Sunder’s broom for the blogosphere…
Sunder Katwala and a cohort of other left-bloggers have laid out a declaration of ethics and principles that they feel should guide their participation on the internet. It’s being reported fairly widely, in both positive and negative terms, and is fairly worthy if unremarkable material. It acknowledges that examining the character of politicians advocating certain policies is of necessity political, whilst disavowing needless (i.e. untrue or irrelevant) smears.
However, I can’t help but wonder that so many of the signatories are directly involved with Labour List. Obviously Derek Draper’s scam with the emails has provoked outrage not just in the Tory blogosphere but also among many Labourites, and yet the individuals behind the “ethic of progressive blogging” statement are happy to lend their name to this abysmal enterprise. Before I get into calling them hypocrites, let’s have a look at the most recent offering by Labour List, which just happens to be another smear.
Michael Harris, in an article chock full of soundbites (“Young Labour exists because we believe in praxis, not proselytising”), basically launches into one stereotype after another in a blistering attack on those people who were protesting at the G20 events. I can’t describe the rage inspired in me by such sentences as, “I took a little stroll down to the G20 protests in the City…wearing my enjoyably conformist suit and tie (de rigeur blackberry in hand, comrades)”. What a smug little fuck this guy is.
On the demo itself, Harris declares, “What struck me wasn’t the political substance of the demonstrations, or the violence (there wasn’t much), but how many young, fashionable waifs there were.” At a stroke, Harris can trivialise the demonstrations, “The G20 protesters have a “big idea”, it’s that the US is to blame for everything, that global warming is perpetuated by corporations who control puppet governments, and that Labour is a servant to big business. They know what they’re against: but they don’t have any answers.”
Well, firstly, knowing quite a few people who were there and being able to watch the violence on YouTube or the Six O’Clock news for that matter, it’s important to note that there was plenty of violence – most of it from the police. Secondly, it was actually refreshing to see a march not dominated by militant Islamists chanting bad things about Israel. Thirdly, despite Harris’ snobbery, a great deal of the (supposedly) middle-class fashionistas can be talked to instead of talked at, which is Harris’ tactic judging by his article.
If I had to describe the whole thing in a phrase it would be “postmodernist waffle”, with its kowtowing to the familiar theme of the death of metanarratives. Herein, we anti-globalisation, anti-capitalists have diagnosed some of the problems of global capitalism but we are disbarred from proposing solutions (presumably because we’re too busy hating America?) due to the loss of our ‘big idea’ after the Cold War. Because the fall of a bunch of Stalinist states necessarily invalidates the premise of socialism. Er, no.
On one level, the connection between Michael Harris’ contribution to Labour List and Sunder Katwala’s pronouncements on ethical blogging are self-evident. It seems hypocritical to be contributing to a site that regularly pushes a bunch of stereotypical horseshit and tries to disguise a vigorously pro-leadership line behind a metaphysical mirage and the odd word pinched from the enemy lexicon (like ‘praxis’). It might not be about a specific, named individual, but it is a smear nonetheless, rather than a genuine theoretical engagement.
I could be Waspy McWasp, working in an investment bank, but by turning up to that protest I’d be demonstrating an attempted critical engagement with politics – so Harris can take his smear and fuck off. Meanwhile, it falls to me to diagnose once again the structural conditions which are causing this hypocrisy. The point of Harris’ article is to defend ‘the establishment’ – by which he means the propagandistic vomit we’re treated to at most YL conferences – but ‘the establishment’ is indefensible, and this type of person is your bedfellow at Labour List.
Despite Harris’ claims, it’s not unreasonable to think of Labour as a party of business rather than a party for workers. The changes to Labour Party conference, Bernie Ecclestone, Rupert Murdoch, the corporate reach-arounds running parallel to tossing people off the welfare rolls…the reasoning behind this view is complex and detailed. When you can no longer empirically or ideologically defend the establishment, the last option is smears or trying to raise a laugh at your opponents expense.
Either that or the nauseating emails we all get from Labour Party HQ, signed off by different Cabinet ministers, pleading for money. It is to each of these tactics that Labour has resorted, naturally enough. They are much easier than actually changing policies. By allowing themselves to write on the same website as politically illiterate leadership-supporting hacks, Tom, Sunder and the rest are going to find themselves unable to get away from that element within Labour which is ready to descend to Guido Fawkes level of conduct.
We need to realise that, while progressive strands survive within Labour, the unrelenting reactionary behaviour of our leadership complicates the relationship of Labour activists with the working class, and with other political activists. Taking that into consideration, rather than essentially being a populist shield for Labour ministers, we need a grassroots, ground-up effort that will function independently of our leadership until such times as our leadership ceases to function independently of us.