Saturday, 3 December 2016

Narrating The Current Crisis - What Trump May Mean

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is a fact on the ground. Even if Jill Stein somehow succeeded in overturning the result through recounts, it is to be doubted that the populist movement would accept the revision. A Hillary Clinton Presidency would be a wounded beast, facing an angry Republican Congress and probable civil strife and under vicious and continuous internet attack. The world beyond the United States, having congratulated Trump once, will be embarrassed to have to become partisan by subsequently congratulating Clinton. The deeper truth is that Trump has won even if he loses a recount. He has destabilised liberal America and mobilised populist America. That clock cannot be turned back. Nor is Trump's victory is an isolated event. A number of similar political events across the West suggest that a radical change affecting international relations is under way and that the process has not yet concluded. Let us provide a new narrative of contemporary history and see where it leads us.

We can start by saying that the neo-liberal model and its ameliorative liberal internationalist and post-Cold War international socialist variants have improved conditions for many millions outside the West but they have arguably also enriched up to half of domestic Western populations at the expense of the condition, security and identity of the other half as well as created oligarchical minorities elsewhere. Neo-liberalism and its variants have also not brought peace. On the contrary, a forward expansion of liberal values by force has destabilised many countries, leading to mass movement of peoples (which brings free movement of peoples into disrepute amongst those who have not benefited from globalisation), has created new security threats, has forced non-Western sovereign states into defensive militaristic postures and has even recreated the conditions for superpower competition and confrontation only a quarter of a century after the ending of the Cold War.

There have been benefits from quasi-socialist and liberal ameliorative strategies operating at a global level, especially in terms of the mobilisation of progressive forces outside the West and the engagement of young activists in progressive politics within it but regulatory regimes have tended to pay only lip service to democracy and to have preferred corporatist structures in which activist minorities collaborate with corporate CSR departments and government agencies to impose legal and regulatory solutions to global problems without consultation with or the political education of those in the West left behind. They also tend to treat emerging country populations as ‘subjects’ of action rather than as independent actors engaged in their own liberatory struggle.

The role of the United States has been ambiguous. The promotion of a progressive liberal agenda has often operated alongside a militaristic and expansionist agenda. This has created a class of international NGO activists ‘who mean well’ but it has also created alliances with faith-based obscurantists who feign democracy and, in turn, also created its own obscurantist and reactionary oppositionism prepared to engage in armed struggle to defend identity against what they see as cultural imperialism. National liberation has moved from the progressive Left to the reactionary Right, the United Nations has been diminished and, at its worst, the reaction to Western ideological expansionism has created cause for new threats of asymmetric warfare operated by terrorists allied with organised crime.

Globalisation, in collapsing borders, has also permitted massive capital accumulation by organised crime, free riding the increase in international trade, in facilitating illegal economic migration (often willing but sometimes enslaved), piracy, online fraud and the trade in narcotics and banned substances as well as in armaments and illicit untaxed funds. The liberal internationalist regulatory strategy has scarcely made a dent in this expansion of non-state activity which may be classed as criminal by state moralists but, in some areas, represents the developing world’s own rational exploitation of globalisation.

The negative response to this situation was originally restricted to two distinct movements. The first was the rise of a domestic Western anti-war movement which split progressive forces into those who supported liberal values expansion and those who saw it as imperialistic. The second saw the co-emergence of neo-nationalist resistance to the claims of the West. Both appeared in the wake of Western intervention in Central Asia and the Middle East. During this period, the Liberal Establishment of the West was in a strong enough position to ignore the anti-war movements and to place continued pressure on non-Western nations, not excluding attempts at regime change by stealth, often indirect through 'Foundations'. The prospect of a global hegemony for the West, based on market economics, oligarchical democracy and rights ideology, was considered real by the liberal’ hawks’. At this time, right wing national populist forces in the West were largely marginal.

In 2008, a major economic crisis transformed the situation. The capitalist system teetered briefly on the edge but proved resilient. However, its resilience was purchased at the price of a strategy of domestic austerity which continues to this day. This coincided with growing acceptance that liberal interventionism using force had been a disaster that had not achieved its ends although the full fruits of that disaster would still not be seen for some time (exemplified by the Syrian tragedy). Confidence in the elite was shaken but the solution of the voters was, at this stage, to grumble but change the captains of the fleet, not the direction of the navy.

The Coalition Government of 2010 in the UK and the Obama Administration which came to office as the recession of 2008’s effects were unfolding continued governance much as before but a series of developments shook confidence in the elite: above all, the economic crisis itself and the associated fact that, though economies were stabilised, growth did not return. The self-identifying middle classes (actually the middling and lower middle classes and upper working class) were disproportionately hit by the consequences. The rich appeared to get richer. Austerity measures were increasingly judged to be applied unfairly to keep elected officials in power by appealing to the half of the population fearful of taxation. Elected officials were increasingly seen as self-interested and even corrupt or certainly beholden to the economic interests who had caused the crash. In foreign affairs, incapable of winning wars, democratic states proved perfectly capable of war crimes and out of touch with public distaste for foreign adventurism. Since progressive governments had either presided over the conditions that led to the crash or were presiding over the failure to deal with the consequence of the crash, public discontent tended to move to the right rather than the left (although populist movements appeared of both types). This was compounded by a new factor - the pressure of mass migration as 'free movement of peoples' turned from a dream into a nightmare that liberal ideologues failed to recognise as such.

The failure of the Arab Spring and other democracy movements saw a hardening of state power across the emerging world and in the communist and former communist states. These latter states also took a more neo-nationalist stance, fully aware of the role of Western elites in attempted regime destabilisation. Noting Russia’s successful incursion into Georgia, they began the process of resisting liberal Western incursion and then turning back the tide of Western expansion, a process in which Russia took the lead with its acquisition of Crimea and its own intervention in defence of the existing order in Syria. If the liberal internationalists continued to pursue their strategy either directly or indirectly through ‘philanthropic’ foundations, these not only made little headway but created further instabilities which neo-nationalists could exploit. A huge class, an 'industry', of otherwise unemployable graduates created a special interest bloc in the West of 'activists' and 'campaigners', appealing to that part of the electorate with a deontological view of international affairs where the exclamation of a 'should' would be sufficient to demand an action that would then become an 'is' - life is rarely so simple! This was faith-based and not evidence-based politics. While the Left began to split into its liberal left and socialist components with increasingly bitter recriminations between the two over austerity, identity politics, liberal economics and foreign policy, the real beneficiary of this break down in the liberal Western paradigm was the neo-nationalist and populist Right which now began to grow rapidly within the West.

The negative populist reaction to liberal elite failure was both a Left and a Right phenomenon but it was the Right that was enabled to remain united in its opposition. Most of the establishment Left were implicated in the failures and errors of the current regime. This has been symbolised well in the last week by the unprecedented decision of an incumbent French Socialist President of France not to put himself forward as the candidate of his Party in next year's Presidential Election. Liberal elements on the Left had refused to compromise with public anger because of liberal ideology and so saw their side split into factions and their acceptability diminish except among special interest groups who had nowhere else to go (such as public sector white collar employees and NGO workers). Meanwhile the populist Right, taking overt inspiration from the effective opposition to liberal hegemony of Putin (Russia), created an alliance of the lower middle class with national trading and financial interests and discontented working class people whose economic interests had been ignored and whose culture had been disrespected by urban liberals. These latter created a network of interconnected national populist movements that claimed democracy and freedom (not without reason in some cases), seizing power quite quickly in Hungary and Poland but increasingly setting the terms of debate elsewhere and posing material threats to the established order in countries as different as the UK, France and Italy.

The first major breakthrough for populism against the elite was not on the Right but on the Left with the surprise election of a marginal figure (Jeremy Corbyn) to the Leadership of the Labour Party, Instead of accepting the result, the liberal wing of the party undertook a war of attrition against their new Leader. This halted any chance of Labour becoming the voice for British populism instead of UKIP. By the time he was established firmly as Leader (even then clearly being undermined despite that), the initiative had long since passed to UKIP and thence to the Leave Campaign for Brexit. This same opportunity was lost more recently in the US when the DNC conspired to halt the rise to power of the avowed socialist Bernie Sanders, confident that their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton would have the confidence of the American people. This split on the Left and widespread economic discontent presents us with weak versions of Lenin’s famous three pre-conditions for revolution. All that were missing were the cadres to seize power. These were provided by ruthless well-funded populist machines, wholly dedicated to achieving power, in successively the Brexit Vote and the 2016 Presidential Election and strong enough to push aside even the mainstream media which had been arbiter of politics for the bulk of post-industrial history.

The victory of these forces is truly revolutionary for the following reasons:-
  1. They have forced conservative forces to accommodate the key populist demands of the neo-nationalists – we see this in the strategic commitment of the May Government to Brexit and the degree to which previously negative conservative Republicans have offered their full support to the incoming President
  2. They have given encouragement strategically and tactically to national populists elsewhere, most notably in Europe where there are real fears amongst liberals that their last major stronghold (the European Union) may fall to neo-nationalism or implode under pressure from neo-nationalism
  3. They have not merely out-manoeuvred the progressive Left but have forced it into a crisis with the two factions (the socialists and the liberal) now engaged in a bitter existential struggle for dominance as the primary opposition force – a process that may take many months or even years to result in victory for one side. It is just as likely that these forces will split into separate ‘parties’, dividing the Left for a generation.
  4. Moreover, they have managed to ‘detourne’ the liberal left so that it appears to be increasingly anti-democratic and irrational as well as arrogant and narcissistic, the historical attributes of the Right. This latter may be the populists’ greatest achievement in the long run.
  5. They have introduced other apparently left-wing strategic policies – including variants of Keynesianism and anti-imperialism/peace – into populist discourse leaving the liberal (rather than the democratic socialist) Left as justificatory spokespeople for austerity, corporatism and even war (which in itself fuels the civil war within the Left).
  6. They have adopted a paradoxical inter-nationalism in which strong nation states collaborate as they compete, concentrating on trade relations and deal-making rather than war – again, this is a ’detournement’ of traditional Left positions which have abandoned inter-nationalism and national liberation for supra-nationalism and trans-nationalism.
  7. Above all, they have appealed over the heads of the Left beyond their traditional lower middle class base to the non-public sector working class (at least in the Anglo-Saxon countries), adopting their values, respecting their culture and (at least superficially) supporting their economic interests. This has split the working class from the Left in a decisive historical shift that saw a third of working class votes go for Brexit despite Labour backing for Remain and the Democrat’s white working class support dramatically hollowing out on November 8th.
The importance of the Trump phenomenon is that whoever commands the United States of America commands the general thrust of international relations policy. It is now clear that a national populist agenda is in charge of that thrust, directly or indirectly (in the event of a disputed result) for at least four and probably eight years and maybe twelve years That is sufficient time (as Reagan showed) to transform the condition of the world for good or ill. It is likely that a more moderate but allied Conservative Government will be in office in the UK for at least four years and possibly nearly a decade and that the European Union will see a major transfer of power to the national populist right in several major nations and possibly the implosion of the liberal model for the Union as a whole.

This is as strategically important as the arrival of communism and fascism in the 1920s. Even if states were not communist or fascist by the 1930s, they often adapted their politics not merely to challenge these forces but to appropriate aspects of them in order better to challenge them. National populism in a number of variants, including liberal and Left variants, are likely to become the hegemonic form of international relations discourse for at least the next decade and probably much longer This does not mean the Left does not represent a challenge to the new Right. Neither of national populism’s great victories (the US Election and Brexit) were overwhelming – the Democrats still (barely) won a majority of the popular vote and we have noted the theoretical possibility of the result being overturned by recounts. Similarly, Brexit is accepted by both major parties but the debate over whether the UK is to have a 'soft' or 'hard' Brexit permits Remainers to believe they can overturn the mandate through stealth or attrition. But the Left now has a major problem of credibility – it is associated with arrogance, incompetence, corruption and hypocrisy and, increasingly, with a rather dubious attitude to democracy.

Another problem the Left has is one of division – there are now two major competing visions for defeating neo-nationalism, the liberal and the socialist, which are fundamentally incompatible. The former will not adapt, compromise and let go of power while the latter sees the former as equally if not more problematic than the populists (who inconveniently will not go all the way to being fascists or official racists or xenophobes despite intense attempts by liberal propagandists to make these connections). Moreover, many socialists have more in common with Trump on key aspects of foreign and economic policy than they do with their own liberal ‘allies’ while many liberals are clearly highly emotional about single and identity issues that socialists see as part of the problem and not part of the solution. Given that Jill Stein only got 1% of the vote and 40% of women voted for Trump, the environmentalist and feminist commitments that lead Left thinking are also probable barriers to recapturing working class support.

To all intents and purposes, November 8th was a devastating blow to the liberal internationalist project. Funding will continue from European (at least until 2018) and from Liberal Foundation sources but US and UK Government sources are likely to dry up quite rapidly in the coming months. More to the point, the US and UK Governments are no longer going to be available to promote many liberal causes with emerging world Governments even if the British Government appears to remain committed to some important international rights-related treaties. UK Government action will be redirected at trade deals forcing European countries to follow suit. Major international agencies will have their role questioned with expectations that policy be in accordance with national populist values. The Business & Human Rights Treaty is unlikely to make progress until the current cycle is over - unless it is made more business-friendly.  The balance of power has shifted.

Corporate reactions fall into various special interest categories with many welcoming the new populism, others (with large urban liberal customer bases) nervous of boycotts and politicisation and others concerned about the collapse of the existing liberal internationalist order. One likely result is that all but the bravest corporation will start to withdraw funding from social liberal projects that might be classed as political where once they were simply classed as CSR (corporate social responsibility). Public affairs departments are reeling under the shock because they tend to be staffed by ‘urban liberals and liberal conservatives’, people who have had a stake in the preceding order and a career path that might include political office. Now, they have to consider their options as business splits into camps according to their relationship to various factions in the culture wars. However we look at it, independent funding is likely to decrease or shift into obviously charitable projects where those charities are not engaged in political lobbying. Radical capitalists like Soros and Branson are swimming against the tide. They are also not getting any younger.

Culturally, the liberal internationalists are faced with the problem that they are no longer ‘hegemonic’ within the West. Half the population rejects their hegemony. A significant part of the leadership of the 'hegemonic half' is questioning the strategy of arrogance towards the working and lower middle classes. Globalisation is in question intellectually. Liberal internationalists no longer hold all the commanding heights of power (and may not recover ground until 2020 or even 2024 or 2028) and, if they do recapture them, it will be a much weakened position - Weimar or Leon Blum's Popular Front to all intents and purposes. Their funding is about to fall except from highly politicised Foundations who are now in a confrontational relationship with the sources of power that can deliver what liberal NGOs want. Soros, for example, has openly declared war on the Trump Administration which places the Trump Administration alongside every 'regime' that Soros wants to overturn - their enemies' enemy is Trump. Every attempt to assert radical liberal values now has a countervailing, often cogent and aggressively positioned, alt-right argument. As liberal social media platforms try to cut out the alt-right, new platforms appear to serve it.

Two cultural opponents within the West are now evenly matched for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union and this has happened in under a year. As in all such struggles in the past, it will be hard for anyone to stay out of the fight and stay in public life. The old Right/Left conflict is changing into a conflict between democratic nationalism and inter-nationalism on the one side and supra-nationalism and liberal internationalism on the other. A third of the Left, mostly working class, will find itself moving into what will be positioned as the New Right and a third of the Right, mostly managerial business and white collar professionals, will find themselves moving into the Liberal Left. The former have the old media, the universities, the 'intellectuals' and the scribblers. The latter may have the most innovative parts of the new media, the public meetings, the bulk of social media sharers and the people who discuss public affairs in the pubs rather tham the wine bars. And we are only at the beginning ...

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Critiquing Steve Bannon

A great deal of attention is being paid to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's new head of strategy. I suspect there is some misunderstanding about the amount of power that an ideologue like Bannon can have in Trump's administration and an exaggeration of the link that can be made between the past views of Bannon and the opinions of the President-Elect, let alone the views of those to be found expressed on Bannon's vehicle, Breitbart.

The liberal cultural wing of the 'American oligarchy' are having a bit of a hissy-fit at the moment and any straw is being grasped at to demonstrate that Trump is a 'fascist' or worse. Eventually cooler heads will prevail. In the meantime here are three things to note before we look at what Bannon may actually think.

Bannon as Employee and Populist

The first is that his job as chief strategist is a 'corporate' one - he no longer speaks for himself and now loans his talents to the President. He has been bought. If he fails to deliver or blunders, he will be disposed of. His job is now to support the President not because he believes in him but because he is paid to perform a function and that function is political. He has to think about practical outcomes - increasing the President's rating sufficiently to get him re-elected in 2020, assisting in building a coalition that will get the President's programme through Congress and maintaining the momentum of the movement that put Trump into power.

Instead of shouting agit-prop aimed at the slightly over half the population required to get into White House, he is now dealing with the structures of power and with a struggle for control of information flow and interpretation against a mainstream media ['MSM'] that must, out of class interest, aim to destroy him. His ownership of Breitbart represents a direct challenge to MSM authority and revenues, especially if Breitbart becomes the main means by which the Trump administration communicates to the mass of the population.

The second is that he comes into office not as part of the closed competing network of networks that makes up late liberal democratic representative democracy but because he controls a means of communicating with and maintaining contact with a populist movement. This is his strength but also his weakness. The strength is obvious - he can reach millions of Americans with a policy line faster than any political rival and he can help form their opinion and actions in a way that may be unprecedented.

Perhaps only Father Coughlan's radio broadcasts in the 1930s come close to this but Breitbart is providing data in real time and continuously. Of course, Bannon will be delegating control of this medium but it would be naive not to see this as part of his armoury even if indirectly. He has a reserve power that, if he is dismissed, lies in the possibility that this machinery may become a thorn in the side of the President that it has helped to elect.

The Paradox of Bannon's Populism

The third thing to note is that the claims of 'fascism' miss some very central non-fascist aspects of American populism. The confusion of populism and fascism is sending liberal critics down a blind alley, stopping them from developing an appropriate critique and strategy for countering it. By propagandistically using inappropriate terms, liberals are creating the very culture of resentment that partly led to their defeat in the first place, opening up territory for Bannon's Alt Right to conquer. One key difference from fascism, a difference also to be found in European right-wing populisms, is the approach to democracy and free speech.

Both are viewed as positive and dynamic forces whereas liberals are being caught out being anti-democratic (questioning the 'deplorables', intellectuals questioning democracy itself and, in the UK, maintaining a resistance against the majority vote in the Brexit vote) and opposed to free speech (promoting increasingly onerous anti-hate laws, limiting freedoms on the campus and often downright bullying of non-liberal dissidents). This is a complete detournement of conventional thinking about what it means to be right and left. It is central to the drift of many social libertarians from one side to the other despite the conservatism underpinning Alt Right culture.

Bannon's robust and aggressive populism might be framed as 'hate speech' amongst liberals but it is framed as 'free speech' amongst conservatives with some plausibility. The liberal MSM has tried to counter with the framing device of 'fake news' (extended from genuine abuses to cover political opponents who are often merely  providing information that would be pre-censored as inappropriate or inconvenient by the MSM). The MSM's somewhat sinister interest in trying to place rival social platforms under pressure is obvious. Twitter has taken the bait (aware of the sympathy for liberalism of large consumer-driven corporations with products aimed at urban liberals and minorities) by removing 'hate' accounts although many of these accounts equally class themselves as 'free speech' opportunities.

In the pre-Trump world, the control of the total system under a liberal hegemony would have instantly marginalised the critics of liberalism but Bannon has contributed to the creation of an entire alternative information and communications political ecology whose success can be seen in the election of a President despite the massive post-nomination assault on his candidacy by every element within the hegemonic system. The cultural power of this parallel system has thrown the dominant structure into something close to panic. Almost every idea emanating from it stands against the assumptions and values of oligarchical liberalism.

What Liberals Might Like To Do

This is where it gets interesting. In any other period of history or under any other hegemonic system, the solution would be simple - authoritarian repression. When faced with an existential threat, the system forgets any 'rules of war' and suppresses free speech, jails opponents, if necessary tortures and kills. But the West no longer has these tools at its command - not only because of its own claimed values (though we wonder if this would be restraint enough) but because the rule of law cannot be deployed in this way (certainly not after January 20th and as Woodrow wilson deployed it) and because the infrastructure of the State cannot be relied upon to comply with such orders.

Trump is faced with his own problem in that it is clear state level law enforcement in some key states may resist some of his policy measures. Any push to survival by the hegemonic regime through repression would probably mean civil war and certainly extensive political violence. In other words, the liberal hegemony of the US has fallen into the same position as the communist hegemony did in the Soviet Union in 1991 without even the tools at the disposal of the reactionaries. Anti-liberal forces have seized control of the State using liberal methods and are now in command of Presidential power for at least four years and possibly eight or twelve.

Bannon, who has cited Lenin, appears to understand his position and that of Trump. Through sheer energy and exploitation of the undoubted failures of liberalism (which are not the subject of this posting), they have surged forward in under nine months from nowhere to capture control of supreme executive power with reluctant and nervous allies controlling the legislature and a real opportunity to set a conservative tone within the judiciary. This cannot be called a political revolution because the forms and substance of the American 'regime' remain the same. There are also many points of resistance from centres of power still controlled by the liberals (in the very broadest sense) which can slow down the Presidency and destroy his credibility with the centre-ground.

However what Bannon, Trump and others have achieved is the possibility of a cultural revolution in which they set the tone for American politics and society on terms to which liberals have to adjust to survive. It cannot be Leninist - in other words, it cannot be the imposition of one ideology on the rest of society by a minority - but it can be significant if it forces conservatives to take on the concerns of the population at large and if it forces the liberals to begin a self-critical appraisal of how they lost power (which they currently seem reluctant to do) and if they transform themselves to include the concerns of the voters who switched sides out of frustration with their neglect. How liberalism might transform itself post-Trump is for another time.

So, with these caveats and comments, that Bannon is not the President but the servant of the President, that he is only part of a movement which he guides but to which he does not dictate terms and that his room for manouevre is limited in any path to replacing liberal hegemony, what is it that Bannon believes? We don't have timer for an exhaustive analysis of his views or trying to work out what what views on Breitbart are his and what are those of his contributors. 

We will take an analysis of his opinions to just one audience (a conservative religious group) in the summer of 2014 and see what it reveals. Of course, being a politician, Bannon is tailoring his opinions to the audience - the Human Dignity Institute at the Vatican - and that has to be taken into account. Yet we can see what values underlie his views and so what beliefs are going to be influential in advising the President (whose views may be different) and in squaring various political circles - appointments, deals with Congress, speeches and policies.

The Problem of Capitalism

Bannon's world view is fundamentally communitarian. This creates the space for a critique of capitalism that is not socialist but belongs to a parallel right-wing tradition. This originated with petit-bourgeois anarchism but became central to the corporatism of fascism and national socialism as ideologies. But it is also an ideological position held widely within the Catholic Church as a critique of the dehumanising aspects of treating persons as not souls but mere units of production within large-scale combines that are disruptive of social bonds, duties and obligations. It is this critique that matters to Bannon in his Vatican talk. This critique is not interested in liberal capitalism's undoubted achievements in driving progress and innovation because progress and innovation are not seen as good things in themselves - as they tend to be seen by most liberals (though not increasingly by the eco-conservatives within the ranks of liberalism).

Where capitalism is criticised from the Left (as it used to be until the 1990s), it is as an anti-progressive force that fails to make best use of human talents and is wasteful. Innovation is seen as something just as easily and better done by the collective. Marx had his own critique of the de-humanisation involved in capitalism but, unlike Heidegger whose critique is of technology, science and so technology are positive factors which socialists will be better able to understand and make use of. If Bannon quotes Marx it is to point up the dehumanising aspects (in his view) of capitalism and not to share his socialism. No more than the Vatican and the Proudhonists, Bannon is not remotely a national socialist, a very different hybrid of socialism and communitarianism presented as anti-Marxism, nor a fascist, a corporatism without a moral base.

Naturally, I do not share this view of Bannon's since I see all human development as being broadly enhanced by scientific understanding and technology. I would go further and say that the objectification and allegedly dehumanising aspects of capitalism are positive rather than negative precisely because they break apart social binds that are repressive (indeed oppressive) and permit new social forms to emerge in their place, forms that are more suited to individual freedom and to human progress as technology develops.

The criticism I would have late capitalist liberalism is that it has compromised far too much with conservative forces - historically-based identity politics, regressive environmentalism (rather than sustainability as strategy) and faith-based approaches to values - and that, while communism as a political system became sclerotic and inefficient as well as cruel, some form of scientific materialism is central to the forward-looking Left Project. In other words, the rise of the Alt Right has been partly predicated on liberalism's compromises with conservative forces because ground had already been conceded by Clinton and Blair for short term electoral reasons in favour of identity, sentiment and faith.

Cronyism & Fairness

Many Leftists will share Bannon's views on 'crony capitalism', the capitalism of the few creating wealth and value for themselves and not for the people. This is classic populism but it not only represents an ideal shared with the Left but liberals are now on the defensive because, whether under Blair or Clinton, they have bought into the spurious global trickle-down theory of development and have allied themselves with corporations and oligarchs on terms that seem to enrich leading liberal politicians more than those who elect them.

This is where Bannon, appealing to the moralism of faith-based communities, has probably scored his greatest political victories in the last year - in the comparison of the insecurity and anxieties of struggling families with the wealth and comfort of a liberal elite who seemed to care more about people in faraway places than their 'ain folk'. Framed as 'racism' or 'white nationalism', it was nothing of the kind. It was merely filling the yawning chasm left by liberal abandonment of the respectable working classes and lower middle classes who had failed to fall into a pre-set liberal identity category and who did not give a stuff about liberalism's cultural politics.

There is a 'fairness' in Bannon's critique both that is it is a fair criticism but also that fairness (a very ordinary sentiment) is a value. He sees liberals as being at the apex of an unfair system and this clearly makes him angry. In another age and time perhaps he would have been a socialist. Perhaps not. American liberals have not made generalised fairness an existential value but have particularised it within identity politics. Perhaps this is why they are now licking their wounds.

Fairness is important as a social value. It is something imbued in children during their own battle to be recognised when power lies elsewhere. They do not object to power so long as it is fairly applied. The child-like resentment at unfairness may be at the very heart of the Trump 'revolution' - it is not resentment at people with darker skins or who like the same sex but resentment at the unfair privileging of other people at their expense. And, yes, this is what liberals have done, often without realising they have been doing it.  They have been 'unfair' at multiple levels towards many Americans in the political home and the political playground. Some of Bannon's anger is justified.

Securitisation & Moral Value

Bannon's attack on securitisation is perhaps the most interesting aspect of his critique of liberal capitalism. Let us take the ideological base in Judaeo-Christianity for granted (more of that in a moment). His analysis is questionable - almost sub-Tawney - but let it stand. When he complains about securitisation, he is doing two things. The first is to give us a theory of commoditisation that could have come straight out of the late Marxist Frankfurt School - another of many detournements of left-wing thinking to meet right-wing objectives.

But it is the moral underpinning of the critique that matters. The Frankfort School (though their arguments were often specious) were claiming to describe reality and moral responses only emerged out of the hysteria of the liberal Academy - you might call this a displaced morality or valuation in which belief uses intellect cover up its own sentiment. Bannon will have none of that. He goes straight to valuation. He observes what he thinks is a fact on the ground and then sees it through the prism of morality from the very beginning.

Jump back to the causes of 2008 and you see securitisation at the very heart of the crisis. Bannon takes something that is intrinsically immoral from his perspective - the commodification of humans, their deepest needs and attributes - and shows, in a religious morality tale, to people who can put two and two together that the collapsing nature of capitalism is essentially a problem of moral failure. It means that if we change our morals (or rather imbue a certain morality in the State and economic system), prosperity and order will return.

This is a classically populist argument. It is, of course, nonsense but it sentimentally works for many working and middle class Americans who have no alternative 'scientific' narrative, who are accustomed to framing difficult questions in terms of good and evil and who desperately want change. This attack on Wall Street is definitely not a progressive or socialist one but, since progressives are ineffective and socialists marginalised, the liberal acceptance of Wall Street and liberal lack of interest in commodification in economics (oh, the irony! - the interest seems only to be in persecuting sex workers and getting better jobs for urban middle class women), it is the most effective one, the last interpretation left standing for relatively poorly educated people under real pressure who liberals refuse to accept or help.

'The World Burns' & Freedom

Bannon adopts one aspect of fascism that is really no more than an emotional stance - the desire to tear things down and destroy the Establishment. I have some sympathy with this since this so-called Establishment (a system of interconnecting networks with its own shared ideology) has failed to solve so many real world problems, indeed compounded them. Such an emotional stance can be a productive one in creating the motivation for change under conditions of sclerosis. But do we take this seriously? I don't take seriously my own emotional impulses in this direction which I express more as approval for 'shocks to the system'. Only 'shocks' seem to capable of forcing liberals to change their ways and they may remove the older generation of failed liberals and put in a new generation with a better understanding of the situation. In Bannon's case, yes, I think we must take him seriously.

Whereas for a Leftist like me, the liberal project simply took a wrong turning just as the Russian Revolution was a wrong turning, things are not black and white. Our failed liberalism has still produced a more tolerant and open society which the best efforts of Bannon and the Alt Right cannot reverse, just as Sovietism provided some genuine advances for the Russian people and offered a valuable experiment in the achievements and limitations of socialism. In other words, I can attack late liberal capitalist democracy on its failures because I see it as blocking the forward advance of humanity but I would want to reform and control it rather than want to destroy it completely. It irritates the hell out of me but it is still part of the human condition that has to be accommodated. Bannon on the other hand wants, like Lenin, to replace one system entirely with another - he wants to reverse progress and re-stabilise humanity on conservative-communitarian lines.

And will he achieve this? Of course he will not. It is rhetoric. The resilience of the American Constitution, the resistance of 50% of the American population, the fact that there is no means for enforcing a 'gleichshaltung' on the many different centres of power within modern liberal democracies and the reality that most people actually want more freedom rather than less work against his revolutionary romanticism. Furthermore, he may have to come to terms with the fact that his President is an instinctive social libertarian and he is only a part of a mass movement whose key word is Freedom just as that of the liberals is Justice (when perhaps it should be Peace, Justice & Freedom).

For the leading edge of European populism and, we believe, for Trump, Freedom means economic freedom as conservatives view it but only more so. It is not just that - 'freedom populists'  have determinative concepts of national or state freedom and individual freedom presented as private rights over public claims. This is not the ideology of Judaeo-Christian communitarianism which we will see is central to Bannon's position. We have here internal contradictions within populism - between communitarianism and libertarianism where the former is actually on the defensive. The unhappiness of Christian Evangelical conservatives at Trump's lack of enthusiasm for some of their views as he gets closer to the Oval Office is an expression that this is not a Christian conservative regime.

Bannon & Communitarianism

Bannon regards libertarianism (in the US this is nearly always seen in economic terms) as an ally within populism but contrasts it with his brand of Judaeo-Christian 'enlightened capitalism', creating the core of that primary internal contradiction within American populism between Freedom and Fairness. It is an internal contradiction that creates a point of potential conflict with Trump himself who is clearly not a man of faith and who equally clearly rather gets on very well with a typical European proponent of the Freedom agenda like Nigel Farage. Although we might suspect Bannon playing up to his audience at this point since he clearly likes and admires Farage, I think Bannon is serious and not playing to the crowd here. His belief in Fairness draws him to a particular view of economic relations that is not scientific but comes from Biblical revelation (ultimately).

This does not require some deep-seated faith in God but only a belief that the code of values created in Judaea in the Iron Age and adapted by Christianity provides a template for an economic and social order that sees integrity in a community as something to be preserved. For the West, Judaeo-Christian ideology is what Confucianism is for the East (though he does not mention China) - a text-based wisdom ideology that is fair but tough-minded, constraining human desire and ensuring the weak are protected by moral leadership. He is far from alone in this - there is an extensive network of Judaeo-Christian (and, interestingly, Islamic) conservative critiques of liberal capitalism that seek to preserve the market but on terms that permit the community to dictate the conditions under which it operates in the community interest.

Needless to say, as an atheist existentialist, the idea that some Iron Age text, let alone some Eighteenth Century constitutionalist text, is an adequate guide to the maintenance of justice, freedom and security in an age of rapid technological change, strikes me as absurd. The reality is that such texts simply become, and have done so since Constantine in the public sphere, cover for the political hegemony of whatever class happens to hold the levers of power at any one time. However, he is right that contemporary neo-liberalism, whose ideology of unfair and untrammelled power relies ultimately on economic libertarianism, does not protect the weak and vulnerable.

Neo-liberalism does destabilise societies. American liberals seem to have been unable to develop strategies adequate to the task of creating a strong society in which the weak and vulnerable are protected and in which the ordinary man or woman is not threatened with insecurity and anxiety. Naturally my answer is different from his - the radical democrat control of capitalism through reason and science - but I can understand why, having been failed by the Left and with historical cultures that emphasise the Bible, millions of anxious and insecure people have looked backwards to the past rather than forward to the future. If there is a failure in American liberalism, it is its constant living in its own present, denying the identities of those clinging to past forms but also unable to offer any grand vision of the future.


The idea that Bannon is a racist or white nationalist is convenient for liberal critics but not merely is it unproven, it is clear that Bannon has no interest in such ideologies. This would fit with his mainstream Judaeo-Christian ideology. What he is accepting is the fellow-travelling of such ideologies within the broad populist movement. Liberals can neither understand not forgive this. But the response implicit from Bannon is two-fold - everyone has a right to a voice ('Freedom') and these people don't really matter in the long run.

Both are actually cogent positions. The first points up the authoritarian instincts of liberals who like to ban things they do not like under the banner of 'Right Conduct, Right Speech, Right Thought'. There is yet another irony in this. The Left has adopted Iron Age Judaeo-Christian attitudes and it is Bannon who is offering Voltairean freedom. This really is beyond the mental capacity of many liberals to comprehend.

Whether these extremists matter is another story. We tend to agree with Bannon. Their existence boxes him in a bit and allows liberals some easy propaganda wins in the less sophisticated centreground but it could equally be argued that free speech is a value and that the minorities have now sufficient political force to defend themselves. The weeping hysteria over the rise of fascism has been over done.

Nevertheless, the fact that Trump has such fellow travellers (though there is no evidence of racism on his part) is as potentially damaging to him as having Communists as fellow travellers were to candidates of the Centre-Left in earlier periods. On the other hand, the cultural war on the Confederate flag was probably, in retrospect, a major blunder by liberals, mobilising a legitimate and not necessarily racist 'white identity' that had scarcely existed before. The rise of Trump can be told as a succession of own goals by arrogant and presumptuous liberals.

Islamic Fascism

All this perhaps helps to explain one of the more absurd psychological turns of the New Right, its obsession with Islam. To the 'real' Leftist, Radical Islam is easily explained. I think rightly so. It is the partial creation of a long period of self-serving Western imperialism and is, in itself, obscurantist and has become dangerous: however, it is powerful in our lives only because we have panicked and made it powerful through our continuous interventions and the ease with which its atrocities trigger our own insecurity and anxiety.

Liberals have both indulged it by trying to accommodate faith-based views into their own political strategy and been panicked into illiberal measures by fear and special interests. The Alt Right fear and distaste for Islam, meanwhile, operates at many levels - in Europe, a xenophobia which has its roots in the reality of growing ghettos of poor people with a completely alien culture, amongst European intellectuals as a feared threat to free speech and the accommodation with that threat of liberals and, more in the US, an exaggerated fear of political violence (admittedly in an always potentially violent country where gun ownership is normal) from an enemy within.

These are all simplistic responses that reify Islam and often fail to pinpoint the real policy failures - in the handling of colonialism (by France in particular), the absurd early adoption for ideological reasons of free movement of peoples in Europe and the interventionism of liberal internationalists in the Middle East (although many liberals have become vociferous in their own right against this last) - but Bannon is going deeper, seeing Islam in almost medieval terms as a cultural rival to Judaeo-Christianity instead of (as we would see it) the third arm of three equally obscurantist but mostly benign Abrahamanic religions.

The Manichean view of religion can only take place if the critic takes religion seriously. Now, self-evidently, Bannon is speaking to an audience in the Vatican and so he may just talking his book to a particular audience but I do not think so. Everything I have written before this point hangs together to give us the picture of a man who may or may not believe in God but does believe in Judaeo-Christian communitarianism whether his boss does or not. In fact, it might be argued that the internal contradiction outlined above in populism is partially resolved by having a libertarian President with a communitarian ideologue in his ear whispering truths about half his country base and guiding his language to hold the movement together.


We are painting a picture of a highly intelligent man, who in the tradition of de Maistre, is not interested in creating a reasoned political philosophy but in expressing a more or less coherent and very flexible philosophy of political sentiments. In this regard he is a throw-back to the right-wing response to the French Revolution yet one where the radical has now adopted the central tenets of the Revolution - democracy and free speech - to overturn its values which (I think rightly) he sees as having, in any case, degenerated and given him his opportunity for his politics of sentiment. However, each sentiment is not just simple brute emotion.

Each relates to the other and each, on closer investigation, has 'just cause' - the anger and resentment are based on justifiable concerns about household and personal security and at the overweening sense of entitlement of the liberal elite. But part of the personality type involved - a testosterone and energetic male type of a certain age - requires an habitual gloomy apocalypticism, that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. It isn't, of course, (the Cold War was scarier and so were the 1930s) but it feels as if it is because lots of men of a certain age have seen no progress since 2008 and feel insecure. This means they get to feel apocalyptic. Once a word for women trapped into certain behaviours by their condition, hysteria now transfers easily to early and late middle aged men in the West as well as liberal snowflakes in the universities who send each other into paroxyms at the drop of a Tweet.

Bannon's apocalypticism (which he seems to enjoy) centres on two beliefs - that capitalism is in crisis and that we are at the beginning of a global war against Political Islam (which he calls Islamic fascism as most neo-cons and Israelis do). The first is partly true although it is not capitalism in crisis but the prevailing neo-liberal form of it: all that is happening is a challenge by national capitalisms to globalised regulatory capitalism on one side and a challenge to liberal accommodation with neo-liberalism (by both Right and Left) on the other. Looked at more closely, even a Trotsky-inspired radical like Shadow Chancellor McDonnell in the UK is not reviving any form of state socialism but doing little more than offering us his own brand of National Keynesianism that will probably have more in common with Trump's programme (insofar as we know it) than either neo-liberalism or state socialism.

The war with Islamic fascism is, however, pure hysteria since Political Islam presents serious threats to Europe in terms of incidents but little more than that - crush IS and you have no place where it holds sufficient state power to threaten any other State existentially. Any State it did seize control of (and Saudi Arabia is not an example of it) would be surrounded and pummelled if it did prove a serious threat. Only Pakistan with its nuclear arsenal is a country to be truly scared of in this context and a war on Political Islam in Islamabad is as likely to create the problem for us as resolve it. What it is about really is Israel but not quite in the way we may think. We have to go back to the ideology of Judaeo-Christian communitarianism to see why Israel is so important to Bannon. His Jews are not the cosmopolitan intellectuals so distrusted by Stalin or the combination of those and poor refugees and shtetl dwellers hated as the enemy within by Hitler but Judaic communitarian heroes of the Book who built a land of settled immigrants (ironically). Protecting Israel is protecting a strong global communitarian ally and so the communitarian transformation of the West.

The Putin Problem

The internal contradiction we have identified within populism represented by Trump's libertarianism and Bannon's communitarianism is exemplified by the different attitudes to Putin. I suspect Trump really does not care over much about Israel and only looks at it through the lens of political expedience. But Trump sees Putin as a deal-maker would see a rival businessman with whom he can co-operate on a major development.

Trump rationally sees that IS is the real threat to America insofar as Islamic radicals have already declared war on the country and that the only people fighting IS in Syria (as opposed to Iraq) are the Syrians and the Russians. He has a 'sphere of influence' view of international relations and, like any good businessman, weighs up the profit and loss of whether to be in one theatre or another. He probably sees the American Empire as over-extended and that it is time to dump some loss-making subsidiaries. That does not make him weak. It makes him pragmatic, rational and non-ideological.

Bannon however is idealistic, sentimental and ideological. He acknowledges Putin as a social conservative and traditionalist who appeals to many populist communitarians but he resists his charms (this evidence, of course, comes from the period before the current phase of the Syrian crisis and well before Trump announced his nomination). He sees Russia as expansionary (probably falsely since Russia is really only protecting a sphere of influence that is existentially threatened by Western expansion) and as an example of the crony capitalism that he excoriates at the centre of his ideology. He probably has limited understanding of Russia and fails to see that the 'kleptocracy' is a creation in part of the way Yeltsin responded to events, backed by the West.

After all, an American executive said in my hearing in 1992 in Moscow that the right strategy for Russia was to drive it into a robber baron phase in order to ensure capitalist development - Putin has been cleaning up stage by stage ever since. Nevertheless, from an absolutist point of view, Russia epitomises the sort of crony capitalism Bannon sees as a global problem that is destroying the basis for a legitimate or 'enlightened' capitalism that would be beholden to Judaeo-Christian moral values. The point is not whether he is 'for' or 'against' Putin at any one point in history but why he is critical - and it comes down to a less informed but wholly consistent critique that derives from his observation of American conditions. In the talk, Bannon admits his lack of knowledge of foreign affairs and it is to be doubted whether he has had time to become more sophisticated since then.

Where We Are

Bannon is important but he is probably not quite as important as liberals fear. Having said that, what he has done is bring Judaeo-Christian communitarian thinking into the inner counsels of the most powerful military and economic leader on the planet and we should take this seriously. Although his President undoubtedly has different values, that President is a pragmatist and the maintenance of his movement requires respect for Bannon's ideology even as he is challenged, in turn, by alternative visions from radical nationalists, economic libertarians and social conservatives of a more elite type.

Bannon's ideology is emotional, sentimental and ignorant in key areas (especially foreign affairs) but coherent and based on some political realities - that American liberalism has become corrupted, that capitalism is failing and in the hands of unaccountable elites and that the deep anxieties and insecurities of perhaps half the American population have been ignored at best and treated with contempt at worst.

As for responses to him, calling him a fascist is just plain ignorant and counter-productive. He sits within a Western right-wing tradition that may be said to include fascism but he is better described as the radical democratisation of traditional right-wing authoritarianism. It is that radical democratisation in substance and in method that has knocked liberals sideways.

Only weeks after the vote, most liberals still do not know what they are dealing with - that identity politics can be turned against them, that conservative religious interpretations of the decline of capitalism have force because Left critiques of capitalism were fully marginalised in the 1990s and that the new populism has proved more adept than liberals, not at campaigning per se (Clinton still got the majority of the popular vote) but at creating a sustainable movement during a technological revolution in the means of communication. Campaigns come and go but movements tend to stick.

But perhaps most interesting is that at the end of the Q&A in his talk to the Human Dignity Institute, he positioned his struggle as primarily (in 2014) one against the 'crony capitalist' conservatives in the Republican Party. If one was looking at the response of the Left in 2017, it would have to echo that of Bannon - the struggle is primarily against the 'crony neoliberals' in the Labour and Democrat Parties. If Bannon could do what he did for the Right, democratic socialists could do the same for the Left by the next round of critical elections in both the UK and US (2018-2020).

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Shamanism And The Coming Of AI/Robot Culture

There is an honest question to be asked whether shamanism, as it is presented to us in the West as ideology or world view, actually exists today. What does exist are a number of shamanic practices that differ from place to culture, from culture to culture. In Europe at least, shamanic practice was destroyed as an identifiable set of techniques by the rise of monotheism amongst the elite and then, through witch-hunting, amongst the folk. Wherever the Catholic Church placed its heavy foot, shamanism was marginalised with its general categorisation of shamans as ‘devil-worshippers’ - whether in early medieval Poland or seventeenth century Peru. Puritans and missionary Buddhists were no better in their fanaticism.

We have a more tolerant view now but it is easy to go too far in the other direction and try to believe what is not any longer truly believable – that there are actual spirits (things that have life beyond the quiverings of quantum mechanics) in stones, plants and animals, things inside these things that would give them equal status to us. Perhaps we might be generous towards animals and even plants as evolutionarily capable of our level of sentience and self awareness but no one can seriously compare a cabbage or a dog with even the most intellectually weak of our own kind.

The cultural depredations of modern memetic engineers have created a dislocation between the past and the tribal shamanisms of today. Can any claimed shaman who is not a member of a tribe insulated from Western technologies and anthropological tourism possibly belong to an authentic tradition? Any contact with the Other changes the person making the contact and this cuts all ways - we are all contactees. Neo-shamanism and shamanic re-constructionisms that ape traditional forms are, however, the most deeply suspect. The record shows us no unified global shamanic culture and we can make no presumption that this is some sort of ur or noble savage state to which we can return.

Lived experience of shamanic thinking and behaviour is probably no more recoverable than the dinosaurs for Western observers. Many neo-shamanic practitioners may be sincere in their beliefs but they represent nothing but an aspiration to be something they can never be – authentically embedded in a living tradition. The desert origin soul-murderers of indigenous tribes who arrived in the backwoods of every continent on the back of empire have, probably and finally, won in that respect. There is unlikely to be a revenger from the ranks that matter - that of the indigenous peoples themselves who struggle to preserve what can be preserved but know in their hearts that even their most hallowed traditions must be made politically correct and acceptable to liberal modernity and have had to be adapted to being a mode of resistance rather than an expression of local hegemony.

This is not to deny that shamanism exists in the world. Chased out of Europe, shamanism still exists authentically, if under threat, in Russian Siberia and, with more difficulty and complexity, amongst the Inuit peoples. There are survivals in Taiwanese and Kazakh practice. The Chinese seem less sympathetic today to their own origins.  There is shamanism in Korea, in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa), in corners of Japan itself and in a more debased form in India. Tantric Buddhism is a historic compromise between Buddhism and shamanistic Bo and Shinto represents an attempt at the institutionalisation of shamanism. There have been attempts, not always successful, to associate shamanic practice and African religions though there are certainly parallels amongst the San. There are also analogues amongst the peoples of Papua New Guinea and the indigenous peoples of Australia.

To call all Amerindians shamanistic without qualification all too often insults them. The differences are as significant as the similarities. There are shamanistic elements in the religions of the Chipewyan, the Cree and the Navaho and amongst those who use Ayahuasca. The Maya peoples and many of the peoples of the Amazon Basin and further South can also surely be called shamanistic. There are, in short, many remaining, if small in relative numbers, reservoirs of shamanic experience and behaviour. Unfortunately, these are now as much under threat from well-meaning New Age dim-wits as from Christian missionaries, scientific materialism and late capitalism.

Looking at this range of experiences, the idea of a fixed shamanic culture looks less and less tenable, a product of a Western obsession with categorisation and, in its current forms, no more ancient than Wicca. The appropriation of shamanism by New Age figures to solve their personal problems and dilemmas (much like the appropriation of Tantra as NeoTantra) increasingly appears like a piece of cruel or at least unthinking cultural imperialism. However, if we take away the attempt to mimic the forms of shamanism, there still remains an essence of what shamanic thought is and what it can do for our society once it is shorn of alien traditionalism and the egoistic appropriation of New Age narcissists. Let us look at what this essence may be and what it can do for us once all the mumbo-jumbo is removed and we allow indigenous peoples the dignity of the re-appropriation of their own traditions. There are four pre-conditions for a ‘shamanism’ for our times.

  1. The Shaman - The first pre-condition lies in the shaman figure himself or herself. Such a person has to be ‘fit’, mentally and physically robust enough to be an ‘exemplar’, of high intelligence (or at least animal cunning) and in the prime of life. They will undoubtedly have internally generated disciplines designed to sustain fitness, including care of the body, a mode of conducting themselves in society and a care for their own nutrition. Such a person is likely to be surprisingly ‘normal’, operating in society perfectly well if only because no ‘shaman’ is likely to be able to earn a full living from his or her skills. 
  2. Difference - By contrast, such a person is also likely to be ‘different’ and psychologically alone. There may be others like him or her but this is not a clubbable state. Shamanic status arises from some inward crisis, possibly from an inherited disposition to sensitivity or crisis. Shamans generally suffer a paradigm shift in themselves involving physical illness or a psychological crisis quite early in life. A shaman may also try to effect ‘difference’ from normal sexual roles as well, perhaps by taking on some of the attributes of the opposite gender, certainly being sexually ‘fluid'.
  3. Social Need - To afford a ‘shaman’ in society, there is going to have to be some sort of pent-up demand. The community must have no other ready means of solving questions surrounding bodily and mental health. This will also have to be a culture respectful (‘trusting’) of the shaman’s abilities as a representation of a form of ‘knowledge’, a culture of people seeking mediators between their own sorrow or pain and a world they imperfectly understand. A rational individualistic society will not want such mediation but this presupposes that such a society does not suffer from psychosomatic illness, is uninterested in ecstasy or believes that the answers to questions that lie in the subconscious are of no consequence. There is no such society under the sun. 
  4. The Need For A 'Mythos'- The shaman and his culture require a ‘mythos’, one that can hold all these abilities together as a coherent whole expressed in a wide range of semiotics – behaviour, language, imagery and ritual (a ‘grammar of mind’, after Pentikainen). The shaman will have greater knowledge of social and cultural memes than the rest of society and will have an intensity of engagement in altered states of consciousness in a way that is fully accepted by the rest of society.  This is knowledge that is not known by scientific means (or is not yet proven to be fully known by scientific means) but which ‘works’. Such knowledge is beyond good and evil and the shaman figure may risk mental illness and even death by going into this unknown territory. It is also a difficult knowledge for a society that wants moral order.

On the surface, there is no place in our society for the natural shaman. Shamanism seems doomed to be degraded, like Yantra, into another form of personal development for the worried well of the West. But such people still exist in our midst at a time when the welfare state and scientific rationalism are not dealing with many of the psychological and health issues of our society - or are dealing with them expensively and ineffectively through pharmaceuticals even where the conditions are not obviously organic or limiting them through 'political correctness', risk aversion and liberal totalitarianism. The shaman is probably there because he is a type of person and a relationship to the world rather than as representative of a culture or an ideology. The need is there.

What is not there is a post-rationalist ‘mythos’ that manages to fit the liberal culture of  contemporary democracy given that there is no traditionalist solution to the use of shamanic technique that is not inauthentic. Any new ‘mythos’ must work in a direct relationship to the actual state of our society and economy – just as the ‘shamanic’ cultures of indigenous peoples are embedded in their economies, environments and traditions.  The idea that the environmental skills of a South American ‘shaman’ have anything to teach us in an advanced Western society except at a level of abstraction far removed from the day-to-day concerns of most people is absurd. What is not absurd is to consider that a world of mass leisure without completely adequate resources under conditions of radical technology change (primarily caused by the convergence of robotics and AI) is going to create new environmental conditions requiring new ways of thinking about culture.

Those with indigenous skills are only fitted for a particular society at particular times. We need new skills and new myths for our place and our time. What can be learned from shamanic experience that might be developed along Western European lines without the idiocies and fakeries of reconstructionism, fake traditionalism and narcissistic self development? I suggest five areas of exploration ...

  • How to treat some psychosomatic sickness through the placebo effect - perhaps through dream interpretation, sympathetic shamanic travelling or other means as much as through handing over fake tablets (the British cup of tea in the 1950s was probably the most perfect placebo medecine in human history)
  • How to trigger visionary ecstasy through trance (Eliade’s ‘technique of ecstasy’, perhaps initiated through drumming or other sound patterns) or drugs. Why do this? Why, for the simple fun of it, of course - as distraction from having no meaningful function in life in the age of the robot.
  • How to use trance, divination and metaphor (even animal or spirit guides) to find answers to questions lying in the sub-conscious. Such a need emerges when basic wants are met but there are no resources to offer satisfaction for all desires and needs - to travel and network, own expensive things and consume exquisite food and drink, have status in society. A person turns inward to construct self-meaning lest they go mad with boredom and despair.
  • How to tap into the unconscious through divination techniques to tell the probable future and open up the ‘true will’ to self-scrutiny.  No, this does not mean you can actually know what it is going to happen in the future (no one does) but it might clear away the cobwebs of group think and increase the chances of making the right decisions for you rather to please everyone else, allowing unconscious knowledge to manage and control the dead zone of reasoning in a world of flux and poor information.
  • How to create an attitude of mind that can use a sustained narrative (a ‘mythos’) to ensure social, economic and environmental sustainability in the conditions in which we actually find ourselves in the West today. Again, this is not to be construed as support for the fashionable Gaian magical thinking of planetary consciousness but quite the opposite - how to find values that work with the total environment in which we find ourselves of which 'nature' is just a part and not necessarily the most important one.

A modicum of creative irrationalism does not mean that that we abandon scientific method or technology. On the contrary, 'shamanic' technique is merely supplemental at the macro-cultural level. At the micro-cultural level, however, where society meets individual psychic needs (the zone of the alleged ‘spirit'), there is a place for the person who can mediate between the individual and the world through metaphor, performance and even entheogens ensuring their safety and ther resolution of their problems. The psychotherapeutic tradition that emerged out of Freud's work may be a mere half way house here, simply adapting the individual to social reality instead of transforming society through transforming the individual. The tradition's success rate has not honestly been much better than that of the shaman to date.

Perhaps, one day, a culturally enlightened Government will place social management of drugs and the troubled part of the population in the hands of creative shamans (even if the psychotherapists will want first dibs at the gravy train). Mind you, the determination to professionalise and 'train' the shamans will almost certainly make them useless - managerialism is the social disease of the bourgeoisie, based on a perpetual and perpetuating risk averse fear of failure, or rather of being seen by others to fail. No doubt shamans without a Royal Institute of Shamanic Sciences Certificate Part IIA would have to be bailed out of jail every now and then but their street skills, assuming they are not completely regulated into meaninglessness, might help give meaning to the lost and save the taxpayer a fortune in sick benefit and healthcare costs.

Conventional religious communities, the psychotherapists, risk averse nervous ninnies and the scientific positivists will find common cause against such a radical idea but none has yet found a solution to the central problem of our time – that the ‘crooked timber of humanity’ needs resolution of its psychic problems within a matrix of belief that is their own and not that of their elites and that this crooked timber is about to be faced with some very straight-laced hyper-rational machinery that will govern their existence before too long.  Blowing up the machines is not going to be the way forward. By-passing both them and the technocrats with some creative irrationality may be.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Position Reversed ... The Labour Party Is Worth Backing ...

I do not have a tribal approach to politics. Parties like all other human institutions are tools and nothing more. Is a political Party more or less likely to express my core values and implement policies that accord with those values? If so, I can give my allegiance. If not, I must look elsewhere. Solidarity in a shared common cause is not the same thing as blind loyalty or faith. 

This leads me to the unconventional position that I might prefer the solid soft 'one nation' nationalism of Theresa May to the neo-liberal internationalism of the Blairite Right or of the pre-Brexit Tory Party and Liam Fox - and the inter-nationalism and socialism of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to either. Few would follow me on that but it is my position and that is my right.

The Radical Centre was never what it claimed - that is, the squaring of differences in the common interest. Rather, it was a coup by a professional political, bureaucratic, media-based and quasi-academic elite. The recent reaction on both Right and Left and across the West to rule by provenly incompetent 'experts', technocrats and political professionals is nothing but good if you are a true democrat (which I am) and are prepared to work for your values once functional democracy has been restored.

Back in May, I said I would quit the Party though, of course, I had paid my dues to September and was not going to give up on my vote for its Leader, albeit somewhat pessimistic that the sheer dead weight of the professional elite's war on Jeremy Corbyn would eventually break him. I was wrong on that expectation - to my surprise.

The Alienating Old Labour Party

The reasons I gave then for walking away were real enough: a lack of respect for dissent within the Labour tradition (on the European issue); a lack of respect for evidence-based debate; and the infiltration of the party by identity-based politics, especially those with a gender angle. These were all real concerns and things appeared to get worse rapidly - there was the dirty campaigning against Party Brexiters (a campaign which was humiliated in the event as an estimated third of Labour voters voted for Brexit), the filthy campaigning to denigrate and humiliate Jeremy Corbyn by the Labour Right and in the mainstream media; and the increasingly ridiculous 'war on antisemitism' which showed just how degenerate the Party had become in its snowflake identity wars.

What became clear by the beginning of this month was that the Party was riven by two competing  'matrices' (to adopt a term from a popular Hollywood sci-fi film), that is, two ways of interpreting reality neither of which was entirely true to the life experience of most people. Both represented different sets of core values and class interests but those differing core values were material and important in their difference.

On the 'old' side was a professional party apparat and political class backed by a complex claque of special interest and metropolitan media networks who laughingly asumed that their path was 'electable' when there had been nothing but slow decline since the regime of Tony Blair. They appealed to the triumph of the Labour Right politician Sadiq Khan not understanding that the numbers who actually voted for him were actually less than the numbers who voted for Brexit in London. The Tories had had a weak campaigner in Goldsmith and Khan could role out the inner city identity vote and not frighten the horses. London is not simply a mini-version of England, let alone Britain.

Yes, much valuable reform was undertaken in the Blair-Brown years in a programme of amelioration to correct the worst excesses (or rather the sclerosis) of the Thatcher-Major years but this was offset by the embedding of our local elite into a much broader international elite, wholly detached from the population at large, engaging in war-mongering for which that elite should never be forgiven and committed to a failed economics of 'enrichissez-vous' and cheap labour that had failed to deal with the infrastructual consequences of mass migration and regional decline.

The New Labour Movement

On the 'new' side was a surging movement from below, still naive about international relations (which runs itself on the principles of the jungle) but actively questioning elite power and austerity-based neo-liberal economics and, in that process, beginning to question the international economic arrangements that had led to trading agreements and those institutions like the European Union that were increasingly placing capital ahead of the people. The very viciousness of the attacks on that new movement from the Right and the attempt to use 'spin' rather than political education to counter its admitted naivetes indicated just how decadent and even cruel the Labour Right had become.

Basically, those who wished to destroy Corbynism descended to black propaganda of the worst nature and yet their leading candidate - not necessarily himself implicated in the excesses of his side - ended up by adopting much of the Corbyn-McDonnell economic programme because, well, it was popular. Cynical Blairites stood aside during the attempt at counter-revolution confident they could reverse that platform later if the anti-Corbyn candidate won. Even now, they continue to plot regardless of two clear democratic mandates within what is now the largest membership party in Europe.

The Labour Right and Soft Left existed on fear and anxiety while the new movement lived on hope - neither was entirely right or wrong in some black and white way but one had failed and was unimaginative in its solutions to the real problems of the people eight years after the crash of 2008, while the other was opening doors to new ideas and the political education of the masses. One distrusted the people - the road that led to the referendum revolution of June 23rd - and the other trusted the people. One was led by middle class people who feared the mob as they have done since time immemorial and the other was the mob transforming itself into a movement.

In mid-July after the Referendum vote we saw Remainers become Remoaners, threatening to reverse the vote of the people by all means possible in a surge of underhand anti-democratic thinking that was clearly closely associated with the organisation of the Labour Right assault on Jeremy Corbyn in method and intent. I analysed what a Left Leaver could do next in July with not a little despair. I found no one to argue against me in my harsh analysis. I laid out a trajectory for Left Leavers in four stages over some six months:
  • that Corbyn might win and reaffirm national democracy so that the Labour Party could remain a vehicle for Left Leavers (which has happened); 
  • that Corbyn might lose and a new Party be created that was sensible and which reaffirmed national democracy so that this might be the vehicle of Left Leavers (which was always going to be difficult and proved not to be necessary); 
  • that UKIP would became sensible in its protection of national democracy so that, with no alternative, Left Leavers could cross the water to the populist right (which would be the triumph of hope over reason); or, last of all, 
  • that nothing sensible was left out there to protect the workers from international neo-liberalism and the wise Left Leaver would go into private life or support Mrs May, assuming she stayed firm on national sovereignty, as, at the least, a national neo-liberal. 

Resolving The Issues

This final phase was brutally presented to Left Leavers by me as a final existential choice between being Left or being a leaver. I (though I suspect not so many others) would have put national economic sovereignty and national democracy first only because these were preconditions for effective socialism and an informed and engaged population. Socialism could not be imposed through the barrel of a Commission Directive and the Varoufakis belief that the European Union could be democratised in any reasonable political time scale was frankly ridiculous.

Nothing could be done over the summer - until the political wheel had turned another quarter. Corbyn might be defeated. He might, if he won, adopt the hard-line Remainer position (outlined pre-emptively by Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats) simply to ensure a peace deal with the Labour Right and preserve his anti-austerity economics. Most unlikely of all, UKIP might sudddenly become humane in its attitude to foreign nationals and adopt its own version of anti-austerity but geared to Labour voters.

And, of course, Theresa May might shift her position to a Brexit position so 'lite' that we may as well have not voted on June 23rd. As I write, we are in the midst of a PR war between the City and business Remainers (no doubt backed by the civil service) on the one side and sceptic Brexit Ministers (no doubt backed by the voters who voted for Brexit) for influence on the content of May's speech at her Party Conference. Nothing is certain in this soap opera until the thin lady sings. 

Meanwhile, Momentum is not a Party within the Party as the Labour Right claim but a parallel operation challenging and potentially renewing an undemocratic Party apparat against which I and others had fought and which we had failed to reform in the mid-1990s. It is not, despite claims, like Militant because it is not sectarian or restricted to one major locality for its effect. Momentum is nationwide and is drawing in many new people to politics. I am not a member and do not intend to become a member of Momentum but I respect its role as mobiliser of political engagement for people otherwise excluded by the system. It now needs sensible 'realist' challengers rather than the sinister and pig-headedly opportunistic Progress or the atavistic Labour First. Whatever it is, it needs to be respected as better organised, more directly connected to the population and more intelligent in its methodology than any of its rivals.

Half Way Between Old and New

Perhaps what the old guard cannot forgive is that Momentum helped massively increase party membership, despite the best efforts of party officials. A mass membership is not what the Right has ever wanted. Before 1996, Blair used to talk of the million member party but it was the last thing his lot wanted. The professional political class survived very well on moribund local parties, nerd-like rulebook activists, trades union fixing and deals, parachuted-in metropolitan dogsbodies as candidates in safe seats and little or no questioning of policies (except where the unions asked for their pound of flesh on employment rights which was often conceded with great reluctance).

The question then became whether, having now been fought twice and won against people desperate to keep their gravy train going and having been traduced repeatedly, Corbyn would be so exhausted and troubled that he would compromise on key policy areas. He had already done so on Trident. Why not on national sovereignty? The Right had already undermined the Labour Party by talking it down just as the Remainers had undermined the British economy in the run-up to June 23rd.

These counter-revolutionaries may have lost and now be surplus to historical requirements but they appeared not to understand their predicament. They had played to win with utter ruthlessness, uncaring of the damage they did to the institution they claimed to support. Existentially and professionally they had serious skin in the game of controlling the Party and in the pork barrel of the European Union. It is interesting that, to satisfy the soft left of this alleged centre ground, the first post-mandate announcement was, indeed, pure pork barrel - that the EU regional funding would continue after 2020 with a new Labour Government.

No analysis, no discussion. Just a political bid to win over the professionals at the centre of a patronage network involved in disbursing large amounts of funds in the depressed regions. The Party was making blanket commitments to the regions without asking questions or offering policies that would be geared to the efficacy of the spending, instead just offering what had simply been EU-directed money without new and clear socialist strings attached. This was how the SNP and European Socialists operated not a responsible British Socialist Party. This had been money that had been largely directed to EU ends or the ends of special interests linked to EU strategy. The expenditures need some analysis before depriving the poorest classes in the richest areas to feed the middle classes in the poorest areas.

To Renew or Not To Renew - That Is The Question?

In the meantime, a request for renewal of membership to the Labour Party arrived. A year ago, it would have been renewed automatically. In May, it would have been binned. When it arrived, it was put aside to see how things fared between its arrival and the Leader's speech at Conference. September 24th had offered hope - not just an increased mandate for Corbyn but signals being sent beyond the pork barrel message. The new Movement would persist in its radical democratisation of the Party. I have some confidence in this if it can be pushed through over the heads of a sclerotic and less than competent and defensive apparat. It will be a struggle.

To some extent, such policies will be the continuation of the work that my old crew started in the mid-1990s when we created Labour Reform and then co-ordinated the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance. It would mean a rolling back of the democratic centralist Partnership in Power model and create the opportunity for ordinary members to get control of their hired hands - the elected politicians - and (I hope) policy under sound technical advice in which the trades unions should have a role. In the process, a naive movement would turn into a politically educated movement based on core socialist values able to face a renewed and revived Tory Party which, in the meantime under Prime Minister May, also has returned to some its core values and ceased to be the creature solely of the City and business (much to the latter's clear frustration). The country cannot but benefit but through an existential struggle over values conducted within the democratic process and rule of law. The Left will make mistakes and sometimes behave ridiculously but it will learn by doing and create a better world in doing so.

Similarly Momentum has started to explain itself and to challenge the 'matrix of lies' against it from special interests. I draw attention to only one item - the fight-back over accusations of antisemitism, a vicious slur as dangerous as the cruel and cynical manipulation of the death of Jo Cox by Remainers. The Jewish Chair of Momentum pointed out that the Vice Chair was Jewish as well and that Jews were active at every level in the organisation. Ironically, this might simply create new conspiracy theory on the Far Right but I think the Left can live with that and counter it on first principles. The issue remains sensitive and Momentum seems to be trying to draw back a little. It is under constant pressure to concede to the totalitarian culture of the Right Zionist lobby but, from where I sit, Jackie Walker's head-on assault on the Right is spot-on and needed to be said. Questioning the conduct of Netanyahu's Israel is not antisemitism.

So, the Labour Right is in the same position as the Remoaners - engaged in noise and fury, with access to friends in the mainstream media, with the advantage of easy access to wine bars and dinner parties in the metropolis - but they lack any power now except to be destructive. If they have not shot all their bolts, they seem determined to unload them as quickly as possible, leaving themselves unarmed before too long. Instead of engaging in rational evidence-based questioning of some of the more naive positions of their opponents, they make hysterical claims that quickly prove to be unfounded, discrediting themselves in the process. They use propaganda techniques worthy of Goebbels and they come to look aggressive in ways that fuel engagement by people like myself who were otherwise happy to leave things to others. The Labour Party apparat has proved itself problematic as well - appearing untrustworthy probably more from lack of imagination than from outright malice, stuck in the old matrix. It too needs radical reform.

The McDonnell Speech and Its Virtues

Then came John McDonnell's avowedly neo-socialist speech on Monday. First the Referendum result was accepted (no hitching the Party to the wagon of a second referendum alongside the Liberal Democrats). Second, if the European Union is to be a neo-liberal project, Labour clearly won't play ball - the preconditions for re-engagement are that neo-liberal trade deals will not be signed and sovereign nations can implement interventionist socialist economics (in other words, the Tories and UKIP have opened the door to socialism in one country until collaborating socialists can create a socialist Europe). Third, Labour now wants to work with and not against the financial services sector but on its terms - meaning no more casino economy and the finance sector's participation in the neo-socialist investment programme: if it supports that programme, Labour will support it in Europe and elsewhere (subject elsewhere to the war on tax avoidance). 

Fourth, Labour will not be inactive on the Brexit negotiations - it is going to try and drive them further to the Left, not in order to scupper them but to scupper the Tories and their austerity economics. Fifth, Labour is not going to get sucked into the migration debate (though Corbyn two days later appeared to reverse that) but it will seek protection for workers whilst fighting xenophobia (the pitch to the Polish vote was all-too-obvious here) - in other words, Labour should speak for mildly conditional free movement of labour as a sovereign British decision (an international socialist decision). Herre, we saw a definite difference of emphasis from Corbyn two days later. In other words, taken all in all, Europe is positioned as 'second order' to the struggle over economics (in good Marxist fashion). 

Overall, this was a measured pro-European but not pro-EU speech (the difference is significant). It was far more pro-people internationalist socialist position than we have ever heard before from a Labour politician, one that accepted Brexit as a necessary possibly temporary pause before a Socialist Europe of internationally co-operating nation states is to hand. I can live with that ... I just needed to hear what Jeremy Corbyn had to say before renewing my membership ...and I let Emily Thornberry's somewhat waffley contribution to BBC World at One on Monday and her unsophisticated speech at Conference pass since it merely told me that she had not yet got all her marching orders and had yet to get her feet under her table. 

The game now was clearly one of being pro-European by being challenging to the neo-liberal European Union and that is all many of us Leavers wanted in the first place. The Yanis Varoufakis strategy of change from within was never going to work without a shock to the EU's system and Brexit was part of that shock treatment. A Socialist Europe is best achieved through ensuring that a major G7 country outside the European Union can prosper as a Neo-Socialist Economy in its own right - demonstrating neo-socialism by example. The alternative was simply accepting ameliorative but ineffective restraints on neo-liberalism through a flailing European Social Democracy run by less than effective men and women in grey suits, always looking over their shoulder at Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan and the IMF.

The Corbyn Speech and Its Faults

This brings me to the excellent (from a traditional socialist point of view) speech by Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday. He captured the very soul of a movement when that soul desperately needed to be recovered. Of course, from the point of view of a cynical realist like myself, there was a bit of magical thinking here and there and an idealism that might have a bucket of cold water thrown over it by harsh economic and political reality further down the line but the speech was a starting point, the establishment of some core principles from which Labour Party socialists could draw heart and against which they could test their inevitable compromises. 

Perhaps I felt that both John McDonnell and Andy Burnham, much more to the Right, had a greater grasp of reality and that some of the relatively new Shadow Cabinet were lost and waffling in an idealistic day dream but Corbyn's aspirations were ultimately my aspirations and that of many Britons. One and only one set of policies made me pause before committing to renew - the excessively naive and counter-productive position on migration. 

In this area, as on Trident (where I agree with him) Corbyn was essentially being a faith-based politician, much like Tony Benn at his most narcissistic.  There are aspects of socialism that regrettably mimic religion - its Methodist aspect. I don't hold to it. I have no time for religion but I recognise that a 'broad church' (an interesting cliche in this context) has to hold many people who are predisposed to believe in magic to the Party because half of our species actually do 'need to believe' in ways that Fox Mulder would understand and they are voters too.

Corbyn's statement "But we will also be pressing our own Brexit agenda including the freedom to intervene in our own industries without the obligation to liberalise or privatise our public services and building a new relationship with Europe based on cooperation and internationalism." is precisely why Brexit is important. In effect, this is the quintessential Left Brexit position since the entire European Project is built on a neo-liberal commitment not to permit this degree of economic freedom, one that is not going to change because a couple of socialist governments in London and Athens ask it to change. This restoration of national sovereignty must, of course, be implemented responsibly and it is legitimate to ask whether the huge number of interventionist and spending promises actually do stack up but this was a first motivational speech after a gruelling period of division. There are four years now to refine the policies into workability.

Where Corbyn Gets It Wrong on Migration

On the other hand, Corbyn's strategic errors on migration must be exposed. First he does not get that cultural identity is as important to English workers as it is to Palestinians. Nor is it necessarily 'fascist. As others have pointed out to me "[an] emphasis on cultural identity is founded on a solid [Left] intellectual tradition: from Raymand Williams to Gramsci, from the work of Genovese to that of Charles von Onselen, and so on". From a practical perspective, being concerned about cultural identity should not be spun as being essentially 'rightist' - after all, Labour lost Scotland for a lot of reasons but one was a failure to understand cultural identity and respond to it instead of trying to accomodate it positively as an expression of discontent and then 'detourne' it into inter-national socialism. It is ironic that the Left accepts non-locality based identities like gender, race and sexual orientation so readily and yet turns its nose up at national and historical identities.

Second, the political economics of increasing taxes on the indigenous upper working and lower middle class to fund improved services for migrant areas is political suicide. It is these people who vote in Governments. We may not find that comfortable but it is a fact on the ground. Certainly the soft liberals and NGO snowflakes won't find this comfortable but failing to understand the economic pressures on the middling sort (which includes Labour's upper working class voters) is a serious block to power unless Corbyn has some damn fine arguments for more taxation that go beyond moral exhortation. With limited funds available (no matter the borrowing claims of the Shadow Chancellor) and with lots of perfectly reasonable promises being made to a variety of special interest groups (regions, NHS, public service workers, the low paid, students, the 'hardworking families' of political discourse and so on), taxing the anxious and struggling middling sort more highly in order (it would seem) to improve the infrastructure of migrant areas becomes a gift to the populist right wing media. You may as well send them membership cards to UKIP in the post.

Third, the sheer scale of incoming migration to Europe and thence to the UK is being treated as an inconvenience rather than a truth. It may well overwhelm the kindness to strangers offered by Corbyn - and we have a precedent in the chaos folowing Merkel's humanitarian gesture in Germany. To the economic migrant, even the slums of the West offer levels of wealth that to them are worth taking immense personal risks. To go on to promising a ready-made welfare infrastructure that will exceed the highest expectations of the middle classes of Addis Ababa and Khartoum is irresponsible to say the least. And be assured, we have scarcely understood the scale of economic migration to come - the next wave is from the Horn of Africa through Egypt. The international institutions that have just offered half a billion Euros for job creation in Ethiopia understand this only too well.

Although sentimental liberals may have no problem with any of this, many natural Labour voters will. Migration has become to many people who are natural Labour voters and who are neither cruel nor stupid an issue about respect for their own needs as citizens. It is not about the other, it is about themselves. Idealists may bemoan such selfishness but it is not for them to dictate terms to the electorate. We are a democracy and the people should dictate terms to politicians. It is certainly not about hating the foreigner - which is the malign myth peddled by Remain propagandists - but about voters being under severe social and economic pressure in their own right and wanting Government to relieve that pressure directly and even personally.

Treating Voters With Contempt?

The implicit characterisation in Corbyn's speech of Left Brexiters as stupid people who voted on peddled myths and did not have minds of their own is a little insulting and clumsy. The inclusion of the phrase "the referendum campaign a campaign that peddled myths and whipped up division" was foolish. It oversimplified matters and was deeply insulting to the third of Labour voters who voted Brexit in order to pander to Labour Remainers. We noticed. It dampened our enthusiasm. The campaign was being characterised by Corbyn in terms dictated by the mainstream media (an irony here) on the basis of campaigning by just one element in the campaign - UKIP. 

Left Brexiters in no way endorsed that position and were deeply active in campaigning for Brexit on socialist grounds. This unfortunate turn of phrase will be resented especially since the mainstream Remain campaign peddled fear through exaggerating economic threats, something (to his credit) Jeremy Corbyn did not do. Fanatics engaged in lies and half truths but most sensible people on both sides fought on issues of principle in good faith and that should be recognised.

The one third of Labour voters who voted Brexit should not be treated as deluded fools unable to make up their own minds without the help of North London intellectuals ... they voted rationally and in their own interest and they should be respected. All Emily's advisers on foreign policy (according to her speech) are from Inner London North of the Thames and East of Uxbridge which is not a healthy state of affairs.. If you do not respect people, all the people, you cannot expect to win their votes and those votes will be needed in 2020. Remain had depended on middle class votes in the South interested in their pockets and those voters are unlikely to be voting for John McDonnell's socialism come the day - so Labour needs that 30%.

The need to improve infrastructures (central to Corbyn's migration policy) is certainly vital but it should be person-blind and be geared to any community who needs it, not be presented as favouring incomers or special interests or being a cause to encourage more incomers before the infrastructure has been put in place. His policy is topsy-turvy. We should be assessing what this country needs and can take (not, by the way, unilaterally 'stealing' talent from countries that need nurses and teachers even more than we do), pre-building the necessary infrastructure and then welcoming migrants to join a safe and secure welfare economy where they either have a role to play in the greater good or because space has been made for people suffering exceptional risk to life and limb. We should not be sending a signal that this small island is a land of opportunity, like America in the nineteenth century. It is not and such an attitude could place our welfare economy under intolerable strain.

The Blunder on Migration & The Decision to Renew

Although a decent speech that touched every socialist button, Corbyn also failed to recognise the logic of May's position - that positive humanitarian intervention overseas might stop migration at source by improving conditions for the poorest in their own country (which should mean not gutting their health and social services to ensure the security of our own). 

Corbyn's position on migration represented a sentimental flaw in an otherwise good speech and one that UKIP and the right-wing media will seize on and exploit at every opportunity with a corresponding silence from Leftists like me that will become deafening. Nor will we allow ourselves to be characterised as callous or un-socialist - it is we who have the interests of the poor of the emerging world and the indigenous working class (and those from overseas already in our country) at heart. It is we who have an analysis that encompasses social and political sustainability. 

On this one, he is on his own. Was this blunder on migration, almost as daft as his blunder before Brexit in kow-towing opportunistically to the Remain machine on the Labour Right and Soft Left, sufficient to disengage me from the Labour Party and start moving through that trajectory outlined by me on July 16th? No, it was not, and I can give three reasons.

Let us get one out of the way quickly. Migration is potentially existential but it is not primarily existential like the Brexit vote. The voters still have the chance to teach the naive idealists inside and outside the Party. In the end, there will be a lesson taught Labour on the ground to which Corbyn and the idealists must adjust if they want to achieve the rest of the programme outlined in the McDonnell and Corbyn speches of September 26th and 28th. Anti-austerity outside London is one helluva a lot more important than pleasing the luvvy NGOs in London if the new team wants to prove that neo-socialism can work in one country and then export the model elsewhere by example.

Pragmatism is No Vice

Secondly, no political programme is ever going to be perfect. The core values underpinning Corbyn's programme are consistent. There is a means of openly arguing for alternatives where there are disagreements. By offering to smash Blairite democratic centralism, Corbyn permits me and others to challenge him on this and other policies without seeking to overturn the general commitment to democracy or necessarily being disloyal to the total programme or to him. The policy may be wrong-headed but it can be placed before the Party before it is placed before the electorate and people like me may have the chance to argue our case in a way not possible under the dictatorial rule of Blair, Brown and Milliband. Voices are already speaking out about the foolishness of the migration position without making this a leadership issue.

Thirdly, perhaps most important of all, critics can recognise that Corbyn's position arises from a sincere moral, perhaps faith-based, position that is in perfect accord with the values of socialism and which represents an ultimate position (the borderless world) that even his critics would like to reach. Just as Left-Brexiters did not object to a truly democratic socialist united Europe but only to the feasibility of one under neo-liberalism (and so can find themselves in agreement with John McDonnell's subtle economics) so critics of Corbyn's migration politics can critique the practical naivete of his approach on pragmatic grounds without in any way impugning his integrity, decency and, frankly, moral superiority all things being equal in a perfect world. But then you do not need socialist parties in a perfect world, do you?

And so the conclusion is simple - my negative position on renewal must be reversed. The Labour Party and Labour Movement are now in decent and moral hands. Corbyn is wrong on migration and may be naive in other areas but 'his heart is in the right place' as is that of the new movement. He stands for values that desperately need reviving and are being expressed in a political movement that challenges the reactionary essentialism of UKIP and its opportunistic and cynical equivalent in Scotland (SNP), the gross and equally cynical opportunism of the Radical Centre and Liberal Democracy and the special interests of the undeniably effective but class-based Tory Party. 

Therefore, with only a little hesitation, I shall renew my membership of the Labour Party.