Tuesday 12 November 2019

Not So Much "OK Boomer" As "OK Ruling Class".

Distract And Divert: The rise of what we have come to call “Identity Politics” represents the ideological manifestation of the ruling class’s objective need to destroy class politics, and of the middle-class’s subjective need to justify their participation in the process.

THE RELIEF of the ruling class can only be imagined. Thirty years after the collapse of actually existing socialism in Eastern Europe, they have more or less faded into invisibility. The ruling class (also known as the bourgeoisie) along with the proletariat, are now little-used politico-historical terms: as distant from today’s activists as the “patricians” and “plebeians” of Ancient Rome.

If you’re lucky, the villains of the twenty-first century Left are the “One Percent”. Otherwise, the people’s enemies are identified by characteristics over which they have no control: ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and age. The fact that, 80 years ago, belonging to the wrong ethnicity and/or sexual orientation was enough to get you exterminated by the Nazis is but one of the many ironies associated with contemporary leftists.

Even the “One Percent” designation, introduced into popular discourse by the short-lived “Occupy Movement”, is a curiously disembodied term. To be a member of the One Percent is an entirely passive condition. You are a statistic. A percentage of the population made relevant solely by another percentage – i.e. the quantum of societal wealth your statistical sliver possesses.

Once again, a person’s villainy has nothing to do with what they do and everything to do with what they are. The other disturbing aspect of Occupy’s vilification of the One Percent is the way in which the remaining 99 percent of the population are let off the hook entirely. As if 1 percent of any group has ever been able to control the other 99 percent without a lot of help!

The contrast with Karl Marx’s world of class agency could hardly be more stark. To read his (and Friedrich Engels’) The Communist Manifesto is to enter a world in which classes act. To be a member of the bourgeoisie is to be in constant motion. This is because, once secured, economic, political and social power must be constantly reinforced and protected. Proletarians, likewise, are constantly struggling to weaken the grip of their capitalist masters. In Marx’s defining sentence: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

In other words: the human order is made and reproduced by human action. Which means the human order can be changed by human action. Our destiny is not predetermined by our ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or age, but by how effectively we participate in class struggle.

Sadly, the effectiveness with which working-class New Zealanders – New Zealand proletarians – have struggled against the more-or-less continuous onslaught of the New Zealand ruling class and its bourgeois helpers since 1984 has been sub-optimal. They allowed themselves to be betrayed by the country’s trade union bureaucracy in 1991, and remained pathetically loyal to a Labour Party which had, between 1984 and 1990, dismantled the social-democratic economy their parents and grandparents had struggled so hard to establish in the 1930s and 40s. The most highly-skilled and enterprising members of the New Zealand working class decamped in their thousands for Australia. Those who remained were forced into competition with the swelling numbers of immigrant workers who were admitted to make good the shortfall.

Unsurprisingly, this process produced innumerable socio-economic victims and with them enormous socio-economic resentment and rage. To an extent not before seen in New Zealand, it became necessary to obscure the suffering of these working-class citizens and, at all costs, prevent it from assuming a political dimension.

This has always been a major aspect of the bourgeoisie’s function in capitalist society, but in the aftermath of the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s and 90s it came to absorb an ever-greater amount of middle-class energy. A great deal of that energy was devoted to making sure that the class oppression in which more and more of them were now engaged remained hidden – not only from the victims, but also from themselves. In essence, this involved masking conscious human agency behind the immutable markers of human identity. The rise of what we have come to call “Identity Politics” represents the ideological manifestation of the ruling class’s objective need to destroy class politics, and of the middle-class’s subjective need to justify their participation in the process.

Redirecting the rage and resentment of those on the receiving end of neoliberal economic policy away from those actually responsible – the capitalist ruling class and its middle-class enablers – was always going to involve a pretty substantive re-interpretation of social reality. It meant recasting the malignant behaviours associated with poverty and powerlessness as the inherent failings of particular human sub-groups: whites, males, straights and, most recently and ridiculously, Baby Boomers.

Is it really the contention of the 55-year-olds-and-under who now blame the Boomers for all their woes, that every human-being born on the planet in the years 1946-1965 has benefited unfairly from the economic, social and political trends of the subsequent decades? Even the billions of people born in the Third World? The millions more born in the Soviet Bloc? Are they really insisting that there was not a huge discrepancy between the experiences of working-class Baby Boomers living in the capitalist west and their middle-class compatriots growing up alongside them? If so, then the degree of Gen-X and Millennial self-deception; their inability to recognise what has actually been happening around them since 1984 – or the role they and their own middle-class families have played in it – is astonishing.

What a victory for the ruling class! To create at least two generations incapable of understanding that the wealth and comfort of their middle-class parents was the necessary price of their complicity in destroying the self-defence mechanisms of the New Zealand working-class. Or that their own difficulties in replicating their parents’ lifestyle is purely and simply because their parents’ success was so comprehensive that the going rate for oppressing the lower orders of society has fallen sharply. How pleasing it must be for those at the top to see how much more willing the young are to turn on their parents and grandparents than on the true villains – the ruling class.

If the members of Generation X and the Millennial Generation really want to improve their lifestyles, then they should force up the price of complicity in class oppression by threatening to embrace or, even better, adopt for a generation or two, the precepts of Marx’s class struggle.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 12 November 2019.


Jens Meder said...

But is it not a fact, that our generous welfare state culminating with National's generous hand-to-mouth Superannuation proposal from age 60 - after our original NZ Super Fund was consumed by "investment" in financing welfare consumption - is proof that proletarian based economics focused only on consumption potential even at an economic loss (ignoring the need of profitability for anything sustainable) - is actually anti-social and self-destructive - and therefore tends to end up in a totalitarian "dictatorship of the proletariat" ?

Would not a universal effort towards changing the proletariat into bourgeoisie be a much more pleasant prospect than eternal class war in the knowledge, that the maintenance of a victory of the proletariat would require totalitarian dictatorship because the proletariat is against the right and freedom of profitable personal capitalism ?

John Hurley said...

Reading a Guardian article on Helen Clark I'm struck by how light it is on detail. What did the great lady do? Is it that we can't say what she did that is so important? In breaking up the nation she destroyed the social contract. The baby boomers are part of the social contract. In Sweden (or Norway) when the economy is not doing so well pensions drop - that is how a nation works, but a nation is about "us". In a globalised world everybody is us. The most useful idea I have read on that is a critique of John lennon's Imagine

“My darling, I love you. I love you so much. I love you as much as I love … as much as I love … as much as I love that other woman, the one walking down the street over there. Oh, and that one, too, riding her bike past the newspaper stand. I love you as much as I love everybody else on the planet. … Hey, where are you going my daaaaaaliiiiing?”

Maghen continues:

“No one gets turned on by ‘universal’ love. It doesn’t give you goose bumps or make you feel all warm and tingly inside, it doesn’t send you traipsing through copses picking wildflowers and singing songs about birds, it doesn’t provoke heroism, or sacrifice, or creativity, or loyalty, or anything. In short, ‘universal love’ isn’t love at all. Because love means preference.”


greywarbler said...

Marx back in fashion - who'd have thought it? Quick stamp it out while it is still a small weed. If only we could stop swinging like the pendulum do, all socialist, then all capitalist! Can we please get some leftie, idealistic but realistic, cynical, practical people in power who are supportive of people and enterprises, everything at a human level. And have lots of opportunity to take time away from the daily bash and do some learning and thinking and resetting of targets so we stay on being human in a good way. Make time to think about inner space, and give fingers, rather than ICBMs, to outer space.

Have classes like the WEA regular mind irrigation, as coming up in Christchurch:
Welcome to the Canterbury Workers’ Educational Association, the CWEA. We were established in 1915 and are active members of the Federation of WEA’s in Aotearoa. http://www.cwea.org.nz/
We believe in lifelong learning for all so offer courses in a wide range of interest areas with a special focus on social justice and the environment. Recreation and relaxation are also catered for and courses include Tai Chi, Italian Singing, drawing etc.

Office Opening Hours are 9.30-3 Monday to Friday, but feel free to phone on 366 0285 or email admin@cwea.org.nz,explore the Programmes link on this website or just contact us.
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Our latest programme is out... lots of courses to choose from, many with limited spaces - enrol early to avoid disappointment!

And can we have lower level policing with bobbies on bicycles! Then we could swing in harmony, otherwise as B.Franklin said "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."
Try this for harmony this morning looks fun, let's have enduring enjoyment from positive change:

Shane McDowall said...

New Zealand's post-war baby boom peaked in 1961. That year is the logical cut-off point for who is a Baby Boomer.

That and the fact that I hate being lumped in with wankers like Prince Charles and the anti-Vietnam War protesters.

David George said...

Thank you Chris, you've made the assertion previously that identity politics was somehow engineered by the "ruling class". Anything to justify that? It does seems very odd; the usual claim is that it's a manifestation of post modernism and it's hideous reduction of humanity to a mere obsession with power.
Good luck getting the populous motivated by Marx (seriously?) or winding up a class struggle. Apart from Marxism's proven record of failure (or worse) we're not living in 19th century Russia but enjoying the greatest wealth, longevity, health and freedom in human history. If anyone genuinely thinks things are that bad (with widespread suffering and oppression) now, for us in the developed countries, they have no idea of the adversity (from both man and nature) faced by those that came before us.

David George said...

Probably the best talk out there on identity politics, post modernism and the culture war; their roots and risks.

Trotskyscousin said...

As Stalin said: the kulaks were always the problem.

guerilla surgeon said...

"Our destiny is not predetermined by our ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or age, but by how effectively we participate in class struggle."
So you blame Maori for not effectively participating in the class struggle? I think somehow that many of them would be a bit annoyed at that. And I think somehow that in spite of supporting Labour since God knows when, many of them would quite possibly feel they hadn't really got a great deal from it – except the expectation of their votes in the house. You're not going to get rid of wossname – dammit senior moment – politics until you can ensure that people will feel they will get more by not engaging in it. And the politicians we have at present and those in the past haven't done a great job on that so far.

Aaron Mooar said...

Thanks for writing this Chris - Twice now I've tried to leave comments at the Daily Blog that are critical of people who dive head first into the idea of a generation war but neither made it past the moderation process. The idea that my kids and my parents are at war is absurd to me, as a family unit we are all doing our best to make sure that my kids (and any future generations) are taken care of.

As you say (and as I tried to say) The uber-rich must love it when we scrap amongst ourselves as they make off with the loot!

John Hurley said...

My experience is that most people think in in group: out group where your ethnic group is your in group. Some people talk in terms of valuing diversity but (I think) something else is going on there. Those people may be signalling higher status (including no need for community support) - Sam Neill types. As a rule people from outside your ethnic group become members of your ethnic group through adoption (and initiation) but the World Government aim of an ethnicless society is unrealistic and they are making a monstrous cockup: most people can see "white supremacist" is really "white nationalist" and since when was that a disease needing a cure?

greywarbler said...

John Hurley I looked at the  link you put up for unherd.   And I come back again to the divisions of love that the Greeks posited.    They used their imagination in thinking of those and decided their ideas were good - it could be said it was a decision in a God-like way.

They used imagination to build a scenario of mentality.   I like and approve their scenario.   It seems reasonable.   I think the blog writer, Canon Dr Giles Fraser, has been over-intellectualising about John Lennon's Imagine.   The critic in him concentrates on universal love and finds it doesn't hold water.   He ignores that there are different sorts of love, eg Eros, or Storge - for the child, for instance.   I also note the word Xenia relating to hospitality and guest-friendship ie interacting with someone away from a normal habitat (or from beyond a border):  'The rituals of hospitality created and expressed a reciprocal relationship between guest and host expressed in both material benefits (such as the giving of gifts to each party) as well as non-material ones (such as protection, shelter, favors, or certain normative rights). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love
Canon Dr Giles Fraser quotes 'Ze’ev Maghen — in the course of a defence of Zionism'; “No one gets turned on by ‘universal’ love. It doesn’t give you goose bumps or make you feel all warm and tingly inside, it doesn’t send you traipsing through copses picking wildflowers and singing songs about birds, it doesn’t provoke heroism, or sacrifice, or creativity, or loyalty, or anything. In short, ‘universal love’ isn’t love at all. Because love means preference.”    Unfortunately, the vivid effects of emotional flows against Jews over the centuries must imprint themselves on Jewish considerations about love and its nature, so I feel that the relationship of nation states and religions towards the Jewish people needs a separate study to understand the cause of such upwelling of the opposite of love. 

Fraser quotes Josep Fontelles about the EU, one minute saying he doesn't like borders and next referring to political agreements, which are of course made between different polities.   He is playing with words and concepts, in love with the sound of his own voice I think.    Donald Tusk states:  "the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve."   That is true, all we do in our society and culture is built on ideas made real, built on and materialised;  first just dreams that were pinned down, explained, agreed to by a growing number then activated and implemented.   

And from Maghen's quote:  'Universal love' doesn't send you traipsing through copses', but it may do through corpses.   I have been reading Sally Tench's book 'Fran's War' where she relates how universal love forced her from her chair in front of television showing the terrible Bosnian war and relating the plight of many starving children.   She offered her help to disbelieving eyes resulting between 1992 and 1996 leading thirty convoys into Bosnia to bring food, medicine and supplies to the worst areas.    That's love, that's universal love, and only imagination could make it flame up and bring it about.

greywarbler said...

Also John Hurley your comment on diversity and out and in groups, and what most people do. It certainly is a much used word and when one hears 'diversity', you prick your ears for the nuances and the possible hidden agendas.

An ethnicless society is a worry. Do we want a society that moves as one like a military parade - it is good to watch because one knows how hard it is to drill people to move in consort, and if they are Scottish, in kilts and with the bagpipes and drums, it is stirring and a great spectacle. But everyone, everything the same? Sounds like a vast dictatorship, with patronising allowances for little displays of historic folk ways - anyone for Morris dancing, Greek men swaying back and forth or Thai or Karan women in gay flowing dress before they return to grey uniforms.

White supremacists (and other anomic people) have become so because their society or parents have not taught them respectfully but firmly how to handle disappointment, down-time and mindless verbal or physical attacks from others, and the joy of persevering at personal projects, in the absence of those initiated by outside authority. They have not acquired a sense of self-worth and skills to employ for their own satisfaction. They have had insufficient modelling in how to think, in decision-making, in reflection, and personal goal setting. They have been brought up weak-minded, coming together around cars, sport or drugs, and if jobs and outside control doesn't fill their time while young adults they seek something to follow and like baby birds they imprint behind some stronger-minded hero figure. That is how I see things and every day the theory is validated in the news.

David George said...

There's no escaping the "OK Boomer" slur Chris; desperately deflecting the Chlöe Swarbrick epithet on to a nebulous "ruling class" won't get you off the hook. You're a boomer, destroyer of worlds; not only that but, quelle horreur, a White Male Boomer.
One has to wonder what the reaction would be had this dismissive/offensive label had been been "OK Maori"?
That's the thing with identity politics, your individual culpability is completely beside the point; it's guilt by identity. Where could that lead? - as if we didn't know from the history of the 20th century: the Kulaks (as Trotskycousin so succintly mentioned already) the Armenians, the Jews, Chinese or Cambodian schoolteachers. Anyone identifiable could be imagined as the enemy, the oppressor.
"The first question you should ask him is what class does he belong to, what is his origin, his education and his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. Such is the sense and essence of red terror.” It is necessary to think when you read such a thing, to meditate long and hard on the message. It is necessary to recognize, for example, that the writer believed that it would be better to execute ten thousand potentially innocent individuals than to allow one poisonous member of the oppressor class to remain free. It is equally necessary to pose the question: “Who, precisely, belonged to that hypothetical entity, ‘the bourgeoisie’?” It is not as if the boundaries of such a category are self-evident, there for the mere perceiving. They must be drawn. But where, exactly? And, more importantly, by whom—or by what? If it’s hate inscribing the lines, instead of love, they will inevitably be drawn so that the lowest, meanest, most cruel and useless of the conceptual geographers will be justified in manifesting the greatest possible evil, and producing the greatest possible misery.

Members of the bourgeoisie? Beyond all redemption! They had to go, as a matter of course! What of their wives? Children? Even—their grandchildren? Off with their heads, too! All were incorrigibly corrupted by their class identity, and their destruction therefore ethically necessitated. How convenient, that the darkest and direst of all possible motivations could be granted the highest of moral standings! That was a true marriage of Hell and of Heaven. What values, what philosophical presumptions, truly dominated, under such circumstances? Was it desire for brotherhood, dignity, and freedom from want? Not in the least—not given the outcome. It was instead and obviously the murderous rage of hundreds of thousands of biblical Cains, each looking to torture, destroy and sacrifice their own private Abels. There is simply no other manner of accounting for the corpses."

A recent artcle seems relevant: The meaning of OK Boomer

And this talk by Brendon O'Neil to the SDP, kind of reinforces what you're saying Chris: ‘Woke lefties are the militant wing of neoliberalism’

guerilla surgeon said...

""white nationalist" and since when was that a disease needing a cure?"
Since about 1933.