Tag: marxism

“The University in Ruins”

Constructing the Paraversity using the web.

 

Introduction

Higher Education institutions across the globe are changing and changing fast. Several writers have expressed dismay, as well as seeing opportunities to move in different directions, in response to what has been called the ‘University in Ruins’ (Readings 1996).

 

Gary Rolfe (2013), picking up on Reading’s work addressed ‘scholarship in the corporate university’ and suggested that academics must ‘dwell in the ruins’ in an authentic and productive way through the development of a community of philosophers who will dissent, subvert and challenge the ‘corporate university’ from within. Tools for subversion are at hand. Social media, blogging, open access journals and the development of new academic websites such as Researchgate and academia.edu, give academics new ways to reach students, and indeed anybody, way beyond the physical confines of their campus. Accepting that there are issues of peer review and hence quality, these tools allow free access and may facilitate dialogue in ways unheard of just few years ago. This paper explores the ruins, argues for critical dissensus, and shares one experience of using such tools and suggests that this might then assist in building Rolfe’s ‘community of philosophers’ or what Slavoj Žižek has called ‘liberated territories’ (Žižek 2008).

 

Following a note on pedagogy and addressing what the purpose of education  might be,  the idea of the Paraversity will be outlined, and importantly a central notion of dissensus highlighted. Why nurse educators and student nurses should engage in dissensus, as well as professional training, is a point to be debated. To do so, I will refer to the work of C Wright Mills’ on ‘intellectual craftsmanship’. Secondly, an example of constructing this Paraversity will be shared, not that this is a paradigm case, but as only one way to do so, a way that of course may prove fruitless as we acknowledge the variety of approaches and uncertainty of any outcomes. Indeed ‘outcomes’ themselves may be part of the language of a certain mindset that is antithetical to the Paraversity.

So, what follows is a thesis, which may draw forth an antithesis resulting in a new synthesis, which in turn can be challenged. Consensus and agreement is not the point; dialogue is. This paper is overtly political; drawing upon Freire’s ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’, Marx and the heirs of Marx, to argue that nursing is locked into a matrix of social systems that are oppressive and marginalising, and that Higher Education itself, in the guise of the ‘University of Excellence’ is increasingly commodified, and losing its way as it tries to meet the needs of the ‘Knowledge Economy’ in the production of ‘Cognitive Capitalism’.  I argue we need to revisit the question ‘what is education for’?

 


 

A note on Pedagogy

 

Paulo Friere’s first premise concerns a humanistic value base, upon which a pedagogy should be constructed. The human being is a ‘subject’, rather than an ‘object’ ready for construction by oppressive forces. Our ‘ontological vocation’ is towards ‘humanization’; to be able to engage in ‘conscientização’   which is learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality.

Stephen Sterling (2001) later argued that we need a paradigm shift away from transmissive forms of education towards transformative forms of education. Transmitting an education that ensures graduates are better equipped to perform clinical skills is first order learning.  However it is a partial education at best. First order learning takes place within current educational boundaries and philosophies. It is adaptivelearning, e.g. the acquisition of skills and knowledge to assist in adapting to new roles as registered nurses.

 

Education ought to be a process of transforming individuals so that base values, assumptions and paradigms are taken into account and challenged  – this is what Sterling calls second and third order learning.

 

Second order learning involves critically reflective learning. This is about examining the assumptions that underpin first order learning.

Third order learning is transformative learning and allows us to change perspectives and paradigms. It is creative, is a ‘shift in consciousness’, and involves a ‘deep awareness of alternative world views’ (Sterling 2001 p15).

 

Education in this sense is for humanity rather than just the transmission of knowledge, skills and values for the corporate, or employment, sphere. The Paraversity could be such a space in which this pedagogy operates. Thus, the process of education is as important, if not more important, than the end product. However, this is an issue for nurse education – to what degree is the product more important than the process? Do certain professional values, regulation and the needs for an NHS workforce outweigh the experience of a critical pedagogy? If so, are we constructing the student as passive object, who also self governs, rendering them unable to engage with countervailing voices against a one dimensional political hegemony in which the ‘market is king’?

We need to challenge pedagogical assumptions because, contrary to what many would have us believe, history has not ended, business can’t be ‘as usual’ and this is not ‘the best of all possible worlds’:

“The truth is that many things on which our future health and prosperity depend are in dire jeopardy….this is not the work of ignorant people. Rather it is largely the results of work by people with BAs, BScs, LLBs, MBAs and PhDs.” (Orr 2004 p.7)

The global financial crisis of 2007-8 was not caused by blue collar workers, nurses or teachers, but arose out of the activities of very clever people recruited from so called elite universities, many of whom studied economics mired in orthodoxy, rendering it unable to foresee the systemic risk building up within finance capital.

Jihadist social movements have gained ground in part to the ideologically based bumblings of Yale, Harvard and Oxbridge Educated elites, who with characteristic hubris and with appalling lack of insight, declared ‘mission accomplished’, and are now fretting about ‘radicalisation’ while doing little to address the socio-political causes of jihadist ideological narratives that drive young men and women into armed conflict.

Older people, their families, and those with mental health problems, in contemporary capitalist societies are experiencing crises in health and social care provision as successive governments have failed to put the interests of people before profits and capital accumulation.

With a few exceptions, for example Michael Burawoy’s (2004) notion of ‘public sociology’ or Paul Hawken’s notion of the ‘Blessed Unrest’, we have largely failed to produce enough countervailing voices, or a new vision of care that is fit for the 21st century. There is little in the way of critical guiding philosophies in operation for nursing beyond individualised biomedically dominated notions of ‘care and compassion’ in the context of instrumentally orientated curricula obsessed with competence – ‘doing rather than thinking’. This is not to deny the existence of critical voices in the literature, just to acknowledge the often ahistorical, apolitical and anti theoretical nature of what passes for scholarship in and for clinical practice.

This might seem irrelevant, idealistic, utopian and antithetical to professional nursing practice. Nonetheless, it is a notion that can be discussed within the paraversity as an element of dissensus.


 

What is the ‘paraversity’? (Rolfe 2013).

Gary Rolfe  suggest that the ‘paraversity’ runs alongside the visible University, going unnoticed or unseen. The paraversity is a ‘mental space’ of dissensus, seeking no unity of thought or acceptance of any grand narrative. As such, the Paraversity may well throw up an antithesis to this thesis. It is invisible, subversive and a virtual institution. It is not owned by corporate interests, it is not influenced directly by research bodies, funding streams or research programmes or corporate management strategies. The national student survey is irrelevant to its continuance. There will be no physically identified building or faculty – it exists in the form of a community of philosopher scholars exploring and deconstructing and reconstructing ideas.

In the paraversity there is no need to arrive at consensus or agreement or a system of unified thought. It does not exist to fulfil the corporate university’s aims and objectives, it is the ‘pursuit of difference’ to keep open debate and discussion and not to shut it down. It also operates to call the corporate university to intellectual account.

In this aim, it fosters countervailing voices to critique one dimensional thought and implicitly evokes the critical theory of Herbert Marcuse, Theodore Adorno and Louis Althusser, but is of course not merely the intellectual heir to such thought as if the matters regarding ontology, epistemology and philosophy were settled. This uncertainty of certainty could be potentially unsettling for nursing thought and practice which seeks certainty and truth in professional practice.

 

What are Universities for?

“In a world characterised by complexity and uncertainty, our long term survival lies…..in our willingness to bend the rules in unforeseen circumstances and even operate beyond our level of knowledge as we make our world view” (Paul Vare p2).

Vare acknowledges that the problems besetting the world require thinking differently, acting differently and challenging many long held assumptions. Academic disciplines which cannot evolve their thinking will produce graduates who will engage in ‘business as usual’ chasing fewer and fewer ‘plum’ jobs as they join the precariat (Standing 2011) as ‘graduates with no future’ (Mason 2012) .

 

The ‘University of Excellence’.

It might be argued that within the ‘Enlightenment’, the historic missions of Universities focused on ‘truth’ and ‘emancipation’. Docherty (2014) writes

“In 1946, the political theorist Hannah Arendt received a copy of The Idea of the University, which was written by her mentor, Karl Jaspers. Jaspers had revised the book, originally published in 1923, for the post-war context, when German universities needed to recover from explicit institutional and ideological conformism to Nazism. He advances a reconfiguration of academic freedom that, today, is everywhere threatened again, thanks to a failure of political will – and of leadership – that allows intellectual freedoms to be sacrificed to financial priorities. Writing to Jaspers on receipt of the book, Arendt firmly expressed the view that, given the cost of the higher education system, it must be state-funded. But it was vital that the professoriate should not thereby become tacitly politicised “civil servants”. Academic freedom meant that universities should be governed by intellectual demands, without improper political interference”.

Now, this narrative has been replaced with that of the neoliberal capitalist narrative of efficiency and profitability, i.e. the narrative of the market. Readings (1996) argued that the ‘pursuit of excellence’ within this narrative is a legitimising idea. However, ‘excellence’ refers more to administrative processes in which ‘excellence’ is a unit of measurement, devoid of qualitative content, which we now measure through such metrics as attrition, the number of firsts, impact factors, the number of research grants awarded and student perception questionnaires. An excellent nursing degree is one with low attrition, satisfied students, high employability and high numbers of firsts. Who would disagree with that?  Rolfe (2013) suggests this view of excellence is one of quantity rather than quality and brings us into the realms of ‘efficiency, profitability and administration’ (p9). He goes on to argue

“The vision and mission of the University has shifted from the production and dissemination of thought and ideas to the generation and sale of facts and data” (Rolfe 2013 p 81).

This suggests that the role of Universities now is often that of contributing to the local and national economy and to train graduates for the job market, and I would suggest that in many nursing departments that is the sole ‘raison d’etre’.

This instrumental orientation to nursing education (Goodman 2012) is evidenced by the dominance of competency based education, fit for practice, fit for purpose curricula, based on the NMC’s educational standards. The student nurse or graduate registrant who questions and critiques the ontological, political, ideological and epistemological assumptions upon which care is designed, delivered and evaluated would not be that welcome in clinical practice and perhaps only marginally tolerated in many nursing modules based on the transmission of facts and theories for clinical practice, grounded as many are in the assumptions of positivist and empiricist science. Nursing theory, let alone feminist or critical theory, may have disappeared from nurse education.  We may now be less able within nursing curricula to question the basis of social knowledge and care practices from critical perspectives that seeks to illuminate the subject positioning of women and the marginalisation of older people as unproductive burdens on society.

What is being lost is the notion of ‘intellectual craftmanship’ in favour of the search for empirical certainty, data and hard facts to guide practice. Indeed, evidence based practice education can be reduced to issues of methodology rather than issues of epistemology, philosophy and ontology. Perhaps many nurse scholars themselves have lost the ability to engage in this activity, and thus to be role models, buckling under the pressure to deliver clinical skills and other diverse teaching while also delivering empirically based research which provides facts and answers to practical questions. Many of course will have been schooled in the biomedical sciences and thus would not have had the critical epistemological enquiries and paradigms of social science. What we end up with is the pressure to produce ‘denotative’ writing – the telling and informing process through powerpoints and scientific reports as the dominant discourse of knowledge production and dissemination.  This is the ‘University of Excellence’.

 

What are academics for in the ‘University of Excellence’?

 

Brock (2014) asked “what is the function of the social movement academic’? However I would rephrase this and ask “what is one of the functions of the nurse academic? I would respond, as Brock does, with the suggestion that it is partly “to debunk the knowledge on which the powerful rest”.  One of those notions being peddled currently is that the NHS and society will not be able to afford care for older people,  that free at the point of delivery will no longer be possible, and that expensive external monitoring and inspections are worth the money spent on them. All the while corporates lobby behind the scenes for bits of the profitable NHS pie; see this list by Andrew Robertson on his site ‘social investigations’.

To engage in debunking requires ‘intellectual craftsmanship’ and is important for critical enquiry in the paraversity. What might that look like?

 

On Intellectual Craftsmanship  (C Wright Mills 1959).

 

In the appendix to ‘The Sociological Imagination’ Wright Mills outlined his view on ‘doing’ social science in which he suggested that ‘Scholarship’ is more important than empirical research for the social scientist. He considered that Empiricism was the ‘mere sorting out of facts and disagreements about facts’. Wright Mills’ critique of abstract empiricism contained in ‘The Sociological Imagination’ is that argument made manifest. Rules of method and arguments on methodological procedures and validity are just so much navel gazing which Wright Mills wished to avoid if he could possibly do so:

 

“Now I do not like to do empirical work if I can possibly avoid it” (p205) and “there is no more worth in empirical enquiry as such than in reading as such” (p 226).

 

The task of social science is thus to critically engage in the real world, joining personal experience and intellectual life through critical reflective reason as the

 

“advance guard in any field of learning” (p205).

He argued:

“It is the political task of the social scientist — as of any liberal educator — continually to translate personal troubles into public issues, and public issues into the terms of their human meaning for a variety of individuals. It is his task to display in his work — and, as an educator, in his life as well — this kind of sociological imagination. And it is his purpose to cultivate such habits of mind among the men and women who are publicly exposed to him. To secure these ends is to secure reason and individuality, and to make these the predominant values of a democratic society” (p187).

The personal trouble of obesity is a public issue not a personal moral failing of weak willed individuals. We must look to the role of fossil fuels instead of food, in providing energy; we must look at the marketing and distribution activities of the food industry; we must look to portrayals of the body in the media;  we must look to the structures od sedentary employment…..

Nurse educators might read this and think, actually, no it is not my political task at all!  Nurse students do not need to think about their personal lives and the lives of others as they relate to wider social and political issues…they need to be able to deliver care – to provide pain relief, comfort and explanations to vulnerable people, to interpret cardiac rhythms and administer medications, to assess wounds and decide upon management plans….that is the stuff of nursing and the rest of this is mere frippery. This is a view I have heard expressed by students as they cry “when are we going to learn proper nursing?”

In this they might be supported by the Corporate University which, in response to the demands of its customers, industry, commerce and the economy, has shifted the emphasis of the role of the academic from raising questions to providing answers, from problematizing to problem solving. Many nursing students want answers, not to raise questions. Thus empiricism and the tenets of positivistic science have been dragooned to support this mission. This is in opposition to many notions regarding personal and social transformation.

 

Michael Burawoy argued:

“The original passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environment, political freedom or simply a better world, that drew so many of us to sociology, is channeled into the pursuit of academic credentials. Progress becomes a battery of disciplinary techniques—standardized courses, validated reading lists, bureaucratic ranking intensive examinations, literature reviews, tailored dissertations, refereed publications, the all-mighty CV, the job search, the tenure file, and then policing one’s colleagues and successors to make sure we all march in step. Still, despite the normalizing pressures of careers, the originating moral impetus is rarely vanquished, the sociological spirit cannot be extinguished so easily”.

Can we replace sociology with nursing in this paragraph? Can we say our original passions have been channeled into pointless mindnumbing bureaucratically led education programmes that do nothing to challenge or change the context of care in which currently we are facing major issues in mental health and the care of older people with long term conditions?

Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) archetypal theory of the intellectual may also be illuminative and raises questions about what we are here for. Gramsci described two types of intellectual: the ‘traditional’ and the ‘organic’. The traditional is the academic who secures the status quo and the organic as the activist whose function it was to ‘construct a transformative historical bloc’, an alternative basis of consent for social order (Cresswell and Spandler 2012 p4). Although written many decades ago, this archetype may well be seen within the corporate university which supports and encourages the traditional and ignores the activist.

Nursing, and nurse academics, have a question to address. Are we engaged in the development of a practice based discipline interested only in the ‘sorting out of facts and the disagreements of facts?’ Are we traditional and/or organic academics? Is there room for both, either as separate individuals or as two roles within the same person? Justification for the ‘discovery of facts’ may be founded on its usefulness for policy and clinical practice and of course should be foundational knowledge for clinical nursing practice, after all we do not want the wrong drug to be administered because we have not sorted out the ‘facts’.

However, empirical research does not take place within a political vacuum and it would be a mistake to see the relationship of research to policy and practice as a simple linear relationship. The purist model of ‘research-policy relationships’ which takes for granted that research informs policy action by generating knowledge, or the problem solving model whereby research is driven by the need for a policy answer, do not adequately describe the process and is a far too narrow a focus for scholarship. It just does not address some of the fundamental questions underpinning human health and well-being which are as much to do with human agency and social structures within certain political economies, as to do with biomedical processes.

Research and policy then is a political activity. Wright Mills in arguing for craftsmanship in intellectual life implicitly acknowledges in the Sociological Imagination the need to go beyond simple empirical knowledge in forming policy action when he enjoins social scientists in a political and intellectual task to clarify the contemporary causes of “uneasiness and indifference to personal troubles and public issues” (p13). The social scientist is not to merely describe the contemporary elements of social life, but to engage in it.

The use of the word ‘craft’, undefined by Mills, appears here to differentiate the activity from that of (mere?) mastery of elaborate discussions of research method and ‘theory-in-general’, which would quickly make one “impatient and weary” (p195). A craft suggests development of skill by diligent constant practice, honing one’s technique by reference to finished products and products in the process of being to evaluate their flaws and strengths and then adjust accordingly. This is reflexive practice in that the work as it continues is being constantly worked and reworked as required. It suggests leaps of imagination and intuitive thinking and practice in the creation of a project. It calls for a departure from strict adherence to a rigid structure of routines, methods and frameworks. It also suggests a measure of artistry in thinking.

The scholarly craftsman is his work as his craft develops alongside who he is. Scholarly craftsmanship then is a state of being not only doing:

When Wright Mills argued that:

“admirable thinkers…do not split their work from their lives” (p195), he also argued

“Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career” (p196).

And:

“Scholarship is writing”.

To undertake this craft he asked students and social scientists to keep a journal to enable the development of the intellectual life, of the craftsmanship of social science. This should consist of ideas, personal notes, excerpts from books, bibliographical items and outlines of projects. He suggests that journals should record ‘fringe thoughts’, snatches of conversation and even dreams. This will also include the taking of copious notes from books and this needs developing into a habit.

Since Wright Mills outlined notes on journal keeping there has been the explosion onto the scene of information technologies, elearning and web 2.0. These are now new tools that were unavailable to Wright Mills. However the essential nature of scholarly activity should not be lost in any infatuation with new technologies, rather these gateway technologies could facilitate critical enquiry, journal keeping and the connection of a community of philosopher scholars engaged in dissensus and critique through a process of what Paolo Freire called dialogics.

To assist in this process, scholars need to write, and to write essays or blogs and not just research reports; to engage in discussion and not just to tell; write to invite commentary, to clarify one’s thoughts, to learn about oneself as well as to explore ideas and investigate one’s area of interest. Nursing is a socio-political activity and not just an applied set of techniques; and as such requires critique, understanding, discussion, reflexivity and transformation. The corporate university may not be interested in these ‘outcomes’, fixated as it may be on contracted commissioning targets, workforce development, league tables, SPQ results, attrition rates and ill defined notions of the ‘student experience’. The early career nursing academic will be faced by a host of external constraints on their intellectual development and their ‘success’ or performance development reviews may rest on targets and values not of their own making. What may be ignored by ‘impact metrics’ is any of their writing, which is createdover and above the research ‘write up’ focused on answering an empirical question according to a matrix of methodological imperatives. Graham Scambler (2014), as a now retired academic,  makes the point that he benefitted from the freedom to engage in intellectual activity unchained from the demand s of the Corporate University chasing its position in league tables:

“I was rarely during my career forced onto the back-foot, obliged to define achievement in terms of research revenue generated or publications in high-impact journals.”

And…

“I have encountered several ‘young’ sociologists whose expertise by far exceeds mine and who have played significant roles in facilitating as well as contributing to virtual networking and innovation but whose pioneering expertise in social media remain institutionally unrecognized and unrewarded” (my emphasis).

 

Karl Marx, C Wright Mills, Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Freire, Pierre Bourdieu, Michael Burawoy,  recognized that intellectuals can play a crucial role in ideological warfare against the dominant classes. The Paraversity may assist in this by creating

 

“havens of thinking into which thinkers can migrate and from which thoughts can proliferate and social change can reify” (Žižek 2008).

 


 

What might the Paraversity begin to look like?

 

The examples below are not definitive, it is up to the community of scholars to construct the Paraversity and if it is based on dissensus, it may look very different and take on a dynamic nature. If the idea is to create dialogue, to share ideas, to critique, to go beyond the physical confines of the Corporate University, the web 2.0 technologies might assist in this process.

 

1. Social Science and Nursing

2. Graham Scambler

4. Benny Goodman’s blog

5. Researchgate

6. Academia.edu

7. Facebook

8. Twitter

 

The links above will provide examples of critical thought and the sharing of ideas accessible by anyone anywhere and at anytime. They provide platforms for commentary and feedback, both synchronously and asynchronously. Their credibility may be built upon already established reputations and research outputs and/or by the clarity and force of the arguments. They will stand or fall by the readership wanting to engage and share and the commitment and enthusiasm by the creator.

 

Conclusion

 

Human health and wellbeing depend on many things. Critical education and challenging taken for granted assumptions are part of the foundations for human progress, if we still believe in progress. Universities may not provide the fertile soil for critical enquiry and discourse, but we do not have to wait for this to occur. We can right now live in the ruins of the University and engage in scholarship that is subversive, critical and potentially engaging and do so in the full knowledge that traditional rewards and recognition may not be forthcoming. That makes it risky. That also makes it fun.

References

Brock T (2014) What is the function of the Social Movement Academic? The Sociological Imagination. http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/15545

 

Burawoy, M. (2004) Public Sociologies: Contradictions, Dilemmas and Possibilities. Social Forces, 82(4), 1603-1618.

 

Cresswell M. and Spandler H. (2012) The Engaged Academic: Academic Intellectuals and the Psychiatric Survivor Movement, Social Movement Studies DOI:10.1080/14742837.2012.696821.

 

Docherty T (2014) Austerity canard stymies funding debate. THES. July 7th  http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.aspx?storyCode=2014367

 

Goodman B (2013) What are nurse academics for? Intellectual craftsmanship in an age of instrumentalism. Nurse Education Today 33: 87-89

 

Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Lawrence and Wishart. London

 

Mason, P. 2012 The graduates of 2012 will survive only in the cracks of our economy. The ‘Graduate without a future’ series. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/01/graduates-2012-survive-in-cracks-economy

 

Orr D. (2004) Earth in Mind. On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Island Press, Washington.

 

Rolfe G (2013) The University in Dissent. Routledge. London

 

Readings B (1996) The University in Ruins. Harvard University Press. Cambridge. MA.

 

Scambler, G. (2014) A 100th Blog: A reflexive interlude.http://www.grahamscambler.com/a-100th-blog-a-reflexive-interlude/#respond

 

Standing, G. (2011) The Precariat: the new dangerous class. Bloomsbury. London

 

Sterling S (2001). Sustainable Education – Revisioning Learning and Change, Schumacher Briefings 6. Green Books, Dartington.

 

Vare P (2014) Sustainability Literacy: role or goal? (online) http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/6202/Sustainability-Literacy-Blewitt-and-Vare.pdf in Stibbe A (2014) Handbook of Sustainability Literacy http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/stibbe-handbook-of-sustainability

 

Wright Mills C (1959) The Sociological Imagination. 40th Edition. Oxford University Press  Oxford.

 

Zizek S (2008) Violence. Profile. London.

 

marxism and health care

Marxism and Health Care

You can also find this paper on my academic website:

http://plymouth.academia.edu/bennygoodman/Papers

 

Contents

 

 

Introduction. 2

 

1. An outline of Marxist philosophy. 3

 

2. From a philosophy to health. 9

 

3. The Social Determinants of Health and the health worker’s role. 11

 

References. 14

 

A worker’s speech to a doctor. 15

 

 

Introduction

 

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”.    Theses on Feuerbach. XI  Marx K  c 1888

 

This paper is in three parts:

 

1)    An outline of Marxist philosophy.

2)    A discussion of its application to health.

3)    The Social Determinants of Health and the health worker’s role

 

Finally, Bertold Brecht’s poem ‘A worker’s speech to a doctor’ is presented for reflection.

 

This outline of Marxist philosophy focuses on 3 key ideas:

 

1)    Material Conditions. To understand our experience as human beings we must begin with rooting that experience in the material conditions of everyday life.

2)    Dialectical Materialism. Those material conditions of everyday life are characterised by conflicting social forces, the outcome of which ‘determines’ our experiences.

3)    Alienation. A result of our current material conditions of life is that we are alienated from our human self, from each other and from the nature of work.

 

These 3 lead us to consider that a fuller understanding of human health involves an analysis of the material conditions of living and its effects on health and illness; an understanding that competing and powerful groups shape those material conditions and that this shaping of material conditions results in alienating experiences and behaviours that lead people to make unhealthy lifestyle choices. These collectively are the ‘causes of the causes’ of ill health.

 

Marx never wrote explicitly about health problems, or the role of health professionals, his was an analysis of the progressing conditions of man in the pre modern (feudal, agrarian) and the modern (industrial) era, but it is in this analysis that we find the above ideas that may speak to us of some of the causes of a modern malaise.

 

The malaise is this. We live in an epoch of unprecedented wealth; financial, material and intellectual. The success of capitalism and technological advances, such as the internet, facilitate both the movement and development of capital and knowledge. Life expectancy and infant mortality have gone in the right directions. We live longer and in better health. Marx himself wrote very favourably about the ability of capitalism to be innovative and creative in furthering human progress.

 

However, alongside this wealth is continuing material poverty, a poverty of spirit as well as seemingly insurmountable problems: climate change, pre enlightenment religious fervour linked to terrorism, drug/alcohol abuse, and war. The United Nations struggles to contain inter state conflict and to deliver the promises of the Millenium Development goals. Alongside the huge increases in wealth, is the vastly increasing inequality in both social conditions, and inequalities in health and wealth of the global population. The gains ushered in by modernity are increasingly going to a wealthy ‘elite’ despite a growing middle class in many developing countries. We might be getting richer but we are not necessarily getting happier, and as austerity policies bite, many people are getting stressed, anxious and even suicidal.

 

Far from ushering in an era of global peace and prosperity the dominant mode of production, i.e. capitalism, is in urgent need of revision in order to meet the challenges the global community faces. If it does not do so, it might face what Jürgen Habermas called a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ as publics become less accepting of the social problems and the democratic deficit it seems to entail.

 

It is this cultural and economic critique that (neo) Marxist writers such Theodore Adorno, Louis Althusser, Jurgen Habermas and Antonio Gramsci have drawn attention to. In the 21st century these neo Marxist thinkers have been joined by writers who do not openly call themselves Marxist but they draw upon Marxist thinking, notably the idea of the material conditions of life affecting health e.g. The Black Report 1980 and the Marmot Review 2010; ideas around alienation affecting mental health, see Oliver James’ selfish capitalism;  and that of a ruling class elite see Graham Scambler’s ‘Greedy bastards hypothesis’.

 

 

1. An outline of Marxist philosophy

 

 

Condensing Marxist philosophy into a few paragraphs is just not possible. Therefore what follows is a snapshot, an interpretation (a thesis) open to critique and refutation (an antithesis) which may lead to a synthesis which in its turn may be challenged.

 

In 1844 Marx began collaborating with the affluent industrialist Friedrich Engels who was fresh from working as a mill manager in Manchester where he had been much affected by the poverty of the workers. The result was first The Holy Family and then in 1846 The German Ideology.

 

Marx’s understanding begins with the acceptance, his first premise, that it is the material conditions of man which conditions everything else, including man’s consciousness and his ‘ideas’. Thus his philosophical position is that of metaphysical naturalism.

 

‘The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature.’ (Marx and Engels 1846).

 

 

The focus is on the ‘physical organisation’ of human existence. Supernatural explanations (God or gods) for the condition of humanity are not needed. It is this premise that has led many, especially in the United States, to reject Marx from the outset as it is atheist in nature. History does not progress through ‘ideas’ alone, or though Allah’s or God’s will, or as a manifestation of Hegel’s ‘Geist’ (Spirit), but through the changing material conditions of existence, and the struggles of humanity to pacify the conditions of their existence. Look to how human beings in their physical existence organise themselves in their struggle to exist in a material physical world, as a starting point for social analysis.

 

 

‘In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter Into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.

 

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.’ (Marx 1859).

 

Marx suggests that primarily we need to feed, drink, clothe and house ourselves and to do so we must enter into social relationships to achieve this. An examination of history reveals the form of those social relationships (the serf-lord, the working class-bourgeoisie) that exist in a particular economic mode of production (pre-agrarian, feudal and then capitalist). It is the ‘mode of production’, currently capitalism, that ‘determines’ the form of social relationships, and the ways we think. Therefore the feudal serf-lord relationship was swept away with the rise of industrial capitalism, it simply could not continue to exist as a dominant way of organising social life. One could no longer think as a feudal lord when the feudal mode of production disappeared, just as a feudal lord could not think like a merchant capitalist trading in goods across the globe because that mode or production did not yet exist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Key concepts 

Means of production: land, tools, technologies

Forces of production: labour power and knowledge of technologies

Relations of production: the totality of social relationships that people must enter into to survive.

Mode of production:  a combination of the forces of production and relations of production.  Two modes are feudalism and capitalism.

 

 

 

 

In a society where there is no social provision for health, such as that in pre 1948 Britain, and which the dominant thinking is that all goods and services should be provided by private individuals rather than governments, then it is very difficult to think of a national health service paid for by taxes. This idea came about as part of the class struggle in industrial Britain when workers who could not afford to pay for doctors, finally got around to demanding health care irrespective of ability to pay. In the United States many people have accepted the idea that state provision for health is akin to Marxism and communism. The anti-Obama rhetoric on this issue is very clear on this point. Those with an interest in private medicine and those with a visceral hatred of state provision for anything, mounted a very successful campaign tapping into ordinary Americans love of individuality and scepticism about state involvement.

 

The form of the social relationships of production, e.g. proletarian – bourgeoisie, workers-ruling class, are defined by the mode of production. In the modern industrial era, this relationship is characterised by who owns and controls capital (the main means of production) and who does not (and only has their labour to sell).

 

This gives us the second concept: Dialectic Materialism. This suggests that if an understanding is required as to why we have the laws we do, the social relationships we have, the politics that are played out, the forms of artistic production and expression, and the health care systems that are in place, we have to understand our material existence based on the economic mode of production. This material existence includes the opposition of social classes that, through conflict and struggle in relationship to each other, gives rise to a new social order that in time may itself be challenged. Start with material conditions and then see that there are ‘dialectics’ or opposing social forces/classes at work. The sort of society you get results from the interplay of these two classes.

 

The dominant class in any historical era gets to set the agenda. If the subordinate class accepts the ruling class’ view on the proper social order then society ‘settles’ for a while. However, as the forces of production change with the development of new technologies for example, this impacts on the social relations of production, thus eventually changing the mode of production. This change of mode of production from feudalism to capitalism for example is not inevitable. Many so called ‘primitive societies’ have had sustainable social structures with an unchanged mode of production i.e. hunter-gatherer, for centuries. Marx realised however that capitalism was an extremely dynamic mode of production capable of unleashing upon the world social and technological revolutions never before seen or experienced.

 

Modern, globalised (post-industrial/financial and industrial) capitalism shapes our lives in deeply profound ways and it is to the nature of the 21st century form of capitalism that we should look to understand our modern social world and the world of ideas. Historical Materialism is the application of dialectic materialism to history and sociology. It is the view that social, political, artistic and cultural life is determined mainly by the material facts of economics and the forms of social relationships thus created, and not God or by human reasoning alone.

 

The health care system within capitalism results from this dialectical interplay between the social classes. Capitalism has now provided technologies and advances which allow for many different relationships and forms of health care to emerge, but at its heart is the relationship between its social relations of production: labour (proletarians) and capital (bourgeoisie). The exact nature of the health system differs from country to country, but it results from whichever social force is best able to set the agenda.

 

Currently, Capital, in the form of private sector corporations,  is dominant and channels funding, or withholds funding, for health care though its various spheres of influence.  If private sector corporations can influence Nation States to allow them to provide health services for a profit they will do so. If working class, i.e. labour, interests insist that health care is provided free at the point of delivery paid for out of general taxation, and that idea wins out, we end up with an NHS. In the UK, private sector corporate interests have successfully introduced market forces into a publicly funded state health system. In the United States, private sector health interests have blocked anything but the most basic of public funding for health. In many other countries the interplay between capital and labour has resulted in mixed public/private provision.

 

 

A defining characteristic of capitalism, Marx suggested, is that it alienates man from himself, from the true nature of work, from others and from nature. Alienation is suggested as a third concept in understanding modern existence, especially in terms of mental health and ideas of well-being. Anyone who only has their labour, skill or knowledge to sell in return for a wage or salary may reflect on the alienated meaning of their existence. Billions of workers are engaged in low pay, repetitive, precarious and zero contract hours to produce ‘stuff’ that ultimately is unsatisfying and which paradoxically leads to the consumption of more ‘stuff’ as a means of escape. There is now discussion of a ‘new dangerous class’ – ‘the precariat’.

 

Alienation may be partially moderated by consumption and by accepting the dominant ideas of what is the ‘good life’. In Roman times this was understood by the Emperors’ provision of bread and circuses. The plebeians needed distraction to prevent them from seeing the true nature of their subjugated existence. Soap operas and celebrity culture may have a similar function today. Other ways of ameliorating this alienation is through organised religion or a spiritual quest, or one can resort to easing the anomic pain with drugs and alcohol. We might also engage in art or philosophical musings to escape the feelings of disconnection from ourselves, our work, each other and from nature.

 

The ‘poverty of philosophy’ is its concerns with abstractions, ideas, ‘facts’ or consciousness devoid of their material context. That is, a philosophy or any understanding of how the world works which does not take into account the material conditions that man finds himself and the power relationships that result, is an empty philosophy. Removing the analysis of power relationships allows the ‘Ruling Class’ to promote their own interest in the form of ‘Ruling Ideas’. Therefore, encouraging people to ‘find themselves’ without a class analysis lets the ruling class completely off the hook because this requires no changes whatsoever in the mode of production. Capitalism can embrace any amount of ‘new age’ philosophy as long as that philosophy does not challenge  the basic power structures of wealth accumulation and distribution.

 

The counter culture in the 1960’s was initially threatening.  In being inviting young people to ‘drop out’, and with the advocacy of using LSD, capitalism would be deprived of workers who would shoulder their share of the burden. Of course the actual argument was couched in terms of ‘drugs are bad for you’, which is seen an easier sell to otherwise rebellious youth rather than ‘drug use may make you question the system’ which is not, and may actually be quite an appealing reason to take drugs.

 

The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, and which has control at the same time over the means of mental production, and over thinkers, as producers of ideas, can sell and promulgate those ideas as the ‘right ‘ones. The ruling class can regulate the production and distribution of ideas and define them to serve their own causes. ‘Liberty’ to the ruling class means something quite different to those who have nothing but the shirts on their backs. This does not mean there will not be rebels in thought and deed, only that ruling ideas tend to become ‘taken for granted’ and ‘common sense’ and anyone not willing to take part in selling their labour is then classed as deviant or criminal. Thus we have social and political issues with ‘out groups’ such as travellers, chavs, skivers v strivers. Countervailing voices are pushed to the margins and tolerated as long as they don’t do a anything practice to change things.

 

Escaping from these social relations of production is increasingly harder to do as more and more people in a globalised economy become part of the overall mode of production we call globalised capitalism.

 

To keep it that way, the ruling class, identified by Scambler as the Corporate Class Executive and the Political Power Elite, has at its disposal a Repressive State Apparatus: Police, Military, Executive government,  and an Ideological State Apparatus: newspapers, broadcast media, the churches/mosques. These act as agents of social control trying to prop up the legitimacy of current power structures and the structures of rewards and punishment. Ruling class interests are better served if the subjugated classes accept their position themselves and regulate themselves by accepting, as natural, the ruling systems. Democracy in this schema is a chimera, the State (party politics) exists mainly to serve the interests of the ruling class:

 

‘the modern Cabinet is but the executive committee for managing the affairs of the entire bourgeoisie’ (Communist Manifesto).

 

Ideas, and the definitions of ideas, such as the ‘rule of law’, ‘market forces’, ‘free trade’, presents particular class interests as being in the general social interest. It is as if these ideas float down like manna from heaven untainted by the need to serve a particular class interest. This may lead to hegemony, the political, social, ideological, economic dominance of one class over others in a system in which all are supposedly equal. A result of which may be that the subjugated class, by accepting the tenets, ideas and concepts of the dominant class has a false class consciousness, i.e. a false understanding of their true social position and interests. That is how you get low paid workers supporting social security cuts for low paid workers. Turkeys voting for Christmas.

 

The goal of philosophy should therefore be to reveal the true nature of abstract concepts e.g. parliamentary democracy and a health service, as arising from the material existence of those who produce them and the struggles of opposing social forces.

 

 

Reflecting on such a critical philosophy leads to certain questions. It may be argued that Marxism assists in developing a necessary critical perspective in that it’s key concepts asks us to engage in criticism which has:

 

‘plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.’ (Marx 1843-4, p 244).

 

There is a need to get beyond the illusory to the real, to separate fantasy from reality, to free empirical butterflies from under the wheels of philosophical fantasy. Marxism argued that there is a material reality, often hidden by delusion, deception and class interests.

 

We may suggest that in the current era a global multinational corporatist class exists for whom such concepts of the maximisation of profit, shareholder value, the extraction of natural resources on an industrial scale and the value placed on market solutions to various social, political and health issues are dominant. It wants and needs a healthy workforce only as long as the costs are not threatening to profits. Hence the health needs of poverty stricken, war torn Africans are not a priority. The health care needs of unproductive members of society: children, students, the elderly, the sick, learning disabled and mentally ill, are a costly burden to be born if possible by individuals and families. This in practice means care is to be undertaken by women supported by patriarchal notions of biological determinism of female nurturing.

Capitalism allowed the welfare state to exist on sufferance in the UK and not all in the US. Now that it has decided that the welfare state is too costly in the UK, it is withdrawing state support as quickly as public opinion will allow it to go. Corporate class interest does not need this cost burden. It prefers privatising and individualising risk rather than being asked to support public health delivery systems. The ideology it sells includes an over emphasis on individual lifestyles choices as part of the ‘responsibility deal’. You are fat because you over eat. Simple. The solution? Stop eating. Simple.

 

2. From a philosophy to health

 

In any social, cultural and political activity, a Marxist analysis thus assumes a dominant class exists which continues to own, manage and control the means of production, distribution and exchange and the production of ruling ideas. Scambler (2013) in his “Greedy Bastards Hypothesis” identifies a ‘cabal’ of wealthy and influential individuals forming the Corporate Class Executive who work with the Political Power Elite to further their own interests over that of society. His example is the introduction of the UK’s Health and Social Care Act (2012) which opens up health service delivery to “any willing provider”, such as private sector organisations. Those now charged with buying health care provision, the Clinical Commissioning Groups led largely by Doctors, will be required to open up to tender the provision of services despite the potential conflict of interest whereby many doctors also have an interest in companies who will bid for that service.

 

What are the ruling ideas and whose interests do they serve? A current example is the UK government’s use of ‘Skivers v Strivers’ rhetoric aimed at gathering public support for the withdrawal of the State from welfare provision. This idea argues that because of an increasing welfare bill which exists in a time of ‘fiscal austerity’, “there is no money left” to pay for a range of social security benefits. Therefore individuals and families should work more to provide for themselves, to break free from an entitlement culture and welfare dependency that has been associated with social ills. It may suit the ruling class to say that there is no money left and indeed it is strictly true if one only thinks about government money. What is left for critics to point out is that there is a great deal of money but that it is owned by a very small number of people and often in secretive offshore tax havens where it cannot be touched. One estimate puts this figure at $32 trillion.

 

Marxist analysis, because it highlights opposing social forces,  asks the power questions: Who sets the political and social/health agenda and why? Who are the winners and losers in a global economy and health system? How are global resources for health allocated and why? What health issues get researched and supported and why? Who has the power and who is powerless?

 

 

A Marxist take on health may suggest.

 

  • Poverty is now accepted as linked to health, but often was denied.
  • The material conditions of life have a causal relationship to health and illness. Therefore to improve health outcomes, improve material conditions.
  • Capitalism will invest in profitable enterprises, so how do you ensure finance capital invests in highly expensive low/no profit care services?
  • The social and political causes of illness and disease have been overlooked and under researched.
  • Once people lose economic usefulness their value drops and their health needs are poorly served. Take elder care and its provision as an example.
  • Research into health needs may disproportionally favour the health needs of affluent societies and the affluent in affluent societies because that is where the investment returns are.
  • Health services may be about keeping workers as productive and as economically active as possible. Therefore health services are designed to establish productive capacity not human flourishing or well being. So they invest in high tech hospital services with clear medical outcomes.
  • The National Health Service is accepted by the ruling class as the provision of ‘bread and circuses’. The provision of health services buys off the discontent of the workers and only came into being by Marxist influenced social democratic politics.
  • Health systems may favour the wealthy and well off by the design and delivery of services that they want. See for example ‘The inverse care law’ and the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
  • A ruling class idea is that ‘Responsibility for health is the individual’s, who must also pay for its provision’ thus diverting attention away from injurious to health working and cultural practices.
  • Healthcare professionals are either unwittingly working in a system that is largely about keeping the worker healthy or are self serving professionals getting affluent on the back of the ill, poor and the vain.
  • A professional ethic which emphasises altruism masks self interest from professionals themselves and from others.
  • The medical profession is a self serving elite profession, diagnosing the wrong problem, overlooking iatrogenic illness and often coming up with unhelpful solutions. It is too focused on downstream solutions to health problems caused upstream.
  • Defining health needs solely in medical terms distracts attention from the political and social determinants of health.
  • Medical definitions of mental illness may construct a deviant subculture than can, and has to be, controlled.

 

 

 

 

3. The Social Determinants of Health and the health worker’s role

 

There are three main explanations for inequalities in health.

 

1)    Cultural/lifestyle.

2)    Material.

3)    Psychosocial.

 

The first focuses on the unhealthy lifestyle choices made by people, the second focuses on the material conditions of life and the third draws in social comparisons that people make between themselves. There is a fourth – the biological/hereditarian perspective which of course has explanatory power but cannot account for the unequal patterns of health and illness we see outlined in for example “Fair Society Healthy Lives” (The Marmot Review 2010).

 

Marx and Engels would certainly have seen how the material conditions of the English working class in the 19th century caused the ill health and disease seen in urban slums. These material conditions are part of the social determinants of health which:

 

“are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels”. (World Health Organisation).

 

They are the ‘causes of the causes’ and help to explain, or at least ask us to consider why, people’s lifestyle choices for example smoking, are poor for their health. Marxists would look beyond simple explanations that blame poor people for smoking and seek to address why they are making those choices and who benefits from those choices. This is not to say that their choices are causally determined by tobacco companies, but it is to suggest that the interplay of material conditions, life chances and lifestyle choices are quite complex and open to subtle but powerful influences.

 

This too goes for obesity. Too much emphasise in getting individuals to eat less and exercise more while ignoring the production, marketing, distribution of high sugar, high calorie cheap foodstuffs through allowing industry to police itself with voluntary codes of practice is a partial solution. The context of food has also to address how we have replaced it with fossil fuels as a source of energy. We don’t walk, we drive. The automobile industry is not interested in public health, is antithetical to investment in public transport and the provision of cycling as active modes of transport.  Free market thinking in transport, leads to the insanity of Los Angeles freeways in the US, and the Beeching Rail cuts in the UK. Free markets are not always self-correcting, and when they do, they may leave a wave of ‘creative destruction’ in their wake.

 

Poverty and the poor material conditions of life are inextricably linked to illness and disease. It has been said that the poor are always with us and that we have had plague, famine and poverty since biblical days. Therefore the existence of ‘haves and have nots’ does not ‘prove’ Marxist philosophy.

 

However, understanding that the material conditions of life exist under a particular political and social structure, means understanding health in terms of poverty and how poverty is allowed to continue.  Poverty is a result of war, ideological conflict, famine and ruling ideas rather than it being a ‘natural’ state of affairs or god given. Poverty can be ameliorated if the ruling classes in each country have a mind to prioritise it as a goal.

 

The concept of a ruling class owning and controlling wealth and the production of ideas suggests that there is a global struggle for material well being, a struggle for the use and control of the means of production, and that the sides (classes) in this struggle are largely unequal in power and resources. There are winners and losers. Many more are on the losing side.

 

The losers get sick.

 

The losers get poor.

 

The losers get defeated.

 

The losers get mad.

 

The losers get even.

 

Health professionals focused on healing the individual sick and injured often can’t take the time to combat the forces that cause illness and injury.

 

‘Many professions take losers as the object of their studies and as the basis for their existence. Social psychologists, social workers, nurses, doctors, social policy experts, criminologists, therapists and others who do not count themselves among the losers would be out of work without them. But with the best will in the world, their clients remains obscure to them: their empathy knows clearly-defined professional bounds’ (Enzensberger 2005).

 

As Enzensberger (2005) goes on to argue:

 

‘one thing is certain: the way humanity has organized itself – “capitalism”, “competition”, “empire”, “globalisation” – not only does the number of losers increase every day, but as in any large group, fragmentation soon sets in. In a chaotic, unfathomable process, the cohorts of the inferior, the defeated, the victims separate out. The loser may accept his fate and resign himself; the victim may demand satisfaction; the defeated may begin preparing for the next round. But the radical loser isolates himself, becomes invisible, guards his delusion, saves his energy, and waits for his hour to come’.

 

Global capitalism has not yet solved this crisis for humanity. Marx offered revolution as an answer, a communist society….but so far the capitalism Marx knew has evolved partly due to the dialectical forces of marxist and socialist thinking , partly due to the advances in science and technology and partly due to religious philanthropy and humanist altruism.

 

What to do?

 

Health care professionals are motivated by many things, but they fool themselves to think it is a caring ethic alone that drives their practice. Caring and healing is socially and politically mediated, shaped by forces and agendas often tacitly accepted by professionals, often unknown by professionals, often ignored by professionals. Marx calls us to remove the flowers from the chains so that we may see health and illness as they really are, rooted in the material conditions of social life.

 

Health care ameliorates the worse ravages of post industrial and industrial capitalism, as well as producing some wonderful technological fixes for real human problems. But its success can only be seen to be so at the individual level. If the focus is kept at the individual then the real health issues can be hidden away, for medicine historically was largely silent in the face of poverty and inequity. Health care professionals, and the research they undertake, focus too much on the needs of the rich world and on the rich in the rich world, while practice may be based on profit not need. Quick fix expensive drugs with the promise of shareholder profits are preferred to painstaking analysis and costs of putting right social and political causes of illness – the material conditions of life that bring misery.

 

Health care professionals need to get political and join in the example of those few brave catholic priests in South America who engaged in liberation theology. Priests, who were engaged in activities unsupported by their masters in the Vatican, often suffered beatings and death while the Catholic hierarchy preferred to keep their dissent to prayer and sacraments. Religious, political and health care hierarchies may peddle an ‘its not our business leave it to the proper authorities’ ideology, however the social gradient in health and illness continues. Health care professionals know what makes people sick. Healthcare professionals know what makes people well. Healthcare professionals could argue for the focus of research and health care delivery to be turned on those known factors that lead to illness, depression and suicide. Resources should be sequestered away from the GB’s in their offshore tax havens towards meeting the needs of people. Governments should enforce a framework that ensures investment gets channelled into directions that improves human well-being even at the expense of short term shareholder profit. An ethic of civic duty and social care ought to replace an ethic of profit at all costs and that this ethic arising from moral teachings has also legislative force. Civic society must hold to account the GB’s and reclaim democracy for the people. This last however is a visionary forlorn hope, as utopian as Marx’s own dream of a communist society based ironically on a biblical event in the Book of Acts:

 

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.

 

 

 

References

 

 

Enzensberger H (2005) The Radical Loser Der Speigel 7th  November 2005

http://www.signandsight.com/features/493.html accessed 5th April 2013

 

Marx K (1843)  A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction. Early Writings.

 

Marx K. and Engels, F. (1846) The German Ideology Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism According to Its Various Prophets.

 

Marx K. (1859) A contribution to the critique of political economy (Preface).

 

Scambler, G. (2013) GBH: Greedy Bastards and health inequalities. 4th November http://grahamscambler.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/gbh-greedy-bastards-and-health-inequalities/    accessed 8th April 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A worker’s speech to a doctor    Bertold Brecht

 

 

We know what makes us ill.

When we are ill we are told

That it’s you who will heal us.

 

For ten years, we are told

You learned healing in fine schools

Built at the people’s expense

And to get your knowledge

Spent a fortune

So you must be able to heal.

 

Are you able to heal?

When we come to you

Our rags are torn off us

And you listen all over our naked body.

As to the cause of our illness

One glance at our rags would

Tell you more. It is the same cause that

Wears out

Our bodies and our clothes.

 

The pain in our shoulder comes

You say, from the damp; and this is also

The reason

For the stain on the wall of our flat.

So, tell us;

Where does the damp come from?

 

Too much work and too little food

Makes us feeble and thin.

Your prescription says:

Put on more weight.

You might as well tell a bullrush

Not to get wet.

 

You’ll no doubt say

You are innocent. The damp patch

On the walls of our flats

Tells the same story.

 

Plucking Imaginary Flowers

“Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.” (Marx Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)

This quote from Marx has always been a favourite of mine because it clarifies a fundamental truth: that many social practices obscure the actual nature of social relationships resulting in imbalances of power and exploitation which because of self delusion are not challenged. The subject here may be religion as an obfuscatory belief system but it equally applies to the tenets of consumer capitalism as an obfuscatory belief system.

Religion says “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but through me” (John 3:16). Without going into too much interpretation the message here is that Christ is the only path to enlightenment and knowledge of God, of course accepting that there is a God to know in the first place. Thus is established the first hierachy which was then extended into the human realm by such notions as the Divine Right of kings and the established practices of organised christianity. “Rich man at his castle, poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate”.

The flower: Believe in God (and his ordained ministers on earth) and your reward will be in heaven. The chain: your lowly social position.

The apologists for consumer capitalism use the public sector deficit as an ideological cover for their brand of neoliberalism. They say “We are all in this together” and that there is no alternative to slashing public spending to head off becoming Greece. Public sector pensions are also “unaffordable”:

The flower: Cut public spending and we will prosper. The chain: the inability of labour to break free from wage slavery and to organise an alternative relationship to wealth creation, distribution and exchange.

Illusions abound: It is argued that governments do not make money, they only spend it, and that it is the private sector, and importantly, global corporations that provide jobs and wealth. Note the words ‘government’ ‘private sector’ and ‘corporation’. These are illusory abstractions (flowers). They exist in discourse only to explain how a system works. In concrete reality there are human beings engaged in productive processes arranged in particular social relationships (chains).

Thus Marx calls for an examination of actual social relationships as they exist in concrete reality to reveal that it is labour creating surplus value for capital as the basis for wealth creation. Bright, ambitious individuals prosper partly through their own efforts but also because the system they prosper in has been constructed to reward certain types of effort disproportionately. This is now happening to the extent that a financial global elite are making sums of money most ordinary mortals cannot even concieve of for creating things like Credit default swaps (http://tinyurl.com/negativeCDS) which are basically bets on firms or countries failing in a market worth an estimate $45 trillion. That is to say people are working on abstractions in financial markets (which are numbers in a computer software programme) which bear little relationship to actual houses, food and energy. Let’s return to ‘affordability’ – read that number above again. That is in trillions (1 trillion = 1,000 billion). How much is the financial sector worth in trade each year? How much money sloshes around the global sytem, who earns it,  who keeps it? Affordability is another abstraction. These questions need concret answers before we talk about affordability.

The flowers include buying your own home, owning a new car, a holiday in the sun, a new kitchen…the chains were the loans you have to take out to get these things and the length of time you need to spend in work to pay it all back. You (labour) work in a system which promises you illusory heaven now to cover the the actual hell experienced while capital reaps the rewards. The system is just not sustainable. 

 

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