Friday, 10 March 2017

The Left and Intangibles

The Left often has a difficulty with intangibles. Often the notion that what is intangible is important is rejected altogether because of an over-insistence on materialism. Acceptance of the importance of intangibles does not reject materialism as the basis for being and so of society and politics. It simply sees the emergence of 'things from things', from matter, as constructions of minds that are material but have evolved into a consciousness that is creative in using language, concepts, the creation of new formations of matter through science and manipulation and new relationships as tools and weapons in the struggle for power, resources and status.

On the other hand, the Left often collapses this analysis into a po-faced Frankfurt School vision of intangibles which is riddled with inappropriate moral judgments that derive ultimately from Judaeo-Christian habits – hence the often trotted out garbage about commodification and objectification as if the concepts meant much more in their hands than the sort of moral disapproval that Jeremiah would have warmed to. The correct approach to intangibles is one that is detached and neutral about the fact of intangibles and concentrates on their actual use in ‘really existing’ human relationships as instruments of power – in effect as weapons and tools.

For example, it may well be (I think it is) true that so-called 'commodification' and 'objectification' are potentially progressive insofar as they are expressions of actual human being. It is the interpretation and use to which they are put by power that is problematic and not their use in themselves. Even consensual pornography, let alone free trade with full information, can be highly progressive if undertaken between equals freely choosing their position. The issue is thus not the fact of intangibles or even their analysis but the ownership of the use of them and the right to choices about use value. The Left has certainly not come to terms with late liberal capitalism’s ability to create and control economic and power relationships based on these intangible weapons and tools rather than on the use of iron, steel and rail.

The current political case study is the violent struggle in America going on at the moment between liberals trying to define their own fake news as truth and conservatives discovering that they can create their own truth with impunity as fake news. The struggle sometimes seems trivial but it is a war as important as the mid-twentieth century ones conducted with bullets and bombs because ultimately it is about control of the levers of informational power and so economic choices affecting the material lives of millions. Both sides are basically lying liars who have got into the habit of lying but this complex eco-system of lies is a good example of the power of intangibles and of the Left's failure to rise above the lying to create the opportunities for the mass of the population in order to derive their own functional truths from full information and a solid grounding in critical thinking.

As we write, the US stock market rises and employment levels are increasing and yet an entirely different vision of reality is presented as truth because it is necessary for some people to believe it is true – the same applies to the persistant apocalypticism about the British economy under Brexit. These are examples of political intangibility distracting us from reality that are as absurd as our uncritical acceptance of brands and the claims of corporate social responsibility going on within capitalism. As invented reality spins away from really existing material reality, so the chances for cataclysm do increase - hence our social progress as a continual two steps forward, one step back amongst mountains of gore and lost dreams. The educational problem is one of lack of critical thinking under complex social conditions and the equally important lack of some sense of the self as more than simply the creature of social conditions - this last lie is the fatal pessimistic crime of the modern intellectual liberal left towards the people.

There is thus a total system of intangibility overlaying materiality with many layers within it, all derived from a materiality for which there is no serious Left critique that is not mired in a priori theory. The dead weight of all forms of essentialism - especially the cant of Kant - gives power to an intellectual class denuded of intellect. Our new critique should encompass our acceptance of the value lying in intangibles in economics, in culture, in social relations and in politics but then explore how to vest the value in the people in general rather than in self-interested classes – including an intellectual class which is highly manipulative of intangibles in its own class interest. In short, the Left has no serious philosophy of the human condition that is not already moribund and it is time to call the universities out on their failures.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

What is the Problem on the Left - A Very Brief Analysis

"Brexit is a destruction derby's worth of car crashes waiting to happen". This is an almost standard quotation from a rant on Left Futures. Yet the evidence for this is slight, especially after the failed pre-Brexit vote analyses of economic prospects - the expected disaster gets pushed ever further forwards and has now reduced itself to a bout of moderate inflation that is matched by the export opportunities arising and being taken.

The better analysis is that adaptive capitalist entrepreneurialism offers a greater threat to socialism - apparent success through not-so-hidden exploitation. Observers are often letting an 'ought' get in the way of an 'is' as is the way with ideologues.

Corbyn has things partly right by hammering on about those who are going to lose from adaptive capitalism - the public sector workers, cultural workers and the near-marginalised (those between the truly marginalised which adaptive capitalism will care for and the private sector working class which may well benefit or rather appear to benefit sufficiently to continue voting for it rather than higher taxes) - and those 'hidden costs' that the weakening of welfare causes to the wider population even in times of economic growth (social care, lack of housing stock on which he could say more and so on).

The problem is that the analysis stops there. A bloc is mobilised but not one sufficient to take power democratically. Meanwhile middle class ideologues engage in constant misdirection by predicting (or hoping for?) some economic meltdown in a one-off gamble that is as likely to help the populist Right as the Left depending on the circumstances of the time.

Since the Tories under May are almost certainly 'in' for up to four years, they have considerable room for manouevre. Even the strike at their own base with self-employed NI (which Corbyn cannot exploit for ideological reasons) is happening early with deliberation in order to store up giveways later.

Their internal contradiction is their new-found interest in ‘strengthening the state’ for security reasons and their need to contain radical populism that wants either lower taxes or more expenditure and it is in thrusting a pole into that hole that their model can be wedged apart.

But that is not what we get. Beyond the social mobilisation strategy to get the existing bloc in line, all we get is short term ranting and obsessions with ‘done deals’ like Brexit from the ‘intellectuals’ while the old base of the Party drifts into the other camp.

What is required, on the back of the bloc mobilisation strategy, is a second level of national economic strategy that deals in a non-Luddite fashion with techno-innovation, especially techno-innovation in the key areas of social care and the NHS where one suspects it is the public sector unions who are in danger of being the block to changes that could considerably improve lives of citizens and workers.

I have seen robotics used safely for patient-lifting to end or limit back injuries for NHS workers – Labour should be engaged fully in the socially responsible process of assessing, analysing, regulating, promoting and state support for technologies that would make the UK a global leader in the new cost-effective mass welfarism. The People’s State should be the intermediary between capitalist innovation (which, I am afraid, works in its clumsy wasteful way) and the condition of the people.

By engaging in a national debate about the future rather than the past, the middle ground no longer has to be secured on Blairism (minimal taxes, foreign adventurism, cultural manipulation and adaptive neo-liberalism) but on something very different – a neo-socialist commitment to life cycle welfare, lifetime education and retraining to adapt to new innovation, application of innovation to social needs and increasing income security for all citizens within a national sovereign state.

Worrying about who will succeed May is almost certainly idle. She has control of the levers of power until she loses an election and that is at least four years away – if then, at this rate.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Articulating Distrust of Labour Over Brexit

I have been fairly quiet over the last six weeks, watching the political preliminaries to the invocation of Article 50 unfold and finding myself, despite being a committed democratic socialist, increasingly drawn to Theresa May's robust approach. The reality rather than the media-driven simulacrum of what is happening is a power struggle between a left-liberal 'radical centre' that is used to having its hegemony over information flows, culture and policy unchallenged and a rather moderate form of nationalism that is actually outward-looking and inter-nationalist and filled with potential for radical change if only the moment can be seized when it arrives.

The thrashing around of the tails of the Clintonist, Blairite and Liberal Democrat dinosaurs while challenged not, as they should have been, from the Left but from the Right - conservatives in the UK and populists and conservatives in alliance in the US - indicates a tragic failure of socialism since the fall of the Soviet Union. Instead of building a democratic eco-sustainable economicism, it has collapsed into a mish-mash, a soup of eco-conservatism, rights theory, liberal constitutionalism, cultural politics and identity nonsense.

Watching this unfold, my patience is at an end with the sight of an unelected House of Lords stuffed with creatures of the old liberal hegemony seeking to defy the essence of a simple national vote under conditions where the official 'Left' is clearly seeking to create the conditions for a reversal of a democratic mandate. Forty years of acting as foot soldiers for this failed system must come to an end at some stage. To take a Soviet analogy, fighting in the Great Patriotic War is one thing, loyally arguing for the sclerosis of Brezhnev is another. The liberal Left have become an artery-clogging part of the politically sick patient, resisting the surgical solution of Brexit.

For some weeks, I have been contributing to debates on Left Futures where I would say that the debates in the Labour Movement have been fairly represented, a majority clearly taking the Remain position at face value with a vocal minority wanting a programme of action almost indistinguishable from that of the Liberal Democrats. On the other side a robust minority making the solid arguments for a Left-Brexit which tend to be evaded and avoided as to their substance in favour of a rather woolly-minded aspirational idealism about a Socialist Europe. This is my reply to one of the stronger Remain advocates from that source:-

" ... I have agreed that the 'middle way' is probably the best that could be done under the circumstances for the party but it is not an adequate long term strategy.

" Take the votes in the House of Lords. The first amendment (EU citizens) is a matter of relative indifference. Although the Government is probably technically correct in terms of negotiating position, Labour 'values' do suggest that EU citizens should not be treated as hostages and there is an argument that middle class expats should not expect EU citizens creating wealth in-country to be pawns in their interest. That is a fair Labour fight.

"The second amendment (Parliamentary vote) is not what it seems (an issue of Parliamentary sovereignty) but is an obvious attempt by Remainers to create sufficient uncertainty that time can be bought for a reversal of position.

"This is not necessary because the matter has been decided, the negotiation is executive, the uncertainty advantages the other side in the negotiation (which is 'treachery' to a great degree) and Parliament will get full scrutiny of the Great Repeal Bill which is the point where resistance to the type of Brexit is best handled.

"The population, aided by the mid-market tabloids, is not stupid. It knows that a clique of radical centrists is conspiring to reverse a democratic vote. The only saving grace is that their Second Referendum was knocked out of the water.

"If and only if Labour in the Commons, using Parliamentary sovereignty as cover, supports the second amendment in the Commons, even if it loses, then many otherwise fully socialist and labour-supporting people who sincerely believe in the priority of democracy and of national sovereign power against neo-liberalism really do have to 'consider their position' with Labour on two grounds.

"The first ground is one of trust - by supporting the second amendment in the Lords, Labour has indicated to democrats that it cannot be trusted but by doing so in the Commons, it will demonstrate that it cannot be trusted to maintain democracy along the lines that the Chartists initiated so long ago.

"The second ground is that, even if it loses and especially if it wins, it will have indicated what it is not to be trusted on - that is, the attempted reversal of the democratic vote and, above all, the de facto attempt to reintegrate us into the neo-liberal European model in alliance with Tory business remainers and liberal democrats.

"This latter is a very serious matter that has not yet been fully understood by many activists. In effect, it sets up the condition for the splits that are now taking place across Europe in the socialist movement between socialists and liberals (on which I have written elsewhere) but where socialists are ready to associate with democracy and national sovereignty along traditionally British lines.

"The fissure will not happen over night but, with two years to prepare and many minor elections on the way, once Labour goes down the road of resistance to the 35% of its voters' wishes (and I share the acceptance of that number) then it is a road that it cannot go back from.

"Since its economics and defence policies are not trusted by many others and university students, wobbly middle class professionals in the south  and public sector workers are not sufficient base for a national majority, Brexit will have done for Labour in the long run much as the First World War did for the Liberals.

"Personally, being in a minority of a minority, I shall be studying the conduct of the Leader and the PLP with great interest. My own Party membership extends to September but decisions on the future by me and others, and then others, will start to inform themselves on that conduct in the next few weeks.

"Since the issues are existential, any emergent force, oppositional to the ignorant populism of UKIP as much as to the weasel ways of the liberal centre, is not likely simply to be a withdrawal or a a slightly disassociated component of a liberal-led Labour. It is likely to become an intellectual implacable enemy and then gather around itself others with a similar commitment to radical democracy (neo-Chartist) and to socialism.

"I tend to have a fairly good track record on predictions though things always happen more slowly than expected - but they do happen. By 2020, such a force might be only an irritant to a Labour that cannot break through and win an election.

"By 2025, it could be a mortal threat (the equivalent to the threat of UKIP to the cosy elite liberalism of the Tory Party) if Labour persists in being a pale version of a European Socialist Party seeking 'enosis' with a failed dream or prepared to act as a pseudo-socialist grunt provincial assistant to a European 'socialism' that is about as radical as Clinton's Democrat Party."