"Freedom in capitalist society always remains just about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners." - Vladimir Lenin.
Why am I quoting Lenin in a book about totalitarianism? Because he is a figure who propounds a very germane exegesis of the liberal democracy model which is acknowledged today as a symbol of prosperity and peace. Lenin called it the dictatorship of the bourgeois, rule of the capital, or rule of the upper class where there is only freedom for the slave owners.
Whenever someone says Totalitarianism, several thoughts surface to the mind of the individual. They think about various governments that have restricted the rights of the people, took part in vanquishing opposition and fear-mongering, control all aspects of life for complete subjugation to authority by controlling mass media to spread propaganda.
Totalitarianism became a political ideology with the advent of Fascism. Mussolini believed that the Corporate State is totalitarian and also wrote a book on it titled ‘The Corporate State’. Any individual interest or whatsoever was out of harmony with the interest of the State. The State corrals all of society. The idea that totalitarianism is integral political power that is exercised by the state was contrived in 1923 to elucidate Italian Fascism as a system that was fundamentally different from conventional dictatorships.
Totalitarianism is not at all predictable and, in many instances, it's not even conspicuous. According to the dictionary, Political science is the branch of knowledge that deals with the state and systems of government or the scientific analysis of political activity and behavior. A policy state or system can be interpreted in many different manners. So political study is subjective and open to many interpretations but ignorance moves it to the objective side. This is what Žižek discusses in the book about totalitarianism. how it has been reduced to just a few interpretations and the fact that liberals don’t want to talk about what they call a ‘demonic’ political idea and denounces as ethically dangerous.
Totalitarianism as an ideological concept has always had an explicit strategic function to guarantee the liberal-democratic hegemony by dismissing the Leftist critique of liberal democracy as the perfidious or Janus-faced of Right-wing dictatorships. Žižek looks at totalitarianism in a way that Wittgenstein would approve of, finding it a cobweb of family resemblances.
Žižek reveals the unison view of totalitarianism, in which it is defined four ways: the holocaust as the ultimate, diabolical evil and beyond any political analysis; the Stalinist gulag as the alleged truth of the socialist revolutionary project which refutes socialism and radical progressive thoughts as they call it utopian and believe that utopian vision leads to totalitarian realities; the recent wave of ethnic and religious fundamentalism to be fought through multiculturalists tolerance; and the deconstructionist idea that the ultimate root of totalitarianism is the ontological closure of thought.
Žižek starts the book by telling that trounce of the left is not because of the inanition of the intellectual resources but because of its ideological defeat against liberalism. The radical left is trapped in a facile opposition between the rhetoric of liberal democracy on the one hand and totalitarianism on the other.
The book explains the psychoanalysis of the concept of Totalitarianism. Žižek can be called the seer of Lacan as his ideas drew heavily from Hegel’s Idealism and Lacan’s psychoanalysis and that’s why the book is more of a psychoanalytic study of totalitarianism than political. Lacanian psychoanalysis in itself is an intricate topic to comprehend, the book might help some to look at it in a clear sense. It’s important to understand Lacan to discuss liberalism as he believed that no matter how democratic we may be, we are always attracted to authority figures. We simply don’t want to take charge and want someone to lead. This concludes that Liberal democracy is still a rule of the insignificant minority over the significant majority and is less about representation and leads to the polarity of the power.
Žižek in this book calls the discourse on totalitarianism pertinent because it helps to discern the shortcomings of the modern democracy but the problem he calls out is the misuse of the notion as any argument regarding it is rejected by calling it evil and this thwarts the intellectual development of the society giving rise to centrism which believes that any change in the status quo will eventually lead to totalitarianism.
Žižek examines these ideas and concludes that the devil lies not so much in the detail but in what enables the very designation totalitarian: the liberal-democratic consensus itself which remolds itself into fascism in no time as it is governed based on capital. Authoritarianism is not pretending anymore to be a real alternative to the flawed democracies everywhere, but we can see many more authoritarian practices and styles being smuggled into democratic governments.
Liberalism is a more sophisticated version of authority that is not about freedom and it can be best fathomed by studying Gramsci. In a totalitarian society the ruling class tells you to do this particular thing, in liberal democracy Ruling class through various institutions like family school, religion familiarizes us with rules and behavior and natural respect for the ruling class while maintaining a delusion around ‘Free Speech’. This is what Žižek in his lectures call the ‘Paradigm of modern permissive authority’.
Regardless, Žižek raises interesting points. Does real democracy come only as an unanticipated paroxysm of ethical duty? Is the marking of diversity enshrouds totalitarian thought? Does magnum opus result from excessive knowledge? Do deeds emanate from prevailing ethical materiality or do they create it afresh each time they occur? Do cultural studies reveal the shapes of global hegemony?
There is one point that Žižek misses out; the conflict between the divergent ideologies is not only because of the parochialism of liberal democracy but also the altercation between the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment thoughts. Progressive politics is the outcome of Enlightenment thoughts which is the intellectual legacy of Marx that values freedom and equality.
This is not an easy book at all. This is meant for research scholars. I (a chemistry Hons student) had difficulty reading but was able to complete this because the pop culture references made it very engrossing for those who are aware. I'll recommend it for those who want a different and very deep perspective of the liberal democratic model and good work on Lacanian psychoanalysis.
Harsh Yadav is from India and has just recently graduated from Banaras Hindu University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. Harsh is a Marxist Leninist who is intrigued by different Marxist Schools of Thought, Political Philosophies, Feminism, Foreign Policy and International Relations, and History. He also maintains a bookstagram account (https://www.instagram.com/epigrammatic_bibliophile/?hl=en) where he posts book reviews, writes about historical impact, socialism, and social and political issues.
What is a group? It may seem silly to even ask such a question, especially as a leftist. After all, we speak in terms of groups all the times, and, as Marxists, especially of the struggles between them. For example, we speak of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the struggle between the patriarchy and women, or the struggle between white supremacists and oppressed racial groups. These are just three out of the many ways in which we speak of group struggles, and it seems that such language is vital to addressing the material needs of every person. Without the language of intersectionality, it seems practically impossible to rectify the countless injustices perpetrated against oppressed people. While a still enormous task, the language of intersectionality at least gives us a plausible way to address the needs of all people. But, again, what is a group—the unit of classification that the language of intersectionality is built upon?
A group is an abstraction. If I speak of the group of the bourgeoisie, I speak of the set of people who own a sufficient amount of the means of production such that they may subsist solely on the ownership of those means of production through others’ labor. Now, this set only “exists” as an abstract object. Consider the proposition “No one person can enumerate every member of the set of ‘the bourgeoisie.’” This proposition is extremely probable, if not actually true. If there are any such people, they are certainly few and far between. Clearly, however, this set still objectively obtains in our social world. The set still “picks out” all of the members whether or not any individual person can. I use scare quotes here because the set does not do anything at all; i.e., the set is not an agent capable of doing, the way a physical agent is capable of doing. To articulate even further, the set qua set is not capable of doing work upon the physical world. Only the set as understood by some competent agent is capable of being causally implicated in any work done on any physical systems. As should be obvious, except in the extraordinarily rare case of someone actually being able to enumerate every member of some set, the set as understood will be a distortion of the set qua set. So it seems, then, that the bourgeoisie, qua bourgeoisie, cannot causally impact the physical world.
I am aware that this seems entirely anti-Marxist, but the reader must follow me with precision. If all groups are sets, and no sets can do work, then no groups can do physical work. If something cannot do physical work, then it cannot do anything. So no groups can do anything. However, individual persons acting qua member of some group can really do things. So, while we cannot (strictly speaking) say “The bourgeoisie exploits the Global South” we can say “The members of the set ‘the bourgeoisie’ exploit the members of the set ‘the Global South.’” Through this clarification we ground the action, exploitation, to where it actually occurs; viz., in the lives of the exploited.
Now this may seem to be “mere” semantics, but it is vitally important. Well-meaning leftists are becoming increasingly focused on analyzing situations entirely through group analyses. As we have seen, however, talk of group “action” is simply shorthand for the actions of the members of the group. To entirely subordinate the individuals involved in favor of the idea of group “agents” is to lose sight of who is actually being oppressed.
Let us hone in on the issue of racism as a clear example. Racism is evil precisely because it negatively affects non-white people. It is not evil in virtue of the group, or the set, of non-white people being negatively “affected" by racism. The only way a set can be “affected” is if the quantity of objects belonging to it increases or decreases in the actual world. While one could say that, technically, the set of “Black persons,” for instance, does decrease with the ongoing and horrendous racist police killings in the United States, it seems disrespectful to those killed to say that the reason their murders were evil is because they caused a numerical decrease in the set of “Black persons.” In fact, those murders were evil because they killed those people, because they affected those people. We care about groups insofar as they are composed of people.
Now, why has all of this discussion been even remotely relevant? It is because many on the left, many who even consider themselves Marxists, have abandoned a materialist ontology in favor of Hegelian mysticism. In fact, “reductionist” has become a scare-word among many leftist circles, even though materialism itself is a fundamentally reductionist ontology. In fact, what is unique about Dialectical Materialism is the appropriation of Hegel’s dialectic mode of thought to a materialist conception of reality. While the term “Dialectical Materialism” is not one Marx actually coined, it is an apt name for the way we must approach our philosophy. The qualifier is “Dialectical” and the root is “Materialism.” What we do, then, as Marxists, is to move from our reductionist root, which seeks to explain the world in material terms, to our Dialectical analysis of persons with the material world. However, the strict materialist will always acknowledge that in principle all of these interactions reduce to the material interactions at play.
So groups like the bourgeoisie, white supremacists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, etc., are not agents. When we speak of these groups “doing” things, we must remember that our language there is shorthand for the real, material interactions of individual persons with their environments—because that, at the end of the day, is the location of the material, or real, dialectic process.
Jared Yackley is an undergraduate student of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. With his primary focuses in epistemology, history, and political philosophy, Yackley hopes to apply the principles of dialectical materialism to contemporary issues both philosophical and political.
A close friend of mine once said to me “I basically have two options, toughen up or wind up in jail.” This was in reference to the intense set of circumstances plaguing him at that moment. Either continue to accept the abuse he received from his father or end back up in juvenile detention. What struck me in that moment is how he described going to juvie as “winding up in jail.” What I came to realize is that juvenile detention was not reforming these kids but breaking them down and feeding them into a greater criminal justice system. This was my introduction to the school-to-prison pipeline.
The school-to-prison pipeline can be thought of as and perceived in many different ways but what can be pinned down mainly is this; it is the system in which various forms of corrective punishment (such as suspension, expulsion, in-school detainment, etc.) is used to correct the misbehavior of students. These methods of correction eventually lead to large numbers of students being pushed from the education system into the criminal justice system. What can we observe about this system? Well, firstly we must try to pinpoint how this system was developed in the first place. Then, we must note that the school-to-prison pipeline (or SPP for short) primarily affects people of color and people of a disadvantaged background.
Let’s first look towards the presidency of Ronald Reagan and his expansion of the War on Drugs. The intention of the War on Drugs was to “take a tough stance on drugs and crime.” The outcome was not a decrease in drug abuse and crime rates but a rapid increase in incarceration in the United States. Going further than that, the outcome of Reagan’s War on Drugs was an increased incarnation rate of people of color. Around 77% of people incarcerated on drug offenses are Black and Latinx people while only collectively consisting of about 30.1% of the population. This coupled with Reagan’s booming prison industry during the 1980’s columnated not in a War on Drugs nor a War on Crime, but a War on POC and a rapid expansion on legal slavery.
I mention this because these “initiatives” created a runoff into the school system. The “zero tolerance” school discipline policies were developed as a result of the drug and crime laws of the 1980’s. Like the War on Drugs the ideology of zero tolerance discipline is to aggressively punish people for one or more specified offenses in the idea that these individuals will be reformed and will discontinue their “wrong behavior.” As you can imagine, like the outcome of the War on Drugs, these policies have only aided the growth of incarceration rates and the success of the Prison Industrial Complex.
There’s a rigid dichotomy between zero tolerance policies and positive behavior changes in students. The education system's hardened approach to discipline has continued to disillusion many students from education and the many things that supposedly lay waiting for students who pursue a further education. Understandingly, this disillusionment oftentimes leads towards criminality rather than away from it. When breaking this policy down we must note that the purpose with zero tolerance discipline was to focus on targeting and punishing individuals for violating specific rules and regulations such as enacting violence, bringing drugs, alcohol, or weapons to campus, hate speech, etc. The reality, however is that many schools have decided to enact these policies against students who exhibit signs of possible mental illness, abuse, etc. as a shortcut to addressing these problems.
Consequently, at least half of all prisoners in the United States exhibit mental health concerns. It has been observed that 64% of jail inmates, 54% of state prisoners, and 45% of federal prisoners report mental health concerns. Anywhere from 10-25% of those inmates incarcerated in the United States suffer from serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major affective disorders, etc. Compare this to the only 20.6% of US adults who have reported any mental illness (AMI).
The increased militarization of U.S. schools has further perpetuated the lasting effects of these zero tolerance policies and is largely responsible for the disproportionate number of students of color funneled directly out of the school system and into the criminal justice system. In the 2015-2016 school year, black students represented only 15% of the student population nationally, but represented 31% of the students arrested or referred to law enforcement. And, overall, it has been noted that black students are also three times more likely to attend a school that employs at least one police officer but no mental health personnel.
Considering all of this, it is important to note the way in which zero tolerance discipline and the militarization of schools as a whole is viewed by most through an idealist lens; the true implications of which are ignored by most and the way in which these policies are used as instruments of capital are completely overlooked. The idea presented to us that the system works in reforming and helping our children is enough to feel as though it is a reality. It is even important to note that the implementation of 8-hour school days that correlates with the typical 8-hour work day has created the perfect set of conditions to convince the general public that these cruel and abusive tactics are fundamental in shaping and caring for your children. However, by looking at this system through a materialist lens we can begin to understand why zero-tolerance policies and the militarization of schools was truly implemented, why it specifically targets POC and mentally ill students, and how it has been used as a tool for capital.
With the abolition of slavery came the ratification of the 13th amendment, which in turn allowed for legal slavery as “punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” After the American Civil War when slave plantations became no longer useful, we began to exponential growth of the prison system and a wave of legislation across the country. Legislation which targeted black people for the slightest of things and resulting punishment being prison time (where they could once again exploit the labor of black people in America for free and act more violently in doing so.) And we can see that overall, not much has changed.
Our material conditions, while evolving, continue to perpetuate systemic inequality. The conditions that made it possible racism, sexism, ableism, islamophobia, etc. to thrive worldwide have become ingrained into every aspect of our social and economic practices, not excluding the SPP. In fact, these very conditions have made it possible for the SPP to be created in the first place.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the education system is the aid to and could be the end of the Prison Industrial Complex. The demilitarization of schools and introduction of further mental health personnel is only the first step to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. And in turn, beginning on the path to full on prison abolition.
Nellis, Ashley, and Kevin Muhitch and Nazgol Ghandnoosh. “The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons.” The Sentencing Project, 10 Jan. 2019, www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons/.
2014, October. “Incarceration Nation.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Oct. 2014, www.apa.org/monitor/2014/10/incarceration.
“Ending Student Criminalization and the School-to-Prison Pipeline - EJ-ROC Policy Hub.” NYU Steinhardt, 7 May 2020, steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/ejroc/ending-student-criminalization-and-school-prison-pipeline.
Tara Thomason is pursuing an bachelor’s in Political Science and Gender Studies. Their main interests are police and prison abolition, decolonization, black liberation, women liberation, and the global proletarian struggle. Much of their work goes towards organizing mutual aid efforts in my community and educating on Marxism.
In this paper we seek to perform a dialectical analysis of the recent popular phenomenon of OnlyFans.com. OnlyFans is a website on which content creators, typically behind a paywall, post exclusive content for their “fans.” However, OnlyFans is most notably known for revolutionizing the pornography industry. A quick google search will verify that the primary commodity produced on OnlyFans is pornography. However, this direct link between pornographic performers and their pornographic products is functionally novel to mainstream society. While previous to this point things like webcamming have already enjoyed immense popularity, the seemingly inescapable phenomenon of OnlyFans has presented a genuine shift of power in the porn industry. That is not to say that OnlyFans is not exploitative of sex workers—of course it is. The company takes a cut from every subscription and generates massive revenue. But how are we, as philosophers (do not fret here dear reader—anyone reading this I hereby deem a philosopher!), to view this problem?
We will approach the issue of OnlyFans by first examining the ontology of pornography. Next, we will discuss the relationship of what is really occurring when a person is engaging in the consumption of pornography. Once we have established the nature of the relationship between pornography as a purely mental “object” and the relationship of the viewer to this “object,” we will discuss the moral implications of this relationship. However, we needn’t commit ourselves to a strict deontology or consequentialism.
After we address the moral relationship between the phenomenon of pornography to the viewer, we will address the moral relationship between the act of creating pornography to the creator. I hope to show that even if we remove the consideration of specifically industrial pornographic exploitation—viz., in imagining a phenomenon like OnlyFans in which the “company” would serve as essentially a free posting service for the creator and consumer— there still exists exploitation, and, thus, alienation, for both the creator and consumer of pornography. We will end with some considerations of what we might want to do about this exploitation, or if we even want to do anything at all.
Is Pornography Real?
Offhand this may seem like an absurd question. Surely pornography is real? I can pull up a video, or a picture, and see the pornography. But is it really the pornography itself that is being interpreted by my visual sense? Of course not—all that is actually interacting with my eyes in that moment are photons (either produced digitally, or reflecting off of a printed image, or what have you). It only becomes pornography after the photons have been sensed. This would seem to hold true for any given viewer of pornography. Thus, any given pornographic material only is, or only exists, in the mind of a person whose eyes are processing the photons. That is to say, the statement “This piece of pornography X exists” can only be true insofar as a mind constructs the pornography out of the varied sense-perception presented to it by the visual sense. Absent a mind to construct pornography out of the photons, it cannot be said that “on screen Y there exists some piece of pornography X,” or that “in magazine V there exists some piece of pornography W.” All that will exist in such cases are the photons, either produced by pixels or reflecting off of a configuration of ink and paper molecules, for pornography can only exist as a mental object.
So as to not scare away anyone not fully committed to a materialist metaphysic we will speak as if mental objects themselves can exist. The strict materialist, myself included, deny that they exist independently from a direct physical correlate in the brain (or perhaps elsewhere in the nervous system, depending on the sense of “mental object”). For the purposes of clarity, we shall treat mental objects as real enough for our discussion.
Now it seems we are in a position to say that a pornographic product can only exist as a pornographic product within the minds of the viewers of that product (whatever the implications of “to exist” might turn out to be). It is useful to point out that this is also true for the creator of the pornography--properly speaking, the pornography they create doesn’t exist as pornography until their mind constructs it as such. Up until that point, the creator was simply performing sex acts in front of a camera, but we must be clear that all that is actually real in their act of “creating pornography” are the physical motions which they performed while filming, the molecules composing the camera itself, the photons, etc.
Let us now give an answer to our question, “Is pornography real?” The materialist answer is no—so long as “real” is understood to mean “real independent of experience” or “physically real.” If one is comfortable with the idea of subjective “realities,” then one might quite be comfortable calling pornography “real.” I do not share this comfort, but even to such a thinker I would respond that even if mental objects are fully real--that is, even if the apparent dichotomy of the terms “objective reality” and “subjective reality” is an illusion of sorts— mental objects nonetheless still only exist when they are constructed by minds. So even for one who wants to call pornography “real,” it seems they cannot deny that its supposed reality nonetheless only is obtained within the confines of individual minds.
I hope the reader will forgive me for using the term “masturbation”—it is not a word I favor, but it is necessary here. We will define “masturbation” here as sexual self-stimulation. To be clear, what we are talking about here is physical sexual self-stimulation. While in some sense something like imagining a sexual scenario without physically stimulating oneself is certainly self-stimulation, that is not the sense in which we will use the term here. Additionally, we know the obvious ways in which sexual self-stimulation occurs, but our broad definition here could include innocuous, even subconscious behaviors. So long as the behavior is self-stimulation of an area of the body which produces the physical sensation of sexual pleasure, the behavior is masturbation on this account.
It seems extraordinarily obvious that the primary purpose for the commodity of pornography is the facilitation of masturbation by its consumers. But as we have seen, a grouping of visual data only becomes pornography in the mind of the viewer. What then is the masturbator masturbating to? What is the object of their sexual desire? What is the cause of their self-stimulation?
The answer is, unavoidably, themself. The masturbator arouses themself, perhaps to the extent of orgasm, with themself as their own object. The supposed relationship with the Other, the creator of the pornography—the unattainable, beautiful whoever—is subsumed within the relationship of the masturbator with their own Self. I capitalize these terms to bring to mind the Hegelian tone with which I mean to use them. The masturbator, unable or unwilling to pursue an actual Other with whom to have sex, settles for the artificial “Other” contained within the pornography. To be clear, by “actual Other” I mean an Other that is perceived by some Self as being self-conscious. In Hegel’s final analysis, of course, even that distinction dissipates through the dialectical development of consciousness, but that is somewhat beside the point. By the “artificial ‘Other’” I mean the representation of the particular creator of a given piece of pornography as constructed in the mind of the masturbator. If the masturbator’s own Self is only a construct of their mind, why should the construct of the artificial “Other” be fundamentally different from itself?
It seems to me that every act of masturbation (using pornography or otherwise) is somewhat akin to Narcissus looking in the pool, admiring himself—the main difference, however, is that the viewer of pornography is not admiring the image of their particular self as Narcissus does. But there is a sense in which he is relevant here. If the masturbator is really only self-stimulating with their object of sexual desire as themself, then they are self-stimulating to their own reflection in a similar way. It seems to follow intuitively that the frequent masturbator makes a practice of making their own Self the object of their stimulation. But let us hone back in on masturbation with the use of pornography.
Anyone who knows someone addicted to pornography could confidently say that addiction to pornography certainly seems to cause feelings of alienations in the addicts, and we may not need to get very technical to make sense of how this is alienating. If the enjoyment of pornography is predicated, so to speak, on the perception of the Other as Other, but the phenomenological reality of the enjoyment is actually enjoyment of the “Other” as a construction of the Self, it seems there is an unavoidable cognitive dissonance in the enjoyment of pornography.
We must now draw an important distinction between masturbation without pornography, or M1, and masturbation with pornography, or M2. The essential problem with M2, as stated above, is the cognitive dissonance which necessarily arises in the viewer (either consciously or subconsciously), in causing them to mistake what is really a part of their Self (the phenomenon of pornography) as a part of the Other (the creator of pornography). This tension is alienating simply because it causes the viewer to alienate a part of themself from themself in precisely this fashion. The vital distinction to draw here is that M1 does not in any way present the sexual representations constructed in the mind of the masturbator as external to themself, or as belonging to some Other. We can see, then, that we have no reason to believe that M1 causes any sort of alienation; in fact, I think we can quite plausibly say that M1 allows the masturbator to become more in tune with themself—the precise opposite of alienation. We can say of Narcissus, then, that he isn’t really wrong to admire himself so much, though he may be quite conceited. It seems on any moral analysis of masturbation and pornography; we must draw this sharp line between M1 and M2 as they have clearly different implications.
Enough Hegelian mumbo-jumbo! Where’s the Marxism in all of this?
Now that we have (painstakingly) undertaken our phenomenological analysis of pornography as a mental object let’s bring ourselves back down to earth. We will now ask some more concrete questions: What are the material conditions which may or may not justify or even necessitate the production and/or consumption of pornography? Is the pornographic creator exploiting their viewer? If so, to what extent? Is the statement “one should not view pornography” true? Is the statement “pornography should be illegal” true? We will answer these questions in turn.
Clearly the material conditions which have produced the phenomenon of OnlyFans are precisely the conditions of “late-stage” capitalism; i.e., the conditions of the fully globally imperial United States solidifying after the second world war. The United States has increasingly exploited workers, both domestically and especially abroad, and has caused the most acute disparities in wealth distribution in all of human history. Such a fundamentally unjust distribution of wealth is directly related to the increasing feelings of alienation by workers in the United States and worldwide. It is not surprising that, in a world of ever-increasing hyper-sexuality in mainstream culture (itself largely a development of capitalism —“Sex sells,” as the saying goes), paired with exponentially increasing levels of alienation, both the production and consumption of pornography are incentivized.
The creator (speaking strictly in terms of services like OnlyFans) has an incentive to create pornography as a way to reclaim their labor. Those who end up making a lot of money can tell themselves a narrative of their own life in which they have (somewhat) closed that gap. Clearly in some ways this is pure delusion. Making several hundred thousand dollars a year hardly bridges the gap between making $40,000 a year and the personal wealth of Jeff Bezos, for instance. However, it seems clear that if one’s perception of one’s own alienation is reduced, then one’s own subjective alienation is thereby reduced—regardless of whether or not their objective state of alienation carries much significance in social reality.
The consumer, on the other hand, is incentivized to consume pornography simply because it is a very easy way to make oneself feel good. In a crushing capitalist system that drains us of our energy, time, happiness, love, etc., it makes perfect sense that, as a society, we are becoming increasingly attached to what J.S. Mill would call the “lower pleasures;” i.e., the pleasures in direct connection to sense-perception come to dominate in a capitalist system. The domination of workers’ time is largely responsible for this. The cultivation of the so-called “higher pleasures”—art, music, dance, philosophy, etc.—simply take time to really cultivate. In a go-go-go nonstop capitalist society one is largely forced into the lower pleasures or else give up pleasure entirely! Certainly, I do not want to argue here that asceticism is the reasonable response. We are left then with being often forced into the lower pleasures.
Pornography and masturbation are clearly lower pleasures on this model. Keep in mind that there is not a moral connotation attached to “lower” here—it just means directly connected to the senses. Something like eating a delicious meal is a lower pleasure, but surely is not immoral. Not to say that pornography and masturbation are nearly as innocuous as a delicious meal, but I hope the reader appreciates the emphasis here that any moral considerations of the former phenomena are entirely separate from their classification as lower pleasures.
We hopefully can now see that both the creator and the consumer of pornography are, at least somewhat, forced into their positions as creator and consumer. The former is forced by economic need, or the impulse to the close the gap between themself and the hyper-wealthy. The latter is forced by psychological need, in that having pleasure in life is so clearly important (even on a pluralistic account of value!) that no consumer could be called irrational or immoral for using pornography as a source of pleasure. For the consumer, rather, the concern is the cognitive dissonance which we saw earlier, but it is hardly credible that we, as moral philosophers, can make any moral claims on behalf of someone else trying to rectify their cognitive dissonances.
We are on much less secure footing for the creator. It is implausible that creators of pornography on sites such as OnlyFans are entirely unaware that their work is exploitative. The sale of pornography through OnlyFans is a capitalist act, the success of which is predicated upon the actual or perceived alienation of the consumer (as, again, incapable or unwilling to engage sexually with another actual person). If the creator of pornography is capitalizing on another’s state of and/or feelings of alienation, then the creator is exploiting that person. There really is no way around it.
The question, then, is to what extent is this exploitation justified? Creators have to eat, pay rent, take care of their families, buy prescriptions medications, and all the rest any of us have to do. While the creation of pornography for profit is certainly unethical in a vacuum, given the material conditions of our society, as well as the seemingly permanent popular consumption of pornography, it does not seem fair to call a creator immoral for choosing to engage in this type of work. Sex work is work. At the end of the day, the creator is exploited themself, and if one could aggregate the ways in which people are exploited, it might well be that, in the final analysis, the creator is far more exploited than some given consumer the creator is exploiting in that particular transaction/interaction. It seems fundamentally unfair, then, to say of any individual pornographic creator (again, not speaking of pornographic studios or other such productions, which are almost always, if not actually always, horrendously immoral organizations) that they are irrational or immoral for producing pornography. Given the options people are given, the creation of pornography is far, far, indeed, incredibly far from the potential for exploitation than many other occupations (e.g., corporate executive, career politician, insurance agent, etc).
It seems, then, that, while we should recognize the tensions present in the phenomenon and should not pretend that the whole business is fully morally permissible, there is absolutely no basis for making pornography illegal or even pushing for it to be less accessible. In terms of our earlier question of is the proposition “One should not watch pornography” true? we should see now that the answer seems to be a definitive “no.” In our capitalist world we are constrained so brutally that for many people the cultivation of higher pleasures is not materially and/or consistently possible in their lives, and we will not condemn people for choosing to engage in the consumption of pornography if that is a relatively harmless way for them to find pleasure in a world filled to the brim with pain.
Jared Yackley is an undergraduate student of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. With his primary focuses in epistemology, history, and political philosophy, Yackley hopes to apply the principles of dialectical materialism to contemporary issues both philosophical and political.
This essay will be dealing with the concept of the economy, the affects that these concepts have on both society at large and on the average person, the economy as an abstract thought, how it has been treated with reverence, and how the powers that be manipulate it for their own gain. In 2020 we have seen a massive focus on ‘the economy’ as a concept, and the stock market has been used as a basis, particularly in the United States, of measuring the economy.
I would first, however, look to examine the very real human cost of neoliberalism, which is the dominant ideology across the west and has been since the 1980’s. This essay will deal with many numbers, and figures, but there within lie striking amounts of human suffering. This will focus on the European champion of neoliberalism, Thatcher, who’s attempts to control inflation cost human lives. While we should rightfully critique all Empires, in doing so we must not forget that at the heart of each of them is a proletariat, one who may not be suffering as poorly as those in the colonial possessions, but one who is suffering nonetheless. In order to reduce inflation, one must naturally increase unemployment and vice-versa. This obviously had major repercussions for the British people, the main victims being the miners in 1984-85. This ploy to destroy the Miner’s Union was foretold by Sir Howe in the last of the four points that were set forth for a growth in government, as Thatcher shut down the mines, the Miners Union, the collective bargaining institution faced the consequences of their actions, they were sent back to work, disgraced, with one miner even commenting:
‘She planned it very very clever – you’ve got to admire her…it all fit in, in that ten year from ’74 to 84…she was determined that, at any cost…she wasn’t going to be defeated and humiliated the same way Ted Heath was…it was all geared up for her to smash the National Union of Mine Workers – and by God it worked, it’s hard to say it, but it worked.’
These words are a stark reminder of the human cost of Thatcherism, the men and women whose livelihoods were erased due to the dismantling of the public sector to end subsidies, and the complete dismantling of a faith in strike action, with some area’s support for strikes falling by as much as 22% from 1983-84.
Looking forward to our contemporary world, we can see much of the same language being used today in relation to the economy, and more recently the stock market. Despite the economy and the stock market generally working in tandem, i.e. rising and falling together, they are not firmly linked. Unfortunately, due to their apparent relation, we were able to see people like Former-President Trump utilise this relationship to his advantage. When the US Fed pumped $1.5 trillion into the stock market to stop it from freezing up, Trump hailed this as the economy getting back on track, despite 58 million people filing for unemployment benefits in the five months following, which does not include those who were previously on it or on welfare. [See figure 1.1] The rising stock market was also held in high esteem when Trump claimed that the ‘sacred number’ of 30,000 had been hit, even though this number was surpassed in 1999 under President Clinton. The fact of the matter is, the stock market will always rise, it has done for centuries ever since the first Dutch merchants established the first markets. What won’t always rise, however, is the standard of living, we have seen a massive stagnation in it in the West over the past few decades, as wages have decreased in relation to their value, in Fig. 1.2 we can see that the top line (the minimum wage in relation to the purchasing power of the dollar) has in fact decreased to a level of poverty wage, in some cases a starvation wage.
This use of ecclesiastical language in relation to the economy highlights just how important the ever-rising stock market and the ever-rising consolidation of wealth is for these corporate entities. The economy is an abstract concept, created by humanity, one that is both all judging God and spoilt child. One that is both untamed beast and mouldable clay. Economic growth is almost inevitable, and the economy will never cease to exist, it will always be there, but it need not always be there to take. It can be there to give also, for the economy itself is not an inherently bad idea, it is just what it is made to be, if the growth of the economy could be funnelled out equally to all those who needed it, then it would be a force for good, not evil.
This is something that we see present in China, for example, as sustained economic growth over the past decades has rapidly brought the standard of living up for the average Chinese citizen, despite some shortcomings in the early establishment of the new State. We can see the same in Cuba, despite crippling sanctions imposed by the United States, who would no doubt wat to reacquire Cuba as an imperial holding.
The main ‘criticism’ on the attempted ‘control’ of the economy is to equate it to socialism, a scare tactic that works extremely well in the United States, yet when we use their own logic, is Former President Trumps pumping of trillions of tax-payer dollars into the economy to give it the illusion of stability and growth not socialism? They would say no, because they blindly support Trump and the Republican party, much like liberals will blindly support Biden and the Democratic party. I would say no because, as Irish Socialist Scholar and Revolutionary James Connolly said:
‘State ownership and control is not necessarily socialism – if it were then the Army, the Navy, the Police, the Judges, the Jailers, the Informers, and the Hangmen, all would be Socialist functionaries, as they are state officials – but the ownership by the State of all the land and materials for labour, combined with the cooperative control of the workers of such land and material, would be Socialism.’
So, the question must be asked, how can we make sure that the economy serves the people?
You may have seen the phrase ‘Adaptive Marxism’ in the title of this essay, and this is where this term comes into play. I have coined the phrase and theory of Adaptive Marxism because it is vital that we properly propel Marxist thought into a more robust and efficient model for the 21st Century, we first must admit that it has faults and successes in each of its iterations. We must champion any small improvement to the working class, as every step forward makes each leftist policy more mainstream, and gives the working class an opportunity to gain more free time in which they can assess their situation. There is no one perfect school of Marxist thought or text, Anarchists such as Kropotkin highlight that all property on earth is common:
‘Millions of human beings have laboured to create this civilisation on which we pride ourselves today. Other millions scattered across the globe labour to maintain it. Without them, nothing would be left in fifty years but ruins. There is not even a thought, nor invention, which is not common property, born of the past and the present. Thousands of inventors, known and unknown, who have died in poverty, have co-operated in the invention of each of these machines which embody the genius of man.’
Here we see an anarchist making an incredibly vital point which may prove to stir the lumpenproletariat, should a Marxist-Leninist not utilise this form of anarchist thought as it would help in establishing a more equal society? Likewise, Lenin made worthy cases for a strong state that would later come to fruition:
‘History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks confronting the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark, not only of European, but (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction, would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat.’
We can see the importance of this as the USSR went on to help deter America from intervention in Cuba, and it also kept strong diplomatic ties with the non-aligned, yet socialist, Burkina Faso under Sankara. Sankara was a man who studied Marx and Lenin, a man who brought mass inoculation to his homeland, who vastly improved gender equality, and ended the tribal practice of slavery in his home. Can an anarchist not admit that this mighty statist had a greatly positive impact on the proletariat and peasantry of his nation? Of course he can, and as adaptive Marxism evolves to encompass the undeniably positive aspects of all Marxist schools of thought, it too can then debate the more controversial assertions of each political faction such as decentralization vs centralization, or how to appropriately combat wage slavery, all while keeping a fundamental principle of Adaptive Marxism.
Through this theory, we can bend the economy to our will, taking the Chinese markets that provide economic growth, combine them with the Cuban healthcare system which is vastly underappreciated due to US propaganda and implement the inoculation and gender equality theories and efforts of Burkina Faso and we truly can create a Non-Western, Non-Eastern, and Non-Afro-Centric Marxism that will truly be one for all proletariat of the world. We must also step outside of the Western views of 19th Century Marxists, the world of old is not the same as it is today, Pan-African scholars are too often side lined by Western Philosophers who are centuries passed. Further essays will explore the intricacies of Adaptive Marxism.
 Richard Vinen, Thatcher’s Britain, Politics and Social Upheaval of the 1980’s, (London, 2009)
 Ben Jackson, and Robert Saunders (eds.), Making Thatcher’s Britain, (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 150-53
 Jolly, Jasper, Partington, Richard, US Fed injects $1.5tn to markets as Dow and FTSE suffer worst day since 1987, (March 12th, 2020)
 O’Mahony, Proinsias, Stocktake: Trump talks bull as Dow tops 30,000, (December 1st, 2020)
 Harkin, Shaun, The James Connolly Reader, (Chicago, 2018), p. 23
 Kropotkin, Peter, The Conquest of Bread, (Norwich, 1913), p. 13
 Lenin, V.I., The Immediate Task of the Soviet Government
Cormac Kavanagh is a history student in his final year of University. His main subject of interest is the history of Empire building in relation to Ireland and how it is historically used as a blueprint for later colonies. He is also interested in dissecting the role of the US in the world and how their efforts to thwart unionization and socialism both at home and abroad can be combatted. He is hoping to shine a light on Irish history in relation to Empire and on socialist movements in Europe, both in the past and present.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
About the Midwestern Marx Youth League
The Midwestern Marx Youth League (MMYL) was created to allow comrades in undergraduate or below to publish their work as they continue to develop both writing skills and knowledge of socialist and communist studies. Due to our unexpected popularity on Tik Tok, many young authors have approached us hoping to publish their work. We believe the most productive way to use this platform in a youth inclusive manner would be to form the youth league. This will give our young writers a platform to develop their writing and to discuss theory, history, and campus organizational affairs. The youth league will also be working with the editorial board to ensure theoretical development. If you are interested in joining the youth league please visit the submissions section for more information on how to contact us!