Abusive language in working-class culture
Jim J. and Haines B. engage in debate, 19 December 2000
From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Wed Dec 20 08:10:12 2000
At 04:18 PM 12/18/00 -0500, Haines Brown muttered:
> If you followed my comment, you would realize that I was not
Probably because the very act of doing what you did immediately obscured the whole point of what I did.
Did I mention that that post was subsequent to one which made the context absolutely (like mud, apparently) clear?
> I hope you are not implying that abusive language is appropriate for
Being polite to WHOM, haines??
Part of the problem with the 'faith group' types (I loathe the very thought of their being anywhere NEAR leadership positions!) is their insistence -- among other things -- of the need for 'politeness' to EVERYONE. Personally, I think that _you_ have been touched somewhat by this pacifist garbage... We're about organizing the WORKINGCLASS to *TAKE POWER* -- not represent the petit-bourgeoisie and their church groups and other such backward classes. Let them organize themselves and represent THEMSELVES -- they'll be allowed their democratic rights, same as everyone else.
NOW ON THE QUESTION OF POLITENESS: should I be polite to the fascist scum who shadow me daily? Including the militia types? The secret police? The pigs who terrorize the poor everywhere, including where I live? The sleazy hypocrites who run our little city like a private club? The suburban hypocrites who sneer at the classes 'below' them -- most especially when they act as the door-keepers of state and private institutions of capitalist society? The Mafia? The lumpen?
A big part of the problem here, Haines, is that many people -- and, unfortunately, many on the 'Left' who have allowed their minds to be colonized by bourgeois ideology in many and subtle ways -- do not seem to understand that IT IS PERFECTLY OKAY TO SCRAP WITH THE ENEMY. And THESE days, when the bourgeois ideology is assaulting us mercilessly, it is even MORE important to STOP IT COLD.
You seem to be COMPLETELY ignorant of this aspect of things, Haines -- which is why I categorically reject your supposedly 'measured' stance... And frankly, I hope that all the nervous nellies STAY HOME the day of The Revolution -- just don't start showing up the day after and expect to be handed any power-positions...
And to mystify you further, let me state this here, now: in inverse proportion that the working class does INDEED become a class FOR itself, the need for this kind of 'negative' behavior LESSENS...
From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Wed Dec 20 14:56:53 2000
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 2000 13:54:11 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Haines Brown <brownh@HARTFORD-HWP.COM>
Subject: Re: You're IT
In-Reply-To: <firstname.lastname@example.org> (message from Jim Jaszewski on Tue, 19 Dec 2000 19:49:37 -0500)
I hope others on the list won't be too put off by my continuing this thread, for I hope they also feel that working-class culture (behavioral norms and language) are important. If this is not the case, just alert me personally and I'll gladly shut up.
> > important fact. Being polite is not a petit-bourgeois prejudice,
Sorry. Thought I was clear. Let me expand.
I suggest the issue of language is a tactical one, and we should employ normal (polite, considerate, temperate) language with anyone on our side or whom we would like to win over. I believe that means anyone who is not objectively a capitalist. This might imply we can or should be abusive when addressing the capitalist, but a) there may be tactical reasons in a particular situation in which one might want to appear accomodating to a capitalist, b) Since abusive language, like drugs, is a degradation of self, it should be discouraged except for compelling reasons.
> Part of the problem with the 'faith group' types (I loathe the very
I'm forced to disagree at several points here.
First, I distinguish verbal violence from real violence and don't see any reason not to (I'm not a deconstructionist). In contract negotiations, for example, temperate language tends to be helpful, and using it hardly betrays my principles or means getting into bed with the enemy. Besides, all constructive conflict is a dialog that must presume some minimal shared rules and norms. Perhaps abusive language with the capitalist has some use in certain situations, but otherwise is a tool that seems damaging to oneself. In fact, if the aim were no accomodation at all with the class enemy, then don't resort to abusive language either, for it still represents a form of communciations. Instead, utter silence and an avoidence of negotiation. Is economic struggle, which usually involves dialog, a betrayal of class interests because it aims at a contractual accomodation with the class enemy?
Second, I object to the association of organized religion with petit bourgeosie. I have an extensive experience of religion, including these days some fundamentalist/ecstatic sects. Very few of the adherents are petit bourgeois in the sense of owning means of production, such as a small shop or a license to practice. If you refer instead to petit-bourgeois values and imply that it represents an embrace by workers of capitalist ideology, you might have a point, but this is a difficult and obscure topic, and I'm not sure I would want to reduce class struggle to a Kulturkampf. I see no essential connection between religious superstition, language and pacifism.
Third, I don't see how pacifism comes in here at all. Sure, there are pacifists in the sense of people who wish to avoid conflict at any price, and they may hold back class struggle. But is not your aim to convince such working-class "pacifists" of their mistake, and if so, surely abusive language won't do it, for it will alienate particularly them. If you were right (and I don't think you are) that pacifism means a tendency to be accomodating and polite (Ghandi was a pacifist, but hardly accomodating), and that pacifism is a really a form of religious belief, then perhaps their superstition makes them unreachable. But I don't accept that most people are unreachable, for I'm committed to class struggle; I'm not a terrorist, verbal or otherwise.
Finally, I'd insist that life is complicated, and I have enough respect for the working class to believe it can cope with that complexity. The development of a labor movement I presume arises from the marriage of economic and political struggle. Economic struggle depends on negotiation coupled with confrontation. Without negotation, there would be no contracts and no unions. There would only be revolutionary political parties with very few members. Does not revolutionary political struggle emerge from economic struggle? Is not the point of economic struggle to learn that struggle pays off, that you can escape being so ground down that you can't do anything but work, that solidarity is a winner, that the boss is a jerk and not to be trusted? None of this is betrayed by constructive negotiation. Quite the opposite.
> NOW ON THE QUESTION OF POLITENESS: should I be polite to the
Wow! I have trouble relating to your world. Around here there are no fascists in any literal sense, and no militia, no secret police, no one gets followed. [...]
The hotel workers, office workers, janitors, nursing home workers in this de-industrialized city are forced to struggle against a distant and faceless enemy, far removed from the city in which we live or work and largely indifferent to its political life. 80% of all jobs in the city go to folks scattered widely in the suburbs, who are therefore isolated from one another and have no local shared political or social existence. I suspect this has far more bearing on class struggle here than any so-called fascist pigs.
My point is that if I were to use abusive language, it would neutralize any possiblity of my participating in a movement for change. The working class folks here with whom I live would not tolerate it and would come to shun me, and the capitalists would not hear it nor particularly care if they did.
> understand that IT IS PERFECTLY OKAY TO SCRAP WITH THE ENEMY. And
No, I'm not ignorant of these things. But it's one thing to "scrap" with the enemy (which I again insist is the capitalists and their direct agents), and be "measured" in one's relation with one's fellows in the working class. While I'll accept that there may be circumstances in which one needs to be circumspect with the capitalist (such as in negotiating a contract) and times when that would be wrong (while on strike), and while there are members of the working class who are sell-outs or too broken to be of help, I insist there's a basic difference between the working class as a whole and the capitalist class. The petit bourgeoisie and workers who have lost their way need to be won over or at least neutralized, not driven into the enemy camp. Arguing for abusive language is like telling someone to swear at the judge in a courtroom; that person will never listen to you again, and the judge will end up having won some public sympathy.
> And to mystify you further, let me state this here, now: in inverse
Interesting proposition. To the extent the working class becomes a class for itself (pour soi), I assume that it increasingly expresses its own essence. If the modern working class' strength arises from solidarity and internationalism (which I take to be positive, not "negative"), then I assume that the essence of the working class will be manifested as tolerance and fraternity and a corresponding language. That it must fight a class enemy does not thereby reduce it to a pack of snarling dogs which would just as soon turn on each other as pursue the prey.