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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

The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity. Douglas Murray. Culture Wars seen from the Right.

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The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity. Douglas Murray. Bloomsbury Continuum. 2019.

Last week on Question Time  “Rachel Boyle, a woman of colour, audience member and academic, said: “Let’s be really clear about what this is, let’s call it by its name, it’s racism.” Fox responded that discussions of racism in Britain were “really starting to get boring now,” and accused Boyle of reverse racism for pointing out that he is a “white, privileged male”. Since then, the actor has been busy making an apparent campaign to become the new poster boy for the populist right.”(Independent)  For Douglas Murray the other, largely critical, reaction has shown the face of the ” new totalitarians. ” “ox, again perfectly reasonably, pointed out that he has had no more say than anyone else in choosing the colour of his skin and that in such circumstances the person who imagined she was being anti-racist was in fact being perfectly racist herself.” It was the “identitarians” who were at fault in this “terrifying parable” (The terrifying parable of Laurence Fox’s Question Time appearance)

There is a serious critical debate on identity politics or ‘identitarianism”. On the left responses began in the late 1980s in the pages of Race and Class with articles by Ambalavaner Sivanandan channelling the idea that leaders of pre-formed ‘communities’ should be represented and integrated into the state through Community Relations Councils. In No Logo (1999) Naomi Klein observed the emergence in North American student circles of what is now called ‘intersectional’ cultural battles, at the expense of fights about the increasing domination of globalised corporate power over everyday life. (1)

In the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium Kenan Malik attacked responses to Islam and the rise of people identifying themselves in “narrower ethnic terms”. He wrote, liberal indulgence, “helped build a culture of grievance, in which ebbing offended is a badge of identity, cleared a space for radical Islamists to flourish and made secular and progressive arguments less sayable, particularly within Muslim communities.” In 2010 Rumy Hasan observed that “A profound consequence of silence in regard to oppressive practices within religious-ethnic minority communities has been the abandonment, or the downplaying of key universalist egalitarian principles.” Chief amongst those, he stated, was secularism. (2)

In France Nedjib Sidi Moussa has taken apart the “ethnodiffértialisme” the “racialisation of the social question” primarily through Muslim identity – and the pretension to engage in “race struggle” by anti-Semitic ‘anti-white’ groups like the Indigènes de la République. From an Algerian family he does not shrink from addressing the failure of the radical left to address Islamist violence and the hatred of Jews La Fabrique du Musulman (2017) suggests that the so-called radical supporters of identity politics have a lot in common with right-wing identitarians like Alain Soral. Yves Coleman of Ni Patrie Ni Frontières and Nadia Meziane provide essential critical commentary on these issues in French. (3)

Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds avoids developing the views on the threat of migration. The idea that “the mass movement of peoples into Europe” is happening as Europe has “lost faith in its beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.” (The Strange Death of Europe. 2017). An authority on this, Yves Camus, and his theory of the Great Replacement, cited in that work, does not pop up in the present volume. It is not the suicide of a Continent that preoccupies The Madness, but ‘“a great crowd derangement”. This new Tulip Mania is ‘Identity politics’. “It atomises society into different interest groups according to sex (or gender), race, sexual preferences and more.” (Page 3) These “rights issues have moved from being a product of a system to being the foundations of a new one.” (Page 7). These “destabilising foundation of liberalism” lead to “ugliness” to “believe things that are unbelievable”. This “crowd madness” needs, like a minefield, to be “cleared”.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Murray was a contributor to Spiked, and an acolyte of Frank Furedi. Yet the former Revolutionary Communist Party guru is absent from his pages; his warnings about the post-68 left’s turn to a “bitter conflict between competing lifestyles – symbolic struggles”, the “culture wars”, are unmentioned. (4)

Post-Marxism.

Murray does however have a smattering of knowledge about the left and ‘post-modernism’. Citing Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) and an article on the same theme in Marxism Today, he outlines a shift from class polities to “new political subjects’, “women, students, young people, racial and regional minorities, as well as the various anti-institutional and ecological struggles” (Page 57). Skirting clear of these “post Marxists” fascination with the left potentials of populism, he observes that their “ideological children in identity politics and intersectionality seem to be content to inhabit an ideological space littered with contradiction, absurdity and hypocrisy.” (Page 58)

These new classes of “exploited” persons are explored, we learn, in the hard to read prose of Judith Butler, and produce “social justice theories”. The gobbledegook around social constructs and gender and race offers the gently e amusement of the “conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” and doubtless more opportunities for spoofs than Murray could cut and paste into his book.

The Madness of Crowds is determined to expose these absurdities. There is something deeply distasteful in the way that the Associate Editor of the Spectator rummages through the Web to find them. Gay demonstration, apparently, (Murray is openly gay himself) include fetishists with their leathers, sadomasochists flogging each other in the street….”(Page 39) Murray is fascinated with women singers’ wiggling bums, which is perhaps understandable, though the demand that they should be “sexy but not sexualised” will have passed most people by. Misandry – a new one on my spell checker – “Man are trash”, is a rubbish example of when put alongside this jumble of terms, “concepts like ‘male privilege’, ‘the patriarchy; ‘mansplaining or “toxic masculinity”. “ (Page 103) Is Murray suggesting that patriarchal structures do not exist, that women are often not oppressed by men, or that the unpleasant, violent, side of masculinity is something even a gentleman scrivener has never seen?

Unfamiliar with American campus politics one is still unable to take on trust Murray’s description of racial incidents and university slanging matches about people’s rival experiences. It would strike many people that in a country that elected Donald Trump, and which has a substantial, networked, far right, that racialism remains an issue beyond verbal jousts. Black Lives matter, most seem to agree, is a call that reflects a justified angry response to an unpleasant reality.

Tansexuality.

Murray reaches his lowest moment is the chapter on Transexuals. He insinuates that many trans people may be largely motivated by being “sexually around by the idea of presenting as, or actually becoming a woman” (J. Michael Bailey). This casts doubt on whether that “tans is a hardware issue”, that is against the claim that “trans are born this way. (Page 199) Digging deeper into the pit of controversy around transexuality The Madness of Crowds cites the hostility to those who assert that surgery cannot “make you a woman”. Greatly respected feminists who have taken this, or a more moderate critical view, and have been violently hounded for their opinions. “Transphobic”, Murray is not familiar enough with the subject to talk of the details of the rows about ‘TERFs’, feminists do have a legitimate point of view. So do transsexuals. But this book, with its prurient interest, casts little light on this “unbelievable unclear issue”.

Attempting a weighty conclusion The Madness of Crowds reminds us that in 73 countries it is illegal to be gay, and 8 in which being gay is punishable with death. Women are denied basic rights in countries in the Middle East and East Africa. Inter-racial violence happens across the world. “But there is a paradox here: that the countries which are the most advanced in all” in promoting laws and a culture of rights “are the ones now presented as among the worst”. (Page 232) He has no doubt that the agenda, “the last part of a Marxist subculture” is to “policies absolutely everything and turn people against the society they were brought up in. That the left believes that, “when intersectionality has done is job and he matrix of competing hierarchies has finally been nixed, then an era of universal brotherhood will ensue.” (Page 252)

Hidden from this present book are the countless Middle Eastern, Maghrebin, African, Asian Iranian gay and feminist activists. It is their “religion of social justice”, which many on the left support. Are we “using” their fight too? It is one very far from identical to what Mark Lilla calls North American “liberal identity politics”. It involves political action, and politics means joining people together, not separating them. The courage to join together for human, universal rights is our struggle. Feminist, gay and other movements are part – one part – of this, all over the world. This is a more substantial than limiting our “source of meaning” amongst our kith and kin, important as the “love of people and places” is. Or wallowing in snippets about the wilder side of American and British cultural politics. Or boosting an opposing right wing identity politics.

To top it Murray,”….has been described by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy as “one of the most important public intellectuals today”.[8]

  1. Communities of Resistance. Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. by A. Sivanandan Verso 1990.
  2. P 210. From Fatwa to Jihad. The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. Kenan Malik. Atlantic Books. 2009. Page 224. Rumy Hasan, Multiculturalism, Some Inconvenient Truths. Politico’s. 2010
  3. La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa Libertalia. 2017.
  4. First World War. Still no End in Sight. Frank Furedi. Bloomsbury 2014.
  5. The Once and Future Liberal. After Identity Politics. Mark Lilla. Hurst and Company. 2018.

Keir Starmer and ‘Pabloism’ in Prestigious Spart World Column in Private Eye.

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Low Down on Liquidationism.

By coincidence – spooky! – the only place on the planet where you can find the 1989 Socialist Alternatives Editorial referred to above is chez Coatesy:

Europe, Internationalism, Socialist Alternatives (Pabloism), and…Keir Starmer.

PE offers a fair and balanced, if short, account of the politics of Socialist Alternatives.

One could add that the melding of post ’68 concerns, feminism, ecology, gay rights with labour movement socialism (self-management), was more the work the work of the much loved comrade Maurice Nadjam, the effective leading figure of the ‘Pabloites’ in France,  and his circle, than of Pablo himself.

 Najman, who came from a Jewish leftist background and spoke Yiddish (although I have to admit I never heard him speak the language)  co-founded the Comités d’Action Lycéens (CAL) in 1967 and played an important role in the 1968 revolts in France.  Sometimes called a ‘dandy’ in the bohemian sense (Christophe Nick. Les Trotskistes. 2010), Najman was both a libertarian Trotskyist and open to the ‘underground’ or ‘alternative’ culture of the 1970s. He has been described as  having a “rare intelligence et sensibilité, particulièrement attachant (mais parfois difficile à suivre)..” ( a “rare intelligence and sensitivity, particularly endearing, but sometimes difficult to follow). MAURICE NAJMAN (1948-1999).

One can see his articles in Socialist Alternatives. Maurice visited Britain. The last time I met him was not long after I returned to England,  at the Sheffield Conference of the Socialist Movement. He talked about the Presidential campaign of dissident Communist Pierre Juquin of 1988 (which failed to get more than 2,10 %) and hopes for what became the  Nouvelle Gauche pour le Socialisme, l’Écologie et l’Autogestion. In the late 1990s visiting Paris, I learnt that he had, like Juquin, joined the French Green Party, Les Verts (as they were known at that time).

It is no surprise that anybody influenced by the generous humanist culture of the New left should remain loyal to principles such as radical human rights and that they are not far from what one might call ‘Another Europe is Possible’ politics.

Nor that the Stals of the Communist Party of Britain, in the shape of Nick Wright, find that objectionable.

Amongst reasons not to back him Wright says,

..the active enthusiasm for his candidacy from the surviving representatives of the obscure and entirely marginal Trotskyite group of EU enthusiasts with which he was associated in his early career.

Yes (who could this possibly refer to? ) Keir Starmer has a background of which one can be proud.

More:

Maurice is one of those who appeared in this film Mourir à 30 ans about his friend, and comrade from the Comités d’Action Lycéens, Michel Recanati.

 

 

 

The Fall and Rise of the British Left. Andrew Murray. Review: Socialist “Common Sense” Faced with “Brexit Derangement Syndrome”.

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Image result for The Fall and Rise of the British Left. Andrew Murray. Verso 2019.

 

The Fall and Rise of the British Left. Andrew Murray. Verso 2019.

Can the Labour Party “contribute towards opening up the way to socialism?” Answering this question in 2013 Andrew Murray responded, “The main working-organisations have set it as their task to try to accomplish that transformation after the disastrous New Labour episode…” Today, 2019, “The movement around Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership has changed the political weather for good. There has been a ‘leap’ as Lenin would have understood it. Gradualness has broken, the left has an opening” (Page 165). The Fall and Rise of the British Left is a history and strategic guide by UNITE the Union’s Chief of Staff about how “after a lamentable absence, socialism is back.”(1)

The Fall and Rise is not a straightforward narrative. There is a sparse chronicle of Labour’s century old conflict between the “transformative and integrative” wings (Simon Hannah. A Party With Socialists in it .2018). Murray quickly dismisses Ralph Miliband’s view that the commitment to the Parliamentary system and social reform within that framework rendered it an improbable vehicle for socialist change. The “roots” of the party in working class communities, culture and organisation” made it a “menace to the ruling class in the 1970s and 1980s” (page 13) Labour’s 20th and early 21st century is telescoped into the years leading up to New Labour and Tony Blair’s lifting of this threat by their acceptance of a “market driven economy” and “neoliberalism”. (2)

Murray’s book concentrates on the period of his “own active political life”. It bears the “imprint of many comrades”, including Tariq Ali thanked for “support and political commitment”. As may well be expected the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), which emerged from the “death spiral” of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPBG), from which the author, from the faction Straight Left, surfaced into Labour more recently than the collapse of the USSR, have a place.

Stalinism.

The Communism of the Soviet Union passed away in 1991. Suggesting that a “a particular vision of socialism was compromised” Murray continues, that it was “marked by heroism and enormous self-sacrifice alongside extraordinary self mutilation, by modernisation and brutality, by rapid progress and crippling inefficiency, by the gleam of the future and the baggage of history.” (Page 62) This is both gradioise and low,  a justification of his own decades long support for the USSR. There is no further grappling with what Sheila Rowbotham in Beyond the Fragments (1979) called the “trauma of Stalinism”. The “correct ideas” by “advanced” organisations, such as the CPGB played an obvious role in Britain in sustaining the myth of the USSR’s socialism, modestly calls the “only model yet created of a post-capitalist society”. Murray shrugs this off. A “proper assessment” is “beyond our scope”.

Turning to his own political life Murray looks at some of the controversies that took place in the distingrating CPGB. The Forward March of Labour Halted? (1981) debate is skimmed. There can be no return to the 1970s and the idea that free collective bargaining is the motor of left union struggle. Some parts of the New Times sketch of ‘post-Fordism’ are true. Now socialism needs a new basis, drawing on the insights of the ‘fragments’, hung around the essays in the already referred to Beyond the Fragments (1979). For Murray these centre on making politics more open to women, the values of “solidarity and caring” and learning from green politics, and “new social movements”, perhaps today seen in terms of ‘intersectional’ struggles.  The implication he makes is that small British far-left ‘leninist’ groups were on a par with the vast state tyranny of the Soviet Union in bad practice. It is a thoroughly dishonest appropriation. 

Anti-Imperialism.

Andrew Murray is keen to recognise the strengths of the “socialist and communist organisations of the past”. The tradition of studying politics seriously and mass protests can be contrasted with professional Westminster bubble politics. This left’s support for “struggles of people over the world against imperialism” a “virtue of the twentieth century left” is paramount for the long-term leader of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC).

The importance of anti-imperialism forms the backdrop to his account of the 2003 campaign against the Iraq intervention, a war with long-term disastrous results. Murray notes that (in a cumbersome phrase), that the “broad progressive politics of the anti-war movement” had not been allied for a push inside the “more conventional Labour and left politics” (Page 100). Describing this alliance he does not specify the politics of the principal Muslim force involved with the StWC, the Muslim Association of Britain, (MAB), an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, which not everybody would call ‘progressive’. This optimistic assessment of the role of Muslim politics on the left girds his favourable account of “charismatic leader” George Galloway’s career (perhaps the Brexit Party has yet to register on the Murray radar). Respect, he asserts had a real Muslim base, and its appeal was an “anti-imperialist” and “class” not a “communal one” (Page 147) Few would agree with this rose-tinted picture of the activities of Respect in the East End and elsewhere, studded with communalist incidents and allegations of financial malpractice. 

NATO and military intervention largely exhaust the discussion of imperialism. An account into the new geopolitical set up created by globalised economies, and the assertions of national sovereignty by armed states, which countries fit into the category is not developed. Why fighting imperial powers is a priority rather than supporting struggles for democracy and human rights (as in the Arab Spring) is left hanging in the air. How anti-imperialism can help any resolution to the Syrian conflict, or could have halted the genocides inflicted by Daesh, and the mass murders of the Assad regime, is not explored. The StWC has played a discrafeul role in this conflict, systematically promoting the rights of nations (the  Assad regime) over human rights.

Human rights are a bugbear in The Fall and Rise. The “imperialist left” of the 2006 Euston Manifesto, widely seen by critics as a justification of liberal interventionism, gets special attention. It “articulated 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.”(Page 97) Such rights trump the “rights of nations” and justify Western, external, intervention. Movements for human rights, linked to and voicing the demands of social movements, theorised by writers such as Claude Lefort and Étienne Balibar, are written off as an excuse for humanitarian intervention, the culture of narcissistic complaint.

“Brexit Derangement Syndrome”

The Labour adviser has more than one occasion to express strong views on “rancid identity politics, ‘othering’, on the basis of race, nationalist education, geography or a potpourri of assumed values.” (Page 214) He traces their effects in the polarisation around Brexit – singling out “Brexit Derangement Syndrome” that infects those opposed to leaving the EU. While it, he generously concedes, includes “many progressive people” and “marches against nativism more than for neoliberalism”. But the Brexit Tories could only intensify” not cause, and that they are not part of a movement “for progress.” Pages 214 – 215) In short, the internationalist anti-Brexit left are caught up in an illness, one that has unsettled their judgement.

“Class unity” for progress on a “broadly left social democratic basis” is the remedy.  Not the pro-European, or  Hillary Clinton strategy of the “new enlightenment”. The idea that class based politics has to be anti-Brexit is ruled out by fiat.

Can “nativism”, the identity politics of the right, the heart of the national neoliberal Brexit strategy, also be cured by this medicine? Can Murray’s friends in the CPB, and the Counterfire leader Lindsey German, who promote their own elusive People’s Brexit develop an alternative? Murray’s keen political nose has not found a whiff to share of it. Some can argue that their actions have only fuelled the national populists by offering illusions about the magic powers of national sovereignty. All the UNITE chief of Staff can say is that “capitalism is the problem, not whether the decisive location of its administration is London and the nation state or Brussels and the apparatuses of globalised market coercion.” (Page 215)

Is socialism, Murray cites Corbyn, “the new common sense”? (Page 178) It is not encouraging to read the name of Chantal Mouffe in the next lines, The theorist of a left populism that is in crisis across Europe, from the split in Podemos (a breakaway Más País offers an electoral challenge) to the decline of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI), claims that the Left has the possibility of building a “new hegemonic order”. How this is coming to be is far from clear. The pages on Momentum, the would-be organic intellectuals of the left and civil society,  are uncritical, and skate over  internal disputes over the democratic credentials of the organisation. There is no discussion of Mouffe’s views on ‘federating the People’ against the floating signifier of the ‘Elite’ (For a Left Populism. 2018), nor on Mélenchon’s claim that the ‘era of peoples” has replaced that of class conflict (L’Ère du peuple. 2014)

Despite the inability to come to terms with the author’s own (recent) Communist past, an unfamiliarity with Labour Party history, its hackneyed anti-imperialism, the winks at the New Left, and squints at today’s demands for human rights and recognition, the score settling (against Paul Mason, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Nick Cohen), and the appearance of Corporal Jones, The Fall and Rise of the British Left is a valuable book. Murray laments that there is no consensus on foreign policy, nor will there be one when his side uphold an ambiguous line of issues such as Syria. But at the centre of Labour’s plans are John McDonnell’s economic projects with a wider scope than restoring public finances and local government funding. Developed by a talented team, they extend from social ownership, the control of the finance sector, and, above all, ending austerity and democratising the public services ravaged by new public management. They, and other Labour policies, are designed to ensure that “democracy wins”. In this, for the moment at least, the movement is everything.

*****

  1. Left Unity or Class Unity. Andrew Murray Registering Class. Socialist Register. 2014. The Merlin Press. 2013
  2. See Chapter Three The New Left and Parliamentary Socialism. In Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left, Michael Newman. Merlin Press. 2002.
  3. Beyond the Fragments. Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal, and Hilary Wainwright. Merlin Press. 1979.

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.

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

 

******

 

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

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 15, 2019 at 11:11 am

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.

********

  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

Chantal Mouffe Calls for Labour to Revive Failed ‘Left Populism’ as ‘Green New Deal’.

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Image result for chantal mouffe jean luc melenchon

Mouffe Advising M. 6,31%.

In the  1990s Chantal Mouffe was an avid reader of Carl Schmitt. In her take on the German theorist of the fundamental political antagonism between Friend and Enemy, had to become a democratic clash of opinions. (The Return of the Political. 1993.) In the Democratic Paradox (2000) she argued that the “agonistic practice of valuing and sustaining dissent in the democratic process as a more important goal than  consensus.”

Many writers before her, such as Bernard Crick (In Defence of Politics (1962, and five subsequent editions, the last in 2002) and Claude Lefort  (L’Invention démocratique. Les Limites de la domination totalitaire. 1981) expressed (often without needing words like ‘agonistic) through reading Machiavelli, and the history of the left’s relationship to democracy, have argued for the importance of free debate, disagreement, and rows. The French writer, Jacques Rancière has made something of a career out of arguing for the importance of “disagreement” and dissensus (Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy 1998. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. 2010).

Mouffe’s writing was by contrast aimed at a highly abstract set of liberal writers, such as John Rawls, and Jürgen Habermas, who argued for a liberalism based on an “overlapping consensus” (Rawls, Political Liberalism, 1993), or rational consensus “discourse ethics” bases on an ideal agreements (Habermas). It was an academic intervention in a series of related debates.

Since those days Mouffe has, it is said,  begun to engage in real politics.

The book, “In conversation with Íñigo Errejón Podemos: In the Name of the People (trans. Sirio Canos),  2017 had a wider readership than her books, or those of her late partner, Ernesto Laclau, on the way populism could be seen both as a way of “constructing the people” and upsetting the (alleged) political consensus of Western societies.

Since those days left populist parties have tried to put into practice the principle of ‘post class politics’ that ‘federate the people’ against the elite, the casta, the oligarchy – the permanently floating signifier of that the populist ‘revolt’ is said to be against.

In their best known form, in Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI), and Podemos, they have reached an impasse.

In France, after getting only 6,3% of the vote in this year’s European elections, LFI faced a major crisis. Some talked of the death of left-wing populism (Le « populisme de gauche » est mort ! June 2019).

The vote of Podemos has declined. They no longer appear an unstoppable force that would replace the Spanish Socialists, the PSOE. Podemos has also split with Mouffe’s friend, Errejón, forming a new party Más País, that is predicted to win seats in the coming elections, and split the left vote further.

Más País, is betting heavily on a version of the Green New Deal. This worth remembering in looking at the Mouffe article that appeared yesterday.

Centrist politics will not defeat Boris Johnson’s rightwing populism

Mouffe repeats her old support for ‘agonistic’ politics.

….fear of populism reveals something troubling about how we currently understand democratic politics. What most people seem to find shocking about Johnson’s strategy is that it involves an “us v them” confrontation – as if democratic politics could avoid conflict between irreconcilable political projects.

But,

Since Thucydides and Machiavelli, we have known that politics involves conflict and antagonism and that it has, by definition, a partisan character. In politics, therefore, we are always dealing with an opposition between “us” and “them” – which means it will always be necessary to draw a political frontier between the two sides.

The post-Marxist theorist repeats the well-worn description of a world in which politics apparently had frozen for decades, from the protests against globalisation, to countless elections, rivalries, changes of government,  to the Arab Spring interspersed.

After decades of “post-politics”, during which citizens were deprived of a voice in the way they were governed – under the pretence there was no alternative – we are now living through a populist moment. Political frontiers that were said to have vanished are now being reinstated, in the name of recovering democracy and popular sovereignty.

She claims that the vote for Brexit was a protest against “post-politics”, although few can recall anything particularly beyond politics’ about the rule of the Conservative-Liberal Coalition dominated by political manoeuvering on a grand scale.

Perhaps people protested against those government’s austerity because of the effects this has on their lives.

But the answer seems to like in the idea that a vote for Brexit was tied up with demands for “Popular sovereignty and democracy”. But was the the anti-EU vote about a real loss of sovereignty and democracy  or the result of a campaign that articulated frustrations on a range of issues (not least immigration) into an “imaginary construction of a nation” under threat from the EU?

Mouffe does not say. Nor does she offer the slightest idea of what “real” popular sovereignty is, putting somebones on the ghostly concept that has floated around politics for over two centuries.

She notes that  “by articulating anti-austerity and anti-establishment sentiments with a nationalistic flavour” they gained support.

By blaming the EU for the deterioration of social and political conditions in the UK, Brexit became a hegemonic signifier – one around which a new “people”, identified as leavers, has coalesced. These are the “people” Johnson pretends to represent and whose will he accuses parliament of disregarding.

Yet many people, given the closeness of the Referendum vote, did not agree.

Why should they have to “understand” people. Why should they listen to Mouffe lecturing them that they should “not demonise all Brexiters as deplorables, or dismiss them for being unable to recognise the intellectual and moral superiority of the European project.”

Either it’s right to argue for Remain – in a strategy of transforming the EU – or it is not.

That is dissensus.

The article offers no answer, or rather one that avoids the issue.

In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, the way to answer the rightwing populist offensive is the construction of another “people” – through the articulation of a project that can link together various demands against the status quo. A project in which both leavers and remainers could feel that they have a voice and that their concerns are taken into account. One signifier for such a project could be a Green New Deal – which articulates multiple environmental and economic struggles around a demand for equality and social justice.

To be sure, such an “us” will never include everybody. It does, of course, require a “them” and the drawing of a political frontier. But we can have a frontier that makes democracy more radical – one that pits the people against the oligarchy, and the many against the few.

That is to plunge into a rusty tool box.

Left wing populist parties have failed to ‘construct’ the people. Targeting the shifting signifiers of the elite has not worked.

As Cédric Durand et Razmig Keucheyan argued, after the defeat of LFI in France, at its best,

L’opposition entre les 1% et les 99% permet peut-être de déclencher un mouvement politique et de l’incarner dans un leader, mais l’empêche de s’inscrire dans la durée.

The opposition between the 1% and the 99%  allows perhaps a political movement to get off the ground and to incarnate it in a leader, but it prevents its long term estbalishment.

There are, they note, fundamental conflicts of interests inside the “people”.

One stands us,  the ‘deplorables’ who back brexit include many, many, people who backed it out of xenophobia.

Understanding them is not just a pleasant sounding word, a wink to the wise, as Mouffe suggests.

It can become part of a left populist strategy.

In Germany, many consider, left populism, with its belief in the “people” “elite” conflict has opened the space to the red-brown politics of national populism.

Pop-Up Populism: The Failure of Left-Wing Nationalism in Germany

Aufstehen’s leaders insisted that their movement was not defined by its opposition to migrants. But they consistently cast migrants as either pawns in the game of finance capital or as the phony poster children of misguided urban idealists.

Theorists of left populism like to argue that “the people” needs an adversary against which it can define itself. Who was “the adversary” for Aufstehen? It was an eclectic group. At its head was Merkel’s government, followed by the forces of what they called “Goldman Sachs capitalism.” Arrayed behind them were a less typical crew for the left: an alliance of migrants (some of whom were suspect followers of “hate preachers of radicalized Islam”) and the naïve leftists who loved them. Together, they played the role of useful idiots for a ruling class intent on driving down wages by swamping the remains of the welfare state.

Against this union of elites and outsiders, Aufstehen offered “the realistic left” a middle approach that distinguished between “forced” and “economic” migration—lest all “competitors for scarce resources at the bottom of society” be given access to the German labor market and social welfare benefits. “If the core concern of leftist politics is to represent the disadvantaged,” Wagenknecht explained, “then the no-borders position is the opposite of being on the left.”

One see how populist rhetoric develops further in this recent interview on the red-brown site Spiked.

Nationalism is the search for a new solidarity’

Red Tory Phillip Blond on Boris, Brexit and the ‘post-liberal’ future.

 I think that what is happening is that nationalism has become a new principle of solidarity. Nationalism is the unifying principle between the vision of ‘Global Britain’ and those people who are demanding solidarity because they’re experiencing insecurity in terms of the care of their parents, the care of the children, and their own situation. There is fundamental realignment going on.

The Green New Deal is not the magic potion to make everybody forget about Brexit and ignore this realignment.

The fight against this nationalist “solidarity”, the rich man at his Brexit castle the poor man at his gate, and for the internationalist anti-Brexit cause, continues.

We need less understanding and more argument, till we have won our case through democratic means.

**********

More reading: 

There are two articles in the latest Historical Materialism which point to further theoretical and practical problems about Left Populism.

Editorial Perspective: Is a ‘Left Populism’ Possible? Panagiotis Sotiris

In contrast to the proposals to think radical and emancipatory politics in terms of a left-populist strategy, we have attempted to present an alternative theorisation based on the dialectical contradictions and dynamics of the contemporary conditions of the subaltern in relation to the possibility to rethink the people, in an anticapitalist, post-national and decolonial way as the people-to-come, the people of the emergence of a new historical bloc. This requires not discursive constructions and rhetorical inventions but a new practice of politics, a new collective elaboration and experimentation for a potential hegemony of the subaltern, in a process that aims to fully unleash the potential of the subaltern for self-government.

Research Article: From the Demise of Social Democracy to the ‘End of Capitalism’  The Intellectual Trajectory of Wolfgang Streeck Jerome Roos

Streeck’s account ends up stripping foreign workers of their status as fellow workers, treating class in narrowly national terms and throwing up a stark divide between the interests of ‘indigenous’ workers on the one hand, and the interests of migrants and refugees on the other. Taken together, these two moves do not only end up obscuring the common interests shared by these groups (in higher wages and increased public spending on education, healthcare and social housing, for instance); they also reinforce a narrative that considers migrants and refugees as mere extensions of the class interests of international capital – and, as such, an existential threat to the integrity of the European welfare state. In the process, Streeck ends up lending legitimacy to the ‘national-populist’ view that immigration, by exerting downward pressure on wages and placing unbearable strains on national welfare systems, constitutes a direct threat to the interests of ‘indigenous’ workers.111 This is a potentially dangerous claim for which there is no convincing evidence. Indeed, research on Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States has demonstrated that in all of these countries immigrants actually bring in more in taxes than they take out in benefits, meaning immigrants, on the whole, far from undermining the integrity of the Western welfare state, actively fund its redistributive policies.112 Moreover, as Tansel and Turner point out with respect to Streeck’s unsubstantiated claims about immigration lowering wages:

… comprehensive reviews on the subject suggest that ‘there is still little evidence of an overall negative impact on jobs or wages’ in the UK. Coupled with the findings of a state-of-the-art research project on asylum seekers which concluded that ‘no clear correlation [exists] between access to the labour market and the number of asylum applications a country received’, it is clear that ‘economic’ arguments against immigration and accepting refugees should be examined under extreme scrutiny.113

And yet, ever since the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 and the Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump in 2016, immigration policy has increasingly become the stick with which Streeck continues to flog the dead horse of the cosmopolitan centre-left. In a 2017 essay for the Danish Centre for Welfare Studies, he even goes so far as to hold immigrant children – as opposed to government cutbacks on education spending – responsible for crowding public schools (so that ‘“white” parents … will find ways to send their children to schools where they learn the national language properly’), just as he construes immigration as a leading cause of urban segregation, contributing to ‘“white flight” from areas where immigrants cluster’, instead of seeing immigrant neighbourhoods as ethnically diverse working-class communities in their own right, which are often on the front-line of the financialisation-driven process of gentrification and among the first to suffer from austerity.114 Elsewhere, in a recent contribution to the social-democratic journal Juncture, he takes the argument even further, directly reproducing the Islamophobic trope that ‘mass migration’ leads to terrorism:

..

 

Again, as with the notion that immigration lowers wages and welfare provisions, there is little empirical evidence for the claim that it leads to greater terrorist violence. Indeed, notwithstanding a number of high-profile, high-mortality attacks in recent years (most notably those in France in 2015 and 2016), the moving average of victims from terrorist violence in Western Europe decreased sharply during the supposed era of ‘open borders’ since the 1990s compared to the bloody autumn days of Streeck’s idealised welfare state in the 1970s.116 Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in Europe continue to be committed not by immigrants or refugees with religious-fundamentalist motives, but by European citizens with ethno-nationalist or separatist motives.117

Beyond the liberty he takes with the facts, however, the real irony is that Streeck’s own analysis as laid out in How Will Capitalism End? is characterised precisely by such a ‘lack of any vision of a practically possible progressive future’ that he attributes here to immigrant ‘primitive rebels’. Moreover, it seems to be his own incapacity to imagine a feasible egalitarian alternative beyond the current ‘post-capitalist’ interregnum that is now driving Streeck to join a growing chorus of disillusioned social democrats in responding to the neoliberal pressures on what remains of the European welfare state by jealously guarding its last-remaining crumbs from the claims made upon it by migrant workers and their families. It is a development that has, on occasion, seen Streeck’s views on immigration and refugee policy veer dangerously close to the welfare chauvinism of the nationalist right.118