Tuesday, March 30, 2010
BA badly hit by strike. posted by Richard SeymourManagement have been caught lying again about how many planes they can run during the latest strikes (via SU):
Their ever-widening kampf posted by Richard SeymourThe English Defence League began life, supposedly, as a revolt against 'Islamic extremism'. Football hooligans and bovver boys were so incensed by the ravings of Anjem Choudary, it seems, that they decided that the whole of England was in need of defending from him and his miniscule followers. Then, of course, EDL founder Paul Ray explained that it was actually Muslims as such that the EDL had a problem with. Their members are far more prosaic when engaged in street aggro: it's "Pakis" they object to. Naturally, they also object to anti-fascists who get in their way, which is why their members recently turned up at a Unite Against Fascism meeting to intimidate those present. Now, amid the strikes by BA cabin crews, they've found a new opponent:
unions have become more powerful, more influential and more militant in the political sphere, this is where vested interests infringe upon a democratic political platform, so much so that democracy seems to be ebbing away right before our eyes and its replacement………COMMUNISM!!!!
Great Britain doesn’t do Communism, it never has, yet Communists are afforded more influence and more power as the Labour party look to fund its upcoming election campaign. This is a sad reflection of the corrupt political climate we live in here in the UK.
Ah, right so. BA air stewards, the ones who point out the safety exits and serve disappointing cuisine for £15k a year, are part of a communist conspiracy that includes the highest echelons of the government and the union bureacracy. This is a new twist for the EDL, which has hitherto attempted to depict itself as being in some sense non-political, concerned only with the sole issue of 'Islamism'. Postings on its message boards regularly insist that there is nothing necessarily 'right-wing' about the EDL, that it can include anyone who personally objects to the political philosophy of Ayman al-Zawahiri, and even that it could have an LGBT section in the future. On this evidence, I suspect that such pretences will have to be dropped soon.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Racism in Britain Today posted by Richard SeymourJust a reminder of my seminar tonight:
The electoral success of the fascist British National Party and the emergence of the English Defence League has forced activists in Britain to look again at the issue of racism. Cultural racism and Islamophobia seem to supplant traditional racist ideas based on biology—but what is behind this shift and just how novel is it? Richard Seymour argues that the rise in racism in Britain is driven to a considerable extent by government policies and media reaction, both liberal and conservative.
6.30pm, Friday 26 March, School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, WC1H 0GX
(Room FG06, Russell Square Campus— Map: http://bit.ly/soasmap)
This seminar is free to attend and open to all. For more information phone 020 7819 1177 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wither Europe posted by Richard Seymour
Now the Eurozone has agreed on a 'rescue' package to reassure the holders of Greek bonds - the biggest holders are in France, Germany and Switzerland, though the UK's stake is not inconsiderable - that if anything seriously bad should take place in Greece, the EU powers will intervene. Essentially, it's a bailout package for bond traders based in the Eurozone core and, as it must be unanimously agreed upon by Eurozone members, it has an inbuilt veto for the larger powers, specifically Germany which would contribute the most of any European state. Much has been made of talk of rescue plans. It is often said (eg) that such would contravene a no-bail-out clause (article 104b) in the original Maastricht Treaty which paved the way for monetary union. Thus, perhaps, the abdication of rules originally conceived for a very different kind of political-economic conjuncture demonstrates some potentially fatal fault lines in the project of monetary unity. But if you look at the report of what has been agreed and compare it to the Treaty, I suspect you'll agree that a tort lawyer would have no difficulty interpreting the rescue package as a legitimate activity under article 103a, section 2. There are serious structural tensions within the EU, but there is no reason to doubt the legal adroitness of those who framed this latest agreement, nor their commitment to sustaining union in its original format. It's not as if they have a blindingly obvious alternative at the moment and, if overall growth in the Eurozone has been unimpressive, the arrangement has nevertheless profited Europe's larger powers.
In a highly recommended read, Costas Lapavitsas (et al) [pdf] note that the leading would-be creditor, Germany, has benefitted from the uneven way in which financialisation has taken place across Europe. It has been able to squeeze its working class harder through various reforms to benefits pushed through by Schroeder and Merkel, without bringing about the elevated household debt of other EU countries, principally because other countries purchased German products and thus sustained economic growth. In the mid-2000s, Germany was the world's leading exporter (China took over last year). Peripheral economies have been bound by the tight fiscal rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, and thus have not been able to support production and growth to make up for the competitive gap with bigger economies. They have had to make up for competitiveness in other ways, principally by following the prescriptions of the European Employment Strategy, which mandates a flexible labour market and an increase in part-time, temporary work. Thus, workers have been squeezed across the board - albeit in different ways and at different tempos depending upon social and political histories, and the capacities of national working classes to resist. With such downward pressures on wage incomes, the only way to sustain growth for less competitive economies has been to drive up household debt to support expanded consumption (or in the case of Ireland and Spain, to stimulate real estate bubbles). Because German consumers were not as debt-ridden as their other European counterparts, it was less urgent for the German state to engage in stimulus spending, thus it has not had to borrow as much. That has driven up the gap between the cost of borrowing for peripheral economies and for the German government, which leads us to the sovereign debt crisis.
The sovereign debt crisis that now affects Greece and other peripheral Eurozone economies resulted from a speculative attack that in other circumstances would have focussed on the national currency. Speculators drove down the buying price of government debt, thus driving up the yield (the difference between what the government would receive from creditors and what it would pay back), and effectively raising the cost of borrowing for the Greek government to prohibitively high levels. That raised the prospect of future speculative attacks on other Eurozone economies, including the UK which - because of depressed tax revenues and high household debt - has had to borrow massively to sustain consumption even at its currently unimpressive levels. And the threat is not over. For example, many big banks have a major interest in Greece defaulting on its debts because they've been getting 'innovative' again. This innovation involves the use of credit default swaps, which is an insurance taken out against a debt that you hold if you think the debtor might default. It amounts to a bet that they will in fact default. (You can then make derivative bets on the providers of those credit default swaps defaulting, and further bets on those...). Throughout this crisis, the value of credit default swaps on Greek bonds has soared and soared, and they have actually increased two points after this announcement. Talk about perverse incentives - the rentiers have found yet another way to make big money out of catastrophic economic collapse.
As Lapavitsas et al also note, the current disposition of EU ruling classes, despite grumbling about German pressure, is to solve this problem with another attack on the working class - reducing public expenditure, cutting wages and raising taxes. Such austerity measures can be imposed precisely by such means as the 'rescue' plan mentioned above, which provides credit at reduced cost in exchange for substantial EU surveillance of the Greek state, and a commitment to the most devastating cuts package. This will further advance a race to the bottom as far as wages are concerned, with the peripheral economies having to hammer wages (and combat working class resistance) particularly vigorously in order to make up the current accounts deficits.
The recently integrated economies of eastern Europe, which have been pioneering flat taxes and enticing producers such as Peugeot and Volkswagen with low production costs (Anderson points out that wages in the auto-industry in Slovakia are one-eighth of what they are in Germany), are in an impossible position in this respect. How can they drive down wages any lower? How can they cut the state down any further? And if they do, will not their workers take advantage of the EU's relatively liberal internal migration regime to seek higher wages elsewhere? They have already been suffering from sometimes severe political instability, and explicitly fascist movements are doing very well in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia (by contrast, radical leftist challenges in the east are emerging belatedly, and only germinally). The political leaderships they have elected have often been not only embarrassing for the EU but actually obstructive, cf Poland's terrible twins. The anti-EU backlash coming in recent years from both right and left across Europe, is likely to accelerate and will be particularly advanced in the east.
Thus, the rescue plan might save the holders of Greek debt from undue pain (and who could object to that?), but it is part of a process and a political programme which is even now generating the basis for an almighty rupture in the EU. The debased utopia of a social liberal Europe of perpetual peace and prosperity, once fervently advocated by New Labour idiotologues, now looks more unworldly than ever. The EU is an accelerating centrifuge, and it surely cannot be long before some of its constituents start flying off in various directions.
Alistair Darling admitted tonight that Labour's planned cuts in public spending will be "deeper and tougher" than Margaret Thatcher's in the 1980s, as the country's leading experts on tax and spending warned that Britain faces "two parliaments of pain" to repair the black hole in the state's finances.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said hefty tax rises and Whitehall spending cuts of 25% were in prospect during the six-year squeeze lasting until 2017 that would follow the chancellor's "treading water" budget yesterday.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Sarkozy's remedy posted by Richard SeymourHe's crashed in the polls, gaining only 35% compared to 54% for his Socialist and Green rivals. These results, recalling some of those for a previous Union of the Left, were obtained not as a result of lacklustre PS policy, but on the basis of protests of record size and some enormous strikes that have buffeted the administration. But Sarkozy has a comeback plan, which can be summed up with a simple formula: ban the veil (again). That the staggering rebuff suffered by the French conservatives in the polls has by no means been softened by the UMP's constant resort to Islam-baiting makes no difference here. The major beneficiary of the various campaigns to ban Islamic sartorial items, justified on the grounds that such garments represent both an 'extremist' challenge to the Republic and an unconscionable abridgment of womens' rights, has been the Front National, though even their vote was down on 2004.
Yet, Sarkozy's reflexive response to his defeat is to go back to waving his policeman's stick at the beurs and beurettes, just as he has been doing since the banlieue riots and before. There is only one reason for this: it is the only policy which the majority of French people support which Sarkozy could realistically deliver. He fully intends to press ahead with his policy of attacking the welfare state, cutting public sectors and raising the retirement age. As he's in the business of inflicting pain, all he can offer is to inflict slightly more of it on France's large Muslim minority. Only the relative strenght of the left and the militancy of the labour movement has prevented this racism from becoming a much more dangerous currency in French politics. It is likely that the NPA's principled decision to stand a 'veiled' candidate in the elections cost them some votes, especially in light of the vitriolic denunciations from others on the left. But this decision, and the new emphasis on combatting Islamophobia in France, is an important step forward that can only strengthen the fight against Sarkozy and Le Pen.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
TUSC launch posted by Richard SeymourFor those who want to support left candidates in the upcoming election, I urge you to support TUSC where they're standing. Here is a press release relating to its launch this week:
Big businesses interests have silenced any voice for working people at Westminster
Militant union leaders to challenge ‘big business’ parties in general election as the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (TUSC)
Sick of the corruption and sleaze at Westminster, trade unionists, breaking with the trade union movement’s traditional support for the Labour Party, are organising a new political challenge in the upcoming general election.
Bob Crow, leading figure in TUSC, says “Gordon Brown has supported the management in every industrial dispute since Labour came to power over a decade ago. What conclusion should workers and trade unionists draw? We’ve been disenfranchised! There is no party that puts forward a pro-union, pro-worker programme. All we get are cuts, privatisation and deregulation.”
Dave Nellist, Coventry North East TUSC candidate and former Labour MP, comments, “As a Labour MP between 1983 and 1992 I accepted only the wage of a skilled worker, donating the rest of my parliamentary salary to labour movement campaigns. My expenses were open to the examination of my constituents at all times. Byers, Hewitt and Hoon’s behaviour is the inevitable outcome of the New Labour project. In a party that sold its soul to big business more than a decade ago, is it any wonder that its senior figures put personal gain above integrity?”
Strike action is continuing at BA and across the civil service. Ballots for industrial action have been won across the national rail network. Many commentators are anticipating a ‘spring of discontent’. This breakdown in industrial relations can only escalate after the general election, whoever wins, as the ‘axemen’ begin hacking jobs and services in the strongly unionised public sector.
Thursday evening will see the launch rally of the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Leading trade unionists will explain that the Labour Party is dead as a political vehicle for the interests of workers and trade unionists and that an alternative is needed.
Speakers will include Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT trade union, Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the PCS trade union and Dave Nellist, former Labour Party MP and Socialist Party councillor.
7:30pm, Thursday March 25th, Friends Meeting House, Euston, London, NW1 2BJ. All welcome!
Monday, March 22, 2010
For this plan to work, the strike must go ahead and the strike must be defeated. That is why BA has spent inordinate amounts on ways to break it and why it has spent months intimidating cabin crew out of striking.
It might also explain why BA has not sought an injunction again to stop the strike. Months of planning for the showdown would not lead to the outcome it wants if it won an injunction.
BA may even sense it has Unite on the run, given the union's willingness to look more favourably on a deal it rejected last week. Unite may feel on the run after being attacked by not just the Tories but by the party it funds.
In industrial relations jargon, this is a classic "reforming conflict". The employer engages in a set-piece showdown, inflicts a massive defeat on the union, divides the workforce and thus re-orders the power relations between management and union.
This is a gamble by BA's management. However much the union leadership doesn't want this strike - and it's clear that they're worried about any political fall-out for the Labour government, even if this shows no sign of affecting voting intention - staff overwhelmingly support strike action. This is despite repeated court interference that blocked previous strikes. The strike also has extensive international union support. Despite some bullish reports from BA management, which I saw doggedly reproduced as fact by Sky News this weekend, the strike has reduced BA's normal capacity considerably, and management now admit they will lose £7m each day the strike takes place. In order to demoralise workers, BA have gone to some extraordinary lengths. They have reinstated twenty routes, and sent dozens of empty "ghost flights" with no cabin staff or passengers. If this looks rather desperate, I suspect that is because BA management do in fact despair. As Gall points out, BA needs to end this strike in its favour quickly. It can lose tens of millions if the result is a deal that establishes a weaker union, job cuts and reduced pay. But it can't go on for any duration at this rate. However conciliatory the union bosses wish to be, they certainly have the resources to fund a prolonged strike and support workers on the picket lines.
The Tories and their supporters have used the strike to launch a new line of attack on the government, deflecting criticism of the 'Cashcroft' scandal. The basic argument is that even if the Tories are in hock to big business interests, Labour remains just as beholden to the unions. There is even an effort to confect a ridiculous 'money laundering' scandal in which Labour is held to be sending public money to the unions, which is then transferred back to the governing party in the form of political donations. It is drivel. Nick Clegg, further signalling his Orange Book credentials, has argued that there is no difference between the Tories' being in league with millionaires and Labour being funded by the unions. New Labour is deeply embarrassed by the strike, and has gone out of its way to denounce the action and the union from which it still receives significant funds.
What this expresses in electoral terms is the basic class antagonism over how to respond to the recession. With the usual array of euphemisms, the ruling class and its major political representatives advocate reducing working class consumption to restore profitability: cut jobs, cut wages, cut public spending, and drive up productivity with longer and more intense working days. In generalising from the strike in the way that they have, they have demonstrated an acute awareness that this isn't just about BA workers. It is about the future of class relations in this country, and particularly about who will pay for the crisis. If the strikers win, that sets an example and gives confidence to other workers who are faced with similar cuts. If they lose, a different example is set. So, if you're horrified by the prospect of deep public spending cuts, soaring unemployment, pay cuts, and a Tory government, then you really have no choice but to support this strike. It doesn't matter what your views are on trade unions or any other matter. Your interests are at stake here. They're being fought over and defended by those workers who have resisted months of intimidation and bullying by BA management to take this action. You need them to win, and they need your support.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Footage of heavy-handed Bolton cops:
Monday, March 15, 2010
Basis und Überbau posted by Richard SeymourThe excellent blogger Richard Crary cites, among some luminous passages from David Graeber, this criticism of the base/superstructure metaphor:
What has passed for "materialism" in traditional Marxism—the division between material "infrastructure" and ideal "superstructure," is itself a perverse form of idealism. Granted, those who practice law, or music, or religion, or finance, or social theory, always do tend to claim that they are dealing with something higher and more abstract than those who plant onions, blow glass, or operate sewing machines. But it's not really true. The actions involved in the production of law, poetry, etc., are just as material as any other. Once you acknowledge the simple dialectical point that what we take to be self-identical objects are really processes of action, then it becomes pretty obvious that such actions are (a) always motivated by meanings (ideas); and (b) always proceed through a concrete medium (material). Further, that while all systems of domination seem to propose that "no, this is not true, really there is some pure domain of law, or truth, or grace, or theory, or finance capital, that floats above it all," such claims are, to use an appropriately earthy metaphor, bullshit. As John Holloway (2003) has recently reminded us, it is in the nature of systems of domination to take what are really complex interwoven process of action and chop them up and redefine them as discrete, self-identical objects—a song, a school, a meal, etc. There's a simple reason for it. It's only by chopping and freezing them in this way that one can reduce them to property and be able to say one owns them.
A genuine materialism then would not simply privilege a "material" sphere over an ideal one. It would begin by acknowledging that no such ideal sphere actually exists. This, in turn, would make it possible to stop focusing so obsessively on the production of material objects—discrete, self-identical things that one can own—and start the more difficult work of trying to understand the (equally material) processes by which people create and shape one another.
This is a lucid passage, and also a very frustrating one. It is lucid about the fetishism of ruling class ideology, and frustrating in how it represents its supposed foil. To begin with, it is unclear what is meant by "traditional Marxism". Suffice to say that it wouldn't include E M Wood, E P Thompson, Alasdair Macintyre, or any number of anti-Stalinist marxists who have problematised the idea of a base-superstructure dichotomy, either rejecting the whole metaphor, or maintaining that conceiving it as a dichotomy is contrary to Marx's original intention. These arguments were often directed against a highly mechanical and scholastic interpretation of Marx that was popularised by the Soviet Union and its supporters, the purpose of which was to rationalise Stalinist accumulation methods. The logic of the Stalinists was that if the superstructure is determined by the economic base then we must only develop the means of production and the political superstructure of socialism is sure to follow. So it is possible that by "traditional Marxism", Graeber actually means Stalinist vulgarisation. Or it could just be another sock-puppet-as-protagonist, cf. "standard leftist", "typical PC liberal", etc.
That Marx himself does not intend the base-superstructure metaphor as a dichotomy is clear in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, the text which Graeber finds particularly problematic (as opposed to, eg, The German Ideology):
In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.
This passage, in which the troublesome base/superstructure metaphor is advanced, is also the basis of many misleading formulations about "the contradiction between the forces and relations of production", which are certainly idealist and mechanical. But it is clear that what this passage does differs from what Graeber supposes "traditional Marxism" does. The superstructure is not posited as a sphere of pure ideality separate from a material base. Rather it is part of the same material process. To speak of "relations of production" and "property relations", Marx says, is to speak of different aspects of the same phenomenon. The economic and juridical are not opposed by Marx in the crass way that this "traditional Marxism" would apparently have us believe.
As importantly, nowhere does Marx suggest that the superstructure is ideal, or that there is actually an "ideal sphere" distinct from material activity. In fact, Marx's position on this is remarkably similar to that of Graeber. Marx, and I suspect most marxists, would not be scandalised by the assertion that the actions which produce law and poetry are themselves material. The thrust of the quoted passage from the 'Preface', as I read it, is not that material processes produce a separate, ideal superstructure. It is that what is referred to as superstructural is in fact a material process - more specifically, a process brought about by human activity. It is, in other words, precisely to reject the reification of social processes and their transformation into autonomous entities that dominate life in an almost god-like fashion. The upshot is that when categories such as property, democracy, law, wages, nations, etc., are discussed, one should look not for some corresponding 'economic base' that determined them, but for the forms of activity which instantiate them, and which produce them, and which are in turn produced by them.
“Necessary elements” of a middle-class lifeThis is a very leading question, and a considerable amount of thought must have gone into it, at least in its original formulation (I don't know how long the question has been asked for, in this form). In a previous post, I mentioned research on American 'class consciousness' by Vanneman and Cannon, which pointed out that research on the American class structure was heavily shaped by the activities of the state in that field. In the post-WWII period, the US government funded and drove research which sought to create an understanding of class as status, based on certain patterns of consumption, income and education, rather than an antagonistic relationship centred on production. In that bowdlerised sociology, class is like a continuous ladder of prestige and status, which one might ascend or descend, rather than a conflict built into social relations.
Being able to...
Own your own home - 80%
Save for the future - 78
Afford things you’d like to have - 77
Afford vacation travel - 71
Buy a new car - 67
It doesn't actually matter if it was the state or private capital who decisively formulated these conventions, but the poll question cited above is undoubtedly shaped by them. Decades of thought - or doctrine - are embedded in this simple query. It assumes that there is such a thing as a "middle class life", that it would have as its essential characteristics certain consumption patterns, and that the only real disagreement is over how important each element of consumption is. What's interesting about these results is that many respondents appear to have defied the implicit bias in the poll, and defined themselves as, say, working class when their income would give them a reasonable chance of access to all of the "necessary elements" of a "middle class life". The responses would suggest that there are layers of motivation and interest informing the interpretation of the questions, and thus the answers. Even with that, the poll did its job in that, like thousands of other polls framed in much the same way, it obtained a middle class majority.
A bit of assassination humour posted by Richard SeymourIsraeli advertisers know their market apparently - violent nationalism sells:
Saturday, March 13, 2010
The dignity of labour posted by Richard Seymour
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it has uncovered significant evidence of abuse among producers supplying Britain's big supermarkets. The inquiry includes reports from meat factory workers who say they have had frozen burgers thrown at them by line managers, and accounts of pregnant women being forced to stand for long periods or perform heavy lifting under threat of the sack.
It also contained reports from women with heavy periods and people with bladder problems on production lines being denied toilet breaks and forced to endure the humiliation of bleeding and urinating on themselves.
One-fifth of workers interviewed, from across England and Wales, reported being pushed, kicked or having things thrown at them, while a third had experienced or witnessed verbal abuse.
The EHRC said some examples, such as forcing workers to do double shifts when ill or tired, were in breach of the law and licensing standards, while others were a "clear affront to respect and dignity".Migrant workers are the most affected because one-third of permanent workers and two-thirds of agency workers in the industry are migrants, but British and other agency employees face similar ill-treatment, the report found.
Friday, March 12, 2010
A "progressive moment"? posted by Richard Seymour
Cuts and jobs lesses are already being forced through several departments, which is why the civil servants have been on strike and why lecturers are also taking action, complementing a wave of strike action in private sector businesses like British Airways and Network Rail. The difference between New Labour and the Tories on this question is not enormous, but Cameron and Osborne plan to be more aggressive with cuts, and will cut taxes for the richest and pay for that with more spending cuts (an extra £5bn). The Liberal Democrats say they disagree with the government's formula of paying for the deficit with 80% spending cuts and 20% tax increases, and prefer to cover it with 100% spending cuts.
Let's be clear about this. No government in UK history has ever embarked on such a radical attack on the public sector in this country. The social misery likely to be unleashed is incalculable. If there is something it could be compared to, it might be Labour's deep cuts to wages in the latter half of the 1970s, or Thatcher's deliberate destruction of manufacturing in the early 1980s. And like those comparable instances, it is a class attack. There's a growing recognition of this, I suspect, especially as the impact of the recession - softened as it is by stimulus spending - sinks in. And this is undoubtedly, as Hasan says, a reason why the Tory lead has collapsed, including in the marginals, though it is still hovering around 3-5%, and the swing in most marginal seats would be big enough for the Tories to win. The mirage of 'progressive' conservatism, based on a few 'John Lewis'-style businesses and cooperatives (privatization by another name), is unlikely to compensate for the Tories' cuts. If anything, I would imagine that experimenting with public services is the last thing that is likely to appeal to voters at this point when a dose of good old-fashioned statism seems to be precisely the remedy that is needed.
And it's true that as a result of this, the neoliberal vision that underpinned New Labour is in crisis. The trouble is that for this to become a "progressive moment", the Left would have to grow. Whatever public opinion says, the question ultimately comes down to what kind of agency is in place to support or oppose certain demands. If the majority favour nationalisation of key utilities, that isn't going to happen unless a political machinery is in place that can pressure the government to make it happen. And the Left is not growing in this recession, yet. The Labour left is as moribund as it has ever been, and its new members are likely to be refugees from the extra-parliamentary left, which is also not growing. The fragmented electoral initiatives of the left, essential though they are, are sure to be squeezed by a rush back to Labour, as working class voters seek to keep the Tories out. It is the far right, not the Left, that is presently capitalising most effectively on the recession. Racism, not class politics, has so far been winning the battle of ideas.
That is not irreversible, and things can change very suddenly in politics. But it reminds us that the dilemma of the Left is more intractable than Hasan's diagnosis might allow. I admit that there are those on the liberal-left for whom the phrase "class politics" might seem passe, an historical curiosity to be either nostalgic or condescending about. But without talking about class, and putting it at the centre of the analysis, the Left would deprive itself of both its distinctive analytical tool and its most powerful social agency. It is within the context of a confident working class movement that the Left has previously flourished, and won many of its demands. This has fallen victim to Thatcherism and its successors, as well as the processes of class dislocation and reconstitution that shattered some previously powerful unions. Cooperative, activist cultures of resistance that were once integral to working class experience were diminished by years of neoliberalism, and responses to social distress and deprivation were increasingly individualised. That is the wreckage upon which New Labour was built and its crisis doesn't come at a time when there are mature institutions capable of either replacing it or seriously pressuring it from the Left. This, among other things - to wit, government policy and media hysteria - is why racism and the far right pose such serious challenges today.
Parenthetically, not as a proof but as an example, think about a certain morbid symptom of neoliberalism, that being the emergence of a bowdlerised and racialised kind of 'class politics', in which a fictitious "white working class" is conjured into existence as a passive object for pity or disdain. This is the return-of-the-repressed, in which the disavowed reality of a class-riven society is admitted by mainstream capitalist ideology in the only way that it can be admitted, ie in a racist way that deprives class of its content. Taking the Freudian metaphors further, one could charge that the patronising 'concern' evinced for this "white working class" is just a reaction-formation, recoding the seething fear and loathing that capitalists have for workers as a kind of overbearing and protective love. I maintain that this hollow mockery of the working class as an active subject of politics says a lot about the social psychology relationship between racism and class politics.
At any rate, I'm not selling doom. The materials exist for a renewal of the Left. One sees hope in the resistance of workers to job cuts, the success of initiatives such as Right To Work, the student occupations, and the vital antifascist and anti-racist work of UAF. From public sector resistance to spending cutbacks, one could see a very broad coalition led by trade unionists and the left developing to oppose the cuts. The success or otherwise of TUSC, Respect, et al, might give us some clue as to how viable a future left-wing electoral challenge is likely to be. But the immensity of what has to be reconstructed can't be in doubt, and the possibility of a right-wing backlash with organised racists as its cutting edge cannot be discounted. I don't believe this is a progressive moment. I think that's something we have to build.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Also appearing posted by Richard SeymourIn addition to next week's Left Forum talk, (Saturday 20th, 12.00-13.50), I will be giving a talk for the ISJ about 'Racism in Britain Today' at SOAS on 26th March, from 6pm. This is based on an upcoming article. Email isj[at]swp[dot]org[dot]uk for further information.
Those progressive Lib Dems posted by Richard SeymourNick Clegg's magic electoral solution - praise Thatcher, outflank the Tories on cuts:
In an interview with the Spectator, Clegg says he has come to view Thatcher's victory over the unions as "immensely significant" and goes further than the Conservative party in courting economic liberalism, by saying he would end the structural deficit with 100% spending cuts, as opposed to the 80% cuts the Conservatives have proposed.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Monday, March 08, 2010
PCS strike posted by Richard SeymourBeen busy, so I haven't had time to write up this week's civil servants' strike. I thought I'd just post a few useful links. You can read the story behind the strike on the PCS website, and there's a very good interview with Mark Serwotka on Channel 4 News here. Socialist Worker has picket line reports, and Guy Smallman has pictures. And this is what we need to see more of.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
EDL activists, who have a record of violent mayhem, were allowed to roam around, visit the pubs and get tanked up, more or less uninhibited. Meanwhile police attacked peaceful UAF activists, broke them up into four separate groups and kettled them. Some were manhandled before being shoved onto a double decker bus that was procured for the occasion. The EDL message board is filled with praise for the Metropolitan Police and how they handled the "reds and asians". It's a big pick-up for the brain-dead bampots, who are otherwise posting an incredible amount of racist 'poetry' that doesn't scan, though it can only be a matter of time before this horseshit ends up being turned into a 'Great White' record production, with the BNP's Joey Smith vocalising.
There's a lesson in this. The state can definitely shut down the EDL whenever it wants to. It can easily prevent rampages of the kind that have taken place in Luton and Stoke. It had no difficulty in rounding up EDL thugs in Scotland recently. No doubt cops in Bolton would have no serious problem complying with a ban on the EDL in Bolton, should it be decreed. It would be astonishing if the EDL wasn't, like the rest of the far right, penetrated from top to bottom by the security services, so I don't doubt that the police have the information about their tactics and organisation to stop them terrorising communities. But because they can doesn't mean they will, and it is a complacent error to think that this can be treated as a policing matter and ignored by the left. Policing and criminal justice in such matters is highly politicised, and it can't be otherwise.
Think about the context. Just in the last couple of weeks, we've had a number of major, contrived scandals about the influence of Muslims in politics - there was the furore about Amnesty and Moazzam Begg, the disgraceful Andrew Gilligan hit piece on Tower Hamlets council, and the preposterous "hijab gates" conspiracy theory. There is a ceaseless stream of background noise about mosques, mega-mosques, extremists and burqas. On top of which, we have the right-wing still pushing paranoid claims that New Labour deliberately created a multicultural Britain in order to get more Labour voters. We have attempts to normalise racist language, wherein celebs and others seriously tell us that "P*ki" is just an abbreviation. We have pernicious arguments about black criminality, which Rod Liddle didn't invent by his lonesome. And from the government, we have revisionist attacks on 'multiculturalism' and integrationist discourses on citizenship (that's a diplomatic way of talking about state attempts to put manners on black and Asian people). These ideas emanate from the right, but are now being taken up by some on the centre-left, in the vain hope of appropriating their apparent ability to summon loyalty from some voters. New Labour's attacks on minorities, beginning with the vilification of Asians in the spring and summer of 2001, and followed up with repeated attacks on Muslims, have helped normalise this kind of racism.
In broad brush, an elite backlash against the anti-racist consensus of a decade ago has now found its echo in public attitudes - which, on this topic, have moved sharply to the right. It has also galvanised racist violence. The University of Essex study of Islamophobia and hate crime in London confirmed that media reportage and the rhetoric of politicians acted as a decisive motivator and catalyst for violence against Muslims in the capital. That's what is fuelling support for these racist gangs, and that's the adhesive that unites explicit neo-Nazis with right-wing football hooligans. Those who want to respond to this by bigging up the flag while letting the police decide how to handle the far right are missing the scoop. The EDL are a political problem, and they can't be opposed in an apolitical, technocratic way. That is a way of ducking the issue. And nor can they be dealt with by meeting them half-way, or trying to steal their 'patriotic' clothes. That is a futile attempt to find a short-cut, which doesn't exist. The overwhelming burden of evidence is that the more the left validates the politics of nationalism, and concedes territory on 'multiculturalism', the more it feeds into the right's agenda. The agenda of the right on race relations has to be confronted, not accomodated, just as its beneficiaries in the far right must be opposed, not ignored.
Also appearing posted by Richard Seymour
Thursday, March 04, 2010
All out to stop the EDL in London
Assemble 11am, Friday 5 March
Houses of Parliament, London
Londoners will be gathering at 11am outside the Houses of Parliament on Friday to protest against the racist English Defence League. The EDL is a group of violent hooligans with links to the fascist British National Party. It wants to march through London to intimidate and harass Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
It is many years since a fascist or racist organisation has openly tried to march in London. That is why it is vital to get as large a turnout of anti-fascists as possible tomorrow to tell the EDL's thugs that their brand of race hate is not wanted here. If they do not meet any opposition, they may go on the rampage against Asians and others, as they did in Stoke-on-Trent in January.
Police attack Sussex students posted by Richard SeymourStudents at the University of Sussex have been organising against cuts in their university, lately beginning an occupation in protest against management lay-offs. It seems that a peaceful protest by students outside the university was attacked by riot police yesterday. Socialist Worker has footage:
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
A brief guide to reaction posted by Richard Seymour
1) Affect class resentment of "hopelessly middle class" leftist intellectuals (or if you prefer, "rich college fucks", dixit Daniel Patrick Moynihan). This is a cardinal principle of reaction, particularly if you happen to be hopelessly middle class, or a rich college fuck.
2) Ventriloquise the intimate beliefs and impressions of others. If you're bourgeois, remark that working class people are alienated and confused by the intellectualism of the left. If you're male chauvinist, complain that feminists don't understand how women tick. If you're a racist, talk about how black people love you, agree with much that you say, and find you much preferable to your hopelessly middle class foils.
3) Ground yourself relentlessly in reality. Real people just don't live that way, and don't want to. Real people don't think like that, or talk like that. The real world doesn't work that way.
4) Espouse victimology. Remark that positions exactly like your own are "brave" and "courageous", because they are invariably "shouted down" by the left (cf, "chorus of execration", "political correctness", etc).
5) Talk dirty. Now that you have authenticated yourself as a hard-bitten realist and soul brother (or sister) of the oppressed, feel free to indulge in some old-fashioned baiting and stereotyping. Eg, if your opponent is a woman, you could imply that she is a mad, shrieking harpy. Remember, not only do you speak as a persecuted salt-of-the-earth, dyed-in-the-wool, working class hero, you actually speak on behalf of womankind itself.
Exhibit A. Not one of the more egregious exhibits at that.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Monday, March 01, 2010
Electoral arithmetic posted by Richard SeymourAccording to a new ComRes poll, which confirms recent trends, the Tories are down to a five point lead. But the most interesting part of the poll is this: only 28% of voters say they know what the Tories stand for, and approve of it; 37% of voters intend to vote for the Tories. 9% of voters will back the Tories either without knowing what they stand for, or while disapproving of what they stand for.
Moore's Kapital posted by Richard Seymour
The time-frame in which the narrative unfolds is familiar: from the lustrous post-war fantasies of the American Dream - anyone can be rich one day, workers can have middle class lifestyles, property equals freedom and opportunity - to the cynical 2005 Citibank memo celebrating a new "plutonomy" in which the richest 1% of households owns more wealth than the bottom 95% combined. The financial technocrats who wrote that memo were not whistling dixie. They intended their analysis to enable their bosses to properly assess how wealth was owned, who the important consumers were, and thus how money was to be made. These are the people whom Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur characterised as "enemies" of the American people. And when did the American dream turn nasty? By Moore's account, it begins with the Reagan counter-revolution, and a coup of big capital led by bankers, in which unions were destroyed and workers subject to harder labour while wages flatlined. A more critical attitude to the Democrats would be useful here. It was Carter who began the task of switching to neoliberalism. The big fall in union membership and density began in 1978, when Carter imposed job cuts in return for bailing out Chrysler - the union leaders were too dependent on the Democratic leadership to resist. Moore knows all about the Democrats and the complacency of US business unionism, so the ommission is curious. He certainly doesn't give Bill Clinton the same free pass.
Other ommissions also weaken the force of the narrative. For example, it is quite appropriate that the narrative begins with the post-war era. This is the period in which the situation of American workers, with respect to militancy and ideological radicalism, began to diverge sharply from that of their European counterparts. And Moore is quite clear that the dominance that enabled the American ruling class to begin the process of intimidating workers resulted from the destruction of its major capitalist opponents in WWII, leaving it the world's productive centre. But the reference to America's subsequent empire-building is fleeting, as if it was incidental to the cultural power of the ruling class, and its ideological domination in that period. And while there is a focus on the carrot of capitalist strategy - that alluring Dream - there is no glimpse of the stick. It might have been useful to look at the way US radicalism was destroyed by the state's anticommunist purges in workplaces and the unions, if one wished to understand how capitalist ideology acquired such dominance.
The religious critique of capitalism as an "evil" that cannot be "regulated" but must be "eliminated" is the moral centre of the film. It is obviously intended as a counterpoint to the appropriation of religious ideology by the rich, and this amounts to an important cultural intervention, especially as the teabaggers advise us that God put capitalism in the US constitution. Moore can't find a reference to capitalism and free markets in the blessed founding document, but he can find a priest or two to cite scriptural hostility to the rich. And there's even a bishop on hand at Republican Windows and Doors to offer the Catholic church's support for the sit-in strike. A churl might point out that the church has a rather patchy record on the rich vs poor issue, and the theological virtuosity of their rationalisations for supporting bosses, bigots and right-wing dictators can hardly be in doubt. This churl might add that one can either base an attack on capitalism on God's say so, which is intellectually dubious, or one can say that such a critique can stand with or without God's approval, which makes the appeal to religion superfluous. Nah. But this churl would be missing the point that Americans are an unusually religious - not to say spiritual - bunch, and religion is a field of ideological contest. It doesn't necessarily do any harm to remind people who claim to be religious of the social gospel. And speaking as an atheist (some call me an auto-theist, but one forgives them), I've always preferred - say - Terry Eagleton's heterodox take on religion to the literal-minded and unimaginative pannings of the 'new atheists'. And I don't mind the language of good and evil: capitalism is an evil regime, arguably the most evil system ever invented by man, including the church.
At other points, Moore's attempt to give socialism an American face is less convincing. Egalitarian coperatives can certainly be very humane and fulfilling enterprises for the workers involved, but the same profit-motive that Moore castigates elsewhere motivates these institutions. They're still subject to the pressures of competition, and the same basic labour discipline, with its hierarchy of managers and line workers, obtains. There is still the drive to externalise costs, which poses a risk to consumers. It still acts as a competitive unit of production in a capitalist society, and the competitive pressures on a cooperative enterprise trying to work effectively in capitalism can be lethal. It can be bought up, or put out of business, or it can respond to those pressures by producing a more rigid hierarchy, introducing wage differentials to boost productivity, etc. Still, the basic idea that Moore is trying to communicate - democratising industry, bringing about workers' control of industry - is vital. Any case against capitalism, and for socialism, would be threadbare without it.
The strongest part of the film, in my opinion, is the treatment of the bailout, the "financial coup d'etat" in which the secretary for Goldman Sachs, Henry Paulson, organised the expropriation of the public treasury to the tune of $750bn (just for starters) so that favoured banks could build up their capital stock. Where, you may still be wondering, did all that money go? Answer: no one knows. Congressional overseers don't know, and the banks aren't telling because no clause in the bailout compelled them to. And it isn't just the money. There was the attempt to change the law so that the treasury could more or less do as it wished to siphon money to finance-capital without court review or oversight. There was the stitch-up of Congress, the campaign to deflect public opposition, and the threats of martial law. However the handling of Obama's part in this jack, presumably based on the faint hope that he would do something differently, is exceptionally delicate. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur alludes to it, but beyond that there is no discussion of Obama's decision to use his popularity and bargaining clout with Congress to force the bailout through. In that respect, the film was dated before it was even distributed. Most Americans are furious about TARP and its successors, and this is one of the biggest factors in the rapid drop in support for Obama and the Democrats. And Moore is far too nice to Bernie Sanders who, even if he calls himself a socialist, isn't to the left of many liberal Democrats.
Capitalism: A Love Story does not involve the emotional crescendos of Moore's previous output. Think of the jarring juxtaposition, in Sicko, between the entranced exploration of European health systems and the bitterly cold treatment of America's poor by the healthcare giants. There are shocking, appalling moments in Capitalism, but these are interspersed with stories of resistance as Moore's cameras film people preventing the eviction of local families, and capture workers at Republic Windows and Doors as they force the Bank of America to back down and fund their severance packages. You're less likely to weep like a punctured ulcer, watching this, than jab your fist in the air, and start a war cry. And it's about fucking time. Forgive me, but as much as I admire Moore, I don't know if I could take him doing the "who are we, what have we become" schtick once more. There is no "we". Kaptur was more right than she knew: American capitalists aren't fellow patriots, citizens, equal before - y'know - God and whatever. They're enemies of the people. Do you hear me, Americans? They're your enemies! They're your enemies! Death to American capitalists! Death to capitalism!