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Novra Media’s James Butler Laments British Labour’s Failure to Read Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn.

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Image result for anderson nairn for socialism

Latest Woke Book for Corbynistas. 

Top Jeremy Corbyn supporter: Britain’s problem is failure to execute the rich

Speaking on Monday for a video on the pro-Jeremy Corbyn media site Novara Media, a Novara founder explained why socialism hasn’t found a natural base in British society.

According to James Butler, “the great problem of British politics is that we never had a successful bourgeois revolution so we never executed all of these people. And therefore they remain in this kind of continual alliance that is extremely powerful between land wealth and a nascent bourgeois. It means that the structure of British politics is weirdly deformed as opposed to the standard European political model.”

Not only this but this!

(Last year…)

On #NovaraFM, Nina Power joins James Butler to talk about ‘decapitalism’ – from severed heads to sovereignty to contemporary anticapitalism and more.

Comrades were not slow to point to the errors in Cde Butler’s analysis.

We, notably Kylie and George, have delved into the depths of the Nairn-Anderson thesis, that Britain “never had a successful bourgeois revolution”.

This are some modest fruits of our research.

There is, about them, the air of an inverted Podsnappery.

“We Englishmen are Very Proud of our Constitution, Sir,” Mr. Podsnap explained with a sense of meritorious proprietorship: “It was Bestowed Upon Us By Providence. No Other Country is so Favoured as This Country …”

“And other countries,” said the foreign gentleman. “They do how?”

“They do, Sir,” returned Mr. Podsnap, gravely shaking his head; “they do – I am sorry to be obliged to say it – as they do.”

But now the rôles are reversed. Mr. Podsnap (who has swelled to engross all British culture over the past 400 years) is being arraigned in his turn.

“And other countries,” said Mr. Podsnap remorsefully. “They do how?”

“They do,” returned Messrs. Anderson and Nairn severely: “They do – we are sorry to be obliged to say it – in Every Respect Better. Their Bourgeois Revolutions have been Mature. Their Class Struggles have been Sanguinary and Unequivocal. Their Intelligentsia has been Autonomous and Integrated Vertically. Their Morphology has been Typologically Concrete. Their Proletariat has been Hegemonic.”

E.P. Thompson

The Peculiarities of the English  (1965)

Since that time many people have been influenced by the debates arising from François Furet’s Penser la Révolution Française (1978).

Many in New Left Review have taken the view that by criticism the paranoiac ultra-nationalist Terror during the French Revolution, and finding some parallels with the Terror in the Bolshevik Revolution, was a key marker in the French intelligentsia’s’ turn against Marxism in the 1970s

Others, who have read the book (really a collection of essays) for themselves,  see a critique of the ‘stage’ theory of bourgeois revolutions. That is the view that only a “proper” political Revolution,with some bloodshed (see Butler) on the model of 1789 can clear the way for a bourgeois society with its appropriate state.

For Marxists the most striking aspect of his essays  is that they pointed out, like Thompson, that there was not one model for the bourgeois revolution, or for the coming of bourgeois society.

There is little doubt that Furet was inclined to hint that the Jacobins foreshadowed, in some way, the Bolsheviks. That the belief that they incarnated “popular sovereignty” and the ‘General Will’ (an object which has never been sighted in the flesh) and convinced of their own Virtue, had something in common with the belief that Lenin’s party embodied the progress of history and the will of the Proletariat. More broadly he signalled how the Jacobin version of direct democracy – restricted to ‘active citizens’ – facilitated their ‘machine’ open to the evocation of this General Will against dissent.

Furet  central point is that the terror and the hysterical fear of ‘aristocratic plots’ cannot be explained away by adverse ‘circumstances’, the need to defend France against foreign intervention, and domestic armed opposition.

Whether the explanation for the repression, the Guillotine, and the ferocity of the revolutionaries,  lies in proto-totalitarianism or in the historically far from unique paranoia of a state of siege, remains an issue for historians.

Jacobin rule, the power of the original Commune de Paris, was overthrow with only token resistance. With a broken jaw a screaming and whimpering Robespierre was guillotined on 10 Thermidor (28th of July 1794).

But to return to Anderson and Nairn.

Nicos Poulantzas commented,

The characteristic conclusions of Anderson and Nairn follow from this short passage, which must seem strange to anyone who has been concerned with British political problems. For in their analysis, what Marx called ‘the most bourgeois of nations’ presents the paradoxical situation of a capitalist formation ‘typical’ in its origin and evolution, within which, however, the bourgeois class has almost never taken the ‘pure’ role of the hegemonic or dominant class. Because of its ‘aborted’ revolution between the 15th and 18th centuries, the bourgeois class did not succeed in changing the objective structures of the feudal state, and remained in practice a class politically dominated until its ‘absorption’ within a ‘power bloc’ belatedly formed by the landed aristocracy.

This aristocracy, by imposing its cultural and ideological hegemony on the British social formation as a whole, remained permanently the determinant class within the structures of political domination of this capitalist society. [6]

The bourgeois class, having missed its vocation as the hegemonic class, did not succeed, as in France, in structuring a ‘coherent’ ideology of its own which could be the dominant ideology in this formation: the ruling ideology of English society as a whole was the ‘aristocratic’ ideology.

MARXIST POLITICAL THEORY IN BRITAIN

More critiques of this false route:

 The Pristine Culture of Capitalism 

Ellen Meiksins Wood on the Nairn-Anderson thesis and the Bourgeois paradigm

The Nairn-Anderson theses, which sparked a wide-ranging and fruitful debate in particular with the historian E. P. Thompson, were elaborated in the 1960s and 1970s in the pages of the New Left Review. Their principal object was to explain the ‘origins of the present crisis’, at a time when Britain appeared to be unique among capitalist countries in its pattern of industrial decline. Some twenty years later, that debate was revived in a context of international crisis and restructuring of capital, which tended to mask any particularly British disorder. This was also a time when the dominant capitalist economy of the earlier period – the United States – began to reproduce the pattern of decline that once seemed peculiarly British. The powerful and influential Nairn-Anderson theses, constructed in the sixties to explain the British decline by tracing it to its historical roots, were called upon to defend not only their explanation of a specifically British disease but also the very notion of its specificity. At the same time, there has emerged a movement for constitutional reform in Britain, whose leading proponents (especially those associated with ‘Charter 88’) subscribe to something very much like the Nairn-Anderson thesis about the incompleteness of Britain’s bourgeois revolution and the immaturity of its bourgeois democracy.

The original Nairn-Anderson theses rested on two principal assumptions: that the British decline was special and unique, and that these specific disorders were traceable to the priority, and consequent incompleteness, of capitalist development in Britain, where a fundamentally unchallenged early capitalism emerged under the auspices of a landed aristocracy instead of a triumphant urban bourgeoisie, lacking the complete sequence of bourgeois revolutions which on the Continent produced more ‘rational’, bourgeois states. This still agrarian and aristocratic capitalist class experienced no need completely to transform the social order and its cultural supports, while the immature bourgeoisie never seized hegemony over the process of ‘modernization’, leaving British industrial capital permanently dwarfed by more primitive commercial and financial forms of capital. An essential corollary of this thesis was that other, late-developing capitalist countries were not subject to the same disorders because they were more ‘modern’ and their bourgeois revolutions more complete.

These major assumptions were later modified in various ways by each of the original authors. Perry Anderson argued in ‘The Figures of Descent’ that the British case may have prefigured a more universal pattern, already replicated in the United States and show­ing signs of ‘its ultimate generalization throughout the advanced capitalist world’. At the same time, he accepted the view, most boldly expressed by Arno Mayer, that the ‘ancien regime’persisted throughout Europe well into the twentieth century, implying that the ‘backwardness’ of Britain is not in itself so exceptional.  Tom Nairn went even further than Anderson or Mayer in his claims for the persistence of the ancien regime in Europe. We may, he suggested in his remarkable book on the British monarchy, only now be ‘living in the first decades of true capitalist ascendancy’ – which he identifies with the triumph of an industrial bourgeoisie and the formation of a state to match.

So Britain is apparently unique neither in its ‘backwardness’ nor even, perhaps, in the pattern of its crisis. Indeed, if Nairn in particular is right in postponing the definitive triumph of capitalism to the 1970s, his theses seem to be in need of substantial adjust­ments: the decade which, according to Nairn, saw the decisive victory of capitalism was also marked by the replication elsewhere of precisely those patterns that supposedly signal a peculiarly British disease – most notably in a capitalist country with none of Britain’s archaic residues.

Perry Anderson’s ‘The Figures of Descent’ concludes by pointing to the signs that the British pattern may become universal through­out the advanced capitalist world. At the same time, he still regards the British instance as specific, in the nature, timing and scale of its decline as well as in the poverty of the instrumentalities available to British capitalism for reversing its industrial decadence. The question for him must be whether the original historical explanation can withstand the generalization of British ‘backwardness’ to include all the capitalist countries of Europe.

The simple option of generalizing his British explanation, so that the universal ‘backwardness’ and uneven development of Europe is invoked to account for the general crisis, is clearly unacceptable to Anderson, not just because it leaves unexplained the American case, which so far has shown the most pronounced inclination to follow the British example, but also because there really are significant specificities in the British case which remain to be explained. Anderson stresses, for instance, the particular scale of British industry, the inclination to favour small-scale production of consumer goods over heavy industry, the resistance to the concentration and centralization of capital and production, and the disproportionate weight of Britain’s investment abroad. There remains, too, a particular cultural configuration which, as Ander­son has argued in the past, sets Britain apart from the general culture and intellectual life of Wes tern Europe, and which, accord­ing to Tom Nairn, has left Britain with a national identity defined by the archaic forms of the monarchy and pre-capitalist ideologies of class.

If other capitalist economies are destined eventually to suffer a similar fate, and if the archaic remnants of Britain’s past must be situated in a larger context of European backwardness, Anderson seems to be suggesting, the particularities of the British decline can still be explained by the peculiarities of its ancien regime. While the Nairn-Anderson theses must be further specified to provide an explanation ‘at a lower level of individuation’ which spells out the specificities of the British ancien regime in contrast to other persis­tent antiquities, the original theses remain fundamentally intact, argues Anderson, vindicated in the court of history.

Yet, these modifications aside, it is possible that two distinct theses have from the beginning competed for primacy in Anderson’s account of British history. Because the two theses tend to be interwoven in his work, the distinctions are not immediately evident; but it is possible to separate out the principal strands.

Thesis 1 (which, on the whole, appears to be dominant) depicts a precocious capitalism and a ‘mediated’ bourgeois revolution, a capitalism stunted by its aristocratic and agrarian origins, the absence of a clear antagonism between bourgeoisie and aristocracy and the failure of the bourgeoisie to escape its subaltern position or to transform the state and the dominant culture. In contrast, Continental capitalisms benefited from more complete and unme­diated bourgeois revolutions, and from clear contradictions between bourgeoisie and aristocracy which issued in a decisive triumph of the bourgeoisie and its thorough transformation of archaic political and cultural superstructures. The relative failures of Britain and the successes of other capitalisms have to do with the premature and incomplete development of the former and the greater maturity of the latter.

Thesis 2 (which could be, though it is not, detached from the dominant thesis and made to stand on its own, with some extrapolation) again begins with a precocious capitalism, but this time the critical factor is not the persistence of the ancien regime so much as the absence of obstacles to the development of this early and unchallenged capitalism. Here, the defects of contemporary British capitalism are ascribed to the advantages it derived from its head­start. It is not simply a matter of first to rise, first to decline, nor even a question of antiquated material infrastructures. The argument is rather that Britain’s early and unrivalled evolution as a capitalist power left it bereft of the means to reverse the decline once set in train, while other European capitalisms were, at least for a time, better equipped. Early English capitalism never faced the need to establish institutions and practices to enhance or accelerate development – for example, certain kinds of state intervention or administrative skills; and its slow and ‘natural’ industrial revolu­tion, unlike, say, the later German process of industrialization, generated no need for ‘the “bureaucratic” creation of a widespread, efficient system of technical education’. So have ‘the triumphs of the past become the bane of the present’.

These two theses do, of course, overlap and are not entirely incompatible; but there are significant differences, not all of which can be reconciled. Thesis 2 (early leadership) can more easily accommodate the persistence of the ancien regime throughout Europe, but Thesis 1 (incomplete bourgeois revolution) could in principle survive the postponement or prolongation of Continental bourgeois revolutions. Thesis 2, however, can explain the replication of British patterns elsewhere, which Thesis 1 cannot. For example, in Thesis 2, although Britain would remain unique because of its early and unchallenged origins, other capitalisms, emerging later and attaining dominance in a more competitive setting, might still reproduce the effects of leadership, ‘trapped and burdened by its past successes’.  The recent history of American capitalism illustrates how a period of dominance can eventually produce its own competitive disadvantages, not least because leaders can for a time make profits without developing productive forces. According to Thesis 2, the priority of British capitalism, its very early leadership, would still account for relatively greater disadvantages, and no later leadership could exactly reproduce the effects of earlier dominance; but in this version, the successes and failures of any capitalist economy have more to do with the conditions of competition than with the persistence of, or ruptures with, a pre-capitalist past.

She continues,

In other words, Thesis 2 could accept, as Thesis 1 cannot, that archaic forms are not necessarily incompatible with a dynamic capitalism -as the examples of Germany and Japan have so vividly demonstrated. The second thesis could even entertain the possi­bility that there may be circumstances in which the survival of archaic forms can promote, rather than impede, capitalist develop­ment -for instance, the availability of bureaucratic state-forms whose interventions can override the inherent contradictions of ‘pure’ capitalism, or the persistence of cultural forms that under­write the deference of workers. Indeed, the first successors of early English capitalism may more exactly fit the case of capitalist development conducted under ‘pre-modern’ auspices, as post­absolutist states responded to the competitive challenge and the example of English capitalism (sometimes also benefiting from the availability of English capital and technology). It was precisely in such cases more than in Britain that a dynamic capitalism could develop prematurely, in advance of fully ripe indigenous conditions and even adapting pre-capitalist relics to the needs of capitalist development.

The two theses, to put it another way, differ in their underlying conceptions of capitalism: the first is predicated on an unambiguously progressive capitalism which, left to its natural logic, will always promote industrial advance and a ‘rational’ state; the other acknowledges the contradictions inherent in the system. The first must attribute failures to the incompleteness of capitalist development; the second can ascribe them to the inherent weaknesses of capitalism itself. It is worth adding that Thesis 2, the early-leadership thesis, is more compatible with arguments put forward by E.P. Thompson in the original debate, and less subject to his persuasive charge that Nairn-Anderson operated with an abstractly idealized model of a ‘Bourgeois Revolution’ drawn – somewhat tautologically – from the experience of Other Countries.

Much of the discussion that follows here will be conducted against the background of the Nairn-Anderson theses, though not always in direct debate with them, sharing their basic premise that the priority of British capitalism provides a key to its current condition, and drawing on their insights about British history and culture, but not necessarily arriving at the same conclusions.

One major point remains indisputable. Britain – or rather England – was the world’s first capitalist society, and its priority profoundly affected its future development. There can be little doubt that its specific course of development left British capitalism singularly ill-endowed to undertake the kind of restructuring, notably the concentration of capital and production, required in the later conditions of international competition. But these facts are susceptible to more than one interpretation. If English capitalism was the first, and hence also the only one to emerge, as it were, spontaneously and not in response to external competitive press­ures from more ‘modern’ states, it is undoubtedly true that this ‘organic’ evolution left archaic forms in place instead of sweeping them away in a series of revolutionary onslaughts. But it may also be true, and for the same reason, that capitalism was more deeply rooted and its laws of motion more firmly established here than elsewhere, transforming the substance while preserving old forms -new wine in old bottles.

This is the decisive point:

Is Britain, then, a peculiar capitalism or is it peculiarly capitalist? That question is no less significant for an understanding of capita­lism in general than for an interpretation of British history in particular. It makes a very great difference whether the flaws in the world’s first capitalism and its pattern of industrial decline are the weaknesses of immaturity and incompleteness, specific to a peculiar case of arrested development, or the inherent contradictions of the system itself.

It may turn out that many of the qualities attributed to the incomplete development of British capitalism belong rather to capitalism as such, while the apparently more complete bourgeois revolutions elsewhere represent deeper continuities with a pre­capitalist past, and even that those continuities have sometimes benefited other European capitalisms. We may also find that, while Britain is indeed remarkable for its attachment to archaic forms and its tendency to revive – or even to invent- obsolete antiquities, and while these forms undoubtedly play an important ideological role, continuities with a pre-capitalist past are here more formal and symbolic than the structural continuities that connect other European states (without the symbolic trappings) to their ‘pre-modern’ antecedents.

There are certain conventional hallmarks of modernity, associated with the bourgeois paradigm, which have been absent in Britain and present in its principal historic rivals – in particular the so-called ‘rational’ or ‘modem’ state, with corresponding traditions of political discourse and cultural forms. It will be argued here that the emergence of these hallmarks in Continental Europe did not signal the maturity of ‘bourgeois’ or capitalist forces but on the contrary reflected the continuing strength of pre-capitalist social property relations. In fact, the appearance of ideas commonly associated with the advent of the modern state – certain conceptions of indivisible sovereignty and nationhood, for instance – testify as much to the absence of ‘modernity’, and indeed the absence of a unified sovereignty and nationhood, as to their presence in reality. The principal case is France, which has given the world its domi­nant model of ‘bourgeois revolution’ and the birth of modernity.

Conversely, what are taken to be the conventional signs of a ‘modern’ state and political culture were absent in England not because the English state was backward or because English capita­lism was deviant and immature. On the contrary, these absences signalled the presence of a well-developed capitalism and a state that was evolving in tandem with the capitalist economy. What England lacked in political discourse it possessed in historical reality. In Britain, then, there has been no fatal disjuncture between a capitalist economy and a political-cultural ancien regime suspended in time somewhere around 1688. On the contrary, the formation of state and dominant culture has been inextricably bound up with the development of capitalism, conforming all too well to its economic logic and internal contradictions. Britain may even be the most thoroughly capitalist culture in Europe.

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

October 24, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Scottish Left Nationalists’ Plans in Ruins as SNP Plans Massive Cuts.

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Book that’s Spawned a Thousand Imaginary Communities. 

Left nationalist supporters of Scottish independence argue that the “breakup of Britain” will be  a major step forward for the left and the labour movement.

The nationalist Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) states,

The Scottish Socialist Party is built on social solidarity and the spirit of resistance to oppression, injustice and nasty con tricks that strangle communities and people’s lives.

Life can be better than this. We have the resources, the know-how, we could be building a world based on people, not profit. We can, and should, be expanding the public sector, because more and more of us need it, and it creates jobs and training, it holds communities together and it supports families.

We should be raising the minimum wage, because we can afford to do this, through cutbacks in the defence budget and the raising of taxes on the rich, and because it helps to build strong, local economies.

….

The Party asserts,

The single biggest obstacle to the Scottish people building a better society is the British State, the Westminster regime, the Crown Powers.

Genuine independence for Scotland can only come from a break up of the British State but until we get to that point the Scottish Socialist Party campaigns for a programme that can be achieved if our society is run for people, not profit.

Other nationalists even celebrate,

“the revolutionary implications of Scotland’s exit. Over three hundred years the Crown, the City of London and the Tories have been the hegemonic power. This will not be surrendered without a fight. But outside the ruling class and Scotland everybody seems pacified by the SNP selling itself as a safe pair of hands, ready to kneel before the Queen and Bank of England. Neither a post-independence SNP government, nor a Tory government in the rest of the country, will stop the impetus for constitutional change waking the sleeping giant in England and Wales.”

This will kick-start an Island (notice no mention of the rest of Europe) revolution, “….working people need more than simply defending themselves. They are hungry for a real democracy which gives them the power to change the future. If Scotland takes one step in that direction it is for us in England and Wales to take two or three.”

Steve Freeman. Republican Communist Network.

The ideas of the SSP and the RCN suffered a hammer blow when this was revealed (last year) from which they have yet to recover.

The SNP government is privately preparing for the prospect of cuts to jobs, welfare benefits and pensions after independence, amid growing concerns that Scotland faces a bleak economic future, a leaked document has shown.

Ministers in Edinburgh have also accepted the Bank of England in London would still have a controlling veto over public spending after independence under the SNP’s plans to keep the pound.

The emergence of the report, which was presented to the ScottishCabinet by finance secretary John Swinney, comes as a former economic adviser to First Minister Alex Salmond warns in today’s Scotsman that such an arrangement would be little different to the existing “block grant” Scotland gets from Westminster.

The Scotsman

The Cabinet paper reveals the Scottish Government anticipates that in four years Scotland will have a “marginally larger net deficit than the UK”.

This means a bigger gap between public spending and the taxes raised to fund them.

Expected North Sea revenues are set to fall in light of recently revised estimates, the report says, and this will hit the nation’s prospects after independence.

“Given the relative importance of North Sea revenues to Scotland’s public finances, these downwards revisions have resulted in a deterioration in the outlook for Scotland’s public finances,” it states.

The country’s expected net deficit has more than doubled from £12 billion to £28bn as a result of these revisions, the paper indicates.

“This high level of volatility creates considerable uncertainty in projecting forward Scotland’s fiscal position,” the paper adds. “This would, on present assumptions about onshore tax revenues, require some downward revision in current spending.”

This is likely to hit services in Scotland, with a warning that “these pressures could reduce the resources available to provide additional public services”.

The paper says Scotland’s armed forces would have a “much lower budget” than its population share and the SNP has said this would not be any more than £2.5bn.

The report accepts that Scotland’s budget after independence would be subject to conditions and any government at Holyrood would “have to ensure that it remained in line with any agreement on monetary union”.

The SNP has attempted to brush this off saying that

that the paper has been “overtaken by events” with oil revenues having surged on the global market to $115 a barrel. Initial estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility put oil prices at less than $100 in the years ahead, but other forecasters have put it at $130.

They have continued to repeat this message.

But the Better Together campaign has responded by bring up the same topic,

The SNP’s oil fund will put your taxes up

In public the SNP tell us that an independent Scotland could have not one but two oil funds without the need for tax rises, spending cuts or extra borrowing to fund this.

Yet a confidential Scottish Government paper, which we are publishing today, makes clear that in private SNP Ministers are being advised by their own impartial civil servants that our taxes WOULD have to go up, public spending WOULD have to be cut or borrowing WOULD have to rise to pay for an oil fund. In fact, it could mean a combination of all three.

SNP Ministers aren’t just ignoring this impartial advice – they are doing exactly what this advice warns against.

We have also produced a simple document contrasting what SNP Ministers say in public with what they are being advised privately.You can read this here andshare on Facebook and twitter here

Read the Scottish Government’s paper, revealed under FOI law, here.

Looking at how oil money has been needed to pay for public services over the last 20 years SNP’s confidential cabinet paper concludes:

“If the Scottish Government had wished to invest in an oil fund, without having to increase its borrowing, there would have had to have been a corresponding increase in tax receipts or reduced public spending.”

If the SNP are being told this in private why can’t they just be honest with the Scottish people?

Speaking today, the leader of Better Together Alistair Darling said:

“This is the third time in a year that the SNP have been caught out saying one thing in public while knowing the opposite was true in private. The SNP have quite deliberately set out to deceive the Scottish public.

“Scotland doesn’t have to be faced with this choice. Being part of the UK means we have the strength of a bigger economy without the risk of oil volatility.”

By pooling and sharing our resources across the whole of the UK we are best placed to get the benefit from the North Sea.

The basic contours of these problems have not changed since.

So, one thing is clear, the SNP is as much as obstacle to left politics as the trinity of, “British State, the Westminster regime, the Crown Powers”

We hope that the left nationalists will not descend into arguing over the ownership of “their” nation’s oil as a way out of their problems – to avoid addressing the right-wing pro-market nature of any feasible ‘independent’ Scotland. .

But once you’ve gone down the nationalist road it’s hard to know exactly where you will end up.

For a detailed critique of how Scottish left nationalism is far from left politics and far from any form of critical left approach to capitalism and globalisation, See: The Break-Up of Tom Nairn?

Tom Nairn, Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom, Verso, 2002. Hardback, 300pp, £15.99. Reviewed by Andrew Coates. What Next? 

Also see: Paul Tesdale. Yes Means Power to Capital. Chartist May/June 2014.


The New European Politics of National Resentment

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The New European Politics of National Resentment

Europe is in the throes of a major economic and political crisis. The later, overused, word barely covers the depths of despair felt by those facing mass unemployment, wage cuts and the devastation and privatisation of public services. Protests against austerity have united radical lefts, trade unions and the peoples. They have yet to succeed.

In the absence of any substantial – ‘actually existing’ – alternative to the austerity consensus of Christian and Social Democracy, reactionary currents have gained ground. Nationalists, such as the UK Independence Party, UKIP, the weevils of British politics, have had a strong echo, encouraging popular anger against the European Union. Overtly xenophobic parties, the Front National in France (17,9% in the first round the 2012 French presidential elections) and a host of others in Western and Eastern Europe, have gained ground. The Greek Golden Dawn has gone backwards so far that it has revived the far right’s tradition of bullying private militias.

But it is another reaction that has caught attention today. The victory of the right-of- centre party of  Artur Mas, Convergència i Unió  (CiU) in the Catalonian regional elections opens the way to a referendum on national independence. In Belgium the New Flemish Alliance (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie, N-VA) of Bart Wever appears on the way to complete Flemish autonomy, if not the dissolution of the kingdom. The Scottish Parliament has decided to hold a popular vote about the country’s future that could lead to the ‘break up of Britain’. In Italy the Lega Nord, Northern League, stands for the rights of North Italy’s ‘Padania’ against the South. It has lost momentum in recent years following its collaboration with Berlusconi, but may well revive.

Are these different populist protests against Europe’s oligarchs? That is, part of broader demands for “localism”. Tory Ferdinand Mount is a critic of “centralisation and top-down control” He calls for, “giving power back to the people” on the “human scale”(The New Few 2012). Are these movements in any way aimed at the “distribution of power to the many, the taming of the oligarchs, and the opening of opportunities to the worst off.”? (Page 219) It can be quickly seen, that some on the left, notably the Catalan left, Esquerra Republicana which looks set to work with the victorious CiU, and the warring factions of Scottish socialism, do indeed consider the push for independence in their lands as opportunities for such moves.

Most of these movements are however not principally concerned with reviving an idealised municipal government past or the voluntary associations that made up David Cameron’s vision of the Big Society. The route they take, from hard-right to apparently ‘social democratic’ Scottish nationalists, is towards what Mount described elsewhere as the “”visible symbols of national community and unity” (Mind the Gap. 2005) But as Mount would recognise, all these movements are intensely concerned with control over money. From UKIP’s jibes about Brussels to the Catalan, Flemish and Northern Italian regionalists, they are preoccupied not just with bureaucratic waste, but the feckless use of public funds by their improvident – Southern – neighbours. Scottish nationalists, for reasons which are all too obvious, show less interest in this, but continue to rail against the UK-wide distribution of revenues taken from ‘their’ oil and gas,

Resentment

If there is any common thread between these, often very different, parties and the tides of opinion that bolster their position, it is resentment. They are not movements of national liberation, comparable to Irish republicanism, the fight for Norwegian independence from Denmark, or the forces that created national states following the break up of the Hapsburg Empire, the “prison of the nations”. Perhaps the Flemish nationalists are unique in holding an annual trek around francophone Brussels, pissing on every lamppost to mark out Dutch speaking territory (okay, I made the urine bit up). But the impulse to define and protect ‘their’ people, our ain folk is widely shared. Read the rest of this entry »