Saturday, 26 June 2010

Age War

Class War…. We leave it nowadays to the Socialist Workers Party. But can it be resurrected into mainstream politics?

Probably not, given their current state with the three parties sharing the same worldview, and inhabiting the same social circles. They also have the same personality types. What are these? As so often Bertrand Russell is apposite: in a society where ambition is encouraged, that is, where the love for power is a virtue, the people in charge will be the very ones who love power the most. Compare this is to a hereditary aristocracy, where not all the sons and grandsons who exercise authority will have the character for it. Tsar Nicholas II is a spectacular example.

But imagine if there was a mainstream political party that represented the views of the poor, the working class, and the excluded. Lets imagine their reaction to the recent budget taking one of its measures as an example: the proposed rise in the pension age to 70.

Let us also assume that there is a crisis in pensions. Could there be another way to finance them? The obvious one is to end the Afghanistan war, and reduce the military generally, and redistribute wealth more equitably across the country. But lets forget the obvious ones, for a moment.

We have progressive Income Tax, which recognises the principle that the rich should contribute more to society than the poor. Why not the same for the pension age? The richer you are the longer you must work. After all, the more money you have the easier life becomes – for the rich have staff to do the actual work for them. But a council employee, can he still dig the roads at 70? Maybe he can, but it is going to be hard; since it is likely he will be worn out by then. Is that the idea? Kill off the manual class early, so they won’t claim their pensions? Of course, the politicians nowadays are not likely to know people who do back-breaking work; thus the questions of health and fitness do not arise for them.

Russell notes that power gives people greater opportunities to express their desires, and to grow their capabilities. In the past power came from military glory or landed property. Still important, of course, but today it is work that gives almost limitless opportunities to increase a person’s power, and with it a sense of well-being, and of fullness (an argument, perhaps, for not extending their pension age!). No wonder working to 70 is no problem for the politicians. But if your work is menial, boring and repetitive, and powerless, how cruel to extend it even further into old age.

In a recent interview the 95 year-old Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs talked about how the fossil fuel economy is only 300 years old, and thus an anomaly within our history. She also referenced Immanuel Wallenstein’s analysis of the feudal system; its collapse when it could no longer cope with the management of its problems. She believes we are in a similar historical phrase now. During this conversation she said: job should once again becomework. I assume she’s referring to the old craft traditions, coming out of the Middle Ages, and to the kinds of creative work mentioned by Wilhelm von Humboldt, which he wanted to see preserved and expanded. How true! Work can become enriching, both mentally and spiritually; to a point where… you may never retire? Did Russell himself? Did Picasso or Matisse?

Then there’s a more radical idea. Here’s what Chomsky says about the modern corporation:

…granted rights of persons to “collectivist legal entities” (corporations), rights extended far beyond those of persons of flesh and blood in recent international economic arrangements (mis-labeled “free-trade agreements’).

They are individuals. And of course they never retire. Perhaps they should. But lets assume they never will. If they want to be treated as humans, perhaps they should pay an age tax; and the older they are the more they pay – towards a national pension scheme. Being always so young and healthy, so vigorous, and desperate for growth, they can provide for those who have been burned out by the production line.

So a new Class War? Yes! But a new party is needed to fight it.

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