Wednesday 30 August 2017

Goodbye to Our Kez

Kezia Dugdale was hounded out of office by Jeremy Corbyn supporters! Sorry about that. Yes, Our Kez's resignation had nothing to do with the reach of the blog and everything to do with the reasons she described, which boils down to a mixture of the political and the personal. Nevertheless, calling for her to step down on Sunday I hardly expected we'd be talking about her career in the past tense by Wednesday.

How will Our Kez's time as leader be remembered? I can imagine when this post does the rounds on Facebook later, 'good riddance' is going to get parked in the comments a few times. And that is a bit unfair, because she wasn't without her plus points. Her leadership started off with a positive by virtue of not being Jim Murphy. Yet there was more to her than that. Apart from a snipe at the left, Duncan Hothersall for Labour Hame gives Our Kez a good write up. It leaves out a lot, like the blunders, like the cretinous unionism, but he supplies a welcome corrective to those who see nothing good in her tenure.

That Our Kez was out of sorts with the Corbyn revolution is hardly surprising. She came out for Owen Smith during his ill-fated bid to lead the Labour Party, and publicly called on the Scottish party to vote for him. They did, but such is its awful state their backing wasn't the biggest shocker of that campaign nor did it make any difference. As for Kez herself, she was very much a woman of the Holyrood apparatus. Her career was made by knowing the right people and being employed by a succession of them, before snagging a list seat for herself at the 2011 elections and making her way from there. Curiously, it's a CV not a million miles away from Ruth Davidson who also rose without a trace, and was very similar in training and outlook to many members of the PLP who walked the same path to elected office.

In the grand scheme of things if we want to position her accurately she is more Ed Miliband than Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. Warm and approachable, but with a touch of Mili-esque cluelessness, as Duncan outlined in his appreciative piece hers wasn't a wasted leadership. She increased the democratic rights for party members and gave them a policy input much superior to the National Policy Forum affair the rest of Labour suffers. Our Kez did forcefully attack the SNP in Holyrood for their failure to use the tax powers it possesses - the Scottish government had to get help from the Tories to block Labour's amendment forcing the rich to pay more. And she did take Scottish Labour into the election with a more leftwing programme, even if it wasn't as front and centre as it could have been, while hiding tell of Jeremy Corbyn and plugging away at the fag end of unionism.

In stepping down now, Our Kez avoids the fight she and everyone knew was coming anyway. As the last hold out of the old guard, the general election demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Scottish Labour must appeal to the constituency Corbynism in England and Wales has tapped into if the party is to regain a semblance of its former dominance. The struggle for repositioning and the establishment's attempt to squelch it could not be postponed indefinitely. By going now the apparatus might have the upper hand in getting their preferred successor - either Anas Sarwar or a "safe" pair of hands like Jenny Marra - into the hot seat, and by accident or design has rendered them a favour. What is most unlikely is an opening up of the leadership election to newcomers as per the 2015 contest, and therefore cutting itself from capturing back large chunks of the constituency the SNP currently sits on.

Our Kez has done the right thing by resigning, and who can blame her? What happens next is going to be a grueling affair because when Scottish Labour fights, it fights dirty. Nevertheless, the choice is a simple one for party members. Its between wresting the rising constituency of socialised, networked workers away from the dead end of Scottish nationalism, or forget about them and pursue the limited returns of the ageing, declining unionist constituencies. It's Corbynism vs a kind of 1997 Blairism with Scottish characteristics, minus the razzmatazz and any chance of succeeding.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Activate Vs Momentum

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, though I can guarantee there is nothing sincere about the latest Tory wheeze. For Activate, as well as pinching the name off Liberal Youth's regular campaigning event, is the Conservative answer to Momentum. The modus operandi is not dissimilar - a body independent of the parent party with a campaigning remit and the goal of ripping up the interwebs with sick memes. I mean, just look at the effort sat atop this post - clearly the work of a maestro.

The Tories have to do something to turn their fortunes around. They're staring long-term decline in the face, exacerbated by large numbers of young people spontaneously ill-disposed toward Tory values, Tory policies and, well, Tories. And so copying something that has proved something of an asset to the Labour Party would be a sensible course of action. But only if you ignore everything about the genesis of Momentum.

For starters, readers might recall that Momentum was set up in response to the support for Jeremy Corbyn's leadership bid that overwhelmed the Labour Party two summers ago. As Jon Lansman noted at the time, here was an army attracted to the party because of Corbyn's left platform. To have not organised it, to make a machine of it would be a dereliction of duty. From the off it earned the ire of established Labour MPs. Tom Watson attacking Momentum as "a rabble" and Owen Smith reckoning it was the second coming of Militant were stand out moments among the grumbles. Meanwhile, sundry Trotskyists outside of Labour were looking for a way to opportunistically grab a piece of the Corbyn action and tried taking over the fledgling formation. Fortunately they failed, even if bureaucratic moves were necessary to get shot. Momentum weathered both, and pulled out the stops mobilising first for the Stoke by-election and then the general election. Momentum now divides its time between organising internally for conference, campaigning, and attacking the Tories with its meme factory.

Activate starts at a disadvantage because it does not have a centre right movement to intersect with. Just read the tweet, "head to for more information of our recently formed movement". There is no movement. There's a website, a Twitter account and Facebook page, and a committee. Do they suppose Jon Lansman clicked his fingers and lo, there was Momentum resplendent in the glory of 20,000 highly-motivated activists? You don't found movements like setting up a think tank. It's not a case of Theresa May ploughing up a field of wheat for your baseball pitch and watching the punters flood in. You need lots of like minded people who are moving politically in the same direction and are and have mobilised for action.

The Tories don't know anything about building a movement? Colour me shocked. Because the Tories are a collective of moneyed elites held together by common interests, or a 'movement from above', they can't but help approach these sorts of things in a top down fashion. The mass of the people out there are to be manipulated and hoodwinked, and should definitely not be encouraged to organise themselves. Because they might run the risk of becoming conscious of the interests they have in common, and more often than not it puts them on a collision course with what the Tories stand for. Put it like this. You try organising a mass movement in defence of the entrenched power and privilege of a gilded minority. Activate therefore cannot be the right's answer to Momentum.

What Activate can become is a small network of the already-convinced that bypasses the chummy cliques and ghastly ex-kippers who dominate the associations. It could be a means of replicating the successful but scandal-dogged Road Trip initiative, which managed to concentrate meagre numbers of Tory activists quite successfully in key marginals. However, a more likely - and deserved - fate awaits. This would be one of a brief flurry of press interest, some mocking of their lame propaganda and then a rapid fade into the background. In a year's time Momentum is going to be relevant, Activate's Twitter account silent and the Tories still scratching their heads about their young people problem.

Monday 28 August 2017

The Spontaneous Socialism of the Young

We know young people voted in much larger numbers than usual at the general election. We also know they disproportionately favoured the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. What can we say about this? Reading A Millennial Manifesto by Madsen Pirie for the Adam Smith Institute (so you don't have to - post coming soon) he notes that younger people tend to be more sceptical towards social security and things smacking of the big state - at least according to British Social Attitudes research published in 2013 to a raspberry ripple of controversy. How to square the situation of the liberal - in the classical rather than living dead sense of the term - young voting in droves for a dyed-in-wool Bennite like Jezza?

It comes down to the poor old nag this blog has spent a lot of time flogging: security. Ever since I started paying attention to such things, official politics of blue and red flavours have had it in for young people. And it has got progressively worse. From the joke of the Youth Training Scheme to the New Deal, workfare, and Mickey Mouse apprenticeships, the age conditionality attached to benefits, the stripping out of support for HE students and handing them tens of thousands worth of debt instead, the age banding on the minimum wage, the housing shortage, and the less likelihood of getting a rewarding, secure career with a decent salary (which millions of youngsters are promised if they get their heads down and work hard), is it any wonder younger people would tend toward a "fresh" political leader promising something different and holding out the hope for a better future?

Nevertheless, if security is the key to unlocking the dynamics of youth politics how to explain the noted scepticism toward social security? Consider the experiences most young people have in dealing with it. The bureaucracy is complex, off-putting and overly intrusive, signing on is an unwelcoming and sometimes punitive experience, and the rules are designed entirely to make getting help difficult. And this was before the Tories introduced age threshold eligibility criteria. If you have a system that excludes and very reluctantly offers the young support, are they likely to reciprocate in turn with warm, fuzzy feelings of gratitude?

Millions of young people are anti-Tory and will never support them because this state of affairs is identified with their governments. The same applies to the Liberal Democrats whose very public betrayal of students - after building a great deal of support off the back of presenting as their party - still resonates among young people. And there is little love for Blair and Brown either, which is best exemplified by the teeny tiny numbers of young people formally involved with their latter day standard bearers.

Yet it would be a mistake to reduce the spontaneous leftism of the young to political events. Being, ontology, how they are in the world has a great deal to do with it. Incredibly, the first tenet of materialist social theory, that what goes on in your life has a great deal of bearing on what you think about it and the choices you make, is radical precisely because it opens up the resit of society to an unsparing analysis that sees social relations for what they are. For younger people, not only do they generally experience life more precariously than their parents and grandparents, but their conditions of life are forming new solidarities too. Employers are increasingly more interested in the skills and aptitudes younger people develop outside of the world of work. Younger people haven't known a world without participating in large networks mediated via the internet, proliferating and perpetuating a myriad of ties with varying degrees of strength between large numbers, and therefore younger people are generally more resistant to the racist scapegoating idiocies of the tabloid press and right wing politics. For the Daily Mail reader, multiculturalism is an ideology. For younger people it's much closer to how they live.

This way of life tends to be highly individuated, but cooperative. Suspicious and sceptical of old collectives, but permanently networked. Politically, the young are attracted to Corbyn and Corbynism because he breaks the mould. Whoever follows him would risk losing this rising constituency to reluctant support and cynicism if we head back to the vote hemorrhaging politics of the dead centre. The young cannot be taken for granted, Labour must and has to be seen speaking for them. Our job is to take this latent disposition of the young and deepen the relationship to the point where their outlook on life is the same as the party's. Corbynism represents that first step, but it needs more to get involved to ensure the necessary follow through.

Sunday 27 August 2017

Time to Renew Scottish Labour

Few things typify the volatility of British politics more than what has happened in Scotland during these last three years. It's dizzying. The summer of 2014 signified the seeming eclipse of Scottish Labour as the nationalist tide came in and annexed its activist base and a goodly chunk of the party's voters to the SNP. Then came the 2015 general election and what Nicola Sturgeon calls the Westminster parties were comprehensively routed. Huge majorities that would ordinarily grant MPs seats for life tumbled. Battered, traumatised, from England and Wales it appeared a Labour come back in Scotland would be glacially slow. Then 2017 and the volatility struck again. This time the SNP were out of sorts as the nationalist tide went out. All eyes were on the Tories who scored their best result for 30 years. Say what you like about Scottish Labour, it at least proved effective in putting them in a box and ensuring the lid stayed on. And, of course, Labour were able to claw back six seats from the SNP to take its parliamentary representation to seven.

Last month, I argued that Scottish Labour would have done much better had they ditched the scabrous 'unionist vote' strategy the party pursued during the election. As elsewhere in England and Wales, Corbynism is the political expression of a new mass of workers moving into electoral politics. The key difference separating what was happening here from what was going on in Scotland is the independence movement was, at the time the best vehicle for those interests. It was anti-Tory, the SNP offered a broadly social democratic alternative to eternal insecurity, and, well, they had the vision thing. It was fuzzy, but at least the SNP talked a good better future. If Labour hopes to restore its former dominance, intersecting with this burgeoning constituency, which is not at all represented by the backward and frequently sectarian politics of unionism, is the best, the only path to renewal.

This in mind, there are two things of interest to have happened this last week. The first is Jeremy Corbyn's tour of Scotland, which is seeking to build on the movement from the SNP back to Labour. Part of it is helped by the SNP's record in government, and part is the growing realisation among layers of former SNP supporters that independence isn't necessary to get rid of the Tories and building a better society. The SNP for their part cannot really give an answer this. As a governing party their rhetoric doesn't match their day-to-day, though it would be unwise to not note they operate under the same Tory cosh as much as the Welsh government and myriad Labour authorities do. Nevertheless there are choices to be made within the constraints they operate, and the persistent difficulties afflicting the Scottish education system cannot be laid entirely at the door of mean spirited Tory funding. There's one opening for Labour.

And second, the Sunday Herald ran with "Scottish Labour in civil war" this morning. Closer inspection with the hyperbole filters on locates the revolt's epicentre in the editorial office of Scottish Left Review. It is the journal and the journal alone calling for the ouster of Our Kez ... for now. But they are entirely right to do so. As per above, Scottish Labour was impeded by its cretinous unionist vote strategy during the election not because they have the wrong ideas, but because of the party apparatus. As it withered on the vine after decades of neglect so the outlook of Scottish Labour reflects less a broad constituency and more a wretched and decomposing labour aristocracy peopled by lazy (ex)MPs, spads, fixers, time-servers, and cliquey friends-of-friends. It's a rotten culture that makes a mockery of the very idea of party democracy, and one that needs forcibly shoving aside if the party is to remain a going concern, let alone grow and prosper. It's early days yet, but accompanying the Herald piece was a splash on Neil Findlay's new book on the recent travails of Scottish Labour. Readers may recall Neil took on the execrable Jim Murphy in the 2014 leadership contest. Coincidence?

At the next election Scotland will be an even more important battleground. Not just because the SNP are on the retreat and Labour could potentially take many more seats from them. There are also now 13 Tory seats in play, seats absolutely vital to their chances of forming a government. For once, what happens up there is going to make a real difference to the parliamentary arithmetic. That's why it's not only a good idea for Scottish Labour to rebel and turf out its hapless leader and the party's appalling coterie of bureaucrats, but a necessity.

Saturday 26 August 2017

El Mukuka Feat. Kayla Jacobs - Bottle Of Loneliness (Filatov & Karas Remix)

Feel like having a break from blogging tonight so, um, I'm going to have a break from blogging tonight. As you know, such occasions are usually marked by a music video presentation. This evening is no different.

Friday 25 August 2017

Friendships with the Enemy

It's good to see a new Labour MP making waves for the right reasons for a change. As readers well know, Laura Pidcock has raised a few establishment eyebrows since taking her seat in the House. Her maiden speech called out the clubby atmosphere and alienating pomp of the Commons, and rightly so. It's an affront to democracy. And this week she has earned the self-same elite's opprobrium for saying she has no intention of chumming up with members on the benches opposite. According to her interview on Refinery29, she wouldn't hang out with Tory women as they're "an enemy to lots of women". Even worse she elaborated on the theme on Skwawkbox.

To be honest, it's gratifying seeing people splutter and gibber in response. Because Laura has said an unsayable everyone knows is the truth. She is elected to do a job for her constituents, and she will in turns be attacked, blocked, and hampered by people who think poverty is the fault of poor people themselves, are happy seeing the health service fleeced by moneyed interests, and give more of a toss about the bongs of Elizabeth Tower than the lives destroyed by Grenfell tower. Because this is politics and basic honesty is absent from most criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership's supporters, Laura has been forced to clarify her statement. As was clear from the interview, she was referring to Tory politicians only and not constituents who didn't happen to vote for her. Her critics know it too.

What to make of Laura's position? In sociology there is a broad scholarship around friendship and how it is changing. For example, 20 years ago for most people in Britain friends were people they knew through co-present interaction. In 2017, there is a very good chance these are matched if not exceeded by a large number of friends you haven't met in the real world but who inhabit the digital spaces you frequent. Nevertheless the social consequences are unchanged. Friendship brings people into closer social proximity, and are founded on shared experiences and intimacies. They can be powerful social bonds that stretch across a life and can weather social difference and division. Small wonder Laura Pidcock wants to avoid friendship with Tories.

The pressure of and on the Commons combined with the somewhat unique situation of being a MP can lead some honourable members to earnestly believe they're all in it together. Given the proximity of the politics of a number of Labour and Tory MPs, some slip into it rather too easily and their party labels appear nothing more than a ticket affording them a seat on the green benches. Yet they are not. MPs from the two main parties sit there because their affiliations represent two irreconcilable coalitions of interests, though until recently it suited both to pretend class and class conflict didn't exist. A shame that the general election shattered such illusions. Labour's job then is to give expression to the interests that are finding their political feet through the party and, in turn, help recompose its constituency as a political movement. This requires a certain clarity regards what Labour is now and should be about, and notwithstanding the limits of Corbynist politics as a (radical) strand of top down, we'll-do-politics-for-you Labourism, that politicisation is an ongoing process. This is undoubtedly helped by Labour MPs stressing the political distance between themselves and the Tories. After all, a wider divide between the two only reflects what's happening in the real world.

Does this have to rule out personal friendships? Of course, no one is requesting the leader's office issue a diktat about who Labour MPs can and can't hang about with, but equally there's no mileage in supposing cross-party friendships do not have political consequences. For some Labour MPs just as the passage into the Commons and the trappings of office confirms in their minds their standing as someone who has made it, so can relationships with well heeled opposite numbers. It can be flattering that a member of the boss class condescends to speak with them, asks them out for a drink and, gasp, occasionally takes them into their confidence. We know from our every day relationships how taking mates to task or telling them they're wrong is tough. This is no different for MPs. In short, friendships with the enemy get in the way and make you less effective, a point so obvious I'm amazed these very basics of politics need spelling out.

That, however, does not mean rudeness. As per my unsolicited advice reworked after the Stoke by-election, defending and pushing the interests Labour MPs are in the House to champion does involve building relationships with the other side. Being pleasant and friendly, establishing working relationships over issues of common interest, collaborating where suitable on committees, letting your parliamentary researchers circulate and schmooze, all this is the hallmark of being an effective representative of our class. And all this, as Laura made perfectly clear, is what she is prepared to do. She does that and not the rest because she understands what she's in Parliament to do. She has a class analysis and an understanding of what it means. If people want to criticise her for it, that's up to them. But they do no favours for Parliament's image and politics' legitimacy by pretending it's a place where MPs from all sides have a great deal in common.

Thursday 24 August 2017

The Third Way after Corbynism

When Blairites write about the future, they cannot help but hark back to the past. This is what mars the contribution of Ed Jones in the latest Progress. For someone who argues that "centrists" still haven't come to terms with Jeremy Corbyn and Corbynism (true), he too has a difficult time getting to grips with it.

After getting bludgeoned with links to previous forays on this topic, regular readers will know my posts about Corbynism. That its emergence expresses broad trends within the development of British capitalism signified by a) the increasing importance of immaterial labour, b) the growing dominance and social weight of networked/socialised workers, and c) the consequent fusing of economic and social production. What this means for people is a life more precarious and more individuated with fewer opportunities - particularly for younger people. However, their networked character makes them less susceptible to the divide-and-rule tactics beloved of the old media arms of British capital and the beggar-thy-neighbour policies of the Conservatives and the hard right. Corbynism was able to win over this then latent, now awakening mass of people because, far from looking backwards, its platform was the most modern on offer during the general election.

It's all very well saying these things, but what is the evidence this is happening? After all, the history of political punditry (and social theory) is full of faddy approaches that lay great emphasis on what turned out to be fleeting phenomena. There are three key reasons to believe this approach is correct. First, it was forecast. In discussing my reasons for voting Jeremy Corbyn in last summer's leadership election, I argued his leadership was opening the Labour Party into becoming a self-organising machine that could go where the establishment politics of the centre left cannot reach. Lo and behold the massive physical and digital infrastructure it built confounded the critics and beat all expectations in this year's general election. It mobilised people the mainstream did not believe could be mobilised. Second, the rise of the immaterial worker explains the idiosyncratic pattern of Labour gains, of its proven ability to win over large numbers of comparatively well-to-do middle class people and professionals and the low paid precarious worker. Here's the proof. Thirdly, because immaterial labour has become an important constituency of waged labour in the last 50 years or so and a site of direct capital accumulation since the Thatcher/Reagan programme of privatisation got underway, and its importance has increased over time you are more likely to find younger people as immaterial workers and socialised into its norms, which would translate into a relationship between age and voting patterns. And what has proven to be the starkest feature of the 2017 general election?

There are some other indicators I'm working up into a professional publication, but they will suffice for this post. Unfortunately for Ed's piece, there is zero recognition of this profound transformation of British politics, which is incredible when you think about it. A sociological analysis, let alone a class analysis is absent. While he wants to see a New Labour 2.0 that addresses the situation we're in, he cannot face the awful truth - for his politics - that having policies appropriate to contemporary issues means ditching Blairist politics. For instance, he talks a lot about the Third Way which supposedly tied together the policy agenda of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. This Third Way was so called because it positioned itself between the two main political trends of the day: Thatcherite free market fundamentalism and its brutalities, and the social democratic state of nationalised industries, price controls and strong trade unions. A central theme was life politics, of allowing people the space to develop themselves and their identities as they see fit with the state working to support such processes of self-actualisation. It is pretty thin stuff, as was widely recognised by the left then. At its core however was an acceptance of markets. In his Third Way Anthony Giddens argued that we had to drop our opposition to and get "comfortable" with them. Seeing as markets are premised on exploitation, any left making peace with that is certainly no left worthy of the appellation, and helps explain why Blair took it up with alacrity as a post-facto justification of his platform. Subsequently, as the New Labour years went on, far from blazing a new trail the Third Way looked, and indeed was, little more than a variation of neoliberalism. For whatever positive reforms were made during this time, and there were some, market fundamentalism ruled the roost, meaning Blair not only helped break up the electoral coalition that put him in office but also the very basis of the Labour right responsible for his ascendency in the party.

Labour under Corbyn has broken with this. The party has become the political focus for millions of people precisely because Corbynism speaks to and expresses the interests of an ever growing constituency. The fundamentally irreconcilable problem with the Third Way or a New New Labour is not just that it lacks a contemporary class analysis, but that it works against the interests of our people. Giddens argued that the Third Way was supposed to empower, yet in its name the employment conditions of millions of workers were attacked and markets were introduced into more areas of public provision. The only "citizens" it empowered were the corporate ones spending huge sums lobbying the then government and providing seats on their boards for former ministers who did their bidding.

If Progress want to survive they will need a root and branch rethink. They need to ask why Jeremy Corbyn has confounded expectations time and again, why it is his ideas and not theirs that have mass support, and explain why the election results - from their point of view - threw up a confusing and counter intuitive pattern. If Progress want to be relevant, then it's their turn to get comfortable with a few things. They're going to have to accept that Corbyn and Corbynism isn't about to leave the Labour Party to them, that we've entered a new era of mass participation in politics, that class is back with a vengeance (not that it really went away) and that markets are something not to be celebrated but to be rolled back. It's time to get with the 21st century socialist programme, or they get the ignominy of the historical footnote. The choice is theirs.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Parliamentary Cretinism

According to Engels, parliamentary cretinism "is an incurable disease, an ailment whose unfortunate victims are permeated by the lofty conviction that the whole world, its history and its future are directed and determined by a majority of votes of just that very representative institution that has the honour of having them in the capacity of its members". In his writings on fascism in Austria, old Trotters adds "“parliamentary cretinism” is not an insult but the characteristic of a political system which substitutes for social reality, juridical and moral constructions, a ritual of decorative phrases." Accurate observations that remain the case, but I think it's perhaps time it was deployed as an insult, because nothing else describes the behaviour of a score or so MPs who cringed beneath Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster to hear the bongs for the final time ... for four years.

Stephen Pound shed a tear as what he dubbed the chimes of freedom fell silent. There has been talk of the scandal of switching off the "democracy lamp", and even the Prime Minister broke her August silence to say it wasn't right the bell should remain silent for a lengthy period. Chill your beans Theresa, it will still ring in the New Year.

Thankfully most MPs had the sense to stay away from the small crowd, but that some turned out says a great deal about the awfulness of Parliament as an institution. Laura Pidcock had it right in her maiden speech when she attacked the pomp and archaic rituals as a means of impressing on working class representatives that high office is no place for them. For people on the outside looking in, for the great many of them, they see something profoundly stuffy, weird, and alienating. Perhaps only Britain could make its sovereign democratic body so inaccessible and off putting. It is anti-democratic.

What is worse than Parliamentary procedure and its petty ritual are those parliamentarians who lap it up. They don't so much as accept it so they can get on with the jobs they were elected to do but embrace it. Jacob Rees-Mogg typifies this. Somehow, this vicious atavist has largely swarthed his cruel politics of toffee nosed class war in the ha ha of Commons buffoonery. An intervention liberally dribbled in Latin here, an obscure point of order there, in many ways Mogg personifies Westminster more than any politician. He is ineffably polite and condescending, clueless and ill at ease with the 21st century, bumbling and cold in a way that invites warmth and affection, he is the archaic and arcane epitome of parliamentary cretinism. The Commons is his natural environment. Its traditions speak to gentlemen of a certain era and a certain class to remind them, and provide a safe space for the reliving of their childhoods as private boarders. As such, you would be hard pressed to find a MP from similar backgrounds who hasn't taken to the House. Yet you can understand it, almost emphathise with it. They're creatures of their class, Parliament is an institution that upholds their class rule, and so they're going to find something special, something to treasure in what is their Westminster.

Less so those like blubbering Stephen Pound, who come from less vaulted backgrounds but are more vociferous in their love of Parliamentary culture. It's like they have internalised the inferiority Laura called out, and try and compensate for it by grabbing and championing convention and procedure. Sometimes this is for self-serving reasons, but more often than not it is to convince themselves they are welcome and they feel at home among the bourgeois pageantry and tradition. In this imagination, somehow the bowing and the scraping, the snuff box, and the chamber deliberately (and hilariously!) built too small to seat all MPs represents the pinnacle of democratic functioning. It's these kind of people who will be most active in defending tradition, and clinging to constitutional politics as the only way change can be achieved. Their ease with the way of doing things are status markers - they have made it and they've passed beyond the mortal realm into exalted company. This in mind as soon as I'd heard tell of MPs gathering to hear the bongs out, I knew it was going to be fronted up by a Labour back bencher.

None of this is fit for the very limited form of democracy of representative institutions, let alone anything else. Democratic politics should be welcoming and encouraging and its operations straightforward and transparent. Monday's little spectacle on the lawn reminds us that Westminster still has a very long way to go.

Monday 21 August 2017

Class Struggle and the Common

For most people reading this, chances are you sell your labour power in return for a wage or a salary. Your work history has typically seen you relocate more or less daily to a place designed specifically for work. When you arrive you find the equipment, the organisation, the things you have to do are mostly arranged for you. As a typical worker you are a cog, a component fitting into a slot (or slots) within a wider division of labour. The employer, business, capital is central to making this happen. They have the authority and command to shape things, to boss you about.

In Marxism, this axis of command is central to capitalist exploitation. The selling of labour power for a certain period of time tacitly (and legally) confers capital the right to instruct the motions of these labouring bodies. This facilitates the creation of surplus labour as the first step to the realisation of surplus value and therefore profit. Labour as a collective of living, feeling human beings smarts, seethes, and resists under this state of affairs. Being compelled to do things under an authority whose recognition is purchased on pain of economic compulsion does not lead to the most cooperative of relationships, and the simmering tension and resentment bedeviling every workplace are the surface phenomena speaking of the antagonisms grinding beneath.

So much for "classical" exploitation. Does the shifting composition of capital from surplus value rooted in material commodity production to a growing dependence on immaterial labour change the terms of the class struggle? Traditionally, Marxists have understood this as the irreconcilable tension between the cooperative, social character of production (in a workplace) versus the private appropriation of the wealth generated. For Hardt and Negri, the switch to immaterial production changes the form surplus extraction assumes. Exploitation is less a mechanism hidden by the wage relation and more a visible process that looks like rent. How?

Immaterial labour produces social relations. The production of knowledge, information, services and subjectivities is a property common to all industrial societies, though it has only recently become a vector of major capital accumulation. Prior to that this social infrastructure, or the common, was indirectly and obliquely a source of value. Women's labour in the home, for instance, was/is immaterial in the sense it reproduced the household materially and socially for another round of exploitation and surplus extraction. She performed physical labour on domestic chores and mobilised affective/emotional labour to care and nurture her partner (Talcott Parsons famously likened the family to a warm bath for the bread-winning dad) and raise/socialise the next generation of workers. Capital isn't directly involved here, save in the supply of commodities that make modern domestic labour possible. In immaterial labour, the skills generations of women have performed in the home are increasingly prized at work: these are the capacities capital increasingly demands. To put it another way,  capital is a social relation bringing together living labour to work on fixed/constant capital (machines, tools) to make stuff to generate that all important surplus value. In immaterial labour, the properties formerly congealed in fixed capital has now sedimented into living, variable, cognitive labour. Or, beyond some basic orientation, business do not train programmers and IT specialists, nor instructors or professional service providers. These are employed because they are ready made, and what capital needs to exploit the networks thrown up by the common are people with that traditionally feminine attribute - social skills.

On the face of things this appears to benefit capital and weaken labour even further. It individuates workers as they're taken on on the basis of what unique skills, knowledge and, sometimes, subjectivity they bring to the table. In such a confrontation there is no contest, the individual worker cannot hope to stand against the weight of capital. Theoretically, capital can more or less impose its terms, and certainly does so when it comes to "unskilled" immaterial labour. However, it's not capital vs an individual. It's capital simultaneously taking on millions of individuals. The relation may be more individuated than the traditional wage relation, but capital is dependent on them to draw on knowledge, information and subject production competencies - what Hardt and Negri call biopolitical production - that is outside of capital. From being the organiser of production, the balance of power is objectively shifting. Capital is increasingly dependent on the organisation of (social) production by others. Or to present the issue in even starker terms, capital is proving itself surplus to the requirements of social production and is therefore assuming ever more parasitical, rentier forms.

Hardt and Negri describe this as 'one becoming two'. The antagonistic interdependence of capital and labour is fraying. The latter is growing autonomous and going off to do its own thing, which presents capital disciplinary and valorisation problems, especially if a sector is unattractive to work in. As labour is the core constituent of the common and the common talks to itself, is coalescing through networks and starting to represent a powerful, generalised intellect, how long can these parasitic relations last? When will Uber drivers call time on the very visible deductions made from their fares and replace the app with a cooperative effort? Is the time coming when Silicon Valley can no longer ponce off ad revenues generated from other people's content? And so on. This does not spell the end of capitalism, but it does represent a problem and a contradiction where a rupture in the system could tear the whole thing open.

Class struggle under these circumstances incorporates the configuration of class struggles past, and gives it a new twist. For Hardt and Negri, the basis of cognitive labour, the common, is "not only the earth we share but also the languages we create, the social practices we establish, the modes of sociality that define our relationships, and so forth. This form of the common does not lend itself to a logic of scarcity as does the first" (Commonwealth, 2009, p.139). The stuff of social production, the knowledges and relations are slippery because of their immaterial and reproducible character. They necessarily resist command because they cannot be contained. This failure of capture, the increasing autonomy of labour embedded in the common sees class struggle rewired as exodus, a refusal to be bound by the strictures of capitalist command. To emphasise and avoid false impressions, exodus does not mean retreat. Class war as practiced by socialised workers still takes the bosses on at the point of production. That guerrilla struggle is as live as it ever was. The skirmishes at the level of ideas, or class struggle in theory as Louis Althusser memorably defined philosophy, remains. The argy-bargy of struggle refracted through politics continues unabated. Exodus is the simultaneous attending to and strengthening of the common's incipient constitutive power. That is, if the common through social production is in the business of self-organising, communicating, creating its own subjectivities and making a world for itself, a core aspect of 21st century class struggle is to enhance this power. Revolutionary activity in the new millennium simultaneously creates new ways of life, proliferates networks, brings identity locations into common activity and develops institutions that spur the development of all.

Capital threatens the common in two ways. Just like the unsustainable relationship capitalism imperils the biosphere and the support systems that make human life and therefore it possible, there is an analogous relation to the common. For instance before this weekend's cowardly attack by Islamists, Barcelona had hit the news for its high profile "anti-tourist" protests. The city's landlords, thanks to the low cost and easy availability of Airbnb, were increasingly making their properties available to tourists. Higher profits for them, but the result is to price Barcelonians out of the residential rents market, forcing them from the city and thereby undermining the very culture that is such a huge tourist draw in the first place. We see something similar wherever gentrification occurs, or the profit takers try and muscle in on some hip fad coming from the streets - a process well described in Naomi Klein's No Logo. Social production begets more social production, but capital's attempts at capturing it runs the risk of turning it into dust.

Second, because economics has fused with biopolitical production, identity politics is less a distraction from "the class struggle" but more its contemporary form. The front line of the fight against capitalism is the production of the human soul. Capital is long-practiced in using gendered and racial hierarchies to undermine the collective power of workers, plus ├ža change, and it is always fighting to turn out human beings in its own image. However, these divisions don't exist solely because of capital's nefarious machinations - they are produced by the common too. Hardt and Negri argue that the family, the corporation, and the nation, all of which are located in whole or part in the common, distort and frustrate its potential. The interests of going beyond capital means a positive transcendence and abolition of identity locations (singularities) as carriers of inequality and symbolic violence, while the familial, chauvinist, status, and nationalist practices all work to fix identities in some way, limiting the potential of those caught up in them and frustrating the possibilities pregnant in the common to build a better society. Naturally, capital likewise seeks to articulate with these to preserve command even though accumulation is better served by the further development of the common.

Overcoming these issues raises the question of organisation and politics. What is to be done is an issue leftists return to time and again. What is clear for Hardt and Negri is the revolutionary party is out. As the properties of fixed capital are distributed among our growing legions of cognitive and socialised workers, the 'functions' of the revolutionary party are diffused among the politicising networks. Rather than the received conception of a vanguard of class conscious cadres providing leadership for the rest to follow, cadre building applies to the class as a whole. The power of the multitude lies in its being the living substance of the common, and increasingly their common lines of flight are putting them on a collision course with capital. Biopolitical production wrapped up in dense webs of communication brings people together, educates them, politicises them. For example, the incessant identity-related debates are no longer the concern of radical elites beavering away in academies but are now the property of millions of people, as the fall out from Charlottesville demonstrates. The aim then is to build up the capacity for self-organisation, forge new institutions that bring out the common interests of socialised workers without denying their difference. The image is of a self-activating, self-coordinating swarm that can simply overwhelm capital and the state in a process of creative destruction, of replacing one form of organising society with another.

The task for radicals and revolutionaries now is to grasp the general movement of things, to think and analyse, to grasp tendencies and directions of processes for ultimately that is where future political possibilities lie. And all the while this work has to be tied to building the capacities of the common, of making good its constituent, self-organising power. That's the object of the class struggle now, so the rupture with capitalism can be made good not in the far distant future but starting in the here and now.

Sunday 20 August 2017

Soft Soaping Food Banks

More Conservative idiocy. This time from the self-styled salon intellectuals at CapX, or to you and me the place where brain cells go to die. Chewing up bandwith in defence of indefensible class privilege this week saw Tim Worstall hail the Conservative triumph (his phrase) that are ... food banks. He comes to praise them, of course, but only to support the money grubbing fundamentalism to which his mind is slaved.

Left wingers generally, whether the funky fully automated luxury communism sorts or Progress-types have a pretty similar, if not visceral opinion of food banks. They are good things because of the work they do, and express (albeit at the charitable rather than political level) solidarity between people. But food banks are appalling things. In a society dripping with opulence for the few and a fair standard of living for most, that there are people who must go cap in hand to their local food bank, with all the shame and anguish, is nothing short of disgusting.

Our Tim sees things differently. Food banks are an unqualified good. He celebrates the self-organisation of volunteers underpinning the food bank movement and expends nothing, no empathy and certainly no pity, on those thrown on to them for survival. Because, for him, it proves his precious dogma: that when the state gets out of the way, society organises matters better. Taking the Trussell Trust's finding that the chief factor driving repeat food bank use is delayed benefit payments, Tim notes this is because the state isn't very good. It's too bureaucratic and is slow (and useless) in responding to real needs. You can see where this is going. If volunteers are doing a great job looking after folk, why not get rid of social security altogether?

As if it needs spelling out, he's talking out of his proverbial.

Let's take Employment Support Allowance. Having previously helped people make applications and supported them in appeals against nonsense decisions, I know it can take a while for a claim to be processed. According to the CAB, an applicant can wait for up to a year before a final decision is reached. For first time applicants it's usually three weeks before payment is received. Three weeks of scraping together every ha'penny, of making every pound stretch.

Why do we have this delay? For Tim the inefficiencies of centralised bureaucracy are to blame, and therefore it has nothing to do with austerity. Yes, that is true ... if you ignore entirely what happens outside of your head. People go to food banks because, shock horror, they do not have enough money to live on. For people who work, we have Tim's mates in business to thank for not paying people enough. For those dependent on social security support, their predicament is less the immutable inefficiencies of bureaucracy and more the decisions underpinning them. Our Tory government made the conscious decision to freeze payments. They made the conscious decision to delay payments, sorry, to take three weeks to process a claim. If they wanted the system to work effectively, the axe wouldn't have swung through the DWP and they wouldn't have cut staff at the time of rising demand on the bureaucracy. Yes, applications do get lost in the system, but in this instance food banks are organising not in response to the myriad failures of the state but the cruel political decisions made by Tory and LibDem politicians fishing from the same ideological sewer as Tim.

This dud is is typical of the right. They do not present analysis and prefer instead fairy stories capable of convincing the already convinced. If Tim was confident in his arguments and believed food banks proved his dogma right, he wouldn't have to distort the context they operate in, ignore the importance of politics, write out the experience of service users and basic intellectual honesty. Were it truth and rigour mattered more than power, this and similar nonsense would have got buried decades ago.

Saturday 19 August 2017

The Stupidity of Jeremy Hunt

Do you know what I can't stand about Jeremy Hunt? That NHS pin. Everywhere he goes it's there, pretending he cares when we know he'd like nothing better than to see the back end of the NHS. Do you know what else I can't stand about him? The egregious stupidity, which he also wears like that blasted badge. And it just so happens he's been showing it off today.

You may have seen him get into a Twitter altercation with Stephen Hawking. Naturally. you don't need to be the best known name in cosmology to get a handle on what Hunt is doing to the NHS, but the intellectual celebrity surrounding Hawking's critique of the cuts, the short staffing, the privatisation ensures it has more heft than your common or garden lefty celebrity or shadow minister. What makes the criticism damning is Hawking draws attention to the fact Hunt and his boss routinely ignore the weight of evidence in their decision making. For example, the weekend deaths line Hunt has peddled for the last 18 months to prosecute his attack on the working conditions of junior doctors is demonstrably untrue - Hawking duly points to the relevant studies. How then does Hunt respond to this charge? By doubling down. In two tweets Hunt argued the 2015 research he has appropriated to bludgeon the doctors was the most comprehensive ever and therefore Hawking was wrong. No attempt to rebut the criticism, no acknowledgement of subsequent evidence challenging the report, nothing. All else may as well not exist.

It goes without saying that Jeremy Hunt has form for stupidity, but his and his party's behaviour doesn't do stupid things because they're thick (though plenty of Tory MPs are), but because life as a politician, the servicing of certain interests, and the structurally dysfunctional character of their party links arms and cancans their stupidity to the world. Take the political life as the starting point. As a minister, your day-to-day is entirely filled with meetings, hanging out in the Commons, more meetings, going on visits, reading executive summaries of reports, occasional media and yes, not forgetting more meetings. It's a job set up to make decisions, but doesn't actually allow space for thinking about decisions. All the options are laid out by the ideological kin you promoted to special advisor jobs to do that for you, and are framed in terms of the line of march decided by the Prime Minister. It means evidence is only ever selected and cited as long as it can support your position, and if none can be found there's always the tried and trusted method of bashing the experts. In Hunt's case we're seeing this most cynical empiricism in action. Because some evidence appeared that offered convenient cover for an attack on medical staff, Hunt now clings to it forever and all time. The rest is just noise as far as he's concerned. And this is not a property unique to him, all ministers - especially those in contentious briefs - operate this way, regardless of party. The truth does not matter, only the politics does.

What amplifies the stupidity of the health secretary is the Tory approach to the NHS as a whole. Instead of a service to be invested in and improved, they see it as an opportunity to make money for the interests they represent. Why go to the trouble of spending extra cash and leveraging the state to drive innovation and new markets when you can take existing public spending and restructure the institutions in receipt of the cash so the Tories' business friends can have a slice of the pie. As the Tories claim, in the cynical tradition of factual accuracy, the NHS isn't privatised. Instead services are contracted out slice-by-slice, and successful private bidders drive down costs so they can profit from the margins. It's a model long seen in local authority care and is now standard across the NHS. The most egregious examples being those where contract winners then subcontract the work back to public institutions, a truly parasitical and disgusting affair. Hunt's attempt to hold down pay in the NHS, and to rip up junior doctors' working conditions, is to make more of the NHS amenable to profit taking of this kind. And if it all fails? Then blame rising demand, spending beyond our means, and make the case for the introduction of more charges.

Lastly, the pursuit of short term interests on behalf of big business is a further manifestation of Conservative Party decadence. In other words, the Tories have become partially dislocated from the kinds of interests they represent and as a rule pursue policies that benefit certain business sectors (or businesses) and/or the perceived short-term interests of the Tory party at the expense of the general interests of their class. We saw it on Brexit, we see it in the knowledge economy, we see it in the NHS. The decadent approach retards Britain's economic performance and therefore the business opportunities available to their class, all the while creating social blockages and social problems for the rest of us. Within their own terms the Tories are not fit to govern.

It doesn't have to be like this, but the means of securing change is not a matter of polite persuasion, of getting Hunt and others like him to look at the evidence. Hunt will not pay any attention to the critiques of his and the government's position until they are forced to back down. This is where an increasingly assertive Labour Party at Westminster, pressure from a public growing more aware of the dangers the Tories pose the health service, and by protest and workplace action by NHS staff themselves comes in. Hunt and his kind get away with ruinous incompetence because they can. Hopefully we're not too far from the time when this will be possible no longer.

Thursday 17 August 2017

Fascism and Economic Anxiety

What's the liberal hot take on last weekend's white supremacist march in Charlottesville, North Virginia? According to Twitter, and never missing an opportunity to be smug, it definitely, definitely was not about "economic anxiety". Here are some typical examples. They think they're being clever funny ironic, of burnishing woke creds while caricaturing and mocking those annoying people who insist there is a relationship between what goes on in someone's life and their outlook on the world. This liberal heroism merely advertises their inability to think, and broadcasts their unwillingness to do so.

And what is more, they are entirely wrong. They are even wrong on their assumptions about what economic anxiety is. Here I want to look at economic anxiety in a narrow and an expanded sense, that is how economics 'stands alone' (which as a proposition is only possible in an analytical exercise like this, in the real world it cannot be separated from wider social processes and inequalities) and how it combines, in this case, with race/ethnicity and, crucially, gender as a way into explaining how white supremacists become the hate mongering shits they are.

What is less than useless is the position of liberal heroism. Here racists are racist because they're racist. People voted for Donald Trump because they're racist. Studies prove it. Racists marched in Charlottesville because they're racists. Racists hate on blacks and Jews because they're racist, and so on. There is no attempt at a social explanation here, rather they're reducing racism to a matter of choice, to personal morality. In so doing they manage to avoid facing up to the sorts of social conditions that manufacture fascists. Or to put it another way, while all fascists are awful human beings, they are congenitally uninterested in why not every awful human being is a fascist.

Let's begin with economic anxiety, narrowly conceived. Traditionally fascism has been regarded as a movement powered primarily by petit bourgeois and declassed elements (the unemployed, precariously employed, etc.). That isn't to say working class people never get involved, but in the "classical" cases as per Germany and Italy the other classes and class fragments were present in disproportionate numbers. It all makes a certain sense when you look at these as positions and relationships: these are de facto unstable and precarious. Effectively, they are individuals versus the weight of the economic world. If you are a business person, even a successful (small/medium) business person, your position is caught in a vice. The employee class, the proletarians, are the pains you can't do without and they so pester you with unreasonable demands like health and safety at work, time off and decent wages. And at any time big business threatens to squash you with the competitive advantages they can bring to bear. If you are not a business owner and are declassed thanks to unemployment or sporadic work, you are still thrown onto your own devices. Unemployment and precarious employment are social failings, but experiencing it and the social security institutions policing it put your situation on you. Some thrive on this, but others are filled with existential dread. Among this layer then, we tend to find a concern for order, a tendency toward nostalgia, a hankering for authoritarianism and hostility toward scapegoats deemed to threaten and/or undermine their received position and perceived privileges.

As we have seen before, there is an assumption that economic anxiety just equals working class people, which is demonstrably false. While plenty of (white) working class people voted for Trump, it was the wealthier layers who turned out in disproportionate numbers to back him. The persistence of this understanding, or rather misunderstanding of economic anxiety starts looking deliberate the more it is repeated. It's almost as if layers of official opinion formation cannot cope with the idea of fascists as their local plumber, hot dog man, or restaurant manager. It's easier to dehumanise fascists if you conceive them as poor and working class. The more social distance you can put between them and you, the better.

So much for the narrow economics, what about a more expansive approach to anxiety? As per recent arguments, we live in a society which has been totally subsumed by capital. Market relationships and market logics have penetrated all aspects of social life, and increasingly the business of capitalism is about taking from the common store of social knowledge (or 'the common'), repackaging it and selling it back to us. Here, labour in advanced capitalist societies is increasingly immaterial. At the behest of our employers, we are much more likely to produce knowledge, information, services, relationships and types of people (subjectivities). We also tend to do this in our own time as well. This blog post as an example of knowledge/information-sharing and (hopefully!) subjectivity formation, for instance. Capitalism is now in the business of producing people, which means the contradictions and conflicts between capital and labour have rippled beyond the workplace and fused with the politics of identity formation. Class and gender and race and other locations of so-called identity politics can only ever be separated analytically: in real life they combine and condition each.

What has this got to do with our Charlottesville sad sacks? Quite a bit. One thing that strikes about last weekend, far right mobilisations and fascism generally is, well, where are the women? The alt-right and white nationalism are manly affairs. Very manly affairs. It glorifies fighting, militarism, weaponry, misogyny and the rest. It rails against anything that presents a danger to a mythologised, idealised and brittle hyper-masculinity, and here it conjoins with the racialism. The "threats" arrayed against whiteness can only be seen off by militant manliness, of white men protecting theirs and their bloodlines by having lots of children and aggressively seeing off competitors and deviants. Hence its fragility vis a vis male homosexuality (in particular). Its promise is a society in which everyone knows their place. All men are (white) men for whom there are enough jobs and enough women. It is an order that institutionalises white power and male privilege under some benevolent fascist administration that represses the deviants. It's a heaven for a few built on the hell of the many, of women, of "undesirable" races and ethnicities to be enslaved and wiped out, of sexual difference kept in the closet under pain of lethal force.

What kind of person is going to find views of this kind attractive? Presumably white men would in disproportionate numbers. And why might some of them (after all, not all white men ...)? Because of the lot young white men are facing, of a progressive dissolution of a privileged gender and racial locations. Let's bring it narrowly back to economics for a moment. Many scholars have written about the feminisation of labour markets. This doesn't just mean the progressive integration of more women into work, but also the spread of conditions one would previously associate with "traditional" women's employment (part time, low pay, short term) as well as the content of work. The immaterial labour that has always coexisted alongside the development of capitalism in the home, the affective caring work overwhelmingly undertaken by wives and mothers helped produce human beings with certain sets of capacities that left their children work ready, to a degree. Immaterial labour as an increasingly dominant arena of capital accumulation sees larger numbers of men drawn into affective, service-oriented cognitive labour, the sorts of labour that also produces social relations, networks, and human beings of certain types. Therefore, not only are younger men having to compete with women for jobs more regularly than their dads and grandads did, but they do so for jobs that fall short of the traditionally masculine manly man. There is a mismatch between this received masculinity, which finds itself expressed in whole and in part through a bewildering array of cultural artefacts, and the reality. Matthew Heimbach, the well known white supremacist interviewed in Vice's acclaimed Charlottesville documentary is a testament to this. Prior to his politics getting him the sack, he worked in child protection.

If that wasn't bad enough, women have expectations of being treated like human beings. The feminist movement has asserted women's autonomy. Millions no longer want to be the arm candy or the mothers gender ideology throws at women and men, and millions refuse the gender apartheid that underpins traditional male privilege and power. With greater freedoms, they might not only out-compete men at work but may also choose to be intimate with men who are not white. Therefore in the white patriarchal imaginary the liberated woman is a double threat - a threat to their economic well being and masculinist conceptions of work, and a sexual threat in her potential exodus from and abandonment of white men who feel entitled to her body. Hence, particularly in America, how the racist anxieties towards black men is bound up with a sexual anxiety, of their being hypersexual, better endowed, more manly than white men. A triptych of of gender, sexuality, and race on which the anxieties of alt-right, fascist America are represented.

Fascism is a promise to do away with these tensions. Instead of leaving white male privilege in contention, it reinforces it. Turning the clock back, rewinding the film, of repeating history is about stamping on uncertainty and, yes, anxiety (be it economic or otherwise). Women and minority ethnicities are to be put back in the box, the complex processes of struggle underpinning the feminisation of work substituted for conspiracy fairy tales of Jewish/communist/Jewish and communist manipulations, the fevered reification of masculinity with its celebration of militarism and war, and society locked into a rigid patterning of authority (overseen by a dictatorial patriarch) not only is a simple vision, but one that can only be achieved through the blood and fire of redemptive violence. Fascism is more than a dystopia attractive to a would-be elite, it's a weak apologia for criminality and wanton murder, of promising empowerment via the infliction of pain and suffering on one's enemies.

All this ineluctably leads to the conclusion that fascism has a great deal to do with economic anxiety refracted through class, gender, race and ethnicity. Understanding what fascism is, where it comes from, what it appeals to and crucially, who the fascists are and how they are made is not an idle exercise. It's the very basics of militant anti-fascism. Knowing what generates fascism allows for it to be pulled up by its roots, and that is inseparable from a wider programme of political change - a programme that addresses the antagonisms and conflicts pregnant with fascist possibilities by abolishing them altogether, and that brings us back to capital and its apparatus of command. Liberals fly from even trying to understand how their system works, and that might have something to do with why their anti-fascism considers racism and white supremacy matters of individual moral failure.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

The Faces of Fascism

Look at the state of these. Young white American men. Young white American men with burners on a fascist march in Charlottesville. You might have heard a wee bit about it. This led to clashes, the murder of a comrade protesting against these pricks, and a huge political fall out thanks to Trump's trouble condemning the violence of white supremacists and Theresa May's inability to criticise him. I have another post brewing about what happened at the weekend, but I'd just like to make a side contribution about fascist faces. That is we don't normally see them, do we? What are the Ku Klux Klan best known for, apart from appalling racism and violence towards black people? Their hoods. Hoods that were donned by otherwise respectable southern men to put a distance between their banal, upstanding everyday selves and the commission of racist intimidation. A number of people have picked up on this to suggest a couple of interrelated points. That the election of Donald Trump has emboldened the far right to come out of the shadows and mobilise publicly, and open fascism now when their forebears concealed their identities under the hood suggests things are worse now than they were then.

Racism is as American as mom and apple pie. But so is anti-racism and anti-fascism. The latter is where the bulk of Americans are, particularly the young, and the left can easily out-mobilise the pathetic forces of the KKK, the so-called alt-right and the heavily armed bands of self-styled race warriors, survivalists, and end-of-the-world psychotics. The America of racist cops who murder young black men with impunity is opposed by the America of Black Lives Matter and increasing numbers of appalled people. Because of past struggles and important victories the weight of history is against the hipster Nazis and their dreams of race war and genocide in the United States. It's therefore a real stretch to suggest we're on the threshold of a fash revival, despite the boosters provided by Trump and Breitbart and those magazine articles dripping superlatives over Richard Spencer's wardrobe. Still, if American fascism and racism is in long term decline that doesn't explain why so many would-be Nazis happily posed for pictures and had their mugs plastered all over the internet. In addition to the emboldening thesis (yes, a movement can simultaneously be in decline and be emboldened) there are two additional explanations for this behaviour.

The anonymity afforded by the internet and what that means for popular culture is so 1990s. Read any scholarship on presentations of self and online communities from 20 years ago and it truly is a foreign country. Today, thanks to social media, it's all about the attention economy. Just as celebrities vie for attention on social networks and traditional media outlets, many millions of us willingly play the same game in our own personal friendship universes. Content creation inculcates a certain level of narcissism, of widely projecting oneself onto your networks regardless of whether you're a YouTube star, throw out podcasts, tweet, prattle away on Facebook or, um, blog. The attraction of attention is incentivised by the very structure of the platforms, and people have an interest in wearing a big arrow over their head pointing at them. This attention economy valorises novelty and finds itself often expressed by being in or at events and/or hanging around with others, which in turn can (and does) spark off interest from the network (such as celebrity selfies - crucially, only one selfie of me and Jeremy Corbyn exists). This applies to political people who want to be seen at some sort of political event, having a night out on the lash, and ... fascists. Our far right frat boys and gamergating basement dwellers with their burners and idiot insecurities are entirely habituated to this culture of visibility and being seen. It would have occurred to few of them to cover their face and protect their identity because they'd want to pore over the photographs after the event and share them among their networks to show they were at Charlottesville, how hardcore and authentic they were, and what have you.

And then there is naivete. These kids are used to frictionless political activity. Hanging out online with like-minded volk, the hairiest it gets is anonymously trolling lefties or watching other fascists, like Spencer, getting punched. But despite being aware of the social costs of being an open racist and white nationalist, it isn't real until you have experienced it yourself. In their arrogance and narcissism the most these fash were expecting was a few placard wavers and that's it. They weren't expecting to be met by militant and sometimes violent opposition, or have their faces plastered all over international news, or have themselves doxxed and exposed, or get fired from their jobs or, in one case, disowned by their parents. If a few cuts and bruises is all a Charlottesville marcher has to cry about, they got off lightly. Some of these inadequates returned home to ostracisation and ruin. They are learning that being an out and proud Hitler fanboy does have consequences, that the social world cleaves not to a so-called master race but spits at them.

Monday 14 August 2017

On Labour's "Sexist" Industrial Strategy

When Jess Phillips speaks it rarely ends well. On this occasion, seemingly determined to ruffle as many feathers as possible, she is reported as saying that "left-wing men are the absolute worst" when it comes to sexism, and that Labour's industrial strategy is sexist. Challenged on this by Caroline Molloy, she said she really meant lefty men are merely the more annoying than the sexists of the right who parade their misogyny alongside their stupidity. Ah yes, she didn't mean to say left men are the worst, just like the time she bathed in the media attention after telling Diane Abbott to "fuck off". Or when she threatened to stab Jeremy Corbyn "in the front", or of accusing the Labour leader of "hating women". Now, I'm not about to dismiss Jess's experiences of sexism and mansplaining in the party. It happens and if you're a bloke who doubts it or doesn't see it, why not ask some women comrades? Sadly sexism is alive and well because Labour is not hermetically sealed off from the rest of society and is bound to reflect what happens in the social world. The point is not to let it lie. Here all men in the party have a duty to support women and challenge sexist attitudes. Remember sexism, like racism, is scabbing.

Where I am going to say Jess is wrong is on the "sexism" of Labour's economic programme. Of the industrial strategy, women are "entirely missing" as it's all about "men with shovels", she says. Let us examine the evidence. The documentation that has gone to the National Policy Forum says its key task is the creation of highly skilled, high waged, and high productivity jobs. This means focusing on skills via the introduction of a National Education Service for lifelong retraining and learning, more money in infrastructure investment, a more industrially active state that identifies and makes up for gaps created by market failure, better procurement practices, capping energy costs and investing, getting a good trade deal with Europe, and investing heavily in research. Looking at the economy section of our 2017 manifesto, the same sort of stuff is repeated. True enough, combing through both we don't see any mention of women and gender inequality and superficially it looks like a poor show versus, say, the Women's Equality Party. However, to suggest this is indicative of sexism in Labour's programme is a real failure of political imagination. Or cynical reasoning, depending on your view of Jess.

Take, for instance, the national education service. A lot of the Labour right don't like this idea because they would prefer to cling to tuition fees and, for some, too much education is a bad thing. Yet who would benefit most from this? Women would. If the job-destroying predictions of the coming wave of automation are realised, it is women who are going to be disproportionately affected. Clerical work, and particularly the low-paid and most repetitive sectors vulnerable to automation and obsolescence is going to hit them more than men. Therefore a new education service can help them retrain and relearn, just as it would for mums who take extended career breaks to look after their kids. It would be there to help them acquire new skills and knowledge or just to provide a refresh. In short, it gives more opportunities to women to lead the kinds of lives they want.

On procurement, Labour would expect companies vying for public sector contracts meet certain social criteria around wages, paying taxes, equal opportunities, workers' rights and trade unions. Think about the burgeoning care industry, which in local authority areas is largely outsourced after decades of privatisation. Care workers are expected to meet a client's care needs in a strictly allotted time frame before moving on to the next, pay is poor, and workers are often demotivated and cannot do a proper job. As you tend to find women in these roles, again, tell me who is going to benefit from changing the rules?

It goes on. Making life easier for small businesses would benefit women surging into self-employment. Tougher regulation of finance and more state intervention makes the economy less vulnerable to shocks, which benefits women who are more likely to be in casual work, and "insourcing" utilities and price controls means household budgets stretch further.

As we live in the 21st century and our society is increasingly characterised by immaterial labour - the production of knowledge, information, services, social relations, people - what is work and what is the economy is increasingly fuzzy. I don't expect Jess to be up on the leading edge of debates in radical and social theory, but I would have thought her experience working for domestic violence and sexual abuse services might have alerted her to the role women by and large play as 'affective labourers' doing emotional work for partners and children, and how important this work is for the reproduction of social life. Therefore, Labour's pledge to tackle violence in the home, to ensure women's refuges and rape crisis are properly funded (and cannot simply be turned off by central government, as has happened under the Tories), outlaw maternity discrimination at work and look at ways of making work more pregnancy-friendly, and lastly gender pay auditing are as much industrial strategy issues as rolling out superfast broadband and investing in renewable energy. The same applies for raising the minimum wage, protecting pensions, reworking social security and the NHS and introducing an integrated NHS/social services National Care Service. All are entirely central to an industrial strategy, and all are entirely central to improving the lot of women.

Could more be done? Yes. Labour needs to be more explicit about the intertwining of economic and social relationships, and that the former is only possible because of the social infrastructure that women, generally, have a greater role in providing and reproducing than men. Here the Women's Equality Party manifesto does a good job, even if some of its policies don't go far enough in my view. Though it is something worth looking at and learning from. That however does not mean Labour's industrial strategy is sexist considering the substantial contribution it would make to the material lot and provision of opportunities for women.

Sadly, this truth about Labour's economics does not matter for Jess Phillips. As someone with a talent for attracting the spotlight, Jess has constructed a media personality solely around a snide remark here or a "brave" intervention there against the party and its leadership. For all I know she might attack the Tories more venomously and vociferously, but there you have your problem - we just don't know. How she carries on is entirely up to her, of course. Just as it will be up to her constituency organisation whether they give Jess another four or five years come reselection time.