Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Dec 27 15:33:23 PST 1998

At 03:49 PM 12/23/98 Carrol Cox wrote:

>This debate over the role of tobacco in u.s. politics would be (perhaps
>is mostly) harmless fun, with not much riding on it,

I think the piece entitled Crazy Tobacco about the activities of the BAT subsidiary in Brazil effectively deals with this condescending complacency. In fact I had to do a double take several times because I thought it was a spoof. But it isn't. I suppose it was obvious that tobacco would sooner rather than later be genetically modified.

As the piece forwarded by Louis Proyect about tobacco in the 16th century showed, it is one thing for a culture to assimilate another drug in those conditions, it is another when modern capitalism is actively promoting it with all its powers of organisation. So we are to have the products of tobacco up to 4 times richer in nicotine, while more of the land of Brazil is diverted to supplying it.

>except that a lot
>of bad would-be marxist politics (from many varieties of maoism through
>the most abject reformism) ground their politics in the myth of serious
>splits within the u.s. ruling class, and such arguments as these may be
>used to argue for such positions.

I am not aware that anyone on this list has argued about "serious" splits in the ruling class. There is clearly a serious problem about a consensus for the limits of bourgeois politics at the moment, which will get papered over somehow or another. But there are good reasons for seeing that the Republicans have put themselves out of the driving seat as the main party of modern capitalism.

>A communist group I belonged to in the
>late 80s began its slippage into oblivion with such a search, supporting
>Dinkins in New York and even beginning to argue that Mayor Daley
>represented the "progressive bourgeoisie" (whatever such a beast would

Certain actions by certain bourgeois forces, and petty bourgeois forces, under certain conditions, may be progressive. Generally speaking the national bourgeoisie may be progressive allies in a third world country. May. But I am not aware of anyone on this list arguing for a progressive bourgeoisie. This is sloppy, impressionistic criticism. I assume Carrol is still frantically discarding 95% of his mail and responding hurriedly to those he does, without keeping them and reading them selectively.

>I do not apply the label "abject" to "reformism," unless the reformist
>in question claims to be a marxist.

It is a waste of time to have arguments as to who is marxist and who is not. Marxism as a style accessory does not seem to me to be marxist. I do not mind whether Carrol considers himself a marxist or not. I do mind what he argues, some of which in the past I have agreed with. What Carrol needs to demonstrate to be cogent instead of snide, is what reforms he favours prior to the revolution, (unless he thinks it is going to take place in the next 18 months) and how he would distinguish the way he is going to fight for them as being revolutionary rather than reformist.

Under the thread title "tobacco" on Wed, 23 Dec 1998 Jim heartfield wrote:

"But if you wanted to construct a Marxist argument about why people smoke (quite why is a question in itself) you would have to look instead at the quality of their lives. The reason smoking increases down the social scale is simple enough. To want to forego the immediate pleasure for a longer life, you have to value your life. Unemployed single mothers smoke because they are amongst the lowest incomed."

Yes I know the argument that unemployed single Glasgow mothers smoke because a cigarette is their only moment of luxury in the course of the day.

But Jim is wrong to argue that "Chris is tilting at windmills when he tries to change the habits that only reflect people's real existence." I am not trying to change habits as such.

Likewise I do not accept Doug's characterisation of an "anti-tobacco crusade". I agree that some of the forces in the campaign argue like that. And that divides people. The UK government hesitated this year to put more government restrictions on smoking in public, I think rightly.

The question is who is the target for such a campaign and who can be united on it. Jim puts inverted commas around 'tobacco capitalist' when he says of me: " He singles out the 'tobacco capitalist' when he ought to consider the conditions that make the tobacco capitalist a success."

Well it is the tobacco capitalist, or tobacco capital that should be the target of the campaign. And they are not imaginary. Such a campaign will be shrewder for understanding why people are so ready to buy these products.

"Chris wants to analyse the class forces at work. I say the class force at work is anti-working class hatred, cloaked as a hatred of the habits of the working class. This is what powers the endless moralising of the health council. This is what led employers like Derbyshire Council to impose a ban on smokers. Victimising employees for their smoking is a way of employers and the state to avoid responsibility for their health- care."

I agree that making smokers the target of the campaign is at best reformist, and at worst divisive and anti-working class. But I suggest that Jim is being patronising and workerist if he implies that are not many self conscious unprivileged workers who know that smoking is bad for their health, as well as expensive and would like to have it more under control. This is not just a petty bourgeois affectation. Knowledge about many things is spreading rapidly through all layers of the working population, and nor all of this can be dismissed as bourgeoisification.

The crunch is really the recuitment of new nicotine dependent youth. It is not essential for acculturation for young people to smoke. Must they put lighted cylinders in their ears or up their nostrils? It is not sexy to have bad breath. But it is essential for tobacco capital to make cigarette smoking appear sexy. Otherwise it would tend to die out with the cohort, like chewing tobacco or using spitoons.

But if Doug and Jim feel we are being sectarian to ordinary working people who merely want to socialise with cigarettes, what objection would they have to government regulation that tobacco companies market only nicotine free cigarettes? Does genetic modification work only one way? That would be a fair test would it not, of the public spirit of the tobacco capitalists? And if Doug and Jim are defending the bourgeois right of the consumer to be able to purchase nicotine freely, that can safely be supplied by capitalists in the form of patches which can be worn under the clothing so as not to cause any divisions in the unity of the working class. Perhaps they could be provided free to all nicotine addicts.

Now there's a revolutionary as to opposed to a reformist or sectarian slogan: Let the tobacco bosses pay! Free nicotine patches for all!

Or do you think this is a sector of the means of production that could be left to the absolute discretion of its private owners for a few more more? By which time they may have genetically modified the tobacco plant to yield 25% nicotine and crossed it with coca to yield 25% cocaine as well. Then perhaps it can be grown on the Colombian-Brazilian border to provide further excuses for US campaigns against drugs in Latin America to attack communist guerillas. But then they might get confused about which drug they are trying to control.

Look nicotine is a highly addictive drug marketted in a dangerous form by very large capitalist companies. It needs to be controlled, and they hate that. It is quite simple really.

Chris Burford


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