Saturday, September 19, 2015
If you want to know what the consensus is made of, just look at what the media considers a gaffe. Corbyn, a republican, doesn't sing the royalist national anthem. Gaffe. Corbyn, a socialist, appointed a hard-left socialist as shadow chancellor. Gaffe. Corbyn refused to answer journalists' questions. Ultra-gaffe. That's just rude. From the Guardian to the Express, from the New Statesman's craven toeing of the Blairite line to the lies in supposedly neutral dailies like the Metro, from The Sun's made-up 'exclusives' to the queue of Labour MPs and liberal pundits lining up to spew bile for the Daily Mail, from Tory attack ads to the Telegraph screaming for Corbyn's head, the media and the political class have near total unanimity in their ferocious anti-socialism. I know we call them 'the bourgeois media', but not even the most crass, petty-minded Stalinist apparatchik could have produced a caricature as venomous and despicable as our lot.
In that vein, let me draw your attention to a story that has appeared in The Independent, with these words in the headline: "Jeremy Corbyn 'loses a fifth of Labour voters'". Understand, this headline is a complete lie. The first warning is those scare quotes. Before the authors even get to the story, they're distancing themselves from its major argument. The next is the fact that the article opens, not - as would be logical - with a quick summary of the point of the story, but with some entirely other statistics. The third is that, when they actually do refer to the main point of the story in the second paragraph, it is already watering the story down, saying that one in five people who previously voted Labour are "more likely to vote Conservative next time". That is already not the same as Corbyn 'losing' a fifth of Labour voters. Unsurprisingly, even this claim is given no elaboration. Instead, the juice of the story is presented in a series of charts, which represent the results of the study. What the figures actually show is as follows:
63% of Labour voters say they are more likely to vote Labour in the next election with Corbyn as leader, as opposed to 20% of those voters who say they are more likely to vote Conservative. There are similarly polarised responses among other voters. So, for example, over a third of SNP voters, approximately a third of Lib Dems, about one fifth of UKIP voters and 8% of Tories are more likely to vote Labour with Corbyn as Labour leader. By the same token, four fifths of Tory voters are more determined to vote for their own party, just under a fifth of SNP voters would be more likely to vote Tory, while a third of Liberals and a whopping 40% of Ukipers would be more likely to vote Conservative. Corbyn has not lost a fifth of Labour voters. What he has done is polarised the voters. And polarisation, in this context, is a good thing. It shows that there's something in the fight, for once, and that people are being motivated.
What is more, these results give us a clue as to how evaluate the responses to other questions. In ORB and Yougov's polling, there have been questions asked which follow the agenda of the Conservatives and the anti-Corbyn media, inquiring as to exactly how much like a Prime Minister Corbyn looks, how much you'd trust him with this or that. The results, of course, don't look good. Corbyn is a new figure for most of the public, his policy ideas are new, and they are being brought up in a context of near total ideological monopoly of neoliberalism for over thirty years. His first days as leader have been characterised by an intense campaign of character assassination. I think it would be odd, in the best of circumstances, for a majority of people to suddenly find him utterly trustworthy on the economy and schools, and these are not the best of circumstances. And yet, here you have evidence that far from being put off, a very considerable number of people are attracted to Corbyn's Labour. The only electoral poll we've had since Corbyn's election as Labour leader thus far, has given Labour a small bounce, rather than registering some sort of collapse in the Labour vote. To me, this is a good reminder of how carefully to handle such polls - the answers to polling question are as polysemic as the questions themselves. If asked whether Corbyn looks Prime Ministerial, you could quite honestly answer 'no', given the way the image of Corbyn is mediated, and still think he's a huge improvement on everyone else thus far.
Understand this. The ferocity of the British media in this instance has nothing whatever to do with Corbyn's media strategy, spin or lack thereof. Certainly, they're offended at Corbyn's refusal to play their game. Certainly, they would be kinder to a slick, amoral businessman bashing immigrants. But the media will never coddle Corbyn in the way that it does Farage. Not for him the complicit, stagey antagonism with which right-wing populists are greeted. The difference is that the mass media in this country agrees with and defends and articulates the principles upon which Farage stakes his claims, but can barely understand let alone sympathise with the principles underlying the current Labour leadership's position.
You can't understand the reasons for this in simple commercial terms. It isn't about securing advertising accounts, or selling copy. Nor is it simply about the short-term interests of their proprietors. It is primarily about their integration into the party-political machinery. It is about their dependence on, and participation in, the exercise of state power. They are active participants in policy debates, the selection of political leaders, and the outcome of elections. Apart from the schools, they are the major institutions through which the dominant ideology of the national state is reproduced. They are, in short, "ideological state apparatuses". And the reason they are going feral is because the traditional mode of their domination is under attack. That, too, is a good thing.
Friday, September 18, 2015
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Pessimism After Corbyn posted by Richard SeymourSalvage statement on the Corbyn bombshell:
Salvage cleaves to the necessity of a pessimism that is not a nostrum but a result of analysis, and urges others on the left to approach this battle with the same sober caution. Aspiring to such rigour is not merely a responsibility in these circumstances, it is energising. Salvage counsels a pessimism that has the humility to be surprised, to celebrate the shocks of our victories without surrendering the caution we – all – need. And we proceed in the utter and committed desire – theSehnsucht – to be proven wrong.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Saturday, September 12, 2015
The Labour Party has, for the first time ever [or, okay, since George Lansbury], a leader who is both a socialist and, critically, an activist. I don't think this can be said of any other Labour leader [since 1935], not even the overrated Michael Foot. (You will never see Corbyn draping himself in the Union Jack and cheerleading war in the way that Foot did.) Not only that, but he won by 59.5% in the first round. The ultra-Blairite candidate, Liz Kendall, got a mere 4.5% of the vote. This is far better than anything we could have legitimately anticipated. In Corbyn's first speech as leader, he has hit all the left notes. He welcomed new members, welcomed back old members driven away by Blairism. He bashed the Tories anti-union laws, stood up for welfare, attacked the Murdoch empire, and said his first act as leader will be to join the big pro-refugees rally in central London, where the atmosphere will no doubt be ecstatic.
For now, much of the response will consist of a fully justified guzzling of #blairitetears. All of the bullying and the moral blackmail and the condescension couldn't hide their fear, and couldn't dissuade a membership energised by a unique, unexpected opportunity, and sick to death of being spoken down to by the undemocratic, managerial rabble at the top of Labour. This is the time to celebrate. This is our Oxi. Oxi to austerity, Oxi to Blairism, Oxi to managed politics, Oxi to a media that went into Project Fear mode the second Corbyn had a chance, Oxi to racism and the politicians who make it respectable, Oxi to the neoliberal consensus.
However. As overwhelming as this result is, supported by mass, enthusiastic meetings up and down the country, including in real backwaters (you know where I mean, the kind of place you grew up in and fled), there remains something very fragile about this. We have to be extremely careful not to lose sight of what's coming. The Blairites have been sufficiently hammered by this result that they can't simply mount a constitutional coup immediately. The party machinery will want stability and legitimacy in the process. Nor will the Blairites be so self-defeating as to leave. They will take their time, nurse their wounds, and patiently wait for the chance to stick the knife in. So there is time, not much, for Corbyn's supporters to position themselves for the coming trench warfare. There is time for them to get their supporters nominated to leading bodies in the party and start pushing for democratic change. There may be time for them to get a few parliamentary and local candidates selected.
But we should be clear that there will be a war in the Labour Party, and that the right-wing will have the backing of the media, the spooks, the civil service, and a good chunk of the membership. Project Fear was just a panicked, clearly ineffectual start. There is also another line of attack which is more subtle. That is to pressure Corbyn to abandon key commitments, to the point where he drains away his support and is decisively weakened. Of course, he will have to compromise on aspects of his agenda. The parliamentary Labour Party will work against him, overwhelming mandate or not. Already, for example, there's a question mark over what Labour will do about Trident - Corbyn has a mandate to oppose it, but he may not be able to force MPs to back his position, especially since Labour went into the last election (the one it lost miserably) on a pro-Trident ticket. The shadow health minister's resignation from the front bench is no great loss in itself - has anyone actually heard of Jamie Reed MP? - but it specifically mentions nuclear policy as a point of contention. As in the Scottish independence referendum, one gets the impression that loyalty to nation and empire are more important to the Labour Right than anything else. As for Rachel Reeves MP, a mobile disaster whose pandering to the Tory tabloids helped Labour to glorious defeat, no one will miss seeing her on the front benches. But Corbyn doesn't just have to represent the balance of forces in the Labour Party, he has to work with the balance of forces in the parliamentary party, which is far more powerful.
Corbyn has said that his campaign is about turning the Labour Party into a social movement. That, it seems to me, is the only chance he and his supporters have. It's the only possible counterweight to the entrenched, institutional power of the right.
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
Drone strikes for refugees posted by Richard Seymour
*As mood music to this laudable development, a 22 year old anti-Nazi song has risen to the top of the German pop charts.
Thursday, September 03, 2015
Dead children posted by Richard SeymourMy social media feeds are filled with dead children. Small bodies, washing up on the shores of a Mediterranean beach.
Why are they washing up on the shores? European governments want us to blame traffickers. The advantage of blaming traffickers is that it actually licenses those governments to implement even more repressive measures. But traffickers are only out to make a quick buck off the system that European governments have created.
At long last, there is a backlash. People may get swept up in racist propaganda, but no one likes to think of themselves as so brutally inhumane that they'd let cheerfully let children drown at sea. The European governments are being shamed into accepting some refugees, although the British government remains intransigent. The Financial Times reports:
During the negotiations on relocating 40,000 refugees earlier this summer, one EU diplomat said British officials joked that they would take zero people “and double that if they were really pushed”.
But it's important to say that these refugees only constitute a small minority of the immigrants within and to the European Union. The success of anti-immigrant racism depends on us accepting the idea that Europe "can't take" so many migrants. But the fact is that most immigrants to Europe arrive by air, with work visas. When you see statistics claiming a large number of "illegal immigrants", the majority of that is migrants whose visa ran out while they were at their work placement.
Thus, it is not that Europe "can't take" the number of immigrants that arrive, which consideration can only be temporarily set aside in emergencies. It is that European economies need, and depend upon the immigrants that arrive. The determination of the European Union to maintain a 'fortress' has nothing to do with the supposed material burden that refugees place upon the those states, and far more to do with the political management of the labour force.
But in setting up non-nationals as parasites, as a burden, as usurpers of national resources, and so on, European governments and their loyal media are generating a dangerous political fantasy.
Ultimately, if migrants coming here are a problem, then the ones who are already here (first, second or third generation, depending on how one is racially coded) must also be a problem. No matter that they have citizenship, the mere fact that we put up with such a burden, according to this logic, is a sign of 'our' benevolence, generosity and tolerance.
But that can only be pushed so far, and in moments of crisis, when the economy is depressed, when newspapers tell us that Europe is being driven to the bring of 'civil war' by immigration, when cultural diversity is no longer a bland multicultural shibboleth but actually fighting talk... well, if 'they' are a problem, wouldn't it be nice if we could somehow, not have to live with 'them' any more? That's the fantasy which ultimately grounds support for Farageism, Trumpism, or at worst Marine Le Pen and the Golden Dawn.
And that is also the limitation of humanitarianism in this situation. As I see it, it is not that despite all the racism and xenophobia some baseline, fundamental human sympathy has kicked in.
Rather, what we are witnessing playing out is what in good old-fashioned marxist terminology might be called the contradictions of the dominant ideology. The liberal-humanitarian element of European ideology has come into stark and obvious conflict with the nationalist and racist elements.
And it is good that the liberal-humanitarian reflex is prevailing for now. That does give anti-racists a breathing space to and an angle from which to attack the fortress: for now, the slogan "Refugees are welcome here" has a clear resonance. But it doesn't in itself affect the underlying ideological coordinates according to which immigrants are a burden, and a menace, and a problem population to be controlled.
We shouldn't expect the momentary shock of devastation and disaster to do our political work for us.