Capitalism causes loneliness

And colonialism.

And – to put it bluntly – if that’s what loneliness is, and capitalism and colonialism and related forces have damaged the quality of social life, is it any wonder so many of us feel lonely?

(PS this sounds bleak, and it is bleak – it’s bleak that 15-24 year olds are the loneliest age group in NZ+the UK, according to recent govt stats – but it’s not some coded expression of my own feelings. Just trying to think through why loneliness strikes a chord with so many.)

Capitalism and colonialism particularly afflict 15-24 year olds?

NZ stats here: http://socialreport.msd.govt.nz/social-connectedness/loneliness.html

16.8% of 15-24 year olds felt lonely in last month (only thing that surprises me about that is that the figure isn’t higher).

UK figures (actually on 16-24 year olds) here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2018/loneliest-age-group-radio-4

Nothing on capitalism and colonialism in either of those sets of statistics. From the New Zealand social report:

Ethnic groups reported similar rates of loneliness in 2014. Those in the European/Other group had a reported rate of 13.2 percent, which was similar to the rate for Pacific peoples (13.5 percent). The rates for Māori and those in the Asian ethnic group were 16.6 percent and 16.7 percent respectively.

Not much difference there, and that Māori and Asian loneliness rates are slightly higher doesn’t fit with the colonialism claim.

There is some relationship between loneliness and poorness:

Incomes and wellbeing correlate with age, which isn’t surprising:

Figure SC5.2 – Proportion of population who reported feeling lonely all, most or some of the time during the last four weeks, by sex and age group, 2014

But most peeople who are lonely are only lonely some of the time or a little of the time, and there is no statistics on how that applies across the age ranges, so it’;s hard to read much from it.

Easier to just blame capitalism and colonialism without any corroboration.

“Whiteness”, decolonisation and dumping capitalism

Max Harris writes about Racism and White Defensiveness in Aotearoa: A Pākehā Perspective

More accurately that should be ‘one Pākehā’s perspective’.

I want to talk about an aspect of whiteness in Aotearoa New Zealand. And when I say “whiteness”, I’m not just talking about skin colour. I’m talking about the power, privilege, and patterns of thinking associated with white people.

I think that there are a wide variety of ‘patterns of thinking associated with white people’ – whatever ‘white people’ means.

Whiteness is connected to economic power and class — and is probably least understood by those it privileges. Most white people seem blind to its existence, while most non-white people are not.

Sweeping generalisations. Harris speaks for himself, fair enough, but not for ‘white people’. He doesn’t back up his ‘most white people’ and ‘most non-white people’ claims.

I think for those of us who identify as Pākehā, or grew up in Pākehā-dominant spaces, there’s a special responsibility to strive to be aware of our own advantages in Aotearoa New Zealand.

While I have no problems with the term Pākehā I don’t identify as Pākehā. I identify as a New Zealander. I don’t think I have any special responsibilities based on someone else’s pigeon holing of me.

White advantage is maintained in many ways: through intergenerational wealth, discretionary decision-making, and everyday racism.

Some people may take advantage of racial privileges – and not just ‘white people’.

One aspect of how racism is talked about in Aotearoa is white defensiveness in response to discussions of racism. By white defensiveness, I mean an anxiety, closing-down, and insecurity among white people and white-dominated institutions when racism is raised.

Perhaps some people feel some of those things. I don’t.

I see at least four types of white defensiveness.

First, there’s Denial: kneejerk responses that attempt to deny that there is racism, rather than taking claims seriously or considering its roots.

The second type of white defensiveness is Diversion. This is where, in instances in which facts about racism or colonisation are raised, the conversation is derailed through a claim that Māori themselves are guilty of some other wrong.

A third form of defensiveness is Detriment-centring. That’s where there’s a focus on the disadvantages faced by Māori, but without any acknowledgment of the advantages or protective factors which flow from being Pākehā.

The fourth form of defensiveness is the demand to Move on. This is where defensive demands are made for discussions about racism to end.

Let’s move on this discussion.

This discussion isn’t meant to demonise white people, or Pākehā, either. It’s about being honest and open about our advantages — and thinking about how to dismantle the system that produces them.

Dismantle the system?

Pākehā people can, and should, remain proud of our heritage and roots. But we also need to be aware of the injustices of the past and present, and how we may have contributed to them.

One very valid question is how all this relates to class and New Zealand’s system of capitalism.

Dismantle the system of capitalism?

We need to talk more about class in this country — to speak back to another lamentable and longstanding myth that we are somehow class-free. Fortunately, a new generation of activists in New Zealand is breathing fresh life into that conversation.

I think that class in a new Zealand perspective is a largely different different thing – I wouldn’t call it an issue.

There’s a need to support Māori-led efforts at decolonisation: the process of understanding and undoing the negative effects of colonisation, and recentring indigenous views.

Decolonisation? Harris doesn’t explain what that might entail.

We all must also push for a different economic order, given the way that the twin forces of capitalism and colonisation have amplified the power of whiteness.

He associates capitalism with whiteness – it is not just white people around the world who have benefited substantially from capitalism, and who continue to benefit from it, despite it’s shortcomings.

Harris seems to be suggesting dismantling ‘colonisation’ and capitalism.

Dismantling systems of oppression, including those based on race and class, is important for the powerful as well as the powerless.

While this is an interesting discussion there is a major omission.

Dismantling colonisation, capitalism and systems of oppression are a big deal.

But Harris makes no attempt to explain how this dismantling would happen, who would decide what is dismantled and how, nor what would take their place.

Many things in our world and our country are imperfect, but dismantling your house, or dismantling your country, must be retrograde steps unless you have somewhere else you can live.

It’s all very well to pile on ‘white people’ guilt, and to condemn colonisation and capitalism, but without any attempt at viable alternatives it seems to be a half cocked argument.

Like our form of democracy both colonisation and capitalism have some crap aspects, but they remain worse than everything but all the alternatives – unless perhaps Harris can suggest something better.

Peters and a handsome horse called Neoliberalism

This week’s budget highlights a big contrast between what Winston Peters has said and what he does. Talking the bucking the system bronco talk in opposition, but trotting along with the establishment for a dividend of baubles.

In past years Peters speeches has condemned National, capitalism and ‘neoliberalism’, but this week’s budget has been described as business as usual, National-lite and a continuation of neo-liberalism.

Not that this sort of duplicity will bother Peters – he has a history of talking a big change talk, but is walking a same old walk.

Winston promised radical change but is helping to deliver more of the same old. He campaigns as an anti-establishment politician, but props up the establishment given half a chance.

Peters has a history of cosying up to whoever will give him a share of power. He worked a coalition with National from 1996-1999, and did it again with Labour in 2005-2008. Neither of those Governments wavered from the same old capitalist approach alongside some state assistance. All Governments since the 1980s have been bitterly described as ‘neo-liberal’ by some on the left.

Peters in a speech in 2010:

New Zealand First was born from those who rejected the radical reforms of National and Labour and who wanted a party that represented ordinary New Zealanders – not overseas interests or those of a few ever mighty subjects.

So, after the blitzkrieg neo-liberal policy destruction of Labour between 1984 and 1990 – and National until 1996, New Zealanders decided they wanted change.

In less than two years Jim Bolger was rolled by Jenny Shipley whose mission was to smash the centre-right coalition and to continue the neo-liberal experiment supported by the Business Round Table and any other stragglers they could cobble together.

We saw some of this recently in the economic prescription of a failed politician who simply could not see that pure neo-liberal economics is a pathway to economic servitude for all but a small privileged elite.

Or maybe he does know this – which makes he, and his ilk, even more dangerous.

Dripping with irony. Peters enabled both the Bolger government and the Clark government prior to making that speech.

In 2016 Government a ‘bum with five cheeks’ – Peters

“Unless we get a dramatic economic and social change as a result of our efforts at the next election, we would have failed. That’s our objective. We know that unless we’ve got a dramatic change from this neoliberal failure that every other country seems to understand now but us, then we as a party would have failed.”

There is scant sign of anything like a dramatic economic and social change in the current Government or in the budget, apart from vague assurances it will be ‘transformational’ at some time in the future.

Also from 2016 – Winston Peters: ‘Most Kiwis are struggling’

“Everyone in New Zealand First knows that our duty, our responsibility and our mission statement is to get an economic and social change at the next election. Otherwise we will have all failed. It was a challenge to my caucus members, my party delegates and everybody else.”

He said there was no use in pursuing the major parties’ neo-liberal economic policies, which he described as being like “Pepsi and Coca-Cola”.

Peters provided the froth for both, and continues to do so.

Leading in to the 2017 election campaign: Winston Peters dismisses ‘irresponsible capitalism’ of other parties with new economic policy

Winston Peters is positioning NZ First as the party of difference and says his policy announcements today will steer away from the “irresponsible capitalism” that every other political party is selling.

The neo-liberal policy adopted by New Zealand politicians in the 1980s is a “failed economic experiment”.

“We want to confront what’s going on and set it right,” Peters said.

“I look at Parliament today and the National party, the Labour party and now the Greens are all accepting of that with a little bit of tweaking. That is astonishing, particularly in the case of the Greens – they’ve done it to try and look respectable – it’s totally disrespectable economic policy.”

Peters has enabled a Labour led Government whose first budget is little more than a bit of tweaking, with the Greens getting a  modest modest bit money for tweaking environmental policies.

Once negotiating power with Labour and the Greens Peters was already talking less radically.

October 2017: Winston Peters wants ‘today’s capitalism’ to regain its ‘human face’

“Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong.

“That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible – its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations.”

So he moved from radical change to supporting a tweak to capitalism.

And this weeks budget has been barely a tweak. Guyon Espiner calls it a A ‘triumph of neoliberalism’

It turns out you can’t judge a book by its colour either. Labour’s first Budget in nearly a decade came with a bold red trim, rather than the royal blue Treasury uses to present the documents when National is in power.

But inside this was a blue budget not a red one. It’s a description neither Labour nor National would like bestowed on Budget 2018 but this was a triumph of neoliberalism or at least a continuation of it.

A continuation of neoliberalism enabled by and supported by Peters, with a bit of crony capitalism for him and NZ First.

This looked like National’s tenth Budget rather than Labour’s first.

It is the seventh National/Labour budget that NZ First has played a hand in.

Much more largesse has been lavished on the New Zealand First relationship with $1 billion for foreign aid and diplomats and another $1 billion for the Shane Jones provincial growth fund.

Even Winston Peters’ racing portfolio gets a giddy up. The government will spend nearly $5 million on tax deductions “for the costs of high quality horses acquired with the intention to breed”.

It has to be a handsome horse though. The rules say it will be tax deductible if it is a standout yearling “that commands attention by virtue of its bloodlines, looks and racing potential”.

What next? A handsome horse called Neoliberalism? Peters is probably a bit old to ride it, but he is providing the hay.

NZ First’s colours are black and white, and Peters campaigns with black and white rhetoric, but when he gets the chance to get some power he is a kaleidoscope of collusion, whether it be with National, Labour, capitalists or neoliberalists.

Perhaps like Grant Robertson he has a few transformational tricks up his sleeve, holding them back for next year, or next term.

Or maybe his the same old political charlatan, talking a maverick talk in opposition but given half a chance walking the same old establishment walk.

Karl Marx born 200 years ago

Yesterday here (today still in Europe) is the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birthday.

Karl Marx 001.jpg

Marx in 1875

from Wikipedia:

Born in Trier (in West Germany near Luxembourg) to a middle-class family, Marx studied law and Hegelian philosophy. Due to his political publications, Marx became stateless and lived in exile in London, where he continued to develop his thought in collaboration with German thinker Friedrich Engels and publish his writings.

His best-known titles are the 1848 pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, and the three-volume Das Kapital. His political and philosophical thought had enormous influence on subsequent intellectual, economic and political history and his name has been used as an adjective, a noun and a school of social theory.

Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics—collectively understood as Marxism—hold that human societies develop through class struggle. In capitalism, this manifests itself in the conflict between the ruling classes (known as the bourgeoisie) that control the means of production and the working classes (known as the proletariat) that enable these means by selling their labour power in return for wages.

Marx’s prediction that capitalism would collapse and would be replaced by a new system of socialism has failed to happen so far.

Stuart Jeffries (Guardian): Two centuries on, Karl Marx feels more revolutionary than ever

The other day I stood at the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate cemetery in north London, wondering if he has anything say to us today, 200 years after his birth, on 5 May 1818. “Workers of all lands unite,” reads the tombstone. But they haven’t – the solidarity of the exploited, which Marx took to be necessary to end capitalism, scarcely exists.

“What the bourgeoisie produces, above all, are its own gravediggers,” he and Friedrich Engels wrote 170 years ago in The Communist Manifesto. “Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” Not really: capitalism today is rampant.

In the kind of historical irony that the philosopher Hegel called the cunning of reason, capitalism has even co-opted its gravediggers to keep it alive: China, the world’s biggest socialist society (if only ostensibly) supplies capitalist enterprises with cheap labour that undercuts other workers around the world.

So is Marx finished? Not at all. For me, what makes Marx worth reading now is not his Panglossian prognoses, but his still resonant diagnoses. For instance, he and Engels foresaw how globalisation would work. “In place of the old wants,” they wrote, “satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes.”

That’s why Chinese workers make products we never conceived would exist, let alone that we would covet, and that would convert us into politically quiescent, borderline sociopathic, sleepwalking narcissists. That’s right – I’m talking about iPhones.

I find it hard to read the first few pages of The Communist Manifesto without thinking that I live in the world he and Engels described. “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” We inhabit a world just like that, only more intensely than Marx and Engels dared imagine.

Marx didn’t foresee Facebook, but he grasped the essentials of Mark Zuckerberg’s business model, certainly better than American senators did at last month’s congressional hearings. “The bourgeoisie,” Marx and Engels wrote, beautifully, “has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self- interest, than callous ‘cash payment’. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.”

Facebook, not to mention Amazon and Google, have made humans into exploitable assets. Which is some kind of genius.

Humans are not exploitable assets here at Your NZ, but stuff posted online could be.

But it’s what Marx wrote in Das Kapital in 1867 on commodity fetishism that, I think, is most painfully relevant to us today. By that term he meant how the ordinary things that workers produce – iPads, cars, even the spate of new books commemorating Marx’s 200th birthday – become, under capitalism, bewitchingly strange. Just as in some religions an object invested with supernatural powers becomes a fetish for those who worship it, so commodities under capitalism are accorded magical powers.

Until they become worthless.

In such a world it’s easy to collapse, as many of the Frankfurt School did, into the philosophical quietism that drove Marx nuts. “The philosophers,” he wrote in words also emblazoned on his tombstone, “have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

That remains the challenge. We need Marx to help us understand the state we’re in, though that is only a prelude to the bigger struggle, for which his writings are less helpful: namely, how to get out of it.

Change happens.

But revolutions, or major changes to basic systems and infrastructure of countries and the world, don’t generally happen. We have gradual evolution, with a few tweaks and hiccups here and there.

Do we need major change to or away from capitalism?

If so, can it be made to happen? Each of us can make small changes towards a socialist system, but history has shown that from communist countries and groups of countries to hippy style communes they collapse due to power struggles and freeloaders.

Or do we just chug away waiting for capitalism to collapse and try to make something new out of the mess?

 

Surplus production a flaw of capitalism

Food for thought from this quote, posted by Blazer a couple of days ago.

“We must agree that we need to produce as of our requirement and not for corporate profit. Surplus production does not serve any purpose of human welfare other than creating surplus value for capitalists. We must reduce the eight-hour work-day according to our needs.”

Prem Mathrani is based in Dubai (UAE). He has written more than 50 articles in Sindhi on “Economic Dictatorship and Exploitation in Capitalist Business Organisations”.

There’s little doubt that variations of capitalist systems over the last couple of centuries have driven huge technological innovations and have lifted the standard of living and life expectancy of billions of people.

But the modern application of capitalism has a major flaw – to keep expanding business and making profits when many people have plenty of everything they need, corporations in particular have turned to pushing people through sophisticated marketing to buy and consume more and more of what they don’t need.

This creates two major problems. It puts increasing strains on limited resources, exacerbated by a growing world population and the shift by a bigger proportion of that population into higher standards of living and higher consumption.

And it has resulted in overconsumption that is unhealthy for individuals who succumb to the temptations and the marketing.

Two much food and two much drink are obvious examples. Heart disease and diabetes and other afflictions of the over-imbibing are a growing problem. Tools for a sedentary lifestyle is another example – it is perverse that so many people drive their cars to a gym to try to maintain their fitness. But far more people are encouraged to buy cars, to drive to malls to buy more things they don’t need.

An alarming modern marketing malaise is the advertising of products as healthy that are the opposite. Things like anti-bacterial soaps, wipes, sprays etc have legitimate uses, like in hospitals, but over cleaning homes is unhealthy as well as expensive.

Drug pushers are particularly insidious capitalists supplying a market that destroys lives. Worse, they often actively seek to hook victims in order to replace their imprisoned or dying clientèle. Pushing to many legal drugs to supposedly overcome illnesses are ethically suspect.

Surplus production – producing things we don’t need, straining finite resources, is a problem that is growing with the population.

This is something ‘the market’ won’t fix, because the market is the problem.

Capitalism has helped the human race make a lot of progress, but it has always had it’s flaws. And one of those flaws is in promoting an increasingly urgent problem – over consumption.

This is why some governments, including New Zealand’s, of looking to incorporating more of a social conscience into our capitalist system.

If marketed well modest consumption could become popular, but who would make money out of that?

“…view capitalism not as their friend but as their foe”

One quote from Winston Peters today has already gone around the world.

“Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong.”

That is carefully phrased, but is likely to concern quite a few people. And some markets.

Peters added:

“That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible, its human face.”

I think that’s an important addition. It’s easy to be alarmed at the first quote at a glance, but many will agree with the second.

Doomed to amuse ourselves to death in our post-1984 brave new world

Danyl Mclauchlan writes at The Spinoff about Seeking shelter from the information monsoon.

The whole article is worth reading but ironically: My brain is like a tiny teacup with a firehose gushing into it. The torrent displaces itself. I’ve read everything yet remembered nothing. Still it keeps coming.

But he remembers something written back in 1984.

Apparently George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty Four has become a bestseller for people struggling to make sense of our times. It’s a great book. But all the way back in 1984 the media theorist Neil Postman gave a series of lectures titled Amusing Ourselves to Death in which he argued that Orwell’s book was not the dystopian novel that currently described our society: instead he urged us to read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World:

“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

This feels increasingly true to me.

Huxley’s version sounds far more accurate to me too.

One of the few books I have managed to read recently is The Attention Merchants, by Timothy Wu: it talks about where the sea of information comes from, and why it keeps rising and rising. It’s a history of media and advertising.

Another quote from Amusing Ourselves to Death:

The television commercial has mounted the most serious assault on capitalist ideology since the publication of Das Kapital. To understand why, we must remind ourselves that capitalism, like science and liberal democracy, was an outgrowth of the Enlightenment.

Its principal theorists, even its most prosperous practitioners, believed capitalism to be based on the idea that both buyer and seller are sufficiently mature, well informed and reasonable to engage in transactions of mutual self-interest. If greed was taken to be the fuel of the capitalist engine, the surely rationality was the driver.

The theory states, in part, that competition in the marketplace requires that the buyer not only knows what is good for him but also what is good. If the seller produces nothing of value, as determined by a rational marketplace, then he loses out.

The problem with any social or commercial theory is that in practice things turn out to be non-ideal, and as practices and behaviours evolve they can move further from the theoretical ideal.

So we come to “both buyer and seller are sufficiently mature, well informed and reasonable to engage in transactions of mutual self-interest”.

Commercialism has become corrupted. The sellers have become obsessed with duping people into buying things they don’t need, and in fact may be unhealthy, especially when consumed to excess as the sellers want.

And a significant proportion of buyers seem happy to be duped. It is easier than thinking for themselves.

There are some who see this and campaign against the corruption of commercialism, but their proposed solutions tend to be too extreme and easily dismissed as the naying of nutters.

The allergy industry is an interesting beast. Foods foisted on the population by product pushers has introduced an explosion of genuine allergy problems, but commercial interests have not only catered for this, they are creating business by promoting fear of falling to foul products.

Promoting balance in advertising, balance in diet, balance in technological acquisitions and balance in stuff you don’t really need doesn’t get much attention because the media needs advertisers to survive so are loathe to bite the hands that feed them.

Maybe what we need are the right algorithms for Google and Facebook to manipulate the masses towards healthy lifestyles. But social media giants live off advertising too.

So are we doomed to amuse ourselves to death in our post-1984 brave new world?

What is LeftWin?

It’s a blog that thinks that New Zealand’s Revolution is coming.

Almost everywhere is seems that radical projects are bringing new life into the radical left. Across the world, protest movements have been reborn. Movements like Occupy and other union, community and environmental struggles have brought forth new energy. This has also come together into new political parties and organisations. While each new project faces its own challenges and opportunities and limitations, the diverse political experiments can make New Zealand seem uninspiring in contrast. Could we see a revolutionary shake up in sleepy New Zealand?

New Zealand will have dozed right off if they read right through that post. I’ll skip to the end.

For the left as it exists, the challenge isn’t to have all the answers for how the world will play out, but to grow the strength and confidence of activists today. Building struggle in our unions and movements can create the layers of confident activists that makes this kind of organisational break possible. And for such a project to be possible, we need to build layers of people that first and foremost have the confidence and practical  and political skills of organisation to push at the boundaries of what is possible in capitalist society. 

Leftwin as described by themselves.

In recent years the world has been rocked by dramatic political upheavals such as Occupy and the Arab Spring. We see new left political formations uniting new layers of activists across Europe, and in Latin America social movements have captured governments and embarked on radical political experiments across that continent.

LeftWin is a blog dedicated to fighting for, and winning, these kinds of progressive political changes in New Zealand/Aotearoa.

This blog believes in a movement and a politic driven by popular participation, that actively supports the struggle for Tino Rangatiratanga and that seeks to build an more equal and environmentally sustainable Aotearoa.

Who is the ‘we’ of leftwin? “You can contact LeftWin at ben@unite.org.nz”.

I don’t think modern politics is about one political ideology ‘winning’ and by implication inflicting a loss on others.

Capitalism versus socialism or progressivism or whatever anti-capitalists call themselves these days is a futile argument. We have and will always have a blend of ideologies in practice. The challenge is to get the best possible balance.

Working together to make improvements for as many people as possible seems to me to be a better approach to fighting to win an un-winnable fight. It has to involve compromises, something that’s necessary whenever you get more than one person in a society.

Smashing capitalism and the failure of communism

Danyl several interesting posts at Dim-Post on the failure of communism in practice, and the stupidity of far left calls to ‘smash capitalism’.

Labour day thoughts about Marxism and the radical left

The Standard has one of those ‘Maybe Marx was right‘ posts you see a lot on the left nowadays, linking to a column in the Guardian suggesting the same thing. Reading the Trotsky biography I’ve mentioned on here before has lead me to a lot of secondary reading about Marx and Marxism, and my half-informed take is that Marx was right about some things but very wrong about other, very major things, and his total wrongness on those major things hasn’t yet sunk in for the radical left, which is a source of a lot of their failure and irrelevance.

If you interested in this topic it’s worth reading the whole post and there’s also some good comments. Danyl concluded:

The big lesson there is that a large groups of brilliant people all trying to do the right thing can all be completely wrong, for many decades, and cause incredible suffering and harm, while basically wasting their lives. It seems to me that something similar has happened to left-wing intellectual theory, especially the radical left.

That it’s taken a very wrong turn somewhere, and a lot of very brilliant people have been studying, teaching and writing nonsense, for a long time now and that they’re in a deep state of epistemic closure about this, because no one likes to think they’ve been wrong about almost everything. Especially people who fetishise intelligence, like surgeons, or left-wing intellectuals.

It is very meaningful, I think, that Piketty’s critique of capitalism didn’t come from the radical Marxist tradition. He’s read Marx but he trained as an economist and describes himself as a ‘believer in capitalism, private property and the market’ and he discovered a deep and powerful truth about capitalism that none of the tens of thousands of Marxists and Critical Theorists ever uncovered over the last hundred years.

There’s still a lot of serious work to be done critiquing capitalism and solving its problems, but right now the radical left aren’t doing any of it. At best they’re wasting their time, running around telling everyone ‘The problem is capitalism, sheeple!’, at worst they’re trying to impose their nonsense on mainstream left-wing politics and preventing actual progressive change.

Of course, it’s not only the radical left who want to burn it all down: Trump’s campaign manager is a guy called Steve Bannon who describes himself as a Leninist who wants to destroy society and rebuild from the ashes. There’s also a growing ‘neoreactionary’ movement advocating the abandonment of both capitalism and democracy, and a return to the ‘western tradition’ of monarchical feudalism and ‘traditional gender roles’. Smash modernity, and it’ll all come out in the wash. It worries me that there’s so much of this about.

He followed up with What bought that on? Some of his points:

  • About a year ago, just before the Paris conference I went on the Climate march to Parliament. It was a good crowd. Various speeches were given, and everyone cheered. And then someone (I don’t recall their name) got up and gave a speech explaining that climate change wasn’t the real problem. Capitalism was the real problem. Some people cheered, but lots of people didn’t, and as he went on in that vein, telling us all that we needed to smash capitalism because colonialism and cultural hegemony were the true enemy, people drifted away. ‘I’m not here for that,’ one of my friends – not very political but worried about climate change – said as he headed over the road to the pub.
  • It’s a conviction that’s gained a lot of ground on the left over the last eighteen months, metastasising from climate change to social justice and economic issues. I don’t know why. Corbyn and Sanders? Historical materialism? Whatever the policy problem, getting rid of capitalism is the increasingly popular solution.
  • What actually went wrong in Russia though? Lenin and Trotsky were smart guys. Geniuses, even. They lived and breathed Marxist theory their entire lives. Yet they had no plan of how to run their country after they seized power, and they spent years improvising various doomed solutions while their country starved. War communism. ‘Electrification + socialism = communism!’ State capitalism. Eventually it was back to capitalism on the assumption that they could then progress through capitalism to socialism to communism, just like Marx said. It didn’t work.
  • The left is very prone to intellectual fads and I guess this one too will pass, to be replaced by something hopefully less silly. And less frightening, because ‘Smash capitalism’ really means, ‘Let’s destroy society and see what happens.’ I don’t think the activist left has the slightest chance of actually doing this. But they can scare away non-crazy people who want to join left wing parties and causes to find real solutions to problems, like all the people who walked away from the climate march.

There were a lot of comments on that too.

And then some Further reading

When I wrote my screed about Marxism one of my fears was that Scott Hamilton would show up and tear it to pieces. Happily he has not done this, instead he directed me to this post he wrote a few months ago also critiquing the base-superstructure model.

Giovanni Tiso has written a post about Why he is a Marxist.

I read that and it didn’t come close to convincing me there was much value in Marxism in modern New Zealand.

Someone in the comments linked to this, a post by a US based blogger.

He also wrote an excellent review about Francis Spufford’s novel Red Plenty. I read this a few years ago (and I thought I wrote about it too but cannot find the post).

This really was a key book for me, especially on the issue of capitalism and climate change. It’s axiomatic on a lot of the left that capitalism causes climate change (because of the drive for endless economic growth), and Red Plenty showed that you can get rid of capitalism and have a planned economy and have it work pretty well, actually, thanks, and still have your public and leaders demand continued high economic growth, because that’s a great solution to many political and economic problems, regardless of whether you’re a capitalist economy or not – and then dig up and burn huge amounts of coal and oil to fuel it.

It’s refreshingly unusual to see someone sort of from the left giving such a wide ranging consideration of political theories and realities.

One thing that seems to escape those promoting a revolution – how they expect a utopian socialist society to magically emerge after a smashing of capitalism.

The person surviving may be equal I guess.

Anti-capitalism at it’s lamest?

CapitalismLame

That is one of the lamest depictions of capitalism I’ve seen. It reminds me of lame religious parables.