Chatting at the hate show
The Two Minutes Hate is not an expression of political thought, but rather a way of precluding political thought and discussion. By working their way into an animal rage against Goldstein, and by extension against any opponent of the regime of Big Brother, the participants in the Two Minutes Hate forget the miseries of their lives, and forget the possibility that their lives might be different.
Many readers believe the gritty satire of Nineteen Eighty-Four is aimed only at Stalin's Soviet Union. As a number of scholars have noted, though, the novel lashes out at American capitalism and British social democracy as well as at Stalinism. The elitism of the dystopian regime, which divides itself into an 'inner' and 'outer' party, and which forbids members of either group to associate with the 'proles' who make up the vast majority of the population, expresses Orwell's alarm at the distance which had opened up, by the middle of the '40s, between the leaders of Britain's Labour Party and ordinary workers. The porn books which Orwell's heroine helps mass produce for the politically apathetic 'proles' are a swipe at the new popular culture, with its gangster films and potboiler novels and smutty comics, which had emerged in America early in the twentieth century and spread to other capitalist nations like Britain.
The Two Minutes Hate is certainly supposed to remind us of the show trials and the hysterical propaganda which were such features of Stalinist society. There is no reason to assume, though, that Orwell didn't think the ghastly ritual he described couldn't find parallels beyond the Soviet Union. Had he lived into the 1950s, and been able to observe the phenomenon of McCarthyism, with its the endless 'public hearings' at which citizens were ritually denounced in the most vituperative language for holding the wrong set of political beliefs, the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four may well have been reminded of the Two Minutes Hate. In America and elsewhere, large parts of the right have never fallen out of love with McCarthy's creed and methods, and there is something a little McCarthyist about the way that right-wing members of the Kiwi blogosphere have reacted to the formation of Hone Harawira's Mana Party.
At the ever-popular Kiwiblog, for example, longtime National Party activist David Farrar has made a series of short posts which seem designed as invitations to the ritual denunciation and demonisation of Harawira and other Mana leaders like John Minto and Matt McCarten. Rather than construct some sort of argument, however foreshortened and partial, against the Mana Party's policy programme, Farrar has preferred to cast the first of what have quickly become hundreds of rhetorical stones against Mana's Goldsteins. Here's the complete text of a post Farrar made last week:
With John [Minto], a committed Marxist, looming to be a candidate, and with all the Mana Party policies focused on non-Maori issues such as promoting compulsory union membership, I wonder whether the party would be more accurately named the Marxist Party.
Once they register and publish a party list, it will be interesting to see what proportion of their top candidates are Marxists (or Maoists).
During a recent debate about the role of intellectuals in New Zealand politics, I argued that the right, in New Zealand as much asin America, has turned the word 'Marxist' into a sort of catch-call term of abuse, and lost even the most basic idea of who Marx was and what he thought. I think that the outpourings at Kiwiblog in response to the formation of the Mana Party bear out my argument.
I'm sure I had something better and more intellectually stimulating to do, like cleaning the toilet or listening to Lady Gaga's new single, but I got involved in one of the recent 'discussions' of Marxism and the Mana Party at Kiwiblog. Reproduced below is an edited but not inaccurate record of my strange journey through one of the site's long and tangled comments threads. The bolded names represent the various commenters...
The endlessly superficial threads about Marxism here puzzle me. For all their references to Marxism the folks at Kiwiblog never seem to cite, let alone discuss, a text by Marx, or a Marxist concept. For them, Marxism and socialism seem to have become nothing more than swear words...
After decades of real life after uni, I’ve decided that none of the political philosophers explain society sufficiently enough to make it useful as anything more than background. So I just these days and have for decades, look at what actual people and countries and economies actually in fact do and I have models that have been synthesised from all sorts of sources which help me to predict and understand behaviours. This is called thinking.
Seriously Scott, if you want to discuss the in’s and out’s of the Marxist dialectic here, on a thread about commies, whether or not they are also marxists, I’m not sure you’re barking up the right tree.
Reid, I don’t see how you can so easily contrast empirical studies and model-building with Marx's method of working. Marx was nothing if not a gatherer and a synthesiser of data – he had an incredible capacity for empirical work, and he produced one model after another in an attempt to get a handle on his world, often throwing out or radically modifying models as he went along.
The curious thing is that none of those who preach the evils of Marxism here ever discuss any of his texts or models. How do you feel about, say, Marx’s claim that the course of history is overdetermined by material, ie economic and technological forces? What about Marx's claim that capitalism is subject to inevitable crises of overproduction? What about Marx's invention of the concept called the Asiatic mode of production, which was supposed to explain the 'failure' of India and China to develop capitalism? It’s theories like these (and I certainly don’t agree with all of Marx’s theories) which need to be knocked down, if anti-Marxism is to be anything more than hot air…
Scott if you really think Marxism is a practical solution then how come the rest of the 8.2 billion or so don’t think so? How come capitalism rules? I’ll tell you why. It’s cause capitalism is a superb self-adjusting distribution and price-setting mechanism...So if you can give us a Marxist model that is all of the things that capitalism is and none of the things that Communism is, then pray tell. But if not, then get with the program, cause the capitalist world is up and running and you might as well deal with that fact and live accordingly. It’s not so bad.
Your words of praise for capitalism sound remarkably like the first section of The Communist Manifesto, Reid. Marx was one of the first thinkers to try to get to grips with capitalism, and especially in the first decade or so of his career we find him praising capitalism as often as he damns it. Christopher Hitchens has parted company with his old socialist friends, praised George Bush and the American Republican Party, and proclaimed his support for the US invasion of Iraq, but he still calls himself a Marxist, because he holds to the ebullient view of capitalism put forward by the young Marx.
Fortunately, there are other Marxes - many other Marxes - besides the young man bewitched by the power of capitalism. The elderly Marx is depressed at the damage done by capitalism in the colonial world, and decides that pre-capitalist peoples like the Russian peasants and the Iroquois Indians might be a better bet for revolution than the Western working class.
And the elderly Marx’s belief that capitalism doesn’t so much gloriously transform older modes of production but instead lives parastically off them could be mentioned in the context of your claim that all 8.2 billion of the world’s people live in capitalist societies. I’d guess that at least a quarter of those people live in societies where pre-capitalist modes of production dominates, at least outside the large cities and their cash economies. Most of the nations of the Pacific still have strong pre-capitalist modes of production involving subsistence or semi-subsistence farming, collective ownership of land, and non-monetary exchanges of goods.
Even in the heart of the capitalist world, cities like Detroit and Baltimore are decaying, and pre-capitalist economic practices like barter and subsistence living are reappearing. I’m not sure if I’d agree, then, that the vision of capitalism as an unstoppable revolutionary force which Marx laid out in the Manifesto in 1848 holds true today. I don't think it held true even in the nineteenth century.
Marx's central pillar, the labour theory of value...fails because it doesn’t acknowledge that value is subjective and that while a worker may labour to produce something that doesn’t give the product value...the desire of the end consumer does that.Indeed its possible to mix labour with resources and actually destroy value.I could take paint and fresh canvas and create my own masterpiece to sell but people may reject it and not want to buy it.I am left with useless canvas and am poorer for the effort.
I don’t see the labour theory of value as Marx’s 'central pillar', but it’s worth noting that the theory doesn’t assert that all labour creates value. You can perform labour without creating value; not all created things are commodities. Nor does Marx say that labour is the source of all wealth: to do that would be to deny the role of the environment, for instance.
Essentially what I’m saying Scott is, who cares?
Fact is, capitalism is the only proven operating system. Nothing else features. I’m not saying it doesn’t stink. I’m saying that like democracy in the political arena, capitalism is just better than all the rest, in the economics arena. I mean it seriously stinks. Everyone knows that. Duh. But it’s still the best of the available alternatives.
Reid, you’ve got every right not to care about what Marx wrote – as long as you don’t want to argue that Marx’s ideas are invalid, old hat, discredited, evil, or whatever. The moment you and others here make claims like these, then it’s reasonable to ask you to back them up with some substantive critiques of Marx’s texts and theories.
Even if you were correct, and capitalism really was the only economic-social system which existed in the world, that wouldn’t count as an argument for the automatic irrelevance of Marx, because the vast majority of Marx’s texts are studies of capitalism.
You and others here seem to think Marx spent all his time talking about the glorious socialist future. In fact, he was extremely reluctant ever to describe what socialism would look like in any detail. When he did offer suggestions they involved real-life models he had studied – the Paris Commune, for example. Marx wrote obsessively about capitalism – its prehistory, its growth, its various forms, its depredations – and so the relative dominance of capitalism in today’s world if anything only makes his work more topical.
Marx’s writings on rural development in Russia and India are of great interest to scholars of agrarian societies undergoing capitalist development today. His view of capitalism as a system guaranteed to go through regular crises has attracted the interest of many commentators in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. Those who say Marx has nothing to offer have to contend with, amongst other things, the continuing use of his work to analyse capitalism.
Scott I’ve never said I don’t care about what he wrote, I’m saying and have been for some time that in the context of 2011, so what. If you want it put crudely but please steel yourself cause sometimes lefties get the wrong idea: So. Fucking. What?
I mean it. You have had two great experiments in Russia and China and both failed miserably and you may not put that down to Marxism yourself but surely if it was going to work someone somewhere in the 50+ years those states were in full flight, some scholar somewhere would have decoded the key…Meanwhile, back in 2011…
If I understand you rightly Reid your argument is ‘I’m not interested in reading Marx’s texts and leaning about his ideas, in fact the prospect bores me, but I know that Marx’s texts and ideas are worthless because of Stalin and Mao’.
Given that 95% of Marx’s texts are concerned with nineteenth century Europe and the parts of the world Europe was colonising, and that they contain not a single extended blueprint for how a future socialist society should look, let alone a blueprint which corresponds to what Stalin and Mao created, I can’t agree with you.
The fact that Stalin supressed many of Marx’s works and killed off David Ryazanov, the great achivist who had tried to produce scholarly editions of those works, only makes your argument stranger.
Scott, sorry, emperical studies don’t count much for all of the souls that are now bodies in graves. That is Marxism in its application, and we have recent decades as proof. That is all, please take your thesis elsewhere. we are more concerned with living Marxism and where it might take us in the form of the Mana Party.
So Pol Pot’s killing fields and Stalin’s gulags automatically invalidate every argument Marx was making a century earlier during his studies of capitalism? Let’s take Marx’s theory, which he arrived at after a study of the economic crisis of 1857-58, that capitalism is prone to recurrent crises of overproduction, because of the way investors pour capital into briefly profitable sections of the economy and eventually create a glut. This theory has been debated for one hundred and fifty years, and the financial crisis of 2008 seems to have brought it into favour in some quarters. Are you seriously suggesting that the theory of recurrent crises brought on by overproduction can be dismissed as false because of what Pol Pot did in the 1970s? Why? Do you really think there’s a causal connection between Marx’s argument about overproduction and the graves at Tuol Seng?
“So Pol Pot’s killing fields and Stalin’s gulags automatically invalidate every argument Marx was making a century earlier during his studies of capitalism?”
Yip, pretty much, when added to Stalin’s, Mao’s and every other crack-pot Marxist’s toll on humanity. Lets see where the Mana Party goes with the theme.
‘Yip, pretty much’
How? I’m genuinely curious as to how you think Pol Pot’s crimes invalidate a theory Marx produced to describe the behaviour of economic systems in the West. Do you really think that anyone who accepts the theory of periodic crises of overproduction is in danger of wanting to herd his fellow citizens out of the cities and work them to death amongst paddy fields and clogged canals?
Oh for fucks sake, when did Marxism/Socialism/Communism/Maoism ever cause “over-production”? Well, I think it did once, it was in left footed shoes in Moscow circa 1980 – but not reported was the shortage in right-footed shoes.
We’re twelve or so comments in and, James’ comment about the labour theory of value apart, I’m still waiting for a concrete piece of criticism to be aimed at one of Marx’s texts or theories!
Rich Prick thinks that if we accept any of Marx’s theories as correct we set ourselves in the footsteps of Pol Pot. It’s a short step, apparently, from arguing that capitalism is periodically prone to crises of overproduction to digging mass graves.
Let’s apply Rich Prick’s dubious logic consistently, though. In The Communist Manifesto Marx argues that capitalism acts progressively, when it spreads over non-capitalist parts of the earth. He salutes the colonisation of parts of the non-European world because he believes capitalism is an improvement on what existed before (Marx subsequently changed his mind, but his paean for capitalism in the Manifesto remains one of the most famous things he wrote).
Now, could I assume that the likes of Rich Prick and Reid would agree with the Marx of the Manifesto that capitalism is a progressive force, and that colonisation had progressive results in the non-European world? Certainly such views are not rare on the right.
Following Rich Prick’s logic, though, agreeing with Marx’s theory puts him in the camp of Pol Pot and Stalin. After all, all of Marx’s ideas, no matter what their ostensible content, are actually, according to Rich Prick, anticipations and glorifications of the killing fields and the gulag…
Scott, wot?? you are serriously fucked up. Go to bed, there may even be a little bit of warmth left in Marx’s body for you to cuddle.
“Marx’s ideas, even relatively obscure economic arguments about overproduction, lead, according to RP, to the killing fields and the gulag…”
Tell it to all the dead. Wanker.
Kiwi in America
My father is a history professor and I grew up with insufferable academic bores and you show all the signs of being one. Apart from being isolated from the real world in the ivory tower, Marxist academics display a unique level of disconnect from the real world as was painfully evident from your rambling discourses on Marx.
99% of people couldn’t give a toss about the theory of Marx – all they know is what it looks like when applied in the real world. They see group think, brainwashing, absence of real democracy, suspension of freedoms, summary imprisonments and executions, no freedom to speak/write/broadcast/protest anything other than the party line...
Capitalist owners of capital risk their savings to start the companies that pay the taxes and hire the workers who also pay the taxes to fund the universities so wankers like you can sit in your office and spout your communist crap. Scott
Are you guys ever going to get round to talking about one of Marx’s texts or theories? So many of you have spent so many words, and yet, apart from James, who discussed the labour theory of value, we still have not seen anyone explain why they disagree with a single one of Marx’s arguments.
I should make it clear that I'm not suggesting that it's necessarily wrong to look at Marx’s life and writings in the light of the regimes that eventually used his name, and to ask whether there was there something in his work that left it vulnerable to misuse. The British historian EP Thompson made a fascinating argument when he said that Marx’s thinking is too cold and quantitative and economics-obsessed, and that it lacks imaginative and aesthetic qualities. Thompson felt that Marx could have taken a different turn by embracing the ideas of his near-contemporary William Morris, the poet, painter, and designer who was calling for a revolution in the arts and in the human spirit, as well as in the economy. Thompson felt that Morris could have loosened Marx up.
I'm not, then, against trying to relate Marx's ideas to subsequent history. I just don’t think shouting ‘Pol Pot!’ at the top of your lungs quite cuts it as a criticism of the theory of the tendency to crises of overproduction.
Oh just fuck off you pious wanker, we hate Marxism round here and you are clearly a script-bot, so just fuck off to a place that might suit you, like North Korea. I bet you have a beard and take the bus everywhere too, and smell bad.
Kiwi in America
You still don’t get it – no one cares about the minutiae of Marx’s theories – except the radicals that infest the English and Wimin’s Studies departments at universities. We’re more concerned about the horrific real world application of Marxism – something you seem to be blithely unconcerned about.
Black with a Vengeance
SCOTT HAMILTON vs THE (kiwiblog) WORLD
current score : Scott 7 World 0
SCOTT HAMILTON FTW !
Kiwi in America
No Black its actually
The REAL world 7 Scott 0
Black with a Vengeance
Maybe so k.i.a, but here in VIRTUAL Kiwiblogistan, you’re all getting pwned.
Black with a Vengeance
The main point is that none here, apart from Scott, seems to know enough about Marx to be able to criticize him or his theories with any validity. And that David Farrar is looking to scare the dumbass redneck fraternity with the old ‘reds under the bed’ myth, some ‘asian invasion’ Maoists and dancing Maori cossacks pissing on the graves of the illustrious european Kiwi forefathers capitalist utopia, hiding behind the Mana party.
*yawn*…not much of a bedtime story but hey, it keeps the faithful barking til all hours and provides a nice wee distraction for team blue getting their arses kicked on their dismal track record with the economy and blaming everything on the past Labour government.
I have to confess that I’m not too worried about the horrific real-world effect of the theory of recurrent crises of overproduction on its advocates, Kiwi in America. I haven’t noticed the scholars who use that theory or one of Marx’s other hundreds of theories looking longingly from their ivory towers at the distant countryside and dreaming of driving us all there at the point of a kalashnikov to work on giant ineptly-planned hydraulic schemes.
It’s clear that the Marx-knockers here don’t feel that they have to read the man’s works and construct criticisms of his theories. It’s enough for them to point out societies like Pol Pot’s Angkar and Stalin’s Soviet Union and say ‘look – that’s what you support if you find one single correct proposition in Marx!’ Apparently everything Marx wrote is connected, in some way which no one can explain, to the career of Pol Pot. And anyone who proposes even moderately left-wing policies – the construction of a public health care system in the US, for instance, or the scrapping of GST down here – can be accused of heading off down that slippery slope to Pol Pot.
Kiwi in America is obviously quite satisfied with this sort of anti-Marxist/anti-leftist routine, and he thinks ’99%’ of the public like it too. But a look at the way that the radical right have campaigned in America against Obama’s health care programme suggests that the old ‘This is what created Pol Pot! Walk away slowly’ rhetoric might have worn a bit thin. The constant claims by the Tea Party and Palin that Obama is a dangerous socialist and that Obamacare would lead to totalitarianism just aren’t accepted by the majority of Americans. In fact such warnings have become a joke. There are echoes of the way the Brtish public rejected Winston Churchill’s hysterical claims that a welfare state and nationalisation of key industries would bring gulags and secret police to Britain and voted Labour into office in 1945.
It’s pretty obvious that the attempts of the hard right to redbait Obama have been unsuccessful. Kiwi in America tries the same sort of tactic here when he accuses anyone who says something positive about Marx’s analyses of capitalism of being a secret Pol Potist, and when he tries to link John Minto, whose politics can probably best be described as those of a classical social democrat, of the sort which dominated the Labour Party in its early years, to Stalin. It really is silly stuff, and I don’t see why it’ll work any better against Minto than it did against Obama.
Scott, to me Karl Marx is a bit of an historical curiosity, the world has changed a huge amount in the last 150 years. We can learn a bit from what people have written in the past, but we benefit more by focussing on modern realities.
I agree with you, Pete, about the danger of erecting idols and letting them become covered in dust. But I wonder whether you’d argue that, say, Plato or Saint Augustine or Machiavelli or Kant are old hat now, just because they lived in previous eras? Isn’t there a quality in great thinkers which protects them, to some extent at least, from the attrition of time?
Some of Marx’s theories were outdated and were being abandoned or substantially modified even in his lifetime; others, though, seem still relevant, if not necessarily entirely correct. When my mate Mike Beggs gave a course designed to outline Marx’s theory that capitalism inevitably suffers from cyclic economic crises back in 2008, just before the global financial crash, he found to his surprise that there were several stockbrokers in his audience! Perhaps they were able to use a bit of Marxian foresight to avoid the disaster about to hit their profession. It’s hard to remember now, I know, but there were media pundits and even politicians like Gordon Brown who were talking, in the years before the crash, about the end of the boom-bust cycle that has always afflicted capitalism. These people were predicting a permanent upswing in house prices and other key commodities. Marx was wiser than them.
And there’s also the question of Marx’s historical materialist method, as opposed to the theories he developed with that method. The view that societies have a material (eg economic and technological) ‘base’ and a cultural and ideological superstructure (think of religious ideas, politicial ideologies, and so on) and the claim that the base tends to influence the superstructure more than vice versa has become mainstream in the social sciences. It’s probably become common sense to many folks.
Plato or Saint Augustine or Machiavelli or Kant are old hat too. You can learn something from anyone historical, but they had no idea about contemporary social and political issues in New Zealand, and that’s what’s most important to most of us here now.
But you can’t just look at a problem and get an answer to it pop into your head, Pete. There’s no interpretation inherent in any piece of social phenomena: we have to bring our interpretations with us. We need tools to work the rough ground of fact, and some of the thinkers I mentioned created tools which are still pretty sharp. Some Maori scholars have examined the problem of Maori sovereignty and biculturalism in New Zealand using dusty old Kant. Marx inspired some of the most influential scholars of New Zealand society, like Bruce Jesson, Dave Bedggood, Dick Scott, and Len Richardson.
Regarding Marxism and Scott Hamilton’s passionate defence I actually think that Marxism is very much alive and well and being applied in real-world situations. Although the economic side of Marxism is only being applied in a very few countries now the social side of Marxism is bigger than ever. The thesis that there is an oppressor and an oppressed, the idea of struggle and liberation has been used successfully by the gay rights movement, the Maori separatist movement and the women’s liberation movement. All of these movements claim an oppressor — in these cases the oppressors are in order — heterosexual men, white men and all men in general. And all of those movements claim an oppressed — homosexual men and women, black men and women, all women.
Marxism has been a force for violence and revolution for many years. Now it is used to destroy our institutions and particularly to destroy our Judaeo-Christian morality. I actually think Marxism is from the devil. That’s just me being theological — but that’s what I actually think. I think Karl Marx was an agent of Satan as was Lenin as was Stalin as was Pol Pot as was Chairman Mao. I think feminism is seriously misguided as is gay rights. As is our Maori separatist
movements. But they all have borrowed heavily from Marxist theory.
‘I think Karl Marx was an agent of Satan’
Oh dear. First everyone who thought Marx had something interesting to say about capitalism was a secret admirer of Pol Pot; now they’re part of some Satanic cult. I did once spot a website which argued that Marx was a Satanist because, as a young man, he had made a few fragmentary and indifferent attempts to rewrite Goethe’s verse play Faust. I’m not sure if that literary endeavour quite counts as evidence for an unusual attraction to Satanism, because every young German intellectual of Marx's era seems to have tried at one point or another to write like Goethe! Faust and the devil lurk in thousands of unpublished poems and half-finished verse plays.
If Scott wants some fresh material, though, he could have a look at the way that the structure of The Communist Manifesto, which is still (unfortunately, from my perspective, given the jejune praise for capitalism and colonialism in its first section) Marx’s most famous text, takes its formal structure from Faust. Each section of the Manifesto corresponds to a section of Faust. Suspicious? I must sniff the pages in case they reek of sulphur…
I’m not too sure whether Marx, who was a bit of a sexist old devil – he fathered but failed to acknowledge an illegitimate son, and said in a late text that he valued weakness in a woman – would be too happy at being made the flagbearer for women’s lib. If Scott broke with the Kiwiblog approach to left studies and actually read a few things by Marx and his followers, he’d see that there has been the odd blue over the years between feminists and Marxists of one stripe or another. Marx was preoccupied with exploitation, not oppression, and attempts to claim that the oppression of minorities are as important as the exploitation of the working class have tended to rile many – though certainly not all – Marxists over the years (they don't rile me). There are still hard-fought debates about this subject erupting at places like Chris Trotter’s blog.
But who needs to take the trouble read Marx and his many and varied successors when one can sniff about for sulphur, or shout ‘Pol Pot!’?