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As Pro-Brexit National Labour Stirs, “Rooted cosmopolitans” answer back.

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Image result for Progressive Politics in a Changing World: Challenging the Fallacies of Blue Labour Jon Bloomfield

This nationalism plays into the hands of the hard right.

The latest scoop by Skwawkbox is news on the creation of a factionalising group, known informally as the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ to campaign for a Labour deal with Boris Johnson on Brexit. At present they are fighting the party’s Shadow Chancellor.

EXCL: ‘NORTH FIGHTS BACK’ AS BREXIT POLICY DRAGGED BACK ON COURSE AT SHADOW CABINET AND MPS PREPARE WORKING-CLASS CAUCUS

The party’s northern MPs are now in discussions to build on their successful rearguard action by caucusing as a parliamentary bloc. One, speaking of an attempted ‘remainer take-over’ to force Labour to into a full ‘stop Brexit’ mode, said:

We need to make sure no one region of Labour can ever acquire this much dominance over policy and the narrative again. The north fought back and this episode has taught us that when we stand united we can make our voice heard.

The Red-Brown Front, the Full Brexit, has its own take on the developing national Labour  strategy.

They retweeted George Galloway,

 

And national populist New Left Review Stalwart,

 

And their allies in the Morning Star,

Anti-rootless cosmopolitan campaigner Paul Embery, has his own take on the need for National Labour.

The rooted, yet tasty geezer, continues,

The Red-Brown Front, the Full Brexit brings together the Communist Party of Britain, ‘funny money’ ‘leftists’ associated with Counterfire, like Thomas Fazi, Eddie Dempsey,  supporters of the Brexit Party linked to the Spiked network (including at least one candidate), ‘Marxist’ Wolfgang Streeck, Labour Leave, Larry O’Nutter (better known under his pen name of Larry O’Hara), and Paul Embery’s Blue Labour. To name but some.

How does these ideologues hang together?

This  Blog cannot recommend too highly this article which gives some answers.

Progressive Politics in a Changing World: Challenging the Fallacies of Blue Labour Jon Bloomfield : 11 October 2019

Bloomfield traces the national populist turn back to the Blair and Brown years.

As popular doubts about the UK’s headlong embrace of neoliberal globalisation grew, elements of left opinion shaped their critiques within this nationalist framework. As the Blair–Brown era drew to a close, instead of a focus on the fundamentals of neoliberalism, critics of the New Labour project concentrated on their own variant of cultural wars.

Within Labour’s ranks a newly ennobled Maurice Glasman gave these ideas prominence after Ed Miliband’s leadership win in 2010. The Blue Labour movement he pioneered asserted that traditional working class communities had been ignored by New Labour’s trendy cosmopolitanism, which had paid too much attention to feminism, multi‐culturalism and sexual politics, and had ridden roughshod over the assumed conservative cultural sensitivities of the traditional working class. One of the leading protagonists, Jonathan Rutherford, used his role as editor of the Soundings magazine to promote these ideas and declare that ‘the future of English socialism is conservative’.5

Whatever its initial concerns, this new way of framing politics quickly gave primacy to cultural and national identity rather than the economic or social. The initial flurry of interest within Labour waned, as did its brief ‘Red Tory’ counterpart, Phillip Blond.

Soundings, in effect, was the vehicle by which, for some people, Gramsci’s ideas on the ‘national popular’ could become transformed into nationalism tout court. The references sometimes made by Glasman to the Italian Marxist have to be seen in this light.

Bloomfield then looks at sovereigtism – one would have wished for some wider Euripean context where sovereignty has been the turning point from left to nationalism in France since the 1990s, summed up in the career of JeanPierre Chevènement. Paraellels exist across Europe, as can be seen in the development of the German former leftist Streek.

The Brexit debate, with its focus on national sovereignty, has given the label new vigour and a purchase stretching well beyond Labour’s ranks. David Goodhart, when editor of Prospect, was an early straw in the intellectual wind with his polemic in 2004, claiming that large numbers of immigrants undermine the solidarity essential to a welfare state.6 He developed his thinking in The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Postwar Immigration, which argued that integration cannot be a ‘two‐way street’ and that immigrants ‘must carry the burden of any adaption that is necessary’.7 He wove this argument into a wider narrative about the major problems within modern Britain—the lack of jobs for the white working class and the decline of a shared sense of community at both local and national level—as being caused by immigration. His 2017 book The Road to Somewhere. The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics develops this argument and provides the bedrock of Blue Labour thinking post‐Brexit.8

This book, by another of the founding figures of the red-brown Full Brexit cast, has been reviewed on this Blog and in many, many, other places. But Bloomfield looks at its more recent impact and the circles and ideas which seem to have thriven in the worst aspects of the stand against ‘Anywheres’

For Goodhart, the world is basically divided between the ‘Anywheres’, ‘the upper professional class’ with their global world outlook and the ‘Somewheres’, with their preference for place, stability and nation. These are Britain’s ‘two value blocs’ and the book is a paean of praise for the preferences and prejudices of the latter. Paul Collier, a development economist, articulates similar views. His recent book The Future of Capitalism suggests that the biggest social rifts are between the highly educated and the less educated and between the cosmopolitan metropolises and declining provinces.9 Matthew Goodwin is an initial critic of the UKIP right who has now gone native, while Eric Kaufmann gives it more intellectual heft with his demographic and cultural arguments that justify immigration policies based on racial criteria.10 These views are increasingly given a sympathetic hearing and plenty of space within the pages of the left‐wing weekly magazine the New Statesman, where they blend with its increasingly nationalist agenda.11

One can remark here as with above, there are clear parallels in France, not just in the arguments about Bobo metropolitan elites, but against the ‘liberal’ fragmentation of minority ‘identity politics’ against the voice of national identity, rooted identities. The Three Yorkshiremen faction has its counterparts across the European left.

Looking at the economics of Blue Labour Bloomfield offer as sketch which could apply to every attempt by ‘left wing’ pro Brexitetrs to argue for an independent UK, free from the burden of globalisation to make its own policies,

Blue Labour writers either ignore, disregard or diminish the realities of a globalising world, whether in terms of ecology and climate change, terrorism and security, the digital revolution or economics. The UK—or sometimes England—is deemed to stand above and apart from these grubby realities. The writers refuse to face the fact that since the Second World War, modern production has leapt the boundaries of the small and medium‐sized nation‐states that comprise Europe. Of course, hairdressers still cut people’s hair in the high street, while many small businesses access their supplies locally.

But with regard to the main elements of the economy, both in manufacturing and services, there is no way that they are going to be forced back into their national boxes. The days of a set of independently‐owned, British car companies trading primarily within a domestic market have gone. Rootes, Humber, Austin, Triumph, Morris will never return. Today, across old industrial Britain, their factories have been transformed into retail parks, business units and housing estates. And a no‐deal Brexit will do the same to Ford, Honda and Vauxhall in Bridgend, Swindon and Ellesmere Port.

The Brexit Bolsheviks, in effect, would try to in vain to recreate the 1970s industrial base of the national  labour movement..

This section is so good somebody should make it into a workshop.

Brexit has crystallised these arguments. Blue Labour has converged with those unchanged voices from the 1970s left, who still believe in ‘socialism in one country’. Embery, Goodhart, Glasman and Goodwin are all signatories to ‘The Full Brexit’ manifesto which claims that, ‘Brexit offers an unprecedented opportunity to reshape Britain for the better … to develop a genuinely internationalist and democratic politics of national sovereignty’.23

This nationalism plays into the hands of the hard right. They gleefully sense an opportunity to split the progressive and labour movement. Blue Labour proudly calls itself conservative, so it is not surprising when Conservative media outlets offer them space to promote their ideas. The libertarian, ex‐Trotskyists of the Spiked website, supported by $300,000 from the US Koch brothers, give space to ‘Lexiters’, while the conservative UnHerd website hosts Embery, Goodwin and Giles Fraser as regular columnists.24 In the post‐financial crisis maelstrom, Blue Labour initially asked how progressives should express their values. What is amazing about their current trajectory is how willing they are to discard the core values of any progressive movement—liberty, equality and solidarity—and the speed with which they have moved to become fellow‐travellers of the nationalist right.

Bloomfield has a lot to say on a “positive view of migration” which is resoundingly clear.

He concludes,

 Blue Labourites find it hard to conceive that a person can approve of European integration and yet still retain a national and local identity. As the Green movement—largely ignored by Blue Labour—expresses it, ‘think global, act local’. There is no gulf between the two. Most people can ‘walk and chew gum’ at the same time. The modern world is interconnected and overlaps. The wings for an Airbus are made in North Wales and Bristol, but the aircraft as a whole is put together in Toulouse. The blue flag beach at Bournemouth is checked, monitored and authorised by the local council, but to a European standard set by Brussels. Indian and Chinese restaurants are now part of our ‘national identity’ in every town and city in Britain. In answer to Paul Embery, in the twenty‐first century most citizens are rooted cosmopolitans.

Say it loud and clear: we are internationalists and leftists. We too are “rooted cosmopolitans. Join us on the Left Bloc on Saturday’s March!

This how we respond to the Three Yorkshiremen (they’ve split, once they were four):

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John McDonnell, the Fall of the House of Left Brexit, and the ‘Centrist Remainer Take Over’.

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.Image result for JOhn Mcdonnell another europe is possible

 A Man of the Left.

John McDonnell is a serious politician of the left. Just how deliberate the Shadow Chancellor is can be seen in the way he has carefully built up an economic strategy for the Labour Party. A closed circle of aides did not create a programme that brings parts of the economy into social ownership, that looks into the details of redistributive taxation, that is open to experiments in egalitarian welfare reform. McDonnell opened up to those on the left who know their subject and listened. A long-standing figure on the left of Labour the MP for Uxbridge has experience of voicing constituents’ concerns, and of responding to a wide range of radical left-wing campaigns. John McDonnell is somebody on the best side of politics: somebody you can do business with.

Brexit has, and is, shattering British politics. Boris Johnson’s government claims to rely on the force of national history to push through the project of national neoliberalism. Can the European Reform Group and Dominic Cummings “rediscover”, as Stuart Hall put it of Margaret Thatcher the slumbering “ people” “our culture and way of life” the “instinct of the ordinary British people”?  Are the Conservatives and the Brexit Party together creating a new Great Moving Right Show? (1)

Johnson and Caesarism.

Pushing Brexit through, ratcheting up the prospect of a ‘deal’ against Parliament and a direct appeal to the nation, looks more like a war of manoeuvre than the war of position that built Thatcherism in the late 1970s. A rallying call against corrupt liberal elites scores well in opinion polls. Like the 19th century French would-be Caesar General Boulanger, Johnson promises to wield the Sword of the Nation against its enemies.  But outside the EU, ‘Global Britain’, now confronted with an EU which registers the country a potential threat, the benefits of a new age of national neoliberalism look measure, economically and socially. There are plenty of people who can see that, and their numbers are bound to grow.

Labour Policy, perhaps intelligible to those who consider that the party is trying to balance internal disagreements and the need to appeal to a minority of its own support that backs Leave, is not settled. Those, though they come from a very different political trajectory to Stuart Hall, who wish the party to take on board what the Marxism Today writer called the ‘national popular’ are at a loss. Lexit, a People’s Brexit, a mass movement to ‘take back control’, has not emerged to challenge Johnson’s actually existing Brexit. All we have now is pleas to respect the small numbers of Labour members who back some kind of compromise with Boris Johnson and get through the leave process. Increasingly internationalists in Labour have joined together to oppose leaving, to call for a third referendum in the light of changed conditions, and to campaign to turn to transform Europe rather than sit in isolation.

John McDonnell campaigned, actively, for Remain; within the broad ambit of the politics of Another Europe is Possible. He has now reached out to other remainers, notably Alistair Campbell. His reasons may include a wish to appeal to the very large constituency that identifies with Campbell’s broad politics, though not necessarily the man himself or his record at Tony Blair’s side.  McDonnell pointed out, reasonably, that neither he nor Jeremy Corbyn were Labour leaders for life. Their position had to be justified through electoral success. Few who have watched the Shadow Chancellor will doubt his commitment to making a Labour victory possible.

The Fall of the House of Lexit.

This has caused grief and a gnashing of teeth. A change in Labour full-time personnel, essential with the approaching electoral horizon, has been presented as “centrist-remainer take-over” (Skwawkbox which has  a way of quoting “Labour insiders” as if the rest of us are a bunch of outsider chumps).  McDonnell (who apparently opposed the EU so much he campaigned for remain) is “triangulating” and ” has failed to defend the internationalist principles that define Corbynism for so many”, shouts Holly Rigby on Novara Media. Labour’s newest stalwart Tariq Ali suggests that McDonnell is to the right of Donald Trump. John McDonnell is an arrant numbskull who’s had a “flirtation with the right”  (Counterfire onwards). What we need is mass demonstrations!  Some of these yelps come from the ultra-minority pro-Brexit left. Others, political birds of passage, in perpetual flight, are preparing their departure.  The Fall of the House of Lexit, a mansion of gloom, continues.

John McDonnell is a serious politician. He is of the left, that broad current of the left which spans democratic socialism and democratic Marxism. He continues to oppose Brexit. He opens up the prospect of a more egalitarian and democratic Britain, “transformational socialism”. The Shadow Chancellor is somebody well worth supporting.

Update

The Brexit supporting Skwawkbox carries this further “insider” talk:

“Labour MP and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn Jon Trickett has responded furiously to a claim in a New Statesman ‘whitewash’ of John McDonnell’s now widely-acknowledged take-over of Corbyn’s office.”

Many Labour and union insiders believe that Murphy was removed because of her success in resisting damaging attempts to force Labour into a ‘full-remain’, referendum-first position.

Image may contain: 1 person, text

See also a must-read critique of the pro-Brexit critics of ‘rootless cosmopolitans’:

 

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(1) The Hard Road to Renewal. Stuart Hall.  Verso. 1988.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 15, 2019 at 11:11 am

Brexit Bolsheviks of Counterfire Join Galloway and Skwawkbox Attack on John McDonnell’s “Flirtation with the Right.

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Image result for galloway and john rees

Counterfire  Cadres with an Old Friend.

And perhaps finds a new one:

A senior Labour source told the SKWAWKBOX:

They want to rig the referendum and disenfranchise four million Labour leave voters by forcing them to choose between Boris Johnson’s bad deal and remain, instead of the credible deal that Conference agreed only last month – not to mention millions of other sensible leave voters who want to leave on decent terms.

And of course, it’s a slap in the face for the millions of Labour and union members who voted at Conference to back Jeremy’s plan. They’ve boxed Jeremy in and isolated him from his team – and now this.

Skwawkbox now recommends this list of heroes, including Kate Hoey, to stop the rot,

Coming to the rescue?

In March this year, the Commons voted on a motion to hold a new Brexit referendum – and it was heavily defeated. If Labour’s largely centrist remainers, emboldened by the power grab in ‘LOTO’ last week, try to force a referendum on Boris Johnson’s bad deal, the Labour MPs who voted to defeat the March motion – many of whom then wrote to Corbyn urging him to reject a divisive referendum – are:

  • Kevin Barron
  • Ronnie Campbell
  • Sarah Champion
  • Rosie Cooper
  • Jon Cruddas
  • Jim Fitzpatrick
  • Caroline Flint
  • Yvonne Fovargue
  • Stephen Hepburn
  • Mike Hill
  • Kate Hoey
  • Dan Jarvis
  • Helen Jones
  • Kevan Jones
  • Emma Lewell-Buck
  • Justin Madders
  • Grahame Morris
  • Melanie Onn
  • Stephanie Peacock
  • Dennis Skinner
  • Ruth Smeeth
  • Laura Smith
  • Gareth Snell
  • John Spellar
  • Graham Stringer
  • Derek Twigg
  • Tracy Brabin
  • Julie Cooper
  • Judith Cummins
  • Gloria De Piero
  • Chris Evans
  • Mary Glindon
  • Andrew Gwynne
  • Carolyn Harris
  • Mike Kane
  • Stephen Kinnock
  • Ian Lavery
  • Liz McInnes
  • Jim McMahon
  • Ian Mearns
  • Lisa Nandy
  • Jo Platt
  • Paula Sheriff
  • Jon Trickett

Counterfire  joins the anti-McDonnell fray:

With friends like this: John McDonnell’s flirtation with the right is damaging and inexcusable

The non-Labour groupuscule  Counterfire, which controls the Stop the War Coalition and the People’s Assembly, writes,

The article begins with an account of the Labour position on Brexit, which few understand, and certainly not those who’ve tried to sell it to the public.

But bear in mind, Coutnerfire supported Brexit, seeing as an opportunity to turn the slogan “take back control” into a mass progressive movement.

They repeated this during this year’s Labour conference,

Labour need to distance themselves now and go into the coming election arguing for a Brexit in the interests of working people. Only by doing that can it free up space to talk about everything else.

Labour’s Brexit slide September 2019.

Keep focused on that. Beneath the dripping with contempt sentences, that all the comments on McDonnell’s conciliatory remarks about Alastair Campbell is this opinion,

Thankfully the recent Labour conference rejected proposals to push the party even further down a divisive and high-risk ‘Full Remain’ path.

Writes the Full Brexit Bolshevik Alex Snowden.

The piece continues,

McDonnell failed to articulate the compromise position adopted at Conference, undermining it by suggesting that a referendum happening before a general election is a real possibility. This is yet another example of the policy-by-media approach perfected by his shadow cabinet colleagues Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer, both of whom are known for exerting political pressure via comments during media appearances, irrespective of what Corbyn might be saying or what Labour conference may have voted for.

The Brexit Bolsheviks go in for the kill,

Such rhetoric has the effect of downplaying the importance and urgency of a general election. Meanwhile, the status of Brexit is enhanced: suggesting that a referendum could take precedence over an election reinforces the centrality of Brexit to British politics.

Whatever McDonnell’s intentions might be, that strengthens the forces of liberal centrism (embodied by Campbell) against a Left that seeks to overcome Brexit divisions in favour of class politics and a left-wing platform. It emboldens Boris Johnson and the Tories who want to trap Labour in a narrative that cynically pits Johnson as the people’s champion, upholding the democratic will, against an obstructive Remainer parliament.

One can only imagine McDonnell’s reaction to the patronising conclusion,

McDonnell has made important contributions to the renaissance of socialist politics in recent years, but his latest interventions point in the wrong direction. It’s time to get back on track.

These are the forces, hostile to socialist internationalism, that Counterfire has joined.

 

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Shoshana Zuboff. A Socialist Review.

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The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for a Human Future at the Frontier of Power. Shoshana Zuboff. Profile Books. 2019.

In 1985, under the name of Jean-François Lyotard, an exhibition, Les Immatériaux was held at Beaubourg, Paris. In what is claimed was a labyrinth, one was led to discover the latest version of communication theory’s ideas of “message”. In this postmodern world, the human cortex is ‘read’ just like an electronic field; through the neurovegetative system humanity affectivity is ‘acted’ on like a complex chemical organisation” Far from celebrating the accelerated potential for the libido of “cyberculture capitalism” Lyotard wrote, after discussing George Orwell, of the threat of the “techno-sciences travaillant avec et sur le langage” (1)

Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism suggests that such a “machine confluence” has come into existence. In the latest mode of capitalist accumulation, the “new reality business,” technology has worked through language right up to human nature. In this brave new world, “all aspects of human experience are claimed as raw-material supplies and targeted for rendering into behaviour data.”(Page 19)

Paul Mason’s Clear Bright Future (2019) warns of the dangers of the “Thinking Machine” and “Deep Mind” eroding humanity’s free will in free-market economies that are “invading our bodily existence with control, commercialising our lives.”

Zuboff talks of “human nature that is scraped torn and taken for a new commodity invention.”(Page 94) She goes further and sees “digital dispossession” leading to the fashioning of the soul. This “instrumentarian power” is leading to a “‘sixth extinction’. This affects not “nature but of what we hold most precious in human nature, the sanctity of the individual, the ties of intimacy, the sociality that binds us together in promises, and the trust they breed.”(Page 516) Worse, it will mean a collectivist power dominated by surveillance capitalists.

This is how Zuboff summarises the prospect,

An information civilization shaped by surveillance capitalism and its new instrumentarian power will thrive at the expense of human nature, especially the hard-won capacities associated with self-determination and moral autonomy that are essential to the very possibility of a democratic society. (2)

Surveillance Capitalism is long. It is also often a rewarding read, if you can skim over the Business School style.  Zuboff reaches this conclusion by an often-convincing account of how companies like Facebook and Google operate. They are placed within the wider framework that sketches changes in the capitalist mode of accumulation, regulation and the (post) “industrial paradigm”. The Harvard Professor draws on Hannah Arendt’s reading of Rosa Luxemburg’s description of the militarist “destruction of non capitalist strata” across the world. Primitive accumulation was not just a one-off event, a ripping up of traditional roots and mass enrolment in the market. . By the end of the twentieth century, this has turned David Harvey argued, into the domestic neoliberal strategy of “accumulation by dispossession” of public assets. In its present form, “Surveillance capitalism originates in this act of digital dispossession brought to life by the impatience of over-accumulated investment and two entrepreneurs who wanted to join the system,”(Page 99) (3)

Virgin Wood.

The key moment in the present accumulation is the virgin wood felled by these “entrepreneurs” and their cohort. “Human experience is Google’s Virgin Wood, “human experience is subjected to surveillance capitalism’s market mechanisms and reborn as ‘behaviour”(Page 100) Yet many reviewers will have noticed that this “behavioural surplus” is first and foremost used to influence and manipulate people in the concealed ways described by Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders (1957) to convince us to spend money. Packard, decades before Zuboff, described the use of psychology in the process. A second aim, which ventures into our physiological depths, is brought to its conclusion in the outline of Chinese digital strategies. Zuboff contrasts this “hive” with the experience of totalitarianism. Today changing the way we act is the goal, by the soft power of the Big Other This is when such “means of production” are used to introduce wholesale “behavioural modification”, or closer to home, to influence voting.

Whether this adds up to new industrial paradigm and a mode of accumulation is far from clear. Whilst people use Facebook and Google every day they do not work for them. If consumption does not determine production, neither does being on either of them put them at the mercy of a new monopoly of knowledge and power. Downloading books from Yale University Library is not a sign of “information corruption”. The ‘networked individual’, celebrated by Paul Mason, can be free to do, as she or he wants, including organising radical movements against cyber-monopolists. Socialists have much to look forward to by using these tools, not just for politics but potentially for wider social organisation. FIghting for a human future does not just involve changing the mode of regulation of this form of capitalism, it means transforming from within and without to serve people’s needs. 

Surveillance in the Workplace.

Surveillance Capitalism nevertheless asks serious questions about the enhanced digital potential of behaviourist techniques. The market’s ‘invisible hand” has never existed in the labour process. Discipline, from manufacturing to industrial production, from Taylorism and Fordism, to managerial ‘human relations”, has always been tight. Industrial sociologists and psychologists, point to the effects of digital surveillance in recruitment and the workplace, and increased threats to the “sovereignty over one’s own life and authorship of one’s own experience.”(Page 521)

Managerial visions of compulsory self-responsibility in the service of the firm sometimes look like a dystopia to rival Walden Two. In Britain, Universal Credit has extended these methods to the low paid, those in ‘flexible’ precious employment, and the unemployed with unprecedented control and the menace of ‘sanctions’. This, a paradigm from education to work, involves monitoring of the population’s behaviour. It is now digitised – indeed it is impossible  to claim benefits without being “online”. Perhaps Zuboff was just looking in the wrong place.

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  1. Jean-François Lyotard Cited Page 193. Les Immatériaux and the postmodern sublime. Paul Crowther. In Judging Lyotard. Edited Andrew Benjamin. Routledge. 1992. Une ligne de resistance. Jean-Francois Lyotard Page 62 a companion issue to the exhibition, Politique fin du siècle. Traverses 33.34. It contains various critiques of the “liberation claimed by the “cybernetic revolution” and foreshadows the debate about ‘accelerationism” machine culture in the writings of authors such as Sadie Plant. Having been at the exhibition I cannot say these portentous claims struck me deeply at the time.
  2. Surveillance Capitalism and the Challenge of Collective Action. Shoshana Zuboff. This short text is recommended for those unwilling to plough through the 600 or so pages of Surveillance Capitalism.
  3. Arendt’s debt to Luxembourg is given in Hannah Arendt. Politics, History and Citizenship. Phillip Hansen. Polity Press. 1992. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. David Harvey. Oxford University Press. 2005. Zuboff also draws on Karl Polanyi’s ideas on the shredding of traditional embedded societies by markets.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 13, 2019 at 12:11 pm

Clear, Bright Future. A Radical Defence of the Human Being. Paul Mason. Left Promethean politics?

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Image result for Clear Bright Future.

 

Review: Clear, Bright Future. A Radical Defence of the Human Being. Paul Mason. Allen Lane 2019.

“Will you accept the machine control of human beings, or resist it?” asks Paul Mason at the beginning of Clear Bright Future .” He continues, “And if the answer is resist, on what basis will you defend the rights of humans against the logic of machines?”(P xi) Like Shoshana Zuboff in Surveillance Capitalism (2019), the journalist and popular socialist internationalist has written a book on its logic of accumulation, an “anti democratic juggernaut” a “market driven coup from above”. Mason has more explicit political targets, the “acheofuturists” who go backwards to national populism, and forwards by using the latest technology,

“As we approach the 2020s, an alliance of ethnic nationalists, woman-haters, and authoritarian political leaders are tearing the world order to shreds. What unites them is their disdain for universal human rights and their fear of freedom. They love the idea of machine control and, if we let the, they will deploy it aggressively to keep themselves rich, powerful and unaccountable. “(P xii – xiii) (1)

Paul Mason outlines the development of what he has described as “cognitive capitalism” towards new projects, including the development of artificial intelligence (Postcapitalism. 2015.). At times this reminds us of Samuel Butler’s animate or quasi-animate machinery, with a “kind of consciousness”, leading to the war between machinists and anti-machinists (Erewhon 1872) Mason refers to Donna Haraway’s political myth of a “Cyborg” fusion of animal and machine, ending the search for revolutionary subjects. Writings on the transhuman are no longer fantasies as we face the “challenge of machines that can emulate us.” (Page 144)

These interesting speculations are rooted in an outline of the development of neoliberalism. Mason is one of the clearest writers to grapple with the novelty of the post-Trump right. What was seen as an unstoppable movement of history towards a state in which everybody would be forced to be an entrepreneur of the self ran aground in the crises of 2008. One reaction is summed up by Trump’s election. That is to “abandon the neoliberal model, or reshape it in a form whereby every state is fighting for a piece of a smaller pie, an option I’ve labelled ‘national neoliberalism.”(Page 71)

This is a template with wider implications, “for the outright fascists the main grievances were economic, while for the right-wing populists their grievances were cultural, driven by a perceived loss of status among existing working-class communities faced with migration.” (Page 96)  There are many who see in the left-behind, the “périphérique”,a constituency with which to resurrect the sovereignty of nations, have become the focus of the new right wing identity politics that bolsters national neoliberalism.

Universal Human Rights.

This alliance of the top of society and the mob in the Brexit crisis in the UK sees Old Etonians incite nationalist hatred against the rootless cosmopolitans. Mason is clear that against the shock troops of national populism, fed by “..the rejection of our universal humanity” we need to unite “differences in skin colour, face shape, religion and culture” This is the ultimate defence against, “the slide towards both right-wing authoritarians and full-blown fascism. One again, the defence of the concept of the human being, with universal rights, is the key to resisting the slide to chaos.”(P 100)

Those who support internationalism and membership of the EU with the goal of a transformed open-looking Europe will know that Mason has played a public part in our movement. Behind this is a common belief in the democratic revolution grounded in developing movements for human rights. Clear Bright Future offers an overarching strategy against national populism, in which liberals (in the political sense of those who defend liberty) and the left work together, to “develop the strategies that prevent the convergence of conservatism, fascism and the state bureaucracy into a common authoritarian project.”(P 260) Whether this should involve a “popular front” , including Centre parties like the SNP and Liberal Democrats, to defeat Brexit, remains a matter of debate. The howls of the Brexit Bolsheviks against Mason’s contributions to the anti-Brexit camp suggest that he may well be onto something.

Mason tries to place, “digital information inside the physical, world…”(P 131) Against this domination he offers, Marx’s “Free, conscious activity is man’s species-character”. (Page 141) Perhaps less obviously contentiously Mason draws on the humanist Marxism of Raya Dunayevskaya which originated in a small 1940s heterodox ‘state capitalist’ tendency of Trotskyism, the Johnson-Forest group. In this view for Marx, “free will is something humanity can achieve only by changing its social circumstances.”(P 219) Dunayevskaya rejected all forms of vanguard party. She talked of a “vast store of creative energy” that could be unleashed, in a communist society, “the development of human power which is its own end, the true realm of freedom” (2).

Postmodernism and anti-Humanism.

This vision is set against a variety of targets. Postmodernism, he decides without much ado, is an “anti-theory about human beings: their selves are shattered, their agency is gone, their scientific thought is really ideology.”(P 177) Michael Foucault, whose dystopian Panopticon surveillance is not distant from his own images, and whose ‘anti-fascist’ ethics, devised during the last gasps of French ‘Mao-spontex” agitation represented a political retreat, is berated for removing the ‘human dynamic” from history.

A major target is Louis Althusser. In the 1960s the Marxist philosopher rejected ‘humanism’ in the sense of talking about an invariable ‘essence’ and – his principal political target – the new found humanism of the French Communist Party’s official thinkers such as former hard-line Stalinist Roger Garaudy. He was, in this sense, a critics of the bogus ‘humanism’ of parties which remained wedded to the post-Kruschev Soviet Union. More  widely, not many people who’ve read Althusser’s 1970s calls for “class struggle in theory” would agree that he neglected the importance of human willpower in history.

The “existential reason to resist” finds its home in, as with his earlier books, the “networked individual”. This he describes in terms of the cultural logic of postmodernism, “Today the multiple self, the leaky self, the branded self and the disembodied self are all ‘states; recognisable to those habitually immersed in networked.”(P 195) In a sensitive account of value in itself, Mason notes that, millennial identity politics are a small personal space, a “source of strength” of resistance, “to begin from the self, and defend the self, gives their resistance a hard, granular, irreducible quality.”(P 205)

Human rights do not need, and are burdened by, a particular ‘ground’ in one theory of human nature. Dunayevskaya relied on Hegelian dialectics, perhaps not as great a chain as official dialectical materialism, but one that many would disagree with. Human rights are defined by people themselves, often coming from outside existing ideas about what they are, as the first declarations of the rights of women and the rights of those enslaved by colonialism, during the French Revolution demonstrated. It is not up to democrats to define them. For Marxists, for class struggle internationalists, they are part of the fight against national neoliberalism, for our capacity to express solidarity outside of the carcass of “entrepreneurs of the self”.

Left Promethean politics

Paul Mason is sometimes linked to the “accelerationist” left. This arose from a critique of those who would wish – as the Brexit left imagine –to recreate the entrenched trade union and political structures of the 1970s. Against the socialism in one country model “Accelerationism seeks to side with the emancipatory dynamic that broke the chains of feudalism and ushered in the constantly ramifying range of practical possibilities characteristic of modernity.” Clear Bright Future can be seen as a left Promethean politics” that seeks to “accelerate automation” to “unlock the economic power of the new information technologies,  in the same line as much lesser figures promoting ‘total luxury automated communism’. Yet, as Mason says, the threat of climate change is, at present, an absolute limit on future development. (3)

One can discuss the proposals in Clear Bright Future to bring these mechanisms under human control, and to combine Universal Basic Income and Universal basic services. Whether post-capitalism will come or not, is far from clear. The influence of the 1970s left and those hankering after Brexit inside the Labour Party indicates obstacles in Britain alone One thing is certain: Paul Mason is a great comrade whose voice deserves to be listened to as widely as possible. (3)

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  1. Page 513. Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for the Future and the New Frontier of Power. Shoshana Zuboff. Profile Books. 2019
  2. Raya Dunayevskaya Archive See also the News and Letters Committees. “News & Letters is a Marxist-Humanist newspaper which was created so that the voices of revolt from below could be heard unseparated from the articulation of a philosophy of liberation. Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1983) was Chairwoman of the National Editorial Board from its founding in 1955 until her death in 1987. Charles Denby (1907–1983), a Black production worker, was its Editor from 1955 until 1983.”
  3. The Accelerationist Reader  Robin Mackay,  Armen Avanessian 2014.

Morning Star Finds Much to Admire in Boris Johnson’s Brexit Stand.

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Image result for communist party of britain Brexit referendum

Boycott Labour Communists urge Party to implement Brexit referendum result.

This the news today.

As Boris Johnson holds this ultimatum out to the European Union, the Brexit Bolsheviks have not given up.

Johnson’s speech was full of hot air. But it contained challenges to Labour

Morning Star Editorial.

That’s why the most dangerous lines in Johnson’s speech relate directly to Brexit: “I am afraid that after three-and-a-half years people are beginning to feel that they are being taken for fools. They are beginning to suspect that there are forces in this country that simply don’t want Brexit delivered at all.”

That is the narrative Labour will have to confront.

…his mockery of the opposition for not trying to remove him from office is a barb that will stick. His sneer that Corbyn is “determined to frustrate Brexit” will resonate. Labour is right to want to bring Leave and Remain voters together: but it needs to realise that forcing a second referendum on the country will do the opposite.

The Communist Party of Britain, CPB, and its allies in the labour movement,  are campaigning for Labour to carry through Brexit and ignore Party policy of calling for a referendum on a future deal (end of September).

COMMUNIST PARTY EXEC STATEMENT ON BREXIT AND THE NEXT GENERAL ELECTION

1. The Communist Party reaffirms its commitment to working for the election of a left-led Labour government on a left and progressive manifesto at an early General Election. Once again, we will call upon all socialists, progressives, trade unionists, Greens and Scottish and Welsh nationalists to vote for such a government led by a socialist who has a long and proven record of defending the interests of working people and their families and of opposing militarism and imperialist wars.

2. In order to demonstrate its commitment to unity around this perspective, the CP will not be standing candidates of its own in the next General Election, providing Labour retains its left leadership and fights the election on a left and progressive manifesto.

3. Nevertheless, the CP will continue to oppose Britain’s membership of the European Union, recognising that the treaties, rules, directives and policies of the EU are designed to protect big business interests and their capitalist markets against any advance towards socialism in any EU member state. Like most Communist and workers’ parties across Europe, the Communist Party of Britain understands that the EU has also been designed to be ureformable as a construction to defend and promote capitalism and is now developing a military dimension in order to promote the common interests of Europe’s main imperialist powers.

4. Therefore, the CP reiterates its demand for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU in accordance with the result of the June 2016 referendum, on terms which enable future governments to engage in commerce and make trade agreements which mutually benefit the workers and peoples of Britain and other countries.

5. Britain’s Communists condemn as anti-democratic all efforts to delay or block any kind of Brexit, including by holding a second referendum. Democratic principles require that the result of the June 2016 referendum be honoured, which can only mean implementing it. Popular sovereignty demands that the people’s vote of June 2016 overrides all machinations in or by the Westminster parliament and the courts to delay or prevent Britain’s exit from the EU. Refusing to implement that Brexit referendum result – not the temporary absence of MPs from Westminster – will represent the biggest threat to democratic rights and principles in Britain for many decades.

6. Should Britain finally withdraw from the EU while remaining tied to Single Market or customs union rules which restrict the freedom of the British, Scottish and Welsh governments to pursue policies in the interests of the working class and the people generally, the Communist Party will continue to campaign with its allies for the removal of those restrictions and the implementation of left policies regardless.

A few days ago the Communist Party of Britain’s friends in the Red Brown Front, the Full Brexit,  pointed to their alternative

Here is the internationalist left stand:

 

Tariq Ali: The Authorised Biography. Exclusive Extract.

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A Revolutionary, a Gentleman and a Scholar. 

Tariq Ali: The Authorised Biography. Cde RON.

Extract.

Big Ben, wrecked by imperial wars, was silent. Across the road, on College Green, the crowd at the People’s Convention Rally broke out in thunderous applause to a sober and mature speech by comrade Eddie Dempsey. While he struggled to make out the words, Tariq had never experienced a like event anywhere in Britain over the last hundred years. There had been huge demonstrations, strikes, and suchlike. Now, with the old mole peeking out, it looked as if the upper classes were unable to rule.

As a young maiden from the Donbass handed Eddie a bouquet, the veteran leader of a thousand struggles had to push back a tear. Tens of thousands had gathered together to call for a new government to “bring back control” from Boris Johnson, and his neoliberal EU backers. This was the start of a different world in the heartland of Capital. How had he explained it to Trotsky? “Trouble lies ahead. Who will bring the Imperial Mothership down? The British October Revolution will transform the planet.” (1)

Old friends and comrades strode around the grass, the audience thoughtfully clearing a wide berth as John Rees tired to press copies of his bulletin into their hands. A dapper George Galloway, at the head of a delegation from a nearby Wetherspoons, sipped at a flask of tea. Tariq smiled at their excited pink faces.

As he prepared to ascend the platform, the New Left Review editor, poet and accomplished songster and cabaret dancer, reflected on his contribution to the movement. Memories of advice, well taken, to Che Guevara, his role in setting up the Black Panthers and friendship with Malcolm X, how he helped Vietnam defeat American imperialism, his encouragement of democratic socialist Boris Yeltsin, his backing for the Liberal Democrats in Haringey, and the successes of his good friends in the Bolivarian Revolution. And, not least, his recent councils to Hong Kong troublemakers to “shut it” and read some serious Xi Marxist Thought.

There had been darker moments. Blair’s ‘New Labour’ counterrevolution, warmongers like Robin Cook, the grim reality of a country without opposition for several decades. The hard-faced satirists of Charlie Hebdo, like the social liberals Cabu and Wolinski whose fate he had predicted. That business of Jo Cox and her cover for White Helmet imperialism.

The rugged revolutionary cast these memories aside. He was back in Islington North telling Jeremy Corbyn to run for the Labour leadership on a Leave the EU ticket. Showing his agreement at the idea Jeremy had suddenly recalled an urgent meeting of constituents on the dustbin collections in a local street and disappeared. Tariq was left to enjoy his organic camomile tea.

A young activist approached. “You’re number 37 on the speaker list. That’s coming up in about two and a half hours. You can get a drink in the pub if you really want to hang around.” The price of adulation by the popular masses was high. Tariq slowly stumbled towards the nearest hostelry.

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(1) The Coming British Revolution. Tariq Ali. 1971.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 1, 2019 at 10:54 am