Monday, October 12, 2015

EasyJet and Gap Yahs. posted by Richard Seymour

This is the Britain Stronger in Europe first campaign video:


As you can see, the basic argument for remaining within the EU is that the union has been wonderful for deregulation, cut-price travel, flogging wine and travelling abroad on your gap yah. So this is the state of play at the moment. The left critique of the EU says that it's a Europe of the neoliberal bourgeoisie, a Europe of spivs, business mercenaries and yuppies. Meanwhile, the major campaign for the EU defends it on the grounds that it's a Europe of the neoliberal bourgeoisie, a Europe of spivs, business mercenaries and yuppies. Also note that it opens fire with a fairly obvious piece of racist dog-whistling. Far from there being the slightest progressive, internationalist content to the 'In' campaign, let alone anything remotely centre-left and solidaritous, it looks very much like the opening float in a carnival of reaction about to plough through British politics.

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Monday, October 05, 2015

The Meaning of the Precariat posted by Richard Seymour

My early-morning talk at the Subversive Festival, in Zagreb.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

The culture of genocide posted by Richard Seymour

Jeremy Corbyn is opposed, under any circumstances, to the use of weapons of mass destruction.  He is opposed to weapons whose use is inherently genocidal.  There is no circumstance under which it is conceivable that the military use of nuclear weapons would be anything short of insane, and Corbyn is opposed to that.  He would not push the button.  And our political and media class finds this to be outrageous.

The pundits are noisy and truculent.  But behind their noisy rationalisations, there is this symptomatic aporia.  They will not say it.  Not a single one of them can or will say under what circumstances they would consider the use of nuclear weapons.  Instead, we get mysteriously complacent bluster along the lines that "it would be lovely to live in Corbyn's world of magical elves and fairies, faw faw faw, where no one is ever unkind, faw faw faw, but this is the real world, faw faw faw, what would he do if the Islamic State threatened Britain with a dirty bomb, faw faw faw...".

The Westminster consensus is monstrous.  It couldn't be clearer that for its adherents, Britain's role in the world, and all of the immense material gains that businesses and investors derive from this dominance, depends upon the continued implied threat of nuclear genocide - and they're ultimately very comfortable with that.

It is better that we know this than that we don't.  We have endured years of histrionics over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.  The 'Iran deal', about which there is some misplaced triumphalism, followed years of belligerent falsehoods and tub-thumping for war, because someone might break Israel's nuclear monopoly in the region.  And the very same state elites and a media claques that would not hesitate to 'push the button', and for whom the idea of not ever doing that is something absurd and drippy, to be scoffed at, are the ones who raised the alarm.  It is, as I say, good to know.

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The two faces of Labourism posted by Richard Seymour

This is a party political broadcast for the Scottish Labour Party broadcast today.

The children in the advertisement are not just annoyingly obsequious in the questions they are given to ask: they are all white, and code as middle class in how they are dressed,  how they are groomed and in how they deliver their lines. That reeks of 'aspiration'. So, I would suggest that the pitch is not to the working class voters who have gone over to the SNP as an alternative party of reform, but to middle class voters who don't like the SNP but could never vote Tory. The phrase 'Red Tories' isn't so much an insult as the self-conscious electoral positioning of Scottish Labour.

And there is something else.  The broadcast has the look and feel of a 1997 re-enactment promotion.  It presses all the right buttons: the children are our future, meritocracy, opportunity, fairness, education, education, education.  These thematics entirely omit, of course, the huge and central questions facing Scottish voters.  Such as the future of the nation, austerity, Trident, and other related matters.  They are self-consciously oriented toward some other era, when progressive-sounding themes could be articulated within an aggressively pro-business ideology.

How can you, in the age of austerity, claim that the children will have a better future, if you are supporting austerity?  How can you, post-credit crunch, claim to support a meritocracy when the social basis of your growth strategy is a reviled financial oligarchy?  And how, in the name of Hades, can you tell Scottish voters about education when your party introduced tuition fees?  No amount of soft-focus camerawork, and no number of human children can make this look like anything other than a flight into the past.

This is Jeremy Corbyn's first Labour Party conference speech as leader.

It spells out a synthetic 'vision' of what a left-reformist government could do for the majority.  It spells out a range of policies, such as building council houses and supporting the self-employed, all of them directly related to facets of experience in contemporary British capitalism.  It also links these policies to a wider discourse on 'values'.  The speech is, of course, unapologetically left-wing.  But what distinguishes it for me, and what really deserves special credit, is one particularly good presentational turn: the utterly ruthless and maliciously witty appropriation of Blairite language. 

It was as if Corbyn had approached the glittering generalities of the old triangulations (endless invocations of "values" and "the many not the few" being salient) and thought to himself, "what would be good for a laugh would be if we were to actually imbue some of this shit with substance". Much of the denouement of the speech was taken from something written by Richard Heller some years ago and offered to Ed Miliband.  It is not difficult to see why Miliband turned it down, as it's far too rebellious.  The recurring refrain, "you don't have to take what you're given", is so general that it could touch on various, polyvalent discontents, but it was also very specifically linked in the speech to class antagonism.  In context, it was an exhortation to dare.

Now, John Harris was complaining in The Guardian yesterday that the 'visionaries' of Marxism Today had been left behind and misunderstood.  The article is interesting if slightly revisionist as to the full depth of Marxism Today's implication in the Blairite project.  However, I want to suggest that Harris has missed the point.  Insofar as that group of intellectuals diagnosed some real problems and reacted against real backwardness on the left, the lessons have long since been learned, if not by everyone.  In fact, if you want to see a thoroughly Gramscian job of appropriation of the existing ideological detritus for a left project; if you want to see an articulation the 'national-popular' where the emphasis is on the popular rather than the national; if you want to see a form of left-reformism that is relevant, modern, diverse, and technophilic, then Corbyn's speech had it, all of it, in abundance.

The point is this.  Corbyn's critics in the media, upon hearing a speech that they barely understood, rehashed the predictable line that it was aimed at the party not the public.  This rests on the questionable premise that journalists are the public, or at least a reliable cipher for the public.  They are mistaken.  Corbyn's speech was incredibly contemporary, and he can say with some plausibility that the agenda he now articulates is the only truly modernist current in Labourism.  His scepticism toward markets and profits, his pro-immigrant discourse, his support for student grants, even his resistance to a macho, patriarchal form of politics, are all operating on the most progressive ideological developments in Britain, and those most associated with the young.  Blairism was always justified as a form of modernism, a tendency whose currency was its ability to fight and win on a terrain shaped by globalisation and related developments.  But now the major discourses of the Labour Right, from Blairism to Blue Labour, resemble nothing so much as a longing look backwards.

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