[Marxism] The real shocker of the election result

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Thu Nov 4 08:25:09 MST 2004

Jay, I get your drift but to be honest I don't really want to participate in
discussions about the "stupidity" of Americans. I am usually very reluctant
to call anyone stupid, because the odds are that I may not understand why
they do what they do, in which case I am the stupid one really.

If I focus on how people are stupid, I am not motivated to find out what
really makes them tick. And of course in political matters you really do
need to know what makes people tick, for which you need at least an empathy,
an attempt to look at things from the point of view of standing in somebody
else's shoes - without however losing your own viewpoint. I am not saying I
am at all good at it, but that's part of the challenge.

You can conclude from the election result that the Bush campaign assessed
"the pulse of the nation" better than the opposition, and could target its
propaganda accordingly. If you look at the campaign themes semiotically, I
think what is striking is their irrationalism - a deliberately crafted
appeal to emotionalism and moralism (Gary is probably better placed to
comment on that). This is one of the problems that Kerry had - it is
difficult to argue with nonsense, and I noticed at times he got visibly
impatient and chagrined with it. Morals and emotions obviously always enter
into political discourse, but here reason has got lost in the bid to find
unifying themes. Gyorgy Lukacs might have said, a "Zerstorung der Vernunft"
[Destruction of Reason/Intelligence/Ingenuity] which calls into question the
very efficacy of popular democracy.

You wrote:
"In Holland, have you ever seen even an immigrant-baiting fascist wearing a
t-shirt that said, "Kill Them All and
Let God Sort Them Out"?  It's seen here."

I haven't, although evidently some people feel that - but they would rarely
say that openly. I think it is partly because there are still very strong
cultural-moral sanctions against physical violence in Holland, and because
such a T-shirt, if worn in public, can in principle be the cause for legal
prosecution, on the ground that it is, as a statutory principle, both
unlawful here to threaten explicitly to kill anyone, and it is unlawful to
incite racial hatred. These principles are applied on a common sense basis,
as Dutch people are also very strong on free speech. That is to say, in many
ordinary contexts of flaring tempers, there would be no prosecution, people
sort it out without legal redress.

That culture was shown here in Amsterdam after the murder of Theo van Gogh,
when an estimated 20,000 people demonstrated noisily with drums and
fireworks in protest at his murder and in favour of free speech. Van Gogh
was somebody who tested the extremes of what you could express within the
framework of the law. Some called him a pig, or a total relativist, but what
usually saved him was his exploratory humanistic concern with people and the
fact he was prepared to lay it on the line.

Personally I disagreed with his and Hirsi Ali's critique of Islam, I think
it is a sort of caricature that just pisses people off, and doesn't resolve
anything. Islamic women are portrayed as ninnies, who just meekly submit to
their husbands and let themselves be whipped, and Islam is portrayed as a
sexual straightjacket. This is not the reality. Nor do I have any evidence
that there are more abusive sexual relations among Islamic people, than
among non-Islamic people. It's a negative politics, looking for
vulnerabilities to focus on, which splits the working classes.

Political parties which explicitly incite racial hatred are legally
prohibited under Dutch law, and accordingly a far-right party has in the
past been outlawed. The view taken by Dutch law on this issue owes a lot to
the experience of German occupation during world war 2; the moral sentiment
is, "never again". Of course, everybody knows that you cannot legislate
racism and fascism out of existence, but by taking this view, Dutch law bars
fascist and racist elements from formal participation in the political
process, that's the point. There are some far-right elements in the Liberal
Party, but they have to be careful in what they say.

When you say,  "The spread of the monetary nexus, as Marx observed, tends to
undermine and break down in its cynical and insidious way all forms of
sacredness" I think you are correct. I have inquired into this a great deal,
be it less ostentatiously than van Gogh, but perhaps with a slightly
different motive. I felt things that were sacred to me were destroyed,
defiled, which I found demoralising, which creates a kind of despair, yet I
am also self-critical and do not want to crucify myself insofar as taking
action can resolve things, change things around.

I think the real point is that markets do not provide any morality of their
own, beyond the norms required to settle transactions. The great neoliberal
myth is that markets will necessarily promote a liberal morality, but
historians can show us without any doubt, that this is not the case. At best
commercialisation relativises all moral notions, which is in part
undoubtedly progressive insofar as it can show the true proportions of
humanity, but it does not constitute a liberal morality of itself - one can
be perfectly self-acting and autonomous without being liberal.

I think Elmar Alvater succinctly summarised what is at stake: "If neither
the procedural rationality of the market nor the programme and practice of
planning have been able to solve socialization deficits and the drift into
anomie, and if the material side of industrial (or post-industrial) progress
fails to appear in the shape of individual and social well-being, then
fundamentalist answers naturally suggest themselves in the first instance."
(The future of the market, p. 244). Because fundamentalism provides fixed
principles, fixed boundaries, considered to apply for all eternity (which a
dialectician of course could not accept, other than as a relativising
concept of infinity).

Well, Alvater wrote that in 1991, and by now fundamentalism has become an
exaggerated bogey in a culture which cannot positively define itself, and
therefore tries to assert itself, by highlighting what it dislikes.

But in what Alvater says, resides I think the point of departure of 21st
century socialism - the search for forms of association and institutions
which both contain the principles of freedom, equality and solidarity, and
which can really work, i.e. are feasible and can extend human potential in
healthy ways. This is of course a far cry from recruiting people to the true
"programme" handed down by some luminary or great intellect. It is more
something that all the comrades participate in making, creating.

>From this point of view, a hue and cry about fundamentalism is only a
side-issue, the real question concerns the construction of the very basis of
people's lives, what you defend, what you reject. In this respect,
socialists are in no different positions than Bush, except of course that
they have different answers and different ways of framing the problems.
Looked at from this optic, the election result is also less surprising.

Negative politics, the politics of status envy etc. merely try to deride,
belittle or trivialize the thoughts and feelings of the Other. Whereas, if
postmodernism has any progressive content, we ought to build on the
strengths of the Other, and challenge the Other, where he thinks he is
strongest, not where we know he is weakest. Then you build a better culture.
Like I said, I don't pretend to be good at it, but that is the challenge


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