Archive for the ‘Socialism’ Category

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Delay, Ideas, Narrative etc.

July 26, 2009

DELAY

Posts are always few and far between these days, as life in other areas online and offline takes up most of the finite time I have. Anyways, they will continue, as spurting this crap out from time to time is still fun.

First up, the post on capitalism in Japan. I’ll return to this later, as I’m going there again soon and want to look around and read a little more with that particular subject in mind. Anyways, a small sample of thoughts of late…

IDEAS

The other day, I was thinking about how stories (whatever they may be about) expressed through a number of different mediums have such an all encompassing effect on, well, everything in our culture. Not that this is a revelation or anything (for those of you thinking “well, duh”). It’s just cool to think about. The latest thoughts in regard to this were triggered whilst I was watching the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (of all things!) which prompted me to re-read the novel. Go ahead, laugh… OK, but really… Just think about that novel.

The first thing to be said before I go on is that Pride and Prejudice completely ignores the emerging working classes of the time. I’ll say more about this below. However, it does reveal so many things about the emerging middle classes and their connection to the old aristocracy and landed gentry of England (as well as some insights on religion as well). Hence it is still an important novel to read for anyone interested in history from a general leftist point of view. It’s also simply a good read.

Jane Austen’s witty, scathing, sarcastic and ironic commentary on the society that existed during her time was first published in 1813. OK, there’s a corny love story in there as well (and there’s no doubt that she was a good story-teller as well as a good writer), but there’s so much more going on in this novel. You see the influence of all the old ideas that had dominated English culture during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance such as remnants of feudalism, inheritance of property and property owned by simply the King/Queen and a landed lord class and the like. But you also see the new emerging middle class philosophies of capitalism, entrepreneurship and new ways of controlling property and expanding the political power of the emerging middle classes. If you look a little closer, I think it becomes clear that Darcy is not just a member of the aristocracy. He is a prime example of how some aristocratic and middle class ideals and ideas started to merge during this period. He’s a business man just as much as he’s a toffee-nosed snob. These ideas and ideals manifested themselves in a new ruling class that had cemented much of their power in England (and Europe) by the time of the First World War. It is far too simple to say that the aristocracy died out. A large proportion of them merged with the middle classes over two to three generations during Austen’s time.

Many of them were making the transition from a landed aristocracy to a business savvy, property owning (and buying), money owning middle class. An exception is Lady Catherine – a die hard member of the decaying aristocracy of the time, relying on old social norms over new middle class ideas. She despises Elizabeth and her family – especially Mrs. Bennet’s middle-class background.

We all know the story of Darcy and Elizabeth’s pride and prejudice getting in the way of their true feelings for each other. These are personal, of course, but they are completely focused on class consciousness. Elizabeth constantly mocks Darcy as an upper class snob and Darcy is appalled at the middle class Bennet’s behaviour on several occasions and lumps Elizabeth into the category of crude, uncultured middle class scum. Whilst there is this definite divide between the middle and upper classes in the novel, there is also a constant merging of these two classes together which gives us a snapshot of the emerging relationship between them during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  There is a constant attempt from middle class characters in the novel to emulate and mingle with those of the upper classes. From ‘above’ there is also a reluctant admittance that as one moves through society, one must mix with this new emerging middle class. This is revealed beautifully in the novel through the Netherfield Ball episode.

The very fact that Darcy and Elizabeth are able to overcome their respective classist reservations by the end of the novel reveals an emerging middle (and working!) class ideal of personal character and hard work determining one’s lot and not simply class or wealth. While I don’t think this is all Austen was getting at, it is nonetheless front and centre in the story. If the novel was written one or two hundred years earlier, there wouldn’t have even been a middle class and Darcy would simply have married Anne DeBourgh. This change in social attitude with members of the younger generation is further revealed by the union between Bingley and Jane Bennet as well.

The Darcy-Bennet and Bingley-Bennet unions are a reflection of what was happening at large in the middle and upper classes of England at this time. There was a broad unspoken alliance of sorts between these two as over a few generations, their vested interests and new business ventures were propelled by an all-encompassing political and social will that unfolded throughout the 19th century. It is interesting to note that at a time when France was reeling from the middle class inspired revolution of 1789, England was gradually consolidating power and wealth at home and abroad through old aristocratic conventions and vigorous new middle class entrepreneurship. This is not to say that England was without political and class tension and upheaval. But the overall enduring strength of this unspoken alliance and transition is there for all to see: the royal family are still in Buckingham Palace today.

As for the working classes, anyone who’s read Austen will know that she didn’t write about them at all. She has been criticised for this by many. However, I think this criticism is unfair. Austen wrote her works with the society she grew up in and experienced in mind. Were she to write about the working class experience of her time, she would have had to live and work among workers. This was not the circumstance into which she was born and she cannot be criticised for that. She has given us valuable insights into middle and upper class society, not the working classes. If anything, this should increase the importance of her works for those of us on the left. Equipping ourselves with only a working class outlook is narrow and counter productive. Besides, there are a plethora of other sources to consult on the different dynamics of the working class experience during this period.

NARRATIVE

So, I’ve read a few good books of late. One in particular that I’d recommend is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s an excellent story with a narrative from the perspective of death. Beautifully written, it is a unique take on life in Germany just before and during the Second World War. This is a topic which has been written about many times, but this work stands out and both young adults and adults alike will get so much out of it. Go and read it… Now!

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Friedrich, Karl and the perpetual crisis

November 29, 2008

Guess who… And from where…

“The productive forces at our disposal no longer tend to further the development of the relations of bourgeois civilisation; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these relations by which they are encumbered, and so soon as they overcome these encumbrances, they bring into disorder the whole of bourgeois society, then endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The relations of bourgeois society have become too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. And by what means? By preparing the way for more general and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.”

– Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, published 1848.

Oh dear… So much insight for one small passage. Now, every monopolistic, capitalistic right-wing moron who isn’t smart enough to understand the above passage will insist that the “current economic crisis” is starting to correct itself and that the market will “come good” over the next year. No, no, no! The only reason why some of the largest corporations in the world aren’t in the hands of receivers right now is because the government has bailed them out. Yes, that “old socialistic” visible hand has come in and injected shitloads of money into the very corporations who have misled the masses, handled their money irresponsibly and then (behind closed doors) begged the government (who are indebted to these right wing bourgeois fucks) to bail them out while they walk away without a single scar.

Yes, my friends. The government is always looked at by conservative right-wing economists as the evil entity sticking its nose into the business of business and robbing citizens of their money in the form of taxation. Do I entirely disagree with this assessment? Of course not – they do have a point in certain contexts. But, on the whole, current western government is just a tool and mechanism of the essentially monopolistic capitalist system in which we find ourselves and hence they will bail out those of their ilk before they give a damn about those who have lost out and are about to lose out in this latest “crisis”. That very system that Marx and Engels describe in the depths of their (and I don’t give a shit how old and cliqued it is) brilliantly written Communist Manifesto is the system we find ourselves in. Think about it: On the one hand by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces”… hhhmmm, so by war (in every sense of the word) – The Empire has started two obvious ones over the last seven years. On the other by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones” . If you can’t see these, then you’ve been living in a cave forever. This wasn’t really even an insight in 1848, when the manifesto was written. The conquest and exploitation of new markets is evident in China and India, even in an extremely superficial analysis.

If you want to go deeper, look at the effect that this has had on the emerging working classes in places like China and India (where that annoying glitch of trade unions is largely avoided thanks to an overbearing alliance of business and government. Yes, China’s government has never been “Communist” – it is now a fully functioning fascist capitalistic dictatorship). So, there’s your exploitation right there… Then look at the middle classes of those respective countries… Then look at the effect that the outsourcing of jobs from the rich world has had on the working populations of places like, say, Detroit in the good old U S of A.

So, we have the conquest of new markets – China and India’s bourgeoning (oh – I know you’re marvelling at my oh so clever pun! And, yes – there are two correct ways to spell this in English!) middle classes and desperate poorer working classes. Then the “more thorough exploitation of old ones” – the outsourcing of jobs in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia which (to varying degrees in each of these countries) forces working classes into the position where they need to get more jobs to make enough to get by and/or then become more indebted to the… massive corporations who have created and perpetuated this whole “latest crisis” through their irresponsible investment, their irresponsible lending and their irresponsible borrowing… You see? The so-called “economic cycle” is precisely what Marx and Engles have described above. It is the economic cycle of perpetual crisis – it thrives on crises to survive.

So, who loses out at all of this? Most of us, it seems. The masses (in their various class forms throughout history) endure the suffering, hardship and economic (in the form of increased taxation and various depleted social government programs) cost of each crisis as it is progressively and systematically played out.  Who does well? The few who run the show: the indebted spine-less “representatives” of our respective democracies and dictatorships and the corporations who fund them in many direct and indirect ways. In a word, the bourgeoisie (and the few aristocrats who are left in the world). Call them what you will with the passing of time. They take many more forms than what Marx and Engels envisioned. But the essence of what Marx and Engels envisioned is what matters, if you have a clear enough line of sight to see it.

So, I hear you saying that you fund the government too, right? Well, you are correct madam and sir! But, how do you vote? You vote within the system… As do I… In the words of one of my favourite bands, Propagandhi:

“You can vote however the fuck you want, but power still calls all the shots. And believe it or not, even if (real) democracy broke loose, power could/would just “make the economy scream” until we vote responsibly.”

And, yes, my friends… This is where our right-wing counterparts have a point (refer to what I wrote above). Taxation is exploitation (doesn’t that sound familiar? From a distant lost past perhaps). Our simple right-wing friends get it wrong in how taxation is a problem though. And (don’t you just love artists and musicians for their ability to sprout truth in a simplistic, but beautiful light?) to quote Michael Franti: “Take a look at where your money’s gone… See? … Take a look at what they spend it on. No excuses! No illusions!”

The system is the problem people. What system? Thy name is monopolitisic, government supported, greedy capitalism.