Posts Tagged ‘the State’

Bakunin on Class Oppression, Poverty and Suicide

December 23, 2018

Mikhail Bakunin was one of the towering figures of 19th century anarchism. A Russian aristocrat, he rebelled against tsarism after becoming a member of literary circle studying Hegelian philosophy, and threw himself passionately behind the worker’s struggle. He took part in many worker’s uprisings, and was captured when one of them, in eastern Germany, was put down. He was then sent back in chains to Russia, where he was goaled and exiled to Siberia. He escaped, took a ship to Japan, from whence he sailed to America. And from America he crossed the Atlantic to England, to call in at the home of his fellow Russian expatriate and anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. Although he is notorious for advocating violent revolution, particularly in a pamphlet he wrote with Nechaev, in some of his other writings he seems to believe that the revolution, which will overthrow capitalism, the state and the bourgeoisie, which will essentially peaceful. In one of his writings from the period 1869-1871 he argues for such a situation, and states that if there is violence, it will only be because the bourgeoisie want there to be.

He was bitterly critical of poverty that capitalism and the class structure of society and the state had created. And some of his descriptions of this poverty, and the despair and misery it caused, are still relevant today under Tweezer and the Tories. I found this passage in Mikhail Bakunin, From Out of the Dustbin, Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, ed. and trans. by Robert M. Cutler (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985):

This wealth, concentrated in an ever smaller number of hands and sloughing off the lower strata of the middle class, the petite bourgeoisie, into the proletariat, is wholly exclusive and becomes more so every day, growing in direct proportion to the increasing poverty of the working masses. Fro9m this it follows that the abyss which already divides the wealthy and privileged minority from the millions of workers whose physical labour supports them, is always widening, and that the wealthier the exploiters of the people’s labour get, the poorer the workers get. Simply juxtapose the extraordinary affluence of the great aristocratic, financial, commercial and industrial world of England to the wretched predicament of the workers of that country. Simply read once more the unpretentious, heartrending letter recently written by an intelligent, honest London goldsmith, Walter Dugan, who voluntarily poisoned himself, his wife, and his six children just to escape the humiliations, the poverty, and the tortures of hunger. You will have to acknowledge that from the material standpoint this vaunted civilization means only oppression and ruination to the people. (p. 112).

Dugan’s killing of himself and his children is truly horrific, and is probably better described as a murder-suicide, the type of crime that unfortunately appears every so often on the news. But as various left-wing bloggers like Stilloaks, Pride’s Purge and Mike over at Vox Political have shown, all too many people have died through misery and starvation due to the Tories’ destruction of the economy and the welfare state. Thousands of disabled people have been thrown off the benefits they need due to the Tories’ and New Labour’s fitness to work tests, and thousands of the unemployed have been left without money due to benefit sanctions. Thousands of people have died in starvation and misery, and some, like Dugan, have committed suicide. We have a quarter of a million people using food banks to save themselves from starvation. Something like 549 homeless people have died this year, including a Hungarian man, Gyula Remes, who died outside the House of Parliament. Mr. Remes had a job, but it didn’t pay enough for him to be able to afford accommodation. Meanwhile, Chris Skidmore, the Tory MP from Kingswood in Bristol, who said that austerity couldn’t be too bad because people weren’t lying dead in the street, has said nothing. Probably because he doesn’t want to remind even more people about his wretched comment, and can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t put him deeper into trouble.

He’s only one of the Tories, who’ve made vile, sneering comments about the truly poor and desperate. I can remember another Tory a few years ago rhetorically asking who the homeless were, and replying that they were the people you stepped over coming out of the opera. And there are many others like him.

You don’t have to be an anarchist to want these people out of office. You just have to want a better Britain for working people, one that will give them proper rights at work, a living wage, a decent welfare system and a renationalized NHS and utilities industries that will safeguard and treat their health, and supply them with water, electricity and transport on the railways at proper prices, rather than exploiting them for the profit of private industry.

Get Tweezer and her profiteers out, and Jeremy Corbyn in!

Media Attacks on Anti-Nuclear Protests: The Same Now as in the ’80s

September 11, 2016

bending-reality-pic

Some things never change. The current attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, with the Blairites doing their level best to engineer expulsions or a split in the Labour party, in many ways are almost like a re-run of the attacks on the Labour party under Michael Foot in the 1980s, and the mass defection of the Labour Right to form the SDP. On Friday I managed to pick up a copy of another book published in the 1980s, which critically examined the media bias against a variety of left-wing issues and causes, in one of the secondhand shops in Cheltenham. This was Bending Reality: The State of the Media, edited by James Curran, Jake Ecclestone, Giles Oakley and Alan Richardson (London: Pluto Press and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom 1986). The has the following chapters in its three sections devoted to ‘Whose Reality?’, ‘The Politics of the Media’ and ‘Campaigning for Press Freedom’. They are

1. Media power and class power;
2. In whose image?
3. Sexual stereotyping in the media?
4. Racism in broadcasting
5. Portraying the peace movement
6. British broadcasting and Ireland
7. Living with the media – A landscape of lies, and Union World
8. The media and the state.
9. The different approaches to media reform
10. Selling the paper? Socialism and cultural diversity
11. Reconstructing broadcasting
12. Pornography annoys.
13. Campaigning against pornography.
14. The new communications revolution.
15. Media freedom and the CPBF
16. The aims of the campaign
17. Right of Reply
18. Freedom of information.
19. Media bias and future policy.
This last chapter is particularly interesting, as it’s by Tony Benn.

I was particular struck by how little difference there is between the today’s attacks on Corbyn and those against the Left in the 1980s by the chapter on the campaign against the peace movement, written by Richard Kebble. Kebble amongst his other points, Kebble points out how scepticism towards nuclear weapons was widespread throughout society, including a sizable chunk of the Tories. It wasn’t confined to Labour, but the media and Tory leadership nevertheless acted as though it were. He also argued that the difference between multilateralism and unilateral disarmament was actually blurred but this was also ignored by the media in its campaign to present a simplified message to the public. The media also presented Michael Foot’s decision to abandon nuclear weapons as a policy that would leave Britain defenceless. He also states very clearly that a quote, used by the Navy as part of its recruiting campaign about the threat of the Russian Navy was a lie.

All this is being repeated with Corbyn stance against Trident. Some of the verbiage used has changed a little, but the overall stance and argument is so close that you could easily believe that the last thirty years have been merely a dream, and that Corbyn and Foot are the same person, despite the difference in appearance and name. Corbyn is being hysterically attacked for not supporting Trident. The Groaniad accused him of not being willing to defend a NATO partner, if it was attacked by Russia – a lie which Mike exposed on his blog. And the media lied to use about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the political establishment now seems to be sabre-rattling once more about a renewed threat from Russia. It’s almost as though the Fall of Communism and the Soviet Empire never happened. We were lied to then. We’re being lied to now. This screams that the mendacity of the British press and media hasn’t changed one bit in the last thirty years.

The Other Reason the Mail Monstered Ralph Milliband

February 15, 2014

Milliband Canada 1978

Ralph Milliband, father of Labour leader Ed, lecturing in Canada in 1978

Last October the Daily Mail ran a vicious article attacking Ralph Milliband, Ed Milliband’s father, for his supposed hatred of Britain. Milliband senior, the Mail claimed, was a hard-line Stalinist, who had Britain’s institutions, and so hated the country itself. The immediate reason for this was his son’s outstanding performance at the Labour party conference, which clearly marked Milliband junior out as a threat that had been to be verbally attacked. Lacking anything else with which to smear him, they concentrated on his father instead.

Left-wing blogs across the country took the opportunity to remind the Daily Mail of its hypocrisy and its own past of supporting Fascist dictators and their imitators, like Oswald Mosely. Pride’s Purge and Another Angry Voice both posted some truly excellent articles on this. The latter’s post on the Mail’s attacks on Milliband, ’12 Things You Should Know about Daily Mail Slurs about Ralph Milliband’, is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/12-things-ralph-miliband-mail-slur.html. It’s well worth reading, as it covers Lord Rothermere’s support for Adolf Hitler, as showing in the photograph below.

Lord-Rothermere-and-Hitler1

Harold Harmsworth, owner of the Daily Mail, and an Austrian politician he much admired.

It also reproduced a photo of the article from one of his other papers, pledging full support to Oswald Moseley’s Fascist Blackshirts.

Mirror Rothermere

Lord Rothermere, the former owner of the Daily Mail, urges his readers to give Fascism a ‘helping hand’.

Pride’s Purge not only covered this, but also how the Daily Mail had serialised the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They also pointed out that while Ralph Milliband was risking life and limb for his adopted country during World War II, the father of Paul Dacre, the current editor of the Mail, was on front-line duty in this country as, er, their showbiz editor. See ‘How Daily Mail’s Editor Paul Dacre’s Father Avoided the Front-line in W W 2’, at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/update-on-daily-mail-editor-paul-dacres-father-avoiding-the-front-line-in-ww2/; ‘While Ralph Milliband was fighting in Germany, Paul Dacre’s father was avoiding the front-line’, at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/while-ralph-miliband-was-fighting-in-normandy-paul-dacres-father-was-avoiding-the-front-line/; and ‘Of course the Daily Mail doesn’t like Ed Milliband. He’s a Jew’ at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/of-course-the-daily-mail-doesnt-like-ed-miliband-hes-a-jew/.

There is perhaps another, further reason why the Daily Mail found Ralph Milliband to be such a desperate threat that even after his death they felt compelled to attack him. Ralph Milliband was indeed a leading Marxist intellectual. More specifically, he analysed the capitalist state to show how it was dominated by and operated to enforce the class interests of its leading, capitalist citizens and officials.

In his seminal work The State in Capitalist Society (1969), Ralph Milliband devoted considerable attention to these questions and demonstrated the predominance in the upper echelons of the State of public school, Oxbridge educated White men from wealthy backgrounds, who retained both formally and informally many links with businessmen-through directorships, shareholdings, social clubs and residential areas-and who shared a common outlook in favour of capitalism and the principles of accumulation for profit and market regulation.

-John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics (London: Verso 1988) 227.

The present government is led and dominated by Eton educated aristos such as Dave Cameron, Nick Clegg, and George Osborne. Now the Marxist conception of the state as the creation of the ruling class is controversial, even within Marxism. It’s classic formulation is by Lenin in his The State and Revolution. Other Marxists have challenged this, and suggested instead that the state is partly autonomous. The existence of the present government and its intensely class-based composition, adds considerable force to Lenin’s and Milliband’s argument. Given this, and the success of Ed Milliband at the time, no wonder Dacre and co felt threatened.

Cameron Pic

Nick Clegg

Osborne Pic

The ‘Two Posh Boys’ (courtesy Nadine Dorries) Cameron and Clegg, with fellow aristo George Osborne, leading a government doing its best to prove Lenin right about the class basis of the State

Randolph Bourne: War is the Health of the State

September 3, 2013

Cameron’s attempt to mobilise parliament to support an attack on Syria last week powerfully reminded me of the observations of the American Anarchist intellectual Randolph Bourne. Bourne (1886-1918) was a literary scholar, writing for the journals The Dial, The Seven Arts and The New Republic. In the chapter ‘War is the Health of State’ in his unfinished book, The State, Bourne described the way the state and the ruling classes use war to advance their social and ideological control, establishing a uniformity of opinion and quelling dissenting minorities. He stated

‘War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate co-operation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties, the minorities are either intimidated into silence, or brought slowly around by a subtle process of persuasion, which may seem to them really to be converting them. Of course, the idea of perfect loyalty, perfect uniformity is never attained. The classes upon whom the amateur work of coercion falls are unwearied in their zeal, but often their agitation, instead of converting, merely serves to stiffen their resistance. Minorities are rendered sullen, and some intellectual opinion bitter and satirical. But in general, the nation in war-time attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values, culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Other values such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them.

War – or at least modern war waged by a democratic republic against a powerful enemy – seems to achieve for a nation almost all that the most inflamed political idealist could desire. Citizens are no longer indifferent to their Government, but each cell of the body politic is brimming with life and activity. We are at least on the way to full realization of that collective community in which each individual somehow contains the virtue of the whole. In a nation at war, every citizen identifies himself with the whole, and feels immensely strengthened in that identification. The purpose and desire of the collective community live in each person who throw himself whole-heartedly into the cause of war. The impeding distinction between society and the individual is almost blotted out. At war, the individual becomes almost identical with his society. He achieves a superb self-assurance, an intuition of the rightness of all his ideas and emotions, so that in the suppression of opponents or heretics he is invincibly strong; he feels behind him all the power of the collective community. The individual as social being in war seems to have achieved almost his apotheosis. Not for any religious impulse could the American nation have been expected to show such devotion en masse, such sacrifice and labour. Certainly not for any secular good, such as universal education or the subjugation of nature, would it have poured forth its treasure and its life, or would it have permitted such stern coercive measures to be taken against it, such as conscripting its money and its men. But for the sake of a war of offensive self-defence, undertaken to support a difficult cause to the slogan of ‘democracy’, it would reach the highest level ever known of collective effort.

For these secular goods, connected with the enhancement of life, the education of man and the use of the intelligence to realize reason and beauty in the nation’s communal living, are alien to our traditional ideal of the State. The State is intimately connected with war, for it is the organization of the collective community when it acts in a political manner, and to act in a political manner towards a rivfal group has meant, through all history – war’.

‘A people at war have become in the most literal sense obedient, respectful, trustful children again, full of that na├»ve faith in the all-wisdom and all-power of the adult who takes care of them, imposes his mild but necessary rule upon them and in whom they lose their responsibility and anxieties. In this recrudescence of the child, there is great comfort, and a certain influx of power. On most people the strain of being an independent adult weighs heavily, and upon none more than those members of the significant classes who have had bequeathed to them or have assumed the responsibilities of governing. The State provides the most convenient of symbols under which these classes can retain all the actual pragmatic satisfaction of governing, but can rid themselves of the psychic burden of adulthood. They continue to direct industry and government and all the institutions of society pretty much as before, but in their own conscious eyes and in the eyes of the general public, they are turned from their selfish and predatory ways, and have become loyal servants of society, or something greater than they – the State. The man who moves from the direction of a large business in New York to a post in the war management industrial service in Washington does not apparently alter very much his power or his administrative technique. But psychically, what a transformation has occurred! His is now not only the power but the glory! And his sense of satisfaction is directly proportional not to the genuine amount of personal sacrifice that may be involved in the change but to the extent to which he retains his industrial prerogative and sense of command.

From members of this class a certain insuperable indignation arises if the change from private enterprise to State service involves any real loss of power and personal privilege. If there is to be pragmatic sacrifice, let it be, they feel, on the field of honour, in the traditionally acclaimed deaths by battle, in that detour of suicide, as Nietzsche calls war. The State in wartime supplies satisfaction for this very craving, but its chief value is the opportunity it gives for this regression to infantile attitudes. In your reaction to an imagined attack in your country or an insult to its government, you draw closer to the herd for protection, you conform in word and deed, and you insist vehemently that everybody shall think, speak, and act together. ~And you fix your adoring gaze upon the State, with a truly filial look, as upon the Father of the flock, the quasi-personal symbol of the strength of the herd, and the leader and determinant of your definite action and ideas’.

Randolph Bourne, ‘War is the Health of the State’, in George Woodcock, ed., The Anarchist Reader (Fontana Press 1977) 98-102.