Politics, Reviews

Book Review: Age of Extremes by Eric Hobsbawm

How can a story so vast, so full of triumph and tragedy, as the twentieth century, be told in one sitting? Can any single volume do justice to the sheer scale of the events that were set in motion after the lamps out all over Europe in 1914; events which culminated in the collapse of a civilisation in the early 1990s?

Born to Viennese and British parents during the dying moments of the Austro Hungarian Empire, in the year of the Russian revolution, Hobsbawm’s own life witnessed the rise and fall of nations – not least the Soviet Union, to which he remained dedicated as long as he lived. It is from this lofty perspective that The Age of Extremes surveys its subject.

Hobsbawm takes a measured, dispassionate tone throughout. Possibly too measured at times, anticipating those that might accuse a lifelong Communist Party member of being unfit to write any form of “true” history. The reader is assumed to have a reasonably comprehensive knowledge of the major events and key players of the twentieth century. It would be quite possible to describe these ad nauseam across a hundred volumes – and still not scratch the surface – so instead the book provides a synthesis. It weaves together the many chaotic threads of the era into a tapestry in which the interconnectivity and causality of events are revealed.

Although he dispenses with crass ideological rhetoric, Hobsbawm’s marxism is clear in his analytical approach. Social forces are described in great detail, while leaders and “great men” fall by the wayside more often as not. The changing shape of the global economy and the evolving forms of social conflict are our constant frame of reference. In keeping with the “history from below” technique which Hobsbawm himself pioneered, moments of great import are contrasted against how life must have felt for the ordinary worker in their own corner of the world.

Though macroscopic in scale, this immense social history isn’t without pathos. Here and there the author shines through the text, even appearing as an occasional protagonist. Hobsbawm paints a vivid picture of the day of Hitler’s ascent to power, as witnessed by a young man reading the newspaper boards in dismay on a cold winter afternoon in Vienna. He appears later in Cambridge at the back end of the 1930s, drinking next to Crick and Watson, ignorant of the titanic breakthrough they were just about to make, and then again listening raptly to the endless hours of speeches by Fidel Castro the 1960s. His presence as an older, wiser and sadder version of himself is especially apparent towards the end of book, as he appraises the wreckage of both the golden age of capitalism (which he identifies as being between 1950 and 1973) and communism in its European form.

This post-mortem of Soviet socialism is high up among the achievements of this comprehensive history. Delicately avoiding the rabid sectarianism that all-too-often characterises works of this nature, he deftly unpicks the structural weaknesses and systematic failures of the Soviet system, simultaneously explaining to the reader why certain decisions were made in the first place and how, for a time, they appeared to be vindicated.

In his own words, he explains how:

The cause to which I devoted a good deal of my life hasn’t worked out. I hope it has made me a better historian, because the best history is written by the people who have lost out. It sharpens your analytical capacity. The winners think that history came out right because they were right, while the losers ask why everything was different, and that is a more profitable question.


Despite his extraordinary insight and the great care taken over the subject (indeed, the Soviet Union can be interpreted as the real protagonist of the narrative), Hobsbawm has none-the-less come under fire from both the left and right on his handling of the subject. Accused of “omissions and misrepresentations whereby communists have always converted history to their cause” by conservative historian David Pryce Jones
on the one hand and being “one long apologia to explain why it was OK to be a Stalinist in the 1950s… and finally a democrat in the 1990s” by ultra-left journal “LibCom” on the other, it just goes to show: if you’re spoiling for a fight, you’ll find one. Hobsbawm himself makes no bones about the fact that as well as writing a history he is also constructing an argument, which is both graceful and compelling, leaving such sectarian attacks on his politics looking childish and empty.

If there is one weakness here, it is in his obvious lack of interest in many of the intellectual developments since his orthodox marxist heyday. Issues pertaining to gender are rarely far away from words like “fashionable” and after waxing lyrical on the cultural significance of his favourite classical and jazz artists, he ludicrously suggests that it will be “down to future historians” to decide if anyone really ever liked The Rolling Stones. Considering this book was written late in the 7th decade of his life, we may perhaps forgive such moments. The only point where this attitude verges on problematic is in his suggestion that Alan Turing’s heroic status within the gay liberation movement is overstated, slightly implying that he brought his fate upon himself due to his sheltered upper class life (Turing called the police after having his flat robbed by a male lover, effectively handing himself in). This smacks of an outdated view of homosexuality as an aristocratic deviancy.

Received at the time by liberal triumphalists as the well crafted but ultimately bitter rant of a defeated ideologue , Hobsbawm’s final predictions for the future grant him, if not the last laugh, than at least the final word. The text ends with some extraordinarily prophetic passages on the potential for crisis within the new liberal world order. These include climate change, the ageing population in the developed nations, religious fundamentalism in the third world, terrorism, unwinnable wars waged indefinitely by undefeatable nations, the disempowerment of the state in the economy and the rise of a universally disliked class of technocratic politicians. In this titanic work, Eric Hobsbawm not only helps us understand what happened, from the perspective of those it happened to, but shows us how we might ourselves step back from the world and comprehend the times we ourselves will live through.

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Politics

Hack The Music Industry To Death

By Adam Berlin

The Threatin debacle exposed a fraud, but the real exposé was of Facebook and a music industry which just experienced the equivalent of a Russian hack.

I’m in a band. Whenever I daydream about winning the lottery I think, I will plough some funds into the band, then we’ll “make it”. We’ll tour the world, run a big PR campaign and receive pages and pages of copy. Why do I think this. Because in too-late-capitalism, money = success.

As soon as Facebook became the only game in town, the idea of handing out a flyer for your next show became unthinkable. From 2008 to 2013 you could friend request thousands of people and invite those “friends” to your gigs. A utopian world of direct unmediated interaction between artist and fan or the medium and the masses beckoned.

But [Adam Curtis voice], this was a fallacy.

With the aggressive monitisation of the platform in the last five years. Facebook has made all forms of communication, purely transactional. While the top 1% of bands and artists can afford to negate such exchange, that percentile exists soley to convince the 99% that they are able to engage in free and unmediated interaction.

Enter Mr Threatin, who stands accused of not being an awful preening rocker douche, but rather being wealthy enough to game the system. Perhaps Mr Threatin was inspired by the Russian spy agency, the GRU’s successful disruption of international elections, with social media fraud and disinformation. He has of course only taken Facebook’s raisin d’etre at face value; if you pay they will come.

What has Mr Threatin done other than use the available tools and techniques used by music labels? How does a label lay the groundwork for a new artist who haven’t done the ground work of say a toilet tour, or isn’t the latest survivor of a bottom-up success story? With the postings of sycophantic paid-up hacks, influencers and stooges of course.

Would we have heard about Threatin if they were legitimised by a label? I doubt it. They would have been just another US export trying to break Europe. Like Steve Bannon, or chlorine washed chicken.

Recently it’s impossible to ignore Facebook’s modus operandi is at odds with our creative endeavours. The continuing reports of data violations and how such information is used by groups we actively condone is alarming. We have spent as much money on Facebook advertising as we had recording our third album. I’m sure our fans would prefer a fourth album instead of more adverts.

Like all major infrastructure networks since the industrial revolution, digital platforms tend towards monopoly, extracting increasingly punitive rent once their dominant market position is ensured.

Maybe the bright new digital economy isn’t so different from the bad old heavy economy after all.

And yet… There is no alternative. Let me know if you find one.

Adam is the guitarist from London doom-disco combo Cold In Berlin.

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Politics

Corbynism and the National Question

To most Europeans, nationalism is inextricably linked with violence, despotism and racism. The horrors of the long 20th century have shown it for what it is, the precursor ideology to fascism and a threat not only to minorities of every stripe, but to humanity at large.

Socialists too find themselves in direct ideological confrontation with the principles of nationalism. “Workers of all countries, unite!” proclaimed Marx. The worker has no country. Nationalism deceives the workers into believing they have more in common with the landlords and capitalists of their own nation than with the working class of all nations.

And still, despite every dire warning from history, the feeling of nationalism persists – just there under the surface. More often quietly ignored than actively resisted.

In Britain today we find ourselves with a problem. The revolutionary forces of capitalist globalisation have suddenly been thrown into reverse by the working classes, but everywhere we see nationalism, nationalism, nationalism. How do we respond? What paths lay open to us beyond repeating marxist maxims, irrelevant at the sidelines?

To get a grip on the question I propose we take a look at those other nationalisms that, throughout history, progressive forces have been able to occasionally wield to less barbaric ends.

In one of history’s little jokes, modern nationalism began life as a force for liberalism and progress in 19th century Prussia; a German state that would be literally wiped off the map a century later as punishment for its violent excess. Ruled over by an absolute monarch supported by a brutal military aristocracy (the “Junkers”), the idea that there existed any power other than God higher than the monarchy was unacceptable.

The Prussian nationalists emerged with a liberal challenge to the absolutism of the monarchy – that the will of the German people as manifested in the nation was indeed a higher power, justifying the creation of Prussia’s first democratic institutions, including a parliament. The inscription on the entrance of the Reichstag – Dem Deutschen Volke (to the German people) – stood not as mark of xenophobia or chauvinism, but of progress. The very idea of a German people was, at the time, a deeply progressive suggestion, superseding as it did the minor despots that wielded actual executive power in the various states and regions.

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The German flag began life as a revolutionary banner, inspired by the tricolour of the French Republic. It was never used by the Prussian monarchs and was reintroduced by the Weimar Republic, only to be replaced by the Nazi Party flag during the period of fascist ascendance.

The story of the Prussian “Iron Chancellor” Otto Von Bismarck is well known. In conjunction with the Kaiser and his Junkers he managed to bend the fledging Prussian democracy to his will, and through military conquests forged a new Germany in blood and iron – directly setting in motion the clash of civilisations that would lead to World War I.

Out of the smouldering ruins and fragmenting empires left in the wake of The Great War arose many new states, particularly in central and eastern Europe. Formed around national groups ravenous for their first real chance at self determination, this era was initially hailed as great new chance for democracy. Waves of revolution rocked a continent with a staggering new power in town – the Soviet Union.

The 1920s would see a great experiment in socialist internationalism unfold, in which communist parties throughout Europe co-ordinated their political activity via a body called The Comintern (or the Communist International), to which they each sent delegates and from which they received policy instructions. The Comintern attempted to direct the activity of individual national parties in conjunction with what it interpreted as the will of the international working class, against the nationalist ruling classes.

In opposition to these forces grew a new kind of popular nationalism, more vicious than any yet witnessed. Communist parties included – and were often led by – Jewish intellectuals and workers, and as such were framed as an invading foreign political force, with age old tropes of anti-semitism invoked against them. Anti-semitism had been widespread as a sort of “scientific racism” among the ruling classes of Europe for generations, but its adoption by nationalists as a specific tool for driving a wedge between communists and the working classes cannot be overstated.

As the world plunged into economic crisis in the 1930s, the reactionary nationalist forces throughout Europe adopted this and other forms of racial hatred not simply as a protest against the “Judeo-Bolshevik” fifth column, but as a wholesale explanation for the economic problems the working classes were facing.

 

These 1920s posters (Polish and German respectively) use explicit anti-semitism to propagandise against communism.

As well as the major axis powers, there arose smaller but no less repulsive nationalist parties throughout central and eastern Europe – forces which have often been carefully sanitised and rehabilitated as the basis of the post-communist national identities of our new EU allies. While modern liberal voices continue to heap condemnation on the fallen communist regimes, the Polish legislate against any mention of their own complicity in the holocaust while the Croatian football team wear the emblem of the fascist Ustaši on their national kit.

However, it was at this point that the progressive movement took a swerve in the direction of a kind of nationalism too. The “class on class” period of the Communist International had been an abject disaster, poisoning moderate social democratic workers against what they saw as a belligerent foreign conspiracy against their own national identities. Partly in response to this, and partly in response to the fascist uprising threatening the new Spanish Republic, the Comintern swerved towards a policy of forming “Popular Fronts” with all progressive and democratic national forces. An appeal of national unity against the fascist menace was made to the workers, who often responded with outstanding bravery.

In this darkest chapter of European history, one of the greatest moments of international solidarity ever took place, as workers defied their carefully neutral (or actively fascist) governments to flood into Spain to defend the beleaguered Republic. Although the effort ended in defeat and tragedy, the heroism of the Republican Spanish and their internationalist allies stands as a shining light of hope in an historical epoch choked in darkness.

 

Spanish Republican poster calling for victory to the popular front and cover image from “Der Hammer” a Yiddish communist paper based in New York, calling for international solidarity.

The political aftermath of World War II posed new and troubling questions for internationalists, especially in those countries liberated by the Soviet Union. While the western powers would frame this group of nations as under foreign occupation from 1945 until the eventual collapse of Soviet communism in 1991, the communists were faced with the opposite situation. They couldn’t realistically keep half a continent under genuine military occupation, so the communist parties of the liberated countries had to be “nationalised”, in order to establish legitimacy within those populations who’s own nationalism had only been strengthened by the experience of Nazi occupation.

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Polish communist leader Władysław Gomułka depicted with triumphantly waving Polish flags. Initially popular, Gomułka would in later years begin to encourage anti-semitic attitudes in Poland in response to the worsening economic situation –  to the absolute dismay of those Polish Jews who had returned to take part in the rebuilding of the country.

Where the allied forces often tacitly rehabilitated large chunks of the fascist administration of the areas under their own occupation, in order to quickly rebuild the national economies and begin to fight the cold war, the Soviets employed a different strategy. Having borne the brunt of Nazi criminality they engaged in total denazification of the areas under their oversight, installing the surviving remnants of the national communist parties in as governments.

Although much is made of these “puppet” governments installed by Moscow, its often overlooked that they included returned exiles, partisans and camp survivors (including many Jews) who’s task it was to create a new national identity that could overcome the terrifying forces of racism evoked by the previous fascist incumbents. This stands in sharp contrast to the path of least resistance taken by the West in their own efforts in state building.

In places were communist partisans had led the anti-Nazi resistance and liberated themselves, as in Albania and Yugoslavia, they were able to adopt the mantle of national saviours to legitimise their new administrations. Just as WWI had triggered the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, WWII triggered the decline of British and French hegemony around the globe. Legitimacy-through-national-liberation would be replicated by new socialist and nationalist governments emerging throughout the newly independent states of the Third World.

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“That flag, that sky, that land. We will defend them at any cost”

Here again, the question of nationalism as a progressive force raises its head. In the Arab world powerful nationalistic forces were invoked to hold at bay western imperialism on one side, pan-Islamism on the other and aspiring communist insurgents internally. Often through careful inclusion of some or all of these forces under the banner of national unity. Considering the overtly Islamist conservatism which overtook certain parts of the Middle East (most especially Saudi Arabia) its hard to view the secular, welfare states – built by Arab Nationalists like Gamal Adbel Nasser in Egypt – as anything other than distinctly progressive in comparison.

This argument is still made today by supporters of Israeli nationalism, who contend that Israel acts as a bastion for democracy and civil liberties in an otherwise deeply conservative Middle East. Questions of Jewish national self determination and progressive nationalism are deeply interlinked.

Although much bloodshed and anger has been spent defending or contesting the progressive character of Zionism, we might ask ourselves whether the question would have been quite so acute had the Soviet Union not made every effort to suppress the demands for Jewish national autonomy within its own borders. The Jewish Labour Bund – the trans-continental political union of the Jewish working class – had been a key participant in the Russian Revolution, but after a brief flowering of cultural freedom, found their demands for national recognition rejected and their membership given a harsh choice between assimilation or persecution.

 

Tito, Nasser and Nehru: Left nationalists who viewed as global figureheads for the anti-imperialist and non-aligned movements.

Perhaps the last great attempt at progressive nationalism in the 20th century came in the form of Black liberation movements. The politics of Malcolm X in the USA were formed within the black nationalist movement “Nation of Islam”. NoI were engaged in a project of creating a new black American nation based on a “recovered” African identity centred around Islam.

This nationalist demand based around cultural autonomy as opposed to a territorial claim has strong echoes of the demands made by the Jewish Labour Bund decades previously, and would give rise to the secular Black Panther Party. Through the creation of parallel political and social institutions, the Panthers attempted to create a black nation in the same place but separate to the white supremacist state. In a somewhat ironic tragedy, this project ran into the very same problems predicted by the Marxists of the 1920s: the black working classes found themselves tied to black elites who in reality now had more shared interests with their white counterparts among the ruling class – and found themselves divided from the white working classes who in turn shared their own interests completely.

We must now return to the current situation in the world today. We recoil in horror at the return of ethno-nationalism all too reminiscent of the dark days of the early 1930s. I think that at this crucial juncture the socialist movement must keep its head and draw a more subtle lesson from the past. We must absolutely and unconditionally resist what may well be the thin end of a new fascist wedge, and violently resist any and all attempts to scapegoat some internal minority or external threat.  Keeping in mind the memory of Spain and drawing on the countless other examples of socialist internationalism, we must maintain strong links with progressive forces throughout the globe and resist any temptation to shrink into navel gazing isolationism.

However, we must take great care not to confuse a pernicious and aggressive capitalist globalisation for “internationalism”, making ourselves the useful idiots of capital as we defend its great institutions in the confused belief that we are fighting xenophobia.

We must avoid the mistakes of socialists before us, and maintain a cautious respect for the incredible power of nationalism over whole populations. We would do well to remember those occasions where progressive demands have merged with national demands and become unstoppable.

We must remind ourselves that an attitude of sneering superiority or preachy moralism is to be avoided at all costs. Running with and playing our part in shaping the national mood is a surer path to victory than setting ourselves up for a head on collision with the popular will.

These, to me, are the answers Corbyn and other progressives can draw from the national questions of the last 100 years.

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Politics

Against Anti-Semitism: In the words of British Communist MP William Gallacher

The intelligent worker will realise one thing stands out crystal clear throughout the centuries. Where there has been peace, prosperity and progress, the Jews have been able to live unmolested. Only where there has been a breakdown in society through war or economic collapse have we begun to hear of the “Jewish Danger”.

Though many similar stories may be told of the fate of other minorities, no minority has suffered so much and for so long as the Jewish minority.

 

As socialists we do not represent an inalienable moral code, we see ourselves as part of the forward motion of history. We build on the foundations laid by great men and women, long gone, and we plan meticulously for the prosperity of some future day, which we ourselves may never see.

One of the great crimes committed repeatedly against ordinary people is the theft of their history. The class that profits most in the present day populates the past with foreboding shadows and triumphant images of themselves, such that they may lay claims of ownership upon the future, uncontested.

When confusion and disorientation run amok, we can and should look to the body of experience laid down by those that came before. Presented below are excerpts from a publication from 1944 on anti-semitism; by wartime MP and Communist, William Gallacher. What strikes me is how fresh and true these words ring today, reminding us that we must never loose sight of these principles.

This pamphlet is not some boring proclamation of dogma – it is a concise, gripping address to the ordinary man and woman. To be a socialist it is not enough to simply wrestle with the finer points of Marxist doctrine. The purpose of being a socialist is to engage in a continuous and ongoing dialogue with the world around you. It is with respect to this tradition that I’m paraphrasing William Gallacher’s words on anti-semtism here for you to read, and to disprove the lie that the totality of socialist thought is nothing but scripture enforced by propaganda and coercion.

He begins by highlighting the outrageous contradiction which is the hallmark of anti-semitism.

 

“But the Jews are all Communists!” Ah, I wish it were so. Only a small minority have so far made their way into the Communist Party. We would like more of them, all we can get, as of Scots, Welsh, English and all the rest.

No sooner has this wild yelling died down than it starts up again, this time on an entirely different tune. “All Jews are capitalists!”. So they get it both ways. Such childish nonsense wouldn’t be listened to in relation to any other people. The natural outcome of class relationships affect Jew and Gentile alike.

“But look at the money they spend, their blatant extravagance!” and then again “See how mean and miserly they are!”. Always the anti-semites have it both ways and upside down.

Gallacher goes on to dissect these arguments in greater detail, with reference to the prevailing issues of the day – particularly around war profiteering, black markets and representation in the armed forces. He reminds us that instead of looking for an imagined cabal of Jews hiding behind the curtains of power, you might be better off considering how fantastically over represented Jews have always been within the forces of anti-fascism. Of the 2500 men that went to fight fascism in Spain, roughly 300 were Jewish, and a staggering 12% of Britain’s Jewish population took up arms to fight Hitler.

THE CLASS ANALYSIS

Jews, like all people, are subject to the forces of class. But just it would be laughable to hold the existence of a corrupt Scottish banker against the Scots, so it is madness to see the position of one Jewish person or another as emblematic of anything other than the general organisation of society. He reminds us that when Jews are conspicuous by their difference it is always, repeat always, because of the methods of survival they have had to adopt against exclusion and persecution. 

“But the Jews control finance, and through the control of finance do this, that and the other!”. If every Jew disappeared from this country tomorrow, it wouldn’t make one difference to the relationship between financiers, industrialists and the great masses of the workers. 


Many who would fight gladly against the attacks of big business fall for anti-semitism, and thereby open the gates to their enemies. Anti-semitism is the trick by which people are persuaded to tie the rope around their own necks, to willingly sell themselves into slavery.


It is not a coincidence that Hitler and his ilk used the persecution of Jews as a smokescreen for a much wider attack on the organised working class. While the spectacle of jew-hatred was blinding the eyes of Europe, into the camps he swept Communists, the entire leadership of the Social Democratic Party and many thousands of rank and file Trade Union organisers and shop stewards – leaving the rest of Germany’s workforce vulnerable to open slavery by the Nazi Party and the industrialists who supported them.

Gallacher then proposes that the antidote to anti-semitism is education. Not education in how to “check your privilege” – as the dreary liberals of today so love to foist on you  – but education in the principles of economics, from which lessons in unity can be drawn.

 

Many people cannot understand the mysterious workings of our economic system. Those people who are not socialists find their explanation not in the evils of capitalism, but in the imaginary evils of the Jews. Our world is indeed a difficult world to understand.

On the one hand, mankind has very largely solved the problem of producing food and commodities in sufficient abundance for everybody; and yet, on the other hand, our world is one in which both the working class and the middle class experience more insecurity than mankind has experienced for centuries. There seems to be something mysteriously wrong.

Why have we got poverty and hunger, crime and immorality? To all these questions the fascists have one simple answer – the Jews. It isn’t the private ownership of land. The Jews become the scapegoats of the capitalist system.


We can easily see that this is applicable to all kinds of anti-minority prejudice. Gallacher also often references the parallels between Jew-hatred and the persecution directed at Scots and Irish Catholics in Britain in his era. We too can also use our understanding of anti-semitism to spot other forms of bigotry. However, just as Gallacher doesn’t directly conflate the two examples, and discusses in great detail the specific characteristics of anti-semitism, we too should be careful not to conflate various forms of hatred, and make special effort to give them each their own unique appraisal.

STAMP IT OUT!

Gallacher finishes with an appeal to us all to play our part in stamping out anti-semitism as we find it. Just because the horror of total war is long behind us, there’s no reason not to remind ourselves that this duty remains bestowed upon us to this very day. I’ll leave you with his words:

 

Every worker must make it his serious individual responsibility to see to it that no anti-Jewish statement is allowed to pass without challenge, and when such a statement is made in innocence, a careful explanation is given of the danger it carries.

By seeing that this foul disease of anti-semitism is stamped out, we can clear a way for the advance of a new chapter in the forward march of Jews and Gentiles to a higher and better life.

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Some Personal Thoughts on Anti-Semitism and The Left.

To my mind, there’s no link between serious left wing thinking and anti semitism. Resisting anti-semitism is a key plank of all socialist politics. The socialist movement in Europe rests disproportionately on the shoulders of the Jewish working class and their struggle for freedom.

However, there is a clear link between the fringe of radical movements and crank politics, which grew up to unacceptable proportions in the “wilderness years” of the past three decades – in which many of the best minds on the left where numbed by constant defeat and took themselves elsewhere.

It is in the nature of cranks to go on wild, conspiratorial intellectual goose chases – and most of the wild conspiracies out there are filled with anti-semitic tropes, and therefore act as a back entrance into genuine anti semitism.

Throw into the mix the contradiction between the natural socialist urge to support third world liberation struggles (such as the rights of the Palestinian people) and the fact that sometimes oppressed people can be associated with reactionary movements in their own right (such as the jew hatred of some in the arab world) and we have a political minefield. The line between “fair criticism” and “another kind of bigotry” gets badly blurred. As if pointing out that the Israel/Palestine conflict was a political minefield was at all necessary.

I am not Jewish, but my life is enriched by the friendship and love of many who are. The Labour movement will emerge stronger than ever if we all turn to our history books, as well as to the experiences of our loved ones, and learn from them.

Many of the attacks on the Labour Leadership are politically motivated, but if they become an exercise in political education for the membership and community outreach for the party, they will ultimately strengthen, not weaken the movement.

Now is an excellent opportunity to purge the Labour Party of the kind of cranks who’s tactics of failure have deliberately sabotaged British socialism for generations, and educate ourselves to be better socialists going forward into the future.

¡No Pasarán!

¡Venceremos!

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Politics, Reviews

Impressions of Cuba

Here are a few words about my recent trip to Cuba with my partner Claire. Although it was just a holiday undertaken in a personal capacity (not any kind of political delegation or solidarity mission), standing in the last great cold war city west of Hanoi I found myself coming away with some strong impressions, political and otherwise.

We don’t speak Spanish beyond asking for basic directions and ordering a beer (and even then, poorly) so the level of insightful conversation we managed was fairly limited – although plenty of people were willing to chat with us as best as we could manage.

As tourists, we mostly interacted with extremely cosmopolitan Cubans and we didn’t exactly travel out to any rural sugar plantations to get the unvarnished opinions of the agricultural working class. So some of the impressions described below will be coloured by the kind of people we met in Havana, Santiago and on the paradisiacal Holguin coast.

Via Cuba’s many museums and sites of historical interest we learned a great deal of their history, and its really impossible to make sense of anything in Cuba without having some appreciation of it.  So this is where I’ll begin, apologies to those well versed in Cuban history, just skip down a bit!

 

The Origins of the Cuban Nation

Since its discovery in the very late 14th century by Christopher Columbus and right up until the turn of the 19th, Cuba was a colony of the Spanish Empire. In true imperial form, the Spanish successfully butchered the indigenous peoples down to the last man, woman and child, proceeding to use Cuba as a clearing house for slavery, a plantation for tobacco and sugar and a naval base to threaten Spain’s British and French military rivals in the Caribbean – a fact attested to by Havana’s awesome colonial fortifications, which are the largest of their kind in the whole of the Americas.

The Spanish population in Cuba became divided between imperial loyalists and those that began to see themselves as Cubans and over the centuries an independence movement emerged. After years of bloody struggles a coherent movement began to form around the political ideas of exiled dissident and poet, José Martí. Similar to Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar before him, Martí developed a strong sense of Latin American and Cuban identity – around which a unified independence movement could coalesce.

Martí and his followers did indeed succeed in returning to Cuba, raising up a bloody rebellion and kicking out the Spanish, for which he is venerated as Cuba’s first and greatest national hero, both by the current communist regime as well as those opposed to it. In many ways, he takes the place of Lenin in Cuba’s communist mythology. Despite being governed by a Marxist-Leninist one party system, it is images of José Martí that appear everywhere in Cuba, from giant monuments to friendly murals, not Marx and Lenin.

Despite it’s eventual victory in 1898, Martí’s rebellion left Cuba a smouldering wreck, its economy destroyed and its population exhausted. Martí himself died heroically while charging towards Spanish artillery in his trademark black suit and on his huge white horse. The USA, keen to see the imperial Spanish driven as far away from their territory as possible vocally supported the new Republic, although provided little physical or military aid during the war itself. However, they were able to exert considerable influence over the vulnerable new state and insisted that their founding constitution exempt the USA from rules of national sovereignty, effectively turning the island into an American military base.

Although spirited attempts were made to create a functioning democracy – and the early Cuban governments were deeply progressive compared to the reactionary Spanish – the requirement for American approval for any kind of serious decision making quickly turned Cuba into a puppet state, its leadership degenerating into a brutal and corrupt class of landowners, untouchable as long as they acted on behalf of American interests. A similar story that would play out again in South Vietnam some 50 years later.

A famous high point of this era is the 1946 conference of the North American mafia, under the pretext of a Frank Sinatra concert, hosted by Havana’s Hotel Nacional with the blessing of Cuba’s then dictator, Fulgenico Batista.

This era of Cuba being used as a shared playground for both the American mafia and military, while its own leadership inflicted political repression, exploitation and misery on the semi-literate working class proved absolutely intolerable to many Cubans. Most especially to one idealistic young lawyer, Fidel Castro.

 

Revolution and the Birth of Modern Cuba

There’s tonnes of material out there already on the Cuban revolution and the exploits and adventures of Fidel Castro and his loyal second-in-command, Ernesto Che Guevara, so I won’t go into any detail here. Suffice to say they succeeded in turning a small guerrilla war against their own government into a full blown uprising and revolution. One subtle but extremely important point is that this was not a communist revolution – it was a nationalist one. Although Che had long been a committed Marxist, and Fidel also converted to socialism through his political life leading up to the revolution, the basis of the war itself was one of national liberation from United States imperialism, with a strong current of pan-Latin American internationalism thrown in for good measure. Unlike in earlier revolutions in Europe, which were planned and lead by established communist parties, the Communist Party of Cuba was formed nearly two years after the revolution had been won. This goes some way to explain the Cuban government’s strenuous efforts to draw a direct link between José Martí and themselves, with the heroic image of martyred Che Guevara (which is almost as omnipresent as the image of José Martí) providing a constant assertion of this legacy.

Cuba’s early alignment with the Soviet Union was partly ideological, and partly pragmatic. The USA couldn’t countenance the existence of the new socialist government, and began a long period of subtle and not so subtle aggression. This included assassination attempts, sabotage, invasion, trade embargo, the introduction of diseases into food and tobacco crops and the occupation of the far eastern corner of the island – an occupation which goes on to this day in the form of the American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Although the young Cuban government would have benefited hugely from a good relationship with the superpower on its doorstep it found itself forced into deep military and economic ties with the distant Soviet Bloc. During this period Cuba also maintained a strong sense of its own place in the world, playing a leading role in third world liberation struggles via organisations like OSPAAAL and its support for Latin American and African liberation struggles, up to and including taking part in a land war against apartheid South Africa in defence of Angola.

Cuba’s strong sense of both nationalist self determination and ideological internationalism combine to create a very strong impression, even today. Having never been a oppressor country, Cuba’s deep patriotism has a progressive flavour unattainable to the old imperial powers. It does provide an example of what separatist movements like those in Scotland and Catalonia might aspire towards however.

Although communism is the guiding ideology behind the Cuban system, and the government is organised on Leninist principles, it draws its legitimacy from its revolutionary legacy, as well as by the sweeping reforms brought about by the revolution. These include the transfer of both land and homes from landlords to tenants, massive anti-illiteracy drives (Cuba went from some of the lowest to the highest literacy rates in the whole world in a very short time), improvements in hygiene, huge advancements in racial and gender equality and the rapid creation of comprehensive and universal healthcare, education and social security systems. This was accompanied and paid for by mass nationalisations, especially of the holdings of American companies and the assets of the small landowner class – in an unsurprising parallel with the problems of inequality in today’s global order, over 70% of Cuban land was in the hands of about 5% of the population during the time of the revolution.

 

The Fallout of the Special Period: Eating Out in Modern Cuba

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the enduring hostility of the USA caused Cuba to go into what it refers to as “the special period”; a protracted period of austerity and self reliance undertaken in an attempt to survive the loss of its main economic benefactor. This caused enormous hardship upon ordinary people, and set back the course of development and modernisation by decades. The scars of the special period are still there to see today, most strikingly in the form of the dysfunctional railway system, which they had neither the fuel nor industrial capacity to maintain during the special period and have yet to properly revive.

Another legacy of this period is the bizarre cuisine. Despite being an extremely fertile island, much of Cuba’s collectivised agriculture is invested in the production of cash crops like sugar and tobacco. Its lack of agricultural diversity and subsequent reliance on foreign trade for food caused enormous shortages during the special period, which lead to rationing and deprivation.

Although food and fresh produce is now relatively plentiful, packaged goods fill up supermarket shelves, outdoor markets are piled high with meat and veg and a huge chain of state bakeries provides daily bread, Cuban cuisine is still mostly dull and uninspiring. Although there are plenty of innovators and pioneers in this field, and we ate some fantastic meals served by talented and enthusiastic Cuban hosts, the overall culture towards food is still overwhelmingly bland (ketchup is not a garnish, no matter how artfully you decorate the plate with it, comrades). Although Cubans are now free to travel abroad as they please, a long period of restriction on foreign travel and a lack of meaningful inwards immigration means that Cuba hasn’t benefited from the culinary delights of multiculturalism. There’s not even much influence from other Caribbean island cuisines.

One feature of our trip was our regular visits to state owned canteens, which serve almost nothing other than ham sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, “Cuban Specials” (ham and cheese sandwiches) and soggy fried chicken. These places are plentiful and utterly unpretentious, existing solely to keep the population well fed on the cheap. Whether you see this as a marker of the banality of communist failure, or a triumph of the will to survive is really up to your own prejudices.

A particular highlight of the socialist dining experience was our visit to the Coppelia ice cream parlour in Havana. A large, open-plan restaurant ringed by a massive bar with tall chairs arranged along the inside edge. Cubans from all walks of life queue up to enter the enclosure and take a seat at the bar, which serves ice cream of various flavours so cheap it may as well be free. Afterwards they sit in the shade of the palm trees in the large courtyard or the surrounding pedestrianised area, kicking around balls, listening to people performing music and chatting among themselves. Although socialism has yet to deliver the staggering diversity and wasteful abundance of the free market it does provide other unique forms culinary experience, of which Coppelia is a particularly joyous example.

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Cuban Democracy Today: General Election 2018

We actually arrived in the middle of a general election, between votes being cast a few days before and the results coming in.

In western democracies we view political parties as representing different policy platforms based on one ideological premise or another, on a broadly left/right axis. The central democratic principle behind a communist state is the idea that political parties actually represent the interests of antagonistic class forces. This idea was objectively true in the age of Marx and Lenin (when people would discuss the “propertied interest versus the labour interest) and arguably true today, depending on your view of the world.

Following this logic, a society which has eliminated conflicting class forces and installed a government of the working class (“dictatorship of the proletariat”) has also eliminated the need for oppositional party politics. The one party state can work as a collaborative venture for the shared interests of the whole of society. A communist would look at the democratic system in the USA and conclude that it is also a one party state, representing the interests of capital (“dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”), for which elections were just noisy factional disputes at best, but more like empty propaganda in reality. Since the USA has never had a non-millionaire President, and doesn’t have a dedicated party of labour, it’s hard not to sympathise with this view.

Cuban democracy is considerably healthier than what used to take place in the former Soviet Union. Cuba began its democratic development in the mid 1970s, waiting over a decade after the revolution to allow for reconstruction to take place: “If we had an election today, who and what would we vote for? We need to build a country first” Fidel Castro remarked when quizzed by an American journalist about how quickly he would call a general election after his victory.

Cubans vote for delegates from their local area to send to the “National Assembly of People’s Power”. This assembly is the supreme legislating body that signs off on new laws and policy. It also elects the President, so although Cuban people do not elect their leader directly, they elect the assembly that then elects the government (this is more or less what we do in Britain too by the way).

Delegates to the assembly are not paid and membership is a responsibility – not a job. Election campaigns are forbidden and election funding is especially forbidden. Candidates are required to post their biographies on public noticeboards for the electors to review and base their decision upon. A candidate has to be endorsed by over 50% of the electorate to take their seat in the assembly, if they cannot get that then the seat is left empty. Cuban democracy is therefore a much quieter and arguably a more dignified affair than that which takes place in the west.

Most of the possible candidates in the polling district of central Havana were members of the Communist Party, although the two youngest candidates were recent graduates and not full members. One suspects this is because they had some way to go before qualifying for full membership, rather than because they had refused it.

Political change in Cuba is slow and measured, often taking one tentative step forward and  then a quick half a step back. However reforms do happen, as evidenced by their steady transition from state sponsored homophobia to being the most LGBT friendly place in whole Caribbean (and possibly the whole of the Americas). The National Assembly boasts of having recently welcomed its first transgender delegate.

This democracy looks and feels nothing like our own, and is based on principles we more readily associate with the sham electoral systems of the old Eastern Bloc. However, democracy is indeed happening in its own unique way. Raul Castro has announced his intention to retire this year, so it will be up to the new assembly to install new leadership, which may have profound consequences on the future economic and social policy direction of the island. There is a certain amount of speculation that the next president will be a woman, as both Raul’s and Fidel’s daughters have strong political records of their own (Mariela Castro was the driving force behind Cuba’s progressive change in direction regarding LGBT issues), although whether or not Cuba will welcome a third consecutive Castro into the highest office remains to be seen.

 

Dissent 

Although Cuba has long since given up the habit of imprisoning dissenters, the system leaves few avenues open for directly oppositional political expression. However, a keen eyed observer looking out for such things will notice the occasional Orwell reference crammed between the more enthusiastically socialist street art, as well as people defiantly displaying their religious identity despite the state’s officially atheist policy.  Havana does boast an absolutely massive statue of Jesus occupying a commanding view of the city though. Finished in 1958 and blessed by the Pope himself, the completion of the Havana Jesus rather unfortunately coincided with the advent of communism. Whether the decision to leave it standing was out of tacit respect for the people’s religious feeling, or simply because communists love a good statue is unknown.

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Of course there are also the “ladies in white”, a conspicuous religiously aligned protest movement agitating for greater political freedom, who can be seen going about their business in Havana quite regularly but reportedly often receive official and semi official harassment.

A huge portion of Cuba’s landowning class fled the island to the USA after the revolution, especially those descended from slave owning or criminal families, who had retained much of their hoarded wealth up to that point. This initial exodus, combined with Cubas historical restrictions on foreign travel, have been used strongly in evidence that Cuban people are entrapped, with parallels being drawn between modern Cuba and what used to be East Germany. However, travel restrictions have been lifted for over a decade now, and no significant emigration has taken place. Maybe its national pride, maybe its communist brainwashing – or maybe leaving Cuba’s strong social safety net to live in squalor as second class citizens in the USA, alongside the descendants of traitors, isn’t so appealing in big 2018.

 

The CDR: Your Friendly Neighbourhood Stasi

Soviet secret police forces traditionally represented themselves as The Sword and Shield of the Party. The Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (the CDR) can likewise be recognised by its emblem of a figure brandishing a Cuban flag shield and a large sword. However, this is more or less where the similarities begin and end. Like many aspects of Cuban culture, there appears to be an element of implicit good humour in it and the figure is waving a slightly absurd pirate sabre above its head. Rather than a terrifying and secretive bureaucracy, the CDR is organised along the lines of a neighbourhood watch. It’s purpose is to maintain and promote the values of the Cuban revolution at a grassroots level and members paint the logo on their front doors or on the sides of their houses. One particularly charming example I noticed in a very working class district had the letters “C D R” picked out in seashells on the front garden path. Tellingly, they were facing inwards, giving the impression they were picked out in pride by the householder rather than to intimidate the rest of the neighbourhood.

Whether or not the CDR is an admirably open and tolerant expression of political commitment and vigilance, or just another sinister expression of communism’s totalitarian instincts is once again down to your own preconceptions.

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Social Attitudes

Cuba is described with extraordinary rhetoric by hysterical foreigners, but in reality Cuban attitudes can broadly be summed up as moderate and progressive. Despite the complete absence of a free press, Cubans are well informed about the state of the world and under few illusions about the issues of their own society. In fact, so calm and measured are they that you start to wonder how much positive influence our reactionary, cartel owned “free” press is even bringing to our own society.

The two main narratives projected onto Cuba is that is either a heroic worker’s paradise, defiantly standing up to a hated American enemy, or that it is an oppressed slave state who’s population is desperate to open its arms to capitalistic freedom. The truth is actually rather more sane than either, although possibly closer to the first than the second. Cubans recognise their economic problems and many wish for more rapid development in many areas, however they take a deep, nearly spiritual pride in their social achievements, particularly around education and health and would not like to see their society made less compassionate by the ravages of the free market.

Anti imperialism and Latin American unity is still a dominant theme in Cuban politics, although most regular Cubans hold the USA itself in no great antipathy and there are signs that some Cuban youth culture fetishises hispanic Americana.

Without wishing myself fetishise action driven by lack of means, there is something heroic about the innovative spirit of Cuba. In Havana classic American cars from the 1950s are still kept lovingly on the road and in splendid condition, alongside vintage heavy trucks, Czech motorcycles with side cars, Soviet Ladas and a smattering of modern imports.  The architecture of the colonial era is maintained in a sort of permanent managed decline, giving the overall impression of being in the whole of the last hundred years of history all at once.

Cuban society, lead by the communist party, takes women’s issues extremely seriously. Like many third world countries in which women participated in an armed struggle, revolution brought instant leaps forward in gender equality. That said, many feminists of the new left in the 1970s remarked how quickly business as usual was implemented with regards to gender roles in socialist countries. In her 1970 polemic The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer goes as far as to quote Fidel Castro imploring woman to take the greater part of the burden of domestic duties and child rearing as an example of such regression. However, in modern Cuba no such rhetoric is now present – the government’s central newspaper calls for the advance of woman’s rights as “the revolution that continues within the revolution” and woman make up 50% of the public sector, both in menial and management roles – which in a communist country is the majority of the workforce! In a country in which public advertising is almost non existent, the billboards that line the approach to Havana instead show campaigns against domestic violence. Pornography, like drug use, is completely illegal and from what I could tell the official position of the PCC is to treat woman in prostitution as victims in the first case.

Having not lived a life as a working woman in Cuba, I can’t really comment on the real day to day experience of sexism there. However Claire remarked on more than one occasion that the overall climate felt much less sexist than in the UK, with no intrusive attention on the streets or in shops and no apparent discomfort seen on the faces of woman going about their business. I am given to understand that domestic violence is more of an issue in the rural heartlands, where some tobacco and sugar farmers are known to drink rum like it was water all day while working, and then mistreat their families upon returning home.

Additionally, as of the 2018 general election I understand that Cuba is now the second nation in the world to elect a majority female government, although I have yet to see the official statistics to confirm that.

Police are very present in large numbers on the streets, although unarmed. Gun crime is almost non existent and we didn’t even see a gun in the hands of soldiers – other than the ceremonial AK47 held by the guard outside Fidel Castro’s tomb.

Sport is incredibly important to Cuban people and, like politics, it is illegal for it to be undertaken professionally. This is a double edged sword in many ways – high participation in the national sports of boxing and baseball by huge numbers of the population mean that Cuba produces some of the best sportspeople in the world, and access to high level training is available at small scale clubs on street corners and in parks. On the other hand, a lack of commercial funding means that clubs are often under resourced and have to make do, as Cubans so often do, and high level players are regularly poached by other nations offering massive salaries in return for their prowess.

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A neighbourhood boxing club, kids in training after school

For a nation often depicted as a brutal military dictatorship, progressive politics and peaceful coexistence abounds, both officially and in the attitudes of citizens. Community values are cherished, and no one seems particularly overworked. At 5pm each day, the streets of Havana turn into bustling street parties, with people playing ball games and hanging out of doorways and balconies to drink and talk together. Internet access is easily available, but not in people’s homes. Most urban dwelling Cubans have smartphones and wifi can be accessed in parks and town squares – so although Cubans can be seen busily conducting their online business in public, the vast majority of life is conducted away from the glare of a screen.

Private Enterprise and Public Infrastructure

Somewhat ironically, its on this communist island fortress that expressions of capitalistic initiative most closely match capitalism’s own preferred self image. With the commanding heights the economy in public control, private business is small in scale, owner operated, highly enthusiastic and resourceful. In the west, capitalism’s chief virtues often negate themselves – the family business becomes the faceless corporation and the children of pioneering business owners form a new class of lazy aristocrats, indolent and useless with their piles of inherited wealth. No signs of this are yet present in Cuba.

There is much apprehension both in the capitalist world and within Cuba itself about what large scale changes economic liberalisation will wreck on Cuba’s unique society, with many people telling me that I was “lucky to be going before it changes too much”. However my impression is that economic reforms are being undertaken cautiously and strategically with the specific aims of improving living standards without impacting on the wealth of the public realm as well as diversifying the nation’s revenue streams of foreign currency, shielding it from any potential fluctuations in the value of its primary exports of sugar and tobacco. There is some talk about plans to improve the financial position of the working class by unifying the dual currency system, merging the low value “national” peso used for domestic economic affairs, with the internationally convertible peso, which carries a much higher value. I won’t go into the mechanisms and rationales behind the dual currency system here, as even if you’ve got this far, I doubt you’re up for a long discussion on the financial systems of command economies by this point.

For all the progressive attitudes, safety, highly educated population, beautiful cars and general lack of squalor it’s sometimes easy to get carried and forget that Cuba is still part of the third world. However in those areas that require more industrial and financial resources than can be provided by the good will of the citizenry its still painfully obvious that Cuba has some way to go, and has suffered from its isolation from more heavily industrialised economies. You can’t drink the tap water, and you are encouraged to fold toilet paper up and use the little bins to be found even in the poshest bathrooms, rather than risk clogging the inadequate sewer system. Although constant construction work, repair teams and general activity gives Havana the air of a city on its uppers, the streets are still potholed and some buildings are visibly crumbling.

None the less, there is enormous national pride, collective spirit and a general feeling of  cautious optimism. Signs of (slow) development overwhelmingly outnumber the signs of decay. In today’s world of dangerously unsustainable economic advance, built on the brutal exploitation of the environment and the worker, at the expense of social security, its hard not to feel the Cubans are forging ahead on the better path.

¡Viva la Revolución!

¡Viva Cuba!

 

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Live Review: Insecure Men, The Scala, London, 9/03/18

In a museum in Berlin there’s a replica of a flat from the communist era, designed to demonstrate to tourists how sparse and unfulfilling life in the East used to be. If you look at the expressions of the young people, you can see them doing the maths in their head – and coming to the conclusion that between a job for life with a medium sized flat, or living in a shoebox and working for an app, they’d take their chances with the Stasi.

The world was supposed to be better, technology and modernity was going to save us. In the future (about 10 years ago) war and want would be over and a united mankind would be on its way to the stars.

Instead it stayed just as bad – got worse even – but in new and dispiriting ways. Instead of the workers “holding the country ransom” with their unions, its the corporations and their algorithms holding the gun to our back. Even more depressing, we’re now expected to like it.  Free at last from stifling conformity and an overbearing public realm (or “nanny state” as we’re now obliged to call it), we’re dying of loneliness in a sea of meaningless individualism.

Western capitalism has finally crushed its old rivals in the socialist world. It stands alone and victorious, riven with parasites and infections of its own making, lashing out at its own shadow – from the Middle East to the East End of London. Private interests are God and the struggle for the collective good is the sin of our fathers, to be cast off and forgotten.

With a drabness deliberately crossing over into the uncomfortable, Insecure Men are an appeal to the bad old days. In both their lyrics and imagery, they contrast scenes of boring everyday life with jarring fascism, machismo and sleaze. Images of smiling children are placed suggestively next to writhing child abusers. Worn down, decaying council housing is framed lovingly next to glossy corporate advertising, sinister by comparison.

Insecure Men know the world is bad and they know it has always been bad. They write semi-sincere love songs to a time when society’s sickness was borne as an open wound, before the cancer grew up in the heart and lungs and mind – harder to see, but infinitely more deadly.

Their performance at The Scala last night was a stroke of genius. A genuine work of art presented through the medium of pop music. An eight piece band turned the lethargic, delicate album tracks into expansive, immersive pools of sound. The music is neither aggressive nor imposing, it just hangs over you and around you like a smog, or like a feeling of sadness that you just can’t shake.

If this ironic humour and resigned attitude to the failure of modernity is the spirit of our age, Insecure Men are the right people in the right place at the right time.

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Politics

Ultra Leftism! What it is and how to avoid it.

2016’s vote to leave the European Union has shed some long overdue light on the priorities of Britain’s liberal left. As one political earthquake follows another we are called upon to articulate clearly what it is we actually believe in, many for the first time. As the yawning gap opens up between the two main parties, sanctimonious cries of “they’re all the same” no longer hold water – in an era defining clash of ideologies, your vote matters once again.

The crushing of working class militancy, mass privatisations and steady reversal of redistributive fiscal policies that occurred since the end of the 1970s was followed by a long period of capitalistic growth: “The end of boom and bust!” claimed a young Gordon Brown. This, plus a large variety of other factors, resulted in the slow abandonment of the traditional left to a group of dedicated ultras, characterised more by their intellectual wildness than by the actual threat they posed to the established order.

Radical thinking has an essential place at the vanguard of every political movement, it is vital to generating fresh ideas to replace failed orthodoxies. Ideas that were once considered lunatic come, in time, to be viewed as fundamental – gay rights being one obvious example. However, if allowed to become an end unto itself, in which competing “radical” egos continually disrupt the collective discipline of the movement, ultraleftism must be either abandoned or repressed.

Below are a few areas in which ultraleftism can be observed in this day and age, with some proscriptions for its avoidance.

THE EU

Despite the many sensible reasons to object to the European Union, there’s no denying that the campaign for Brexit was visibly spearheaded by some of the most reactionary elements of British civil society: an unholy alliance of xenophobes, nationalists and globalist financiers, for whom even the most basic regulatory proscriptions were too much to bear.

None the less, the time has come again for the left to once more examine its position on neoliberal Europe. For those that believe that the competitive forces unleashed by the free movement of capital and labour are the genuine engines of progress, the argument stops here. This article isn’t aimed at Tories. Let us examine instead the tempting “left” justifications for unconditionally going out to bat for European capitalism.

1. All borders are fundamentally evil, and free movement in Europe is the first step to a borderless world.

This has a nice feel to it, doesn’t it? It falls down in two fundamental ways though. Firstly, we already live in a borderless world, if you are wealthy and powerful enough. While the nation state has remained the basic unit of democratic power, the erosion of its integrity has resulted in ever more influence being handed to those global elites that are able to function outside of the realms of democratic (and legal) accountability. The implicit understanding that the forces of globalisation are operating primarily in elite interests is what has pushed so many voting populations into the poisonous embrace of the only groups that are even willing to acknowledge that fact.

Want to #StopTrump? Stop pretending that capitalistic globalisation is an irresistible fact of life and start taking the democratic integrity of your own nation seriously.

Secondly – even if you do wish to take the hardcore anti-borders position – that isn’t the purpose of free movement of labour in Europe anyway. It’s a market for increasing the competition between workers for jobs and wages, to the benefit of bosses. It is not some kind of moral commitment to liberty, as the mountain of corpses at Europe’s borders attests to. Maybe there would be greater consent for the humane treatment of those fleeing war if the workers of each country hadn’t become convinced immigration was being used as a tool to increase precarity, wage competition and outsourcing.

Great Britain has absorbed wave after wave of enriching immigration, from Jewish refugees fleeing the pogroms of Tsarist Russia to the West Indians that sailed here aboard the Windrush nearly 100 years later. Free movement of labour is by no means an essential prerequisite for a liberal and humane immigration system, and if it radically decreases the democratic consent for a live-and-let-live attitude towards newcomers, its can be viewed as an actively racist policy.

2. We’re helping improve the lives of people from low wage economics, by allowing them unrestricted access to working in Britain.

There is so much wrong with this methodist, charitable approach to working class emancipation its hard to know where to begin.

For a start, we’re allowing our own government to abdicate responsibility for investing in the education, skills and infrastructure needed to power the engine of our own economy. We’re effectively outsourcing training and using the investment of other, poorer nations as a resource. It is right to celebrate the contributions of  migrant workers to our public services, especially in the NHS, but it is also important to join the dots between unlimited access trained nursing staff across a whole continent and the fact that our government has managed to get away with eradicating nursing bursaries here.

Using low wage economies as workshops for outsourcing our productive industry while importing workers to plug the gaps at the very bottom of our own labour market – that might otherwise be filled by offering higher wages – is the opposite of sustainable economic practice for the UK.

More fundamentally, this bleeding heart mindset ignores the role of the national governments and trade unions of developing economies in improving their own living standards. The fast tracked absorption of the Eastern Bloc into an integrated European economic zone has been dressed up in leftist language by the anti-socialist right, who’s primary motivation was to profit from the rape of the collapsing Soviet economy. In doing so, they’ve duped many western liberals into supporting them. These same liberals are the first to express shock and outrage when the Eastern populations turn away from the corrupt lickspittles installed to facilitate this process and instead look to reactionary strongmen promising a return to national self assurance and dignity. Once again, an ultra leftist view is revealed to prop up an extremely right wing agenda on both sides of the divide!

We’ve stumbled onto a rather neat definition of ultra leftism:

A position so wild, unreasonable and detached from reality that it facilitates the opposite situation in practice to the one it claims to support in theory.

You can apply this definition to the Militant Tendency in the 1980s, screaming at Labour to nationalise the top 200 companies while Thatcher convinced the electorate to support the total destruction of the public realm. You can apply it to the campus radicals and postmodernists of the new left in the 1960s and 70s and even go right back to the Spanish Trotskyists and Anarchists of the 1930s, who spent their time creating chaos in the dying Republic’s rear, while Franco’s fascists marched to victory on every front.

THE NEED TO ALWAYS BE THE OTHER

The other prominent trend on the ultra left in this day and age is the desire to always represent yourself as a radical, oppressed minority, boldly speaking truth to power. In some ways, there’s nothing wrong with this approach, especially for those embarking on a career in the arts or standup comedy. For a long time this type of attitude was represented almost exclusively in those areas, to great effect, resulting in conspiracy theories about “cultural marxism” from a disorientated right who, although they found themselves winning the economic argument, kept losing the social one . Upon the curtailment of Margret Thatcher’s tenure in office, her husband Denis remarked that she’d been “stitched up by the poofs and trots at the BBC”.

Although the fight for social and economic justice is its first priority, the organised left is not a coalition of the oppressed. The reason the working class are the focus of Marx’s theory of history is because they are the most powerful section of society, not the weakest. Ultimately it is our combined labour, not the capitalist’s money, that actually creates the wealth upon which we all thrive and that is the source of our collective power, if we can find the tools to wield it.

This is diametrically opposite to the radical individualism which consistently attempts to usurp the position of socialism as the public face of the left. The appropriation of liberation struggles as a vehicle for building a radical self image is one of the most destructive manifestations of ultra leftism. Unlike the pseudo-liberalism described in the paragraphs above, this political practice doesn’t simply prop up a right wing agenda indirectly, it attacks the organised left directly from within, like a cancer.

In its most mild form, this manifests itself by the overuse of exclusionary, academic language. Where the great socialists of the last century strove to break down the enormously complex forces of their age into compelling, comprehensible arguments, sections of today’s left seek to dress up the simplest of ideas in impenetrable language. This is because they – like the new oligarchs of Silicon Valley – were asocial nerds at school. Bullied relentlessly, they now seek to wreak vengeance on their former tormentors by exercising their supposedly superior intellectual power. Although this is an understandable impulse, it has no place on a picket line and therefore no place in a socialist party.

As it reaches critical mass online, this impulse becomes a malevolent shibboleth – vampirically sucking the energy out of any remotely normal person seeking to become politically active, with constant denunciations, cry bullying and hyperbole. Remember comrades, referring to people as “normal” is ableist against the mentally ill, workplace organisation is exclusionary to the disabled and having meetings in pubs is racist against people with anxiety disorders. The best thing you can spend your time doing is arguing with other lofty minded ultra leftists on twitter.

Ceding the territory of liberation struggles to those most inclined towards self aggrandisement, faux-victimhood and politics-as-performance-art once again conforms to the ultra left modus operandi of making themselves useful idiots to the right. Hardcore capitalists maintain a veneer of progressiveness by tacking towards these operators, as they perceive that this rabid individualism is in no way incompatible with their own piratical agenda. It is a smokescreen behind which a hollowed out centre left is transformed into the neoliberal right. Not only this, but it acts as a foil to emerging mega-reactionaries such as the neo-nazi alt right. It’s part of the reason why Trump’s brand of barely disguised fascism was still allowed to present itself as having more in common with the American working and middle class than the Democrats, who are have traditionally been supported by labour unions and blue collar workers, as well as educated professionals and minorities.

A CONFESSION

For most Labour voters, working class politics are instinctual and don’t require any kind of dressing up in socialist theory. For many young people however, growing up in the new, precarious economy with expensive educations, huge piles of debt and little hope of substantial assets or opportunities, socialist ideas are something we learn over time. Those great ideas that shook the world throughout the First Red Century are intoxicating, exciting and intellectually thrilling. There’s a tendency to read half a pamphlet of Lenin quotes and subsequently make a Marxist analysis of what you had for breakfast. I’m more guilty of this than most.

The feeling of having your mind opened by radical ideas, that reshape your understanding of everything around you is a thing bordering on ecstasy. The world can be a confusing, demoralising place and finally having a mental toolbox for comprehending it is extremely powerful – but it is just the first step. The sword sheathed is often more effective than the sword brandished, and stepping back from the ledge of political exhibitionism is the next challenge for the new generation of 21st century socialists trying to wrest power from the corrupt, the privileged and incompetent. The task ahead will require clarity of thought, unity of purpose and strategic moderation, as well as unvarnished radicalism, if we are to win through.

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Politics

Representation, the false god?

Feel free to read this while listening to the latest Heavy Leather Mixtape.

By the peak of the civil rights movement in America, a powerful strand of black nationalism had emerged. It argued that black Americans would never be represented adequately in white society and it was impossible to be fairly compensated for generations of barbaric exploitation. Even if they did find a form of inclusion, the total erasure of their history would mean they would be integrated on the white man’s terms, forever impostors in the land built on the backs of their ancestors.

Some of these nationalists argued that America should be partitioned, and a new black state should be founded. This would be built with liberated black labour on the principle black self determination. There were plenty of legitimate criticisms of this plan from within the civil rights movement itself. Even Malcolm X argued that it would be financially untenable. He pointed out that although black America represented a huge portion of the national wealth, that wealth was tied in too heavily to the white economy to be extracted for use in nation building. That’s leaving aside the potential for a military conflict with that section of white America unwilling to be annexed into the new nation.

Whatever criticisms the likes of Malcolm X had of this plan, it was nothing compared to the objections of the white American body politic. When black separatism began to emerge as an actual possibility, they heavily softened their stance on black representation. Martin Luther King became a national saint, partly because of his genuinely heroic struggle, and partly because he represented a way of nullifying the more radical demands of the black movement.

Although these ambitions seem ludicrous in hindsight, are they so different from the demands which gave us the Muslim state of Pakistan, or the Jewish state of Israel?  Does it have a parallel with the struggle taking place right now for a free and independent Kurdistan? Maybe not so fanciful after all, but consigned to the dustbin of history none the less.

The point of all this exposition on black nationalism is to ask a broader question: Is representation a false god? Does it serve the oppressor by giving his institutions legitimacy, while giving the less courageous among the oppressed a way out of a potentially painful, but necessary confrontation?

This question has plagued subjugated people, and therefore the political left, for generations.

A similar conundrum faced socialist parties in the early 20th century. Did they militate for new forms of working class government, or did they contest seats in the parliaments of the ruling class, which had so long excluded and exploited them? Many Suffragettes argued that the first act of women upon enfranchisement should have been to withhold their votes, and refuse to legitimise a single male politician or party so heavily invested in a system which still treated woman like second class citizens.

This isn’t to say that immediate revolutionary action is always the best path for the oppressed class – many is the failed revolutionary that would have benefited from a long term strategy for reform, often realising this too late, as the latest reports of massive crop failure come in from the provinces… or as the firing squad takes aim for their forehead.

On the other hand, timidity (or even out right treachery) has often lead progressive forces to squander historically important opportunities. Many members of the British Labour Party will bitterly recount the many times they’ve finally been in a position to reform the balance of power in favour of the working class once and for all, but capitulated most decisively to the forces of capital at that very moment. Let’s not forget it took David Cameron and George Osbourne barely 6 months to undo nearly all the work of the most electorally successful social democratic government in British history.

So what’s my point? My point is that although representation of the historically unrepresented is hugely important, it is not always the cure it appears to be. In fact, those that cheer for representation the loudest are often those that have reached the limit of society’s tolerance for the misdeeds they’ve been gladly perpetrating for years. They realise that by allowing a section of the exploited up to the top table, they can save their own sorry skins and continue their nefarious activities in some new form.

Every single political choice is a calculation between what is ideologically desirable and what is strategically achievable – anyone that tells you any different is probably either a swivel eyed lunatic or a quisling bastard. However, before unthinkingly cheering on a *black* president bombing kids in the Middle East, or a *female* CEO extracting punitive rents from the families of the poor, ask yourself: is representation furthering the cause of humanity, or validating the institutions of the enemies of progress?

Too often, liberalism represents the capture of progressive demands by the forces of capital and reaction. Never allow someone with more money and power than you to try and convince you that you have more in common with them than the people you work with every day. Never allow yourself to be conned into thinking they will fight for your economic interests over their own, even if they look and sound like you.

By all means celebrate the achievements of those who have succeeded against all the odds their race, gender or economic background have thrown against them, but do not be conned that just because someone wins the lottery, you will too.

Combat liberalism. Rise with your class, not over it.

 

**note on the choice of image**

Despite not being a black American, I’ve decided to take a risk and illustrate this piece with the image above. The reason I’ve picked this photograph is because of the way it is used in Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do The Right Thing. A slightly simple character carries this photograph around with him throughout the film, as it depicts both of his heroes smiling beatifically at each other, and gives a glimpse into the world which he desires, and his reduced mental faculties believes to be possible.

The reality, however, is that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were often bitter foes in their visions for the progress of the civil rights movement – each believing that the other’s methods would bring disaster to the black race in America. In a bitter reminder that despite these antagonisms, we often have more in common than divides us, both men ended up murdered for what they believed in – leaving those that survived to face the impossible choices they faced.

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Audiophile, Cassette Archive

Mixtape – Good Sound

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It’s hard to overstate the severity of the damage done to recorded music during in the first decade of the twenty first century. In times to come, the strata of fatally damaged recordings will be viewed much like a fine layer of radiation blasted ash, such as marks out an apocalyptic meteorite strike in the geological record.

A perfect storm of new technologies, changing consumption habits and rapaceous profiteering in an era of sharp decline saw a race to the bottom in the quality of recorded music. Not simply in terms of the information being stored (the MP3 etc) but the artisanship that went into preparing the music for release.

Buy a cult record from the UK in the post-punk era and you’re likely to see “A Porky’s Prime Cut” scratched into the run out groove. This was the signiture of record cutting engineer George Peckham, who’s diligence and skill in producing top quality master discs for vinyl  production meant that even the most DIY 7″s of the 1980s have more depth and longevity than much of the expensive trash churned out in the last few decades.

Good sound is a combination of ingenuity, excellent equipment and technical skill, although the first can often compensate for a lack of the second.

Different genres require different treatment. In classical or jazz, you might want to capture the breadth and scope between the virtuoso’s lightest touch and the full band’s thundering crescendo. In rock and roll, the producer might seek to evoke the intensity and saturation experienced when facing off against a band in a jam packed concert hall. Both require entirely difference approaches and skill sets, neither requires a one size fits all deformation of the master wave form into one uniformly loud sausage.

This tape was made for me by Terminal Gods singer and close friend, Robert Cowlin. He put it together a few years ago at the height of his crusade against badly mastered and remastered recordings. I felt at the time that his obsession with the shape of the wave form was distorting his ability to hear the shape of the song. Although he was somewhat overzealous, in hindsight I’ve come to agree with him. Once you can identify this vandalism for what it is, its hard to un-hear it. The idea that, for all our advancement, we seem incapable of making anything that sounds even remotely as good nearly anything from the mid 20th century is almost offensive – a metaphor for late capitalist decline.

Never one to admit defeat on a technicality, he can take some satisfaction in knowing that this wonderfully compiled (and indeed, good sounding) tape made his point neatly.

Cowlin now works as an audio archivist for the British Library. Never was a person so well suited for such a role.

 

1. Miles Davis – So What
2. Tom Waits – Waltzing Matilida
3. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane
4. John Foxx – Europe After The Rain
5. Morrissey – November Spawned A Monster
6. Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue
7. Al Green – Let’s Stay Together
8. The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
9. Talking Heads – Psycho Killer (Live)
10. The Sisters of Mercy – Neverland (A Fragment)
11. The Fixx – One Thing Leads To Another
12. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – A Woman In Love
13. Iron Maiden – Can I Play With Madness?
14. The Beatles – Flying
15. The Beatles – Blue Jay Way
16. Dave Brubeck – Take Five
17. Lou Reed – Andy’s Chest
18. War On Drugs – Under The Pressure

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Politics

Trans Comrades are Comrades: Stepping Back from Transphobia.

“Just because everyone agrees to call a tree a rock, doesn’t mean a tree is made of stone

For a long time, this pretty much summed up my entire attitude towards transgender people. I understood the theoretical difference between sex and gender – although sex is defined by your biological functions, gender is really just an elaborate socialisation drilled into your subconscious from the moment you are born. From the moment a gushing adult simpers “who’s a pretty princess?” or “who’s a smart lad?” to the brand new you, and at nearly every point in your life from then on.

Despite having grasped this idea in theory, as far as I was concerned that was just too bad. Just because you didn’t like it, doesn’t mean that wasn’t the way it was. I’d be full of “stands to reason” arguments along the lines of “if a girl likes to climb trees then she’s a boy then?”. I was totally convinced that the existence of trans people could be explained away by sexism and homophobia – the idea that the world made it so hard for some people to be the man or women they were, they became somehow confused, convinced they were in fact a different gender than they actually were.

I felt like Britain’s celebratory gay culture had suddenly appropriated the steely puritanism of its old conservative rivals. Everyone and anyone who isn’t willing to say two plus two equals five is now a class enemy and a monster.

Add to the mix the weird combination of queer theory and youth culture pouring out of our art schools and university campuses –  simply getting a haircut seemed to mean you now belonged to five different distinct gender categories – and I was on the edge of working up the full Peter Hitchens, a proper old school moral panic.

Time to take a step back, stop and breathe.

Is hatred of a tiny minority group really the hill I want to die on? Surely not. Did I actually know any trans people in a meaningful way? Was my daily intake of internet horror stories about people self identifying as disabled and deliberately blinding themselves starting to warp my view of reality? (If you start expressing anti-trans views online, facebook’s algorithms will start feeding you masses of information that will confirm your most deranged fears, by the way.)

The fact is, moral panic is all it was – nothing more. There’s no substance behind it. Trans people, like all people, come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of different ways of thinking. They aren’t a homogenous group of avant-garde cultural assassins trying to destroy the fabric of society and redefine gendered pronouns as hate crime. Like the vast majority of people, they just want to get on with their lives in a way they feel comfortable.

If you want to break down a socially constructed set of behaviours and live your life honestly to yourself, why shouldn’t you? Do we demand that all black people walk around speaking patois and listening to reggae just because they’re black? Of course not. Even if you are totally and utterly convinced that the biological reality of having male or female sex organs is the bottom line on gender, its plain-as-day that the despotic rule of gender norms tyrannise us all from time to time. Why not allow that trans people might feel that weight heavier than others and are just trying to fit into the world in way that mitigates that burden? It’s not like they aren’t as fully aware of what body they were born in as you are of yours.

Even if you want to take a firmly materialist approach (which many on the Marxist left take so much pride in) the fact is, being suicidally depressed (and the suicide rates among trans people are staggeringly high) is all too often reality to them. Most trans people aren’t demanding a total restructuring of society, they are simply asking to be allowed to slot into the world without fear of mistreatment. In many ways, their demands are significantly less radical than those of even the most moderate socialist.

But what if a man identifies as a woman in order to escape male prison, or worse still…. get on a Labour Party All Women Shortlist? These harrowing examples of why the existence of transwomen might attack the interests of “real” women can be worked up into theoretical nightmare situations. The fact is, all processes of this kind are subject to case-by-case analysis and all sorts of other checks and balances. It’s not easy to spend years of your life transitioning to a different gender, its even less easy to simply walk out of one prison and into another. Might it be that the people in charge of making these kind of decisions might also be able to make them soundly? Leaving the complex issues of prison to one side, can’t a CLP be trusted to make sound democratic choices? If someone really did abuse Labour’s progressive attitude to trans rights in order to unfairly worm their way onto an AWS, are we really saying that the women of that CLP would be oblivious to it and vote for them blindly? If a transwoman can overcome all the obstacles to being accepted in a world that often hates her, take part in a fair democratic process and win – well, maybe they bloody well deserve to share a platform with their cis-gendered comrades.

This isn’t intended as an authoritative exposition on gender theory. It’s my personal understanding of the issues and how they’ve lead me to changing my attitude towards trans people.

Ultimately, I’m a bloke weighing in on women’s issues and am aware that to many, this contribution is going to be unwelcome – even offensive. If you are a cis-gendered woman who sees women as a sex-class –  for whom every oppression ultimately stems from their position as child bearers – then being told to “calm down dear” by just another man isn’t going to fly.

And you see all oppression of women as sex based, then maybe the suffering caused by gender constructs is irrelevant to your feminism – especially when expressed by the traditional male adversary.

Regardless of who controls the means of reproduction, the material world can be just as unkind to trans people as it is to woman. I don’t personally believe that any transwomen would want to attack the hard won protections which women have fought and died for over the centuries. Even if some people on the fringe of gender-theory seem to be frothing at the mouth to rip up the fragile safe spaces which women currently do have, all the trans people I have actually met (especially in the Labour Party) have been decent people who would stand on the right side of a picket line to defend the interests of their class – whether that’s workers in a pay dispute or cis-women fighting to protect their reproductive rights.

There’s plenty of reasonable sounding transphobia out there if you look for it, some of it from well respected thinkers. There’s also lots of very weird pro-trans media which can be comprehensively off-putting to people with more conservative sensibilities. But ask yourself, have you actually ever been negatively impacted by a trans person? Have you ever sat down and shared a comradely drink and tried to understand their point of view? Have you ever considered that all the moral outrage might not outweigh the reality of our shared humanity.

Is this, really, the hill you want to die on?

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Politics

The Avant-Garde World of Politics Online

What do a Slovenian Rock Band, Pepe The Frog and a Small Gang of British Railway Workers all have in common?

Art-collective-come-rock band Laibach have been walking the fine line between pop-culture and totalitarianism since their inception in Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1980. Despite layers of irony, weird eroticism and pastiche, never once in their three decade career have they so much as cracked a smile. Although the audience is almost entirely sure they’re taking part in a clever critique of totalitarianism as a pop band, there’s always the uncomfortable possibility that they’re actually taking part in a clever critique of pop bands by totalitarians.

This liminal nature shields Laibach from criticism; overtly attack their implied extremism and you appear to have missed the point. However, the same artistic construct that has immunised them against liberal denouncement has also allowed them to become the first ever western band to perform in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, partly on the grounds of their apparently strict adherence to Leninist disciplinarianism.

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Laibach’s Milan Fras, Pyongyang, 2016.

Although the reality behind Laibach’s complicated facade is a deeply intelligent, refined and (probably) progressive outlook there’s absolutely no reason why the tools they’ve crafted throughout their long and prescient career couldn’t be employed with much more malicious intent. Few things in the current political climate exemplify this better than the Alt-Right – and their de-facto mascot, Pepe.

Pepe is a meme-image of a crafty looking frog making used to covey ideas in conspiratorial tone, using humour to give voice to “what everyone is really thinking”.  Nothing Pepe says is ever explicitly serious, usually framed as provocation by those in on some joke. Arguing with Pepe makes you look both sanctimonious and idiotic in equal measure. The Alt-Right, through Pepe, took up the role of the jester – with the jester’s privilege of speaking truth to power – to give themselves an authenticity that the swivel eyed, headbanging mainstream of conservatives (“cucksurvatives” in alt-right speak) had lost in a culture dominated by the values of liberal identitarianism.

 

 

 

However, it became increasingly clear that Pepe was clearing the ground for a much deeper, more radical politic. Whether or not the original milieu of 4chan users who incubated the culture of the alt-right ever intended it to develop in the way that it did is still very much up for debate, if such a disparate, nihilistic community could ever have a unified set of intentions at all. However the alt-right’s potential as a vehicle for taking reactionary politics all the way into the corridors of power, even in an era of liberal hegemony, was astounding. Although there’s no one deciding factor in the rise of Trumpism, the alt-right helped to sow the seeds of fascism into soil made fertile by decades of alienation, inequality and industrial decline. Replacing jack boots and brownshirts with irony and humour gave it all the camouflage it needed to pass undetected through the political safeguards that have been in place since WWII. The incident in Charlottesville last year, which much more closely resembled the traditional face of fascism, probably set the project of the alt-right back years.

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PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ELIZABETH BROCKWAY/THE DAILY BEAST

In a recent article for the Guardian, columnist Rafael Behr wrote about the strange dissonance in finding lifelong anti-capitalist John McDonnell making the case for a reformed version of social democracy at the Word Economic Forum at Davos, Europe’s largest conference of financiers, bankers and other pillars neoliberalism. Yet for anyone following John McDonnell’s aesthetic journey from revolutionary firebrand to concerned bank manager, this won’t come as a surprise. Behr goes on to accuse followers of the Labour leadership of adhering to a form of vague anti-capitalism born of scepticism of corporate power but lacking any firm ideological demands for its replacement.

This is probably a fair analysis, but what Behr declined to comment upon is the potential of such a large pool of vaguely interested people for real politicisation. With all their attention focused on hunting the ghosts of Citizen Smith and the trotskyist radicalism they grew up with on campuses in the 1960s and 70s, Britain’s media class have consistently failed to notice the rise of something altogether more modern emerging on the left. Take a scroll through Red London, a meme page run by a group of anonymous young railway workers, which appears to advocate rigid 1930s Marxism-Leninism and Corbyn’s softcore parliamentary social democracy as if they were interchangeable. To a baffled observer this looks like a deranged misunderstanding of both world history and the current political moment, but that in itself is a misunderstanding.

Red London has a dizzyingly large following considering its apparently niche politics and even more niche aesthetic. They’re not seriously advocating a return to Year-Zero Stalinism (at least, probably not, you never can quite tell), and the more dire warnings mainstream liberals and conservatives give to that effect, the more moronic they look in the face of Red London’s barrage of irreverent and genuinely funny Soviet idolatry. They paint an intelligible, good natured picture of far left politics, embracing rather than avoiding its more absurd aspects, and form part of the online ecosystem turning Rafael Behr’s great mass of vague anti-capitalist youngsters into a generation equipped with a broad working knowledge of socialist theory.

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A Red London meme typical of their heady mix of Soviet fetishisation, easy humour and drive to educate and drive up the militancy of their audience.

While the technocratic centre ludicrously argue that nationalisation of the railways will lead people blindly into gulags, alt-left meme pages and websites are providing guided tours through the whole gamut of historical leftism, with its triumphs and tragedies, enabling people to make up their own mind about issues like public ownership. Armed with that awareness, mainstream’s objections these ideas cease to look like common sense, and are increasingly revealed as openly hostile ideological positions.

In a media age dominated by the alt-right, dystopian corporations and neoliberal ideologues we can and must subvert their approach. If irony and humour is the shield of the movement, then clarity of purpose will be the sword. Although we make jokes about the world’s socialist past, we also learn from it.

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Cassette Archive

Mixtape – Extremely Heavy Metal

LISTEN HERE

No long exposition with this one today.

This is a mix I compiled for my other half, Claire, for Christmas. She’s a big deal in the metal world, thus the title of the tape. The joke is that there’s no extremely heavy metal on it. It’s a running joke in our relationship where I pretend to be confused as to why “metal” is always heavier than “heavy metal”. She doesn’t find it very funny, but that hasn’t stopped me persisting with it as if it was the wittiest observation ever made.

The cover is from a 1930s Jewish Labour Bund poster imploring the members of the Bund to fight the rising tide of fascism. I picked this art work because I had just finished reading a history of Jewish radicalism before I started making the tape.

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Politics, Reviews

Book Review: Ann Pettifor – The Production of Money (Verso 2017)

Going out on a limb, I’d guess that most people who don’t work in the banking sector (and maybe even some that do!) don’t actually understand what “monetary policy” actually is. I certainly didn’t.

In The Production of Money, Ann Pettifor painstakingly spells out the need for the layperson to have a basic working knowledge of monetary policy, especially if we are to save our democracy from the despotism of global finance. She observes that the financial elite – and many of the academic economists who enable them – deliberately propagate a distorted view of the money system, as if it’s behaviour was an immutable law of nature, rather than a carefully rigged arrangement designed to maintain the dominant position of finance over governments, industry and workers.

She dispels the myth that credit is the loaning out of existing, hoarded wealth as if we still lived in the age of robber barons sitting on piles of gold. Money is debt, and credit is the production of debt from thin air. A calculated gamble that it will generate enough new value in order to pay itself back and more.

In a healthy economy, each unit of money conjured up goes towards generating value – by creating employment and enabling productive activity. Thus, the invented credit money has truly become real value.

In an unhealthy economy, dominated by the desire of financial speculators to generate profits at maximum speed with minimum risk, this credit will be used to inflate the value of assets and the ability to extract the highest rent or interest from them. After a given point, if enough of the money in the system hasn’t generated any value in the real economy via productive enterprise, then a simple default at the bottom of the chain of rent generating assets causes the entire scheme to collapse.

You won’t be surprised, then, to hear that Ann Pettifor is one of the few economists who predicted the great financial crash of 2007/8.

Monetary policy relates to the rules set by governments, implemented through a central bank, that control the creation of new money via the issuing of credit by private banks, as well as the rate of interest offered on government debt or loans.

Pettifor argues that the best way of directing monetary policy for the greatest social good is by making credit relatively hard to get, but very cheap (i.e. at low rates of interest). This “tight but cheap” money will mainly be dished out as loans to people with a believable plan to invest it in a productive fashion, and its cheapness will enable that productivity to more easily become profitable.

She argues that we live in an age were the opposite is true – in which we have access to “easy but costly” credit. This means it is easy to become indebted by using accessible credit for consumption or to purchase assets (mortgages and credit cards for example). Credit issued in this way directs people to invest in property instead of business or industry, so they can begin to charge rent immediately in order to pay off the interest, which is in itself a form of rent (you pay rent to the owner of your house, who pays rent to the owner of his debt, and so on). The growth generated by the extension of this easy but expensive credit enriches those with large asset portfolios, but does nothing to improve the economic situation of workers, entrenching inequality.

She also argues that the free movement of capital, which bankers have so very carefully branded as a progressive development for humankind, is nothing of the sort. It has in fact simply made it easier for financiers to invest their money anywhere in the world where rent seeking is most profitable. This means draining potentially productive capital from developed economies to exploit poor – or “sub-prime” – borrowers who can be charged inflated interest as security against their lack of collateral. This sub-prime borrower might be a poor homeowner in Detroit, or an entire nation without a sound financial and industrial infrastructure of its own. Alongside “tight, cheap credit”, dis-incentivising the free movement of capital by taxing it when it moves across borders (“capital controls”) will promote the reinvestment of a greater share of the wealth generated in a particular country into its own real economy, giving greater power to democracies to direct their own development for the greater good.

The Production of Money is a fantastic, informative guide for anyone on the left looking to boost their understanding of money, interest and credit – especially if they already have a fair grasp of more tangible economic activity such as taxation and public spending. However, it doesn’t go much in for visual metaphors or allegory. Although it breaks down complicated financial concepts to an extent, it assumes a fair bit of prior knowledge from the reader.

Pettifor does not hide that she is attempting rehabilitate the the theories of legendary British economist John Maynard Keynes and demonstrate their particular applicability in the post 2008 world. Neither does she shy away from attacks on “orthodox” or “classical” economics, which she regards as a great sham perpetrated by a combination of ruthless vested interests and academic useful idiots. This book is therefore quite a difficult read if you’re not already comfortable enough with the premises behind Keynesianism or Classical Economics to know why they need scrutiny! Although the book is concise, it could possibly use a few primer chapters at the beginning to get the reader up to speed on what it is they are learning to oppose.

If you’ve come to enjoy the good humoure of economics heart-throb Yanis Varoufakis, Ann Pettifor’s no-fucking-around intellectualism is going to feel like a slap to the face. However, The Production of Money is no dry economics text book; it’s a furiously argued, passionate polemic, full of burning rage at the criminality of the financial class and a desperate desire to empower regular people with the knowledge to take back control of a society subjugated by the tyranny of global finance.

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Cassette Archive, Politics

Heavy Leather Mixtape: Darker With The Day

 

LISTEN AND DOWNLOAD HERE

From Elvis’s swinging hips to white America’s fear of the black man’s sexuality, an atmosphere of sexual menace has hung over rock and roll since its inception. From the mid 1950s onwards, the offer of promiscuity, intoxication, homosexuality and who-knows-what other forbidden pleasures have enticed generations of young people away from the dour, protestant values of their parents. The apparently anti-sex attitudes of the last generation to be born before the invention of the teenager (which occurred shortly after world two) were considered synonymous with all manner of other reactionary, outdated beliefs – and rock and roll was here to usher in the new world.

Flash forward to 2018 and the position of rock and roll is entirely more suspect. Not only did punk prove it to be very much the running dog of consumerism in the Keynesian age, but throughout the Thatcher years the individualist ideology of rock fitted seamlessly with the prevailing economic wisdom  (to the great irritation of many of the actual proponents of the art form). Perhaps more importantly, its legacy as a sexual liberator has been called into question. In a world where men hold so much power – which they constantly demonstrate willingness to abuse – is sexual menace such a good look after all? Did all those women that charged gladly into the sexual revolution get what they paid for, or did they just fall into a trap of being ever more atomised subordinates in a new version of the same old male fantasy?

Rejecting the racism of their parents was key in the beat generation’s attraction to jazz. As the more visceral loathing of black culture faded away and jazz entered its maturity, the genre faded away from the night clubs and drug dens and settled down to a happy existence in the hands of enthusiasts*, specialists and specialists. Maybe rock and roll, having done its job, should content itself with a long, fruitful retirement and cease trying to claim the centre stage in our culture. Is there anything left of value in its original offer of titillation and trepidation or does clinging onto the cock swinging machismo of rock’s halcyon days make you a reactionary old goat? I’m looking at you Bono.

The future is female. Not just morally but also from an economic standpoint (the old industries and old ways of waging war which provided the basis of male power are all but dead in the western world), and so women will decide what will be carried forward into that future, and what will be left behind. Will rock’s inherent dark side be successfully amputated, or will the baby have to be thrown out with the bathwater? I suspect the latter.

The internet makes it ever easier to shine a light on the moral failings of our compatriots. Our ability to expose the venal, vain and violent for the dogs that they are – and challenge their right to positions of authority and influence – is unparalleled. It also allows us to flaunt our own personal virtues and achievements, actively placing us in a marketplace for self esteem. However, characteristics like loyalty, discretion, discipline and integrity are harder to prove in a soundbite or viral video. Even though these are far more desirable than a good PR image, they’re also the least rewarded by the ultra-fast-broadband, trial by media age in which we live. Just ask Gordon Brown I guess.

One of the great tropes of story telling is tale of redemption, in which man slowly sees his evil nature for what it is, painfully transforming himself through humility and self sacrifice. The media age allows us to cast the unworthy down from their pedestals, it remains to be seen if it can offer them redemption afterwards.

1. Badfinger – Baby Blue
2. Clarence Cater – Patches
3. Sly & The Family Stone – Underdog
4. Tina Turner – Nutbush City Limits
5. Amy Stewart – Knock On Wood
6. Lionel Ritchie – Hello
7. Morrissey – You Have Killed Me
8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow
9. Leonard Cohen –  Hallelujah (Live 1988)
10. Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence
11. Nina Simone – Sinnerman
12. Laibach – Life is Life
13. The Mission – Deliverance (12″ Mix)
14. Queen – Sail Away Sweet Sister
15. Talking Heads – Heaven
16. Don Mclean – American Pie
17. Elvis – Can’t Help Falling In Love
18. James Ray & The Black Hearted Riders – Tupelo Tree
19. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Darker With The Day

*Note from Heavy Leather admin, Rob Cowlin: Typical RM generalisation.
Throughout the 20s-70s African American jazz musicians struggled whilst their white counterparts were backed by the mainstream (FM radio in particular). See the popularity of Brubeck’s Time Out, not even Miles could compete with that.
The jazz spots of New York were swept away under a wave of gentrification, putting hundreds of musicians out of work. Thankfully, our black jazz heroes weren’t loathed in Europe or Japan, where they enjoyed considerable fame, playing theatres and festivals

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Politics

“How to hedge your finances against a future Corbyn government”

Despite some people on the left assuming they are the propaganda organ of the ruling capitalist class, The Financial Times consistently comes out with frank, honest and informative analysis of political events, with more consideration for social justice than you’d expect from a broadsheet largely concerned with the movement of money.

I was particularly intrigued with this long article on the potential impact of a Corbyn government on the very wealthy, especially those with large amounts of hoarded assets or involved in high level investment markets.

I was struck throughout how beautifully it illustrated some of the main (and most obviously Marxist inspired) aspects of the Labour Manifesto by describing the opposition people might have to it.

Here’s my “translation” of the piece, based on my own (limited) understanding of the issues involved:

 

 

“a quick scan of the party’s election manifesto will make uncomfortable reading for wealthy over-40s who have amassed assets”

Amazing that this should be news really. The idea that you can redistribute masses of wealth to those that need it without significantly disenfranchising those that have hoarded masses of wealth that they don’t need is pretty laughable. This is why the theory of class struggle is so important. At some point it will come down to “which side are you on?” when deciding on the merits of one policy or another.

 

“Labour party statements make it clear that those earning more than £80,000 can expect to pay higher income taxes under a Labour government.”

Many will have little option but to pay more. “In the long term, there is little that can be done to reduce this burden, unless people consciously work less hard, move down the jobs ladder or emigrate”

The assumption here is that people earning that amount of money are being fairly and proportionately rewarded for the actual amount of work they do. Has the management executive who bags himself an extra £10k bonus, worked 10,000x harder than the cleaner who cleans his office, who had a real terms wage cut?

Even if we accept the premise that disproportionately high wages are fairly earned, do we accept the premise that the only solution to avoid taxation is to work less hard? Why not encourage the company to invest its profits in wage increases more evenly across the higher and lower pay grades, so that instead of panicking about how to avoid paying too much money to your top level employees, you boost the earning power of the whole company?

If you’re a small business owner, why not employ someone? There’s lots of things you can do to distribute excess profits other than “work less hard or emigrate” and nearly all of them are good for the economy.

 

“we hear far greater interest about lifetime tax planning — for example, gifts of assets to children being made sooner rather than later — so that parents’ asset values are reduced before a wealth tax or land value tax takes force.”

So they’re saying that taxation which punishes people for hoarding assets might cause them to release those assets to other people currently locked out of the market? Sounds like they’ve just acclaimed Labour’s 2017 manifesto for saving capitalism from itself.

 

“Labour would also expand the existing UK stamp duty on shares into a broader financial transaction tax. Avinash Persaud, chair of Intelligence Capital, a financial advisory firm, is a champion of the proposed tax which would “bring strength and stability to our markets”.

He says it would not cost jobs, although critics are less sure. Dan Neidle, partner of Clifford Chance, a law firm, says it would “create a strong incentive for funds, investors and traders to migrate from the UK”.

An FTT prevents financial trading from being automatically more profitable than real investment, Avinash Persaud is worth looking into on this.

What Dan Neidle is saying that if Labour takes a rational, sane measure to direct wealth from where it isn’t needed to where it is needed, the people who create that wealth will hold the entire economy to ransom.

Isn’t this suspiciously similar to what the Trade Unions were accused of doing in the 1970s? Wasn’t this given as justification for their almost complete dismantling?

Back to the idea of class struggle again now. What we saw in the 1970s was one group of people (wage earners) exercising their power over the economy (their right to withdraw their labour) to enfranchise their section of society. People would argue that class struggle is irrelevant in today’s world of white collar workers and home owners, but surely when a group of investors attempt to threaten the economy into behaving on their own terms, that’s class struggle – just the top class struggling against the bottom rather than vice versa. Which side are you on?

 

“Labour has said it wants to see the public disclosure of trusts, which it describes as “a key vehicle for tax avoidance and illicit financial flows”. The industry says HMRC already has access to this information and making it public would put beneficiaries in a vulnerable position.”

Mr Stovold says people avoiding tax by using trusts would fear “trial by media”. “It would be a witch hunt,” he says. “People might want to consider unwinding those structures.”

If the media scrutiny of your financial activities would ruin your business, your business deserves to be ruined. Once again, the FT seem to be suggesting that Labour are on the verge of literally saving capitalism.

 

“Whatever the long-term outcome of Labour’s policies on UK stocks and bonds, the election of Jeremy Corbyn would initially be likely to push down the price of UK gilts, take a toll on domestic UK stocks and result in a slide in sterling”

Have you ever compared the stock market to wages? The day to day value of the stock exchange has literally no impact on the overall prosperity of the people who are actively involved in the process of working, especially if they don’t have the kind of Trade Union power dedicated to carving them out a share of that growth.

A slide in sterling has no direct negative impact on people earning and spending money in the UK (i.e. nearly everyone), other than when on holiday. In fact, a slide in sterling means that British products will become cheaper to purchase from abroad, meaning businesses will find themselves a more viable choice of supplier for foreign businesses, actually putting money into the economy and stimulating productive business in the UK. The only people that lose out from a slide in the sterling are people spending a lot of money abroad, i.e. very wealthy international investors in search of a profit.

It may also make it more expensive to import essential goods like fuel, food, and manufactured items like cars, driving up the cost of living for the average household. But that also acts as a direct incentive for investment in renewable energy, supermarkets to return to buying from British farmers and increasing the viability of manufacturing firms (like car factories) still based in the UK. If investors refuse to play ball and waterboard the average wage earner with higher living costs, it adds weight to the argument for more public provision that Labour are making.

 

“Very obviously domestically-facing sectors such as housebuilders and UK retail would be likely to underperform, particularly as housebuilders had a very good run in 2017,” says Tom Stevenson, investment director at Fidelity Personal Investing.”
More specifically, Labour’s plans to nationalise railways, water, energy and Royal Mail would take a toll on those segments of the market. And Mr Corbyn’s aim to intervene more heavily in areas such as energy could drag on the dividends paid by those companies and investment funds.”

Well, duh. People running public services in the interest of private profit in a time of increasing fuel poverty and transport extortion might find themselves inconvenienced by an economic principle based on the idea that people should have a right to access the essentials of life, regardless of profitability.

The fact that the house builders had a very good year in a period in which working people experienced a massive housing crisis is very telling about how unrelated “most profitable” and “of most benefit to society” can be. This is a key plank in Labour’s argument for more economic planning and intervention at a government level.

 

“Sectors including utilities and energy companies are high dividend payers and whether it’s nationalisation or increased regulation and price caps, the outlook for higher and sustainably high dividend incomes looks under threat under a Corbyn government,”

Your need for running water makes you a cash cow. Nationalise the lot.

 

“And Labour’s plans would also mean a big expansion of debt, which would be bad news for bond markets,” he says.”

One thing about about public debt is that in a system with (theoretically) a finite amount of money, more government debt means more people are holding credit. Public debt takes the form of low return but stable investments called bonds. It’s a bit like taking out a savings account with the government. More people with their savings tied up in government, which in turn will spend that money on long term investment like roads or other essential investments like child care, means that this money is being used to the benefit of all, without even having to pay tax (indeed, they make a profit on it!). Low public debt means that people’s savings are probably tied up elsewhere, such as the kinds of hedge funds which trade financial products without creating anything of real value to real people.

Another great thing about public debt is that the growth in the economy that it fuels actually helps pay it off. People need to stop thinking of public debt as a payday loan being spent on bills by a desperate single parent, and view it as more like asking your family to chip in for a sharp suit, a car and a smart phone on the day you get the big job offer.

 

“the resurgence of support for Labour and wider geopolitical uncertainty — has already led some buyers of high-end property to reconsider their purchases.

Simon Gammon, managing director of mortgage broker Knight Frank Finance, says some buyers in London had decided to rent rather than buy, in the belief that house prices were unlikely to rise further under the influence of these factors and homeowners might well face higher annual taxes on their properties.

“There are examples of people agreeing longer than normal lets — three to five years rather than six months — and sitting it out. There’s a cost to that, but their perception is that it will be more than outweighed by any fall in the value of property,”

So what we’re saying here is that the impact of a Labour government is tenancies become more stable and prices on high end housing drops so that people previously excluded from ownership will be able to get on the ladder, and less likely to be bought by a landlord or investment fund as a financial asset. Damn.

 

“You don’t need to be a high net worth individual to have a second home abroad,” says Mr Bertin. “If you need to think about meeting future expenditure needs on a property in France or Spain the question is how do you get the currency overseas? It could be more expensive if there’s a change of administration and issues around Brexit. At worst, it could be difficult to get money out of the country.”

The worst case scenario is making is harder for people to pull their money out of the British economy the second any measure is taken to help people get on the housing ladder. Policies that have this effect are called “capital controls”, which are essential measures for preventing the owners of large amounts of capital running out of town as soon as a democratically elected government tries to implement its manifesto.
Capital controls, like “trade unions” and “nationalisation” are the kind of hard left economic madness you will be warned about in the coming years. Learn about these things, read about their benefits as well as their costs and then when your douchebag cousin tries to pass of their infantile love of money as good economic sense at the next family dinner, you can now calmly demonstrate this piratical view of the economy for what it is: Not common sense, but class struggle.

When the government of East Germany began to spend huge chunks of its national wealth to train doctors and scientists to rebuild a war wrecked economy, West Germany realised that it was actually cheaper to spend their American aid on hiring those people the second they’ve been trained, at a net loss to East Germany. It’s not hard to see why the Berlin Wall suddenly appeared.

This is not unlike the “we need freedom of movement to have enough nurses to run our NHS” fallacy. Immigration is absolutely an invaluable and desirable aspect of the economy, as well as to the culture, but if access to highly trained people from low wage economies is acting as a subsidy to your own domestic education program, you are effectively robbing poor countries while stealing education from your own children too.

One of the problems with socialism is that it is hard to play fair when the other side is richer than you, willing to cheat and wants to see your way of life smashed. The Brexit voting working class recognise this as surely as the East Germans did.

 

“Buy-to-let landlords — already under pressure from increased tax and regulation of the rental sector — are also considering how a future change of government might affect them. Advisers say some are seeking to move ahead with partial sales of a portfolio”

Landlords releasing their stock onto the market will decrease the size of the private rental centre (which can then be taken up by social housing and housing association co-ops, both another platform of the Labour plan) and increase the supply of houses to buy, decreasing costs to the first time buyer.

 

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Politics

I’m a Labour and Momentum member – and I support harsher purges of anti-semites.

I’ve sat on this piece for a while, but in light of the issues surrounding anti semitism and the left that have raged throughout the media this week, I’ve decided to publish it now.

Following a succession of high profile allegations of anti-semitism throughout 2017, the Labour Party engaged in an enthusiastic cull of members deemed to be extolling not only conspiracy theories, but out and out racism. A charge which most of those expelled vigorously deny.

In January this year I attended a special meeting of the group “Labour Against The Witch Hunt” in order to judge for myself the extent of the issue. This group is composed of  people expelled by the Labour Party administration, keen to clear out the tiny minority of anti-semites which do so much damage to the cause of the party.

After arriving at the originally advertised venue, I noticed several medium sized groups of late middle aged men and women exchanging information and sneaking off out in groups. After a few moments I gathered they’d performed a venue switch. Possibly as part of a factional manoeuvre to gerrymander the meeting , or possibly, because the original pub wanted nothing to do with them – I don’t know.

Once settled into the new venue, the farce began. In time honoured tradition they opened the meeting by proposing motions and counter motions for the structure of the meeting itself. Watching this group of red faced, blustering old men (and it mostly was old men) work themselves up into a lather over who had the right to hold the chair made for amusing, if incredulous, watching. After years of inflicting insufferably boring arguments about procedure on decent, ordinary Labour and Trade Union branch members, they were determined to take the opportunity to exercise this particular perversion in the company of fellow enthusiasts.

This is a group of people that have all found themselves on the wrong side of Labour’s compliance unit and expelled, many for belonging to various proscribed organisations which, although separated by minute variations in revolutionary theory are all too often linked by one over arching theme: the stink of anti-semitism.

The purpose of Labour Against The Witch Hunt was to create a coherent organisation that could lobby the Labour Party for readmission of expelled members and disprove the allegations against them. They immediately ran into the issue that several of the major factions composing the group were actively involved in the publishing and dissemination of anti-semitic views. These mostly revolve around a belief in a conspiracy of jewish billionaires and media moguls manipulating the policies of the American government, using Israel as the outpost of a Middle Eastern empire:

America is the foot and Israel is the boot!” passionately exclaimed one participant.

The function of this particular meeting was for those ostracised Labour members who aspired towards a modicum of respectability (headed up by prominent trotskyist Tony Greenstein and disgraced former Momentum activist Jackie Walker) to formally exclude those currently involved in the publishing anti-semitic views from their campaign. Specifically, to pass a motion to exclude Socialist Fight from LAW, a one man organisation composed entirely of a person called Gerry Downing, from their group.

The meeting quickly descended into attempts to redefine anti-semitism to such an extent that their shared delight in Jewish conspiracies might no longer technically count as racism. Those in favour of the expulsion read out numerous quotes of the accused and their close associates, to accompanying cries of “McCarthyism!” or “Guilt by association!“. The overarching theme was that although everyone agreed the Zionist Conspiracy existed within the American/Israeli ruling classes, as well as within the the media and the banks, some of these truthers might be able to enter back into the mainstream if they could disassociate themselves with those that didn’t even bother to disguise their hysterical views in careful language. I have to admit to even being slightly impressed at hearing terms like “Judeo-Marxists” uttered with no irony whatsoever, as if it this really was a meeting of the NSDAP.

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“Yes this is Socialist fight, to whomst am I speaking?”

At first it was funny, then infuriating, but in the end it was all rather heartbreaking. As the meeting wore on it became clear how vulnerable and unstable many of these people were. Watching one man with shaking hands and hopeless eyes hurriedly correct himself from using the term “jews” to the term “bankers”, it was hard to even feel angry with him.  The same man had claimed earlier he had been expelled from a CLP he’d been an activist in for 20 years, but he couldn’t even remember which one it was. He was quite sure of which trotskyist group he was in though, which had caused him to become a “victim of the zionist purge“.

In many ways, mainstream Labour figures were right to warn of the dangers of trotskyist entryism. Unlike newcomers to the movement, they had seen first hand the damage that any association with these people could wreck. Equally, those skeptical about the nature and internal make up of Momentum were justified in their cynicism, as a frank look at this hideous milieu reveals what kind of organisation it might have been, had they been allowed to infiltrate its structures. Just as they’ve ground down and destroyed every attempt to create a coherent left wing voice in Britain for decades, they would undoubtedly have brought the same fate upon Momentum given half the chance.

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John Lansman, founder of Momentum and himself a Jewish Labour member, has played an instrumental role in excluding many of the unsavoury characters that make up Labour Against the Witch Hunt from Momentum.

The mere presence of over 60 bewildered activists at this meeting, all recently expelled from the Labour Party, attests to the vigilance of both the Labour and Momentum leadership against such harmful characters. Although the meeting eventually decided to exclude Socialist Fight on grounds of anti-semitism, the fact it took two solid hours of hysterical arguing about the jewish problem suggests that none of them are fit for readmission into Labour. Astoundingly, the sheer number of both racist and clearly anti-semitic contributions from both those supporting Socialist Fight’s expulsion and those opposing it seemed of no consequence to anyone in the room. Despite literally stating in the meeting that the American government was controlled by jews who are “over represented in the billionaire class“, no one had the guts to label Gerry Downing a racist himself, settling for labelling his front organisation anti-semitic. Other highlights included chief accuser and chairperson Tony Greenstein screaming at someone to “shut up, shut up!!!” until he was literally red in the face (glad all those motions on procedure paid off Tony) and another participant becoming confused as to whether America controlled Israel or Israel controlled America.

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Downing has never been shy about his unconventional views, openly stating them in the public domain at any opportunity.

That nobody had the self awareness to realise their very participation in the meeting incriminated them irrevocably is equally bizarre. Despite the heavy air of decay that hung over all concerned, they honestly seemed to believe they were making political headway of some kind. If these people had indeed been allowed to take over Momentum, as so many people assumed they would, I have no doubt they would have bypassed the general election in favour of arguing among themselves. Such is the nature of British trotskyism.

In order to preserve their legitimacy as a political force, mainstream Conservatives have long maintained a wide stretch of deep blue water between themselves and the swivel eyed racists that make up the lunatic fringe of the right. Isolated, demoralised and far from power, the left of the Labour Party has, in the past, found itself backed into a corner and forced to exist in a space dominated by the lunatics and degenerates that now make up LAW. For most people the rise of Corbynism and socialism’s advance towards government has brought optimism, not to mention an escape from the culture of misery and failure perpetuated by warring grouplets of these so-called revolutionaries.

I still wholeheartedly believe that the socialist transformation of the Labour Party is packed with positive potential. That every effort has been made to clear out this miserable group of yesterday’s men is a sign of a mass party in rude health, serious about rising to power and creating a radical, transformative government for the many, not this sad, demoralised few.

 

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Cassette Archive, Politics

Mixtape – Machine Beats 2016

LISTEN HERE

Walking down the stairs to a warehouse-esque party on the last night of Labour conference last year, I couldn’t have been any happier. The authoritatively cool sensibilities of counter culture were being brought into the mainstream political realm and seemed wonderful, especially to someone like myself, brought up on a diet of pop culture and middle class permissiveness.

The comrade next to me wasn’t so sure:

“I dunno, it looks a bit zaney to me”

It had literally never occurred to me that being obtuse, transgressive and edgy didn’t automatically carry some kind of inherent value, and the realisation hit me like a jolt. Ever since the late 1960s, the prevailing wisdom has been that orthodoxy, blandness and conformity are the tools of reactionary power and that any counter-cultural challenge to this blandness is fundamentally progressive.

The post 1960s culture of radical transgression grew from a rejection of both the pre-defined capitalistic modes of behaviour and the societies of socialist world, which were increasingly seen as oppressive and unsupportable by a left disorientated by the economic and cultural boom of capitalism’s post war years.

However, the genius of capitalism is to absorb what it can’t suppress, and it didn’t take long for the symbols of youthful rebellion to be reduced to a series of garish consumption options, a fact that any long time fan of punk rock will regretfully admit.

Perhaps the only surprising aspect of all this is that it took the reactionary right to discover that anti-authoritarian rebelliousness could be an equally effective weapon in their own armoury, as Angela Nagle wearily illustrates in her recent polemic “Kill All Normies” – a text that added another nail to the coffin of my faith in transgression.

All this poses some fairly unpleasant questions about the politics of pop culture and rock and roll in particular. If the whole thing is not, in fact, a redemption for a sick society, but an agent of that sickness, is there a way out? Is there an escape other than nihilistic capitulation to the system, or disappearing down a poisonous rabbit-hole of sectarian insanity? This dichotomy is visible on the left today in the antagonism between dead-eyed Blairites and the foaming-at the-mouth Trotskyists who hate them.

My hope is to trust in the dialectical proposition that everything contains the essence of its opposite. In that spirit please enjoy this 2016 mixtape of retro electro and quasi-industrial deep cuts. A mixtape of songs as bleak, claustrophobic and antagonistic as the societies that spawned them. Even if they fail to signpost the way to a better world, maybe they can shine a light on the one in which we live.

Track List

The Human League – John Peel Session 1978

Cabaret Voltaire – John Peel Session 1984

Ministry – Primental (Live 1982)

James Rays Gangwar – Absolutely Free

The March Violets – Deep (Radio Session, 1984)

The March Violets – Face of the Dragonfly (Radio Session, 1984)

Miserylab – Children of the Poor

Miserylab – People 

TV Baby – Wild Joy

TV Baby – New York is Alright

Victories At Sea – Up

Genuflex – Lotus Eats Pale Receipts

Genuflex – Bludevotion

Genuflex – Black Sails

The Sisters Of Mercy – Comfortably Numb/Some Kind of Stranger (Live 1993)

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Cassette Archive, Politics

Heavy Leather Mixtape: Podcast Episode 1 – No Revisionism, Yes Disco!

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST

What makes a successful society? Is it a dazzling array of consumer products? Is it a baffling quantity of TV channels, or social media platforms, such that more and more of our ever decreasing leisure time is spent in mute panic, paralysed by the illusion of choice? Were the vast efforts in the fields of education, working class housing, free healthcare and socially owned industrial development that typified the grey dystopia to be found just on the other side of the iron curtain an evil to be washed away by consumer society?

This year Spotify ran an advertising campaign which – while attempting to be funny and personal – actually revealed the astoundingly sinister level of corporate surveillance which we’ve welcomed into our lives.

“To the person in LA who listened to the “forever alone” playlist for 4 hours on Valentine’s Day, are you ok?”

“To the 1235 guys who loved the “Girl’s night out” playlist this year, we love you”

…and so on.

Via their various motion and activity tracking applications, Apple even know your heart rate and location at any given time of day. They can pinpoint, with an astouding degree of accuracy, whether you’re at work, going shopping, taking a dump or making love. They can then feedback all this information into your ubiquitous consumption of their products, to shape your behaviour more effectively and profitably.
The combined data sets of a just a few companies, themselves mostly part of the same few mega-corporations, paints a more total picture of your public and your secret life than the Stasi state managed at the height of their powers – all without having to spend a penny on anything so impractical as a subsidised public service. Thank god for liberal democracy.
This tape is, loosely, a round up of last couple of years – both literally and autobiographically. It starts with the rock and roll funeral march of early 2016, winding its way through the strange rediscovery of retro electro and finishing with a bit of a bubblegum synthpop twist. In dialectical materialism, every crisis or conflict contains the seeds of its own solution, as we’ve watched the bad future roll out over the last few years we’ve also experience an upsurge in optimism for the better world to come. This mixtape is the musical backdrop to this emotional state.

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Politics, Reviews

Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece in Capitalist Realism.

 

In a recent speech, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson caused uproar with the comment “Libya has the potential to turn the city of Sirte into the next Dubai, once it has cleared the dead bodies away.” Despite the faux outrage this generated across the higher minded sections of the chattering classes, this is actually one of the most refreshingly honest and useful appraisals of how our system actually works. Throughout its long history, Anglo-American capitalism has manifested as everything from the slave trade to the unchallenged doctrine of the free world. It exists simultaneously as a liberator, pulling huge swathes of people out of theocratic, subsistence level misery while flattening entire surplus populations at the slightest tremor in the global oil market.

Alongside the collapse of any large scale alternatives, capitalism’s awesome flexibility and ability to incorporate (almost) any aspect of the changing world into itself has left most of us unable to meaningfully comprehend (let alone strive for) a new way of organising society: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world itself than the end of capitalism”.

Blade Runner 2049 is a majestic, visionary film that explores this idea to the absolute fullest, without once breaking into cliché or sanctimony. You can view the entire movie as nothing more than a fresh take on the cyber punk aesthetic, or as a series of moving personal stories, and enjoy every moment. Looking at some of the reactions and reviews its generated to date, that seems to be the way its been initially received. This, however, demonstrates an inability (or unwillingness) to read the main message of the film, in much the same way as a fish is unable to perceive the water in which is swims.

A recent BBC documentary saw Reggie Yates uncovering the scandal of illegal – but widespread – corporate dumping of waste electronics. The audience watch on in fascinated horror as millions of tonnes of this waste accumulate in the African nation of Ghana, powering a dystopian economy in which people live in a brutal pecking order based on their ability to profit from the breakdown of the rubbish. The audience is saddened that such a world exists, in which children and adults alike spend endless hours burning the plastic coating off copper wires and performing countless other hazardous tasks, without even the simplest health and safety equipment, let alone the education to understand that the fumes they breath freely every day are killing them, quickly. We accept that although tragic, its an explicable and predictable underbelly to a global market economy in overdrive. We’re sad, but ultimately we’re not surprised.

Which probably explains how quickly we acclimatise to the scenes of horizon filling landfills just outside the boundaries of Blade Runner 2049’s Megacity One version of Los Angeles. In a world made barely inhabitable by war and climate disaster, but still controlled by hegemonic corporate powers, why wouldn’t such scenes still exist on unfathomably large scales? A regular science fiction movie would wow us with dazzling images of spaceships and star battles, but Blade Runner instead takes us to the wasteland “orphanage” operating semi-illegally as a primitive recycling factory, in which hundreds of children work all day stripping the urban garbage for traces of nickel that will go on to be used in the building of spaceships. “The closest to going off world me or any of these kids will ever get”, notes the brutish overseer character. The presence of this workhouse custodian, played by a black actor, overseeing his overwhelmingly white charges serves to subtly point out that freedom from racial subjugation is a hollow victory if the institution of slavery continues regardless.

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The backdrop of Blade Runner 2049 is the constant juxtaposition of huge, anonymous corporate super structures (Sony, Peugeot and Jonny Walker whisky all get conspicuous placements) with the ubiquitous presence of the engineered slave race of replicants. The arch villain Mr Wallace even goes so far to explicitly state that “no great leap of civilization has been achieved without a huge disposable population, its just unfashionable these days if it hasn’t been manufactured“. And yet, the only thing that really seems to distinguish the replicants from any other working class participant in this society is the prejudice directed at “skinjobs” by “real” people. A not so subtle metaphor for the way oppressed populations can turn to racism to position themselves into a place of relative power against another, even more oppressed group.

In a brief scene highlighting the fundamental failure of this hi-tech capitalist liberation, the sinister chief of staff for the replicant making Wallace Corporation (herself a high end replicant with unusual levels of autonomy) is selling the owner of a drilling company (played by a middle aged black women) an array of potential replicant slaves. She suggests low intelligence workers as standard, but throwing in a few good looking pleasure models for herself, if desired. The scene is treated as incidental to the plot, but once again reveals the fundamental message of the film – that you can have as many layers of personal liberation as you want, but it all comes out as dystopia if the subjugation of one class by another is perpetuated as the basis of that liberation. Shocking then, that some of the initial audience reactions to this insight were “the film needs more black slaves and more female slave owners”. Shocking and pathetic.

Despite all these wonderfully Marxian assessments of the inhuman resilience of big capitalism, perpetually reasserting its dominance despite generating ever greater social meltdowns, the most interesting character by far is Joi, the holographic AI programmed to act as the perfectly domesticated female archetype. A pure, loving being, a good soul trapped at the very bottom of a megalith of nightmarish oppressions.

On the surface, Joi is nothing but a sexist product of male fantasy. She was literally designed to be anything her (male) owner wants her to be. Although she has the artificial intelligence similar to that of a replicant, she’s denied even a physical body. Owned by our replicant hero, K, she is analogous to the working class housewife, placed at the very bottom of the class hierarchy by fact of her gender. The question the audience is invited to ask is whether she even exists as a character, or is she simply a product of her programming? This question isn’t so different to the questions we’re posed by the breakdown of traditional gender roles in our own society. To what extent are any of our life choices our own, and to what extent are they sum total of everything our gender, job and media environment have made us? Viewed in this light, Joi is the true hero of the story. Despite having every aspect of her existence pre-conditioned, she still ends up making the choice to break her chains to the greatest extent she’s able, by asking K to transfer her out of her main database into a portable version and permanently break the connection between the two, facing up to the prospect of her own death in the process.

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You can interpret Joi’s every action as a perfectly programmed reaction to K’s own desires, a selfless machine for simulating love in K’s own loveless world, or you can choose to view Joi as a metaphor for the struggle that we all face – to find purpose, happiness and autonomy in a world determined to dictate our every choice. In this way Blade Runner 2049 bridges the gap between the personal and the systematic and, along with its flawless directing and a perfectly conceived score, is a masterpiece of our times.

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Reviews

Review: Alex Cameron – Forced Witness

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“Well it’s hard being a liar, I don’t know who’s supposed to be on my mind. ‘Cause I love my little darling, but I also love these women online…”

Alex Cameron made a name for themselves throughout 2016/17, touring the hell out of their debut album Jumping the Shark (Alex Cameron is a guy, but its also the name of the band formed around the core duo of Alex Cameron and his business partner and saxophonist Roy Molloy). The record’s stripped back mix of character acting and repetitive electronica formed a neat bridge between earnest pop singers like Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen and the No Wave freakary of acts like Suicide.

Forced Witness is a massive musical and artistic leap. They’ve ramped up the production values, the variety of instrumentation and the complexity of the arrangements to something much more conventionally pop. The contrast feels something like the difference between Simple Minds’ Empires and Dance and their later super-hit, New Gold Dream.

The album is front loaded, with all three previously showcased singles (Candy May, Stranger’s Kiss, Runnin’ Outta Luck) appearing on the first side. If you’ve been anticipating this record with baited breath, this might take the wind out of your sails somewhat. All the big hitters are over before you get half way through and you might be tempted to think old Al Cam and Roy are runnin’ outta ideas.

This would be a big mistake. The album is put together like a true classic, rewarding repeated listening from different perspectives. They demonstrate their radio songwriting chops early on – enough to keep any hard drinking dancefloor junkie satisfied – and then consciously push other elements to the front of their musical brew.

By the time we get to the jarringly titled Studmuffin96 we’re presented with a seriously disconcerting set of lyrics juxtaposed over a fairly inoffensive musical backdrop. If you’re not paying attention, this might be the point at which your attention starts to wander, but don’t be tempted by the sweet nothings in your groupchats, or the lewd messages from your online lover. Jumping the Shark was full of sparse, mean tunes with vague but menacing themes, Forced Witness opts for a bigger, brighter presentation but much more explicit content. This is American Psycho to Jumping the Shark’s The Shining.

Forced Witness has the feel of Paul Simon’s Graceland, Leonard Cohen’s Various Positions or even The Sisters Of Mercy’s Floodland. On the one hand it’s all about the fabulous songwriting and performances, but on the other hand it allows itself to drift around a bit, showcasing the engineering and production flourishes that have gone into it. Like all great pop records, it pulls together a broad swathe of musical influences and outputs them as something deeply slick and pleasing on the ear yet disquieting to the soul.

Despite the long list of retro reference points, each song deals with a set of experiences which are uniquely post-digital revolution. The alienation of life and love in the online age hangs deeply over the entire piece, as well as multiple explorations on the theme of being a young man in a time and place that increasingly has no use for the norms of your gender. This record demonstrates both confidence and vulnerability – Alex Cameron clearly knows how to put on a  great show of bravado, yet doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with it. This is music for cocksure millennials, starting to grow up and beginning to feel the panic set in.

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Politics

So you want to build a progressive alliance?

Judean People's Front

During the lead up to this General Election campaign there have been multiple calls for an anti-Conservative “progressive alliance”. It’s a strong message with a simple aim that will appeal to most people on the left of politics.

However, before you get too excited and declare it a simple matter of intelligence and resolve – and start condemning your MP for standing in the way of progress – there are a few things worth considering:

The Other Parties

The Liberal Democrats have actively demonstrated that they would prefer to work with a Conservative government than a Labour one. Something Tim Farron has since publicly restated. So the first issue is the assumption that the Liberal Democrats want to remove the Tory government, or that they would prefer to work with a Labour one.

Also remember that on many issues, the Liberal Democrats are a lot closer in policy to the Conservatives than to Labour. Question exactly makes you think the Lib Dems are a progressive party in the first place.

In some ways, the SNP benefit from a Conservative government. It makes them look strong and oppositional and keeps separatist feeling in Scotland high – which gets them closer to independence. A good Labour government in England which offered a decent devolution deal would make their dream of independence much less achievable.

The SNP also now have nearly every single seat in Scotland. What incentive do they have to cut a deal with Labour? What does Labour have to offer them? What incentive does Labour have to cease campaigning to regain its historical political heartland? Do we intend to disband the entirety of Scottish Labour?

The SNP spent decades working towards an electoral takeover of Scotland. Many of their best people have given their entire lives to this cause. Now they’ve achieved it, what is the likelihood of them giving any ground away to a defeated Scottish Labour at this stage in the game?

No one wants to see Caroline Lucas removed from parliament, but even if you added the entire Green vote to Labour’s, we still wouldn’t have enough votes to form a government. How many seats would Labour have to effectively give away to the Green Party in order for them to suspend their entire national effort? Asking the Greens to cease trading in key marginals is certainly a worthwhile argument, but are they willing? And if we take, we will also have to give, which brings us to…

The Labour Party

The Labour Party *is* a progressive alliance between people with radically different political views. From hard socialists on one end to liberals on the other. If you admit we need to form alliances with different parties, you nullify the one basic principle keeping all those people united in one party in the first place.

The other parties in this proposed rainbow alliance have run some very unpleasant campaigns against Labour over the years, and continue to do so. Anyone remember how Peter Tatchell was defeated in 1983 by another gay man standing for the Liberals? A gay man who chose to hide his sexuality and run a deeply homophobic campaign against Tatchell? Many in Labour still do.

In order to get a progressive alliance through The Labour Party, you would need to win the active consent of people that have been opposed, slandered and abused by the other parties all their political lives. You can’t just wish to Jeremy Corbyn to make it happen, you need democratic consent within the party at large. Calls for the progressive alliance  are often viewed by councillors, activists and party officers as the childish demands of clicktavists who have never bothered to do the actual work of building a Labour government from the ground up.

Lastly, but perhaps most crucially, The Labour Party constitution expressly forbids its members to support an opposing party candidate. It also requires all local Labour Parties to provide their communities with the option for Labour representation. If a local party does decide to support a different candidate, they cease to be recognised as a CLP under the terms of the Labour rulebook.

The Many Seats Of Power

It’s a mistake to view power in the United Kingdom as resting solely in Westminster. Power is wielded in lots of ways by many different groups – just ask a Trade Unionist or a corporate CEO! Governmental power is weirdly most directly by local councils. The leader of Islington Council arguably has more power to improve the lives of Islington citizens than their MP does, even as leader of the opposition. Campaigning for a Labour MP in your local area increases the strength and visibility of your local party and potential council candidates. Even if you don’t knock off that nasty Tory MP this time, you are helping to empower Labour to implement socialist policies via local government. Aspiring and sitting councillors are often the hardest working campaigners at a local level, and asking them to stop campaigning for Labour is not only asking them to hijack their own political careers, but to also hijack Labour’s ability to form strong councils, which are often the last line of defence against malicious Conservative governance. Although MPs have the most celebratory status, and ordinary members are the most vocal on social media, it is Labour councillors who form the heart of the Party’s day to day activity, so any progressive alliance will have to be built with their consent too.
Although Labour currently hold 46 out of 47 seats on Islington Council, this didn’t happen because of a natural right to govern. In 2006, while Labour were sitting in office in Westminster, Islington Council was controlled by the Liberal Democrats – who used their local power to happily sell off and privatise as many of the council’s assets as possible. It’s through a decade of hard work that activists and councillors have been able to regain absolute control and undo much of the damage that was done – all the while bolstering Jeremy Corbyn’s position as an MP in what is now one of the safest seats in the country.

 

Despite all this, I still want to build a progressive alliance – what should I do?

The first thing you can do is join the Labour Party. There are plenty of people within Labour that believe a progressive alliance is a good idea. They point to the fact the first ever Labour government was formed via an electoral pact between Labour and The Liberal Party, and many suspect that there was indeed some behind the scenes discussion with the Liberal Democrats in the lead up to Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.

There are also many cases in which bad Tory MPs have been unseated when Labour members and voters quietly chose to stand aside to give a powerful local Liberal Democrat a shot at the money – Zac Goldsmith’s recent thrashing in Richmond might be considered an example of this.

Within Labour there are many political pressure and policy groups, which lobby around a particular set of ideas within the party and movement. You may have heard of Momentum or Progress, but if cross party centre-left consensus is your main concern, you should consider joining COMPASS, which campaigns heavily on this issue.

If you are a member of Labour you could also petition the National Executive Committee (the NEC, not the leader’s office, is the ruling body of the party) to change the rules, allowing individual CLPs to democratically decide to not stand a candidate if they believe it would be the best thing to do to allow another party to unseat a local Conservative MP (and ultimately bring Labour closer to forming a majority government). As it is, even if a CLP wished to do such a thing it would be a gross violation of the party constitution and a candidate would be imposed upon them by the national party.

A progressive alliance isn’t a simple proposition to be pulled out of the hat once a General Election is underway. It’s a deeply complicated issue that confronts over one hundred years of political history. The intention is noble, but like all things worth doing, it will take commitment and will have to overcome innumerable challenges.

Everyone who values equality and justice will find periods of Conservative government frustrating at best and, at worst, deeply damaging. But the first step towards banishing the Tory menace, whether you want to build a progressive alliance or not, is to join your local Labour Party and start campaigning with them – street by street and door by door.
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Reviews

Hotgothic: I’m Still Yours (CD Single)

Dive bar drug rockers Hotgothic make a sharp break with their established modus operandi with this creamy shot at MOR synth pop. They’ve woken up from their boozed up stupor of anti-rock and decided to actually write a pop song, just to demonstrate that they can if they want to. However – the shrill, isolated synth melody and over-earnest crooning combine to have much the same effect as their previous works, and I’m Still Yours sounds as much a criticism and deconstruction of songwriting as an earnest attempt. The no frills production, synthesised rhythm section and pointed vocal bring to mind a speakeasy version of Sleaford Mods.

 

The B side is a drawn out statement piece. A drawling spoken vocal describes its own minor grievances over a hypnotic, marshal sounding slab of electro. The song gradually increases in intensity as the tone of the vocals shifts from a self pitying appeal to a fascistic sneer. A rather neat comment on the sort of political approach which begins as a rational appeal to self interest and ends up demanding the ideological destruction of society. Fittingly – if somewhat bluntly – the song ends in a chorus of chanted backing vocals on the repeated motif of “I’m know I’m right”. Just in case you had any doubt about what the message of the song was up to now.

The final track on this CD single is an interesting choice. A remix of the title track without any of the ironic deconstruction and all the bells and whistles of 80s driving rock thrown at it. It sounds fantastic; pure fist pumping, aviators, cocaine and open top car driving through LA fantastic…. but by its very presence the brevity of the main single mix more deliberate and striking.

While most rock music pleads with the listener for attention, Hotgothic instead point an accusing finger. In trying (and failing) to be as middle of the road as possible, I’m Still Yours is at once passé and incongruous, enjoyable for its scathing satire as much as for its merits as a smooth slice of electro rock.

Purchase the CD here

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Politics

The Definition of Insanity

By Toby Peacock

In the summer of 2016 the only progressive credential needed was voting remain. The racists of UKIP and the old Tory bigots were lining up to vote leave so the only option must be to accept the EU, despite its flaws, and vote to stay in. After all, perhaps after a narrow remain vote Britain will be able to forge a campaign to reform the EU from within?

Fast forward two years, the racists and the bigots won. Our country has gone to the dogs. The gleaming light of the EU is getting further from us as we hurtle deeper into the darkness. The campaign though is not yet over, there is still a valiant group willing to fight for the EU and to stop Brexit in its tracks and take Britain back to those days before the referendum when things weren’t ruined and we all lived in harmony. Right?

Well, not quite, because although those now supporting a “people’s vote” may like to pretend Britain collapsed in the early hours of the 24th June 2016, for many people in Britain their communities had collapsed already. Either in the 1980s under Thatcher or more recently following the 2008 recession. The opportunity to vote leave was the chance to create some meaningful change and to shift our country in a new direction.

Despite your opinions on the referendum campaign, or how you voted, now that Brexit is quite obviously happening it is worth taking some time to look at the playing field and all of the players. The working-class vote in Britain was to leave, “62 per cent of those with income of less than £20,000” voted that way. Whereas, quelle surprise, it was the well-to-do middle classes who emphatically supported the EU, for those earning over £60,000 just 35 per cent supported Britain withdrawing. So, when you see discussions of voters being fooled, not understanding or that we should ignore the first referendum result, remember that this is being put forward predominantly by a financially well-off group who – although purporting to be progressive – show all the signs of sneering indignation towards the decision made by their intellectual, cultural and financial inferiors.

The faux-progressive liberal ‘left’ is politically homeless, but only through fault of their own. Now fully wedded to the European project through their total disdain for Brexit, they’re unable to properly argue for anything other than the status-quo. However, it is evident across Europe that the general public is not content with the status-quo any longer.

Hardcore anti-brexit sentiment, summed up by campaigns like #FBPE on twitter, has tied itself too closely to the EU, ignoring that many on the left voted remain while holding their noses. They were not enamoured by the EU’s treatment of the Greeks, or the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, nor the endless freedoms for big business.

These ‘New Europeans’ now blame Brexit for anything and everything while they let capitalism and the Conservative government off the hook. They accept the slogan of neoliberalism ‘There Is No Alternative’ when a company shuts down and jobs are lost, they say Brexit is the cause, ignoring the possibility that the government could intervene in any way to protect jobs from the whims of the continental single market. But the real kicker for the anti-brexit campaign is that they’re incapable of addressing any of the issues that actually led to people voting leave.

The anti-brexit liberal intelligentsia has few answers for the communities destroyed by de-industrialisation, whose high-streets are now rammed with bookies, charity shops and big brand coffee places – but little else. This is the economics of liberalism: the small, local-run shop is crushed by the multi-national conglomerate because your local green grocer cannot buy and sell on the same scale that Tesco can. Of course, even this simple (and I admit simple) example is overlooked by the anti-brexit brigade in quest of cheap flights to the south of France and the ease of access to European Au Pairs. That is because neoliberalism suits the well off, and the EU referendum has made them realise that for all their progressive pretensions, the economic arguments bite.

We can see that deep down it all comes to economic ideology and not a pursuit of genuine progressive values. #FBPE and the People’s Vote campaigns are awash with attacks on Corbyn and his socialist Labour Party yet we see next to nothing aimed at May and her Conservative Government, who are actually carrying out Brexit. Much support has also been given to the ‘compassionate conservatives’ Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke, who, despite allowing the Conservative government to continue unhindered by not resigning the whip, are somehow true heroes, fighting to prevent the country destroying itself. But because they are anti-brexit we must ignore the work they have been doing to destroy the country when voting through other tory policies.

These liberal progressives see the EU as something it is not. Their view is that the European Union is there to protect us from the great evils of this world, that it is a beacon of hope in a world of Trump, Tories and the far-right. This image is not accurate. The EU does nothing to protect us from the populist far-right sweeping to power, and if we look to the continent we actually see a situation far worse than ours here in Britain as we wait to leave. The EU’s lack of democracy and watering down of individual national cultures by weakening the nation state has empowered the far-right, who now have a strong political presence in almost every EU member state. As well as this rise, the centre-left social democrats are collapsing. Voters are moving away from liberal social-democracy judging it as failed, yet the anti-brexit movement in Britain strives for this liberal social-democracy, which in Europe is dying. They are destined for failure. The EU is the hill the faux-progressive liberal left has chosen to die on and, by the looks of it, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

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“Toby Peacock is a Young Labour activist, originally from Hull, about to graduate from Goldsmiths University in Political Science, with a focus on the impacts of immigration.”

 

 

 

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Politics, Reviews

Review: The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes

Understanding how two centuries of revolution and violence have somehow culminated in the realisation of Germany’s long standing ambition to be Europe’s leading power can be a tall order. In light of current events, this book has the potential to be a timely and relevant contribution to public enlightenment.

Sadly it is nothing of the sort.

The book begins with some excellent exposition on the Roman origins of the German idea. It enjoyably and concisely goes on a little romp through the rise, fall and rebirth of Rome from the perspective of an increasingly Romanised Germanic barbarian. We get a good sense of how the memory of Rome formed a mythical centre of gravity for the emerging mediaeval central Europe. In fact, everything up to the pre-modern age is fairly enjoyable.

As in genuine history,  signs of the trouble to come start to appear around the industrial revolution. Hawes introduces us the great Prussian philosopher, GW Hegel. He explains how, in order to avoid brutal censorship, Hegel and other thinkers of his age veiled their ideas in an attempt to throw the authorities off the scent of their radicalism.

Sadly, Hawes acts more like a thick headed Prussian censor than an educated reader of philosophy. Hegel couched many of his radical ideas for a new social order in gushing admiration for the totalitarian Prussian state. He loudly exclaimed that if a perfect state was ever going to exist, Prussia was well on the way to being it. Like Thomas Moore before him, Hegel is playing to the ego of authority in order to express dangerously radical ideas with relative impunity. Unfortunately Hawes simply takes Hegel at his word on this, and then proceeds to hamfistedly blame him for “all state loving extremists ever since, both of the left and right” – a theme which Hawes determinedly sticks to through the rest of the book.

At first its hard to tell whether all this is deliberate dishonesty or simply the kind of astounding stupidity enthusiastically performed by the apparently well educated (what a surprise that Nick Cohen has given this book his resounding endorsement!).

As the book goes on it becomes clear that the reader is being subjected to a poorly constructed barrage of lies-by-omission, error and ideological nonsense.

The author’s almost obscene hatred of Prussia should probably disqualify him from writing a genuinely useful history of Germany full stop. I won’t go much into this, as other reviewers with better knowledge of Prussian history have already throughly trounced this aspect of the writing (amazing that such a short book can be so a-historical in so many different ways!).

His handling of Marx is fairly typical of sneering liberalism: “a clever writer who was wrong about everything”. A view which totally fails to appreciate that Marxism took off in a big way after World War I because he was, in fact, right about so many things. I was more or less prepared for this particular bit of nonsense, as his view of Marx was heavily insinuated in his earlier discussion of Hegel.

However, it wasn’t until his handling of the 1919 working class uprising that I began to develop a genuine sense of revulsion towards the text.

Rather than address the painful schism that ripped through the German working class after WWI, which resulted in the Social Democratic government hiring mercenaries to violently suppress their own people, he simply shrugs his shoulders and ignores it, blaming incitement by communists for the whole debacle. The only mention of the great German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg is in a picture caption – her ideas are ignored and her brutal murder is entirely omitted.

So ready is Hawes to blame communists for everything, including their own murders (which he implicitly endorses), one wonders how many other victims of terror he’d happily blame for their own fates.

The stench of his fascist semi-apologism becomes almost too much to bear as the book continues, and I was tempted to simply give up several times, despite it being a short and very basic text.

His clear and constant implications about the inferiority of Eastern European society,  his abject hatred of communists and his occasional flirtation with anti-semitism lead me to suspect that, had he been living in West Germany in the 1930s, he’d have been more sympathetic to the rising forces of fascism than he’d like to admit.

His old nemesis Prussia comes to the rescue here, as he’s able to frame Nazism as uniquely driven by those East Elbian barbarians, which his enlightened, civilised, Roman West Germany was unwillingly dragged along with. How like modern Polish far right revisionism this sounds. His awesome liberal chauvinism disallows Hawes from taking a nuanced or self critical view of Germany’s troubled history.

As I mentioned above, the writing at times borders on almost anti-semitic. The clearest example being when he dismisses the post-war East German government as a prefabricated puppet government installed by Moscow. Although there is some truth to this allegation,  neglecting to mention that it was composed of many Jewish anti-Nazi German refugees, some of whom hadn’t been living in Moscow during the war, but living in camps, is unforgivable. Who cares about the truth when it doesn’t fit into a homogenous narrative of good vs evil?

Maybe those East Germans who heroically purged their society of slav and jew hatred were the wrong kind of jews? Communists are always the wrong kind of jews, aren’t they?

He goes on to wax lyrical about the West’s pragmatic decision to reinstate the Nazi civil service and allow them to enact the (Nazi) plan to transfer the entire wealth of the nation (including both war industries and citizen’s personal savings) into the hands of Western facing businesses, while also changing to a new Western backed currency in order to divide the country – first economically and then formally – along the borders of  Western occupation.

Hawes more or less skips the GDR and the cold war as an irrelevant aberration. Strange, as this book is so much a product of the cold war that it could have been written by the CIA. Whether this is because he knows next to nothing about East German society, or because he actively wants to wipe it out of the history books is unclear.

Perhaps the only thing I agreed with in this whole sorry segment is that process by which reunification was undertaken was borderline criminal. However, while I see the economic terrorism and cultural purges of East German civil society as being the issue at hand (including the totally unnecessary dismantling of its world class health system), Hawes objects to his beloved West Germany being saddled with an inferior society to subsidise.

The book concludes by asserting that the modern EU, as led by West Germany, is the natural successor to both Rome and Charlemagne. A fantastically unhelpful lesson to take from modern Germany’s fascinating history and an uncomfortable parallel with the traditional fascistic desire to create ultra-modern states modelled on a glorious mythic past.

Frustrating and disturbing in equal measure.

execution_german_communist_1919 (1)

Iconic image of the Freikorps mercenaries executing a defiant young communist in 1919. Guess who James Hawes thinks are the good guys in this scene?

 

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