25 October 2010

Political correctness

Yes, the ideology of political correctness, originally coined as a tool by the right to ridicule the left, has now been adopted and expanded as an all-embracing anti-liberal doctrine to stifle free expression. One not wholly unwelcome aspect of it is the constriction of the public space for racist expression; this, however, does not abolish racism but merely displaces it into dysfunctional white working-class anger (Roger’s primitive rebellion?)

19 October 2010

Our situation today

We are condemned to live out our lives in the market fundamentalist variant of capitalism or perhaps something worse. Let’s see ourselves as the fools who bother to describe the cage we live in and dare occasionally to look outside it at the world that might be. Formally, socialists sought to change the world, today we seek only to interpret it.

The meaning of community

I think we need to be careful and not expand the meaning of ‘community’ to include any form of human association or relationship. Community involves both social and geographical attachment.

Community entails a network of human contacts arising from daily life. These will typically include neighbourhood, school, work and leisure activity. To the extent that relationships with and within these institutions are regarded as belonging to the people as opposed to being merely commercial transactions, one has community. Community is further evidenced and reinforced by the voluntary formation of civic organisations and initiatives (e.g. parties, pressure groups, clubs, etc)

The geographic element is a sentimental attachment to place (Heimat). “This place is where I live; it’s mine although I share it with others and I care about it”

A community is universal/secular to the extent that anybody living in the area is considered as a potential member of it.

(The use of the word “community” in the sense of “the gay community” is something else entirely; i.e. to describe a collection of people who share a common characteristic.)

There was no golden age of community, if only because community was never 100 percent and the community of yesteryear also maintained repressive and conservative values. I believe, for example, that the rapid advancement of gay rights and acceptance in Britain after 1997 (which I support) owes something to the diminution of community.

13 October 2010

The end of social democracy

Following on the idea of the left becoming proficient at losing, I would just add this.

There is a double bind. First, not in half a century have the left been out of office simultaneously in Britain, France and Germany. Worse still today we see conservative governments in northern Europe from the Netherlands to Scandinavia. The failure of social democracy is in no way specific to Britain; it is a European phenomenon.

Second, we have witnessed the passing of social democracy within formally social democratic parties: New Labour in Britain, or the Harz package in Germany. Often the main party of the left today is little more than a cosmopolitan elite capturing the vote of public employees who depend on a ‘big state’ and poorer sections of the working class who have nowhere else to turn.

12 October 2010

Why is the left politically weak?

Left of centre parties are out of office in most European countries. Why? Here are two reasons.

First, globalised systems of production have left large numbers of people in the advanced capitalist countries superfluous to requirements. In the credit boom they could be absorbed on low wages in the service sector, but not today. Those working people who are reasonably secure at the moment under capitalism tend in large numbers to identify with the system against its victims.

Second, the end of communism has removed the political need in Western Europe of attempting to satisfy and integrate the working class by means of social democracy. No clearer example of this exists than in Germany; during the Cold War Western Germany's social market model was held up as an example to the capitalist world; today it is portrayed as an impediment.

8 October 2010

New Labour's Repressive Legacy

Labour can never be a progressive party again unless it confronts its flirtation with authoritarianism while in office.

Since his election to the Labour leadership,Ed Miliband has attempted to shut the door on the excesses of New Labour. Muffled criticism has been heard on Iraq, social inequality and the demise of civic and personal liberties. Nevertheless the overall tone of the Labour leadership is that we should move on. But can the sins of New Labour be so readily forgotten even if not forgiven?

If the left can easily explain, but not forgive, the Iraq fiasco and the boosting of social inequality, there is one aspect of the Blair-Brown years (1997-2010) which needs careful examination, namely New Labour’s assault on civic and personal freedoms. This was no small matter: people incarcerated without trial or public evidence; wide scale intimidatory use of stop and search powers against people on the street, especially photographers; people threatened with prosecution for criticising religion; mass registration of people on the pretext of combating paedophilia… and so on. By 2009 it was possible to talk about the lights going out on liberal democracy in Britain.

The reflex response of some on the left, namely that all this was prompted by the future necessity of repressing the working class, who would rise up in response to the capitalist crisis is surely nonsense. The organised working-class had never been weaker. The key to understanding this phenomenon lies elsewhere.

Many of the repressive measures were due to a cynical populism (detention of supposed would-be terrorists) or a desire to outflank the Tories and the Daily Mail. The security industry is a strong lobby (technology for ID cards and E-Borders); yet there is something else, something more fundamentally rotten.

When the Tories ran Britain (1979-97) they had obvious political and economic objectives, but no clear social one; didn’t Mrs Thatcher say that there was no such thing as society? Politically, the Tories destroyed the institutions of working-class resistance: the trade unions and local councils, many of which, and especially so in urban areas, were in Labour hands. Economically they imposed market fundamentalism on Britain, but socially they cared little about what happened to the swelling ranks of the unemployed. The jobless had scraps of welfare thrown at them and lived in junk estates.

New Labour made minimal attempts to empower and/or ameliorate the conditions of ordinary working people, other than the ephemeral palliative of permitting the intoxicating and ultimately disastrous credit boom. Instead, using the language of ‘responsibility,’ and for Blair ‘communitarianism,’ they deployed state repression to weld everyone into their ‘place’ in Britain's class-divided capitalist society. This, I believe is the true origin of New Labour’s authoritarian statism, and it is something that needs to be fully explored and rejected.