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Marxism for Skinheads

"Marxism", like "Skinhead," bears little if any relationship to what comes to most peoples' minds.

Marxism is the best starting point for knowing how society works, even if it is the very worst for doing anything about it. I agree with the Marxists that class struggle is the motor of history and that the ways our necessities are produced is the core of society, even as I recognize that Marxist parties have carried out history's biggest betrayal of the working class.

Marxism is NOT about state control of everyday life even though just about every government that has used Marx to justify itself has drastically interfered in people's lives and wrecked much of what it sought to build.

Marxism is also NOT to be confused with the PC leftists who mistake real social change with enforcing good manners. Idealism is a waste of time. We have to get from here to there and any new ways of organizing society will have to arise out of the present one. Audre Lorde was wrong when she claimed that "the master's tools cannot bring down the master's house". Engels (in "Socialism: scientific or utopian") made fun of the idealists of his century, whose ideas the crusty punks tediously reinvent. There is no escaping complicity with all the evils of the world and nothing is more foolish than renouncing your privileges and giving up your ability to get things done. I see that as squandering your ability to move around in the world and the resources you can use to rebuild it. When you are strong, you can protect the weak and strengthen them so they can protect themselves. When you can move, bring along someone who is stuck.

It is about class. The people who do the work should get its benefits. When wages stay low even while companies make the highest profits in years, something is fucked up. How the things we need are produced, how we are motivated to work, and what gets done with the proceeds of that work (does it go back to the worker, does it get reinvested in technology, or does someone else live off of it) shapes culture, politics, and what can and can't be done at any particular moment in history.

Class is not an identity even if it is easier to talk about it as if that was what it was. It is not voluntary. It is not whether you work but on what terms you must work. Because a few can move from one class to another, or the whole nature of work might shift, does not mean that everyone can always work to get ahead. In some times and places, there is more room for changing your class position than at others, but too many people are committed to the illusion that it is always a matter of free will.

Class is like place, say a building with walls and passageways. The walls block you, the halls only go in fixed directions. The mistake of anarchists is to think that we will all be free if we would just blow the building up. Is there really freedom in a pile of rubble? Buildings are useful, they are a structure for living in, so maybe knock out a few walls and make better use of the space instead.

It is not about who you are or what you are, but rather about what you can use, what you can make, how you can survive, where you can move, how you are chained, and how everyone else's chains either hold you back, or pull you along.

The whole board has changed, and the answers to the fundamental marxist questions of who is doing the work and who is living off of it no longer coincide with the classic marxist answers. Marxist premises certainly do not support the old marxist conclusions. Where power lies and where real resistance could come from are not at all self-evident. It is time to rethink everything and get out of all the old ruts.

Marx would not have seen any revolutionary potential in skinheads. In the Manifesto he wrote:

"The dangerous class, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue."

graphic of tired marchers

My first encounter with the revolution was on a visit to a peasant commune in southern Portugal in 1980 during my wanderjahr. The peasants were doing very well with the land they had seized, though I read a few years later that the Portuguese government returned it to the original landowners. In 1985 I went to Nicaragua to pick coffee, and marched in Daniel Ortega's inaugural parade, and partied with the Sandinista directorate. Later, the solidarity movement looked suspiciously like old fashioned missionary work and it seemed like I was meddling in someone else's conflict and preaching to the converted. The academic left was more intent on distancing itself from the real working class than in expressing its interests and defending it. I switched to movements closer to home that hit me directly. The desolation in Eastern Europe just after the wall fell did not speak well of the great Leninist experiment. I have no illusions about the possibility or desirability of reviving the Soviet state structure and style of public policy.