Thursday, June 15, 2017

Suicide is about Alienation

Good on Mike King for attacking the gutless, shamefaced, official line on suicide as part of the problem not the solution. And cheers to The Daily Blog for acting as a forum on suicide with activists like Dave Macpherson and Martyn Bradbury exposing the failures of the health system. While we agree that we need to change the official response to suicide, that should be based on what causes suicide. We will argue that suicide is a desperate act of refusal against a powerless, de-humanising, alienated life under capitalism. But so long as the official line of taking the fight against suicide out of the hands of people and keeping it as a function of the bureaucracy, judiciary and medical profession remains, the epidemic of suicide will continue. Not until suicide is properly debated and its causes fully understood can any real solutions be found. An independent inquiry is a start in that process.

Competing theories of suicide
To reduce suicide to a personal choice, something wrong with the genes, or neo-liberal social policy, is to mistake the symptoms for the cause. There is a long trail of bankrupt theories strewn along the painful history of this subject. First, there is the history of the Church, especially the Catholic church, of reducing suicide to a sin in the eyes of God. Who would know? Then there is the mainline bourgeois culture of rampant Western individualism that suicides are ‘failures’ who haven’t found ‘success’ in the market. Both of these superstitions form the underbelly of attitudes toward suicide today. Then there are attempts to find measurable causes that can be traced back to impacts on the individuals of social relations which can then be isolated and treated as ‘abnormal’ or ‘deviant’ by medicine or social policy.
Most notable was Emile Durkheim the French sociologist who wrote ‘Suicide: a study in sociology’ in 1897. Durkheim was a ‘positivist’, someone who observed behaviour and looked for correlations and patterns to infer causes. He found 4 types of suicide based on supposed differences in causation. (1) Egoistic: caused by the excessive individualism of modern (capitalist) society. (2) Anomic: the result of a lack of social norms and institutions that support the individual. (3) Altruistic: due to a lack of strong individual traits when facing authority. 4) Fatalistic: suicide resulting from overwhelming social pressures. The two examples he used were slaves and married women.
Durkheim proposed social policies for each type. Egoistic and Anomic suicides could he prevented by creating new social institutions to recreate the mechanical solidarity (eg extended family and village life) of pre-capitalist society to support individuals. Altruistic and Fatalistic suicides were more problematic because they involved critiquing military and family authority both of which Durkheim endorsed as necessary for capitalism to function. In fact he supported the authority of husbands over wives and opposed divorce. In any event, these tinkerings with social policy have failed to get to the root causes of suicide in the century or more since. The sociology of suicide has fixated on symptoms while the state bureaucracies and the medical profession prescribe “good science” but continue to ignore the fundamental causes.
The most promising 19th century line of attack on suicide was that of Marx which began 50 years before Durkheim. It was not the social effects of capitalism that were the causes but the social relations of capitalism itself. For Marx, the basic cause of all social ills was the alienation of individuals from their labour though this also affected those who lived off that labour – the bourgeoisie. Marx never studied suicide as such, but in 1845 he commented on the work of French statistician and police chief Peuchet, who found an obvious correlation between three young bourgeois females subjected to extreme family abuse (spousal abuse and public humiliation for sexual ‘deviancy’) and their suicides by drowning in the river Seine.
Marx concluded that the common cause was alienation from one’s labour, but more concretely in these cases, alienation in the bourgeois family in which women were the ‘slaves’ of their husbands. Proletarians are alienated, but women are also alienated from their husbands in the bourgeois family. And as the bourgeois family was the model for the proletarian family, working class wives became the “proletarians of the proletariat”. So, to clear the way for socialism the bourgeois “family must be destroyed in theory and practice.”
Does revolution stop suicide?
Before looking as more recent attempts to apply “good science” to suicide, it is worth pausing to consider the “theory and practice” of the Bolshevik revolution and its impact on suicide. Marx’s theory predicts that the end of capitalism would bring an end to alienation and the beginning of real humanism. The end of the bourgeois family would empower women and liberate them from domestic slavery. What is the evidence? First, the freedom from oppression was such that human creativity blossomed in all walks of life. Workers’ control of the state and industry empowered them to make their own lives free of the shackles of capitalist social relations. The place of women became more equal. The bourgeois institutions of marriage and the family underwent massive changes.
The result was that among those who made the revolution and participated democratically in building the new society, suicides were almost nil. Workers were no longer alienated from their labour by capital. They controlled their labour collectively by democratic decisions in the Soviets which planned production on the basis of need. A new individual began to emerge, the proletarian individual. The proletariat was within reach of creating ‘humanity’.  Such were the expectations of a new order that the reversal of these conditions brought the inevitable downfall and with it, waves of suicides.
For Trotsky, the degeneration of the revolution brought about a reversal of these new freedoms. Underlying this reversal was the failure of the revolution in Europe and the isolation of the Soviet Union. The ideals of the revolution came under increasing challenge. In the attempt to negotiate a peace with Germany the vast areas of the South were devastated. The civil war against imperialist invasion required a war economy where the state took more central powers and reduced those of the soviets. To feed the troops the peasantry had their product requisitioned. This turned many peasants against the workers state, and in particular the Bolsheviks. The Kronstadt rebellion was ruthlessly put down. The New Economic Policy virtually restored capitalism in the countryside to feed the industrial workers.
The growing concentration of power in the state disillusioned many and the state responded by clamping down on dissidents. Stalin and his apparatus ushered in bureaucratic rule. At each point in this reversal of the revolution, and as the hopes in the revolution were dashed, the rates of suicide went up. Suicide in the Soviet Union therefore was a direct result of the failure to break completely from capitalism, and the inevitable degeneration of "socialism in one country" as the bureaucracy usurped power from the workers. Most important, socialist equality was stillborn as workers control of their labour was taken over by a state bureaucracy. Surplus labour was not allocated to social needs on a democratic basis, but expropriated by the bureaucracy. Alienation re-appeared in the unequal social relations of the bureaucratic regime.
What to do?
We have argued above that alienation is the fundamental cause of suicide. It cannot be overcome unless there is an end to the unequal social relations that produce alienation. The capitalist state is based upon alienation and designed to reproduce it by legitimising unequal class relations. The state bureaucracy uses its power to monopolize knowledge and prevent any challenge to capitalist rule in the name of "good science".  In the post-capitalist states, a state bureaucracy emerged to suppress the power of workers and to block the road to socialism and take the road back to capitalism.
In Aotearoa/NZ, the first task to stopping suicide is to challenge and expose the state agencies and the Mental Health bureaucracy. An official inquiry will do nothing to expose the bureaucracy, plenty of earlier ‘disasters’ such as the police shooting of Steven Wallace and the Pike River tragedy proves.  An independent inquiry is needed to allow critics of the official line on suicide to be heard and their issues raised and debated publicly.
But even so, more urgent actions are needed along the lines of the self-organising of workers and youth, especially Maori youth, to actively fight against the official silence and apathy towards suicide. There are lessons that can be learned from the story of Yellow Ribbon, that created student groups in many schools to deal with those at risk of suicide and its closing down by the state agencies. And many more public initiatives to organise the grass roots communities to campaign against suicide are important developments. Focusing on the immediate causes of suicide will wake people up to the underlying cause of suicide – the alienation of individuals from their labour, from their friends and family, and finally from themselves.

NZ/Aotearoa: No vote for the Ruling Class!

An election this year means little to the real power: The international capitalist class. Governments whoever they are simply set the rules by which capitalism runs. In NZ, that is the Health and Education systems, and union rights, etc. The capitalist class has tamed parliamentary parties to its needs; none will deliver meaningfully for the working class. Some cater to the needs of international capitalism more than others (Labour, National), others to local capitalists (Maori Party). Most parties now pretend to be class blind because this serves the ruling class. Yet the Labour party claims to represent the organised working class. And the Mana movement claims to represent Maori workers.

Mana and Maori

The Mana movement is a Maori nationalist movement with some small capitalist influences. However, Mana has a strong record of fighting for working class issues, and on the side of colonised peoples. Mana has made attacks from the left on the Labour party, for Labour’s betrayal of working class needs generally, as well as Labour’s theft of Maori rights to foreshore and seabed resources. The Maori Party on the other hand is the party of the Iwi leadership forum, not Maori workers. It has already exposed itself as an outright capitalist party as supporter of the National lead government. Can we give critical support Mana’s deal with the Maori Party?

Mana has an electoral agreement with the Maori Party. They will not compete in each other’s electorates for the candidate vote. They will campaign for party votes. They will not criticise each other’s policies during the election campaign period.

However, this puts the Mana movement in a dangerous electoral truce with a capitalist party to try to gain seats in the capitalists’ parliament. It's a backward move because it abandons Maori workers and subordinates then to Iwi capitalists. After the election, the Mana movement says the truce is over (with the Maori Party) and everything will be up for negotiation. Mana promises to keep its political independence. But we say do not put any confidence in Mana not to join a popular front with the MP or any other party in an openly capitalist government. We say give a critical vote to Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau but with no illusions that Mana will stick to its promise to represent working class Maori in parliament.

Labour as a Bourgeois Workers Party

Some workers believe that the Labour party promises to deliver more for the working class. Since the Labour party claims the name “labour”. They have a few affiliated unions: MUNZ, E tu, and NZNO, Meat Workers Union. The PSA is legally barred from affiliating with political parties but is inseparable from Labour.

The Labour party has already agreed to working with the Green party and together they released “budget responsibility rules”. These rules show the NZ Labour Party has tied itself to the capitalist system and the Green party. They promised to maintain a surplus (keep the government in profit), reduce government debt, reduce government spending to a 30% of GDP ratio. How will they give the increases needed to catch the health and education systems up to what they were before the National government? No chance because, in the fine print – there will be no change to taxation for the first term of government. They will gather a team of experts to advise them on progressive (fair) tax system. They don’t even have the backbone to suggest taxing the rich now - to pay for what workers need now. So, they are not even promising in the election campaign to do much to deliver what workers need.

Labour has stitched itself to a coalition with the Greens on a capitalist responsibility programme. It is already committing to a popular front that may also in include the openly capitalist NZ First and/or Maori Party in a coalition. They have already got capitalist (the class-blind Green Party) allies who they could blame for their failure to deliver for working class needs. They cannot be given critical support on this basis. Their betrayal of working class “labour” has been revealed before they take the parliamentary leadership. The Labour party in parliament gives crumbs to the union affiliates while working class wages and conditions are run down - including the “social wage” of health and education systems. Labour they have already signed an allegiance to the capitalist class and the Greens through the above agreement. That plan is blatantly capitalist.

Labour could have campaigned to run a minority government, without capitalist plans and without being tied to capitalist parties. Union affiliates, it is over time to split from Labour, as it has already shown it will not deliver what the working class needs not after this election or the 3 years following.

We always called the NZ Labour Party a “bourgeois-workers party”: because in spite of worker membership they have had a capitalist programme. The Labour Party has never challenged to overthrow the capitalist economic system. Labour party sells false hope – that they could deliver what workers need within capitalism. This means they serve to tie workers into capitalism, the parliamentary road does not lead to socialism. The task for revolutionaries then is to break working class from this false hope!

The tactic of Critical Support

In previous elections, we have tactically called for “critical support” for Labour (and in the past New Labour and Mana) – called on working class to put Labour into government – to show it up as failing to deliver for workers. We could say that this tactic broke some unions from Labour, after the 1984-1990 Labour government a number of unions broke (disaffiliated) from Labour. In the absence of revolutionary leadership, the maritime union is now back as Labour’s union affiliates. These unions continue to act as a pathway to suck working class into parliament.

So, in this coming election we do not give critical support for Labour. While it remains a bourgeois workers party, the tactic of critical support cannot work if Labour is tied to openly bourgeois parties - in this case the Greens and/or NZ First in a parliamentary coalition. This is because the rotten bourgeois leadership of Labour can hide behind the excuse that its partners in government stopped it delivering on its campaign promises for workers. Voting for Labour in the certain knowledge that it has already committed itself to forming a popular front with openly bourgeois parties would be to conspire with Labour to hide its class politics from workers. This would be a betrayal of our main strategy to break workers from the labour bureaucracy and from the bourgeois class enemy!

The main strategy is to build the working-class movement independent of parliament, that is our task. It is difficult when the unions are held by their leadership in a relationship with the Labour party and the idea that capitalism can be reformed to meet the needs of workers. Minor reforms in the face of major erosion of working class wages and conditions over the years shows how ineffectual reformism is. But every election year the union leaders say – vote Labour and we could get more of what we need. This takes the power of workers away from united action into a meaningless voting box.

Independent working-class movement

The only reason workers need bother with parliament is to use it as a place to speak and denounce parliamentary democracy as failing to deliver what we really need. We can only organise and take power outside of parliament with elected delegates, with councils of workers to run the towns and communities, strikes to force living wages from employers and occupations and running the businesses under workers control.

· For independent candidates of the working class. Any working-class members of parliament to use the place as a platform to speak and raise revolutionary politics and denounce the ruling class and all their parties!

· For working class candidates to stand against labour candidates in the general electorate seats and Maori seats, other than Te Tai Tokerau where Hone Harawira will be standing for Mana movement! Let’s see unions put up our own candidates in the electorates. Unionised workers are ignored and marginalised under Labour party rules and deals, take the fight outside the party!

· Revolutionary candidates only stand to use parliament as a platform to speak- the power of the working class is not held within parliament. Remember the capitalist class holds power outside parliament in the police and armed forces as strike breakers!

· There is a crisis of leadership of the working class, labour and the trade union leaderships have sold out the fight before we even start: build a workers’ revolutionary party!

· Critical support for the Mana Movement while it stays out of popular fronts!

· No Critical Support for the Labour Party in a popular front coalition with openly capitalist parties!

· No support for the other capitalist parties!

· Build an independent mass working class party capable of standing candidates on a Transitional Program to build workers councils and fight for a Government of the Workers and Oppressed!
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