Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Parliamentary Cretinism

According to Engels, parliamentary cretinism "is an incurable disease, an ailment whose unfortunate victims are permeated by the lofty conviction that the whole world, its history and its future are directed and determined by a majority of votes of just that very representative institution that has the honour of having them in the capacity of its members". In his writings on fascism in Austria, old Trotters adds "“parliamentary cretinism” is not an insult but the characteristic of a political system which substitutes for social reality, juridical and moral constructions, a ritual of decorative phrases." Accurate observations that remain the case, but I think it's perhaps time it was deployed as an insult, because nothing else describes the behaviour of a score or so MPs who cringed beneath Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster to hear the bongs for the final time ... for four years.

Stephen Pound shed a tear as what he dubbed the chimes of freedom fell silent. There has been talk of the scandal of switching off the "democracy lamp", and even the Prime Minister broke her August silence to say it wasn't right the bell should remain silent for a lengthy period. Chill your beans Theresa, it will still ring in the New Year.

Thankfully most MPs had the sense to stay away from the small crowd, but that some turned out says a great deal about the awfulness of Parliament as an institution. Laura Pidcock had it right in her maiden speech when she attacked the pomp and archaic rituals as a means of impressing on working class representatives that high office is no place for them. For people on the outside looking in, for the great many of them, they see something profoundly stuffy, weird, and alienating. Perhaps only Britain could make its sovereign democratic body so inaccessible and off putting. It is anti-democratic.

What is worse than Parliamentary procedure and its petty ritual are those parliamentarians who lap it up. They don't so much as accept it so they can get on with the jobs they were elected to do but embrace it. Jacob Rees-Mogg typifies this. Somehow, this vicious atavist has largely swarthed his cruel politics of toffee nosed class war in the ha ha of Commons buffoonery. An intervention liberally dribbled in Latin here, an obscure point of order there, in many ways Mogg personifies Westminster more than any politician. He is ineffably polite and condescending, clueless and ill at ease with the 21st century, bumbling and cold in a way that invites warmth and affection, he is the archaic and arcane epitome of parliamentary cretinism. The Commons is his natural environment. Its traditions speak to gentlemen of a certain era and a certain class to remind them, and provide a safe space for the reliving of their childhoods as private boarders. As such, you would be hard pressed to find a MP from similar backgrounds who hasn't taken to the House. Yet you can understand it, almost emphathise with it. They're creatures of their class, Parliament is an institution that upholds their class rule, and so they're going to find something special, something to treasure in what is their Westminster.

Less so those like blubbering Stephen Pound, who come from less vaulted backgrounds but are more vociferous in their love of Parliamentary culture. It's like they have internalised the inferiority Laura called out, and try and compensate for it by grabbing and championing convention and procedure. Sometimes this is for self-serving reasons, but more often than not it is to convince themselves they are welcome and they feel at home among the bourgeois pageantry and tradition. In this imagination, somehow the bowing and the scraping, the snuff box, and the chamber deliberately (and hilariously!) built too small to seat all MPs represents the pinnacle of democratic functioning. It's these kind of people who will be most active in defending tradition, and clinging to constitutional politics as the only way change can be achieved. Their ease with the way of doing things are status markers - they have made it and they've passed beyond the mortal realm into exalted company. This in mind as soon as I'd heard tell of MPs gathering to hear the bongs out, I knew it was going to be fronted up by a Labour back bencher.

None of this is fit for the very limited form of democracy of representative institutions, let alone anything else. Democratic politics should be welcoming and encouraging and its operations straightforward and transparent. Monday's little spectacle on the lawn reminds us that Westminster still has a very long way to go.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Class Struggle and the Common

For most people reading this, chances are you sell your labour power in return for a wage or a salary. Your work history has typically seen you relocate more or less daily to a place designed specifically for work. When you arrive you find the equipment, the organisation, the things you have to do are mostly arranged for you. As a typical worker you are a cog, a component fitting into a slot (or slots) within a wider division of labour. The employer, business, capital is central to making this happen. They have the authority and command to shape things, to boss you about.

In Marxism, this axis of command is central to capitalist exploitation. The selling of labour power for a certain period of time tacitly (and legally) confers capital the right to instruct the motions of these labouring bodies. This facilitates the creation of surplus labour as the first step to the realisation of surplus value and therefore profit. Labour as a collective of living, feeling human beings smarts, seethes, and resists under this state of affairs. Being compelled to do things under an authority whose recognition is purchased on pain of economic compulsion does not lead to the most cooperative of relationships, and the simmering tension and resentment bedeviling every workplace are the surface phenomena speaking of the antagonisms grinding beneath.

So much for "classical" exploitation. Does the shifting composition of capital from surplus value rooted in material commodity production to a growing dependence on immaterial labour change the terms of the class struggle? Traditionally, Marxists have understood this as the irreconcilable tension between the cooperative, social character of production (in a workplace) versus the private appropriation of the wealth generated. For Hardt and Negri, the switch to immaterial production changes the form surplus extraction assumes. Exploitation is less a mechanism hidden by the wage relation and more a visible process that looks like rent. How?

Immaterial labour produces social relations. The production of knowledge, information, services and subjectivities is a property common to all industrial societies, though it has only recently become a vector of major capital accumulation. Prior to that this social infrastructure, or the common, was indirectly and obliquely a source of value. Women's labour in the home, for instance, was/is immaterial in the sense it reproduced the household materially and socially for another round of exploitation and surplus extraction. She performed physical labour on domestic chores and mobilised affective/emotional labour to care and nurture her partner (Talcott Parsons famously likened the family to a warm bath for the bread-winning dad) and raise/socialise the next generation of workers. Capital isn't directly involved here, save in the supply of commodities that make modern domestic labour possible. In immaterial labour, the skills generations of women have performed in the home are increasingly prized at work: these are the capacities capital increasingly demands. To put it another way,  capital is a social relation bringing together living labour to work on fixed/constant capital (machines, tools) to make stuff to generate that all important surplus value. In immaterial labour, the properties formerly congealed in fixed capital has now sedimented into living, variable, cognitive labour. Or, beyond some basic orientation, business do not train programmers and IT specialists, nor instructors or professional service providers. These are employed because they are ready made, and what capital needs to exploit the networks thrown up by the common are people with that traditionally feminine attribute - social skills.

On the face of things this appears to benefit capital and weaken labour even further. It individuates workers as they're taken on on the basis of what unique skills, knowledge and, sometimes, subjectivity they bring to the table. In such a confrontation there is no contest, the individual worker cannot hope to stand against the weight of capital. Theoretically, capital can more or less impose its terms, and certainly does so when it comes to "unskilled" immaterial labour. However, it's not capital vs an individual. It's capital simultaneously taking on millions of individuals. The relation may be more individuated than the traditional wage relation, but capital is dependent on them to draw on knowledge, information and subject production competencies - what Hardt and Negri call biopolitical production - that is outside of capital. From being the organiser of production, the balance of power is objectively shifting. Capital is increasingly dependent on the organisation of (social) production by others. Or to present the issue in even starker terms, capital is proving itself surplus to the requirements of social production and is therefore assuming ever more parasitical, rentier forms.

Hardt and Negri describe this as 'one becoming two'. The antagonistic interdependence of capital and labour is fraying. The latter is growing autonomous and going off to do its own thing, which presents capital disciplinary and valorisation problems, especially if a sector is unattractive to work in. As labour is the core constituent of the common and the common talks to itself, is coalescing through networks and starting to represent a powerful, generalised intellect, how long can these parasitic relations last? When will Uber drivers call time on the very visible deductions made from their fares and replace the app with a cooperative effort? Is the time coming when Silicon Valley can no longer ponce off ad revenues generated from other people's content? And so on. This does not spell the end of capitalism, but it does represent a problem and a contradiction where a rupture in the system could tear the whole thing open.

Class struggle under these circumstances incorporates the configuration of class struggles past, and gives it a new twist. For Hardt and Negri, the basis of cognitive labour, the common, is "not only the earth we share but also the languages we create, the social practices we establish, the modes of sociality that define our relationships, and so forth. This form of the common does not lend itself to a logic of scarcity as does the first" (Commonwealth, 2009, p.139). The stuff of social production, the knowledges and relations are slippery because of their immaterial and reproducible character. They necessarily resist command because they cannot be contained. This failure of capture, the increasing autonomy of labour embedded in the common sees class struggle rewired as exodus, a refusal to be bound by the strictures of capitalist command. To emphasise and avoid false impressions, exodus does not mean retreat. Class war as practiced by socialised workers still takes the bosses on at the point of production. That guerrilla struggle is as live as it ever was. The skirmishes at the level of ideas, or class struggle in theory as Louis Althusser memorably defined philosophy, remains. The argy-bargy of struggle refracted through politics continues unabated. Exodus is the simultaneous attending to and strengthening of the common's incipient constitutive power. That is, if the common through social production is in the business of self-organising, communicating, creating its own subjectivities and making a world for itself, a core aspect of 21st century class struggle is to enhance this power. Revolutionary activity in the new millennium simultaneously creates new ways of life, proliferates networks, brings identity locations into common activity and develops institutions that spur the development of all.

Capital threatens the common in two ways. Just like the unsustainable relationship capitalism imperils the biosphere and the support systems that make human life and therefore it possible, there is an analogous relation to the common. For instance before this weekend's cowardly attack by Islamists, Barcelona had hit the news for its high profile "anti-tourist" protests. The city's landlords, thanks to the low cost and easy availability of Airbnb, were increasingly making their properties available to tourists. Higher profits for them, but the result is to price Barcelonians out of the residential rents market, forcing them from the city and thereby undermining the very culture that is such a huge tourist draw in the first place. We see something similar wherever gentrification occurs, or the profit takers try and muscle in on some hip fad coming from the streets - a process well described in Naomi Klein's No Logo. Social production begets more social production, but capital's attempts at capturing it runs the risk of turning it into dust.

Second, because economics has fused with biopolitical production, identity politics is less a distraction from "the class struggle" but more its contemporary form. The front line of the fight against capitalism is the production of the human soul. Capital is long-practiced in using gendered and racial hierarchies to undermine the collective power of workers, plus ├ža change, and it is always fighting to turn out human beings in its own image. However, these divisions don't exist solely because of capital's nefarious machinations - they are produced by the common too. Hardt and Negri argue that the family, the corporation, and the nation, all of which are located in whole or part in the common, distort and frustrate its potential. The interests of going beyond capital means a positive transcendence and abolition of identity locations (singularities) as carriers of inequality and symbolic violence, while the familial, chauvinist, status, and nationalist practices all work to fix identities in some way, limiting the potential of those caught up in them and frustrating the possibilities pregnant in the common to build a better society. Naturally, capital likewise seeks to articulate with these to preserve command even though accumulation is better served by the further development of the common.

Overcoming these issues raises the question of organisation and politics. What is to be done is an issue leftists return to time and again. What is clear for Hardt and Negri is the revolutionary party is out. As the properties of fixed capital are distributed among our growing legions of cognitive and socialised workers, the 'functions' of the revolutionary party are diffused among the politicising networks. Rather than the received conception of a vanguard of class conscious cadres providing leadership for the rest to follow, cadre building applies to the class as a whole. The power of the multitude lies in its being the living substance of the common, and increasingly their common lines of flight are putting them on a collision course with capital. Biopolitical production wrapped up in dense webs of communication brings people together, educates them, politicises them. For example, the incessant identity-related debates are no longer the concern of radical elites beavering away in academies but are now the property of millions of people, as the fall out from Charlottesville demonstrates. The aim then is to build up the capacity for self-organisation, forge new institutions that bring out the common interests of socialised workers without denying their difference. The image is of a self-activating, self-coordinating swarm that can simply overwhelm capital and the state in a process of creative destruction, of replacing one form of organising society with another.

The task for radicals and revolutionaries now is to grasp the general movement of things, to think and analyse, to grasp tendencies and directions of processes for ultimately that is where future political possibilities lie. And all the while this work has to be tied to building the capacities of the common, of making good its constituent, self-organising power. That's the object of the class struggle now, so the rupture with capitalism can be made good not in the far distant future but starting in the here and now.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Soft Soaping Food Banks

More Conservative idiocy. This time from the self-styled salon intellectuals at CapX, or to you and me the place where brain cells go to die. Chewing up bandwith in defence of indefensible class privilege this week saw Tim Worstall hail the Conservative triumph (his phrase) that are ... food banks. He comes to praise them, of course, but only to support the money grubbing fundamentalism to which his mind is slaved.

Left wingers generally, whether the funky fully automated luxury communism sorts or Progress-types have a pretty similar, if not visceral opinion of food banks. They are good things because of the work they do, and express (albeit at the charitable rather than political level) solidarity between people. But food banks are appalling things. In a society dripping with opulence for the few and a fair standard of living for most, that there are people who must go cap in hand to their local food bank, with all the shame and anguish, is nothing short of disgusting.

Our Tim sees things differently. Food banks are an unqualified good. He celebrates the self-organisation of volunteers underpinning the food bank movement and expends nothing, no empathy and certainly no pity, on those thrown on to them for survival. Because, for him, it proves his precious dogma: that when the state gets out of the way, society organises matters better. Taking the Trussell Trust's finding that the chief factor driving repeat food bank use is delayed benefit payments, Tim notes this is because the state isn't very good. It's too bureaucratic and is slow (and useless) in responding to real needs. You can see where this is going. If volunteers are doing a great job looking after folk, why not get rid of social security altogether?

As if it needs spelling out, he's talking out of his proverbial.

Let's take Employment Support Allowance. Having previously helped people make applications and supported them in appeals against nonsense decisions, I know it can take a while for a claim to be processed. According to the CAB, an applicant can wait for up to a year before a final decision is reached. For first time applicants it's usually three weeks before payment is received. Three weeks of scraping together every ha'penny, of making every pound stretch.

Why do we have this delay? For Tim the inefficiencies of centralised bureaucracy are to blame, and therefore it has nothing to do with austerity. Yes, that is true ... if you ignore entirely what happens outside of your head. People go to food banks because, shock horror, they do not have enough money to live on. For people who work, we have Tim's mates in business to thank for not paying people enough. For those dependent on social security support, their predicament is less the immutable inefficiencies of bureaucracy and more the decisions underpinning them. Our Tory government made the conscious decision to freeze payments. They made the conscious decision to delay payments, sorry, to take three weeks to process a claim. If they wanted the system to work effectively, the axe wouldn't have swung through the DWP and they wouldn't have cut staff at the time of rising demand on the bureaucracy. Yes, applications do get lost in the system, but in this instance food banks are organising not in response to the myriad failures of the state but the cruel political decisions made by Tory and LibDem politicians fishing from the same ideological sewer as Tim.

This dud is is typical of the right. They do not present analysis and prefer instead fairy stories capable of convincing the already convinced. If Tim was confident in his arguments and believed food banks proved his dogma right, he wouldn't have to distort the context they operate in, ignore the importance of politics, write out the experience of service users and basic intellectual honesty. Were it truth and rigour mattered more than power, this and similar nonsense would have got buried decades ago.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Stupidity of Jeremy Hunt

Do you know what I can't stand about Jeremy Hunt? That NHS pin. Everywhere he goes it's there, pretending he cares when we know he'd like nothing better than to see the back end of the NHS. Do you know what else I can't stand about him? The egregious stupidity, which he also wears like that blasted badge. And it just so happens he's been showing it off today.

You may have seen him get into a Twitter altercation with Stephen Hawking. Naturally. you don't need to be the best known name in cosmology to get a handle on what Hunt is doing to the NHS, but the intellectual celebrity surrounding Hawking's critique of the cuts, the short staffing, the privatisation ensures it has more heft than your common or garden lefty celebrity or shadow minister. What makes the criticism damning is Hawking draws attention to the fact Hunt and his boss routinely ignore the weight of evidence in their decision making. For example, the weekend deaths line Hunt has peddled for the last 18 months to prosecute his attack on the working conditions of junior doctors is demonstrably untrue - Hawking duly points to the relevant studies. How then does Hunt respond to this charge? By doubling down. In two tweets Hunt argued the 2015 research he has appropriated to bludgeon the doctors was the most comprehensive ever and therefore Hawking was wrong. No attempt to rebut the criticism, no acknowledgement of subsequent evidence challenging the report, nothing. All else may as well not exist.

It goes without saying that Jeremy Hunt has form for stupidity, but his and his party's behaviour doesn't do stupid things because they're thick (though plenty of Tory MPs are), but because life as a politician, the servicing of certain interests, and the structurally dysfunctional character of their party links arms and cancans their stupidity to the world. Take the political life as the starting point. As a minister, your day-to-day is entirely filled with meetings, hanging out in the Commons, more meetings, going on visits, reading executive summaries of reports, occasional media and yes, not forgetting more meetings. It's a job set up to make decisions, but doesn't actually allow space for thinking about decisions. All the options are laid out by the ideological kin you promoted to special advisor jobs to do that for you, and are framed in terms of the line of march decided by the Prime Minister. It means evidence is only ever selected and cited as long as it can support your position, and if none can be found there's always the tried and trusted method of bashing the experts. In Hunt's case we're seeing this most cynical empiricism in action. Because some evidence appeared that offered convenient cover for an attack on medical staff, Hunt now clings to it forever and all time. The rest is just noise as far as he's concerned. And this is not a property unique to him, all ministers - especially those in contentious briefs - operate this way, regardless of party. The truth does not matter, only the politics does.

What amplifies the stupidity of the health secretary is the Tory approach to the NHS as a whole. Instead of a service to be invested in and improved, they see it as an opportunity to make money for the interests they represent. Why go to the trouble of spending extra cash and leveraging the state to drive innovation and new markets when you can take existing public spending and restructure the institutions in receipt of the cash so the Tories' business friends can have a slice of the pie. As the Tories claim, in the cynical tradition of factual accuracy, the NHS isn't privatised. Instead services are contracted out slice-by-slice, and successful private bidders drive down costs so they can profit from the margins. It's a model long seen in local authority care and is now standard across the NHS. The most egregious examples being those where contract winners then subcontract the work back to public institutions, a truly parasitical and disgusting affair. Hunt's attempt to hold down pay in the NHS, and to rip up junior doctors' working conditions, is to make more of the NHS amenable to profit taking of this kind. And if it all fails? Then blame rising demand, spending beyond our means, and make the case for the introduction of more charges.

Lastly, the pursuit of short term interests on behalf of big business is a further manifestation of Conservative Party decadence. In other words, the Tories have become partially dislocated from the kinds of interests they represent and as a rule pursue policies that benefit certain business sectors (or businesses) and/or the perceived short-term interests of the Tory party at the expense of the general interests of their class. We saw it on Brexit, we see it in the knowledge economy, we see it in the NHS. The decadent approach retards Britain's economic performance and therefore the business opportunities available to their class, all the while creating social blockages and social problems for the rest of us. Within their own terms the Tories are not fit to govern.

It doesn't have to be like this, but the means of securing change is not a matter of polite persuasion, of getting Hunt and others like him to look at the evidence. Hunt will not pay any attention to the critiques of his and the government's position until they are forced to back down. This is where an increasingly assertive Labour Party at Westminster, pressure from a public growing more aware of the dangers the Tories pose the health service, and by protest and workplace action by NHS staff themselves comes in. Hunt and his kind get away with ruinous incompetence because they can. Hopefully we're not too far from the time when this will be possible no longer.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Fascism and Economic Anxiety

What's the liberal hot take on last weekend's white supremacist march in Charlottesville, North Virginia? According to Twitter, and never missing an opportunity to be smug, it definitely, definitely was not about "economic anxiety". Here are some typical examples. They think they're being clever funny ironic, of burnishing woke creds while caricaturing and mocking those annoying people who insist there is a relationship between what goes on in someone's life and their outlook on the world. This liberal heroism merely advertises their inability to think, and broadcasts their unwillingness to do so.

And what is more, they are entirely wrong. They are even wrong on their assumptions about what economic anxiety is. Here I want to look at economic anxiety in a narrow and an expanded sense, that is how economics 'stands alone' (which as a proposition is only possible in an analytical exercise like this, in the real world it cannot be separated from wider social processes and inequalities) and how it combines, in this case, with race/ethnicity and, crucially, gender as a way into explaining how white supremacists become the hate mongering shits they are.

What is less than useless is the position of liberal heroism. Here racists are racist because they're racist. People voted for Donald Trump because they're racist. Studies prove it. Racists marched in Charlottesville because they're racists. Racists hate on blacks and Jews because they're racist, and so on. There is no attempt at a social explanation here, rather they're reducing racism to a matter of choice, to personal morality. In so doing they manage to avoid facing up to the sorts of social conditions that manufacture fascists. Or to put it another way, while all fascists are awful human beings, they are congenitally uninterested in why not every awful human being is a fascist.

Let's begin with economic anxiety, narrowly conceived. Traditionally fascism has been regarded as a movement powered primarily by petit bourgeois and declassed elements (the unemployed, precariously employed, etc.). That isn't to say working class people never get involved, but in the "classical" cases as per Germany and Italy the other classes and class fragments were present in disproportionate numbers. It all makes a certain sense when you look at these as positions and relationships: these are de facto unstable and precarious. Effectively, they are individuals versus the weight of the economic world. If you are a business person, even a successful (small/medium) business person, your position is caught in a vice. The employee class, the proletarians, are the pains you can't do without and they so pester you with unreasonable demands like health and safety at work, time off and decent wages. And at any time big business threatens to squash you with the competitive advantages they can bring to bear. If you are not a business owner and are declassed thanks to unemployment or sporadic work, you are still thrown onto your own devices. Unemployment and precarious employment are social failings, but experiencing it and the social security institutions policing it put your situation on you. Some thrive on this, but others are filled with existential dread. Among this layer then, we tend to find a concern for order, a tendency toward nostalgia, a hankering for authoritarianism and hostility toward scapegoats deemed to threaten and/or undermine their received position and perceived privileges.

As we have seen before, there is an assumption that economic anxiety just equals working class people, which is demonstrably false. While plenty of (white) working class people voted for Trump, it was the wealthier layers who turned out in disproportionate numbers to back him. The persistence of this understanding, or rather misunderstanding of economic anxiety starts looking deliberate the more it is repeated. It's almost as if layers of official opinion formation cannot cope with the idea of fascists as their local plumber, hot dog man, or restaurant manager. It's easier to dehumanise fascists if you conceive them as poor and working class. The more social distance you can put between them and you, the better.

So much for the narrow economics, what about a more expansive approach to anxiety? As per recent arguments, we live in a society which has been totally subsumed by capital. Market relationships and market logics have penetrated all aspects of social life, and increasingly the business of capitalism is about taking from the common store of social knowledge (or 'the common'), repackaging it and selling it back to us. Here, labour in advanced capitalist societies is increasingly immaterial. At the behest of our employers, we are much more likely to produce knowledge, information, services, relationships and types of people (subjectivities). We also tend to do this in our own time as well. This blog post as an example of knowledge/information-sharing and (hopefully!) subjectivity formation, for instance. Capitalism is now in the business of producing people, which means the contradictions and conflicts between capital and labour have rippled beyond the workplace and fused with the politics of identity formation. Class and gender and race and other locations of so-called identity politics can only ever be separated analytically: in real life they combine and condition each.

What has this got to do with our Charlottesville sad sacks? Quite a bit. One thing that strikes about last weekend, far right mobilisations and fascism generally is, well, where are the women? The alt-right and white nationalism are manly affairs. Very manly affairs. It glorifies fighting, militarism, weaponry, misogyny and the rest. It rails against anything that presents a danger to a mythologised, idealised and brittle hyper-masculinity, and here it conjoins with the racialism. The "threats" arrayed against whiteness can only be seen off by militant manliness, of white men protecting theirs and their bloodlines by having lots of children and aggressively seeing off competitors and deviants. Hence its fragility vis a vis male homosexuality (in particular). Its promise is a society in which everyone knows their place. All men are (white) men for whom there are enough jobs and enough women. It is an order that institutionalises white power and male privilege under some benevolent fascist administration that represses the deviants. It's a heaven for a few built on the hell of the many, of women, of "undesirable" races and ethnicities to be enslaved and wiped out, of sexual difference kept in the closet under pain of lethal force.

What kind of person is going to find views of this kind attractive? Presumably white men would in disproportionate numbers. And why might some of them (after all, not all white men ...)? Because of the lot young white men are facing, of a progressive dissolution of a privileged gender and racial locations. Let's bring it narrowly back to economics for a moment. Many scholars have written about the feminisation of labour markets. This doesn't just mean the progressive integration of more women into work, but also the spread of conditions one would previously associate with "traditional" women's employment (part time, low pay, short term) as well as the content of work. The immaterial labour that has always coexisted alongside the development of capitalism in the home, the affective caring work overwhelmingly undertaken by wives and mothers helped produce human beings with certain sets of capacities that left their children work ready, to a degree. Immaterial labour as an increasingly dominant arena of capital accumulation sees larger numbers of men drawn into affective, service-oriented cognitive labour, the sorts of labour that also produces social relations, networks, and human beings of certain types. Therefore, not only are younger men having to compete with women for jobs more regularly than their dads and grandads did, but they do so for jobs that fall short of the traditionally masculine manly man. There is a mismatch between this received masculinity, which finds itself expressed in whole and in part through a bewildering array of cultural artefacts, and the reality. Matthew Heimbach, the well known white supremacist interviewed in Vice's acclaimed Charlottesville documentary is a testament to this. Prior to his politics getting him the sack, he worked in child protection.

If that wasn't bad enough, women have expectations of being treated like human beings. The feminist movement has asserted women's autonomy. Millions no longer want to be the arm candy or the mothers gender ideology throws at women and men, and millions refuse the gender apartheid that underpins traditional male privilege and power. With greater freedoms, they might not only out-compete men at work but may also choose to be intimate with men who are not white. Therefore in the white patriarchal imaginary the liberated woman is a double threat - a threat to their economic well being and masculinist conceptions of work, and a sexual threat in her potential exodus from and abandonment of white men who feel entitled to her body. Hence, particularly in America, how the racist anxieties towards black men is bound up with a sexual anxiety, of their being hypersexual, better endowed, more manly than white men. A triptych of of gender, sexuality, and race on which the anxieties of alt-right, fascist America are represented.

Fascism is a promise to do away with these tensions. Instead of leaving white male privilege in contention, it reinforces it. Turning the clock back, rewinding the film, of repeating history is about stamping on uncertainty and, yes, anxiety (be it economic or otherwise). Women and minority ethnicities are to be put back in the box, the complex processes of struggle underpinning the feminisation of work substituted for conspiracy fairy tales of Jewish/communist/Jewish and communist manipulations, the fevered reification of masculinity with its celebration of militarism and war, and society locked into a rigid patterning of authority (overseen by a dictatorial patriarch) not only is a simple vision, but one that can only be achieved through the blood and fire of redemptive violence. Fascism is more than a dystopia attractive to a would-be elite, it's a weak apologia for criminality and wanton murder, of promising empowerment via the infliction of pain and suffering on one's enemies.

All this ineluctably leads to the conclusion that fascism has a great deal to do with economic anxiety refracted through class, gender, race and ethnicity. Understanding what fascism is, where it comes from, what it appeals to and crucially, who the fascists are and how they are made is not an idle exercise. It's the very basics of militant anti-fascism. Knowing what generates fascism allows for it to be pulled up by its roots, and that is inseparable from a wider programme of political change - a programme that addresses the antagonisms and conflicts pregnant with fascist possibilities by abolishing them altogether, and that brings us back to capital and its apparatus of command. Liberals fly from even trying to understand how their system works, and that might have something to do with why their anti-fascism considers racism and white supremacy matters of individual moral failure.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Faces of Fascism

Look at the state of these. Young white American men. Young white American men with burners on a fascist march in Charlottesville. You might have heard a wee bit about it. This led to clashes, the murder of a comrade protesting against these pricks, and a huge political fall out thanks to Trump's trouble condemning the violence of white supremacists and Theresa May's inability to criticise him. I have another post brewing about what happened at the weekend, but I'd just like to make a side contribution about fascist faces. That is we don't normally see them, do we? What are the Ku Klux Klan best known for, apart from appalling racism and violence towards black people? Their hoods. Hoods that were donned by otherwise respectable southern men to put a distance between their banal, upstanding everyday selves and the commission of racist intimidation. A number of people have picked up on this to suggest a couple of interrelated points. That the election of Donald Trump has emboldened the far right to come out of the shadows and mobilise publicly, and open fascism now when their forebears concealed their identities under the hood suggests things are worse now than they were then.

Racism is as American as mom and apple pie. But so is anti-racism and anti-fascism. The latter is where the bulk of Americans are, particularly the young, and the left can easily out-mobilise the pathetic forces of the KKK, the so-called alt-right and the heavily armed bands of self-styled race warriors, survivalists, and end-of-the-world psychotics. The America of racist cops who murder young black men with impunity is opposed by the America of Black Lives Matter and increasing numbers of appalled people. Because of past struggles and important victories the weight of history is against the hipster Nazis and their dreams of race war and genocide in the United States. It's therefore a real stretch to suggest we're on the threshold of a fash revival, despite the boosters provided by Trump and Breitbart and those magazine articles dripping superlatives over Richard Spencer's wardrobe. Still, if American fascism and racism is in long term decline that doesn't explain why so many would-be Nazis happily posed for pictures and had their mugs plastered all over the internet. In addition to the emboldening thesis (yes, a movement can simultaneously be in decline and be emboldened) there are two additional explanations for this behaviour.

The anonymity afforded by the internet and what that means for popular culture is so 1990s. Read any scholarship on presentations of self and online communities from 20 years ago and it truly is a foreign country. Today, thanks to social media, it's all about the attention economy. Just as celebrities vie for attention on social networks and traditional media outlets, many millions of us willingly play the same game in our own personal friendship universes. Content creation inculcates a certain level of narcissism, of widely projecting oneself onto your networks regardless of whether you're a YouTube star, throw out podcasts, tweet, prattle away on Facebook or, um, blog. The attraction of attention is incentivised by the very structure of the platforms, and people have an interest in wearing a big arrow over their head pointing at them. This attention economy valorises novelty and finds itself often expressed by being in or at events and/or hanging around with others, which in turn can (and does) spark off interest from the network (such as celebrity selfies - crucially, only one selfie of me and Jeremy Corbyn exists). This applies to political people who want to be seen at some sort of political event, having a night out on the lash, and ... fascists. Our far right frat boys and gamergating basement dwellers with their burners and idiot insecurities are entirely habituated to this culture of visibility and being seen. It would have occurred to few of them to cover their face and protect their identity because they'd want to pore over the photographs after the event and share them among their networks to show they were at Charlottesville, how hardcore and authentic they were, and what have you.

And then there is naivete. These kids are used to frictionless political activity. Hanging out online with like-minded volk, the hairiest it gets is anonymously trolling lefties or watching other fascists, like Spencer, getting punched. But despite being aware of the social costs of being an open racist and white nationalist, it isn't real until you have experienced it yourself. In their arrogance and narcissism the most these fash were expecting was a few placard wavers and that's it. They weren't expecting to be met by militant and sometimes violent opposition, or have their faces plastered all over international news, or have themselves doxxed and exposed, or get fired from their jobs or, in one case, disowned by their parents. If a few cuts and bruises is all a Charlottesville marcher has to cry about, they got off lightly. Some of these inadequates returned home to ostracisation and ruin. They are learning that being an out and proud Hitler fanboy does have consequences, that the social world cleaves not to a so-called master race but spits at them.

Monday, 14 August 2017

On Labour's "Sexist" Industrial Strategy

When Jess Phillips speaks it rarely ends well. On this occasion, seemingly determined to ruffle as many feathers as possible, she is reported as saying that "left-wing men are the absolute worst" when it comes to sexism, and that Labour's industrial strategy is sexist. Challenged on this by Caroline Molloy, she said she really meant lefty men are merely the more annoying than the sexists of the right who parade their misogyny alongside their stupidity. Ah yes, she didn't mean to say left men are the worst, just like the time she bathed in the media attention after telling Diane Abbott to "fuck off". Or when she threatened to stab Jeremy Corbyn "in the front", or of accusing the Labour leader of "hating women". Now, I'm not about to dismiss Jess's experiences of sexism and mansplaining in the party. It happens and if you're a bloke who doubts it or doesn't see it, why not ask some women comrades? Sadly sexism is alive and well because Labour is not hermetically sealed off from the rest of society and is bound to reflect what happens in the social world. The point is not to let it lie. Here all men in the party have a duty to support women and challenge sexist attitudes. Remember sexism, like racism, is scabbing.

Where I am going to say Jess is wrong is on the "sexism" of Labour's economic programme. Of the industrial strategy, women are "entirely missing" as it's all about "men with shovels", she says. Let us examine the evidence. The documentation that has gone to the National Policy Forum says its key task is the creation of highly skilled, high waged, and high productivity jobs. This means focusing on skills via the introduction of a National Education Service for lifelong retraining and learning, more money in infrastructure investment, a more industrially active state that identifies and makes up for gaps created by market failure, better procurement practices, capping energy costs and investing, getting a good trade deal with Europe, and investing heavily in research. Looking at the economy section of our 2017 manifesto, the same sort of stuff is repeated. True enough, combing through both we don't see any mention of women and gender inequality and superficially it looks like a poor show versus, say, the Women's Equality Party. However, to suggest this is indicative of sexism in Labour's programme is a real failure of political imagination. Or cynical reasoning, depending on your view of Jess.

Take, for instance, the national education service. A lot of the Labour right don't like this idea because they would prefer to cling to tuition fees and, for some, too much education is a bad thing. Yet who would benefit most from this? Women would. If the job-destroying predictions of the coming wave of automation are realised, it is women who are going to be disproportionately affected. Clerical work, and particularly the low-paid and most repetitive sectors vulnerable to automation and obsolescence is going to hit them more than men. Therefore a new education service can help them retrain and relearn, just as it would for mums who take extended career breaks to look after their kids. It would be there to help them acquire new skills and knowledge or just to provide a refresh. In short, it gives more opportunities to women to lead the kinds of lives they want.

On procurement, Labour would expect companies vying for public sector contracts meet certain social criteria around wages, paying taxes, equal opportunities, workers' rights and trade unions. Think about the burgeoning care industry, which in local authority areas is largely outsourced after decades of privatisation. Care workers are expected to meet a client's care needs in a strictly allotted time frame before moving on to the next, pay is poor, and workers are often demotivated and cannot do a proper job. As you tend to find women in these roles, again, tell me who is going to benefit from changing the rules?

It goes on. Making life easier for small businesses would benefit women surging into self-employment. Tougher regulation of finance and more state intervention makes the economy less vulnerable to shocks, which benefits women who are more likely to be in casual work, and "insourcing" utilities and price controls means household budgets stretch further.

As we live in the 21st century and our society is increasingly characterised by immaterial labour - the production of knowledge, information, services, social relations, people - what is work and what is the economy is increasingly fuzzy. I don't expect Jess to be up on the leading edge of debates in radical and social theory, but I would have thought her experience working for domestic violence and sexual abuse services might have alerted her to the role women by and large play as 'affective labourers' doing emotional work for partners and children, and how important this work is for the reproduction of social life. Therefore, Labour's pledge to tackle violence in the home, to ensure women's refuges and rape crisis are properly funded (and cannot simply be turned off by central government, as has happened under the Tories), outlaw maternity discrimination at work and look at ways of making work more pregnancy-friendly, and lastly gender pay auditing are as much industrial strategy issues as rolling out superfast broadband and investing in renewable energy. The same applies for raising the minimum wage, protecting pensions, reworking social security and the NHS and introducing an integrated NHS/social services National Care Service. All are entirely central to an industrial strategy, and all are entirely central to improving the lot of women.

Could more be done? Yes. Labour needs to be more explicit about the intertwining of economic and social relationships, and that the former is only possible because of the social infrastructure that women, generally, have a greater role in providing and reproducing than men. Here the Women's Equality Party manifesto does a good job, even if some of its policies don't go far enough in my view. Though it is something worth looking at and learning from. That however does not mean Labour's industrial strategy is sexist considering the substantial contribution it would make to the material lot and provision of opportunities for women.

Sadly, this truth about Labour's economics does not matter for Jess Phillips. As someone with a talent for attracting the spotlight, Jess has constructed a media personality solely around a snide remark here or a "brave" intervention there against the party and its leadership. For all I know she might attack the Tories more venomously and vociferously, but there you have your problem - we just don't know. How she carries on is entirely up to her, of course. Just as it will be up to her constituency organisation whether they give Jess another four or five years come reselection time.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

UKIP's Fascist Future?

What is going to happen to the United Kingdom Independence Party? Not many people care any more. Since they were broken at the Stoke-on-Trent by-election its fortunes have gone from bad to worse. Members have fallen away faster than Paul Nuttall's hair follicles, UKIP has tanked in the polls and they scored their worst general election result since 2001. What do you do when Brexit - your raison d'etre - is now owned by the Conservative Party, when Nigel Farage is more interested in presenting radio shows and having selfies with Donald Trump, politics has shifted appreciably to the left and not many people give a fig about what you have to say? Under such circumstances folding is an option, but there is a modest local authority gravy train to protect.

The biggest problem for UKIP is its social base has entirely evaporated, and when political parties are expressions of classes and class fractions that is something of a deal. Without an alignment to a constituency, which in UKIP's case was always quite volatile, it is loose from the rest of society and is buffeted by the turbulence even further to the margins. And once there, empty of social content, it becomes the battleground of (effectively) de-socialised, detached individuals. This shows up especially in leadership contests. As big parties are coalitions of interests, different political figures and currents represent certain constituencies. When there are large numbers of candidates, chances are the relationship between the party and the wider world is somewhat tenuous. That UKIP has 11 people standing for the role says all you need to know.

There are two front runners in the race to replace Nuttall and, interestingly, there is a smidgen of a political difference between them. The "moderate" appears to be David Kurten, who sits on the London Assembly. In his corner you will find Arron Banks, Raheem Kassam of Breitbart, and that no mark conspiracy fool from Infowars. I know it's old, but a more accurate picture of the dud, the mad, and the smugly is seldom found. Incredibly, there is worse political effluvia floating in the hard right toilet bowl and our second candidate found them. Anne Marie Waters, self-styled anti-Islam activist has had her person endorsed by Geert Wilders and Tommy Robinson (or whatever his name is these days). The Charybdis of homophobic batshittery versus the Scylla of a BNP turn. It couldn't happen to a nicer party.

Waters has the higher profile by a country mile thanks to her being a regular on far right scene. As "director" of the Sharia Watch blog and founder member of the still-born Pegida UK, I first came across her thanks to the efforts of Andy Newman, who outed Waters as an anti-Islam bigot trying to get on the Parliamentary gravy train via the Labour Party. Among her political positions are the enforced closures of mosques and mass deportations, which marks her out as a right charmer. She also probably stands a good chance of getting the leadership thanks to 1,000 people signing up to the party to vote for her. Having Waters as leader is too much for Farage, who has said UKIP would be "finished" in the event of her victory. It's difficult to see what passes for UKIP's faces - Suzanne Evans, Patrick O'Flynn, perhaps even Neil Hamilton - hanging around either. Still, no matter how putrid they become UKIP's safe seat on BBC Question Time is unlikely to be affected.

Here is the problem. There is a political market for anti-Islam bigotry, unfortunately. It's not a massive one - after all, the BNP at its height only mustered 50-odd councillors, a couple of MEPs and a London Assembly member. The Waters strategy does hold the possibility of connecting with and catering for a very small, very backward section of the electorate. She offers something, even it means changing the party colours from putrid purple to fascist brown - and for some members staring oblivion in the face, that will do. It comes with a hefty cost though. UKIP would be finished as a party with a hope of future mainstream success. See, there is a slight possibility of a future UKIP revival. If Brexit is "betrayed" and the Tories are seen to be either delivering an insufficient exit from the EU (whatever that means) or bending the knee to Brussels as we negotiate from a position of obvious weakness, the volatile ex-kipper vote now with Theresa May could be off on its travels again. While such voters have no love for Muslims, UKIP as the BNP mk II carries the pall political stigma. They will likely go where Farage leads. That could be UKIP if Kurten wins, or curtains entirely if Waters gets the job.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Rallies Work

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. Rallies in politics matter, and you needn't take my word for it any more as Alia Middleton at the LSE has crunched the numbers. She found that where Theresa May set down during the election campaign, her visits had little appreciable effect on the outcome in those seats. When Jeremy Corbyn rolled into town for one of his rallies, the party vote share change went up almost double versus constituencies he didn't visit. Amaze.

If you cast your mind back to any point before this year's general election campaign, some wise old wise old could be found lecturing the world about how rallies do not win elections. Indeed, some might have said they're a complete waste of time. Why bother listening to someone tell you things you already know when you could be posting leaflets and knocking on doors? And, of course, in Jez's case it was just another case of him being in his comfort zone talking to folks who agree with him. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Rallies are important for several reasons. They bring large numbers of people together, just like demonstrations. When big numbers of like mind turn out for something, it not only builds up a collective feeling of solidarity, it enables people to meet, talk, get involved. Why do you think Momentum, Labour and sundry Trot groups have stalls at these sorts of events? Because they know new people will be drawn there out of curiosity and interest, a fair chunk of whom would be looking to get involved further. Second, rallies - especially Jez rallies - are a spectacle. They're something we haven't seen with any degree of regularity since the mid-1980s, particularly outside London, and for large numbers of younger people it is entirely novel. If you happen to just be passing by and a thousand or so people are gathered, chances are you're going to hang around and see what the fuss is about. And think of what the spads and wonks call the optics. During the election people saw Theresa May shuttled from one staged event to another, whereas Jez was meeting and addressing real people. When the media barrage is this man is weak/dangerous/unpopular and yet the same is showing him in front of crowds, that message ain't going to wash.

Lastly, don't underestimate the impact this has on the Labour Party's enemies. Rallies are supposed to show your opposition the kind of strength you can muster. When Jeremy Corbyn can pop up in any part of the country and draw a crowd, that's going to make the Tories nervous. They are finally waking up to we saw in Derby North. A rally also ensured coverage in the local rags (every local newspaper reader is very likely to be a voter), which would have percolated out into the nearby marginals. Their geographic spread is therefore unlikely to have made much of a difference. Meanwhile, May's strategy didn't help her - the more the public saw, the more stilted, awkward, robotic she and "her team" appeared.

This week Jez embarked on his summer tour of marginal constituencies. There will still be grumblers and naysayers grumbling and naysaying, but now the electoral impact of this strategy cannot be denied.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Five Reasons Why a New Centre Party is a Stupid Idea

It's truly silly season if talk of a new centre party is abroad yet again. James Chapman, ex-Daily Mail and former office boss in David Davis's Department for Exiting the European Union sparked off the latest chittery-chattery in a series of pointed posts on yours and mine's favourite social media outlet. He said Boris Johnson should be banged up for his moronic £350m/week pledge to fund the NHS, and took several gormless ministers to task about how Brexit is affecting their briefs. Of more interest is his desire for a new 'Democratic Party' that would seek to overturn the result of last year's referendum. No cheap shots on the incongruence between the name and the reluctance to accept a democratic decision, please.

Unfortunately for "Chappers" his new party fantasy is just that. It might be a dream he shares with Tony Blair, the Jolyon scene and "very interesting people", but it's the pantomime gesturing of a political elite left out of sorts by the post-referendum, post-election landscape. It appears superficially similar to what went before, but try as they may it rebels against them. Nothing underlines this confusion more than their stubborn, centre party meme. Here then, for the umpteenth time are five reasons why it won't work and cannot work.

Show me the money, show me the money, show me the mon-ey
There was talk before the election, at least according to gossip relayed by The Mail of Tony Blair lining up donors to fund a new centre outfit should Labour losing badly but Jeremy Corbyn stay on. Since then, nothing. Lord Sainsbury, the normal "secretive billionaire" go-to for political money has decided that charidee alone will now benefit from his financial largesse. And there are no other takers. According to Private Eye, Blair even tried touching Brexit-supporting ex-Labour donor John Mills for moolah. You can imagine the conversation didn't go well. The problem with rich donors is they expect a return as they would with any other investment. That His Blairness, now worth a reputed £60m give or take, isn't stumping up the readies says everything you need to know.

Absent friends
What MP is going to be tempted by a new centrist party? Apparently Chuka Umunna had one on the launch pad and ready to go, and then the electorate spoiled everything and awarded Labour its largest vote for 20 years. How thoughtless of them. Now, while Chuka might needle Corbyn over Brexit and sundry others cause mischief about Venezuela and the like, no one is about to tender their resignations for an unproven force. The same applies to annoyed Cameroons such as Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry. The one thing most MPs want is ... to remain MPs. Would anyone currently out of step with their respective parties want to go to the electorate with 'Democrats', 'Spring' or some other meaningless appellation and have someone else stand under the Tory or Labour banner? No. Simon "800 votes" Danczuk helpfully rendered his former colleagues a service by offering a vision of their potential futures to honourable members tempted to jump ship.

Generals without an army
Party members can be very annoying. They badger parliamentarians in their constituency/association meetings, bang on about issues no one cares about and sometimes have the temerity to want a degree of collective control over their party. Yet party members are a necessity too. You must have people to fill candidate vacancies in local elections, folks who'll speak to punters on the doors, on stalls, at work and in all the social settings they inhabit. Someone has to deliver the leaflets. Who then are going to do this for a new centre party? Though they're not going anywhere, let's have a brief look at the standard bearer of the self-described centre politics in Labour. That would be our friends Progress, and they're bust. The sugar daddy has left them high and dry, and an attempts to infuse new blood to keep them attractive has failed. Turnout in their recent round of strategy board elections finds just 50 young members, and 2,500 members in total. In short, a body not much larger than Britain's principal Trotskyist outfits and, I would wager, with considerably fewer activists. If Progress is the most likely feeder for a new party from Labour, what about the Tories? They're hardly overflowing with members and, if anything, their base is getting more right wing as all the kippers come back. The Cameroons did not have a numerous grassroots cadre to fall back on either. Might a new party attract people presently uninterested in politics? Unlikely, because ...

Dissolve the people and elect another
The electorate aren't in the market for a new centre party. The election result squeezed the smaller parties severely - even the SNP weren't immune and are likely to be less resilient in future. On the one side the Tories have stacked up a coalition of classes and class fractions in long-term decline, which means they are too. Labour on the other hand are presently benefiting from changes to the class composition of British capitalism, which accounts for how it is managing to win over middle class strata and the most exploited and marginalised. The election result was polarised because politics is now in line with the real polarisation taking place beneath the froth of official society. Our self-described centrists, our Blairists and Cameroons do not and cannot understand this because their privilege inoculates them against conceiving of the world as anything other than the shilly-shallying of fellow elites. Sadly for them, the realities of the new class politics is no respecter of ideological illusions. The real asserts itself whether you recognise it or not.

The only centre party in the (Westminster) village
All talk of a new centre party has an element of unreality about it, because there already is a centre party. The Liberal Democrats are hardly in the rudest health, but they're not doing too badly considering how the tectonics of politics are shifting. They now have in excess of 100,000 members, they made a modest advance in the election, and while their polling is rubbish local council by-elections are returning okay results. Not on the scale of their surge in the 12 months leading up to this year's council elections but respectable enough. What can a new party offer what the LibDems can't already, especially as they're now doubling down on a second referendum on the Brexit deal? Tony Blair and "celebrity" newspaper columnists? Please.

A new centre party is a stupid idea in defiance of political realities. But the people touting it are so disoriented by British politics that seeing through this absurdity cannot be ruled out.