One comment on “ISC review of Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library

  1. Ugh…I normally respect John Pateman a great deal, but that review was awful. Maybe I am a just a “psuedo-marxist” after all. And again, he’s got the UK perspective, mine’s solidly U.S.

    Pateman’s dismissal of the notion of low or banal in culture does not hold up to scrutiny, for it, too, is a “tool of the capitalist state”, which a cursory reading of:

    Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment (Paperback)
    by Michael Parenti (Author)
    # Publisher: Wadsworth Publishing; 1 edition (November 15, 1991)
    # Language: English
    # ISBN-10: 0312056036
    # ISBN-13: 978-0312056032

    Would have made clear…

    Pateman has way more faith and trust in the working class to liberate itself than even Lenin did. Like or no, Marx had a middle class background. As did Lenin. And early socialist movements had a very strong component of education in them. Before they could get around to advising the working class what to read they had to first tackle the business of teaching them simply TO read. And early socialist movements did provide their own reader advisory of a sorts…the IWW flatly said “don’t read capitalist newspapers”. Why? Because unless you’re a (gasp!) somewhat sophisticated, intellectually developed reader, they will snow-job you quite easily.

    Now, I happen to like Emma Goldman’s quote “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”; It’s an expression of turn of the century frustration and despair. I get where she’s coming from.

    But in the contemporary era of Blackbox e-voting…I think the powers that be are afraid they JUST MIGHT change something, so now they have to be hacked and stolen.

    The height of political achievement for working class Americans was probably the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another tool of the capitalist state, yes, but who wouldn’t have been possible as a political phenomenon without Sen. Huey Long of Louisiana to his Left, and a still kicking Socialist party to HIS Left, driving things along. Sen. Long forced FDR to go further Left than even FDR wanted to go. FDR, yes, aimed to save the capitalist system from itself…and was despised, called a socialist, and even had an abortive coup’d’etat plotted against him by members of the very class interests he was supposedly “saving”.

    Maybe I’m just a hopelessly naive Fabian Socialist for being unwilling to defer betterment of my fellow man until the Glorious Revolution comes…I just prefer to roll up my sleeves and make things slightly better NOW.

    Public-service Libraries (I include in that rubric Academic and School libraries) may very well be to some degree “tools of the capitalist state”, but I would hold the key thing to remember is that they are CONTESTED GROUND. They are in other respects socialist anomalies in an otherwise capitalist economy. They are Public Sector entities in a country (USA) that exalts the Private Sector to almost mythic status. They are threatened by hyper-capitalist rollback and are worthy of defending.

    Without education and guidance, the working class (especially poor whites in the southeastern USA), left to its own devices, is far more likely to go in a Nationalist-Fascist direction. Some lower-middle and working class whites have a rebellious (Anarcho-)Libertarian orientation, a kind of Rightish populism that I can respect on some level, and has potential to be anti-corporate-capitalist, but…without dialogue, sustained reading of expository prose, engaged discussion of those readings, etc…I’m just not sure how things will play out.

    “Subversion @ your Library”

    …is still possible, is desirable, and the contested ground of Public Libraries as a whole is worth of defense against Neoliberal (and NeoCon) onslaught.

    All that being said, I would be interested to hear more about the UK library innovations of which Pateman speaks…he is addressing a UK audience who presumably already knows what he’s talking about, but some elaboration and background for those of us on this side of the pond would be welcome; I certainly allow that we could learn something useful from such innovations, whatever theoretical disagreements I may have with Mr. Pateman.

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