Getting rid of racism
Talat Ahmed's excellent article on institutional racism (Feature, Socialist Review, February 2012) made a very important point about the relationship between personal racist attitudes among police officers and the institutional role of the police.
Although some police officers might have liberal and even progressive views individually, collectively they perform a state role and therefore their dominant ideology will be that of defending the interests of those who run the state. The same applies to the armed forces. Although individuals may hold potentially radical views, they are in conflict with ruling class interests.
But that conflict is important - it is the basis for splitting the armed forces and police during revolutionary situations, precisely because the individuals can be drawn away from the ruling class towards their own class, the working class. When police are used to attack workers, that ideological conflict becomes crucial. Because of their role, such a personal conflict puts them increasingly at odds with the institution that employs them.
That's why we should understand and make use of that ideological conflict, possibly more potential than actual most of the time. That's why it's important to organise socialists within the police and armed forces and not simply to regard them as agents of the ruling class.
The focus on "bad apples" and guilty individuals hides that overarching ideological role and plays to a psychological interpretation of racism.
The anti-capitalist movement is sometimes guilty of this. It says that bankers are just irrational, crazy and greedy while ignoring the inherent crises of capitalism as a system. Playing to individual blame and psychological interpretations misses the point that bankers and financiers are compelled by the market to compete, viciously and without mercy. So while we might loathe and despise these grasping wealthy parasites with all our venom, we also need the understanding of their role in the system.
Alcalá de los Gazules, Spain
A tale of two views
I've read quite a few of Charles Dickens's novels and I found the article about him and his writings very informative (Culture, Socialist Review, February 2012). However, I disagree that A Tale of Two Cities is weak. I read it as a teenager and since then it has always been my favourite Dickens novel.
I don't feel that the peasants are simply portrayed as a revolutionary mob. It is more complex than that. Dickens makes the reader very aware that the French Revolution and "The Terror" came about as a result of years of oppression by the aristocracy.
The main reason I like it though is the ending. It could be seen as sentimental but the self-sacrifice of Sydney Carton, a character who up until then is extremely unlikeable, reinforces my belief as a socialist that everyone has the capacity to change.
I've argued with many people over the years who believe that people cannot change but I've always believed the opposite and A Tale of Two Cities exemplifies it.
Don't forget Braverman!
Overall, I agree with the positive review by Soren Goard of Dan Swain's excellent new little book, Alienation: An Introduction to Marx's Theory (Books, Socialist Review, February 2012).
But I feel that the book would have been even better if Dan had made reference to Harry Braverman's important book, first published in 1974, Labour and Monopoly Capital.
Braverman's book is subtitled "The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century", but it is still very relevant in the twenty first. It shows the effects of the development of capitalism on the nature of work (the labour process) and on the composition of the working class since Marx's time.
Braverman shows how several factors combine to make the labour process an alienating one under capitalism: capitalist management and control; the way the capitalists use new technology; the division of labour; and the separation of the "conception" or planning side of work from its "execution". Underlying all these, of course, is the lack of control by workers over the means of production.
He shows how the capitalists try to deskill as far as possible every new type of skilled job that is thrown up by their ever-changing system, so that they can both reduce wage levels and also more easily control the alienated labour of the workers.
Finally, Braverman was also one of the first Marxists to show in detail how white collar workers have become part of the working class, and how even many "professional" jobs are being proletarianised.