Thursday, 4 November 2010

Old old story

"As Owen thought of his child's future there sprung up within him a
feeling of hatred and fury against the majority of his fellow workmen.

THEY WERE THE ENEMY.  Those who not only quietly submitted like so
many cattle to the existing state of things, but defended it, and
opposed and ridiculed any suggestion to alter it.

THEY WERE THE REAL OPPRESSORS - the men who spoke of themselves as
`The likes of us,' who, having lived in poverty and degradation all
their lives considered that what had been good enough for them was
good enough for the children they had been the cause of bringing into

He hated and despised them because the calmly saw their children
condemned to hard labour and poverty for life, and deliberately
refused to make any effort to secure for them better conditions than
those they had themselves.

It was because they were indifferent to the fate of THEIR children
that he would be unable to secure a natural and human life for HIS.
It was their apathy or active opposition that made it impossible to
establish a better system of society under which those who did their
fair share of the world's work would be honoured and rewarded.
Instead of helping to do this, they abased themselves, and grovelled
before their oppressors, and compelled and taught their children to do
the same.  THEY were the people who were really responsible for the
continuance of the present system.

Owen laughed bitterly to himself.  What a very comical system it was.

Those who worked were looked upon with contempt, and subjected to
every possible indignity.  Nearly everything they produced was taken
away from them and enjoyed by the people who did nothing.  And then
the workers bowed down and grovelled before those who had robbed them
of the fruits of their labour and were childishly grateful to them for
leaving anything at all.

No wonder the rich despised them and looked upon them as dirt.  They
WERE despicable.  They WERE dirt.  They admitted it and gloried in it."

This was written in 1903, by Robert Tressell. From what I've been reading recently, it's clear that nothing has changed. For every tyrant or careerist politician, there are a million well meaning people who are sure that everything will be ok if only we vote for that nice Mr Xxxxxxxx.

The issues are different to some degree, at least here in the affluent West. And ultimately, I suppose, the motivations are different.

It's extremely rare for anyone in this country to starve. For now at least we have a safety net that ensures that the old and unemployed get at least a bare minimum. It's flawed, and is under attack, particularly at the moment, but things are better than they were a century ago, by far.

The increase in the standard of living is not because of capitalism. It's because of the massively increased supply of energy and raw materials. Capitalism has merely squandered much of the benefits on a mountain of shit. But as the limits to such fossil fueled growth near, who knows? How long will such a safety net survive?

But for now, we're doing fine, thank you very much, with our wide screen tellies and maxed out credit cards. Sure, we're concerned about the starving millions in Turkmenistan. If we give £2 a month that will make it all ok.

If the starving drudges of Tressell's book were prepared to defend the system, it should be no surprise that the well fed workers of today see no need for a revolution.
I suspect that by the time they do, it will be far too late.


Things have moved on a little overnight, but hardly at all. To me one side keeps on misrepresenting the other, despite that other's attempts to explain, clarify, add detail, provide alternatives.

It's like it's just too alien an idea for him to comprehend. I can understand this. When I first got involved in politics, I felt the same way. It's only that I got involved with a bunch of Trots, who's insistance upon a revolutionary transformation of society trumped all my reformist arguments that I don't feel the same way now.

We are immersed in the Big Bad System from the day that we're born. It's like a room with no windows. It takes a certain type of eye to see beyond it.


Jim Bliss said...

In reference to that "what I've been reading" link... what I find most frustrating is the refusal to engage with what's actually being said in a debate.

Person A says: "a failure to vote is an insult to those who fought for the right to vote".

Person B responds with the reasons they view that as an invalid argument. That people didn't fight for "the vote" as an end in itself. They fought for the vote as a means to an end. A way of allowing the individual to shape the society in which they live. And when the right to vote ceases to fulfill that function -- when the options have been narrowed to such a tiny sliver of the political spectrum that voting ceases being capable of effecting meaningful change -- then a failure to challenge that system from the outside is the real insult to those who fought for the right to vote.

Person A replies: "but a failure to vote is an insult to those who fought for the right to vote. And oh by the way, shut the fuck up".

There's no way to discuss the issue rationally with Person A. Rather than try to demonstrate the flaw in your reasoning, they merely repeat a mantra and get aggressive.

It's not surprising though. We have all been indoctrinated with the "necessary illusions" required to maintain the status quo. Some of us cling to them more fiercely than others.

Paul said...

It's the same old issue, of course. Adam Curtis brought it up at one point in the Century of self thing, about Clinton ditching his principles to get elected.

The aggression thing is the worst thing in my view. It certainly discourages me from contributing much to the debate. Hence getting my reply in here, where most of the aggressors won't see it.

But they really cannot understand the point you're making. They CAN'T do, or they wouldn't keep restating the same argument.

Frustrating and depressing, and just a microcosm of the battle faced by anyone that seeks a meaningful change in the way things are.

Paul said...

Actually, I've spent a frustrating time banging my head against someone that decided that leftism is synonymous with immature thuggery. Despite pointing out that the activism I'd experienced came down to organising meetings and trying to get grassroots participation, 4 or 5 messages down the line, the guy I was talking to was still convinced that despite my words, I really wanted to fire old ladies into lines of riot police using their knicker elastic as a catapult.

I've decided to go from active participant over at HH/U Know to lurker. I can handle the clowns and the trolls. I find the fact that whenever anything happens, or is proposed, there's a strident crescendo of voices telling us that we should do nothing.

Defeatist and demoralising. I need a break from it.