The Penniless Conformist

4 While public opinion, shown through the (often) distorted lens of the media, seems to be more concerned with the world of celebrities, reality is far from ideal for a large percentage of citizens. The latest figures indicate that 25.699.000 individuals across Europe have no income at all and 24% of all the EU population (over 120 million people) are at risk of poverty or social exclusion (this includes 27% of all children in Europe). Those who work are not better off, as in many countries (not only in the European south) the average wage decreased from 2008 to date at a rate 30% to 35%, whilst 1.2 million workers are paid with delay of three to 12 months and a large number of workers employed in five-month programs, or other slave trade Workfare Schemes, which in fact, abolish the most essential and hard-earned labor rights. In addition, according to 2011 European data, the suicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants in Greece is 4.4 (as a direct result of catastrophic austerity measures), while for Spain in 2012 (an increase of 11% from 2011 to 2012 is noted), 7.6 and for Portugal 8.5. Finally, studies show that the double-dip recession might have driven more than 1000 people to suicide in Britain. This grim reality does not only reflect Europe but almost the entire Western world, as the economic turmoil keeps expanding, despite the ‘optimistic’ grandiose declarations of MPs and out-of-touch economists.

If we explain this situation to a man who has just returned from Mars, asking him to guess the climate in Europe, he might probably assume either that societies are in insurrectional unrest, or that a military regime has managed to suppress any revolutionary perspective. Reality, surely, is depressing. The penniless, one from the thousands of people represented in the above numbers, instead of rejecting this nightmare and join a movement against poverty, exclusion and for social justice (as it used to happen 100 and 200 years ago) chooses apathy, normalcy and indifference. Instead of becoming more socialized embraces isolation, instead of breaking his shackles, is caught tightly by his chains. But what are the conditions that force the penniless to this direction?

The decline of the left and the retreat to conformism

The defeat and, subsequently, the decline of the radical Marxist Left and the retreat of emancipatory movements (like those of the ’60s) is probably one of the most serious factors that have contributed to the retreat to conformism. The integration, or even commercialization, of the past movements to the dominant culture, the fall of the Soviet monstrosity, the continuous decline of radical democratic ideas that demanded directly applicable solutions, left to the new poor little room for hope, to demand and claim through the various organizations of the organized left. In fact, nowadays the left has been either degenerated to bourgeois style of social-democracy or in many cases is deeply attached to a failed world-view, unable not to elucidate on the capitalist crisis, whose outbreak resulted in the dramatic proliferation of the penniless; a large social group that is threatened by exclusion, without a common reference or class consciousness [1]. With the sense of belonging becoming weakened, the heterogeneous population is headed directly towards passive individualism, unable to locate its ties of mutual dependence and interaction with the rest of society.

Τhe penniless becomes helpless in a world-jungle that every day goes more and more adrift. Thus, he/she becomes de-politicized (to this, the educational system, the dominant lifestyle reproduced through various postmodern notions of cultural relativism has surely contributed) or adopts a lie that works as a ‘painkiller’ to his/her concerns, anxieties and uncertainties. This lie does not have one shade or one mouthpiece. It has, however, usually common characteristics: populism, conspiracy theories, the Darwinian logic of self-guilt, the belief in metaphysical type of concepts (such as the nation, the ancestors, the laws of history, laws of nature, religion) or fear. Thus, in the European political landscape on one hand the right-wing populist (such as UKIP, Front National and the Five Star Movement) or extreme right parties ((such as Jobbik and Golden Dawn) are emerging, exploiting the insecurity of the penniless, by investing in anti-immigrant hatred and cultural isolation, and exploiting the collapse of traditional liberal ideologies (such as multiculturalism). On the other hand there are bourgeois leftist parties, like Podemos, Sinn Fein and SY.RIZA, that claim to be radical and revolutionary, but in reality they invest in a mild form of social protectionism, such as the social democratic parties of the ’50s.

In the proliferation of different myths, of course, contribute the mass media, who are the sole exponents of the dominant discourse, intervening in the weakened (by fear and uncertainty) psychology of the average new poor. The constant invocations to ‘stability’, to the so called ‘common sense’ and ‘security’ (which in fact has contributed to a generalized instability and perpetuated the sovereignty of social cannibalism) maintains the compliance of the citizen-voter-consumer-viewer type of being, in concurrence with the “responsible forces that fight against the sirens of radicals who call for social unrest and chaos”. And finally, we constantly see exerted psychological violence through the promotion of the attitude of self-guilt: those who fail to achieve something within the “healthy” competition of capitalism are the ones who have not worked hard enough, who do not deserve to succeed. Therefore, the penniless has to consider him/herself solely responsible for his/her own fate, in a world that is “inherently cruel to the weak”, or will seek scapegoats for such problems: the immigrants, the Jews, the Muslims or… the Illuminati. Thus, it is converted to an average conformist/conservative – or better reactionary – little human, who instead opposing his/her oppressors, being him/herself an obedient servant, supports them with great passion.


Addressing the conservative/conformist

The stimuli received by the penniless do not come from only one direction. It may, indeed, be the State, the enterprises and the mass media that hold the hegemony of the formation of pseudopublic ‘opinion’, but other voices also reach the ears of many citizens, whether they are or not the subject of attention by the social majority. Posters, fliers, banners, marches, newspapers, political events and open discussions, counter-sites, seeking to disseminate speech in opposition to the values of the dominant paradigm supporting different values, relationships, behaviors, goals and methods. The development of anti-systemic grassroots movements ‘from below’ today, especially in the European south, mainly takes place through the anti-authoritarian space, composed of various political groups who refuse representation, the task of solving problems by some third party, mediation and hierarchical structuring. The penniless conformist who, as explained above, internalizes and reproduces the myths of the dominant paradigm and defends it by any means possible, refuses persistently to approach voices that call into question the imaginary of the dominant paradigm. For him/her, the peaceful protester is “a spoilt brat who blocks the traffic for no apparent reason”, knows only “how to destroy property” and the striker “prevents the proper operation of the market”. But why does he/she adopt such an “easy” answer, served by the hateful tabloids?

Apparently because he/she is addicted to those easy answers and is unable to elucidate on the objective reality in depth. First was the simple memorization of texts for good grades at school, followed by a well-disciplined university degree; then comes the instrumental character of work which not only does not require initiative but overwhelmingly alienates the worker aiming to offer the essential for survival. In addition, the ephemeral relationships (that do not require specific commitments and responsibilities towards others) the supermarket culture and the paid sex (sterilized of true passion) completes the picture of human privitizationThus the penniless conformist refuses to engage in processes that require active participation, not because he/she is not able to, but because he/she has learned to be afraid to risk and does not wish to abandon this incumbent lifestyle he/she has chosen to follow, and passively hopes for the crisis to disappear and the ultra-consumerist abundance to return.

A wrong question is the following: is it worth to sacrifice the quality of speech and action to acquire massive support? It is wrong because a) it assesses the modern antisystemic paradigm as of high quality, without explaining what assumptions lead us to this conclusion and b) a priori underestimates the mass to which it is addressed, confessing the hypocritical – canvassing –  method that could be followed. A false reaction is also to invest in the logic of nihilism and the emergence of antisocial hatred, the apolitical and essentially conservative (and suicidal) turn against society itself, and not the institutions that govern it. How, then, do we seek cognitive conflict, the rupture with the existing imaginary and the promotion of new democratic radical ideas and imperatives? Ideas cannot be planted, nor imposed, but are transmitted and adopted voluntarily. And what is the most accurate method of dissemination, if not informing by example, self-organised experimentation, which aims at challenging the balance of forces between the institutionalized and instutionalizing forces in favor of social re-institutionalization. All texts, drawings, slogans, and stencil graffiti, which are the legacy of the competitive movement, inspire and are revitalized at every self-education project, for every piece of land that is reclaimed from the State and private property, every time the poor expropriate a supermarket.

Instead of an epilogue

If one considers that the conformist citizen of this world should be eradicated or sent into orbit, then his/her dream is our worst nightmare. Human history is full of massive purges, concentration camps for dissidents, crematoria and civil conflicts. The weakening of the ideological hegemony of conservatism requires, along with the understanding and monitoring the evolution of the creation of the second pole, what will concentrate the social forces that besides suffering from the neoliberal onslaught, have been, or are being gradually inclined to resist on every front.


[1] The concept of social class not only concerns a group of people with common (financial) interests but in substance it refers to groups of people with specific social relations (which together form Marx’s so-called class consciousness). In the era of individualism where each such relationship has been replaced by consumerism and apathy, the traditional class stratification gives way to a general average that reflects this decay that characterizes the postmodern world. In addition, these concepts (middle class – working class) apart from becoming problematic since 1968 they have also been relativized. Since homogenization has taken over the entire social prattein, to define the object of study under these terms has become a difficult task. These terms have been in constant negotiation since Marx brought them into the foreground; since the form of the relations of production and the forms of exploitation vary to a great extent, in a sense they constitute prehistory but a very useful one – they have been transformed. This practically means that today the challenge for everybody interested in superseding the system is to acknowledge a struggle far beyond the typical left bureaucracies. Because all the current ‘traditional left wing parties’ implicitly support liberalism as they have nothing to propose but the re-installation of the old liberal world (where class boundaries were live and strong), a world that does not (and should not) exist.

See also: Political apathy as a symptom (Miltos)

The article in greek, here

Αναρτήθηκε στις: 31/07/2014