Response to Dr Grant and comments
Don’t we need a bit of dialogue here on the left? Does anyone else feel like we are saying the same thing to the same people in the same way (perhaps never even reading each others words)? I think saying simply that the previous article was ‘stupidity perfected’ is about as constructive as David Cameron’s comments about the riots, that they were ‘criminality pure and simple’.
I think the biggest problem we face in fighting capitalism is that we don’t even know what it is, perhaps in a slightly different way to the idea behind a book like Das Kapital. Not an analysis to show how capitalism works in an economic sense, although this is also crucial. Actually, what I mean to say is that Capitalism with a big C has become an entity in itself, and every Marxist analysis maintains this reification of the system we are fighting. There is a sense of suffocation when we think of Capitalism, in the way that Mark Fisher describes as “capitalist realism” and in the old days might have been talked about in terms of hegemony. The most frustrating part of this hegemony is that when we talk about it in this way, it reinforces exactly that which we are trying to dissolve through analysis. That’s the idea isn’t it? We talk about capitalism in order to remember it is a historical social formation, a relationship between people mediated by the commodity. But this doesn’t seem to help. The minute we leave the critical theory we are lost again.
The problem is that Marxism has become as reified as Capitalism, and the two are no longer in any serious dialogue with each other. The relations of production have left the theory miles behind, and it seems that every post-Marxism or post-structuralism gets it totally wrong. I mean, they haven’t changed anything. The world has changed and intellectuals struggle to keep up. As workers, we change very efficiently along with the changes within production and distribution. And as consumers too. Why is it so easy to adapt to the material conditions of life, yet fail to understand what motivates these changes? If it really is so bad, why do we continue to go along with everything? Conspiracy theories?
What the previous article points out very clearly I think is that there is a difference between change romanticized as an utopian project, always put off towards the future, or to a supposed revolutionary class, and then real material change within this world, within this society. It is around this issue that Marx was original; there already existed socialists and anti-capitalists before Marx. What Marx was saying, and I think in total agreement with Nietzsche, was that the conditions for change are held in potential within the society that actually exists, right now. The problem is that as soon as you try to predict when and where, you lapse into utopianism. The discussion about whether history has proven Marx wrong or not is also part of the same problem, it seems pretty clear to me that globalisation has had a huge effect on the longevity of the capitalist relations of production, and technology has provided some unexpected developments that complicate these relations.
As a myth to replace religion, Marxism did pretty well for a bit in the 20th century. But its efficacy has faded significantly. It really is now a hobby for the intellectual class. Can we change the world with a new myth? Do we have to wait for the economic conditions to force a change? The only candidate for this I can see is the crisis of natural resources, which might perhaps bring about the technological invention of a way to produce free energy. Surely this would bring about massive changes in the relations of production?
Can we change ourselves? What is wrong with individuality? I think about this a lot. Marx talked about capitalism as a necessary stage on the way to socialism. So can we say the same about individualism? Isn’t our attack on individualism itself “reactionary”? It seems to be based on an empty opposition, with the opposite to individualism ultimately derived from some kind tribal or anthropological form of pre-society. Either that or something out of post-structuralism, which to me always ends up very helpful to the destruction of politics and the lubrication of consumerism. What comes first, a change in production or a change in the relations of production? Can we evolve the individual into something different, someone political, social and responsible, yet still creative and free? Who can do this? Us? Someone else? A combination of both? An abstract system of production?
I don’t think we understand what is “reactionary”. I personally see three ideological forces in operation (within British society at least) and only one of them should be called reactionary. This is the conservative element, represented by the Tories, who look back to a feudal system of social organisation. This might be distinctly British, I don’t know, because we never did get rid of the aristocracy.
Therefore I’m not so sure it’s right to call “capitalists” (by which I supppose I mean people who identify with capitalism as a way of life) reactionary. I think Marxism and capitalism, at least in theory (as in the theories of Marxism, liberalism, neo-liberalism, etc) meet, in terms of a “progressiveness” at their most utopian points. Pure capitalism, which may not be possible, sees the future as free from class and poverty. Of course, Marxism says that there is a class structure to capitalism itself which will never allow this utopia to happen, but the point is that this argument is never resolved. They are both progressive in an odd way. Therefore I think its wrong to call the last article reactionary, because it seems to encapsulate the philosophy of capitalism, the philosophy of competition and individuality, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the philosophy of the future and the Übermensch.
You’ll probably tell me I’m talking total shit, and I dare say I am, but this distinction really helped me get a grip on contemporary British society. Before it seemed hopelessly confusing. I suddenly saw the real difference between New Labour and the new Tories (mainly after reading Williams’ Culture and Society), the former being the properly capitalist party and the latter being a reactionary, very confused (distinctly British) party which tries to fuse neo-liberalism and old-fashioned elitism. It’s also been good, in a horrible way, to have such a pure cunt in charge of the country again, someone who is so Tory he is like an action figure. It has politicised us, brought class into focus again.
So I think on the one hand it is quite easy to get a clear picture of the reactionary element in society, especially here in Britain. But perhaps it isn’t so easy to get a clear idea of what capitalism is, or who it is, or what its ideology is. Maybe I’m just too thick. But who wants capitalism? Who is the capitalist subject? I can’t get a grip on this between my full-time job in a super-capitalist global commodity trading company, my lecturing job at university and studying for an MA. Who am I politically? What should I do? Who should I hate? I don’t think I have the energy to be a Marxist anymore…