Thursday, August 30, 2012

Marx's gift to the 1% or What is to be Done?

The February days originally intended an electoral reform by which the circle of the politically privileged among the possessing class itself was to be widened and the exclusive domination of the aristocracy of finance overthrown. When it came to the actual conflict, however – when the people mounted the barricades, the National Guard maintained a passive attitude, the army offered no serious resistance, and the monarchy ran away – the republic appeared to be a matter of course... While the Paris proletariat still reveled in the vision of the wide prospects that had opened before it and indulged in seriously meant discussions of social problems, the old powers of society had grouped themselves, assembled, reflected, and found unexpected support in the mass of the nation, the peasants and petty bourgeois, who all at once stormed onto the political stage after the barriers of the July Monarchy had fallen.
Karl Marx “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon”
In this apparently unremarkable passage, Karl Marx, with his descriptions, illustrates a conceptual step that, in my opinion, freed the Bourgeoisie from restraints and thus permitted the barbarism of the ruling classes that was the twentieth century. What Marx does is convince us that there was a bourgeois revolution and that there will be a proletarian one. The difference between the two types of revolution is decisive, for the first Revolution, that of 1789, is a revolution for universal human equality. The desire to transform the hierarchical world into one consisting of equals inspired the revolutionaries. Marx made it into the bourgeois revolution. The Bourgeoisie, a surprising number of aristocrats, the peasantry, and virtually all of the intellectuals, with the very notable exception of Edmund Burke, supported a revolution for equality, a word whose meaning in this context is completely vague but worth exploring. Be that as it may the word “equality,” bearing no clear meaning, inflamed the common mind with a hope of dignity and opportunity, and gained a strong measure of support from all classes. Marx insists that this was nothing but window dressing, and the revolution but preliminary. The real revolution would be a class war. 
Marx describes, in class terms,  how the revolution of 1848 started out to simply expand and perfect the achievement of universal human equality. Until February, 1848, the bourgeoisie was on the side of the revolution. Marx dramatizes  how everything changed in February, 1848, the fateful moment. The government fell into the hands of the Paris proletariat. They declared the “social republic.” What Marx is saying, in so many words, is that the bourgeoisie, those who owned the means of production, became the enemy of the revolution at that moment. Prior to that event they had been part of it.
A class war replaced the revolution for universal human equality. The comrades of the revolution broke into factions and the nature of the revolution altered decisively. The proletarian revolution involves a betrayal of the revolution for universal human equality, for in class warfare we are not fighting for all humans, but just one class who is seeking victory over another.
Marx's skillful prose leaves us with no doubt who the hero is in this class war-- the working class. It's really quite wonderful how Marx, after declaring dramatic language in politics as nothing but spectacle to cover a boring reality, manages to make the Paris proletariat the hero of a melodramatic story of a prize grasped and lost, but destined in some future to be won again. For Marx holds out hope that next time the revolution will succeed. Here is how he ends the story:
The cult of the Holy Tunic of Trier he [Louis Bonaparte] duplicates in Paris in the cult of the Napoleonic imperial mantle. But when the imperial mantle finally falls on the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue of Napoleon will come crashing down from the top of the Vendôme Column.
In rather colorful language Marx describes here what Louis Napoleon's ascension means in class terms. Louis Napoleon is a member of the lumpen-proletariat, the “flotsam and jetsam of all classes.” As such, when in power, he tries to please everyone. He wants to make France into a gift he gave to the French people. When Napoleon's mantle settles on his shoulders (being that it is the second time, as farce), the first Napoleon's statue will fall from the Vendôme Column, or, in plain language, the proletarian revolution will defeat the bourgeois revolution, that for universal human equality, and the class war shall be won.
It seems unavoidable to conclude that Marx believed Louis Napoleon, without any loyalty to the proletarian revolution, was, nevertheless, its key revolutionary instrument. For it is precisely his achievement of imperium that will cause, or at least herald, the victory of the proletarian revolution. Louis Napoleon's rule is incoherent and farcical because he has no class affiliation. Marx must have thought that this incoherence and farce would doom his rule. Buffoonery in high places would reveal the true contradictions of capitalism. No doubt Marx would be surprised at the American parade of buffoon presidents following one another into the abyss without anyone even able to see their clownishness. But even if one of these clowns were to usher in the new world, that would only get the revolution back where it started in 1848. For the revolution of 1848 failed because the proletariat, after it won power, could not think of what to do.
The revolution of 1848 did not start as a class war, and only became one after February, or perhaps only after Marx described it as such. Class war is, of course, ancient. The Peloponnesian War was, in large part, a class war. The revolution of 1789 can, of course, be seen as a class war, but it was the idea of classlessness, however chimerical, that inflamed the minds of those who manned the barricades and later followed Napoleon. Edmund Burke wrote for the English aristocracy, fearing, with cause, that many of them might be swept away in the giddy flood towards the sea of equality. His arguments, so influential, were against the rights of man, that is, universal human equality, for which he wanted to substitute the “Rights of Englishmen.” He would substitute a passion for patriotism for that for equality. Not a few Aristocrats were sympathetic to the cause of equality, apparently in conflict with their own interests. Burke wrote because he feared this infection within the aristocracy itself. The Bourgeoisie, as Marx himself attests, saw themselves as on the side of the revolution for classless universal equality until 1848.
Marx describes a period of shock the February revolution caused. Everybody just stood as if frozen. Then he describes how various class-based parties gathered themselves together and, farcically falling backwards over one another, all landed in Louis Napoleon's lap to escape the “social republic.” Marx describes all this in terms of classes, but it seems more than likely that these classes, though they had always existed, first understood themselves as having politically different interests at that moment. Since then we take it as a matter of course that, at bottom, all is class war. Marx has convinced us that “equality” was just window dressing, stage play, or simply propaganda to cover class war. Whether tragedy or farce it was window dressing. Equality is an ultimately meaningless word used to fool children. Class war, the underlying truth, is real.
In abandoning the revolution for universal human equality, Marx abandons entirely the justice of his cause. Universal human equality is a noble goal, victory in class warfare is not. Marx attempted to repair this problem with his idea of “the labor theory of value.” The task of “Das Kapital” is to persuade us of the labor theory of value. He argued that the Bourgeoisie only possessed their wealth because they stole it. Thus class war was nothing more than the proletariat revenging an ancient wrong, also noble. This no doubt assuaged consciences among the revolutionaries, but it was self delusion. In a branded world where the Adidas swath added value, the labor theory of value is tendentious. Bottom line: class war meant that the working class wanted to despoil the bourgeoisie.
There can be no doubt that owners, the Bourgeoisie, exploited the working class horribly. The monstrous conditions in the “dark Satanic mills,” and the tales of literal starvation of the English working class were real. There is also no doubt that the working class, with many notable exceptions, allowed this to be done to them. As long as they retained their allegiance to “equality” the bourgeoisie had to be suffering from a bad conscience. Dickens, Blake, and many others raked them over the coals. Byron supported the Luddites in the House of Lords. The remaining aristocracy humiliated them socially to the point that the American founding fathers felt like country bumpkins when they came to Europe. There was not just a little of Madame Bovary, which also comes from this mid-century, in all of them. The grim and boring reality that Marx describes as being hidden by the Roman trappings of the French Revolution is Bourgeois life. What was the point of getting all that money? No matter how much you had, the society of “real” people, the aristocrats, will humiliate you, your employees will hate you, your enterprise will be objectively hellish, and you will be bored out of your gourd.
Marx relieved them of all that. All that was but stage play. What was real, at bottom, was commodities, the means of production, in Marx's terms material, in ours, money. Now of course Marx was by no means the first to think that money was everything. The Greek poet Theognis left a fragment that says just that, but he did not have an audience like the embarrassed Bourgeoisie.
The class war supplied the bourgeoisie with arms against their sea of troubles. All the refinement of the Aristocracy, their “talent for living” and ability to humiliate the poor bourgeois, was but stage play, pomposity, farce. Bottom line: who controlled what was all that mattered. Of course your workers hated you. They were soldiers of an enemy army. It was a dog eat dog world. You killed, confused, terrified, and tortured if you had to. You had a perfect right to squeeze every drop of blood from them and then move to China. War was hell; no wonder your factory was. That was the nature of war. Boredom? Are you kidding? You are at war. You and your kind must always be alert. No telling what that inhuman scum, the 99% might do. War required all your cunning and an exciting cold ruthlessness that sent shivers down your spine. War is war. It's exciting.
Marx also had gifts for the proletariat. They were, after all, the hero of his fable. In the end they were to triumph. But what then? In February, when they did triumph, they had no clue. So they did nothing while forces, not only the bourgeoisie but also the peasantry, gathered against them. This period of cluelessness is at the heart of the book. The tragedy-farce narrative that strips the Revolution of 1789 of its theme of “equality” and transforms it into the bourgeois revolution, leaves the proletarian revolution without a template to follow. Marx insists that the revolutionaries will have to make it up as they go along, taking nothing from the past or, more to the point though he does not say so, from dramatic form. No wonder leftist art is chaotic and abstract, and no wonder the elite calls it decadent. From their perspective it is. The proletariat was clueless in 1848 because they thought to seek a pattern from the past. Now they knew they would have to unleash their own creativity. The proletariat will create entirely new forms of life. The proletariat, as a whole, is an artist.
Thus Marx conceals, with a pat on the back and a glorifying name , the proletariat's big problem—that it doesn't know what it is doing. No need to worry. We'll figure it out later. It is not hard to see how the left has fallen from this “later” to “never.” The absence of a program is not really open for discussion. Proletarian political cluelessness is not that surprising, since it takes some skill and practice to rule. The idea that cluelessness is “theoretically” correct is, it seems to me, odd. But judging from the present parade of buffoons, the Bourgeoisie has simply accepted their rule as that of farce. The world will die neither with a bang nor a whimper, but with a fart.
Marx also gave a gift to the new class of intellectuals the Enlightenment turned out. These intellectuals, most with petits-bourgeois backgrounds, were a class that mushroomed in the nineteenth century. They were poor potential Raskolnikovs and Marx's class war allowed them to employ their new intellectual gifts for political action. Marx gave them a technique for analysis. You brush away everything except class interests. “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral.” History reveals itself in a lowest common denominator, money. Intellectuals plunged into analysis and journalism that exposed the class-war nature of everything under the sun. In other words Marx gave the left Marxists.
Equality” is a word to conjure with. Marx freed the bourgeoisie from its spell. Bourgeois education, with its emphasis on certain classical models, such as fifth century Athens, repeatedly makes the distinction between “the few” and “the many.” Only the “few” actually matter. It is a valid distinction except that having more money makes a person one of the few only in the Marxist climate where money is all. The Bourgeoisie, now Marxists in all but class loyalty, as Marx predicted they would be, could turn their attention to the class war with vigor and a clear conscience. The many don't matter.
Human beings have been horrible to one another from time immemorial, but the idea of “equality” seemed to have put something of a damper on it. For example, the “wrongness” of slavery came from this source. Humanism mitigated man's inhumanity to man. Burke's counter attack made this partial at best, for nationalism conferred humanity only upon the Volk, and specifically excluded others. The class war freed the Bourgeoisie from whatever “humanist” restraint remained, and the horrendous wars of the twentieth century were the result. Europe unleashed its barbarism not only on Africa, but on itself.
The embrace of Enlightenment science combined with the rejection of Enlightenment equality allowed for the twentieth century wars. Class war deflated the bubble of Enlightenment “equality” that had extinguished slavery through moral force, and justified a stream of barbarism-with-a-clear-conscience that knew no boundaries. These are the wars the Bourgeoisie, having control of the unharmed USA, won.
The Proletariat was less fortunate. Although they did have Marxism to rally around they could not entirely free themselves from an enthusiasm for universal human equality. Marx's justification for the class war, the labor theory of value, is unconvincing and relies upon two wrongs making a right. The class war retains pizazz, but it is not an exalted pizazz, and is touched with the criminal. Universal human equality remained the emotional center for the left. For example, it retains the salutation, “comrade,” it lifted from the first French Revolution, an expression, clearly, of equality, not class loyalty.
So the left wavers between announcing a class war and berating the 1% for their inhumanity, a natural result of any war. The idea of inhumanity flows from the idea of a common humanity and that what we thus share should give us all dignity possible only with some vaguely defined equality. In a war, of course, the enemy is frequently dehumanized. Websites such as Counterpunch consist primarily of exposes of elite barbarism and illegality and occasional forays into class analysis. The left's inclination to think about class war but feel the solidarity of universal human equality has paralyzed all action and undercut any attempt to solve the left's real problem, it's lack of a post-revolutionary plan.
The 1% has no doubt that it is working for its own power in a class war, though they always fear that their children might succumb to the siren song of universal human equality. In spite of having been bashed for two centuries now, that passion for universal equality seems again to flame up even as patriotism to the obviously class-based nation state wanes. After a century of capitalist use of nation state resources in imperial bloodbaths that nation states, whose raison d'etre is to be a refuge for a natal people, had no business launching against other peoples, the calls for patriotism, though still heard, are more and more often met with scorn. If governments are supposed to reflect the will of the people it is hard to find a legitimate government in the northern hemisphere. Everyone despises his own leader.
But the passion for universal equality still stirs hearts. Because of this passion for equality the 1% must hypocritically profess their allegiance to “democracy,” a word that suggests equality without actually naming it. They are forced to live as hypocrites. The young rich might not notice that their elders profess human feelings for those outside the isle of the “people of the clouds” with a wink and a nod. The left's successes-- female suffrage, civil rights advances, social security-- are all bows the 1% had to make because they could not openly deny their allegiance to universal human equality. When the passion dies down they try to recoup their losses, for they are fighting a class war. Romney's declaration that he was not interested in the poor produced outrage, though everybody knew it was true beforehand. Gaffs on the campaign trail are often such accidental revelations of true class allegiance. Bush admitted his base was “the haves and have mores.” That Romney got into hot water and Bush didn't, shows how the Bourgeoisie, so confident under Bush, are now shaky, and have to again go on an hypocrisy offensive.
This confuses the elite young. With minds not yet stripped of logic, they are in danger of putting two and two together. But children learn fast and soon distinguish public from private speech. Their parents all lie, except...but just where is the exception? The children first think they learn what to say in public and what in private, but quickly learn that nothing is really private. Since money is everything it is hard to be sure just who might reveal your secrets for money. So they learn to use a code in private that seems to say what they say in public, but actually says the reverse. New-speak fills the elite organs of opinion and leaders must learn an ever denser code. They carry on the class war with a wink and a nod. This effort has so paralyzed thought that the Bourgeois elite are all stupid. Their actions lead towards human extinction to quickly follow on the heals of their victory in the class war, but they cannot see it. Mesmerized by Marx, they are all dialectical materialists, seeing only money.
What might have happened had the revolution remained one for universal human equality? At the very least some clarification of just what such an expression means should have been expected. In my opinion, as I have mentioned, it should have produced an equality of opportunity, an educational program that fostered the development of talent from whatever source. The Bourgeoisie might have been able to live with that, for they needed talent and intelligence to carry forth the industrial revolution. The need for talent forced the liberation of the Jews in the nineteenth century. It would have given their rule a noble purpose.
It is far too late now. The idea of universal human equality has been under attack for too long. The rich will not seriously embrace the sentiment of universal human equality again, though they will continue to claim hypocritically that they do. With their blinkered view they believe the class war has been good to them. The recent extraordinary expropriation of the poor and middle class all but brushed the humanist mask away, and yet they still wear it and gain a surprising amount of credit for doing so. Forced mendacity of the rulers is the system we live within, to paraphrase Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
The only remaining hope is to persuade the rich that they can only harm themselves in their pursuit of the class war. This is certainly true. Their obsession with the class war and the hypocrisy they use to cover their intentions have rendered them incapable of seeing that they will not survive the coming catastrophe no matter how much money they have. They cannot see it because they can no longer think straight. Years of hypocracy carried on even in private has left the American political elites stupid beyond belief. That they could actually contemplate a war with Iran is sufficient proof. A glance at a map should render that idea void.
Were Fukushima #4 to collapse or begin to leak, the radiation released would poison the air of the entire northern hemisphere. Where are the rich without air? Will they live in domes? Where will the food come from. What will the money saved by pretending there is no problem be worth when the very air is deadly? Or again, do they think their bank accounts will save them when the planet is mostly desert? Who will deliver food to those walled enclaves? What will they give of value in return?

How about war with Iran? A war with Iran will become a nuclear war. It takes no student of war to see that the Fifth fleet in Bahrain is trapped. Roughly 150 miles from Iran, it will be subject to intense missile and torpedo attack. Ships have no real defenses against such an attack, and most of them will be sunk. Also, Iran can easily close the Straits of Hormuz. With a mere five mile channel in either direction, the 400-foot-long, unarmed and unarmored tankers that pass through it are easy pickings for a couple of kids in a canoe with a rocket propelled grenade. A couple of tankers sunk in the Strait will render it impassible. It will also cut all supplies to whatever remains of the Fifth fleet and even more importantly cut the food source for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In the food riots sure to follow these governments will be sure to fall and turmoil will reign. Will the United States, devoid of any conventional response, faced with such extraordinary chaos that will leave Iran as the sole power in the area, refrain from using atomic weapons? No, it is already preparing to use them.
The United States is encircling Russia and China with what look to them and to me like preparations for war. The Russians have sent a fleet ofwarships to Syria. They know that if Syria falls Iran might be vulnerable, and if Iran falls the United States and its allies, already preparing for war with them, will be much strengthened, unless, as I think certain, World War III intervenes. Having fumbled in Libya, Russia and China will hold the line in Syria with their ships and troops. A superpower confrontation looms. The class war, the 1%'s raison d'etre, is beginning to look ever more like a death wish.
On top of that, this. Global warming is really beginning to barbecue the planet. Both arctic ice and virtually all the coral reefs are toast. Drought destroys the harvest. Deserts spread. Beatles chew up vast forests. A food crisis looms and can only get worse as the earth heats, drought spreads, and the oceans die. We can address none of this as long as the rich pursue the class war. Class war means imperialism, means struggle for resources, means war with Iran, means war with Syria, means war with Russia, means world wide atomic war, means species extinction.
Only an honorable peace in the class war can save both sides. To continue to pursue this war is certain death for civilization, and in all probability, for the human species itself.
The left must renounce class war themselves. The edge of the cliff is far too close for there to be any hope in building movements, so much more difficult now. The left must address the universal peril that seems to come from all sides, and decide what to do about it, thus also forcing a solution of the left's eternal problem, their lack of a program. What must b done is so extraordinary that only a truly new idea, as Marx predicted, will do. Thus all movements such as “Occupy,” are futile if not counterproductive. Only peace in the class war offers any hope for humankind, and that peace is only be possible if we realize the universal peril.

1 comment:

  1. I was sent to your blog thru a link from Counterpunch. Glad that it happened ... you write very, very well. Try to get more material online; you're far better than most.