Archive for June, 2008

Fabianism and the common iceberg

June 30, 2008 8 comments

Inheritance TaxThe Fabian Society is now and always has been an odd duck. Founded back in 1888, it defended imperial forays by way of a socialist version of white man’s burden; it also sought welfare reform on the level of the German system pre-1914. At the centre of it were people like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, for whom Stalin’s Russia wasn’t that bad, but god forbid they miss a garden party due to a General Strike.

Having received my usual quarterly copies of the Fabian Review and Fabian Ideas today, I diligently poured over them and came to the conclusion that the Fabians and I are living in different worlds. Apparently the whole and exclusive reason for the collapse in Labour’s fortunes and the abandonment of General Election 2007 was Cameron’s policy on the Inheritance Tax.

So utterly unreflective has our Party become that we are thought ready to accept such utter rubbish. It was a John Redwood-led think tank which came up with abolishing the Inheritance Tax – but right along side that were drastic reductions in things like Corporation Tax. Of course an aggressive campaign to get Britain’s corporate citizens onside can’t possibly bear any responsibility.

The change in media narrative happened subtly: one day the media was reporting Alistair Darling denouncing the rightward lurch of the Tories, and Vince Cable’s attacks on Osbourne as being stuck in Thatcherite Britain, all of it in the shadow of the ‘Brown bounce.’ Weeks later it was reporting on a bumbling Brownite administration and no one quite understood how the change had arrived.

Evidently the Fabians would like to pin the change on new Conservative policies, but that flat out ignores that Labour has been underwhelming in opinion polls for quite some time. From April 2006 til Gordon Brown took over, Labour’s ratings were consistently below the Conservatives. Scandal after scandal, incompetence following ignorance and we’ll to believe that actually it’s all the Tory fault.

Damn them for predictably trying to appeal to the baser of Middle England’s instincts. How terrible that the leopard hasn’t changed its spots. Yet for all that we can blame the Tories, it offers an unsatisfying and incomplete picture. If the only alternative we offer is a liberal-reformist one, well a perfectly fine brand of that can be acquired from the Conservative Party.

It was a Tory government with Enoch Powell as Minister for Health who approved oral contraceptives. It was Edward Heath’s government which made secondary education compulsory up to 16. There are plenty of cases where each Party has acted just like the other upon replacing it in government, or where one Party has made the occasional out-of-character ‘progressive’ moves.

Thus, any analysis which attempts to brand the Tories as the ‘nasty’ Party – a term used in the carpet bombing of the Tories up until it became apparent that there wouldn’t be a General Election 2007 – is prima facie shallow. It ignores just how much resonance the Tories can get by taking a populist line on green taxes whilst simultaneously further expanding market mechanisms in public services.

Any such shallow analysis is compounded by those who fail to realise that any insinuations we make that the Tories are a shower of bastards are likely to be turned against ourselves because, well, our leadership is also a shower of bastards. Even the one gem in New Labour’s crown, that of child poverty eradication, has been shown to slip ever so slightly out of place these last few months.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the Exchequer can’t keep his own house in order, our Party is a million score in debt and all the Prime Minister can do at PMQs is talk about job creation whilst no few people are working two of those jobs just to get by. That’s before we get to the important stuff, like screwing up education worse than the Tories or the fiasco of Connecting for Health and Foundation hospitals.

The less said about Iraq, Afghanistan and Trident, the better.

All of this, however, escapes Fabian chair Sunder Katwala if his introductory article to the Fabian Review is anything to go by. If “the Blairite right-flank worries about appeasing Guardian-reading liberals,” it hasn’t shown it because such liberals have been deserting Labour in droves as Gordon completes Tony’s legacy of building a State with more power than at any time since the Second World War.

Katwala comments that “those who lacked support to put up a candidate when there was a vacancy last year should shut up” demonstrates just why Fabian analysis is so shallow. It’s caught up in the ‘how’ and not the ‘why’ of things. How the Tories turned things about, what strategem was the visible part of the iceberg which crushed New Labour, will be seen as irrelevant when history is written.

There are deeper powers at work. John McDonnell’s campaign didn’t succeed but the Fabian chair doesn’t ask why not. Those whose ideals benefit from the status-quo in the Party, or who don’t like the conclusions to which challenging that status-quo leads, are all too often complaisant when it comes to asking the difficult ‘why’ questions. ‘How’ is elevated to omni-importance: McDonnell didn’t get nominated.

It doesn’t matter why not because the why is an awkward question. It only matters that he didn’t and that this was done within the framework of Party rules. Again ignoring the nine-tenths of the iceberg lurking in the shadows beneath the calm surface water. This attitude is just as evident in the Fabian critiques of New Labour which are peppered through their recent offerings.

The underpinning question has not been, “why have our policies got little traction?” but has concentrated on “how do we get traction?” These seem linked, because one can’t demand that we translate a ‘too technocratic’ vision into ordinary terms without the assumption that our failure is due to bad communication efforts. Yet the first question opens a range of options as answer, the second acknowledges current policy as a starting point.

No doubt the ever-ambitious Young Fabians will enjoy such wankery, looking so principled and social-democratic, but so far as I’m concerned dressing up the visible portion of the iceberg in fine colours and having an orchestra play doesn’t mean we’re not going to be holed below the waterline if we continue in our current direction. Katwala can celebrate the obsolescence of McDonnell et al only so long.

Eventually their complaisance will be disturbed by electoral defeat – which is coming with or without the advocated abandonment of ‘triangulation.’ The shock of a Conservative victory, and the violent Tory triumphalism afterwards, will break the confidence of those who already trust in an ideology shaped by yesterday’s defeats. The result will be a right-ward drive, not the emergence of a left alternative leadership.

From the point of view of the socialist societies trying to influence the direction of the wider policy, more of the same (and reverse defections) is about all we can expect within the Party until more people delve below mere hows – which are the first line of defence of jingoists – and ask the why. The answer, so far as Tory success is concerned, is much less palatable than merely plans to abolish the Inheritance Tax.

Categories: Labour Party News

Me, myself and Gafcon

Belief in GodFucking Christians. Here I am, wandering through life in my own little way, relatively happy for a while – watched a good match on the television, up Spain, we love you Torres etc. What happens? Fucking Christians yet again find a way to spoil my life with their self-righteous, witless wittering. About what? Of all things, Gafcon – that attempt by anti-liberal, homophobic Anglicans to wrest control of their church from the moderates.

If God exists, I’m going to hell and frankly I’d rather be in hell if heaven is going to be clogged up with people like Anne Atkins. After reading her little love-in over at Comment is Free, I am pretty sure I’d get on with the denizens of the netherworld better than I would anyone remotely likely to be in heaven. OK, so I’ll have to put up with Hitler and Mussolini as my neighbours but there are compensations.

All the greatest comedians are going to be in hell: George Carlin just joined Bill Hicks there.

Right, rant over, let’s deal with the actual material under discussion. Atkins commentary is an attempt to deny the overriding media narrative that the meeting in Jerusalem of all those who are shunning the official Lambeth conference of Anglicans. Apparently Gafcon wasn’t about being anti-gay, though you wouldn’t know that from reading about Gafcon in it’s own words.

The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel’ (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel. This false gospel undermines the authority of God’s Word…It promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right. It claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony. In 2003 this false gospel led to the consecration of a bishop living in a homosexual relationship.

Well I’m sorry if your book doesn’t like the idea of gay people but guess what? Tough. Your book justifies slavery, it justifies the subordination of women to men and let’s not even open Leviticus because any reasonable person would consider you all to be bigots and hypocrites by the end of the first few chapters. The retort that it’s up to you how to regulate your own religion doesn’t wash either. You don’t like gays. It’s that simple.

None of that, however, is especially important. The really important part of this split within the Anglican Communion is that it shows up as ridiculous those who view the ‘moderation’ of established Anglicanism as some form of transhistorical force for reason, dialectically opposed to the evangelical insanity of certain other brands of extremist religion. It’s simply not.

The Anglican church in England is shaped by factors outside it: as those factors change, so can the church change. This Gafcon conference shows precisely how radically that can be accomplished. For the moment it’s not a major thing in the UK – it’s strongest in Africa with only some echoes in India, Australia, North America and England. Yet we should acknowledge the radicalising forces at work in the world.

Many of the countries most involved have some pretty gruesome penalties for homosexuality. Last bastions of Anglican civilization they are not: Kenya, for example, has some stiff prison sentences for homosexuality and Nigeria can enact the death penalty for it. So, when Anne Atkins talks about the ‘personal’ experience she had in Jerusalem at Gafcon, this is the backdrop against which we should read her words.

These are the nations whose Archbishops are closest to the Global Anglican Futures Conference. Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya and Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania. Tanzania has a penalty of thirty-years-to-life imprisonment for homosexuality. How are we not to believe that this bunch of bible-quoting bishops aren’t also the worst sort of bigot, whatever cuddly appearance they wrap themselves in?

Anne Atkins declares that her faith ultimately resides in the view that man is inherently selfish and that he must come to God in order to be saved from his mortal imperfection. In so asserting, Atkins passes over that actually the Gospels are open to any number of interpretations none of which can be finally proved to be correct. The Catholics solved that one with infallibility, but not so for the Anglicans.

Did Jesus say anything at all about homosexuality? Nope. Paul did, in various letters, but then on one reading – the reading of these historical sources as historical sources – Paul established a version of Christianity radically different from that which had existed between Jesus’ death and the conversion of Saul. The one thing Christians can’t appeal to is history – yet this is what Atkins is doing on behalf of Gafcon when she says;

It’s about wanting to know as much as we can about the God who made us, and seeking to study the most reliable information we have available. It is prompted by a longing to know that same God personally, and an acknowledgement of the basic problem: that He is good and I myself am not, so there is a difficulty with my access to Him.

It is about a carpenter who lived two millennia ago, who was fully man and fully God. It’s about the life He lived on this earth, the death He died, the Resurrection witnessed by so many of His contemporaries, and what the implications are. It’s about the eternal life on offer to us because of His well-verified history. It’s about wanting to share that opportunity with as many others as possible, of every nation, race, creed and culture.

This spiel by a rationally deficient evangelical escapes the point that there is no basis – historical or otherwise – upon which to establish one interpretation of the Gospels, Acts, the Letters of Paul, the writings of the early Church fathers and innumerable other texts over any other interpretation. With texts like Kant or Marx, one appeals to reason, examining the text, and the context, the internal cogency.

Yet religion is ultimately predicated upon anti-reason. Christianity itself is specifically predicated upon the view that this chap who lived two thousand years ago was the Son of God, that he brought new truths to Earth through which the old truths should be constructed anew. That is ultimately a dogmatic, doctrinal system which can’t be resolved one way or the other because we can’t pick up the phone and ask God.

This isn’t Bruce Almighty, this is real life and for all the clichéd and trite remarks one can make about asking God questions during prayer or in the silence of a moment’s meditation, it doesn’t escape the point that if you hear God answer during these moments, the safest place for you is in a hospital kitted out for dealing with certified loony tunes. Like you, Ms Atkins.

As far as I can see, this personal God belonging to Gafcon is an excuse to vent personal spleen against one’s religious opponents. This might seem the extent of its import, but that can change rapidly and we have here a taste of one possible future for our own country, should our slide into economic trouble and racial unrest continue unabated: the resurgence of a rabid, evangelical, established religion.

That’s a future we’ll regret.

Categories: Religion

Remember what I was saying about Polly Toynbee?

June 27, 2008 4 comments

I don’t take back any of it, and those who were saying I was too harsh should take note of the following few paragraphs from her latest execrable offering.

Those who think about [a leadership challenge] also think the cabinet so spineless that none will dare. “Oh, wake me up if anyone does anything,” said one despairing MP. Ministers look at one another and say nothing. Older MPs say the young ministers simply have no idea how horrible eight or 18 years in a rump opposition will be, watching Tories demolish cherished Labour projects.

They lack mettle, this generation that had it all on a plate. They never lived through years of fighting Militant and forging New Labour. This is their Clause Four moment, their moment to save the party, and they’ll probably flunk it. It should have been before the long summer break: the autumn conference will be dire. The one who dares first may be the one who deserves the crown.

They have another fear: if Labour goes down badly under Brown, a rump party of mainly leftist old Labourites will select some unelectable leader and seal the party’s fate. Better to choose the best now so that, even if Labour loses, it’s a soft landing with a good leader who lives to fight another day.

You can feel the atmosphere of terror, that when New Labour goes through their own 1983 that the left might recapture the party. It’s pretty unlikely given how deeply New Labour have managed to entrench themselves, but it’ll be interesting to hear how the Millbank Tendency justify their own continuation following the electoral annihilation of 2010 or whenever we finally hold the election.

Just what constitutes ‘a good leader’ in Polly Toynbee’s eyes is anyone’s guess, but evidently anyone to the left of Cruddas doesn’t qualify.

On the other hand, there are elements of Toynbee’s commentary which really make one aware why this government is going to be thrown out on its ear. Older MPs say that the younger lot have no idea how it will feel watching the Tories demolish Labour’s cherished projects. Well, firstly I would say that the Tories probably won’t bother: New Labour and the Tories have a lot in common.

The privatization of the health service etc will simply continue apace.

Secondly I would say that of the younger people parachuted into parliamentary seats most of them probably won’t be terribly bothered. Most of them were simply interested because it was a well-paid job; they’ll find the same thing with Merrill-Lynch or whoever else when they cross into the private sector to market their connections and knowledge obtained while at Westminster.

Most laughable of all is that the least unrepentant Blairites and Brownites will merely be sorry that they can’t abolish Clause Four all over again. Ironically people like Toynbee, having so thoroughly cleansed the Party of the Left they despised, have no one to blame except themselves for the sword of Damocles currently loitering above us. Oh they’ll find a way to weasel out of it, but that’s the final truth.

Triangulation and all that guff could survive for a while on the tidal wave of anti-Tory sentiment that swept the country in 1997 but eventually the impulse would depart if Labour simply appeared to be the slightly-to-the-left arm of the Conservative Party. That’s precisely what has happened. The electoral logic of New Labour has vanished into the mist, which is the next stop of a shower of smooth, Mandelsonian arseholes who can’t be having with a bankrupt party.

It’s a sorry mess but it’s nice to see that there is a Priestess of TINA (There Is No Alternative) will be around to read us our last rites. Step up, Polly Toynbee.

Categories: Uncategorized

Toeing the Party Line

June 27, 2008 3 comments

Chris GraylingIs anyone else getting just a little bored with the endlessly “on-message” Conservatives? The latest by-election results provided yet another occasion for such dull and artless rhetoric on the part of the Conservative candidate and his election agent, who turned out to be the Shadow Pensions Secretary Chris Grayling. Don’t Shadow ministers have anything better to do with their time than campaign in an area which was a cert to vote Tory?

I mean, the Liberal Democrats might win, but that’ll be the year bloody Swindon win the Premier League and the University of Hull win the Henley boat race. Tory Oxfordshire Councillor Mr Howell said the following:

“The British public has sent a message to Gordon Brown to ‘get off our backs, stop the endless tax rises and help us cope with the rising cost of living.’ It’s clear that the New Labour coalition is falling apart and that the Conservatives under David Cameron’s leadership are on the march.

“It is our agenda of giving people more opportunity and control over their own lives, of making families stronger and society more responsible, of making Britain safer and greener that is setting the pace in politics now.”

I had a few things to say to that. Firstly, the British public didn’t have a vote in Henley, which is singularly unrepresentative of the rest of the country. Secondly, of those that did have a vote, some 49% of them sent the message, “We don’t care enough to vote” – turnout for the election dropped to a mere 50% down from 67% in 2005.

If ‘the Conservatives under David Cameron’s leadership’ are on anything, it’s some serious drugs. The other thing to note would be that Oxford City Council bucked the national trend at the council elections in May, so that Oxfordshire councillor should be put back into the box he came in.

The hyperbole of the Tories doesn’t end there: Chris Grayling declared that it was ‘a very bad night’ for Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Fair enough, Labour got beaten into fifth place but the Lib Dems managed to narrow the Conservative majority – hardly a terrible feat. On the other hand, Clegg’s own brand of rhetoric is even less amusing than the Tory brand.

“Labour’s days are well and truly over and it is the Liberal Democrats who are challenging the Conservatives in the south and Labour in the north.”

What Clegg probably should have said was something along the lines of, “No one really cares what I have to say so I have to make it really bombastic to hide the reality that my Party are in bed with the Conservatives in the south and Labour in the north, representing no alternative whatsoever.”

I don’t like the current Labour government but I despise hypocrisy and sheer ignorant jingoism even more and both the Tories and Lib Dems qualify completely.

Gun ownership

SCOTUSThe issue of gun-ownership, much like religion, seems to be a window into the soul of the staunchest conservatives in the USA. Today the US Supreme Court struck down the District of Colombia law which restricted the ownership of handguns absolutely. This was a test case which, among other things, affirmed that Americans have the right to bear guns for the purposes of self-defence.

McCain came out to attack Obama on the subject, but failed to allow his brain to engage before opening his mouth. “Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today’s ruling recognises that gun ownership is a fundamental right — sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly.” Which is fine and dandy, but it is not a comparison of like with like.

Obama was commenting on why certain people held on to guns, much in the way they hold on to extreme religion; McCain has evinced no similar analytical statement, he’s just restating the obvious fact that gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment United States’ Constitution. For all the faults of Democrats, they’re rarely so prone to the level of jingoistic waffle it evidently takes to excite the Republican base.

Whoops, there’s me having an ‘elitist view.’

There are many schools of thought as to why guns should be legal: personally I think in a country like America, hunting rifles should be legal, particularly in the farming communities of the south. I have friends who live or have lived in that area: all of them say it is a necessary thing for man to govern wisely terrain he ploughs and I’m inclined to bow to their knowledge.

Even here in Kent, air-rifles are commonly used to keep populations of pests under control. I see absolutely no problem with that. In the USA and Canada, when the country spans a continent and has vast tracts of wilderness, I can think of few things more enjoyable than going trekking through different forests and hunting for the food one needs to live – rabbit, birds etc.

Yet the law struck down by the Supreme Court didn’t deal with hunting rifles, it applied mostly to handguns of the type that can be carried around secretly on your person before you pull it out to rob a shop, or shoot someone. For the life of me I can’t see any justification for handguns: an advocate, on the other hand, would argue that they’re for personal security.

That old maxim, “If you criminalize guns, then only criminals will have guns” lurks in the background to this argument. However, if you don’t have a gun, there’s less chance of you pulling it out to defend yourself and getting shot for your trouble. Plenty of people get robbed all over the West every day but in most cases they’re unarmed. So they lose a bit of money: at least they don’t blow someone’s head off – or get their own blown off.

The other chestnut, that guns should be legal for the purposes of defending the people from the tyranny of the State, doesn’t really apply to handguns either. I doubt very much that even the best-trained militias of Michigan and Colorado are likely to be able to do much against APC’s and Abrahm’s tanks using handguns. Or even against the average grunt with his M16.

However all of this is in many ways secondary. Gun-ownership isn’t about the reasoned rights and wrongs of the issue, at least not in the US. Selling guns is a testosterone-filled business with a huge industry built on selling everything from magazines to television programmes on the subject of what a great thing it is to own and shoot guns. One can’t help but get the impression of penis-envy.

Whenever there are groups opposing background checks to make sure someone isn’t a criminal before allowing them to purchase a gun, it’s not about rational argument anymore. When there are people who want students to be allowed to carry guns around on campus, no reasoned argument is going to persuade those people that their idea is approaching insanity.

Such a group is “Students for Concealed Carry,” founded in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre. Evidently each of these people has the idea that if someone breaks in to their class and starts shooting, they’re going to pull out their gun and start shooting back. And suddenly there are two lunatics loose in the room with deadly weapons, shooting at each other.

All this bypasses the fact that lobbyist after lobbyist of the gun industry in the USA has come forward to admit that their bosses don’t care if guns get into the hands of criminals. Such bosses adapt their in-house policies in order to turn a blind eye to those avenues which are used by some suppliers to sell guns regardless of who to. Then there are all the industry-funded groups in favour of gun-ownership.

Cheney and his gun

The power of the NRA, just such an industry-funded group, is legendary and the pictures of Charlton Heston at NRA rallies, speaking above placards baying for “Bush and Cheney 2000,” are among the most iconic of the last twenty years. Just like the radical religious right, gun-ownership has been turned into an issue of displaced class consciousness: enmity to the state born from heavy handed responses to Waco etc.

What Obama said about this was the following: “And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment way to explain their frustrations.”

In many respects these things are true. How many committed racists start out with the idea that other races are taking their jobs and end up believing they must destroy ZOG? Quite a few, I imagine. However Obama’s critique is willfully superficial: he cannot come out and say that actually the President can’t fix anything about that. It’s endemic to the virulent strain of capitalism that’s been loose in the USA since the 1900’s.

Some people have to be poor. In order for that to remain the situation, the methods of organisation whereby people might build up a progressive collective identity with which to fight against oppression of all forms is suppressed. Between Right to Work laws and the co-option of the despairing into movements on the religious right which serve to further divide people, it’s about time a politician ventured a comment.

Doing something is a way off yet I suspect.

NEC Elections 2008

Labour RoseIn case anyone is vaguely interested, I cast my vote in the NEC elections today. I did it via and my votes were as follows:

For the NEC, Mohammed Azam, Ann Black, Peter Kenyon, Ellie Reeves, Christine Shawcroft and Peter Willsman.

For the Treasurer’s position, I voted for Mark McDonald.

For the auditor positions, I voted for Kevin Hepworth and Ian Lavery.

Like a good little democrat, I read over the manifesto of each one of them, googled them, then voted accordingly, taking into account the recommendations of the Grassroots Alliance and the slates suggested by each candidate.

For Treasurer, I figured someone who isn’t asleep during national scandals would be alright and for the auditors, I didn’t like Michael Leahy’s manifesto: he seems altogether too interested in notching up titles that have little enough to do with the left-wing point of view of my ideal Labour Party.

I doubt it’ll have much effect and I don’t feel like going over the argument that inactive voters are a deadweight we’d be best sloughing off so that’s all for now. Happy voting.

Categories: Labour Party News

Polly Toynbee’s caterwauling

June 24, 2008 4 comments

Polly ToynbeeLa Toynbee is a curious specimen to behold among the politico-journalists of the world. If you read her writings from about six months ago, you’d never know she’d been a member of the SDP. If you read her writings today, you’d never know she was a Brownite. Regardless of when you read her writings, you realise that she is now and has always been completely facile: just the sort to fit in with the atmosphere at Comment is Free.

Her ode to postwar progressive optimism is no exception, though blessedly short. La Toynbee is asking why the world came crashing down on Tom Harris so hard when he mentioned what great things we all have in life and wondered what we all have to be so miserable about. Like a good little liberal, Toynbee recites the wealth-disparity unhappiness link and tags city bonuses and the right-wing media.

Haven’t we had people doing this particular stand up routine since Seebohm Rowntree and his conquest of poverty? We’ve added to the routine since then, what with the growth of an industrial-scale media and the ‘waxed-wealthy’ from betting on the futures of futures, but isn’t that just the same morality tale that we’ve been getting first from the Liberals and then from Labour for just over a hundred years?

The article is notable by its complete lack of depth. Basically it’s a restatement of the contradiction which underpinned Kinnock, Smith, Blair and Brown. Labour must be a force for equality but Labour can’t be a force for equality lest it render us unelectable (er, again). It doesn’t progress beyond that to actually offer a solution for how Labour might break the paradigm set for it by the media.

Which is about right, given that one potential solution was what Polly Toynbee ran away from when she ditched Labour for the SDP. It’s also born of something approaching apathy. Polly declares, “There never was a better time to be alive for this European generation, freer to shape their own destinies, freer to be themselves.” Which is bullshit but at least it’s gratifying bullshit and sounds good.

The generation that I’ve grown up with is trapped precisely by the freedom which La Toynbee celebrates. Social roots snapped by the rapidly accelerating pace of modern life, with time only to engage with an extremely small sliver of the information deluge most of us retreat into the comfort of teenage sex, alcohol, jobs, marriage and kids. Our homes revolve around entertainment, whatever that is for each of us.

We’re essentially free to do what we want, if we have the intelligence, if we have the money, if we have the time, if we have the interest and so on and on, through endless qualifiers which are as much determined by things external, obscured by their constant presence, as they are related to our free choice. We could have a revolution, says the capitalist, but look around – if people wanted it, it would have happened! This belies a very different truth.

Don’t for a minute discount the re-emergence of precisely that postwar optimism which La Toynbee says we need, however don’t think that the only obstacle in the way is choice. The workingman’s club and the colliery band may be dead and buried but the spirit which drove them hasn’t passed, it’s just comatose, buried as much by the cowardice of Union leaders and Labour politicians as by anything else. It’s reawakening will not be caused by a recession, but that might herald it. The matter goes to the foundations of capitalism.


Low-pay, poor terms and conditions, temporary work, the declining social safety net; each of these things are a trumpet call to battle such as have not been heard for twenty years. We might laugh and declare that UNISON couldn’t organise rubbish pile ups-in the street if it tried, but the lumbering dinosaur is slowly moving, pulled along by a tide that has been sweeping the world even before the latest price rises. I temper my enthusiasm, however, by acknowledging Jon Rogers’ critique of the union leadership.

Nevertheless, if we’re to begin building that postwar optimism, we have to start somewhere. Let’s start by supporting the local government workers when they go on strike. Alistair Darling has already drawn a line in the sand, to declare that from the boardroom to the street, wage rises must not breach inflationary standards. This is the deployment of fiscal restraint when Darling knows that the only people for whom it can be enforced are the public sector workers gearing up for battle with the government.

The goal of these workers is as much political as economic: one can shake off the New Labour yoke, but unless one carries the political demands as a banner, that yoke will simply morph into a Conservative one, all the weightier for it. ‘Modernisation’ is a political project, rather than one simply wedded to economic efficiency, thus our answer to it must be political. For all the anonymous ‘red-baiting’ leaflets of UNISON conference, I’m still hopeful that we are seeing the first faltering steps towards that end.

Then we’ll really see what side Polly Toynbee is on.

The End of Hierarchy / Spineless Democracy

June 22, 2008 2 comments

ObamaMy more troubling articles always seem to start “Over at Comment is Free…” and I’m afraid this one isn’t really going to be the exception. Ian Leslie has been exploring the impending doom of the political party as an organisational concept as a result of the expanding role of the internet in reaching and organising voters and campaigners without the need for a great deal of overarching administration.

Barack Obama has recently become the first Presidential candidate since 1976 to refuse federal funding for a general election campaign, taking the gloves off the glibly wielded fist of the finances he has raised. Leslie cites how Obama has raised about 90% of his campaign funds from individuals giving a hundred dollars of less, citizens numbering some one and a half million.

This bothers me immensely. We’re talking about electing a man to the most powerful office on the planet for four years with absolutely no recourse to him except the mid-term elections. Bearing in mind that around 10% of seats are even contested for mid-terms, the US Presidency is effectively a quadrennially chosen tyrant. Now people can reach this office without having to win round party political activists; our leaders now proffer a Facebook democracy as a sop for emasculating the democracy of the Party.

If ever there was a democratic check and balance, it has been the capacity of political parties to regulate their own leaders. The primary system in the US makes this impossibly hard already – and now there is this new method of basically elevating oneself so far above interaction with normal people and basically relying on some fiery speeches and a media campaign to intersect with the mood of the time.

The possibilities of this system if introduced into the UK, as internet financing of politics gradually expands, is completely disturbing. It would represent on a national level the introduction of One Man One Vote for various positions and issues within the Labour Party: it destroyed democratic dialogue and supplanted it with suave rhetoric and well-coiffed politicians who could market themselves.

One Man One Vote represents the despotism of apathy and inactivity over the efforts of those who are genuinely engaged with politics. At a national level it would collapse the pyramid that connects rulers to people, however undemocratic that appears, and replace it with a free floating top-stone, the Nietzschean superman operating independently of the material circumstances which begat him.

My nightmarish vision aside, what I feel is undeniable is that any politician elected by such a system would be chosen without challenging the dominant discourse of his day. In order to reach the widest number of people, the aim would continue to be monopolization of the political centre ground to make ones fundraising base as wide as possible. If one said something the media could pounce on, fundraising might dry up.

This political territory would itself shift right and left based on events, as it has due to the War in Iraq in the USA, and not on a constructive debate between those of nuanced, well-developed political ideals and those without. From the point of view of those hoping to continue with the status quo this situation is attractive: excepting a dramatic economic collapse formal democracy would patter on much unchanged.

It would only be in the context of a global depression that the situation might change: the class battle lines would become less obscured as the media fell into line behind their capitalist overlords and reprinted whatever was needed to put down any genuine left wing challenger to the status quo, attempting to reform the system from within. More frightening still would be the potential support cast to a right wing demagogue.

Internet fundraising opens the potential for massive fundraising and the embarkation on new strategies in political operation, but before we bow to the modernisers and the advocates of internet-based democracy we should remember that only through a centralism alien to this new way will we ever be able to co-ordinate collective opposition at a time when it really matters.

Bloody Friday in Red Clydeside

This love affair with the internet has been going on since the Chiapas incidents in Mexico and the anti-globalisation protests when everything was organised online. Yet we need to remind ourselves that unfocused mass demonstrations have achieved precisely nothing, and I submit that this is precisely because of the populist manner in which they came about: not merely with no conscious direction. That is as much true of Red Clydeside’s Bloody Friday as the February Revolution.

They came about with no potential for conscious direction because of their dislocation from the working class basis of popular opposition to class-based rule.

Finally we need to remember that this points us towards what ‘internet democracy’ is really a mask for. The purveyors of the death of ideology and the end of history leap upon it like drowning men clinging to a raft while the sharks circle their precious, unprepossessing dream. The represents the ultimate environment for our separation into marketing groups, entirely mediated by capital, rather than the potential for class unity without regard for trivial differences.

The political party is not an ahistorical phenomenon and we should remember that: the mass political party was born of socialist struggle to fight for suffrage, the redistribution of wealth and the unity of the working classes under one banner. Any attempt to render it impotent is a step in a reactionary direction and we should oppose it fervently.

“It’s time for brown people to switch to Tory”

June 21, 2008 6 comments

Shami ChakrabartiDetention without charge, a principled libertarian stand by an arch-reactionary, the slurs flung at Shami Chakrabarti by Culture Minister Andy Burnham; understandably the blogosphere has been utterly up in arms over the 42 days issue. Only in isolated spots on Labour Home or Members Net are people coming out in defence of detention without charge. It probably won’t change anything but it’s nice to know the sentiment is there.

Some of the Drink Soaked Trots and their allies have been repeating ad nauseam (rather hilariously I have to confess) at the end of virtually every comment or blog post they make, Sunny Hundal’s point of view that it makes more sense for black or brown people to begin voting Conservative for the sake of their liberty. They’ve shortened it to the above title in order to be that little bit more satirical.

Sunny’s comments are more reasonably presented here, with extensive quotation.

The point, as I see it, is not lost on me. Civil liberties aside, a Conservative government is going to be a lot less cuddly than Labour on many subjects close to the hearts of ethnic minorities in this country. Without reducing my point of view to “Labour good, Tories bad,” we should remember people like shadow minister for ‘community cohesion’ Sayeeda Warsi and her anti-gay message peddled to Muslims in her district, but anti-immigration message peddled to white people.

A Conservative government will have little trouble exploiting the divisions in our society for their own gain. Their ideology, if not always their Party, has the media in its back pocket. Yet victory in a general election is less important than a successful defence of our civil liberties against the powers of the state – not just on this 42 days issue but starting with the increased powers of policing at Westminster Square protests and working up. This doesn’t mean I support David Davis however.

Andrew Regan of B4L fame said the following:

It seems a bit rich *not* to back Davis’s campaign (assuming it sticks to the subject of 42-days) when one supports what he’s saying, and when one is glad for the opportunity the by-election provides to try to make the anti-42 case to the wider electorate. Sure, he’s a Tory, probably a hypocrite, and he patently has some unsavoury views on many other topics, but given that he’s now 100% sure to be re-elected, there’s nothing anyone can do about all that stuff.

While he happens to be campaigning on a topic liberals and socialists ought to be supporting, the task should be clear.

I’ve quoted this because I think it displays very clearly all the reasons we shouldn’t support Davis, though inadvertently. Davis is running for election and elections are rarely single issue campaigns; they are never single issue campaigns when a political party is involved. Davis is running on a Conservative slate and if re-elected and given the chance to vote for any number of reactionary measures, he’ll take it. Rightly so because people will have elected him to do just that.

Or at least so the democratic theory goes.

David DavisToo many sections of the liberal blogosphere have become enamoured of this notion of Davis and his principled, libertarian run. It’s not a campaign on civil liberties however. It’s not a campaign full stop. After Davis is elected and nothing changes, then what? Is he going to resign again? If we’re serious about a campaign to restore civil liberties, then I very much doubt it’s going to be delivered by parliament.

Labour can’t appear divided or weak on terrorism. The Conservatives mostly support a lot of the legislation passed, which is precisely why they often simply don’t show up, to let Labour do the dirty work while they appear impeccably credentialed as libertarians. Cameron is not going to pledge to reverse the legislation that his Party claims to find so odious. A parliamentary vote is not going to be the answer.

Some of the other solutions have bordered on the utterly fantastic. The creation of an SDP-like breakaway is one I’ve seen mooted. Despite all this, it doesn’t change the fact that Davis is essentially the class enemy. He will go back to the days when one literally had to hobble and bleed in order to collect incapacity benefit. They will marketise the NHS at a frightening pace. Even our foreign policy might take a turn for the worse, if that’s possible.

Single issue campaigns are well and good for encouraging popular engagement and a united front, but there’s no unity to be had between socialists and conservatives. I think a lot of the softer sentiments in favour of Davis comes from the absence of fear of Tory policies. Labour on immigration and national security pretty much toes the same line. No few social liberals and Labour libertarians are in favour of the absolute marketisation of the economy.

That is a much more crucial issue than whether or not Davis gets re-elected – which is certain to happen, as Andrew mentioned, so why does he personally need our support? Someone should have run against him and made a proper socialist, libertarian argument. No doubt local media would have covered the dispute endlessly and that is just the right time to have our arguments advanced against his.

Where so many fail in their analysis isn’t as regards parliamentary analysis or splicing principles to see if David Davis name is inside but in assessing where power currently lies and where it should lie. If power resides with the State, controlled as it is not by ‘the people’ but by an elite, and if one thinks that is justified, then of course there is no possible recourse to the legitimate decision of a legitimate government, apart from harshly worded letters to the editor perhaps or voting come election time.

That no one has thought of actually building a proper movement to overturn the offending laws using extra-parliamentary means shows precisely how superficial the concern of so many London politicos actually is. Approach the trade unions, consider civil disobedience to disrupt their use, have Liberty and Amnesty et al campaign and fund-raise for anyone arrested either for civil disobedience or under the 42 days law. If we’re actually against this, let’s be against it.

Our opposition to 42 days is much more dramatic than it has been portrayed. If we carry it through to its logical conclusion, what we’re actually saying is, come 28 days (or whatever limit one personally sets) we want all suspects released, whether or not they are actually guilty, unless the state can present its case. This is a valid proposition and one I support, but if we’re going to go through with this, we better know that we’ve already lost any battle if the field chosen is the media.

Brown faces being led away and the picture of people lying dead in the street will see to that.

For that reason any campaign must be a campaign of solid activists in every town, organised by community or workplace or whatever. It must build funds for its own newsletter to counteract the nonsense that the mainstream media will print. At the end of the day, ask yourself if the Conservatives or even David Davis would participate in such a campaign. When you answer that question, you ultimately answer the question as to whether or not we should re-elect Davis, never mind support his campaign.

‘To each according to his contribution’

Raul and Fidel

Apparently a Dr Helen Yaffe has decided to complain to the Guardian about their article on Cuba’s return to capitalism. This was a subject which I took an interest in and indeed wrote some brief remarks on, here. What is particularly at issue is the reintroduction of a greater differentiation in wages, decreed by Raul Castro, which many have interpreted as being among the first steps towards a shift to Chinese-style capitalism. It is this which Dr Yaffe wishes to interpret as socialistic.Dr Yaffe writes as follows:

“Like Marx himself, Che recognised the socialist principle: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work” – which your article associates exclusively with Raul. Cuba has never claimed to be communist and therefore has never embraced the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, which expresses the attainment of communist society.”

That’s the singularly most self-serving reading of Marx I’ve ever come across. It gets worse when Yaffe tries to argue that the Guardian (and myself and others who made the same point independently) is equating ‘increased productivity’ with capitalism, which is her rather snotty way of mentioning the changing wage scale that will increase wealth disparity in Cuba. Obviously Yaffe can’t be much of an economist or else she’s just not paying enough attention.

The events in Cuba seem to be restoring the potential for free capital accumulation, which is the basis of the capitalist economy. Far from being merely about wages, there is much rumour circulating that people are going to be allowed to do things with their money other than accumulate material goods. The restriction of capital (in these circumstances, productive money) accumulation has formed the basis of centrally planned economies since the October Revolution.

‘To each according to his contribution’ has also been around since the Marx’ Critique of the Gotha Programme. It was the basis for Lenin’s New Economic Policy of stimulating productivity in order for the state to gather enough capital so that they could pursue a policy of rapidly building up heavy industry. The tussles over how far to extend this, particularly among the peasantry, were a huge element in the divisions between Bukharin on the Right of the CPSU, and Trotsky on the Left.

On the surface this seems to justify Yaffe’s proposition that what Raul Castro is doing is concordant with the principles of Marxism. Yet the point of Marx’ comment was to illustrate that ‘communism’ is not simply conjured up out of air. It is created on the basis of that which goes before, i.e. the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialist appropriation of the means of production etc. Marx described ‘to each according to his contribution’ as a regressive throw back to capitalism.

All of Marx’ work was based on the idea that contradictory forces in society were at work to constantly destabilize and restabilize the current relations of production; this is the essence of dialectics. It was Marx’ view that the potential existed for the emergence of a socialistic society and from that a communistic one. One can hardly characterize Cuba as being one step along the route to either. Cuba is one of the Stalinist states which has suffered brutal repression and the hardship engendered by a parasitic bureaucratic caste.

What Yaffe can’t cover up for all her invocation of the spectre of Marx is that Cuba hasn’t even managed to fulfill ‘to each according to his contribution.’ If one considers how Lenin phrased it, in State and Revolution, it becomes obvious precisely how Cuba’s change is not merely about ‘productivity,’ however benevolent Yaffe can make that sound. At every step one can see the need for democratic controls permeating Lenin’s model.

Every member of society, performing a certain part of the socially-necessary work, receives a certificate from society to the effect that he has done a certain amount of work. And with this certificate he receives from the public store of consumer goods a corresponding quantity of products. After a deduction is made of the amount of labor which goes to the public fund, every worker, therefore, receives from society as much as he has given to it.

Determining what constitutes socially-necessary work, regulating consumer goods and limiting potential inequity and determining what share of labour goes to the public fund and how to use that public fund; each of these things requires democratic regulation of the productive forces of every notional socialist society. This very thing is precisely what each socialist revolution has categorically failed to deliver, for a variety of reasons which are irrelevant to the current discussion.

Yaffe’s attack upon the notion that Cuba is returning to capitalism tries to use the notion of continuing inequality to justify Cuba’s extension of that inequality as socialistic. She tries to do this in a bureaucratic vacuum for which Marxist theory was not meant. In such circumstances Yaffe reduces Marx to dogma, and selectively quoted dogma at that. We should reject her analysis completely and keep our eyes fixed on what Raul Castro’s reforms lead to next.

Categories: News from Abroad

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