Tuesday 30 October 2018

Immaterial Labour and Intangible Capital

There's a lot of banging on about immaterial labour around these parts, but can we speak of an (antagonistic) counterpart, immaterial capital? According to Capitalism Without Capital by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake, we can. However, before we proceed our authors use capital in the mainstream economics sense, and not the Marxist one we're used to in this parish. That is to say we treat capital as a social relationship, whereas mainstream economics has a tendency to see it as an abstract input, a neutral application of tools, machinery, plant, etc. We'll come back to this later on.

The first conceptual distinction of import is, not at all surprisingly, that between tangible and intangible investments. The first of these relates, well, to their intangibility. The value of physical, tangible investments are easy to determine. You can see them, operate them, they take up space, require the application of labour, and depreciate. Measuring the value of branding or an internal operating system? Not so much. The second issue is intangible investment represents a sunk cost and cannot be sold on as they tend to be highly specific to that company. For example, when Infogrames purchased Atari's branding, arguably the image and legacy of the original company did not transfer over with them. It's a sign, an empty signifier, a bauble. Furthermore, investments in intangibles are messy and spillover the confines of ownership - selling on is difficult, but copying and modifying is easy. They cannot be contained and have a tendency of reaching escape velocity very quickly. They can, however, lend themselves to rapid scalability and easily outsourced. For instance, the coding for Red Dead Redemption 2 is infinitely replicable and has been transmitted for pressing at manufacturers around the globe. No more Nintendo manufacturing the cartridges centrally and exporting them from Japan. Lastly, intangibility means flexibility. That is their ability to combine with other intangibles in synergies that make possible new opportunities for value generation. See, for instance, how Facebook replicates and buys out other social media technologies to effectively create a cluster of intangibles under its ownership that, effectively, ensure one need never venture off the platform.

Haskel and Westlake also note intangible investment is increasing at a rate that will soon outstrip capital tied up in tangibles. Of the richest economies, by their reckoning the Rubicon has been crossed by Finland, Sweden, the US and UK. There are three reasons why. While labour intensive industries are more expensive over time than manufacturing (after all, the production of intangibles requires the application of bodies and brains), in its early period start up costs tend to be low. Offsetting the tendency for costs to rise are the potential for productivity gains, gains possible piggy-backing off existing (and often state-provided) infrastructure allowing for huge returns. Third, intangibles are increasingly baked into investment in manufacturing and has been from the first introduction of robotics into factories.

The authors recognise intangibles represent quite a challenge to mainstream economics - infinitely reproducible and scalable, the tendency to generate value in unforeseen combinations with others, a good that can neither be contained nor a use value that isn't used up when it is consumed, all are difficulties for economies (and economic theories) in which distribution presupposes scarcity and entropy. Therefore an economy switching over to intangibles should behave differently. One consequence, as outlined by Paul Mason, is an attempt by intangible-rich companies to capture as many spin offs from their investments as possible - see Facebook, above. Therefore the optimal market isn't one in which different competitors are disciplined by other actors contesting for the loyalties of the same groups of consumers, but the classic monopoly model on which one giant company squats above a market. Another is the tendency to synergy. As intangibles, especially knowledges, tend to increase in value in conjunction with others, these industries like to be in close proximity to one another. This way an intangible ecosystem can grow up as different workers meet in similar settings and collaborative partnerships spontaneously emerge, raising the possibility of new products and new value. However, there's no knowing in advance what will fly and what will fall flat - only practice can determine that, making forecasting especially difficult and with it, planning. Who, for instance, 20 years ago could envisage the contemporary social media ecosystem?

There are consequences for the existing economy too. While sceptical of the view that robots are going to make millions of people redundant, intangibles can exacerbate and aggravate inequalities by ensuring those with the skills for this brave new world enjoy an enhanced market status while those who don't will sink further. A reiteration of the old one-third/two-thirds job market arguments of the 1980s post-Fordism debates. This trend in the market doubles down on hierarchies in firms and between them, opening up huge differentials. And clustering, of course, drives up property prices as it gentrifies neighbourhoods. This also leads to political consequences. What happens to the workers who are left behind or are locked out of the intangible economy? Therefore encouraging a switch to intangibles means policies that curb its dysfunctions from the outset. These include action to curb galloping property prices, especially as exorbitant costs and rents threatens to throttle the goose before it's even laid the golden egg.

By way of a summary, Haskel and Westlake suggest strong, clear rules for intellectual property; ways of facilitating the spread of ideas, which includes an overhaul of urban planning for the maximisation of sociability (plenty of places to meet, relax, etc.); action to make finance more intangible-friendly through tax breaks and new debt vehicles; a strategic use of public spending both in providing the infrastructure for a thriving intangible ecosystem and using public procurement; extending educational opportunities; and lastly an approach that addresses and ameliorates new inequalities.

A couple of issues. Understandably their analysis sticks with the sexy and fashionable end of intangible production that is causing the most excitement and drawing the most attention. This, however, means they do not address the bulk of intangible production: the service industry, and particularly, care. This work and the capital invested here tends to be ignored in inverse proportion to its importance to intangible-rich economies. Fine, I get it. Drawing and animating lamp posts in Grand Theft Auto V is the wave of the future, tucking old people into bed at night is distinctly old school. Immaterial labour of this sort is low status, low paid, and low security. It also happens to be (mostly) the province of women and is regarded as unskilled labour. Yet what they produce is just as intangible, as labour intensive but, alas, not as scalable or reproducible as your funky ass app. Investment here is tied up in residential infrastructure and care packages but, unlike other intangibles, bucks the tendency to uncertainty because the population is ageing and the demand here, whether it is left to the market or comes increasingly under the state's purview again, represents an expanding sector of the economy and therefore the promise of steady growth. Any comprehensive overview of the intangible economy has to reckon with reproductive labour otherwise you're left with a very lopsided approach.

The second problem is the definition of capital mentioned earlier. Here, capital is more or less assimilated to everything the capitalist brings to the production process and the product - the constant capital and the commodity. There are times that what Heskel and Westlake are really describing are social relationships of which intangibles are a personification, but only some times. Ultimately, as we've described many times on this site, immaterial labour is prior to the production and accumulation of intangible capital. Only the ingenuity of human beings can stick together different intangibles in novel and unexpected ways, something half recognised in the discussion of clustering and its political consequences. However, because of the half recognition the features of capital are confused with the characteristics of labour, often giving the impression that capital accumulates capital spontaneously.

This brings us back to the title, Capitalism Without Capital. If capital is reduced to machinery and commodities we can see, touch, operate, then it does make provocative sense. But as capital is a social relationship, it does not. How it operates has undergone a shift, but capital is still there. With the added irony that the more quickly its products go intangible and vanish, the more visible its structures of command and exploitation becomes. A useful and interesting book then, but one demonstrative of the limitations of mainstream economics.

Monday 29 October 2018

Fascism Comes to Brazil

Fascism, the grey beards observed, is the price the working class pays when it fails to make a revolution. In the early 21st century, matters are a touch more febrile. The gibbering menagerie of ranting rabble-rousers, tinpot authoritarians and outright fascists are visited upon us when the centre left and social democracy cannot deliver even the barest reforms and political empowerment for its base. As Brazil's awful presidential election result shows, the bar for a fascist insurgency has been lowered and with terrible consequences for us all. Not to worry though. The markets are happy.

The record of the PT in power leaves a lot to be desired. Their performance was patchy, the movement that powered them to office in 2002 was demobilised and warned not to rock the boat too much to embarrass their ministers, while those self-same politicians were, with alacrity, going native and grubbing it up in the stinking corruption Brazil's political institution are mired in. But this disaster is not solely and entirely the fault of the compromises the Workers' Party made with capital. In the first round of the elections the challenges of the bourgeois parties collapsed, mostly because their vote - liberal, neoliberal, conservative - rallied behind and threw their lot in with Bolsonaro. Not forgetting the antipathy legions of well heeled Brazilians feel toward the uppity workers and their party, on matters of economic dislocation and uncertainty Bolsonaro's candidature offered a means of restoring order and giving those identified with an unwelcome way of the world - gay people, women, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples - a good hiding.

Though if anyone's expecting the new president to take on crime, they're all set to be disappointed. A big show of cleaning matters up will be made, a few sacrificial lambs for the baying petit bourgeois are inevitable. But as with other authoritarian states, crime is baked in. Drugs, prostitution, smuggling, the state at regional and local levels will make use of the dictatorial turn and monopolise criminal enterprise in their own hands. The core support will buy the illusion and sleep more soundly, while cops become the pimps and pushers and political oppositionists will suffer the full force of the inevitable "anti-corruption" drive.

Understanding the likes of Bolsonaro and his movement is the necessary spadework to build a strategy that can defeat fascism there and here. Singly unhelpful then is the growing clamour to blame the recrudescence of the far right on hateful speech and bad-tempered political discourse. This piece from Simon Jenkins is pretty typical. Unregulated speech bypassing established institutions (like the press, funnily enough) is the driver of extremism, they argue. Fake news is polarising the electorate and opening the gates to one, two, many Bolsonaros.

Utter poppycock. Giving platforms to the far right is stupid for all kinds of reasons, and especially deserving of scorn are media outlets who parrot and amplify far right talking points and arguments off their own bat. But this rhetoric, the vacuous and pitiful rubbish peddled by Bolsonaro for instance, gets a following because it resonates with the circumstances and interests of millions of people. Blaming social media is easy and lazy when the key to political change can always be traced back to political economy and the sharpening conflicts occurring there. No wonder Western liberals are resistant: they can't even recognise a social process when it's making them obsolete. And how shocking it is to find many of their Brazilian number have jumped aboard Bolsonaro's bandwagon.

The defence of democratic institutions is vital always and everywhere, which means it's too important to be left to professional pundits paid to misrecognise the tragedies unfolding in front of their eyes. Unlike the United States where the institutions and antipathy by a large section of the ruling class have, to a degree, limited Trump, it's unlikely the constitutional trappings of Brazilian democracy will hold Bolsonaro back. He has promised blood, and woe betide anyone who think he's just posturing. Therefore resistance to and fightback against Bolsonarist fascism is inevitable from below, from the feminist movements and trade unions, the leftist parties, organisations of LGBTQ+ and ethnic minority activists. It's their very existence that's on the line, and they carry the hope of Brazil and the world on their shoulders. They are deserving more than liberal condescension and crocodile tears, they need our sympathy, our support, and our unconditional solidarity.

Sunday 28 October 2018

The Daddy of 21st Century Reaction

This old thread on Twitter was brought to my attention. An excellent and brief dissection of Slobodan Milošević's career and what he means today:

I'm reminded of last night's discussion of modulation. Milošević and his contemporary imitators can never be properly pinned down. They are simultaneously in the thick of things and at a remove from them, racist but non-racist. A sort of Schrodinger's demagogue and one, we know, that is proving to have a great deal of purchase.

Many thanks to @CatherineBuca for dredging this one up.

Local Council By-Elections October 2018

This month saw 34,915  votes cast over 21 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Six council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with September's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Oct 17

* There was one by-election in Scotland
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There was only one Independent clash this months
**** Others this October consisted of Yorkshire Party (108), Women's Equality Party (84), Christian People's Alliance (30)

Polarisation might rule the national polls, but this month might tempt one to declare the return to three-party politics, at least where local election vote shares are concerned. The LibDems are back enjoying 15% plus scores fairly regularly again while the Tories and Labour slowly bleed council seats. Also noteworthy is a UKIP resurgence, and I use that term with a hint of sarcasm, as they break the three per cent barrier for the first time in a long time. This however is because of the double contest in Dorset on the 25th - UKIP did comparatively well and, coincidentally, these were the only two seats Labour didn't stand in this month.

Nothing more to add, really!

4th October
Cambridge CC, Soham North & Isleham Con hold
Chesterfield BC, Moor LDem gain from Lab
Hambleton DC, Thirsk Con hold

9th October
City of London, Castle Banyard Lab gain from Ind

11th October
Adur DC, Southlands Lab gain from UKIP
Halton UA, Ditton Lab hold
Hartlepool UA, Hard Ind gain from Lab
Warrington UA, Penketh & Cuerdley Ind gain from Lab
West Lancashire BC, Tanhouse Lab hold

18th October
Hackney LBC, Victoria Lab hold
Oxfordshire CC, Iffley Fields & St Marys Lab hold

25th October
Ashford BC, Kennington Con hold
Basingstoke and Deane BC, Norden Lab hold
Dorset CC, Ferndown Con hold
East Dorset DC, Ferndown Central Con hold
Hertfordshire CC, Three Rivers Rural LDem gain from Con
Mendip DC, Wells St Thomas LDem hold
North Lanarkshire UA, Coatbridge South Lab hold
South Derbys DC, Linton Con hold
Suffolk CC, Bosmere Con hold
Sutton LB, Belmont Con hold

Saturday 27 October 2018

Deleuze and Authoritarian Statism

Despite its claims to freedom, neoliberalism from the outset was an authoritarian project. It took root in tandem with or on the heels of state violence. The slaughter of the "other September 11th" in Chile, the physical breaking of Britain's labour movement by Margaret Thatcher, and the incredible levels of social murder visited on Russia by Yeltsin and the shock therapy of the neoliberal "radicals". The beginnings of neoliberalism were mired in violence, but states did not stop tooling up even while class peace, their class peace, reigned for a couple of decades or so. Terrorism is often the justification, but repressive legislation, the erosion of civic freedoms, the expansion of the security state and its surveillance powers pre-date the attacks on the World Trade Centre. What followed after was not a break with want went before, but its continuation. What were and are the processes and relationships driving authoritarian statism in liberal democracies, and why when the external threat - the Soviet Union and its clients - were dust, domestic opposition was quiescent and sporadic, and wars overseas were more police action than existential threat?

Two, road interlocking processes are in play here. One is the mutation within capitalism after society has become subsumed under and subject to the axiomatic of capital, with the growing importance of non-value producing reproductive labour for capitalism initially organised by the state and subsequently privatised, and the increasingly vital vectors of immaterial labour - knowledge, service, relationships, care, and social production itself - to the accumulation of capital. This goes along with the shift in surplus production, of capital organising the business of production and feeding off the surplus value produced under its aegis to an extractive, rentier, parasitical relation. Here, capital depends on our sociability and knowledge and like any good zombie, it wants to feast on our brains. But it doesn't consume them, they remain intact in our heads, a force of production capital can only use but never own. We are employed in immaterial labour because of who we are, it needs our subject positions and identity locations, our gregarious natures, know-how, and the whole range of our emotional and intellectual capacities. This isn't something capital can produce in a lab, it grows organically from the dense mesh of humanity doing human things. Additionally, because we own our brains the strategies, information, experiences and knowledge we do acquire while putting our cognitive and social skills at capital's service leaks over and remains part of us, to be deployed later for our benefit outside of the work relation or in future work situations. Capital then is always trying to capture bits of the social to squeeze it for value, but in so doing it enhances labour's social productivity. Because we are the force of production, objectively speaking there is a tilt in the balance of power between capital and (cognitive) labour that, in the long-term, favours us.

In this context the authoritarian state arrogates powers to itself as the capacities of capital enter into long-term decline. From here, there are other points of departure into investigating the will to authoritarianism. For instance, authoritarian populist and quasi-fascist movements thrive when social anxiety is generalised, and this tends to happen when old fixed notions of identity are challenged by a dynamic and productive outpouring of the new identities, new ways of being, new ways of seeing courtesy of the immaterial economy. Their contemporary formation is quite new, but they thrive on the old problems of unemployment, dislocation, and perceived break down of social order. And they tend to appeal to older voters now in the fixed income position of pensioners, the unemployed, workers in declining occupations, and the petit bourgeoisie. But before these movements had take off, mainstream politicians, not including a few liberal heroes, would compete over who can be toughest on immigrants, slackers, criminals, and minority ethnicities. In conjunction with the press so-called centre politicians of the left and the right stirred up authoritarian politics for perceived political gain, created a competition over it, and duly followed through when they were in government.

The second strand is a shift in what you might call the economy of power, of how institutions and, ultimately, the state manage populations. This can be characterised by the movement from disciplinary society to societies of control. What does this mean?

Foucault's celebrated but oft-misunderstood work was interested in how institutions and knowledges produced subjects - human beings of particular kinds with particular features, characteristics and attributes. This was done discursively and non-discursively. For example, his Discipline and Punish treats us to historical diagrams of the ideal prison (the celebrated panopticon), to manuals on prisoner treatment and recommendations for "improving" their characters. And then there are movements of prisoners fixed by timetable, the rigid rituals of slopping out, yard exercise, showers, the mess hall, and a battery of punishments ranging from reduced rations, curbed privileges, solitary confinement, and beatings. The institution and correctional discourse presuppose an 'ideal' inmate, and the powers of the prison, its physical application of the techniques of discipline, are designed to force its charges into conformity with the model prisoner expected in the discourses around the (so-called) sciences of incarceration. The application of discipline, in reality power, is productive of specialist knowledge (the discourse), which is disseminated via professional publication and training manuals and feeds into the next round of discipline application.

In a radical echo of Durkheim's thinking on the division of labour, the logics of and disciplinary power moved out of carceral institutions and spread throughout society. The application of the intersection of power and knowledge in different situations produced human beings of best fit for the multiple subject positions attending the complexity of the division of labour. The ideal factory hand was different from the ideal domestic servant was different from the ideal clerk, and so on. Disciplinary power and its attention on individual bodies means it is inseparable from the birth of modern individuality. It also everywhere and always encountered resistance, but variously met it, adapted, percolated around and incorporated it into ever more sophisticated schemes for managing humans. Nevertheless, the fit between institution, the discursive elaboration of subject positions, application of discipline, and wriggling, desiring, reluctant bodies were never and couldn't ever be total. Even if the flesh was willing and compliant.

Disciplinary power is still with us. It hangs around in the background as an important but increasingly eclipsed configuration of power. Marx's classical discussion of exploitation and surplus value can't fully account for contemporary capitalism, so disciplinary power can't explain the shape, flows and diagrams of power by itself any longer. In his lectures on security, territory and population given in the late 70s Foucault suggests that the object of power is less the management of individual bodies to that of populations as a whole. Big deal, you might wonder, wasn't disciplinary power an economy of power that managed populations too? However, he suggests the axioms of disciplinary power have become so internalised, naturalised and matter-of-fact, power can scale up and turn its attentions to large aggregates of bodies. This entails knowing their patterns, their useful bifurcations and strata, and of mapping its movements to predict and, therefore, manage. This has always been a feature of statecraft, but the sophistication of technology, the importance of even greater accumulation of knowledge as a force of production allows for the segmenting (and management) of populations beyond good and problematic ethnic groups, between the traditional oppositions of us and other.

For Deleuze, the problematic of security marks the passage of disciplinary societies to societies of control, but deepens Foucault's argument while doing so. Whereas discipline created modes (subject positions) into which human beings were crammed, Deleuze suggests we should think about them as modulations. Disciplinary power was interested in the soul stuff, of manufacturing ideal subjects by subsuming them totally and turning out bodies utterly sincere and happy in their vocation - a logic played out in the breaking and incorporation of Winston Smith by Big Brother. In the societies of control, this is far less pressing. It cares less about generating identities appropriate to work locations, lip service and the discharge of duty matters more. If conformism is largely spontaneous thanks to the disciplinary legacy, total subsumption is obsolete and surplus to requirements. Secondly, following an undeveloped point of Foucault's, Deleuze recognises that human bodies occupy multiple modulations, oscillates between them, and interacts with and is captured by modulations temporarily with varying intensity and completeness. Put another way, we mobilise different competencies and different presentations of self (Goffman) according to the social settings and social actions we're engaged in. The self therefore isn't just incoherent, the very idea of a true self is a matter of mythology.

Modulations therefore operate and capture at the sub-subject level - the individual is displaced by the 'dividual'. For Deleuze the segmentation of the population can apply to the multiplicities contained by our bodies. We are addressed as employees, citizens, believers and non-believers, as sexualised, racialised, and gendered potentialities, as enthusiasts of hobbies and interests, consumers of branded products, as family members, friends, bearers of specific skills. The more you slice it, the more you dice it, the personality, the subject, the individual itself it an assemblage of preferential particulates. The key difference between this for Deleuze and disciplinary society is is that we are not positioned and shoved into these slots by the sorts of technologies described by Foucault. Rather the dividuals are enticed and elicited. Modulation are attempts at stimulation, of uncovering preferences, mapping their patterns and archiving information about them. We are not forced, we are invited to choose. A permissive society indeed.

For Deleuze, this does not mean control societies are free. With Guattari they explored striated and smooth space. Different social formations organise the flows of desire that permeate all societies differently. Striated space is more or less structured. Any organisational diagram sketches and specifies in advance how its parts are supposed to relate to one another. The mass of bodies find the flows of their relationships structured, guided, diverted in particular ways. Smooth spaces, by contrast, are virtually frictionless and allows for free desire to play and make new connections unencumbered by the striation of racialised, sexualised, classed hierarchies. The old radical politics of desire, like Marcuse, identified desire with a repressed libido and located freedom in its liberation from the uptight striation of socio-sexual space. However, the smooth and the striated aren't necessarily antipodes. Consider the axiom of neoliberalism: the free play of capital. It demands a life free of responsibility and rapid mobility, and this expectation is granted. For capital, neoliberalism is a globalised smooth space congenial to and flattering of its appetites, but such smoothness is only possible because labour inhabits a world that is much more striated. The transition from capitalism to socialism can be read as this process in reverse, a closing down of the smooth grooves and circuits that feed capital and throwing upon it the chains of striation. Some of those links can be Keynesian, but only those involving conscious, democratic regulation can successfully erode the striation of labour and open up new smooth spaces of becoming, of freedom.

Striation and smoothness operate simultaneously but differently at the dividual level. For example, many cultures are more or less fine with camp, which circulates effortlessly around a smooth space provided by the entertainment industry, but explicitly homosexual behaviours and identities encounter space that is much more striated, bordering on the disciplinary. Each body is shifting with dividuals popping in and out of meaningful existence while others are more durable. Social space is congenial to some of these, but not to others, but as a rule the more 'control' and less disciplinary a society is, the greater modulation predominates with its attempts to capture behaviour and utilise it than literally controlling and punishing.

Security, segmentation, modulation, dividuals, the economy of power Deleuze-Guattari advances maps on to the attention economy with its drive of extracting and managing population data for profit. But where does the state come back in? How to explain the increased powers and acquisition of ever more intrusive and sophisticated surveillance technologies? In addition to declining class power and rising anxiety, this enables the tabling of further questions about where authoritarian drivers are coming from.

1. The state is irredeemably authoritarian, and operates according to disciplinary logics. In the absence of domestic opposition, it's following through the disciplinary trajectories of total subsumption despite their purchase being limited and largely obsolete.

2. Modulation and dividuals are fundamentally uncertain. The production of subjectivities and the injunction to choose never guarantees social integration and, from the state's perspective, its (i.e, the state's) smooth traversing of social space is above the striation its operation continually lays down. Resistance is always prior, even in societies of control. Eliciting responses is a risky business and can lead to unwelcome political consequences. Best be ready.

3. Because modulation does not subsume like the lines of flight of modes, they are coincident with and identical to the mass anxieties powering authoritarian movements. But states are not unaffected, and they are not reified - in Deleuze-Guattari theory they are molar entities, which you can (non-exhaustively) describe as a condensed and stable packaging of an assemblage of social relations organised hierarchically. State authoritarianism takes place in the context of the slippage of capital's mastery over its own reproduction, but perhaps the drive for repressive compensation derives from the uncertainty, the spontaneously creative and unpredictability of how dividuals manifest, combine, operationalise resistance, and undermine striated locations. Modes, it knows. Modulations, as properties of social order realise surplus value and keep the show on the road, it doesn't.

4. Control societies finds populations the object of study and management. Decking out the state's surveillance kit and expanding its insider/outsider rhetoric is one way of effecting this when pesky dividuals are nigh on impossible to track.

5. The state is a molar entity, but one in many Western societies that is dispersed. Hardt and Negri liken globalisation to the emergence of an unconscious, decentered supra-national sovereignty - Empire - in which states and other global actors are subordinate, albeit with variations in power and capacities between them. There is a sense of an erosion of authority from without, but internally states can and do divest themselves of functions. Empirically, the UK state is not monolithic. It is a set of competing, parallel, semi-autonomous and often dysfunctional institutions and centres of political power. It encompasses departmental civil service bureaucracies, local government and devolved authorities, NHS, police forces, quangos and, of course, competing divisions within them. The centre is political power constituted as government, and its relationship to the rest is one of command, though not of control or subsumption - the vertical integration of the state is overstated. Authoritarianism in this context could, again, be read as compensation for an erosion of authority within, but also the dynamics contributing toward it can be generated from the dispersed institutions and assemble with similar coming from others. That is authoritarianism is an assemblage, a conscious or unconscious alliance, between institutions that are autonomously generated by their operation or in conjunction with wider anxieties on the 'outside'.

No answers then, but an interesting set of questions to think about.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

A Desert Called Blairism

We don't spend much time praising John McTernan round these parts, but oh boy what a service he has rendered. In discussion with Grace Blakeley and Michael Walker on TyskySour, his centrism was put under the spotlight. And, for his pains, his politics were shown up as an empty posture, drawing in equal measure from wishful thinking and bad faith. Arguments this place, among many others, have made for many years. Go ahead, watch:

They made a desert and called it Blairism.

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Monday 22 October 2018

More on the Anti-Brexit Movement

The post on the class politics of the People's Vote march has elicited a good response, but also some confusion as well. So to clear some matters up ...

1. A bourgeois social movement doesn't mean everyone who participates in it is bourgeois. That shouldn't really need saying, but it does. Take it from someone hailing from a Tory working class background. My parents and grandparents were manual working class, and yet throughout their voting lives they supported the Tories and, in the case of my parents, UKIP. Does that mean they were anything but horny-handed sons and daughters of toil? No. Does that mean the Tories and the kippers aren't parties of fractions of the ruling class? No.

2. Many different people attended the anti-Brexit march on Saturday. Some were well heeled, others were less so, as we have noted before. One of the reasons why I supported remain because the rising class of networked and socialised workers tended to do so - as part of this class myself, I've got a sense where its - our - interests lie. Staying in the EU would not have materially benefited us in and of itself; for a vision of Britain after a remain victory, see how politics-as-usual trundled on after the Scottish independence vote returned a no verdict. It would, however, mean the serious dislocations and threat we're looking at now would have been avoided. For the Brexit elite the working people should cough up the costs of leaving the EU, and their plans for a bonfire of rights underlines this.

3. However, if you are a socialist democracy matters more. There was a campaign, there was a vote, and by a narrow margin the electorate voted to leave the EU. Socialists aren't in the business of ignoring votes, nor continually rerunning them until the right results are achieved. Even when an election is gamed and flawed, as they always are in the political set ups of capitalist societies. And treating democracy as an optional extra does not have a happy history. Our job, which Labour has tried to do and remains committed to doing, is to shape Brexit. Damage is inevitable. It's not inevitable that our class should have to pay for it.

4. There is a momentary coincidence between the economic interests of immaterial labour and those of the fractions of capital putting money into the anti-Brexit campaign. But it is nothing more than a coincidence. These are the very same people who've profited from low business taxes, feeble protections for workers, and the withering of collective bargaining. By their chosen representatives - centrist Tories, the LibDems, and the Blairist Labour right - we see politicians who use and have used their time in power in the service of these moneyed interests.

5. Describing this section of capital as the most internationalised and forward thinking fractions of the ruling class wasn't a complement, but a characterisation of their orientation. "Forward thinking" doesn't mean they're wise or, worse, "progressive". It's that they're more clear-sighted about their interests than those who back the Moggites. As they're "new capital" clustered around tech, advanced manufacturing (with some exceptions), and the creative industries they are more alive to the opportunities and conditions of what are competitive and still-growing markets. Similarly, they are internationalised but not internationalist. When we talk about British capital, we are talking about capital based in and operates out of the territory of the UK - it has multiple nationalities.

6. Capital is far from united. In 2018 it's probably the most fractious it's been since Thatcher came to power and mobilised the power of the state to not only smash the labour movement, but also forcibly liquidate whole sections of manufacturing capital that supported the old nationalised industries. Some of the world's most advanced mining technique was simply written off, for example. This disunity can partly be laid at Thatcher's door, but also as capital has globalised so has the mobility of our ruling class and its hired hands. In his Reckless Opportunists: Elites at the End of the Establishment, Aeron Davis argues that elites more or less freely circulate around a series of elite positions. The constant shuffling of top management in all firms, all public sector organisations, is coincident with and not entirely unrelated to capital's internationalisation, the short-termism of shareholder value and fluctuating stock prices, and the widely diffused culture of "innovation" and "leadership". They are disembedded from and only have a semi-detached relationship to the world outside their gilded international circuits. Small wonder their political representatives on Earth haven't got the foggiest.

7. It's these people who are at the head of the anti-Brexit movement. In his contribution to the comments on yesterday's piece, Darren notes the campaign is a coalition. Yes, it is. But who decides the campaigns, who calls the demonstrations, who decides the demands, the speakers' roster, and the spox who do their bit in the media? Not the folks who piled on the coaches. Not the people shuffling along The Embankment. Those decisions are made behind closed doors in the offices of professional lobbyists with close input from well known centrist MPs and, yes, New Labour figures from yesteryear. As far as the organisers are concerned the demonstrators literally do have a walk-on part because there's no other means of participating, apart from writing to your local MP. They're expected to turn up on cue, and go back to their lives when they're not needed. An almost perfect replication of voting in social movement form, you might say.

8. As such bits of the organised left are involved. Progress had a wee contingent. The AWL were on the march. And there were plenty of other Labour people as well. They were nevertheless politically marginalised, were not given the opportunity to make a left case for a second vote, and are airily ignored by the movement's elite organising nucleus. Those bits of the left who marched, for whatever reason, are effectively hangers on on a movement they have no input into or hope of influencing. When your literature is basically "Brexit is bad and we need to pressure Jeremy Corbyn into a second referendum", that's not about to contest the leadership of your Chukas and your Woke Soubz. Again, this isn't to say a left wing position on a second vote is impossible, but that whatever it can say is smothered by the simple and straightforward demand of the movement's leadership.

9. What is the trajectory of the anti-Brexit campaign? Well, it's not about to stop Brexit. It can't hurt the Tories electorally as nearly all the people on the march and those supportive at home are baked into the anti-Tory bloc, as far as CCHQ calculations are concerned. But certainly the anti-Corbyn tone of the campaign, which isn't paranoia but a demonstrable feature of its social media operation and the posturing of the movement's leading figures, cannot but have consequences for the Labour vote. The more Corbyn is dressed up as a secret Brexiteer, the more the illusion is sown that it is in Labour's gift to press the stop button on Brexit, the more it becomes obvious it is being used as a wedge issue. I know this, and those behind the campaign know this. People in and around Westminster are paid to cook up strategies this cynical.

10. To reiterate, a social movement is always an assemblage of different actors. But not all actors are equal, especially in movements organised and owned by sections of capital and their representatives. Nor are all movements capable of being blown open and taken off in new directions. As a case study of a mass mobilisation under bourgeois leadership, the People's Vote is almost text book. Its nearest correlate in (relatively) recent years was the Countryside Alliance march/movement of almost 20 years ago. The politics are very different, but the same strict control of the message and the organisation is replicated, despite drawing in a range of concerns from fox hunting toffs to rural workers worried about their jobs. What counts, what always counts are the politics being peddled, who benefits, who is in control, and the direction the movement is heading in. From that wisdom will flow.