism is if the former is to be replaced by the latter. There also needs to be a minimal understanding of how that can happen. The problem is not that workers lack the ability to understand so much as the will to understand. People feel powerless, isolated and overawed by the scale of the task. They dont see themselves as part of a larger movement that alone can accomplish that task. This is one of the more pernicious by-products of the dominant ideology of capitalism: individualism. Divide and rule is the name of the game.
Only through unity can strength come – the sense of empowerment that comes from joining with others of a like mind. This is what we need to work to achieve. Making the case for socialism more accessible will certainly help but ultimately it is through connecting with, and supporting, each other to achieve a better world that real progress will comeDecember 8, 2018 at 7:49 pm #169577
‘Dave, can it really be that simple though? If it were as simple to understand and as intuitive as you say then surely the SPGB would be doing a whole lot better than it is. I certainly don’t mean that as a snarky comment.’
Politics has always been about much more than merely an intellectual grasp of concepts. Most get their opinions and information from the media, family, education and peers and this is ‘ideological’ i.e. it is the result of emotional as well as intellectual conditioning. Intellectuals always make the mistake in thinking that politics is purely an intellectual riddle that can be solved by intelligence alone.December 8, 2018 at 9:46 pm #169603
You see, this I don’t understand. If that were true then Marx was largely superfluous. Working class consciousness predated Marx, revolutionarism predated Marx, Socialism predated Marx. What Marx added was specifically the scientific theories which enable an analysis of the human condition under Capitalism (Alienation), Capital’s exploitation of Labour, the process of social change (Historical Materialism) and, I would argue, a beginning to a mature analysis of the state.
These are all superfluous to everyday life, anti-Capitalist protest and agitation for Socialism but what, if anything, is meant by everyday life, anti-Capitalism and Socialism without recourse to theory?December 8, 2018 at 10:39 pm #169604
I didn’t say politics wasn’t about rational analysis – that would be absurd; but reactionary ideology e.g. nationalism, fascism etc., are all based on emotions (the irrational) and the process of such identification with value systems based on authoritarianism has to be understood. We’ve all attempted to communicate rationally about the need for socialism when our opponent gets increasingly frustrated and angry the more rational we attempt to be. This is the nature of 99% of the objections to socialism and why I claim that it is not only the intellect that is involved in polemics.December 9, 2018 at 3:21 am #169645
If we happen to look at a current political event – the yellow vests – it appears it confirms Frederick Douglass observation
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”
When it as simply a protest against a diesel tax rise, Macron could negotiate. But when it turned into broad discontent and general anger, what can be the next move for either side.
It is such an amorphous protest where the right and the left are participating. There is no goal, no aim, no set of principles that it is based upon except that Macron must go and something – anything – must be done to improve our conditions.
For sure, it is presently leader-free, with no political parties, trade unions or prominent personalities determining its course. Some feel that is suffice to endorse it as a peoples’ popular movement.
You could go through our archives and check out our response to the Occupy movement. The SPGB felt one weakness was its unstructured nature, its lack of democratic accountability because it failed to form a defined organisation.
We cited a study of the women’s movement, the Tyranny of Structurelessness.
You no doubt have read it but here is a link to refresh your memory
We cannot ignore the need for an organised political party if political action is chosen as the preferred method of change. Yet more importantly, if people are to be mobilised for the purpose to resist the government and the State, they need an agreed objective and a unified strategy to achieve it, as i earlier suggested.
The SPGB insists that our principles are the path for our partyDecember 9, 2018 at 11:00 am #169698
With respect, Alan, I don’t think that that really answers the question. The issue that I raise is that clearly Marx felt that it was worth investing all of his life in developing a theory which would be a weapon in the hands of the only revolutionary class, which in turn was the only revolutionary agent capable of saving humanity from itself. If we are not to merely repeat the mistakes of the Chartists and the Levellers before them, which I think is the natural course of events if you don’t develop a rich understanding of concepts such as the State, Capital, Social Formation and Historic change, then we need the working class to equipped with a fairly advanced grasp of the aforementioned concepts and with not a small mattering of knowledge of our own history so we avoid the mistakes of, for example, the Bolsheviks and those they inspired. The level of education of the class is terrifying low before we even get to Marxism.
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