221, Topic 10: Materialism And Political Professionalism, Or F*ck Marx And Lenin

I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Communist Party. Sure I’ve called myself a communist (small ‘c’) in the past. People still call me one now. I’m a member of the MANA Movement. But if I am a communist, I’m the type with an ‘Infantile Disorder‘ (joke’s on you Lenin, you bolshie fascist!). To the – I’m going to say six? – people who have visited my blog before, and I’m sure who now check daily for more of my highly incisive and coherent prose, you doubtless would have read some penetrating contemporary Marxist analysis in my last two blogs. You know; there’s only one social divide, the material. All others are illusory. Exploitation of these illusory divisions fragments the exploited class and only serves the bourgeoisie. Historical laws, cause and effect, combined development, etc, etc. It’s a bad habit, but one that’s very easy to fall back into. I’m really not a Marxist though. Honest.

I’ve never been able to square the materialist Marxist ontology with the strong moral claims that are necessary to justify it’s revolutionary ideological goals (you know – “The goal of philosophers has only been to interpret the world. The point is to change it,”). In a materialist universe it’s completely arbitrary to value one type of random chemical reaction in the brain, reacting uncontrollably to external stimuli over another type of random chemical reaction in the brain, reacting uncontrollably to external stimuli and call one of these good, or just. No, the correct materialist response to this is to acknowledge this arbitrariness – deduce that that translates into meaninglessness, and become a proper übermensch and untermensch nihilist. But to then turn around and label one set of chemical reactions and causally inescapable events as so desirable as to be bothered doing anything about (let alone to revolt)? These are strong moral claims, and such an ontology doesn’t easily translate into a moralistic worldview, and certainly not an egalitarian political ideology.

No, and that’s why I’m going to turn around and perform one of the beautiful seemingly self-contradictory acts that only the dualist-ly existing human person can do, in virtue of the freedom our metaphysical minds endow us with, to escape the inescapably rigorous natural and historical laws, to embrace meaningfully a naturally unallowable self-contradiction (existentialist, I know), and, without redacting my previous posts about how political failure to acknowledge materialism is why everything’s fucked the revolution’s somewhat off-course, strongly assert how our political parties’ embrace of materialism’s the reason our political system’s fucked up. Now, A.) How was that sentence (where, reader, would you put the full stop)? And B.) Have you ever seen a more beautifully executed flip-flop?

You see, at their hearts capitalism and Marxism share the same  ontology. Both are materialist. Sure, Locke used the Bible as justification in his Two Treatises, but Locke was an empiricist. And while he may have been too timid, too unsophisticated (or had too strong a sense of self-preservation), to draw the logical connection between naturalistic empiricism, and the materialism it demands, the liberal, capitalist theorists who succeeded him did not. In accepting a materialist account of existence, an objective or absolutist account of morality (in a Platonic, idealistic, or Kantian sense) is ruled out. This leaves the materialist reliant on some sort of relativism on which to base his moral claims. From here it is a slide into oblivion. Relativism begets Consequentialism, which begets Utilitarianism, which begets reductionist Logical Positivism, which leaves the materialist with an inability to say anything is valid or invalid. It dies (collapses), leaving nought but the empty abyss of Nihilism. And this plays straight into the capitalists’ hands.

Capitalists are much better at nihilism than Marxists. Sure, they dress it up in moral and philosophical language, ‘enlightened, rational self-interest’, ‘freedom of choice’, ‘property rights’, ‘utility’, ‘the social contract’, even the beautifully machiavellian designation of finished economic objects as ‘goods’. These are just window-dressings for what really is the underlying moral code (or lack thereof) of capitalism. The nihilistic, every-man-for-himself, dehumanising law of the jungle. The abyss. Not much to be taken from there in the way of communal, enlightening collectivism. So two things can be drawn from this – A.) How does the Marxist expect to enduringly replace an unjust socio-political system that he shares all the same philosophical presumptions with and expect something different? And B:) Political party professionalism.

Marxism started off with incredibly noble goals. The enlightenment of the oppressed masses. The scientific illumination of reality, and the expansion of the empiricist project to all of society. With the exception of religion, it was perhaps the first coherent mass philosophy – intended to be understood, accepted, and promoted, by the real masses (the peasantry, the proletariat, not the liberal, mercantile middle-classes of the French Revolution, and the American War of Independence). And as such, it created the first real mass political parties – real vehicles, for the real democratic involvement of the real masses in actual, real political power.

The Bolsheviks started out educating peasants in the countryside, teaching them to read and write, to think for themselves [Hamish Macdonald, Russia And The USSR: Empire Of Revolution, Pearson, 2001, p11]. However, follow the thread of nihilist reasoning a little, as Lenin did, you get the anti-democratic, personal centralisation of control – Democratic Centralism, the Vanguard Party – perhaps the first modern instance of party political professionalism, and perhaps the first instances of modern political branding and spin through the careful, Orwellian control of messages and language. This nihilist basis made impossible any of the honourable goals that mass political organisation set out to achieve. Its ability to corrupt to the point of absurdity is inescapable (pp 84-85).

Mass political parties which initially set out to better and enlighten the people now do just the opposite, controlling messages, spinning, and manipulating, enflaming fractious material interests with offerings of crumbs, in order to blindfold the people from the fact that they’ve got the loaf, and muddy the waking up of society to fundamental moral truths. And since the institution of the mass political party, whether it is left-wing or right-wing, is Marxist in its very conception, all political parties will succumb to the logical conclusions born from the materialist nihilism on which it is based. Labour does it. National does it. The Greens are there. Political party professionalism represents the realisation of material-nihilistic self-interest in politics. That material fruits are the only ones to be achieved by political organisation, and the necessary abandonment of the realisation of a moral and just society that that necessitates.

Fundamentalism gets a bad rap in society, but it is precisely the lack of recognition for the fundamental and eternal moral precepts by materialist ideologies like capitalism and Marxism that necessitates relativistic pragmatism, and from there the inescapable descent into the abyss.


221, Topic 6: MMP?

As established previously, I am a political junkie. I follow the politics of many countries, and I make my mind up quickly about who I would vote for. Ireland? Sinn Fein. The U.K.? Respect if I could. Australia? The DLP. Norway? The Red Party. Uruguay? The CDP. And so, this last week has been a particularly sad one for the left in the UK. It has lost two giant figures on the genuine left (I’m talking real Socialists, not Blairites here) Bob Crow, the radical union leader, and Tony Benn, long the voice of the socialist left in Labour. Obituaries have been written. On the right these obituaries haven’t just been for two prominent men, but also for the British left. On the left, there has of course been mourning for the deaths of these two giants, but also assessment of where these deaths have left their movement.

I’ve always been a supporter of proportional representation, and have thought MMP provides the right balance (I voted for it in 2011), and with a bit of tweaking (removing the threshold, and expanding the size of Parliament to about 170 to increase proportionality), I’ve thought it could be more or less the perfect electoral system. But the deaths of these two men made me think just a little. As Owen Jones mentions in his article (hyperlinked above), Crow was a supporter of building a new workers’ party, as he saw that Labour had failed the working-class rather spectacularly, especially during Blair’s government, but Benn remained a lifelong supporter of the socialist left in the Labour Party. Yes, read that again, the socialist left in the Labour Party. 20-odd years after the removal of Clause 4 there is still a substantial caucus in the UK Labour Party, the party that for 13 years ruled more or less like Clark’s government or any other prominent ‘centre-left’ party in the West of the same period, still has real, genuine, honest-to-God Socialists. People that still talk in no unsure terms about class, the proletariat, socialism, and capitalism. Hell, it was only in the ’70s that the Trotskyites were expelled. This is the party that will likely form Government next year in one of the world’s largest economies, and there’s a good chance people who self-describe as socialists (and mean it) will be in Cabinet.

Now, of-course it can be countered that these socialists were in Government for 13 years, and were powerless to stop a Government that sold out the working-class and served as Thatcher’s greatest legacy. Or it could be countered that remnants of the genuine left in the British political mainstream is because their politics is more radical than ours, or they’re facing more drastically bad economic conditions than us. But I can’t help wondering if it has something to do with the FPP electoral system. After all, it seems the last time anyone in the political consciousness even talked about socialism was during the last FPP Labour government (Rogernomics, I know, but I’m not talking about outcomes of governance, just genuine socialism being discussed). Now I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the MANA Movement, if not socialist as a whole, at least has a prominent socialist wing, but this is something that is not publicly discussed, the same was true with the Alliance.

It’s no secret that the left is prone to People’s Front of Judea-style splintering, and before we proceed too far down this track I would like to state that I am a Platonist. A strangley conservative philosophical position for a left-winger to take, I know, but it informs my political ideology completely. It seems to me the only coherent way that one can make moral judgements. And given that the left is so fundamentally concerned with moral concepts (social justice, fairness, human rights), in a way, I would contend, that the right, being philosophically liberal (don’t get your undies in a twist, think Locke) – and so nihilist –  is not, Platonism has always seemed a natural fit for me. Platonists, indeed Plato himself, in The Republic, have always been very wary of fragmentation and disunity. Unity has a certain coherence and elegance to it. The left has valued unity as well (although it hasn’t stopped them from fragmentation), Marxists especially. The ‘scientific’ approach to political ideology has never  carried much room for disagreement (that’s why anytime there’s the smallest disagreement they set up their own party). The very aim of the real left and socialist democracy is the revolutionary removal of social division. In-fact the only political philosophy that has ever been particularly keen on disunity, or ‘pluralism’ has been liberalism. Just look at the American Constitution, set up to guarantee a fractured state. Given this, maybe an electoral system that is oriented towards less political fracture is more advantageous to the left, better at keeping a strong and united genuine left voice in the mainstream, in the way that socialism remains in the political consciousness in the FPP UK in a way that it doesn’t in MMP New Zealand.

In-fact, maybe a two-party system is more representative of the binary division in society (worker-owner to the Marxist, truth-falsity – and all that entails – to the Platonist) than a fractured multi-party system. A system with parties based on false divides, and that propagate and arguably deepen these divides with the rise of identity politics that has seemed to accompany the introduction of proportional representation, due to the necessity of a more presidential style of politics as parties must compete for the party vote. And can we really say that MMP has brought more consensus or unity to our society? When once we may have been content to attack ‘fat-cats’ or ‘financiers’, there now seems to be a whole host of identity markers attached to the powerful. No longer are they just ‘rich fat-cats’, but ‘old, Pākehā, male, heterosexual, rich fat-cats’ [Raymond Miller, The Party System: The Party System Under Proportional Representation, in ‘Party Politics In New Zealand’, Oxford, 2005, pp. 51-61]. I’m in absolutely no way denying the accuracy of those labels, but what’s the relevant underlying division here? It’s the material one. These groups form the cultural hegemony because they are materially more powerful. Further dividing ourselves into feminist/misogynist, gay/homophobic, permissive/reactionary, battler/bludger, isn’t going to address the only divide that matters; worker/owner, and all the moral issues that that entails.

A last word. The left in Labour parties all around the world was destroyed by identity politics, the rise of liberalism as the defining ideology. As soon as the focus turned from the working-class, to social issues in the ’70s, and specifically the left’s adoption of a liberal philosophy in response to these social issues, the consequences of that liberal philosophy inevitably flowed to economic policy as well – hence Rogernomics. Many analysts like to try and separate economic and social issues, but the adoption of any political philosophy, or its more fundamental moral philosophy will logically affect both its social and economic views. This article elaborates. The only way the left can advance is by radically readjusting its focus to material issues, and the moral standing of these issues, and perhaps that means supporting an electoral system that is less pluralistic than our current one, although at this time I remain a supporter of MMP.

221, Topic 5: Parties, Extremism, And The Partisan

I’m a  political junkie. Always have been. I remember when I was about 3 or 4, it must’ve been sometime around the ’96 election, asking if Helen Clark was Prime Minister of the North Island and Jenny Shipley Prime Minister of the South. Wildly off – but not a terrible piece of political analysis for a toddler. I also always remember wanting Labour to win. Not that I’m from a staunchly Labour family. Mum’s is, but has at the very least taken a holiday from Labour post-Foreshore and Seabed, and Dad’s is Tory, while he would typify the middle-aged classical liberal better than few other people. In fact, last election I think Mum voted Mana, and Dad voted Act. My siblings range from almost entirely politically apathetic, to radical feminist – something I’ve learnt is safer not to comment on, especially if one possesses the organ of the patriarchy, but a politically diverse background to say the least.

Regardless, I’ve always been brought up with a strong sense of justice and fair play, something that’s come from both my left-wing mother and my right-wing father (who, in case that label causes you to cast aspersions, I know it would me, was with the protesters at the ‘Battle of Molesworth Street’ in ’81) that, for me, has always materialised in left-wing political views (that have strengthened with further philosophical endeavour and examination) that I’ve never had particular difficulty translating into partisan support. In fact I’ve always regarded the non-ideological position that many people take, you know the ‘I look at each policy on its merits’ non-position, with a deal of contempt – the same sort of reaction I get when I hear people declare themselves ‘Spiritual, but not religious,’ or agnostic without some sound reasoning to back it up.

The non-ideological position I find to be consequentialist in the extreme. It’s either invariably the position of the ignorant, the ill-informed, indecisive, or the liar. It results from a complete lack of effort to ever examine the divisions in society, social structures, or the historical law of cause and effect, then apply some moral reasoning, and pick a fucking side. It represents a contentedness to live in the gloomy depths of Plato’s cave, and just spend life fulfilling  one’s basket of appetites, consuming cultural genocide like MTV, and the computerised warblings of the latest Disney-to-adult filmstar convert ‘because its catchy’.

Either that or it’s the position of the repugnant political snake-oil salesman, hiding either a psychopathic level of moral flexibility (or more correctly, amoralism. It’s easiest to be flexible with one’s morals when one doesn’t have any) behind buzzwords like ‘common-sense’ in his pursuit of the narcissistic, Nietzschean Superman quest for power, or the deeply ideological true-believer who seeks to cynically hide his agenda, most likely because it’s not in the interests of the vast majority of the 47% of voters who cast their ballot for him. There’s no such thing really as a moderate in politics. The very act of taking a position is extreme. It’s asserting that this position is true to the exclusion of others. Even if one were to take what is perceived to be a ‘middle’ position, it would still be extreme in its middle-ness. Any moderation is either spin, disingenuousness, or indecisiveness, which is why Peter Dunne has only managed to break 1% twice in his 6 elections away from Labour.

Anyway, the point is, I’m a partisan. That’s not to say that I advocate pitching a tent and blindly following a political party the way one follows a sports team, but humans are collective animals. We seek those who share our views, and if we take a position – an act of extremism – it’s logical that we’d want to make these positions reality. The easiest way to do this is to organise. Which is why basically as soon as New Zealand referred to some coherent entity – the Natives were pacified, and the ‘enlightened’ man could get on with the business of living in a modern, ‘civilised’ nation – New Zealand’s first political party formed, the Liberals, a typical ‘Big Tent’ party – centrist, happy to represent the interests of all New Zealanders [Raymond Miller, “The Party System: Development Of The Party System,” in Party Politics In New Zealand, Oxford, 2005, p. 27]. Which was why it was ultimately doomed.

The Marxist would say that all divisions in society are material, any others are false. Either they are illusionary or stem from fundamental material divisions. I’m not in absolute agreement with this position (It would be disingenuous to call myself a Marxist), but I do think its valid and is useful for my purposes. The centrist party seeks to represent both sides of these divisions, and as they are fundamental opposites, it is a self-contradictory goal. As something that is self-contradictory cannot exist, a self-contradictory goal is the same as no goal at all. And so a party with no goal is the same as no party at all. The Liberals couldn’t pick which side of the material divide they represented.

The first material divide was the urban-rural, industrial-agricultural divide, reflective of a typically combined development of a latterly colonised country like New Zealand – simultaneously late-fuedal and capitalist [Miller, p. 28]. The tensions proved too much. The Liberals picked a side – urban, and the rural Reform party formed to represent the interests of agriculture over industry [Miller, p. 29]. However, rapid industrialisation, heralding well and truly the arrival of Capitalism in New Zealand, rendered this divide obsolete. The divide now was not the late-feudal one, but the capitalist one, a divide between capital and labour, owners and workers [Miller, p. 30]. The Labour Party was formed eventually from a merger of rag-tag workers’ movements, becoming, eventually the natural home of those who fell on the worker side of the owners-workers division. So there was the workers’ Labour Party, the land-owning farmers’ Reform Party, and by elimination, the Liberals were left with the urban capital-owning bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, which proved to be too small a coalition for significant electoral success, leading to sixteen years of Reform Government [Miller, p. 31]. Coming to the eventual realisation that their’s was now an irrelevant  divide, both now representing the interests of owners over workers, United and Reform merged to become the National Party [Miller, pp. 30-1]. New Zealand society, now capitalist, had one material division, and a partisan divide to reflect that. Labour, the proletarian party, and National, the bourgeois.

This analysis shows too why there is no such thing truly as centrism, as moderation, why holding a view means extremism. A materialist social divide means that there is one division and so it is binary. In capitalism this division is based on capital, those who own it and those who don’t. Any policy or position concerning society (i.e. a political position) is therefore based on this divide. Taking a position means taking a side which means being fundamentally opposed to the other. Movements which seek to act in the interests of both these fundamentally opposed sides have always, and always will be doomed to fail – look at Fascism. So the question remains – which side are you on?


POLS221: Meta-Blog

I’ve promised in the tagline a ‘pretentious political wankling’ by a ‘poncey, privileged, pseudo-intellectual polemicist’. Catchy alliteration aside, it’s only just now, starting my first post, that I’ve realised I’ve drastically over-sold myself. Pretentious? Certainly (if answering your own questions isn’t pretentious, I don’t know what is). Political? Vaguely. Wankling [n. portmanteau of wank and rambling] surely isn’t setting a particularly high-standard. Poncey and privileged I can do in my sleep. Pseudo-intellectual’s stretching the abilities, but the incisiveness and acerbity implied in the title ‘polemicist’? I don’t know what I was thinking! More like the cliched, pedantic screechings of a demented 80 year-old man (I’m only 20, but 80 at heart and in computer literacy) yelling about NCEA, randomly arranged with all the grace, clarity, and subtlety of variously; a letter to the editor of the Dom-Post from a middle-aged Don Brash-voting redneck John Ansell, a YouTube comment on a Richard Dawkins video, or, God-Forbid, Stuff Nation. Or in other words, about par for the course in New Zealand political blogging. But at least I use the Oxford comma.

Now’s the part where I backpedal and say of course there are many good blogs worth the time you would’ve otherwise spent stealing Game Of Thrones, getting drunk and arguing about moral truth, or daydreaming about the revolution or that $25 million that bastard who bought my Lotto ticket a couple of weeks ago stole from me. These blogs are in no particular order; the American ‘Alternet‘, ‘The Dim-Post‘, the sadly departed ‘The New Masses‘ (last post in 2011, but still worth a read), and at the risk of looking like a sycophant, ‘Liberation‘, which I hasten to add I have been reading for some time. Hell, I’ll even pop along to ‘The Daily Blog‘ if I feel like switching off and lazily indulging my left-wing urges, although Bradbury’s Cun*liffe (lazy, I know) fanboyism certainly gets tiresome. I’ll also sheepishly admit that I found David Farrar’s number-crunching on ‘Kiwiblog‘ during last year’s Labour leadership election invaluable to what was at the time my main method of whiling away the days; indulging and justifying fantasies of a Shane Jones victory.

But for every sharp, revealing and incisive piece of political analysis there is a Whale Oil Beef Hooked dredging the dark, sludgy recesses of human muck. And what is to be expected when an amazing tool such as the internet is bestowed upon humanity? Something with the potential to democratise knowledge, to bring connection and understanding to the far-flung, fractured, shards of individuals on an increasingly globalised, but concomitantly atomised planet. Something that could bring sharing and enlightenment to the human community. Instead we get spam, porn, and blogs.

Collectively we bear responsibility for turning the greatest tool man has ever produced, into a medium for narcissism, self-indulgence, and objectification. The endless inanities and nothingness of Twits, the simultaneous voyeurism and self-objectification of Facebook, animal videos, and the never-ceasing exploitation and desensitisation of 24 hour, freely available prostitution that has the added benefit of allowing greater depersonalisation than the real thing by reducing the irreducibly complex human subject to a mere image.

But at the heart of this ‘Me Culture’ is the blog. The provision of a pedestal to the products of post-modernist nihilism, dressed up as fluffy, liberal, enlightened relativism, that teaches that everyone has something to say, that all opinions are equally valid (or invalid), no matter how trivial, absurd, or half-assed their malformed musings (I’m not excusing myself from this category), or, God-forbid, my least favourite word, opinions are. There’s no better way of turning the properly outwardly-oriented human person into a dark, twisted, self-obsessed caricature than giving him a platform, and encouraging him to ‘share’. How American. Because sharing to the narcissistic psyche isn’t sharing at all. It’s a self-indulgence that can only lead to an increasingly inwardly focused  Me-ism. And if you doubt the triviality and vacuousness of the ‘capital I’ blog culture, you only need to examine some of today’s posts from New Zealand’s top blogs and the inanities that pass for political discourse in our country now: Rehashing of a man’s infidelities on Whale Oil (Newsflash! A man is unfaithful to wife!), a propaganda piece about Cunliffe on The Standard, responding to and feeding the vicious cycle of personality politics, and that six lines in suggests that the Labour leader has the same IQ as the man who first chalked the theory of relativity, David Farrar posting about a post that posts about how MPs should and shouldn’t post when they post (and I thought I was being meta), and a personality attack on the Prime Minister over on The Daily Blog, that instead of analysing the seriously worrying effects of the influence that the rich and corporates have on the political process, indulges in personal, petty sniping instead.

No wonder we get odious husks of human beings like Whale Oil having such an outsized influence on the political process in this country. 909,538 page views last month. We’re his enablers. Keep paying attention to him and he’ll keep saying the things like this, which Jonathan Milne highlights in his piece ‘In Bed With The Bloggers‘:

“Slater has been guilty of the most inhumane attacks. After King’s College 16-year-old James Webster drank himself to death outside a party, Slater called him “a toffee-nosed school boy, a dead thief and a liar who couldn’t handle his piss”. Just for good measure, he added: “I always said King’s boys were poofs.””

He also touches on the aforementioned narcissism and Me-ism that blogging encourages when he says:

“The leading bloggers trade on one core asset: the power of personality. They are loud, they are brash and they are, ahem, manufactured.”

In becoming the worst they can be, these bloggers encourage the worst in us, and through their influence muddy, and in some sort of genius Machiavellian way, completely invert the purpose of political analysis which should be to shed light on the failings of our social and economic systems. The 24 hour news-cycle, which in New Zealand is carried out on blogs and social media, whether they be left-wing or right-wing, inevitably descends to superficial personality politics which always serves the interests of the elite by clouding class divides and the stark failures of our social system. This feeds back into our already biased and right-wing corporate ‘mainstream media’ by creating the news that they report on, lowering all analysis to the level of the superficial blog. One only need look at the mainstream success of a beat-up artist like Patrick Gower for proof.

So I’ve joined the ‘blogsters’. Here’s hoping I don’t get sucked in.

About Me

A MANA member who variously self-describes as an Economic Democrat, Blue Socialist (NOT a Red Tory), or Left-Communitarian. An anti-liberal, who nevertheless manages agreement with many social liberal policy prescriptions (though for vastly different reasons), whilst maintaining a secret soft spot for stodgy old-fashioned conservatism (Scruton, Burke, Chesterton, Tolkien).

Supporter of grass-roots collective self-determination and organisation, solidarity, tino rangatiratanga, the pro-life movement (consistent life ethics, not the punitive, reactionary misogynists), and an egalitarian society based on truth, social justice, respect for human dignity, compassion, and most importantly, pedantry.

Political Compass score: -9.75, -2.87.