200 years on has Karl Marx anything to say about Youth Work?

marxintro

This week it’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, a much honoured, much-reviled giant of history. As someone deeply influenced by his legacy I’ve been messing about with writing something about the extent to which Marx has influenced youth work thinking and practice over the last 50 years.  I hope to post something of interest on my blog in the next few weeks. In the interim, I think it’s appropriate to draw your attention to a number of contemporary interventions, which seek to weigh up more generally whether Marx has anything fruitful to say about the present crisis of meaning in society, the present uncertainty about the future, at the centre of which are young people.

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K is for Karl – Series of 5 Films by Paul Mason about the meaning of Marx today

“Why does Marx matter today?” is the question posed by British journalist and filmmaker Paul Mason in five short films produced by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung to commemorate Karl Marx’s 200th birthday. Through Marx, Mason explores the topics of “Alienation”, “Communism”, “Revolution”, “Exploitation” and “The Future of Machines” in order to demonstrate how Marx, who Mason describes as the most influential thinker of the modern world, remains deeply relevant to understanding our contemporary world.

In the first of a series of five short films, British journalist and filmmaker Paul Mason searches for the roots of Marx’s thinking in Berlin, where he began his university studies in 1836. “For Marx, alienation doesn’t just mean we get depressed, we hate our jobs, or that we feel bad about the world. It means we’re constantly using our creative powers in the wrong way. We make things, but the things we make – machines, states, religions, rules – end up controlling us.”


 

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Paul Mason again, after all, he hails from the same Lancashire town, Leigh, as me and we stood together on picket lines during the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike.  Friendship aside, disagreements aside, he’s always challenging.

On the bicentenary of his birth, Marx continues to be a key thinker thanks to his surprising faith in the individual.

Why Marx is more relevant than ever in the age of automation

If I could speak across time to the people frozen in the above photograph [the blurry snapshot catches Leon Trotsky in mid-sentence, in Frida Kahlo’s house sometime in 1937. To the left of the frame is Natalia Sedova, Trotsky’s wife. To the right is Kahlo and, half hidden behind her, a young woman listening intently: Trotsky’s secretary Raya Dunayevskaya],  I would say, after congratulating them for their magnificent lives of resistance and suffering: “That inner desire you are suppressing, for Marxism to be humanistic? That impulse towards individual liberation? It’s already there in Marx, just waiting to be discovered. So paint what you want, love whom you want. Fuck the vanguard party. The revolutionary subject is the self.”

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Yanis Varoufakis has composed a new introduction to the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

Marx predicted our present crisis – and points the way out

For a manifesto to succeed, it must speak to our hearts like a poem while infecting the mind with images and ideas that are dazzlingly new. It needs to open our eyes to the true causes of the bewildering, disturbing, exciting changes occurring around us, exposing the possibilities with which our current reality is pregnant. It should make us feel hopelessly inadequate for not having recognised these truths ourselves, and it must lift the curtain on the unsettling realisation that we have been acting as petty accomplices, reproducing a dead-end past. Lastly, it needs to have the power of a Beethoven symphony, urging us to become agents of a future that ends unnecessary mass suffering and to inspire humanity to realise its potential for authentic freedom.

 
No manifesto has better succeeded in doing all this than the one published in February 1848 at 46 Liverpool Street, London. Commissioned by English revolutionaries, The Communist Manifesto (or the Manifesto of the Communist Party, as it was first published) was authored by two young Germans – Karl Marx, a 29-year-old philosopher with a taste for epicurean hedonism and Hegelian rationality, and Friedrich Engels, a 28-year-old heir to a Manchester mill.

 

As a work of political literature, the manifesto remains unsurpassed. Its most infamous lines, including the opening one (“A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”), have a Shakespearean quality. Like Hamlet confronted by the ghost of his slain father, the reader is compelled to wonder: “Should I conform to the prevailing order, suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune bestowed upon me by history’s irresistible forces? Or should I join these forces, taking up arms against the status quo and, by opposing it, usher in a brave new world?”

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The problem for poor, white kids is that a part of their culture has been destroyed : Paul Mason muses.

Challenging piece from Paul Mason. To what extent does this resonate for  you, as youth worker and critical citizen?

Kes

KES – Ta to ayup.co.uk

The problem for poor, white kids is that a part of their culture has been destroyed

Some excerpts

Let’s confront squarely what this means. If the country is populated with low-achieving, inarticulate white kids it is something that happens between the year they stop being toddlers and the year they start being Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

So what is it? In short, it is their lives.

The detailed ethnic breakdown in the report makes for depressing reading. The worst performers are white Irish traveller children, then “white gypsy/Roma” children – both of which school fails by a long chalk. They are followed by mixed-race children with Caribbean backgrounds, then white British. These are the only groups who collectively go backwards in the two years researchers have been crunching the numbers. By contrast, black Caribbean, and white Irish children go forward a bit, and Chinese and Indian children a lot.

……. the problem of poor white kids cannot be properly defined: not in the language of free-market capitalism, at least. It has nothing to do with being “overtaken” – still less with any reverse discrimination against them.

It is simply that a specific part of their culture has been destroyed. A culture based on work, rising wages, strict unspoken rules against disorder, obligatory collaboration and mutual aid. It all had to go, and the means of destroying it was the long-term unemployment millions of people had to suffer in the 1980’s. Thatcherism didn’t just crush unions: alone that would not have been enough to produce this spectacular mismatch between aspiration and delivery in the education system. It crushed a story.

To put right the injustice revealed by the CentreForum report requires us to put aside racist fantasies about “preferential treatment” for ethnic minorities; if their kids are preferentially treated, it is by their parents and their communities – who arm them with narratives and skills for overcoming economic disadvantage.

If these metrics are right, the present school system is failing to boost social mobility among white working-class kids. But educational reforms alone will barely scratch the surface. We have to find a form of economics that – without nostalgia or racism – allows the working population to define, once again, its own values, its own aspirations, its own story.

READ THE ARTICLE IN FULL.

The end of capitalism has begun – Paul Mason on the struggle between network and hierarchy

Ta to bcmates.com

Ta to bcmates.com

 

If you’ve time – perhaps you’re on holiday – a sweeping , thought-ridden weekend read from Paul Mason, especially perhaps if you still imagine and desire a world beyond capitalism. And making time for ourselves in concert with one another appears evermore revolutionary.

He begins:

The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

He notes:

Today the whole of society is a factory. We all participate in the creation and recreation of the brands, norms and institutions that surround us. At the same time the communication grids vital for everyday work and profit are buzzing with shared knowledge and discontent. Today it is the network – like the workshop 200 years ago – that they “cannot silence or disperse”.

By creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.

The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy: between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.

The end of capitalism has begun | Books | The Guardian.

Weekend Blog Mix – Emotional Labour in the Workplace, Domestic Terrorism and Youth plus War on the Aboriginal People

Ta to vanderbilt.edu

Ta to vanderbilt.edu

I thought I’d test out doing a weekend post of blogs/links that are perhaps of interest to IDYW followers. The mix is unashamedly critical of neo-liberalism and austerity.

1. Following this post, Perverting our lives and our institutions, including youth work – neo-liberal culture, Emily Hewson offers these further thoughts on how  ‘individualism, selfishness, ruthlessness and bullying have become commonplace’ in What has changed us?

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2. Continuing the theme of what really goes in the workplace Paul Mason suggests, for many, work is a world of stress, bullying, arbitrary and unappealable decisions, and – at the extreme – sexual harassment and casual racism. In his Politicians love dressing up in hi-vis vests, but they ignore what’s really happening to modern workers he talks of  the hollowing out of what labour means. It was workers in the Soviet Union who coined the adage: “We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us”, but in large sectors of modern capitalism that is the deal. To many young people, stuck in jobs with no career progression, no security and no pension, work’s status is diminished. It’s a tendency amplified by the free flow of information about our private lives on social media: few people write about their work in detail; their social and leisure time dominates their life stories. On many people’s Facebook page it is as if their work existed in a barely significant, parallel world.

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3. In this latest piece, Domestic Terrorism, Youth and the Politics of Disposability, Henry Giroux argues,

Education is no longer a public good but a private right, just as critical thinking is no longer a fundamental necessity for creating an engaged and socially responsible citizenship. Neoliberalism’s disdain for the social is no longer a quote made famous by Margaret Thatcher. The public sphere is now replaced by private interests, and unbridled individualism rails against any viable notion of solidarity that might inform the vibrancy of struggle, change, and an expansion of an enlightened and democratic body politic.

One outcome is that we live at a time in which institutions that were designed to limit human suffering and indignity and protect the public from the boom and bust cycles of capitalist markets have been either weakened or abolished. (3) Free market policies, values and practices, with their now unrestrained emphasis on the privatization of public wealth, the denigration of social protections and the deregulation of economic activity, influence practically every commanding political and economic institution in North America. Finance capitalism now drives politics, governance and policy in unprecedented ways and is more than willing to sacrifice the future of young people for short-term political and economic gains, regardless of the talk about the need to not burden future generations “with hopelessly heavy tuition debt.” (4) It gets worse.

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4. In the The secret country again wages war on its own people John Pilger begins,

Australia has again declared war on its Indigenous people, reminiscent of the brutality that brought universal condemnation on apartheid South Africa. Aboriginal people are to be driven from homelands where their communities have lived for thousands of years. In Western Australia, where mining companies make billion dollar profits exploiting Aboriginal land, the state government says it can no longer afford to “support” the homelands.

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Regulating the Banks : What’s so hard about it? Paul Mason fumes!

As we agonise over the demise of youth services; as our sector leaders simply accept the alibi of austerity; as young people are denied a meaningful future, the institutions at the heart of the crisis continue to get away with theft and murder.

Paul Mason, a mate of mine from the days of the Miners Strike 1984/85, a fellow Leyther and nowadays economics editor at Channel 4, has clearly had his fill of the hypocrisy. Breaking with the sterile orthodoxy of much reporting he just gets angry and talks straight.


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[A Leyther – a person born or bred in the town of Leigh, Lancashire]

Gaza Youth- Resigned or Resourceful, Hopeful or Hopeless?

 

Further to our post, Gaza Youth Speak Out, Paul Mason on the ground in Gaza offers a glimmer of hope – Gazan youth, the Gazan people themselves.

I have been to Muslim countries where there is deep conservatism, low education and suspicion of the west. This is not one of them. I constantly meet highly educated people who speak English; cheerful and friendly people – which is amazing in itself, given the level of terror the night brings. The world is not so blessed with educated, resourceful people that it can afford to waste the lives of 1.8 million Palestinians behind the iron grilles and the concrete walls that delimit Gaza. I have lost track of how many times I’ve met a young guy, 18 or 19 years old, proud not to be a fighter, a militant, or a duck-and-dive artist on the street. When you ask what his job is, the common answer is “carpenter”. Working with wood – not metal or computer code – is the limit of what the blockade has enabled the skilled manual worker here to achieve.

Faced with such hopelessness, naturally, many become resigned: “Living is the same as being dead” is a phrase you hear among young men. It is the perfect rationale for the nihilist military organisation some choose to join. But its opposite is the resourcefulness that rewires a house after its front has been blown off; that sits on the carpet making bread on a hot pan after a home has been reduced to dust.

Gaza is not as I expected. Amid the terror, there is hope | Paul Mason | Commentisfree | The Guardian.

May Day greetings and a fresh look at Capital

Solidarity and Best Wishes to All on the First of May

And for a little light reading on the question of Capitalism and the Future here is Paul Mason’s intro to Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-first Century’.

Thomas Piketty’s Capital: everything you need to know about the surprise bestseller

Paul concludes,

Piketty’s Capital, unlike Marx’s Capital, contains solutions possible on the terrain of capitalism itself: the 15% tax on capital, the 80% tax on high incomes, enforced transparency for all bank transactions, overt use of inflation to redistribute wealth downwards. He calls some of them “utopian” and he is right. It is easier to imagine capitalism collapsing than the elite consenting to them.
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