Sunday, May 4, 2014

Being Considerate (and Scientific Socialism)

Because of the taboo nature of Marxism these days, and its absence, even ridicule in popular press culture, I wanted to ask myself the question: "what are the consequences of the absence of these ideas for the ruling bourgeois class"? We might fairly easily, or at least more commonly, conjecture what effects its absence has on the working class and the oppressed, or on Marxists and communists themselves.

Considering that Marxism is scientific socialism, this amounts to asking what are the consequences of the absence of a science. This latter framing of the question of course assumes that Marxism is scientific, which the bourgeoisie and its fellow travelers obviously deny, along with everything else. But this is the claim of Marxist theory, that it is a scientific theory of socialism, and of society in general and its economic development, and it is a claim that has never been refuted in any serious way.

The answer to the question is not just that the absence of Marxism constitutes a victory for the bourgeoisie, which it does in a small way, in the first place, this is because Marxism is a product itself of bourgeois culture and science, of its own advancement on what went previously. But also the absence and exclusion of Marxism or scientific socialism from the debate leaves a gap in science where only ideology can rule. And this gap and its ideology does not only impact on the class enemies of the bourgeoisie. We have all by now heard of 'blowback', the (mostly) unintended consequences of actions that react back upon the maker of those actions. Well, this would be one form of feedback from the absence of scientific socialism: i.e. the inability to accurately predict the course of future society and to consider how such actions may have effects that rebound (not to mention collateral damage).

I came to thinking about this when I was examining another question, about being considerate to others. In one sense it means having good manners and discretion. We all know what it means to be considerate, it means taking care to account for what other people feel and think in various situations and with regard to your own actions and their consequences; but it also has a less benign sounding application: if a person has the capacity to foretell another person's feelings, and so their actions, better, if they 'can think in other peoples shoes' as Brecht said somewhere, this faculty is obviously quite useful if you have enemies whose behavior, say on a battlefield, needs to be foreseen so you can make the relevant strategic plans.

One aspect of the humanist variant of Marxist theory, that version which the bourgeoisie tends to allow into the academy for the sake of seeming 'balanced', would appear to be very much concerned with caring about people, about the oppressed and the exploited and the underdog, you might say this is its popular cultural position on the 'left' of the so called political spectrum, and you might think that this means it is considerate, and thus able to understand its opponents, to have empathy. However this does not seem to be the case.

Humanism is allied quite strongly with the spiritual side of things, even when ostensibly materialist: the 'human spirit' according to humanism, or 'human nature' will win out in history, to put it crudely, for the sake of humankind. It believes in an essence of humanness, in certain incorruptible qualities or essences.

Marxist humanism inherits this bourgeois philosophy, which was revolutionary once in the struggle against the old aristocracy and the divine rights of kings etc, but now is generally reactionary (though this can still depend on the social circumstances). Putting essences into the human pot, in short, means that this Marxism becomes, peculiarly, and usually (there are always exceptions), insensitive to what is going on materially around it, since it tends to see its principles and ideals everywhere as essences and overlooks the facts, not perhaps the bare facts, but more importantly the subtleties that you might pick up when you are, e.g., a considerate kind of person (this is beside the phenomenon of the probably many cadres of 'Marxism' that are little more than police spy versions and are therefore obviously going to be crude, misinformed, and deliberately put people off the subject in any case).

In western Ukraine recently (May 2014) the far right, including Nazis, have been supported by western political leaders in an uprising against a corrupt leader and parliament. One characteristic that the far right have is a severe lack of consideration for their fellows, and in this case the easterners living in the country, which mirrors the broadly crude attitude of fascists towards the value of human life in general, and their essentialism, which is also a crude form (again) of humanism and their crude ideals (strength, unity based on fear of the alien, chauvinism, absolute identity, sexism, etc). National Socialism has socialism in the name of course but there is actually nothing about it that is socialist, unless you call being fake socialist socialism. It is simply that fascism sometimes simulates the popular radical ideology of socialism (popular i.e. in times of crisis despite the taboo), in order to gain power, just as it has in Ukraine. It is highly likely that in Ukraine people did not even see the struggle against the corrupt capitalist president as a socialistic one (which it was), therefore the Nazi elements of Right Sector and Svoboda came to the fore in the struggle and could channel the anger in the direction it wanted.

It's flaw, however, is that it lacks consideration, and it always fails to 'think in other peoples shoes', a factor which leads it into making strategic mistakes. To it, being crude and unfeeling is a strength, but its strength is its big weakness. The same in a smaller way is true when the bourgeoisie are successful at turning Marxism into a taboo, which they have been. This success rules out a scientific understanding of society and leads to them misunderstanding their own position, it also leads to support for foolish and extreme powers, and to a lack of consideration for their own actions, being blinded already as they are by profit in the short term.

With regard to the Ukraine conflict, almost all the press, including Russia Today, refers to the protesters who are anti the fascist led government in Kiev as 'Pro Russian', and in this we get a simplistic opposition between Pro Europe (or West) and Pro Russian protesters, essentialist labels that are conducive to civil war. It is clear from this that the vested profit interests of the ruling classes on both apparent sides of the struggle see no value in unearthing a deeper level of analysis, for them this crude appearance seems to serve its purpose. And up to a point it does, it tends to lead people away from socialism and into the humanist, and sometimes fascist, mode of thinking about the crisis, the best criticism that is allowed is some economic cynicism on profit motives.

A war on the mainland of central Europe serves to enable emergency measures to combat resistance to austerity measures, diverts moves to socialism into fascism, and generally confuses everything, in this sense it benefits the capitalist, who sees the possibility of extending its free trade area eastwards via the European Union. But it can only do this by exacerbating the situation and using fascist forces, now openly. These fascist forces are not reliable and do not always act as they are meant to, they are even in many cases opposed to their 'masters'. The latter fact does not matter that much to those who can profit from this circumstance and who live far away in secure places and who can move around their capital on the international markets, and this can easily also include the Russian bourgeoisie, who may not have much interest in defending eastern Ukrainian anti-fascists or socialists or those wanting a return to Soviet days even when they are 'Pro Russian'. And it is likely that those who will suffer at first will be the working classes who resist capitalist expansion.

But the flaw in the plan is that these fascist forces do not see liberal democratic capitalism (the most profitable capitalism) as their real friend or as having any future potential for them, so blowback on liberal capitalism becomes inevitable. Certainly there are those who think that they, by virtue of being wealthy, are immune to the effects of such blowback, but this is only as true as anyone, any class or faction, can be immune from the effects of, for example, human induced global warming, there is no guarantee, and in the chaos of war or of weather nobody can really be considered safe, especially in a nuclear armed world.

If we can talk about our species as a species, refer to its chances of survival as a species, we definitely need a scientific way to understand society and its relation to the rest of nature, whether Marxist or not. Us communists believe that Marxism is the current representative of this science, this of course does not mean it will stay current forever, science moves on, but it is built on its achievements, and socialist science is one of these crucial building blocks. The bourgeois lack of theory here is to actively oppose science, any science not just Marxism, that might lay claim to exactitude in social economics. The mantra in the final instance at work here is that you cannot be scientific about society, that such an effort leads to being crude, you must let it stay 'free' and this reflects the 'free market' as the essence of human nature. So in effect we have the championing of ideology over science. This element of backwardness in the bourgeois class is where it will inevitably misunderstand its own progress and take the wrong decisions even on its own survival as a class.

It is also where it becomes inconsiderate. To consider the feelings of others, to have empathy, rather than only (external) sympathy, becomes a taboo for its version of society because it shows a material kind of fellow feeling exists, it refers to that peculiarly neglected area where socialism might grow up from the 'grassroots'. In place of this the bourgeois interests place technical expertise and statistics, polls, questionnaires and surveys, and all the 'democratic' paraphernalia and rituals, overseen by corporations, to divine what 'the people' think, these corporations, all have interests to find in the data exactly what they want to see, and so they do. The 'data' is not scientific, because that is ruled out in any case, it is merely instrumental, technical, and it often points to the fact (in crises) that we 'need' technical governance (which has happened in this present crisis in e.g. Greece and Italy).

What can 'technical' mean if it is not scientific? We know the term voodoo economics; it has to be a kind of number mysticism, it must, in the modern world, resemble the sciences without ever becoming science, it is a kind of conjuring. It is the use of something without its core, without its heart, it is in this sense superficial and inconsiderate. And this is why it comes up, repeatedly, with inconsiderate policies in the real world: such as the ideological attacks on single mothers by rightist Conservative governments in the UK, or indeed it supports fascists, who then attack the weak and the alien. Certainly these targets are also scapegoats and represent other opportunities for the powers, but it is the logical illogical outcome of this instrumental anti scientific attitude and which surfaces at its most extreme in the capitalist crisis.

There are, as we know, many examples of e.g. the U.S. governments supporting fascist forces elsewhere than at home as a foreign policy, e.g. Franco in Spain. The reason on the surface is to counteract 'communism'. But this is only a small excuse for what is really a way to ensure its capitalist business interests are secured and fixed in place abroad, and a stable non democratic regime ensures this best, because an enlightened democratic administration that changes in time might represent a commercial threat (look at the recent machinations in Egypt). Fascism not only represents U.S. interests by this fixing down of authority but it also prevents the potential competitor from possibly advancing to equal terms given its backward ideology. And this is also why the most advanced capitalist bourgeoisie even needs some Marxism at home. Without such authentic internal criticism it stagnates into fascism, and this fascism is simply not so profitable for the largest corporations, and represents a level of risk to their predominance. It is a need, however, that can fail to be recognized and necessitates an enlightened bourgeois faction with a lot of power and influence in culture and which can be 'considerate' in the strategic way. The latter appears to have gone missing in regards to Ukraine, not so urgent an issue for U.S. citizens a long way away perhaps, but for the European it is a dangerous precedent to set so close to home, we have been here before.

by Gary Tedman