Some notes from recent discussions on Marxism and autism (two meetings and some online exchanges):
- There is a capitalist market in products aimed at autistic people and their families. These range from useful resources through to fake and even abusive 'treatments' and 'cures'. As well as commodifying autistic people's needs, this also exploits the fears felt by autistic people and particularly by parents of autistic kids.
- The mass production brought about by capitalism has had the effect of 'standardising' human beings, pushing us into a narrowly-defined 'normal', in contrast with the more individual, craft-based systems of production that preceded it. On the other hand, mass production has brought major advances and increased living standards. Can socialism combine the advantages of mass production and a renewed scope for individuality and diversity?
- Were the Soviet Union and similar societies Marxist? If so, how did they treat autistic people? In my view, the 1917 Russian revolution created a workers' state, but that was destroyed by a counter-revolution led by Stalin, which replaced it with a new, exploitative class society, which was then replicated in other countries, often by direct conquest. These societies were not socialist. It would be useful to investigate further how these societies treated autistic people, but given their habit of locking up political dissidents and declaring them insane, I am not optimistic!
- The capitalist class exploits autistic workers not because it hates autistic people but because it strives to maximise profit. The reduction of oppression to the single idea of 'hate' is not helpful: it presents oppression as a matter of nasty views held by individuals rather than of structural disadvantage.
- "The space we create controls us" (Henry Maier): autistic people's experience of the physical and sensory environment created by humankind plays a central role in the experience of distress and disadvantage.
- Language: 'autistic person' or 'person with autism'? I keep being asked this, and in my view I am an autistic person. I am no more a person with autism than I am a person with femaleness.
Issues and campaigns