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Archive for the ‘Class War’ Category

As an anarchist, I have no illusions that my voting will actually do anything at all to enact positive change in society. It is only ever, at best, an imperfect means by which to hinder the ruling classes in being even more rapacious than they might otherwise be. But that’s not nothing. I’ve never voted for a politician in my life, but I’ve sure as hell voted against some others … in a way that happens to be indistinguishable from voting “for” their opponents, because that is the only means the system allows. Yet, if it’s there, why not use it? Use it cynically, use it with open eyes, but what exactly is the point of eschewing the one tiny scrap of power given to citizens of representative “democracies”, even while working to overturn the whole system?

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal!”
Sure. But doesn’t that well-worn slogan actually prove the opposite point to the one it’s generally deployed in favour of? It’s hard to see the history and current realities of deliberate disenfranchisement and voter suppression and  not see the ruling classes as actually running scared at the power of the electorate. They may be largely over-worried about that (see: most actual communist governments), but the aggregate power of the populace — shrunken and circumscribed though it most certainly is — is a genuine check on their power.

Voting legitimises the state (and/or whomever you vote for)
This is ultimately a philosophical point, and one where I tend to disagree with most anarchists. My disagreement, interestingly enough, stems from the very process that led me to anarchism in the first place: the academic study of the philosophical arguments by which governments claim legitimacy. See, they’re all bullshit, every last one. Social Contract Theory probably comes closest to actually being justifiable, in that it at least tries to involve the consent of the governed in being ruled by the state, but even it ultimately rests on the bullshit idea of “tacit consent”, whereby by simply existing under the rule of the state, the people have somehow agreed to be ruled by it.
All of which is to say: your consent is not required. It is simply assumed — even among electorates with voter turnout percentages regularly in the low 30s, it is assumed — and you are merely asked to choose among your oppressors. But some oppressors genuinely are worse than others, and given that the option of ‘no oppressors’ isn’t even on the table, I see no contradiction in using what little power you are afforded to try to ensure the less evil option (that is, to improve or sustain the actual material wellbeing of people in your society), and at the same time trying to flip that table altogether.
The more general point here is that participating in a system does not legitimise it. At least not where one is not given a genuine choice in whether or not to participate — and as we see from the general interpretation of low voter turnouts, simply not voting is not sufficient to be counted as “not participating” in the system. As far as I see it, voting doesn’t legitimise government any more than, say, having a bank account legitimises money, or having a job legitimises wage slavery.

Voting is alienating
Yep. Sure is. No argument there. I want to be clear that I’m not writing this as any sort of active encouragement for anyone to vote, merely as a counter-argument against some specific arguments against voting. Voting is quite literally alienating yourself from your real political power, and I would never shame someone for choosing not to do that.

Electioneering drains the energy of the radical working class!
Woah, woah, woah, now. Slow your roll, anxious anarchist abstentionists. I said voting. I didn’t say anything about campaigning. I absolutely think that it’s a waste of time for anyone seeking revolution[ary change of any kind] to bother spending any significant time working to get So-and-So, the Left’s new Great White Hope, elected into office. There are plenty of people who haven’t yet come around to genuinely radical politics; let them do the electioneering. You and me, we can keep working on the same shit we’ve been working on. But given the minimal effort required to actually cast a ballot, when elections do come around, why not vote?

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When news was announced last week that the government was introducing a new NHS surcharge for incoming migrants, I saw several friends posting about it with the usual tutting “isn’t this terrible” comments, as though the main problem was the further plight of the poor beleaguered immigrants, the least of these in our society, etc. Which is a point, sure — having an extra layer of bureaucracy and a further £150 or £200 tacked on to an already expensive and time-consuming visa application process is a hardship. However, it misses the much more fundamental problem, which is that this policy is the thin end of the wedge that would end free-at-point-of-use NHS healthcare altogether.

This move is blatantly ideological. If the worry were truly budgetary, the government could simply have raised the fees on visa applications. This would actually bring more money in for the NHS, since it would remove the bureaucracy costs of processing an entire separate fee, on another website, with all of the attendant costs of having human beings explain the inevitable confusion, rewrite and reformat all of their forms, and so on — compared to which, the work that would go into changing the digits of a single number, even across all of their forms, is trifling. The government could even make exactly the same claims to garner popular support: “We’ve raised visa fees by £150 to £200, so that immigrants are making a fair contribution to their NHS care!” That they have instead chosen to go with the more expensive option of making the new fee explicitly about paying for said care, they show that what they really care about is changing the culture and perception of the NHS, from a service that is and should be free for all users, to one that people should have to pay to use, directly rather than only through taxation.

After all, to an American, at least, £150 or £200 for two to five years of health insurance looks like an absolute bargain. And that is the point, the ultimate goal of this sort of policy change.

With all the background-privatisation, budgetary neglect, and general financial dickery the Tories have perpetrated over the last five years — continuing, let’s not forget, on the same trajectory started by Labour, who were themselves merely carrying on the Thatcher/Reagan neoliberal “consensus” that absolutely every service ought to be operated by or like a private, profit-making company — the head of the BMA has already stated worries that the next government will introduce charges for the NHS even without reference to the new charges being made to immigrants.

This does not seem quite politically feasible just yet. On Thursday night’s leaders debate, even old-fashioned novelty racist Nigel Farage felt the need to emphasise that it ought remain free at point of use (although you could point out that the fact that that question even appears to be on the table is itself evidence of the degree of slippage that has already occurred). But in a few years’ time, after what we can only assume will be a few more years of neoliberal austerity, with privatisation driving up costs and UKIP’s constant scaremongering about immigrants having been answered by explicitly charging immigrants to use the NHS, and everybody having got used to the idea of some people being explicitly charged for it — how will it look then?

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Or: I weigh in on another irritating twitter argument

Yesterday, in the midst of RMT strikes in London, Strike Magazine retweeted this six-month-old article by David Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs,” in which he speculates (among much else) that tube workers have little support from the general public because everyone else is totes jelly that their jobs are actually meaningful rather than bullshit.

@muzrobertson replied to question the idea of “bullshit jobs” in the first place, noting that tube workers assist capitalism as much as corporate lawyers. I’m not sure if this was a genuine or a willful misunderstanding of the ideas in Graeber’s (admittedly somewhat turbid) article, but I rather suspect the latter given his later tweet: “On which tube stop do I get off at to see the staff existing outwith of capitalist relations?” In any case there didn’t seem to be any kind of genuine engagement from either side in the ensuing discussion, because there is fertile theoretical ground underneath all this… well, bullshit.

On the one hand, yes, it’s obvious that there are very few jobs that don’t help to facilitate capitalism. On the other hand, it’s also clear that there is some work that is simply more meaningful than other work. The criterion for calling something a ‘bullshit job’ can’t just be that it facilitates capitalism, because that encompasses nearly the entire set of ‘jobs’, and the term is therefore useless. One could of course, say that ‘jobs are bullshit’, and I’d probably agree, but I think that the useful point here is to distinguish alienation from meaninglessness. Graeber appears to be using ‘bullshit’ to apply exclusively to ‘meaningless’, whereas @muzrobertson seems to be arguing from the position that alienation from one’s labour, in and of itself, makes work bullshit – and I think he’s right in that, except in that he is arguing against a strawman constructed from Graeber’s somewhat bombastic terminology, rather than (apparently) anything in his actual arguments.

Still, there’s a really, really easy rule of thumb here: Would your job exist in a non-capitalist society? If so, it is probably meaningful. And in the case of the tube workers, it is evident that drivers and certain station staff would be necessary, while the issuing and checking of tickets likely would not. However, given that the strikes are happening within the capitalist system, and that the meaningful nature of a job bears no relation to the workers’ actual struggles, the whole question seems fairly academic – and certainly not a reason to draw support away from the striking workers. Which, I hasten to add none of the participants in this argument seemed to have any intention of doing. The whole thing reads rather depressingly like yet another “Your theoretical position provides insufficient support for the workers!” “No, your theoretical position provides insufficient support for the workers!”

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Well. So. I have an interview tomorrow for a course I will almost certainly not be able to afford to actually take, due to the insane ‘home student’ category regulations set out by the Scottish government (see previous post).

Now, Theresa May has proposed adding a “British partner must have annual income of >£20k” clause to spouse and partner visas. It’s not clear, from any news reports, whether this proposal would apply to new spouse/partner visas, or also to settlement applications for those currently on them. If the former, it’s still a big issue that I care about quite a bit on behalf of others; if the latter, however, unnecessarily delaying my education may soon be the least of my worries.

This blog post is the best summary I’ve seen yet of the problems with such a proposal.* It’s well worth reading, though I would note that its first shock-bolded point, “The government is endorsing a policy that actively discriminates against the families of British people.” is, y’know, already happening, codified in law an aw, with regards to Further and Higher Education fees.

*Alyson over on Bright Green Scotland notes some more problems from a particularly feminist angle.

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Those who know me will remember how, well before finishing my degree, I was already regretting not pursuing my childhood passion of Zoology instead of following my nose into Philosophy — but by that point it was already too late to switch degrees, since I couldn’t afford another two years of undergrad, which is the minimum it would’ve taken to switch, assuming they’d even have let me do so. After finishing my degree, I started looking around for ways to somehow shoe-horn it into some sort of scientific discipline, mostly unsuccessfully. Besides which, I’d found that I pretty much couldn’t afford any kind of further study, since I would still be classed as an “overseas” student until I had been resident for three years “not primarily for the purpose of education”.
(more…)

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[Making this an open letter; it’s probably the only way of getting any response.]

Dear Jobcentre Plus,

I am a currently underemployed proofreader and copy-editor. I have been looking for work using your site, and have been dismayed to see that the job postings are rife with typos and other errors. I understand that this is employer-submitted content, but I am writing to ask if there is space on your staff for someone to read through job postings and, at the very least, remove obvious typos and spelling errors — if not also to work with employers to make more substantial corrections to grammar and punctuation. I believe that a process such as this would improve the experience of searching for job seekers, and improve the response rate to postings for prospective employers.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Best regards,

[signature]

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Having listened to Maddy Prior & June Tabor’s album ‘Silly Sisters’ several times at work the other day, I found myself with their version of Geordie stuck in my head — only, annoyingly, I couldn’t remember all the words, so had just snippets. Thinking to exorcise it through fuller knowledge, I opened up a songbook, Rise Up Singing, that I knew to have a version of it, to scan the lyrics.

Now, I am no stranger to folk music; I’m well aware that there are about a bajillion versions of every song, especially older ones, and that they vary considerably in both words and music. This, however, was a broader divergence than I ever would have expected. The very story changes dramatically! The basic story of a man called Geordie being condemned, and then his wife coming to beg for his life is the same, but they diverge in almost evey other aspect. And I know they are supposedly the same song, as well, since the songbook lists the ‘Silly Sisters’ album as an example recording!

In Prior & Tabor’s (which turned out to be this version, originally transcribed by Robert Burns), Geordie was a nobleman framed for the murder of another. His lady rides to court and is told his life will be spared if she collects a ginormous ransom, which she does, and so buys his freedom. In the Rise Up Singing version — as in most other, especially English versions, it turns out — Geordie is a poacher, and when his wife comes to beg for his freedom, she is turned away, and he dies. Talk about alternate endings!

A musician, identified only as ‘Ian’ in this Mudcat thread describes his own recording of the song as “an English song about a disproportionate punishment for a crime which evolved from a Scottish song about a frame-up”. The Scottish versions do seem to generally pre-date the English ones (though they also seem to have become less common), and I guess changing the condemned man to reflect a common-ish crime in your area, for which the punishment is widely seen as vastly unjust, does make a sort of sense. As, given the former, does having him actually die rather than get ransomed at the last minute. But at this point, is it even still the same song? Could there have been some other English song (or several) that got morphed into this one because the tune was catchy and the story was distilled and familiar?

Oddly, this recording by Ewan MacColl seems to combine elements of several versions, but seems mostly drawn from this one, known as Gight’s Ladye. Geordie’s wife is still a noblewoman of some sort, but Geordie’s crime is poaching. She isn’t turned away out of hand, though, and goes through with the begging for ransom money as in the other Scottish versions. However, it seems to me that her success in this is left ambiguous while the narrator is distracted by telling the tale of her verbal harrassment by a bawdy lord. Though, granted, my impression of ambiguity could merely be from an inferior understanding of Scots; it’s certainly not ambiguous in the ‘Gight’s Ladye’ version given on Mudcat. But why this “Bog o’ Gight” stuff? Well, a little googling proved illuminating: ‘Bog-Of-Gight’ is an old name for Gordon Castle, and the earliest historical event to be associated with this song/set of songs was the story of a George Gordon, who would have been lord of said castle at the time — although the actual events of his life, at least as given on Wikipedia, don’t quite line up with the song, and they CERTAINLY don’t line up with the ‘Gight’s Ladye’ version, though at a stretch they could be described by Burns’ ‘Geordie’.

So what is going on here? It seems unlikely that an earl — who’d have his own hunting preserves, after all — would be brought up for poaching. Yet the ‘Gight’s Ladye’ version preserves an awful lot of specific names and places, far more than Burns’ ‘Geordie’. Could the crime have been changed to make the song more populist in one area, while in another the events were recorded more faithfully even as the names all dropped away? It’s nearly impossible to tell. Though for those who feel like making minute comparisons between versions (woefully void of any information about where or when or how they were collected), it turns out Wiki has transcriptions of all of Child’s collections.

Meanwhile, a few thoughts on the Burns/Child A version. In it, Geordie is framed (or blamed for the death, anyway, regardless of guilt), and his lady, upon receiving the news of his captivity, rushes to Edinburgh with all of her men. Later on, after she’s made her tearful case to the king, but before the aged lord suggests a fine instead of death, we get this verse, which on first listen seems to break the pattern of the story considerably:

The Gordons cam and the Gordons ran,
And they were stark and steady;
And ay the word amang them a’
Was, Gordons keep you ready.

Then we see the king’s advisor suggesting that a fine might be the wiser course of action. Because this lady brought a freaking army with her to “beg” for her dearie’s life. Conclusion: the ‘fairest flower o’ woman-kind’ is a lot more badass than you might expect.

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