Sunday, 29 July 2018

Extreme Centrism

Extreme centrism sounds weird, doesn't it? In politics, whether you use the traditional left-right axis, or supplement it with an authoritarian-libertarian axis, centrism lies in the middle of all these poles. The clue, after all, is in the name. How then can it ever be extreme? Going off to the extremities of the left you end up with revolutionary violence, Stalinist dictatorship or a general federation of post-property communes - depending on the inclination to authoritarianism or libertarianism. On the right, extremist politics take us to race hatred and the gas chamber, or rampant marketisation, a "libertarian" future ruled by megacorporations which, if you look beyond the neon and the giant advertising screens, looks a lot like Stalinist dictatorships.

Centrism though. I suppose you might get militant in the defence of democratic rights and individual liberty, but in practice neither Blair, nor Obama, nor Macron demonstrate or demonstrated particular concerns with them. How about racism, as per the running being done on the interminable anti-semitism row in the Labour Party? Surely extreme centrism has cosmopolitanism and internationalism on its side? And yet, under Blair, we saw a ratcheting up of officially-sanctified Islamophobia and selective amnesia when it comes to suffering overseas. We went to Iraq and Afghanistan to ostensibly liberate those countries from dictatorship and Islamist fundamentalism, but we were less than keen to admit people fleeing the epidemic levels of violence war and occupation stirred up. Sure, but it's tough on fascism, right? Condemning the racism of the BNP certainly, but quietly stealing their council housing policy in favour of "indigenous" people. And, in one breath embracing the free movement of people (at least within the EU) while taking up the need for immigration controls when it is politically expedient to do so.

Liberty and anti-racism are out then. How about the European Union? After all, the UK's existing de facto centre party, the Liberal Democrats, has quietly dumped its commitment to see the Leave vote through. Are hard centrists hard remainers? On the surface, it would seem so. But here you find a number of divisions. Some want, by hook and by crook, to reverse the referendum result. Yet there are others who would agree with them on practically everything else, but want to accept it. Right wing Labour of the John Spellar and, as he's topical, Ian Austin variety.

No, what characterises extreme centrism isn't a body of ideas but an understanding of what they are against. They don't like Jeremy Corbyn for sure, but were he to retire and the baton passed on to another leftwinger, let's say a Laura Pidcock or a Clive Lewis, the same shenanigans, bad behaviour, and sabotage would carry on. Because, it is, as ever, a matter of interest. They hate Corbyn and the left because of what it represents: an upwelling of angry, frustrated but politicising people. They may sneer at the sometimes unsophisticated way masses of people fresh to politics express themselves, but this is symptomatic of their hate. They hate because they fear. They know that among the 570k-strong membership, their writ doesn't extend very far, and so their politics increasingly assumes the character of a rearguard action. They cling to the privileges they have hitherto enjoyed and stymie every attempt to extend party democracy which, if you will recall, is vital to the party's future success.

In The Manifesto, Marx defined sectarianism as putting the interests of one's groupuscule before those of the class. In the case of Labour's extreme centrists, it's much worse. For those who have stirred the pot and have obsessively worked to undermine the leadership, and therefore the membership of the party, it's about career, position, status, and money. They want to go back to how it was before summer 2015 because they felt they were VIPs and people worth listening to. Not only does Corbynism have no time for their petty pretensions, the 2017 general election proved the wisdom of the members were more attuned to day-to-day political realities than the PLP's so-called professional understanding of such things. Not that the extreme centrists care. They would throw it all under a bus, they would rather leave behind them a damaged and tarnished party than see it succeed in the hands of the left. Their mantra of old, of any Labour government being better than any Tory government, no longer applies when they're not within a shout of high office, lounging about in ministerial cars, and devising Labour-in-name-only policies to kick working people in the teeth - as it did so many times under Blair and Brown.

Extreme centrism then is a symptom of the wider crisis of establishment politics in Britain. It can't get its act together in Northern Ireland to govern. It remains severely weakened by a nationalist insurgency in Scotland. The Tories are hopelessly, fatally split and their base is in long-term decline and, partly thanks to their own myopia, Labour's traditional loyalty to capital is in question. Extreme centrism is a structure of feeling or, to be more accurate, a mode of despair. It's an obsolete elite and their hangers on who are surplus to requirements. Unwanted where their traditional party is concerned, there is no political space for them to carry on independently from the party and movement that elevated them. Nor do they have a strategy to take back the party. This isn't just because they're "fucking useless", to borrow a phrase, but they have no troops to rally. As the balance continues to tilt away, their cries of anguish grow ever more shrill.

It would then be a kindness to put extreme centrism out of its misery. Thankfully, there are two means available for doing so. Returning all nine Momentum candidates for the NEC, as well as its slate for the National Policy Forum elections, and making sure you constituency delegates (and any affiliates) to party conference this year votes for mandatory reselection. With the way back definitively blocked, the extreme centrists will take their ball home. And, who knows, once they're outside they might find themselves much happier than they ever were in Labour.

6 comments:

Unknown said...

It's just Mainstream Oligarchy....

The belief that ordinary people should not be in Government .. but the Houses of Parliament should be (as Tony Blair said) a talented elite "Meritoracy based on Academic Qualifications" etc... (people like him LOL ! )

I believe that's the role of The Civil Service... and House of Lords....

I believe that Parliament should be like a Jury of decent and respectable ordinary people GUIDED (but not governed) by "experts" ...

John "Two Birds" Mann said...

Great post. Agree with every word. If you accepted donations I'd make one. But, as you don't, I'll use the money to buy a doner kebab.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

'Extreme centrism sounds weird, doesn't it?' No more or less 'weird' than 'radical middle', but the blog's critique of the former makes more sense than the latter.

Dialectician1 said...

Thanks, an interesting article. However, within the left/right - libertarian/authoritarian matrix, Blair and co. would not be in the centre but on the 'libertarian right'. Their faith in the market to override the traditional functioning of left/right politics (a denial of class) puts them squarely in the neoliberalism camp or as Blair/Brown liked to euphemistically call it: 'globalisation'. Also, they were meritocrats (i.e. that an educated elite should manage capitalism). New Labour no longer believed it was the role of the state to redistribute wealth. The tedious mantra: 'education, education, education' wasn't about culturally enriching or enlightening the general population; instead schools and colleges became the 'centres for self-actualisation' (Giddens). 'Equality of opportunity' replaced equality of resource distribution. If you left the education system with debt and poor job prospects, it was your own fault. The denial of 'class' maintained and reinforced this narrative. Clearly, there were some discriminatory blips in the system (around race/ gender/ exotic identities etc. - see Brown's intervention in the Laura Spence incident) but these could be 'managed' without disturbing the role of the market. The calamitous consequences of the crash of 2008 brought this preposterous narrative to a close. This isn't 'extreme centre', rather it's crash-and-burn, hubristic 'third-wayism': right wing by stealth.

1729torus said...

I think it would better to introduce the Single Transferable Vote and let people who hold left-liberal* views in sincere good faith** form their own parties if they aren’t happy in Labour.

Social Democratic parties can be prone to nannying and can tend to think that parliamentary politics are the only legitimate sphere of political activity. It’s arguably a natural outcome of their belief in the state.

* Whether Market Socialists or Social Liberals or whatever
**As distinct from cynical triangulation

Edward Afloat said...

As the privatisation of NHS and Iraq show.thanks