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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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?


The Strangely 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-avant-garde industrial 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.

Their liminal nature affords Laibach a shield from criticism. Overtly attack the extremist implications of their message and you risk appearing 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.


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 a slightly outrageous statement in the conspiratorial tone of one using humour to give voice to what everyone is really thinking.  Nothing Pepe says is ever serious, it’s just the pissing around of those well placed enough to be in on the 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 right wing headbangers on the mainstream conservative (“cucksurvative” in alt-right speak) had lost in a culture dominated by the values of liberal identitarianism, especially in areas of high economic activity.


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 its potential as a vehicle for taking reactionary politics all the way into the corridors of power, even as it seemed like traditional conservative values were on the decline, was astounding. Although there’s no one deciding factor in the rise of Trumpism, there can be little doubt that the alt-right sowed 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 social safeguards against such politics 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.



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 any kind of 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 mad 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, an entertaining 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.


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, it is perhaps the opposite which is true. After being given a tour through to the whole gamut of historical leftism, with its triumphs and tragedies, a public stake in public services seems a mild idea indeed. Armed with that awareness, the mainstream’s objections to policies like public ownership cease to look like common sense, and are increasingly revealed as openly hostile ideological positions.

In a media age dominated by corporate forces presenting themselves as unambiguously benevolent, but consistently behave in a nightmarish and dystopian fashion, the surest route to power will be a subversion of this approach. If semi-ironic and humour is the shield of the movement, then growing surety of purpose will be the sword.

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.

Cassette Archive, Politics

Heavy Leather Mixtape: Darker With The Day



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


“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.