Sunday 6 January 2019

Aaron Bastani vs Smug Centrism

Full solidarity to Novara Media's Aaron Bastani. In the last fortnight he was piled on by the last people you'd want to turn your back to. Jolyon QC did some digging into Novara's funding, because the concept of a small media operation funded by donations and powered by volunteers is alien to him. Others, whose concern with anti-semitism coincided with it becoming something to attack the left with, tried smearing Aaron as a racist because of a jokey tweet sent years ago. Most egregiously Jeremy Duns (who?) wrote a clueless and tedious blog post questioning the validity of Aaron's PhD. Apparently, it was a "farce" that his thesis - on the dynamics of political communication in social movements - brings academia into disrepute because Aaron was a participant in the movement studied and, um, he didn't cite a New Statesman article from 2011 by Laurie Penny. Affecting authority on a topic one doesn't know about is chancy because the incontinent spraying of your opinions across the internet can make you look like an idiot. Except if you're plugged into the feeds of liberal Twitter, who will make you feel important and wrap you in the embrace of a centrist smug-in.

There is so much going on here I don't know where to begin. The attitude of these pitiful people and - I use this term generously - their political praxis cannot be separated out from the morbidity of liberalism. And this is not just a British thing. Here, centrism in its liberal and managerial/technocratic variants were rejected by mainstream voters of the left and right in 2017. In the United States Hillary Clinton was handily seen off by the tangerine Antichrist, and in France the God King of centrist politics is beset by a coalition of suburban citizens, just to give two examples. But let's not forget what liberalism is. It's much more than ideas in a short book, or a smattering of politicians and journalists. It is a movement.

We've talked about this before. Liberalism is a bourgeois social movement, a semi-coherent body of big business actors, the aforementioned politicians and journalists, bits and pieces of the UK state, and a mass base comprised mainly of the 'educated' middle class and small business people. It has a political party, our friends the Liberal Democrats, but the movement also has among its ranks MPs, Lords, representatives on devolved bodies, and councillors and members across the two main parties, plus odds and sods in the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Philosophically, it believes ideas drive action, and this action is the prerogative of our elected representatives. Collective action is possible, but through lobbying, petitioning and, as a less resort, peaceful demonstration. Liberal democracy is both the best and only system for reconciling the different competing pressures of any given society and, of course, the primary political unit is the individual. There should be no unfair or undue institutional or attitudinal impairments to the free exercise of their will, their desires, and their right to political participation. From our point of view, liberalism is fundamentally bourgeois because of its stress on the individual and suspicion of collectives, its privileging of representative democracy and the push-me-pull-you of parliamentary politicking, defence of the market and fundamental blindness to structural inequality and social conflict coincides with and apologises for the operation of capital.

Liberalism/centrism as a ruling class movement is in crisis. In Britain and the US, for the first time in a long time it is completely excluded from government. Trump surrounds himself with hard right ideologues and sycophants, and despite the permanent display of Tory weakness Theresa May is bulldozing ahead with her Brexit plan. Its crisis, however, cannot be reduced to this alone as there have been plenty of occasions previously where liberalism was locked out of government. What's different is a collapse in its mass purchase. In the US, it fought the Sanders insurgency in the Democrats with dirty tricks, and then moved on to Trump by, basically, ceding him political ground by fighting an almost entirely negative, narcissistic and technocratic campaign. Liberalism/centrism tried doing the same in the Labour Party against the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, and has continued on this basis in its opposition to the left ever since. But few, if any, are biting. Out of sorts in the Tories and Labour, and with the LibDems a pathetic shadow of what it once was they can feel an ill wind, and it's blowing in the direction of marginalisation and irrelevance.

This is the necessary context for understanding its political bankruptcy. Every significant political event of the last few years confounds their world view. Why the likes of Trump or Bolsonaro were victorious, or why Brexit was affirmed in a referendum the liberal establishment lined up against could not possibly have anything to do with them and their record. No, it had to be the Russians, or illegal spending, or the groupthink effects of social media. After all, their ideas are the most modern, most obvious. And this certitude has only got stronger the more reality flies in the face of their expectations. It used to be that liberals defined themselves on a left-right spectrum equidistant from each. Now it's a triangle - left and right are the slopes and the centre is the pinnacle from which they look down on both. In fact, the reverse is the case. The slopes are upwards and they're stuck in a hole. Their put downs to a resurgent left are really attempts to climb out of their pit by dragging the left down, and the more they flail helplessly the more vicious and shrill their attacks become.

And so back to the attempted monstering of Aaron Bastani. He and the comrades variously associated with Novara - Ash Sarkar, James Butler, Michael Walker, Eleanor Penny - and other outriders for Corbynism, like Grace Blakeley and Alex Nunns, not only frequently get into the media but are proven adept and articulate performers. For established liberals, it's more than a matter of simply disagreeing with them, they are competitors. Writing essays and appearing on Novara's own shows is one thing, but taking up seats on Politics Live, This Week, Newsnight and Question Time as advocates for the new left means fewer gigs for them and their like-minded mates. How to put them back in the box? Challenging their politics only gives them legitimacy as commentators, as equals with wrong ideas. But in the world of the attention economy, where commentator bankability depends on media appearances, Corbynism presents as much as an existential threat to them as it does their liberal allies and friends in the Labour Party. And so the skulduggery, the insinuation and snarking, the smears and slanders, and the borderline doxxing is about refusing legitimacy, of an attempt to discredit by exposing Aaron as someone completely beyond the pale. And if they're successful, what is the consequence? They have acted as gatekeeper, determining what is and isn't acceptable to be broadcast and discussed in mainstream outlets and made the media world that little bit more secure for themselves.


Anonymous said...

If I had to put money on it, I would bet a fair sum that Jeremy Duns was put up to this by someone with intelligence connections - and that's not something I've suspected about him before (despite his long history of writing articles debunking various myths about MI5, MI6, the SAS, etc).

I can't put my finger on why, exactly. Perhaps it's the fact that he's over-reaching so dramatically, and with such. It's how one might behave if given a high-level steer from a spook for the first/second/third time. (The speed with which JD's argument has hit the rocks could also be interpreted as an indicator of that naivety, meaning that he was used to ""surface" a dodgy smear-story, and has now been hung out to dry as its sole author).

Again, though, this is purely my own supposition and I have no objective evidence whatsoever to support it.

Anonymous said...

Copy-editing error in my previous post re:Jeremy Duns and the possibility of external motivation.

Par two, second sentence, should end "and with such confidence."

Jim Denham said...

Bastani's contortions on the EU (and failure to turn up to a debate he'd agreed to where he promised to defend them) and wretched failure to defend his stance on Remembrance Day and poppies when on 'Any Questions' (he simply denied that he'd said what he said) mark him out as an ill-educated poseur with no serious principled base to his r-r-radical posturing. Whether the comments about his academic qualifications are true or not is neither here nor there.

Boffy said...

There is much in this critique of "liberalism" that I would agree with, and that I have written about for decades, predicting the inevitable collapse of that particular political centre. It bears responsibility for many of the problems that currently exist, including the rise of right-wing populism.

The trouble is that out of this critique comes a sense that the poles outside that centre have themselves, therefore, some common ground between them, in opposing it. But, they don't. Much as I despise that centre ground, I would prefer it over Trump, Le Pen, Farage, Putin et al, any day of the week, and be prepared to give critical support, and engage in tactical alliances with it, to defeat the Right, just as Marx and Engels united with bourgeois Liberals to oppose reaction.

Out of this mindset of opposing the liberal centre, and some kind of shared interests with the right has come, in the past, Stalinist Third Period idiocy, as well as more recently the kind of idiot anti-imperialism that linked up sections of the left with various reactionary states, movements and demagogues, whose viciously anti-working class, and anti-modernist ideas and actions were ignored in order to focus on their supposed "anti-imperialism".

The same approach lies behind the otherwise unfathomable support given by sections of "The left" to the thoroughly reactionary, dictatorial regime of Putin. And the same applies to Brexit/EU, where for years, sections of the Left adopted the same reactionary nationalist outlook of the hard right.

Clearly, its not just the far right that have been captured by, and are pursuing the ideas of National Bolshevism as developed by Strasser and his cothinkers, those ideas are infecting sections of the Left too.

John thatcher said...

Boffey,the problem with trying to work with the liberal centrists is they will not accept a junior role.They will only work with the left if they are in charge of direction and purpose.

Boffy said...

That is why Trotsky and the Communist International developed the strategy of the United Front of "March separately, strike together."

The trouble at the moment is that a) the left has serially collapsed into popular fronts such as Stop The War etc., rather than developing united fronts, and b) those with which it has allied, and subordinated its politics to, in those popular fronts, are more reactionary than the liberals you rightly denigrate. And, now, when the "Left" should not need a United Front, or Popular Front, because, in the shape of Corbyn, it heads a mass workers party of 600,000, it continues to subordinate its politics, in the same way, and instead of providing a principled lead, for example over Brexit, it continues to align itself with all of those reactionary forces, at least by omission, by failing to organise any kind of social movement against Brexit, which will be one of the most reactionary policies to have been inflicted on the working-class in decades, a fact that even the SWP seem slowly to be coming to realise.

Who should the Left blame for the liberal centre being the head of one of the most progressive, most dynamic social movements of the day? We should blame Corbyn, and his reactionary Stalinist advisors, along with all of those reactionary nationalists hiding within the Left, under cover of their "anti-imperialism", who have left that ground open to them! They will be the ones to blame for the disaster, just as it was the Stalinists that were to blame for the victory of Hitler, of Franco et al.

Unknown said...

Boffy, the 'sections of the left' that support Putin and the like are really vanishingly small. They exist, for sure, but in tiny, tiny, negligible numbers.
Also, Keynesian economics can easily be seen (wrongly) as reactionary and nationalist, thereby smearing a central plank of centre-left policy ideas. Nevertheless, we need to return to a broadly Keynesian economic model (at least).

Boffy said...

This Post, by Andrew Coates, about fascists dressed up as gilets jaunes, attacking RMT pickets, I think reinforces the point, about "leftists" who jump on to populist bandwagons, which puts them into alliance with all sorts of reactionaries.

Tmb said...

The 'centrists' in the Labour Party have consistently attacked Corbyn, rather curiously at the moment when the Tories have been the most dishevelled, and by trying to destroy the Labour party, have allowed the Tories free rein in doing what the hell they want, when the hell they want. The Chuka Ummunas, Lizzie Kendalls and Keir Starmers are as much the enemy of a genuine left wing opposition as the Tories are. Politically, they should not be forgiven.

Time for people to get behind a left wing Labour party, and not a 'centrist' party for middle class metropolitan Londoners and Guardianistas.

Unknown said...

Boffy - what point is being reinforced exactly? The fact that fascists have tried to hijack the yellow vest movement says nothing whatsoever about the Corbynite left.

Boffy said...

I wasn't speaking about the "Corbynite" Left. I was talking about those such as Counterfire that defend the yellow vests in terms of disdain for a liberal centre, as though, any disdain for the liberal centre whether it comes from a progressive direction or a reactionary direction is the same, which is the same logic that they apply when it comes to aligning themselves with reactionaries, and reactionary objectives when it comes to imperialism, or the EU etc.

In large part, the "Corbynite" Left actually disagrees with Corbyn when it comes to many of not most of those issues. The Corbynite Left disagrees with Corbyn over Brexit, for example. The point that was being made was not in respect of the Corbynite Left but those sections of the Left, whoe politics does lead them to align with those reactionary elements be it in support for reactionary nationalist under cover of "anti-imperialism", or reactionary yellow vests, under cover of some vacuous disdain for metropolitan liberal values.

DFTM said...

Yes lets work with people who scream anti Semite in our faces all day long. Only a pro imperialist, drone supporting chauvinist like Boffy could call for that! He will be telling us to like BBC news Twitter reports before too long!

We have been told for about the last 20 to 30 years that we must support the so called centre to stop the so called reactionaries. I wonder at what point it is proposed we stop this tactic?

The difference between the so called centre and the so called reactionaries is so wafer thin they are almost barely distinguishable.

As the world faces the twin barriers of ecological disaster and current consumption levels which equate to 1.6 planet Earths (and if Western values spread further you will be able to treble that shortly) then tactically supporting the slightly lesser evil is preposterous. Talk about not understanding historical conjunctures! Engels supported the bourgeois, do me a favour he advised the movement to vote down every single budget and act as a hostile entity in parliament! Boffy attempts to turn Marx and Engels into the liberal democrats!

The left have to simply purge the pro war integrity Initiative left, such as Denham and Boffy (who can simply get on with the job of providing support for Yvette Cooper) and present to the masses a radical departure from capitalism based on sustainable development, the eradication of the market and the implementation of a communist society.

And if people don’t like that then they vote for whoever. One thing is for sure Yvette Cooper does not represent the transition to socialism, she simply represents the transition to Le Pen. Yvette Cooper begets Theresa may begets Boris Johnson begets Yvette Cooper begets Theresa May.

Macron might be able to fool people with his smart suits for so long but as sure as night becomes day centrists like him simply pave the way for the so called reactionaries to come.

I mean people say the BBC is pasrt of the Tory media, I have said this myself but actually the BBC would have a collective orgasm if Yvette Cooper became prime minister. This tells you all you need to know about so called centrism and how it simply begets so called reaction.

The so called liberal centre want war with Russia, instability on the Korean peninsula, turmoil and destruction in the Middle East, a mass surveillance state, indefinite imprisonment for whistleblowers, the purging from public life of anyone who supports the Palestinians, supprt attacks on the most vulnerable in society and demand neo liberalism for all.

Forgive me but the quicker that kind of progressive politics is destroyed the better.

Anonymous said...

Macron isn't fooling that many if you believe the French polls ;)