Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Three: Critique of the Lack of Reference to the Class of Employers and to the Health Implications of Living Under Their Dominance

Introduction

This is the continuation of a four-part series of posts. For the context of where the following fits into my participation and withdrawal from the organization Social Housing Green Deal, see the first part Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police.

Christoph Henning’s words (2005) express the nature of some so-called leftist social organizations in Toronto, such as Social Housing Green Deal.  From Philosophy after Marx: 100 Years of Misreadings and the Normative Turn in Political Philosophy, page 77:

We will see that Marxian theory, whose import was already lost in the developments discussed above, not only continued to be given a new thematic framework, but also displayed a ‘changing function’. A mode of thinking that operates within complex and dynamic socio-economic structures of development was replaced by a simplified rationale of domination. In functional terms, this led to a transformation of theory. Theory went from being a critical companion of politics to being an instrument by which to ideologically affirm a political voluntarism that was practised in a largely unreflected manner.

Before the May 2 Social Housing Green Deal zoom meeting I had drafted a critical analysis of two motioned items that were on the agenda. The first motion I discussed in the second post. This post is about the other motion. I sent my critical comments to Ms. Jessup, moderator and administrator, for the group. The motion was to support the statement by the grassroots organization “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition.”

The first motion, as I indicated in my previous post, was more or less rubber-stamped. I had the impression that Ms. Jessup wanted the motion by the Suppress the Virus Now Coalition also to be rubber-stamped. However, I, Ms. Jessup and another zoom member had to leave soon.

I managed to have the motion tabled until the next meeting. That meeting was postponed, however, until May 23. I will describe why I did not attend that meeting in the final post of this series.

Second Critique: The Motion to Support the Statement Made By Suppress the Virus Now Coalition

This is what I wrote: 

There is a controversial claim in this statement.

“ANY PANDEMIC STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH IS RACIST, ANTI-BLACK, ANTI-INDIGENOUS, SEXIST, ABLEIST, AGEIST, AND UNACCEPTABLE.”

Acquiescence to avoidable sickness has been the rule, not the exception. This does not mean that there have not been struggles over health and safety in the workplace. There have been constant struggles, but currently the unionized sector of the labour movement has often rested content with rhetoric than dealing with the reality of just how unsafe working conditions were even before the pandemic.

Thus, in a recent nod to the number of injured and dead workers in Canada, the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC, an organization “committed to speaking up for workers at YYZ [Toronto Pearson Airport], TAWC posted the following on its Facebook page on April 28—the Canadian national day of mourning for workers killed on the job: “Photos of the GTAA Administration building of the flags lowered at half-mast as a mark of respect on this National day of mourning.”

My response: “It would be more relevant if all measures to eliminate processes and procedures that treat workers as means for the benefit of employers were instituted–in other words, the elimination of a society organized on the basis of the class power of employers. How many workers have been injured and died at Pearson because of the pursuit of profit?

Flying a flag at half-mast is hardly a symbol of respect if all measures to eliminate dangerous working conditions are not pursued. Have such dangerous working conditions been eliminated at Pearson?”

There were 2 likes and 0 comments.

I had another “debate” on TAWC over the issue of health and safety at Pearson earlier, but I will spare the reader any further references unless someone wants to read it.

Some Canadian statistics before the pandemic (from my blog):

Official statistics:

  1. “More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.”

    Non-official statistics:

  2. Steven Bittle, Ashley Chen and Jasmine Hébert report a much higher figure in their article (Fall 2018), ““Work-Related Deaths in Canada,”, pages 159-187, in Labour/Le Travail, Volume 82, page 186:

“Relying on a range of data sources, and adopting a broad definition of what constitutes a work-related fatality, we generated a revised estimate of the number of annual work-related fatalities. Based on our analysis, we estimate that the number of annual work-related fatalities in Canada is at least ten to thirteen times higher than the approximately 900 to 1,000 annual average fatalities reported by the AWBC [The Canadian Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada]. This makes work-related fatalities one of the leading causes of death in this country.”

Has there really been any social movement to address this carnage? Not that I am aware of. Resignation to sickness, injury and death at work (and outside work due to preventable diseases such as cancer) is part of parcel of Canadian culture (and many other national cultures). To then call it racist, etc seems to be an inadequate characterization of the situation of many workers in Canada. There may indeed be higher differentials of injury, disease and death among coloured workers, etc. (which requires more detailed data), but the general nature of the problem is not racist, etc but economic: workers, whatever their colour, gender, etc., are subject to the control of a class of workers, and there is no real and effective political organization that questions such control and aims to abolish the conditions that make it eminently reasonable (from an employer’s point of view) to engage in actions that injury, make sick or kill workers.

From Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 2):

“Perspectives on workplace injury

How you react to the vast number of workers injured and killed each year reflects your values and beliefs. Are these injures inevitable? Are they just the cost of doing business? One way to look at workplace injuries is from an economic perspective. This view sees the risk of injury as minimal, unavoidable and, ultimately, acceptable. Is it the price we (or at least workers) must pay for a “healthy” economy? If we are going to lower the risk of injury, we need to ensure the cost is less than the benefit we’ll receive. And the people best positioned to decide that are employers.

This economic perspective dominates the debate about workplace health and safety. It is the lingua franca of employers, bureaucrats, politicians, and most academics. There are, of course, alternative perspectives. An alternative advanced by workers views workplace injuries as the result of choices employers make in order to maximize profitability. Contrary to the slogan “safety pays,” it is usually cheaper for employers to organize work unsafely. This is especially true if employers can (with the tacit consent of government) pass along the cost of occupational injuries and disease to workers.”

The kind of social process called working for an employer (being an employee) that characterizes our working lives is a threat to our health in various ways, Logically, if we take seriously the claim that “ANY [PANDEMIC[ STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH,” should be opposed, then we should be fighting to create an organization and a movement that fights against a social organization dominated by a class of employers (and the associated economic, political and social structures) and for a socialist society that eliminates class relations—period. Otherwise, any other strategy simply “resigns itself to avoidable sickness and death”–regardless of the pandemic, and regardless of its differentiated impact on race, gender and so forth. In fact, what has happened during the pandemic merely highlights the continuity with past practice—and the acquiescence of those who have failed to oppose a society dominated by a class of employers.

Just as an aside. The list of demands: how effective are they really? Are there any priorities? Are there some that need to be implemented right away? Or are all on the same level? If on different levels, should they not have been organized in some fashion to reflect the level of priorities? And not only priorities but power to achieve each demand? What organizations and supports currently exist that are more relevant for achieving each specific demand? Or all all organizations and supports on the same level?

End of my commentary

The “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition” also wrote the following: 

The Suppress The Virus Now Coalition is a network of community groups, labour groups, and individuals in Ontario. We have come together out of a shared concern about the Ontario provincial and Canadian federal governments’ approach to the COVID-19 crisis since the pandemic hit in March 2020. Now, as the second wave drags on, we demand that those governments stop prioritizing corporate profits over the health and well-being of our communities. We refuse to endorse any approach that accepts the needless death of elderly people and those living and working in long-term care; of disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised loved ones; of Indigenous Peoples in Ontario and across the country; of the Black, migrant, and racialized communities who have borne the brunt of COVID-19 infections in the GTA; of underhoused, precariously housed, and houseless neighbours; of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated community members; and of the health-care and other essential workers who are on the front lines.

ANY PANDEMIC STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH IS RACIST, ANTI-BLACK, ANTI-INDIGENOUS, SEXIST, ABLEIST, AGEIST, AND UNACCEPTABLE. IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE #COVIDzero CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED BY HEALTH-CARE WORKERS, WE DEMAND THAT OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS EXPLICITLY ADOPT THE HUMANE GOAL OF ELIMINATING COMMUNITY SPREAD OF COVID-19.

Policing, threats, and rhetoric that blames individuals for systemic failures and conditions outside of their control are neither effective nor ethical tactics to deal with this pandemic. Instead, we must turn to principles of solidarity and community care, and toward robust, expansive, and inclusive social supports so that we can all make it through this crisis. Social and economic inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but rather than returning to a “normal” where a select few lives are privileged over others, we must build the conditions for all to live and thrive. This rebuilding must centre the needs of those most impacted by the pandemic and by the ongoing violence of the Canadian state.

We call for a just, equitable #COVIDzero approach that includes (but is not limited to): 

  • At least seven employer-paid sick days for all workers on a permanent basis, plus an additional 14 paid sick days during public health emergencies.

  • Adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for all workers, including respirator masks (e.g. N95s, FFP2s) for all workers in indoor workplaces until COVID community transmission ends, now that we know the virus can remain airborne indoors for hours.

  • The right of all workers to refuse work due to unsafe workplace conditions, and to be eligible for income supports like the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) after such work refusals.

  • Expanded eligibility for pandemic-related state assistance such as the CRB, including for temporary migrant workers, undocumented people, gig economy workers, sex workers, and others.

  • An immediate ban on evictions; rent cancellation and forgiveness of arrears; a moratorium on encampment policing; and safe, accessible winter housing for unhoused people who want it.

  • An immediate end to the criminalization, racial profiling, and raids that harm migrant and non-migrant sex workers, including anti-trafficking initiatives and repressive bylaws affecting sex workers and workers in massage parlours.

  • Safe and accessible options for isolation when home isolation is not an option, and transparent communication about options that are already in existence.

  • Immediate investment to improve ventilation, reduce class sizes, and offer COVID testing to students and education workers; and robust assistance for students, educators, caregivers, and families when school closures are necessary, like now.

  • Redistributing 50% of all police budgets toward resourcing social and health supports in Black, Indigenous, and people of colour communities.

  • An immediate end to deportations, and regularization and full immigration status now for all migrants, refugees, international students, workers (including temporary or seasonal migrants), and undocumented people in the country.

  • Immediate federal support and funding for clean water access, appropriate health care, and COVID supports for all Indigenous people on and off reserve, and the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty across the country, including heeding demands to immediately classify oil, mineral, and gas extraction as non-essential work, and to hit pause on extraction, exploration, and environmental assessment processes.

  • Immediate decarceration of people from provincial, federal, and immigration detention facilities, and simultaneous access to sanitation and protective equipment, harm reduction supplies, free communication resources, and appropriate and consensual post-incarceration support for all incarcerated people.

  • Permanently increasing Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates to match CERB ($2,000/month).

  • Making temporary, uneven pandemic pay boosts permanent by raising the minimum wage for all.

  • Taking profit out of long-term care, replacing for-profit corporations with an entirely non-profit and public system. Enforcing national standards that ensure that long-term care workers – who are disproportionately racialized women – have a living wage, health and wellness benefits, and a safe and secure job, in order to provide high-quality care to residents.

  • Making public transit safe by halting fare inspection, investing in mask distribution, and putting more buses on high-traffic routes to allow for physical distancing.

  • Increasing research and supports dedicated to COVID “long-haulers,” people still suffering from the effects of the virus months after infection.

  • Greater involvement of community groups in public health decision-making, respecting communities’ knowledge about their own life circumstances, and more consistently inviting their representatives into decision-making processes led by researchers and civic officials.

As the pandemic puts our society’s racial and class divides on ruthless display, it is urgent that we all show up with our neighbours to demand a just, equitable pathway to #COVIDzero that leaves no one behind.

To add your name (individual and/or organization) to this statement, and/or to get involved with the coalition’s work, please complete this short form.

We are an Ontario-based group, but the need for a just, equitable #COVIDzero strategy transcends local boundaries. We invite collaboration with people struggling towards the same goal elsewhere. We also encourage groups outside Ontario to adopt and adapt this statement freely for your own purposes.

In Ontario, here are some ways you can plug into powerful community organizing and take action:

  • Follow, boost, and contribute to groups like the Encampment Support Network, People’s Defence Toronto, and Keep Your Rent Toronto that are fighting for housing justice.

  • Volunteer with and donate to Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, providing encampment support and working to mitigate the harms of the catastrophic overdose crisis.

  • Join the Migrant Rights Network to demand justice, safety, and #StatusForAll migrants.

  • Support the labour organizing of the Workers Action Centre and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change to ensure that no one is left behind.

  • Take action with 15 & Fairness and the Decent Work and Health Network to demand paid sick days for all.

  • Learn more about the work of COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada, a large grassroots organization of COVID survivors experiencing debilitating effects months after infection, and sign the support group’s petition demanding recognition, research, and rehabilitation for Long COVID sufferers.

  • Get involved with the Toronto Prisoners Rights Project to fight for justice for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, and take action to demand decarceration.

  • Demand better for residents and workers in long-term care, by following the work of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees, and Unifor, and contributing to their calls to action.

  • Follow and boost Green Jobs Oshawa’s campaign for domestic PPE production, crucial long-term healthcare organizing by the Ontario Health Coalition and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, and the campaign to #MakeReveraPublic.

  • Write to elected officials to express your support for the demands of the Wet’suwet’en Chiefs who are calling for a stop to resource extraction projects as COVID-19 outbreaks recur in B.C. work camps.

  • Protect public sector jobs and collective bargaining with the Toronto & York Region Labour Council by adding your voice to their Forward Together campaign.

  • Join TTC Riders to demand adequate funding for safe and physically distanced public transit options.

  • Call the Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services to demand increased social assistance rates.

  • Demand that the Ontario legislature adopt an intersectional gender equity approach to its pandemic response

Conclusion

My general criticism on this blog has been and will continue to be that the so-called radical left fail to connect up a general criticism of a society dominated by a class of employers–with the associated oppressive and exploitative economic, political and social structures–and particular issues. The organization Suppress the Virus Now Coalition failed to do just that.

The pandemic should have been an occasion to develop a movement against the systemic nature of capitalist society. There has really been no such movement–in part undoubtedly because grass-roots social movements fail to link the particular issues surrounding the pandemic with the general issue of the impossibility of maximizing the health of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.

My comments and criticisms were never addressed. My criticisms, in effect, were censored. I leave it to the reader to decide whether such censorship expresses the democratic nature of some (if not many) grassroots organizations–or if it expresses something else. 

The last post of this series will include further comments and questions about “The People’s Pandemic Shutdown.” 

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Eight: Class Harmony

This is an  elaboration of a critique of an academic leftist (aka academic historical materialist), the philosopher Jeff Noonan.

Professor Noonan’s neglect of the relatively privileged status of university professors in relation to other workers leads him to assert the following (from Thinkings 4Collected Interventions, Readings, Evocations, 2014-2015, page 13):

Whether or not it was ever practiced in reality, the principle of collegial self-governance is the goal to which universities should aspire. Unlike for profit businesses, universities do not have owners whose goal is to maximise profits. Instead, all members of the institution– faculty, librarians, learning specialists, lab technicians, students, support workers, and administration have the same goal—the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense. If that claim is true, then it should follow that all the groups who together make up the university ought to cooperate (not without respectful disagreement) in the determination of the budgets, policies, rules, and goals that guide the institution’s mission. The best ideas emerge through deliberative and democratic argument—no one group knows best just because of the position they occupy in the hierarchy.

This view is ideology in the worst sense of the term. It is an appeal to what ought to be in some utopian world (“the principle of collegial self-governance is the goal to which universities should aspire”)–that can never be in the given context, and then assuming that the utopia is somehow possible in such a context (“the principle of collegial self-governance is the goal to which universities should aspire“). In a society dominated by employers–including public-sector employers like universities, it is highly unlikely that such workers as “lab technicians, students and support workers” have the same goal–“the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense.” Such a view may apply in a socialist organization, but to assume such a situation in universities, which function in a capitalist context, is bound to lead to inadequate policies and theories.

The illogical nature of the assertion is called asserting as a fact what you are supposed to prove; more technically, it is called begging the question. Professor Noonan assumes that all the workers at universities have the same goal. This view can be criticized on a number of grounds.

The collectivity called the university, in a capitalist setting, involves the purchase of workers on a market for workers. The workers do not collectively and consciously get together to decide to form an organization called the university; rather, it is the employer who sets up a formal organization called a university and then hires workers as employees for a certain period of time. These workers “belong” to the university as a formal collectivity but, since they do not freely unite to form the university, this organization is something imposed on them as a force that is external to them. In other words, the unity which is supposed to be the university is a formal unity that is not self-organization of that which is organized or unified (the workers); the unity is imposed from without or in an external and therefore unfree manner.

The self-organization of workers and the formal organization of workers into a unity makes all the difference in the world in the quality of lives of the workers. In self-organization, the workers express themselves in their unity as something which they have made and to which they have freely subordinated themselves as a power that is their power. In formal organization, workers are brought together as a unity by an external force (in this case, through a formal organization that owns money); their own unity is not their unity but the unity of the employer. The workers then find that the unity is oppressive in various ways.

Consider support workers. I worked twice at a university library, once doing my practicum to obtain a library and information technology diploma (from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) between 1988 and 1990) at the University of Calgary main library, in the cataloguing department. One worker remarked, when I noted that the work was very hierarchical (something which academic Marxists seem to overlook in their own workplace often enough–at least on a practical level when they acknowledge, in the books they have published, the work of librarians, who necessarily oppress workers lower in the hierarchy, but fail to acknowledge the support workers), that she would prefer having a benevolent dictator than a mean one (implying that she had a benevolent dictator).

Again, at the University of Manitoba, where I worked on a temporary library project for Dafoe Library, one of the library assistants, Juliette (a feisty Philippine woman) talked to me explicitly how her supervisor, a white German woman, had explicitly indicated that she did not want to have any more Asians filling the higher ranks of library assistants (library assistant 4, if I remember correctly). Juliette complained to the Human Rights Commission, which apparently found that such library 4 positions were indeed being filled illegitimately by non-Asians.

Although Juliette was protected in some ways from being fired because of the finding that there was discrimination in the assignment of library assistant 4 positions, she also told me that one time she found feces thrown onto her car. Another time she found that someone had somehow opened her car doors and slashed some of the interior. Another time she was driving her car home from work when she found that she had a flat tire. When she had it towed to a garage, the mechanic remarked that it looked like someone had slashed her tires (perhaps with a knife).

Consider another situation at the University of Manitoba. The racism evident in Dafoe Library of the University of Manitoba led someone to post a petition for an Ombudsman’s office on racism at the University in the library staff lounge. I showed Juliette this, and she circulated the petition to library workers in circulation and in the cataloguing department. Only a handful of workers signed the petition (including Juliette and me), not because there was no racism in those departments but, according to Juliette, but because the workers were afraid to sign it out of fear of the possible repercussions from management–and fear is characteristic of many work sites among the lower levels of the hierarchy (whether public or private).

Of course, academics at the University of Manitoba knew nothing about this situation; despite their research skills, they are often blind to events that immediately surround them.

Professor Noonan evidently looks at the world in terms of class harmony–at least in his own environment. Such a world is not filled with degradation and oppression in order that he engage in his activity. Such a world can-without opposing his and all other employers–realize a world where all who work can freely pursue the same goal.

Where you work: Do you feel free? Do you participate equally in the decisions of the place where you work? Can you engage in one activity or another freely (say, be a cataloguer in the morning and tenured professor in the afternoon and a musician in the evening? Or are you oppressed at work in various ways? Are the decisions made at work not subject to your will at all? Do you find yourself restricted to engagement in one particular activity if you are going to live at all because you need the money to live?


Returning to Professor Noonan’s idealism: quoting part of his illogical statement:

Instead, all members of the institution– faculty, librarians, learning specialists, lab technicians, students, support workers, and administration have the same goal—the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense. If that claim is true,

Of course, the assumption that this is true in the context of a capitalist society is illogical and, coming from a supposed progressive philosopher professor illustrates the limitations of such academics (and social democracy in general).

Compare this limitation with Professor Noonan’s arrogant claim:

The social-reformist left has problems, but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.

Apparently, Professor Noonan’s updated “historical materialism” for “new times” involves ignoring completely the nature of wage labour–even when it does not involve directly working for a profit. His assumption that all workers at a university somehow magically share the same goal compares poorly with the following by Marx. The quote applies just as much to university workers (less so for university professors with tenure, undoubtedly) as to a capitalist factory (from Capital, volume 1, pages 449-450):

The control exercised by the capitalist is not only a special function arising from the nature of the social labour process, and peculiar to that process, but it is at the same time a function of the exploitation of a social labour process, and is consequently conditioned by the unavoidable antagonism between the exploiter and the raw material of bis exploitation. Similarly, as the means of production extend, the necessity increases for some effective control over the proper application of them, because they confront the wage-labourer as the property of another. … Moreover, the co-operation of wage-labourers is entirely brought about by the capital that employs them. Their unification into one single productive body, and the establishment of a connection between their individual functions, lies outside their competence. These things are not their own act, but the act of the capital that brings them together and maintains them in that situation. Hence the interconnection between their various labours confronts them, in the realm of ideas, as a plan drawn up by the capitalist, and, in practice, as his authority, as the powerful will of a being outside them, who subjects their activity to his purpose.

Professor Noonan may counterargue that the university is not a capitalist. True. However, this fact does not prevent the above description from being applicable to the situation of most workers at universities. Universities, from subordinate workers’ point of view, are impersonal employers, and as impersonal employers they constitute an external unity for workers that is imposed on them from without. Such an external unity assumes the form of despotism (some employers being better or worse, admittedly, but nevertheless all being forms or kinds of despotism.)

Professor Noonan’s position is similar to John Dewey’s position: assuming cooperation is somehow superior to class conflict and class struggle. As I wrote in my masters’ thesis (Towards a Critical Materialist Pedagogy: Marx and Dewey, page 121):

Philosophy, or the method of intelligence or democratic inquiry, according to
Dewey, was to contribute to the resolution of conflicts through problerm-solving, just as in the natural sciences. Like Marx, Dewey posited that reason or philosophy (a means) was to be used to try to contribute to the resolution of social conflicts (achieve an acceptable end goal or end in view) (Brodsky, 1988). Problems would be openly breached and defined, and common solutions to the specific problems sought (Colapietro, 1988). However, this method is applicable only when the distribution of power is relatively equal and when relations of domination do not arise. When the distribution of power is skewed, as in a capitalist society, conflict can be resolved through reason only if those in power deign to listen. Moreover, those in structural positions of power will often see no need to change since the situation corresponds to their interests. They will deny that the
situation is problematic and refuse to engage in debate and negotiation (Brosio, 1994a).

What constitutes a problem will be more easily defined by those who control the
working environment–the employers and managers. Similarly, solutions sought will tend to be in accord with problems defined by employers and managers rather than in terms defined by those who concretely use the means of production.

It is also typical of social democrats like the German social democrat Eduard Bernstein, who assumed as a fact what needed to be achieved politically: the control by workers of their own working lives. From Christoph Henning (2014), Philosophy After Marx: 100 Years of Misreadings and the Normative Turn in Political Philosophy, page 36:

In making these points [about the social nature of “joint-stock companies, cartels, monopolies and cooperatives”], Marx meant to encourage socialists to engage in political activity. Bernstein turns the political conclusion on its head by turning an anticipation of the future into a fully realised fact. In his work, actual political transformation is replaced by theoretical transformation. In Bernstein’s considerations, class antagonism, which rests on property relations, is simply elided [slurred over] – and with it, the capitalist character of ‘society’. …he [Bernstein] blurs the boundaries between theory and reality, turning a theoretical possibility into a reality by abstracting from the problems associated with it. 

It is typical of social democrats and social reformers that they idealize the public sector–as if working for a non-profit institution is somehow freer for workers. Professor Noonan, by making the assumption that the goal of a university is one unified goal–does the same and serves, objectively, as an ideologue of public-sector employers.

Such is the nature of one form of “historical materialism” for “new times,” it is really just a rehashed form of social democracy that cannot even deal with the real world of regular workers in the workplace where these academic Marxists or academic historical materialists work.

Furthermore, as I argued in an earlier post ( What’s Left, Toronto? Part Five):

A few privileged sets of workers (such as tenured university professors) may seem to have decent jobs, but even that situation has eroded over time. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that such relatively privileged workers exist in a sea of workers, whether unionized or not, who are things to be used by employers systematically and legally. University professors cannot engage in research, teaching and administrative activities unless there are other workers who produce their food, clothing, cars and so forth.

This division of labour is implied in a poem by one of the most famous poets of Gutemala, Otto Rene Castillo (from Apolitical Intellectuals):

Apolitical Intellectuals

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.


They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.


No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.


They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.


They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total lie.


On that day
the simple men will come.


Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:


“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”


Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.


A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.


Your own misery
will pick at your soul.


And you will be mute in your shame.

Collective agreements do not exist in a vacuum but form part of interrelated social relations; to exclude such relations when considering the nature and legitimacy of collective agreements is to empty collective agreements of the background conditions which give them meaning in the first place.

If we add various categories of workers who work at a university, then this poem is really applicable to many academic leftists. They may pay lip-service to being sympathetic to the exploitation and oppression of workers in other industries, but when it comes to doing anything practical in fighting against the oppression of workers characteristic of their own employer, they take flight to an ideal hypothetical world:


Instead, all members of the institution– faculty, librarians, learning specialists, lab technicians, students, support workers, and administration have the same goal—the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense. If that claim is true