Tuesday, 14 May 2013


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.