Walking with my daughter

zodiac zodiac at interlog.com
Sat May 25 16:57:31 MDT 1996


Hi there ---

Just got in from walking around with my daughter... she's going to be two
soon. Hope you don't mind a couple of personal ramblings.

As I was watching her run around chasing some pigeons at the park near a
Good Will, I started wondering what sort of life she is going to have. I
was thinking about my own parents and the class into which I was born...
and two different list threads...

  1. The asshole quote Doug provided from Andrew Ross
     ("cooperating with capital"), and
  2. Why western proles "don't revolt"

I know it's a cliche, but ours is a young class. We just don't have the
history. Thus people like Ross get taken seriously by us. You may think me
silly, but I believe that hockey book I mentioned earlier (Net Worth) is a
far more important addition to the [in this case Canadian] working class
than anything Ross has ever, and probably will ever, write. Net Worth
sharpens the focus on the divide in our society, details the mistakes our
mothers and fathers made. It lays bare the fake ideology about
"cooperating with capital." And it does it coolly and readably.

(Postmodernists are about as entertaining to read as insurance small
print. I know why insurance company documents are designed to be
unreadable. What's postmodernism's excuse?)

The bourgeois/townsfolk had long centuries of battle against the feudal
lords. We've had so few. And the Taylorist semi-fascist profit-sharing of
the post WWII era added to the confusion of people like my parents.

I grew up in a working class Toronto neighborhood. It was a little
bungalow in Toronto's west end. My father worked (and still works) his
whole life, and really has nothing much to show for it except a home and
union-bought pension. Though never a "union man" (they never talked labor,
my parents), he turned down several management positions in his life,
because that would mean leaving the union. My mother often detailed that
decision to me, as if it was a shameful thing that needed careful
explanation to understand.

My parents suffered through a very familiar shame at their status in life.
They bought into the TV generated mythologies, were very ashamed of their
parents (who were much poorer than they were). They had zero ideology. And
all they instilled in their kids was "do better than us."  Be a doctor. Be
a lawyer. Be middle class. -- "work hard, don't make waves, get married,
buy a home, have kids."

Well, fuck that.

I hated everything they stood for. But what they stood for is not what
they were. And it has taken me a decade or two to finally understand that.

I've gone through all the twists and turns of being rootless in society,
embraced radical left stuff when a kid, looking up to Vietnam draft
dodgers (there was a huge community of them here in T.O. when I was young,
I thought they were the greatest, brave young men, etc.) Then came the
neuronautics and drugs, sexual liberation, then the artists community
counterculture and postmodernist farting around, etc. Anything to avoid
the realization that my S/O and me are nothing but children of the working
class.

There was (is) little intellectual content out there that is _positive_
about our class. Everything tells us to hate it, to transcend it, to be
ashamed of it -- or we get followed around by shrieking dogmatists and
holy missionaries who assure us they are Our Saviors. I imagine the
bourgeoisie faced similar problems in England and France in the 15th 16th
centuries.

But I swam through that mess and found one trend that actually made me a
little proud of my parents, and appreciate the daily struggles they went
through, the endless worrying about rent/mortgage, putting in overtime for
kids, etc. Karl Marx forms its, uh, epicentre. He and Engels just happened
to be there to see the "birth" of the class, and they were smart enough to
recognize something historical transpiring. Everyone else ignored the
proles. I think Engels noted in some preface in the 1890s that his 1844
book about the English working class still remained one of the few tomes
on the subject. Bourgeois histories, of course, abounded. Naturally, our
culture created an entire industry to destroy/co-opt Marx, so it ain't
easy to get a clear picture of him, either. Took me a few years.

Anyway -- in thinking about all this, I remembered reading Gramsci's idea
about "traditional" versus "organic" intellectuals. As I understand it,
Gramsci saw in Italian society (circa 1920) two types of intellectuals in
all classes:

    1. ORGANIC INTELLECTUALS -- Products of the class itself. In feudal
    times, these were soldiers and priests, etc. In capitalist society,
    they are the economists and technocrats and manfacturers of consent,
    like the newsmedia; and from the proles, yet more economists, and shop
    stewards, etc.

    2. TRADITIONAL INTELLECTUALS -- The educated aristocracy, priests, the
    middle class professors, etc. They are part of a long tradition unto
    itself, devoid of class singularity. They distill people from all
    classes into a general mush, and from it come all kinds of theories as
    needed to justify whatever social activity is at hand -- including
    some about the working class. In a young class lacking a cache of
    organic intellectuals, this group provides leadership. It gives a head
    to a headless class.

In Italy's case, Gramsci noted, the working class thinkers were caring
churchmen, or organic bourgeois intellectuals who defected, or born again
military men, etc. People from the traditional intellectual clique.

Traditional intellectuals swing toward whatever class is ascendant at a
particular time -- in Italy, lots of these people became the thinkers of
Mussolini's fascist state. In Russia, lots of these people became the
thinkers of the Soviet state -- solidifying the bureaucratic strata.

The conflict comes when the class increasingly "matures" (and that
maturing isn't always a steady even line, but rather bursts forward and
falls back). Then these traditional intellectuals quickly change from
being "leaders" and "forward thinkers" into "retardants" on development,
if not outright reactionaries. They have no roots in the working class,
they are divorced from it and spin off theories about the movement of
classes from afar. Their antagonism is, maybe, like that of a pet owner
who feels compelled to scold the beast to keep it dependent.

People, I suspect, like Andrew Ross.

Looking out the window here at the city all around me here, the office
towers of Bay street in the distance, and all the government housing and
apartments nearby, and the little homes... here are the descendants of the
proles who gathered in Toronto's shanty towns or The Ward back when. And
the immigrant waves that followed. Their children's children...

Our class is maturing, and changing, fighting against myths and urban
legends designed to keep us at each other's throats. But it's maturing...

Anyway -- History continues to prove Marx correct on one thing: The
proletariat is revolutionary, or it is nothing. With that in mind, to
borrow a Chinese phrase sometimes called a curse: I hope my daughter lives
in interesting times.

Ken.


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