5 April 2005
Caliban and the Witch triggered a lot of thoughts in my mind but especially why, in spite of our fundamental understanding of the nature of the capitalist system, it’s proving so difficult to produce a viable and acceptable alternative.
Okay, so a few generations of anti-communist/anti-socialist propaganda has made it very difficult for us to operate but this is only a part of the reason. It doesn’t explain why we have been unable to come up with a workable economic and political model to replace the capitalist system in spite of all the obstacles. We claim, after all, to have the ‘inside dope’ on how the system really functions, so how come we can’t come up with a practical solution to the present insanity?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that over the past fifty years or so, being progressive, instead of being on the cutting edge of thinking and practice, we have been relegated to the status of ‘amateurs’. This has been achieved through the creation of a ‘professional’ intelligentsia who have a virtual monopoly on the ‘truth’. A ‘truth’ moreover, that has been sanctified through the education system and the ideological manipulation of the ‘scientific method’.
This is perhaps best illustrated in the way the media functions in society and how, up until very recently, it occupied a position of unchallenged authority by virtue of being legitimated by the professional sector charged with its functioning and backed up by an army of ‘experts’ who can be called on to speak with the voice of ‘authority’. A voice that not coincidentally speaks the same language as the dominant culture.
One thing is clear as the role of the media has become central to the maintenance of the capitalist system, namely the extremely effective job that the ruling elite has done in entrenching a world view that is firstly, utterly false and secondly, maintaining a gulf between the peoples of the planet, between genders, between races, and especially the majority poor and those of us in the so-called developed world.
But this monopoly is unravelling and losing credibility at a fast rate of knots, not only because of the exposure of the out and out fraud being practiced by the propagandists (with PR firms on both sides of the Atlantic working for the state posing as ‘independent journalists’) but because the reality of life simply doesn’t match up to the image being presented by the media. We have been lied to so many times and in so many different ways that anything the government says now is simply not believed as a matter of course.
And now, with tools with which to effectively challenge the media monopoly it remains for us to move from the defensive to the offensive in challenging the rule of the ‘expert’.
I’ll venture to say that as much as the first industrial system produced the initial wave of resistance to the apparently inexorable march of capital, trade unions, political parties and so forth, as well as producing the first theoretical model for an alternative economic and political system, it also lacked some fundamental components, some of which, in retrospect, it’s obvious now, need to be included if we are to produce a coherent alternative.
It seems to me that we are entering a second phase of resistance to capital only this one is taking place primarily in the domain of values and not only on the material plane. After all, consider the issue of climate change, it’s not just about the climate but about the entire natural world of which we are an intrinsic part. Opposition to genetically modified food is not only predicated on our mistrust of ‘science’ but is also about defending what remains of our planet that hasn’t been trashed by capitalism.
It is, as with the battle we are engaging with the capitalist media, about taking back that which rightfully belongs to us, not to a pitiful gang of state-sponsored ‘professionals’ who claim to speak for us, who by virtue of bits of paper purchased from a university, claim something nobody in their right mind would claim, namely a unique insight into the human condition that precludes their involvement, judgement, interpretation, bias and values. In other words, like the rest of us, members of the human race.
As I think I have already made plain, this same approach needs to be taken with the issue of gender and ‘race’. We need not only to take back our bodies but also our minds. The issues of gender and race have to be viewed not merely as ‘bolt-ons’ to the existing Left orthodoxy but as fundamental components and in doing so, it will transform our vision of a socialist future. Until we achieve this, we are doomed I think, to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
The capitalist system, by contrast, has both organised political and economic classes able to work together in producing a coherent reality for most of us to live in and accept. It has, as Caliban and the Witch demonstrated, divided the sexes, ‘races’ and classes into separate ‘genera’ that have the appearance of living by a different set of ‘values’ and needs.
It’s been able to do this because it has created a theoretical model of the way the world works and turned it into a reality. This has been realised through the active collaboration of the intellectual strata in the formulations of the rationale used to justify the existence of the capitalist system. In other words, the scientists, philosophers, economists, writers, educators, journalists, bureaucrats, historians and so forth, are used to validate in one form or another, the justification for the existence of the capitalist system. This includes all kinds of ‘scientific explanations’ for the way the world works including the entirely false notion that science is neutral and that somehow, it produces an objective view of the way the world works.
But the reality of a world on the edge of catastrophe has undermined the carefully constructed false vision of how and why the world works the way it does. There are many examples of this breakdown the most obvious being the issues of climate change and genetically modified food that no amount of propaganda has been able to counter. The ruling elite tries to neutralise the opposition by much talk about the ‘undermining’ of our trust in science and technology that is resulting in ‘us’ losing ‘our’ competitive advantage and so forth and so on. It talks about opposition to what after all is no more than an artificially created value system, as being ‘Luddite’ and backward-looking.
And of course, it’s not ‘science’ per se that’s at fault but the application of specific kinds of science through their technological expressions, consumer products, economic systems and so forth, that are the problem.
We are on the verge of being able to effectively challenge the hegemony of the intellectual elite’s worldview, ironically (but perhaps not) because the revolution in information technology has made it possible for us to meet them on a ‘common ground’, where the advantages of capital and access to resources are not necessarily an advantage. This has had unforeseen consequences, not the least of which has been a grudging recognition by the establishment media of our right to exist as legitimate sources of news and information. The recognition has of course, been heavily qualified and proscribed but there’s no closing the door once it’s been opened.
The ‘Blog’ explosion is a perfect example of this process. As always, the Blog started as a piece of ‘niche’ technology, designed to extend the functionality and ease of use of managing a Website but in doing so, it enabled and empowered an entire range of writers and political activists of all kinds, to produce an increasingly sophisticated picture of the world as it really is. Or at least a more credible description. As this technology spreads, collectively it is starting to present a complex and coherent picture of the world that is able to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy.
If indeed we are in a battle for ‘hearts and minds’ as the mouthpieces of capital would have us believe, then the battle is already won, for who else can possess either our hearts or our minds but ourselves. So I contest the term ‘hearts and minds’, for to accept it is accept the idea of being possessed by one side or the other. Autonomy of thought as individuals and equally as part of a collective is the starting point for any alternative. It has to be inclusive from the beginning.
So for example, if we look at the value the state really affords to the ‘family’, then it surely thinks it’s essentially valueless even as it makes – essentially for free – an indispensable contribution to the economic life of capitalism. Were the capitalists forced to pay the ‘market’ price for the cost raising a family or even by virtue of being providers of labour, then the cost of maintaining capitalism would prohibitive. It would moreover, force us to question with eyes wide open, virtually all the assumptions we have operated under for literally hundreds of years about the roles of men and women.
Surely we have learned that much from the first socialist experiments, that you have to start out the way you mean go on. There have to be a set a basic requirements over which there can be no compromise and this has to include a complete reappraisal of the nature of gender roles and not merely paying lip service to the idea.
Parallel to this has been the increasing centralisation of media power into a handful of corporations that have a visibly intimate connection to the capitalist state. And whilst one result has been the creation of a unitary world view that in the short-term would appear to benefit the capitalist state, it has actually had the opposite effect, namely to undermine the credibility of the capitalist state’s vision of the way the world works.
This has happened because to some degree at least, the independent media has been able to effectively challenge the false worldview promulgated by the corporate media. But coupled to this has been the state’s loss of credibility and hence legitimacy.
Hence there are two processes at work here that are vital to our understanding of what’s happening and which give us a key as to the direction the progressive movement needs to take. The first concerns the challenge to the corporate media and its increasing lack of credibility that in turn reflects an overall lack of legitimacy.
As the public turns increasingly to the independent media we need to be ready to satisfy what I maintain is a hunger to understand what is going on in a world run by psychopaths. And not merely to expose them for what they are but to explore alternatives and this is where I contend we are failing to live up to our promise and part of the problem is our inability to deal with the ‘subjective’.
The capitalist vision also extends into the ‘subjective’ realm of who we are and what our real needs as social beings are, including ideas about community and identity the most potent being the ‘family’. Yet it is clear that our notions of the ‘family’ far from being inherent or ‘natural’, are in fact the product of a conscious ideological process that saw the family firstly as a means of reproducing labour power and secondly, divided the sexes into two, distinct and unequal groups.
For the past five hundred years the capitalist system has peddled the fiction that the basis of society is the ‘family’ with its clearly defined divisions of labour based upon the idea that men and women live in different universes. But the revolutions in production and patterns of work have undermined the rationale of the stable ‘family unit’, especially as women have become central to the capitalist work process. It should be clear that combining the roles of mother, parent, ‘homemaker’ and worker without men taking on an equal role is placing unacceptable strains on what’s left of the traditional family structure. Single parent families are a direct result of the breakdown of the traditional capitalist order for which it has no solution without challenging its own fundamental ideology, something it is obviously unwilling and incapable of doing.
Yet even as the ideological and philosophical rationale of the capitalist system unravels, rather than projecting an alternative vision of the future, we have suffered not only a failure to produce an alternative but also a failure of ‘nerve’.
Yet we have a unique opportunity to challenge the existing order, firstly through our power to communicate that rivals the capitalist media that is going through its own crisis of confidence.
Second, the same tools we are using to connect the world’s events together are also the tools we can use to explore and develop an alternative. And whilst not wanting to over-emphasise the role of the independent media as a vehicle for social change, what is interesting about the revolution in information technology is that it is increasingly blurring the line between journalism and political action as the traditional notion of ‘news’ breaks down.
This requires us to entirely rethink how we approach the issue of presenting ideas, with the ‘intellectuals’ trapped in one world and the rest of us trapped in another. What the new technologies of communication do is force us to find a common ground where ideas can be debated outside of the traditional constraints of sectarian positions. This is no small issue, as it has dominated left political discourse for more than a century, so much so that for many on the traditional left, it is impossible to see the world in any other way than from a ‘position’.
But circumstances are forcing us, albeit reluctantly, to consider that the time has come for a complete overhaul of our traditional approaches to the on-going crisis of capitalism now that it has entered its truly global phase. Like it or not, solving the problems of one country in isolation no longer work, we are faced with a crisis of global proportions that only action on a global scale can resolve.
The traditional ‘left’ argues that working across national boundaries is impossible, that national interests always dominate but I contend that we have no alternative but to work toward a global solution. The alternative is too awful to contemplate. That it requires some actual thinking about the actual means whereby we achieve this end is an entirely different question and I don’t pretend to have the solution but I think the seeds have already been sown. It’s up to us to find ways of getting the seeds to germinate rather than to resort knee-jerk reactions that ‘it’s too difficult’, there are too many obstacles’ and so on.