Why is ideology considered to be a bad thing? Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and others of that wing of the Labour movement have consistently slammed the desire for higher public spending as ideological, as though that was somehow a powerful slur to be cast at adversaries. If I were to line up a UK-US analogy, being ‘ideological’ in Labour politics seems to be considered the same as being ‘partisan’ outside of election times in the United States.
I have never believed that compromise for its own sake has any value. Undeniably I am partisan. Nor have I ever believed that maintaining a consistent stream of thought, in whatever theories that stream of grounded, is to be derided. I am unquestionably ideological. That is not, however, the same thing as being unquestioningly ideological. Indeed my critical thought processes remind me that those who use that word as a slur are themselves bearers of ideology.
Whereas on the one hand, it may be ideological to want higher public involvement in the provision of services, it is also ideological to want higher private sector involvement. Both sides contest the question of which is more efficient, but that in itself is ideological. It presupposes that efficiency should be the superior determining factor in deciding the manner in which public services are provided for by the government.
So, despite their rather inaccurate rhetoric, this cannot be what the ‘New’ Labourites mean when they attack other viewpoints as ideological.
More probably what they mean is, the position of demanding higher public spending, of pursuing the supply of public services through state managed ventures, is dogmatic, it is doctrinaire. What the accusation really boils down to is that it is unquestioningly ideological. Without consciously analysing its own preconceptions, it prescribes policy alternatives to the current status quo of PFI, PPP and marketisation. At least, so the Blairites would have us believe.
Among those so designated as unquestioningly ideological, we Marxists are often regarded as the worst of the bunch. Needlessly so, I think, though it is easy to see why people might disagree. The comparisons between Marxists and followers of various religions have been well made in the past; obsessives following the writings of a string of dead men and living very much for a world that can never be realised. At least that is how it may appear on the surface.
At first glance, even the theories of Marx himself can be compared with those of some renowned Christian philosophers, particularly Spinoza. Each had a theory involving the determination of human history, present and future by some force other than conscious decision. Each seemed to view humanity sub specie aeternitatis, i.e., from the aspect of eternity. Just as Spinoza turned the equality of the past and future into a fetish, so the followers of Marx seem ever to urge us to look to some time gone past.
If Marxists only ever sought to engage with serious students of politics and philosophy then such considerations could be dismissed out of hand, but that is not our chosen lot. Far from merely dismissing the invoked parallels between the Marxist trying to sell his paper and the Christian trying to peddle their leaflets on unsuspecting passersby, we should be prepared to argue for the eternally questioning, rational, anti-doctrinaire nature of Marxism.
Additionally, we should resist all those in our movement who would like to relegate Marx, Lenin and the rest to mere repositories of moral authority, like Jesus is to the Christians.
This is a struggle which has enduring relevance for our movement today, particularly if we actually examine the history of the socialist movement. Some see us as consistently urging a return to long dead authors, or casting up the examples of our history in order to establish or re-establish paradigms in which to operate; we should retort that such a stance is not just unquestioningly ideological but unwittingly so.
Unlike religions, far from seeking an ahistorical, messianic imperative from history, we can engage with the concrete, historical thoughts and arguments of our predecessors and pass judgment on them ourselves, rather than accepting them as spirit-breathed.
I shall permit myself one argument from history to give an example. In 1903, a conference was held in Brussels between the leaders of the tiny proletarian movement inside Russia. It included all the faces that would later play huge roles during the 1917 Revolution, both Menshevik and Bolshevik. One of the issues that came to the fore was what the duties of membership should be, and what relationship the membership should have to the leadership.
As anyone involved in revolutionary circles to any degree will know, that is an argument which has not been put to bed. Even inside the movement, there are many who view the established leadership of groups such as the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party as entrenched bureaucratic elites-in-waiting. Within the Labour Party, who should be allowed to vote for what is a contentious issue; should it be one-member-one-vote? Should only the activists have a say? Should a Party member be anyone who pays dues?
Anyway, prior to 1903 a young writer and revolutionary named Leon Trotsky argued for rules to govern the RSDLP that would express “the leadership’s organised distrust of the membership.” This was an idea which Trotsky had advanced since 1901, as had Vladimir Lenin. Yet a week or so after taking the stage in defence of such a principle, Trotsky argued against it bitterly and castigated its prime proponent, Lenin. How does one explain the difference?
Thankfully, as Marxists do not raise the political opinions of their esteemed political precursors to the level of gospel, the contradiction is readily historicised and explained.
Julius Martov, leader of the Mensheviks, opponent of Lenin’s narrow definition of what should constitute a Party member, wrote later in his history of the RSDLP that what Lenin proposed was unremarkable. What Trotsky and Lenin had actually wanted was the ‘received wisdom’ of years of working under the harsh Tsarist regime which saw Trotsky spend thirteen years labouring in Siberia, not to mention the many others who joined him.
Trotsky’s change of heart was related to Lenin’s proposal that some members of the editorial board of the Party’s newspaper be unceremoniously dumped. The disagreement was not political, for Lenin proposed himself and two political opponents to lead an editorial board narrowed from six to three. Yet in combination with his membership proposals, it was all too easy to see Lenin as seeking complete dominion over the Party. His iron and unflinching character made such a judgment almost inevitable.
An unthinking doctrinaire would have simple recourse to Lenin’s stance, or to Trotsky’s later stance. Potentially, each has its disadvantages. The pointlessness of excessively broad movements doesn’t require belabouring to those who have witnessed the spectacular failure of our contemporary anti-war movement. Nor do the problems of Lenin’s narrow strategy need recounting to anyone who remembers what the response of the Bolshevik elite to the April Theses was.
I will not elaborate upon my own answer, but the point is that were Marxists merely interested in using past figures as justification for the positions of the present, then we would be just like those for whom Biblical exegesis is an authority higher than human reason. We are not interested in that. There remains only to remind ourselves that accusations of dogmatism, of being ‘ideological,’ are advanced for a purpose which is itself ideological.
The intent is to discredit with popular prejudice the views of a minority who intelligently debate their own views not merely with the people who live and breathe around them, but with all the philosophers of the last two and half millennia.
We should look a little harder and see who the real purveyors of doctrine are, and they are more dangerous than any Marxist, however unthinking. Some of this doctrine is supremely evident in Blairite cheerleader Mike Ion’s defence of Tony’s new ‘faith foundation.‘ Underpinning all of it is a view that religious faith plays a progressive role in politics, and that we who espouse democracy need to be reconciled with it.
How often have we heard the ‘common sense’ argument that it is not religion but the religious who expropriate the name of their religion for nefarious ends? Ironically this piece of sophistry is often followed by declarations of all the good things that religious people have done, as though expropriation of religion for an objectionable purpose is not the ‘true’ face of the religion, but expropriation of religion for a progressive purpose is that true face.
This is what we are left with by Mike Ion, Tony Blair and all the others who advance upon us using what appears to be reasonable language and common sense. It is this unquestioning ideology, which exists in many of the implicit understanding we have of our society, which be challenged most radically. Otherwise, under the banner of progressivism and tolerance, the intolerant get a free pass to continue holding their bigoted, rationally unjustifiable views.
Mike might, of course, disagree with my seeming caricature of his arguments. Yet he recounts Obama’s conversation with a religious pro-lifer who objected to Obama’s generalisation of pro-lifers as ‘right-wing ideologues.’ Ion’s summative judgment is that we should be having a more reasoned conversation with such people, even though they ‘may not change their position,’ but this misses the point entirely. The whole predication of their views is not rationally justifiable if it is based on faith.
Indeed, it also ignores, in favour of singling out this one case, the millions who are ruthlessly exploited by ‘right wing ideologues’ who have turned political opposition to liberalism and the extension of faith to the most irrational extremes into a multi-billion dollar business. Whatever the rationalities of this one man who objected to being caught up in Obama’s generalisation, it is not a reason to promote the extension of religious faith, no matter the progressive-sounding banner it parades under.
The common-sense argument here is the reification of religion into something which can ‘reclaimed’ from the fundamentalists who currently occupy it, regardless of the concrete social relations and situations which are driving that fundamentalism. This is unmistakably an ideological position and it is most certainly one that is indulged in without serious discussion amongst its proponents.
Ironic then, that Tony Blair and his cadre are among those so vociferous in their denunciation of the Labour left as ‘ideological.’ This is one of the enduring warnings of the New Labour, post-modern era: be wary of those who approach under the flag of truisms and neutrality. They are often the most ‘ideological’ of all.
I don’t know how many people picked up on Denis MacShane’s article over at the Daily Torygraph calling for massive cuts in spending. Not being a regular reader myself, I was not very impressed with his logic, which mixes a populist anti-tax crusade with other issues, such as government spending on consultants, with which it has very little to do.
Less impressive still was his call for President Sarkozy to send in the French navy to open the blockades of French ports, rather than pay money to the men and women whose lives le Président doesn’t mind destroying. How do people like MacShane manage to get elected to the safest Labour seats in the country? It’s like Ed Balls being an MP in Yorkshire, or Chris Bryant holding forth at Rhondda, despite having been an OUCA place holder.
How broke can one system be? And I don’t mean a pun on our impending bankruptcy, though the fact that Gordon Brown et al might have to shell out £24 million has me in kinks, believe me.
So, back to the point. Should Labour be cutting taxes? Absolutely – I have always believed and continue to believe that anyone earning below about £20,000 should not be paying income tax at all. If we’re going to have a proper system of graduated tax, however ‘reformist’ our revolutionary friends might consider such a move, let’s actually allow it to mean something.
When a fifth of the wage of a Tesco worker barely surviving on £13k is taken off them in tax, but Sir Terry Leahy can still get away with earning over £10 million alone, something isn’t working. That doesn’t even begin to deal with the number of tax loopholes and offshore accounting rules which Tesco are reportedly exploiting to squirrel away money from the tax man.
Don’t even get me started on a government that wants to raise the bar for inheritance tax, so that yet more people can grab a load of money they never earned. On the other hand, perhaps I’m biased because from the teacher’s salary I’ll be earning I’m unlikely to have £300,000 in cash or property to hand when I die unless something crazy happens with inflation.
MacShane, however, is not merely proposing that we cut taxes for the less well off and find the money elsewhere. No, in fact MacShane is proposing a radical cut in spending, likening it to the fiscal discipline necessarily shown by trade union leaders as their membership numbers ebb and flow. Which is all very well but a completely bogus analogy, as trade unions don’t provide material services on which the least well-off in society depend for subsistence.
Among other things, MacShane nostalgically recalls the days when Labour councillors were privileged to scrimp and save under Thatcher. Apparently those were the days, rather than all those other ‘tax-greedy’ Labour councillors of the 1980′s who wanted to, er, reduce the cost of the London Underground to average working people.
Unlike their tax-greedy comrades of the Left in London councils, the municipal socialists of Leeds and Manchester, of Birmingham and Salford created a new style of local government by making less money go farther and finding innovative partnerships with the private sector to begin the renaissance of the great cities of England.
Curious that; I wonder could any of that be the reason that Leeds has been lost to no overall control? Could it be the reason that Birmingham, a city which by rights shouldn’t have a Conservative within ten miles of it, is actually under Conservative control? Salford and Manchester are among the last remaining bastions of local government – and I seriously doubt that it’s because of public-private partnerships.
All of this is conflated in MacShane’s head with the piffling pomp of local officials such as mayors having their own car, or the ridiculously wasteful practice of retaining consultants. Which is a practice that absolutely should be cut – who can forget the several cases where consultants have advised privatisation only to buy up what was on offer and sell it on again or float it on the stock market a few months later, earning millions that should rightfully have belonged to the taxpayer?
Yet for all the populist talk of people knowing how to spend their money better than government can, I wonder what MacShane makes of the attempts to cut incapacity benefit rolls? Or what he makes of the opportunistic use of private funds to supplement state spending with little or nothing of benefit gained? I don’t hear him complaining about the public-private partnership that has wasted billions in the NHS, defence, IT and the less said about consultants and the Child Support Agency the better.
I doubt the confused Mr MacShane has thought that much about it; his general thesis is that income tax shouldn’t rise, but he forgets that income tax isn’t the only tax in the UK. He has forgotten that holding down public spending is not a virtue when services are being neglected.
He has certainly forgotten that if the government were to follow the ‘ruthless pruning’ of companies like Marks and Spencer, we may end up paying millions of people to sit around and do nothing. Again.
Perhaps I am not alone in suspecting the MP for Rotherham of indulgence in a combination of sour grapes syndrome with a touch of “giz a job Gordon”-itis. Fired from his ministerial job for a stupid comment in front of Labour students at Durham, I wonder are the following remarks more indicative of how the government operates or how MacShane has reconstructed in his own head the reasons for his fall from grace.
Labour prides itself on filling Tony Blair’s promise to bring NHS spending up to European levels. But as Hugh Bayley, MP for York and a former minister, says: “If you increase health expenditure without increasing the supply of health services you simply fuel NHS inflation.” Bayley had the fatal flaw of being a leading health economist before he became an MP and so did not last long as a minister. His kind of can-do delivery style never fitted in with the Paul Smith suits that pullulated in New Labour’s higher reaches.
Either way, with this mishmash of populist anti-tax rhetoric and denunciations of popular action against government spending cuts, the white elephant in the room are the millions of people to whom government spending is a boon. Not the consultants – hang them from a tree for all I care – the millions drawing benefits or tax allowances of one for or another, from whom we would be recouping money if we introduce the all-encompassing spending cuts a lot of the Torygraph readers would advocate.
Over at Comment is Fimetic, Mike Ion has written a piece with the following strapline:
“It’s time to address the underlying reasons why traditional Labour supporters sometimes take refuge in the policies of the far right.”
Because we haven’t been doing that since the BNP began getting councillors elected? Because that hasn’t been a topic of discussion since the days of the National Front?
Award for stating the bleeding obvious goes to the following paragraph:
“The BNP often finds support in a context of significant social problems: high unemployment, deprivation, lack of educational achievement, high crime rates, drugs, and people of different ethnic backgrounds living apparently separate lives (which encourages the growth of myths and rumour).”
Anybody want to see one of the reasons Labour supporters desert us for the far right? People like the following:
Meet Mike Ion, who is the Iain Dale of Labour bloggers and who writes such uninspired and vague apologetics that I’m surprised I haven’t taken to voting BNP in disillusionment with my own Party.
Though it has been some time since new Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev, was sworn into office, I am only now glancing over some of the pictures of the pomp and circumstance with which the event was staged. I must confess to seeing some bitter ironies in certain elements of the proceedings, which are pictured on the right.
I have read Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution and its evocation of the period in Russia during World War One and immediately prior to the revolutions of 1917. It is a profound work which rails against the corruption and autocracy of the government, the connivance of the established church and the utter hypocrisy of the ‘pro-democracy’ liberal party. How fitting that, sixteen years after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, the Russian state should find itself almost back where it started all those many years ago.
The guards in Tsarist-era uniform bearing the trappings of power along with the Constitution, kissing an icon held by two Orthodox priests and all of it in the palatial surroundings of the Kremlin Palace and Assumption Cathedral. The only way things could possibly get more symbolic would be if they decided to stage all these events in Tsar Nicholas’ Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Yet even then, the completeness of Capital’s victory would reveal itself by the very fact that the Tsar was not present!
Modern Russia even has its own Black Hundreds and a new Komsomol besides. The worst of both worlds. Though absolute poverty is declining (down to 15% from 30%), wealth disparity is widening. Of course laissez faire economists would tell us that this is a function of the system and that we shouldn’t mind it since ultimately their rational investments will allow for a more efficient allocation of resources and risk. The rest of us know that however small the figure in absolute poverty reaches, it never zeroes.
While the Khodorkovskys, Berezovskys and the Abramovichs wax wealthy from their ill-gotten gains, Russia’s GDP only managed to reach 1990 levels in 2006. The state represses freedoms of expression and its police force openly discriminates against homosexuals, up to and including physically attacking Gay Pride marchers.
Meanwhile the corporations most synonymous with de-industrialization in the west move into to capitalize upon workers who they can pay 3 Euros per hour, such as General Motors. In order to increase wages, hunger strikes aren’t uncommon, but unemployment and under-employment are rife. The bureaucratic class of the Soviet Union has fully realised its earlier ambitions of marketisation of the economy and has made the transition to become a senior part of Russian capitalism.
Of the gains of the October Revolution, perhaps only free education and free health care remain, enshrined by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, but one wonders for how long each of these will remain independent of the ‘free’ market? Or perhaps their pride of place in the new Great Russian nationalism, sustained by the vast mineral resources of the country, is the ultimate mockery of an ideal which compelled a people to take government into their own hands for however short a time.
On Comment is Fallacious I noticed an article entitled ‘Agnostic about atheism,’ which really should have been enough to trigger the warning sirens. Apparently atheists are the new evangelicals, apparently we are ‘tone deaf’ in failing to appreciate that European culture and music comes from religion, and we deprive ourselves of great foods because great food is religious, such as halal and kosher.
The author, one Tracy Quan, evidently feels that writing chick-lit and knowing which purse to keep her dildo in qualifies her to comment on what atheists are and aren’t.
I think that Tracy Quan needs to stop reading Cosmo and perhaps take on some rather more serious literature, beginning with anything remotely connected to the attacks currently being made upon separation of church and state. Of course atheists are inclined to vociferously attack religion: it’s the cultural archetype for many of the most frightening political ideas currently being advanced by the Right.
If Richard Dawkins sounds a little more strident than Bertrand Russell, I imagine it’s because the western world wasn’t living in fear of the twin threats of airplanes express delivered to their major landmarks or another fruitcake fundamentalist POTUS to vindicate Samuel Huntington. Also Bertrand Russell didn’t have to share a world with people like Pat Robertson and his disciples.
As for the rest, Quan declares, “Run from religion, if you must, but you can’t hide from song, sculpture, poetry, architecture, painting, tourism or food.” Pithy. All song, sculpture, poetry, architecture, painting, tourism and food are related to religion? I have never been one to gainsay the culture power of Christianity, particularly in regard to music, but does anyone believe that this power is anything to do with the beliefs of Christianity?
Quan cites as an example the music of Giovanni Palestrina, musical director of the Julian Chapel. He was funded by the church. Indeed most art was created using the resources of the church; if talented musicians and sculptors wanted work, they went to the largest peddlers of patronage. Organised religions. The depths of Quan’s lack of knowledge is shown completely when she cites Benjamin Britten as part of the cultural tradition of religion.
Arguably, Britten’s most famous work is not religious: the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Even though Britten wrote a great deal of music for the church, many of composers to whom he looked for example weren’t particularly religious either. Mahler, and Stravinsky in particular were emblematic of the collapsing patronage of the church in the face of rising secular operatic and musical institutions.
Quan might gripe that atheists seem to reject the cultural heritage provided by gilded churches and cathedrals, but what of sites such as the Colosseum of Rome, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Kremlin, the Brandenburg Gate? The cultural monuments of the western world go far beyond the merely religious. The Basilica of St. Peter is not all there is to Rome, I’m happy to say, despite its grandeur.
Yet at the root, Quan’s complaints seem to ultimately reside in the embarrassment she feels whenever atheists get on their metaphorical soapboxes to attack religion. Whether Hitchen’s phrase, “god is not great” or the concept that religion causes war, Quan wonders why we atheists have to indulge in such excess. Evidently Quan really is as ignorant as one might expect from an author of chick-lit.
Anyone speaking out against cultural norms seems to be speaking in excess. Religion has had centuries to become the ‘norm’ in our culture, despite the great and growing numbers of atheists and agnostics. It carries with it the air of respectability; one feels almost apologetic when informing the religious that actually you don’t share their mores and prejudices. One feels mean-spirited when rebutting those who want to ask if you’ve been saved.
Yet why should we permit the current status-quo to persist? A sizable chunk of Christians regularly complain, whether through the pages of the Daily Mail or in Parliament, that they’re being discriminated against through equality legislation etc. Yet the tendency to secularize is actually correcting a previous imbalance, and if arguments against religion need to be advanced along the way, then so be it.
Perhaps I’m just upset that Melanie Phillips hasn’t written an article denouncing me yet.
Is Gordon Brown’s premiership disintegrating? So says the Guardian and when even New Labour’s own rag starts talking like that, you can bet we’re in trouble. Yet one wonders as to how it is disintegrating. Brown has a clear majority in parliament. No one has emerged to challenge him from within the PLP and, provided Brown actually pulls his finger out and actually does something of note, I think it’s unlikely that anybody will.
Still, all the signs of a government in trouble are very clearly there. The opinion polls after the election that never was. Frank Field, pipsqueak parliamentarian at large, talking back to the Dear Leader Mk II? That was very evidently a crack in the facade. Then the elections went awry…as the count came in, the utter devastation of the Labour Party became clear. Then came the Crewe and Nantwich disaster.
Piece by piece, this government seems to be disintegrating. The simplest of questions still resounds in my head with every new piece I read on the subject. Why?
Was it the 10p tax debacle or was it Darling’s back-tracking after it? Was it the campaign of slanders which Labour’s media circus ran against Boris, followed by the thingy-is-a-toff campaign? Now Graham Stringer is openly advocating a cabinet coup and even the Labour Peers are getting tetchy. Is all this really about the price of a loaf of bread? That’s what Deborah Matinson’s polling indicated just after Christmas.
The very Party apparatus is in chaos; Harriet Harman in charge of the vacant chairmanship portfolio among fifteen different other things, PR supremo Stephen Carter apparently got ‘elbowed out’ of the recent parliamentary election campaign and apparently Victoria Street and Downing Street aren’t exactly on speaking terms with each other. What the hell is going on?
Is there no policy around which the parliamentary party will unite? The answer is of course ‘no.’ Privatisation now carries with it an impressive and odious stench. Foreign policy, for all of Miliblair’s panache, still reminds people that our troops are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you’re left wing you think, “Bloody imperialists,” and if you’re right wing you think “Where’s the proper equipment for our boys?”
Immigration has begun to transform itself into a pole for opposition to the government as highlighted by Fiona MacTaggart’s most recent article for Progress. ‘Tough on terror’ looks likely to reward Labour with little but resounding criticism for pursuing the 42-days detention lunacy. With prisons overflowing and oil prices now stretching out past the Moon, is it any wonder, we’re not connecting on crime or the economy.
What’s left? Certainly not Labour’s inglorious performance on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Probably the best figure to emerge out of the debates on abortion was John Bercow, a Conservative!
Meanwhile, all the gutter-snipes, who were rarely seen whenever mountainous opposition to the policies of the leadership actually mattered to the movement, have been cashing in on the doomsday prophecies with media appearances.
I’m no friend of the government – at every opportunity I’ve endeavoured to provide consistent and considered criticism of the policies and principles of this government with which I disagree. Yet the opportunistic opposition now emerging from within the middle ranks of the PLP is positively shocking. I have to wonder, how long can it continue before we really do have our “John Redwood moment”?
Can someone please convince me that the current leadership – and all the potential challengers, who are much of a muchness – have not completely exhausted whatever limited potential they ever had when they set out in 1997?
Ever since I was a small child, I have utterly detested the Eurovision song contest. Far from being a display of the diversity of the Europe whilst simultaneously showing how we can all get along, the contest has been marked by the social chauvinism of that dinosaur Wogan and the drab and ridiculous soft pop acts of nations which should stick to manufacturing alcohol.
How fitting that, just as he is considering stepping down, Wogan crowns an inglorious, inconstant tenure as Eurovision commentator with some of his most appalling comments yet. Denouncing the competition as “no longer a music contest,” Wogan declared that “Russia were going to be the political winners from the beginning.” Needless to say, the UK finished last. Again.
Frankly I’m glad the UK finished last. Though our entrant wasn’t as utterly cringe-worthy as some of our previous entries, it was still pretty awful. Even when the UK won the contest back in 1997, Katrina and the Waves’ song “Love Shine a Light” was in the most god-awful traditions of insipid, soft pop. We may as well redesign the flag with S-Club 7 on the front of it, if this sort of music is the standard bearer of the UK.
Is it any wonder we finished last?
Pictured to the right are last year’s entry and our former Prime Minister. I’m at pains to decide who the joke was on; us, him or them.
You can usually judge how good or bad a UK entry is by how many points Ireland give it. More often than not, the UK score 12 or 10 points from the Irish, but this time they received a mere 8. Just goes to show, when even countries whose economy is largely dependent upon you won’t vote for your entry, your entry is rubbish. But Sir Terry had a nice barb in the tail of his comments.
“Indeed, western European participants have to decide whether they want to take part from here on in because their prospects are poor.” All of western Europe should think about abandoning the concert because, god forbid, music which Wogan doesn’t like, from nations outside the rather arrogantly culture-centric west, might win! Oh no! The world is coming to an end!
Bearing in mind that Bilan is actually a well-known artist, having sung a duet with Nelly Furtado and made an album with Timbaland, I think it’s a bit preposterous to assert that he won merely because of the political voting that goes on. The ex-Soviet states all gave Russia twelve points each – but even had that not been the case, the maths and the culture clearly stack up against western Europe.
There are a potential fifty one nations taking part in the contest and of those perhaps only twelve would be considered western European. All the nations outside the ‘Big Four’ have to compete with each other to get into the final 24 spaces – Germany, France, the UK and Spain all qualify automatically. Unsurprisingly, all four of those nations often put forward preposterous entries.
The Eurovision song contest has certainly changed a lot since it was founded, but there’s no call for the rather shabby, dirty remarks of Wogan and his ilk. Next we’ll have the BNP claiming it’s all a fix and that all those bloody Eastern Europeans should go back to their own damn contest. It would even be something if Wogan’s remarks had any basis in fact.
Actually western European countries have had a pretty healthy record even after many of the eastern nations were admitted. Half of the former Yugoslav nations joined in 1993, with Russia, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and Estonia all joining in 1994. Yet from 1993 – 2000, it was pretty much entirely western European victories and runners-up.
The only exceptions were Israel winning in 1998 and Poland and Russia coming runners-up in 1994 and 2000 respectively. After 2000, things do shift east, but guess what? Most of the countries of Europe are to the east of Germany. Welcome to geography 101, Eurovision style.
Even then, countries considered within the ‘western’ sphere still do well – Greece, Turkey, Denmark and Belgium all appear, if we restrict things to the top two places.
It irks me just a little bit when people get away with spouting such rubbish as Wogan does. He always had a repertoire of sordid and dismissive put-downs, unworthy of any commentator of any competition, suitably biased towards the home countries such as Ireland and the UK.
Russia scored 272 points: wit 25 countries competing, that was 272 points out of a possible total of 300 – so evidently the eastern European nations weren’t the only ones to think the Russian song was by far better than some of the other pathetic entries. Honestly I couldn’t care if San Marino, who debuted last night, won the bloody thing – but had the UK or France run away with it, would Wogan have been talking like he did?
I doubt it.
I was reading today on “Comment is Fremescent” about how a young man is not to be prosecuted for words written on his banner during a protest against the cult of Scientology, I mean the Church of Scientology. For those of you unfamiliar with this lot, they hate having the word cult used about them, and, at a protest in London, someone put this word on a placard.
The young man bearing the placard was informed by police that under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, he could be prosecuted for “threatening, abusive or insulting” language which potentially could cause “harassment, alarm or distress.” Now I’m pretty certain that if ever I got my wish, a big banner saying “For the Proletarian Dictatorship; Destroy Capitalism!” I’m definitely going to cause distress, so this interests me.
Yet reading down the page, I noticed a few comments pertaining to how all of this was political correctness gone mad. One such stuck out.
“To be fair to the police, inability to grasp this government’s labyrinthine legislation is rife in all areas of the public sector – hospitals, benefits agencies, social services. And why should they have to grasp the vagueries [sic] of political correctness? Their job is to fight crime, not protect people from having their feelings hurt because the middle class centre left can’t contemplate anything more horrid.”
This is an attitude which I’ve come across on several occasions, particularly among the sort who enjoy the caricatures of such Gor’ Blimey merchants as Richard Littlejohn. It is a disturbing attitude because it seems to be how we’re managing to dismiss state sanctions upon freedom of speech as prejudice on the part of a stereotyped ‘middle class centre left.’ That’s all very well but it doesn’t actually do anything to solve the problem .
It is doubly disconcerting because it attributes those sanctions to the left when they are policies of a right wing government, whatever party label it masquerades behind.
Opposition to political correctness is all too frequently exploited by the right for particularly objectionable ends. To give an example, attacks upon attempts to eradicate state-sanctioned displays of religiosity when only 40% of the population even believe in a definite god are one example of just how the right seeks to impose its illiberal agenda. It is particularly irritating because it does this in the guise of defending a Christian minority.
David Cameron, who is leader of a Party that wishes to abolish the Human Rights Act, the very thing giving protesters some shred of protection against the mountains of anti-terror and public order legislation, has attacked Gordon Brown for ‘abandoning the respect agenda.’ One wonders what that even means for Cameron. Are we to let everyone say what they like unless they’re protesting against capitalism, against the government, against Christianity?
Most assuredly it will not be the libertarian backbenchers that get listened to during a Conservative government any more than Labour listens to its back bench socialists.
No doubt some around Cameron agree with the Daily Mail characterisations by Peter Hitchens and the ideas of Lind and Buchanan that political correctness is cultural Marxism, attempting to influence popular culture and “punish dissent…to stigmatize social heresy as the Inquisition punished religious heresy. Its trademark is intolerance.”
It is interesting, therefore, that the organised political left should fall foul of ‘PC’ in the manner described by that Guardian article. In fact I would submit that far from having anything to do with any school of Marxism, political correctness is an myth used to give cultural conservatives a point of focus for their continuing alienation from the liberal tone of society. Political correctness cannot at once be about punishing dissent and about opening up public spaces to other expressions than dominant Judeo-Christianity.
Political correctness, therefore, serves as a handy tool for the major conservative elements in our society, whether the Party bearing that name, or the various organs of the press. On the other side of the coin, if political correctness, respect and tolerance can be used to give moral furtherance to crack downs on our already suffering freedom of expression, no doubt some small-c conservatives would think it a good thing. Political correctness, as well as a tool of cultural conservatism also emerges as of benefit to political centrists.
Far from being left-wing, political correctness is a bastard child of no one single ideology, but of all those ideologies which are in some way tied to the establishment. If the purpose of the state, beyond mere class rule, is to prevent capitalism from undermining itself, then the ideology of the state is no doubt similarly adapted. Political correctness limits dissent, but prevents the dominance of one cultural group to the point where the other cultural groups might find themselves invested in overthrowing the state itself.
At this point I should probably mention something about how left wing and right wing are indefinite concepts. While that is correct, I shall merely posit that left wing and right wing are loosely aligned towards the two immutable powers in capitalist society: labour and capital respectively. Bearing that in mind, political correctness is certainly not a left wing concept and it’s time we started fighting the perception that it is.
The Metropolitan Police have begun to target knife-carrying people through stop-and-search, using metal detecting wands and other such equipment, so it has been announced. Unsurprisingly, Mayor Boris has welcomed the move.
According to the BBC, this is justified under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994), though that law was brought in to deal with football violence and is specifically in reference to “anticipation of violence.”
Though I am no legal expert, those whom I have talked to have also stipulated the relevance of Section 8 of the Knives Act (1997), the Terrorism Act (2000) and the Terrorism Act (2006), all of which granted the Police wider stop and search powers.
Increasingly, it seems, we are bounded on all sides by a state intent upon increasing its own powers. One wonders about the extent to which the Police think they’ll curtail knife crime by randomly searching people in dangerous areas.
When I was a kid, I carried a knife for a brief period of about two months; a friend bought it for me while on holiday as a present. It didn’t last very long because shortly after that, I got nicked and the police confiscated and destroyed it. My father, a policeman, was not impressed.
Yet I was, relatively speaking, not a bad kid. I know others who routinely carried knives, had them confiscated, were driven home to their parents and them promptly went out and got more. Carrying razor blades also became less rare because they were cheaper.
Police confiscation and even getting a criminal record didn’t bother that lot much. They shoplifted, fought each other with broken bottles and got into all kinds of trouble. Yet they didn’t knife each other to death; surely that takes a particularly violent type?
So yes, I wonder whether or not the Police will really be effective merely through stopping, searching, confiscating and criminalising those people who come from dangerous areas and carry knives, whether for the purposes of crime or self-protection.
When all this was announced, one of the Green London Assembly members warned that it would alienate young people. I think that’s altogether the wrong point to be making. Instead we should consider the other uses to which the CJPO Act has been put.
In 1999 and 2000, before Police got their really serious powers, they used this law (as subsequently amended in 1997 and 1998) to detain protesters at events such as J18 and May Day. At May Day particularly, protests were cordoned off, unable to leave until the Police had taken their name and address and searched them.
Laws which were originally conceived in an atmosphere of moral panic over rave culture and to contain the odd bout of football hooliganism ended up being used against political demonstrators. No doubt both Police and government would say this is justified, citing much over-hyped violence from other anti-capitalist protests.
Control of knives, however ineffective, is what the police are using this new departure in stop and search for today, what are they going to use it for tomorrow? More importantly, if we don’t act now, what are we going to do when “no holds barred” Cameron takes office?
I first came across Slavoj Zizek about five years ago when an American situationist friend of mine linked me to an article of his on Lenin.
I enjoyed reading it but I didn’t hear much more of Zizek until I bought several of his books when on a philosophy kick about seven months ago. I bought Lenin Reloaded, I bought Violence and then last Saturday I bought his new book: In Defence of Lost Causes.
It his newest book which finally brings me to the decision to make an attempt at writing out some of my thoughts on Zizek. I have to admit, much like General Theory of Rubbish, every time I have attempted this before, my thoughts have fled in so many different directions that I gave up disgusted. Much like my postgraduate thesis on the first score of drafts, but that’s another story.
Something keeps pulling me back to him. I cannot decide whether it is Zizek’s outward postmodernism, or his self-identification with Marxism even while he flagrantly disregards the ground rules. Maybe it’s just a general fascination with someone who can so unapologetically defend the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat and a universal struggle for the redemption of humanity through socialism.
Certainly Zizek is different from many of the other philosophers who purport to write in the name of Marx these days, though that’s not necessarily a good thing. Beyond the critiques of postmodernism which Eagleton writes, or the concrete material summations of Stathis Kouvelakis, both of those and a lot of other socialist philosophers have a tendency to get caught up in a somewhat self-referential culture.
Zizek, on the other hand, is at once devastatingly effective at turning pop culture references to his desired effect, using open vocabulary, and constricted by his obsession with the language of Lacanian master-signifiers, and all the rest of it. We should remember that Zizek is not a traditional Marxist, thinking of all language as impenetrably self-referential rather than rooted in a materialist base, a subject he returns to at the beginning of In Defence.
For Zizek, only psychoanalysis can demonstrate the full effects of the the modernist shattering of the link between ‘meaning’ and ‘truth’ – whereas for a Marxist, despite not seeing language as a transparent medium behind which to perceive a reality, as suggested by the seminal texts of Wood or Volosinov, language is both social and materially grounded.
I’ve always liked Hill’s refutation (entitled “The Word ‘Revolution’ “) of the postmodernist idea that man must have a word for an action, in order for the action to exist.
The London Review of Books carried a letter from Zizek the other month talking about how capitalism on the current Chinese model might very well represent the future. Zizek’s argument was that all the recent economic powerhouses, the centres of modern manufacture, are repressive dictatorships. Again this shows Zizek’s departure from orthodox Marxism.
Democracy is a concession won by the working classes from the bourgeoisie; this is a concept maintained from the Communist Manifesto, through the rather mechanistic Origin of Engels to Lenin’s State and Revolution.
Yet there is no mention in Zizek of the corollaries that might allow his thesis to prove accurate, e.g. a pronounced weakness of the Chinese or Indonesia working classes, or more powerfully restrictive methods on the part of the state than existed in say Soviet Russia.
I am no doctrinaire of course, so disagreeing with Marx or Engels or Lenin doesn’t automatically relegate someone to inaccuracy or irrelevance. Ha! In the instance of many on the left, that would be a prerequisite for paying Zizek regard at all!
For all that, though we may have opposite ways of arriving at similar conclusions, though he may be impossibly grounded in the traditions of explicitly continental philosophy and his Lacanian language may on occasion be virtually opaque, nevertheless Zizek rarely fails to entertain. I heartily recommend the new work, for this cultural commentator’s wit is sharper than ever.