Thursday, December 18, 2014

An open letter to Russell Brand posted by Richard Seymour

I am writing an open letter to Russell Brand. It is about his open letter to the person who wrote an open letter to him. It goes as follows:

"Dear so-called Russell Brand - if that is your real name - if you *really* believed that parliamentary democracy is a sham meant to keep all us sheeple from realising the truth about corporate tyranny, you would stand for parliament. The fact that you don't proves that you are nothing but a hypocrite. You bang on and on about inequality. If you *really* cared about inequality, you would invest your multi-millions in tranches of ordinary people's debt packaged in credit default swaps. The fact that you don't proves that you care nothing about ordinary people's debt and are nothing but an elitist. 
What makes it worse is that when people call you out on this, you resort to the most puerile insults. Why don't you go back to being a comedian, you dirty smelly hippy, where at least we'll be laughing at you, not with you. You claim to want to enlighten people, but you promote juvenile conspiracy theories just like all your elitist friends in the liberal, multicultural media who have taken over this country and filled it with immigrants and fixed it so that ordinary joes like me can't make a fortune on the stock market any more. You keep blabbering on and on about housing for the poor. Your mum owns a house, you hypocrite. 
Ultimately, Russell, which is a name that should only ever be given to small yappy dogs, I think this is all just a publicity stunt for you and your ego. That's why you want people like me to be silenced, so that we aren't filling the papers with your name and coupon every fucking day. Well you can't silence me, Brand. Rich bastards like you can't tell me, an ordinary person, what to think. There are loads of rich bastards to tell me what to think, and you're not even in the top ten. 
I was just having a normal day at work, putting anthrax in my mates' work lunch so that I could stamp all over their wheezing bodies on my way to the top - because I believe in MERITOCRACY, you rat-faced fucking vegan homeopathist tea cosy dweller - when you came along for your big 'oooh look at me, I'm cheeky chappy Brand with the wide-angle chin and I hate success' gig. Well I'll tell you what, mate. I'm an ordinary geezer and I for one welcome our alien incubi brain slug overlords. 
So just shut your face now, go away and don't ever darken my tunnel vision ever again.
Yours etc., 
ps: please don't ever go away, I couldn't live a second without you."

Pure linkbait. Send me money.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Murder in Peshawar posted by Richard Seymour

On a scale of Islamist slaughter, this depraved massacre of school children in Peshawar is akin to the massacres carried out by Chechen jihadists about a decade ago.  And, rather like those killings, I think this constitutes a death rattle of the group responsible.  This is a hastily written outline explaining why.

The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) are reactionary and their tactics filthy, but they have in the past been well-rooted enough to recruit thousands for a losing war with the state.  They have enjoyed significant levels of support for their attacks, rising to 20% among Pashtuns. This is in part due to their ability to exert effective political authority over territories - 'law and order' and so on, and in part due to Pashtun ethno-nationalism. But the biggest source of support is Pakistani military attacks and US drone strikes.

The Pakistani military and political elites had been trying in recent years to come to a new alliance with the TTP, claiming that they were really "our brothers" who had been "misled", and so on. This was an organisation which, despite a series of defeats inflicted by the Pakistani military, still had some potential clout.  And it was being lobbied by other Islamist groups such as the ISI-linked Haqqani network to make peace with the Pakistani state - and presumably focus on working with the ISI to conquer Afghanistan again.

In recent years, the TTP lost a great deal of the support it did have due to the brutality of its methods. Suicide attacks on army facilities were one thing. Bombings at mosques, funerals and other public locations were quite another. High profile beheadings also didn't help.

This kind of atrocity, in this context, lacks all strategic logic.  It's the sign of an organisation that has incinerated its popular base and fully embraced the 'takfiri' logic of some other Islamist groups - the attacks on Barelvi Muslims being a case in point.  Its recent expeditions to Syria also suggest that it has shifted from its nationalist focus toward an emphasis on 'global jihad' - and this shift seems to be concurrent with a series of hard military defeats at the hands of the Pakistani army. 

The latest atrocity can only isolate it further and allow it to be broken up relatively quickly.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture works posted by Richard Seymour

A brief guide for the perplexed.

Torture works. The Senate's report on the CIA's use of torture concludes that it is 'ineffective'.  This repeats earlier Congressional criticism of cultural products such as 24, Homeland, Zero Dark Thirty, and so on, often made with the collusion of intelligence agencies.  Hence, the CIA's use of forced anal ingestion of water, stress positions, beatings, hypothermia and other forms of physical and mental torture are understood as a kind of grotesque political error or self-indulgence.

This will not do as a critique.  Torture works.  And it works in the following ways:

i) It procures an evidentiary basis for convictions and supports dominant narratives about a global conspiracy against civilization. A case in point would be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his remarkable, extravagant confession, extracted under torture.

ii) It supplies a flow of information justifying bureaucratic practices. Of course most of the information is bullshit, and none of it leads to the disruption of major 'plots'.  The Republicans are hugely inconvenienced by the discovery of this fact.  However, bullshit information can be 'actionable intelligence' if it allows the state to perpetuate policies the ruling class supports.  Fielding and monopolising information to produce the discourses of statecraft is exactly what states do. In that sense, bullshit may be exactly what the torturers were looking for.  If Abu Zubaydah did not provide information about real plots, he nonetheless provided information that state agencies could use.

iii) It intimidates and punishes enemies of the state. This does not necessarily break resistance movements. The IRA, for example, understood torture as part of their national struggle, and prepared for it and symbolised it as such. However, it's an open question how much this demoralises potential supporters, as opposed to inciting further resistance. Obama's critique of such methods upon taking the White House was that it merely provided further incitement. But given that he has allowed torture to continue, that is necessarily a provisional judgment about a certain kind of very public, spectacular form of torture.

iv) It identifies social inferiors. This is a sociological commonplace. In ancient Rome, the torture of slaves was justified on the basis that slaves were not rational creatures like citizens. Truth could only be induced from them not through discourse but by tormenting their bodies. In modern states, 'terrorists' and communists and various racial others are those from whom no truthful statement can be elicited except through torture. As such, a de facto caste system is produced in juridical practice wherein a certain special case of people can be rendered, interned, tortured and only released at the pleasure of captors.  Their status as inferiors is inscribed on their bodies, as well as in the technical discourses of the state.

These goals are, of course, only rational within a certain strategic framework, wherein (often racialised) military power is preeminent: war, colonialism, or dictatorship. There is therefore, in principle, a basis for a liberal capitalist opposition to such measures, and to the illiberal, Schmittian discourses justifying them.  But in an empire, effective opposition in the legislature or executive is likely only ever to be partial and contingent.

It is also important to say that the above diagram on the rationality of torture is not the whole story.  These 'secret' functions of torture will form part of the archive of historical experiences that inform any state action.  Yet, to speak of the functions of torture is not to subscribe to a functionalist account of torture.  States are almost always dysfunctional.  A state is not a well-oiled machine, but an ensemble of relations traversed by struggle and subject to competing political pressures.

It would be prudent to assume that the functions of torture would have been understood in some ideological form by most leading state personnel who authorised, legalised and implemented the CIA's 'detention and interrogation' programme. But bureaucrats also operate under a variety of conflicting political pressures, within a particular occupational culture, within institutional constraints, and in a strategic context where the goals are not all straightforward or mutually compatible.  Yes, they wanted to disrupt actual 'plots', catch actual 'terrorists', and so on.  But they also wanted other things, such as wars of conquest, expanded state capacities, larger budgets.  Yes, they have a certain bureaucratic rationality, but they are also subject to official, racist, securitarian ideologies which are often laughably inept.  Dysfunction is built in to what they do.  And of course, there was dissent even within the CIA concerning the use of torture, so these things are always subject to struggle and contestation.

The point of focusing on the rational 'moment' of torture is to point out that it is not pathological from the point of view of imperialist states.  The critique that torture is 'ineffective' implies that the military leaderships, intelligence agencies, local regimes and so on are basically incompetent people who are incapable of learning from centuries of ruling class praxis.  Allow for dysfunction and incompetence: we know that the CIA embodies an immense wealth of monopolised knowledge about how torture works.  We know that it proactively learns and adapts.  Its deployment of methods such as sexual humiliation has been learned in interrogation centres in Israel and Egypt.  Its evolution of methods such as the stress position that leave no clear physical mark, and can thus be classified as 'enhanced interrogation' rather than torture, clearly learns from certain police techniques.  The employment of psychologists who helped to devise new torture techniques for $81 million is indicative of the professional virtuosity of those devising torture programmes.

Allowing for strategic mishaps, blunders, conflicting goals, official antagonism, and so on, the general picture one gets is that the techniques are developed through experience and expertise and the results are such that, even if counterproductive to some ends, nonetheless are both beneficial to other goals, and exactly the sorts of results that the state tends to select in favour of.

From this perspective, it is the critique, not torture, that is ineffectual.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

A grand jury watched a police officer murder a black person and refused to see a crime posted by Richard Seymour

There is an important lesson here.  

The coroner in the case of Eric Garner ruled that his death was a result of homicide.  That murder, effected with the use of a chokehold banned by the NYPD two decades ago, can be seen by everyone on video.  The barbarous excuses about the officer being frightened for his life can't possibly be applied here.  To put it plainly: a grand jury watched a police officer murder a black person and refused to see a crime.

And we can't just blame the prosecutors for stitching this up.  Because: a Staten Island grand jury watched Daniel Pantaleo choke the life out of Eric Garner and refused to see a crime.  This is not just police racism, it is not just state racism: this is popular racism.  This is about the people who refuse to 'see' a crime, even one that is recorded, if it is committed by a police officer against a black person.  

Obama talks about 'bodycams' as an answer to police misconduct.  Allow me to re-emphasise: a grand jury watched a police officer murder a black person and refused to see a crime.  Against this almighty ideological armoury, a 'bodycam' is about as much use as a lucky heather.

Notably, another Staten Island grand jury decided to indict Ramsey Orta, who filmed the murder, accusing him of being in possession of a firearm.  Orta argues, plausibly, that this is police revenge for his filming the murder.  He might have added that the police stand to gain from criminalising him in an obvious way: the NYPD cop union is already blustering that crooks like Orta stand to benefit from the demonisation of good police, and so on.  What is certain, though, is that the jury which decided to indict saw far less evidence of his alleged crime than everyone saw of Pantaleo's murder of Garner.  

To reiterate: a grand jury watched a police officer murder a black person and refused to see a crime; but they think the guy who made the film is guilty as sin.  This, to further underline the point, is about popular racism.  And it tells us something about the nature of race, and about the nature of the state.  

Racism does not just come top-down, from the state.  Race is nothing but a series of effects of social and political struggles.  These struggles are given a particular materialisation in the institutions of the state, in the forms of political domination, in the ideologies of crime, and in the apparatuses which enforce the ideological category of crime.

The politics of race in the United States are primarily struggled over and settled through the criminal justice system.  And that system depends not only on its articulation with other dominant institutions such as the mass media.  It also depends upon popular participation for its grids of surveillance, its authoritative verdicts, its ideological legitimacy: snitches, witnesses, jury members, 'citizen journalists' and other bottom-feeding internet warriors, neighbourhood watch, pro-cop demonstrators,  tea partiers, conservative activists, and so on.  

The criminalisation of Michael Brown was essential to Darren Wilson walking free.  One would be a holy fool to think that 'criminalisation' here just means fingering Brown as a prime suspect in the theft of cigars from a local store.  Even if Wilson had known of this, it doesn't carry a death penalty, any more than does walking in the middle of the road, which is what Wilson in fact stopped Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson about.  Several layers of criminalisation needed to be added to this to make murder acceptable.

And this was not just the work of Darren Wilson, through his interpretation of the black neighbourhood around Canfield Drive as ‘hostile’, and his fantasy of being grossly out-sized, menaced by a 'bulking up' black youth almost impervious to bullets - a genre of popular television and Hollywood myth-making.  It was not just the work of Ferguson Police Department, in its strategic leaks and dissembling about what had taken place, from the early claims that Brown had broken Wilson's eye socket to the release of autopsy details about Brown smoking pot.  It was not just the work of the mass media, from New York Times's "no angel" piece, in which rapping and growing up in a rough patch is adduced as evidence of sub-angelic status, to the obsessive pursuit in all outlets of "black-on-black crime".

The criminalisation of Michael Brown was also the work of a popular racist backlash.  This was evident in the mulch of racist social media memes, and the sewer of right-wing blogs and 'news' sites, asserting that Brown had flashed 'gang signs' (an obsession in the US), that his father was a 'Blood', and that his family was violent.  It was apparent in the pro-cop rallies with Klan members prominently involved, the polling data showing that most whites did not blame Wilson for Brown's death.

All of these criminalising discourses build on a racist 'common sense' regarding what 'everyone knows' about black people, black communities, and black families:  Their families are unstable, often fatherless.  There is a "culture of poverty".  Their communities are filled with crime and violence.  They rap, and throw gang signs.  Cops are courageous just to enter these neighbourhoods, and anyone who doesn't comply with an officer has it coming.  These, and similar ideological understandings, will determine how 'probable cause' is interpreted.  They will determine a juror's sense of the probabilities, their view of the likely dispositions of the cop and the civilian, their sense of what testimony is dependable and what is not, what the best interpretation of physical evidence is.  They will shape the perceptions of witnesses, as to whose behaviour is reasonable, as to who looks menacing, as to what a particular physical gesture might mean, as to what is staggering and what is charging.

The state can blitz a jury with expertise, images, footage, technical detail.  They can overwhelm juries with seemingly 'hard facts'.  But without the racist 'common sense' that fills in the narrative gaps in the police yarn, and makes a spurious sort of sense of these 'hard facts', a prosecution stitch-up would have been hard to achieve.  And in the case of Eric Garner, to reiterate: a grand jury watched a police officer choke a black man to death, and refused to see a crime.

There is an organic relationship between popular racist politics and the legal/police networks that enact racist terror.  The 'filaments of racist ideology' protruding from the material apparatuses of the state have both efferent and afferent conduits.  

Any movement against state racism is at one and the same time a struggle against popular racism.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not a band aid, but a running sore posted by Richard Seymour

'When there is a problem in Africa, who are you going to call? Bob Geldof and Bono repeatedly nominate themselves. But why should anyone’s fate be entrusted to the delusional, creepy, self-parodying rock-star messianism of this pair of rich tax dodgers? What do they have to offer?

'The short answer is, they offer us a spectacle. And a spectacle, as Guy Debord argued, is not just a collection of images. It is a social relationship mediated by images. Those who participate in the spectacle get to experience this social relationship in a special way by consuming the images.

'The spectacle of Band Aid — a “charity supergroup” responsible for the 1984 festival Live Aid and its hit single, “Do They Know Its Christmas,” and subsequent events including the 2005 debt campaign Live 8 — is rooted in a colonial relationship to Africa in which, as the political scientist Graham Harrison has shown, “Britishness” is traditionally constructed through campaigns to “save” the continent from blights and disasters. The “feel good” factor derives from the spectacle-positioning of Britain as “doing good” in the world.' - Niamh Hayes and Richard Seymour, 'Philanthropic Poverty', Jacobin, 25/11/14

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Getting away with murder posted by Richard Seymour

Officer Wilson's story is impossible to take seriously.

It is not plausible that, unprovoked, a young man who allegedly robbed a store and had something to hide, would start trouble with a police officer whom he would know to be armed (and of course, Brown was not armed). 

It is not plausible that, unprovoked, he would not just solicit an altercation but aggressively go after the officer, punching him through his window - and even pause mid-way through the beating to hand his stolen merchandise to a friend. 

It is not plausible that when the police officer pointed a gun at Brown, Brown - unarmed - would have said "you're too much of a fucking pussy to shoot me". 

It is not plausible that, after a shot has already gone off, Brown would maintain the assault despite knowing his life was at risk. It is not plausible that, even having been shot and decided to flee, he would suddenly decide to stop running away, but actually turn around and run threateningly back toward the officer with the gun who had just shot him. 

It is not plausible that, after several more shots are fired at him, he would still continue to run toward the officer, requiring several more shots to be fired into him, thus killing him.

To believe all of these things, you would have to believe that Michael Brown was not a normal 18 year old, which he was, but some sort of demonic being.

And indeed, the language used by Wilson invokes that image, of a man crazed with aggression and demonic energy, even after having been shot. It is a childish racial fantasy. 

Only someone who is utterly in the possession of racist ideology could conceive of, much less believe, all of these things. And if you're going to believe that cock and bull story, you may as well believe in the bogey man.

Once you realise that Wilson's story is absurd, and that the argument for self-defence has not been made, it is no longer possible to believe that the jury let the officer off because he defended himself against someone who was attacking him. 

It is at this point that any reasonably observant person should be considering the pattern of racist killing and violence on the part of the US police. 

It is at this point that you should be factoring in the ongoing racial inequities of the criminal justice system, from the beat cops to the prisons. 

It is at this point that the entire architecture of racist exclusions and disadvantage should be brought into the analysis. 

This is systemic, and the systemic name for it is white supremacy. And it matters less precisely what people think they're doing when they reinforce white supremacy than that they do so.

This cop, Darren Wilson, was let off because suppressing terrifying blackness is part of the police's job. It's not about the piffling 'injuries' on officer Wilson's face (a couple of barely visible scuff marks). It's about the potential social and symbolic injury to white supremacy. 
Every interaction with the cops is part of the reproduction of white supremacy, and freighted with the whole moral and political weight of that system, because invested in the authority of the cops - like that of colonial gendarmes - is the authority of white society as such.
Wilson had to kill because of the affront to his state sanctified authority. He had seen these young men walking confidently, relaxed, down the middle of the road, smoking cigarillos. He told them to get the fuck on the sidewalk. They didn't immediately jump to it. They back-talked. They sassed him.  Quite what sassing would entail doesn't matter - just being anything less than quietly quiescent would be enough.
So he decided to get out of his vehicle and fuck them up. Michael Brown, the one singled out by the cop, defended himself, and then tried to run away. 
Imagine a man like that, out there. A big, powerful man. 'No angel', as the New York Times reminded us, citing a list of less-than-angelic propensities such as Brown's fondness for rapping, and his having grown up in a rough patch. 
Imagine him getting away, getting treatment, going to the press, maybe pressing charges, telling all his 'homies' about how he had faced down a cop and lived to tell. No way. He had to be stopped, as a lesson to the rest of them.
The white jurors understood. Even if they thought he had acted overzealously, they felt Wilson's pain. Jesus, they were probably terrified themselves just to think what they would do if they had to confront this guy. Did you see the footage of some guy who might be him in a cigar store? Terrifying. 
Most of those jurors would pull the gun out in a second. And cops, who have to deal with this everyday, who have to show professionalism and restraint - tough job.
Of course they let him off.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

The colophon of castration posted by Richard Seymour

It is fitting, in its way, that the UKIP symbol is a colophon of castration.  

Recently, a survey of the sex lives of voters found that while Tory voters fantasise about sex with sports stars and little else (because it's all about medals for achievement and being better than everyone else), UKIP voters are generally lethargic and unfulfilled, with the exception of one thing: they go mad for a dildo.  

They are looking for a replacement for the lost phallus: the lost British phallus.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

The UKIPisation of English politics II posted by Richard Seymour

It's only funny until you realise they're not going to stop.

Let's talk about the 'white working class'.  For more than a decade, a twin discourse about class has been building up.

'Two souls' of the working class
On the one hand, there is this melancholic representation of a forgotten, disenfranchised 'white working class'.  There were documentaries, articles, tea towel memoirs, focus groups, policy documents.  This 'white working class' was never discussed in terms of what made it (part of) a class, but always in terms of its supposed cultural tics.  I still remember, with cringing embarrassment, the spectacle of Matthew Taylor - then the head of the IPPR - patronising some skinheaded East End codger about pie n mash, and jellied eels, in the context of a documentary about multiculturalism.  This is the working class we have supposedly lost, gone with the empire, and all those manufacturing jobs: an industrious, clean, virtuous, jolly, culturally vibrant working class.  It is important to stress just how much this is a mythical mobilisation of affect.  Historically, in certain contexts, it has been possible to speak of a 'white working class' in a meaningful sense, as something that was historically and politically produced through practices like segregation.  There is no equivalent experience in the UK today.

On the other hand, there is the vicious, punitive demonisation of a section of the working class whom both the Thatcherites and Third Way politicos referred to as 'the underclass' or, in politically correct New Labour terminology, the 'socially excluded'.  Later, the idea was popularised through the meme of chavs.  These were people identified by their failure to integrate into societal norms, their 'dependency culture', their crass consumption patterns, their mobbishness, their unfamiliar speech patterns, and their moral degeneracy.  They represented the decay of 'British values'.  This was linked to racial anxiety in obvious ways, which became explicit during and after the England riots: "the whites have become black".  Even today's rioters aren't like rioters in the good old days.

This discourse began to develop only a few years after Tony Blair had declared the class war over.  It very visibly wasn't over.  However, this was because the symptoms of class were visible rather than because there was a well-organised labour movement putting class on the agenda.  And the symptoms of class life under neoliberalism did not have to be explained in a leftist idiom.

Three changes in class life
The entrenchment of neoliberalism in everyday life, with the destruction of collective organisation and the removal of social protections and provision, ensured that more and more of ordinary experience was characterised by vicious competition.   The more that competition was accepted and valorised, the more hierarchy was worshipped, and those lower down the chain treated simultaneously as potential competitors, losers who should be spat upon, and dangerous elements who needed to be controlled.  Thus, the resentments deriving from class injuries could be effectively canalised into competition and aggression toward others of the same class.

Also important was the growing stratification of the working class based on working patterns, education and lifestyle.  It had never been the case that factory workers made up the majority of the working class.  However, their experiences were sufficiently like those of other workers, that they were able to 'stand in' for the class, figuratively.  Their degree of organisation commanded respect, as did the cultural salience they had achieved in post-war Britain.  There is no such easy metonym for the working class today.  It is far easier to speak of the class in terms of cultural cliches: the estuary accent, poor education, social conservatism and traditionalism.  Skinheads, white vans, England flags, and sports tops, became synecdoches for class.  And two small businessmen, Tommy Robinson and now Daniel Ware, were able to 'stand in' for the 'white working class'.

Finally, just as important was the transformation of social democracy and its adaptation to Thatcherism.  If capitalism creates its own gravediggers, you could argue, so does the working class.  When New Labour took office, it was not sufficient for them to administer neoliberal capitalism and police its breakdowns.  They had to discipline their own working class base, and react to breakdowns as challenges to their project of transforming Labour into New Labour.  These sporadic strikes, protests, civil disobedience and occasional political defections were manifestations of backward-looking tendencies within the working class which had held back Labour's necessary modernisation.  This resort to non-market solutions was linked to the cultural pathologies producing 'social exclusion' and trapping people in poverty.   Hence, the variety of authoritarian panaceas, from the demand that British Asians 'integrate', to Asbos, to Blair's proposal to monitor potential problem children from before birth - all intended to adjust working class people to life in neoliberal Britain.

Racecraft and neoliberal dysfunction
Race, as became evident after the northern riots and the Cantle report into them, is a convenient ready-made strategy for policing the dysfunctions arising from neoliberal politics.  These riots - like almost all riots - were not about one simple issue.  Hundreds of young people became spontaneously embroiled in open combat with the police, as well as gangs of fascist bovver boys, over a range of issues.  The immediate issue was fascist provocation and police brutality.  The longer-range issues were local government under-funding, de facto segregation in local housing and service provision, and the tendency for racist local police forces to criminalise Asian youths.

The almost instinctive, learned response of the British media, the government and the Labour leadership both in Westminster and in local councils, was to boil all this down to 'race riots'.  Long before an official report was produced, local politicians and police chiefs, as well as Labour MPs, were describing a failure of multiculturalism.  It was a lack of integration, the failure of locals to internalise British values, self-segregation, and so on, which had made local whites resentful, kept the communities divided and fostered distrust of the police.

Such claims only made sense as a malevolent twist a particularly toothless kind of liberal multicultural discourse according to which racism is not about hierarchies and oppression, but rather about different groups needing to tolerate one another, get along, respect one another's right to narrate, and so on.  The malevolent twist took the form of an insidious white nationalism in which British Asians were assumed to be essentially outsiders rather than citizens, and troublemaking outsiders at that.  Thus, the problem was that British Asians had failed to tolerate whites, to respect their diversity, and to acknowledge their right to narrate.  This was when New Labour and its allied intelligentsia adopted in fully the neo-Powellite idiom that was to become its disgrace note on questions of race, nationality and immigration.  The 'war on terror' merely accelerated the trend, and ushered in the spectacle of the melancholic 'white working class', marginalised and forgotten, undermined by a new multicultural 'underclass' filled with 'feral youths' and brooding would-be terrorists.

The fertile terrain of reaction
At the early stages, this class discourse was simply one element in a complex set of racial representations that centred on culture, and particularly on Islam as the folk devil menacing British values.  It helped create fertile territory for the far right.  The BNP was the first beneficiary, increasing its votes between 2000 and 2009 by over 1000%.  Often its successes derived from effectively manipulating the language already popularised by New Labour.  For example, when the government made it a priority to 'crack down' on asylum seekers, with a range of measures from voucher schemes to detention camps, the BNP leader Nick Griffin expressed his gratitude: "The asylum seeker issue has been great for us.  It legitimates us."  And: "If Blunkett deports one asylum seeker, we can deport all of them".  Likewise, it was Gordon Brown who legitimised the "British jobs for British workers" slogan by uttering it as Prime Minister to a Labour conference.

However, it seems likely that it was the credit crunch and ensuing recession that decisively shifted the focus of racist politics.  Islam was replaced by immigration as the most salient enemy.  Were it not for the economy still being rather parlous, polls suggest that immigration would have been the number one issue in the 2010 election.  This was when the discourse of the 'white working class' began to assume the prominence that it has today.  And just as the BNP began to collapse - the new post-crunch climate imposing challenges that the schismatic organisation failed to handle with aplomb - the EDL had arrived with its strategy of street violence.  Partly, this very spectacle was linked to a media strategy in which Tommy Robinson, evidently hamming up his educational handicap, moved in on the cultural space marked 'abandoned white working class'.  And when the EDL fell apart, it was not long before Britain First had half a million 'likes' on Facebook and was doing its bomber jacket and cloth cap routine.

Now UKIP is using the BNP's strategy in hollowed out Labour 'heartlands', talking up racialised local issues - to be precise, issues which local Labour elites have often assiduously racialised - and strongly suggesting that Labour has stopped caring about white working class people because it's too busy being politically correct and sucking up to immigrants and the EU.  And if UKIP were to fall apart, which seems incredibly unlikely, a new organisation would spring up in its place.

This is the meaning of 'fertile ground': however organisationally fractious the far right are, however much they are projecting influence insanely above their social weight, they are able to do so because the terrain has been produced over a long period.  What is more, because of the prolonged social and political crisis unleashed by the credit crunch, they have the initiative.  The dominant parties are locked in their own dynamics of stalemate and decline.  Any semblance of representative democracy is paralysed by the Westminster consensus on all essential matters.  The unions are too busy conserving whatever remains of the union premium to take the lead on anything.  And the left is shattered.  So what we get instead of a broad popular mobilisation is a kind of ersatz resistance led by a dissident tributary of the Tories; instead of class struggle, this bitterly melancholic politics of whiteness and class authenticity.

The 'white van' working class
So here we are.  The Labour leader is so utterly petrified of alienating this quasi-mythical figure, 'white van man', lest it turns out that he speaks for the whole 'white working class', that he fires a shadow cabinet member for even obliquely possibly offending them.

The government are so desperate to get in on this game that they have Michael Gove telling us that prejudice toward 'white van man' is as abhorrent as prejudice to an ethnic minority.  And Ed Miliband, absurdly, is probably kicking himself not to have thought of that line.

This is the UKIPisation of English politics.  It has been a long time in the making.

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