The Freudian reading of New Labour
Reading Paul Richards, author and editor of Tony Blair In His Own Words, in The Purple Book, one gets the sense that what he appreciates of the Labour Party before 1945 is the efforts to achieve power, not power itself. After this date it was all welfare and statism, but before there was community spirit, and a goal on which to unite on.
This is very reminiscent of the Freudian view of the drive. For Jacques Lacan, a Freudian psychoanalyst, “aim is the way taken. The end has a different term in English, goal.”
On the subject of capital, Slavoj Zizek, a philosopher and Lacanian thinker, reminds us of Lacan’s view of the difference between aim and drive: “One should bear in mind here Lacan’s well-known distinction between the aim and the goal of drive: while the goal is the object around which drive circulates, its (true) aim is the endless continuation of this circulation as such.”
When we get down to it, we learn that the goal is never really achievable, the enjoyment stems in aiming to reach the goal. In the same sense, Paul Richards and his return of the repressed (which actually sums up the The Purple Book perfectly – from neoliberal Blairism to the realisation that everything they know is wrong) is only interested in the aim of welfare – from a time when working men’s clubs were a place to listen to music as well as a place that held collections for their customers’ operations in lieu of a national health service – and not the goal.
Unlike the goal of the drive, welfare is possible, and one that is predicated upon the civil and human rights delivered by a welfare state that does not, inherently, interfere with big communities.
What differentiates Purple from Blue is that Maurice Glasman disliked the managerialism that replaced the communitarian “aim” – while the latter is comfortable with private enterprise, he is no enemy of welfare, but has distrust of the lack of individual empowerment that came with it, emulating the corporatism of large enterprises.
The Purple Bookers bred managerialism anew – which is why their new found communitarianism is the return of the repressed.
The Purple Book has about 7 original ideas, most of which are bland and, well, hardly new. Paul Richards has what Lacan called “narcissisme de la chose perdu” (a romantic image/conception of time gone past) as do most of the writers in the book – which is no bad thing in itself - but the romanticism seems to forget the incredible achievements made by the party post-45 in a way that Glasman certainly doesn’t simply forget. Further, it forgets why it was necessary to club together before the victory of the welfare state – and this kind of neglect is certainly not something anyone should wish to incorporate into their political objectives.
For my review of The Purple Book see here.