Friday, 8 September 2017

Dany vs the New Left.


(source)

The May 1968 events in France are generally considered crucial inspiration for the development of the New Left.

As commonplace as that association is, I'm really puzzled by it.

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First, a digression. It is an article of faith among the New Leftists that the working class in rich countries is no longer revolutionary. Some go as far as claiming it is positively reactionary.

That, in their views, has an unavoidable consequence: revolution has become impossible in those countries. Further, whatever advances are still possible in developed nations are to be pursued independently from -- or even against -- the working class, through "new social movements". This is one of the points Bruce Robbins, following Étienne Balibar, made as recently as 2013.

Interestingly, the renowned American sociologist C. Wright Mills, one of the founders of the American New Left, made exactly the same points in 1960 in an open letter to the then recently founded New Left Review, in Britain. The differences between Mills and Robbins are stylistic: Mills is nuanced, Robbins isn't; Mills employs a comradely tone intended to nudge already sympathetic readers, Robbins is one of the twelve apostles denouncing the Pharisees. Robbins depicts Balibar as the innovative underdog fighting against an all-powerful establishment, even though the New Left Review has been part of the prevailing establishment for over 50 years.

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Back to May 1968. Daniel "Dany le Rouge" Cohn-Bendit jumped to fame as a leader of the student movement which initiated the May 1968 events in France, almost leading to the fall of Charles De Gaulle, once 11 million workers went on a general strike. As such he embodies many of the ideals dear to New Leftists: a leader of a "new social movement", untainted with working class corruption; the lone outsider, the middle class intellectual insurgent telling truth to the all-powerful Marxist orthodoxy.

Shortly after those events, the Cohn-Bendit brothers co-wrote and published "Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative". Stylistically, they sound a lot like Robbins. Like Robbins, Cohn-Bendit is there to excoriate his opponents: the same targets of Robbins' disdain.

However, neither Robbins nor the New Left can take comfort in Dany's fiery words:
"I know that the only chance of resuming the struggle is to put an end to the division between intellectuals, workers and peasants. Every revolution, every radical transformation of society, needs the conscious and creative participation of the working and peasant classes, and not simply their participation as a malleable mass whose only usefulness is their strength and numerical weight." (p. 13)
"The events in France have proved that revolution is possible in even a highly industrialized capitalist society. Those who argued that the working class had outgrown revolution stood convicted of theoretical and practical incompetence, a fact that suggests it is high time to discover why the working class has remained so passive for so long." (p. 17)
So we have a situation where "Dany le Rouge", icon of the New Left and hero of May 1968, defends as wisdom what the New Left damns as folly. To compound the absurd both sides agree on something: it's all the orthodox ("theological" in Robbins' rendition) Marxists' fault.

Give us a break, people. Make up your own minds. We can understand the anti-Semitic Nazis accusing Marx of being part of a Jewish conspiracy, while the Blairite Jonathan Freedland denounces Marx's "straightforwardly anti-Semitic" views: we know they are our enemies. The former hate Jews, the latter is paid to write that kind of crap. We expect that from them.

But you guys claim to be our comrades. Let's get serious and, while we are at it, let's quit the underdog rhetoric, and the theological/dogmatic/sectarian bullshit, too.

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While there's much more in Cohn-Bendit's book, I brought his testimony on this for two reasons: it carries the weight of his experience, and he is not a worker. I suspect upper-middle class leftish intellectuals may assign at least as much importance to the latter than to the former. I myself am not one of his fans (and I'll explain why soon).

If I had to find an intellectual hero in this debate, I would suggest George Novack, for this prescient reply to Mills' letter. On the other hand, he may not be socially acceptable to intellectuals: he was an obscure Trotskyist, after all.

43 comments:

  1. Did the events in May 1968 lead to the labour laws that exist in France today?

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    1. I don't think so, Bob. Labour legislation worldwide tend to be enacted on a piecemeal fashion, for obvious reasons: capitalists are less than keen on them. In other words, labour laws are the result of long struggles: for instance, a law may have been passed in year X establishing an 8-hour working day limit; another passed years later may institute paid holidays, yet a third one may rule out unfair dismissals and so on.

      In effect, the French workers intervened to a large extent because of solidarity with the students, who were being victims of police brutality. There was little immediate gain for workers: they were not demanding higher wages or anything like that. Quite to the contrary, they repeatedly refused pay raise offers. They wanted a revolution, in short. And it was their intervention that prompted De Gaulle to flee to the French occupied zone in West Germany, seeking the support of the Army to put the revolt down.

      Initially, the French labour unions and the Communist Party were againstthe students' movement and they have been criticised for that. I agree that both the union movement and the PCF deserve criticism, but there are mitigating circumstances and when I write about Dany le Rouge I'll explain that.

      I remember a poem by Brecht where he asks what about the little people who made possible the achievements of big historical heroes. What about, for instance, the legionnaires who crossed the Rubicon with Caesar? Well, the same applies to May 1968: Dany and the students are heroes, they were high profile, but the 11 million French workers who almost turned what was initially little more than a bad joke into an almost revolution are completely forgotten by elitist, obtuse leftish intellectuals.

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    2. Here's "Questions from a Worker Who Reads" by Bertolt Brecht

      http://aussiemagpie.blogspot.com/2014/10/questions-from-worker-who-reads.html

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    3. To be a part of a ...

      coalition, alliance, union, partnership, bloc, caucus, federation, league, association, confederation, consortium, syndicate

      ... is to be recognized. Unfortunately, some individuals and groups consider their contribution to be more equal than others.

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    4. Let me explain how this business of "ignoring the working class" works with a recent real-life example, gathered from the Internet. Additionally, you'll see why I love comment threads. Apologies because it's a long explanation.

      You, of course, know that ever since the collapse of the housing bubble in the US and overseas, economists and technocrats and sundry experts have been subjected to a lot of criticism (in my opinion, quite rightly so). You are probably more familiar with leftish Keynesian criticism, but criticism has come from other quarters.

      That has eroded those experts' claim for legitimacy. They, quite naturally, resent that. It couldn't be otherwise. Things came to a head with the Brexit referendum and then with The Donald's election, when the experts sided with the losing sides.

      This the New Yorker magazine cartoon -- which appeared early last January -- reflects that resentment:
      https://www.newyorker.com/cartoon/a20630

      I didn't know it then, but it generated the predictable wave of comment on the netz. Those against it seemed to emphasise the clearly anti-democratic and elitist message inherent in the cartoon:
      https://www.google.com/search?q=cartoon+passengers+want+to+be+pilot

      A couple of weeks later a commenter (whose Internet handle I won't reveal) posted this comment to a post in another blog:
      Like King Arthur, I never saw myself as an elitist---until recently. Then, today, as I was planning a plane trip, I thought about the following stats: 53% of American men voted for an obvious con man; 75% of Republicans still harbor some degree of doubt that Obama was born in the US; 50% of the population has an IQ of under 100; 33% of American high school graduates graduated in the bottom third of their class. Then I tried to picture them in charge of McDonnell Douglas and wondered if I'd still book my flight. And, yes, before anyone says it, the elites have been known to put profit before safety, but you know what? I'd still sooner take my chances on a plane built by the current corporate types than one built by the people at Trump rallies. Or even by those of my relatives who voted for Trump. They're not critical enough thinkers to run an airplane company. They're easily led by demagogues. Would they be more sophisticated if they'd had more educational opportunity? I don't know about the people at Trump's rallies, but the answer for my relatives is no. So, a humble request to those to my left: Please put off the transfer of ownership of the means of production of McDonnell Douglas until after my demise. Thank you.
      Our commenter's "cleverly humorous" words are clearly inspired by the New Yorker cartoon and soon he was seconded by another even "cleverer" commenter (whom I won't quote). Like I said somewhere else, those guys aren't "thought leaders", they are simply parroting shit they heard.

      (continues in a second and final part)

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    5. I'll point briefly to a few obvious things in this genius' comment: he is conflating working class with Trump voter, he is asking us to believe his own IQ is above 100. And to ask us that after this "33% of American high school graduates graduated in the bottom third of their class" is just a bridge too far: evidently, 1/3 of high-school graduates graduated in the bottom third, another 1/3 graduated in the middle third and the last 1/3 graduated in the top third. It, too, cannot be otherwise. (You, however, are free to guess in what third he graduated and where in the IQ distribution he is).

      But there's something much more important than that for us leftists: our genius forgets who built and operate those planes. It was workers, with all their faults and limitations. Pilots and flight attendants and mechanics and flight controllers and baggage handlers, all of them are workers. Each and everyone single one of them. The engineers who designed the parts of the plane, paramedics and cops, and cooks and posties, bus drivers and coal miners and teachers. All of them workers.

      In fact, chances are our two geniuses are -- or at any event were -- themselves workers.

      Some workers, true, are better paid, some are more educated, some act against workers' interests (like those two useful idiots for the rich). But they all are workers. Those two buffoons, supposedly so educated and intelligent, can't see that. For those two arrogant cretins it's like planes just pop up. Workers are just coal miners and blue collar guys. And they all are male and white and racist, beyond any redemption.

      Now, what may surprise you is that both self-identify as leftists and the thing is I actually believe them.

      One of them, in fact, although eager to say he is not himself a Marxist (God forbid anyone mistaking him), claims to be something of a left-wing activist somewhat close to a foreign communist party.

      Now, you see why the Left is so deep in shit, don't you?

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    6. Magpie, if they don't identify as working class then it is unlikely they will focus on issues that are of concern to workers. This deficiency can be rectified by forming a coalition of the left, by including the labour movement, and by treating them as equal partners.

      A divided opposition, left or right or center, is in deep shit. United we stand, divided we fall.

      Brexit was a referendum open to the public. A poorly informed electorate can be misled into voting against their own self-interest. Was that the case? Did the Stay campaign fail to persuade the public? Does leaving the EU harm working and lower income groups?

      Referendums are used to decide political issues. Advisory panels are used to decide technical issues. Oranges and apples, or if you prefer, Magpies and Grackles.

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    7. A divided opposition, left or right or center, is in deep shit. United we stand, divided we fall.

      I am not sure I agree, Bob.

      Yes, people should identify with the class they objectively belong to. Yes, it would be better to have a united opposition.

      If you think about it, that's the great strength of Marxism: society is viewed as being essentially formed by two groups, objectively opposed along lines of rational self-interest, capitalists vs workers, oppressors vs oppressed.

      The fact, however, is that people like those two guys don't see society that way, either because they genuinely can't or because they don't want to. I'm not making that up: when prompted to try to understand the point of view of Trump voters, one of them in a rare moment of honesty put it exactly that way. It's not that he doesn't understand, it's that he doesn't want to understand.

      For them, society is a collection of a multiplicity of groups opposed along all sorts of lines: compatriot vs foreigner, black vs white (funnily enough, they often forget other races and ethnic groups), man vs woman, straight vs queer, young vs old, religious vs secular, or Christian vs all others (to say nothing of the "intersectionalities": black straight Evangelical male vs white queer Muslim female, say). In fact, the same guy who confessed he doesn't want to understand also opposed the notion of a "unified opposition" as a kind of Kumbaya my Lord thing only Marxists can believe in. (Ironically, they love to accuse Marxists of being sectarian. Give me a break). Like us, he also sees the advantage of a "united front", but it has to be on his terms. That's precisely why the "experts" resent the criticism and the loss of legitimacy: it's no longer they saying "jump!" and one only asking "how high?". Those guys believe they can herd cats.

      I certainly can see a possibility of cooperation on tactical, immediate issues; but a long-term, strategic cooperation is impossible, self-defeating, and outright dangerous and suicidal. Let me put this bluntly: come the class war, those two guys will side with the capitalists, they will stab us in the back without any hesitation. As they used to say in the TV series: It happened before, it will happen again.

      It's the capitalists' interest to have people seeing society as formed by scattered groups at each others' throats. You don't need to take my word for that. That's one of the things Adolph Reed said.

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    8. Brexit was a referendum open to the public. A poorly informed electorate can be misled into voting against their own self-interest. Was that the case? Did the Stay campaign fail to persuade the public? Does leaving the EU harm working and lower income groups?

      Well, yes the Brexit referendum was open to the public and the experts believed the electorate was poorly informed and misled. There's no surprise in those beliefs. Experts always believe that.

      VSPaul Krugman also believed everybody was wrong about globalisation, financialisation, and free trade. For years he repeated that and bullied anyone claiming otherwise. One day, decades later, he just said "oops, my bad". And that's it. It wasn't nearly as positive or harmless as he believed.

      Bourgeois economists have always claimed they finally managed to tame capitalism and recessions were things of the past. Keynesians claimed that and along came the stagflation of the 1970s. Neoclassicals claimed that and along came a whole lot of crisis: the Latin American debt crisis, the Asian financial crisis, the Dotcom bubble and the GFC. Watch Inside Job. After every single one of those crisis, they claim, well this time is different.

      The point is the experts cannot claim much success in their predictions before Brexit or after it.

      Simon Wren-Lewis was foreseeing all sorts of catastrophic events should the Brexit refendum result in a Yes. Well, where are those catastrophes?

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    9. Magpies and Grackles.

      :-)

      I love birds, specially corvids and related.

      Here in Oz we don't have grackles, but we have ravens and crows, big, black all of them and surprisingly clever.

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    10. If you think about it, that's the great strength of Marxism: society is viewed as being essentially formed by two groups, objectively opposed along lines of rational self-interest, capitalists vs workers, oppressors vs oppressed.

      That view is simplistic and wouldn't describe the numerous ways in which groups can be antagonistic.

      Sunni versus Shia is a dispute between religious beliefs. Not workers versus capitalists or oppressors versus oppressed.

      When police and scabs break up a strike, this is an example of workers versus workers, or internecine strife.

      Workers who make minimum wage will not have the same concerns as workers who clear 100,000 a year.

      Maybe it is Marxists who do not want to understand that the working class does not exist as a united front. Workers will be found among the oppressors and the oppressed. Who will prevail will depend on who has a plurality or majority in an election, or who has the better armaments.

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    11. The fact, however, is that people like those two guys don't see society that way, either because they genuinely can't or because they don't want to. I'm not making that up: when prompted to try to understand the point of view of Trump voters, one of them in a rare moment of honesty put it exactly that way. It's not that he doesn't understand, it's that he doesn't want to understand.

      How much intellectual honesty does it take to admit that Trump supporters are not a monolith of evil? By extension, neither are Republicans and Democrats monoliths of vice and virtue.

      These guys are ideologues, unsuitable for leading any sort of coalition. They'll stick with their framing, and they'll have no clue as to why they lost the next election or referendum. The US political landscape may be in for 8 years of Trump because of this narrow-minded, elitist approach.

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    12. You also have Bowerbirds!

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  2. That view is simplistic and wouldn't describe the numerous ways in which groups can be antagonistic.

    Sunni versus Shia ... When police and scabs break up a strike ... Workers who make minimum wage will not have the same concerns as workers who clear 100,000 a year.

    Maybe it is Marxists who do not want to understand that the working class does not exist as a united front. Workers will be found among the oppressors and the oppressed. Who will prevail will depend on who has a plurality or majority in an election, or who has the better armaments.


    Okay, Bob, let's think about what you just wrote, shall we? Who are the personae dramatis in your counter story?

    Here's a list, which I'll assume is not exhaustive:

    (1) Sunni versus Shia
    (2) Police and scabs
    (3) Workers.

    Although I'm sure you could have put more examples, in the little sample of your world there's already a lot of variety, yes? But in your world there's no capitalists! Ooops. Isn't that an odd way of building a more realistic representation of society? After all, we're living in a capitalist world, where capitalists make the news every single day. One example: The Donald. Another example: Malcolm Turnbull. Yet another: Emmanuel Macron. King Salman. And that's just the heads of state/government. George Soros, Koch Bros, Peter Thiel, Warren Mosler.

    Let's go a bit deeper. Yes, Sunni and Shia are traditional enemies, just like Irish Catholic and Protestants, just like anti-Semites and Jews, just like Indians and Chinese, Tutsis and Hutus, Serbs and Croats, or the French and the Germans. Just like me and some colleagues. All that's true. Well, why aren't those conflicts considered in mainstream economics? Say, why Keynes did not consider them?

    Keynes did consider capitalists -- precisely those you forgot -- but he did not consider these conflicts, why not? At least, I don't remember reading about Serbs and Croats, or Ukranians and Russians, Hutus and Tutsies in The General Theory. Where are Sunni and Shia in mainstream microeconomic theory? Show me anti-Semites and Jews in the System of National Accounts.

    They are nowhere, Bob. Why not? Because those conflicts are extremely important in many ways, they are irrelevant to economic theorising.

    There's some truth here: Workers who make minimum wage will not have the same concerns as workers who clear 100,000 a year.

    But even there, whatever the differences between them, there's a commonality between workers with minimum wage and workers clearing 100,000 a year: they all need to work for a living, they depend on their bosses for that, they produce more than they are paid. One lives hand to mouth, the other has some relative security, but not a single one of them is entirely safe from misery and destitution. Whether they earn $200 a week or $2,000 or $20,000, or whether they are black or white, male or female, straight or queer, Sunni or Shia, they would be better off if they didn't have to pay their bosses for the privilege of working for them. And, make no mistake, Bob, objectively this is what capitalism is all about. Rational self-interest applies.

    Ultimately what's your alternative, Bob? Say, consider my "intersectionality" example: black straight Evangelical male vs white queer Muslim female. How would you herd those cats? Who will prevail and why should I care?

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    1. Incidentally, Bob, it's only fair that I show you what I expect you will show me.

      Here's workers and capitalists in the System of National Accounts:

      5204.0 - Australian System of National Accounts, 2015-16 Quality Declaration
      Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/10/2016
      http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc588/bfef5c43f53f8d2bca257213001d23c9!OpenDocument

      Compensation of employees and gross operating surplus (GOS) for Financial and Non-financial corporations.

      That may be simplistic for Marxists, but if it is, then we're in good company.

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    2. Although I'm sure you could have put more examples, in the little sample of your world there's already a lot of variety, yes? But in your world there's no capitalists! Ooops. Isn't that an odd way of building a more realistic representation of society?

      I'm offering alternative perspectives, some of which would not consider capitalism to be important or relevant. We are discussing how people choose to self-identify, as part of their world view.

      Let's go a bit deeper. Yes, Sunni and Shia are traditional enemies, just like Irish Catholic and Protestants, just like anti-Semites and Jews, just like Indians and Chinese, Tutsis and Hutus, Serbs and Croats, or the French and the Germans. Just like me and some colleagues. All that's true. Well, why aren't those conflicts considered in mainstream economics? Say, why Keynes did not consider them?

      Because Keynes was an economist and not a sociologist?
      Of the examples you gave, the antagonism between Tutsis and Hutus contains a class element. Keynes could have described their conflict as being economic in nature. A Marxist would describe it in terms of economic relations. An SJW would describe it as ethnic discrimination. Each description would be true to some extent, yet point at different problems and solutions. Finally, there is the point of view of the parties involved. When Hutus are conditioned to view Tutsis as cockroaches to be exterminated, this is a version of reality that needs to be taken into account.

      They are nowhere, Bob. Why not? Because those conflicts are extremely important in many ways, they are irrelevant to economic theorising.

      Social movements cannot restrict themselves to economic issues. Imagine a union restricting itself to economic issues, focused only on negotiating a better deal with its employer. That approach would limit the scope of a union movement. To go further, it must become political and it must address social issues.

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    3. But even there, whatever the differences between them, there's a commonality between workers with minimum wage and workers clearing 100,000 a year: they all need to work for a living, they depend on their bosses for that, they produce more than they are paid. One lives hand to mouth, the other has some relative security, but not a single one of them is entirely safe from misery and destitution.

      Commonality between workers in poverty and those in relative comfort? In theory, yes. In practice, the middle and upper working classes fear the poor. Munificence is in short supply. Skilled, educated and salaried workers are susceptible to conservative narratives that emphasize personal responsibility and merit. They are being told that their lives as workers are better because they are better people.

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    4. Ultimately what's your alternative, Bob? Say, consider my "intersectionality" example: black straight Evangelical male vs white queer Muslim female. How would you herd those cats? Who will prevail and why should I care?

      If they're living in poverty, working shitty jobs, they may decide to form a union. If they're part of the 'have-nots', they may jump at the chance to vote for a party that does not represent the 'haves'. Other than that, you shouldn't care. They have other problems that have nothing to do with class. They might join movements to address those issues, and at some point those movements may decide to form a coalition. Or not.

      Are you sure you're not a Trotskyist?

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    5. I'm offering alternative perspectives, some of which would not consider capitalism to be important or relevant. We are discussing how people choose to self-identify, as part of their world view.

      I'm sorry, Bob, but no ... on at least two accounts.

      First account. No. That's more than simply "offering alternative perspectives". Your first sentence was this: That view is simplistic and wouldn't describe the numerous ways in which groups can be antagonistic. I'm willing to overlook that, but let's not play semantic games.

      Second account: We were not discussing how people in general choose to self-identify. We were discussing how two very concrete guys, who in all likelihood are workers, choose to self-identify as something above workers. In their particular case, I'm very willing to admit that those two very concrete guys don't self-identify as common workers and am even willing to entertain the idea that is quite possible their probably higher incomes (I don't know how much they earn) could explain it. In fact, I'm willing to do more: perhaps that could generalise. But that's as far as I go.

      Could other things explain that? As my friend B says: abso-fucking-lutely yes. Maybe they are retarded or on drugs. Maybe they are alt-righters acting as concern trolls or aliens from planet Nabiru. Maybe 10^1,000 other things.

      I won't spend time considering those 4 + 10^1,000 things.

      The point is that on theorising about society or about whatever, one has to limit oneself to some factors, those that seem relevant to the phenomenon under consideration.

      Here's Newton's second law: F = m*a. In words: the sum of the forces (F) acting on a body is equal to the product of the mass of the body (m) and the acceleration (a). But, where's its color? What about the chemical composition of the body? Who that body belongs to? Well, Newton didn't consider any of those things: a priori and until proof to the contrary is advanced, they are irrelevant.

      If it's good for him, it's good for me.

      This is a short statement of Darwin's theory of evolution: the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits. Would that be the same if life were to be found on Titan[1], Mars, Ganymede or Enceladus, places with environments very different from ours on Earth (chemical compositions, temperatures, and pressure, for instance)? I'm no expert, but I think a priori there's no relevant reason to believe otherwise. Okay, but what if God decided that... (you fill the blanks). Well, until good reasons to believe otherwise are offered, the scientists studying those places assume evolution happens there, too.

      If it's good for them, it's good for me.

      I might be mistaken, but you didn't advance any good reasons.

      [1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-07-29/molecule-found-on-saturn-moon-titan-clue-in-hunt-for-life/8749752

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    6. To my question

      Well, why aren't those conflicts considered in mainstream economics? Say, why Keynes did not consider them?

      You answer

      Because Keynes was an economist and not a sociologist?

      True, Keynes was an economist, not a sociologist. The thing, Bob, is that Marxism is also an essentially economic theory. You don't need to take my word for that: one of the critiques often levelled against Marxism is precisely its alleged "economic determinism". [1}

      Why then are sociological considerations advanced as objections to Marxism but not to Keynes the economist, or to mainstream economics? To me, that seems like double standards.

      I could answer your criticism with your own reply: because Marx was an economist and not a sociologist? Or I could reply that Marxism is no less guilty of that sin than Keynes and all of economics (I comment further on this below).

      Okay, you may reasonably oppose that Marxism has sociological implications. Ah, but so does Keynesianism, Bob. So does all of economic theory. Economics is a part of the so-called social sciences, just like sociology. The boundary sociology/economics is largely arbitrary, so much so that there's a field of economic sociology.

      That's as true for Marxist economics as it's true for all economics.

      this is a version of reality that needs to be taken into account.

      There are no different versions of reality. There is one reality.

      [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_determinism#Relation_to_Marxist_philosophy

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      Further comment on sociology, economics and Marxism

      Let's be clear, Bob. I'm not suggesting you are doing this deliberately, no. But you are doing it, nonetheless.

      I've noticed that critics of Marxism often fall in what I call the "crossfire criticism", a kind of "damned if you do, damned if you don't". I've collected a number of examples, often from comment threads.

      One example. Auburn Parks barks that Marxism will lead inevitably to totalitarianism. OMG, run for the hills. Neil Wilson, Parks' ally, who was posting in that same comment thread, had already reproached Marxism, full of scorn, for relying too much on democracy. You see the contradiction there, don't you? What you'll never see is Wilson objecting to Parks' claim, nor Parks disputing Wilson's views. Marxists, however, are expected to defend against both charges, often at the same time. Sorry, but I won't do that.

      Another example is when neo-Nazis accuse "the Jew Karl Marx" (as Hitler referred to Marx in Mein Kampf) of being part of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, and Jonathan Freedland remarks on Marx's "straightforward anti-Semitism". How can one argue with that?

      I repeat, I am not implying ill faith in your part, but let's make a deal: solve that problem first with the "economic determinism" crowd and after that we talk, okay?

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    7. Commonality between workers in poverty and those in relative comfort? In theory, yes. In practice, the middle and upper working classes fear the poor. Munificence is in short supply. Skilled, educated and salaried workers are susceptible to conservative narratives that emphasize personal responsibility and merit. They are being told that their lives as workers are better because they are better people.

      Why, yes. Commonality. And there are plenty other commonalities, too: they are human beings, members of Homo sapiens sapiens. As such, they breathe, move, need to feed and sleep and rest, they love fornicating and can get pregnant or at least impregnate, they think (sort of), have emotions, they can get sick, they grow old and die, they shit and pee. They usually have two arms and two legs. In fact, they even have two little holes under the nose. That's not theory, Bob, that's fact.

      But those specific commonalities are, as I'm sure you'll agree, irrelevant, trivial. In fact, one of the only two relevant, non-trivial commonalities workers seem to have is precisely that they all are workers and it is in their self-interest as workers to improve their lot in life.

      Now, you may say that that kind of commonality may not be trivial but it's not enough to motivate collective action, yes? But the thing is it does seem to work fairly well with capitalists: think of Davos, think of "old boys' networks", think of The Donald's cabinet, for Christ's sake! Or think of the Richard Smith article you linked to the other day, which points to an unintended consequence of the common interests of capitalists:

      "In my work I've argued that the problem is rooted in the very nature of our economic system. Large corporations are destroying life on earth, but they can't help themselves, they can't change enough to save the planet."

      The other commonality I can think of is that capitalists are destroying the planet and they won't stop. We workers -- it's irrelevant whether black or white, male or female, queer or straight, on $200 a week or on $20,0000 -- are or should be interested in stopping them. So, bad news, if that commonality doesn't work to establish socialism, then it won't work to save the planet, either.

      The good news is that as a matter of historical fact, that commonality of being worker seemed to have worked for French workers in May 1968. Why should it fail with workers in the 21st century?

      I'm not saying it won't. Nope. It may still fail with workers now, I'll grant you that, but this needs to be proven. Are you ready to do that?

      Or perhaps I'm missing another common factor. What's your suggestion?

      Religion? Well, Christians were European feudal lords and serfs, as at least nominally Christian are the vast majority of capitalists and workers in Europe, North America, and Australia. Religion could be another commonality (at least within certain limits in time and space). But common religion didn't stop capitalists from being very different from workers and them both from feudal lords and serfs.

      Geography? Evolution? History? Culture? Language? Go ahead, make your case. You need to find either (1) another commonality, an alternative commonality that's stronger, or (2) demonstrate that the fact of being workers is not enough. Take your pick.

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    8. First account. No. That's more than simply "offering alternative perspectives". Your first sentence was this: That view is simplistic and wouldn't describe the numerous ways in which groups can be antagonistic. I'm willing to overlook that, but let's not play semantic games.

      Every perspective is simplistic. Marxism, Neoliberalism, Fascism, Conservatism, Liberalism, take your pick. They are simplifications of reality. The question is whether they are fit for purpose. Marxism is useful for describing economic relationships, and their implications; it doesn't explain other kinds of antagonistic relationships that may drive social change. It doesn't concern itself with relationships outside of economics that may promote social cohesion.

      Second account: We were not discussing how people in general choose to self-identify. We were discussing how two very concrete guys, who in all likelihood are workers, choose to self-identify as something above workers.

      These guys are being intellectually dishonest. You write:

      The fact, however, is that people like those two guys don't see society that way, either because they genuinely can't or because they don't want to. I'm not making that up: when prompted to try to understand the point of view of Trump voters, one of them in a rare moment of honesty put it exactly that way. It's not that he doesn't understand, it's that he doesn't want to understand.

      There are many people like this. I consider them to be ideologues. If you want alternative explanations, try cognitive dissonance. Marxism and the laws of physics aren't the best tools for understanding human psychology.

      Why then are sociological considerations advanced as objections to Marxism but not to Keynes the economist, or to mainstream economics? To me, that seems like double standards.

      Have you not read criticisms of homo economicus, Ricardian equivalence, and other behavioral claims made by mainstream economists?

      If Marx and Keynes were "socio-economists" they might have chosen to comment on other types of social conflict. It would have given their audience more to chew on. Economics, in theory, is an inter-disciplinary field of science. In practice, it is a kind of religion, driven by dogma and politics. It is ripe for criticism.

      One example. Auburn Parks barks that Marxism will lead inevitably to totalitarianism. OMG, run for the hills. Neil Wilson, Parks' ally, who was posting in that same comment thread, had already reproached Marxism, full of scorn, for relying too much on democracy. You see the contradiction there, don't you? What you'll never see is Wilson objecting to Parks' claim, nor Parks disputing Wilson's views. Marxists, however, are expected to defend against both charges, often at the same time. Sorry, but I won't do that.

      Similar charges have been made against capitalism. I don't see what difference this makes. One response to any number of charges is to set the record straight. A more facetious approach is to invoke Quantum Mechanics.

      Choose your battles. It's one reason I stopped posting at MNE.

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    9. But those specific commonalities are, as I'm sure you'll agree, irrelevant, trivial. In fact, one of the only two relevant, non-trivial commonalities workers seem to have is precisely that they all are workers and it is in their self-interest as workers to improve their lot in life.

      The history and development of unions bears this out. A practical approach to defending worker's interest and strengthening their power. The kind of collective action that scares the shit out of the ruling class.

      Now, you may say that that kind of commonality may not be trivial but it's not enough to motivate collective action, yes? But the thing is it does seem to work fairly well with capitalists: think of Davos, think of "old boys' networks", think of The Donald's cabinet, for Christ's sake!

      As George Carlin said: "It's a club, and you're not in it!"

      Or perhaps I'm missing another common factor. What's your suggestion?

      My suggestion is to form alliances. Not everyone will find common ground as workers, as their personal circumstances will vary. A black working class man may be less concerned with his job conditions than he is about being racially profiled by the police. He can deal with his economic struggle, but he can't deal with having his life ended because of racism. So instead of joining the SEP, he joins BLM. Or he doesn't join any movement, because he's not an activist or believes it is futile.

      There are workers who blame themselves for their poor economic situation. Their conservative views prevent them from questioning the system and how it contributes to their struggle.

      There are workers who are philosophically opposed to collective action. They are conditioned to believe that collectivism leads to totalitarianism or some other negative.

      But maybe, it just so happens that all these people are concerned about the ecology of the Earth and are willing to support a Green Workers Progressive Party. It's a snowball's chance in hell, but it's worth pitching. Just ask Bernie Sanders. If an old Jew from Brooklyn can run as a Socialist in the land of freeeedom, anything is possible.

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    10. Bob, this exchange isn't proving very productive and I think we both are growing a little frustrated. Maybe it's my fault, and I didn't explain myself.

      So, let's try something different. I've just read this Jacobin article written by Joseph M. Schwartz and Bhaskar Sunkara. They are much better writers than me and that text seems particularly clear.

      Moreover, I agree with pretty much everything they write there, specially with the passage below, which deals with what we've been discussing here with little success (I took the liberty of adding some emphasis and one or two parenthetical notes):

      As socialists, our analysis of capitalism leads us to not just a moral and ethical critique of the system, but to seeing workers as the central agents of winning change.

      This isn’t a random fetishizing of workers — it’s based on their structural position in the economy. Workers have the ability to disrupt production and exchange
      (me: the French general strike for example), and they have an interest in banding together and articulating collective demands. This makes them the key agents of change under capitalism.

      This view can be caricatured as ignoring struggles for racial justice, immigrant rights, reproductive freedom, and more. But nothing could be further from the truth. The working class is majority women and disproportionately brown and black and immigrant; fighting for the working class means fighting on precisely these issues, as well as for the rights of children, the elderly, and all those who cannot participate in the paid labor market.


      Do you agree with that? If so, then we've been talking past each other. We were already in agreement but didn't know it. You don't agree? Well, then maybe there's no possible agreement. That's unfortunate, but such is life, as Ned Kelly said before being executed. :-)

      Makes sense?

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    11. I forgot to add the link to the Schwartz/Sunkara piece. It's rather interesting and sensible, I think.

      "What Should Socialists Do?" (08.01.2017)
      https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/08/socialist-left-democratic-socialists-america-dsa

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    12. As socialists, our analysis of capitalism leads us to not just a moral and ethical critique of the system, but to seeing workers as the central agents of winning change.

      Agreed. Rest assured that the enemies of socialism are well aware of this dynamic. For example, the Chinese "Communist" Party bans unions.

      This isn’t a random fetishizing of workers — it’s based on their structural position in the economy. Workers have the ability to disrupt production and exchange (me: the French general strike for example), and they have an interest in banding together and articulating collective demands. This makes them the key agents of change under capitalism.

      This is true as far as it goes, but it depends on current realities. The French labour movement may be able to call a general strike; the American labour movement cannot. Consequently, American workers have less power than their French counterparts.

      A union must be controlled by its workers, primarily through rank and file committees, or it will become corrupt and betray its membership. That is the case in America, with union bosses who rake in 100-200K annually. Workers, both union and non-union are disgusted by this.

      The Macron government is challenging the French labour movement as we speak. As large and well-organized as it is, the working class in France is not representative of French society as a whole. They may not have the support amongst the general public that they need to prevail.

      This view can be caricatured as ignoring struggles for racial justice, immigrant rights, reproductive freedom, and more. But nothing could be further from the truth. The working class is majority women and disproportionately brown and black and immigrant; fighting for the working class means fighting on precisely these issues, as well as for the rights of children, the elderly, and all those who cannot participate in the paid labor market.

      Each movement should be free to wage their struggle as they see fit. If SJWs/Feminists/Progressives are open to discussing class issues, then socialists can join with them. If not, it will be more productive to go it alone.

      IMO, criticizing identity politics is not a productive activity for socialists. (The Alt-leftists are guilty of this... it appears to be their raison d'etre.)

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    13. I mostly agree with the Jacobin article. I can see where Trotskyists would have strenuous objections.

      What do you think of the article more specifically? Is it possible to build a working class movement in the absence of strong unions?

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    14. I have basically no problem with the things you wrote above, Bob (13 September 2017 at 09:14 and 13 September 2017 at 09:17).

      I agree about unions needing rank and file control and about the need to avoid union leadership to grow corrupt and bureaucratic, separate from the rank and file; about being silly to criticise identity politics per se.

      ----------

      The big risk I see in the Jacobin proposal (which apparently Democratic Socialists of America either adopted or are considering) is with the notion of "reform". (I am not sure why you mentioned the Trotskyists, but I suppose it's because of the reformism thing). The risk with reform is that from being means to an end, reforms tend to become the end by themselves. This is what Trotskyists fear, in my opinion, and for a good reason, too. Personally, I share their concern.

      For instance, unions have a tendency to become exclusively vehicles to negotiate wages for its members, neglecting things like education to their members, solidarity with other unions and other social/political movements. Unions become apolitical, in other words (this also happens to single-issue "new social movements" and it's a very serious limitation); they become an intermediary and often, from being an intermediary, they mutate into a referee, a moderator, an arbiter, between employees and employers. But wages and working conditions and all that, important as they are, are not the only reason for the existence of unions: unions exist to advance the interests of the working class in a broader sense. Unions or labour parties have no business with playing to be a referee: their job is to be an advocate. Capitalists don't need their intermediation, capitalists are big and ugly enough to look after themselves, without the help of unions and/or labour parties.

      That happens not only at union level, but at party level, as well. It's very difficult to avoid, but avoid it we must. Schwartz and Sunkara seem aware of that, which is good, but it's no guarantee we'll avoid those pitfalls.

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    15. The anti-socialist politics of the Democratic Socialists of America
      (posted: 3 Aug 2017)
      https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/03/dsoc-a03.html

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    16. 'Non-reformist' reforms are reforms that don't lead anywhere. But as the enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders showed, they are popular. The danger, for committed socialists, is that progressivism will be the winner. Riding coattails to power doesn't grant you power. A Sanders win would be socialist in name only; the narrative of such a movement would remain progressive/liberal. How would this advance working class consciousness?

      From a practical and humanitarian standpoint, I welcome the victory of progressives over reactionaries. It will be good for workers and civil society. The downside is that it kicks the can of system change down the road. Meanwhile, time is running out. We are potentially facing civilization ending challenges, due to climate change.

      Unions can be parochial, but the fact that unionism gives workers power makes them political in the eyes of capitalists. Strong unions or a government supported job guarantee are one in the same as far as they are concerned, because it shifts power away from them. As for the state, capitalists want to ensure that it is on 'their side', not workers.

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    17. Here we are, an Aussie and a Canuck, largely discussing American politics. Is this an example of vicarious socialism?

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    18. The recent Jacobin article on France is interesting. Popularity of unions in France is lower than in America!

      https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/09/macron-labor-reforms-strike-unions

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    19. From the article, What Should Socialists Do?

      In the final analysis, socialists must be both tribunes for socialism and the best organizers. That’s how the Communist Party grew rapidly from 1935-1939. They set themselves up as the left wing of the CIO and of the New Deal coalition, and grew from twenty thousand to one hundred thousand members during that period.

      The Socialist Party, on the other hand, condemned the New Deal as “a restoration of capitalism.” In saying so they were partly right: the New Deal was in part about saving capitalism from itself. But such a stance was also profoundly wrong in that it distanced the Socialist Party from popular struggles from below, including those for workers’ rights and racial equality that forced capital to make important concessions. This rejection was rooted in a concern that those struggles were “reformist”; it led the SP to fall from twenty thousand members in 1935 to three thousand in 1939.


      This is problematic in that it puts popularity ahead of the truth. FDR did not have unanimous support from capitalists; some wanted to fight the union movement. Such a battle, win or lose, would have had enormous ramifications. For socialists, the New Deal was a capitulation, and they would go on to lose nearly all of their organization and influence.

      Those who wage revolution halfway only dig their graves.

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    20. There are reasonable things in Tom Hall's article (pretty long, btw: I wish Marxists learned the virtue of brevity), other things do not seem reasonable at all. I have the feeling he reads way too much in Resistance Rising: Socialist Strategy in the Age of Political Revolution.

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  3. How the system shows awareness of workers:
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/lac-megantic-trial-begins-september-11-train-derailment-1.4282591?cmp=rss

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  4. Are you sure you're not a Trotskyist?

    Abso-fucking-lutely. I'm an ecumenical Marxist, so to speak. :-)

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  5. If they're living in poverty, working shitty jobs, they may decide to form a union. If they're part of the 'have-nots', they may jump at the chance to vote for a party that does not represent the 'haves'.

    So, you are willing to concede there's enough commonality of interests to allow that? :-)

    How poor do they need to be?

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    Replies
    1. Comparable amount of suffering, so as to engender feelings of solidarity.

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    2. Let's see if I understand. You seem to admit, as least as a possibility, feelings of solidarity, but that's dependent on the amount of suffering being comparable. Am I being correct?

      Well, Bob, when is the amount of suffering comparable and who determines that?

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    3. Suffering or hardship in kind is comparable. Why else do you get Unions of Mineworkers or Unions of Police Officers, but rarely a Union of Teachers and Janitors?

      Solidarity versus compassion: which is more resilient?

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  6. Why did French workers support the students in 1968?

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    Replies

    1. Why did French workers support the students in 1968?

      See my comment from "9 September 2017 at 12:35":

      In effect, the French workers intervened to a large extent because of solidarity with the students, who were being victims of police brutality. There was little immediate gain for workers: they were not demanding higher wages or anything like that. Quite to the contrary, they repeatedly refused pay raise offers. They wanted a revolution, in short.

      :-)

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    2. Okay, that sounds like compassion. It might explain why this "revolution" petered out without being physically crushed by the state.

      A few years ago there was a student uprising in the province of Quebec, Canada. They got union support but it petered put as well.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Quebec_student_protests

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