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Sexual Revolution: Modern Fascism and the Feminist Fightback - book review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/02/2022 - 8:22am in

Laurie Penny’s Sexual Revolution offers an eclectic argument full of inconsistencies, while omitting any understanding of how class underpins oppression, argues Elaine Graham-Leigh

Citation counts reinforce the influence of highly cited papers and nudge us towards undervaluing those with fewer.  

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/02/2022 - 11:00pm in



In the context of everyday research assessment citation counts are often taken as a simple indicator of the influence of any particular paper. However, all citations are not the same and can be deployed to achieve different ends. Commenting on a recent study of how researchers across 15 academic fields understand the influence of the … Continued

COVID-19: A political crisis, not an existential crisis for society

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 4:24am in



A guest post from Ireland by ALYS ROWE

Ok, I’ve seen enough of my friends calling for the army to be sent onto the streets at this point that I’m just going to say clearly what I think and let the chips fall where they may.

First of all, let’s be clear about what putting the army on the streets actually means. It means that a few weeks down the line we may be reading about the death of some young lad from Tallaght or Ballymun or O’Deavaney Gardens who had his head split open with a rubber bullet for throwing rocks at squaddies trying to impose a curfew or trying to rob a pair of trainers out of a shuttered up shop. And unlike the rest of the deaths that are going to happen over the coming period, that one will be your fault because it will be as a result of measures you agitated for. Because that’s what happens when militaries are employed to control civilians — they kill people. The police, bad as they are, at least are extensively trained to control volatile crowds, and they still manage to maim and kill people from time to time. The army are not, and they will be worse, and people will be hurt, and people might die, and all of the people currently casually propagandising for this outcome will be to blame, because while there is much that is outside of our control here no one is forcing you to do that.

And besides that, it means men with guns are going to be put onto the streets to take away our freedoms and corral us into our homes for god knows how long and with no guarantee of the measures being lifted. Because while it’s absolutely true that “commitment to democracy” might result in the speedy return of our civil rights if this virus is ever contained (big if), it is also true that while we’ve all been obsessing about a virus that has thus far killed a whopping 0.0002 percent of the world’s population (rounding up) the reaction of political states has driven the global economy into a crisis almost certain to be far worse than the crisis of 2008, the kind that threatens the stability of states and brings populations onto the streets to demonstrate and riot.

Absolutely nothing guarantees that the police state currently being rapidly assembled before our eyes will just voluntarily disassemble itself rather than being maintained to enforce the death grip of the failing capitalist system on our lives. Capitalism likes democracy when it effectively ensures the smooth running of business by convincing us (or enough of us) that we’re actually the ones deciding what happens, but that is the extent of capitalist commitment to democracy: when it functions as the more sophisticated means of maintaining the regime of exploitation and the political domination that manages it. Absolutely nothing says the state of emergency doesn’t become permanent as we become habituated to it, and you only need to look at the aftermath of the last mass panic of this kind, 9/11 and the “War on Terror”, to see that that is true.

That economic crisis, by the way, means millions of people will die, just not all at once, spectacularly, of the same thing in the same way, to streams of headlines and our rapt attention, but gradually and invisibly in a thousand different ways over the coming years. As much as I enjoy edgy memes about stonks going down and the like (gallows humour has gotten me through an awful lot) the economy is not (only) an abstraction, it is the means by which we produce the means of our survival and (maybe) thriving, and when it crashes it means mass suffering and death, not just rich people’s share portfolios being wiped out (though also that). And while it’s true that a recession of some kind was inevitable in the near future due to the poor health of the economic system (which is why there’s going to be no bounce back “once this is over”) the depth and extent of the crisis that’s coming was not baked in, but is the effect of the state actions currently playing themselves out which will determine the quality and viability of our lives for years to come.

This was never a question of pulling out all the stops to save as many lives as possible, that’s sentimental bullshit, but of who dies and in what manner and, crucially, with what political consequences. I’d call it irrational (and there’s clearly a level to which panic is driving things) but there’s a cold and cynical calculus to this (on which more later).

The failure of the social distancing policy — i.e. the fact that the entire population isn’t willing to completely abandon their social lives because the government tells them to — does not mean that people are selfish and bad and don’t deserve freedom. It means that the policy is wrong and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. That the models that purport to show that it’s possible to “flatten the curve” through social distancing are wrong and fail to represent reality. A model of a phenomenon is not a fact about that phenomenon; it’s an idea about how that phenomenon works expressed in an abstract mathematical form. What happens in reality is what tells you whether the model is good or bad. When you start reasoning the other way around and treat some model as a standard against which to test reality and decide things like whether or not human beings deserve freedom then you’re no longer in the realm of science but of ideology. You’re no longer treating the model as a scientific hypothesis that can be right or wrong but as a piece of political philosophy expressing ideas about what would have to be true about human beings in order for them to be allowed their basic freedoms.

The question we should be asking at this point is not whether we are now unworthy of freedom because we have failed to make a bad policy work but why the response to this pandemic relies so heavily on a bad policy with a weak evidence base behind it (a claim I’m making based on a 2011 meta-analysis of non-medical epidemic interventions) that, to be honest, a dog on the street could have told you would not be complied with.

Let’s run a couple of thought experiments.

Imagine you are sitting in a room years out from this with all the world’s health ministers discussing the inevitability of a global pandemic of this nature (because the experts have always been in agreement that it is not a question of “if” but “when”) and the preparations that are necessary for such a scenario and you heard it being said that the central plank of the strategy would be to tell people they weren’t to see their friends for months on end and expect everyone to do it. What would you have said about that idea? And what would you have recommended they do instead? Because there absolutely are policies that could have been implemented that would not rely on attributing miraculous powers to a state PR campaign. If states had prepared for the known inevitability of this situation by stockpiling critical supplies and perhaps employing a larger number of doctors and nurses (working less time individually and enjoying a greater quality of life in ordinary circumstances), backed by PR campaigns centring interventions more strongly indicated by the data like hygiene measures, plus perhaps the possibility of progressive implementation of social distancing as a failsafe, the death rate for clinical cases would be closer to 1 percent (the actual population rate is clearly much lower, though also much higher than the flu). The mortality rates of 4-6 percent in some countries are entirely down to the failure of states to adequately prepare for this inevitability, not the characteristics of the virus, and express precisely the difference between what we are currently being told about how motivated the state is to preserve our lives and what is actually true.

Now imagine you’re a senior politician who’s facing down an imminent pandemic that you know you haven’t prepared for and that will result in a level of avoidable death that will cause a legitimation crisis for your regime and you know you will likely have to resort to authoritarian measures in order to cover for your own mistake and look like you’re willing to do whatever it takes to protect people by dramatically “pulling out all the stops” to get the numbers down. You know if you came straight out and said “everyone has to lock themselves in their homes for months because I fucked up and if you don’t we’ll send in the army to force you to do so” you’d be fucked, but you want to essentially do that but call it scientifically-backed medical policy and you’re wondering if you can foreground an intervention strategy that would have essentially that effect. What would such a policy have to do in the population? Wouldn’t a good candidate be a measure that involves bombarding people with messaging that effectively says that they are individually responsible for the deaths that you caused, and that causes people to direct their fear into obsessively monitoring the behaviour of others against a standard that there’s no way in hell they’re ever going to meet until they conclude that human beings don’t actually care about one another and need to be forced in some way to do the right thing?

I’m not saying the social distancing policy is secretly a propaganda campaign aimed at getting the army out. I’m sure Leo Varadkar and every other world leader is desperately hoping they can avoid that outcome. But I am saying if your aim were to get the population to somehow convert their instincts for compassion and solidarity into clamour for a police state you could hardly have chosen better. And I am saying that the mentality that has built up around this and through which many people seem to be doing their reasoning is the product of being continuously and monotonously bombarded with messaging that does have precisely that effect —¬ that the supposedly neutral medical advice that is being continuously pumped out does contain an implicit ideological message about who is responsible for this and what a good person looks like and what is a reasonable burden for a state to impose on its population.

If you weren’t being panicked and made to constantly feel like your every least action could lead to the death of millions of people and everyone you love and maybe yourself, if you were sitting in a lecture room listening to a political philosophy professor say that if a state can’t get basically its entire population to voluntarily lock themselves away from everyone they know and everything they like to do for weeks (or months) on end in the event that there’s a new severe flu-like illness in order that for the rest of the time the state doesn’t have to invest in the healthcare system beyond what’s necessary to run it on a shoestring that means the people are weak and stupid and bad and the state should send out people with guns to force them to do it because they don’t really deserve their freedoms anyway, would you say, “Yeah, that sounds reasonable”? Or would you say, “Why the fuck is that the policy?”

To be clear: I’m not advocating that people stop trying to implement social distancing. I think — given that this is the situation we’re in — we should, by ourselves as free and mutually-responsible people, make a reasonable effort to limit the damage for a limited period of time, because I do think, as a general moral principle, we have some kind of responsibility to compensate for the failings of our states in order to protect one another’s lives.

But that responsibility stops at the point that people want to start pointing guns at us in order to force us into our homes. It’s not the responsibility of random teenagers in the park to prevent a pandemic. The state does not have a right to a population that will spontaneously comply with whatever mad, self-destructive, anti-social thing it demands of us, and it does not have the right to turn our homes into prisons if it doesn’t get one. I mean, we have precious little agency over whether or not that happens, but the least we can do, as a matter of solidarity, and responsibility, and mutual defence from the convulsions of a state in panic is not to fan the flames while that still makes some kind of difference to what happens.

Spain’s military has been mobilised to enforce “social distancing”

Keep in mind: China did not suppress the virus with social distancing, they did it by barricading people inside their homes and hauling them off to concentration camps. (For anyone who thinks I’m being hysterical: a concentration camp is not an extermination camp, it was not invented by the Nazis, it means a camp where a state forcibly concentrates some portion of the population; a refugee camp is a concentration camp, the immigrant detention centres in the United States are concentration camps, and a quarantine camp is a concentration camp. They are not only dangerous when there’s a Hitler in power, but because they represent human beings at the highest degree of powerlessness in relation to the state and its functionaries. Any version that will ever be implemented will be rife with violence and sexual abuse at a minimum.)

The United States is already building, or has built by now, its own such camps, lest anyone think that’s merely a feature of Chinese authoritarianism that couldn’t be replicated in Western contexts. It remains to be seen whether European states will follow suit. It may be the case that European politics is sufficiently different that states wouldn’t countenance such measures, or that our health systems are sufficiently strong that it won’t reach that point, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

And in any case, who’s to stop them? The population that’s trapped in their homes with no ability to assemble in the streets, and which is, in any case, by this point so terrified and convinced of its own unworthiness that it’s willingly egged on that state of affairs? We don’t know where this goes once the state has already committed to widescale repression, but the political calculus of that situation is such that once that line is crossed they’re likely to just keep doubling down because the political regime that locks us in our homes and fails to suppress the virus by doing it is absolutely finished and they’ll know this. Once you’re that far down the road you have to come out the other end at least being able to say the measure worked, and that’s a logic that leads to piling repression upon repression.

So: whoever it is you’re worried about dying a horrible death in an overwhelmed ICU, you need to also picture that person being forced into some dreadful camp and balance those two risks against one-another before you speak.

This is not happening due to humanitarian concerns among our leaders and it is not happening due to the objective threat posed by the virus. It’s happening because the pandemic is going to kill a sufficiently large proportion of a politically significant sector of the population and show up the failures of states to adequately prepare for a predictable threat, and so will threaten the legitimacy not only of the particular parties currently in government but the form of governance they represent. Unlike all the other rolling humanitarian crises we just accept as a feature of life because they happen to people who don’t matter politically, this one is new, and happening all at once, and everyone’s paying attention, and affecting the kind of people the state is supposed to be for. And it’s revealing what it means to run a social service like healthcare on market principles of efficiency; i.e. constantly near capacity with little to no surplus capacity for dealing with unpredictable but expected surges of this kind. Rather than allow the story to be that neoliberalised healthcare means that many people will die unnecessarily in a pandemic because the hospitals that are perpetually almost in crisis as a matter of policy can’t take the strain, the story is one of national emergency, a deadly virus, strong leadership, extraordinary times, robust measures.

And so, we all have to panic and have our lives suspended in limbo like everyone’s about to die when they just aren’t. The projections I’ve found, which are highly speculative as the key facts about this illness are not known, put the number of people expected to die worldwide from this this year somewhere between the number who will die from stroke and the number who will die from heart disease, the two biggest killers annually, or slightly higher. That’s a bad thing, and tragic, but not something that requires the army on the streets by a long way, nor something that really justifies an extended shutdown of social and economic life beyond perhaps giving them fair go at containing the disease to the point that it goes away entirely, which is definitely not going to happen now that it’s everywhere, and particularly given that it’s made its way to poorly-resourced and badly-organised states that stand zero chance of achieving containment.

“Millions will die!” and “a flu-like illness will kill a comparable number of people to heart disease this year” are two equally valid descriptions of precisely the same fact about this virus but give wildly different senses of the imperatives that follow from it. This is a crisis of the health system and a political crisis for those in power, but it is not an existential crisis for the population. This is not a situation that shows that in some ultimate sense when the chips are really down the state is there to protect us from harm, it’s a situation that demonstrates the irrationality and cynicism and capriciousness of political states that will attack their populations and treat our lives as inconsequential stuff to be thrown about according to their whim. As evidenced clearly by the willingness of the Italian authorities to deny the dead from this virus the dignity of a proper burial with no fucking justification whatsoever.

It’s easy to get the impression that the coronavirus is the only thing that’s happening in the world, or the only thing that matters, given the way we are being bombarded with information about it, and given that the entirety of public social and economic life has presently been subordinated to it. But it isn’t. And it’s understandable to see stories of people dying and grieving loved ones going through terrible heartache and trauma, and to connect it to your own loved ones and to spiral into a headspace where nothing else matters and everything is acceptable to avoid the horror of their death. If anyone I loved were to die from this or any other cause it would be the only fact in the universe and I would absolutely sacrifice millions of peoples quality of life and freedoms to prevent it, if that were a thing that it was actually possible to do. But that’s because there’s something fundamentally anti-social about loving another person. You raise them above general society so that they, and their life and happiness become a unique and precious and incomparable good. The problem is when everyone’s doing that about the exact same thing and the political sphere is feeding off it, all sorts of destructive and dangerous measures become possible.

There’s a thought experiment about AI, about what it would take to write an AI that could wipe out humanity. It’s called a “paperclip maximiser”, and the idea is that it doesn’t have to be written for a purpose that is overtly evil. All it takes is for it to try to carry out some seemingly innocuous command like “make as many paperclips as possible” with insufficiently defined boundaries and to be connected to enough power to do what it wants, and it will wipe out humanity by turning everything in the world into paperclips. That’s like what’s happening here. It’s like a runaway algorithm has taken control of the world and all anything is about now is keeping one number as low as possible no matter the cost.

No, we absolutely should not bring in the army to keep the coronavirus death tolls as low as possible because it’s not a big enough threat to warrant it. No, we should not, as some people are suggesting, keep everything locked down for months or in waves for years, because it also matters whether we get to live our lives or not. We absolutely should not do everything it is possible to do to make sure as few people die of coronavirus as possible because that’s an inferno of madness that will consume everything else in the world that matters. More people are going to die than usual this year, and flu season is probably going to become more dangerous for the sick and elderly and that’s just that and we can’t remain morbidly obsessed with it with everything shut forever.

Like, if we don’t care about what it’s like to be alive why do we care if people die? Seriously. Isn’t what’s good about life, and what’s tragic about it having to end, that it contains the possibility of joy and love and friendship and connection and fun and adventure and exploration and experience? In other words that there is freedom, a freedom to give life content and meaning, to do things with it.

It is terrible that people will die, but is it not also terrible that everyone who will die between now and the time these measures are lifted will have all of that stolen from them? At a certain point, isn’t this just piling a crime on top of a tragedy? That not only are people to die, but they are to be forced to spend the remainder of their lives trapped in their homes trying to avoid death whether they want to or not, because we have decided that all that matters about their lives is that they are not dead? How many of the sick and elderly would rather take their chances and live their lives, and are their lives not theirs to risk?

And do we all not, at a certain point, get to say that a terrible thing is happening, and it is sad, but we have done enough, and we want our lives back?

Alys Rowe is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. A version of this post originally appeared on Facebook.

The post COVID-19: A political crisis, not an existential crisis for society appeared first on Left Flank.

Anti-politics & the last gasp of British Labourism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/12/2019 - 10:56pm in

By Tad Tietze

The significance of the Labour Party’s defeat in the UK election goes well beyond the scale of the electoral drubbing it received, holding onto fewer seats than in its 1983 catastrophe. A long series of heartland working class Labour seats fell for the first time in many decades (or ever) to the Tories: Blyth Valley, Sedgefield, Bolsover, and many more. Put in a broader historical context this election confirms the terminal condition of British Labourism just as much as bigger electoral setbacks signalled the deaths of once-powerful parties claiming to represent the working classes in the last 10 years — from Greece’s PASOK to France’s Socialist Party and even Germany’s once-mighty SPD. There is no coming back from this one in any meaningful sense.

The outcome confirmed how the 2016 Brexit referendum had driven realignment of UK politics on whether the Leave vote would be delivered by the political class, with Labour losing heavily in traditional, working-class strongholds outside London where the Leave vote had been strong, mostly to the Tories. Meanwhile in Scotland, which had voted strongly against Brexit, Labour was reduced in what was once a heartland to just a single seat, down from 56 in Tony Blair’s historic 1997 victory and 41 as recently as 2010.

Perhaps most painfully for the UK left, which almost unanimously threw itself headlong in the controversial radical left-wing Corbyn experiment (even if formally standing outside it, as some radical groups did), the disaster comes after the false dawn of 2017. In that election Labour did much better than expected in what looked like a revival of the old two-party, class-based British electoral set-up (their combined vote was the highest since 1970), and in which the Conservatives under Theresa May lost their majority and were forced to govern in alliance with Northern Irish Unionists. Relatively unknown to the public, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaigning energy allowed him to appear as an agent of change. In 2019 virtually every voter knew who Corbyn was, and they didn’t much like him, as indicated by record negative net satisfaction ratings in opinion polls.

The problems for Labour are three-fold. First was its positioning around Brexit. To understand this a bit of background is needed. The 2016 referendum was called by Tory prime minister David Cameron to solve what he considered a “party management” issue. The Tories had been bedevilled by internal ructions over EU membership since the 1990s, with the issue standing as an avatar for the party’s identity crisis in an era where the end of the Cold War and the decline of the trade unions had robbed Tories of historic coordinates with which to define themselves. Rising support for the right-wing, anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the early 2010s had emboldened a series of backbench revolts over Europe in the context of the Tories being unable to recover their former electoral strength even with Labour’s loss in 2010 and while driving through unpopular austerity measures. The Leave result, unexpected in elite circles, was a shattering popular rebuff of the Westminster political class, over three quarters of which wanted to remain in the EU. Perhaps just as importantly, the vote was seen by most Leave voters as “taking back control” of politics. It is this slogan, formulated by Leave strategist (and now top Boris Johnson adviser) Dominic Cummings, that underpinned a surge in turnout for the referendum in working class areas where abstention had grown during the Tony Blair years.

The political class reacted with a series of attempts to — covertly or overtly — re-establish its authority. This included the mobilisation of nasty, condescending tropes against Leave voters, court cases to establish the legal supremacy of Parliament over any government trying to implement the vote, and Theresa May’s negotiation of a watered-down Brexit deal with the EU that would have left the UK under many EU rules while having no power to change them. All these were part a concerted effort to smother and perhaps even overturn the referendum result. Almost all the parties, including Labour, had gone to the polls in 2017 promising to deliver Brexit, and yet very soon all kinds of provisos and doubts were being raised by MPs across partisan divides, and a “People’s Vote” campaign was pushing for a second referendum to “reconfirm” (but in reality reverse) the 2016 result. Politicians’ insistence on the right of Parliament to veto any deal led to a series of catastrophic defeats for May’s deal in the House of Commons, as well as “indicative votes” that showed that while majorities of MPs could be found to oppose any number of permutations, there was majority support for pretty much nothing on offer.

Opinion polls showed that Brexit became the key polarising political issue in the country, and this drove substantial realignment in 2017 with the Tories making inroads into traditional working class Labour seats and Labour making gains in better-off constituencies that had voted Remain in part because it was offering a softer version of Brexit.

After its unexpectedly strong showing in 2017, the Labour leadership started to edge closer to becoming a force for stopping Brexit, despite Corbyn’s inner circle and a series of key backers in the union bureaucracy resisting the tide on the entirely reasonable basis that the party’s electorate was far more split on the issue than its overwhelmingly Remainer membership and activist layer. The result was the sense of betrayal over Brexit was especially acute among many “rusted on” working class voters who had seen in the referendum a chance to reassert some control over politics, precisely because their traditional party now seemed to be part of the charge to deny their popular sovereignty. The alienation could not be more extreme.

Labour’s second problem was in the contradictions of the Corbyn project. Corbyn won the party leadership in 2015 thanks to changed rules that gave members and paying supporters exclusive control over the choice. His campaign and victory produced a growth surge for the party, making it (at around half a million members) the largest political party in Europe. In the context of despair over the Tory win in 2015, a victory for a previously marginal hard-left candidate infamous for sticking to his principles was seen by most of the left — including its most radical elements — as indicative of a potentially momentous left-wing revival in British politics. Large numbers of self-identifying revolutionaries and Marxists threw their support behind Corbynism in one way or another, many joining the Labour Party after having in the past been highly critical of “parliamentary reformism”. The reality, however, was that while the radical left could win outsize influence in a party that was a husk of its former self, it had no means to overcome the social vacuum at the heart of a decayed Labourism.

This configuration set up a dynamic in which Corbyn was reviled by most Labour MPs but supported by a large majority of members, most of the party’s committed activists and several key union leaders. Between 2015 and the 2017 election he was the subject of white-anting and coup attempts but held on because he had the numbers where they counted most. After 2017 his parliamentary foes largely resigned themselves to working with what seemed to be an electorally credible leader.

For all of the left’s enthusiasm for Corbynism it had no ability to deliver on dreams of fundamentally transforming UK politics (let alone society) in a radical direction. Talk of Corbyn Labour being a social movement in gestation was not matched by any significant revival of social struggle in the UK. Indeed, levels of industrial action have been at lows not seen since the late nineteenth century, and there has been no evidence that Labour has driven a rise in on-the-ground campaigning separate from official politics. The tensions in the party have meant that high levels of activist energy have been pulled towards internal wrangling and, later, purely electoral work, rather than any kind of “movement building”.

Internal tensions were perhaps most acutely expressed in the party’s anti-Semitism crisis. Despite a large number of serious allegations being made by Labour MPs, staffers and members, Corbyn failed to decisively admit (or for that matter deny) the problem and then seemed to drag his feet on making serious change to party processes to deal with it. His defensiveness on the issue, not helped by evidence he and his inner circle had repeatedly intervened to protect factional allies accused of anti-Semitic statements and behaviour, was like an albatross around Labour’s neck. This stance was encouraged by activists and social media warriors who saw in every accusation another “right-wing smear” in a conspiracy to undermine the Labour leader. Talking up Corbyn’s record as an anti-racist campaigner or exposing Tory Islamophobia only made it look like the party was trying to change the subject. Any look at some of the language described in reports on the problem speaks more than anything to Labour’s bizarre internal world, where “Zionist” was thought to be a reasonable epithet to direct against those you politically disagree with. For voters not privy to the febrile Labour bubble this must have seemed as at best bizarre and at worst clear evidence of a lack of seriousness in stamping out anti-Jewish prejudice.

While many on the left saw in Labour’s relatively radical (for the UK) big-spending statist programme a serious rupture with “neoliberalism” and “austerity”, full of policies that were in themselves popular with the public, in fact the program looked unrealistic to many voters, who would have been sceptical of Labour being able to deliver it given the constrained realities of state finances. It also seems likely to me that public scepticism was exacerbated both by the policy program’s “created by central office” feel and Labour’s inability to deliver on Brexit, making its other promises seem even less plausible. Finally, there is the simple fact that the radicalisation of Labour has not happened at a time of radical change in public attitudes, making Corbynism look ideologically very far out of step with the vast bulk of voters who still hold more moderate views. These are similar contradictions to those which have humbled other left projects in recent years, most catastrophically SYRIZA’s decision to implement harsh austerity in Greece when it had no social base to do otherwise.

In the end, though, the contradiction at the heart of Corbynism was its inability to address Labour’s third problem, the long-term loss of its former social base, a decline that — ironically — had created the possibility for a radical left-wing Labour leader to be elected in the first place. Labourism’s base was in the bureaucracy of a mass, powerful but relatively conservative trade union movement, one that by WWII was deeply integrated within the political structures of British capitalism. Union leaders and Labour MPs dominated the party, with the constituency members a relatively weak component until more recently. The more recent change in that balance has been driven by the decline of the unions as a social force, which was accelerated by their wage-cutting Social Contract with the Labour government of 1974-1979. Despite the subsequent mythology about Thatcher successfully practicing “hegemonic neoliberalism”, she really mainly depended on Labour’s travails during the 1980s to protect her from her own unpopularity.

With the Tories bereft of an agenda and losing their reputation for good economic management after the currency crisis of 1992, they lost to Tony Blair’s New Labour, a project leveraging public discontent with the now hollowed-out left-right politics of the past. This was Labour discarding core aspects of Labourism but while Blair comfortably won three elections, helped by the Tories’ identity crisis and internal ructions, his modernising project did nothing to overcome the decline of Labour’s former bases. While Blair made much of reforms to manage public withdrawal from engagement with a disliked political system — e.g. electoral reforms, devolution, a greater reliance on technocratic decision-making and greater integration into the EU — all of these measures only worsened popular anti-political sentiment. As the UK Democratic Audit grimly concluded in 2012:

Almost all available indicators suggest that representative democracy is in longterm, terminal decline, but no viable alternative model of democracy currently exists. All measures of popular engagement with, and attitudes towards, representative democracy show a clear decline since the 1970s. Whether the measures we adopt are turnout in elections, membership of political parties, voter identification with political parties, or public faith in the system of government, the pattern is the same.

These processes were driving the possibility of realignment and fragmentation of entrenched political arrangements, something that was presaged in Labour’s 2015 collapse in Scotland, exacerbated by its decision to line up with the Westminster establishment to oppose Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum. Moreover, the old markers of social class were becoming less important in voting patterns, with Labour losing working-class voters in 2015 and 2017 and the Conservatives sweeping up significant numbers of them in 2017 especially.

The great irony was that Corbynism, a left-wing project drawing on the historic image of Labour as being the party of the working class, the poor and oppressed minorities, controlled a party that was more disconnected than ever from its historic base of support in the electorate. For all the talk on the left that Corbyn Labour was about “rebuilding class solidarity”, organised class solidarity in British society has been at historic lows with the decline of the unions and other civil society organisations. Labour electioneering was never about solidarity, but about getting atomised voters to support its political project. Labour’s membership surge also blinded activists as to how these numbers couldn’t even begin to make up for the loss of bases in a once-powerful mass union movement in terms of giving the party social weight and relevance. Neither could any “radical manifesto” substitute for social institutions that are long gone.

Finally, it is worth considering Boris Johnson’s achievement here. When the two-party system fell off a cliff in 2019 and briefly became a four-party system because of voter discontent with its handling of Brexit — with the Tories, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party all on about 20 percent in the polls and the Tories beaten into fifth place in the EU Parliament elections in late May — Johnson ran for the Tory leadership clearly stating that only by delivering Brexit could the party beat back an “existential” threat posed by the Brexit Party. So bad was the crisis that large numbers of Tory members were willing to see Farage lead the Tories or for the UK break up in order to get Brexit done.

Ideologically amorphous, a socially-liberal “One Nation” Tory, a provocateur whose trolling left him exposed to overheated claims he was a racist or homophobe, Johnson was no “right-wing populist” (nor even an anti-politician) despite the desperation of opponents and commentators to squeeze him (and the Leave vote) into their preferred narrative of the age. Johnson was a political insider seeking to restore the authority of politics by ruthlessly delivering on a democratic mandate, and not a firebrand trying to tear down the political class in the name of the will of the people. He was certainly chaotic in style, yet in fact was trying to restore political order in a situation where it had imploded because of its own detachment from society.

Johnson positioned Brexit as not just something that he had to deliver because the public had voted for it but because getting it done would both end the paralysis afflicting Westminster and unleash the potential for politics to deliver for society more generally. Meanwhile the majority-Remain political class had only a negative agenda, of trying to delay, hold back, smother and even overturn Brexit. They did this by using a series of unorthodox parliamentary manoeuvres in which they trapped Johnson in government but without a majority to pursue his agenda, unable to call an election, in the name of preventing a “no deal” Brexit. In this they had the support of the overwhelming bulk of the left, with many radicals twisting themselves into knots to extoll EU membership and some of them joining in the denigration of the “racist” “left behind” voters who had voted for Brexit and were now abandoning Labour.

Johnson upended their expectations by securing a deal with EU leaders, thereby exposing their parliamentary games as an attempt to overturn the popular mandate. This political approach meant that his deal, only a bit more “Brexity” than Theresa May’s, was welcomed by voters in a way that hers had been rejected. This further allowed Johnson to outmanoeuvre a real anti-politician, Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party went rapidly from existential threat to irrelevancy. Finally, the Tories pushed a relatively high spending, pro public services agenda, seeking to attract working class Labour voters who might once have seen the Tories’ pro-market and pro-austerity image as a bridge too far. Of course, many on the left will say this is all smoke and mirrors, but that distracts from the fact that this was an election far more about a massive rejection of Labour in its former heartlands than widespread enthusiasm for the Tory alternative.

Tory electoral vulnerability was laid bare when the party’s vote collapsed earlier in 2019 and there is no reason to believe that Johnson’s government can reverse the long-term decline of the Tory social base. We live in an era where declining social bases have led to socially weightless parties, new and old. Despite winning a crushing landslide, beyond a popular mandate to “Get Brexit Done” Johnson relies mainly on the implosion of his opponents. Even with Labourism effectively over, further political crack-up and realignment in the coming years will be virtually impossible for the Tories to side-step.

What I think is very clear is that Labour will find itself unable to benefit from the conflagrations ahead, its contradictions having now caught up with it and left it in terminal condition, after having dragged much of what counts for the left in Britain with it.

Tad Tietze is currently in the late stages of writing The Great Derangement: Political Crisis and the Rise of Anti-Politics for Verso Books.

The post Anti-politics & the last gasp of British Labourism appeared first on Left Flank.

Viktor Orbán: Unpleasant nationalist? Yes. Anti-democrat? No

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/04/2018 - 7:29am in

I know this is not a popular opinion in progressive circles but the attacks on Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán as “anti-democratic” are overblown rubbish. It has gotten to the point where op-ed writers in The Guardian claim that “Hungary today is on the verge of full-blown autocracy” and “the war on democracy in Hungary is a war on democracy everywhere”, and where The Atlantic has called Orbán “the most dangerous man in the European Union”.

The level of concern about his autocratic tendencies has been so great that one political scientist — Cas Mudde, who is considered a world expert on the rise of right-wing populism — has called for centrist opposition groups to ally with the quasi-fascist Jobbik party to stop Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

Dig through the main claims being used to justify calling Orbán an autocrat, however, and you’ll find:

  • His changes to the electoral system which favour large parties (a) still leave it considerably more proportional than the UK’s first-past-the-post system and (b) only help him because the rest of the Hungarian political class is so fragmented and dysfunctional (a fact that allowed him to get elected in the first place, on the old rules).
  • His “control of all civil institutions” has actually meant mainly verbal attacks on NGOs, more recently combined with new laws forcing them to register their assets and declare foreign funding. This is not just part of Orbán’s openly-declared nationalist posture, but intentionally upsetting to EU politicians and bureaucrats — and expatriate Hungarian billionaire George Soros — who want to find ways to influence Hungarian politics.
  • His “having the main opposition newspaper shut down” for exposing a government scandal is more likely the paper’s private owners shutting it down for commercial reasons, in the lead-up to selling it off to new owners who happened to be Fidesz-friendly.
  • His “attacks on media independence” basically come down to getting an easier ride in state media — as if politicisation of state media is not a thing in lots of liberal democracies (both sides of politics in Australia put pressure on the state broadcaster all the time) — and a more complex story of encouraging his corporate allies to buy a larger share of a shrinking market in a period of declining traditional media.
  • Orbán himself has made much of wanting to turn Hungary into an “illiberal state” based on national foundations because the global financial crisis showed that “liberal democratic states cannot remain globally competitive.” But this is rhetoric which upsets an EU that demands fidelity to a model of political organisation that is driven by its most powerful nations.

What we do have in Orbán is a right-wing leader who is happy to play (often nasty) nationalist, anti-EU, anti-immigrant and social conservative cards, and whose party is undoubtedly guilty of nepotism and histrionic attacks on enemies (as if those aren’t common features of many liberal democracies) but whose moves to secure political advantage are far from being outside liberal democratic norms, especially in the current period of political breakdown.

Overheated talk of the destruction of democracy by a ruling party that wins elections fair and square is part of a political class backlash against voters who won’t submit to the dominant political class line. It is no coincidence that commentators frequently cite Orbán as a warning against ever allowing the public to deliver Brexit or Trump victories.

I would contend that the main thing making Orbán look “autocratic” is that he is the beneficiary of the weakness and disunity of the Hungarian opposition, itself a product of the longer-run hollowing out of post-communist political arrangements — a process affecting a range of Eastern European countries in various forms.

By making exaggerated claims of the destruction of democracy itself, rather than taking him on over his substantive political positions, Orbán’s opponents only feed into his ability to accuse them of wanting to subvert the public will. Meanwhile, the fact that Orbán felt the need to step up his histrionics recently when his party unexpectedly lost to an independent in a local election within its own strongholds suggests that democracy is far from over in Hungary.

—Tad Tietze

The post Viktor Orbán: Unpleasant nationalist? Yes. Anti-democrat? No appeared first on Left Flank.

Podcast: A rough guide to anti-politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/02/2018 - 8:16am in


Featured, Marxism

By @Dr_Tad

I recently appeared on the Living The Dream podcast hosted by Jon Piccini (@jonpiccini) and Dave Eden (@withsobersenses), talking about the concept of anti-politics that Elizabeth Humphrys (@liz_beths) and I developed over the last five years here at Left Flank. I also responded to some of the misunderstandings and criticisms of the concept.

As Jon and Dave wrote on the blog The Word From Struggle Street, “Tad argues that politics is increasingly detached from society and what this means and how communism as ‘the real movement’ can and should related to politics. Tad argues that this analysis has serious and devastating implications for what we call The Left and Activism. We debate if there is any role, before the emergence of social movements, for the agency of anticapitalists.”

You can listen here Download this episode (right click and save)

Or subscribe via iTunes here.

Jon and Dave are currently trying to raise some cash to improve their recording capabilities. You can donate here.

Suggested further reading:



The post Podcast: A rough guide to anti-politics appeared first on Left Flank.

How our Intel Agencies Screwed us by Letting Sessions, Trumpies get away with Russia Scheme

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 22/07/2017 - 4:31pm in

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller at WaPo report from a US intelligence source that former Russian ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, told Moscow that he had discussed campaign-related matters with Jeff Sessions twice in the summer of 2016. This revelation directly contradicts Sessions’ testimony before Congress. If the allegation is correct, Sessions is guilty of a crime, perjury, the same crime of which the Republicans in the House of Representatives impeached Bill Clinton. Only, like, Sessions may actually have committed, like, a crime.

Me, I’m angry. I’m angry because the US intel community had this information in summer of 2016 and they’re only leaking it now. You mean they could have blown the whistle on the Trump gang over the Russian contacts and they didn’t bother? It is too late now. Getting rid of Sessions won’t change anything. Trump will just appoint another stealth white supremacist.

Now, their bosses are Trump appointees and most of this stuff will be ordered suppressed.

Second, let’s acknowledge the hypocrisy of all the condemnations of Ed Snowden over leaking the *illegal* activities of the National Security Agency, and the acceptance of this leak about Sessions. Nobody is threatening the WaPo journalists with jail for publishing the information on Sessions, and nor should they. But tell me how all this is different from the Snoweden affair in form (Snowden obviously released lots more information).

Observers are pointing out that all the intel community has is Kislyak’s cables back to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, not a transcript of the actual meeting. This is true. But why would Kislyak misrepresent the meetings to his bosses? Moreover, if the NSA didn’t actually record their conversations, after recording millions of innocent Americans, then we want our money back.

It should be pointed out that Sessions has trouble telling the truth about his meetings with Kislyak. First, he got the number of those meetings wrong. Now, the substance.

In the wake of the posting of Don Trump Jr.’s emails (by Don Trump Jr.) about the meeting arranged by the Agalarovs via Rob Goldstone with Natalia Vesselnitskya and several other Russians lobbying for a repeal of the Magnitsky Act, this revelation about Sessions takes on greater significance.

Russia had dozens of points of contact with Trump campaign officials in 2016 and one of Vladimir Putin’s major preoccupations was having the Magnitsky Act repealed. It allows the placing of sanctions on Russian businessmen and officials accused of major human rights violations. The Putin government is corrupt and underpinned by billionaire cronyism. Governments like that of Russia (the same is true in the Middle East) can create billionaires by granting certain licenses and smoothing the way. But this sort of corruption requires the ability to launder the money in foreign banks, which the Magnitsky Act prevents. It is therefore a major irritant to Putin’s crony capitalism.

When Congress passed the act in 2012, Putin responded by banning the adoption by US parents of Russian children. That is why Trump said he talked with Putin about adoption and that is why Don Jr said adoption was the topic for his meeting with Vesselnitskaya. “Adoption” is a code word for repealing the Magnitsky Act.

Had Hillary Clinton been elected, she almost certainly would have expanded the Magnitsky Act.

So the quid pro quo was that the FSB (Russian intelligence) and Russian white hat hackers working at least indirectly for the FSB would hack Clinton-related email accounts searching for dirt and would release the emails to the public, to help Trump win.

In turn, Trump would have Congress repeal the Magnitsky Act or order Treasury to cease enforcing it, and then the Putin cronies could again move their money around freely without fear of the US Treasury Department.

The NSA and the CIA watched all this happen in real time. The Trumpies were brazen, not bothering to use cut-outs and meeting directly with principals like Kislyak, whom any normal person would have known was under intense surveillance and had to report the meetings back home.

And they screwed us over by not revealing it. Maybe they tried to get Barack Obama to say something and the president was too much of a gentleman. If so, that was the time to start leaking, guys.

Now we’re screwed, Trump is president and it is too late. We spend like $75 billion a year on those intel agencies. And this is what we get. All the telephone calls in Jamaica are recorded. But a major international conspiracy to undermine US democracy? With that they couldn’t be bothered. Or who knows, maybe they preferred Donald to Hillary. If so, they aren’t actually very, you know, Intelligent.


Related video:

Intercepted Intel: Sessions Discussed Donald Trump Campaign With Russian | The Last Word | MSNBC

Top 4 Lessons Trump can Learn from Napoleon in Russia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/07/2017 - 5:47pm in

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump’s New York Times interview can only be understood, to the extent that it can be understood, as the ramblings of someone suffering from delusions of grandeur. It is rambling, full of non sequiturs, and of bizarre allegations.

Trump said that he regretted appointing Jeff Sessions attorney general, since Sessions went on to recuse himself from the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election (what with Sessions repeatedly meeting with the Russians and all). Sessions stepping aside that way led the assistant AG to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s Russia ties. Trump warned the prosecutor, Robert Muller, not to look into his business affairs. But gee if you were investigating Trump’s Russia connection, his business ties would be high on a prosecutor’s list. Don Jr., who has a big mouth, let it be known on the golf course once that the Trumps routinely borrowed large sums from Russian banks.

Trump says that he had told French President Emmanuel Macron that Napoleon Bonaparte had been a failure, but that Macron demurred, saying he designed modern Paris. Actually that was Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann who designed modern Paris, at the order of Emperor Napoleon III, and one suspects that Macron must have gotten mixed up about his Napoleons (assuming Trump reported Macron correctly, which cannot be assumed).

Then Trump observed that Napoleon had not ended up so badly (he was exiled to a very remote island after losing at Waterloo to the British).

And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather [garbled]?”

Napoleon’s Jeff Sessions was Charles Talleyrand. Talleyrand thought it was wiser to consolidate French conquests and to make peace with, e.g., Austria than to go on dangerously extending the imperial army. He was against Napoleon’s plan to invade Russia and had to step down in 1807. He later conspired against Napoleon, and played a role in the peace settlement when Napoleon was overthrown, leading to his exile.

Actually I wrote a book about one of Bonaparte’s invasions (of Egypt, not of Russia).

I can attest that Bonaparte had an affair(probably what Trump meant by extracurricular activities) while in Cairo, with the wife of a junior officer, something that embarrassed his stepson, Eugene de Beauharnais, who was forced to ride behind the adulterous carriage. Eugene was being overly sensitive, since his mother Josephine usually had at least a couple of affairs going on, herself.

Perhaps Trump is projecting on Napoleon his own extracurricular activities in Moscow, though I couldn’t tell you if Napoleon liked golden showers. I doubt it, since the biographers say he was sensitive to smells and was attracted to women who smelled good to him.

However, I can assure Mr. Trump that Bonaparte would never have let some mere p-grabbing interfere with his duties as a leader on the battlefield and that he did go to Moscow and wasn’t delayed in Paris by a dalliance. Unlike some people, he wouldn’t have had time to go off to a hotel with some ladies of the night while he was supposed to be staging a major operation.

Trump is right that Napoleon’s army was in part defeated by the Moscow winter. Note though that winters were colder and harsher then since that was before human beings spewed so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that they changed the climate.

In fact this is Charles Joseph Minard’s famous attempt to visualize the Russia campaign. The broad brown lines are the troops that wen to Russia and the thin black ones are those that came back. Temperature is plotted at the bottom.


So to sum up, what can Trump learn from Napoleon, really?

It is dangerous to get bogged down in Moscow.

It is especially dangerous to get bogged down in Moscow with escorts.

You might lead a lot of people on a campaign but if it crashes and burns you might not be able to lead a lot of people after that.

If you dismiss a powerful official, it can come back to bite you in the ass.


Related video:

Late Night with Seth Meyers: “Trump Turns on Sessions Amid Russia Probe: A Closer Look”

Trump hands Putin gift, cancels Support for Syrian Rebels

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/07/2017 - 4:46pm in

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous at WaPo report that Trump cancelled the CIA program to support the remnants of the Free Syrian Army a month ago. The decision was made in a meeting of Trump with CIA director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H. R. McMasters, and came just before Trump met (twice) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

Ever since Russia intervened in Syria in fall of 2015, its Aerospace forces have given support to the Syrian Arab Army in a bid to roll back and defeat the armed opposition, especially in the northwest of the country. The totalitarian regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Baath Party, has a key vulnerability. The capital is in the south of the country and is supplied by the port of Latakia in the northwest. If the rebels could cut Latakia off from Damascus or could just take Latakia, they could starve the capital of arms and staples and overthrow the regime.

The Russians forestalled any such scenario by pushing Nusra and other militants out of Latakia province, forcing them out of Hama, Homs and East Aleppo, and bottling them up in the rural backwater of Idlib province.

Still, the Syrian Arab Army is small and stretched thin. The small and not very important CIA program was enough to keep some of the rebel groups going in ways that proved an irritant to the Baath government and to Russian strategic planners. They would much prefer that the US stopped supporting the rebels in any way. For one thing, withdrawal of Washington’s backing would be a huge blow to the flagging morale of the opposition.

Trump campaigned on handing Syria over to Russia, and at least with regard to the country’s northwest and deep south, he has followed through.

The cancellation of the CIA program does not affect the Department of Defense effort in the northeast of Syria, which has formed the Syrian Democratic Forces, mainly leftist Kurds fighting ISIL.

Al-Akhbar (leftist, Beirut) wonders if this move will have an effect on the rivalry between US-backed rebels in the southeast near the Jordanian border where the US has a small base. That base is aimed at ISIL to its north but also at Iran and Iranian logistics for supplying Hizbullah. It could be that US troops will now be evacuated from this southeast pocket which would be a victory for Iran more than for Russia.

The Central Intelligence Agency was ordered to begin the program in 2013 by President Barack Obama. It involved vetting opposition guerrilla groups to make sure they did not have links to al-Qaeda or ISIL. The CIA identified some 40 such groups. It appears to have sent them money and light arms through Saudi Arabia’s ministry of intelligence. As a result, probably some groups, like the Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam), were included in the vetted category even though their discourse was that of Salafi holy warriors who desired to wipe out the Alawite Shiites. Saudi Arabia follows the militantly puritan Wahhabi form of Islam that hates Shiites the way the devil hates holy water. Having the Saudis be the pass-through for the CIA aid thus allowed Salafi extremists to receive some of it. Other groups appear to have been Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Saudis could not have been eager to help. (The Saudis like fundamentalist Salafis but hate fundamentalist Muslim Brethren with a passion).

Although these groups were “vetted” for contacts with al-Qaeda, some of them occasionally formed battlefield alliances with the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Many of these remnants of the Free Syrian Army appear to have been small and to have controlled two valleys and a hill each. The most effective fighters in the opposition continued to be extremists, whether Nusra or its forrmal ally, the Freemen of the Levant.

The Free Syrian Army and the more radical groups have in any case been decisively defeated, with Russian help. The only reason given for continued US backing of a lost cause was to maintain some leverage to force Bashar al-Assad from office. But al-Assad won’t be forced out as long as he has Iranian and Russian support, so that wasn’t going to happen. The US program was just prolonging the violence in some northern provinces.

The Syrian regime appears to hope that without lukewarm US backing for some of the rebels, the civil war will died down quickly. They are misreading the situation and blaming the victim. But for the moment, they have won.


Related video:

WaPo: “Trump is shutting down a secret CIA program in Syria”

Living the Dream Under the Accord (podcast)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/06/2017 - 7:20pm in

Last week I was interviewed on the wonderful ‘Living the Dream’ podcast. We discussed the Accord, neoliberalism and the ALP Hawke-Keating government. Our focus was on recent articles by Van Badham and Wayne Swan in The Guardian, and how the ALP and unions are attempting to understand and frame the experience of the Hawke-Keating government today. I discuss my PhD research on the Accord, and argue how the social contract was a central plank of the implementation of neoliberalism in Australia and the method of delivering an epoch defining disorganisation of labour. We finish by discussing what insights from this period of history can help us recompose a a progressive project today.

Listen to the podcast here: https://livingthedream.podbean.com/e/living-the-dream-under-the-accord/



The articles from The Guardian on Australian Laborism that we discuss are:

Australian Labor led centre-left parties into neoliberalism. Can they lead it out?

Labour has a chance if it replaces Corbyn. Look at Australia in 1983

The Hawke-Keating agenda was Laborism, not neoliberalism, and is still a guiding light

The post Living the Dream Under the Accord (podcast) appeared first on Left Flank.