Archive for the ‘Marx’ Category

Meritocracy and inheritance

June 29, 2010

The above picture is a scan from the news magazine The Week (issue 772). I thought the juxtaposition was quite upsetting, so I decided it needed to be shared. Here are two excellent examples of the inequalities inherent in our systems of wealth distribution: one story shows the obscene wealth and decadence of the American rich and the other shows the poverty and suffering of one of the world poorest nations. This has to stop.

I recently finished an excellent little book from Zero books called The Meaning of David Cameron by Richard Seymour. A large part of the text was taken up by discussions of the term ‘meritocracy’ and its appropriation by the left and right. It is used as a progressive term to signify that “one should rise or fall by one’s own merits” in a society of equal opportunity. Thus any individual’s own effort and natural genius morally justifies their own financial successes: Everyone is equal in opportunity but unequal in character. Seymour goes on to discuss the research of Stephen Aldridge of the Cabinet Office’s Performance and Innovation Unit, who presented his work to the Blairite ‘third way’ sociologists, such as Anthony Giddens.

He said that to have a ‘strong’ version of meritocracy, it would be necessary to raise taxes on income and investments, and abolish inheritance. For social mobility to realistically take place, it had to be possible to move down as well as up the scale, and thus it would be necessary to “reduce barriers to downward social mobility for dull middle class children”. The Government distanced itself from these findings – this was not the meritocracy that had in mind. (p.55)

To follow the logic of meritocracy one would need to increment a dissolution of inheritance, otherwise the premise of ‘equality’ in a meritocracy is false. The hypocrisy of meritocracy is clear for all to see, and I agree with Seymour that it is a “collective insult on humankind”. If a supposedly socialist party such as Labour is unwilling to introduce such measures and the conservatives are about as likely to drop inheritance as throw eggs at the Queen, then why is dropping inheritance a faux pas, even when it coincides with the logic of our contemporary [fascistic] form of neoliberalism?

In The Communist Manifesto Marx lists the “abolition of all right of inheritance” third in a list of 10 procedures to be enacted once state power has been claimed by the dictatorship of the proletariat and the expropriators are expropriated. Inheritance is very important as a consequence of the destruction of capitalism, but as Marx noted in The Right of Inheritance eliminating inheritance tout court would not rid society of the structures of private property and therefore may not be a progressive move towards communism at all: the relations of society are still essentially the same. “Inheritance does not create that power of transferring the produce of one man’s labor into another man’s pocket — it only relates to the change in individuals who yield that power” (Marx). To use the bourgeois powers to eliminate inheritance would seemingly be impossible, given that one major point of inheritance is for one’s children to be protected from hardships after the death of a dependent. The incentive for wealth accumulation and the provision of family assets such as homes and savings would be limited if inheritance was abolished. Although it would ultimately take one avenue of social mobility away from the rich, the basic capitalist desire would still be based on individual self-interest, personal wealth accumulation and appropriation of others labour as a means of financial success.

To proclaim the abolition of the right of inheritance as the starting point of the social revolution would only tend to lead the working class away from the true point of attack against present society. It would be as absurd a thing as to abolish the laws of contract between buyer and seller, while continuing to present state of exchange of commodities. (Marx)

Even if inheritance was abolished, it would only encourage capital flight and devious loopholes to ensure assets end up in the ‘right’ pockets. To abolish inheritance is not a solution to redistributing wealth, but it shows how the logic of accumulation is bound to the family as a centre for protection and privilege. This helps to maintain structures of class inequality and social immobility within a meritocracy.

However, even though inheritance is an effect not the cause of inequality, if there was a referendum on the issue, I know how I would vote, although, as “Professional white owner-occupiers are most likely to receive an inheritance” I’m not sure this lot would agree:

Notes from ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Marx and Engels

November 22, 2009

‘The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’. The fundamental structure of the state machinery is arranged to perpetuate answering to authority.

Communism’s main argument is the following: that economic production and the structure of society of every historical epoch necessarily arising there from constitute the foundation for the political and intellectual history of that epoch. Since dissolution of communal land ownership, all history is the history of class struggle, between the exploited and the exploiters. Only a total emancipation of the whole of society from exploitation can work. The aim is to ‘proclaim the inevitable impending downfall of present day bourgeois property’. It is not socialism.

Socialism is a maintaining of capitalism with a friendly face by eliminating social abuses. Communism is a total reconstruction of society, not just political revolutions. In 1847, socialism was a middle class movement and communism a working class movement, as such, Marx warns ‘a spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism’. In 1847, Marx’s epoch, he saw the bourgeoisie as having simplified class antagonisms: there is now only the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie has a hegemonic hold on values, and as Marx states, ‘the bourgeoisie has resolved personal worth into exchange value’, freedom now is equal to free trade. The bourgeoisie will revolutionize the instruments of production and therefore the relations of production and the whole relations of society. The aim, for the epoch of the bourgeoisie is the constant revolution in production methods, the uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting certainty and agitation. ‘All fixed, frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new formed areas become antiquated before they can ossify… all that is solid melts into air… all that is holy is profane’. The market must nestle everywhere, establish connections everywhere’. Where all enter a domain of cosmopolitan consumption, the normalization of the use of capital and its paradigms of desire. The interdependence of nations perpetuates capital and the nation itself, where the ‘cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery’ which has now, at the end of history, smashed every last wall of resistance when and where ever it was seen. The bourgeoisie force the world to conform to its model and creates a world after its own image, as the world of the neoliberal springs from the Washington consensus, and engulfs mostly without resistance all that it touches. When there is a crisis of over-production, society falls apart, unless new markets are created and old markets are re-exploited.

The main aim of the bourgeoisie is to commodity the proletariat, to lose their charm and character, which are in tern redefined as expressible as commodities (what does this hat say about me? which colour ipod represents me the best?). The proletariat becomes an ‘appendage of the machine’, where labourers are arranged like soldiers, in rank, authority and worth. Differences in age and sex are neutralized by capitalism, all the instruments of labour of the consumer of commodities, more or less expensive to use according to their age and sex. Although child labour in developed society is behind us, child labour is still exploited by capitalists all over the world. Children in developed countries are accomplices to this as they are born as consumers and trained to consume wit the same hear no evil, speak now evil, see no evil attitude as the bourgeois society around them.

In bourgeois society the past dominates the present, in communist society, the present dominates the past. In bourgeois society, capital has freedom, people don’t. Communism is against freedom as promoted by the bourgeoisie, as individuality and free-trade. ‘Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that is done is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others as a means of such appropriation’, we should enjoy our arts and leisure only when it has been produced in conditions not equatable to exploitation, I,e, outside a system of wage labour and the squeezing of profit from it. The recent phenomenon of ‘fair-trade’ is not enough. Those that work, get as little as possible to perpetuate the necessity of their labour, those who acquire do not work.

Communism aims to abolish the family as we know it. The family of the bourgeoisie, the wife in an instrumental part of production (and adultery is the private prostitution within alienated bourgeois society). Communism aims to abolish all countries and nationalities, as Marx writes ‘working men have no country’. The abolition of property is not a communist aim: it is the abolition of private bourgeois property. ‘Abolition of private property’ is communism. This should happen when the proletariat is raised to the ruling class, to achieve what is known as the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, means to abolish private property, a progressive/banded income tax, to abolish inheritance, confiscation of property from rebels and emigrants, centralize credit by setting up a state banking monopoly, to centralize transport, communications and factories, to all have the equal obligation to work, to bring agriculture and manufacturing together by merging town and city via the equal distribution of the population, to have free education, to abolish child labour. In sum, ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’. It could be said, that people of no class have no reality and exits in the realm of philosophical phantasy. To think one can philosophize, as classless thing, is to flee from the relations of the world you are thrown, by inauthentically ignoring ones historicity: all history is the history of class struggle. ‘All history is nothing but the continuous transformation of human nature: philosophy can be replaced by economic-historical science of society’, and accordingly, Marx questions Hegel, as ‘it is not the consciousness of men that determined their being but on the contrary their social being that determines their consciousness’.

We are in the age of the petite-bourgeoisie, where unions have numbers but have proven time and again to be in the pockets of politicians. The unions are a reaction to the fluctuating wages of the workers. Fluctuating wages causes anxiety: alienation is the existential state of the poor: the proletariat. The proletariat, the dangerous class, the social scum, is waged labour, capital needs labour and the bourgeoisie need capital. Liberal tools such as the minimum wage set the standards for bare existence. To the petite-bourgeoisie, all should become bourgeoisie! To eradicate social inequalities and let everyone enjoy the luxuries and products of their labour. Even those of the minimum wage can get credit cards to buy now pay later for that Playstation 3, car or fashionable haircut. The petite-bourgeoisie acts for the protection of the working class with these tools: the police, prisons and free-trade. The police reinforce, protect and perpetuate the capitalist state machinery, demonize enemies through media discourses and use prisons as the quantitative pecuniary measure of punishment, the ‘horror’ of being forced out of free society. Free society, free trade, free to consume as much as you like, hang the costs, borrow, pay later, you’re free.