[...] Whence this "People's Europe"? The European institutions are even more resistant to popular pressure, and even less democratic, than the national states participating in them. Is the European Commission ripe for socialist capture? Are decades of legislation pertaining to competitiveness, state aid and budgets vulnerable to collapse provided Britain reverses its decision to leave? I don't foreclose struggles for reform, but this "People's Europe" is even more of an hallucinogenic fantasy than "Lexit". As for "Brexit appeasement", that is choice little jingoistic turn of phrase to refer to the acceptance of defeat in a once-in-a-lifetime democratic referendum in which the overwhelming resources were on the side of Remain.
[...] The point of having an activist, interventionist state, is that one no longer has to do things on neoliberal terms. In other words, one doesn't have to accept the blackmail according to which you acquiesce or you lose jobs, wages and taxes. That's the neoliberal blackmail in a nutshell, and its persuasive power always depended fundamentally on the idea that there is no alternative. What if there is an alternative? Even if it isn't a "socialist phoenix", it changes the equation, and forces a different and less caricatured conversation.
The strongest part of Cortes's case is that leaving the neoliberal EU, Britain will still be part of a neoliberal world. In other words, a range of global institutions, trade and financial bodies, from the WTO to the IMF, will continue to have a pronounced role in how British capitalism is governed. Nevertheless, there are certain specific constraints that come with membership of the European Union. May's soft Brexit plan, of course, did not address those: why should it? But a government of the Left, with a suitable flexibility of tactics, could address it.
The point I'm making is that, setting aside phoenixes and appeasement and other such shopworn imagery, there are ways to adapt to Brexit, to protect workers, and even make something of an opportunity out of the relinquishing of eg state aid rules. This is no longer a terrain in which the outcome has to be settled by the most reactionary elements in our political life. Moreover, given this, if the agenda is to fight for any kind of "People's Europe", that would surely not be helped by a rush of the loyalist Left to rejoin these institutions and acquiesce to these rules. If there is a route to a People's Europe, it is surely through the crisis of those institutions.
Every choice is a renunciation. Every decision comes with opportunity-costs. There are a million possible ways to waste your time. In politics, there being so many issues, you have to be parsimonious. You hammer away, relentlessly, at the biggest prize, the biggest opportunity. If you make the wrong choice, that is wasted money and labour-hours. Prioritising a quixotic campaign to save Britain's position in the European Union is, for the Left, a waste of its energies. It would be far better placed dedicating its forces to a creative project -- for which, slogans regarding a "People's Europe" are an exceedingly poor, emaciated substitute.
i hate brexit shit in general but this is SO GOOD
In the traditional language of the far left, it is possible to talk about "transitional demands". Reforms that, though reasonable, are also incompatible with the capitalist system. They are advanced as pedagogical devices, ways to assemble political coalitions that in practical terms bring them into conflict with capitalism. But what reforms truly point in that direction?
interesting way of framing it!
The reforms to welfare, justified by an attempt to undermine the supposed cultural sources of poverty, have been slowly turning it into a disciplinary mechanism. But it doesn't absolutely have to be that way. That just happens to be one way of solving unemployment from a supply-side perspective. And while the fungibility of cash gives you a certain range of choices, freedom is not reducible to choice. To an extent, freedom paradoxically involves being freed from those choices that are not intrinsically meaningful.
For most people, the NHS offers more freedom than a tax refund would. If you want to know what exhausting rigours it frees you from, look at the US healthcare market. An affordable, socially-owned house would free you in another way. You might have less choice with public provision. But a home is a complex thing. It puts together a range of amenities and affordances, from energy to water to sleeping quarters. It's a base from which life projects can be embarked upon. If your home is secure, all of those other things are secure, and your attention is free to focus on other things. You can plan your life. You don't have to put every ounce of your ingenuity into the classically middle class pursuit of 'climbing the property ladder'.
Not everything we could have a use for is amenable to this logic. In some areas, choices are meaningful. What books you read, what films you see, who you spend time with, what clothes you wear. Of course, the emerging digital order is predicated on the idea that choice is not meaningful; it is always heteronomously determined. Whether or not the platform bosses, the gaming companies, behavioural economists and government bureaucrats really believe in radical behaviourism in a deep sense, its precepts have filtered into everyday practice. Preferences have become an object for manipulation and guidance, rather than the self-evident starting point of all individual action in a liberal society. The silicon order is not just post-democratic in that sense, but post-liberal. Nonetheless, while this describes technique, it doesn't yet describe human action. And even if it did, the illusion of choice is still very important to us. So choices for the time being matter.
god he's such a good writer
[...] one could try to position the universal basic income as a 'transitional' demand. Its aim would be, not to stop at a certain moderate limit, but to expand the social wage to the point where it crowds out the market wage. It's not equal pay for equal work; it's just equal pay. After all, 'equal pay for equal work' only applies to work that is remunerated on the market. The point about a social wage is that it doesn't respect the boundaries of the capitalist market.
And it would be no good talking about 'affordability' in response to that. 'Affordability' is, up to a point, always a political and not a technical question, decided by gambit not by research paper. The language of universal basic income gains traction because it works on an aspect of contemporary experience. In doing so models a legitimate desire. That experience, whatever the analytical problems with the concept, is precarity. Precarity is a complex, compound notion. Ideologically, it touches on precarious work, shaky mortgages, atomisation, the disintegration of social solidarity. It gives form to a certain jitteriness about the once grandiosely extolled 'risk society', and the wish that the clamours of this life would be contained a little.
[...] the loaded concept of the 'anthropocene'. On one level, it is a political evasion, diluting the necessarily focused discussion of capitalism and its restless accumulation. On another level, capitalism is something that human beings, and no other species, do. We're all doing it now, even if we don't all have the same level of power or responsibility. It clearly is not the only thing we could be doing, but it does have some relationship to specifically human propensities and capacities. It does something with the cumulative, collective cultural intelligence that make us the number one predator on the planet. It has survived in part through brute force, in part through disciplinary mechanisms. But it also survived because of the promise (for some) of ever-increasing abundance. Why worry about having a smaller slice of the pie? The pie will keep growing. Or, if not, you can steal someone else's slice.
how is he such a good writer
[...] the smaller, everyday cruelties and stupidities for which we are on-goingly available, and which form part of the normal run of human experience. The moments when you get so obsessed with your own shit that you forget the effects you're having on other people. When you get so paralysed by rage at some petty injustice while blithely ignoring those you may be inadvertently committing yourself. When, on a low-level, you manipulate and instrumentalise others in a way that you would find humiliating if it was done to you. When your righteousness is so absolute that you can only imagine the worst of anyone who disagrees with you, and so set out to 'destroy' them. When you feel so threatened by someone's beliefs that you actually believe they are in some way oppressing you, and act accordingly. [...]
These are ordinary failings. Yet it would be extremely difficult to look at the texture of political life, be it in party meetings, public events, or online discussions, where they don't have some bearing on the run of things. We can all see this when it's other people who are doing it. The term "political discipline" is in disrepute because of its association with sectarian politics and top-down cults. And if it means suppressing disagreements or keeping secrets, it probably isn't a good idea. But if it means acting on the knowledge that none of us are squeaky-clean, that all of us can be stupid or cruel, that we are often most self-deceiving when we think we're right, and that we often (always) fall short of our own ideals, then it would lead to a far kinder and less volatile discourse. It would not stop people from trying to 'destroy', humiliate or exploit their comrades, or putting their own issues ahead of 'the struggle', but it might put a check on it.
What, you might reasonably sputter at this point, has any of that got to do with politics? But if you've got this far, you've patiently waded through relatively ordinary observations about the anthropocene, guilt and genocide. So stick with it. We're almost there. The point I'm making is that, in political discussions it is increasingly the worst thing in the world to be wrong. Indeed, it's often hard to separate being wrong from being a loser, thick, malevolent, or bigoted.
There's something about social media, in particular, but also the wider culture, that favours zero-sum, win-lose arguments. I often find myself responding to this pressure on social media, but you can also see it in television 'debates'. Not to be precious about this, some arguments are actually win-lose in their essence; sometimes those are the stakes. But it is in the nature of such arguments that we can't encounter other people being wrong without gleefully strutting and clucking over the grave of their rectitude, the tattered remains of their dignity. Logically, that also entails that we can't stand to be wrong about anything ourselves. Which means, we can't stand to learn anything, because in any conversation like that, pedagogy is only ever one-way and takes the form of a punishment beating.
This gleeful grave-dancing of the victors in argument, moreover, looks uncomfortably close to the kind of prideful cock-walking that you might expect from some of the victors of the neoliberal game. At times, dare I say, this form of communication looks a little fascistic, as through difference could be settled through group humiliation. Which brings me back to what I was saying earlier. “Humanity rocks” usually, in practice, means that “humans like me rock hardest”.
If, however, we start from the premise that humanity isn't all that neat, that it doesn't always 'rock', that there is a lot to be wary and frightened of in ourselves, that there are things to be guilty about, that there are failures that are understandable but not okay, that we don't and can't know it all, then we might find the gleeful grave-dancing of the victors (in whatever domain) far more ridiculous and repulsive than the losers. Indeed, we might acknowledge the losers, whether or not we personally like them or their politics, with a certain rueful solidarity, a certain recognition of their predicament. It’s the egalitarianism of universal failure. That’s the sort of pessimism I’m talking about.
Their hijacking of antisemitism, though very successful in setting the media's agenda, hasn't cut through to the wider public. That's because allegations that Labour is institutionally antisemitic, or that Corbyn himself is a racist, cut against, rather than with, the grain of what people already suspect to be true. Those who dislike Corbyn overwhelmingly think he's a politically correct peacenik, not a Jew-hater.
So why stick with it? For some people, no doubt, Corbyn's criticisms of Zionism make him an antisemite. That isn't, I suspect, what is driving the Labour Right. I think they like it because it confuses and demoralises the Left. It may not cut through to the public, but it cuts through to the Left's anti-racist conscience. Because we're not cynical about racism, in the way that someone who suggests putting white people at the head of the housing queue is, we're easier to troll on the subject. It also acts on submerged strategic disagreements on the Left. It's easy to be a happy family when things are going well. But hard choices and difficult, nuanced arguments flush out division. It reveals where the ideologically harder and softer parts of the opposition are, and it gets them arguing among themselves.
For the Labour Right, it also supplies the missing sense of moral purpose. Their polemics have tended to look flaccid, stale, or moon-bound over the last few years. Communism has no place in the Labour Party? Hardly electrifying. On this issue, however, they can achieve moments of superficially impressive indignation. Tony Blair once commented on the difference between himself and the activist Left. The latter being the protesters, the ones who say, "let's get that bastard out of power". As he went on to muse, "I'm the bastard". Well, just for a moment, the hard, cynical political operators who spent their whole lives training to be the bastard, can say, "let's get that bastard out of power". Frank Field, Gordon Brown, Margaret Hodge, the Kinnocks. They know where the bodies are buried, but for the moment they can adopt the style of the campus SJW activist. It's quite animating (take it from an ex-Trotskyist), but totally unsustainable for that tendency.
Nor has it softened opinion on Israel-Palestine. Quite the opposite. I suspect many activists who had never considered what they thought of the foundation of Israel have, in recent weeks, been getting a crash course.
Palestinian rights have been a growing concern in the British Left since 1982, and Sabra and Shatila. But historical awareness of the issue of Zionism and its complexities was something that was kept to the fringes. The broader pro-Palestine movement focused on concrete and immediate wrongs, human rights injustices, campaigning for peace. Now an otherwise recondite and difficult history is being driven up the agenda. And an historically informed, internationalist, anti-racist opposition to Zionism is being legitimised not despite but by means of the media furore against it. You could call it consciousness-raising-from-above.
And by whom? Who chose that terrain? And what an odd moment to force that conversation, when Israel has just, by the verdict of many of its supporters, defined itself as a racist state. How do you think it would look if a Palestinian speaker was to point that out at Labour conference this year?