vestas – the struggle on the horizon

By Joe Thorne

An important struggle is brewing on the Isle of Wight: we all need to take note, both of what has happened so far (and the lessons we can learn from it); and the possibilities in the coming weeks.

A factory, the only remaining manufacturer of wind-farm turbines in the UK, is due to be closed by its owners, Vestas, who are making all 500 workers redundant.   The company, like so many of those making redundancies at the moment, is using the recession as cover for cuts which are motivated by nothing other than ordinary cost cutting.  Jobs are being moved to the USA.

But this is not only about jobs.   News of the planned closure has also ignited outrage in the movement against climate change.  When we should be converting to an economy based on renewable, low-carbon energy, the closure of the Vestas factory is just what doesn’t need to happen.  So Vestas is not just a class fight – though it is that.  It is a class fight which raises issues of climate change, and the tension between capitalist production, and social production.

Workers are now discussing occupying one of the two sites on the Isle of Wight, and need the support of workers and climate change campaigners everywhere.

The green shoots of militancy

Despite dictatorial management and unsafe working conditions, Vestas workers have never been organised in a union.  But when Workers Climate Action activists heard of the planned closure it was mid June, and the spectre of the Visteon occupations still loomed large.  Would it be possible to encourage Vestas workers to draw lessons from the struggles at Visteon?  Would it be possible to encourage these workers to take similarly militant action?

Workers Climate Action members made contacts on the island through union networks and using the internet.  They travelled to the island, and begun to talk to workers outside factory gates, finding bitterness, but resignation.  Slowly, they began to agitate and gather contacts, built a meeting in conjunction with the trades council, and are living on the island, cooperating with groups of workers who are now considering an occupation.  Read a report here.

It is worth stopping briefly to emphasise how exceptional this is – at least in the current environment.  Revolutionaries generally assume that it is the ‘job’ of the unions to directly organise and inspire workers, and their job to ‘intervene’ through propaganda when (inevitably, almost), the union vacillates, or directly turns against workers.  But – though nothing at all is certain – it is clear already that progress has been made beyond what most would have dared hope.

The member of Workers Climate Action and AWL who has been most closely involved in organising on the island also drew other lessons.  “This has really been a lesson in the importance of left unity.  It’s been really useful to have support from Jonathan Neale, a member of the SWP who had been involved in hospital occupations during the ‘70s, and members of the SWP and Socialist Party who have begun to make contact with workers at the Vestas warehouse in Southampton where turbine blades are stored.”

What the movement needs to do

So far, what has been done is impressive.  Nothing is now certain, everything is possible.

  • Send a message of solidarity to the Vestas workers: savevestas@googlemail.com
  • Activists with workplace organising experience, particularly with experience at occupations, are particularly and urgently needed over the next week or two.  It is less than three hours from London to the Isle of Wight (though you are advised to book the ferry in advance), and basic accommodation is available there.  Get in touch with Ed on the Isle of Wight 07775 763750 if you think you may be able to help.
  • If you would be prepared to join an occupation, be prepared for alerts at short notice.  Write to us at uncaptiveminds@gmail.com with your mobile number and stating if you’d be up for joining an occupation or helping in any other way.
  • If you are near Southampton, get in touch with Ed (number above) if you would be able to help organising there.
  • Vestas also lists ‘sales’ sites in Warrington on its website.  Please get in touch if you may be able to visit the Warrington site to talk to workers there.

Solidarity with workers at Vestas!

33 thoughts on “vestas – the struggle on the horizon

  1. Yes and what does labour come out with, we need more wind turbines greener but sadly more costly fuel costs. So I believe labour are now looking at going green with new targets, and new cost and new taxes.

    I’m at my wits end trying to save cost I even turn off the power from the main fuse box at nights no heating on during the winter and it’s costing me more for god sake.

    we do need a New Government like it or not Labour has nothing else to offer except taxation higher cost and paying out nothing

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  2. This shows the hollowness of politicians’ ‘commitments’ to green energy. They are committed to what is profitable. This is why the working class struggle must be the base of climate activism; environmentally-sustainable production and distribution is incompatible with the profit system. See my article on issues raised by last year’s Climate Camp at http://www.metamute.org/en/ciimate_camp_and_class

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  3. Trying to bodge green issues into class struggle is a futile task: the two have nothing to do with one another, or perhaps worse, green ideology is a specifically anti-working class ideology.

    As Robert comments it most frequently manifests itself by enforcing austerity on those least able to pay, and taxing and coercing away the mobility and consumption of the working class.

    Nothing inherently wrong with wind power, but we would benefit more from the mass exploitation of nuclear power to give us an energy surplus, not scape by on the barely adequate power generation of renewables.

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  4. Trying to bodge green issues into class struggle is a futile task: the two have nothing to do with one another, or perhaps worse, green ideology is a specifically anti-working class ideology.

    As a sweeping statement, this is simply not true. Of course, we’re all well aware of the possibility of ‘green austerity’. But ‘green ideology’ is not monolithic. What about the green bans of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation – http://libcom.org/history/1971-1974-green-bans-by-builders-in-australias – for example?

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  5. and, while we are talking class, environmentalism and Australia its probably worth stating the blindingly obvious that not only does nuclear energy not provide a timely ‘solution’ to climate change but its based on the dispossession of both the indigenous and poor around the globe (and particularly in Australia) and is hugely environmentally damaging in its own right.

    Nathan you simply have no idea – you are just repeating tired left cliches. ‘Green’ is a space occupied by a range of people, most of whom are actually quite poor and most of whom are working class. The history of the green movement is long and complicated, but at least two of the strongest ideas that permeate the movement come from the poor and working class section – environmental justice and ecological debt.

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  6. I think it is right to recognise that the ‘green movement’ is not undifferntiated, it is also in my opinion the case that from a communist standpoint the predominantly middle class green movement cannot solve the problem of the enviroment and ecological questions, this reqiures a class analysis which Nathan definately has a clue about. The solution to the ecological problems we face are inextricably linked to the emancipation of the working class, an objective which is universal in its goals. I am undecided on nuclear power, there is a strong case for it, but equally the big reservation regarding waste. I also think it is important to recognise a communist measure of progress is not the same that of devlopment of productive forces, ours is the development of humanity.

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  7. @nik “Nathan you simply have no idea – you are just repeating tired left cliches. ‘Green’ is a space occupied by a range of people, most of whom are actually quite poor and most of whom are working class. ”

    The composition of the ‘green movement’ tells us little about its class effects. Just because most of those who fought in World World One were working class, and even enthusiastically conscribed, does not make the war an admirable example of class struggle. In the same way, the leaders of the green movement are upper middle class, artistocrats, trust fund gap yearers and a general motley crew of posh types who hate mass production and the lowering of prices/standards in late capitalism. These people are more of the enemy of the working class than the capitalist class itself. They posture as radicals but are in fact deeply conservative. Just push most of them on Marxism and Communism, or a theme like the Commune’s “workers self management” and they will decry it as childish, or even raise the specter of the gulags. Let us have no illusions.

    Fundamentally, for me nature is there to be exploited for the bettering of the conditions of humankind. In this understand, for me the only environmental damage we should be concerned about is damage that directly and immediately effects the well-being of people, such as, for example, chemical poisoning or deadly smog in China. Whether we have one glacier less, a sea rise of a few inches, ugly looking open-cast mines, less biodiversity etc. are neither here nor there; certainly nothing to do with class struggle!

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  8. true, the green movement in the UK is dominated by largely middle class concerns but also has, and has always had, a strong current of class struggle within it. Globally this is even more the case. There have been numerous examinations of the various green movements and are well worth digging out that explore this point, and I think that concepts like environmental justice and ecological debt also speak to this.

    I think your second point Nathan – that nature only exists to be exploited – speaks volumes as to why such a superficial reading of the green movement persists in leftist circles. Not only is that particular perspective of ‘nature’ a product of the shift to a capitalist society (and in opposition to the perspectives held by both the early working class and the classes smashed to form the class of waged labourers), it perpetuates the same commodity logic that is the basis of capitalism. Nature is no ‘thing’ to be exploited but a component part of a much broader set of social relations. We cannot destroy capitalism by merely changing the names on the old system but only by completely recreating our social relations. Changing the way we relate and involve what is crudely called ‘nature’ is part and parcel of that revolution.

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  9. @nik “Changing the way we relate and involve what is crudely called ‘nature’ is part and parcel of that revolution.”

    Yes, if I had my way post-revolution there would be even less respect for nature. I would scrap the green belt, encourage the building of millions of large spacious homes and towerblocks over the country to eliminate scarcity in high quality housing; enact a nuclear power plant building drive to give us ten times the power we have now (thus driving power scarcity and eliminating fuel poverty); and encourage mobility of every sort imaginable: new roads, railways, planes etc.

    This is the only consistent materialist vision of the elimination of scarcity. In that sense I am very much on Marx’s side: the move the capitalism, and the elimination of the superstitious and pious relationship to ‘nature’ in the feudal model was very much a advance capitalism could credit itself with. Unfortunately, this is an advance that we are in danger of loosing to the increasing romanticization of nature.

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  10. I agree with Chris when he says that environmental and class questions are inextricably linked for that reason ecological issues are class issues as well as issues for the whole of humanity.
    While Marxists are for the development of the productive forces under the control of socialised humanity, they also realise that the stimulus to this future development under a system controlled by the working class, will be a radically different set of values from those that now predominate under a system of generalised commodity production (capitalism).
    The position was developed as early as 1972 by the Marxist Philosopher Istvan Meszarous who argued In the 1972 Deutscher Memorial Lecture.
    ‘For the issue is not whether or not we produce under some control; since our present state of affairs has been produced under the ‘iron fisted control’ of capital which is envisaged, by our politicians, to remain the fundamental regulating force of our life also in the future.
    And to say that ‘science and technology can solve all our problems in the long run’ is much worse than believing in witchcraft; for it tendentiously ignores the devastating social embeddedness of present day science and technology. In this respect, too, the issue is not whether we use science and technology to solve our problems- for obviously we must- but whether or not we succeed in radically changing their direction which at present is narrowly determined and circumscribed by the self-perpetuation needs of profit maximisation’

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  11. The Challenge of Sustainable Development and the Culture
    of Substantive Equality
    by István Mészáros

    Home
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    Notes From
    the Editors

    Imperialism and “Empire”
    by John Bellamy Foster

    A New Silk Road: Proposed Pipeline in Afghanistan,
    Testimony by Unocal Vice President John J. Maresca

    Sixties Lessons and Lore
    by Bernardine Dohrn

    A Collective Past Within Us
    by Paul Buhle

    Radicals Known and Unknown
    by Bill Fletcher, Jr.

    ——————————————————————————–

    Also by this Author:

    Militarism and the Coming Wars

    The Challenge of Sustainable Development and the Culture
    of Substantive Equality

    ——————————————————————————–

    Books of Interest:
    Socialism or Barbarism
    by István Mészáros

    Whose Millennium? Theirs or Ours
    by Daniel Singer

    This article is based on a lecture delivered at the Latin American Parliaments’ “Summit on the Social Debt and Latin American Integration,” held in Caracas, Venezuela, July 10-13, 2001.

    To the memory of Daniel Singer with whom I often conversed about the untenability of our order of structural inequality.

    1.

    Two closely connected propositions are at the center of this intervention: If development in the future is not sustainable development, there will be no significant development at all, no matter how badly needed; only frustrated attempts to square the circle, as in the last few decades, marked by ever more elusive “modernizing” theories and practices, condescendingly prescribed for the so-called Third World by the spokesmen of former colonial powers. The corollary to this is that the pursuit of sustainable development is inseparable from the progressive realization of substantive equality. It must also be stressed in this context that the obstacles to be overcome could hardly be greater. For up to our own days the culture of substantive inequality remains dominant, despite the usually half-hearted efforts to counter the damaging impact of social inequality by instituting some mechanism of strictly formal equality in the political sphere.

    We may well ask the question: what happened in the course of subsequent historical development to the noble ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality proclaimed at the time of the French Revolution, and genuinely believed by many long afterwards? Why did fraternity and equality have to be discarded altogether, often with undisguised contempt, and liberty reduced to the fragile skeleton of “the democratic right to vote,” exercised by a skeptically diminishing number of people in the countries which like to describe themselves as “the model of democracy”?1 And that is far from all the bad news. For, as twentieth century history amply demonstrates, even the meager measures of formal equality are often considered unaffordable luxuries, to be unceremoniously nullified by corrupt and authoritarian political practices, or by openly pursued dictatorial interventions.

    After more than a century of promises of eliminating, or at least reducing, inequality through “progressive taxation” and other measures, (thereby securing the conditions of socially viable development), the reality is ever growing inequality. The gap has widened not only between the “developed North” and the “underdeveloped South,” but even within the advanced capitalist countries. A recent report of the U.S. Congress (which could not be accused of “left-wing bias”) admitted that the income of the top 1 percent of the U.S. population now exceeds that of the bottom 40 percent;2 a figure which in the last two decades doubled from “only” twenty percent, scandalous as it was even at that lower figure. These regressive developments went hand in hand with first stipulating a false opposition between “equality of outcome” and “equality of opportunity,” and then abandoning even the lip service once paid to the (never realized) idea of “equality of opportunity.” This result could not be considered surprising. For once the socially challenging “outcome” is arbitrarily eliminated from the picture, and replaced by “opportunity,” the latter becomes devoid of all content. The totally vacuous term of objectless (and worse: outcome-denying) “equality” is turned into the ideological justification of the effective practical negation of all real opportunity to those who need it.

    Once upon a time, the progressive thinkers of the rising bourgeoisie optimistically predicted that the domination of one social being by another would be remembered in the future as a bad dream. Henry Home, a great figure of the Scottish historical school of the Enlightenment, predicted that “Reason, resuming her sovereign authority, will banish persecution altogether, and within the next century it will be thought strange that persecution should have prevailed among social beings. It will perhaps be even doubted, whether it ever was seriously put into practice.”3

    Ironically, however, in the light of the way things have turned out, what now seems hard to believe is that the intellectual representatives of the bourgeoisie, in the ascendant, could once have reasoned in such terms. A giant of the eighteenth century French Enlightenment, Denis Diderot, did not hesitate to make the radical assertion, “if the day-worker is miserable the nation is miserable.” 4 Equally Rousseau, with utmost radicalism and biting sarcasm, described the prevailing order of social domination and subordination in this way:

    The terms of the social compact between these two estates of man may be summed up in a few words: “You have need of me, because I am rich and you are poor. We will therefore come to an agreement. I will permit you to have the honour of serving me, on condition that you bestow on me the little you have left, in return for the pains I shall take to command you.”5

    In the same progressive spirit, the great Italian philosopher, Giambattista Vico, insisted that the culmination of historical development is “the age of men in which all men recognized themselves as equal in human nature.”6 And a long time earlier Thomas Münzer, the Anabaptist leader of the German peasant revolution, pinpointed in his pamphlet against Luther the root cause of the advancing social evil in quite tangible terms, diagnosing it as the cult of universal salability and alienation. He concluded his discourse by saying how intolerable it was “that every creature should be transformed into property—the fishes in the water, the birds of the air, the plants of the earth.”7 This was a far-sighted identification of what was to unfold with all-engulfing power in the course of the next three centuries. As befits the paradoxical achievements of premature utopian anticipations, it offered from the vantage point of the far less settled structures of early capitalistic developments a much clearer vision of the dangers to come than what became visible to the participants directly involved in the vicissitudes of the more advanced phases. For once the social trend of universal salability triumphs, in tune with the inner requirements of capital’s social formation, what appeared to Münzer as the gross violation of the natural order (and, as we know, ultimately endangers the very existence of humankind), now seems self-evidently natural, unalterable, and acceptable to the thinkers who unreservedly identify themselves with the historically created (and in principle likewise removable) constraints of capital’s fully developed social order.

    Thus many things become opaque and obfuscated by the shift in the historical vantage point. Even the crucial term of “liberty” suffers a reduction to its alienated core. In opposition to the political restrictions of the feudal order liberty is hailed as the conquest of “the power freely to sell oneself,” through the presumed “contract between equals,” while the grave material and social constraints of the new order are ignored and even idealized. Accordingly, the original meaning of both liberty and equality is changed into abstract and circularly self-sustaining determinations,8 making thereby the idea of fraternity—the third member of the once solemnly proclaimed noble aspirations—utterly redundant as a matter of course.

    2.

    It is this spirit of alienation that must be now confronted, unless we are willing to resign ourselves to the acceptance of the status quo and with it the prospect of continuing social paralysis and ultimate human self-destruction. Those who are the beneficiaries of the prevailing system of crying inequality between the “developed” and the “underdeveloped” parts of the world do not hesitate to impose, with utmost cynicism, the consequences of their self-serving irresponsibility on the rest of the world (as they have done quite recently in the arbitrary dismissal of the Kyoto Protocol and other environmental imperatives). This is justified by insisting that the countries of the “South” should remain stuck at their present level of development, otherwise they would benefit from “iniquitously preferential” treatment. Here the ruling powers have the nerve to speak in the name of equality! At the same time those benefitting from the system refuse to see that the “North/South divide” is a major structural defect of the whole system, affecting every single country, including their own, even if for the time being in a less extreme form than in the so-called Third World. Nevertheless, the tendency in question is far from reassuring, even for the capitalistically most advanced countries. As an illustration we may add the alarming rise in child poverty in Britain: in the last two decades, according to the most recent statistics, the number of children living below the poverty line has multiplied threefold in the United Kingdom, and continues to increase every year.

    The difficulty for us is that viewing these matters in a short-term perspective, as the dominant cultural and political organs necessarily portray them, carries with it the temptation to follow “the line of least resistance,” leading to no significant change. The argument associated with this way of assessing the issues at stake is that “the problems worked themselves out in the past; they are bound to do so also in the future.” Nothing could be more fallacious than this line of reasoning, even if it is most convenient to the beneficiaries of the status quo who cannot face up to the explosive contradictions of our predicament in the long run. Yet, as concerned scientists of the ecological movement keep reminding us: the long run is by no means that long by now, since the clouds of an environmental catastrophe are visibly getting darker on our horizon. Shutting our eyes offers no solutions. Nor should we allow ourselves to be deceived by the illusion that the danger of devastating military collisions belongs irretrievably to the past, thanks to the good offices of the “New World Order.” The perils in this respect are as great as ever, if not greater, in that not even a single one of the underlying contradictions and antagonisms has been resolved through the implosion of the Soviet system. The recently announced abandonment of even the fragile and limited arms agreements of the past, and the adventurist pursuit of the nightmare project of “the son of star wars,” with the lamest possible justification of installing such weaponry “against rogue states,” represent stark reminders in this respect.

    For a very long time we were expected to believe that all our problems would be happily solved through socially neutral “development” and “modernization.” Technology alone was supposed to overcome all conceivable obstacles and difficulties. This was at best an illusion imposed on those who, lacking any active role in decision making, went on hoping that major improvements in their conditions of existence would be realized as promised. They had to find out through bitter experience that the technological panacea was a self-serving evasion of the contradictions by those who held the levers of social control. The “green revolution” in agriculture was supposed to resolve once and for all the world problem of famine and malnutrition. Instead, it created monster corporations like Monsanto, entrenching their power all over the world in such a way that major grassroots action is required in order to eradicate it. Yet the ideology of strictly technological remedies continues to be propagandized despite all the failures. Recently some heads of governments, including the British, started to preach sermons about the coming “green industrial revolution,” whatever that might mean. What is clear, nevertheless, is that this new-fangled technological panacea is intended, again, as a way to run away from the ineradicable social and political dimensions of the ever-intensifying environmental dangers.

    Thus it is no exaggeration to say that in our time the interests of those who cannot even imagine an alternative to the short-term perspective of the given order, and to the fanciful projection of strictly technological correctives compatible with it, directly collide with the interest of human survival itself. In the past, the magic term for judging the health of our social system was growth, and still today it remains the framework in which solutions must be envisaged. Questions of what kind of growth and to what end are precisely what is evaded by the unqualified praise of growth. This is especially the case since the reality of unqualified growth under our conditions of social metabolic reproduction happens to be extreme wastefulness and the heaping up of problems for future generations to face—as they must one day deal with the consequences of nuclear power (peaceful and military alike) for instance. The cousin of growth, the concept of development, must be also subjected to the same kind of critical scrutiny. Once upon a time, it was embraced without hesitation by virtually everybody, and major institutional resources were mobilized in the service of spreading the gospel of U.S. type “modernization and development” in the so-called underdeveloped world. It took some time before it could be realized that there was something fatefully defective about the recommended model. For if the U.S. model—whereby 4 percent of the world’s population wastes 25 percent of world’s energy and strategic material resources, and pollutes the world by the same 25 percent—were to be followed everywhere else, we would all suffocate in no time at all. This is why it is necessary to qualify all future development as sustainable development, in order to fill the concept with actually feasible and socially desirable content.

    3.

    The great challenge of sustainable development, which we now must face, cannot be properly addressed without removing the paralyzing constraints of the adversarial character of our social reproduction process. This is why the question of substantive equality cannot be avoided in our time, as it was in the past. For sustainabilitymeans being really in control of the vital social, economic, and cultural processes through which human beings not merely survive but can also find fulfilment, in accordance with the designs which they set themselves, instead of being at the mercy of unpredictable natural forces and quasi-natural socio-economic determinations. Our existing social order is built on the structural antagonism between capital and labor, and therefore it requires the exercise of external control over all recalcitrant forces. Adversariality is the necessary concomitant of such a system, no matter how great the human and economic resources wasted for its maintenance.

    The imperative for eliminating waste has clearly surfaced on our horizon, as a major requirement of sustainable development. For economy in the long run must go hand in hand with rational and humanly meaningful economizing, as befits the core of its concept. But the meaningfully economizing way of regulating our social metabolic reproduction process, on the basis of internal/self-directed, as opposed to the now prevailing external/top-down control, is radically incompatible with structural inequality and adversariality. The Soviet type system had its own form of adversariality, which ultimately resulted in its implosion. But no one should nourish the illusion that our type of capital system is immune to such contradictions, just because for the time being it can manage wastefulness and inequality in a more effective way.

    In our societies the structurally entrenched and safeguarded determinations of material inequality are greatly reinforced by the dominant culture of inequality, mentioned earlier, through which the individuals internalize their “station in society,” more or less consensually resigning themselves to their predicament of subordination to those who make the decisions over their life-activity. This culture was constituted parallel to the formation of capital’s new structures of inequality, on the iniquitous foundations inherited from the past. There was a reciprocal interaction between the material reproductive structures and the cultural dimension, creating a vicious circle that trapped the overwhelming majority of individuals in their strictly restrained domain of action. If we now envisage a qualitative change for the future, as we must, the vital role of cultural processes cannot be overstated. For there can be no escape from the dominant vicious circle, unless we succeed in carrying out the same kind of interaction—but this time in a positive emancipatory direction—which characterized social development in the past. No instant change can be envisaged from the present, in the long run quite untenable, mode of social metabolic reproduction to one no longer burdened with the destructive tendencies intrinsic to the adversarial confrontations of our time. Success will require the constitution of a culture of substantive equality, with the active involvement of all, and the awareness of one’s own share of responsibility implicit in the operation of such a non-adversarial mode of decision making.

    Understandably, even the greatest and most enlightened thinkers of the ascendant bourgeoisie, as children of their time and station, were implicated in the creation of the long-established culture of substantive inequality. Let me illustrate this point with Goethe’s lifelong struggle with the meaning of the Faust legend, intended to represent humanity’s quest to realize its destiny. As we know, according to the pact of the restless Faust with the devil, he is bound to lose his wager (and his soul) the moment he finds fulfilment and satisfaction in life. And this is how the fateful moment is greeted by Faust:

    Such busy, teeming throngs I long to see,
    Standing on freedom’s soil, a people free.
    Then to the moment could I say:
    Linger you now, you are so fair!
    Now records of my earthly day
    No flight of aeons can impair—
    Foreknowledge comes, and fills me with such bliss,
    I take my joy, my highest moment this.
    However, with supreme irony Goethe shows that Faust’s great excitement is misplaced. For what he greets (when blinded by Sorge) as the great work of conquering land from the swamps in fulfilment of his own plan, is in reality the noise made by the lemures digging his grave. And only celestial intervention can, in the end, save Faust, rescuing his soul from the clutches of the devil. The greatness of Goethe is evident in the way he also indicates why Faust’s quest must end in irony and insoluble ambiguity, even if Goethe cannot distance himself from the world view of his hero, trapped by the conception of “enlightened inequality.” This is the summation of the Faustian vision:

    Only the master’s word gives action weight,
    And what I framed in thought I will fulfil.
    Ho, you my people, quickly come from rest:
    Let the world see the fruit of bold behest.
    Man all the tools, spade, shovel, as is due,
    The work marked out must straight be carried through.
    Quick diligence, firm discipline,
    With these the noblest heights we win.
    To end the greatest work designed,
    A thousand hands need but one mind.
    Clearly, the consignment of the overwhelming majority of humankind to the role of “hands,” asked to “man all the tools,” in the service of “one mind,” and obeying “the master’s word” with “quick diligence and discipline,” is quite untenable in the long run, no matter how closely it resembles the dominant actual state of affairs. How could we consider the human beings confined to such a role to be “Standing on freedom’s soil, a people free”? The instructions given by Faust to the Overseer on the way to control the workers, directly relevant though they are to our predicament today, reflect the same, untenable spirit:

    Use every means, and strive
    To get more workers, shift on shift enrol,
    With comforts spur them on, and good control.
    Pay them, cajole them, use a press-gang drive,
    A fresh report you’ll bring me daily, showing
    How my projected locks and dykes are growing.
    And what meaning can we give to Faust’s “great plan on behalf of humanity” when we know that capital’s social order is radically incompatible with the comprehensive planning necessary for the very survival of humanity? As Goethe’s Mephistopheles describes the prospects ahead of us with brutal realism:

    What matters our creative endless toil,
    When, at a snatch, oblivion ends the coil?
    “A thousand hands” in the service of “one mind” obviously cannot offer us any solution. Nor can the mystical Chorus of Angels in the last scene of Goethe’s Faust counter the Mephistophelian threat of oblivion looming at the end of the road.9

    In a somewhat more conflict-torn age Balzac, in one of his great novellas, Melmoth Reconciled, takes up the Faust theme, rescuing in a very different way Melmoth/Faust—who, thanks to his pact with the devil, enjoys unlimited wealth throughout his life. There is no need for divine intervention in his case. On the contrary, the solution is offered with extreme irony and sarcasm. For Melmoth cleverly saves his own soul—when he feels death approaching and wants to get out of his pact with the devil—by making a deal with another man, Castanier, in trouble for embezzlement, exchanging his imperilled soul with the latter, who doesn’t hesitate to enter the deal that confers upon him unlimited wealth. And Castanier’s words, when he in turn hits on the idea of how he is to get out of ultimate trouble, by obtaining still another soul in exchange for his own devil-plighted soul, sum up in a striking way Balzac’s sarcasm, which brings up-to-date Thomas Münzer’s prophetic diagnosis of all-encroaching alienation. Castanier goes to the stock exchange, absolutely convinced he will succeed in finding someone whose soul he can obtain in exchange for his own, by saying that on the stock exchange “even the Holy Spirit has its quotation” (Il Banco di Santo Spirito of the Vatican) in the list of the great banks.10

    However, it is enough to follow even for a few days the threatening disturbances on our stock exchanges in order to realize that the Melmoth/Castanier solution is no more realistic today than Goethe’s celestial intervention. Our historical challenge for securing the conditions of sustainable development must be solved in a very different way.

    Extricating ourselves from the culture of substantive inequality and progressively replacing it with a viable alternative is the road we need to follow.

    Notes

    It is enough to think of two recent examples: (1) the practical disenfranchising of countless millions, due to apathy or manipulation, and the electoral farce witnessed after the last U.S. Presidential election and (2) the lowest ever participation of voters in the June 2001 General Election in Britain, producing a grotesquely inflated parliamentary majority of 169 for the Government party with the votes of less than 25 percent of the electorate. The spokesmen of the winning party, refusing to listen to the British electorate’s clear warning message, boasted that “New Labour” had achieved a “land-slide victory.” Shirley Williams aptly commented that what we were witnessing was not a landslide but a mudslide.
    David Cay Johnston, “Gap Between Rich and Poor Found Substantially Wider,” New York Times, September 5, 1999.
    Henry Home (Lord Kames), Loose Hints upon Education, chiefly concerning the Culture of the Heart (Edinburgh & London, 1781), 284.
    Diderot’s entry on Journalier in the Encyclopédie (emphasis added).
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on Political Economy (London: Everyman edition, n.d.), p. 264.
    Giambattista Vico, The New Science, translated from the third edition (1744) (New York: Doubleday & Co, 1961), 3 (emphasis added).
    Thomas Münzer, Hochverursachte Schutzrede und Antwort wider das geistlose, sanftlebende Fleisch zu Wittenberg, welches mit verkehrter Weise durch den Diebstahl der heiligen Schrift die erbärmliche Christenheit also ganz jämmerlich besudelt hat (1524), quoted by Marx in his essay The Jewish Question (emphasis added).
    In other words, we end up with a double circularity, produced by the most iniquitous actual historical development: “liberty” is defined as (abstractly postulated but in real substance utterly fictitious) “contractual equality,” and “equality” is exhausted in the vague desideratum of a “liberty” to aspire at being granted nothing more than the formally proclaimed but socially nullified “equality of opportunity.”
    From Part Two, Act 5, of Goethe’s Faust. English translation by Philip Wayne (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Classics, 1959). English quotations are taken from pages 267-270 of this volume (emphasis added).
    The direct inspiration for Balzac’s novella was a long tale by an Irish Anglican clergyman, the descendant of a French Huguenot priest who fled France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. This work, by Charles Robert Maturin, the curate of St. Peter’s, Dublin, entitled Melmoth the Wanderer, was first published in Dublin in 1820, and immediately translated into French. (Recent edition by The Folio Society, London, 1993, pp. xvii.+ 506, with an Introduction by Virendra P. Varma.) The big difference is that while Maturin’s wandering Melmoth in the end cannot escape hell, Balzac’s very different way of approaching the Faust legend, with devastating irony and sarcasm, transfers the story on a radically different plane, putting into relief a vital determination of our social order.

    ——————————————————————————–

    ISTVÁN MÉSZÁROS is author of Socialism or Barbarism: From the “American Century” to the Crossroads (Monthly Review Press, 2001), and Beyond Capital: Toward a Theory of Transition (Monthly Review Press, 1995).

    © copyright 2001 Monthly Review

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  12. come on folks spread the solidarity, workers in struggle need support, its good that people like Sacha and the commune are supporting this, this isn’t a time to debate theory, Marx’s Ecology by John Bellamy Foster is something to read but not this evening!

    Theory is vitally important but tonight a workers occupation has occurred and it needs support, so everyone on the blog o sphere should be spread the word

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  13. oh here are the details

    Vestas Workers occupy to save jobs and the environment!
    (This is not an official press release – one will follow soon.)
    Workers at the Vestas wind turbine blade plant on the Isle of Wight have occupied their factory in Newport in an attempt to prevent its closure, which was scheduled for the end of this month. Their brave fight in is an example of what workers can do when they get together and take militant action to save jobs and sustainable industries.
    We call upon everyone around the country to send whatever support they can to the workers at Vestas. We all have an interest in a sustainable future, and we all have a responsibility to show solidarity to workers in struggle.
    Send a message of solidarity, send money to the Vestas workers’ fighting fund, and bombard the energy minister Ed Miliband with emails and phone calls (details below), calling for the government to save the factory and run it under new management. Go to a demonstration (details below), plan a solidarity action, or come to the Isle of Wight to aid the struggle.
    What can you do?
    Send messages of support to:
    Savevestas@googlemail.com

    The Vestas Fighting Fund:
    Cheques Payable to ‘Ryde and East Wight Trades Union’
    Send Cheques to:
    22 Church Lane
    Ryde
    Isle of Wight
    PO33 2NB

    Bombard Ed Miliband:
    Doncaster constituency office tel. 01302 875 462
    Westminster office tel. 020 7219 4778.
    Email: ps.ed.miliband@decc.gsi.gov.uk

    Website:

    http://savevestas.wordpress.com

    Events:

    DEMONSTRATION to save Vestas called by Campaign Against Climate Change

    Wednesday 22nd July , 6.00 pm

    Outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change, No 3 Whitehall Place
    (off Whitehall, Charing Cross tube)

    MEETING Wednesday 22nd July, 6.30-8.30pm at the Methodist Church Hall, Quay Street, Newport

    We are setting up a campaign for Vestas workers’ families and Isle of Wight residents to show their support for keeping jobs at Vestas. The families and communities campaign will be very important in keeping spirits up through this stressful time. For more details call 07775 763750.

    PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION

    Come to St Thomas Square in Newport at 5:30pm on Friday 24th July where we will be making a very public display of how we feel about the Vestas closures!

    Come to the Isle of Wight to support the struggle!

    Ring 07775763750 for more information.

    A press release will follow as soon as possible.

    SOLIDARITY

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  14. Sacha: “Nathan, you sound like a member of the RCP/Living Marxism/Institute of Ideas current – who are now, as far as I can see, basically right-wing libertarians.”

    On the issue of environmentalism I am totally with them, yes. Not because it is “misanthropic” (to use Brendan O’Neill’s favourite phrase) but because environmentalism is demonstrably an anti working class, elitist ideology, all the way down from the leaders of the ’cause’ to its ontological assumptions.

    I am, by the way, persona non grata in post-RCP Furedite circles for my more general attacks on their right wing positions on capitalism, the welfare state and internationalism; yet on the environmentalism issue I am 100% with them.

    Derek: “come on folks spread the solidarity, workers in struggle need support, its good that people like Sacha and the commune are supporting this, this isn’t a time to debate theory, Marx’s Ecology by John Bellamy Foster is something to read but not this evening!”

    We do the cause no favours in uncritical cheerleadering. I, of course, support (at least in solidarity) the occupation entirely; but the demands and framings of these vital occupations need to be examined and debated if we are to take them seriously, and admit their central role in the struggle. A struggle that for me is part of the historic struggle for communism, not the struggle for a neo-feudal environmental social order, where we only just produce enough resources to scrape by and everything is rationed (the brunt of course falling upon the working class).

    For this reason, we should ask whether framing in terms of ‘climate threat’ is advantageous, or rather should the workers be encouraged to just take a traditional Left line of resistance to management?

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  15. Nathan – Please could you say concretely what you think of the Green Bans carried out by the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation?

    Obviously, like I say, we all understand that there are cases where environmental language is used in an anti-working class way. But to say flatly, “environmentalism is demonstrably an anti working class” is nonsense. Working class people have interests in the environment, because they live in it. Most climate change is caused by the relatively rich (globally speaking), and its most harmful effects fall on the relatively poor.

    “Whether we have one glacier less, a sea rise of a few inches…”

    According to the best scientific opinion, the sort of change you are talking about will lead to many deaths, and make the lives of many others much, much worse. I understand how the LM loyalists get out of this bind: they just say that ‘humanity’ needs to solve the problem through ‘technology’; in one phrase denying the existence of class differences (as if there is any actor, ‘humanity’) and representing technology (and actual productive capitals) as abstractions without any regard to their concrete particularities. But, at least in respect of the first, you don’t agree with them. So I don’t understand what your answer is to this?

    And why chuck in phrases like ‘neo-feudal’? That’s ridiculous. What on earth is the relationship between 2st century power generation technology and ‘feudalism’?

    And the working class has interests outside the economic sphere, even outside of having ‘spacious homes and towerblocks’. A great many of us like, and appreciate being able to get out in some space that isn’t stuffed with buildings and roads; people everywhere do. (Though the green belt is a qualitatively different problem from climate change: that is the real issue here.)

    I agree that Meszaros’s book is unnecessarily apocalyptic though, from the bits I’ve read.

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  16. Derek I find you appeal thoroughly patronising if not an outright misrepresentation of The Commune. The idea we should all give up theoretical discussion as if somehow it stands in the way of use engaging in working class struggle is to create completely false-opposites. Its also a typical middle-class stereotype of the working class, as if workers are not interested in ideas or engage in a battle of ideas – the workers will do the occupation and the activists can do the thinking. Bollox! Comrades in the communist network who produce the The Commune have been engaged in struggles, solidarity with struggle and the ability to engage in theory – yes all at the same time.

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  17. A few thoughts on environmentalism…

    I think it important to oppose green austerity measures which are indeed directed against the working class (e.g. increasing the cost of flying, congestion charges and other regressive taxation).

    The likes of the Campaign Against Climate Change have a very state-interventionist attitude, as evidenced by their recently published “Climate Emergency letter to Ed Miliband”, calling on him “to reduce demand [for flights] through a more sensible taxation system” – of course ‘reducing demand’ means limiting supply for those who can’t afford it, it’s not as if people will ever be any less keen to travel quickly (CACC also want a 55mph speed limit) and cheaply.

    Noticeably, they do not argue for free public transport as an alternative (as advocated by, for example, the Scottish Socialist Party in the 2007 election), instead weakly calling for subsidies ‘if necessary’. Rail (re)nationalisation, a commonplace left demand for state intervention which has won some green currency, is a rather more suspect proposition, given that (a) the state running the service does not necessarily imply better conditions for the workforce: the state wants to batter the RMT; (b) from British rail to the renationalised London Overground today, fares for passengers soar continually since the state also seeks profitability, as evidenced (c) in the fact that it was the British state which owned the railways in the 60s when the country’s railways were slashed by 1/3 (the “Beeching Axe”…) in the name of the economy.

    Throughout the whole of CACC’s piece, the process of change is envisaged as coming from the top down, “…we agree that action is needed not just by governments but also by people, and as a campaigning group our very existence derives from our recognition of the need for popular pressure [… for government to ‘take action’, no?…]. However, in this situation of dire climate emergency those who have accepted public office have a responsibility to lead, not just to react to public pressure but to do what is right.”

    I would also argue that it is wrong to make support for struggles such as the Visteon occupation in some way conditional on ‘just transition’ (changing the industry in which the work is done), as advocated in the lamentable slogan “put people to work to cut carbon”.

    Communism has nothing much to do with this kind of ‘environmentalism’ or ‘greenism’ (at its worst, deep green primitivism, whose proponents often do eulogise pre-capitalist societies or indeed the ‘environmental’ credentials of the slums of India and Brazil where demand for flights has indeed been safely contained. It is true that rising sea levels are of greatest danger to people in countries like Bangladesh (any dynast or tin-pot dictator in such countries therefore being able to denounce the west) but also that much praise for underdeveloped societies has another semi-racist side, criticising people in the Third World starting to use cars and burning more fossil fuels. This is basically similar to the argument which implicitly says that air travel should be restricted to those who can afford to pay.

    That said, we should not take the ‘opposite’ position which sees technological ‘progress’ equalling human advancement as such (a typical theme of kick-start development schemes under state-capitalist regimes undergoing primitive accumulation) even if it is obviously a good thing to develop living standards and reduce the workload. Such a notion is economic determinist and basically undemocratic because it ignores any question of how the working class can harness that development in its own interests.. At a recent forum of ours, someone from a Stalinist group advocated the use of “microchips” [!] as a means to gradually phase out capitalism (abundance means no need for unfair distribution etc… – as if the ruling class need that excuse to exist), a theme also picked up in the ‘Zeitgeist’ films.

    Communard also rightly points out how Spiked pose their anti-‘greenism’ in terms of criticising politicians lacking ‘ambition’ and being too ‘risk-averse’ in innovating capitalism. (I don’t think this kind of tone is in any way separate separate from their general abandonment of class-struggle politics). I would furthermore argue that this technocratic vision of development shares a basic similarity with the greens’ position, namely that ‘experts’ and ‘scientific specialists’ ought to be at the heart of government mapping out how the economy is run in search of some abstract ‘human well-being’ or ‘common good’ without asking what the social relations are underlying such decision making and what the results are (and how the ends and means are interlinked).

    A self-managed society where working people run society themselves via collective decision making would of course be able to choose to defend green spaces, cut down on smog and damaging pollution etc. as necessary, as well as guaranteeing a good standard of living. A society without money (and therefore no transport fares) with more time away from work would allow hugely increased possibilities as regards travel. Of course precisely the point here is that people ought to be able to decide for themselves, rather than being led by either politicians who ‘want to do the right thing’ or indeed by developers who turn the hands of politicians who don’t really care. There should be no politicians at all! The likes of Climate Rush presumably think most people are too stupid (too busy watching TV and going on ‘pointless’ holidays to the Costas, no doubt) to do anything other than follow their lead; Furedi’s trip from Leninism to Spiked never brought him close to such a concept of workers’ self-management.

    All this discussion is somewhat off the point of the excellent move by the workers at Vestas, since of course any communist worth their salt would unhesitatingly and enthusiastically support any such action to defend jobs in pretty much any field. As regards the specific dispute, there are surely some doubts as to the value of the demand to nationalise the site (as opposed to simply demanding the company keep it going and seeking solidarity from other workers in the company in other sites, countries etc. to force their hand).

    – It is apparently not the case that the company which runs the place is going under, and although the recession is a great excuse to shed workers to rationalise production, we should not be particularly keen for a bail-out which would likely be followed by a ‘return to normal’ in a couple of years.

    – The government could both nationalise the place and still lay off lots of people, since just as much as the private employer it can invoke the need to balance budgets, cut costs due to the recession etc., as indeed with the case of British Rail.

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  18. I think it important to oppose green austerity measures which are indeed directed against the working class (e.g. increasing the cost of flying…

    But are you in favour of the current tax exemption of aviation fuel? If you are not for a tax break for one particular sector of capital (and you take a position at all), then you are unavoidably for the price of flights increasing…

    congestion charges…

    Personally, I’m not opposed to this. I’ve made this point elsewhere, but congestion charges are no more regressive than the prices for using local authority leisure facilities, or a thousand other things. Why pick on the one thing that makes public transport better (buses, used by more working class people, go so much quicker through the C zone now) and is of some environmental benefit?

    The government could both nationalise the place and still lay off lots of people…

    That is true in general, but in the event that a specific struggle to nationalise against closure was won (very unlikely in this case, I think, but there you are), it would be on the premise that jobs were guaranteed for some time. It wouldn’t happen that such a struggle was won, and then the government closed the factory the next month anyway!

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  19. I do not think it is our role to demand the lifting of tax exemption on anything or to demand the government raise duties and taxes. This does not mean supporting or acquiescing in the advantages of any ‘particular sector of capital’ – if the government increases tax on aviation fuel this will be charged directly to consumers (for that is its purpose, to restrict use), not sliced off profits and surpluses by capitalists.

    If you think everything should be free – I do indeed think leisure facilities should be free, along with any number of things, including fuel, cigarettes and alcohol, since communists are for the abolition of money – then it makes little sense to support the state forcing up prices for such articles, whatever I may think of them. (I don’t know whether you support congestion charging or are merely saying you would not bother to lift a finger to oppose it…)

    I think congestion charging is worthy of particular focus only in that it happens to be a major political issue which surfaces quite often… but I think, for example, the Manchester Campaign for Free Public Transport were right to also oppose the introduction of charging for driving inside the M60 and inside the city centre.

    The government is ideologically opposed to nationalisation and only did so even in the case of Northern Rock with some reticence. I see no reason why we should ‘raise a demand’ for a state bail-out when the company is quite able to pay the cost of keeping the plant open, and that only on the basis of ‘reading results back’ from an optimistic take of what might happen in the unlikely and unpredictable case where the nationalisation demand were conceded.

    There are economic imperatives for the state to support major infrastructure (banks, railways etc.) on the brink of collapse to defend capitalist stability in general; that does not apply to a wind farm on the Isle of Wight.

    So I do not think they would ever run a business like the (ex)Vestas site on any ongoing basis, they would certainly try and run it down by a thousand paper cuts or sell it again within a shortish while. It plays no similar role in capitalism to RBS etc. and the slogan “why can’t they bail it out when they bailed out the banks” may score a humdrum false-naive ideological point, but is not particularly useful as a direction for the struggle, no more than exactly the same demand when raised at Visteon, which Joe Thorne earlier described in a report on an occupation rally there:

    “One speaker from the Socialist Party demanded that the government “nationalise the car industry … They’ve done it with the banks, why can’t they do it with the car industry?” She did not explain why she thought that the financial sector since nationalisation provided a shining, pro-working class model toward which auto workers could aspire. The slogan of ‘nationalisation now’, dragged once more into leftist language, seems to have little more than ritual or nostalgic quality. Its function appears to be to provide a ‘political’ slogan for the workers, who are thought to otherwise be in danger of remaining stuck in ‘economistic’ struggles. Regardless, the slogan is more or less completely pointless.”

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  20. Since government took over as senior authority in a number of banks we have an increase in job cuts not the securing of jobs. Those calling for nationalisation of the car industry seem to forget there used to be a state car industry in the UK which the most class conscious workers were demanding be placed under workers self-management not state management in the 1970s before the jobs slaughter. In the nationalised Civil Service we have seen tens of thousands of job losses. State ownership is no guarantee of job security.

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  21. I would say David has worked out a remarkably consistent position here, and agree on the principles; yet it presumes the communist society will happen and there is no need to take a ‘transitional’ position on such matters. Describing how useful certain positions are for forwarding the struggle is a good start, but what about in situations where environmental issues are attached to no struggle but have big impacts on the working class? Surely this requires the attachment of principle that transcends the ultra-liberalism of workers self management advocacy?

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  22. I do not think it is our role to demand the lifting of tax exemption on anything or to demand the government raise duties and taxes

    But it is our role to demand that such exemptions not be lifted? That is the implication of your position, it hardly seems consistent…

    (I don’t know whether you support congestion charging or are merely saying you would not bother to lift a finger to oppose it…)

    I don’t know enough about its impacts on different social groups to be honest. I guess almost certainly the latter, probably the former… i.e. if, as I suspect, it tends to the benefit of London’s working class population in general, I am for it. If it doesn’t, I’m not.

    In my recollection when it comes up as a political issue, it’s generally in the form of rich people living in the West End objecting to it.

    As I understand it, the issue in Manchester was that public transport is nowhere near up to the standard it is London, and that in any case congestion is nowhere near as bad as it was in London before the CC was introduced. And there was no available means to force the local authority to make public transport decent, even once CC receipts started rolling in. But yes, I think that given the circumstances, their opposition was legitimate.

    Nationalisation – ho ho. The original point I made about Vestas stands, I think. The SP speaker quoted was talking about a demand to nationalise the entire auto industry as an offensive demand. While Visteon could have faded jobs into Dagenham. The issue at Vestas is how does the struggle point toward actually keeping the jobs, and the plant open. I’m not confident Vestas has enough work to operate the Isle of Wight factory as well as the replacement sites it has already set up to run in the US. Not to mention that the technology on the Isle of Wight is old – at their new sites they have more modern technology.

    The fact that there is absolutely no way the government is going to do that (because occupying a building belonging to a particular company puts no material pressure on the state to compell it to do anything), and that’s not how nationalisations happen (i.e. they happen as defensive moves for vital industries by the state and capital in general) is another issue I guess…

    Nathan – no opinion on the green bans, and no answer on this?

    According to the best scientific opinion, the sort of change you are talking about will lead to many deaths, and make the lives of many others much, much worse. I understand how the LM loyalists get out of this bind: they just say that ‘humanity’ needs to solve the problem through ‘technology’; in one phrase denying the existence of class differences (as if there is any actor, ‘humanity’) and representing technology (and actual productive capitals) as abstractions without any regard to their concrete particularities. But, at least in respect of the first, you don’t agree with them. So I don’t understand what your answer is to this?

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  23. Also, I’m not sure what this means:

    Surely this requires the attachment of principle that transcends the ultra-liberalism of workers self management advocacy?

    Are you characterising advocacy of workers’ self management as ‘ultra-liberal’?

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  24. Communard: “Are you characterising advocacy of workers’ self management as ‘ultra-liberal’?”

    Yes. Of course in Marxist circles we are used to using the word ‘liberal’ to describe a certain wet reformist position that ultimately legitimates, rather than helps overturn, the relations that undergird the status quo. But the liberal project more generally (and here going all the way back to the Enlightenment) is one that aims for human emancipation from all arbitrary power and thus towards absolute freedom. In this sense I would describe Marxism as ultra-liberalism; a liberalism to which the ‘ultra’ prefix of course sets its far far apart from the run of mill liberalism. I would argue that the truth of Marxism is that it actually shows regular liberalism to be a superficial fake, and shows the conditions under which a true liberalism would be possible.

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  25. I doubt Marx would recognise himself in that description he would have probably described workers self-management as ‘possible communism’ as he replied to the critics of the Paris Commune who had moaned endlessly beforehand about ‘impossible communism’.

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  26. But the liberal project more generally (and here going all the way back to the Enlightenment) is one that aims for human emancipation from all arbitrary power and thus towards absolute freedom. In this sense I would describe Marxism as ultra-liberalism…

    This seems to me to be an extremely odd definition of liberalism… I don’t think you could find any enlightenment liberal who was for “human emancipation from all arbitary power”, i.e. communism, and many (Hobbes, Burke) who were thoroughly reactionary class warriors – fighting, that is, for the other side – and arguing specifically for arbitrary power. Do you have any reference for that definition?

    By the way, I think the LM account of “enlightenment ideals” is more or less ahistorical, and certainly stripped of class and gender dynamics. For instance, figures like Hobbes were in favour of the witch hunt, and burning tens of thousands of poor proletarian women to death. Even figures like Newton believed in magic (alchemy was one of his major preoccupations) and while Cesare Beccaria was an opponent of the death penalty, Newton was actively involved in having counterfeiters executed. Kant was (like most Enlightenment political theorists) for a “mixed government”, i.e. one made up of elements of “democracy”, “oligarchy”, and “monarchy”.

    I don’t see why real freedom for all would be thought to be at the core of this, rather than the sort of tepid values that we normally associate with liberalism, and which seem to be manifest in all the classical enlightenment liberals…

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  27. Local community radio station 3CR here in melbourne Saturday morning Solidarity breakfast union show discussed the wind turbine plant occupation & situation.
    Like Iran, Honduras, even China the internet, twitter & radio updates workers around the planet.
    The largest and dirtiest coal plant in Ozfailure at Hazelwood, La trobe Valley has a strike on by safety crew and unionists and climate change network activists have been there in solidarity, no doubt the Isle of Wight situation will be discussed there too this weekend.
    As well as the Builders Labourer’s Federation green bans saving bush and buildings it rocked the foundations of all those Managers who would separate the economy from the environment.
    No jobs on a dead planet – earthworker.

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  28. Communard, yes i agree that the post-RCP imagining of liberalism is totally ahistorical and stripped of all class dynamics. Yet in the end I see myself on the side of radical Enlightenment, and that the developments of bourgeois liberalism were in some sense neccessary for the imagining of the ultra (true) liberalism of Marxist Communism. I think we need to strategically assert this in a time in which Enlightenment values are under attack from left and right, i.e. continue the fight against religion, against archaic institutions, the monarchy etc. all of which are coming back in vogue, and sadly to say much more influential idealogical current than the communist one today.

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  29. “But the liberal project more generally (and here going all the way back to the Enlightenment) is one that aims for human emancipation from all arbitrary power and thus towards absolute freedom. In this sense I would describe Marxism as ultra-liberalism…”

    Marx got from Hegel the bit about “human emancipation from all arbitrary power and thus towards absolute freedom”. On ultra-liberalism, well Marx supported Abraham Lincoln against the racist Confederacy’s and didn’t exactly protest when the ex-liberal Palmerston started a war in the Crimea against Tzarist Russia. But Marx’s standpoint was the “Revolution in Permanence” (forget the fake trotskyist concept of the same name). According to this, although revolutionary workers parties could and would march with the petty bourgeois radicals against the reactionary enemy, they would have to oppose all attempts by the radicals to consolidate their position to the detriment of the workers.

    160 years on we need to be more circumspect of the enlightened ‘radicals’. Liberals no longer have any excuses regarding capitalism, apart from the ‘left’ being such a joke when it comes an alternative. I’ll take Dawkins and co seriously when they start doing value-theory.

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  30. Dave: “160 years on we need to be more circumspect of the enlightened ‘radicals’. Liberals no longer have any excuses regarding capitalism, apart from the ‘left’ being such a joke when it comes an alternative. I’ll take Dawkins and co seriously when they start doing value-theory.”

    True, Dawkins drives me crazy with his smug, Oxbridge suburban liberalism; that he is, by the way, totally unable to justify. Even his ‘fight’ against religion is quite pathetic in many way. But still I think we need to strategically assert that the radical Enlightenment was a progressive (and still is) opening up and banishing away of mysticism and superstition. The task as I see it, is as superstitious and backward modes of thought return, we should ally the Commune’s project to radical Enlightenment values, and those in turn (Marxist-Communism) I see as the logical direction of radical Enlightenment, not it going off the rails, or ‘too far,’ as conservative ideologues constantly portray it.

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