The Anatomy of Decision and other completely related things
Turning away from the deathly dull world of politics, here are some important facts:
- Did you know Samuel Beckett, the author of immortal lines such as ‘the sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new’ (itself a play upon the bible, of all things) played two first-class cricket games for Dublin University in 1925 and 1926? His top score was just 18, but he possessed a ‘gritty defence’.
- Did you know Samuel Beckett used to drive Andre the Giant, of wrestling fame, to school everyday in France? Yes, that Andre the Giant, 7 foot plus tall and couldn’t really wrestle or speak English too well (I could never really understand what he said during those melodramatic interviews, but he possessed a wicked grin). Beckett knew Andre’s father, who helped him build his cottage, and so to repay the gift Beckett drove an already oversized Andre to school everyday in his truck – it was one of the few vehicles that Andre could fit in. And, of course, the main subject they talked about was cricket.
- Did you know that the largest shopping mall in the world is in Dongguan, China, and has the potential to hold 2350 shops! Wowee! I must visit sometime. Even better, 99% of the shops are vacant! Must be the coolest shopping mall in the world, though I bet they don’t do exciting things like play cricket or watch terrible wrestling matches in that mall.
- On a completely related topic, has anyone noticed that Gangnam Style is in a fact a poor quality, poppy remake of a much better, weirder and groovier 2003 song from Benny Benassi called satisfaction? Have a listen. The riffs are almost exactly the same, and all PSY has done has added in a few bridges and some lyrics. No talk of great subjects like cricket, shopping malls, Beckett and Andre the Giant in the lyrics, just some gentle. ironic satire for the consumption of the Korean and now global spectacle (and added in a funny dance to sell more records and make more profits, kerchinggg…). As this article says, PSY is no anti-capitalist making fun of the lifestyles of the filthy rich, but is actually from the wealthy, ostentatious suburb of Gangnam, and partakes in its nightlife and scene. I’m all for plagiarism (it’s all very communist, you see) – indeed, it is great that the song has itself become globally spoofed numerous times (including one by Shirley Boys High making fun of the attempt by the govt to merge their school with a horrible elite school in Christchurch, just to rub salt into the wounds the quakes have caused in Christchurch) but it is funny how most music is dead, re-packaged, re-modelled stuff from the past. Even a pop indie band like Metric ironically produced dead music to comment that today’s music is dead. It is like ‘post-modern’ irony, man. It is also like the spectacle is consuming and feeding from itself. (Yes this is a blatant attempt at populism on this blog, in the hope irate supporters of the PSY spectacle turn up here.)
Now for something completely different…
Here is a pamphlet written in 1974 by Steve Taylor of the Revolutionary Committee of the Communist Party of New Zealand (Expelled) called anatomy of decision. Fantastically silly name for a group! They were expelled from the CPNZ for opposing the Maoist CPNZ’s support for elections, parliament, and how the CPNZ did not allow dissent/freedom. They then became councilists, influenced by the British Solidarity group, but you can still trace elements of Maoism in their thinking (and this pamphlet).
The pamphlet is a careful (if a little mechanistic) analysis of the decision-making process. I have been unable to scan it – for some reason old gestetnered pamphlets from the 1970s do not process well in OCR text recognition programmes, so here is the contents list for those who are interested in delving in it.
Chapter One. Political Background.
Sub-headings: Start with the axioms; China and the USSR; Lenin on the Party
Chapter Two: Decision, The Gate between Ideas and Action.
The fundamental nature of decision; Decision in the context of social life
Chapter Three: On the Question of Votes and Voting.
Study of the vote as a thing ‘in itself’; How political decisions can be made; the statement of the problem; ideology
Chapter Four: Categories of Decision.
Politics compared with blood circulation; from the simple to the complex; decision by appointed leader; a study of the policy vote or majority decision; a group of twenty-one; the fetish of property
Chapter Five: The Anatomy of Socialism.
Chapter Six. The Parliamentary Elective Vote and How Its Socialist Counterpart Could Compare.
The Elective Vote under capitalism; In Summary and Comment; Definitions.
You can see how Taylor placed a lot of importance on critiquing Leninist parliamentarism and participation in elections. It is good that Taylor thoughtfully supports bringing women into the centre stage of socialism, rejects Leninism and parliament, and supports voting (rather than fetishising consensus decision-making) and freedom of thought and organisation.
But I guess he fell into the trap a lot of councilists did – that is, he fetishised the direct democratic decision-making process itself over the content of communism. I guess he was trying to avoid the big thing they were reacting against: Leninism, whether in its Stalinist, Maoist or Trotskyist varieties. They were trying to get away from what they called bureaucratic capitalism, and instead have workers decide things for themselves through workers’ councils. But, of course, when you fetishise and idealise a perfect process — whatever that process is, whether it be consensus decision-making or mass discussion and voting in mass assemblies — you tend to overlook content (or at least be very murky on it, as you can see in Taylor’s chapter on the content of socialism, which simply says socialism is self-organisation, and freedom of thought and assembly and the ability to make decisions freely. I’d agree, but we need to go beyond that… ).
That is, you can have the best process in the world, but the content of your politics can still lack concrete substance and sometimes be unprincipled eg. support self-managed capitalism, which is in the end self-managed exploitation. This in my experience has been a common mistake of the councilist and anarchist milieu, which tends to seize upon and fetishise certain formulas and organisational forms, and then at its worst use them idealistically and moralistically to denounce all those who don’t share their belief in their perfect ideal, rather than use an open-ended, non-dogmatic materialist analysis to work out what’s best.