Social weight and stopping the BNP
I’ve expended a lot of effort, the last few months, attacking or critiquing popular fronts and electoral alliances. I’ve examined the ramifications of post-Marxist theory for political practice, studied the electoral slate No2EU and been bitterly resentful of yet more dilettante rubbish surrounding the successor to the Convention on Modern Liberties. A lot of my criticisms can be summed up with the accusation that the alliances in question lack the ‘social weight’ to achieve the goals they aim at – and I thought it might be a good idea to sum up and conclude the negative argumentation and add some positive connotations, which are being talked about elsewhere on the blogosphere.
If we take the Convention on Modern Liberties and its successor, Magna Carta 2.0, as a starting point. Around the professional political class exists a penumbra of semi-professional politicos, who make their meat commenting on the process or holding junior offices – e.g. in NUS – that are the stepping stones to joining the professional political class. It is my contention that with the best will in the world, an alliance between selected parts of these groups will not better the situation for civil liberties in the UK. Moreover, it is my contention that despite attempts to popularise both groups, any successes that are achieved will occur in spite of rather than because of the tactics used.
As I have said elsewhere, the existence of civil liberties are not simply an administrative question of good governance. The importance of civil liberties does not revolve around protecting the rights that we have come to expect from the government. As a minor matter, this is why any link between the modern campaign for civil liberties and the Magna Carta is a bad idea. It gives an unhistorical, quasi-nationalistic air to the whole thing both of which qualities hinder rather than help the building of a genuine campaign. Civil liberties are an intensely ideological issue because they form the basis for mass politics – and mass politics is the only counter-balance to organised Capital.
The Conservative Party could survive without mass politics. Its political interests lie with free business rather than free people. The social make-up of the Conservative predisposes it to a bias against the common worker; whether in the guise of the criminal, the lazy benefit scrounger or the dangerous immigrants, Conservative politics disparage the working class via several competing morality tales which implicitly assume that if you are not ‘successful’, you have some intrinsic flaw. Of course, often Conservative diatribes are more sophisticated than I have presented them, since Conservatives have been well aware that they require working class votes ever to achieve power.
Those who seek to change the system are portrayed as a meddlesome middle class, of students with no life experience, of layabout professional revolutionaries, the atheists who are coming for your Christian values, the homosexuals who are coming for your children or any of several other harmful stereotypes paraded by the Daily Mail. This nationalist dialogue treats all enemies as external to the body politic, which is assumed to consist of Royalist, paedo-hating, persecuted Anglo-Saxon Christians. Anyone who disagrees is a Lesbian or a Communist, and therefore easily dismissed without bothering to engage one’s brain.
Against such cultural power as Conservatism can bring to bear – since these narratives infect most of the major newspapers and tabloids – and such institutional power as can be wielded by conservatism (small ‘c’ since need not necessarily be found in the party which takes its name), the only recourse is mass politics. Underpinning all of these mechanisms of power are processes which require the participation of the working class. Disrupting that participation by an appeal to the common interests of the working class is the basis of mass politics and requires the very civil liberties that should be defended and reclaimed: privacy, freedom of assembly, association, speech and protest.
Despite various Conservatives claiming, over the past few years, that they are opposed to the database state and to the anti-terror laws which the government has passed, it should be telling that the vast majority of the Conservative blogosphere and no few Conservative MPs actively ridiculed the G20 protests and approved of the police tactics. Even despite video evidence of beatings, eye-witness reports of plain clothes policement circulating in the crowd, the fault supposedly lay with the protestors. When it comes to anti-youth policies, such as mosquito devices and ASBOs, there are some fierce cheerleaders sitting on the Tory front benches.
Neither the Convention on Modern Liberties, nor Magna Carta 2.0, aim at mass politics and the disruption of working class participation in the exercise of State power. Bypassing the potential for grassroots organisation, they aim to appeal to individual politicians to support their agenda. This has a limited potential for real success; an examination of the different laws passed by the Labour government shows the Conservatives up for what they are – political opportunists. Detention without trial for 28 days rather than 90. Can’t be having a “surveillance society” but getting rid of the Human Rights Act is a priority because it protects criminal and terrorist suspects.
Suspend consideration of this rather bloodless campaign for a moment and think of the alternatives. At Anton Vowl’s Enemies of Reason site, and at Tim Ireland’s Bloggerheads, there has been discussion of Posties boycotting the delivery of BNP leaflets. Apparently the Royal Mail used to have a conscience clause but this has been scrapped. That said, bearing in mind how many socialists got out on the streets to help out with the CWU strike, it should be eminently possible to build a campaign whereby the CWU directs its members to refuse to deliver such leaflets, and promises to give legal aid to anyone sued and call local strikes or a work-to-rule over sackings.
This is the sort of campaign which has a better chance of success. The government employs people who are directly responsible for implementing its security policies and in turn those people rely on still others. Rather than accept the legitimacy of Parliamentary methods – and in a week where we’re documenting by the dozen just how many of these people are on the make – we should be prepared to go to the frontlines and make our case. At the very least, we’d attract a few less showboating journalists and a few more committed activists – and by building a concerted campaign of resistance, we’d deprive the political elite of powers they shouldn’t have anyway.
Problems arise here for Tories and the Labour Right; the sanctity of Parliament is after all a long cosseted religion. Moreover, Conservatives would wet themselves if they thought that this tactic might be used in other circumstances – say when police were ordered to face off to protestors and refused. Or if ever the power to deploy troops under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 was used against internal political opponents and backfired. Conservatives are only fans of civil liberties when they can be arbitrated by a Conservative government with one eye watching the natural beneficiaries of such rights – the Trades Unions and the Left.
It is this deployment of strategic social weight we should be aiming for in the fight for civil liberties, and its refreshing that at least in the context of stopping the enemies of those liberties – the BNP – we have begun to talk about just that.
Elsewhere: I was very pleased to see that Georgia Gould did not get selected to fight John Austin’s seat at the next election. She came third. The very notion of this millionaire’s daughter parading the fact that she got an all-expenses paid trip to Virginia to join the Obama campaign as part of her CV just irritated me no end. When people sneak across borders to tell activists in neighbouring countries what is going on, it’s activism; when they can tap daddy for the money and swan off whenever they like, it’s tourism.
Elsewhere 2: What on earth is going on in Barking and Dagenham? Private Eye, over the last few issues, has been carrying some astonishing stories about the mass deselection of many candidates for council elections. In an area where the BNP already have 12 councillors, this couldn’t possibly be more disastrous. I can’t help but wonder links it had to the ridiculous comments of Margaret Hodge, who has given the BNP several filips such as how 8 out of 10 families might vote for the BNP. At the time, Cllr. Liam Smith attacked her remarks – and as a result of the turmoil, he seems to be the favourite to become council leader.
Elsewhere 3: What an ingenious idea! Are you absolutely sick of retarded leaflets and “newsletters” from political parties or interest groups that spout demonstrable crap? Well, you can now upload them to the internets and tell everyone about them at Straight Choice. I’m pretty impressed with this resource and I think everyone should make use of it – it’ll help to know who’s been naughty and who has been nice as regards their campaign pledges.
Elsewhere 4: This is absolutely hilarious. Some expenses-hoarding millionaire oil magnates have no luck. Hopefully there will be many more such events.