Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Simone Weil (1909-1943) understood the crisis of capitalism much better in the 1930s

The traditional or the mainstream Left has failed to say anything meaningful and insightful about the recurring crises of capitalism. It would seem that we have to look for a thinker who is not a traditional Leftist but whose philosophical and analytical skills are rigorous, and that person can do some original thinking. It was through sheer accident that one stumbled upon Simone Weil, the young French thinker and activist who had died at the age 34 of tuberculosis, partly brought on by her voluntary near-starvation regime because she could not bring herself to eat when the French soldiers were facing food shortages. Simone Weil criticised the traditional Left and she knew that Fascism was evil. Though she was religiously inclined, she saw with clear eyes the weaknesses of the left parties and of the social democrats. And she saw beyond the political power equations. She could see the deathly face of the soulless modern society. She did not invoke the medieval world to condemn the modern. She was aware that there is no utopian past or golden age to get back to. And she was religious and moral, and it this worldview that helped her to understand the human condition in the 1930s, and how the traditional Left was incapable of fighting Fascism. It needs a good Christian to do so. (This is indeed the issue in India as well: It is a pious Hindu who has nothing but contempt for the soul-killing Hindutva of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the leftists and the secularists cannot do this. Conversely, those who like the RSS and the VHP are not Hindus properly speaking.) In her article, "Reflections Concerning Technocracy, National Socialism, the U.S.S.R and certain other matters", written for Critique sociale in 1933 when she was 24), she makes the acute assessment of the political forces of the moment: "The communists accuse the social-democrats of being the "quartermaster sergeants of fascism", and they are absolutely right. They boast that they are a party capable o fighting fascism effectively, and they are unfortunately wrong." She catches on to an idea thrown up by a "second-rate" right-winger called Ferdinand Fried, in his "The End of Capitalism": "Nowadays we are practically speaking under the domination of the trade-union bureaucracy, the industrial bureaucracy (what she understands by this is the army of servile army of managers in a corporation)and the State bureaucracy, and these three bureaucracies are so alike that any one of them could be put in place of another." And Simone Weil manages to see into the heart or heartless centre of the system: "The speed with which bureaucracy has invaded almost every branch of human activity is something astounding once one thinks about it. The rationalized factory, where a man finds himself shorn, in the interests of a passive mechanism, of everything which makes for initiative, intelligence, knowledge, method, is as it were an image of our present-day society. For the bureaucratic machine, though composed of flesh, and of well-fed flesh at that, is none the less as irresponsible and as soulless as are machines made of iron and steel." She understood the crisis of the time in relation to human beings, the workers who have a job and the workers who do not, and she observes with dignity and sadness: "Work is no longer done with the proud consciousness that one is being useful, but with the humiliating and agonising feeling of enjoying a privilege bestowed by a temporary stroke of fortune, a privilege from which one excludes several human beings by the mere fact that one enjoys, in short, a job." ( Reflections Concerning The Causes Of Liberty And Social Oppression, 1934).

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