All laid bare: cycling, commodity fetishism, and podium girls

Marx, the Wood Theft Law, and commodity fetishism

While editor of the newspaper Rheinische Zeitung, Karl Marx wrote a series of articles (in 1842) about a proposal in the Rhenish provincial assembly, on behalf of the forest owners, to stop the traditional practice of gathering (dead) wood by the peasants. Here, in debating the Wood Theft Law, an early Marx came to recognise the role of the State in protecting the interests of private property over and against general interests, the intersection of political, social and economic relations, and the fetishism of the commodity form:

“Can the forest owner present private demands where he has no private claims? Was the forest owner the state, prior to the theft of wood? He was not, but he becomes it after the theft. The wood possesses the remarkable property that as soon as it is stolen it bestows on its owner state qualities which previously he did not possess. […] The wood thief has robbed the forest owner of wood, but the forest owner has made use of the wood thief to purloin the state itself.”

“In direct contradiction to those writers of fantasy who profess to find in the representation of private interests ideal romanticism, immeasurable depths of feeling, and the most fruitful source of individual and specific forms of morality, such representation on the contrary abolishes all natural and spiritual distinctions by enthroning in their stead the immoral, irrational and soulless abstraction of a particular material object and a particular consciousness which is slavishly subordinated to this object.”

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Marx goes on to state that the Cubans identified “gold as a fetish of the Spaniards. They [the Spaniards] celebrated a feast in its honour, sang in a circle around it and then threw it into the sea.” With such insight, he reasons, had the Cubans been present in the debate in the Rhenish provincial assembly, they would surely have seen wood as the Rhinelanders’ fetish?”

In later works, Marx develops his concept of ‘commodity fetishism’. In Capital (Volume One), he concludes:

“A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of [human] labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.”

Cycling, commodity festishism, and podium girls

Commodities take various forms. In professional cycling, for example, there’s the bicycle, the attire, the paraphernalia, the rider, and the podium girls. In one sense, it’s all laid bare. This year’s Tour de France (2015) will show the bodies of cyclists littered with the advertising logos of Team Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana, Etixx-Quick Step, Giant-Alpecin, Movistar, FDJ, Ag2r La Mondiale, Orica-GreenEdge, Cannondale-Garmin, BMC, Trek Factory Racing, Lotto-Soudal, Katusha, MTN-Qhubeka, LottoNL-Jumbo, Europcar, Confidis, IAM, Lampre-Merida, Bora-Argon18, and Bretagne-Séché. Such logos will be an unavoidable, integral sight for those wishing to enjoy actual cycling and France’s spectacular landscape. The decision-making of teams and riders will be steered by the fused competition of sport and capital. An independent report to the UCI (in March 2015) noted:

“It is interesting that riders are […] aware of the general pressure to keep sponsors in the sport, not just their own team’s sponsor, but more widely. The Commission was told that sometimes riders would agree to lose stages to another rider whose sponsor might have been considering withdrawing from cycling. In this way, the sponsor would have a stage win and podium exposure, perhaps putting off the withdrawal decision. […] Since cycling’s earliest days, riders have agreed race or stage outcomes with other riders. It is often seen as part of team and individual tactics in the peloton. A good number of today’s top riders and former riders openly discussed these practices with the Commission. They were described as part of the cut and thrust of professional competitive cycling […] Bartering can take place not only between riders, but also at team level with team managers negotiating deals.”

Professional cycling seems almost desensitised to the dehumanising effects of commodity fetishism. The hiring of commodified labour-power, as seen below, makes for an absurd and an outrageous spectacle, and yet it is also a logical extension of an über-commodified world of male-dominated, professional cycling. Here sexism and capitalism blend: this is entertainment, which creams profit from its workers, whilst confounding them with the products of their labour. It’s demeaning to cyclists, and to all lovers of cycling – women and men.

A necessary struggle for gender equality in cycling should also entail a struggle to free cycling from its dope, capital. The representation of private interests, of capital, “abolishes all natural and spiritual distinctions by enthroning in their stead the immoral, irrational and soulless abstraction of a particular material object and a particular consciousness which is slavishly subordinated to this object.” Free the body from commercial-imperative so that we can dress and undress as we like, and so that we can cycle as we like; free us from social relations between things to social relations between human beings! Ride on.

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 16.14.50

The world of cycling, doping, and cheating exploded (in one report)

“The Commission did not hear from anyone credible in the sport who would give cycling a clean bill of health in the context of doping today.” (Cycling Independent Reform Commission: Report to the President of the Union Cycliste Internationale, March 2015)

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“he [Brian Cookson] needs to be talking about other things because this sport is not in a good place for a variety of reasons. A lot of it has to do – perhaps some would say – with me. But he doesn’t need to worry about this. […] You guys can decide if he has done a good job, if he’s been tough on Astana, whether he’s stuck with his mission statement.” (Lance Armstrong about the President of UCI, June 2015)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Brian Cookson, current President of UCI (Wikimedia Commons)

“I’m that character in Harry Potter they can’t talk about, Voldemort? It’s as if you can’t mention him. I’m the one everybody wants to pretend never lived. But that will not be the case for ever because it can’t be the case for ever. That won’t work, people aren’t stupid. We know what happened.” (Lance Armstrong and Lord Voldemort, June 2015)

Armstrong riding to victory at L'Alpe d'Huez, during stage 10 of the 2001 Tour de France (Wikimedia Commons)

Lance Armstrong riding to victory at L’Alpe d’Huez, during stage 10 of the 2001 Tour de France (Wikimedia Commons)

Here are my extracted highlights from the damning, Cycling Independent Reform Commission: Report to the President of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), which was press released in March 2015. Much in this report chimes with the narrative I present in my post, Who is the real enemy of professional cycling – Lance Armstrong, or capital personified? The scapegoating of individual professional cyclists, and indeed, occasional planets like Lance Armstrong’s, is a means to distract us from the holistic picture, specifically, the historical and systemic nature of doping in cycling, which is essentially driven by the relentless and restless motion of capital. Media and celebrity tycoon, Piers Morgan, states (in June 2015): “Yes, Lance Armstrong, you ARE Lord Voldemort – a lying, ruthless, scheming, self-obsessed monster who deserves to be unmentionable for eternity”. Lance Armstrong is right about one thing, “people aren’t stupid”. Capital is cycling’s real dope – of course the rich and powerful seek to mask this reality. Read on, as the independent report to the President of UCI is explosive, in the most balanced and measured of ways.

 

1. UCI and its dubious relationship to doping

“For a long time, the main focus of UCI leadership was on the growth of the sport worldwide and its priority was to protect the sport’s reputation; doping was perceived as a threat to this. The allegations and review of UCI’s anti-doping programme reveal that decisions taken by UCI leadership in the past have undermined anti-doping efforts: examples range from adopting an attitude that prioritised a clean image and sought to contain the doping problem, to disregarding the rules and giving preferential status to high profile athletes, to publicly criticising whistleblowers and engaging in personal disputes with other stakeholders.”

1280px-World_Cycling_Centre_-_Aigle_Switzerland

World Cycling Centre, Switzerland (Wikimedia Commons)

1992-2006

“The doping problem was well known to the UCI leadership and it was clear to everyone that doping was endemic in cycling. […] Doping was portrayed by UCI leadership as the faulty (and surprising) behaviour of a few individuals, but not as endemic group behaviour or as a structural problem within its sport. […] The approach to doping was one of containment, with a focus on protecting health. […] The emphasis of UCI’s anti-doping policy was, therefore, to give the impression that UCI was tough on doping rather than actually being good at anti-doping.”

UCI (Wikimedia Commons)

UCI (Wikimedia Commons)

2006/2007-today

“The original policy of containment was abandoned in favour of a policy that sought to catch the cheaters. Anti-doping is not a static matter. Once a new level is attained, the battle is still far from won. Instead, the history of anti-doping is marked by constant adaptation by those who seek to cheat and those who seek to catch them. […] Even though UCI’s anti-doping programme today is one of the best among international federations, the CIRC sees room for further improvement.”

 

2. Ambiguity in riding ‘clean’

“There is no “one size fits all” definition from within the sport of what clean means. The generally accepted understanding of being clean is that an athlete does not take products that are on the WADA Prohibited List. Some riders will take substances on the List but, having not been caught, consider themselves clean. Some will take substances that are on the List but are not yet detectable, and therefore believe that they are clean. Some riders stop doping before a big event and therefore consider themselves to be riding clean. All definitions have been described by riders and other stakeholders. The Commission heard that some riders also experiment with performance-enhancing substances and practices that are not yet on a banned list. […] The Commission notes that despite the statements from riders and teams today that they are clean, the Commission was informed that hardly any riders in the peloton today are willing to allow their samples to be used anonymously for research purposes into developing new methods of drug detection. A box on doping control forms today can be ticked to enable such testing. The Commission was told that over 95% of the time, it is not ticked.”

 

3. A history of doping and cheating in cycling

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Transparant bei der Tour de France 2006 (Wikimedia Commons)

1890s—1980s

“The earliest accounts of doping practices from the 1890s and early 1900s indicate that athletes would rely on various stimulants, or combinations thereof, such as alcohol, caffeine, strychnine, heroin, cocaine and amphetamine to alleviate fatigue and enhance their performance. […] By 1955, there was an account of the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (“PED” or “PEDs”) in cycling, and of 25 urine samples taken from riders in a 1955 race, five were positive for stimulants. Ten years later, tests conducted on Belgian cyclists showed that 37% of professionals and 23% of amateurs were using amphetamines, while reports from Italy showed that 46% of professional cyclists tested positive for doping. Based on these statistics, widespread use of stimulants was evident during this era. […] The death of Danish cyclist Knud Jensen at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games brought national government and sporting bodies’ attention to the potential risks associated with stimulant use. […] In 1965, Belgium and France legislated against doping, and in 1966, the first drug tests were carried out at the Tour. They were opposed by riders, and five-time Tour winner, Jacques Anquetil, who admitted to taking amphetamines, stated, “We find these tests degrading.” Jacques Anquetil led a revolt by cyclists and stopped the race the next day.”

Late 1980s—2001

(Wikimedia Commons)

Humorous writing on the street during Tour de France 2008 at Alpe d’Huez saying that EPO is available in 500 meters distance (Wikimedia Commons)

“The real revolution that emerged in the late 1980s and became prevalent in the 1990s was the introduction of EPO to the peloton. While some of the literature concludes that the 1980s, and not the 1990s, appear to be key in the rapid evolution of pro cyclists’ performances, former riders and other actors in the sport identify the late 1980s or early 1990s as the period when EPO was introduced, and when the peloton started “flying”. At this time, riders were also using anabolic steroids, primarily for faster recuperation, and human growth hormone (“HGH”) had also become very popular for the same purpose. […] Almost all whom the Commission interviewed, who were direct members of the cycling community, stated that the introduction of EPO into the peloton was a “game changer”. […] according to a 1994 report on EPO use in Italian professional cycling, between 60 to 80% of all riders were using EPO. From riders’ testimony to the CIRC, it is possible that this estimate may be modest for the peloton in that era, given that some put the percentage at 90+% across the peloton.”

“In 1997, seven years after speculation that riders were dying from EPO overdoses, UCI introduced the “No Start Rule” […]. Its stated purpose was to protect riders’ health and safety and to prevent further deaths from EPO. It was not an anti-doping rule, but a health and safety measure. […] One unintended consequence of the 50% haematocrit threshold on all riders, regardless of their natural levels, was that riders with haematocrit levels naturally in the low-mid 40s could gain an advantage by using EPO up to 50%. According to one former rider, the introduction of the 50% haematocrit value rule was perceived by riders as legalising EPO up to a certain limit. He stated that if a rider had not used EPO beforehand, he had certainly started using it after the rule was introduced in 1997.”

Francesco Conconi

“The Italian doctor Francesco Conconi was considered by some to be the father of Italian “doping physicians.” In the early 1990s, Conconi received over EUR 2million in funding from the Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano (“CONI”, the Italian National Olympic Committee) to carry out doping “research”, and further funding from the IOC to develop a test for EPO. […] Francesco Conconi was a member of the IOC’s Medical Committee and President of UCI’s Medical Commission. Whilst he was receiving funding from CONI and the IOC to carry out doping research and to develop a test for EPO, Francesco Conconi was simultaneously providing EPO to athletes and a number of cycling stars, including Marco Pantani, Claudio Chiappucci and Gianni Bugno.”

Key public profile doping incidents / cases

  • PDM Intralipid Affair and alleged EPO use
  • Bologna Investigation
  • The Festina Affair
  • Doping on Team Telekom/T-Mobile
  • Doping on the USPS/Discovery Channel teams

“The above-mentioned investigations demonstrated systematic doping by multiple riders in the teams throughout the period, with the participation of team and external doctors, support staff and team managers. […] The introduction of EPO into the peloton and the absence of an EPO test were real games changers to the sport of road cycling. Doping became the norm in the peloton, not only to increase performance but also just to keep up with the rest of the peloton. Doping became organised, sophisticated, widespread and systematic. Evading anti-doping measures remained easy and gave the riders/teams a total sense of impunity. Many interviewees commented that without EPO, it would have been difficult for even the best riders to win the Grand Tours.”

2001—2007

Key public profile doping incidents / cases

  • The Hamilton and Pérez cases
  • “Oil for Drugs” Investigation
  • Leinders scandal
  • The Cofidis Scandal
  • Operation Puerto
  • Floyd Landis and Alexander Vinokourov Cases

“The involvement of law enforcement agencies in different scandals made teams very nervous. Riders no longer spoke openly about doping but referred to it in the third person or used code-names for various substances. One former rider commented that before Festina, people carried doping products around, and handed them to riders after races, but after Festina such practices vanished. Talking about doping no longer happened between the teams, only between riders of the same team and not as openly as before.”

“The 2001—2007 era has shown how quickly the peloton managed to adapt to new anti-doping measures by swiftly moving from an EPO-focused doping regime to a cocktail of EPO micro-dosing, testosterone and blood transfusions. Doping was still prevalent, very much the norm and organised around the central figure of the doping doctor. Following the Festina scandal, several team managers shifted the burden of responsibility of doping to the athletes, still expecting them to dope but outside the team and leaving them in the hands of external team doctors. Anti-doping measures and tests were still insufficient to tackle the doping problem: there was no test for autologous blood transfusion and out of competition tests were still embryonic.”

Michele Ferrari and Eufemiano Fuentes

“Dr Michele Ferrari was reported to be conservative in terms of how he recommended and administered doping programmes. In comparison, a number of riders characterised Dr Eufemiano Fuentes as the “go-to” doctor if you wanted to try new, sometimes “experimental”, ideas in doping.”

2008-today

“The Athlete Biological Passport (“ABP”) brought about another major change in doping practices. Since its introduction by the UCI in 2008, being the first IF to do so, the ABP has been the mainstay of the anti-doping framework in cycling. Many riders advised that its introduction changed the doping landscape, and riders and doctors had to adapt their practices, processes and procedures to avoid detection.”

Key public profile doping incidents / cases

  • Tour 2008
  • The Mantova Investigation
  • The Contador case
  • The Padova Investigation
  • USADA Reasoned Decision

“Today the situation in cycling is likely still changing, and, certainly, it has become more opaque as riders have now been forced to dope “underground”. A common response to the Commission, when asked about teams, was that probably 3 or 4 were clean, 3 or 4 were doping, and the rest were a “don’t know”. A number of top riders, and others in the sport, discussed other rider’s top performances, or changes in appearance due to dramatic weight loss, and were unable to explain how they were achieved. […] One respected cycling professional felt that even today, 90% of the peloton was doping, although he thought that there was little orchestrated team doping in the manner that teams had previously employed. Another put it at around 20%. Many people simply stated they “didn’t know” who was clean and who was not. A lot of these discrepancies may be caused by the definition of doping being used by individuals […].”

“Gradually, 10-15% gains have become a thing of the past. It has been reported that increases in performance by micro-dosing EPO (as one form of continued doping) are now perhaps between 3-5%. This has had a significant impact on the doping landscape today because by reducing the performance gains, riders will start to believe that they can have a career riding clean. This is a key development in the fight against doping. However, the Astana case in 2014 is an example that shows the problem has not been eradicated at the higher levels. The Astana world tour and pro-continental teams collectively incurred five doping violations in 2014, two by the world tour team (EPO) and three by the pro-continental team (steroids).”

“[…] despite improvements to the science underlying the ABP, it is still possible for riders to micro-dose using EPO without getting caught. The Commission also heard that riders are confident that they can take a micro-dose of EPO in the evening because it will not show up by the time the doping control officers (“DCO” or “DCOs”) could arrive to test at 6am. […] The Commission also heard that riders are using ozone therapy, which involves extracting blood, treating it with ozone and injecting it back into the blood. One rider informed the Commission that by way of using ozone therapy he felt stronger, and that the muscles recovered, but that it had however not been as efficient as EPO. Several interviewees mentioned that AICAR, which supposedly has similar effects to EPO, has become popular in the peloton. […] In order to avoid detection, riders have for some time been using testosterone patches and gels because they release smaller quantities and the detection time is therefore shorter. These are sometimes used in combination with the HGH products mentioned above to increase their effectiveness. However, HGH is generally expensive and, certainly at lower levels of competition, it appears that riders therefore continue to use steroids. The Commission also heard that the same muscle enhancing effect can be gained by taking a combination of very small quantities of a variety of steroids. Again, by taking such products in such small quantities, it makes detection significantly more difficult. […] Corticoids are widely used today both to reduce pain and therefore improve endurance capability and to achieve weight loss to improve power/weight ratio. On the WADA Prohibited List all corticoids are prohibited when administered by oral, intravenous, intramuscular or rectal routes, but Therapeutic Use Exemptions (“TUEs”) can be requested for such administration. […] TUEs is a complicated and delicate area. Interviewees reported that TUEs are systematically exploited by some teams and even used as part of performance enhancement programmes.”

 

4. What creates a culture of doping? The rules and nature of competition, and big money sponsorship

“The Commission was told on a number of occasions that the points system caused riders to be more likely to risk doping towards the end of the season. This was done to achieve better placing in order to acquire extra points to help with contract negotiations, particularly if they were out of contract or in cases where the team might not obtain a licence the following year. […] The Commission was told by some interviewees that the race calendar is too busy. Some raised the fact that the three Grand Tours, the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta were too close together in the calendar, and recovery time was not sufficient to enable a top rider to attempt seriously all three. One doctor explained that by the end of a 3-week tour, some riders would find it difficult to sleep due to the toxins in their body and the extreme effects on the body. The fact that riders have used products to get through races since the early 1900s, at a time when financial gain would not have been a determining factor, demonstrates that the degree of suffering is part of what pushes people to dope, which is still the case today according to a number of interviewees; […]”

“The Commission was frequently told that cycling has always been too dependent on income from sponsorship. This has had an effect at two levels: firstly, it put pressure on teams to encourage doping to ensure that the team obtained results to keep the sponsor happy, and, secondly, in some cases the short-term nature of a sponsorship deal might result in short-term contracts for riders (even some elite road riders only had short-term contracts) which put them under a separate pressure to dope. […] in 2012, one sports brand invested approximately USD1.5m in a successful World Team and the assessed return for the brand was USD 100m. Another major sponsor explained that its brand recognition over time grew from 2% in 1996, to 25% in 1999 to 45% today.”

“Prior to the high profile scandals and investigations in the 2000s, it appears that some sponsors either had knowledge of the doping practices or took a “turn a blind eye” approach. However, by the mid/late 2000s sponsors viewed the risk differently and started to look at alternative sports as a safer and more reliable investment, despite the significant potential returns on investment in cycling.”

“It is interesting that riders are also aware of the general pressure to keep sponsors in the sport, not just their own team’s sponsor, but more widely. The Commission was told that sometimes riders would agree to lose stages to another rider whose sponsor might have been considering withdrawing from cycling. In this way, the sponsor would have a stage win and podium exposure, perhaps putting off the withdrawal decision.”

“Today, sponsors protect themselves through contractual provisions that enable them to terminate the contract for damage to reputation. […] Ultimately, it is clear that sponsors take a more discerning approach to sponsoring cycling today. In large part this is because doping has become culturally unacceptable and therefore association with a “tainted” sport is now considered damaging to a brand. However, the rewards for sponsors in cycling are still significant, because it is a sport with broad appeal across society and geographically. A change in attitude from sponsors is necessary, but whilst teams are entirely reliant on a single sponsor to survive, the lack of financial stability will continue to foster an environment that pushes teams and riders to do all they can to achieve results.”

“The Commission was told of varying efforts to cheat the technical rules, including using motors in frames. This particular issue was taken seriously, especially by top riders, and was not dismissed as being isolated. Other forms of cheating were explained, relating to frames construction, saddle specifications, and the wearing of illegal clothing and apparel. One interviewee alleged that another had heated a cycling track to elicit an advantage to the home team, by enabling them to use more advantageous tyres.”

“Since cycling’s earliest days, riders have agreed race or stage outcomes with other riders. It is often seen as part of team and individual tactics in the peloton. A good number of today’s top riders and former riders openly discussed these practices with the Commission. They were described as part of the cut and thrust of professional competitive cycling and were not seen by riders as in any way wrong. […] The motives for agreeing outcomes are many and varied. For example: for assistance in accumulating points in a season, to maintain a time lead, to enable a sponsor to be a stage winner, to prevent a rival from succeeding or simply because they were paid to lose. In some cases, it might be linked to doping, for example riders have deliberately lost stages to avoid doping scrutiny or to appear less dominant when doping. Bartering can take place not only between riders, but also at team level with team managers negotiating deals.”

“Factors that originally encouraged riders to start doping, as far back as the late 1800s, still exist today. Cycling is a tough sport and the suffering that riders experience, together with a lack of financial stability create an environment that today still could encourage riders to turn to doping. The ease of access to doctors who can facilitate doping programmes, potentially under the influence of, or through, people who were involved in doping when they were riding, is another contributing factor.”

Who is the real enemy of professional cycling – Lance Armstrong, or capital personified?

“As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value and surplus-value [i.e. profit]…” (Karl Marx, “The Working Day”, Capital: Volume One)

“Marx does not advance a moral ‘right’ to an unscathed existence or something similar against the impositions of capitalism. Instead, he hopes that with the growing insight into the destructive nature of the capitalist system (which can be established without recourse to morality), the working class will take up the struggle against this system – not on the basis of morality, but rather on the basis of its own interest.” (Michael Heinrich, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital)

Reacting to news that Lance Armstrong will be participating in Geoff Thomas’s Le Tour: One Day Ahead 2015  – a fundraising event for Cure Leukaemia – the president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) stated: “I’m sure that Geoff Thomas means well, but frankly I think that’s completely inappropriate and disrespectful to the Tour, disrespectful to the current riders, and disrespectful to the UCI and the anti-doping community”. It’s incredible that the UCI, the organisation that “colluded” with Lance Armstrong “to bypass doping accusations” from 1999 to 2009, is actually able to distance itself from the doping culture of professional cycling; or is it incredible? Actually, it’s hardly surprising at all.

The endless pursuit of profit-making, at the expense of workers and nature, is not the result, as Marx depicts in Capital, of greedy, individual Moneybags; although, greedy, individual Moneybags does exist. A capitalist, regardless of their intent, good or bad, in order to survive as a capitalist, must boundlessly chase profit, or perish. The political economy of capitalism is the relentless motion of M-C-M’ (the general formula for capital): money (M) to buy commodities (C) to make more money (M’), for money to buy commodities to make more money, and on and on; the use-value of the commodity of labour-power is the most fortuitous commodity of all for any Moneybags, because its use-value is, distinctively, a source of value and surplus-value.

“…it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will. … The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he aims at.”  (Karl Marx, “The General Formula for Capital”, Capital: Volume One)

The world of professional cycling is inseparable from this wheel-turning motion of capital accumulation. Does the capital that drives professional cycling care for the long-term lives of its wage-labourers, or is its focus to extract the utmost from the labour-power it employs to make a profit? The history of doping in professional cycling isn’t a history of good capitalists and bad capitalists, good teams and bad teams, good riders and bad riders, it is a history of a world in which competition compels capital personified to continuously seek advantage in gaining more and more surplus-value from its wage-labourers, thus generating and fuelling a systemic culture of doping. Opt out and one expires.

I am not interested in a dissection of Lance Armstrong’s personality from a moral standpoint. I’ve read my share of books about doping in the cycling profession, including about ‘the Lance factor’. The problem with such books is their focus on bad riders and good riders, bad teams and good teams. Doping existed in professional cycling before, during, and (in probability) post the Lance Armstrong era.

The boss of Team Sky, Dave Brailsford, has said, on Lance Armstrong riding One Day Ahead 2015: “Lance has done enough damage to the Tour already. He’s done enough damage to the sport.” One might say that the rampant commercialisation of cycling has damaged the sport. One might say that the commercial dominance of Team Sky – rich in monies from the Murdoch empire – strangled the Tour de France in 2012 and 2013 of any meaningful sporting drama. It’s odd how the history of doping in professional cycling can be laid solely, individually, and moralistically at the door of Lance Armstrong. His crime was to be exceptionally good at playing the system, and embedding himself within the system – call it ‘Planet Lance’, a story of how one professional cyclist turned from a wage-labourer to an especially shrewd capitalist and philanthropist. But Lance Armstrong was not the system itself, he was one planet in its universe. Who is the real enemy of professional cycling? And, what’s its real dope? Capital, silly.

Lance Armstrong, with my socialist feminist friend and comrade Helen Russell, in training for Le Tour: One Day Ahead 2015.

Shanghai, 2015: my photo story

“The Yankees have invented a stone-breaking machine. The English do not make use of it, because the ‘wretch’ who does this work gets paid for such a small portion of his labour, that machinery would increase the cost of production to the capitalist.” (Marx, Capital: Volume One)

My recent visit to Shanghai was the last of nine in which I have glimpsed urban development ‘the China way’. My photo story captures themes present in each of my visits that have haunted me. The former Chinese Communist Party leader, Deng Xiaoping, who hailed in the era of ‘opening and reform’, famously said: “Development is the only hard truth.” If capital is akin to a monster, then a gigantic monster was set loose in Shanghai from 1990, and has gluttonously and mindlessly trampled over people and eaten up land ever since – commodifying and extracting surplus-value at a reckless speed. Over the years, the sight of low-rise alleyway, working class living that is half demolished, with people still residing within it, has been less and less prominent in downtown Shanghai, simply because more and more of the demolition has been completed. The working class have been largely moved out of the centre to the isolating high-rise apartments of the suburbs – placed within new tower blocks that have been as quickly put up as old homes have been destroyed, and which signify urban regeneration that will fast degenerate. Shanghai is urban dystopia. It is a city of hardware, with no regard for software: culture, civil society, freedom to pause, and to think, and to question. If one sits in a taxi at night driving through the dazzling skyscrapers of Pudong, the Special Economic Zone just over the river from downtown Shanghai, one feels like one has entered Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

1280px-20090427_5475_Shanghai

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

The scale of Pudong is a frightening mash-up of the might of global capital and the muscle of Chinese totalitarianism – this is urban development, the China way. It is the subtle sights of Shanghai that have always struck me the most, and the absences too: where are the poor? Space and place is so controlled in Shanghai’s centre that one can stroll from Starbucks to Starbucks, visiting global retail chains in between, and simply miss the missing population. What we call gentrification in the West appears on such a vast scale in Shanghai that what one can actually see – if awake enough – is capitalism at its most naked. There’s the next, near-erected skyscraper, such as the one I walked passed once by the Bund at midnight, with orange sparks against a black sky right at the top, generated by welding, as rural migrant workers toil for little pay and no health and safety protection. And there’s the rural migrant workers digging holes in roads and pavements with pick axes and shovels, such rudimentary equipment which once puzzled me. Yes, labour in China is that exploited, it is cheaper to employ workers to dig into concrete with pick axes and shovels than it is to employ a worker and a digger.

A narrative on feminism and gay politics in India

This is a full recording of my session at the All The Rage conference on Saturday 28th February 2015. See also, my post, I’m with motion. and my podcast, Lessons from India: towards a global analysis of sexual violence.

Tarvinder Kaur One

1979, New Delhi: “Women are not for burning”.

Tarvinder Kaur Two

The death of Tarvinder Kaur – burnt to death for an ‘inadequate’ dowry: a pivotal moment for India’s feminist movement.

I’m with motion

Globalisation – i.e., the time-space compression of the past twenty to twenty five years – is dialectical. A new phase of capitalism has given birth to contradictory tensions that have long been pregnant and kicking. Globalisation is an interplay of forces demanding the future and forces heralding the past. It straddles both static and motion. I’m with motion.

The globalising space of twenty-first century India occupies several centuries at once. Urbanisation and capitalist development, the mass entry of women into the workforce, and the expansion of information and communications technology, have generated city spaces and conditions of existence where a head-on collision between an old, feudalistic, religious and patriarchal India is violently clashing with an aspiring, new generation India. On the one hand, the ruling party of the BJP, and its student wing ABVP and fascistic ally Shiv Sena, indicate the flourishing of a deeply unpleasant, reactionary and dangerous, religious fundamentalism that is both fuelled and affronted by globalisation. On the other hand, from the protests triggered by the 16th December 2012 Delhi gang rape, to gay rights’ activists protesting in response to the Supreme Court’s recriminalisation of homosexuality in December 2013 (by reinstating the 1860 British colonial penal code of Section 377 that was decriminalised in 2009), to the “Kiss of Love” protests of late October to November 2014 against moral policing of public affection, a layer of urban, young, educated, socially mobile men and women, straight and gay, are demanding rights and freedoms over their bodies, their sexualities, their genders, and their cities. They are courageously taking on the State and religious fundamentalists in a struggle over the meaning of Indian culture. It’s an extraordinary chapter in the history of India. What’s more, the Indian diaspora should take note, for it has more in common with static than with motion – the kernel of India’s globalising, urbanising cities, and the generation born from it, is where the fight is coming.

Delhi, 22nd December 2012: Police use tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the huge crowd of protesters in response to the gang rape of a female student on a bus on the night of 16th December (Reuters Images):

Protesters chant anti-police slogans (Getty Images):

Delhi and Bombay, 15th and 16th December 2013. Gay rights’ activists protest against Section 377 (Reuters and First Post Images): 

Delhi, 9th November 2014. Indian police attempt to stop “Kiss of Love” protesters from marching to the Hindu right-wing, nationalist RSS headquarters (AFP and PTI Images):

Both straight and gay activists have been brought together in the “Kiss of Love” protests against moral policing (AP Images):

See also, my podcast: “Lessons from India: towards a global analysis of sexual violence”

Marxism 101: Globalisation, Culture, and the Coke Studio India

So what might “Zariya” – a composition by India’s foremost composer AR Rahman, which brings together a traditional chant by Nepalese Buddhist nun, Ani Choying, traditional lyrics sung by Jordanian Farah Siraj, and a Hindi chorus – tell us about globalisation? As an audio-visual cultural offering, readily available via social media, it is an exquisite piece of hybridisation and connection across place, space, and time. Note also the backdrop (and indeed foreground), the Coke Studio India, which was a production by the Coca Cola Company and MTV India. Moreover then, what might an unhappy story of Coca Cola in India tell us about globalisation and does this taint “Zariya” (a commodified song about compassion, motherhood, and happiness)?

The Coca Cola Company entered the Indian market in 1956 but left in 1977 when it refused both to comply with the country’s Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and to disclose its secret recipe to the Indian Government. Coca Cola returned in 1993 in the context of market liberalisation. Since its return, a mass movement has developed in India against the Coca Cola Company to demand it is held accountable for the contamination of groundwater and soil, water depletion and shortages, and land grabs.

CocaColaIndia

(Wikimedia Commons)

The Guardian newspaper noted in 2003: “The largest Coca-Cola plant in India is being accused of putting thousands of farmers out of work by draining the water that feeds their wells, and poisoning the land with waste sludge that the company claims is fertiliser.” The Ecologist reported in 2009 that while: “not all such disputes are as simple as ‘corporate giant versus local community’. What they do have in common, according to Tom Palakudiyil of Water Aid, is that it is ultimately the poor who lose out. ‘What we have seen happening with Coca-Cola has been happening all over the country, largely between the well-to-do and the not-so-well-to-do. The richer side is able to acquire powerful pumps and extract more and more water with no limits. In the case of big corporations like Coca-Cola, or other big industries that have a lot of power over the local government, they are able to get their pipelines to bypass the villages altogether,’ said Palakudiyil.” Most recently (again reported in The Ecologist) is a case from the state of Uttar Pradesh, where, in line with popular protest, officials have moved to demolish an ‘illegal’ Coca Cola bottling plant from community-owned land.

In Chapter Fifteen of Volume One of Capital, Karl Marx states a conclusion apt for the present-day: “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the labourer.”

Back to “Zariya”, a composition by AR Rahman and a production by the Coca Cola Company and MTV India. In Grundrisse, Karl Marx argues that the appropriation of human culture in the commodified form cannot simply be regarded as capitalism’s quest to exploit to the detriment of our social being and development, neither can it be celebrated as offering an unconditional sphere of freedom. Marx draws an analogy of capitalism as an autonomous “animated monster” (or leviathan) able to lead us, as workers, “by an alien will and an alien intelligence”. He recognises that individuals increasingly feel isolated from one another, and indifferent to their work, through the capitalist-driven fragmentation of the labour force. What Marx calls “the great civilizing influence of capital”, an explicit recognition of the radical potential within capitalism, is of most interest here. He recognises that individuals identify themselves ever more through the tunnels of cultural complexity penetrating within capitalism. It is by the use of a continually differentiating production/consumption process that individuals are open to a new kind of wealth, social wealth, with capital offering a cultural dynamism on both a politico-economic and an individual level. “[N]either bound to particular objects, nor to a particular manner of satisfaction”, individual consumption (whilst a reaction to production) is “not qualitatively restricted, only quantitatively”, thus it has the possibility of “fall[ing] outside the economic relation” . In other words, the relation of capital to labour exploits us socially, however it does not crudely determine the inner configuration of new use-values.

In sum, in its use-value “Zariya” is ours, and what is ours too is the struggle against social and environmental exploitation by global capital like the Coca Cola Company. Marxism 101.

In defence of comrade Matgamna and Workers’ Liberty

I. These are the rules

A storm should leave in its wake stillness and clarity.

Marxism to me works as a method of thinking and application; a body of ideas and a school of experience; a theory to apply to any given reality with an analytical rigour and honesty; and, a process of testing, modifying and evolving ideas and practice in the interests of our class. There are also certain Marxist principles, as Leon Trotsky articulates:

“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s programme on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives – these are the rules.”

So, a seven-year-old article by Workers’ Liberty comrade Sean Matgamna has recently caused great indignation among sections of the British Left, with accusations of racism and Islamophobia. For anyone familiar with this Left, it is hardly news that Workers’ Liberty are (supposedly) imperialists, Zionists, racists and Islamophobes, such are the longstanding accusations. But it would be unfair to label all of the article’s critics as mischief-makers; many, for sure, have genuine unease with the piece. And it is to these critics that I address my defence with the hope to convince them otherwise.

Political Islam, Christian Fundamentalism, Marxism and the Left Today is a classic polemical piece by Matgamna. It is an essay that takes effort to read and digest; it provokes emotion and stimulates the mind; and, it pulls no punches.

II. The political context

a. Politics and Religious Revivalism

While Matgamna presents some nuanced analysis based on differential conditions and forces of existence, he draws no essential distinction between East and West in relation to the increasing appeal and influence of religion in politics. His assertion is that we have reached a somewhat unprecedented epoch in which religion – or interests expressed in the name of religion – has become central to political life worldwide.

It seems to me that there is a valid case to make based on empirical observation and evidence that since the early 1990s, there has been a fertile growth of religious fundamentalisms. Take the examples of Hindu fundamentalism in India, the rising role of Jewish fundamentalism and Islamism in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or (most recently) the bizarre emergence of Buddhist fundamentalism in Burma and Sri Lanka.

Locally, Matgamna problematizes changes to British state law that have blurred the difference between racist and ethnic incitement and expression of hostility to religious ideas. He comments:

“We are in the throes of being thrown back decades, to the not so distant time when people in Britain could be prosecuted for ‘disrespectfully’ or ‘obscenely’ depicting Jesus Christ.”

The defeat of socialism by Stalinism, fascism and bourgeois democracy has preconditioned this contemporary “social and spiritual malaise”, Matgamna observes. That said, he continues, the victory of the working class in the 1917 Russian Revolution remains the beacon and proof that the working class – when “politically armed with Marxism and organised in and by a consistently democratic class-loyal revolutionary party” – can take political power. However, much of the British Left has lost its way, so rather than proudly pioneer a revival of independent, internationalist, consistency democratic socialism, which is capable of envisioning “a rational, humane, enculturing socialist society”, it has capitulated to religious revivalism, namely Islamism, through an inverted dual camp politics. For documentation of this, see my journal paper: ‘The Anti-Imperialism of Fools’: A Cautionary Story on the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard of England’s Post-9/11 Anti-War Movement.

b. On the End of History and the Clash of Civilisations

After the Cold War, two (of varying degrees) right-wing theses emerged in academic and public intellectual circles: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ and Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’.

Frances Fukuyama proclaimed:

“The most remarkable development of the last quarter of the twentieth century has been the revelation of enormous weaknesses at the core of the world’s seemingly strong dictatorships, whether they be of military-authoritarian Right, or communist-totalitarianism Left. From Latin America to Eastern Europe, from the Soviet Union to the Middle East and Asia, strong governments have been failing over the last two decades. And while they have not given way in all cases to stable liberal democracies, liberal democracy remains the only coherent political aspiration that spans different regions and cultures across the globe. […] The attractive power of this world creates a very strong disposition for all human societies to participate in it, while success in this participation requires the adoption of the principles of economic liberalism.”

Samuel Huntington depicted a new global order of civilisations: Sinic (Chinese), Hindu, Islamic, Japanese, Latin American, orthodox, Western, and possibly African. The West, he prophesised, will be faced with the growing hegemony of Islamic, East Asian and Chinese civilisations. The West, Huntington concluded, needs a strategy to strengthen its political and cultural values while also seeking alliances with other civilisations.

Matgamna alludes to the lack of traction Fukuyama’s thesis has with empirical reality. Moreover, any reading of Matgamna’s essay as echoing Huntington’s thesis is, frankly, a misreading of Matgamna’s political method and motivation, context, analysis and conclusion. One can argue that Huntington, for right-wing political ends, racially essentialises civilisations and promotes within this a naturalised hierarchical order. If Matgamna is guilty of any kind of essentialism too, then surely the only case that could be made would be on ‘class’? He is steered by a belief that workers across the world have a collective interest in opposition to both their bourgeoisies and the growth of religious fundamentalisms. Does this then make him an economic determinist and class reductionist? No. As Friedrich Engels states:

“if somebody twists this into saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, [she or] he is transforming that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase. We make history ourselves, but first of all, under very definite assumptions and conditions […] history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a variety of particular conditions of life.”

c. On Orientalism and Racism

Leftist Edward Said (1978), in his book Orientalism, describes how the scholars who studied what used to be called the Orient (mostly Asia) disregarded the views of those they actually studied. Instead, such scholars preferred to rely on their Western intellectual superiority – an attitude forged by European imperialism. In addition to the complicity of European governments and scholars in the colonial Empire-building of the Arab world, Said identifies Marx and Marxism as guilty of an orientalist distinction between ‘the Orient’ and ‘the Occident’. Could one make a case that Matgamna’s essay is orientalist? Actually, I think the question itself is wrong on the basis that Said’s thesis is flawed. The critique of ‘a Western’ framing of the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Occident’, i.e. the ‘West’ and the ‘Rest’, appears to me to replace one form of essentialism with another (or one dualism with another). The French Orientalist and independent Marxist scholar, Maxime Rodinson (himself praised by Said as a scholar who proved “perfectly capable of freeing [himself] from the old ideological straitjacket” of the Orientalist disciplines) states of Orientalism: “as usual, [Said’s] militant stand leads him repeatedly to make excessive statements”, which are made further problematic by the fact that Said is “inadequately versed in the practical work of the Orientalists”. Rodinson cautions that Orientalism is “a polemic against orientalism written in a style that was a bit Stalinist”, that is, in its dual camp delineation of allies and adversaries.

Subsequent postcolonial theory tends to remain silent on past Islamic imperialism and present-day regional imperialisms outside of the US-Euro-Israeli triangle. Is it surprising then that during a plenary of an anti-war teach-in at Berkeley in 2006, the queer theorist Judith Butler stated: “Understanding Hamas, Hezbollah, as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important, that does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements […].”

Furthermore, ‘orientalism’, whether one rejects this thesis or not, is not a concept to be conflated with the concept of ‘racism’ – the latter (when sharply defined) has far more spatial and temporal sensitivity to analyse, explain and respond to any given reality. For Robert Miles (1989), racism is a process of signification:

“racism ‘works’ by attributing meanings to certain phenotypical and/or genetic characteristics of human beings in such a way as to create a system of categorisation, and by attributing additional (negatively evaluated) characteristics to the people sorted into those categories. This process of signification is therefore the basis for the creation of a hierarchy of groups, and for establishing criteria by which to include and exclude groups of people in the process of allocating resources and services.”

I contend that post-9/11 there has been a collapse of religion into a racial category vis-à-vis British Muslims, hence it makes sense to analyse an increase in ‘anti-Muslim racism’. For me, the term Islamophobia lacks serious explanatory power.

Any accusation that Matgamna’s essay is racist only works on the premise that either one cannot criticise or one should tame down one’s critique of Islam and/or Islamism because otherwise one is categorising all Muslim people negatively and from a racially elitist vantage point. This is the muddle that much of the British Left finds itself in, and it is their muddle not Matgamna’s. Is it with any wonder then that Matgamna declares:

“the first result on the kitsch-left of the present foetid regrowth of religion has been to expose the terrible lack of ideological and political self-confidence and the all-round weakness of mind and spirit that pervades that ‘left’.”

III. The political analysis and conclusion

The following are Matgamna’s central points that compose his overall line of argument in Political Islam, Christian Fundamentalism, Marxism and the Left Today. To pull sentences out of this narrative is to subsequently evade dealing with the narrative’s politics, i.e., identifying what products of capitalism to base ourselves on (namely the working class) in opposition with what other products of capitalism.

POINT ONE

The ‘war on terror’ is not crudely a ‘put up job’ in which the external enemy has been invented (as the pseudo-Left claim). Whilst it is the case that key ‘Western’ imperialist and regional imperialist powers have fostered Islamism, for example, the Israeli state for the purpose of dividing Palestinians and jeopardising the prospect of a two nations settlement, and the US state in the financing and arming of Islamist forces during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Islamism has its own indigenous roots. The roots of Islamism lie in the space that was created from the collapse of Arab nationalism, in which a solution to the failings of Arab nationalism “is not an earthly, but a heavenly one”.

POINT TWO

The ‘war on terror’ is “a war on civil liberties of ordinary citizens” and, Matgamna states, “is shaped around a US war against terrorists whose whole world outlook and motive to action is shaped by Islam and by their Islamic view of an afterlife in which a special place in a peculiarly fleshy paradise, with the harems of virgins with which Allah rewards those who kill innocent people as well as themselves, is the preordained heavenly payment for Muslim suicide bombers.”

In an era when ICT has dramatically compressed our sense of space and time, Islamism provides an expression to the disappointments and frustrations of a mass of people at the fringe of the prosperous, advanced capitalist world. Islamism’s response is a moral righteous (and essentialised) rejection of ‘the West’. It is in this context that Matgamna writes: “Like desert tribes of primitive Muslim simplicity and purity [a historical reference to the 7th century that Islamism draws inspiration from] enviously eyeing a rich and decedent walled city and sharpening their knives, or country folk in former Yugoslavia eyeing a city like Dubrovnik, so, now, much of the Islamic world looks with envy, covetousness, religious self-righteousness and active hostility on the rich, decadent, infidel-ridden, sexually sinful advanced capitalist societies.”

A general religious revivalism and rise of religious fundamentalisms worldwide appears to have coincided with the rapid spread of ICT and cheap air travel (the infrastructure of globalisation) and particular geographical shifts in global capital over the past twenty years or so. I don’t think one should play down the significance of this period in which satellite TV and the internet, and a rise in economic growth (and with that more plain inequality), sell the relative freedoms of life in the cities and beyond. This seems to be a major factor in bringing to a head the acute tensions of religious tradition, duty and honour. Visiting my extended family in the Punjab villages during the late 1990s and 2000s, anecdotal evidence talked of a new prevalent phenomenon of suicide among pre-marital young women (in a majority of cases, by drinking weedkiller). The wave of protests in India during late 2012 and early 2013, triggered by the 16th December Delhi gang-rape case, again demonstrated (amongst other things) a collision or confrontation between globalisation and patriarchal religious revivalism. See my piece and podcast, Historic moment for India? and Sexual violence: a global analysis.

POINT THREE

In Europe itself, there is a political battle for Muslim minds, and therein Islamism is a growing force.

See, for example, research by the world’s foremost expert on Islamism, political scientist Professor Gilles Kepel, for empirical substantiation of points one to three.

POINT FOUR

The growth of militant “primitive Christianity”, especially in the USA, is noteworthy in its new offensive against Darwinism. Matgamna asserts: “The savage joke is that the USA, the main international bulwark against political Islam, is itself riddled with its own ignorant fundamentalism. Christians in the half-demented grip of an eyes-put-out dogmatic faith in the Bible as the literal word of God, and an impervious belief that their own religious feelings, aspirations, and wishes are truths superior to reason and modern science, are an assertive and increasingly active political force in the USA. A ‘fundamentalist’ Christianity, as primitive and anti-rational as anything in the Muslim world, is a growing force in what is, technologically, the most advanced society on Earth!”

There has also been a simultaneous process in which, on the one hand, organised, theologically sophisticated and hierarchical Christian churches have declined in influence, and, on the other hand, mass/half beliefs in “primitive” superstitions (such as tarot cards, horoscopes and witchcraft) have increased in appeal.

POINT FIVE

In Britain there has been the emergence of faith schools and a rise in the militancy of various religions. For instance, Matgamna notes: “When Sikhs in Birmingham rioted against a play (by a woman of Sikh background) which they did not like, and succeeded in closing it down, other religions rallied to justify them.” Ironically, thereafter, they will be at conflict with one another.

I vividly remember the Sikh protesters of 2004 who succeeded in banning the play Behzti. Members of my family (of Sikh background) debated the issues frankly. We felt both heavily burdened by the media coverage of Sikh fundamentalists (who’ve been a growing repressive presence in our communities), and a sense of injustice that Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play wasn’t aired.

That her play depicted a rape in a Gurdwara was a brave, pioneering move to opening up a culture (to itself and others) to critical scrutiny. Whereas Dr Jasdev Singh Rai of the Sikh Human Rights Group argued, “free speech is a relic of colonialism”. Cultural relativism won the day, and a sad day it was.

Behzti_Cancelled_Birmingham_20041228

(Wikimedia Commons)

POINT SIX

The roots of the revival of Christian fundamentalism are not exactly the same as those reviving Islamism. For the former, Matgamna observes: “It is the spiritual emptiness of prosperous capitalism that draws people to primitive religion or keeps them mired in it – though, of course, by no means all American citizens share in that prosperity; vast numbers of people there, too, are beggars shut out from the rich people’s feastings.” But American populist-evangelical religion and Islamism have in common an aspect of “protest against capitalism, commercialism and money power”.

POINT SEVEN

In sum, Matgamna makes clear: “Socialism proposes practical and rational action to achieve the aspirations that religion perverts into mysticism, unreason, and often into self-spiting and self-hatred.”

IV. And over to Karl Marx for the final word

From A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843):

“For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism. […] man [sic] is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man [sic] shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man [sic] as long as he does not revolve around himself. It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.”