Friday, June 24, 2016
EU referendum vote posted by Richard SeymourThe racists have successfully articulated a broad antiestablishment sentiment - originating in class injuries, regional decline, postindustrial devastation, generational anxieties, etc. - along bigoted, national chauvinist lines. The vote cannot be reduced to racism and nationalism - but that is the primary way in which it has been organised and recruited and directed, and that is the primary way in which the outcome will be experienced. That this was achieved so soon after the fascist murder of a centre-left, pro-immigrant MP, is stunning in a way. It says something about the truculence of some of the chauvinism on display. It says something about the profound sense of loss which a reasserted 'Britishness' is supposed to compensate for.
There is a lot of finger-wagging on Twitter and elsewhere about how the exit voters have just triggered economic self-destruction. House prices will fall, savings will be diminished, the pound will weaken, jobs will dry up. Well, that's all true. Except. Not everyone benefits from the insane property market. Not everyone has savings. Not everyone benefits, as the City does, from a strong pound. Manufacturing has suffered from that priority. Large parts of the country have been haemorrhaging jobs for years. 'The economy' is not a neutral terrain experienced by everyone in exactly the same way. And some of the votes, coming in core Labour areas, not necessarily strongly racist areas at first glance, indicate that. So people have voted against an economy that wasn't working to their benefit. (That doesn't mean the practical alternative will not be worse. I suspect it will be a great deal worse.)
Corbyn did the best he could in this scenario, offering a conditional, critical defence of Remain. Had he joined in the ra-ra cheerleading for the EU, had he not prefaced his support with some serious criticisms, Labour would be looking at a bleak scenario in these mid-to-north England areas which have gone Brexit. By at least sounding critical, and above all keeping his distance from the Tories, he has probably avoided a Scottish outcome for the party in these areas.
But Corbyn was also not the dynamic factor in this referendum. The racists were. The chauvinists were. And the culture wars now afoot were signalled by Nigel Farage, who greeted the victory with what can only have been a calculated dog-whistle: "we've done it without a single bullet being fired."
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
In praise of hate posted by Richard SeymourIn this time of universal pleas for civility and respect - god help us all, and save us from those two domesticating constraints - I would like to push gently at first, and then rather roughly, against the wrong lessons that are being drawn from the murder, allegedly by a fascist, of Jo Cox MP.
There is, of course, a 'there' there. In the tropes of 'hate' - 'the well of hatred', and so on. When that became the synecdoche for everything that was fucked up in the sick hunting and grisly killing (one might say, in view of the brutality of the murder, the methods used, and the insistent repetition of their use, 'over-killing') of a centre-left MP, it seemed to be about more than fascism and racism. It was as if the killing reminded us how we feel about the vicious sewer-sluice of bigotry and bullying on social media, the id-stream of unutterable nastiness, particularly toward women, in politics but also more generally. As if it could be made to stand for the particular toxic misogyny aimed at women who gain success, and perhaps at a stretch the coldness and brutality of everyday life. As if it reminded us how much grief we might be carrying around for the wounds inflicted by this society, for its victims.
All of that is arguably what is going on under the rubric of 'hate'. And why not? It is a shame that some who, for reasons of habitus or something else, cannot empathise with the widespread sense of alienation from the political class and media, have taken this to mean that there is too much hatred of politicians. As if to say, this murder might not have happened if people were more respectful of John Bercow. As if politicians had nothing to do with cultivating the backlash against multiculturalism and the Islamophobic panic that is fuelling the reactionary surge. As if they have played no role in visiting on people the social misery and pain from which 'hate' might arise. As if there were not several multiple shades between hating something and murdering someone on account of it. But let that stand for a moment, and think about it another way. Start with where we are. Europe.
The EU referendum debate is structured around two poles that have barely shifted in the last couple of years. It is all about immigration vs the economy. And if we find those two issues poised counter to one another, that is because of the curious way in which each issue is separately constructed. 'The economy' is characteristically spoken of as a politically neutral terrain, a zone of technocratic governance, of growth, trade and inflation, where all supposedly agree on the main objectives. Obviously, no such consensus exists, or could exist. Soaring house prices are good for Daily Mail readers, terrible for young people. Full employment is the traditional priority of the labour movement, counter-inflation and a strong pound that of the City. Nonetheless, whenever 'the economy' is invoked, we are all supposed to think that we all agree on what it is, and what it's for.
Immigration is something else entirely. One can try, as lesser mortals like Nick Clegg have before us, to sanitise it and depoliticise it and stop it from being a 'political football'. No one buys it. It has long been treated by most people as a matter of 'fairness'. Somehow, though, the Right have been the only ones politicising the issue. They have spoken in a moral language about immigration. It may make us a bit more wealthy, they say, but it's not fair. It undercuts wages. It replaces good jobs with bad jobs. It makes the poorest workers more precarious. I will not, here at least, try to disprove these claims, though they are arrant nonsense, based on 'common sense' simplifications about how the economy works. It's sufficient to note the incredible attractiveness of these propositions when the language of 'fairness' is annexed almost exclusively by the Right. And in this debate, bizarre though it may be, immigration has become the only stable index of 'fairness': a constant sleight, a constant offence to people who were, after all, born here (and thus should come first).
This discourse of 'fairness' thus lies somewhere at the intersection of individual and nation. It's where the neoliberal ontology of 'enterprise' in eternal struggle for self-maximisation, meets the nationalist ontology of 'people' in eternal struggle against the Other. If competition is to be the law of all social life, if there are to be winners and losers, if we are to scorn and diminish losers, if we need an 'underclass', a lower-down onto whom to pile the humiliations that are visited on us - well, then, at least let Britain come first. And if we are going to be punished for all our minor transgressions during the boom, for having a little bit of debt, for not saving enough, for not buying enough, for not having a better job, for not working harder, then at least punish them more.
This is where we have to make the appropriate space for social sadism - lavishly, opulently, beautifully theorised by China Miéville here. It is, ironically, people at their most (in a sense) utopian who are most inclined to need to be sadistic, to need to diminish others. It makes their loss and vulnerability, the failure of the world to live up to their expectations (whether realistic or not), meaningful. It's also worth mentioning the fury that derives from being forcibly reminded that we are not who we would like to think we are - or the fury that disposes of the conflict that this realisation gives rise to. If we as a nation are inclined to tell ourselves that we are tolerant, open-minded, confident and reasonable, we hate no one as much as those who remind us of the ways in which we aren't that. Those whose presence forcibly represents the ways in which we have become narrow-minded, and melancholic, through the loss of our fantasies of colonial omnipotence.
But here is my point. We, those of us broadly on the progressive side of this argument, shouldn't be so quick to disown all that. It is as impossible to conceive of justice without punishment as it is perverse sexuality (most sexuality) without that idea lurking somewhere. Justice requires sanction. And the idea of a pristine, bloodless ritual of punishment, safeguarded by a division of functions, is a modern illusion. Its result is ironically that we punish more, with less satisfaction: we always feel short-changed. To disavow our aggressive impulses, our desire to punish, our rage, is to engage in a dubious operation of externalisation. There are at least two ways in which we can externalise 'evil' in this sense. We can, as Fanon suggested, project our aggression onto a racial Other, finding in them all that is bestial and barbaric in our own behaviour and desires. That is Farage and the faraginous hordes behind him. Or, we can project it onto those who we believe to be the racist hordes (whether they are or not doesn't necessarily affect the degree of projection).
To put it like this: we can no more live without hate than we can live without an idea of justice. We can no more live outside of resentment than we can live outside of pain, and blame, and unrealistic ideals. There is something deeply suspect about any politics, or any person, that professes to be free of it, that has nothing to despise. Show me a person without a hateful fibre in their being, and I will show you the collection of feet in their attic. The idea, one would think, is to find something creative to do with our hates, our rages. As to Europe, of course, we came far too late to the party to make any but the slightest difference to the debate.
But there is this. The reactionary wedge in this country, is not its future. The nationalist reflux is dangerous because it is the despairing backlash of something that is dying. The young are moving in a very different direction. So, here is a moment. Here is a unique chance to bury that Britain, that authoritarian, conservative rat-hole, that worshipper of the idols of Seventies light entertainment, that incubator of child rape scandals and football violence, that forelock-tugging Britain that adulates power and kicks the poor, and marches us inexorably toward something that is not so much pre-fascist as pre-apocalypse. Here is a chance to assemble the social forces who hate fascism and are terrified by the racist Right, to begin a frontal assault on their fortresses and bulwarks. A task whose success will, I submit, not be expedited by giving ground to the demand for the parliamentary gentrification of political life.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Murder in America. posted by Richard SeymourI would like to say that the ordinary, quotidian nature of the killer was matched by the extraordinary nature of his actions. I would like to say that.
If Omar Mateen is, indeed, the latest Elliott Rodger, or Dylann Roof. If it is in fact the case that the mere sight of two men kissing incited him to this premeditated hunting of gays. If he is indeed the wife-beater who worked as a screw in a juvenile detention centre before perpetrating his act, then he obviously isn't unique.
And nor are his actions. Some time after Roof's armed assault on a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Washington Post revealed that the US had seen a mass shooting once a day, every day, that year. And the evidence is that these gun massacres are becoming more and more common.
It's easy to blame the availability of guns, and easy to agree that Americans of all people should be disarmed. And there is something terribly skewed in large parts of the US economy - the 'gun belt' stretching from the north-east to the south-west - being dependent on weapons manufacture. That is a legacy of the Cold War, and the decision of US state bureaucracies to use military production to modernise and industrialise the southern and western states.
However, comparative international research suggests that guns alone can't be held responsible for the trend. And it would be obtuse to ignore the documented role of inequality and social competition in providing the affective and experiential fuel for these massacres. But even talking at this level risks dissolving the specificity of such actions into a broad, almost apolitical context.
What I think is missing, and would be helpful, would be a granulation and analysis of the social character of the mass shootings. For if we knew how many were 'going postal' in the workplace, how many were school shootings, how many were aimed at Muslims, black people, women, gay or trans people, how many were 'anti-government', and so on, our rage would be less helpless, our answers less reducible to moralism. We would also perhaps be spared the less-than-inspiring discussions pivoting on whether or not the killer was mentally ill, as if that was the all-important context which could render others moot.
Because 'inequality' and 'social competition' are abstractions, unless we talk about the recent struggles over the legal and political rights of migrants, women, LGBT and black and Latino people, and unless we talk about the class struggles over the allocation of resources and costs in the long aftermath of the credit crunch. We could probably situate at least some of the upward surge in mass shootings in a hardening of the cultural backlash on the Right against these social changes. A hardening that began to be visible among the noose-bearing, Muslim-baiting, gun-brandishing, anti-Obama McCain supporters in 2008, returned with a bang under the rubric of the Tea Party, and has since been re-energised by the Trump campaign and its open flirtation with violence and white-supremacists.
If those social forces dictate the course of politics in the next few years - and by this, I don't just mean being the dynamic force in the presidential election, perhaps even to the point where they decide who the president is - then they will be filled with peril for all those whose slow, incremental gains of recent years threaten the traditional, provincial middle classes. And the more empowered and confident the armed reactionaries are, the less likely it will be that such mass shootings will be left to motivated, enterprising individuals.
In Orlando, Florida, the worst mass shooting thus far has just been visited on gay Latinx. But the trend, to repeat, is for mass shootings to increase year-on-year. And there are already rather a lot of them.
Thursday, June 09, 2016
Corbyn reading Corbyn posted by Richard Seymour“Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics is the fullest and fairest account of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise released to date. In avoiding much of the rhetoric espoused in similar accounts focusing on Corbyn’s early career this book provides a frank account of how the unlikely leader took charge of the Labour party. It is a very readable account too. Richard Seymour writes plainly but effectively and his writing is both accessible and incredibly informative.” – Liam Young, New Statesman.
“Laser-sharp analysis of British 'Labourism' and its contradictions... This book is terrifically astute” – Jamie Maxwell, The National.
“Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics is the first serious analysis of Jeremy Corbyn's unexpected ascent.” – Yohann Koshy, Vice.
"Not enough about manhole covers." – Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader.
Six thoughts on teaching. posted by Richard Seymour
The Hillary conundrum posted by Richard SeymourNow that the Democratic Party has chosen a patriarch as its presidential candidate, what will become of women's rights in the US?
Obviously, Clinton's Republican opponent is a great deal worse, an outright Berlusconi-style swaggering misogynist, as well as a patriarch in a decidedly Oedipal sense. (But, believe me, a great patriarch, the best, he has the best patriarchy, you wouldn't believe - and cheap, too, because Mexico will pay.) However, the depressing reality is that the presidential contest will now be fought between two candidates with an anti-feminist record. Sanders is nominally taking the fight to the Convention, but we all know he doesn't expect to win. He has shifted gears to bargaining for influence. At most, he will cause a bit of a ruckus at an event that is usually a cheerleading rally.
And so, the Democrats are left with a candidate who harmed women, especially poor women and women of colour, through her involvement in welfare reform; who has a poisonous record of defending that most patriarchal of institutions, 'traditional' heterosexual marriage, against the gays - and invoking her 'traditional' wounded distaff role in doing so; with a penchant for the hypertrophically masculinist, militaristic culture of the US empire; and with at best a conditional defence of Roe v Wade, a stance she has qualified repeatedly by suggesting that she will compromise, by leading campaigns against teen pregnancy, and by declining to do anything substantial about the years and years of demolition of the abortion clinic infrastructure. (Although, in fairness, Planned Parenthood might be just about the only campaign constituency that the Clintons have not systematically shafted.) Then, of course, there is the small matter of her firing on all cylinders to protect a probable rapist from being held accountable for his actions - the probable rapist in question being her husband and political confederate, Bill Clinton.
But these arguments are well-known by now, and Liza Featherstone has done a lot to popularise them. The point of adumbrating Clinton's anti-feminist record is not to confound her defenders who will simply retort, with a naivety not seen since Seventies pornography, that she has had a change of heart. Rather, it is symptomatic. The one progressive sell for Clinton throughout the campaign has been gender, and her policies on this front should worry women - particularly women who don't care to be called 'soccer moms'.
Now, I realise that the fact of Clinton's gender is itself not merely incidental. She will be the first female leader of the United States, a country that finds itself lagging behind all of these other countries in this respect, and this has a symbolic significance. That significance is hard to disaggregate from the politics of the candidate - most feminists did not celebrate the election of Margaret Thatcher, for instance. Nonetheless, one can make allowance for the fact that, to win, Clinton will have to defeat the kind of sexist culture that could support a candidate like Trump - just as she has no doubt had to outflank, neutralise or (more frequently) make alliance with sexists in order to advance in her career. The defeat of a far right misogynist by a middle-of-the-road patriarch will have some significance. Yet, and this is the point of the post, she might not defeat Trump. She should defeat Trump, and she is still the favourite - but it may be precisely her centrist politics, which her supporters believe is an electoral advantage, that hands it to Trump.
To explain. Clinton is one of the sharpest, most ruthless, and most tactically ingenious bourgeois politicians in the United States. Many lesser politicians would have frozen in the face of the email scandal. Even if her Democratic opponent gave her a free pass on it, it was still something that could have finished her. Lesser politicians would have found it far more difficult to explain away a record jarringly at odds with her campaigning themes, but Clinton brazened it out without a bead of sweat. Yet her campaign, barring exceptions such as her very subtle way of ducking the Black Lives Matter punch early in the race, has been abysmal.
Consider. She told stupid, pointless, self-gratifying lies - lies that only Trump would top - such as the now infamous series of fibs about her heroism in Bosnia, each doubling down on the last. Challenged about her support for the Honduran coup, she first claimed to have supported democracy, then claimed that the coup was perfectly legal. She patronised young voters backing Sanders with barely sublimated aggression, and then condescended to them by wagging her finger and saying: "even if they are not supporting me, I support them". If this was a professional wrestling programme, Clinton would have just turned heel: that was a Bob Backlund move, and she didn't even know it. And her advisors didn't know it. She tried to represent herself as 'your abuela' in an awful social media campaign, only to provoke a classic social media backlash hashtagged #notmyabuela for her disgraceful record on immigration rights. When she was finally challenged by a Black Lives Matter protester, a young girl, she looked sour and had security bundle the girl off. And when asked why she has trust issues, why no one believes a word she says, the best her campaign can do is offer that she's been the target of media calumny - as if anyone has been more protected by the media than Hillary Goddamn Clinton.
Considering the advantages that Clinton started out with, everyone expected a coronation. It was 'her turn' as far as she and the Democratic Leadership Council was concerned. Bernie was a charming Larry David character with 3% in the national polls, a distraction. But just to make sure things stayed that way, the Democrats ensured that party debates were kept off prime-time, so that only one candidate would have name recognition in local hustings and on the ballot paper. Super-delegates, meanwhile, that undemocratic mass of corporate donors and party elites who wield so much power in the selection process on the basis of pure patronage, let it be known that they were behind Clinton, thus skewing the terrain heavily in her favour from the start. I won't waste time recapitulating all the irregularities and gimcrack trickery culminating in the extraordinary stitch-up in Nevada, to the foam-flecked disbelief of Democratic Party operators. The point is that Clinton had the big machinery, the big media, the big donors, the big super-PACS, every possibly advantage on her side. And she almost didn't defeat Bernie Sanders.
Now, on top of this, we see that her commanding lead over Trump in the polls is not all that commanding. Having seen double digit leads, she now has a 2 percent spread. Trump has pulled ahead of her a few times. Even a rare recent poll that gave Clinton a ten percent lead over Trump among likely voters, suggested that over 20 percent of likely voters would refuse to vote for either candidate. Where the hell are those voters going? Clinton should be cleaning up here. She has the support of business and most major media outlets, and she is far more unanimously and enthusiastically backed by her party machine than Trump is by his. If the normal forms of political control obtained, the Democrats would be efficiently corralling their base into the Clinton camp and this would be showing up in the polls - as a result of which, the latter's supporters could afford to feign magnanimity toward the elder social democrat Sanders rather than scapegoating him for her weakness.
Clinton's strategy in all this, it has been advertised for some time - although poor Matthew Yglesias really seems to think he has a scoop here - is to go after Republican 'moderates'. There aren't actually that many 'moderates'. Presumably, we are talking about people who backed Rubio and Kasich, neither of whom even rise to the level of Bush II conservatism, let alone Eisenhower conservatism. The Republican base, even those who detest Trump, are pretty reactionary - and most of them detest Hillary Clinton even more. So while Clinton goes out of her way to demoralise and demobilise Democrat voters, pulling to the Right in order to win over the non-Trump Republicans, Trump will be exciting his voters and getting them to turn out. What's more, with the truce drawn up by the GOP establishment, who perhaps think Il Donald can be temporarily useful to them, he will be burnishing his 'anti-establishment' credentials while still getting the donations and without drawing friendly fire. And he has a lot of material to work with in attacking Clinton as a 'crooked' scion of the establishment, and he is adept at dragging the debate into subterranean levels from whence the gutter looks holy and august.
The fact that Sanders generally polled better against Trump and all other Republican candidates than Hillary Clinton did is not an accident. In the context of a general crisis of politics germinating over several decades and brought to a climax by a post-credit crunch decline in living standards, the old political centre is falling apart. That is what has brought the GOP to this life-threatening denouement, and it is what is consuming the Democrats more slowly. The fact that the Democrats not only chose the loathed establishment candidate, but that the process by which they did so was one so openly marked by obvious manipulation and contempt for the unwashed, means that they are more committed to the defence of the status quo than they are to little things like electability. At any rate, and not for the first time, one senses that the centre would rather lose to the Right than to the Left.
So it is in this context that Clinton and her political machine has adapted incredibly poorly. She was cut out for politics of a different age, when she wouldn't have to apologise for calling black people 'super-predators' (Sanders's last campaign ad was a condign response to that racism), when she wouldn't have to pretend to dislike her Wall Street friends, when she wouldn't have to worry about being criticised for homophobic policies, when she could get away with styling herself as an 'economic populist' without hollow laughter resounding. She was made for the era of triangulation, that high point in American democracy wherein Dick Morris called the shots and 'everyone was happy'. She was custom-designed for the days when you could demoralise the base and no one cared, because there was enough affluent liberalism about. She should have been president when her husband and business partner was. In this situation, that of the breakdown of the representative link and the rise of populisms, she isn't the natural player she once was. One apprehends that she can calculate the rough sequence of moves she is supposed to make, but there's nothing intuitive about it; she has no feel for it. And we will know more definitively quite soon, but I suspect she hasn't got the measure of Trump either.
Clinton should win, in the ordinary run of things. It should be an easy ride. The GOP has been crashing and burning, the Democratic establishment has been hugging itself gleefully, and all that Clinton had to do was see off one previously marginal politician from Vermont. But it just isn't working out that way. That's the Hillary conundrum. Go ahead and blame it on the Bern. Blame it on ungrateful voters. Blame it on the boogie, if it helps. But Clinton is a bad candidate running for the wrong era, and that's the bottom line.
Del Boy falls through the bar posted by Richard Seymour
This is a profound cultural truth about melancholic Britain.
I remember the sadness and despair in my parents' eyes as they watched, over and over again, Saturday afternoon episodes of Only Fools and Horses, Dad's Army, Are You Being Served, Fawlty Towers, Rising Damp, and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, followed by Jim Davidson's Big Break.
It was with the forced laughter of a totalitarian regime that they chuckled at every over-familiar scene and every over-familiar catchphrase over the over-familiar smell of burning fishfingers. The communal lie, the compulsory lie, was that Britain was a jolly, inclusive, well-mannered, eccentric, humorous place, a land of fair play and common decency. As the human carnage piled up, someone always turned up the volume so that the canned laughter could drown out the horror.
Thank god for the Internet.
Thursday, June 02, 2016
Corbyn reviews, events, etc. posted by Richard SeymourCorbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics has been doing quite well, probably better than any of my previous books thus far. It's currently an Amazon bestseller, out-performing Boris Johnson's reinvention of Churchill - the second legendary defeat for the blond bombshell in as many months. It seems that, despite the fact that the current discussions (and thus the bookshop displays) are primarily focused on the question of Brexit, there is a yearning for any serious discussion of Corbyn that doesn't come with a trademarked media sneer. Obviously, there are plenty of people who will hate the book, and indeed are supposed to, and I look forward to their input. So, for what it's worth, here's a quick round-up.
Jamie Maxwell reviewed Corbyn for The National here, describing it as a: “Laser-sharp analysis of British 'Labourism' and its contradictions... This book is terrifically astute”. Liam Young was similarly positive in the New Statesman here, saying: “Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics is the fullest and fairest account of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise released to date. In avoiding much of the rhetoric espoused in similar accounts focusing on Corbyn’s early career this book provides a frank account of how the unlikely leader took charge of the Labour party. It is a very readable account too. Richard Seymour writes plainly but effectively and his writing is both accessible and incredibly informative.” [NB: this is the first reviewer ever to consider that I write plainly, but I'll take it.] I wrote a piece about Corbyn, based on the book's arguments, to accompany a major behind-the-scenes Vice documentary here. I was interviewed about the Corbyn book by BBC Radio here [23 mins], and by the editor of the Morning Star here.
In terms of events, the major upcoming book launch is to take place at Waterstones Piccadilly, on 9th June at 7pm. I will be joined by the outstanding Tory journalist Peter Oborne - a contrast that should work extremely well, as neither he nor I have much time for the political establishment. Those who have attended early events that have already taken place in Nottingham and Dulwich went away happy, and this one will be huge. Aside from that, I'll be appearing at Housman's on 18th June, and a number of local events in Middlesbrough (6th June), Hastings (tbc), Durham (probably 15th July, tbc), Cardiff (29th June), Thanet (19th July), and probably a few shows in Scotland. I've also agreed to speak at this debate at the Southbank Centre on 26th June at 1pm, alongside Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Mariana Mazzucato, and Owen Jones. If you want me to appear at anything else, please drop my agent Susie Nicklin of the Marsh Agency a line.
There will undoubtedly be more to come. For those who want to be kept in the loop about this sort of thing, you have the option of either following me on Twitter, or 'liking' my Facebook page, where I will post news and updates quite regularly.