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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.

________________________________________

*

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

In the Dáil on Thursday (12/02/2015) Joan Burton missed an opportunity to address just how mad the notion that Jobstown is under attack has become. Having missed, help came from an unlikely source, Joe Higgins, but this second opportunity was missed as well.

Under the guise of a parliamentary question Ruth Coppinger characterised inept policing as something akin to state forces trying to put down an insurrection. This is now familiar hyperbole but then she went a step further, taking the fantasy to a new level. She said that no previous member of government – bad as they were – had “called out the dogs”.

Joan and others didn’t get it, complaining that Ruth had referred to Gardaí as dogs. Joe then filled in the gap in their education; Ruth was making a Shakespearean reference. “Read your Shakespeare. Read your Shakespeare”, he admonished. Still Joan didn’t get it.

Let’s see what Ruth and Joe were on about. The dogs to which they alluded are “dogs of war”. The reference is to Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene 1. The quotation usually given is, “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war,” (“Havoc!” was an English military command to soldiers to pillage as they wished.)

Ruth and Joe are well educated. Both are teachers. They know what they are saying. This isn’t some name calling directed at An Garda as Joan seems to think. Indeed Ruth subsequently made it plain that she really was referring to Shakespeare:
“Today I compared the terror campaign unleashed on the working class community of Jobstown to the dogs of war that were unleashed in the play Julius Cesar by William Shakespeare. Perhaps that was too high brow for TDs in the Dáil. Obviously they chose to seize on the word dog as if I was targeting all of the Gardaí as dogs,” – http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/ruth-coppinger-my-dogs-of-war-comment-was-too-highbrow-for-dail-colleagues-30988084.html

This is the fantasy world that Ruth, Joe and others inhabit. They really do think that a campaign of terror has been unleashed (“let slip”) on a Dublin suburb. As Ruth boasts, she may be too high brow for the Dáil but really Joan or someone else in the Dáil should have been able to see what she was on about and call it for the nonsense it is. I’m certain that there are many citizens of Jobstown who get it and are annoyed that their estate features in this bizarre fantasy.

Few may have checked Mark Anthony’s dogs-of-war speech in full. I’d be surprised if Ruth had not. With that in mind it’s worth reading:
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever livèd in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy —
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue —
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men.
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy.
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quartered with the hands of war,
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds,
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
– Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene 1