Wednesday 11 December 2013

The Politics of Envy

If you pretend to speak for all working class people, then you've either got a chip on your shoulder, are a bit of a wally, or have some theatrical identity politics you feel the need to manifest. I'm guessing no one's used the platform of the Daily Telegraph to do so before, so many congratulations to Lisa Ansell for being original in at least one respect.

Her thesis is that "The Left" are responsible for grinding down working class people, the demonisation of the right-wing media's merry-go-round of favourite scapegoats, and choking off discussion about possible alternatives. Sounds very Trotty: "if it wasn't for the (mis)leaders of the working class ...". Yet the only people I have come across who believe the left have the semi-totalitarian cultural power to shut out and exclude critics are the stunted characters one finds ambling about the yellowing grassroots of the Tories and UKIP, and the degenerate knuckle-draggers of the BNP. "Cultural Marxism" is a thing, don't you know. But don't talk about it. The liberal conspiracy will only clobber you.

This is being unfair to Lisa, mind. She's no right-winger. But still, her thesis is bunk. While New Labour were definitely preferable to the Tories and did some alright things, nevertheless it nailed its colours to the neoliberal mast. It went beyond the traditional Labour conflict between principle and expediency and enthusiastically embraced market fundamentalism until the crash called time on the love-in. Sure, New Labour was a project, a strategic orientation to politics and government by a section of the right wing of the labour movement. It had its architects. It made its deliberate moves. And no one forced it to extend marketisation, bind the tax payer to rip-off PFI contracts, or make war on Iraq.

Where were "the left" when this was going on? Well, for the most part, it was protesting this retrograde nonsense. Organising in community groups, campaigning against privatisation and cuts, mobilising against war. It was doing what the left has always done - fighting working people's corner. From Chartism through to the New Unionism, the TUC and the Labour Party; the foundation of the NHS, fighting the miners' strike and the poll tax, the left has backed working people. Because the left is the labour movement. It is working people.

When Lisa moans "the result of their [trade union leaders] ineffectiveness is shown in the expansion of welfare to the working population and a labour market underpinned by zero-hours contracts", she forgets that whatever the faults of those leaders, the labour movement as a whole suffered a run of strategic defeats from the miners' strike to the general election defeat in 1992. The much weaker movement we have now is the direct consequence of battles lost. The workplaces, the communities, the solidarities, the very backbone of the left collapsed under the triple whammy of defeat, deindustrialisation, and the privatisation of everyday life. It's unsurprising that the response to this from the right of the labour movement was an accommodation to the market, not a radical challenge to it.

The left still has not recovered, but it has got better. Lines such as "Labour movement indifference allowed our benefits system to demonise women, carers, mothers, the ill, the unemployed ..." could only be written by someone who's had scant involvement with it. Remind me, who has thrown their weight against anti-bedroom tax campaigns and the appalling attacks on disabled people? What organisations are fighting for women's equality, against racism, and rights for LGBT people? Who is now leading the charge against monstering and scapegoating? Oh yes, the left. Working people who are active in the labour movement.

But really what Lisa has in her sights is not the labour movement per se, but the left Twitter "establishment". Shooting through her article - and many tens of thousands of tweets - is a resentment, a belief that a left commentariat is making its way in the world speaking for working people and excluding genuine proletarians like, um, herself. It's nonsense, of course. Young Owen, a favourite target of Ol' Green Eyes, writes articles for money and appears in the media. So what? He never claims to speak for anyone but himself. Polly Toynbee has been cranking out centre left comment for years - she doesn't pretend to be the voice of working class women. 

In fact, the only people conceited enough to think they're speaking for "the working man" (and it is the working man) are the ideological kin of her Telegraph stable mates; Nigel Farage, Godfrey Bloom, Nadine Dorries. It's these people with their "common touch" that are allowed to pass themselves off as the authentic voice of Britain, of the real representatives of the salt-of-the-earth. It is their rubbish, their divisive rhetoric that gets a free pass from Lisa. And it is they, not a single New Statesman interview on 'brocialism' that poses the "complex, chavvy, intersecting, working class" the greatest danger.


Psychjim said...

We, on "the left" suffered defeat from Thatcher onwards. But the biggest disappointment of all has got to be the fact that a whole generation of people have been inculcated to the right as a result. I forget who exactly I am quoting when I say; "History is written by the victors." I've heard discussions between people, not old enough to remember the '70s, arguing about how much "damage" was done by the unions! Thatcher's retort about "the enemy within" still echos in the mindset of a generation taught that neoliberalism brought "much prosperity" to this glorious land. The flaws in the ideology aren't seen as "damage", merely a matter of "mismanagement". To be a "looney left-winger" is still a comedy winner. These flaws are now killing people. The elderly, disabled, mentally ill, and destitute are dying as a direct result of pandering to the "wealth creators", as Ca'moron' refers to these corporate crooks. But unless we can get beyond X Factor, Eastenders, Get Me Out of Here, or whatever, we will lose a generation.

Lisa Ansell said...

When I was first 'invited' to challenge the austerity that was destroying the live sof me and those around me, I came across the labour orbiting left.

For 3 years you demonstrated the consensus the left had always had on teh ill, the disabled, and women and all those outside the labour movement. As we were targetted and labour press attached their poppets to exploit opposition to austerity. The left are in fact misogynist, racist and an easily manipulated culture who serve to protect political consensus on social work cuts, social care cuts and benefit cuts. All that I got the opportunity to do was fine out why that political consensus had existed since 1945. And I spent three years using the demonstration the left gave me of how that consensus had been maintained. Welfare cuts, social work cuts and social care cuts were not only subject to political consensus but the left demonstrated how their abusive culture upheld that consensus. I turned down the Guardian, the New Statesman, and every media opportunity I was offered because they were selling austerity. The only place to discuss political consensus is the right wing press and when Labour are delivering austerity they will want to dicuss political consensus. I ONLY want to discuss political consensus and will be doing so. That you believe it is twitter envy is about your belief that austerity was a career opportunity and an opportunity for the left. Not only did my article make clear that I do not speak for the working class, it was very clear we have the most educated complex working class in history. THey are not all left wing nor do they have to be to discuss disenfranchisement, economic inequality or austerity. I am sorry that this interrupts your fantasy and I am sorry you want to believe that Labour are great but I delivered their policies from 1997. Welfare and social work, and you can't hold the country to ransom because YOU want people's hardship to be political capital for your political tribe. The accusation of envy is just predictable response from the labour left and absolutely the demonstration my article needed. The labour are selling Labour austerity and whitewashing consensus. Austerity is subject to absolute political consensus and YOU are selling it.

Lisa Ansell said...

My Union was Unison. Before 2010 they had my dues out of my salary every month. When austerity started they were the last line of defence for local democracy, social work, the children I worked with, care for people with learning disabilities, a whole plethora of really important knowledge there. Their line 'Some cuts' as long as those cuts hit our members. Dave Prentis, 6 figure salary. What Unison did during austerity was purged members who challenged the need for those voices to be sold to Labour.

Women like Kate Belgrave were acceptable discussing political consensus if we didn't bother the left or the labour orbiting left with it. Well, we'll be talking about political consensus from now on. And the left have demonstrated how they sell austerity now we will be using the lesson that culture gave. Sorry if it hurts your feelings but the absurd tribalism is pointless and it is the means by which austerity is sold. We wont be lining up with a left who sold austerity and prevented opposition to it. THat's your shit not ours.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phil said...

Sorry, comment deleted. Potentially libellous.

Anonymous said...

Lisa Ansell's target is totally wrong, it isn't the left she is moaning about but in fact New Labour! Maybe she is unaware that UNISON fund New Labour and not any revolutionary socialist group?

I am in UNISON and am still in UNISON. The left, as this article suggests, have been the most active participants in anti Austerity, while most of the working class sit on their arses doing fuck all. This is the real problem, not the leadership but the comatosed idiots that pass for the working class. It isn't UNISON leaders that are conservative but the workers they represent!

But you keep on believing it is all the nasty leaders fault if it helps you sleep at night.

Speedy said...

Just an impression, but it seems to me that the Left gave up "class" after the fall of the Soviet Union and it seemed that neo-liberalism was the only game in town.

So instead it focused on the "fringe" issues, the isms.

This was accompanied by a general deflation in class consciousness as the industrial base was dismantled.

The professions took over politics and focused on stuff they were more comfortable with... but: the working class never went away, not really.

And now with austerity they're coming back (ie, people are waking up to the down side of neo-liberalism). This presents an opportunity for Labour, which to be fair it appears to be taking.

But I suspect it needs a night of the long knives, a purge, a cultural revolution. It needs to acknowledge its mistakes and rid of itself of its self-serving bourgeois mindset before it is truly trusted again.

Anonymous said...

I do remember the 70s. I remember the endless strikes; double digit inflation and second-rate public sector 'businesses,' producing shoddy goods that nobody wanted.

The last Labour government left this country up to the neck in debt but they weren't entirely to blame. As a nation we have been living beyond our means for decades.

As for austerity.....well there hasn't actually been any.

Any idiot knows that either as an individual or as a cannot go on and on borrowing ever more money to pay off your last loan.

You people dreamers.

Anonymous said...

"Any idiot knows that either as an individual or as a cannot go on and on borrowing ever more money to pay off your last loan"

We are asking the question how did it come to this. Put it in context, tax rates for the rich slashed in historic terms and therefore a nation has to go cap in hand to, er, the rich at high interest rates. Nice work if you can get it!

But what you are saying is essentially this, capitalism cannot afford decent public services, it can afford massive increases in the luxury goods market for the rich but cannot find resources to take care of the disabled.

If we are dreamers you are automons programmed not to think and to accept whatever the establishment tell you. Give me the dreamer, after all, who 200 years ago would believe the wonders we have today?

The likes of you would still have us toiling in the workhouses.

PS I remember the 80's, high crime, mass unemployment (i.e. strikes by decree of government and massive loss of working days) double digit interest rates and double digit inflation. My first pay rise was 15%!

Speedy said...

Capitalism is not a fixed state it is a process - a struggle for the wealth.

Imagine it like a boxing ring - in Europe it is Queensbury Rules with gloves and health and safety and the like. In America it is a bit like Thai boxing - you can use your feet too. In Russia or China it is bare knuckle cage fighting, in much of the third world it is a fight to the death.

Social democracies are simply fairer capitalist societies. It may be that capitalism is the least worst way to run a society, but never forget when the gloves come off...

T-Childs said...

Speedy, your last comment was spot on, and a brilliant but brief analysis of capitalism here and all over the world.

Psychjim said...

Economic warfare is as damaging as drones killing innocent Palastinians! It is as life-threatening as armed conflict. Austerity is a con and it matters not one jot or iota what your party affiliations are, we are returning to feudalism on a global scale. Countries apparently "borrowing" money are only "borrowing" from their own banks! Most of the cash we spend is pure invention. Corporate giants are creating unmanageable debt purely as a means of control. It affects ALL of us negatively.
Economic War