Roach Motels

Chris Burford 100423.2040 at
Thu Aug 22 03:21:46 MDT 1996

Doug: >>Attributing his problems to his class position is an insult
to the working class.<<<

You seem, Doug, to be unaware that I largely agree with you.
If you read the passage you objected to (copied below)
it  does *not* attribute Robert's problem
to being a member of the *working* class, which you seem to have
assumed it did.

I do not think the word lumpen is inappropriate. I used
it about a year ago in confronting Jim Jazz long before
he got a job and left. I do not want to attack Jim J in
his absence, and we parted on reasonably cordial terms, but many may
remember him and it seemed to me the problem is similar in some

The disagreement between us is method. Your strong summary
of Robert's errors would be valuable to confront him
if it is done just a few times.
What I say is a problem is if people like you and Louis get
involved in a grinding tit for tat with him several times a day
on an open list like this, and like marxism-general may be in future.
What is the evidence that this works?

The strength of this list is that it takes on all comers and
somehow copes with them. It's weakness is that it takes on all
comers and sometimes has considerable difficulty.

It is particularly
vulnerable as Ken has pointed out, to a poster who has no other
commitments or purchase on reality but to post ten times a day, and yet
who can afford the cost of the technology.

Being unemployed for
long periods of time is a very destructive
process. The welfare benefits still available in advanced
capitalist/imperialist countries cushion people but leave them
helpless, demoralised and unable to connect effectively with
other workers or working people. But may also leave them
where they have sufficient financial privileges to connect with
this list, (which certainly cannot be afforded by the majority of
the working class of the world).

What do we do about this problem? Well the rules can be changed.
Or people can go where the rules are different. You and Louis for
example could do all your posting on M2 and work to build it up
preparatory to the reorganization. It could be a valuable experiment.

You may have better solutions.

But I suspect it is the very contradiction that makes this list
vulnerable to unfocussed posting by Robert, that also attracts
people from so many different backgrounds to check in  at
this crossroads of marxist ideas. It is a chaotic but in my
opinion also a creative process, and I am very glad to see that
Spoons are reaffirming their commitment to such an uncensored
self-moderated list, while making proposals for a variety of
more structured ways of discussing marxism.

Psychologically the best approaches to a poster whom
you and Louis consider marginal, but who takes up a lot of your
attention, are either confrontation, or reasoning, or ignoring.
 What is worst is non-stop grumbling which reinforces
the feeling of engagement but somehow never resolves anything.
It would be better to remain silent, and just read different pages
of this list. You might be happier.

The problem is that intermittent reinforcement is one of the strongest
ways of encouraging people to persist in their behaviour. I dislike
behaviourism very much as a global psychological theory, but this
conclusion has some truth to it. And the acting out continues.
Each time there is a mutually contemptuous exchange, Robert can
feel he is sticking up for "Poor and working class people" against
the pretentious and treacherous intelligentsia, who historically so
often in the end compromise with the ruling class. And
his critics can think they are crushing non-proletarian ideology
in the place, the marxism list, where above all it should not go
unchallenged. It is the plot for a cartoon, illustrated with
ridiculous looking cockroaches. Bizarre and amusing at first,
tiresome if it grinds on, especially if you cannot ignore it,
as you and Louis seem to have difficulty in doing. Therefore
you keep on reinforcing it.

Whether Hans is merely aiming to protect Robert remains to be seen.
Since Hans is a teacher, I suspect his aim may be more
dialectical. My aim in the piece you object to was to try to redefine
the problem in such a way that Robert himself would be willing to
share in the solution. His own best phrase, "poor and working class
people", *does* include the lumpen proletariat.

It is a fact that
unemployed people on benefits in western countries may play a
role in protests that is not always negative. Their resistance to
the cutting of benefits and other rights, as neo-liberalism
makes further advances, may be positive. Someone whom Louis
respects, Paul Cockshott, appears to have found it valuable
working with a section of these people in the campaigns in
Scotland and Britain against the poll tax.

If Robert is starting his own e-zine for "poor and working class
people" whatever mistakes he makes at first may be summed up and
changed in dialogue with others whom he does not see as looking
down on him intellectually. He might find some of them object to
the term cockroach. Or go off and found an e-zine with a better

Meanwhile on this list it is a difficult distinction to manage,
because there is always someone willing to exchange the odd post,
so a total boycott *never* works. It is better that those who wish to
confront him do so directly, strongly and clearly, but *not* repeatedly.
And those that do engage with him do so only in a way that
has a chance of helping him to consider a different way carrying
forward mutual aims. Because until he wants to change, it is virtually
impossible to force him.

At its most specific, if anything is said at all, it is better to
say, "I feel insulted that after several months you still expect me
to read half a dozen letters from you a day, when you can't bother
to check out where the apostrophe key is on your keyboard."

I know you have virtually said this already. The point is that if
it doesn't work there is no point in saying it more than about once
every month.

That is my opinion anyway. If Spoons keep an open unselected list,
which I hope they will, this problem will recur with other posters
with other names.


At 10:43 AM 8/21/96, Chris Burford wrote:

>Concerning Robert I think there is clearly an issue of class or
>stratum, although each side puts it differently. Robert is
>an anti-intellectual voice on the list, and unlike a predecessor,
>Jim J, he at least presents long enough arguments to understand
>some sort of position. This list is heavily weighted towards those
>with intellectual training and opportunities.

This is bullshit. There are, and have been, working class people without
lots of formal education who were interesting and literate. Malecki is
neither. Anyone who picks the Cockroach as a symbol of the working class
isn't suffering from a lack of schooling - he's suffering from a political
disease which was very ably diagnosed and analyzed by Adolfo. Most of the
Swedes I've met write better English than Malecki, and he's a native
speaker. Attributing his problems to his class position is an insult to the
working class.


     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list