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Marxist alienation and post-anarchism

This month, Dag Østerberg published the book From Marx' to newer capital criticism. We take the opportunity to take up Marx in a critical way – with themes such as alienation, competitive society, as well as the role of anarchism and intellectuals now.


Dag Østerberg wrote the preface to Marx's book capital 45 years ago. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the neoliberal political climate of the time, Østerberg took the initiative to put Marx's economic theory in a new context. The book that came out this August, From Marx to recent capital criticism (Pax Forlag, 2016), is an 179 pages of text packed with thinkers and critics in the wake of Marx's social studies.

Østerberg presents a number of thinkers in the social economy, both before, around and after Marx. This includes Adam Smith, who Østerberg calls a social liberal. In the Smiths The prosperity of nations (1776) gives a self-interest based on natural law a harmonious society:
"The liberal is the basic theme of modern Western culture, so it's good to know the liberal classics, like Adam Smith," says Østerberg.

Screen Shot at 2016 08-17-12.36.22"Marx is also a liberal, he draws only the full consequence of liberalism – if all individuals are to be free, then one must have some kind of socialism. For the formation of class societies is really incompatible with the basis of liberalism that all are free, independent individuals. When someone with property or capital treats others as funds, this is really completely incompatible with liberalism. "

Østerberg emphasizes that Smith would have been reluctant to neoliberalism, but rather in favor of the welfare state. But what about the 1700s idea of ​​harmony?

"Today we see it very clearly that there is no vote – perhaps especially evident since the financial crisis in 2008," says Østerberg.

But what society does Østerberg really write about? Parts of the world have been brought out of poverty, even though the differences are still great?

"Speaking of China, I think it's a cooperative model of society with many fascist traits. But I write about the West, not developing countries, which have a completely different social order. I don't think they fit as examples of capitalist economics. "


Alienation. The conversation moves into just this – that the human being is alienated, something the book also revolves around. Especially where Østerberg refers to Marx's slightly more "romantic" youth writings, about the instrumental and the alienated – the fact that man is treated as a means, almost as a commodity, or a resource to use. Man's opportunities for a free, sensual and thinking life are suppressed.

For example, Østerberg is in on Herbert Marcuse, as with The one-dimensional human being (1964) during the hippie era of the United States came up with a critique of humanization; that humans were almost an attachment to the machines. Maybe not unlike all the smartphones we have today:

"I think you could design the machines and the industry completely differently, so it was comfortable to be there," says Østerberg. "This is to counteract this realization. Realization depends a lot on others deciding how things are produced. ”

What about knowledge workers – people who research in more free positions, as he himself has done?

“No, universities have begun to think more instrumentally about research. It is not about coming to the truth in and of itself, but rather contributing to the economic 'national product', as the Research Council emphasizes innovation in a global context, ”says Østerberg.

"Knowledge is turned into a means."

He believes that people in academia feel alienated when they have to focus on grants:

"It goes beyond the joy, passion and excitement of research."

The book refers to that "senses and needs is distorted and alienated among the homeless ”. Østerberg elaborates:

"There is still an abuse of the body. The goal must be to have an economy that allows you to take it easy, by reducing consumption. See for example Bali, which is known for moving people very beautifully. And then these tired tourists come from the US and elsewhere. There they see that we are abusing the body. ”

I've been to Bali myself – where it's warm and delicious, a tropical paradise where food hangs from the trees and fish almost bounce around the seafront. How can Østerberg believe that a socialist Marxist utopia is possible in the north? How utopian can it be that Marx's point that the "sense organs" should be fulfilled for all, when man has at all times struggled for food, and when giving birth to children and has a number of tasks, especially in wintry, barren conditions? To which Østerberg responds:

"It's the technology that will liberate us. It does this by making the work less tiring. But at the same time – what should we do when all the robots arrive? There is also a concern about capitalism, how to create work for everyone. The goal of Marx was always to reduce the workload. That should help a sensible technology. "


Screen Shot at 2016 08-17-12.50.34Competition Society. But is it really the sole proprietors, the capitalists, who can easily be blamed for the misery? Or does this lie deeper in a competition ideology, a way of behavior, which they also suppress?

"This is about going to death for a cause."

“For at least 200 or 300 years, we have complained about the inefficiency of the Norwegian economy – Erna Solberg recently, and Siv Jensen as well. Obviously it is a kind of neurosis, because there will never be less demands for efficiency under capitalism. ”

Competition requires inhumane conditions:

"Subordinate and low-paid, largely women in health professions and others, are plagued by diseases as a result of ergonomic abuse of the body," points out Østerberg.

“But it is much milder in Norway than what we see in other countries. At least 25 million people work in export zones, in pure slave labor. ”

How deep is this, this nature's "everyone's struggle against all", rather than a civilized sensible trade?

"Arne Næs was an intellectual impostor."

"One of the things I'm happy about in this book is that I managed to link the criticism of capitalism to the concept of the" serial "of Jean-Paul Sartre. Everyone does like the others, everyone forces each other to join. The serial, after all, is the image of freedom. It contradicts the basic idea of ​​sociology – that man is basically not a competitive entity in the first place, but has a basic cohesion. You see that with children and others, you cannot treat a child as a consumer or a serial being, because the child will not – it will communicate. Man becomes a competitive entity in the way he organizes it. Capital owners also suffer from the competition. But after all, they have several benefits. "

Does socialism have an answer, I ask Østerberg, or is it possible to think of a state revolution where the dominion is replaced only by another, where the proletarians were to take over the means of production prescribed by Marx? Østerberg takes the Soviet as an example:

"Before the war, the Soviet Union was the world's largest industrial power. But with the Germans' extermination war, 15-20 million people disappeared. In addition, the West later managed to force the Soviet Union into an armament they did not need at all. So the Soviet Union is not a good example of how bad socialism can be. They were able to create a failure. ”

Can one then trust the state as a solution?

"The kind of state Adam Smith allowed for a modest task has now become bigger and bigger," says Østerberg.

"Socialism is not primarily about the state, but about communities of several kinds."

So should it come from the civilian population? I ask. "No," says Østerberg, "I thought of the trade union movement, I".


Revolution? And how should such a reorganization, upheaval or revolution be carried out, and by whom?

"Yes, it is then the organized working class, where we merge and distribute the work wisely. I even hear how utopian it is today, but you have to think about it, even though we are far from such a reality today. ”

I again skeptically ask where such upheaval should come from. Continuous demonstrations in the streets of the abolition of capitalism?

"If there is such a transition, it will take on a violent nature," says Østerberg.

"The goal is to liberate people from all wear and tear and forcible exploitation of one another ... after all, this is the idea of ​​original communism."

But are we talking about a revolution in the 21st century? This is a topic that Østerberg has given little thought to, he says.

"I believe more in the general strike as the way out. The ruling class does not give up power, violence comes from above. Here it is about going to death for a cause, rather than plowing down a ruling class. Experience is pretty brutal. "

But given our pervasive consumer culture – and our de-politicized sofa culture – I ask Østerberg who or how many would participate in such a thing.

“There are very few who participate in party politics. The political class is weak internationally, and in Norway political democracy is very weak. We have a standard of living that very few others have – but in Germany they are much worse off. Policy must probably be reshaped. So what we intellectuals can do is point out what it's like. ”

Here I respond to the man behind this Marx book – because it was not exactly Marx's point (and Feuerbach's, as it is written on the wall of the Humboldt University of Berlin) that while the philosophers have so far only interpreted the world, the task is now to change it?

“The intellectuals must describe consumption, the culture of consumption and its ugliness and reason. But for most people, consumption has to go down, and people have to spend their time in other ways. But if I said it out loud, maybe a populist rage would come to the surface. "

So – is there too few in a democracy that really cares, so socialism in our century seems impossible?

“Now it is true that most people own nothing, while a small minority owns more and more, and the latter decide. And you can read in Dagens Næringsliv about the exciting battle between the ruling classes, between Røkke and the others. But for VG, which is for most people, it is entertained with the stroke of a famous actor or a divorce in the royal house. Unfortunately, the ideological pressure is very big. ”

"Marx and Engels had no imagination to imagine fascism."

Is Østerberg still a socialist, as he once wanted to work in the trade union movement?

“When I was young, I was a member of the Socialist People's Party. New Marxism was a kind of progress, but was struck back with Maoism – which I thought was a caricature of Marxism. It had a breakthrough, and as Jan Erik Vold once said: AKP raised the harry factor, and then Frp and the like could also eventually become possible. There has been a great deal of politics. In that sense, I speak as one who has lost. One should think carefully through what is reason and reason. "


Anarchists. I'll now bring up a possible way out, even if it's not for most people. There is a third "social class" of the self-employed, artists and freelancers. Especially in Norway as a nation of knowledge, an emerging middle class is freer. Many in the West do very well on high salaries, on scholarships or fees, without being classic capitalists or the property owners the book generally refers to. I myself have long experience of working without having had equity, with a number of non-profit loan-financed newspaper projects (Morgenbladet, Le Monde diplomatique, Ny Tid) – with great risk. In Norway, there are 10–20 small and medium-sized enterprises, a stratum where many, however, struggle in an incessant competitive society, without necessarily being classic capitalists. People in situations that have to, or are inspired to, take responsibility for a profession themselves.

"Yes, but the amount of teachers, nurses, health workers and other subordinates is a pretty big sphere – it must be quite a few more than the middle class to which we both belong," comments Østerberg.

I'm addressing anarchism, or post-anarchism from our time, community of interests and freedom, "affinity groups", people who find alliances in the network and communication community. Isn't this a historically new emerging mode of production, to a certain extent less dependent on state and capital?

"Marx himself is, in a way, anarchist, he talks about the state's task being minimal. No, I think ... this argument came as a surprise to me. "

The large group of consultants, free professions and self-employed persons are mentioned in a footnote and a few places in the book, in the context of the fact that the class concept can be a bit slippery, such as in Denmark. Østerberg mentions in the book that it is "limited how many people go from wage earner to self-employed person".

But are there alternatives? "If there is mutual communication where competition does not have an oppressive character, it sounds like a sensible social scheme."

Something social liberal à la Adam Smith?

"Yes, it can be a peaceful battle, as it was called in the Soviet Union, between many independent individuals who are not constantly afraid of losing their jobs."

"I've probably been a pretty good man."

Østerberg himself decided to resign from his professor position at the University of Oslo in 1991. "Yes, I did because I find it difficult to get my own things done," he says. "There was too much reorganization and too much administration. And the administration would always be kept in the spirit so they could constantly send new piles of documents. I thought I had to get my things done and then quit. And that was a good thing. I've been a part of being a translator and writer. "

Is the man who has written so much about Marxism, and taught about Hegel's master / slave relationship and socialism, really more of an individualist or anarchist?

"In my life there has probably been a much greater anarchism. It has been, I have had very little association with the parties. My life has been marked by this post-anarchism. I am open to your idea of ​​an alternative post-anarchism, that is how I have wanted to live myself since 1991. But it is very much in Marxism, especially the criticism of capital, that is right. So communism is, after all, anarchist in Marx's sense. It is. ”

Anarchists search for council groups, but prefer to operate individually and will never gain power. They can live as minorities? “We are in the minority, we who have wanted to be independent without exploiting others. When it comes to writers, I managed to live off of writing after quitting as a professor. But it's harder today because of the book market, so I think today there are fewer and fewer of you and my kind. "

Screen Shot at 2016 08-14-08.47.53
Dag Østerberg and editor Truls Lie

Intellectuals. Does Østerberg have a moral in that way, any thoughts on changing the world as a philosopher, or should he just interpret and describe?

“One should have greater expectations of life than just peace and quiet. On the other hand, we have this to be substantial – I've probably been a pretty good man. But I also thought: Why am I so good, could I not think of another project that is going to thrive more in the world? It has always been about being good – my father was a good man, but he came from small groups, so we never had any money – and then we did well. But I could certainly have been a much more comfortable man, I, if I wasn't so good. Very good people often have the more unsympathetic traits that come along. ”

I ask him to elaborate. “At the same time, I have a desire to live more with the privacy that young Marx envisioned. And then there comes a certain kind of distinction, then, a distance from the entertainment. "

I have seen Østerberg at the annual Skjervheim seminar in Western Norway playing flute, along with Rune Slagstad on piano. Is it about Marx's superstructure, being a little seduced by the spiritual life – what is one to be good at?

"When it comes to music, which has been my main topic, I think there is a difference between art and entertainment. But some art has a strenuous touch. But knowing these important, great works in music is a good thing that is not available to everyone today. ”

Østerberg was known by the great philosophers Arne Næs and Hans Skjervheim. What has it been like to be an intellectual in a man's age in "popular" Norway?

“Being an intellectual means a more isolated position. But I've pretty much got enough confirmation that I've been on. "

I ask him to comment on his relationship with the two mentioned.

“In my relationship with Arne Næs, whom I initially admired boundlessly, I still came to realize that he was an intellectual fraud. So I broke up pretty quickly with what he was doing, ”says Østerberg.

Norway's most famous philosopher, an imposter?

"Yes, in the unity of life and learning. Both because he had his children at Steinerskolen, which I think was very appalling as he made fun of that kind of metaphysical thinking. And I disagreed with his thinking, and was eventually disappointed with him as a person. ”

What about Skjervheim, which for many has been a ruinous figure?

"I was perhaps the one who first discovered Skjervheim when I read Participant and sponsor in 1958. Then I met Skjervheim when he was a young man. I earned him my master's degree because I think it was a great job he had done. At that time, we were a couple who opposed the fight against Ness' positivism. But Skjervheim was a constant anti-communist, he couldn't say anything positive about East Germany, for example. So we politically distanced ourselves from each other. "


meaning. What really keeps you going, I ask Østerberg in the end.

"I hold on to my old questions, I follow other trends, the time dimension is different," he answers. “To me, not a hundred-year-old sociologist is out of date. I can't finish the issues, so I have more of this idea-historical backdrop. "

Østerberg only refers to men in his book, which I am critical of. Is it about a lack of interest in women's intellectuality?

"I would probably think so. But I was struck by the fact that John Stuart Mill had to be right about women being equal – I mean that from the first moment. I joined the women's association since I was 24 years old. We were three men. So there is no lack of interest in the women's case. But when I'm not referring to them, it must be because they don't deliver exciting enough material. ”

Did women's intellectuality mean anything in his life?

“There has been a great deal of politics. In that sense, I speak as one who has lost. "

“When I was young, I think girls were boring, and they were, because most of them were determined to become housewives, and certainly would not discuss. After all, I have been married twice to women who have been more concerned with art than my own subject. If there were any, it had to be Simone de Beauvoir, who was a skilled thinker. Otherwise, I haven't mentioned Hannah Arendt – maybe I'd read her more if she were a man. But let me mention: I think I have a record in hiring female professors! ”

Then again, what has made the most sense in the life that Østerberg has lived for 77 years?

"After all, I've never thought life has been meaningless, I've never been depressed. Bitter, but never depressed. There has always been something to do. I also think the philosophical life has been exciting. I have had relationships with women and have children, and have devoted much of my time to that. Still, I would say that it is the philosophical and sociological landscape that has been exciting to me. I already said at the age of sixty that I've been trying to keep up, but I haven't been able to. "

(The interview was completed in the fall of 2016, was cut in the fall of 2017.) See also heads November 2017.

Finally – a divination about the future? In the book, Østerberg mentions the crash in 1929 and the financial crisis in 2008. Today there are several things that indicate that one can face new economic crises globally, which will then hit Norway. In 1929, the crisis led to mass unemployment. In 2008, the banks were provisionally saved and people's money did not disappear. Today, people hear about crises that break into zoos to eat the animals. So – with a falling profit rate, as Marx and Østerberg point out, what is growing out of it? “Marx and Engels had no imagination to imagine fascism. It was very strong during the interwar period. They were enough for formed humanists, I think. If you look very closely, much of Europe was fascist at that time. With new crises, it can go that way quickly, even in Norway. ”

See also Østerberg's article about 1968 Maoism.

Truls Lie
Truls Liehttp: /
Editor-in-chief in MODERN TIMES. See previous articles by Lie i Le Monde diplomatique (2003–2013) and Morgenbladet (1993-2003) See also part video work by Lie here.

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