Bumper May Editorial
Making Plans for Nigel/ Purple Surge/ Green Tinges/ The Cult of Work: the New Wicca –Fromm Carney to Creaney
Making Plans for Nigel
In the wake of the UKIP “earthquake” in the European elections, we might now ask, is the Farage-infatuated British media, the BBC in particular, satisfied now? Since it has been disturbingly clear for the last couple of months of almost uninterrupted news coverage of a jocularly pontificating purple-faced real ale-swilling Nigel Farage and a deluge of UKIP political broadcasts, that our broadcasters have –to use the title of a classic 1979 single from Swindon’s inimitably bucolic pop-rock-folk-prog band XTC– been ‘Making Plans for Nigel’. Some suspect these ‘plans’, in the case of BBC motivations at any rate, have more to do with the hugely optimistic ‘pint half-full’ approach to the purple tide of UKIP being potentially the seismic split in the Tory vote in 2015, thus liberating the Beeb from a current Tory pincer-movement against both its public broadcasting independence and incredibly well disguised “institutional Trotskyism” (which, sadly, was stamped out decades back under Thatcherism).
But The Recusant is more sceptical as to BBC motives in bigging up the purple party as the next big thing in British politics, the tacit “fourth party” (a place now, in any case, just as likely to be claimed by the Green Party, whom this webzine presently supports, as by UKIP –and certainly in terms of the European results, while UKIP is, despicably, the first party of Britain, the Greens have at least usurped the invertebrate Liberal Democrats as the fourth –though, ironically, this is the one single occasion in which the Lib Dems did actually stand on a platform of principle, being the most emphatic pro-European party of them all, as their ever amiable ‘albino George Formby’-esque proleptic leader, Tim Farron, rightly pointed out last night). We suspect that the ever rightward shifting BBC, after all, the main Establishment broadcaster, has become besotted with Nigel Farage’s bogus charisma, and probably think that it’s now about time for British politics to be shaken up properly with a bit of proto-fascist spice, which will, at least, to the journalistic mind, make for more exciting political coverage in Andrew Neill’s dynastic suites of the Daily Politics and This Week (and with regards to David Dimbleby's Question Time, Farage has been an almost permanent fixture of 'mavericks' corner' every few weeks for some years now).
The Recusant asks, is there is a conspiracy in the British media to promote Nigel Farage as some sort of populist ‘soft-Fuhrer’ figure at a time of economic and social uncertainty –and if so, to what end? Certainly the past four years have –as The Recusant has often pointed out– been a kind of re-run of the early-to-mid 1930s, both in terms of a second Great Depression (now called the “Great Recession” by the Tories) and the political responses to it: austerity for the masses and fiscal sacrifice of the very poorest in the tradition started by the Tory-led right-wing National Government under the hawkish Stanley Baldwin. It should then perhaps be no surprise that in the midst of such economic and political meltdown, a new –albeit marginally subtler and less intimidating– Oswald Mosley type should capitalise on the insecure climate and start offering simple and easy solutions to the capitalist crises by pointing the finger at immigrants and encouraging the public to be extra-vigilant with regards to mythical multitudes of Romanians and Bulgarians swooping into our shire towns.
As ever for a party of the hard right, the politics of scapegoating, which, with the Tories, manifests in the cultural stigmatisation of the unemployed as “scroungers”, but with the Purpleshirts of UKIP, targets foreigners, not only nasty, but laughably so, given Farage’s own Huguenot surname and the fact that he has a German wife. But there really is no rationality to Farage’s unreasoning Nationalism, as, indeed, there never is with regards to any form of nationalism or ‘purple-in-the-face’ patriotism. On which note, this writer just happens to currently be reading a fascinating psychoanalytical polemic written in 1956, The Sane Society by Erich Fromm. On the subject of “public opinion”, which, in the case of our society is, anyway, an extremely tenuous construct, being mostly a public parroting of the wilful misinformation (i.e. Europe/ “benefit tourism”, unemployment/“scrounging” etc.) spread by partisan right-wing newspapers in pursuit of their own ideological agendas, the following extract from Fromm, in his Chapter ‘Can a Society Be Sick?—The Pathology of Normalcy’, is particularly instructive:
What is so deceptive about the state of mind of the members of a society is the "consensual validation" of their concepts. It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth. Consensual validation as such has no bearing whatsoever on reason or mental healthy Just as there is a "folie a deux" there is a "folie a millions". The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.
Here Fromm is challenging the most fundamental dynamic to ‘democracy’: ‘majoritarianism’, rule not so much by ‘the people’ (demos) as simply by a majority of ‘the people’ (although in the case of our First Past the Post system, not even a majority: we are more a 'minoritarian democracy'), hence inescapably excluding a significant minority of people –a concept which Benjamin R. Barber even more thoroughly interrogated from a libertarian anarchist-individualist point of view 15 years later in his Superman and Common Man (1971). But in spite of such ostensible undermining of the fundamental nature of democracy, it is always important to remember that although Adolf Hitler was an autocrat, a dictator, who forcibly seized power, it is highly unlikely he could have succeeded in doing so if it was not on the back of considerable public support which, in a very short matter of time, swelled into a majority of the population –so in that sense, though not democratic in any sense we understand the term, Nazi Germany was in many respects itself a form of majoritarianism, and one in which the persecution of Jews was seen as acceptable because a ‘majority’, or at least, an assumed majority of the population shared a common anti-Semitism, even if it was initially whipped up through Hitlerian propaganda, presumably it was still a dormant germ in the culture of the time.
It is hugely significant –though rarely if ever touched on by our media– that Nigel Farage has lived in the same idyllic village in Kent since his birth: he is, therefore, one of an almost dying breed of lifelong parochial burghers, which would rather suggest that a big part of his heightened sense of geographical identity, of place, root, belonging in part explains his implacable patriotism and borderline xenophobia. If one attempts a psychological profile of Nigel Farage within a ‘Frommian’ framework, then one can see straight away in the following passage from The Sane Society the adumbration of the ‘Faragean’ personality-type:
Nationalism, originally a progressive movement, replaced the bonds of feudalism and absolutism. The average man today obtains his sense of identity from his belonging to a nation, rather than from his being a "son of man." His objectivity, that is, his reason, is warped by this fixation. He judges the "stranger" with different criteria than the members of his own clan. His feelings toward the stranger are equally warped. Those who are not "familiar" by bonds of blood and soil (expressed by common language, customs, food, songs, etc.) are looked upon with suspicion, and paranoid delusions about them can spring up at the slightest provocation. This incestuous fixation not only poisons the relationship of the individual to the stranger, but to the members of his own clan and to himself. The person who has not freed himself from the ties to blood and soil is not yet fully born as a human being; his capacity for love and reason are crippled; he does not experience himself nor his fellow man in their—and his own—human reality.
Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. "Patriotism" is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by "patriotism" I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest.in one's own nation, which is the concern with the nation's spiritual as much as with its material i welfare—never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one's country which is not part of one's love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.
Let us be in no doubt about the nature of UKIP: it is a Nationalist movement; but, unlike conventional Fascism, which places as much emphasis on the importance of the ‘State’, as does its opposite, Communism, ‘Farageism’ is actually every bit as anti-State as Toryism, since much of its thrust is capitalistic, and ultra-capitalistic at that: UKIP is a party which aspires to almost unbounded ‘free enterprise’ and ‘laissez-faire’, and to an almost absolute privatisation of the vestiges of our already Tory-depleted public sector to such an extent that our very nation would effectively ended up privatised. Apart from its proto-fascist anti-immigrant aspects, UKIP is basically a ‘protectionist capitalist’ party, a kind of ultimate fanatical manifestation of right-wing Toryism –yes, even more right-wing, if it is possible, than the current Tory-led Government!
For it is those such as the laughing Farage who are the first to say that the Tories’ Malthusian welfare reforms that have already destroyed tens of thousands of lives “still haven’t gone far enough”! UKIP would effectively dismantle what’s left of the welfare state overnight if they were able to. That’s how plain nasty the party actually is. So many working-class people voting for UKIP is a definitive example of the old maxim of ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. Given all this, it seems truly bizarre that Farage was among the first condemn the Tory Home Office’s ‘GO HOME OR GO TO PRISON’ vans, since surely the policy UKIP should be arguing “isn’t going far enough” would be its key policy of pulling up the drawbridge to old Blighty altogether.
Fromm also points how human nature paradoxically craves ever-greater ‘freedom’ and yet the more freedom we are confronted with the more we shrink from the vertigo of ‘alternatives’ or as Kierkegaard put it in relation to our natural propensity for anxiety, the ‘dizziness of freedom’, and the more we equally crave someone else, a paternal figure –in this case, a leader, a ‘Fuhrer’– to take control of all the uncertainty and make the decisions for us. The drift to Fascism is almost always driven by a collective need for certainty and for ‘leadership’ at a time of chronic uncertainty; it’s in many ways a kind of infantile regression.
It is disturbing to reflect on a definite pattern developing since the dawn of ‘austerity capitalism’ after the 2008 global crash: a public revisionism in perceptions of those hard-right or even Far Right political ‘personalities’ who in calmer economic times were dismissed as either fanatical mavericks (Farage), buffoons (Boris Johnson), or unelectably extremist (Le Pen). Yet six years of austerity later, Boris Johnson is in his second term as an inexplicably ‘popular’ London Mayor and frequently touted as a future prime minister; Farage, now riding the crest of a significant wave of national popularity, and looked on by an increasing number as sufficiently ‘charismatic’ to be seriously considered himself a possible future prime minister; while Le Pen has just won 25% of the French vote in the European elections. This is how chronic economic insecurity can so prey on the common nerve that those politicians who come across as the most passionate in their convictions, no matter how morally deplorable, and/or powerful of personality, are suddenly seen as the most appealing and, in spite of often frighteningly hard line and intransigent views, perversely reassuring.
As touched on, during times of economic and social uncertainty, it is always the politics which spuriously offers quick and ‘simple’ solutions which becomes particularly popular –as in the Thirties, through Hitler in Germany and Mosley in England, so today through Le Pen in France and Farage in England. This is one of the prolific historic crimes of capitalism –quite apart from its imposition of poverty on vast sections of populaces amid the plenty of others (‘relative poverty’, which, as its more abject, is probably the worst and most isolating type of poverty there is): that, almost inevitably, during its frequent crises (slumps, recessions, depressions etc.), it begets fascism: such ‘fascist’ attitudes –most blatantly demonstrated today both in the “scrounger”-baiting of the unemployed (the failed economy’s most abject victims), intolerance even towards the sick, disabled and mentally ill, and, of course, anti-immigrant feeling which UKIP is so despicably exploiting– are afforded by the fact that capitalism can only ever provide economic stability and material wealth at the expense of gutting social and ethical wealth and stability, and so once the material dimension itself loses its stability, large sections of the populace lack the social and ethical instruction to withstand the very immediate and expedient cut-price ‘capitalism’ of Fascism.
Here it’s instructive to be reminded of such paradigms with the following quote from Samuel Hynes writing around 1975 about the thrust of Christopher Isherwood’s memoir-cum-reportage of his days living in Berlin during the last days of the Weimar Republic, between 1930-33, Goodbye to Berlin (1939):
Goodbye to Berlin is not … about the failure of liberal leadership, but … the failure of feeling in an impoverished, demoralized, bankrupt city. There are no public figures in the book …Hitler never appears …. There are only the Lost –the poor, the weak, the neurotic, the lonely and unloved, living their sad private lives. Together they composed the city in which fascism was possible.
Samuel Hynes, The Auden Generation (1976) on Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin (1939)
Some social historians go even further than this, arguing that fascism is essentially the default social mechanism of capitalism-in-crisis (a view which The Recusant concurs with, believing the past four years of Tory-driven “austerity” has been and remains commensurate to a form of ‘democratically accommodated’ fascism, or ‘social fascism’). Here is the Marxist take, as interpolated by historian David Thomson in his Europe Since Napoleon:
…according to the dialectical analysis of Marxism, [Fascism] was the expression of capitalism in its death throes. Faced with the growth of labour organizations and the increasing pressure of working-class demands for social reform, capitalism was preparing to abandon even the forms of liberal democracy which had served it well enough hitherto, and was falling back upon open reaction and violence to oppress the proletariat… It sought to divert popular attention toward national aggrandizement rather than improvement of social conditions. The slog-arm bands of fascism the hirelings of the capitalist class, the latest instrument of that war which was inherent in bourgeois society…
Today we can see this kind of dynamic in operation in the most austerity-hit Mediterranean nations in particular, such as Greece and Spain, where the state, directed by the Troika (which operates a bit like a ‘kleptocracy’ of ‘social capital’), occasionally uses force (i.e. tear gas, rubber bullets, water canon, even live rounds if things get really out of hand) to assist the imposition of a form of capitalism at its most brutal and extreme, which one might term ‘fiscal fascism’; in many ways, the only aspects differentiating fiscal fascism from the out-and-out fascism of, say, Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn group, are a) that the former only resorts to any confrontational force if it feels protests are threatening political structures; and b) the fundamental philosophical difference between the two: while capitalism isn’t so much an ideology as merely a pragmatic application of certain economic mechanisms whereby a minority of any given population, its plutocracy, is able to amass vast wealth through sleight-of-hand of profiting from the labours of others, Fascism is a political cult, a pugilistic ideology rooted in the simplistic ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ interpretation of animal nature, which also places an emphatic emphasis on racial differences, a kind of competition between rival tribes for dominance.
But both capitalism and Fascism share certain characteristics: a complete disjunction between the material and spiritual spheres, whereby often proclaimed ‘Christian values’ are kept completely separate from actual sanctioned attitudes and behaviours; a mutual affinity with social Darwinism: the inalienably competitive, exploitative and unequal nature of human society, as simply an extrapolation of the predator-and-prey dynamic of natural wildlife –hence the common capitalist phrase, “animal spirits”; and, following from this, a mutual tendency towards Malthusianism, the capping of populations in order to ensure the ‘economic survival’ of the species, which, in capitalism, manifests as we see today in the social cleansing of vast sections of the unemployed through arbitrary sanctions, bedroom taxes and benefit caps, and the arguable ‘fiscal siege’ against –even administrative manslaughter of– tens of thousands of sick and disabled citizens through the Atos scourge. While with Fascism, of course, we see such pincer movements around defenceless citizens much more blatantly and unambiguously through open pogroms on targeted minorities. Capitalism simply operates on the same principles but through purely paper means.
But the fundamental attitudes to both capitalism and Fascism in these regards, that of ‘divide-and-rule’ and victimisation of vulnerable minorities to focus public economic resentments on other victims rather than on the ruling class itself, are almost identical, and only differ in terms of severity of application. However, much of the rhetoric is almost identical. For instance, if one was to pick a speech of Heinrich Himmler’s from the Thirties and simply substitute the word “scrounger” for “Jew”, it would read almost indistinguishably from an average contemporary ‘opinion piece’ in the Daily Express. This chilling ease of juxtaposition should be ringing alarm bells in Britain today, especially when coupled with the rise of UKIP –but apparently not!
As with Mosley in the Thirties, garrulous Farage, the more ‘gentrified’ face of right-wing Nationalism, is mopping up the votes not only of the purple-rinsed NIMBY “grey vote” of Eurosceptic disaffected right-wing Tories, but also many of the votes of the politically disenfranchised working classes. This is par for the course for any extreme right populist party at a time of economic sclerosis. But if these working-class voters, perhaps in some senses understandably swept up by Farage’s rather jocular and plain-speaking personality and inexplicable ability –given his highly privileged public school and banking background– at demonstrating something resembling a “common touch”– to actually study UKIP’s policies, outside of the ones about pulling out of Europe and closing our borders, they would discover that his domestic policies are almost uniformly anti-working-class and entirely against their social and economic interests. For instance, just a cursory glance at UKIP policies reveals –quite apart from the robust ‘discouragement’ of immigrants, particularly Romanian gypsies and a clampdown on the mythical right-wing bugbear of “benefit tourism”– the following proposals:
- The abolition of JSA
- New charges of £10 to visit your GP
- The privatisation of the entire public sector
- An increase in defence and armament expenditure
In light of such bluntly socially-apocalyptic policies, one can only hope that the purple surge of 25th May will be a blimpish blip in the political bloodstream, and that such ‘single issue’ protest votes won’t form themselves into belligerent habits. It can only be hoped then come the general election next year, the same empurpled protestors actually stop and think for five minutes about UKIP’s actual domestic policies, before repeating their lapse in political sanity.
It is of course part of Farage's PR offensive of projecting himself as -in spite of his privileged public-school educated background, vast wealth, properties and gratuities- 'just an ordinary bloke' that he keeps referring to UKIP supporters as his "People's Army". But far from being a modern day Wat Tyler -at the head of what that other 'people's toff' Boris Johnson (who also, inexplicably, is able to give the impression that he some kind of 'common touch'!) tactlessly alluded to post-European elections as "a peasants' revolt"- Farage is more a contemporary Simon de Montford leading a 'Barons' rebellion' against what the political Right in this country still bizarrely perceive to be a 'New Labour-ish' 'politically correct' and pro-multicultural 'Establishment' -when it is, after four years of Tory makeover, anything but.
Farage is a bogus Quixote of our time, 'tilting at the windfarms' of a boneless 'Establishment' which, being Neoliberal, is actually wholly compatible with his hyper-capitalist opinions; presumably Farage really means the 'European Union' when he speaks of 'The Establishment'?! But when it comes to the domestic 'Establishment', Farage is as much a product of it as Cameron, Osborne and Johnson. All four exude a stentorian sense of 'entitlement' -Farage's expressed in his seeming sense of being effectively a King-in-waiting, or a future English Führer (indeed, politically, he has far more in common with Oswald Mosley than Winston Churchill!). All Führers need their blindfolded 'common folk' to propel them to power, but UKIP's 'Peoples' Army' -that is, its working-class contingents, Farage's own 'Angels in Marble' (Disraeli's phrase for 'working-class Tories')- are being led by their purple-rinsed 'betters' over the cliffs of their own class interests; in this sense, then, it's more like a 'Lemmings' Army'.
Finally, Fromm also makes the following points –again, his book is emphatically a psychoanalytical polemic on society– on extreme patriotism, which in itself, if unchecked, can in time mutate into Nationalism and Fascism:
The idolatrous character of national feeling can be seen in the reaction to the violations of clan symbols, a reaction which is very different from that to the violation of religious or moral symbols. Let us picture a man who takes the flag of his country to a street of one of the cities of the Western world, and tramples on it in view of other people. He would be lucky not to be lynched. Almost everybody would feel a sense of furious indignation, which hardly permits of any objective thought. The man who desecrated the flag would have done something unspeakable; he would have committed a crime which is not one crime among others, but the crime, the one unforgivable and unpardonable. Not quite as drastic, but nevertheless qualitatively the same would be the reaction to a man who says, "I do not love my country," or, in the case of war, "I do not care for my country's victory." Such a sentence is a real sacrilege, and a man saying it becomes a monster, an outlaw in the feelings of his fellow men.
In order to understand the particular quality of the feeling aroused, we may compare this reaction to one which would occur if a man got up and said, "I am in favour of killing all Negroes, or all Jews; I am in favour of starting a war in order to conquer new territory." Indeed, most people would feel that this was an unethical, inhuman opinion. But the crucial point is that the particular feeling of an uncontrollable deep-seated indignation and rage would not occur. Such an opinion is just "bad," but it is not a sacrilege, it is not an attack against "the sacred." Even if a man should speak disparagingly of God, he would hardly arouse the same feeling of indignation as against the crime, against the sacrilege which is the violation of the symbols of the country. It is easy to rationalize the reaction to a violation of the national symbols by saying that man who does not respect his country shows a lack of human solidarity and of social feeling; but is this not true also of the man who advocates war, or the killing of innocent people, or exploits others for his own advantage? [e.g. capitalist and arms trader]. …but the reaction to the violation of the flag is fundamentally different from the reaction to the denial of social responsibility in all other aspects. The one object is “sacred”, a symbol of clan worship; the others are not.
We don’t only need to think of the St George Cross-waving English Defence League or the Union Jack-painted British National Party to recognise in this astute analysis more common patriotic attitudes which render it almost a taboo to openly criticise one’s own nation or despoil its flag. And patriotism –along with Royalism– has not be so unquestionably rampant as it is today since, arguably, precisely 100 years ago, at the outbreak of the First World War!
The bonelessness of Miliband's 'Blancmange Labour' in so abysmally failing to publicly oppose UKIP and its phoney politics to any noticeable degree (no doubt believing, like the pink primrose Guardianistas and, apparently, the BBC, that UKIP will simply split the Tory vote and nothing more) was embarrassed further by a typically robust intervention from its own backbench pit-bull, John Mann, lambasting his party for its complacency in the face of a racist and Nationalist threat. While even discredited ex-Prime Minister and New Labour Oligarch Tony Blair contributed his own verbal jab at the purple tide by calling UKIP "a nasty party" (or rather, another nasty party, along with the Tories. And just how long will it be until that 'st' of "nasty" swaps itself round?).
Blair also, surprisingly, picked up on the key to Nick Clegg's crushing moral failings as Lib Dem Leader which promise to tip the party over the edge and into the electoral abyss in 2015: that, to paraphrase, it's not simply that he went into Coalition with the Tories, but that he had campaigned in 2010 on a manifesto to the left of Labour, and then gone into Coalition with a very right-wing manifestation of the Tories! Blair's own toxic decisions, political duplicity and warmongering legacies apart, on this point -it pains us to acknowledge- he was absolutely spot on, and this is why those millions of left-wingers who voted Lib Dem in 2010 because the party was promoting a centre-left alternative to a centre-right Labour and far-right Tory party, have continued to legitimately arraign Clegg and his Orange Book entryists as "vote thieves".
Maybe by being so politically duplicitous, Clegg was attempting to highlight the glaringly disenfranchising nature of First Past the Post, in a bid to promote the urgent need for the Alternative Vote for which he campaigned in the electoral referendum the following year...? (but which turned out to be more an 'Alternative Gloat' for the Tories and pro-FPP factions). But, as The Recusant argued back in 2010 and continues to argue today, following the Hung Parliament result in 2010, we should have been granted a second General Election a month or so on, in order to have gained a more decisive result (an argument in itself which would fit that of 'market'-perceived 'political stability' every bit as much as that of the grubbiy brokered party 'pact' behind closed doors and the subsequent un-democratic and mandate-less 'Coalition Agreement', concocted without public consent!).
It is interesting and ironic that after the first European election to show a distressing upsurge in Far Right feeling throughout the Continent, The Guardian reported two days later on 27 May that according to a new social attitudes survey, the number of people in the UK who currently say they are ‘are racially prejudiced’ has risen significantly since 2011 (coincidentally simultaneous to gradual rise in popularity of UKIP and the media’s bluntly perverse ‘love in’ with Nigel Farage). While items of the same date relating, respectively, to Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney’s proclamation that, to paraphrase, ‘Capitalism is doomed if ethics vanish’ while warning that there is a ‘growing sense that the basic social contract has broken down’, coupled with IMF leader Christine Lagarde’s contrapuntal warning that ‘the banks have not changed’, both ring hollow and all too late in the day from two doyens of a broken anarcho-capitalist West.
Having said this, Mark Carney’s rhetorical intervention is particularly apposite and expressed more in the aphorismic sagacity of a 1970s left-of-centre social polemicist than in the usual lingua franca of ‘laissez-faire’ as one would expect from an occupational capitalist –here are some extracts taken from The Guardian:
We simply cannot take the capitalist system, which produces such plenty and so many solutions, for granted. Prosperity requires not just investment in economic capital, but investment in social capital.
Just as any revolution eats its children, unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself. To counteract this tendency, individuals and their firms must have a sense of their responsibilities for the broader system.
All ideologies are prone to extremes. Capitalism loses its sense of moderation when the belief in the power of the market enters the realm of faith. In the decades prior to the crisis such radicalism came to dominate economic ideas and became a pattern of social behaviour.
The scandals highlight a malaise in corners of finance that must be remedied. Many banks have rightly developed codes of ethics or business principles, but have all their traders absorbed their meaning?
Consideration should be given to developing principles of fair markets, codes of conduct for specific markets, and even regulatory obligations within this framework. There should be clear consequences including professional ostracism for failing to meet these standards.
This is the year to complete that job… Perhaps the most severe blow to public trust was the revelation that there were scores of too-big-to-fail institutions operating at the heart of finance. Bankers made enormous sums in the run-up to the crisis and were often well compensated after it hit. In turn, taxpayers picked up the tab for their failures.
Not just "the taxpayers", but also the unemployed, sick and disabled population whose mandatory contribution to paying back the ‘slate’ was in many cases the sacrifice of their most fundamental material security, their homes, and in some instances, their very lives (let us not forget the 40,000+ deaths among disabled claimants since the Atos regime was cranked up into overdrive under the incoming Tories).
Perhaps Carney should quit his role and instead broker a multiple-book deal with the newly revived Pelican imprint? It remains deeply ironic of course that Carney was appointed Governor of the Bank of England by the very living embodiment of cupidity and capitalistic moral bankruptcy, George Osborne! No doubt Osborne is now having second thoughts about his choice for Governor in light of Carney’s revelatory oracular qualities, not so much in the fiscal as in the sociological sense. Carney may well prove a thorn in the side of capitalism-resuscitating Osborne and his deeply warped world-view, just as Archbishop Welby has proven to his appointer, the Prime Minister, who mistakenly presumed that a fellow old Etonian would be as opportunistic, superficial and duplicitous in office as he is himself.
But if one were to be a real Jeremiah here, one could legitimately argue that such oratorical interventions as Carney’s and Lagarde’s are just ‘too little, too late’: the damage is already being done as was shown graphically in the frankly appalling results of the European elections: the Far Right has its knives out for the EU now, and is getting political assassins are about to take up their places perilously closer to their targets. It is six years of unnecessary elective austerity capitalism, allegedly in pursuit of economic stability on the Continent, which has now produced in its place deep political instability as manifest in the resurgence of Far Right politics. As said earlier, capitalism-in-crisis always begets fascism. So well done to our Tory-led Government, well done IMF and well done Troika! Now what are you going to do to stop Europe plunging into a polarised “1930s moment”? More austerity perhaps..?
With monumental irony Christine Lagarde’s IMF speech teetered close to Marxist dialectics, as reported on by Ben Chacko in the Morning Star:
INTERNATIONAL Monetary Fund boss Christine Lagarde raised the ghost of Karl Marx yesterday at a London conference of the super-rich on “inclusive capitalism.”
The managing director cited the founder of scientific socialism’s insight that capitalism “carried the seeds of its own destruction” while addressing an audience of corporate tycoons at the Mansion House and Guildhall.
Business bigwigs who jointly manage £17.8 trillion were invited by the City of London and financiers EL Rothschild to discuss how repeated crises, mass unemployment and spiralling inequality were undermining confidence in the capitalist order.
But the well-heeled guests had little to offer by way of reform except vague allusions to “corporate responsibility” and praise for wealthy philanthropists.
Ms Lagarde said she feared that “massive excess, rising social tensions and growing political disillusion” were costing “trust in leaders, in institutions, in the free market itself.”
She called for “rewards for all within a market economy.”
Marx Library chairman Alex Gordon said Ms Lagarde was “fond of appropriating Marx” without having read or understood his work.
“Marx predicted the failure of the IMF to ‘civilise’ capitalism. Marx wrote that bourgeois society ‘is like the sorcerer no longer able to control the powers of the nether world he has called up by his spells. Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself, it has called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons, the modern working class’,” Mr Gordon said.
Speakers at the City shindig included former US president Bill Clinton, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and royal loudmouth Charles Windsor, who intoned pieties about capitalism serving “the concerns of humanity rather than the other way around.”
“His royal highness was thinking about the proper role of business in society 30 years ago,” gushed EL Rothschild CEO Lynn Forester de Rothschild.
But Left Economics Advisory Panel co-founder Andrew Fisher said: “Capitalism is necessarily exclusive. Only a few can hold capital in any meaningful quantity.
“If you want an inclusive society you need to democratise the economy — and that is called socialism, not capitalism.”
But appositely the MS’s Editorial put it more bluntly, under the heading ‘Capitalism Can’t Be ‘Reformed”:
INCLUSIVE capitalism is on a par with compassionate conservatism in the league table of political oxymorons.
It is instructive that the inventors of such mythical concepts always come from the 1 per cent of the population who already dominate wealth and power.
They can speak enticingly of putting “nature and human communities” at the heart of future economic models, as Charles Windsor did at the Inclusive Capitalism conference in London’s Mansion House.
Or they can appear provocative, like International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde did, by quoting the words of capitalism’s arch-critic Karl Marx in Capital to the effect that capitalism carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.
Carney’s lapse into Greek allusions with the phrase “any revolution eats its children”, and Lagarde’s waxing Marxian augur with regards to capitalism carrying “the seeds of its own destruction”, are both hugely symbolic and ironic snippets of rhetoric from two of Capitalism’s most influential speakers: their speeches, in themselves, as with their lifelong careers as caretakers of a collapsing capitalist orthodoxy, may well prove self-fulfilling prophecies. To those of us on the Left, it is difficult, even at such a bitterly distressing time as this, not to feel some modicum of Schadenfreude at the truly surreal spectacle of these Titans of the capitalist system almost in part rhetorically conceding teleological ground to the long out-of-favour tenets of dialectical materialism. What a strange turnaround it is that today the Governor of the Bank of England and the head of the IMF should use their platforms as Jeremiahs of an oncoming capitalist apocalypse.
Indeed, Capitalism is now at such a point of political and cultural paralysis that even its Captains are starting to talk as if history’s ‘jury’, hitherto assumed concluded in its verdict for the past three or more decades, has actually only been absent in the sense that it is ‘still out’ in terms of deciding whether the predictions as to the eventual self-consuming of consumer capitalism made by Karl Marx in Das Kapital (1867-94), may yet prove, albeit circuitously, shockingly prescient. Of course, there are those of us who have been arguing that the historical ‘jury’ was still ‘out’ on the ultimate validation of Marxism throughout the past three or more devoutly capitalistic decades; just as our Chancellor speaks prematurely of “green shoots” today, it might well turn out that the Thatcherites, New Labourites and neoliberals of the past thirty years of British Realpolitik will come to realise that they cashed in their dialectical chips far too early in the game, having wrongly assumed it was at an end. But it wasn’t, and still isn’t, and we’ve yet to see the final result. The jury is still out.
Purple Surge/ Green Tinges
What was a pleasant surprise in the European elections was the slight but significant rise in the Green vote. Partly helped by the near-wipeout of the unfashionably pro-European Liberal Democrats (bucking recent trends of political opportunism to actually stand on a principle for once) notwithstanding, the facts remain that the eco-socialist Green Party is now the ‘fourth party’ of British representation in Europe, and looks set to quite possibly become the ‘fourth party’ on the domestic front come the 2015 election. And, as Caroline Russell informs us in a column in the Morning Star, ‘The Story is Bigger Than the Media Is Telling You’:
AS political activists tidy away the polling day clutter of unused leaflets, rosettes and sheets of paper covered in calculations of turnout and proportions of vote by polling district, the reality of the results is starting to sink in.
The media don’t seem to have noticed, but the Green Party is celebrating gaining a third MEP, Dr Molly Scott-Cato, in the South West region and winning new councillors, including on new councils across the country.
This was not a foregone conclusion in an election where we had precious little coverage and that the media had decided was only about Ukip.
We’ve also gained 23 seats at the local elections, meaning the Green Party now has 162 councillors on 56 councils and are installed as the official opposition in Liverpool and Solihull, Islington and Lewisham in London, and remain the official opposition in Norwich.
We’ve also come fourth ahead of the Lib Dems across the country.
From my perspective in Islington, where residents voted for 47 Labour councillors and one Green, the so-called Ukip earthquake sounds pretty far-fetched.
Of course, The Recusant would have much rather that the new realignment of the political rainbow in the UK had not involved a deeply unhelpful splash of purple, but the new daub of green is a welcome consolation for this –and it now appears that the hope of the social democratic centre-left in 2015 is probably in a combination of the Red and the Green (which is, in truth, far redder than the aforementioned ‘Red’), and so The Recusant will continue to support the Green Party up to next year’s election in the hope that they might secure at least a couple more MPs in 2015 towards the possibility of a belated Green Labour coalition.
Only yesterday, this writer/editor answered his door –the buzzer having been persistently pressed, which didn’t put him in a particularly receptive mood– to a crop-haired woman dressed in a pale pink lapelled coat replete with red rosette and brandishing a clipboard: she was a local Labour canvasser, but didn’t get round to doing much canvassing, as the following exchange will show:
Me: You’re wasting your time, I voted Green in the European elections, and will vote for them in the local and general elections too. Until Labour starts standing up for the unemployed and opposing the welfare reforms, you’ll not be getting my vote.
Labour woman: [Instantly indignant] We have opposed the welfare reforms.
Me: No you haven’t! And you use the same Tory rhetoric against the unemployed.
Labour woman: [Even more uppity] Look, this is obviously a difference of opinion…
Me: No it isn’t.
Labour woman: I’m not going to get drawn into an argument…
Me: Then why did you go into politics if you don’t want to debate? I’m a socialist –what are you?
Labour woman: [Indignantly] I am a socialist!
Me: If you’re a socialist, then what are you doing in the Labour Party?
Labour woman: I have my own individual opinions…
Me: What’s that there? [Pointing to her Labour rosette]. You’re wearing a Labour rosette, which means you’re representing the views of the party. And Labour isn’t standing up enough for the unemployed.
Labour woman: We opposed the Bedroom Tax!
Me: Only because that’s an unpopular policy!
Labour women: [Going off in a huff] You obviously just want an argument, goodbye…
Me: [Calling after her and two other furtive-looking Labour canvassers over the road] Until Labour goes back to Socialism, don’t bother knocking on my door! [Slam].
On hindsight, I wish she’d not caught me in such a foul mood, as I’d have dearly liked to have interrogated her about the utter hypocrisy of Labour’s acquiescence to the Tories’ heinous retrospective legislation preventing illegally sanctioned benefit claimants being compensated by the DWP; as well as to have had a go about the deeply coercive and Tory-lite ‘compulsory jobs guarantee’ policy for the long-term unemployed. (But, given my mood at the time, I wish now it had been a blue rosette that had greeted me, as this is not really the time to pick fights with one's political cousins, but much more so with one's political opposites).
Nevertheless, it is some genuine consolation that the Greens are ‘back in the game’, at least in Europe at any rate. But The Recusant is extremely perturbed at this point in the deeply worrying percentages now appending themselves to the UKIP vote, which, when extrapolated from the European elections, and put beside a still depressingly high Tory vote, hypothetically trumps the comparatively lower figures of the progressive side of Labour and the Greens combined. This has to be the only point in time when the retention of the First Past the Post system in the UK (as opposed to the Proportional Representation of the European election) actually seems almost more of a blessing than a curse, when one considers the potential for a parliamentary UKIP upsurge next year, if we’d had PR, or even AV (the Alternative Vote, which The Recusant vigorously campaigned for a couple of years ago).
[It’s ironic, in the colouristic sense, that the two fringe parties currently vying for ‘fourth party’ in Europe and the UK coincide with the combined emblematic colours of the historic Suffragette Movement; even more so when one considers just how brazenly ‘chauvinistic’ UKIP is as a party, in both political and gender senses of the word, with a leader who’s almost always photographed plumb-faced and boozing it up with the boys down the pub, and such uchronian luminaries as Godfrey Blooom, who thinks nothing of tarring a roomful of women as “sluts”)! We suspect the likes of Emeline Pankhurst and Annie Besant would have had much more in common with Caroline Lucas or Natalie Bennett].
Having said that, if we’d had AV by 2015, while UKIP would have undoubtedly benefited from this, so would the Greens –so when one considers everything more calmly, AV, or even full-on PR, in spite of the leverage it gives to far right parties, would still be more preferable –not to say an incremental dampener of the current epidemic disaffection of the electorate with the political process– both in terms of democratic principle (FPP is implicitly anti-democratic and open to rampant gerrymandering by ruling parties, making our system less of a majoritarian but more a ‘minoritarian democracy’) and even overall voting outcomes. The big gamble of PR or, less so, AV, is that parties of the Far Right have a much greater chance of getting parliamentary seats; but then so too do parties of the Far Left, and certainly with AV it would have been highly likely that, for instance, the Greens would have gained probably several more MPs, since many Labour voters would probably have put them as their second choice, and most left-wing/socialist voters would have had them either as their first or second choice.
But certainly the Continental surge of the Far Right on the Continent is perhaps the worst advert for PR we could expect to see: the triumph of France National is particularly disturbing –as are the other hard-right anti-European surges of some other European countries. But, again, looking on the plus side of PR, Spain’s centre-right was trounced by the socialist left, while Greece’s left-wing Syriza party, so close to gaining power at the last Greek national election, trumped the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn and victored in the Continent’s most austerity-trashed nation, practically a client-state of debt slaves (or doule, in the Greek) to the dictates of the kleptocratic Troika –but, from hence on, possibly not for much longer…?
So, with AV, or in the case of Europe, PR, we get helpings of the strongest political side-dishes, the Far Right but also the Far Left, to spice the appetites of both the hateful and the hopeful palates –and perhaps, in the long-run, the only way to once and for all lance the cancer of Western anarcho-capitalism will be through a political face off between the two wider polarities of the spectrum, painful at times though it will be, rather than to continue relying on a solipsistic neoliberal corporate elite to simply keep spinning the same limited, flavourless and almost indistinguishable ‘options’ of spiced dishes on the revolving table?
That said, The Recusant is essentially pro-Europe, believing as it does that best potential platform for pursuing long-term goals of international socialism is, in spite of its many capitalist-centric fiscal faults, the European Union. Like the Greens, then, and to some extent Labour, we believe in progressive reform of the EU towards a social-democratic Continent. We believe that if the UK is outside of the EU, this will be far less likely, as the European results graphically tell us: such enormous support for the hard-right UKIP among British voters is hardly, surely, an indication of any proleptic social-democratic ascendancy on the domestic front? It's more indicative, if anything, of the rise of racism in the UK: this week it was reported that 1 in 3 British people admit to holding some form of 'racist' views!
Europe is perhaps the only single issue on which The Recusant reluctantly departs from a significant section of the British Left, including, in this one exceptional case, the Morning Star. It’s not simply about our aspiration for a long-distant social-democratic Continent, a future left-leaning EU; it’s also, in part, an instinctive visceral sense that we would much rather –and in diametric opposition to the tabloid-duped British majority (perhaps soon we’ll be calling the red-tops ‘purple-tops’)– be at the ‘mercy’ of “bureaucrats in Brussels” when it comes to domestic social policies and the arbitration of employment and human rights, than we would the fiscal hawks at Westminster (and that includes, pretty much, all three main pro-austerity parties –plus UKIP, of course, which would be more fiscally brutal even than the Tories!).
It’s rather horrible to have admit it, and not just to those on the right, no doubt deeply ‘unpatriotic’, but The Recusant simply doesn’t trust the British, as they are currently attitudinally and culturally constituted, to determine a future for our nation which places anywhere near sufficient emphasis on the protection of the poorest and most vulnerable. The popularity not simply of UKIP’s anti-immigration stance, but also of some of the very worst aspects to the broadly Malthusian Tory welfare ‘reforms’, really doesn’t say much about the British –or perhaps more accurately, English– sense of “fairness”, at least, in any humanitarian (or even Christian) sense of the term.
The Recusant believes that the thin seam of social democracy is still much more embedded, generally, in the Continental mentality than it is in our own island one. And we believe that seam must be protected, expanded and mined for all it is worth. We believe a UK out of the EU will inevitably degenerate even further into a hopelessly protectionist (in both economic and ethical senses of the term), inward-looking, rightward-lurching cul-de-sac. We therefore truly struggle to understand why so many on the Left in the UK, most of who are at heart also, like ourselves, internationalists, can see more promise of a socialist transcendence over Western capitalism outside rather than inside the EU. Even if in some seismic future shifting of our hardily conservative ‘island mentality’, Britain was to suddenly lurch leftwards, what about the rest of Europe? We find this projection almost wilfully quixotic.
Surely as international socialists we should aspire to helping our cousins on the Continent –and beyond– share in and benefit from any future socialist or social democratic renaissance? As cultural attitudes and voting tendencies in the UK currently stand, The Recusant simply cannot see any even remote glimmer of some near-future resurgence in significant centre-left feeling to justify our country, along with so many others presently in Europe, “going Dutch”, as so to speak. Such is essentially what the Far Right, UKIP and the Tories really want too, but for the opposite reasons: to turn us into some sort of offshore Switzerland and/or –via the machinations of right-wing groups such as Atlantic Bridge– an ultra-laissez faire satellite of the United States. It is a very confusing thing at this time in political history that, when it comes to Europe, both the Far Right and much of the Far Left, share the same means to the opposite ends! But only one of them can be right.
But to The Recusant, the fact remains that in most of the domestic disputes of the past four years with regards to the very nastiest of Tory social policies, it has frequently been some or other organ of Europe which has put the brake down –either through exercise of the powers of the European Court of Human Rights, or, at least rhetorically, through such recommendations as that of the Council of Europe to our Tory Government to actually double out-of-work benefits in accordance with the European averages (which includes, by the way, Ireland), as opposed to continuing to deplete what are already below-average levels –which, nevertheless, the Tories, and Labour, along with most “hardworking British taxpayers”, still absurdly argue are “too generous”, even amid the proliferating national forest of food banks!
Not only was Farage’s clarion call to pull up the ramparts of UK borders on Romania and Bulgaria’s entry into the EU (Barbarians at the Gates!) shown up for the hysterical xenophobic nonsense that it was, with a tsunami-like influx of around one or two new immigrants from each country respectively; but UKIP’s constant Tory-heavy flagging up of some mythological germ of “benefit tourism” bedevilling the UK is also instantly rendered completely laughable by the fact that, as the Council of Europe recently made a point of highlighting, the UK pays its unemployed below half of the average in out-of-work benefits than the rest of Europe! So why on earth would any so-called “benefit tourists” think of popping to our off-season ‘benefits resort’ when they could receive over double in benefits elsewhere? They’d be more likely, if they actually existed, to use Britain as a stepping stone on their way over the Channel to Ireland.
This seems to be a prime example of the contemporary British mentality. As far as The Recusant is concerned, UKIP, you can keep it, we’ve had enough of the ‘island mentality’ (augmented most damagingly by Thatcherism) to last us several life times: we look to the Continent for a future social-democratic European Commonwealth, and will campaign vigorously against leaving Europe if and when that Referendum for the Misinformed finally materialises.
The Cult of Work: the New Wicca –Fromm Carney to Creaney
The Recusant came upon the following highly incisive piece in the Morning Star at the weekend which, its comparative succinctness apart, read almost identically to many of our polemical pieces on the subject of ‘Work’, particularly in its identification of it as akin to an unquestionable ‘cult’, a term we’ve often used in reference to the nation’s favourite punishment that is the contemporary type of employment which employs in most cases all but one’s actual interest, enthusiasm or sense of useful societal purpose.
WHEN the Conservative Party announced at its 2013 conference that it had the interests of “hard-working people” at heart, it invoked a mantra long propagated by an out-of-touch political class.
For years Gordon Brown and new Labour’s favourite voters were the legendary “hard-working families,” as if the only worthy people in the country worked all day, produced children and then sent them up chimneys to earn their keep.
“Hard work,” we’re often told, is a positive thing in and of itself, regardless of its social effects or the impact it has on the individual worker.
The term, employed in the rhetoric of both the left and the right, is rarely challenged and forms much of what is viewed as “common sense.” Hard work is seen as a virtue, a service to the nation and an ideal to aspire to.
Yet, when we are honest with ourselves, most of us hate work. It’s why Mondays are grim and Fridays are awesome. It’s why we spend most of our week days watching the clock in eager anticipation of 5 o’clock, all the time wishing our lives away. The person who claims to enjoy “hard work” is either a liar or intensely boring.
A recent Gallup poll found that, across the globe, only 13 per cent of people actually like going to work. This is unsurprising, given that work for most people under capitalism is often low-paid, unrewarding, stressful, degrading and tedious.
There is nothing noble about coming home from work mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Neglecting your friends and family in favour of helping your boss make more profits is not virtuous.
And restricting the time you spend on developing talents such as music, art or sports because of your excessive working hours is not only detrimental to you personally, but is also detrimental to wider society.
How many people with the musical potential of Jimi Hendrix have been unable to develop their talents because they had to spend the majority of their life in a factory?
How many potentially great writers have been unable to express themselves like George Orwell or Oscar Wilde because the bulk of their energies were channelled into working in a supermarket?
Since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, trade unions and the left have argued for the creation of more jobs to tackle unemployment.
Yet, in doing so, they have failed to highlight one of the most absurd contradictions of capitalism — the fact that there are 200 million people unemployed across the globe, while those who are in employment are generally overworked.
Rather than increasing the number of jobs, we should be arguing for existing jobs to be shared out while simultaneously reducing the length of the working week.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) recently outlined a strong economic, ecological and social case for reducing the standard working week to 21 hours – something that has the potential to resonate in the 21st century.
Another idea whose time has come is the citizen’s income, which explicitly de-links income support from work and offers a basic income for all without means-testing.
Less work can assist in the fight against climate change and allow us to live more sustainable lives. The fast pace of our working lives forces us into many environmentally and socially destructive habits.
We drive cars because they are deemed to be more convenient instead of using less carbon-intensive public transport.
And instead of growing our own food, many people consume nutrition-free ready meals and packed vegetables which, as the NEF shows, are grossly more damaging to the eco-system.
Trips abroad can also become more ecologically friendly with longer holidays. As it stands, most people can only take two or three weeks away from their jobs at any one time, meaning slower modes of transport, such as trains, are not a viable way of visiting a foreign country.
The mass use of airplanes merely emphasises the sheer rush and intensity of modern life, as people seek to maximise the amount of leisure they manage to squeeze into the meagre time they have away from work.
In 1930, British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advancement would allow people in the 21st century to enjoy a 15-hour working week.
Leisure time, it was suggested, would become so plentiful that people would struggle to find enough activities to occupy themselves.
Yet, despite a huge rise in productivity and the abundance of material goods, these predictions failed to materialise. Across Europe, the average working week stands at 41.6 hours, and that doesn’t include time spent commuting.
The work ethic
Negative aspects of any class society, such as inequality, ecological degradation and social deprivation need to be justified or excused by widely propagated myths in order to be sustained.
The excessive working hours endured by most people are justified by the work ethic, as exemplified in the Conservative Party’s condescending slogan lauding “hard-working” people (the inference being that those deemed not to be “hard-working” are less deserving and less eligible for political representation).
The worship of work is as old as capitalism itself, and it is under the unique characteristics of capitalism as a mode of production that the work ethic takes hold.
Under slavery and feudalism, work was seen as a negative thing, something that was bestowed upon humans from God as punishment for original sin.
Ancient societies in Greece and Rome saw human labour as something to be avoided at any cost. Work was for the slaves — the lowest rungs of society. Before capitalism, most labour was done out of necessity.
In feudal Europe, for example, peasants produced their own food and the surplus was passed onto the lord who owned the land. Since the production of huge surpluses was not necessary, people enjoyed extended periods of leisure once they produced what was needed. Work did not define individuals, as is the case today — work was merely a means to an end.
The Protestant Reformation challenged the traditional idea of work, with Martin Luther arguing that God’s will could be fulfilled by individuals working hard.
Labour was seen as a service to God, an outlook which helped to normalise the long, gruelling working hours which defined the Industrial Revolution.
These ideas proved useful for an economic system which was based, as Marx wrote, on production “for production’s sake.”
Max Weber, who coined the term “the Protestant work ethic,” argued that the rise of these ideas ensured that capitalism would surface in Europe before it did in any other part of the planet.
The work ethic transformed over time, gradually becoming more secular to reflect societal values. Where people once served God, we now aim to be seen as “contributing” to society, a perverse form of social Darwinism under which humans beings must justify their existence through “hard work” before they can benefit from the fruits of civilisation.
The unemployed, the elderly and the disabled are seen as a “burden” on society, living a life of luxury at the expense of the mythical “taxpayer.”
In the US, the American Dream plays on the unrealistic aspirations held by many working people who are conned into believing they could one day be millionaires, provided they put in the work.
During the world wars and the subsequent recovery, the population was called upon to work in the “national interest,” a term which has been resurrected by the right following the global financial collapse of 2008.
Today, as Australian environmentalist Sharon Beder points out, “the work ethic is promoted primarily in terms of work being a responsibility both to the family and the nation.”
She goes on to explain: “As we begin the 21st century work and production have become ends in themselves. Employment has become such a priority that much environmental degradation is justified merely on the grounds that it provides jobs.
“And people are so concerned to keep their jobs that they are willing to do what their employers require of them even if they believe it is wrong or environmentally destructive.”
The capitalist work ethic is often used as a vicious weapon of class warfare. It dehumanises us and commodifies our very being. We are not seen as individuals with aspirations and interests — we are mere beasts of burden, with the sole life purpose of “working hard.”
Our lives should not be defined merely by productivity nor should we have to justify our existence by proving to others our ability and willingness to “work hard.”
Human progress is about overcoming the need for human toil as much as is practicable, and this is a case the left needs to make.
As the great Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid once quipped: “A rat race is for rats. We are not rats. We are human beings.”
It is always reassuring to find that The Recusant and the Morning Star continue to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ on so many issues of our time. It’s also apposite to reference back again to Eric Fromm’s The Sane Society; in the chapter ‘Can a Society Be Sick? –The Pathology of Normalcy’, Fromm is ostensibly discussing ‘mental illness’ and how it is defined in certain societies, but one might just as easily apply the following passage to what could be termed our contemporary British society’s arguably almost sadomasochistic worship of “work” even at its most dead-end, demeaning and abysmally waged, or what Creaney in the Morning Star terms ‘Our reverence for slogging our guts out’, and accompanying conviction that any ‘work’, no matter how utterly unrewarding and futile it is, is preferable to being out of work:
There is… an important difference between individual and social mental illness, which suggests a differentiation between two concepts: that of defect, and that of neurosis. If a person fails to attain freedom, spontaneity, a genuine expression of self, he may be considered to have a severe defect, provided we assume that freedom and spontaneity are the objective goals to be attained by every human being. If such a goal is not attained by the majority of members of any given society, we deal with the phenomenon of socially patterned defect. The individual shares it with many others; he is not aware of it as a defect, and his security is not threatened by the experience of being different, of being an outcast, as it were. What he may have lost in richness and in a genuine feeling of happiness, is made up by the security of fitting in with the rest of mankind—as he knows them. As a matter of fact, his very defect may have been raised to a virtue by his culture, and thus may give him an enhanced feeling of achievement.
An illustration is the feeling of guilt and anxiety which Calvin's doctrines aroused in men. It may be said that the person who is overwhelmed by a feeling of his own powerlessness and unworthiness, by unceasing doubt as to whether he is saved or condemned to eternal punishment, who is hardly capable of genuine joy, suffers from a severe defect. Yet this very defect was culturally patterned; it was looked upon as particularly valuable, and the individual was thus protected from the neurosis…
The mention here of Calvinism is particularly apposite too in the context of what we are discussing, since the Protestant Work Ethic itself is of course rooted in Calvinism. But to take Fromm’s argument and apply it to today’s unquestionable obsession with employment as an almost implicit passport into social and even ‘moral’ acceptance, while unemployment is almost approaching the status of a ‘moral’ taboo, one can reasonably argue that this heightened and almost fanatical contemporary ‘work ethic’ is approaching something of a national psychopathology, particularly in that it is so rarely challenged, and to in any way criticise the ‘culture of work’ or argue for radical improvements to it (such as a reduction in or even cap on working hours, for instance) is immediately rounded on by the majority as somehow ‘anti-hard work’, pro-idleness and ‘immoral’. But can it not be legitimately argued that the contemporary pathology of work or employment as some form of inalienably beneficial panacea to all material and psychical ills, no matter how unsatisfying, unrewarding, punishing and atrociously paid it is, is not itself, in ‘Fromm-ese’, quite oppositely to its perceived positive-value and near-sacredness, actually a ‘socially patterned defect’?
That the Tories have succeeded in just four years in branding the inalienable absoluteness of ‘work’ into the societal fabric as a rudimentary moral imperative, while, simultaneously, eroding employment rights, increase in retirement age, freezing of wages and pensions, and mass rolling-out of ‘zero hours contracts’, all of which renders workers more impecunious and insecure than since the last Great Depression of the 1930s, is a considerable accomplishment in terms of thoroughly immoral and exploitative indoctrination. It would seem in the case of vast sections of workers in the UK today, the Tories have an abundance of willing lambs to the slaughter.
But the fact remains that whether or not our politicians, corporate leaders and employers want to face it, the perennial problem of unemployment (something from which, in any case, they all profit by using the surplus workforce as leverage to keep wages down, through a carefully synthesised deficit in supply and demand) will only ever be solved by a fundamental radical re-humanisation of what is, in the non-professional sectors, a currently dehumanising employment culture. Simply, at some point soon, the capitalist world has to grasp the very thorny issue of a fundamental reform in its uncompromising and punishing ‘work ethic’, if Western societies are to continue to function at an at all stable and productive level. Capitalism has to be made to accommodate and serve humanity, not humanity browbeaten and psychically crippled to accommodate the dictates and demands of Capitalism.
This is why Labour’s offer of a ‘compulsory jobs guarantee’ for those out-of-work for a year is no viable solution to long-term unemployment: human beings cannot simply be prodded like cattle into milking compartments and expected to just stay there indefinitely: for employment to be sustainable on a humanistic level it has to be at least in some sense compatible with the capacities and personalities of its incumbents, otherwise, in the long-term, it will simply lead to redundancies and a continued looping cycle in and out of other unsatisfactory positions punctuated with inevitable periods of unemployment. Rather than promising some balm of amelioration, actually just offers to put more salt in the psychical wounds of an already thoroughly demoralised unemployed population (whose abject miseries are only matched by the ever-expanding ‘working poor’). Again, the Labour ‘solution’ is simply to patch over the cracks of a traumatised capitalist culture which is chronically failing at practically every level.
The Recusant, of course, does not believe capitalism can ever be ‘ethical’ in any humanistic sense, that only Socialism can ensure a humanitarian industrial culture, and that capitalism really only has a place as a basic practical economic apparatus, which needs to be heavily regulated and kept thoroughly accountable and transparent, certainly not as any kind of ‘ideological’ framework around which to construct society altogether, which is what our politicians have been attempting but failing to do, most aggressively, since the cancerous onset of Thatcherism. Today, in 2014, thirty years down the line, the tectonic plates of our societal fabric are still scraping together after the shockwaves of the notorious ‘Big Bang’ of 1986; we are still suffering the long-term structural traumatising of Thatcherite ‘fracking’, which continues unabated to this day, mining the deep-earth seam of our overvalued ‘animal spirits’ at the expense of our true ‘spirit’ and humanity.
It’s perhaps appropriate to end with another excerpt from Eric Fromm’s The Sane Society, this time, from his Chapter ‘Mental Health and Society’:
Freud's concept of human nature as being essentially competitive (and asocial) is the same as we find it in most authors who believe that the characteristics of man in modern Capitalism are his natural characteristics. Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex is based on the assumption of the "natural" antagonism and competitiveness between father and sons for the love of the mother. This competition is said to be unavoidable because of the natural incestuous strivings in the sons. Freud only follows the same trend of thought in his assumption that the instincts of each man make him desire to have the prerogative in sexual relationships, and thus create violent enmity among themselves. We cannot fail to see that Freud's whole theory of sex is conceived on the anthropological premise that competition and mutual hostility are inherent in human nature.
Darwin gave expression to this principle in the sphere of biology with his theory of a competitive "struggle for survival." Economists like Ricardo and the Manchester school translated it into the sphere of economy. Later, Freud, under the influence of the same anthropological premises, was to claim it for the sphere of sexual desires. His basic concept is that of a "homo sexualis" as that of the economists was that of the "homo economicus." Both the "economic" man and the "sexual" man are convenient fabrications whose alleged nature—isolated, asocial, greedy and competitive—makes Capitalism appear as the system which corresponds perfectly to human nature, and places it beyond the reach of criticism. ;
Both positions, the "adjustment view" and the Hobbes-Freudian view of the necessary conflict between human nature and society, imply the defense of contemporary society and they both are one-sided distortions. Furthermore, they both ignore the fact that society is not only in conflict with the asocial aspects of man, partly produced by itself, but often also with his most valuable human qualities, which it suppresses rather than furthers.
An objective examination of the relation between society and human nature must consider both the furthering and the inhibiting impact of society on man, taking into account the nature of man and the needs stemming from it. Since most authors have emphasized the positive influence of modern society on man, I shall in this book pay less attention to this aspect and more to the somewhat neglected pathogenic function of modern society.
And, finally, from the tantalisingly titled Chapter, ‘Man in Capitalist Society’:
The members of the society and/or the various classes or status groups within it have to behave in such a way as to be able to function in the sense required by the social system. It is the function of the social character to shape the energies of the members of society in such a way that their behaviour is not a matter of conscious decision as to whether or not to follow the social pattern, but one of wanting to act as they have to act and at the same time finding gratification in acting according to the requirements of the culture. In other words, it is the social character's function to mould and channel human energy within a given society for the purpose of the continued functioning of this society.
Modern, industrial society, for instance, could not have attained its ends had it not harnessed the energy of free men for work in an unprecedented degree. Man had to be moulded into a person who was eager to spend most of his energy for the purpose of work, who acquired discipline, particularly orderliness and punctuality, to a degree unknown in most other cultures. It would not have sufficed if each individual had to make up his mind consciously every day that he wanted to work, to be on time, etcetera, since any such conscious deliberation would lead to many more exceptions than the smooth functioning of society can afford. Nor would threat and force have sufficed as a motive, since the highly differentiated tasks in modern industrial society can in the long run only be the work of free men and not of forced labour. The necessity for work, for punctuality and orderliness had to be transformed into an inner drive for these aims. This means that society had to produce a social character in which these strivings were inherent.
Oh, and News Just In: It is now predicted that FIVE MILLION British children could be living in poverty by 2020! What an epitaph that will be to the scabrous plague of Tory-driven Austerity Capitalism and a truly Satanic price paid in order to resuscitate the collapsing lungs of a morally bankrupt capitalist system.
A.M. 26-28 May 2014