Archive for the ‘Marxism’ Category

On Corbynism: (part 1 of 3)

December 21, 2015 2 comments

Gramsci100 days of solitude

She shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle (chapter 17)


I’ve not written on Corbynism for the first 100 days. I missed its early rise so spectacularly that I decided a period of silence, humility and reflection on why I had done so [1], and more importantly what Corbynism actually is, was warranted.

Here, 100 days on (and 101 days tomorrow) are my first reflections on what Corbynism isn’t, what it is – though Jeremy Corbyn may not well know it – and what promised land it may just offer British socialism.

Or not, depending on whether the British left decides that time has actually passed, or whether it should  go in a big 40 year circle of diminishing returns.

What Corbyism isn’t

82 odd days into my 100 days of reflective solitude, and having started to come to some conclusions, I went to listen and perhaps engage with self-proclaimed intellectual activists at the heart of Corbynism.

The event, held at the woolly-left think tank premises of the New Economics Foundation was entitled Corbynism (and what Laclau & Mouffe would tell us about it). It was just awful, both in its organisation and in its content. There was no visible chair to invite and moderate contributions, and the principle contributors simply rambled on about the failures of New Labour and how the rise of Corbyn was a great moment for the British left, on which it should now seize. Laclau & Mouffe were hardly referenced [2], and the contribution of the one speaker who did try to interpret Corbynism through a Gramscian lens was soon lost in the to and fro between others who had less focus on the subject supposedly at hand.

The way the seminar was conducted meant I couldn’t bear to stay for the last hour but, from what I saw, I got the impression that those with most intellectual clout in analysing the rise of Corbynism, and therefore in steering its course over the next few months, are doing so with the worn out tools of the 1970s and 1980s.  They are also using the tools badly.

I’d describe the analysis at the meeting as ‘sub-Gramscian’, stripped off all the finesse that Perry Anderson & Tom Nairn and brought to it in the 1960s and 1970s , and now little more than a vague and in-vain aspiration to a ‘counter-hegemonic electoral coalition of the dispossessed and the partly-dispossessed.  Gone, it seems, was any real appreciation that Gramsci was largely writing about the defeat of the left, and of the current hegemonic power over culture and ‘common sense’.

Indeed, such was the reductionism that, ironically, this aspiration to a new electoral coalition did not sound too far removed from the much-maligned Tony Blair’s recent defence of his own – in the electoral and social context of the late 1990s – rather successful coalition building:

Above all, in a society in which fewer and fewer people thought of themselves as traditional working class, we needed to build a new coalition between the aspirant up and coming and the poorest and most disadvantaged.

This was just one awful meeting, but the impression that this where ‘mainstream’ intellectual Corbynism is at the moment is confirmed by other reading [3].

Doreen Massey’s editorial for Soundings, for example, written shortly after Corbyn’s election as leader, sets out her hopes for what groupings might come together to create a new (counter)-hegemonic force via the enactment of Laclau and Mouffe’s “political tasks” (these being the development of “identifiable commonalities” and “chains of equivalence” such that a common enemy is identified. It’s worth quoting at some length:

There is no doubt that Corbyn’s support draws together many flows. It draws together young and old, long histories and new initiatives. It encompasses elements both of the labour movement and of new social movements. It is definitely not only ‘the young’, as it was initially, rather lazily, labelled. The presence of young people is marked, but so too is the presence of the over-60s (a potentially positive constellation that might help get us beyond the supposed battle between generations). It brings together Generation Rent – priced out of the housing market and let down by the Liberal Democrats over university tuition fees; disillusioned

Labour voters coming back to the fold after years in the Blairite wilderness; and people who marched against the war in Iraq only to feel that it had made no difference.

Then there are those in ‘the squeezed middle’ who see their standard of living dropping year on year whilst that of the wealthy mushrooms; the environmentalists who see the chance to move climate crisis higher up the actual political agenda; the ballooning precariat who are no longer buying the line that it’s their fault; people who see corporations not paying their tax, and the privileges of the 1% swelling, whilst everyone else pays through ‘austerity’. There is a politics here that speaks to people using food banks, pensioners whose pension is not enough to live on, and victims of social cleansing forced to move away from their homes. And there are more constituencies than this, many of them overlapping.

Among these new constituencies there are also connections with some of the most innovative moments in socialist democracy over the past fifty years: the anti-racism, feminism and peace movements from the 1960s onwards; that great experiment in popular democracy, the metropolitan counties of the urban left and the GLC (Greater London Council); and the contemporary wave of experimental activism, from alter-globalisation to Occupy.

That’s a long list. In fact, it’s just about everybody who’s not a capitalist exploiter. And it’s not just long. It’s a list deliberately set in the context of the attempts, a generation or two ago, to do exactly the same thing as is proposed now.

This catch-all aspiration to anti-Tory coalition begs a simple question. How on earth, if the counter-hegemonic project didn’t work back then (except in small New Urban Left pockets, for short periods), will such a counter-hegemonic project work this time around?

The answer is also simple. It won’t.

Pretending that the Corbyn leadership will magically create the kind of social and political solidarities amongst groups of citizens who currently feel not just that they have nothing in common but who now actively oppose the others’ interests – as a result of a hegemony of the right only reinforced by the financial crisis and now a security crisis – is simply wishful thinking.

We live in an age of – to use Anthony Giddens’ term – of deep ‘ontological security’, much deeper than that of 30 years ago. As I explored a little while ago, the question of what’s wrong with our politics can and perhaps should be recast as a (Rieffian) question about what is so wrong with all of us.

In such insecure times, Doreen’s vision of an end to the “retail politics” of New Labour and a switch to a “notion of campaigning to change what the electorate might want, to argue for values, and understandings of the world, that may not be popular now but are what the party (says it) stands for” (p.7), reflects a well-meant but hopelessly outdated concept of false consciousness amongst the masses, which can be overcome through a series of courageous political acts and educational endeavours.

This concept of false consciousness, and the consequent imperative of political education of the masses, may have had some validity before the onset of late ‘capitalist realism’, but from Adorno & Horkheimer onwards both socialists and conservative intellectuals have, and with varying degrees of cultural pessimism, come to the conclusion that realism is either inescapable, and humanly bearable only by an alienation from our true ourselves and submission to capitalism’s material and/or ‘moral’ authority, or escapable only via some form of postmodern ‘lucidity pact’ with the capitalist devil.

I will explore this failure of analysis by the sub-Gramscian Corbynistas more in future blogs (and the book-to-be), particularly on how any attempt to recreate the occasionally successful-in-the-short-term, but overall failed attempt of the 1980s counter-hegemonic strategy for a rainbow coalition of interest and identity groups is doomed to failure in a context, 30 years on, of massive ‘ontological security’ and atomization of the working class.

Suffice to say, for now, that those professing to analyses Corbynism through a Gramsican lens seem to me to be confirming what Gramsci himself had to say about why those on the left who seek to oppose the successful hegemonic strategies of the right by appropriating the right’s techniques, but without the material power to combat the ‘ideological apparatuses’ (to borrow a post-Gramsci term) ranged against them. The occasional unexpected victory (e.g. Corbyn’s leadership win), says Gramsci, has the counter-productive effect of making the left think it can win on the right’s terms:

[T]he social group in question may indeed have its own conception of the world, even if only embryonic; a conception which manifests itself in action, but occasionally and in flashes — when, that is, the group is acting as an organic totality. But this same group has, for reasons of submission and intellectual subordination, adopted a conception which is not its own but is borrowed from another group; and it affirms this conception verbally and believes itself to be following it, because this is the conception which it follows in ‘normal times’ — that is when its conduct is not independent and autonomous, but submissive and subordinate. Hence the reason why philosophy cannot be divorced from politics. And one can show furthermore that the choice and the criticism of a conception of the world is also a political matter (p.23)

In shorter terms: the right won. We lost. The right is much stronger politically and culturally than it was 30 years ago. Combatting it on its own hegemonic terrain will fail, and just make us weaker. The new sub-Gramsci intellectuals of Corbynism need to get real.

What Corbynism is, or at least can be

That’s Corbyn #100. Tomorrow, with Corbyn #101, I move on from the doom and gloom.  I think Corbyn, and Corbynism, do constitute a great moment of opportunity for the left – just not the kind of opportunity either Corbyn or most of the Corbynista are currently aware of, mostly because they’ve not read enough books, like what I have.  I think the opportunities are much greater than the Gramscians think, but it will take a wholesale revolution in British leftwing thinking (and consequent action) if we are to seize them.


[1] In my meagre defence, I missed the early rise of the Corbyn factor because I don’t live in an area which felt anything like Corbynmania, which was by and large restricted to London and other ‘metropolitan’ areas.

[2] My going to London in the first place was inspired by my twitter comrade @RF_McCarthy’s inspired suggestion of waiting to get to the point where someone crassly misinterpreted Chantal Mouffe’s work, then producing her from behind a wall in the manner of Woody Allen producing Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall.  I wrote to Chantal, but for some reason  she ignored me.

[3] Another explicitly Gramscian expression of hope around early Corbynism come from Ken Spours, in his analysis of Osborne’s continuing hegemony

At this point Corbynism could be seen as constituting a ‘primitive political bloc’, designed to mobilise the Left, Greens and a new wave of young people to provide the Labour Party with a sense of vitality and moral and political purpose following a catastrophic defeat. Its primitivism lies in the combination of the enthusiasm and mobilisation for a clear anti-austerity position and the fact that its politics is not yet sufficient to build a comprehensive and effective progressive counter bloc. Moving beyond primitivism involves, among other things, recognising that bloc autonomy can only be momentary and that the real aim should not be independence and the comfort of political identity (although these may have a valid function in 2015), but the more difficult and longer-term exercise of hegemony in the conditions of the 21st century.


The SWP meltdown, institutional legitimacy and the broader lesson for the left

January 14, 2013 6 comments

Laurie Penny thinks the SWP’s handling of rape allegations reflects badly on all of us, and that the SWP are only different because they are more open about their misogynist structures:

Other groups are not so brazen as to say that their moral struggles are simply more important than piffling issues of feminism, even if that’s what they really mean, nor to claim that as right-thinking people they and their leaders are above the law. The SWP’s leadership seem to have written it into their rules.

Actually, there’s no “seem” about it.  The leadership being above the law is written into the rules of the SWP.  That’s what makes it a self-declared Leninist revolutionary socialist party.  As SWP head boy Charlie Kimber makes clear in his comments at Harry’s place:

We live in what remains a profoundly sexist society, as is shown by the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups in mainstream institutions such as the BBC and the police. However, the SWP is not an institution of capitalist society but fights for the overthrow of the system. Our party has a proud tradition of fighting for women’s liberation, as is shown, for example, by our consistent campaigning over the decades to defend abortion, and by our criticism of George Galloway for his remarks about the Julian Assange rape accusations. Reflecting this tradition, our internal structures seek to promote women to leading roles and deal rigorously with any action by any member that is harmful or disrespectful of women (my emphasis).

That is to say, the SWP is committed, as a point of founding principle, to not engaging with the criminal justice system, but to handling “harmful or disrespectful” actions through its “internal structures”, which it regards as inherently superior to the legal institutions of the capitalist state.   Phil at AVPS makes the point very well:

[T]his crisis was precipitated entirely by the SWP’s own actions, but from the off they were caught in a bind  provided by their own revolutionary conceit.  If you’re in the business of  prosecuting class struggle to the point of the overthrow of capital, and you believe it is your party’s destiny to lead the working class in revolt, as far  as behaviour, misconduct and crimes committed by party members are concerned the  party is the sovereign body for pronouncing on questions of truth and guilt, of  sanction and punishment. Within the terms of party morality and the closed-loop  universe of the SWP’s particular form of revolutionary identity politics, they did the right thing investigating the allegations.

To be honest, I’ve never quite got how this works in practice, as there seem to be an awful lot of capitalist institutions that the SWP membership does engage with.  Rumour has it that it’s got a large property portfolio, and I’m pretty sure SWP members get around on Virgin Trains and the like.  Which institution it’s legitimate to engage with while organising for its downfall does seem a bit selective.

The key point, though, is that the SWP is not falling apart now because it didn’t call in the police; it’s falling apart because the justice system it used instead of the capitalist one apparently proved to be completely useless, in both senses of the term.  That is, it apparently wasn’t very well run (I won’t repeat the contended details here) but, even if it had been, the problem would still have remained that, in the event of a guilty verdict, there’d have been no way to mete out appropriate justice; the usual sentence for one of rape is one of imprisonment, but as far as I know the SWP don’t have any prisons.

In other words, the SWP has set out its stall as being a kind of state, operating within and against the capitalist state, but lacks most of the things that go to make up a state.

Now you can argue (as Laurie Penny might if she understood a bit more what does make the SWP different from other groups), that it is the very selectivity about what bits of the capitalist state to opt out of which betrays its misogynist heart – and I do wonder whether the party would have the same courage of its own institutions if the accusation had been, say, child abuse rather than rape.  That’s fair enough.

But I also wonder if there’s a wider learning point for the radical left in its anti-capitalist struggle, whether it be via “revolutionary” or “evolutionary” means.

What this sad episode, and the likely fall out shows us clearly enough is that, unless credible institutions which command widespread respect and are therefore seen as legitimate are in place before the borgeous institutions are torn down (or bypassed), then those same bourgeois institutions are likely to return in strengthened form, and with increased popular support.  There’s a glimpse of that in Laurie Penny’s own appeal to the sanctity of the law – not something you’d normally associate with her radical leanings – when it’s juxtaposed to the SWP’s own tawdry process.

This is not, of course, a novel insight.  We see fine solidaristic principle, followed by failure of legitimacy, and then mutual recrimination and lessened solidarity, everywhere we look.  The power of financial capitalism has been strengthened-by-scapegoat since the crisis, because there was no alternative system ready to replace it.  The anti-cuts campaigns have failed to date because there is not sufficient legitimacy in an alternative decision-making process to ensure that both elected representatives and officials have both the duty and the backing to deliver an alternative that sticks.  People going to job centres are treated poorly because unions have not yet been able to make their calls for solidarity with the workless more legitimate than the managerial directives imposed on staff.

All of which leads me to conclude that, ultimately, the left will only be any use at the grand scale if it gets over the self-imposed distinction (and accompanying hatreds) between revolution and evolution, and accepts that the quiet building of legitimate socialist institutions* in parallel with capitalist institutions, ready to replace them when the time comes, as just as much part of the struggle, and that the devotees of GDH Cole and RH Tawney are just as revolutionary, in their way, as those of Trotsky and Lenin.

*As a quick personal note: I was a member of the SWP briefly in the mid-1980s, taken in by the convincing rhetoric and (to me) new analysis of some very eloquent speakers and writers. I left when I was told that I needed to move my trade union stewardship focus away from the nitty-gritty of supporting workers in their workplace to defend their terms and conditions, defend them at disciplinaries etc.., in favour of more “revolutionary” activity.  When the time came to strike, the hospital I worked and organized at had a much bigger turnout than other places supposedly more under SWP inflluence.

The BNP’s defeat and Labour’s victory

May 8, 2012 3 comments

Carl on this blog has just today touted his idea that the BNP are finished, backing it up with a Martin Goodman article from the Guardian site about the BNP getting pretty much annihilated at the May 2012 local elections. It’s entirely possible that they are right, and that the BNP is finished as an electoral force, and that some role was played by Hope Not Hate and other campaigns which used their manpower to get out an anti-BNP vote.

There are some cautionary notes to be sounded. First, the degree to which it matters how well the BNP do is limited. Their efforts to turn mainstream are not about to be abandoned, and there are other groups out there which have learned some of the lessons – and which have in turn had a right-wards drag upon Labour’s leadership courtesy of “Blue Labour”. I mean, of course, the English Defence League and their new political aspirations.

Second, BNP councillors by and large voted just like Tories, so in terms of the actual presence of these 57 (and now a damn sight fewer) people in council chambers, the practical effect is like eliminating that number of Tories. Though it bears mentioning that in one of the six wards the BNP just lost, it was lost to a Tory, who will almost certainly continue a record of voting for privatisation, cuts to services and piss-poor planning decisions.

This is quite an important point, as it gives the answer to those people who condone working with Tories if it means getting rid of the BNP. Tories, being the immediate political face of capitalism, cause fascism. They attack every means of working class subsistence and culture that can’t turn their mates a profit and then when the workers complain, they blame it on human rights, political correctness, immigrants, homosexuals and Jews, or Muslims these days.

Third, and linked to point number two, electoral armageddon or no, the physical force mob of the BNP will almost certainly go nowhere, except to other parties or groups who can offer them the same sort of opportunity for getting their bald heads and beer bellies on national television. This is a serious issue, as these people are the shock troops who can break up opposition to fascism at a community level.

Fourth, this defeat might not have the morale impact we expect, thanks to the parallels with the electoral eclipse of the NF post-1979, and the cautionary tale that will give to any thinking fascists out there, contradiction in terms though that may be. Griffin and his crew are bound to be aware of this, most of them having lived through it. Even if these aren’t the lessons they draw, the survival of Griffin as leader indicates that he’s found some means of innoculating himself.

The historical parallels I mention have even more importance for us socialists however, and our political understanding. The election of a Conservative government starkly poses the issue of class. Then as now, a Tory government cut social spending and attempted to extort ever greater productivity out of workers, through the threat of unemployment.

The most politically aware layers of the working class, perceiving the attacks, moved to galvanise resistance through the unions, through anti-cuts groups and through socialist organisations.This socialist and working class resurgence can, by bringing in new layers of workers to political activism, demoralise and push out the fascists.

Labour, offering an immediate electoral alternative will be the key beneficiaries in the early stage of this process, by virtue of being not-Conservative, and will claim back all those who voted Lib-Dem in 2008, since the Lib-Dems no longer have the political space to pretend to an alternative. This is hardly any different to the elections of 1981 in which the Ken Livingtone-led GLC was elected; the NF share of the vote dropped there too.

That Labour’s alternative cuts, “not so far, not so deep”, are not a viable long-term option beyond the first euphoric wave of having dispensed with the arch-enemy is neither here nor there. Hence in Burnley, where another BNP councillor has bitten the dust, Labour have also reclaimed at least four seats from the Liberal Democrats, who won them in 2008.

In the Amber Valley wards of Heanor East and Heanor West, the voting figures stack up as follows; the Tories in 2008 scored 482-412, then 391-381 in 2012. Labour scored 454-560 in 2008, then 744-838 in 2012. Meanwhile the BNP went from 537-727 in 2008 to 284-272 in 2012. The left-wing party, such as it is, gained from both the right-wing parties, and this gain was replicated across the country, by and large, and is a cause for a small celebration.

It is only a small celebration because Labour’s resurgence can be halted in its tracks by the short, sharp demoralisation of the organised working class, in the form of defeats of the industrial action sweeping the country. Despite the electoral jubilation, this is a defeat which the Labour Party is doing nothing to avoid and is in fact actively encouraging, with constant disparaging remarks in the press not to mention obstructionist tactics by Labour bureaucrats in the unions.

It’s also a small celebration because Labour’s political strategy is akin to blowing their own heads off, should they actually win the next election. They will immediately and massively undermine their own working class support by instituting cuts across the board; if these are not so deep as the Conservatives, I’m sure that will be of some consolation to the people having their wages cut by £900 instead of £1000, or who are one of nine hundred and not one of a thousand made redundant as public services are cut to the bone.

Such a strategy is all Labour has, and this will not change, period. It will definitely result in a much bigger Tory government being returned to office shortly thereafter, unless something changes drastically – or, as in Greece, some new force emerges from the chaos to challenge Labour from the left.

Ironically, it’s this very threat of a Tory government which would be used against PLP backbenchers to shore up the leadership. And the reason Labour goes around and around in these circles is because it has no class-based analysis and cannot see any further than the wafer thin difference between Labour and the Tories, or any further than the next election for that matter.

Class is the fundamental, unavoidable division in capitalism, created by the very structure of how we produce everything of which the modern world consists. At times of crisis in capitalism, all other questions become subordinate to this one fault line. This is one fault line which Labour cannot understand, even as it is pushed to defend the working class by virtue of its historical traditions. It is intrinsic to capitalism, outside of which Labour refuses to step. It can and will only be solved by a revolutionary party that unites the working class to abolish capitalism.

Teachers say: all systems go to fight Tory cuts

April 7, 2012 3 comments

This government must be broken in two by concerted, massive and uncompromising strike action. Anyone who says differently is a do-nothing, who wants to stand around bloviating instead of actually getting behind the one tactic which can stop the cuts. Even those people who are electoralists – i.e. Labour Party types – can’t argue with this. We’re not likely to see an election until 2015, according to Cameron and Clegg, so it’s up to the activists.

Even those who argue that we can’t oppose the cuts wholesale and can only separate out individual cuts can’t argue with the pension campaigns. The teachers and civil servants pension funds were both many millions in the black. The government decided to rob these funds, and to force teachers and other public servants to work longer, get less and pay more for what they got, when there was absolutely zero justification to do so, however the Tories spin it. More than that though, the working class doesn’t operate on legalistic principles – there’s no argument that since we’re striking about pensions, that’s all we care about. The battle lines are legion; the slicing up of the NHS, privatisation elsewhere, lowering taxes on the rich while screwing the poor, rising class sizes and falling child care facilities, not to mention massive unemployment spurred on by the Tory budgets.

Unions like Unite and Unison opted to stand aside from the dispute, after the N30 strikes, leaving PCS at the core of a group of unions the best activists of which not only want to organise their own unions but want to throw down the gauntlet to Len McCluskey, Dave Prentis, Brendan Barber and the other backsliders. Our activists and the activists in those unions which have not opted for more coordinated strikes will work together, under the banner of the National Shop Stewards Network, to force those unions to act in the interests of their members – which in the immediate dispute are not served by the Heads of Agreement to which Prentis and Barber and co wanted to sign up, and which in the medium term will never be served by a Tory government, whatever their window dressing.

That group of fighting unions just got bigger, with the National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT both voting for more concerted strikes. This will be a massive boost to the morale and resolve of the NSSN ahead of their national conference on 9th June. There will be deep debates as to how best to ensure first that we get good turnout on the days, and second that we park deep in the massive unions like Unite and Unison our iron determination to continue to fight, a determination we believe many of the members there either share already or would share if they had a trustworthy leadership and were presented with an alternative to simply accepting the cuts as fait accompli.

As a member of my PCS branch, I’ll be looking to get delegated to the NSSN conference and so should you. The more union branches represented there, the more thorough any discussion is likely to be. I’m also fighting to get cooperation from other unions in the place where I work, with joint meetings and real discussions about how best they can support us when we’re on strike and what they can expect from us in return, in their own disputes which management, which are many. I’ll be trumpeting the NUT and NASUWT vote to buoy up morale amongst PCS members.

As a member of the Socialist Party, I’ll be on the streets of Canterbury fighting to get the wider working class involved. I’ll be lobbying the Canterbury and Dover & Folkestone Trades Councils to organise joint public demonstrations and to build for them, rather than simply announcing the strikes and activities and expecting members to turn up as so many of the most bureaucratic union leaders do – a tactic which leaves the unions looking weak and which often confirms those union leaders’ own insecurities about what support they have behind them.

That is something that needs addressed on every level; email lists are far from enough engagement with members – and the reliance on those email lists or one-off face to face activities to instill in our colleagues and comrades the political education to match their instincts is simply not acceptable.

Thursday and Friday’s Days of Action in Canterbury and Gravesend, which Kent Socialist Party organised with Youth Fight for Jobs, suggested to me that though things looked a little wobbly just recently, fightback 2o12 is far from dispensed with, such are the levels of anger with this government. The NUT and NASUWT votes confirm it. All socialists must now play their role as leaders of their communities, of their workplaces and unions and of their class, and push for joint action, exerting maximum pressure to get our allies in Unison and Unite back into the fight. Hopefully the few comrades still in Labour know that and are ready for it.

Lord Bell and why lobbyists really aren’t to blame

April 7, 2012 1 comment

I tend not to take much interest in paid lobbyists, regarding them as verminous scum. Still, when people I talk to on stalls mention something, I take an interest and it just so happened yesterday that one ex-Lib Dem (left because of leadership treason) brought up the subject of Lord Bell’s “attack” on lobbyists.

Apparently the ex-owner of Bell Pottinger made a speech the other day in which he admitted that they were “a lightning rod for mistrust”. It says something about the type of wet drips who join the Lib-Dems that this guy thought Lord Bell was making an attack on his own profession; far from it. He was in full throated defence.

“The fact remains that, taking on a client good or bad, it is our reputation at stake,” says Bell, and “everybody has the right to representation”. Defending Bell Pottinger’s PR work for the repressive dictatorship of Belarus, Bell says that “Good PR needs substance”, intimating that his firm only held up real good things that were happening there.

Let’s deconstruct this a bit. Not everybody has the right to representation; only those who can pay have the right to representation. Hence it’s the dictatorship of Belarus and not its starved, oppressed people who hired Bell Pottinger. Likewise, it’s capitalist firms and not their workers who hire PR firms, political “leaders” and not activists and so on.

The essence of paid political lobbying is the elevation of those who exist at points where money is concentrated – i.e. the already institutionally powerful and wealthy. So the whole edifice is biased from the beginning. More than that, whilst lobbyists don’t have to lie, the nature of their job is to distort the truth, holding up the good things and explaining away the bad things. Amusingly, Lord Bell actually gets indignant over Belarus, “No attempt was made to understand what we were doing”. Quite the opposite; surely the problem was that everyone knew precisely what Bell Pottinger were doing?

Asked why he thought he was being attacked, Lord Bell’s giant ego moved to obscure the sunlight;

I have absolutely no idea. I think I’m absolutely lovely. But some people don’t think I am, so they attack me. The answer is because I’m at the top of the tree. I say that immodestly, I’m somewhere near the top of the tree and I have been for some time. Tall poppy syndrome applies to our industry the same as everything else. What’s the point of attacking somebody nobody’s ever heard of? It’s much more fun to attack me, or the Saatchi brothers, or Matthew Freud, or Max Clifford. Attack somebody who’s visible.

Attacking somebody who’s visible…and supports murderous dictatorships, oppressive Thatcherite governments and the like, perhaps?

There’s a nugget in all of this which shows that paid lobbying is not to blame for the ills of our political system. There are parallels which exist between people like Lord Bell (i.e. smug rich arseholes) and, say, David Cameron. They occupy a similar ideological universe.

Bell seems to suggest a democracy of the marketplace with his “everyone has the right to representation” spiel. This is hardly different to the Tory equation of corporate donations to their party with union donations to the Labour Party.

Both stories are about attempts to buy power by interest groups. Both treat potential funders as individuals, the better to make all potential funders look like equals and obscure the very real differences in wealth, power and numbers.

The Bell/Cameron model favours small cliques who can more easily use wealth and power over mass organisations of millions (e.g. the people of Belarus or the 7 million workers in unions). Implying any equivalence is ridiculous. Numerous figures in the Labour heirarchy are no strangers to this model, nor are the Lib-Dems. And this is my point. It is natural for them to think this way, to favour the wealthy and still see some balance in their views.

It doesn’t require lobbying. It simply requires that we workers lie down and take it, over and over and over again.

Galloway and Bradford West

March 30, 2012 10 comments

As disappointing as it may be to some long-time blogofriends, who really despise him, I am resolutely indifferent to George Galloway. This might be seen as some political lapse on my part. After all, only the other week I was expressing my sympathy for Peter Cruddas, the Tory apparatchik caught trying to sell access to our dearly beloved PM.

Even so, when reading the headlines over my cornflakes today, I did laugh very hard indeed at Galloway’s absolutely massive victory in Bradford West. I laughed harder still at the lightning speed responses from Labour people on Twitter, which amounted to “Bloody [insert ethnic or religious minority]”. I’m not joking there. That’s really what it came down to.

Let me clarify. A lot of people are talking about the “machine politics” practised by some Asian communities, and suggesting that Galloway has appeased the powers that be there, to win the votes they can command – a little like Tammany Hall. It is entirely possible that Galloway benefitted here (and I make no claim to authority in the matter) but it is rather hypocritical for Labour to attack it, as if it is true that Galloway benefits from it, then in many areas Labour also benefits from it. Or the whole conception might be a vaguely racist appraisal by people who stand outside those communities.

In any case, an 18,000 strong vote, based on slogans like “Real Labour not New Labour”, “Stop this Cuts Madness” and “Stop the Break Up of the NHS” (as well as the expected “Bring Our Boys Home” tropes), is not easily dismissed.

I am not a Respect supporter; I think they are a dead-end, and I think Galloway is an unaccountable, uncontrollable celebrity personality, rather than the sort of local campaigner I’d be more comfortable voting for (see TUSC for further details). But in the Bradford West by-election there was no one else to vote for, if deciding purely on the basis of what the candidates said in their electoral material, which is presumably the only contact most people had with the matter.

The key question is, having won this by-election, what is Galloway going to do now? Those who enjoy ridiculing him have made much of  his Celebrity Big Brother shenanigans, as being “disrespectful” to his constituents etc etc. Again I’m seized by indifference over the matter – though it might give a tell-tale indication as to what sort of MP Galloway might be. It bears saying, however, that as with the “machine politics” stuff, Labour people voicing their discontent are somewhat hypocritical. I’m sure Ed Miliband would jump on any TV show going if he thought he would win the election as a result – only he’d probably have to call in at Hackett’s for a bespoke personality and not just his usual custom-made suits.

Is Galloway, on the other hand, being the darling of the media because he seems immune to embarrassment, going to run a media-luvvy orientated campaign henceforth, or is he going to be in Bradford High St, manning the anti-cuts stalls? He should be. Such a high profile victory, allied to the right campaigning strategy, could galvanise the whole working class of Bradford to come out and fight the cuts. There are practical tasks at stake; the coordination of local union action, the preparation of anti-cuts candidates for council, on a “needs-budget” slate, and the extension of cooperative efforts to other nearby areas, such as Leeds, where the cuts are biting just as hard.

A high profile figure can lend weight to that strategy, which is really the only strategy.

Is that to be George Galloway’s role? We don’t yet know, so we don’t yet know what the significance of this by-election will be. We know it shows discontent – but whether or not that discontent can be turned from a passive kind, that results in one-off by election votes, into an active kind that will defeat the cuts…therein lies the real question mark over Bradford. Everywhere on the Left can be felt Labour’s ebb, particularly from those unions which move into struggle whilst Ed Miliband talks about “resolution at any cost” (which means “at any cost to workers”, as we know from experience).

What force will replace it is still up for debate – and replace it something will. Bradford notwithstanding, Labour are still the main repository for the votes of the passive resistance. As workplaces move into active struggle, Labour people find themselves standing by the wayside. People don’t forget that the pickets of the last year or so were not that long ago pickets erected against the policies of a Labour government. Moreover, that active struggle demands answers which Labour cannot supply. The election of a Labour government is only the end of Round One in the battle against the cuts – the battle against capitalism.

Round two will be the creation, through the struggle against that Labour government and its equally repugnant cuts, of the organs of an alternative, unifying and representative seat of working class power.

In Bradford, the local paper reported in 2009 that 41% percent of the areas in the district are among the most deprived in the country. Labour people can do all the whinging they want about machine politics – but there are very good reasons for the people in this area not to vote Labour; a Labour council, tarred by Galloway with the same cuts-loving brush as the Tories, could not save a Labour candidate from being absolutely annihilated. That is telling enough as to the continuing abysmal state of the Labour Party.

Lastly, the Lib-Dems apparently lost their deposit. May there be heaps more of that, thank you very much.

My deeply disturbing thesis; don’t attack Syria

February 14, 2012 62 comments

I note with grim bemusement some of the opinions coming out of this blog in recent weeks as regards potential operations in Syria, and the rather shocking attitude of Carl to people he believes hold principles that forbid military intervention in another nation. A deeply disturbing thesis, he calls these principles. Well, I for one disagree. I’m against any attack on Syria by any government.

Western governments cannot be trusted with a gun in their hand, period. It has nothing to do with the possible creation of safe zones, the potential for the Syrian people to rise up if they get Western help or their fate if they don’t. If you put guns in the hands of a movement which is not led by the independent organisations of the working class then, as in Libya, you invite disaster.

This disaster comes in the re-emergence of whatever social roots the criminal dictatorship can rely on, and it comes in the rise of racial, ethnic and tribal tensions. Separatism, as might be emerging some Libyan regions (not forgetting that this country was created by the West), becomes the focus of politics, as it attempts to bury the class struggle that must be waged against the privatisation which Gaddafi had come around to, and which the TNC will support.

If you think this is all abstract Marxist theorising, rather than being based on real events, look at the demands emanating from the local elites in Benghazi regarding Libya’s oil. Look at the details Amnesty International have of the looting of Black Libyan areas by the rebels. And I need not even mention how ethnic, racial and religious tensions became real with a vengeance in Iraq.

When socialists reproach pro-interventionists for listening to propaganda regarding the brutality of Bashar al-Assad, they’re not challenging the veracity of the stories. They’re challenging Western media emphasis on them, and the selection of these particular evils out of a whole world full of torture, oppression and misrule. Pro-interventionists aren’t being sufficiently critical in their approach to such evils. And they plainly haven’t learned the lessons of Western intervention elsewhere.

That lesson is an abject one in total hypocrisy. Concern for the victims of Assad now becomes indifference towards the victims of the Western militaries (and their less politically correct allies) and outright enmity towards those of divergent political aims. To foist such “help” upon the brave civilians who are standing up to Assad is absolute lunacy.

In the end, intervention is not an abstract instrumental question, it is a political one. The reckoning between the people of Syria and the dictatorship will not remain within those narrow parameters because of this. Eleven months into the uprising, the rebels have not been subdued. In fact, if reports are to be believed, Assad is using foreign hired guns to do what he dare not ask the army rank and file to do. Meanwhile the rebels must bring the rest of Damascus over to them – the stirrings of revolution.

Western intervention would almost certainly halt that – and may even result in some accommodation with the regime, after the removal of Assad. How is that justice for the thousands who have died?

These rebellions across the Middle East are not accidental or spontaneous. Dictators who have paid for their rule with oil wealth and relatively good living conditions are being hit by the global economic crisis. People are coming out into the streets not just to demand political freedom but to demand more from regimes that one by one succumbed to the depredations of market capitalism. The other capitalist nations will be more than happy to grant the former if they can forestall demands regarding the latter.

The sort of people the foreign powers are willing to deploy, to shut up the Syrian populace and prevent any further spread of the Arab Spring, is deeply telling however. Up until just this month, head of the Arab League observer mission was Mustafa al-Dabi, the Sudanese military official in post in Darfur whilst the genocide was going on. When the Western nations intervene, or the Arab League intervenes, the purpose will not be to limit civilian deaths, it will be to achieve an outcome satisfactory to those governments.

Moreover, looking at the sort of people likely to attempt to take control of Syria. Another unelected unaccountable trigger-happy transitional authority will simply release the same pressures as it released in Libya – and will thereafter pursue the same policies as Assad, perhaps resulting in worse casualties should any region or ethnic group dare to assert its separatist demands. By the time that happens, we’ll be lucky if there’s a Western media presence never mind a military presence.

Unlike Egypt, but like Libya, the Syrian people have started this with a handicap. They don’t have independent organisations of the working class. But they must develop them. The most we can do is hope on their behalf, and pressure our own governments to both stay aloof and to oppose Arab League intervention. That is not as satisfying perhaps as demanding the immediate bombing of every Syrian military installation in range of the 5th fleet, but that demand is not a solution to the problem – it complicates it. Meanwhile trust the Syrians to feel their way towards the right path. Assad’s continuing trickle of concessions are the surest sign that they will get there.

Meanwhile I wonder if the anti-war movement should be gearing up to oppose military intervention in a conflict closer to home, as it were, as the tension ratchets up over the Falklands again. I’m sure we’ll be hearing all the pro-interventionist piffle about democracy and self-determination on behalf of the islanders, should Argentina invade. As with Belgium in World War I, it is so much hypocritical twaddle in the mouths of capitalist leaders.

Which neatly brings me back to the deeply disturbing thesis. The capitalist state cannot be trusted to wield the military. Capitalist leaders, in their comfortable London drawing rooms, cannot be trusted to put the welfare of people in front of business when there are no lives at stake – why should they be trusted to put the welfare of people in front of what they consider to be the national interest when there are? Hands off Iran, Hands off Syria, Hands off the Falklands and while you’re at it, Hands off the NHS.

Categories: Dave's Favourites, Marxism

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