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A Critique of Susan Watkins – New Left Review – on “After Brexit”.

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Let Brexit Be Done!

 

“Holloa, my republican friend, d—n it, that’s a nasty lick you’ve got, and from one of people too; that makes it harder to bear, eh? Never mind, he’s worse off than you are.” It was, 1814, the time of the French Restauration. London had been celebrating a visit by His Sacred Majesty, the Bourbon King Louis the 18th. Zachariah Coleman a Dissenter and Radical, had not doffed his cap as the French King appeared. Hit by a burley Drayman’s fist, saved by the intervention of the above Major, the hero of The Revolution in Tanner’s Lane (1887. Mark Rutherford, W.H. White) could stand for the left after the blow of December’s General Election. We are still reeling as the People have cheered, or at least, voted, Boris Johnson into office.

In Britain’s Decade of Crisis, Susan Watkins talks of this present-day “restoration”. “The Tories are back in office with their largest majority since the 1980s, thanks to the long-ignored northern working class”. Like the Bourbons, the PM’s “ traditional ruling-class persona” gave the trappings of “decisiveness, vitality, enjoyment”. Rolling these phrases the Editor of New Left Review sees no cause to revise her judgement on the Leave victory in the 2016 Referendum. “Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret this knocks against it, against which the whole global order establishment – Obama, Merkel, Modi, Junker, to Xi – has inveigled.” (1)

In another return to the old order New Left Review clutches at Tom Nairn’s portrait of British capitalist development. The “rising bourgeoisie was absorbed into the existing aristocratic state and civil structures”. “The world dominance of the City of London served to divert investment away from the northern industrial regions: higher returns were to be found overseas.” To cut a long, and contentious, story short, the country ended up with this: “While London remained the financial capital of Europe, ‘outward-orientation’ in the era of bubblenomics was above all Atlanticist.”

In other words, leaving the EU was not a knock to the neoliberal global order, or to “southern-based financialised capitalism”. Those gaining from “bubblenomics”, some of the funders of the Leave movement, show that much. The multinational state, Nairn’s bugbear, which he calls by the laborious name of Ukania, may be under strain. Watkins cites the ‘Scottish Rebellion’. She does not mention the sage’s speculation that “the breakup of Britain will be accompanied by the dissolution of its heartland or Southern nationalism into a larger European entity”. (2)

UKIP’s ‘National Independence” movement.

A belated English national independence struggle, led by UKIP, and with wider roots in the Northern Rust Belt, fuelled the demand for Leave. “England without London”, the alliance of the “disaggregated” working and middle classes who backed Leave, the ignored “will of the working class” given voice in Tory support is the result. But like the former mining and industrial districts of Northern France that have turned to Marine Le Pen, this is an alliance of the less-well off with their betters, the traditional reactionary wing of the right. French and British legitimists may add colour to the bloc; former mining families, self-pitying pathos. Racism, xenophobic, the germs of popular base for national populism, could be cited. They are not. One equally suspects that Simon Kuper is onto something when he talks of the “middle class anti-elitist” as the vanguard of Leave support, not the working class and poor ‘left behind’. (3)

Britain’s Decade of Crisis skirts over the movements against austerity that grew after the 2008 Banking crisis and state cuts. The People’s Assembly, run at the top by the small left group, Counterfire, funded by trade unions, such as UNITE, it galvanised and brought together grassroots protests. Prefiguring the election of Jeremy Corbyn, anti-austerity campaigns brought together left activists, local councillors, trade unionists and a big slice of community groups. Many involved joined the Labour Party – actively encouraged by the unions, and the transitional stage of supporters’ membership – under the new leadership. Some saw this as the basis for Labour insurgency, a challenge to “capitalist realism” in civil society. Yet, paradoxically or not, the anti-austerity movement began to fade the moment Jeremy Corbyn was elected and Momentum was floated as the new ‘social movement’. There is little doubt that placards and demos can only go so far when confronted with Council budgets and the Fortress of the DWP. (4)

Labour, Corbyn and the Media.

Watkins jumps to the challenge “from the Labour Left under Jeremy Corbyn: an appeal to redistribute wealth and recast foreign policy, distancing the UK from NATO’s wars.” We learn little about how Labour’s team prepared to turn these policies into a digestible form and the criticisms they faced, up to, and during the election about the unintelligibility and volume, of their plans Indeed the difficulties that the ‘Corbyn project’ faced are externalised.

We hear a lot about how the Parliamentary Party tried to frustrate Corbyn, and a great deal, a very great deal about the media’s hostility to Labour. The “Labour leader came under an unprecedented three-way assault—from the establishment intelligentsia, from his own parliamentary party and from opponents of his anti-war foreign policy.”

Nobody pointed out, that blaming foreign wars, with barely audible qualification, for the Manchester bomb attack – mass murder – was factually and politically doubtful. Nobody questioned Labour’s failure to give more than tepid support for Syrians killed by Baathist, Russian and Iranian forces, or do anything to back the Kurds, to back democrats against Assad, was reflected the ethically bankrupt ‘anti-imperialism’ of key Corbyn advisers. Nobody mentioned it in New Left Review!

Instead the issue of anti-semitism loomed over all others. She concludes“… given the scale and toxicity of the establishment onslaught, besides which the concoction of the Zinoviev Letter in 1924 appears the work of amateurs, the first duty is to salute the moral integrity of Corbyn and his courageous Jewish allies.” This no-holds, no concessions, defence offers little to resolve an over-commented issue. It is hard to credit that Corbyn supporters who reacted with as much vitriol as their critics helped resolve the issue, or that the way some treated the Labour Party as  a place to play out their absolute anti-Zionism, was not the best way to deal with a predictable attack from this quarter, helped. 

“The media’s anti semitism campaign represented a damaging assault on Corbyn’s Labour from above.” Far from the only one, but Watkins is eager to go for the next issue. “Brexit hurt the party from below—dividing it from an important section of its historic voter base.” Again, without surveying the influence of those called the Corridor Cabal, who backed Brexit even more enthusiastically than Watkins, or the turn outs on some of the biggest mass demonstrations ever seen in Britain, for remaining in the EU, she concludes, “ Instead of proposing an alternative solution to the crisis, as in 2017, Labour was the main force blocking the implementation of the popular vote, in a defence of the status quo—aligned with the Supreme Court, the House of Lords, the ‘Remainer elite’.”

Let Brexit be Done!

Any attempt to stop Brexit was not only doomed, it frustrated an alternative. “Corbyn could have avoided this position by giving Labour mps a free vote on Brexit legislation in 2019, ‘according to their conscience’, as Harold Wilson had done on the divisive 1975 referendum on the UK’s entry into the Common Market. With the ‘northern group’ voting for the bill and two dozen Labour abstentions, Johnson would have been denied the chance to make electoral hay out of the obstruction of Brexit, and the prospect of combating a much weaker Tory administration would have lain ahead at the next election.”

In other words, Labour should have let Brexit pass. The Northern patriots would have been appeased, Johnson, his key policy given the green light, his own remain opponents tossed aside, and pro-EU protesters rattled, would be in a mess. Or “much weaker”.

With the blessing of hindsight  Zachariah Coleman should have tipped his hat to the Bourbon King.

Having cheered him on his way, the Dissenter would only have to wait till 1830 to see the elite gone, and a fine musical, Les Misérables, written to celebrate it.

What now for Labour and the Left. Momentum, according to some reports, has frazzled out. Long-Bailey looks unlikely to hold the Corbyn candle. The pro-Corbyn left is fragmenting.  “The new left keeps open the prospect of taking the fight to the terrain of the future with bold solutions for inequality, climate change and the international order, as the Corbyn leadership tried to do” states Susan Watkins towards the conclusion of the New Left Review Editorial. This looks like a rerun of the alter-globalisation folk politics of the past, without any prospect of power.

What constituencies should the new left and Labour address? Reworking the themes of the Somewhere and Nowhere people, the Metropolitan and the Periphery, the political and electoral cartography stands as this: For Paul Mason, the progressive alliance of the future lies squarely with the ‘internationals’, the young metropolitan professionals of the Remain camp. For Wolfgang Streeck, the national level offers the only effective basis for democratic accountability, for calling the ravening forces of capital to order.” Paul Mason, internationalist, opponent of right-wing populism and “national neoliberalism”. Wolfgang Streeck, star writer for New Left Review, member of the alliance between left sovereigntists and Brexit Party supporters, the Full Brexit, the man who thinks national borders are the “last line of defence”…. The Editor leaves little doubt about where her support goes….(5)

*****

  1. Susan Watkins. Casting off? Editorial. NLR No 100. 2016.
  2. Page 391. The Enchanted Glass. Britain and its Monarchy. Tom Nairn. Radius 1988.
  3. Simon Kuper. The revenge of the middle-class anti-elitist. Financial Times. Feb 13th. 2010. Most British Leave voters lived in the south of England, and 59 per cent were middle class (social classes A, B or C1), writes Danny Dorling, geographer at Oxford University.
  4. Exiting the Vampire Castle. Mark Fisher. 2013. “One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.
  5. From the Demise of Social Democracy to the ‘End of Capitalism’: The Intellectual Trajectory of Wolfgang Streeck. Jerome Roos. 2019 HISTORICAL MATERIALISM 27(2): 248-288

As an example of how the pro-Corbyn left is splintering this could not be better:

 

Here

As Support for Keir Starmer Grows and Grows Socialist Worker Attacks “Right-wing Labour Leadership Candidate.”

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Peter Tatchell, Starmer would make a “fine Labour Leader”.

The Newsnight debate yesterday.

This is highly recommended:

Peter Tatchell, a human rights campaigner and longtime acquaintance of Starmer, remembered him as always being “very open to representation from outside his own circle” as DPP.

“I was involved in helping to defend two Balochistan activists who the government of Pakistan was trying to frame on terrorism charges,” he said. “When I approached Keir about the case he immediately said ‘Come in and see me. Let’s talk about it.’ He was a very high-profile, busy man at the time but he took the time, you know, which I think is a measure of his character and integrity.”

Tatchell said Starmer would make a “fine Labour leader” but said he hoped he would take on some of the “very thoughtful, intelligent proposals” made by Clive Lewis, the left-wing Labour MP who dropped out of the leadership contest in the early stages.

“I think the Keir you see today is pretty much the Keir of 30 years ago,” Tatchell added. “He’s got a very sharp mind and is very articulate. I think it would be a great asset if he can work on a sense of humour as well. … Yeah, it’s a bit hidden.”

Keir Starmer Is Not Who You Think He Is. Emily Ashton.

James McAsh writes on Labour List.

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner are in the lead by a considerable margin. Each has approximately 60% of nominations. Two in five CLPs have nominated both candidates, one in five have nominated each one alone, and only one in five have nominated neither.

……

 Perspective on the EU is still a factor. CLPs nominating Starmer and Thornberry are more likely to be in areas that voted Remain, while those supporting Long-Bailey or Nandy more often voted Leave.

Nonetheless, the Brexit vote does not disrupt the headline results: Starmer has won a majority of both groups, Long-Bailey is in second place, and Nandy is beating Thornberry to third place. Perhaps we’re not so divided after all.

It is all but impossible that Starmer and Rayner will lose. Moreover, their staggering leads make it clear that they have hoovered up support from both previous Corbyn supporters and his critics. Is this a new era of unity? A happy compromise between those who want the Corbyn project to enter a new stage, and those who want it to end? Or rather, will the expectations for the new leadership be ultimately irreconcilable? Only time will tell.

As the Labour Party looks to a new leadership to replace the failed pro-“People’s Brexit’ Corridor Cabal that damaged the party during the election.

From the SWP sidelines comes further reasons to back Starmer charging him, falsely with wanting to “move to the right”, and sneering at his human rights work, and, correctly, with having been pro-internationalist on the issue of the European Union.

The SWP no doubt thinks that if they repeat the claim that Starmer is a “right-winger” long enough people might believe them.

Right wingers lead as Labour leadership race enters final stage

Right wing Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer looked set to enter the final round of the contest with the most nominations by far.

Starmer had won backing from 280 Constituency Labour Parties—local party organisations—as Socialist Worker went to press.

His nominations surpassed the left’s candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey, who had the backing of 131 CLPs, and the two other candidates Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry.

Among those nominating him last week was Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency Islington North—prompting gloating from the Labour right and barely concealed joy from political pundits.

The deadline for nominations was Friday this week. The final stage of the contest—a ballot of individual members and affiliated supporters—was set to run from Friday of next week until Thursday 2 April.

Yet the scale of the nominations for Starmer is an indication that the mass support that sustained Corbyn’s leadership may not become backing for Long-Bailey.

Starmer says Labour has to move right to be electable—and activists worry that this is swaying members.

He has tried to cultivate an image as ­someone who supported workers as a campaigning lawyer.

Yet he also relies on his image as a “respectable” politician due to his background as Labour’s shadow Brexit ­minister and as Director of Public Prosecutions.

Starmer was one of those responsible for Labour’s slide towards backing a second referendum—which was central to the disastrous 2019 general election result.

He also ­publicly backed ­remaining in the European Union. Yet demoralisation among Labour members mean some are pulled by the idea that Labour needs a leader more acceptable to the right and the media.

Meanwhile, Long-Bailey was attacked for promising to ban bosses from forcing workers to answer emails out of working hours, and to ­support “every” strike.

Yet her campaign has also made concessions to the right—including ­backing MP Angela Rayner over the left wing Richard Burgon for deputy leader. She’s also backed rules that would allow left wing activists to be purged from Labour for anything more than the ­mildest criticism of Israel.

Labour lost the general election partly because its leadership under Corbyn consistently conceded to right wing arguments, allowing them to take hold and undermine him.

Now the pressures of “unity” and “electability” look set to drag the party even ­further to the right.

Fellow supporters of Brexit, Spiked, are also anti-Starmer.

On another identity issue, the ‘Trans pledge’, the leadership debate has seen Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey back calls to purge Labour of feminist dissent on the issue.

In thoughtful and reasoned comment Lindsey German said earlier in the week said that the issue should not be used to shout down debate,

No platform should only be for fascists

Laura Pidcock, the former Labour MP who has such a good record on the left, has come under attack in the past week for making the following statement as part of a much longer article: ‘The women’s movement needs space to talk about sex and gender without fear of being “no platformed”’. She has been called bigoted and transphobic. Yet what she says is absolutely true. There is no justification for refusing a platform to someone who wants to discuss these highly controversial issues. They are not fascists, indeed many have a long record of fighting oppression. Moreover, they are as resolutely opposed to attacks on, abuse of, or discrimination against trans people as are the people attacking them. So they cannot be lumped in with right wingers who want to deny trans rights.

The truth is there is no automatic unity of the oppressed and positions need to be argued and fought for. Demonstration against feminists who are concerned about transgender issues, shouting them down, trying to get them sacked or removed as speakers, should have no place on the left. It’s 50 years since the first women’s liberation conference in this country and, guess what, women’s oppression remains a major factor in our society.

Here is Starmer’s reaction to the calls for a witch-hunt on the issue of trans rights.

Instead he backs this democratic pledge:

 

 

 

The Brexit Left Hails, “the positive potential of a departure from the EU.”

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Daily Express 1 February 2020

Morning Star Sees “Positive Potential” in Brexit.

The Morning Star, wholly independent of the Communist Party of Britain and owned by the Co-Op, this week hailed the “positive potential” of Brexit Day.

Editorial.

The Morning Star claims that Labour ‘handed control’ of the Brexit process ” to enemies of the working class in Westminster and Brussels” by inflicting “defeats on the government”.

In the New Era,

Now Brexit is happening, Labour urgently needs to do what it should have done in 2016, the essence of which was actually outlined by Corbyn in 2018: to recognise the positive potential of a departure from the EU.

These include expanding public ownership without worrying about the strictures of the Lisbon Treaty, or the “rights” of parasitical firms exploiting our public services for profit; to plan economic development sustainably, intervening to clean and green our economy without allowing transnational companies a “fair playing field” on which to ruin our planet; rewriting public procurement rules so contracts are allocated based on public interest and the welfare of workers and users.

For the moment, none of this is on the table. Brexit is an opportunity, because it removes certain treaties and regulations which are barriers to a socialist transformation of society.

But every silver-lined opportunity has a cloud,

But it is no more than an opportunity. It has not liberated anyone. Britain has elected a hard-right government which is already breaking promises to end austerity and will wage ruthless war on our communities and our workforces. It is a pro-imperialist government aligned as slavishly to an aggressive White House as was Tony Blair’s.

Some on the left will blame all this on Brexit. Actually it marks a continuation of the policies of the past four decades rather than a departure from them. Labour can keep mourning the EU, keep pleading for total alignment with all its anti-worker treaties and court rulings, keep reproaching people for failing to understand what we could lose rather than inspiring them with a vision of what we can win.

Or it can move on.

And agree with the pro-Leave Morning Star.

By accepting the Boris consensus on Brexit we can finally, by leaps and bounds, engage in the real struggle. That is,

 it accepts we have left and throws itself into the fight for a better future.

Another editorial blames faith in the EU for a downturn in workers’ struggles,

A misplaced faith in the EU to protect workers’ rights has seen energies misdirected into lobbying on behalf of the supranational organisation rather than building a movement formidable enough to defend and extend rights.

The EU has prevented Britain from defending the national working class.

In fact EU rules have acted to prevent governments keeping manufacturing and construction contracts in the country to protect jobs.

The same applies to workers’ rights. Trade unions in particular have been systematically stripped of their rights over the past 40 years.

The national working class can only look to national struggles to fight for its rights.

One welcome result of Britain’s departure should therefore be abandoning the myth — laughable given the momentous struggle against attacks on pension rights currently raging in France — that the labour movement can look to the EU for protection. Workers’ rights can only be secured by the working class itself.

Only working-class action can defend workers’ rights

You wonder why the labour movement bothers with any legislation or tries to get MPs elected.

Perhaps the Morning Star will extend the CPB’s call to Boycott Labour and abstain in last year’s European Elections to the next British General Election.

Counterfire, meanwhile has held its conference.

Corbynism, socialists and the resistance – Counterfire’s conference

The revolutionary socialist organisation resolved to back Rebecca Long-Bailey in the Labour leadership contest.

In prose which only they have the secret of the groupuscule declares,

Counterfire is a revolutionary socialist organisation that differs with those in Labour about whether the party can be won to socialism and whether socialism can be attained through Parliament. Nevertheless, we were at the forefront of defending and encouraging the Corbyn project, while being fraternally critical when neccessary (sic).

They instruct,

Socialists in Labour should vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon in the current elections, it will be a boost to the entire left if left-wing candidates win the leadership and deputy leadership of the Labour Party. But the loss of the election has strengthened the right and Corbyn’s resignation is likely to lead to retreats, particularly on foreign policy issues. Increasingly the focus for socialists ought to be outside electoral politics.

On Brexit they declare,

That Brexit still represents an opportunity for rupture with Europe’s capitalist institutions and only makes sense from the left. There is no better deal for capital than the one it currently has.

Conference resolves:

In the context of the end of Corbynism and the inevitable moving rightwards of the Labour Party, to continue making the arguments within the left that making a break with the institutions of the EU is a necessary step on the road to socialism.

Agreeing with their national comrades in the Morning Star Martin Hall writes on Brexit Day that  “future is up for grabs”, to catch it the left must,

Understand that a rupture with the current model of capitalism in order to rebalance capital and labour in favour of the latter can only be achieved outside the EU.

Leaving the EU: this is about what sort of society we want – and it isn’t Johnson’s

Try wishing away this:

Image may contain: one or more people and crowd

Brexit Day, the Labour Party and the Left.

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The Actually Existing ‘People’s Brexit’.

“Newly dominant reactionary forces call for the undermining trade pacts and presaging trade wars, denouncing supranational institutions and cosmopolitan elites, while stoking the flames of racism and violence against migrants. Even some on the left, some herald a renewed national sovereignty to serve as a defensive weapon against the predations of neoliberalism, multinational corporations and global elites.”

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Empire, Twenty Years On.

“It was fitting that the final footage of Nigel Farage inside the European Parliament was of his microphone being hastily switched off mid-sentence by a visibly prickly chairwoman. Farage was told off for brandishing a tiny, 10x15cm Union flag. Put your flags away. You are leaving. And if you are leaving now, take them with you, she sternly instructed with matronly clarity.”

Farage..made a small symbolic nod to the country he has been elected to represent for over a quarter of a century. He was silenced for even alluding to the existence of the nation state. But if the nation state is so problematic, it begs the question of what the European Union is a union of, exactly.

Alexandra Phillips. Brexit Party MEP. Spiked.

Today is Brexit Day, the “dawn of a new era”. Who will greet this triumph? The British People, rising like Lions after slumber? The Brexiteers know how to camp up tat but few can see any emotional rivers about to burst. The Labour Party will not join the festivities or protests. But, “Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman has told journalists that ‘there will be no tears’ from the Labour leader as Britain leaves the EU this Friday.” (Left Foot Forward) Some Remainers will show their grief; most of the nearly half the electorate who voted to stay in Europe will be quiet.

Without much prompting the sovereigntist left see “possibilities that arise out of leaving the EU”. Lexiteer Larry Elliott claims to see signs in the nationalisation of Northern Rail that the Tories have “tacked left” on public spending, in response to the public shift towards leftwards on the economy (Boris Johnson has shifted the Tories left on the economy. Labour should watch out)

The uncontested leader of La France insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who put down Labour’s defeat to the interference of the Israeli secret services, has made a friendly nod. He suggests that the temporary public ownership of a railway company could only take place outside the European Union. From the Full Brexit and Blue Labour Maurice Glasman detects “socialist economics” in the statements of Johnson’s top man, Dominic Cummings. The “most progressive post-Brexit future” would seem to be one that negotiates within the framework created by the European Reform Group.

How will the Labour Party take on the Conservative Majority in Parliament? Will it become part of, as Tony Blair did, a consensus established by the right? Do contenders for the Labour leadership intend to become part of a post-Brexit settlement? No candidate offers an immediate challenge. The issue is being digested in the party’s guts, as supporters try to come to terms with the end of the Corbyn project. On the wilder fringes the pro-EU stand of Keir Starmer has been blamed for defeat. Taking a short break from posting material against undue ‘Jewish influence’ in Britain Verso, the publisher of New Left Review has published a hatchet job on the candidate, suggesting that he is widely blamed for the electoral disaster…..

Sir Keir broke with the leadership, refused to formulate a Leave programme (aside from his deliberately unworkable ‘six tests’), and steered the party towards a second referendum. As many have argued, this was the perhaps the single biggest reason for the disastrous general election result that followed.

The case against Keir Starmer Oliver Eagleton

Hardt and Negri remind us that more is at stake than an election. Hunkering down to a political strategy defined by the sovereignty defined by Brexit cuts the British left off from international political and economic processes. The authors of Empire (2000) believe that globalisation is still a dominant force in the world. In these conditions, “no nation-state today is able to organise and command the global order unilaterally”. Trump’s “railing against ‘globalism’ “entails a ploy for a more dominant position within, rather than an attacks upon, the global system.” Yet within the worldwide “mixed constitution” the forces of “revolutionary internationalism”, embodied in the “multitude”, the “diverse figures of social production”, a “multitudinous class”, continues to resist. (1)

Without integrating the British left into these international processes and struggles – primarily “through and against” the existing institutions of the European Union – the space is left for the sovereigntists to play in. It is not just the economic and social effects of Brexit, the immediate setback to social rights and standards and the freedoms for capital that the new settlement is built on, that should concern the left. The folk politics of an “international cycle of struggles” and the memory of the “alter-globalisation” movement aside, it’s the multitude, the diverse, “intersectional” groups of people whose voices and interests are submerged by the Conservative triumph. The cultural effects of national populist ideas are deadening. Already parts of the pro-Brexit left dismiss demands they do not like, following Corbyn adviser Andrew Murray’s description of “rancid identity politics”. Some would prefer to concentrate on meeting fears of “white shift”. As Eric Kaufman notes, “What really distinguishes Leave from remain voters is their willingness to sacrifice economic benefits to cut immigration.” (2)

Murray has also said “the preference for individual rights over the collective, which has come to preponderate on much of the Western left, a flowering of the more poisonous seeds of the politics of personal identity and human rights.” Amongst those running for the Labour leadership Keir Starmer has a long history of defence of human rights. Other candidates are less active in the field.

There have been many debates about human rights over the last centuries. Far from being grounded in human nature or fixed by the order of things or gods, new demands have been created by people themselves, as one of the most famous early – unofficial – statements, the Declaration of the Rights of Women shows. Trade unions have been called the biggest human rights movement in history. Many on the left, including the most radical, have developed human rights principles, in theory and in often-desperate movements, over the last decades. Rights are not a political strategy, but a moral area in which Labour can develop a common outlook. With his background and reference to these issues, Starmer has an important contribution to make. (3)

As Paul Mason says,

…..the party itself has to become a mass, open, democratic and election-winning alliance. It has to be a cultural and social movement as well as an election machine. And in that project it is leadership skills and personal integrity that are going to matter, alongside commitment to a decarbonised economy and a post-neoliberal economics.

That’s why I am backing Keir Starmer. Starmer is from the left, but can command the trust of Labour’s various centrist wings, as well as the silent majority of members who just want to win an election and stop the agony of food banks, Universal Credit and in-work poverty. Beyond that, experience on the doorstep suggests he is the only candidate with spontaneous name-recognition and popularity among voters who deserted us in December.

When working class people say “I don’t like Corbyn but I would vote for you if Keir Starmer was leader”, it’s not out of deference to someone with slick hair and a suit. It’s because they sense politics has become a battle of stories, values and ideals and that Starmer stands a chance in that battle, in a way the other candidates do not.

There are risks attached to Starmer. His campaign team is a mixture of the left and centre – with most of the far-left self-excluded – so all the pressure on him is coming from the right. He is cautious on policy: committed to the Green New Deal and to public ownership, but well aware that neither of these properly resonated on the doorstep.

To win again, Labour’s next leader must be honest about the reasons the party lost

We agree, even if this claim is highly doubtful,

Now the leave-remain divide must end. Defining people by how they voted in June 2016 merely upholds a divide that we must overcome. There are no leavers or remainers any more. In 2024 there will be no leave or remain constituencies.

Now Labour must end the leave-remain divide. Another future is possible

Britain, despite Tory carping, remains part of the European Convention on Human Rights and part of its Court. Perhaps it will remind us that despite Brexit Day one of the elements of internationalism already has an – imperfect – institutional, form.

Build on it, the internationalist left will not walk away from Europe.

 

  1. See also Multitude. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri. Hamish Hamilton. 2004. and A Grammar of the multitude. Paolo Virno. Semiotext 2004.
  2. Page 214. The Fall and Rise of the British Left. Andrew Murray. Verso 2019. Page  201. White Shift. Eric Kaufmann. Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities. Penguin 2018
  3. Page 97 Andrew Murray. Op cit. See: Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiot ?  Justine Lacroix Jean-Yves Pranchère. Seuil, 2019

Populocracy. The Tyranny of Authenticity and the Rise of Populism. Catherine Fieschi. The “Populist Moment”.

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Populocracy. The Tyranny of Authenticity and the Rise of Populism. Catherine Fieschi. Agenda Publishing. 2019.

Britain had no political and social upspring comparable to France’s May 68. But it did have a “cultural 68” in rock music and the Underground. The UK has not seen a populist party get near the levers of political power. At one point, with rallies, speeches against traitors, metropolitan elites, the new Brexit Party looked as if it would ride the anti-68, Europe-wide populist electoral revolt. This began in many countries before the end of the last century, and their success can be seen in Ed Balls documentary series, Travels in Euroland. Yet there was no break-through. After winning the 2019 European Elections, Nigel Farage’s alliance of former revolutionary communists, left and right sovereigntists, Tory nationalists, the remnants of UKIP, and the even further right, failed, in the December vote, to get a single seat in Parliament.

Britain has, nevertheless, seen a cultural Populist Moment. If a re-forged UKIP “grass roots insurgency” failed to get MPs its ideas have walked right across the national stage. The Conservative Party’s use of national populist themes could be seen in attacks on the European Union, tapping into “traditional British identity and values” and dislike of “a remote and unresponsive political elite”. Anti-Parliamentarian threats to declare a State of Exception to override debate in the House of Commons and attacks on the Supreme Court resembled the populist demand that the will of the people trumps law-makers and the judiciary. Boris Johnson, with his 80 strong majority, was helped by the same political “dealignment” that has affected social democracy across Europe. His party may well have tapped into fear about the “destruction” of “historic identity and the established way of life” through “hyper-ethnic” change. The only ‘globalists’ by contrast, who got in their sights, were members of the European Commission and the liberal internationalists campaigning for a Second Referendum. (1)

What is left of this Moment? “Taking back control”, through getting “Brexit done” has shrivelled to mean, We are in charge, and We will do what we like. The populist content of the Tories’ stance looks mostly the gestures Catherine Fieschi calls “style”, and appeals to “authenticity”, although one would be hard pressed to find in the present Prime Minister much evidence of a populist “charismatic leader”. Some may see in his economics some tentative moves, but, as Sten Carver writes,  “Tory attempts to ride the two horses of neoliberal free trade and publicly funded infrastructure development are highly likely to come unstuck. Their ‘escape’ from the EU into the sunny uplands of deregulated international free trade is essentially an attempt to breathe new life into neoliberal globalism. ”  (Johnson’s Economic Populism) One can see further ideological  reverberations of this delayed culture war in the way that Laurence Fox has discovered a populist vein of anti-68 ideology, berating  the Western ‘Masochism” and guilt, a theme that has been exploited for decades by Pascal Bruckner (La Tyrannie de la penitence. 2006).

The Collective Will of the People.

Populocracy offers a good opportunity to stand back and look at the ““type, texture and feel”  of populism, the “blatant untruths” that fuel populism. Inspired during her MA studies to read the works o Stuart Hall on Thatcherism and ‘authoritarian populism” she continues to “take ideology seriously”. One starting point is the way the “people/elite division plays much the same the role as the capital/workers divide might have played in socialist politics.” (Page 13) The People’s “collective will” – a “holistic, organic – amongst metaphysical” conception of the people” is at the root. For ‘left populism’ citizens have also “inalienable (human) rights worthy of collective protection….the people are the expression of the collective will of sovereign citizens.” (Page 31) The right wing ‘organic’ people conception, grounded, one would say, on Edmund Burke’s contract of the living with the dead, or Charles Barrès’ idea of the bond between the nation, the people, la Terre et les Morts, can be rooted in “racial, ethnic homogeneity”. If the left populists do not share the anti-immigration implications of these ideas, there is little indication of how exactly the “collective will” of citizens” exists– a famous problem in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract, Represented. How sovereign nation of the ‘People’ will get rid of the ‘oligarchies’, the elites, and confront the globalised economy, is the first of many other difficulties for any kind of populism. Perhaps somebody has spoken to The People. Most of us have yet to meet it and get a response. .

Fieschi does not explore these abstractions. She focuses on “the new link between citizen demands for directness, immediacy and transparency, what we have called authenticity” (Page 137) This, grounded on the “digital transformation” a “fantasy of radical transparency”, lies behind the way “populist parties have turned one of the most powerful promises of the Enlightenment – and of democracy – against itself.” (Page 157)

In the Introduction Fieschi begins with France, where she in 1996 she had met Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the Front National. A man who can switch from classical French to provocative vulgarity at the drop of hat, Le Pen “would, sing, dance, laugh, flirt. And lie. (Page 3) From federator of the post-Vichy extreme right, was a populist pioneer in “Being real”. Perhaps a key aspect of his daughter and successor, marine le Pen’s enduring presence on the French electoral scene is, Fieschi observes, her on-line presence, with 1,5 million Facebook followers and the creation of a ‘digital unit”. She concludes that the (renamed FN), the Rassemblement National has “written the handbook on populist politics in Europe” above all by promoting its version of “authentic politics”. Backing the Gilets Jaunes, she was “supportive enough without being invasive”. Marine, while facing competition on the far right with her niece Marion Maréchal le Pen, seems content to work within a “broad populist church”.

Left Populism.

The ‘left populist” Jean-Luc Mélenchon does not fare so well. The leader of La France insoumise (LFI)  having spent many pages, books and articles, explaining how he passed from “traditional socialism” to the opposition between the “people and the elites. As Fieschi notes of his efforts to mobilise the feelings of “Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité”, and the “drapeau tricolore” that he fails the authenticity game. Many listeners to the LFI leader’s often hypnotic speeches, a traditional French politicians’ forte, would agree that he if he can “talk the talk” he cannot quite “walk the walk” His “citizens’ revolution” rallies – many will barely recall them – flopped. The LFI list  got only 6.3% in last year’s European elections. Unlike Marine Le Pen the Gilets Jaunes spurned him. Another block in his path to “federate the people” is that Mélenchon has kept up his long-standing hostility towards the rest of the French left during the mass strikes and protests against Pension Reform. His bold claim to not follow Jeremy Corbyn in apologising for offence to the Jewish Community is another bad sign. (2)

Populocracy looks at the Netherlands and Geert Wilders’ campaign against “elites and multiculturalism”, the “politics of offence”. Italy, she suggests has been “Populism’s Poster Child”. The Berlusconi years, the ascension of the 5 Star Movement, to Matteo Salvini of the hard right  Lega the rising star of Italian politics, at present out of office and challenged by the ‘Sardine’ movement, saw the wipe of out of the traditional socialist and communist left. Their successors on the centre-left have not resigned internationally, and appear closer to Emmanuel Macron than social democracy or democratic socialism. They indicate how the left-of-centre colours of the apparently radical 5 Star movement were washed away in the (now terminated) coalition with the far-right Lega. For Fieschi, who grew up in the country, it indicates, the tie between populism and “the political culture fostered by digital and its fantasy of radical transparency.” (Page 116)

A chapter on the UK Referendum on Europe offers many insights. Economic deprivation and cultural factors behind the Leave vote are bolstered by a look at how appeals to ‘authentic Britishness’ helped spur hostility to the European Union. The “lie” that British ‘independence” from Brussels would “bring back control” could be further explored. Left-wing supporters of Brexit believed that once free of the EU they could have their own “People’s Brexit’. Many went so far as to dream of a coming post-Referendum popular surge to take “control” of British institutions and the economy. They were virulently hostile to the only mass movement that did arise, the People’s Vote campaign. Many of them continue to justify their ballot box alignment with the Hard Right.

Ballot Box Movements.

France is not only the home of the “prototype” populist Rassemblement National. While not as dramatically as in Italy, the country has seen its traditional socialist and communist left marginalised, and the left splintered faced with President Macron’s centre party, La République en marche. In looking at how the working class left voters became “unmoored” from the left in the North of France, Didier Eribon suggested that a vote for the far right was part of the way people constructed their identity. (Retour à Reims 2018). In the past, with a strong labour movement, bound to the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) the ballot cast was an affirmation of solidarity with a social bloc that allied manual and public sector workers. The long march of labour halted in these de-industrialised regions people look at their life and interests completely differently. A protest against foreigners, against the Left or the Right, the parties that have been in government, increased the attraction of the far-right ‘anti-system’ message. There is no real movement, only the gesture of voting. (3)

Don Flynn suggests, something no too distant has happened in Britain.

The dispute over the UK’s membership of the EU suddenly offered people who had lost the habit of digging in and fighting back the chance to at least take sides in an argument that was driven by splits in the ruling class. Rebellion in pursuit of its own interests had ceased to be a part of the daily life of these communities, but at least they could now take on a foot soldier’s role in someone else’s revolt. The vicarious pleasures to be got from identification with other people’s victories, so strongly present in the fanaticism that goes with supporting football teams, was present in the backing given to the Faragist insurgency against Europe.

After the Deluge.

Populocracy is a valuable and stimulating study. It should stimulate further debate and investigation, For the moment would seem probable that far from creating a “new political subject” such ballot box dramas play, a different ‘relation’ to politics, mediated by the digital media, play central part in populist voting than just the search for “authenticity” and “transparency.” In both political and cultural populism the extreme right has flourished – and not always ‘virtually’ as its own branch of violence and terrorism has gained a foothold. 

 

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  1. Page 275. Revolt on the Right. Explaining Support for the radical Right in Britain. Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin. Routledge. 2014. National Populism. The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy. Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin. Pelican. 2018
  2. Page 265. Le Choix de l‘insoumission. jean-Luc Melénchon. Interviews with Marc Endeweld. Seuil. 2016. and L’ère du Peuple. Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Pluriel. 2017. France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon says the UK Labour leader showed weakness by apologising for antisemitism accusations. December the 16th. 2019.
  3. Pages 127 – 160. Retour à Reims. Didier Eribon. Champs Essais. 2018 (New Edition).

After Progressive Patriotism Long-Bailey backs “Working-class Aspiration”.

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Now Selling Like Gold-Dust Amongst Long-Bailey Supporters.

In the latest Private Eye Craig Brown talks, exclusively, to Rebecca Long-Bailey.

But the parody of the “life long socialist”has already been better done by the ‘left candidate for the Labour Leadership herself.

To begin with there was the “progressive patriotism” movement at the end of December

Long Bailey differentiates herself from Corbyn by saying that as Labour leader she would champion “progressive patriotism”. She says: “From ex-miners in Blyth Valley to migrant cleaners in Brixton, from small businesses in Stoke-on-Trent to the self-employed in Salford, we have to unite our communities. Britain has a long history of patriotism rooted in working life, built upon unity and pride in the common interests and shared life of everyone.

“To win we must revive this progressive patriotism and solidarity in a form fit for modern Britain

“To win we must revive this progressive patriotism and solidarity in a form fit for modern Britain.”

We all had a hearty laugh about that one, before it disappeared without trace into the pages of the Morning Star.

Then there was the reference to Labour as “the party of the Lever brothers and Ralph Miliband” (a claim which reminds some of us of a member of the Weekly Worker group claiming that Miliband “said” the party “grew out of the bowels of the tradeunion movement‘” – Ernest Bevin, TGWU general secretary, 1935).

A couple of days ago Rebecca Long-Bailey announced that Labour should support “open selection” of candidates for election – after the populist Jacobin owned Tribune suggested she did so.

Well-wishers were quick to point out that, apart from opening up wounds in the Party, in the detail she appeared to be be also downgrading Labour Conference,

On our policy making. I have always believed that it is our members and trade unions who should shape our vision, but there has to be a more open and democratic way of developing our vision.

“Trying to clunkily mesh together the wording of various motions from constituency parties in a sweaty room at conference is not dynamic and it is not using the vast wealth of talent our members bring.”

The rows have already begun:

Now the Labour contender is going for the “aspirational” vote of hard working workers,

The shadow business secretary, who is widely assumed to be Corbyn’s chosen successor, cited a couple she met while canvassing in her home seat of Salford who told her they thought Labour just offered handouts.

“They were working class but they’d bought their own house, they’d worked hard, they felt they should be rewarded for working hard, they didn’t want to think that other people were getting handouts,” she told the Guardian as the leadership race kicks off in earnest.

“Whatever people’s incomes are, a lot of the time people don’t see themselves as destitute and struggling, and they don’t want someone to come along and say: ‘I’m going to remove the scales from your eyes, and save you from yourself’. It’s like, ‘I’ve got a job, I don’t need saving from myself, I just want to do a little bit better, thanks!’” she said.

She was keen to downplay criticism of Blair…..

At a packed rally for Long-Bailey in a Hackney bar on Tuesday evening, some of the loudest applause came when she backed open selections for MPs – with one enthusiastic audience member shouting, “banish the Blairites!”

Confronted with the comment, Long-Bailey insists: “We don’t want any of that … this goes right to the heart of what the party is supposed to be about, and this is what upsets me so much.

“The only way we ever win, is where we represent those elements of the centre-left. That’s why we were created: to bring together all those left groups,” she added.

The Guardian observed,

Long-Bailey’s anecdote about canvassing the aspirational couple in Salford was reminiscent of one told by Blair in his 1996 conference speech, when he said that while campaigning, he had met, “a man polishing his Ford Sierra, a self-employed electrician,” who had told him, “as far as he was concerned, being better off meant being Tory too”.

Blair said: “That man polishing his car was clear: his instincts were to get on in life, and he thought our instincts were to stop him. But that was never our history or our purpose.”

Candidate seen as successor to Corbyn says party needs to back working-class aspiration

It may be that the new turn draws on this by Simon Heffer  the New Statesman.

Today’s working-class Tories are defined by their determination to improve themselves and their way of life, and, I think, not to be contained by an idea of welfarism or a paternalism. One needs only to look at some of the working-class Tories elected to parliament in north-eastern seats such as Redcar, Bishop Auckland and Blyth to see this social phenomenon in action.

Rise of the new working-class Tories

Heaven forfend if this time she, or her advisers and spinners, have been reading this:

Most British people are living ever more enriched and enriching lives, even as under-35s are finding it harder and harder to start making their own way. They’re going to the football and the theatre, reading more and buying more books; they’re doing their gardening; going running and cycling; watching box sets at home; going to the pub; knitting, jam making, birdwatching and rambling. Just as British people’s very dense and associative lives insulated them psychologically from the Depression of the 1930s, hampering Labour’s progress then, the party’s basic emotive case just makes no sense to most people. They don’t think Britain’s broken. Labour should stop talking like it is.

Elect and appoint more plausible leaders. Stop promising everything to everyone. Admit that you got it wrong, and allow yourself a truly honest and affecting self-examination. Speak optimistically. Get yourselves straight. Stop it with the hate and the jibes. Stop walking around like you’re the big I am. Break out of your bubble and take credit, not brickbats, for your achievements. Stuff like that. If this sounds like Politics 101, it is – it amounts to just saying ‘sort yourselves out’. It’s a mark of how far Labour has fallen that most of this needs to be said at all.

So what should Labour do now?

The classic strategic book on the need to align Labour to hard-headed hard-working aspirational workers, by hand and by brain, was made in this book: The Blair Revolution: Peter Mandelson and Rob Liddle. Can New Labour Deliver? Faber, 1996.

 

Blair began to do this by accepting the Thatcher Political Settlement.

 

Tony Blair said in 2013,

 

 “I always thought my job was to build on some of the things she had done rather than reverse them.

“Many of the things she said, even though they pained people like me on the left… had a certain creditability(sic).”

BBC.

Will Long-Bailey accept the hard right Brexit settlement and concentrate on appealing to those who feel they should be rewarded for working hard?

The problem is that Long-Bailey’s incontinent flow of new catch-phrases, policies, and woolly ideas lack any credibility whatsoever.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 23, 2020 at 12:31 pm

This is Not Propaganda. Adventures in the War Against Reality. Peter Pomerantsev. Review: The Internet and the Liberties of the Moderns.

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This is Not Propaganda. Adventures in the War Against Reality. Peter Pomerantsev. Faber & Faber. 2019.

“L’information, le surcroît d’information sur nous-mêmes, est une sorte d’électrocution. Elle produit une sorte de court-circuit continuel où l’individu brûle ses circuits et perd ses defences. ” Information, the overabundance of information, is a kind of electrocution. It creates a kind of continuous short circuit, in which the individual burns up its circuits, and loses its defences. Jean Baudrillard. La Gauche Divine. 1985.).

“The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism” wrote Peter Pomerantsev in Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. Adventures in Modern Russia (2005) is that instead of simply oppressing opposition, as has been the case with twentieth century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting them and rendering them absurd.” The son of Russian dissident exiles he was struck then, and in the present work, by the way that “facts” has ceased to matter.

In this new book on “influence campaigns”, “what might be causally be referred to as ‘propaganda” Pomerantsev explores “the wreckage”, the “dark corners of the Internet where trolls torture their victims”. “We are” he writes “becoming subjects of our own data, as if the data is rearranging our relations and identifies with its own logic”. On a wider canvas than Putin’s Russian Federation, whose “social media squadrons” still haunts the landscape, the writer’s adventures take him to where politics has become a “struggle to control the construction of identity.”

This is not Propaganda comes amongst other studies of how what Jean Baudrillard called the “simulacra” of information in today’s social media. Far from burning out identity it is claimed that the world of hyper-reality has come to play a key role in politics, and, above all, elections. Richard Seymour, it is said considers that this planet, the Twittering Machine, is managed by ‘fascist technology’ that cuts people off from society, a “stand in” for community. By showing the political effects of social media, Pomerantsev both indicates that Seymour would be out of his depth in a puddle, and that Baudrillard’s prediction that postmodern hyper-reality – the digital society – would absorb political passion into ‘post-politics.’ (1)

In the Philippines Pomerantsev finds that that political use of social media illustrates something very different to a mass escape from the material world. Visiting Manila he meets Maria, the creator of Rappler, the Philippines’ first Internet-based news site. For reporting the extra judicial killings ordered by the country’s president, Duterte, they began to receive death threats, at the rate of ninety an hour. A cascade of smears followed. An organised form of warfare, with the real menace of being killed, was conducted through cyberspace.

Efforts by the Kremlin to stir up civil war, an even more flagrant case, in the Ukraine draw Pomerantsev. It was “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg.” This fight, in which Corbyn adviser Andrew Murray participated on the Russian side, portrayed the 2014 Ukrainian Orange Revolution and protests in the Maidean as a “neo-fascist US-orchestrated conspiracy”. This “information war” was an important part of “next generation warfare”.

Syria is another front-line. The activist Mary Ana who ran humanitarian medical aid to the country, along with human rights groups, like the White Helmets, and the Syrian Network for Human Rights, illustrates the way Assad regime used the Internet, “When she punched ‘White Helmets’ into YouTube” she found “wall-to-wall coverage claiming that they were actually terrorists, or that they were actors and everything they did was staged, or that they were a British secret service psy-op, or that they didn’t actually exist at all..” (Page 178) Assad’s murders are hidden behind these torrents of lies, propaganda treated with indulgence by political figures such as the former British MP Chris Williamson.

Populism and Identity.

After the disinformation spread by genociders This is not Propaganda turns to “Pop up Populism”. The transformation of the many and “the people”, he argues, can be seen in the Brexit vote. Against a “well-identified enemy”, the EU, not just the hard right who initiated the Leave project, but, one could add, parts of the British left adopted the “guiding fairy tale” of taking back control. Meeting Chantal Mouffe, and without academic deference for her and Ernesto Laclau’s theories of populism, he is struck by how flexible her claim that “identities are the result of political construction” can be. Playing in this game – a play in which ‘charismatic leaders’ can be an instrument of ‘left’ and right politics – Génération Identitaire, the language of “freedom of speech, democracy, openness to new ideas” can be used to bolster right wing fringe parties. It is the basis for national populism, a far from a marginal force.

At the forefront of this politics stands, Russian “political technologists”. Gleb Pavlovsky, the author recounts, has been able to “unite utterly disparate groups around a rotating enemy; oligarchs ar first, then metropolitan liberals, and more recently the whole outside world” (Page 223). Putin can, “stimulate global influence by purposefully leaving the fingerprints of his hackers and information operations all over the world”.

Will companies like Cambridge Analytica, who study “behavioural change” through social media, determine the political future? Are left and right being washed away by using people’s Facebook and Google preferences to harness them to new identities? Is China’s heavily controlled Internet and model of how identity can still be shaped and controlled by a one-party state in the age of technological innovation?

Modern and Ancient Liberties.

The 19th century French liberal Benjamin Constant, (De la liberté des anciens comparée à celle des modernes. 1819) claimed that in the ancient Roman and Greek world people led public lives, that as citizens they were free, in at least the sense that they decided on war and peace, while as private individuals they were subordinate, watched, and oppressed. In modern times, he claimed, it was the private sphere that was free, the site of individual independence. One can doubt the liberties of ancient republics, and efforts to replicate them following the French Revolution. But he offered an important insight. To simplify, in today’s liberal societies have been seen to offer a “private” domain, separate from public politics. Constant equally  warned, two centuries before theorists of “post-politics”, that in a commercial society people could become so absorbed in their private lives that they would neglect public duty.

One of the main political effects of social media has been to abolish the distinction between public and private politics. Not by making the “personal political”, but by breaking down the space between our emotions, identity, and politics. This is not the full story, since neither is everybody absorbed in social media nor is it without a liberating potential in networking politics from the ground up. It is equally not proven that the “political technologists” like the far right  ‘Bot-herders’ in Nizhny have mastered the art of shaping everybody’s electoral choice. Boris Johnson’s Get Brexit Done cannot be put down to Internet influencers, nor is it clear that the Conservatives are now about to use identity populism to rule by.

Can these forces wash away the push for autonomy and human rights that has also marked the ‘modern’? The latest book by “rooted cosmopolitan” Peter Pomerantsev, which should have as many readers as possible, should firmly indicate that there are many out there with a different story to tell.

 

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(1) Oliver Eagleton. MIND-FORGED MANACLES? Review. Richard SeymourThe Twittering Machine. New Left Review No 120.Nov/Dec 2019.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 19, 2020 at 1:26 pm