Monday, 14 September 2015

The Death Instinct

The cornerstone of the Marxist theory of history (materialist conception) concerns itself with the basic economic needs of humanity. It contends that the process and context of humankind’s procurement of the means of life is the basis of all cultural activity. The means and mode of production make everything else possible and so their historical context defines any given culture. This is also the case for all living creatures since life itself depends on the synthesis of energy (food and light) – whether or not other species have ‘cultures’ is debatable. However it is indisputable that life depends on the procurement of energy and so, therefore, must posses some mechanism to make this possible. I do not speak here of locomotion or cultivation but of the basic biological system that distinguishes between, and recognises, external and internal stimuli. We eat because we are hungry, sleep because we are tired and react when we are in pain etc. All life, then, is motivated by, and reacts continuously to, stimuli. This is obviously why humanity engages in economic activity and so it can therefore be considered a rational social endeavour. But could it be that sometimes to successfully respond to two different stimuli is impossible because they are mutually incompatible?  And is this, in some part, responsible for irrational human behaviour? 
   The observation of some other species makes these behavioural contradictions obvious. Reacting to the sexual stimulus (desire) puts many species in direct conflict with the individual’s need to avoid pain and death. Spiders and some insects quite often die at the ‘hands’ of their mates after sex. Many mammals have to fight to secure a mate risking injury and sometimes death. Human desire is no less powerful than the need for food and shelter. How, then, does this stimuli affect the other biological needs that motivate economic activity and so define history and politics? Does it sometimes come into direct confrontation with them as it does in other species? Marx himself had nothing to say on this subject but some have believed that human sexuality lies at the root of irrational human behaviour. How else are we to explain why his theory of history is so successful in all areas except the most important one – the prediction of a socialist revolution?
   Before we are ready to know whether reacting to mutually exclusive stimuli does indeed sometimes lead to irrational behaviour in humans we need to define a successful response. If we examine three human activities like eating, sex and work, is there a shared behavioural response that indicates success? After a good meal contentment is felt because the stimulus (hunger) is removed and a kind of ‘stasis’ is temporarily achieved. After orgasm there is a similar cessation of tension. When work has fulfilled its purpose and been received by others as appropriate and competent then the tiredness is pleasurable. All of these states of mind share a contentment and emotional calm. If this condition were indeed defined by an absence of stimuli then logically death (or at least its psychological approximation) would seem to be the goal of life. In some way might it be the longing of the animate entity to return to its inanimate origins? Perhaps sentience itself exists to continually recreate the illusion of death for the organism to thrive? A paradox worthy of any Zen masters’ attention. Now let us look at what happens when there is a failure to deal successfully with powerful stimuli.
   Human sexuality is always complex. The child’s relationship with its parents is paradoxical from the start. It needs the mother to satisfy the stimuli for feeding and safety. We know that it also has sensual (infantile sexual) needs as well. When this is expressed in inappropriate behaviour a conflict with the parent is created (because of the moral and educational values of the adult). The child then experiences contradictory needs and is unable to deal successfully with stimuli. The resulting frustration can lead to emotional tantrums and destructive behaviour. For anyone to thrive in an authoritarian culture such as ours he or she has to learn to suppress the sexual instincts. However as we have seen these stimuli are as strong as the need to survive and can never be destroyed. They can be deflected (sublimated) by other activities such as sport, art or politics but very often the infantile need for destruction survives as well. Could it be that this urge to destroy is an unconscious reflection of the desire for the death that the successful reaction to stimuli approximates, but which has been denied to the individual? 
   We have seen that the result of a successful reaction to stimuli is a quiet mind free of tension. If this is unobtainable, say because of the meaningless alienated labour that capitalism demands, then the tension just keeps building. All of the energy that should be used to deal with stimuli finds no focus or outlet and instead fuels frustration and anger. Such negative energy can express itself in conditions such as depression, obsession and violence. All of these can be interpreted as other ways of simulating death. Depression deprives the victim of the motivation for any action. Obsessive behaviour clings to the quest of the unobtainable so avoiding meaningful activity. An act of violence symbolises the destruction of life. A religious or political ideology can sometimes use this destructive energy by focusing hatred on the ‘other’. Xenophobia, nationalism, racism, sectarianism, militarism and the hatred of the weak are all present in reactionary political theories. The ‘other’ is blamed for the inadequacies within the hater’s life. This is because the contradictions of the capitalist system are not recognised but internalised. Your therapist, priest and parents will tell you that your unhappiness is all your own fault. You need to change, not the system – that’s just an impossible dream.
   Socialist consciousness recognises the system for what it really is; the inhuman exploitation of man by man, which causes alienation between and within all mankind. No organism can survive without simulating death. Life can only cope with the unending stream of stimuli by ‘realising’ this. Marx’s theory of history was not wrong but incomplete. The dynamic of social change, the creator of the dialectical forces, is not only the mode of production and the class struggle it generates but life and death itself. Liberation and freedom (the life force) depend on their antithesis – death.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Past, Present and Future

  An essential part of the socialist analysis of our world is the intellectual grasp of its restless dynamic of change. Everything is in the process of becoming something else: an acorn becomes a seedling which becomes a tree which becomes a home to animals and produces acorns which those animals bury to become seedlings. A star explodes (supernovae) and seeds space with dust that becomes other stars and planets which develops life made from that stardust. In any single object, and the abstraction that we use to conceive it, we can see that it is composed of the memory of its conception together with the seeds of its future. To restrict the understanding of anything to just its present form would be very misleading. When we look at a baby we think of the adult it will become, when we see beauty we are conscious of its inevitable corruption by age and when we look at a building under construction we imagine its final fa├žade; we see the piles of bricks as what they will become just as an archaeologist will see a less structured pile as what it once was. Cultural and political history are subject to the same dynamic - although reactionary ideology is dedicated to denying this obvious truth. We are told that capitalism is the paradigm of human cultural achievement and that any denial of this, especially with reference to the universal dynamic of change already described, is hopelessly idealistic and politically destructive. People say to socialists: ‘how can you possibly be sure that what you advocate will be better than what we have now’ or ‘the revolution will only make things worse’. Nobody can look into the future with absolute clarity but if we’re correct in our belief that everything is composed of both its past and possible future can an analysis of the present give us some reliable clues as to our future? What are the elements within the present that give socialists the confidence to believe that the new world is emerging within the womb of the old? 
  Looking at the past we can see elements of our present within it; cities built on trade such as Venice, London and Amsterdam were developing a flourishing merchant class during Europe’s renaissance and the reformation periods. The wealth of this emerging ‘bourgeoisie’ gave them the means to challenge the power of the ‘ancient regime’ of the King and aristocracy. The technologies of navigation, steam power and the mechanisation of production gave rise to this emerging ‘middle class’ and the economics of capitalism which today is ubiquitous in every part of human existence. Of course the rise to political power of this new class did not go unchallenged and the resulting struggle we call ‘the bourgeois revolutions’. Using this perspective of history we can see that technological change leads to new forms of production which in turn creates new economic relationships between members of a community. When such a new group or ‘class’ becomes conscious of it’s economic importance and how the contemporary political structure frustrates its development it will then challenge for political power (usually to help accelerate its own wealth). The dynamic element within history is this ‘class struggle’. Can we glimpse elements of our future using this historical analysis? Socialists believe so: and whenever the current ruling classes start howling about ‘threats to the health of the economy’ we know they are pointing to emergent socialist tendencies such as health and welfare expenditure etc. The greatest emergent quality within capitalism is, ironically, social production itself. All of the necessities of life are produced socially but acquired individually (by the capitalist). That the producers (the working class) perceive that their economic interests are not represented within the present political power structure reflects the similar relationship of the past between the bourgeoisie and the king. So, in this way, we see the seeds of our future (socialist revolution) in the economic relationships of the present. Human culture is a dynamic economic and political process that is always changing. Any attempt to analyse economics and politics without a realisation of this most important factor is like trying to get onboard a speeding train while wearing a blindfold. The popularity of this ’blindfolded’ approach to the study of political economy is obviously in the interests of the status-quo whose agency within industry and the centres of learning has encouraged such superficial theories such as ‘neo-liberalism’ etc. In this way almost all contemporary economic and political theories have been merely attempts to rationalise the irrational realities of the market system which is conceived of as eternal and essentially unchanging.
  Does this Marxian approach imply some kind of ‘economic determinism’ and its proponents as ’crystal ball gazers’ and prophets? It is impossible to conceive of the ’present’ without reference to the past and future; our understanding of all three can be more or less comprehensive depending, decisively, on their mutual inclusion. All Marxists do is recognise this inescapable logic in our analysis - the efficacy of which can be tested on recent historical events such as the  failure of the soviet regime to establish socialism and the rejection of ‘state capitalism’ by its citizens. Our rejection of any socialist content or potential within the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 was based on the historical analysis described. The contention that the future is ’unknowable’ is the same as contending that the past and present are also ’unknowable’ - which, of course, they are when any one of the three components is absent within the analysis. Economic determinism is a leftist misinterpretation of Marxian theory because it excludes the vital concept of ’majority’ consciousness becoming a material force for historical change. The economic elements for making Socialism a practical alternative have been in place for many decades now but as is painfully obvious the mass consciousness necessary for revolution is almost entirely absent. Many aspects of the history of the last century are discussed as reasons for this: the carnage of two world wars and the subsequent loss of confidence in human potential to make a better world;  the ubiquity of the distraction of consumerism together with the minority control and ownership of the mass media being two of the most probable. Non of these explanations, however, can disguise the cultural, political and moral bankruptcy of 21st century capitalism. If you, the reader, is convinced by our analysis we invite you to become a part of the ’material force’ for revolutionary change; by doing so you validate the theory you embrace. The Left may advocate endless slogans and demonstrations generated by their elitist view that they know what’s good for you and that they can lead you to a better life. We know that mass consciousness and self determination is the only way to create Socialism; history will decide if we are correct because, among other things, it can never betray you.  

Friday, 29 May 2015

Individual and Collective Identity

  Just occasionally, and almost always unintentionally, the entertainment media gives us a glimpse of the social realities that it tries, so desperately, to obscure. One such unlikely instance of this was a show devised by the illusionist Darren Brown. In it he had a group of about a dozen people from three different cities (London, New York and Amsterdam - if I recall correctly) place their hand on a sheet of paper and draw around it adding their signatures in the centre of the outline. He then took the papers away and promised that on his return he would deliver to each person an in-depth account of their psychological characteristics. An hour or so later he returned and delivered his written analysis to each person of the group. Almost without exception the individuals of the group were astonished (and some rather embarrassed) by the insights into what they believed to be the most intimate elements of their character. The climax of the ‘performance’ came as a result of Brown’s request that they exchange papers between them selves and the subsequent realization that what was written on them was identical! What is surprising to socialists was the astonishment people exhibit when confronted with evidence of just how much we share in terms of our hopes and needs. It is what unites us, we maintain, rather than what divides us that defines humanity. I say we are surprised but perhaps this is rather disingenuous to the results of our analysis of capitalism and, in particular, the understanding of the ideology that sustains it. The cult of ‘individualism’ is, of course, one of the cornerstones of bourgeois ideology - but just how have they managed to convince us that ‘there’s no such thing as society’ but only individuals! It is an obvious political advantage to keep one’s opponents from acting collectively (which, ironically, the ruling class never fail to do) but even those who may well oppose the politics of the ruling elite demure from entering into any collective political identity. What exactly is it in our culture that makes the statement ‘society is made up of individuals’ acceptable but the equally logical contention that ‘individuals are made up by society’ an anathema?
  Most of us would admit that the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the technology we use are all socially produced - why then is there a reluctance to acknowledge that the ideas we have and even the very language we use to express them are also social products? Indeed without this socialised aspect of our culture we could not verbally communicate and would have no ideas! In what dialecticians call the theory of internal relations we learn, among many other lessons, that to understand the individual we have to conceive the whole and vice-versa. Without a concept of the wood (forest) we would only see a collection of trees and have no knowledge of how the ecosystem defines the individual tree. Our culture insists on a discreet analysis (the perspective of the one viewing ’the other’) in almost all of it’s understanding of everything. To continue with the forest metaphor the behaviour and appearance of the tiger would be incomprehensible without reference to its habitat. In the same way any concept of the human individual is dependent on the idea of ’society’.
  So we can be as bold as to say that all of our ideas (abstracts) are dependent on our cultural and historical context and that some of these are more politically obvious than others. The pressures and ideology of capitalism make the cult of the individual an obvious choice for most people trying to understand who and what they are. Although we produce everything socially the access to what we have created is only as an individual consumer. It is this alienating factor within commodity production that reinforces the prison cell of the egotistical self that is essential to the political construct of the ’individual’. A friend once stated that only an event that directly concerned him as an individual could give him a feeling of ’reality’ in contrast to any political activity. In other words the factors that brought about the event were of little interest to him (the political context) because of the lack (until it became personal) of any egotistical content. Many have said to me down the years that ’they cannot wait for the revolution’ in defense of innumerable reformist activities but this again only indicates the self indulgence of the ego. If what has just been said indicates a rejection of ’individuality’ then I must reassure the reader that this is most definitely not the case; it is a rejection of the liberal ideological concept of individualism which we conceive of as one of the most destructive political ideas masquerading as humanism. The great irony is that without a collective (class) identity the majority can never liberate themselves from their egotistical prisons and experience true individuality. How this is to be achieved and what it might be is what we turn to now.
  It may seem paradoxical that it is only through the collective political action of the majority that the true nature of the individual can be liberated. Socialists are often criticised as ’obsessed with class’ but it is only through class consciousness that we can destroy what makes it so necessary; any denial of the importance of social class invariably indicates the desire to sustain it’s divisions. Only within a community defined by social justice and political equality can one truly acquire the love and respect of those whom we love and respect; not through what we have (consumerism) but by what we do (produce). The talents that a child may posses can only flourish if they are not handicapped by the class context into which they’re born. It is truly heart breaking to know that so much human potential will wither and die because of the poverty (both material and cultural) that defines their lives. The talents involved in producing something of value for your community is where the true expression of one’s individuality resides and this, of course, is the antithesis of everything capitalism is or ever can be. It might be argued that ’creative work’ does exist within the present system but the few who do enjoy this luxury inevitably suffer the alienation inherent the commodification of their product in terms of repeating the initial commercial success (musicians and other artists who have enjoyed this kind of success often have difficulty in maintaining it because of the corrosive effect sales pressure has on creativity). If you really wish to discover your potential as an individual then first you will have to help us destroy the class system that makes the fulfillment of such a need impossible at the moment. Merely expressing yourself as a consumer impoverishes the individual spirit and condemns liberal sensibilities to political impotence. Authentic individuality is meaningless without a concept of the social and it can only fulfill this meaning through a revolutionary cultural change as in its current incarnation it is merely egotism. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Authenticity


In these strange days of postmodernism is the concept of authenticity a relevant or helpful idea? In politics the implicit ideas all have a history that explains both context and evolution. In the tracing of this history a starting point is helpful. Can we call this point authentic or must it always be arbitrary? Certainly any subsequent variation or evolution can only be judged in the light of that original. What might be important is to have evidence that any variation will possibly violate the original concept. Sometimes the source is indisputable (living people or extant texts) but original sources can also be interpretations of other people’s work as with Socrates, The Christ, Buddha, Mohammed etc. Analysis of the content and internal logic of the idea itself is important since the author(s) may not be completely aware of the consequences of their own interpretation! It is entirely possible that the use of the same analysis might contradict the conclusions of the author. So we have three criteria by which to define the authenticity of an idea: Source, Idea and Evolution. I will attempt an analysis of Socialism using these criteria with special reference to the work of Karl Marx.
  Socialism has a long history; some say it is as old as humanity. Pre historical hunter/gatherer communities all seem to be based on elements of socialism/communism. Traditionally the modern concept of socialism has its roots in the work of  Winstanley, Fourier and St. Simon. Known as socialist Idealists their primary concern was the immorality of private property and the social injustice that it created. It was not until Karl Marx and Frederick Engels worked together and then with the First International that a comprehensive definition of socialism was attempted. Marx had claimed, or more precisely others had claimed on his behalf, to have discovered the laws of  both historical evolution and capital accumulation. He used the form of analysis known as dialectics which had been developed by the German philosopher Hegel. Building on the theories of the British economists Adam Smith and Paul Ricardo he produced the paradigm of classical economics in his work Das Capital. It might be claimed that this represented the crystallisation of three traditions: German philosophical Idealism, British economics and French Idealistic socialism. A truly international synthesis befitting the context of the world’s First International Workingman’s Association. As a result, and in the light of, all this analysis - economic, historical and philosophical did a definition of socialism arise. ‘The common ownership and democratic control of the means of production’ is, for me and most socialists, the authentic expression of what socialism is. Twentieth century history would argue and reinterpret two key words in this definition out of all recognition - ‘common’ and ‘democratic’. In what is sometimes called ‘the century of ideology’ we are told that fascism and soviet ‘communism’ were somehow connected to, or even resulted from, the definition and ideology of socialism. My contention is that this view is profoundly mistaken because, in part, it completely neglects the importance of authenticity in the creation of the concept of socialism. As to why this happened, and still happens, is only explainable in terms of ’political consciousness’ 
  Socialist consciousness is not purely the result of intellectual study. It also demands a psychological reassessment of values and paradigms. What has been called ‘false consciousness’ is caused primarily not because of a lack of intelligence but by the inability to imagine profound political alternatives. This in turn is mostly due to a political/historical context. If you do not truly understand capitalism then you can never imagine its antithesis – socialism. When the left substituted ‘state ownership’ for the original ‘common ownership’ it was because of this. For Marx state ownership could only ever be a prelude to the revolution and was never considered as a form of socialism. The bourgeois mind could never imagine a stateless, moneyless society – state capitalism was their political limit (Lenin, Mao, Castro etc.). The same is true of their interpretation of democracy. Representative (bourgeois) democracy was replaced by something infinitely worse – centralised democracy or the rule of the elite. Socialism is democracy – the direct control of the means of production by the majority. So in both respects we can state that this was not an ‘evolution’ of the idea of socialism but a ‘perversion’ of it. And we know this, in part, by reference to the ‘original’ definition based on the ‘authentic’ origins already discussed. There is also the critique that these leftist definitions are not authentic in terms of the original motivation for socialism – social justice and the freedoms this implies. The terrors of the Soviet Union were no surprise to those with authentic consciousness.  In conclusion we can say that in terms of the source (Marx), idea and evolution that the leftist version of socialism is invalid by reference to authenticity (and, of course, political history). 
   Some time ago I was engaged in a debate on Facebook about the definition of socialism. My opponent contended that my definition was too narrow and what's more it did not coincide with the one given in Wikipedia! Apart from an affront to my ego (thirty years of study and activism) I was saddened by the apparent triumph of the leftist version. But I remind myself that any quest for justice will always lead to socialist conclusions and it is up to socialists to convert this desperate need into revolutionary action based on authentic motivation and consciousness. Once this is achieved in the majority no political elite can arise with the potential to corrupt the cause. In this, political consciousness is not dissimilar to the arts - once understood, a great painting, novel, film or piece of music will enable you to discern subsequently that which is fake, misleading and superficial (inauthentic). Some time ago the Socialist Party ran ‘The Campaign for Real Socialism’ in an attempt to revive authentic socialist consciousness. As a lover of the ales from which the name was derived all I can say is: ‘I’ll have my usual - in a straight glass’. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fyah Inna Babylon - A Marxist in the Media


I woke up one morning with a three hour weekly radio show. The show was to be in the evening ‘specialist’ slot on Fridays and was called ‘Roots, Rock, Reggae’. I’ve always loved Jamaican music and for a Socialist ‘Roots Reggae’ is a perfect genre with its 100% political lyrics. Made in the ghettos of Kingston they are songs of liberation - as I used to say: ’the conscious thunder of righteous rhythms’. On the death of Bob Marley there was a slow drift back to ’gangster ragga’ as Jamaican music lost it’s way in the eighties. After joining a reggae collective in 2000 I was relieved to find that not only ’old school’ roots was back in favour but a whole new generation of conscious musicians were rocking to the sound of liberation once again. I had not really expected to get the job as I had explicitly stated that my show would have to have a high political content. I was not interested in the usual ’pick and mix’ entertainment genre. Don’t get me wrong - I had a lot of respect for some of the other DJ’s with their in-depth knowledge of specific music genres. I just wanted to discuss the ideas that the lyrics and rhythms of roots reggae provoke - liberation, righteousness, Zion and the Babylon System etc. Truth be told - it was a great opportunity to air some socialist ideas on live radio (a rare thing these days).
  Everything started pretty well and I even got away with not playing ’The News’ in the middle of my show on the grounds that Murdochian propaganda would not go down well with my ’audience’. My idea was to pick a theme or two from the lyrics and discuss the political implications. There’s something called ’dub reggae’ (an enhanced instrumental track) that would keep the rhythm going as I pontificated. One such deliberation concerned the vexed subject of the reactionary and progressive elements within Rastafarianism. I have been called a hypocrite by some Rastas because I play the Roots but reject the spiritual part of its message. I attempted to point out that as in most religions, because of its absence on earth, the need for justice is projected into another supernatural or spiritual realm. The yearning for righteousness is a very human ideal born of the suffering endemic within the exploitation of Capitalism (the Babylon System) and is shared by Socialists. Once you relegate political action to the mystical caprice of a deity (Jah) you inevitably produce an authoritarian social structure with God and his prophets on top and the rest of us somewhere below - always anti-democratic and reactionary. Such was the polemical nature of my broadcasts. When I started the ’boss’ had taken me to one side and said: ’make the show you would want to listen to’ - and this is precisely what I did.
  Before finding myself on the other side of the microphone I had nursed a contempt for local radio. The blandness, let’s be honest, is mind numbing. The mindless repetition of ’petit bourgeois’ propaganda masquerading as community radio is politically laughable. And yet, as I learned, the people involved are normal human beings totally oblivious to their role in perpetuating the values of the capitalist obscenity. They are obsessed with something they call ’professionalism’. Any minor technical mistake or, much to my amusement, the use of inappropriate language is anathema. Turf wars with other radio stations is another obsession that feeds the fragile egos of those who are terrified by the endless ’rules and regulations’ of broadcasting. It is this atmosphere that produces the blandness which so disfigures local radio and renders it politically impotent - and is, of course, the very intention of this kind of broadcasting censorship. To many broadcasters and consumers alike, music has become just another commodity with beautiful people singing beautiful songs with beautiful voices 24/7. Perfect nonsense fills the airwaves to feed the sick romance of life style consumerism. And yet a show like mine found its way through the cracks for a while. What it so obviously lacked in ’professionalism’ it made up for in ’novelty’. I tried to, as the rastas say ’keep it real’ and forbad any political cynicism for three hours a week. So, I hear you ask, what could possibly go wrong and why is this great gift to radio no longer broadcasting?
  The cost of running even a modest local radio station, even staffed with volunteers like me is prohibitive and without advertising revenue it became impossible for the individuals involved to continue financing it themselves. I made several marketing suggestions including live outside broadcasts from beer gardens etc; but what do I know, I’m just a DJ - and a Marxist to boot!  Licenses for FM,DAB and online broadcasting are astronomical and serve the dual purpose of financing the treasury and keeping those without money off the airwaves. Just for a while there, I was able to indulge two of my great passions in life, reggae music and socialism. The Devil doesn’t have all the best tunes and I’m sure conscious reggae roots will once again provoke revolutionary vibes on local radio somewhere. I’m just relieved my comrades didn’t hear me utter the phrase: ’Jah Rastafari’ at the conclusion of one of my more emotionally intense broadcasts - love is a funny thing. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Politics and Religion


POLITICS and RELIGION

When discussing politics, on discovering that I have a set of beliefs and values, I am occasionally accused of having a kind of 'religious faith'. This does not go down at all well with a 'traditional Marxist' but upon reflection I have found this not to be an insult but rather more of a historical misunderstanding. We live in an age where the division of labour has been introduced to almost every discipline – including the intellectual pursuits. The 'Natural Sciences' were a development of Philosophy just as Chemistry owes it's origins to Alchemy and as Astronomy does to Astrology. We now live in an age where more and more people know more and more about less and less. Specialisms have come to define knowledge itself. The 'experts' are the new priesthood who zealously guard the portals of knowledge. Some people find it difficult to converse outside of their 'area of expertise' and would consider conclusions about a subject they have no in-depth understanding of as merely  an example of personal prejudice. This is all very well for some of the sciences but it is useless when it comes to the practice of that most 'multidisciplinary' of human endeavours – politics. Without an understanding of History, Economics and Philosophy no polemical activity is possible. Politics is not only impossible under such conditions it demands multi disciplinary integration uncompromisingly. Those who speak on economics without reference to politics (as many try to do) can have no insights into human reality at all. Religion, as with politics, needs many realms of knowledge to produce its picture of the human condition. But Christianity in the West has become rather confined as a 'personal religion'. The Protestant tradition of a personal relationship with God has turned it into a kind of individual consumerism. As with other personal relationships the subject becomes highly emotionally charged that in turn leads to a certain reluctance to discuss such ideas openly. Faith becomes the last defence in the light of any criticisms. The need to believe becomes more important than what is believed. Do Socialists share this 'need to believe' and is it this that provokes some to accuse us of being 'religious' about our political ideas? 
  Any study of the Reformation and the later revolution in England can only conclude that the political confrontations of the elite were being fought within a religious ideological arena. An attempt to separate the two in men’s minds or in the ensuing power struggle would be ridiculous. Henry VIII’s need to secure a male heir (and so a divorce) was also part of the Tudor conquest of absolute power in England. Church and state have been inextricably linked since then. As our culture became increasingly secular the division of religion and politics became more pronounced. Certainly the early Socialists were keen to make this division - preferring to align themselves with a ‘scientific’ perspective and a consequent ‘objective analysis’. Much debate has ensued about whether the art of politics can ever be considered scientific (Popper’s law of falsification would imply it cannot). I am not convinced of the importance of this debate anymore since mankind will always practice ‘politics’ (scientific or religious) because it is actually part of what it is to be human. Mankind tells itself stories to explain existence and so give meaning to life. The stories can be scientific, religious, romantic, cynical and even mythic but, in the end, only you can make the decision about which ones reflect your life. No expert, be he scientist, politician or priest can or should make this choice for you. If you find such a story that fires your imagination you can then subject it to vigorous critical analysis (many writers will aid you in this since the opposing perspective is always available). If you are still confident in its value then the test of history can be applied. Does it go some way in describing how the world reached its present condition? If you do not subject your conclusions to such a rigorous critique then you run the risk of never being wrong - and that indicates an inferiority complex rather than intelligence. Marx thought there to be only two relevant narratives since, historically, there were only two classes left and that their opposing perspectives were the only arena for meaningful political debate. Such was his belief in the human ability to reason through critique that he was certain the working class (the vast majority of mankind) would see socialism as the only rational option. Personally I still find this the most compelling analysis available. Having discussed process I’m aware the answer to the question I posed earlier remains unanswered. With the aid of this analysis I will now attempt to do so. 
  Over and above the contemporary habit of dividing disciplines into specialisms is there still a good reason to separate religion and politics ? Does this distinction in some way define the two? A faith driven value system with or without a deity or an analysis based on dialectical reason with man himself at it’s centre? Both serve the same human need - meaning and structure. Both have been subverted into authoritarian social structures. But does such a distinction hide more than it reveals? I find the area they share more interesting and I think there’s a word that can powerfully bridge the gap - redemption. In its original meaning it meant redeeming one’s homeland (the Jewish tradition). For Christians it’s about original sin and forbidden knowledge. For Socialists? I think its about redeeming our humanity from the depredations that followed the invention of private property (expulsion from Eden). While shopping in a supermarket recently I found, because of arthritis, I could not bend down far enough to reach the last loaf that was buried deep on a bottom shelf. Suddenly a toddler disappeared into the recess and emerged with the loaf beaming from ear to ear as he handed it to me. He broke my heart because I realised that my generation had not created a better world where this truly human behaviour can thrive. So yes, I need to believe in human redemption that will transform the world. As someone once said: ‘what have we got to lose but our chains?’

Monday, 1 October 2012

Bread and Circuses


It’s been a difficult year for Socialists in Olde England. Hopefully the last of the little Union flags will flutter into obscurity after the ‘Paralympic Games’. This icon of patriotism can then return to business as usual as a symbol of the exploitation of the majority and the persecution of the poor. By coincidence in an attempt to escape the ubiquity of sport on TV I stumbled upon the movie ‘Spartacus’. In its depiction of one of history’s earliest class struggles ( the slave revolt in ancient Rome) it struck me as ironic that I had just been watching the raising of the Jamaican flag in victory at another gladiatorial arena - the London Olympics. Ironic, of course, because ethnically and culturally Jamaica was a product of the British slave trade. Africans were taken to the Caribbean to slave on the sugar plantations. Despite their ‘emancipation’ in the 19th century and Jamaican ‘Independence ‘ in the 20th (celebrated in parallel with the Olympics) here we still had the spectacle of gladiatorial competition in a vast arena - but are they still just slaves performing for their masters?
  Amid the euphoria of the heroic performances of ‘team GB’ many would be incredulous at the depiction of the Olympic Games as a continuation of the Ancient Roman policy of ‘Bread and Circuses’. If the Emperor could provide entertainment for the Roman mob in the gladiatorial arena they could be distracted and controlled. Similarly the original ethos of the Modern Olympiad (individual excellence and international brotherhood) has been perverted into a grubby orgy of nationalism and profiteering that through marketing has become just another agent of consumer distraction. The athletes have to prostitute themselves to nationalism and advertising to be allowed to partake. They are, like most of us, slaves to consumerism. Even the mighty Husain Bolt has to confine himself to meaningless macho poses rather than articulating anything of significance - such is the power of the authoritarian sports officialdom. What a contrast to the truly heroic activities of the likes of Jesse Owens and the black power salutes of the sixties (happy days!). Wouldn’t it be magnificent to see an athlete reject the geographical accident of his birth place and the commercial imperative as defining him or her. International sport has become entirely politicised as is clearly demonstrated by the insistence of the establishment that sport and politics don’t mix (whenever this kind of platitude is used you can be sure of its complete political integration with bourgeois values). And now we come to the ’legacy’ of the London Olympiad - the moral propaganda attempt to justify the vast cost.
  The reintroduction of the competitive sporting ethos to schools is one of the promised legacies of the games. This is to replace the perceived ‘prizes for everyone’ liberal ethos. To the surprise of some Socialists are not opposed to competition in sports. The infantile ego can be indulged as long as sport is seen purely as fun and entertainment. Any attempt to introduce such a relationship into adult life should be treated as ridiculous. Capitalist propagandists continue to infantilise human relationships in this way trying to convince us that we are all competitors rather than interdependent. Ever since mankind looked back at the ‘Earthrise’ from the moon in 1969 we see our shared home as hanging precariously alone in the awful emptiness of space. We had the chance to ‘grow up’ as a species and leave the our brutal childhood of international competition (war) behind us. That this has not been achieved is testament to the power of the propaganda machinery of capitalism. Every time a parent induces their child to identify with the flag and to see others as competitors they betray human potential. Because the ego of the young is so easy to manipulate in this way many of us never mature emotionally and are easy prey to consumerism and its sick competitive values so essential for the survival of capitalism. Unfortunately sport has become one of the most important elements in this perversion of human values. Spartacus may well recognize the slave mentality of many international sportsmen and women. We still await the arrival of a famous socialist sporting hero - but perhaps this is just a particular fantasy of mine that is in reality an oxymoron!