Monday 30 December 2019

A Note on Progressive Patriotism

There's enough in Rebecca Long-Bailey's kite-flying pitch to recommend her candidacy to would-be Becky Bros and Salford Mafiosi. There is no going back to soggy centrism as she draws the fundamental lesson that Labour's prospectus didn't lose the election. And RLB doubles down on the necessity for building the movement and democratising it, support party members and unions resisting Tory cuts and, by extension, Boris Johnson's efforts to demonise powerless minorities, and foster a revived progressive patriotism to begin the process of uniting our communities.

Excuse me, progressive patriotism? Understandably, this has caused a ripple among some comrades who remember well how previous attempts at forging a Labourist patriotism went down in the past. Comrades will recall how Ed Miliband's One Nation pitch ineluctably led to controls on immigration mugs. More seriously, Tony Blair's 'progressive consensus' culminated in the peak liberal 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and the grotesqueries of Yarl's Wood. And variously a bit of flag waving from Labour politicians has been used to justify everything from colonial adventurism to the willingness to incinerate millions of people. Indeed, given the character of the seats just lost, the Blue Labour temptation is to wave the flag as ostentatiously as possible and assume the punters will come flocking.

Then again, too much can be read into one element of this piece. RLB is clear about what progressive patriotism means to her. She's talking about a synthesis between labour movement traditions, the legacy of more recent struggles and a sense of community and place. It's taking the best of contemporary multiculturalism and contrasting its solidarism against the division and scapegoating characterising the Tory deployment of the national card. It doesn't read like a preface for a lurch into nationalism.

Nevertheless, you can understand why some would be very sceptical. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel after all, but if Labour is to truly win the battle of ideas we have to do the groundwork for a transformative programme in advance. Which is a much more difficult task than that undertaken prior to 1997 because New Labour were explicitly committed to retaining the Thatcherite settlement, and therefore swam with rather than against the common sense of the moment. It therefore makes sense to go with the ideological resources to hand, build on them and transform them into something else. If you like, RLB's patriotism is underground, unofficial, and draws deep from the well of rebellious Britain, a precursor to a necessary popular culture of resistance that can glue together a more powerful coalition of activists, members, and voters to take the Tories on. And such an approach might just defeat them.

Among Keir Starmer's "I'm left honest guv", Emily Thornberry's 'everything was shit', Clive Lewis's Maoist-level enthusiasm, the unhelpful mutterings from Ian Lavery, and Lisa Nandy's small town blue Labourism, RLB's positioning is so far the most attractive and, surveying the parliamentary party, is likely to remain so.


David said...

Please Phil, no!

Public perception is almost everything; both RLB and Keir Starmer look tense, sweaty and very off putting on camera.

Emily Thornberry and Jess Phillips are a far better fit in this respect.

Tom Mapfumo said...

The Phrase "Progressive Patriotism" is related to Jeremy Corbyn's Tweet of Dec !st 2019, quoted in full
"Patriotism is about supporting each other, not attacking somebody else.

It’s about loving your country enough to make it a place where nobody is homeless or hungry, held back or left behind." It is placing the Concept of Patriotism clearly at the heart of any civilised country and away from the repeated entangling with Nationalism found in our Right-Wing Tabloid MSM, where it is too connected with a negative, warmongering supremacy.

Jeremy Corbyn was a true Patriot who cared deeply for his fellow Brits!

MR Jelly said...

"Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel after all"

Patriotism is actually the very first refuge of the scoundrel - or more accurately - the rightist scumbag.

Anonymous said...


I mean, this is a serious comment??

Phillips and Thornberry would both be utterly disastrous, albeit in slightly different ways. And I've seen a fair bit of Starmer on TV and he has always looked - and sounded - fine.

Not a huge amount of charisma, that has to be admitted. But maybe that isn't the priority for the next year or three.

Winston.Link said...

..yet Corbyn's elegant definition of patriotism never reached the ears of the voters of eg Stoke, or was completely ignored by them, as they persisted 'on the doorstep' in parroting the same nonsense about JC not singing the national anthem that they 'must have read somewhere'. And I doubt if the Labour candidates of eg Stoke, did much to communicate Corbyn's true position to their electorate. The main problem with 'progressive patriotism' is that you have to explain it.

Alan Story said...

Now here is a 5 min speech on patriotism worth listening to…

Anonymous said...

I think it is contentless window dressing substituting for a serious re-engagement with the working class. The next Labour leader will sit on top of a party machine that is long rotten at the local level. Vacuous sloganeering is inherent to the top job.


Boffy said...

These weasel words trying to make patriotism sound palatable are sickening. Socialists should have nothing to do with them. Lenin nailed it. He wrote,

“One such idea is refined nationalism, which advocates the division and splitting up of the proletariat on the most plausible and specious pretexts, as for example, that of protecting the interests of ‘national culture’, national autonomy or independence’, and so on and so forth.

The class conscious workers fight hard against every kind of nationalism, both the crude, violent Black Hundred nationalism, and that most refined nationalism, which preaches the equality of nations together with… the splitting up of the workers’ cause, the workers’ organisations, and the working class movement according to nationality. Unlike all the varieties of the nationalist bourgeoisie, the class conscious workers, carrying out the decisions of the recent (Summer 1913) conference of the Marxists, stand not only for the most complete, consistent and fully applied equality of nations and languages, but also for the amalgamation of the workers of the different nationalities in united proletarian organisations of every kind”

(Lenin – “Corrupting the Workers With Refined Nationalism” emphasis as in original)


“Those who seek to serve the proletariat must unite the workers of all nations, and unswervingly fight bourgeois nationalism, domestic and foreign. The place of those who advocate the slogan of national culture is among the nationalist petty bourgeois, not among the Marxists.”

(Lenin and Equal Rights for Nations Within One State)

Speedy said...

"willingness to incinerate millions of people"?

Oh, now I understand - you mean nuclear weapons. These were introduced by labour, were they not?

RLB may be ok, but she's an election loser. I can see why you want to double-up on backing her now having made the mistake of engaging your sensible side the last time and backing Cooper, however, is it better being right or right on-message?

You previously backed Cooper saying she was an election winner, now have you given up on that and decided this is not the priority? What is your preferred outcome? A politically pure Labour party or a party of government? Because backing RLB now, you guarantee a (further) decade of Conservatism, and perhaps more. You know all of this of course, but why bother? What is your end game? Is it to push the country so far to the right that in about a hundred years time when they finally reintroduce slavery having exhausted all other options, finally, the proles may rise up and revolt? Because otherwise, I can't make head or tail of it.

Jenny said...

Conservative home comments show huge enthusiasm for RLB. Yvette Cooper or keir starmer look like possible pms to me.

George Carty said...

Boffy's principle is admirable, but wasn't Corbyn's anti-patriotism (real or perceived) the main thing which made him unelectable?

The fact that much of the propaganda against Corbyn (as well as many of the hostile responses to Labour canvassers in this election) focused on issues related to patriotism (the cenotaph, poppies, the national anthem, alleged IRA sympathies) seems to confirm this, along with the fact that Labour's biggest losses were amongst older and/or Brexit-supporting voters, as well as in areas like North East England which (perhaps due to poverty) send a disproportionate number of young men to the armed forces.

A fairer society would of course lessen the dog-eat-dog mentality that makes nationalism so attractive, but doesn't Labour have to somehow get into power before it can build that fairer society?

Boffy said...


I don't think Corbyn's "anti-patriotism" is what made him unelectable. All of that was thrown at him in 2017 without effect. Its never stopped him being invited year after year to the Durham Miners' Gala, for example.

What sunk Corbyn, was Labour's overall decline, which was part and parcel of first having a reactionary nationalist/patriotic message on Brexit, and then having a confused message on it to triangulate, and then having a clearer, but nonsensical message. What sunk Corbyn in relation to patriotism was his duplicity.

His position of supporting self-determination for Ireland Palestine etc., was correct. His support for the reactionary nationalists of Sinn Fein/IRA, and for Hamas and Hezbollah was not. That put him on shaky ground to start with. But, faced with criticism, he tried to cover over his actual support for the reactionary nationalists by failing to defend the actual principled position of self-determination, particularly for Ireland, instead duplicitously claiming that his role was merely that of arbiter and peacemaker. Persuade the voters that you don't tell the truth on one thing, and that won't believe you on others.

Labour clearly does not have to get into power to build a fairer society. Long before the LP existed, in the 19th century, workers built co-ops for that purpose, they created Trades Unions and Friendly Societies to provide for them when they were ill, or aged or unable to work. They created their own schools and colleges. They fought to ensure that their wages did not fall below the value of labour-power, which is all that is possible so long as capitalism exists.

It wasn't a Labour government that scrapped the Poll Tax, it was millions of workers opposing it outside parliament. Far better that Labour be out of office for ten years and build a mass social movement that fights for real change in society, than a Labour government that once again simply demoralises workers by trying to manage capitalism better than the Tories.

One thing you can say for Farage is that Brexit is almost entirely down to his persistent campaigning. Yet Farage and his parties have never had any representation in parliament, other than Tory MP's that defected. Brexit is the biggest thing that has happened in Britain for a century, and it was the product of a movement that was almost entirely extra parliamentary. It was Farage and UKIP that forced the Tories to have to do their bidding.

There's a lesson in that for the working-class, rather than chasing electoral success that only tends to benefit careerist politicians.