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.