Home > General Politics, Sectariana, Socialism > Non-progressive socialism and the political coordinates of racial nationalism

Non-progressive socialism and the political coordinates of racial nationalism

During an interview, in a recent book by Rowenna Davis, Jon Cruddas MP describes himself as a socialist, but not a progressive. This chimes with the recent set of political ideas, called blue labour for brevity, which notes that not everything to do with change is necessarily a force for good.

Indeed, when we imagine a world where far right politics are at large, we can all concur that change is not necessarily good. In the early nineties, Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, described the party’s first “modernising” (which seems to mean anyone afraid of having an anti-Semitic image) leader John Bean as a true nationalist “always part of the progressive movement drivng [sic] nationalism forward to electoral success”.

When it comes to the BNP, some on the conservative right (such as Dan Hannan) will always try to suggest that given their protectionist economic views, they are left wing. John Bean, who Nick Griffin looks up to every bit as much as Le Pen in France, described himself as an anti-capitalist and in response to the reactionary BNP leader John Tyndall’s anti-Semitism, said that to blame the Jews for the world’s problems was to forget “gentile involvement” in “the drive for world government”.

When someone like Hannan suggested that the BNP were on the far left economically, the left itself would counter that by saying protectionism isn’t necessarily left wing, and neither is anti-capitalism, for that matter. In fact what define the fascist BNP as right wing are their appeals to a conservative imagery, and such reactionary categories as nationhood, race and family. But though many on the left rightly champion alternative family lifestyles, multi-ethnicity and internationalism, few are pro-actively against those former categories. Moreover, non-progressive socialism actively campaigns for more emphasis on family, flag and faith.

Serious question: Blue Labour is a million miles away from the crass, fascism of the BNP, but if those things that once defined the BNP as right wing can be incorporated into non-progressive socialist politics, what does this do to the political category “far right”?

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  1. Adam S
    October 18, 2011 at 3:23 pm | #1

    The key dividing line today is not right/left, but liberal/non-liberal.

    What you describe as the Right here are in fact economically liberal (open markets, free trade, globalisation, deregulation) and socially conservative (employing “such reactionary categories as nationhood, race and family”). The Left are economically socialist (distributive, protectionist, high taxation, regulation) but socially liberal.

    Liberalism (both economic and social) has had many beneficial impacts, not least: open democracy; individual empowerment, rights and freedoms; general prosperity.

    The flip side has been an erosion of all traditional (often “irrational”, or as you describe them “reactionary”) constraints on individualism: family, nationalism, faith, mutualism. While liberals will argue that universal individualism and cosmopolitanism are more “rational” than “faith, family and flag,” these new values have corresponded to an opening of markets and borders, a stripping away of people’s sense of social, familial and national obligation, a crass materialism and, ironically, an overbearing and increasingly remote state needed to protect individuals and redistribute wealth.

    While traditional values can be socially negative (see some far right BNP positions), we must be careful not to throw away the baby with the bath water. Traditional (“irrational”) connections to others are the glue of social solidarity, and their erosion has led to the decline of the formal welfare state and informal social capital.

    Blue Labour is right to ask whether and how we can sustain traditional values in our overwhelmingly liberal social paradigm. They are separated from the far right and BNP by a desire to see those traditional values serve a broader sense of social solidarity.

    • October 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm | #2

      Adam firstly it’s great to hear from you again. I largely agree with everything you’ve written there, and am interested in the point about the flip side of liberalism almost necessitating a larger state – it is from here, I would suppose, that the modern state feels dutybound to redistribute wealth in so far as it does not disturb the functioning of socialism for the rich (a point on which Tories and leftists can unite, if not for the bombaste of the term socialism for the rich).

      As far as family faith and flag are concerned, I wouldn’t want to brand them reactionary, but possibly only because of the bad image reactionary politics has – owing, in part, to the fact that today it is popular to distinguish it from progressive (as though the two were binary opposites). It is for this reason, also, that the word progressive had become a term which all politics must necessarily appeal to – it is brave of Cruddas and others in the blue labour movement to declare their left wing politics non-progressive. I have heard people refer to Glasman as a reactionary – perhaps it is incumbent upon him to detoxify *that* term?

      It’s funny you say the proper binary today is not left and right but liberal and non- . Blue Labour itself is non-liberal both socially and economically, without being to the far reaches of either left or right politics. It prefers balance between state and Market and opposes managerialism in both, but if it is non-liberal (which it avowedly is) then in what sense is it not liberal? If it opposes social hedonism and economic centralism, then in the way it tries to structure society in such a way which avoids those things it is non-liberal, but does any liberal promote such hedonism/centralism?

      I concur on the difference between blue Labour and the BNP as one of social solidarity and appeals to community, but if the binary today really is between liberal and non- does this not make the question of whether BNP can really be called far right all the pertinant?

  2. October 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm | #3

    A really interesting post. I tend to think the word “progressive” is beyond re-capturing it is so corrupted http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/oct/16/academic-bob-lambert-former-police-spy

    I think it is helpful to think about the different axes of politics, with the possibility of culturally and morally conservative but socio-economically left-wing politics. My problem with Blue Labour is not that it is morally/culturally conservative, but that it prioritises the cultural/moral over the socio-economic: it seeks cultural/moral fixes for structural malaises.

    • October 18, 2011 at 8:21 pm | #4

      Actually this chimes with my one major concern with Blue Labour: namely, that it fails to unpack whether it wants the economic conditions which brought about the kind of idyllic, traditional morally conservative society it appeals to. What such a society brings to mind is close knit communities, which struggle to fill the place in lieu of a welfare state that the close knit communities were able to later achieve.

      If Glasman’s pet hate is managerialism post 1945, the real ideas for today should be asking how to marry the close knit communities of old with the modern state now that basic welfare for all has been achieved. Blue Labour should be about demonstrating how community harmony and the welfare state are not mutually exclusive, and how public services free for all and managerialism are not mutually exclusive, too.

      So feeding into your point, we’ve pictured the perfect Blue Labour community – now how do we translate that into an economy that is predicated on a victory for welfare, albeit one that is being challenged by the coalition government.

  3. Edgar
    October 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm | #5

    I suspect that on trade union rights the BNP are firmly in the Dan Hannan camp.

    The BNP, like the Nazi’s, are probably Keynesian at heart.

    Economic ‘liberalism’ as it is laughably caused has created mass inequality, the concentration of immense wealth and power in the hands of a few (who can bring down governments who don’t submit to their will). In other words what we get is the most illiberal anti democratic society.

    Libertarians wouldn’t know democracy and freedom if it pulled down their trousers and sucked their private parts!

    • October 18, 2011 at 8:25 pm | #6

      You’ve hit upon that most interesting of all political paradoxes, I’m sure: in order to allow liberty to flourish must we allow for state intervention to help that liberty through legislation and, ultimately, the curbing of certain liberties to bring about freedom with the least amount of harm, or does freedom start with being free to impinge upon other peoples liberties without interference from a restrictive and, ultimately, non-liberal governing body?

  4. October 18, 2011 at 8:53 pm | #7

    I think there are elements in Blue Labour of what Kees Van Der Pjil called the pre-capitalist critique of money capital. Indeed, its interesting that Glasman owes a lot to Karl Polanyi, who Van Der Pjil sees as representing a corporatist tendency which was only able to challenge liberal finance capital in the 1930s by drawing on this pre-capitalist critique.
    http://www.theglobalsite.ac.uk/atlanticrulingclass/1.htm

    • October 19, 2011 at 9:27 am | #8

      I think analysing Glasman’s economic policies are for the taking, pretty much – but yes I think you’ve spotted something there. Although if he was so chrematophobic (check me out) then would he be so comfortable with a mixed economy?

      • October 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm | #9

        Maybe if its a mixed economy with a role for industrial capital, rather than finance capital, which is perhaps what the producer/predator distinction implies.

      • October 20, 2011 at 10:46 am | #10

        I think it is the former – though as I say I don’t think the economic policy implications have been quite as important to the blue labour project as some of the social policies. Certainly the latter plays a more focal role in the chapter on policy implications in the “blue labour text” The Labour tradition and the politics of paradox.

  5. Edgar
    October 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm | #11

    What I consider liberal is for example the Bloomberg financial reports – which provide a wealth of useful information to all. (If one can be bothered). The internet is another arena where disclosure of information flourishes. Labour’s freedom of information act. These kinds of things liberate information, allow it to be disseminated widely. Capitalism has been pretty good at this sort of freedom, if you can call it that.

    Another paradox of the ideological framework of the ruling class is innate inetlligence. But it could be argued that only in a truely equal society can intelligence be allowed to flourish. In an unequal society you get inheritance, the advantage of being born into the right family, which corrupt the maximisation of intelligence.

    There is a danger that you end up endorsing North Korea but I still think Castro was right when he said you cannot have democracy when you have millionaires and paupers. I still think socialism is the future.

    On the issue of authority, historically the great families acquired armies to aid their march to the top, this was the ultimate in impinging upon other peoples liberties. I just don’t accept we have ever been in a situation where it was impinging on others liberties versus pure freedom. That world never existed. Capitalism at its most free and unfettered is impinging on others liberties writ large.

    The world as we see it always appears as the natural order of things, the fiction of free market capitalism just reflects this truism. The belief that free market capitalism somehow equates to a society where people just do what they want unimpinged just reflects the belief that the present time is the natural order of things. So any threat to this natural order gets turned into an attack on liberty.

    • October 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm | #12

      The point of the free market being itself manipulative in order to retain monopolies and concentrate capital is something, believe it or not, that can unite the left and right, re-embedding the dispossessed into the market fold until some sort of economic harmony is restored (for socialists that is a socialist economy, for the centre right that is the recapitalisation of wider society – as reflected by such places as Respublica for example). What, i suppose, divides those groups is a reading of a truly unfettered market – in my opinion anyone who thinks the recapitalisation of wider society will take effect without governmental intervention has not been taking the right notes on the bullying tactics of big corporations over SMEs. Nothing Castro-ite about that remark.

  6. October 19, 2011 at 10:22 am | #13

    “what define the fascist BNP as right wing are their appeals to a conservative imagery, and such reactionary categories as nationhood, race and family.”

    This is incredibly muddled.

    1. Defining ‘right wing’ with terms like ‘conservative’ and ‘reactionary’ is circular.
    2. The categories of ‘nationhood’, ‘race’ and ‘family’ are not inherently reactionary any more than are ‘the state’ and ‘private property’. Clearly, ‘nationhood’ and ‘race’ can have a reactionary content: but we have the terms ‘chauvinism’ and ‘racism’ to describe that. The same applies to ‘family’, though ‘patriarchy’ isn’t so widely used.

    The basic problem is that the left/right distinction is far to crude to capture political differences. Perhaps we should try using the categories of ‘class’ and ‘class interest’ to clarify our thoughts? But these terms also need to be defined carefully. Another thread …?

    • October 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm | #14

      Well George this is my point – if blue Labour has (re-)demonstrated how those said categories are no more reactionary than state and private property then how can the BNP be viewed as far right? Whether left and right as terms are helpful today is a separate point, and certainly I do feel it is necessary to remind ourselves, the electorate, that the BNP are a racist party, but are ‘racism’ and ‘chauvinism’ right wing categories?

      • October 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm | #15

        I hate to be pedantic but sometimes it is necessary.

        1. The question of whether ‘left and right as terms are helpful’ may be a separate point, but it needs sorting out before we bother about using it to make fine distinction such as: “can the BNP be viewed as far right?”

        My point is that left/right distinction doesn’t really work in the way most people who use it would like it to.

        2. By ‘category’ I mean a term that is used to classify something a division within a system of classification.
        ‘Dephlogisticated air’ and ‘oxygen’ actually refer to the same phenomenon. They are both categories but they come from rival system of classification. The problem with ‘nation’, ‘race’ and ‘family’ is that, like those of ‘the state’ and ‘private property’, they are descriptive, common sense categories based on immediate experience. People have incorporated these terms into different category systems and in doing so have changed their significance. The use of such terms, on its own doesn’t, doesn’t imply much, if anything about what a person thinks. To do that you have to find out a lot more.

        A person can refer to ‘race’ without accepting the idea of racial superiority. However, if they also talk about ‘Vril’ and the earth being hollow, is if these ideas were scientific, then they probably are racist.

        3. Are ‘racism’ and ‘chauvinism’ right wing categories?

        In so far as these are pejorative terms, the answer is obviously, “No”. They are categories used used by most people to identify troublesome people.

      • October 20, 2011 at 10:35 am | #16

        No need to apologise for pedantry here.

        1) This is true it needs sorting out, and this is the point of the blog post – to say that certain issues are no longer easily defined by left and right. To some extent blue labour, and the work which preceded it, inidcated that family, flag and faith are not right wing in themselves.

        2) I’ll leave vril to Lee John Barnes – i bet he liked that stuff.

        3) Okay, that was pedantic – but is being racist right wing? If so, what is inherently right wing about doing racism? That’s the point here. But then that’s an extreme example – the point I’m trying to suggest is that given the fact Glasman is trying to reconnect Labour with categories usually considered conservative (family, flag etc) what does this do to the widely accepted notion that the BNP are far right – on the grounds that there is an extreme conservative core to the social end of the BNPs policies?

      • October 21, 2011 at 7:41 am | #17

        Just as an experiment try this:

        Put aside a couple of hours.
        Read through the posts on this thread and every time you find a mention of a policy or an attitude assess the impact it will have on different sections of the population.

        To start with you can define these sections as you like but you will find that in order to assess the impact on any group you will have to specify about:
        a) where you are talking about (e.g. region/country/continent/the whole world) and
        b) when you are talking about (e.g. 1846, 1931, 2011, etc.)

        Then try rewrite the original comment without using the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ and instead referring to who benefits or is harmed.

        I think you will find that a lot of the paradoxes will disappear. So of this will be because things will be dislocated. For example, the repeal of the Corn Laws affected farmers and land owners were as protectionist measures today would impinge on different groups today.

        Go back to your classification of the population and try to make it more systematic.

        Repeat the impact assessment.

        Finally assess if anything has been lost by dropping the categories ‘left’ and ‘right’.

        I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

  7. Chris
    October 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm | #18

    Calling protectionism left-wing is the sign of a political illiterate. In the ’20s the Conservatives were protectionist and Labour was pro-free trade. Did that make the Tories more left-wing than Labour? Obviously not.

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