Libertarian Polarisation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Aug 30 07:28:58 MDT 1999

Graham Barnfield:
>state control is at least civilised.  When I was 13, I remember social
>workers wanting to check up on what a friends' parents fed their four foot
>tall daughter, who wasn't growing fast enough for the school's liking. She
>was short because the parents were short, but this was lost sight of in the
>rush to supervise the family shopping. So keeping the state out of the
>bedroom - and the rest of the house - is a libertarian position worth

I have no idea why the LM comrade feels the need to re-invent the wheel.
Gramsci, one of the 3 muses who inspires this mailing list, discussed the
role of social workers in Henry Ford's employ at length in his prison
notebooks. The gist of his analysis is that the social workers were used as
a form of social control in the household, as an extension of the kind of
labor discipline that went on in the factory.

Gramsci's answer to this was not hobnobbing with Tories and fox-hunters,
but strengthening the trade unions and building a proletarian party. I am
afraid that much of LM's analysis takes a given that work in the trade
unions and building a proletarian party is obsolete. So what you are left
with is individual action. This is exactly what the ruling class encourages
us to do, solve our problems on our own.

I have a strong sense that the defeatist mood that gave rise to Analytical
Marxism also accounts for the right turn of the ex-RCP. In both cases, you
are left with a sense of futility about collective, mass action. In 1987,
Margaret Thatcher said, "There is no such thing as society. There are
individual men and women, and there are families." Meanwhile, leading AM'er
Jon Elster wrote 2 years later, "There are no societies, only individuals
who interact with each other."

If the USSR and the welfare state have collapsed, it is a seductive
argument to say that we have to bypass traditional methods of class
struggle. Especially when your position in bourgeois society (tenured
professor, television producer, software engineer) gives you a bit of
leverage over what the average wage worker enjoys. So if such a person
already enjoys job security and a generous wage, naturally the issues that
seem most important fall outside the rubric of traditional Marxist
discourse, such as the freedom to hunt foxes or sit on the beach without
worrying about skin cancer.

Louis Proyect


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