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We were discussing the YouTube material posted by activists opposed to water charges. I opened my laptop to show some videos in support of a point that I was making. Having viewed a number of these videos, my companion said something which made me sit up and pay attention:

Karl Marx must have been out of his mind.”

What?”

He pointed at the screen, “Marx must have been out of his mind if he imagined that lot would change the world.”

What do you mean?”

Would you look at them and their antics, the working class. Either he was mad or taking the piss.”

It looked bad for Marx, the crude abuse, the chanting, the provocation, the ridiculous attempts to feign injury.

He wasn’t talking about them”, I heard myself say fractionally before I realised that in this company a cogent response would be expected rather than a glib and hazy denial.

Ok here goes. It’s about “teleology”, an interesting word and a fascinating concept in history and for politics. The Greek “telos” translates as “end” and in teleology we have the idea that human history is progressing towards some ideal or developed end. Thus a person – a king, a general or the likes – or a group taking action can be seen as doing history’s work, pushing society towards its purpose. The important figure in this way of thinking is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and Karl Marx was his student.

Now when Marx writes that all history of hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle, it follows that some class must be doing history’s work by being progressive and others not. In an industrial capitalist society he saw an historic role for the working class: to secure comfort in food, drink, shelter and clothing before moving on to pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc. (This is more Engels than Marx but never mind.)

It is more common today to talk in terms of belonging to a socio-economic grouping defined by reference to a person’s occupation or that of a parent/guardian. These are the categories (11 in all, according to the Irish Central Statistics Office) familiarly used by pollsters and denoted A to J inclusive plus Z.* Unfortunately for the plausibility of left argument the lettered labels are often abandoned and one or a group of these categories is described as working class. This leaves “working class” open for anyone to define not in terms of historic purpose but in terms of categories devised for statistical research.

Once “working class” has been detached from its Marxist significance, anything goes. Any group can be said to be working class and any demand expressed by members of that group can be regarded as progressive.

It becomes worse when aggression or an aggressive pose strikes a nostalgic chord, a reminder of abandoned revolutionary ambitions. The scene is now set for socialists to praise and support reactionaries who should be resisted, to ignore the views of citizens who proudly consider themselves working class by reference to their culture and values, and who are likely appalled by the demeanour of some activists seen as crude, foul-mouthed, overly aggressive, intolerant and inane.

So, no, Karl Marx wasn’t out of his mind. For him and for those of us privileged to have been reared working class it means a lot.

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*

A – Employers & Managers

B – Higher Professional

C – Lower Professional

D – Non Manual

E – Manual Skilled

F – Semi-skilled Manual Workers

G – Unskilled Manual Workers

H – Own Account Workers

I – Farmers

J – Agricultural workers

Z – All other gainfully occupied

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Journalists have become far too prone to cooperation in the development of  Orwellian Newspeak. An example is the use of “political class” in public discourse about Ireland’s economic crisis. Firstly, talk of a “political class” is an evasion of a responsibility to take sides. It is support for an old, old FF stance: “Sure, we’re all rogues and you may as well vote for us because we’re affable rogues.”  This is dangerous nonsense and SF etc. are clearly aware of its possibilities.

Secondly, to place blame exclusively on any group of politicians – even FF – is to suppress what really happened in Ireland and make the necessary degree of reform less likely. A very real danger is that far too few people will fall in the process of change. Look at it this way: What if most of the prominent FF TDs lose their seats and a banker or two goes to jail, and the Irish rest happy that sacrifice had been offered? Well, then the army of fools and rogues who created and contributed to this mess could hold on to their positions and inflict their stupidity on Ireland in the future. I am not saying this as a socialist advancing an alternative. I am saying that as liberal/capitalist policy goes the FF creation of a construction bubble was foolishness on a hitherto unimaginable scale, BUT they were far from alone in its creation.

Ireland is suffering the consequences of a global problem but is also suffering the consequences of a carefully considered, willfully created boom based on building. The problems have been plain for years. Anyone with an eye in their head could see the rash of houses in under-populated areas, the crazy number of furniture stores along major roads, the glut of hotels and the competition to buy “development” sites at virtually any price. Only a complete fool could have failed to see that this was unsustainable madness. Now, over those years it was possible for people with different degrees of public profile, power, influence etc. to speak out. (No, to scream out and repeatedly!) Why would those in such positions stay quiet? Well, if they didn’t see the problem, they’re too stupid for any position of responsibility; and if they did see it and remained silent – say, for a quiet life or career reasons – they lack the integrity necessary for any position of responsibility.

There should be a clear out well beyond the fall of a few FF politicians and the sacrificial jailing of a banker or two. I’m not talking about ordinary people who behaved foolishly and invested their savings in property and other scams, or bought houses at prices they could ill-afford. I’m talking about those who are PAID TO THINK. Let’s take the management of banks for example. It’s not unreasonable to demand that banks be run by people of moderate intelligence and integrity. We certainly should not tolerate anyone – from branch manager and upwards – who did not speak out. “Sensible people in the banking and finance industry must have felt intimidated by the tide of nonsense in support of the clearly unsustainable; they must have had to weigh good conduct against career prospects.” Oh, here’s the complete blog entry (it’s short, I promise): https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/appointments-in-irish-banking-and-finance/

Let’s take journalists and broadcasters as another example. I recall the constant urging of young people towards ruin (to “get on the property ladder” as soon as possible) and the urging of ordinary people to try to acquire a property “portfolio” because it was a “no-brainer”. No, I’m not referring to the property supplements.

Similarly, it’s not unreasonable to demand that other categories be people of moderate intelligence and integrity. Make a list starting with senior civil servants, teachers, commentators, senior managers . . .

It’s possible to salvage a test from this Irish-made fiasco. Prominent people were tested for ability and integrity. Those who failed should leave the stage and live quietly in modest comfort – and have the decency to remain silent.