Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Posts Tagged ‘George Monbiot

Out of the Wreckage. A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. George Monbiot. A Socialist Review.

with 2 comments

Image result for Out of the Wreckage. A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. George Monbiot. Verso 2017.

 

Out of the Wreckage. A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. George Monbiot. Verso 2017.

A feature of some left wing groups, which persists well beyond adolescence, is the imaginary friend. For decades this companion has been The Working Class. Uncorrupted by bureaucrats (that is, elected trade union leaderships), the proletariat, is not so much a collection of people whose needs and demands are the springboard for socialist politics, as a byword for all the virtues.

More recently, the daughters and sons of toil have been joined by a new comrade, the Nation, or rather certain Nations. The last months have seen Catalonia occupy centre stage. According to a recent article in Red Pepper the Catalans are blessed with not just a run of the mill ‘civic nationalism’ but “The opposite of nationalism” participatory democracy with a “project for social transformation.” (Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte)

George Monbiot is the author of The Captive State (2000). That book was one of the first to offer systematic criticisms of the growing influence of corporate power on British public institutions. Long before it became the fashion he signalled the faults of the Private Finance Initiative, introduced under Tony Blair, which transferred “control and ownership of the nation’s critical infrastructure to private business” (1) Monbiot concluded that governments should reassert their control over corporations, leaving it rather vague as to how exactly “troublemaking” would achieve that goal.

Now in Out of the Wreckage the author, whose works include A Manifesto for a New World Order (2003), that proposed more concrete measures to regulate international trae, and to create a World Parliament,  has discovered a friend. This is The Community. We are faced with the ravages of neo-liberal globalisation, a system that “puts a price on everything and a value on nothing”, and promotes economic development above human welfare. Our connections with our “neighbours and neighbourhoods” are weakened to point where there is an epidemic of loneliness. There is “social breakdown”.

Togetherness and Belonging.

What could be the answer? Two “great healing forces – togetherness and belonging” should make way for a “thriving civic life” animated by “altruism and mutual aid”. (Page 25) Our new best mate is “community life”, aka, Good Fellowship.

In Out of the Wreckage there are flashes of Monbiot’s perceptive approach to the destructive influence of business culture on public life. He describes many workplaces where people are dominated by a “humiliating regime of impossible requirements, meaningless exhortation and panoptical monitoring”. Those on benefits are subject to similar rules (Page 59).

But does he seriously think that social media, that is Facebook, has the following effect: “It intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves”? (Page 63) That our friends’ FB photos (which personally I enjoy seeing) are some kind of competition between “idealised images”?

The merits of Monbiot’s advocacy of Community Ownership, Universal Basic Income, Participatory Budgets (for municipalities), Electoral reform – he advocates The Single Transferable Vote, can no doubt by discussed. As can some kind of post-Proudhon world federalism, though one suspects that the era of Cosmopolitan Democracy is not about to dawn.

Sanders’s Giant Live Experiment.

Far less clear is the idea that European social democracy, and the British Labour Party in particular, has much to learn from the Bernie Sander’s Campaign, a “gigantic live experiment”. Sanders did not grapple between principle and election. He did not stand for the Presidential election, and his programme would, in European terms, put him somewhere on the right wing of most of our left parties, not far to the left of Progress in the UK.

Sanders’ Big Organising – the US talent for marketing is undisputed – is surely a good technique. Readers who have helped put on or attended demonstrations over the years, or decades, will be impressed by suggestions about shorter speeches and adding musical entertainment  with an “energiser”. We learn too that marches ought to be “against the forces we oppose” and, apparently, to show “the better future we envisage”. (Page 174) The ordinary goal of drawing attention to a stand on an issue looks rather humble now.

Despite reference to early 20th century British socialism, the themes of Out of the Wreckage are close to another US approach, communitarianism. That is, the line of thought developed by, amongst others, the political philosopher Michael J Sandel, which envisages an alternative to  the distributive systems of markets by bringing people closer together though a ‘thick’ communal life (What Money Can’t Buy. Michael Sandel. 2012).  Monbiot scorns comparison with David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ of busybody Lords and Lady Bountifuls. It will be based on the Common Weal, “self-motivated networks of volunteers”, grounded upon our “innate urge to cooperate”. Yet to achieve that end, “enlarging the commons” there will probably be “conflict with both the state and corporations.” (Page 99)

So, Monbiot wants co-operation but the path to it can only be through fights. Does this stop after we Have Come Home to Ourselves? Chantal Mouffe has observed that politics are not just a transient clashes but are marked by “the permanence of conflicts which cannot have a rational solution”. It does not take much thought to see that this ‘agonistic’ aspect of politics applies to communities – let us begin with religious groups…- as much as to the elected institutions of pluralist democracy (2)

We do not need a new made up friend, Community. The democratic socialist position on the free market erosion of democracy and equality is simpler. It is to advance public provision for public goods, in conditions of equality, through the democratic institutions which we can influence. That is, not just communities outside the state, but through it. That is, secured if need be, against the opposition of the ruling forces, the political embodiments of one class interest, by those very far from imaginary forces that make the left, the labour movement and the Labour Party.

********

(1) Page 91. Captive State. The Corporate Takeover of Britain, George Monbiot. Macmillan. 2000.
(2) Page 138. Agonistics. Thing the World Politically. Chantal Mouffe Verso. 2013.

Advertisements

Written by Andrew Coates

November 7, 2017 at 12:25 pm

The Guardian: Everything that’s wrong with the Liberal Stand on Islamism.

with 9 comments

Islamism: Discipline and Punish. 

To much of the world the British daily, the Guardian is the best known English-language paper of the liberal-left.

It is important to emphasise the word ‘liberal’ (the Guardian advocated voting for the Liberal Democrats at the last election).

But the hyphen attaching the word to the ‘left’ is indissoluble.

Guardian writers, above all in the Comment in Free Section, shows the limits of what this left believes in.

The section, (run between 2001 and 2007 by former Communist Party of Great Britain member ), are, in the majority, consensus believers in a number of liberal values.

The present editor,  has stated that “Queer theory informs my politics and journalism – and made me understand Robert, my childhood alter ego.” (Here)

Some of the principles these people stand for are admirable, such as freedom of speech, promotion of diversity, human rights, gender equality, social equality, and tolerance.

Their advocacy of liberty extends to letting a range of people expressing their opinions in the paper who have very different interpretations of these ideas.

But they are heavily modified when it comes to one political and cultural  issue, the nature of Islamism.

A couple of days ago the daily published an article by George Monbiot, Why stop at Isis when we could bomb the whole Muslim world?

The author, who has previously compared European recruits to the genociders of ISIS to volunteers who defended the Spanish Republic, argues,

“Humanitarian arguments, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East.”

Let’s bomb the Muslim world – all of it – to save the lives of its people. Surely this is the only consistent moral course? Why stop at Islamic State (Isis), when the Syrian government has murdered and tortured so many? This, after all, was last year’s moral imperative. What’s changed?

Nothing, according to Monbiot, the latest US-led bombing will all end in disaster, killing, and destruction by the “destroying angels of the west”. He ends his article with the observation that politicians “scatter bombs like fairy dust.”

Monbiot now deigns to mention that the group amongst the Syrian rebels, which he compared to the Spanish Republican democrats – Isis – has its faults, “the agenda and practices of Isis are disgusting. It murders and tortures, terrorises and threatens. As Obama says, it is a “network of death”(14).

But it’s one of many networks of death.

Worse still, a western crusade appears to be exactly what it wants.

So it’s just one of many. And attacking them would make them worse.

Monbiot then fails to mention any form of physical military reaction to Isis that he could support.

Sound the alarm, run to the hills, the world is about to be flattened!

We can’t do anything at all!

Today the Guardian publishes Seamus Milne.

He begins well,

Theresa May devoted over three quarters of her speech in Birmingham to Muslims and the threat of a catch-all “Islamist extremism”.

Drawing on the tricks of Tony Blair’s invasion-prone government and Thatcher’s failed campaign against the IRA, she promised yet more anti-terror laws: this time to ban nonviolent “extremists” from television and protests, and to proscribe groups with no links to terrorism.

The package amounts to a straightforward attack on freedom of speech and democracy – in the name of the “functioning of democracy”. It would alienate Muslims from mainstream politics still further and create a new, all-purpose collection of thought crimes, allowing the authorities to ban views or activities they deem likely to cause “alarm” or “distress”.

Milne is now a defender of free speech.

He would have done well at this point to oppose something he once backed, to make causing offence to religious faiths a crime. (1)

But he doesn’t.

And, in the wider news, perhaps I missed this bit,

The justifications were straight out of the Blair playbook too: from May’s insistence that we are at war with an “ideology” and that “they” hate our values rather than our violent interventions in the Muslim world – to the claim that Isis could develop weapons of mass destruction to attack us“within a few hours’ flying time of our country”.

Yes I did miss that one, because it’s from the far-right Daily Express’s spin on the May speech….

I suppose Islamic State’s tortures, rapes, genocide and the threat to hundreds of thousands of Kurds would have merited a mention from anybody with genuine left-wing feeling.

In a sense they do get mentioned,

Like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya before it, the bombing has been sold as a response to a humanitarian catastrophe and imminent threat but already shows every sign of spreading the terror it is supposed to stop. Mission creep is already upon us, as Cameron softens the public up to join the US campaign in Syria. As in the past, the war is projected to last years, has been launched against our own mutant creation, and is fanning reverse sectarian cleansing on the ground. Revenge terror attacks at home are once again seen as almost certain.

Ah, “sold as a response to a humanitarian catastrophe”.

What Milne’s views on this catastrophe are, part from the fact that they have been “sold”,  remain in decent obscurity.

One thing sticks out: no mention of the need to back the Kurdish and other fighters on the ground battling Islamic State/Isis!

But the prize for feeble-minded analysis of Islamism must go to a piece by .

Speaking of how people treat recruits to the genociders in Australia he laments a “sudden terror panic“.  Loewenstein uses a Muslim interlocutor to express the dismay.:

“There’s a lack of context, lack of spirituality and understanding, combined with impatience. Many Isis fighters are newly converted, newly pious … these men have grown a beard in three months and they don’t give Islam time to be understood.”

He is tired of having to defend his religion against bigots who take these instant Islamists to be the authentic representation of Islam.

“Keyboard warriors often ask: “Where is the universal Muslim condemnation of terror acts?” We’re distancing ourselves, so why do you keep asking? People just aren’t listening.”

“It’s been the same narrative of apology for decades and we’re sick of it. It’s like the probation the media is trying to grant me. I want to stand back, it’s got nothing to do with me and it’s nothing to do with Islam. I don’t need to come out and prove my innocence.”

Indeed, it is remarkable that those who trumpet their religious belief, in Islam and the Qu’ran, should be called to express disapproval of those who trumpet their religious belief in Islam and the Qu’ran – Isis.

As he continues in the vein we weary.

But there is some truth in this, though “dis-empowered” – an expression now confined to ageing social workers – is not perhaps the right word.

The pressure on the Australian Muslim community is immense, a feeling of being outsiders, exacerbated by a message that they’re different and under suspicion. Many Muslim women in particular feel disempowered and not trusted by the wider, white majority. Islamophobia is now unofficial government policy and some media’s central world-view

Muslims have ample reason to be sceptical towards government and intelligence services; real journalists would investigate why. Sadly, most in the media are failing in their basic duty to question.

Islamophobia is an ageing and muddled term as well: it tries to conflate opposition to islamism with prejudice, and offers no way to distinguish them.

This will not help clear up what ‘Islam’ is.

“Islam isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Samir says. His religion, just like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and others, is complex, contradictory and open to various interpretations – but figuring that out can’t be done in an instant.

I will,  as will most readers, give up at this point….

Why does this matter?

We could say that a paper that publishes Richard Seymour is a fun journal, a good laugh, and that nobody takes the ideology in these articles seriously.

But what is striking is that not a single Guardian commentator has come close to analysing Islamism in any depth whatsoever.

That is a extreme-right-wing ideology, with a very material institutional basis, support in the pious Muslim bourgeoisie, and wider roots in the class structures of many Middle Eastern countries.

There are Marxist and other political studies which go into this in depth (Maxime RodinsonGilbert Achcar the latter’s sole contribution to the Guardian on the topic relates to ‘Holocaust denial’).

Or the rich critique of Islamism, democratic, socialist and secular,  offered by  the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan groups such as the Worker Communist parties (Mansoor Hekmat)  and other left individuals and organisations  in the Moslem world.

We could, for those interested in ‘Gender and Queer’ studies, also look at Michael Foucault’s concept of ‘micro-powers’ – intimate oppressive apparatuses that create a religious prison, in para-states and actual states.

Foucault’s Discipline and Punish  is perhaps a good starting point to the operation of the Sharia, along with Nietzsche The Genealogy of Morals. (2)

We could look at its (or rather), since Islamism is a plural formation, their patriarchal roots, and its creation of sexual apartheid.

We might even mention that every single form of Islamism is viciously oppressive towards gays.

That it is anti-democratic and ‘communitarian’ on the template of 1930s ‘organic’ far-right.

We might even consider that its religion is a load of utter cack.

But nobody in the Guardian’s comment articles says that.

Nobody.

**********

(1) “But for showing solidarity and working with Muslim organisations – whether in the anti-war movement or in campaigns against Islamophobia – leftwing groups and politicians such as the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, are now routinely damned by liberal secularists (many of whom have been keen supporters of the war in Iraq) for “betraying the enlightenment” and making common cause with “Islamofascists”, homophobes and misogynists. The pitch of these denunciations has been heightened further by the government’s plan to introduce a new criminal offence of incitement to religious hatred. This measure would extend to the most vulnerable community in the country the very modest protection already offered by race hate legislation to black people, Jews, Sikhs and all religious communities in Northern Ireland. It is not a new blasphemy law; it would not lead to a ban on Monty Python’s Life of Brian film; or rule out jokes about Ayatollah Khomeini’s contact lenses; or cover ridicule or attacks on any religion (unlike the broader Australian legislation) – but would only outlaw incitement of hatred against people because of their faith.” Guardian. December 2004

This bill was thrown up precisely because it was a new “blasphemy law”. Does Milne back its return?

(2) I am all too aware of Foucault’s morally cretinous welcome to Khomeini, What are the Iranians Dreaming About (1978). More relevant to Isis is  the way their beheadings of hostages could be compared to the violent and chaotic public torture of Robert-François Damiens analysed in Discipline and Punish (1975).

Is George Monbiot a Fascist Fellow-Traveller?

with 31 comments

File:George Monbiot (cropped).jpg

Is George Monbiot a Fascist Fellow-Traveller? 

Citing George Orwell is a venerable tradition in political debate.

Often it’s simply to score points, usually against the left. Sometimes it is – still – used to great effect. Jean-Claude Michea, deeply inspired by Orwell, wrote  in 2008, a polemic which uncovered the “doublethink’ of contemporary economic liberalism. (La double pensée : Retour sur la question libérale).

One would have expected George Monbiot, whose writing including debunking climate-change deniers, and the way free-market economics have made the State “captive”, to have followed in Michea’s line and kept writing about subjects he knows something about.

Not so.

He has gone beyond quoting Orwell to using the man’s – heroic – decision in the 1930s to fight to defend the elected Spanish republic to endorse his sympathetic stand on  those fighting jihad in Syria. This takes some gumption. But, as an apparent authority on the ramifications of this conflict, he has been given prominent space to expound his opinions.

Monbiot’s column appears under this headline,

Orwell was hailed a hero for fighting in Spain. Today he’d be guilty of terrorism Guardian.

The International Brigades are acclaimed for bravery. But British citizens who fight in Syria are damned. If only they did it for the money.

Monbiot’s main gripe is with the anti-terrorism laws.

He writes,

If George Orwell and Laurie Lee were to return from the Spanish civil war today, they would be arrested under section five of the Terrorism Act 2006. If convicted of fighting abroad with a “political, ideological, religious or racial motive” – a charge they would find hard to contest – they would face a maximum sentence of life in prison. That they were fighting to defend an elected government against a fascist rebellion would have no bearing on the case. They would go down as terrorists.

People fighting against forces that run a system of industrialised torture and murder and are systematically destroying entire communities could be banged up for life for their pains. Is this any fairer than imprisoning Orwell would have been?

Mobiot expresses some reservations,

I accept that some British fighters in Syria could be changed by their experience. I also accept that some are already motivated by the prospect of fighting a borderless jihad, and could return to Britain with the skills required to pursue it. But this is guilt by association.

But the war, the holy jihad in Syria,  itself appears just.

To prove this he  cites this – single –  case,

Last week a British man who called himself Abu Suleiman al-Britani drove a truck full of explosives into the gate of Halab prison in Aleppo. The explosion, in which he died, allowed rebel fighters to swarm into the jail and release 300 prisoners. Was it terrorism or was it heroism? Terrorism, according to many commentators.

It’s true that he carried out this act in the name of the al-Nusra Front, which the British government treats as synonymous with al-Qaida. But can anyone claim that liberating the inmates of Syrian government prisons is not a good thing? We now know that at least 11,000 people have been killed in these places, and that many were tortured to death.

Last week we referred to the case of British Muslim Iftikhar Jaman. He was a member of ISIS and was killed by Kurdish freedom-fighters.

Who are ISIS?

Torture, flogging, and summary killings are rife in secret prisons run by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an armed group that controls large areas of northern Syria , said Amnesty International in a briefing published today.ISIS , which claims to apply strict Shari’a (Islamic law) in areas it controls, has ruthlessly flouted the rights of local people. In the 18-page briefing, Rule of fear: ISIS abuses in detention in northern Syria , Amnesty International identifies seven detention facilities that ISIS uses in al-Raqqa governorate and Aleppo .

Let’s forget what harm these jihadists may do if and when they return to Europe.What of the above?

They are now slaughtering innocents – though perhaps Syrians do not count for Monbiot.

Monbiot has responded to critics by writing,

First, it would be wrong to assume that all British fighters going to Syria are affiliated with the ANF, which is part of the point I’m making. Secondly that just because someone is doesn’t mean that what their subsequent actions are necessarily wrong. I find it hard to see al-Britani’s action in seeking to liberate a prison as an act of terrorism. If there is such a thing as a legitimate act of war, that, I believe, is an example.

We can debate the issue of the anti-terrorism laws.

But a “legitimate act of war”?

The jihadists, including the Al-Nusra Front, are  equally accused of tortures and the murder of civilians.

They are not fighting against the Baathists in the name of  a democratic state. Their aim is the caliphate: a theocracy in which human rights have no place.

It is hard to see how exactly they resemble any of the  political forces in the Spanish civil war. But certainly their practice and ideology has something in common with fascism.

Orwell always emphasised the need to use political language with precision.

So we ask, and do not answer, the question: by giving credibility to the Syrian jihadists is George Monbiot a fascist fellow-traveller?

Written by Andrew Coates

February 12, 2014 at 10:52 am