I am an evil Marxist.
When I was seriously unwell I made the mistake of entering into a conversation with a neighbour. He is a landlord, and I think he worked in the financial sector once, and I wouldn’t make conversation with him through choice, but try to maintain mannered small talk when he speaks to me.
During our chat he declared that he didn’t like one of our national politicians and declared him an Evil Marxist. All things being relative, I could have embarked on a conversation about the evil nature of Landlords who allow other people to pay the mortgages on the landlord’s properties for them, and how this shit state of affairs is only allowed because our successive Governments have done fuck all to protect tenants, and fuck all to provide affordable housing, and that Landlords who make very good profits out of people unable to buy their own homes also happily make people homeless, and indeed get outraged, not at the system that allows homelessness in one of the richest nations on the planet, but at the poor people who can’t afford their rent.
I was unwell at the time, and knew not to open my mouth, because there could have been every chance that I just called him a cunt, before walking back inside B’s house with my head spinning.
Hmmmm. Sorry about my language there.
This blog is about mental illness, and mental health, and how my illness has affected me, and how I am making effort to try to stay as healthy as possible in an attempt to recover from a sustained, life-long period of untreated mental health problems. A large part of my recovery is through empowerment, and there are many and varied reasons why I am proud and feel empowered when I call myself a Marxist. I should say that this blog entry could be very long, but I will try to keep it brief.
I had a comment on one of my blog entries this week, from a reader, lilesosanna, and she said:
there is so much misunderstanding about mental health it gets confused with well-being which of course makes those of us with mental health problems blamable for our own ill health.
Here’s a link to her blog:
I thought it to be a profound statement, and I had my own experience of the truth of it. One of the potentially harmful attitudes I came across was from a GP. Before I tried to harm myself, and before I was sectioned, and B had to hide the knives, (she still can’t find the big knife) and before I paid a psychiatrist £260.00 that I couldn’t afford, (for an hour’s consultation) I was told by a locum GP I visited that my recovery would be down to 25 percent medical intervention, 25 percent support from friends and family, and fifty percent my own effort.
It was terrible, misleading, and potentially fatal advice to give to somebody in my position. It was ignorance of the highest order, from a supposedly educated individual. I was already being mis-medicated. Citalopram will make bi-polar disorder decidedly worse, and was doing so, without a mood-stabilizer like Olanzapine added to the mix.
I was trying everything to manage myself, and I was failing. I was meditating. I was trying not to drink. (Failing badly though because my impulse control was fucked.) I had talking therapy. (I must stress this really helped when I was at a low point, but even my therapist turned pale one day, and recommended I see a psychiatrist as soon as possible due to the uncontrolled behaviours I was manifesting, even when I seemed logical, and reasonable in my sessions with her.) The facts are that the mood-stabilizer was responsible for 100 percent of my improvement. B was responsible for 100 percent of my not ending up homeless, or killing myself on some impulse. My friends and colleagues were 100 percent responsible for me not getting fired, and being in an even worse state financially.
What does any of this have to do with Marxism?
I have the good fortune to have a housemate who is a psychologist. He is also an Evil Marxist.
Recently he lent me a journal from The Clinical Psychology Forum: Number 297: September 2017: Special Issue: Power, interest and psychology: Developing David Smail’s ideas.
A particularly poignant article appears within by writer and psychologist Mark Fisher entitled ‘It’s not your fault’: Consciousness-raising as a reversal of magical voluntarism.
In the article Mark describes his own battle with depression. Like me he started suffering in his teens. He describes, ‘a sneering ”inner voice” which accuses you of self-indulgence.’ He tells us, ‘My depression was always tied up with the conviction that I was fit for nothing.’ And, even once sectioned he expressed the feeling, ‘in the infernally paradoxical logic of depression [I felt I] was simulating it in order to conceal the fact that I was not capable of working, and that there was no place at all for me in society.’
Like me he is from a working class background. He began to lecture, and teach, but even then he, ‘evidently still didn’t believe that I was the kind of person who could do a job like teaching.’
Class consciousness is a phrase you won’t hear very often, unless you happen to be a trade unionist, or indeed, an Evil Marxist, such as myself. You could conclude that it is no longer a relevant phrase. A throw-back. Class is no longer relevant. We are mostly middle class now. Or, you could conclude, as Mark did, that, far from being irrelevant, this lack of class consciousness is the source of enormous discomfort and illness for millions of people in the UK. And if you were wondering what is meant by working class, then my working definition is that you are working class if you earn your living, or are expecting to earn your living through wage labour.
Mark argues that the elimination of the discourse of class, this idea that everyone is middle-class now creates the effect of ‘responsibilisation.’ It is no longer society’s fault that you don’t earn as much money as that scumbag landlord who looks down on you. It is your fault.
Think about it in terms of being ‘lucky to have a job at all.’ And think what that effect has on your confidence. No matter how stable you think your job is. Work is always geared to feel tenuous. No matter how low your income is, you are ‘lucky’ to be offered a wage. There is a sense of shame, and inferiority attached. You are a wage earner, being made to feel inferior by… a slightly higher wage earner.
Fisher says, poverty, lack of opportunities, or unemployment is then seen as being the fault of the individual. ‘Individuals will blame themselves rather than social structures.’ David Smail, on whose ideas the journal is based, called this effect ‘magical voluntarism.’ Another way of saying that the individual is conditioned to blame themselves, and not societal faults, for the situations they find themselves in.
The effect on a populace that has been taught to view itself as middle-class, and not as working class wage earners creates potent and nasty side-effects borne of a lack of class consciousness. We see poverty demonised in poverty porn TV shows, designed to desensitise the viewer to the effects of poverty, and creates a culture where the individual, and not society is blamed. This is backed up by the now prevalent and acceptable ignorant nomenclature associated with poverty, such as chavs, and scroungers. The social significance of large swathes of society left behind by de-industrialisation, lack of responsible legislation on financial institutions, and a neo-liberal ideology that has allowed inflation to rise higher than wage value, is completely ignored in the discourses of these shows.
So, finally, what does all this have to do with the confusion between mental illness, and well-being, and being blameable for our ill health, as my new friend lilesosanna put it.
This is the crux of Mark Fisher’s argument. He states:
Progressive political movements must take seriously the emotional structures that reproduce class power and other forms of political subordination. They must actively confront the ways in which shame and inferiority are engineered by the ruling structures, and internalised by subordinate groups.
Perhaps if I had read Fisher’s article before seeing that locum GP I would have been better equipped to challenge him on his viewpoint that it was my inadequate effort that was keeping me unwell, after all wasn’t that the subtext to his ill-chosen words? But I doubt it. I really wasn’t well. I might just have called him a cunt instead. And in spite of his ignorance as to the reality of the situation, in spite of him offering me anti-histamines and not mood-stabilising anti-psychotics to keep me calm, and in spite of him implying that I was in some way causing my own illness, I would have been the one in the wrong.
If you would like to read more of Mark Fisher he kept a blog:
I am very sad to say that after Mark wrote his article for the Clinical Psychology Forum, he lost his own personal battle with depression. He was a committed Marxist, and I will be proud to continue in my own small way, the project of changing the world for the better that he dedicated his life to.