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Why I am a Marxist? (sic)

January 18, 2012

Who cares? That’s a fair response. I recommend if you feel this way to continue reading, purely for the pleasure of dismissing my point of view outright. I imagine this to be a daily hobby for most self-styled Marxists on the Internet. If you do happen to be a bit more open-minded, perhaps you would to join me in a bit of self-indulgence, a bit of auto-critique. We in the new reactionary division are hoping this may be the final offense to the dogmatic leftism of our colleagues, that we may be culled and put out of our theory-diarrhea-misery. We want to go back to work, live the simple life, buy a 40″ TV, watch Breaking Bad, get pissed, go to Magaluf, etc.

I think perhaps the most fundamental reason, or maybe what initially drew me to Marxism, was that I was not satisfied with the world. Avoiding questions about what the world is….growing up, in what I saw and experienced, it just didn’t seem to be good enough. So I’m talking about the pain, suffering, loneliness, boredom, whatever. All the staple existentialist teenage angst stuff. But also deeper than this. The social stuff. Why are we so lonely? Why is there suffering? And why are we so bored? Once I got past the teenage angst bit (I think probably when I got my first job that I actually needed to keep because I had bills to pay) I started thinking about society. What is society? How does it impinge on what I thought was my lonely and radically free existence? Well, quite a lot actually.

I hate work. I realised this very early on, and this doesn’t mean I hate any specific kind of work, because I’ve had some shitty jobs that I’ve actually quite enjoyed. Like being a A/V Technician in an FE College. This was back in the glory days when you could swear at students, get pissed with colleagues (and students) at lunch-time and go back to work and sleep it off. Then I worked as a park attendant, which involved sitting in a hut all day reading books and drinking coffee, occasionally acknowledging a member of the public. Winter was the best, huddled next to a radiator, reading A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, not seeing a soul for the whole 9 hours. Of course, this was the era of New Labour, when nothing was true, everything was permitted. Work was sweet, but I still hated it.

I hate the very essence of work, the global acceptance that it’s fine that we all have to do something we don’t really want to do in order to live. I have come to realise that the things that make work tolerable have nothing to with work.

I would say I was a Marxist before I even knew much about it. I had read The Communist Manifesto, but I didn’t really understand the points it made. But the essence of the hatred of capitalism was already inside me. I still hate work. Even teaching, which I love to do, the careerism, the requirement of kissing ass and being shamefully exploited for years and years before someone gives you a real (i.e. contracted, or full-time) teaching job. One of my colleagues has been an hourly paid lecturer for about ten years now, teaching pretty much a full week. Yeah, the pay is alright in the winter, but what happens in those 4/5 months in between the shrinking term times? I know….who cares about lecturers, at least the job is interesting and you get some “respect”. But I even hate this job. i hate the essence of the job, the thought of getting stuck in an ever-tightening system of control and bureaucracy. The sacrifice you make in teaching is your soul for a secure job. It makes me want to get out while I still can.

Nowadays, with the help of some badly applied Marxist theory, I can understand and sometimes explain to other people why I hate work. We are always fundamentally alienated from our labour in a capitalist society. Easier to say when you work on a production line, but with enough imagination this can be stretched to cover most wage-work. With the marketization of education and public services, it becomes even easier (and these sectors will be the most exploited of all, because it will take us much longer to give up the fantasy of teaching for teaching’s sake. We will be exploited and furthermore happily exploit ourselves: presenting management with an irresistible crusty topping like you get on posh clotted cream). Work is always for someone else’s benefit, And we always delay living until later, when we have achieved some balance between exploitation and financial renumeration: Is it £30k? £40k? (More?!)

This is my current “bug bear” (I looked at a room in a shared house and this guy couldn’t stop saying this, it’s a horrible idiom). How sad is it that we waste an entire life in order to get somewhere later? To eventually do a job that we like. Or to earn enough money for the lifestyle we want to lead, or for family security, or for a later life of leisure. Is that really the best use of this incredible gift of life that us human beings have? We have achieved some kind of intelligence and creativity and we use it in this way. For fuck’s sake, this makes me want to scream. What passion is there in this way of living?

It reminds me of a thought experiment I read about during my philosophy degree. Mill’s Utilitarianism: the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. Great. Brilliant idea. But what if you could choose between living forever as a turtle (or some creature, I can’t remember what it is), which would have a moderate level of pleasure forever, no anxiety, no boredom, or living the life of some creative genius, say Mozart, or Einstein? Would you choose the turtle? Or would you take the risk, live the intense highs and lows of an exceptional human, creative existence? This thought experiment is supposed to show how Mill’s quantitative measure of happiness doesn’t take into account the qualitative dimension of experience. Isn’t there something qualitatively different about the kind happiness you achieve by living life to the full, taking risks, experiencing suffering and disappointment? To me the choice is a no brainer, I don’t want to work all my life in the hope that there’ll be something at the end. (Doesn’t this sound like Christianity to you? Hasn’t capitalism  just inherited the Christian work ethic, the absurd conclusion that everything depends on an afterlife and that this life is ultimately irrelevant? Fuck that!)

Don’t get me started on money. I’ve just this morning been talking to a colleague about his going out for an expensive meal in a posh restaurant. Yeah, ‘the food is amazing, it’s worth it – would you rather spend that 100 quid on a food experience or a massive piss up?’ (well, actually the latter!). ‘But it’s such a waste of money’, I argue, it’s not what the money is spent on, it’s the expenditure itself which I find depressing.

When I go out for an expensive dinner, I feel like the pure waste of it all is just continuously slapping me in the face. It’s over so quick, and then it turns to shit. ‘But you are enjoying the hard work that you did that week…’ I don’t know, I can’t do the counter-argument justice, sorry. But I can see a direct relationship between the amount of labour I have sacrificed and the speed at which it literally ends up in the toilet. The process is the same for everything we spend money on, even living expenses. The house, the bills, the food. Yeah, all essential, but they are only commodities in a capitalist economy. Private property: this means a reliance on wage labour to live. Someone owns the means of production, someone else (or maybe the same person!) owns the means of subsistence and allows you to rent/buy it off them.

I hate spending money pretty much in equal measure to working, it’s the same cycle of nonsense. Work to live, live to work. Spend to make up for the utter boredom of living, all social relations mediated by the commodity. Buy stuff to justify working, work to be able to buy stuff. Fucking hell! Work less, spend less! I’d rather work less and live on poached eggs and toast. (But then there’s a reason why it’s impossible to get decent part-time job).

Anyway, maybe I’m trying attempting retrieve some kind of pre-theoretical space that isn’t yet Marxist, to try and remember what for me at least is its essence. Because when you get into theory, you lose yourself and the reasons why you need it. Call me a bourgeois existentialist (no  please do, I enjoy it). The bet I think we make when we become Marxists is that all of this shit that we see and experience in life is somehow traceable back to something we all call “capitalism”. This is the fundamental framework which justifies and sustains all this shit, and we all for some reason sign up to it without question.

We wager that there is a system and a logic to this nonsense and that this logic is historical. This should make us feel better: it wasn’t always like this, it won’t always be like this in the future. Also, agreeing on a hatred and critique of capitalism should bring us together (if we can stop being so dogmatic and arrogant); like in the Bible, slowly moving away from Judaism and Roman society, an ever growing army of the disillusioned and angry.

But can we be so sure about Marxism? Shouldn’t we always attack it and think it through? What if “capitalism” is like a self-fulfilling conspiracy theory? What if we who hate capitalism are in the minority, and actually represent an idealist elite, about to be left behind by history? Maybe capitalism suits the reality of the human condition, and this is the end. Or maybe overcoming capitalism is a matter of individual responsibility, that evolution will occur within the individual unit and the next epoch of society will be something totally unexpected.

GR

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2012 10:32 pm

    My sentiments exactly, apart from the bit about being a Marxist. Everything you said is valid without making reference to Marx. Speak of Marxism by all means, but identifying with it, or with anything for that matter is unnecessary. IMHO.
    You might like my web site…

    • zoot man permalink
      January 20, 2012 4:10 pm

      I’m with you, matslats, on this one

  2. paul permalink
    January 19, 2012 12:16 am

    buy a 40″ TV, watch Breaking Bad, get pissed, go to Magaluf, etc.? Sounds like your hatred of exploitation is matched only by your contempt for the working class. Which seems unfortunate, for a Marxist.

  3. drownedandsaved permalink
    January 20, 2012 12:01 am

    Really good piece. Paul misses the point and reads as far as he can in order to make a dismissive judgement, about four sentences in. This kind of reading in itself invalidates the basis of his argument.

    But it leads to a bad suspicion you have GR. There isn’t that much simple about average consumerism. Holidays and TV are often stressful but necessary purchases bought on credit, bought out of necessity. If you have at least one dependent, being able to afford rent and food plus bits is very difficult. Simple does not cut it. There’s also a tendency to dismiss any alternative lifestyle as the easy way out: full-time students and full-time workers are often equally guilty of this. There’s a risk here of conflating hatred of capitalism and consumerism with hatred of everyday life and ordinary leisure, something certain puritanical leftiess do fall into. Watching tv and drinking are actually quite relaxing and enjoyable.

    But GR, I think most people are angry with social conditions. Very few people just want the holiday to Magaluf (tbh the average package holiday would be Tenerife, Bodrum), they actually want a break from boring, stressful and underpaid work. Being anti-capitalist isn’t elitist, it’s probably fairly ordinary, but describing social and economic forces in a rarefied language that most people don’t understand will generate suspicion and disinterest. Fair enough. Just cos I don’t understand what fans of American football talk about, doesn’t mean American football itself is at fault. The failure rather is converting mass anger into a meaningful language of revolt. That’s why critical theory itself has been in some ways a dead-end. No theory can trigger mass revolt. That’s where strategy comes in.

    I’m not a fan of work either. I spend around 60 hours a week doing it, and time spent travelling to and from means it directs most of my life, from sleeping to waking, eating to when I see people. A lot of the time, I hate it, but it’s interesting enough to keep me doing it. Work’s a political issue, one that’s necessary (We can’t not work) but one that needs redefining – so full employment at 25 hours a week on average would result in a greater equality, but a problem of what to do with adults socialised only to work very hard….

    Marx underlined an account of human history shaped by social conflict between economic forces. Your account never really abandons this. Instead, you doubt whether your theoretical ideas are relevant to ordinary experience. I’d say they are, but theory needs to be shed in favour of clear argument that attacks financial capitalism as the basis of a society. Perhaps you can solve the problem of why you are a Marxist by abandoning the -ist, and talking about the world just in terms of social facts. Then you’ll find that the anger’s not so unusual after all. Question is, how to harness it.

  4. flashbank permalink*
    January 21, 2012 2:15 pm

    I would just like to defend the use of irony in this piece: i don’t think it is at all clear that I showed any contempt for the working class or the activity of watching Breaking Bad, etc. The first paragraph could be equally read as showing contempt for theory and academia, that I would genuinely like to stop writing and return to relaxation, but the dogmatism of the left compels me to return again and again to critique. Why do you assume I am not myself working class? Just because I write about theory? I think these comments actually show us more about your own insecurities and prejudices; this is the beauty of irony.

    GR

  5. February 4, 2012 8:37 pm

    you need abloody good kicking back to reality m8. Get a real job n play rugaby

    • flashbank permalink*
      February 4, 2012 8:51 pm

      Your typing skills, amongst other things, suggest you might have had one kicking too many, mate.

  6. Smurf permalink
    February 7, 2012 8:17 am

    Can you be a Marxist by yourself? From what you have been discussing it is the alienating effect that work has on everyday life. The last paragraph is a bit bourgeois masturbation with the climax… seriously, over come capitalism, understanding the nature of you exploitation is one thing but this will not liberate you from it and calling it an idealist elite, ha, what about Libertarians, Conservatives, Anarchists, Greens, Christians, Muslims, etc who all think that their ideology is one that will resolve the problems of capitalism.

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