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What Middle Class Ideology Means

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I’ve found myself using the term “middle class ideology” and realized that I’ve never explained what I meant. Let’s start with some basics: The bourgeoisie, or capitalist class, or ruling class, means that class of people who live by selling the products of the labor of others. The working class are those who live by selling their labor-power to capitalists. There is also a broad middle class of small shop owners, craftsmen, family farmers, private contractors, free-lance artists, middle managers, and academics.

The middle class is, by definition, caught between the two major classes of society. The bourgeoisie has the entire state at its command: the police forces, the military, the jails, the courts, surveillance legal and illegal; in a word, overwhelming armed might, backed up by ownership of the media and control of education, all of which represents enormous power. The proletariat, insofar as they are organized, has the capability for mass, united action, and, even more, have in their collective hands all of the wheels that make society function, that produce and transport the goods we need, keep the roads open, keep us healthy, and create and maintain all of the infrastructure that permits society to function, all of which represents enormous power.

The middle class, or the petty bourgeoisie, has—well, they have hope that between the two clashing armies they won’t get crushed to death. The bourgeoisie advances its interests in direct conflict with the working class, ie, by attempting to drive down wages and conditions so that a larger share of the surplus value goes into their pockets. The working class advances its interests in direct conflict with the bourgeoisie, ie, by attempting to raise wages and improve conditions so that a larger share of the surplus value goes into their pockets. The middle class, as a class, has no direct way to advance their interests. As individuals, they may choose to align with the working class, with the ruling class, or, most often, they will hope and pray that the two great classes do not come into open conflict, because that is a dangerous time to be in the middle: major labor battles are inevitably accompanied by the bankruptcy of small businesses and difficult times at best for artists, managers and academics. Thus it is in the interests of the middle class, above all, that conflict between these armies be prevented, or at least delayed as long as possible.

As long as society is driven by the conflict between property owners and those who must labor for the enrichment of the property owners, political ideologies will and must represent, above all, the interests of one of the classes of society: ideologies either emerged and gained popularity through educational institutions run by the ruling class, or ideologies that grew up in conscious opposition to them, and all ideologies gained influence because they “spoke” to some segment of society. No one would make such a simplistic claim as that the social class to which you belong is the only thing that determines your ideology: if that were true, every worker would be thoroughly imbued with revolutionary consciousness and there would be no need for a vanguard party. But to understand the development of political ideas in class society, we must begin, above all, with understanding whose class interests those ideas serve.

Ideologies of the ruling class are easy to identify if we bother to look; nationalism and patriotism come first of course—we should see ourselves above all as part of a nation, not a class. But there are others: What’s good for GM is good for America. Thou shalt not steal. Law and order. You, too, can become a rich property owner if only you work hard enough to enrich someone else in the meantime. Your success or failure is purely a function of yourself and has nothing to do with social conditions, &c &c. Under certain conditions, pacifism.* Anything such as racism and sexism and hatred of immigrants or foreign workers that pits one section of the working class against another is of obvious benefit to those who have nothing to fear except working class unity.

Ideologies that are in the interest of the working class are those of solidarity, of resistance to tyranny, of class consciousness, of democracy, of equality, of independence from the political frauds of the class enemy. Even more, ideologies that actually help us understand the processes of history, that help lay bare the conditions that determine the laws of motion of society, help arm the working class for battle. We might even go so far as to say that every idea (ie, science) that helps us understand the objective processes of the world is, in a revolutionary epoch, at least in some measure revolutionary. This could help to explain the close ties between political reactionaries and those who oppose science. Marxism is, so far, the highest form of working class ideology, not because it is a schema or a system or a set of formulas, but because it is above all a method for understanding the development of the class struggle and providing a guide for activity to advance the working class.

Ideologies of the middle class** inevitably attempt to soften, hide, and diminish the conflict of the great classes. If you are looking to identify middle class ideology, look always for ideas that disguise hard edges and blur lines: Do not speak of enemies, we are all just people. Let’s not talk about conflicts over profit, but rather about how something makes someone feel (the middle class is always big on feelings). Don’t get upset about political disagreement, it’s just ideas. Let us, above all, renounce violence.* Let’s not talk about class conflict, but about love and kindness. Do not use harsh language that “alienates” people—ie, it makes them feel bad, and “how are you going to convince them if you’re being mean to them?” as if it were a question of convincing those who have already taken a stand on the other side! But the middle class, you see, hates the idea that there are “sides” and so, to them, everything must boil down to ideas, and if people oppose one another, that must only be because they have different ideas. Middle class ideologies like to talk about “people.” As in, “people need to realize this,” or, “people should stop doing that.” If they do make divisions among people, they will be based on anything but class; that is, any division that does directly bring them into conflict with capitalist society.

It can pretty much be categorically stated: when you see a cry against social injustice that turns your attention away from the actual oppressors—ie, the capitalist class—and turns your attention to another section of those exploited by capitalism, you are seeing, in essence, “let us see how much we can get without running the risk of making our masters angry,” and this fear of making the masters angry runs through middle class ideology like a yellow thread: whether it is fear of damaging one’s career, fear of outraging public opinion, or just fear of starting something without being able to control it, fear is the unifying factor. I got into a mess a while ago on these pages when I referred to a certain well-known individual as a Stalinist, even though he had explicitly broken from Stalin. I think part of the confusion (that I didn’t understand at the time) comes exactly here: When I speak of Stalinism as an ideology, one thing I am speaking of is a deliberate turn within the workers movement away from the working class and toward a middle class agenda that will, in the hopes of the Stalinist, prevent or delay a conflict with capital.

As we can see, middle class ideology, though concerned with avoiding, preventing, delaying, and softening the conflict between the major classes, inevitably ends up, because of this, supporting the status quo, and as the status quo means rule by capital, middle class ideology must end by supporting the ruling class. That is, as well as I can explain it, what I mean when I refer to middle class ideology. I hope it helps.

————-

*Pacifism deserves its own special note, because of how it moves from a bourgeois ideology to a middle class ideology and back: During an imperialist war, sections of the middle class will be pacifist, because they see the war as oppressive and immoral, but can’t go so far as to advocate a military victory for the other side. But once the imperialists have secured their victory, all of a sudden the imperialists become the pacifists, and resistance by the conquered people is wrong because they are “resorting to violence to solve their problems.” We saw this method with the attacks on the indigenous peoples of the United States, with Israel, later with Yugoslavia, today all over the Middle East.

**Ironically, one of the most pernicious forms of middle-class ideology is the supposed rejection of ideology, usually expressed in some disdainful comment about “isms” that carry the implication that as long as you don’t know the name of your ideology, you don’t have one, reminding one of the famous character of Molière who said, “Good heavens! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it.”

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

39 Comments

  1. Well said.

    My favorite middle class comments about the people are about them not knowing what’s in their best interest. To which, depending on the example, I say one of two contradictory things: “Of course they don’t know what’s in their best interest—the elite constantly use the media and the clergy to confuse them” or “Of course they know what’s in their best interest—it’s just not what’s in your best interest.”

  2. I like this framing. I’ll have to think on the implications, but one thing that strikes me is that in Capitalism, fear is really the root driver.
    The working class lives in fear because all they have is their labor. The middle class lives in fear because they have a little and don’t want to lose it. The capitalist class has almost everything and lives in fear that they might have a little less.

    Lasciate ogni paura, o voi ch’entrate would seem like a good motto for a class free, post capitalism society.

  3. Hunh.

    Do you know, I think you’ve formulated a political notion that I’m in complete agreement with. I might phrase it differently – discuss the motivations of the middle class for seeking compromise, mediation, or, if I may borrow a phrase, incrementalism – but apart from quibbles with phraseology, I’m in complete agreement, and I share your distaste for the equivocations and coddling mentality of much middle-class ideology, especially in situations where their interests tend to be more aligned with the working class, and their rhetoric is not. And I have no patience for the notion that ‘neutrality’ is not a stance, and fence-sitting is not a position, so we’re in alignment there, too.

    So: kudos!

  4. How does one classify, e.g. Adam Carolla? He has his daily podcast, which I think qualifies as work as much as any other artistic endeavor. Because of the nature of his podcast, he doesn’t employ any (many?) writers, but he employs assistants, technical people, and a lawyer/agent/etc. I use Adam as an example because he strikes me as one of a few successful yet very nearly independent artists. He has almost direct access to his audience, and is quite well to do as a direct result of his audience enjoying the product he creates. He doesn’t have cars like Seinfeld or Leno, but he has many expensive cars.

    Come to that, Seinfeld would be another good example of the question I’m asking, perhaps even a better example in some ways. One could say that Seinfeld largely became wealthy because of his comedic/acting/writing skill, but there were obviously countless directors, producers, camera operators, writers, other actors, etc etc etc involved in creating the art that made him rich.

    Does the fact of their wealth (and therefore the size of their financial/employment ‘footprint’) impact the definition of whether they are bourgeoisie? I.E. are the two of them bourgeoisie while my favorite movie blogger who is also an only very mildly/locally successful comedian would be labor class?

    Or are artists a different class in the first place?

    Am I asking very basic questions that could be answered by five minutes on Wikipedia?

  5. skzb, man, you really, really hate the middle class. They are demons and witches and the cause of all that is evil. As you point out, the middle class is in a precarious position and relatively powerless today. Most are also workers themselves. They don’t do half the crap you say they do. They are just trying to live their lives, which is the goal for most of us. How about working the problem instead of looking for someone to blame for the lack of success of Marxism. Or ignoring what they might say because it doesn’t fit in with your preconceived notions.

    Other than that, most of what you say is a good summary.

    The reason Marxism isn’t succeeding isn’t because of the middle class. It is because it does not appeal to today’s workers. At the same time is poses a risk or even a threat to most people, including many workers. As I pointed out in the other string, it is possible to get a lot of what the workers need without a total upsetting of the current order. You would say that is middle class talk, so unworthy of your consideration. That is because your primary goal is to establish a Marxist country, not to help the worker.

    How about you work up a new philosophy that today’s workers can get behind and support, rather than push an outdated one? That takes work, not pontification.

  6. This year’s presidential election may be a god-send for socialists. When Trump beats Hillary, who knows what kind of shit will hit the fan.

  7. What do you think our problems would be if we had a completely socialist Marxist world? Because I am sure if we were all raised as that from birth there would still be many. And when that is the social norm there are still the power hungry.

  8. Let me pose a hypothetical question. Let’s say we have a magic machine where if you press the red button, the worker’s lives are instantly improved 100%. Their salaries are doubled, they get free health care, vacations, improved work conditions and union representation. Nearly all workers are happy and contented. The oligarchs pull back their tentacles and are no longer predatory.

    skzb, would you press the red button? From what you have been saying, I’m thinking the answer is NO. Because then your socialist / Communist revolution becomes unnecessary and not “inevitable”. It is a threat to your position as an authority in the Marxist revolution, you are not needed. That is the impression I get from you. I hope I am wrong.

  9. There is no magic button, though, nor will ever be – and if there was, you haven’t described it fully.

    What mechanisms operate this magic world? Who makes sure the oligarchs are just? Who monitors the happiness of the workers? What systems protect the people if the economy staggers.

    Once you’ve imagined those systems, try to imagine a way they could be peacefully and gradually instituted from our present system. Because without them, that button is a momentary blip before a change in material conditions disrupts the equilibrium of the system – either that, or it’s so at odds with the way the world *is* that it’s hard to imagine the relevance of such a thought experiment. In a world without those systems, why push the button? What lasting good would it achieve?

    Me, I think that *maybe*, over the course of centuries, we might reach such a system, if we’re lucky. But I sympathize with the revolutionaries who aren’t patient with the suffering, disenfranchisement, and outright murder of workers that will occur systematically between now and then, and want to jump-start change. The revolution IS the magic button, the only hope we have of seeing a just system within our lifetimes.

    And I’m speaking to you as a guy with a distrust of magic buttons. I don’t think we should push it, because I believe that a post-revolutionary system is a fragile system, and there’s a better hope in slow reform. But your thought experiment suggests a complete upheaval, a sea change – a revolution. It’s nonsense if it doesn’t,

  10. skzb

    Janie: I don’t know what the problems would be. If you want me to guess, just totally out of the air, I could imagine there would be problems of how much of humanity’s resources to devote to space exploration vs ocean exploration vs alternative energy, and what are the best ways to recover from the various problems capitalism has left us, and so on. More likely, there will be problem we cannot even conceive of, as well as means to solve them we can’t conceive of either. I have zero worry about the power hungry, because it doesn’t matter how hungry someone is if there is nothing to eat, and it doesn’t matter how much someone would like power if there is no power to be had; once the state no longer exists, the “power hungry” will just have to deal. Or maybe join a kink group and enjoy their power that way.

  11. Matt, you are missing the point. It isn’t about whether we can achieve such a magic machine (we can’t). It is about skzb’s motivation for his dogged insistence on a purely Marxist solution. Namely, is he open to possible solutions to the workers problems that do not install a Marxist political system?

    I too believe in slow systematic reform, not the violent overthrow of the system. But then we are thinking like middle class liberals. The question was a hypothetical, and we can assume for the question, that the machine works and causes no violence. It was magic, after all.

    Revolution can easily cause more problems than it solves. Once you have opened Pandora’s box, you have lost control of the revolution. The only guaranteed thing is violence, anger, hate and death. That is a huge price to pay. And as I said earlier, the .1% can jet off to Jamaica and watch the whole thing on TV while sipping Mai Tais, counting their gold coins and listening to Jimmy Buffett.

  12. But to concede something to skzb, the threat of possible violence has to be real. Without that, the .1% would simply ignore things and continue to tighten the noose around worker’s necks.

  13. It’s possible I’m missing your point, but you certainly missed mine. no other solutions that would work in our lifetime have been suggested. successful revolution and the button are either indistinguishable in result, or the button is meaningless. so the thought experiment, even from my view somewhere in the vicinity if your position, is wildly irrelevant. suggest, rather, an alternative method – if you cannot, your own admission makes it sound like you believe reform is toothless beside the potential if uncertain power of Marxist revolution. posing the question as you do undermines your own position. do you see?

  14. David:In a truly successful postX system, it won’t be just economics that would be reformed, but humans themselves. If we remove the threat and effects of illnesses (both mental and physical) and, at the same time, produce a truly educated populace, we’ll be far down the road to a revolution.
    Note that a revolution doesn’t have to be violent. It just has to be revolutionary.

  15. Well Matt, now you are deliberately missing my point and I asked first. The hypothetical question remains. Your criticisms are not relevant to the point of the question and I explained why.

    “no other solutions that would work in our lifetime have been suggested.”, is total BS. There are non-Marxist socialist countries that are doing just fine. If Marxism is the ONLY solution you would accept, of course you would see it that way. It has now become a religion. That is WHY I am asking the hypothetical. What is the goal of a revolution? Is it to improve the worker’s lives or is it to impose a Marxist form of government. Those are not necessarily the same thing and Marxism is not the only way to improve things.

    Once you accept that the real goal is to improve worker’s lives, it becomes possible to make significant improvements without killing people. Other opportunities become available.

    If your real goal is to install Marxism, there can be no solution because that is not possible in our lifetimes (mine, anyway) either. So we might as well argue about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin for all the good it does us.

    So we can be academics and argue about who knows more about Marxism and why it is inevitable, or we can work with the workers to try and improve their lives directly. I am suggesting the latter.

  16. Steve, I agree.

  17. The assertion that there exists on this planet a country with ANY system of government where things are “just fine” for the working class has me hornswoggled. And far from Marxism being the only system I accept, I don’t accept Marxism.

    The problem of the button, unaddressed still, is that as a rhetorical device it makes you sound unable to imagine a successful alternative to the button. and the button, being magic, fails to address any serious academic questions about method, and therefore renders a serioys, nuanced answer impossible. it’s not a question for academic engagement and debate at all.

    And the notion that there is any method that does the involve killing is absurd. My own belief in reform burdens me with the morally sterilized and abstracted deaths of every worker killed by insufficient health care, unsafe working conditions, class-sanctioned police violence… you name it. Everyone who dies today because I believe in doing the work gradually can be laid at my feet just as justifiably as any revolutionary casualties are the responsibility of the revolutionary. or just as unjustifiably, if you prefer.

  18. I would ignore China (actually communist) on this list. But most of the remaining (all?) have it better for the workers than here.

    http://blog.peerform.com/top-ten-most-socialist-countries-in-the-world/

    I explained the hypothetical and why. Look it up in the dictionary if you don’t understand. There is no argument, this is a hypothetical question. It does not have to be real. In fact I phrased it so that most people would understand that this is a hypothetical, even without my having to explain (for the 3rd or 4th time now), what a hypothetical is. Please don’t waste my time looking for an argument.

  19. Being hypothetical doesn’t make a question immune to logic, nor automatically relevant. I think your question weakens your hypothesis, and I think it’s a poor attempt at a gotcha. My explanation as to why it fails to determine a meaningful answer has also been restated repeatedly.

    And you continue to move the goalposts with regard to your question – unless you think that any of these countries count as post-magic button states?

  20. Not at all. The original question remains and it is a legitimate and logical question. I want to know which is more important; to have a Marxist state or to help the worker? That isn’t a “gotcha” at all. No different than asking if you would rather have a Ford or Chevy. I am honestly exploring the motivations of this group.

    The reason that this question is both important and legitimate is because having a Marxist state today is not necessarily helping the welfare of the worker. Helping today’s worker does not necessarily require a Marxist state. That should be obvious. I’m really surprised you can’t get past that.

    Even if you choose to disagree about that, I still want the question answered. If you cannot answer the question, you should look within yourself as to why. Simply throwing out flack to avoid the question is wasting everybody’s time.

  21. skzb: “Let’s start with some basics”. OK.

    Formal declaration of faith: check

    “Marxism is, so far, the highest form of working class ideology, not because it is a schema or a system or a set of formulas, but because it is above all a method for understanding the development of the class struggle and providing a guide for activity to advance the working class.”

    Evil is well defined: check

    “The bourgeoisie has the entire state at its command: the police forces, the military, the jails, the courts, surveillance legal and illegal; in a word, overwhelming armed might, backed up by ownership of the media and control of education, all of which represents enormous power.”

    Hero is well defined: check

    “The proletariat, insofar as they are organized, has the capability for mass, united action, and, even more, have in their collective hands all of the wheels that make society function, that produce and transport the goods we need, keep the roads open, keep us healthy, and create and maintain all of the infrastructure that permits society to function, all of which represents enormous power.”

    And the hero is really heroic: check

    “Ideologies that are in the interest of the working class are those of solidarity, of resistance to tyranny, of class consciousness, of democracy, of equality, of independence from the political frauds of the class enemy.”

    The original sin is clearly defined: check

    “The bourgeoisie advances its interests in direct conflict with the working class, ie, by attempting to drive down wages and conditions so that a larger share of the surplus value goes into their pockets.”

    The overall mythic structure has been well defined: check

    “As long as society is driven by the conflict between property owners and those who must labor for the enrichment of the property owners, political ideologies will and must represent, above all, the interests of one of the classes of society: ideologies either emerged and gained popularity through educational institutions run by the ruling class, or ideologies that grew up in conscious opposition to them, and all ideologies gained influence because they ‘spoke’ to some segment of society.”

    So you’ve got the basic mythological structure. You’ve also included those features designed to create fanatics, such as refusing to believe anyone is a non-combatant and defining everyone as your enemy.

    Dividing the world into us & them:

    “Let’s start with some basics: The bourgeoisie, or capitalist class, or ruling class, means that class of people who live by selling the products of the labor of others. The working class are those who live by selling their labor-power to capitalists. There is also a broad middle class of small shop owners, craftsmen, family farmers, private contractors, free-lance artists, middle managers, and academics.”

    Insisting the entire world is really Marxist and just needs to accept that fact:

    “No one would make such a simplistic claim as that the social class to which you belong is the only thing that determines your ideology: if that were true, every worker would be thoroughly imbued with revolutionary consciousness…”

    And there’s even a priestly class:

    “… and there would be no need for a vanguard party.”

    You even include the standard Marxist demiurge, History:

    “Even more, ideologies that actually help us understand the processes of history, that help lay bare the conditions that determine the laws of motion of society, help arm the working class for battle. ”

    A process has a specific end result. Since you deny there is any such thing as human nature, which is basically just the internal (nervous system mostly) evolutionary developments that helped our ancestors survived, the only way history can be a process or that there can be such an abomination as “laws of motion of society” is if all life is guided by an outside intellect or if humans are as mindless as atoms, subject to whatever natural forces affect us without our being able to react at all.

    History seems to hold the same place in Marxism that paradise holds for most other Peoples of the Book – it’s the end of everything, the goal for which the revolutionary is willing to die. Historical requirements, historical imperatives, the goals of history… Even former communists who turned against the ideology couldn’t always shake the mystical regard for history they were taught to hold. That reverence is a necessary ingredient; it’s both the ultimate end towards which good revolutionaries labor and the benign force that smiles on their work.

    “We might even go so far as to say that every idea (ie, science) that helps us understand the objective processes of the world is, in a revolutionary epoch, at least in some measure revolutionary. This could help to explain the close ties between political reactionaries and those who oppose science. ”

    A true believer would go so far as to say this, because it is necessary to lay claim whatever is perceived to be most powerful, in this case knowledge, even when its use is not fully understood.

    ***

    Obviously Marx had some social & politcal ideas that transcended his typical mechanical assumptions; the effects of alienation of the worker appears to be universally applicable just for one, though of course he made other points that deserve attention. However, the problem really lies with those who think he laid out a good plan of action. It is a demonstrably poor plan – close minded, myopic, ignoring the reality of society of his time – and yet people who claim to be thoroughly scientific materialists are constantly behaving like the idealists they say they despise in trying to shoehorn modern technological society into the Marxist paradigm.

    skzb: “Let’s start with some basics”. OK. Marxism has all the hallmarks of a cult of personality. I think that’s basic number 1.

  22. L. Raymond, Dang, right between the eyes. I have to agree. Marxism is being treated as a self-reinforcing religion – a cult. I’m glad we are on the same side, I don’t want you for an enemy. ;>)

  23. David, I answered the question explicitly, in my first response, and I explained my answer pretty thoroughly, I thought. I said “I don’t think we should push it” in just that many words. I also said why I disliked it as a question. I haven’t been evasive, haven’t thrown flak, I don’t favor Marxism, and I don’t find the question either important or legitimate. I think it’s very hard to have any sort of meaningful discussion, hypothetical or not, that concerns the real world, when we’re talking about magic, and poorly defined magic even moreso.

    A meaningful discussion critiquing a revoluntionary Marxist approach, to me, would look something like this:

    “Why do we have any reason to believe that revolution will affect changes more beneficial, sweeping, or lasting than reform (reform nonetheless being driven by an energized and united working-class movement, whether explicitly socialist or not, acting in the interests of the working class)? Why should we believe that revolution is more likely to succeed than reform? If revolution is either necessary or inevitable, and yet continues not to materialize in the wake of continued reforms moving toward equity assuaging class tensions, why should we consider this a failure of the working class and not a success?”

    It doesn’t involve magic buttons, because magic buttons aren’t a serious approach to inequity, and a ‘magic button’ hypothetical that doesn’t adequately explain its mechanisms is a magic button whose magic should be distrusted. I would not push the button, not because I am a Marxist with loyalty to the Marxist approach or who places any importance on my or Marxism’s authority, but because your hypothetical button leaves me cold about important questions which Marxism, despite my lack of adherence to it, attempts to engage with and answer in a meaningfui way. That its answers do not convince me does not make a magic button fixing everything a superior approach.

    It’s a really, really bad hypothetical question, with a really silly premise.

  24. Matt, you just keep saying you don’t want to answer the question because it doesn’t meet what ever criteria you have for it being a legitimate question.

    Then you answer the question by saying you are not for a Marxist revolution (for the same reasons I have). So button or not, your goal is not a Marxist system. And like me you feel reform is a legitimate approach.

    I would hope others are answering the question of priorities, even if it is only in their own minds.

  25. I don’t know if people need Marx to be able to understand the dynamics of the capitalist work place. I might be of value to some. I would think most if not nearly all workers understand the conflict between their welfare and the profits of their employers. I think discussions about this with workers does not need a Marxist framework to be understood.

  26. @skzb,
    In your writings here, and in Trotsky’s “The Revolution Betrayed”, you reference the final dissolution of the state. But I’m still hung up on that point. How do we stop the leadership, the management, the communication team, the election committee, the administrators, *some group that has power* from growing into another bureaucratic beast that exists only to enrich itself?

    Capitalism is flawed for many reasons, and one is the inevitable trend towards plutocracy.

    But I don’t see how Marxism can ever escape a trend towards Stalin. What can citizens of the world to today that won’t lead any country or all countries together into a new national or international equivalent to Stalin’s USSR or Mao’s China?

  27. David Hajicek:Thanks for agreeing with me. I’ll expand a bit and we’ll see if that still holds. 🙂
    When I mentioned that we need to reform humanity, I was thinking in a very literal fashion. We are on the cusp of actually understanding how our brains actually function. Neuroscience and a complete understanding of cellular functions in general will hand us a bunch of keys in the fairly near future. Exactly how those keys are used could be really beneficial or really harmful and of course will probably involve both. (Read some Peter Watts for some insight into the really harmful path.)
    As an example, suppose we have an oligarch who shows intense narcissistic personality disorder–call them DT. We could (in the relatively near future) map DT’s neuronal and genetic structures and provide some combination of therapies to alter whichever structures are causing these behaviors in DT. Iterate a few million of times and suddenly the .01 become part of the revolution rather than part of the problem. Getting them to recognize that they are in fact ill and need to be reformed may be challenging. On the other hand, a particularly psychotic oligarch might decide to indiscriminately apply such techniques to make the workers very content.
    Things are going to get very interesting as the pace of change continues to accelerate.

  28. I think one problem is that capital has become truly international, but the working class seems fairly intractable in remaining segmented into national and other artificial units.
    As long as this is the case, capital can always undermine any local revolution which threatens to even partially succeed in promoting aspects of a socialist society.

    Second, what are the means of production in a post industrial society? Can the working class readily seize them in the same way they could have seized a factory or farm? To what extent are today’s “middle class” effectively a “working class?” Can the objective conditions of two such distinct bodies which both contain aspects of the classical working class be reconciled in the same struggle and with a common purpose?

  29. David Hajicek: “Dang, right between the eyes. I have to agree. Marxism is being treated as a self-reinforcing religion – a cult.”

    Thanks. This is how I feel about any -ism that stems from only one source. Anyone in the world can have good ideas, brilliant insights or a just a solid, common sense approach to a problem, but when people insist that *everything* that person said has to be taken as a whole and treated as gospel, I get twitchy.

    “I’m glad we are on the same side, I don’t want you for an enemy. ;>)”

    Tch, I have no enemies. Unless you’re the guy who translated “Fiddler on the Roof” into Klingon and performed it with Legos…?

  30. skzb

    Mike S: That’s an excellent question, although one I had hoped I’d answered more completely than I evidently did. What it comes down to is this:

    1. The State is a mechanism of repression for protecting private property.

    2. A bureaucratic caste, such as Stalin and his gang, exist above the state when there is a surplus, but still an insufficiency, in order to determine who gets the surplus (no surprise, they pick themselves and those in a position to serve them).

    3. Under conditions where there is no private property and there is sufficiency for everyone there is, in essence, nothing for a State (as we understand it today) to do, and no need for such a caste. Groups like that only arise when there is actually something for them to do.

    4. In the “getting from here to there” stage what we can depend on is the armed might of the working class. In the Soviet Union, the working class was a fraction of the population, and had just been decimated by war and civil war (especially, not by coincidence, the most self-sacrificing and class conscious layer of workers were the ones most likely to be killed on the front lines). In modern Western countries, the working class is easily strong enough to maintain its grip on the State, using the democratic institutions (Soviets) that they control.

    Private Iron: The means of production are the factories and shops where commodities are produced, and the mines and fields where raw materials are generated to supply them. If commodities are still being produced, then, obviously, there are still the means to produce them. Or am I misunderstanding your question?

  31. What percentage of the population is still directly involved in the production of tangible commodities? If the working class so defined drops below some tipping point, can they still be considered the driver of the most important class struggle of the day, both as a practical matter and as a matter of democratic principle? Would we want 5% of the population to seize the means of food production? If the means of production are primarily located in other countries, what kind of revolution can American workers create on their own?

    Side question: if we create a working class predominantly composed of “foreigners,” what is the effect on the revolutionary struggle? A large percentage of the working class in the agricultural sector are “guest workers” who aren’t allowed to put down roots or develop ties with the land they work.

  32. skzb

    That is not the definition of the working class, however. See the OP. (As a side note, one of the misconceptions about Marx, or, rather, about the Victorian era, was that all workers were industrial. In fact, he discusses in Capital Volume I various places, such as Ireland, where the majority of the working class is in service, not directly involved in production).

    The question of “guest workers” is a fascinating one, and one important (and difficult!) fight is to show the unity of interests between them and native workers.

  33. This: http://www.prb.org/pdf08/63.2uslabor.pdf has some percentages of people working in various segments on page 7. As of 2007, 10% were involved in manufacturing while 83% were in services. People employed in services are, of course, still working and hence workers.

  34. L. Raymond, you have a wonderfully wicked sense of humor. You gave me a good laugh. So I had to look it up.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPzMP4MK2hY

    Enjoy.

  35. I am reminded of the first time I stumbled across the “Stuff White People Like” blog. BAM – wow, I feel white. Now: BAM – wow, I feel middle class. Pacifist, sees shades of grey everywhere, cares about feelings, fears war … that is me (she said with little pangs of shame).

    @Steve Halter – it occurs to me that the PRB report probably counts anyone who makes money as a “worker”, up to and including Trump and Clinton.

    @skzb – can you please explain why “democracy” is in the interests of the working class? Doesn’t democracy by definition require a state? On a related note, I would object to your hunger analogy in your response to Janie above. “…it doesn’t matter how hungry someone is if there is nothing to eat, and it doesn’t matter how much someone would like power if there is no power to be had…” In fact, it matters a great deal to a hungry person whether or not there is something to eat. If there is nothing to eat, the hungry person will go to great and desperate lengths trying to find something to eat, and eventually die. People cannot live without food, but they can live without power. If we were to assume that certain “power hungry” people would behave as starving people would, and go through great and desperate lengths trying to find power, then I suspect that would be a pretty big problem for the rest of us in a post-state world.

  36. @skzb,
    But I’m hung up on your third point. Even when there is sufficiency for everyone, there needs to be some kind of distribution of resources and management. Unless we all have our own self-contained generators, some group has to control the creation and distribution of electricity. Unless we all have our own farms, some group has to control the distribution of food and calculate the necessary supply to ensure sufficient production for everyone. Unless we all have our own manufacturing facilities, some group had to determine automobile (or flying automobile) production rates and distribute the vehicles to citizens.

    So a bureaucracy with some level of control, or multiple independent bureaucracies each with an independent sphere of control, seems inevitable. I don’t see how we can escape that – and as far as I can tell, that inevitably leads to another Stalin or Mao.

  37. skzb

    Thanks for your comments, Miriam.

    Democracy, and other rights such as freedom of speech and assembly and the free press and so on are in the interests of the working class because they provide in easier, more natural, simpler way for the needs and aspirations of the working class to express themselves, thus making it easier for them to see the contradictions between what they need and what capitalism is able to provide. That’s the immediate practical answer. In addition, the right to determine one’s own destiny seems to me to be fundamental to the full development of the individual. One problem with capitalist democracy is how few are able to determine their own destiny, not because of governmental regulation, but because of economic coercion. Socialism is merely democracy consistently applied.

    The hunger analogy may have been a poor choice; it came to mind because I was hungry and out of food when I wrote it. 🙂 But to continue it, sure, it matters to the hungry person, but my point is that if someone craves power, and there is no power to be had, then no one need be fearful about that person’s craving as they must remain unfulfilled.

    Mike S: You’re quite right that some form of organization and regulation will be needed. But I would argue that they have as little to do with the “state” as we understand it today as did the tendency in pre-class tribal societies to ask the advice of the oldest person around when making decisions.

    The essence of the State (as we understand it today) is not decision-making, but guns. Coercion with the threat of violence. When there IS a surplus but there is ALSO shortage, then coercion is required to determine who gets the surplus. Under post-scarcity conditions, coercion becomes unnecessary; and I can think we can agree that there could be no Mao or Stalin without violence or the threat of violence.

    As for my belief that the state will vanish as the need for coercion vanishes, we can already see, a thousand times in history (including today if you check some statistics) that the percentage of the national income devoted to coercion (ie, gendarmerie, jails, &c &c) goes up or down depending on how secure the ruling class feels in its control of the State. Even fascistic dictatorships as in Post WWII Greece or Spain eventually relaxed their controls and instituted cheaper forms (ie, more freedoms) as the potential for unrest decreased.

  38. @Mike S.

    “So a bureaucracy with some level of control, or multiple independent bureaucracies each with an independent sphere of control, seems inevitable. I don’t see how we can escape that – and as far as I can tell, that inevitably leads to another Stalin or Mao.”

    If bureaucracy is inevitable, and it inevitably leads to another Stalin, are you saying that we will inevitably have a Stalin here in the USA?

  39. @J Thomas,
    We don’t have a bureaucracy in the US in complete control of the economy. They control aspects of it, but individual corporations and monopolies and cartels control it. I’m not defending capitalism in general, but in this particular case capitalism has an edge because the biggest thing keeping GE’s executives from becoming another Stalin and inner circle is that they don’t control Exxon’s executives or Walmart’s executives, and vice versa in turn.

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