Above: Louis Althusser and the dreaded ‘H’ word go face to face. He finds Lovin Dublin have crossed a red line when it comes to the Luas workers. Geddit? I’ll get me coat…
What does a pipe smoking French Marxist philosopher and the pied-piper of Dublin’s hipster bourgeoisie have in common? Why the ideological state apparatus of course! We drafted in media lecturer Henry Silke to dust off some heavy tomes and probe the connection between the pair. Ready to take notes?
The ideological state apparatus has many forms; the anti-working class hipster wing are the most annoying.
So what is this ideological state apparatus? It isn’t as the name might suggest simply some sort of state run propaganda machine a la RTE, although that is part of the process – rather the ISA acts as a much deeper and insidious level of ideological thought running through the entire superstructures of society from family to religion, education and even entertainment.
Louis Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher concerned with the reproduction of class and the power structures. He developed the idea of the ‘ideological state apparatus’ (ISA) as a key tool in class structure and in how classes reproduce themselves.
In fact another dogged old marxist called Ralph Miliband (yes, the rather disappointed father of Ed and Dave…) theorized that the majority of the ideological structures are actually run in the private sphere or by private enterprise.
That includes things like entertainment and advertising and even relationships between workers’ and their bosses who unlike their staff are free to indoctrinate as they choose.
Sometimes the ISA is more obvious. For example if we recall 2008, when the private housing market and banking sector collapsed and the sheer scale of the gambling of the private banking and financial markets was beginning to appear we were treated to an onslaught of attacks against ‘the public sector’.
So, while banks were being bailed out to the cost of billions nurses, firemen and low paid civil servants became the main focus of media debate.
And to a huge degree it worked.
The ‘private sector’ workforce felt put upon. It was ‘unfair’ that their public sector counterparts should have better conditions and this, rather than the billions being siphoned out of the economy by the extremely wealthy became the focus.
Meanwhile, the public sector workforce saw wages and standards stripped and they were closely followed by their colleagues in the so-called private sector.
One of the more ironic factors of the Luas dispute is seeing the very people who called for the stripping of public sector workers conditions now complain that the Luas drivers are paid more than nurses and teachers.
A more recent example of ISA was the media onslaught against the so called ‘rent freeze’, or anytime anyone dare mentions raising corporation tax.
Althusser didn’t see ideology as the only aspect to power, ideology after all is constantly a site of struggle and doesn’t always work from the point of view of the Elite.
Look at the water charge protests, no matter how long it was ignored, how much it was demonized and how often it was written off as finished, it carried on regardless.
Althusser described people who didn’t bend the knee to the ISA as ‘bad subjects’.
He theorized that when the ideological state apparatus fails the ‘repressive state apparatus’ steps in. The RSA are our old friends in the police, judiciary and prison service.
Gramsci the Italian communist leader had earlier termed this ‘hegemony in an iron fist’.
So what does this all have to do with online magazines like Lovin Dublin, surely simply a sort of slightly edgy hipster restaurant review website?
Funded by ‘native advertising’ the site is filled with generic reviews, events and clickbait content. Native advertising for the uninitiated is a hipsterish term that means advertorial content, except unlike traditional advertorial content it doesn’t necessarily tell the reader that it is paid for.
However when you strip away the ‘edgy’ reviews and commentary from time to time a deep layer of class prejudice reveals itself.
A couple of years ago Harbo, the publisher of the site infamously wrote:
“When the sun shines there are certain places that you just know will be packed. The Barge is probably the most obvious place to head but for years it was Ocean Bar. 100s of people would sit outside happily supping pints and watching knackers play their favourite sport of bridge jumping wearing wet suits. It really is amazing how long the little bastards can keep themselves entertained jumping into water and how the local crime rates plunge when they are ALL BUSY having their annual wash.”
The lines above seem to have been retroactively edited out of the site now, but this classic line remains:
“My risotto with peas and bacon was delightful although the scallops could have been a little bigger and felt like small cut offs. Tasty though.”
Locals seemingly an embarrassment to the silicon valley macho culture moving into the tax haven based around the Grand Canal docks.
Harbison apologized for the remarks later, but the pure visceral nature of the comment is there to be seen.
This classist viewpoint runs through the website, articles welcoming the return of the celtic tiger, what type of property 500,000 euro will buy you, sprinkled with a little faux shock and petit bourgeois guilt about the homeless crisis, but absolutely no critique of the landlords putting people out on the streets, these after all are Harbison’s fellow diners and part of the ‘recovery’ which Harbo claims ‘has to start somewhere’.
The site’s recent lifting of a month’s old Tory meme on the London tube strike and slapdashing it against Luas drivers shows us where their sympathies lie.
The Luas drivers themselves are a good example of Althusser’s ‘bad subject’s unwilling to be defined by the media circus around them.
The class nature of the reaction is interesting. People like Lovin Dublin are little concerned with the details of the issue, nor the fact that Transdev are a massive multinational corporation who are a classic middle management that don’t seem to serve much purpose outside of removing responsibility from the state.
The state own the tracks, the drivers and other staff do the work. Transdev‘s sole purpose seems to be the outsourcing of workplace discipline, and even this they are obviously not very good at.
One of the key issues annoying the petit bourgeois of South Dublin (much of which the Luas Green line serves) is that these drivers dare to have a decent wage, that they dare to use their collective power to win more of the companies profits for the people who actually do the work.
The idea that working class people could earn anything more than poverty wages seems to offend. Here the drivers don’t deserve to be paid well, and certainly don’t deserve to be paid more than Tristan and Fiachra who both went to Trinity, (after repeating the leaving in the ‘institute’), did a Masters in an expensive private college and are now ‘interning’ in an exciting start up on the Docklands tax haven.
Not unlike the attacks on striking tube drivers in London the offended petit-bourgeois have been attacking drivers with insults and even calling on Transdev to sack them.
The most ironic and laughable, if it were not so serious, is the offence taken that Luas drivers would dare strike during the anniversary of an armed insurrection as it was ‘inconvenient’, and these ‘nationalists’ have been scrambling to denounce the drivers and other workers and offer support to the multi-national across websites like the Journal.ie.
Lovin Dublin’s meme is a good example of this petit-bourgeois mentality, where so called ‘fairness’ is about doing down working class wages and conditions, which are undeserved, and need to be kept in check.
The profits of multinationals or landlords never face the same level of scrutiny or bile.
You can catch more of Henry’s writings at the Critical Media Review blog.