Entries Tagged 'General' ↓

What Black Bloc Bashing Can Tell Us About Left Intellectual Culture

In the past several months, there has been a renewed interest, both on the part of regime media and on that of left media outlets, in black bloc tactics. No doubt this is due in very large part to the (frequently successful) attempts by antifascists in the US to shut down fascist and white supremacist organising efforts. With honourable exceptions, the commentary has been characterised by ignorance and irresponsibility, and those who have shown these qualities in the greatest measure have been given the best platforms from which to misinform the public at large and distort the debate on the left.

Chief amongst the misconceptions promoted by commentators – who disqualify themselves from commenting either by knowing better or by not knowing better – is the notion that there is such an organisation as The Black Bloc. According to one Dunning-Krugerian masterpiece from a few years ago by Chris Hedges (and fiercely defended after its debunking by Louis Proyect), this ‘organisation’ is even made up of the followers of ‘anarcho-primitivist’ John Zerzan! This codswallop has been so thoroughly discredited by now that detailed refutation is redundant. Suffice it to say that there is no such organisation, and that, where we speak of a ‘black bloc’, we are speaking of a tactic used by a diverse and ever-changing group of people who see the need for confrontational tactics and the utility of concealing their identity to safeguard against reprisals.


The A-B March: A Symbol of Despair

Much more interesting are the attempts at detailed discussion – often in movement media – of the tactics used by black blocs. These merit more thorough examination because they reveal one of the greatest weaknesses the modern left must overcome: the dearth of informed strategic and tactical thinking. The left, and none more than those who fancy themselves the intellectual vanguard of the revolution, has become fossilised in its tactical and strategic imagination. The outer limits of the tactical and strategic thought of much of the organised left are found in the decision of whether to have a static rally, a march from point A to point B, or a combination of the above, all thoroughly coordinated with the authorities so as to ensure minimum disruption to business as usual, and thus, maximum irrelevance (the recent emergence of tactics such as roadblocks, port shutdowns, and airport protests is hopefully the start of a departure from this limited model). Fundamentally, these are tactics of symbolic protest, in that they consist of registering objections or expressing demands without imposing any cost on the ruling class to whom these objections and demands are addressed.

In essence, this notion of symbolic protest not as one part of a balanced tactical diet, but as the entire diet from which no deviation is permitted, is an outlook of unadulterated revolutionary despair. It brings to mind a prisoner who, seeing no way to resist or escape, decides to make as much noise as possible ‘so at least no one will think I went willingly.’ The prisoner, however, at least understands the reasons for this tactical decision. I am not convinced that those who treat ‘a march and a wee paper sale’ as the tactic of first, last, and only resort have such insight. Indeed, many of them seem quite convinced that this alone is the way to bring about The Revolution, although they often have a sufficiently detailed knowledge of, say, Russia in 1917, Vietnam, Ireland, and Palestine throughout the 20th century, and so many other examples that they could reasonably be expected to know better. In the words of James Connolly, whose writings offer an excellent model of sound tactical and historical thinking, ‚they seem in some strange and, to me, incomprehensible manner to have detached themselves from the everyday struggles of the toilers and to imagine they are doing their whole duty as interpreters of Socialist thought.’


When ‘Senseless’ Means ‘I Never Really Thought About It’

This, it seems to me, is the intellectual wellspring of so many superficial condemnations of militant, confrontational, and disruptive ‘black bloc’ tactics. These ‘critiques’ are frequently accompanied by open admissions that their authors do not comprehend the tactics they presume to critique. From these professed revolutionaries, we hear of ‘senseless property damage‘, or that it is impossible to know what point there could possibly be in breaking street lights or turning over cars, setting up barricades, etc., often accompanied by the unsupported – and dangerously irresponsible – assertion that those engaging in such tactics work for the police. I refrain from offering individual examples, because the point here is not to single out individuals for criticism, and because anyone who has been involved in these maddening debates knows that this sort of thinking is ubiquitous.

What is clear from these ‘critiques’ is that those expressing them, whilst frequently able to speak at length of the working-class insurrections of the past, have never truly attempted to imagine themselves in the place of the ordinary working-class people who fought those battles, let alone dared to participate in the smaller confrontations that we see regularly throughout the world today. They’ve read – and sometimes written – volumes about the great barricades of history, but have never considered what is involved in holding down an intersection with nothing but improvised weapons in order to give others a chance to escape from what promises to be a brutal charge of armoured cars, water cannons, and cops dressed like Saracens with limbs. And if they’ve ever had the opportunity to see for themselves, they’ve run the other way (a sensible thing to do if you’re not prepared for a fight, to be sure, but it does constitute an obstacle to understanding their dynamics). What seems like senseless destruction when all you see is the wreckage on the morning after, makes perfect sense when you’ve got heavily armed goons advancing in front of you, unarmed protesters retreating behind you, and all that stands between the two is your good self and a few comrades.


How Militant Tactics Can Help Keep Us Safe: A Case Study

An example from my own experience will hopefully illustrate the point. Some time ago, I participated in a night-time mass march in Santiago de Chile against military police repression and in support of a gravely wounded comrade. As I have already written elsewhere about it, suffice it to say that it was a truly moving and highly artistic and creative affair, and a friendly and welcoming atmosphere prevailed wherever I went in the crowd. Upon reaching the presidential palace of La Moneda (which was on our approved route!), we were immediately attacked without the slightest provocation by the ‘Special Forces’ division of the Carabineros (military police), who had been lying in wait in a side street next to La Moneda. Whilst the overwhelming majority of the protesters sought safety further down along the route, I briefly stayed behind at the front line to photograph our attackers.

As such, I was able to witness some of what is called ‘senseless destruction’ first-hand. Around me, I saw a black bloc (encapuchados) smashing illuminated advertisements and taking out high-up streetlights with truly remarkable skill. At first, like many of our esteemed intellectuals, I could not see the point of the exercise, but it became quite clear when I realised that they were systematically taking out light sources. This, it bears repeating, was a night march. Anyone who has ever been kneecapped by a coffee table when they get up for a late-night piss knows of the immense tactical value of light when the sun’s not out. By taking out stationary light sources, the encapuchados were depriving the Special Forces peelers of the ability to aim and to charge at speed without running into or tripping over obstacles.

If all I’d seen of this had been the broken glass on the morning after, rather than seeing one light after another descend into darkness that night, I might well have been inclined to believe this to be ‘pointless destruction’. But having been there that night, I was able to see how this action on the part of the encapuchados helped protect us all from a heavily armed gang of thugs who had just one week before demonstrated their willingness to kill unarmed protesters.

When, having done what I’d set out to do, I joined the (quite orderly) retreat, I saw another example of an entirely sensible measure that is often decried as ‘senseless’: flaming barricades. The barricades come in for constant condemnation in the Chilean media. Without fail, the leadership of the CUT (the local equivalent of the TUC or AFL-CIO) and the Communist Party (the local equivalent of a damp squib) come out to vilify the ‚ultras‘ and their barricades. Indeed, barricades have become a shorthand way of referring to these ‘ultras’ who are said to be ‘haciéndole la pega a la derecha’ (doing the right wing’s work for them).

When at last I’d reached breathable air and safety (or so I thought), I suddenly saw thousands of marchers running like hell in the opposite direction. When, seeking safety, we veered off on a side street, what was decried as senseless, once again, quickly proved quite sensible. As we walked back to the safety of the main university building, I saw burning barricades on numerous side streets. The barricades themselves meant that the peelers could not charge down the barricaded streets in columns without tripping, nor could the armoured cars intercept us without risking their fuel lines. This created a roughly 100 metre buffer zone that allowed us to walk (not run) to safety undisturbed. It took over an hour to put out all the fires, and even longer to clear the debris. Had those barricades not been there, I have little doubt that I (and many others) would now be telling of severe beatings and a night spent being tortured in jail.

I offer this example because it is the one most thoroughly etched into my consciousness, but examples of this sort are abundant, and have been discussed often enough that those who condemn the ‘senseless violence’ of ‘The Black Bloc’ could not avoid being aware of them if they bothered to look.


‘It’s No Substitute For Proletarian Mass Action‘ is No Substitute for Serious Strategic Thought

Another common refrain in these condemnations – particularly from authoritarian sects like the US-based International Socialist Organisation – that tactics such as those just discussed or, of late, physical resistance to fascist organising efforts, are ‘no substitute for proletarian mass action’. Ignorance this breathtaking, offered in the sagest tones, is truly worthy of ‘Marxists’ who take the work of someone who famously wrote that ‘the philosophers have merely offered different interpretations of the world; the point is to change it‘ (Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern), and can think of nothing better to do with it than sit around endlessly interpreting it. Badly.

In uttering these words of wisdom, these avowed intellectuals demonstrate that all their endless reading and re-reading of the Marxist canon has been utterly in vain, for they have managed neither to understand what ‘proletarian mass action is’, nor how it is born. It takes only a moment’s reflection to see that the contrast they seek to create between individual skirmishes with cops and Nazis and ‘proletarian mass action’ makes about as much sense as saying (in the tone of one who is imparting Wisdom for the Ages to an audience of fools) that taking the ball off the other side is no substitute for winning the match, or that scoring a goal is no substitute for winning the World Cup, or that 1. e4 is no substitute for 20. Qe6#, depending on what sporting analogy one finds most appealing. Of course they’re not equivalent! But you’ll have a hell of a time achieving the latter if you don’t attempt some version of the former.

If you think you might be about to compare something unfavourably to ‚proletarian mass action‘, stop, take a breath, and consider whether you can get any more specific than that, particularly as concerns how that mass action gets started in the first place and why whatever you’re comparing ‚proletarian mass action‘ to is incapable of kicking off the process. If, after a count of ten, you haven’t actually got anything concrete, go run cold water over your face and wait for the impulse to pass.

The thing about proletarian mass action is that it’s a victory in and of itself, and like any victory that matters, it doesn’t happen on its own. Working-class people don’t just wake up one morning and all simultaneously say ‚you know, I think I’m going to go have an epic battle with fascism today‘.

That sort of mass action is inevitably preceded by lots of smaller fits and starts that begin to convince people that taking action is (a) possible, (b) capable of getting a desirable result, and (c) they’re not going to be alone if they do it. And, chances are, even those who are involved in those smaller fits and starts will be utterly clueless as to which attempt is the one that actually catches on.

To those who cannot think beyond symbolic protests, and for whom revolutions just emerge fully formed (at some time and place safely removed from now and here) because some self-appointed vanguard (with whom they invariably identify) gives the signal, these elementary points are gibberish. A pitched battle with the cops – even if the cops start it – is an unfortunate interruption to what was otherwise a smashing afternoon out. Success or failure in this view is not determined by whether the stated objective (‘Stop the War’, ‘Impeach Trump’, etc.) was met, but by how many people showed up and how the whole thing was received by the regime media. If the protesters are vilified in the media as violent, unkempt, and impolite, these great revolutionaries wonder what went wrong and write impassioned condemnations of the ‘bad protesters’ who didn’t keep the nonexistent peace. If the protest receives favourable coverage from the ruling class media, they will bask in the glories of their imagined victory even years after everyone else has noticed that it was a crushing defeat.

Why Revolutionary Victory Is Also Psychological

Agnostic as they are to the processes by which ‘proletarian mass action’ takes shape, these commentators miss what else is going on. They fail to recognise, for example, that the path to the mass uprising they claim the right to lead is as much psychological as it is political, physical, and economic.

The ruling class avail themselves of extensive means of deception and indoctrination, and a whole array of intimidation tactics, ranging from loss of livelihood to loss of life and much in between, to discourage anyone who might challenge their dominion over us all. Form a union or go on strike, and you might not have a job to come back to tomorrow. Refuse to do unpaid work and insist on decent employment with wages you can live on, and you might find yourself queuing at a food bank to survive after your benefits have been sanctioned. Stand in the way of your estate being demolished, your neighbours being evicted, or a pipeline being built in your ancestral land, and you’ll have to take it up with goon squads so heavily armour-clad that they’re barely recognisable as members of the human species. For the most part, there’s no need for these threats to be acted on, because the fear of retaliation is enough to discourage the oppressed from claiming what’s rightfully theirs.

There is no hope of changing this state of affairs unless that fear is overcome, and few (if any) ways of overcoming it better than confronting the source of it with others who have languished under the same fear. Indeed, this fear feels most insurmountable before it is confronted, when it is a diffuse, menacing presence. By confronting n defying those who would intimidate us into inaction, we can begin to get a close look at the threat and the fear that emanates from it. In so doing, we can begin to analyse the fear and separate that which alerts us to real danger from that which serves no useful purpose, and to separate the fear of what might happen to us from our fear of being incapable of coping with the situation.

When, for example, the state presents itself to protesters in the form of armoured cars and tanks and guns and hundreds of armour-plated gobshites marching along side them, the image they are seeking to project is unmistakable: We are invincible and inescapable. You cannot handle us. Obey or be crushed. The message is so effectively transmitted that few dare to put the threat to the test, preferring instead to curse the bastards under their breath or work through the impotent rage by watching riot footage on YouTube. To face such an intimidating display of potential violence, especially for the first time, and to defy it openly and get away with it is an epiphany: You discover that you are capable of more than you’d given yourself credit for, and that the state’s armed enforces – whilst certainly daunting – aren’t nearly as invincible as they’d have you believe. It is these sorts of experiences, whether it’s holding one’s ground against the boss and winning or surviving a confrontation with riot cops, that build the confidence that begins to make mass action possible.


Demystifying Strategic Thinking: The Science Of Actually Fucking Winning


Seen in this way, every action that directly challenges the authority of the ruling class potentially helps to expand the participants’ and witnesses’ concept of what can be done, thus helping to build the skills and confidence needed to go on to bigger and better things. It is this approach that, rather than focussing on what supposedly can’t be done under the present conditions, asks what effective action can be taken given the means currently at our disposal, what we need to be able to do in order to achieve our ultimate goal of overthrowing capitalism, and what we must do in order to keep narrowing the gap between the two. If the goal is clear, then the only real question is what we need to do to achieve it, and every tactical decision we take – whether it’s to do with our organising efforts, strikes, protests, or to do with developing skills and resources, etc. – must be measured against that standard.

Measured against this standard (an actual standard, where previously there really wasn’t one), for example, the condemnations of physical resistance to fascism appear particularly ridiculous. Clearly, the Antifa actions that are already occurring fall within what can be done with the people, skills, and resources currently at our disposal, because otherwise they wouldn’t already be occurring (whether there are ways within our reach to improve on the existing approach is another matter). Because fascists’ entire reason for existing is to murder marginalised people and crush any movement seeking to challenge capitalism, and they are largely given a free pass by police, who frequently share their outlook, resisting them by all means at our disposal is clearly necessary. Likewise, it is both appropriate and necessary to do it now, when they are still relatively weak, rather than later when they might be too strong to handle. Furthermore, given their current numbers, organisation, and capabilities, they are a beatable adversary, and, as such, defeating them not only removes a threat that we would have to deal with sooner or later, but allows us to develop skills and confidence that will hold us in good stead in other struggles. It offers a clear, measurable objective for which we are not relying on help from on high, but on our own individual and collective capabilities; as such, a successful outcome will tend to show not only that there is a point to actually getting out and resisting (rather than just bandying about the word ‘resistance’ and not actually doing anything of consequence), and that we don’t need benevolent members of the ruling class to fight our battles for us. All these are valuable lessons that help to hasten the day on which really large-scale, mass action becomes a real possibility.

At this point in the discussion, it is hard not to think of all the sage counsel on the hopelessness of seeking to defeat the ruling class, who now possess an arsenal capable of exterminating all life on Earth with enough left over to sort out a few additional planets if the need should arise, by main force (as if anyone were seriously proposing that force alone could do it). Our rulers, they say, are far too well armed to even think of ever confronting them militarily. Despite its superficial appeal, there are a number of problems with this argument. First, the implied assumption here is that the ruling class won’t use violence against us unless we start it. Tell that to the Standing Rock water protectors, or Philando Castile’s grieving family. State violence is ubiquitous even when those challenging the state do nothing that even vaguely smacks of violence. Indeed, people of colour and many others can’t even simply go about their lives without having to factor in the possibility of extreme state violence.

This gets this argument off to a decidedly suboptimal start, even before we take it all the way to its logical conclusion, i.e., that we should simply give up any hope of replacing the capitalist system with something decent and conducive to dignified human survival altogether.

It may not be clear at first glance why surrender is the only logical conclusion to flow from this advice; after all, it is not explicitly barring any other means of struggle, merely those that rely on force. Surely, that leaves numerous avenues open?

But consider this: Let’s say we take this advice and ensure that we conduct our revolutionary activity in a way that not even Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr could find fault with. Hell, let’s say we follow the tactical prescriptions of our eager vanguard-to-be in the ISO and the SWP to the letter. Let’s further say that we actually manage, though a steady diet of tithing a huge chunk of our incomes to the ISO and the SWP, selling their newspapers, and marching up and down the street every few months, we actually manage to get to the brink of revolution (I’m buggered if I know how this could ever happen, and our would-be vanguard have yet to let the cat out of the bag, but let’s just assume for the sake of argument).

So there we are, the working class, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, organised with one sole demand, which our delegates duly bring before the rulers of this world. Politely but firmly, our delegates then say ‘After much deliberation, we’ve decided we’re really going to have to ask you to go ahead and fuck off so that we can set about fixing this repugnant mess you’ve made of society and the planet. And do remember to leave the surplus value along with the keys to the castle.’

Then what?

Does anyone think that that would be the end of it? That the ruling class, who have used their awesome arsenal to bring war to every inhabited continent, who have laid waste to an entire region just to gain control of strategic resources, the butchers of Fallujah, Gaza, East Timor, Vietnam, and so many other places, will simply yield to our democratically expressed will? Will they fuck.

The people of Chile democratically expressed their will to break the bonds of dependence on the US and begin building socialism. The response was a military coup, hundreds of thousands exiled, and thousands murdered, tortured, and ‘disappeared’. The people of Ireland overwhelmingly voted in 1918 to leave the British Empire and form a republic in which, according to the republican proclamation, the whole of the country was to be collectively owned by the people of the country. Britain, with its values of democracy and fair play, sent troops to terrorise the population, and threatened worse unless they backed down. In order to prevent a democratic left-leaning mass independence movement winning a fair election, the United States pounded Vietnam and its neighbouring countries to dust for fourteen long years, killing millions. But we’re really meant to believe they will meekly accede to our request that they give up the lot? That does not seem particularly likely.

If we have followed the prescriptions of so many movement intellectuals, we will be utterly unprepared to face what comes next, and so we will just have to accept that it’s not to be and pack it in. By making the outcome we are fighting for ultimately dependent on the benevolence of our adversaries, we are pledging our lives to a cause that we recognise from the start to be futile. If, on the other hand, along with all the other means of struggle we develop and deploy, we develop and perfect the capability and the will to defend ourselves and our gains by force if necessary, we may ultimately lose, but at least we’ll have some chance of victory in case the ruling class are not receptive to our proposal to make them redundant.

An Intellectual Culture of Verbose Surrender

In the preceding paragraphs, I have at times made quite harsh remarks about fairly broadly defined groups of people (e.g., intellectuals, purported vanguards). Those who feel they may be included within those broad categories, but who do not match the descriptions I’ve provided, are, of course, not included within my critique of those groups. Those who have been specifically identified are merely individual examples of a much more generalised problem.

I’ve focussed my criticism on movement ‘intellectuals’ for quite simple reasons: Intellectuals, both in capitalist society as a whole and in the movement culture that arises within that society, claim and receive deference as ‘intellectuals’ not because of intellect, nor because of the quality, clarity, or originality of their thought, but because of their socioeconomic position within capitalism, which allows them the leisure to read and interpret the works some segments of the left have come to regard not as tools of analysis, but as Scripture. Their knowledge of what Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky wrote is encyclopaedic (though they seem to have overlooked what Trotsky said about how to combat fascism), but their knowledge, and thus their interest and their writing, on how to actually revolutionise society is nil (this latter quality makes them ideal partners for supine trade union bureaucrats). Were it not for their penchant for censorship, they would make excellent movement librarians (and we could use good librarians, because their work makes the rest of ours easier).

Due to their elevated platform, their interests and preoccupations become the interests and preoccupations of a large segment of the movement (going well beyond the negligible membership of their sects). Because so many comrades lack the confidence in their own intellect to treat these talking helium balloons the way they’d treat any bellend talking shite down the pub, we end up with a revolutionary culture not worthy of the name. Instead of a culture that helps to develop the capabilities of comrades so that they are as fully equipped as possible to trust their own critical faculties, and to help build a revolution in accordance with their own particular talents and inclinations, this culture incubates generations of revolutionaries who want to defeat capitalism as fervently as a priest wants to beat Beelzebub, but who are no more able to explain how to engineer that victory than the priest is to explain the molecular basis of transubstantiation. Those who claim the right to mould the culture of a movement must be willing to be held to high standards, and expect to be dealt with harshly if they fail to measure up. Alas, as in the society at large, few of these intellectuals do measure up.


We Can Do Better

We have to do better than this depressing intellectual culture. Fortunately for us (and for posterity!), it is entirely within our reach. With all the world’s knowledge (and, alas, all the world’s bullshit and all) at our fingertips, there is nothing immovable standing in the way of building a revolutionary culture that nurtures all our critical faculties, that develops the ability of each of us to analyse all that comes before us (and, above all, to have well-founded confidence in our capacity to do so), and in which strategic thinking is demystified as the basic analytical process it is rather than some sort of alchemy, a culture where we are all capable of defining objectives and working out how to achieve them (not that this is all that needs to change, but the rest belongs to different – but equally important – categories).

It is within our reach to build a revolutionary movement that does things, rather than just talking about them, and that helps others to learn how to do them as well (which would be a hell of a lot more attractive to those we are fighting for than endless debates on primitive accumulation and the commodity fetish). We have the capability to build all this and more.

But do we have the will?

One bloody well hopes so!




Farewell at Last


CHORUS: So let’s cremate the donkey and then flush it down the loo,
say farewell to Charlie Schumer, Clinton, and to Sanders, too.
Not a glance over the shoulder, or a tear in any eye.
Your party has been killing us, so we’ll let the fucker die.)

You say you’re here to save the day once every four years,
but you’re really just exploiting us by playing on our fears.
When you make it to the White House, you show the world what you can do.
From GITMO to Afghanistan, true colours, they shine through.


Sure, some fell for Obama and his posters full of hope,
but no matter what we needed, his answer was always NOPE.
Didn’t give us all our health care, or repeal the Patriot Act,
but he threw people in prison just for telling us the facts.


When the crisis came to Wall Street, anybody could predict
who you’d hurry to bail out and who you’d happily evict.
When the cops bloodied our streets and put fear in so many eyes,
you offered them more weapons so they could militarise.


And now in 2017, a time when we must all resist,
you just wring your hands, collaborate, and try to coexist,
it’s not you getting deported, locked up, or even shot.
Who cares? You’ll all survive this, though many of us will not.


On Lexit and other Luckups

The Lexit campaign, which is now celebrating what is adherents are somehow convinced is a victory (a conviction they share with every major figure on the European far right), is yet another case study in the crisis of strategic imagination that plagues the left in Britain and beyond.

A brief modern history:

In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the left dedicated massive energy and resources to planning a march on Downing Street and Whitehall. The turnout was indeed massive, at least in the six-figure range. Those assembled marched from one place to another, and then listened to a series of speeches, whilst organisers coordinated the whole thing with the police in order to ensure that any disruption to the ongoing war planning was minimised. Even as the war on Iraq is in its thirteenth year, it is common to hear this event described as an anti-war victory.

Much more recently, the Labour Party resoundingly lost a general election after attempting to unseat a hard-right government by plagiarising its worst policies. Labour leader Ed Miliband, who had done as much as anyone to lead the party into the abyss, resigned. A leadership contest between people who made Ed Miliband look good in the first place suddenly became interesting when Jeremy Corbyn, one of a handful of surviving ‚Labour left‘ MPs, became an official candidate with the blessing of Blairite MPs keen on ‚rebranding‘ the disintegrating party. Throughout what fancies itself the revolutionary left, proclamations abounded that This Changes Everything, and those voices only got louder when Corbyn beat the right-wing competition by an unheard-of margin. No one ever seemed to have any thoughts on how Corbyn’s victory was meant to change everything, even as left-of-Labour organisations such as Left Unity and the Socialist Party seriously considered dissolving in order to join Labour. Since then, the thoroughly right-wing Labour machine has engaged in one campaign after another to undermine their alleged leader and his supporters, and Corbyn’s only response has been to move to the right in an effort to appease them.

What do all of these debacles have in common with the so-called ‚Lexit‘ campaign, which argued that a vote to exit the EU on the terms of the most reactionary segments of the British ruling class would be a working-class victory? Each is an example of a failure of strategic vision that is so complete that the absence of a strategy was scarcely felt.

The most charitable reading of the failure of the 2002 – 2003 anti-war mobilisation is that those who organised it massively overestimated the democratic instincts of the ruling class, and thus assumed that proof of the sheer numerical strength of anti-war sentiment would suffice to cause the US and UK governments to reconsider their war plans. This naive faith in the democratic nature of the society – again under the most generous possible interpretation – was compounded by the fact that the strategic horizons of the organisers found their limits in the terms of their permits and the Public Order Act. It takes a truly staggering lack of imagination to see well over 100,000 people assembled in a highly strategic location for a common purpose and not think of anything better for them to do than go for a walk, listen to some lectures, and go home.

A similarly naive faith in the democratic instincts of anti-democratic institutions can be seen in the response of much of the left to the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon. By the time Corbyn became leader, the Labour party machine had firmly established that the grassroots membership were utterly irrelevant to party policy. Even conference resolutions, such as the resolution on rail renationalisation, that are passed by overwhelming margins and reflect majority public opinion are routinely disregarded by a party machine dedicated to marginalising the majority of the population. Given all this, the only way Corbyn’s leadership could possibly result in a fundamental reorientation of a party that has become the acceptable face of the British right is if there was a clear, well-thought-out plan of action independent of the party to force the issue. From countless discussions in which I have raised the issue and equally numerous articles on the ‚Corbyn Changed Everything‘ theme, it is clear that scarcely anyone was even considering the issue, let alone proposing a solution. Once again, the underlying idea is that benevolent members of the ruling class will fight our battles for us if only we vote the right way.

Even against that lackluster background, however, ‚Lexit‘ is a particularly pungent testament to the intellectual bankruptcy of a certain segment of the left, and is all the more damning because it – like much of the rest of the examples of left strategic agnosticism – comes from those who presume themselves to be the intellectual heavy-hitters of the revolutionary left.

At this point, it is worth recalling a few basic things about what was at stake in the EU referendum. The EU referendum was not merely a vote about whether it might be a good idea to leave the EU at some unspecified time in the future; it was a vote on whether to leave the EU on the terms set by the most right-wing elements of the most right-wing government in recent memory, and at a time when the left particularly in England and Wales is not in a position to exercise any meaningful influence on the outcome.

As such, any attempt at a ‚left case for Brexit‘ cannot merely point out that the EU is an undemocratic, unaccountable, neoliberal capitalist institution with the blood of thousands of refugees on its hands. That it undeniably is, but it does not automatically follow from that the UK leaving the EU under the current circumstances will necessarily improve things, or even that Brexit under current conditions will not make things worse. Anyone wishing to claim that Brexit in this context will improve the situation in Britain and/or Europe as a whole must provide actual argument in support of that assertion. They must explain how Brexit can be beneficial from a left perspective and how the left can avert the obvious dangers of making such a substantial institutional shift under a right-wing government. This is the bare minimum that one must offer in order to make a case for ‚Lexit‘ that is worthy of being taken seriously.

What is truly remarkable is that, not only did no Lexit advocate ever attempt to address these basic questions – the indispensable starting point of any strategic analysis of the referendum – the questions do not even appear to have occurred to those purporting to make a left case for Brexit. Nor has anyone attempted to argue against the importance of these questions either in the countless debates in which I’ve participated or any of the pro-Lexit articles that have been published. The extent of the analysis, such as it is, has been ‚The EU is shit; therefore, leaving is good no matter what the circumstances‘. One could just as reasonably argue that, since Ryanair is crap, the only thing for it is to jump out of the plane 30,000 feet over Yeovil without a parachute.

This is strategic incompetence on a positively epic scale. The basic questions that Lexit advocates never even acknowledged are not arcane considerations that only a Clausewitz scholar would think to raise. They are questions we all ask and answer on a daily basis when faced with a decision: What are the likely consequences? Given that, which is the better option? What will I need to do in order to see that it turns out the way I want? Yet, these common-sense questions elude those who presume themselves the intellectual vanguard of the movement. To be sure, it is not a good look.

In assessing what our response to something like the EU referendum should be, it is essential to have as clear a picture as possible of the relevant factors: Why does this referendum exist? Is it the result of working-class struggle from below or has it been imposed from above? What forces are arrayed on each side? Who is in the best position to take advantage of each result? Who has the most to fear from each? Which option offers the left the most favourable conditions, given the current state of left organising?

By none of these strategic measures did it make even the slightest bit of sense for the left to support the UK leaving the EU at this time. This referendum was not the fruit of struggle from below; it was imposed in order to settle a disagreement within the ruling class, between the modernising, internationally orientated élites who seek to take advantage of Britain’s status as a subaltern imperial power at the interface between the US and the EU, and the more reactionary, traditionalist sector who think that everything would be better if the UK simply pretended that the sun never set on it, and who rely to a much greater extent on mobilising xenophobic and white nationalist sentiment in order to push their reactionary agenda.

On the former side, we have David Cameron, much of the Labour Party, the trade union bureaucracy, and the bulk of the multinational corporations; on the latter, we have the likes of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Ian Duncan-Smith, UKIP, and virtually every fascist group in the UK. Given this array of forces, the most reactionary segment of the ruling class was poised to benefit from a leave vote; it is they who have pushed the issue for decades and almost certainly have detailed plans at the ready for the event of Britain’s departure from the EU. They have prepared this pitch, and given the current government, they were obviously going to supply the umpires and the ball as well.

It is an utterly trivial matter to see who will have the most to fear from the triumph of the reactionaries: migrants, both EU and non-EU, BME communities, actual and suspected Muslims, unemployed workers and people with disabilities, and the working class more generally.

For the left, the strategic question posed by the referendum was, thus, whether to maintain an unfavourable but relatively stable status quo in hope of regrouping and building the strength needed to take the initiative with some hope of success, or to opt for a dynamic situation in which the most reactionary sectors of society would have well-nigh unprecedented opportunities to create facts on the ground.

It is certainly possible to come out ahead from a position of great weakness. The history of revolutionary movements and guerrilla resistance offers plenty of examples. But it as at least as possible to be crushed like an Ewok under an anvil. The riskier option can pay off – sometimes – but those advocating it have the responsibility to go into some detail about how they propose to go about it. To do so, by definition, it is necessary to acknowledge the reality of one’s own weakness and the inherent risks, and to base one’s plans on those realities rather than vague hopes and platitudes about faith in the working class.

Not only did Lexit advocates fail to offer even the beginnings of a plan, by and large, they refused to acknowledge the risks inherent in handling a win to reaction or the position of weakness in which the left finds itself.

It is long past time for accountability. The same self-styled leaders who called on the working class to walk into a dangerously volatile situation in which reactionaries held the initiative with no plan and no ideas are the same people who regularly insist that a quick A – B march is the miracle cure for everything. They are the same ‚leaders‘ who measure success in terms of turnout rather than results, and who believe the police when they claim a fascist rally has been cancelled. And when proven utterly wrong, they are the ‚leaders‘ who change the subject and accuse critics of ’sectarianism‘.

We now find ourselves, following the narrow plurality for Leave in the EU referendum, in the dangerously volatile situation that these ‚leaders‘ claimed would be a good thing for unspecified reasons, And we must think and act quickly if the worst is to be averted.

But whatever hope we have of avoiding a massive deterioration in the situation will prove illusory if we allow those whose utter incompetence and refusal to admit mistakes got the left into the sorry state it’s in to continue acting as if they had any credibility. It is long past time the left as a whole recognised these leaders for the liability they are and sought a new approach.

For the next time you hear about rejected asylum claims

If you want to know how credible official determinations on asylum claims are, it’s worth looking at the factors the relevant UK statute itself (s 8 Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004) gives as ’specified types of behaviour‘ supporting a finding that a refugee’s account is not to be believed:

► failure without reasonable explanation to produce a passport on request;‘

If you think you’d be in danger if returned to your country of origin, would you give the authorities – whom you have no reason to trust and every reason to suspect – a document that makes it easy to send you back?

‚► production of a document that is not a valid passport as if it were. Note: there is no „reasonable explanation defence“ in this instance;‘

See above. Plus, falsified papers may be the only way for some people to be able to leave their country safely (or at all). It’s also not exactly unheard of for a state to deny passports, exit visas, etc. to people it’s persecuting in order to prevent them evading persecution. There are so many reasonable explanations for this in the context of running for one’s life that one can’t help but suspect that that is the whole reason a ‚reasonable explanation defence‘ is not permitted in this case.

‚► destruction, alteration or disposal of a passport, ticket or other travel document without reasonable explanation;‘

See above. And, of course, with all these ‚reasonable explanation‘ exceptions, it’s worth remembering that the reasonableness of one’s explanation will be assessed by people who have never even seriously contemplated how they’d go about fleeing the country if they were facing persecution. The courts have said that caseworkers shouldn’t base these determinations on what someone ‚genuinely fleeing for their life‘ (etc) would do, but decision-makers faced with situations so radically outside their experience can hardly do anything BUT rely on prejudice.

‚► failure without reasonable explanation to answer a question asked by a deciding authority;‘

This is so broad that it could be used to stitch up refugees by asking them unreasonable questions (humiliating, based on false premises, so vague as to be incomprehensible, irrelevant, invasion of privacy, etc etc etc) and then rubbishing their claims based on their supposed failure to answer the question to the caseworker’s satisfaction.

‚► failure to take advantage of a reasonable opportunity to make an asylum or human rights claim while in a safe country;‘

‚Safe country‘ does not mean that the country is necessarily safe. It simply means it’s been declared safe by governments looking to limit the number of successful asylum claims. Plus:

1. If you’re desperate to avoid being sent home because you have reason to believe you or your family will come to harm, and you’ve heard that country A will use any excuse to reject an asylum claim, but country B is more likely to give refugees a fair go, are you going to make your claim in country A merely because it happens to be on a list of ’safe countries‘ that you’ve never seen? Even though you have a much greater chance of being sent back to death or torture?

2. Running for your life isn’t the same thing as moving house to take a new job. You aren’t necessarily going to have a lot of time to prepare and make sure you’ve got the money and contacts you need in order to make a go of it. You probably don’t even speak the language (how many people would be conversant in every local language they’d encounter fleeing from Syria to, say, Britain by the overland route?).

You have to consider how you’ll live wherever you end up settling. If you know that one country has an established community of people who come from the same country as you and share your language and culture, that is an essential lifeline. It’s the difference between arriving penniless in a strange place and having to navigate the legal system and everything else with no assistance and no local knowledge, and having people who speak your language who will be able to give you a hand in making sense of it all.

‚► failure to make an asylum or human rights claim until notified of an immigration decision, unless the claim relies wholly on matters arising after the notification;‘

Again, if you’re fleeing for your life, you’re going to want to stay away from the place you’re fleeing from for as long as possible. If you can do that without having a punt with authorities you know nothing about and have no reason to trust (and thus risking deportation), chances are you’ll at least consider it. Once again, we have an arbitrary bullshit factor that makes perfect sense to bureaucrats, but has nothing to do with the reality of running for one’s life.

‚► failure to make an asylum or human rights claim before being arrested under an immigration provision, unless there was no reasonable opportunity to claim before the arrest or the claim relies wholly on matters arising after the arrest. ‚

See above.
These are the sorts of factors that can lead to people being sent back to countries they’ve taken considerable risks to get away from. Keep that in mind the next time your hear about asylum claims that are denied for lack of credibility.

CounterPunch or Suckerpunch?

How ‚America’s Best Political Newsletter‘ Mainstreams the Far Right


CounterPunch, which bills itself as ‚America’s best political newsletter‘, offering ‚independent investigative journalism‘, tends to figure quite prominently in the reading lists of left-leaning activists, who doubtlessly appreciate its consistent antiwar stance, its critical analysis on US economic and foreign policy and US-sponsored Israeli apartheid, and the regular contributions from such leading Left writers as John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Paul Street, Jeremy Scahill, and Tariq Ali. Indeed, CounterPunch generally tends to be thought of as a Left media outlet. However, in writing for, and sharing articles published on, CP, Leftists are unwittingly helping to promote the agenda of the far right. Continue reading →

Your Suffering Isn’t a Bug – It’s a Feature

I still see claims that ‚austerity‘ isn’t working. This is problematic in two respects: For one thing, the term ‚austerity‘ itself is an utter lie. This isn’t about everyone having to tighten their belts in a time of generalised scarcity – it’s about robbing workers (employed and unemployed) of basic necessities in a time of highly concentrated opulence. ‚Austerity is a dangerous euphemism because it conceals what is actually going on.

‚Not working‘ is no better, because it accepts the official narrative that the purpose of these murderous cuts was to bring about an economic recovery and all good things. That’s nonsense. You don’t bring about an economic recovery by putting more and more people out of work, forcing millions of unemployed people and people with disabilities to go without anything at all because they didn’t look hard enough for jobs that don’t exist, and then making those same unemployed people available as an unpaid forced labour pool for private industry. If the idea were to bring about some sort of genuine economic recovery, these policies would have been abandoned the minute it became unmistakably clear that that isn’t happening.

And yet the consensus of all the major parties is that the cuts must go on. If there’s such broad agreement amongst the ruling class that something must go on, obviously it’s having the desired effect. It’s just that they haven’t been honest about the desired effect, which wouldn’t exactly be the first time the ruling class ever told a porkie.

Plus, haven’t we been hearing that the economy is much better now, that catastrophe has been averted, etc. etc.? If these were measures put in place to deal with a current crisis – and not the logical continuation of policies going back three decades – surely the reaction to this news would be general celebration and an abandonment of policies that did what was needed, allowing us all to return to better times.

And yet that’s not happening. In fact, the reverse is the case, the Tories are proceeding to deepen the cuts, as the Labour Party had also promised to do. Clearly, then, the ruling class are well chuffed with the effects that ‚austerity‘ is having, and want to continue.

This is not just an issue because ruling class propaganda happens to be false. This has created an utterly inaccurate framework of debate that often goes unquestioned by those fighting against the cuts. The kind of fightback that is needed will not be achieved by accepting a framework that implicitly assumes good faith and benevolent intent on the part of the ruling class, but only by framing the issue with language that makes it clear that working class suffering isn’t a byproduct of these policies, but the intended goal.

General Election 2015: A Post Mortem

The one thing about the pre-election predictions to come true – apart from the utter, and utterly well-deserved, collapse of the Labour Party in Scotland – is that the Tories are back in Downing Street. They did not, however, make it in by either of the two expected mechanisms, i.e., a Labour government continuing and deepening Tory policies, or Ed Miliband offering No. 10 to his Tory comrades in order to avoid dealing with the SNP. No, in the face of Electoral Calculus predictions that there would be a 90 % chance of a hung parliament, and with the votes of 20.8 % of the electorate, they managed an outright majority.

Because the Labour leadership and the dominant media are already imposing their preferred narrative, it is imperative that we work out what really happened, why, and what to do about it before that narrative is inducted into the Order of Received Truths.

Time and again, we find at times like these that Labour are capable of comprehending defeats in only one way: ‚We weren’t right-wing enough to be „electable“. In one recent article in the Guardian, we learn that Labour’s problem is that they didn’t embrace the legacy of Tony Blair (an odd claim, since the only part of the legacy they don’t embrace is the toxic figure of Tony Blair himself). Another version, which went on sale even before this dismal result, is that the Sun, Mail, Times, and Telegraph sabotaged Labour’s chances by making Ed Miliband look like an amalgam of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, and Salvador Allende in disguise (the intended conclusion being that Labour should position themselves so far to the right that Murdoch and his cohorts endorse them as the only way to block the incipient communism of the Conservatives).

These narratives prove only that even the most obvious writing on the wall can be missed by someone who is paid to miss it.

Look at all one has to overlook in order for this version to rise beyond the level of a particularly overdone Frye & Laurie sketch: For one thing, we have to overlook the entire framework in which this campaign was contested – to the extent it can said to have been contested at all! – between Labour and the Tories. To borrow John Kerry’s phrase from his 2004 campaign in the US, this was not about two competing visions of how to run the country, but ‚who is in a position to execute‘. This election did not see Labour actually oppose the policies whose devastating results their house organ, the Mirror, has regularly attacked. Yes, Labour belatedly expressed rhetorical support for the popular demand to abolish the bedroom tax (whilst their councillors pledged to continue evicting those who don’t pay it), but they also pledged to lower the benefit cap outside of London, which would result in families with three or more children losing their housing benefit altogether – effectively the end of social housing. And yes, they pledged to ban ‚exploitative‘ zero-hour contracts, but only for people who manage to stay in the same job for three months (rendering the measure meaningless). Their perfunctory nod to the 80% of Britons who want to see the rail service renationalised was a wasteful tender process in which the public sector would compete with the spivs who have been enriching themselves off of public subsidies for years and provide one of the worst, and most expensive, rail services in Western Europe. On the overall cuts régime that is pervasively misnamed ‚austerity‘, they pledged no cuts in a ‚protected area‘ that did not include such essentials as housing benefit, unemployment benefit, social care, council housing, or tertiary education.

Labour actually echoed Tory positions on workfare, benefit sanctions, and the maintenance of the Trident WMD programme, and in portraying Scottish voters as pernicious interlopers in what supposedly is their own country. On immigration, they might as well have promised to hand the UKBA over to Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin.

Their response to one of the most hated governments in a generation was the political equivalent of a backward defensive.

Labour made no efforts to challenge the Big Lies of the past five years (and indeed of much of the 25 years preceding them). Their statements on unemployment were premised on the idea of unemployed workers as layabouts who just don’t want to take advantage of all the work available, even though there are over two unemployed people for every available job. Their immigration rhetoric was based on scapegoating immigrants for economic problems when the evidence is that immigration actually creates jobs and generates tax revenues.

No rebuke was forthcoming when Rachel ‚Tougher on Benefits than IDS‘ Reeves declared that Labour was not interested in representing those most thoroughly screwed by thirty years of ‚austerity‘ – the unemployed and those on benefit. Given the turnout, is it really implausible that poor people simply took her at her word?

If Eds Miliband and Balls were Pakistani cricketers, they’d have been done for match fixing.

Labour’s perennial journey to the right is conventionally justified by appeals to ‚electability‘. This is a concept that requires unpacking. The most recent British Social Attitudes Report (BSAR), the most comprehensive study of its kind in the UK, provides a worthwhile background for this unpacking. The authors of the 2013 study, the most recent available, found it worth noting at the outset that three decades of short, sharp shock therapy (aka ‚austerity‘) had not succeeded in fundamentally changing the political instincts of the majority. Depending on how the questions were phrased, between 60 and 80 % opposed benefit cuts. Over 80 % considered inequality one of the most pressing problems of the day and agreed that it was the responsibility of government to do something about it, including by direct intervention in the economy. Britain is one of many countries where the majority of the population is significantly to the left of the political class.

Even more notable are the answers of what we might call ‚knowledge questions‘. From these answers, we learn that the vast majority actually believe the dominant – and patently false – stories that benefit fraud is a major problem and that there are jobs for everyone who needs one. This, in itself, is not surprising, since the dominant media have done nothing to correct these official lies, which are promoted not only by the government, but the Labour Party. What is interesting is that these figures mean that there is substantial overlap between people who believe the lies and people who oppose benefit cuts. In other words, they believe the mendacious public rationales for these policies, but oppose the policies these lies are meant to justify.

The Labour leadership are certainly aware of these results. All the major parties employ people whose entire job is to know these things. They know, in other words, that the best bet to win an election against a hated right-wing government is to come out against the signature policies of that government, breaking with their Thatcherite tradition. But they didn’t do that, in the name of ‚electability‘, and now they are talking about becoming even more Tory than the Tories, in the name of ‚electability‘.

‚Electability‘, then, means standing for the exact opposite of what over 60 % of Britons want.

This may seem an odd strategy at first glance, but there are definite advantages that have led alleged ‚centre-left‘ parties from Germany to Chile to adopt it. The underlying premise of this strategy is that voter abstention is beneficial and worth promoting. If there’s no viable alternative going, there’s no need to offer one. If the majority have no electoral home for their left-of-centre instincts, if there is no major party that promises to act in their economic interests, they will increasingly give the polls a miss, allowing the major parties to fight over affluent voters.

The official narrative of the recent general election concentrates on the unexpected Tory majority, and discourages any inquiry going beyond that superficial fact.

Because if we actually look beyond the gross election results that don’t take account of voter turnout, to look at the net results, unfiltered by first past the post and not distorted by the omission of the massive abstentionist contingent, we find that there has been no increase in support for the Tories. Their electoral support amounted to 20.8 %, which closely resembles the proportion of the population with a personal wealth upwards of £ 600,000 a year (17 % according to the Office of National Statistics) (1). We also find that the Greens, who stood on an anti-cuts manifesto, made significant gains that only did not equal seats in Westminster because of the FPTP system. We find that – as even the New York Times noticed – it was the leftmost candidates who made the biggest gains. We also have to ignore what happened in Scotland, where there is an alternative to the cuts regime that has demonstrated that it is serious and responsive to popular pressure. Labour’s biggest defeat was at the hands of a party that positioned itself to the left of them.

It should come as no surprise that we are not being invited to take a closer look at Scotland. We’re meant to blame them for spoiling Labour’s chances and to be offended at their ingratitude towards governments that ignore them until it’s time to collect Scotland’s subsidy to the City, or to patronise them for not supporting Jim Murphy’s Labour or Tommy Sheridan’s SSP.

It has been popular in the dominant narrative to use the word ’nationalist‘ to dismiss what is happening in Scotland, thus avoiding the danger that people in England and Wales might actually learn from it.

All of these efforts to dismiss the developments of recent years in Scotland merely confirm that Scotland is the political story of note in Britain. Scotland is the most dynamic part of the as-yet-United Kingdom. All forms of political participation, electoral and otherwise, are growing rapidly in Scotland whilst they stagnate and decline in England and Wales. It is the Scottish left that has made tangible gains and protected past ones whilst the left in England and Wales are fragmented and slow to mount a fightback.

It is popular in certain sectors of the English left to echo the disgraced former leader of One Nation Labour in declaring that the Scottish independence movement and the post-Vow explosion in support for the SNP is simply ’nationalism‘, because Scottish independence obviously involves the creation of a nation state. With the same intellectual rigour and depth of analysis, one could claim that a dentist who extracts an infected molar has jumped on the pro-tooth gap bandwagon.

Apart from being breathtakingly shallow and ahistorical, the illogic in this analysis lies in its conflation of the means with the end. Rather than ask who in Scotland is supporting independence, why they are dissatisfied with the current situation, and what sort of society they hope to build in an independent Scotland, we get independence = nationalism = bad.

For the sake of the future of the left in England and Wales (and elsewhere), one hopes we might do a bit better than that. Rather than lecturing the Scottish left – which overwhelmingly supported the Yes vote and favoured the SNP in this election on tactical grounds – we should be asking why the Scottish working class is so remarkably politically active whilst an atmosphere of resignation and cynicism prevails in so many of their English and Welsh counterparts.

Independence is not a live issue in Scotland because people there suddenly discovered a fervent love for thistles, haggis, and Saltires. When that was what independence was about – in the early days of the SNP- independence barely registered in Scottish politics because one didn’t need a separate state for those things, and the people for whom those were the most pressing concerns were and are, by and large, satisfied with things as they were. As Tartan Tories, the SNP were a niche vote that didn’t connect with popular interests and aspirations to form a real social movement.

The SNP – and the issue of independence – gained relevance as a shield against the worst depredations of successive Thatcherite governments, a way of ensuring that people in Scotland had at least some political representation in a UK where their votes did not – and do not – count. The increasing support for independence rather than limited autonomy grew from the realisation that only so much could be achieved at the Scottish level as long as the central government was dominated by right-wing votes from England.

In short, what is dismissed as mere ’nationalism‘ is in reality the realisation that, in the existing political configuration, the right-wing hold on politics is unbreakable, by design.

To my mind, the politicisation in Scotland is the result of what might be called a ‚gateway demand‘, a simple demand, easily understood, within reach, that gave working-class people an occasion to deliberate seriously, individually and collectively, about what kind of society they wanted. Independence is merely the most readily available mechanism to make that political transformation feasible. Under other circumstances, it might have been federalism or union with France, but under the existing conditions, it ended up being independence.

And this is why – despite the odd asinine claim to the contrary – the British ruling class was and is terrified of the prospect of the breakup of the UK. Everyone from Labour and the Tories to the Civil Service, major banks, and the BBC, as well as virtually every mass-circulation newspaper in the country joined the scare campaign against independence. The spectre of ordinary people becoming politicised and trying to build a better society is something the ruling class have been trying to eradicate for over a generation (since Thatcher ended the era of co-option), and just as they thought they’d sorted it, it came back to life with a Scottish accent.

It is no coincidence that Scotland is the one place where popular disgust with Unpaid Labour did not help the Tories – it was the one place where there was an alternative that enjoyed mass confidence.

That the real difference between England and Scotland is not a fundamental difference on social and economic policy, but the availability of an alternative, can be seen from the reaction to the leaders‘ debates. After years of being told that the SNP was made up of armour-plated, genetically modified blobs of deep-fried Mars bar capable only of exterminating the English, millions of English voters got their first unfiltered look at the SNP. The result? Nicola Sturgeon was widely hailed as the winner of the debate, and one of the top UK Google searches that night was ‚Can I vote SNP in England?‘

The official narrative of the 2015 general election is a Little England fable about the fundamentally right-wing instincts of the great British public, explaining why the Labour Party must move even farther to the right in order to be ‚electable‘. The moral is that we on the left are expecting too much of the Labour Party, and that our efforts to defend working-class interests against the neoliberal onslaught are not only doomed to fail, but not even wanted by the intended beneficiaries.

We are all meant to go home and resign ourselves to a life of shit jobs and consumerism, where our chief political activity is swearing at David Dimbleby on telly. We’re meant to learn from this exercise that the Scots are just mindless anti-English fanatics of the clan MacSkaro, and certainly not anyone to be taking lessons from on anything but curling.

If this election had, as predicted, resulted in a Labour government, we would be sold the same moral, packaged in a slightly different post-democratic fairy story in the name of ‚realism‘ and ‚electability‘.

Fascinating how ‚realism‘ requires us to ignore so many facts and ‚electability‘ is based on opposing the demands of the majority.

There is, however, another lesson to be learnt, if only we step out of the fantasy world of ‚realism‘ and the rotten borough of ‚electability‘. People throughout Britain don’t just want a left alternative to neoliberal orthodoxy – they are literally dying for it. Where one appears to be within reach, they flock to it. When they see one that is just out of reach (say, just north of Gretna or west of Offa’s Dyke), they envy it. More than thrice as many people opposed this ‚elected‘ government as supported it. And outside the electoral realm, campaigns led by benefit claimants themselves against workfare, benefit sanctions, and (in Scotland) the bedroom tax have actually been able to force Iain Duncan Smith to dial back his attacks on workers, or neutralised them outright.

We might also learn that we may only be one well-posed ‚gateway demand‘ away from seeing the same effervescence in England and Wales that we are seeing in Scotland.

Another worthwhile lesson would be the realisation, one and for all, that the Labour Party is, to borrow Glen Ford’s description of the US Democrats, ‚the more effective evil‘. A strong Labour Party is one of the principal impediments – if not the principal impediment – to independent left politics, because Labour exist only to domesticate popular demands by scaremongering about the Tories. Their outright boycott of any party even slightly to their left (a tactic nicked off Germany’s SPD), is revealing: They know that their survival as an institution depends on being the only alternative to the Conservatives, and they are determined to prevent any alternative going beyond the level of a ‚protest vote‘, Even at the cost of out-and-out throwing elections.

At the same time the likes of Owen Jones – who should know better, given that his parents were in Militant – come out of the woodwork to urge the left to change Labour from within. Why? Because as long as leftists are wasting time and energy trying to persuade a leadership who blithely ignore the conference resolutions of the rank-and-file membership of their party, the left can be contained and weakened. Inevitably, some involved in ‚Operation If We Love Him Enough He’ll Stop Beating Us‘ will be bought out, and many others will be so exhausted by the vain effort that they no longer have any energy for political work of any kind at all. When in government, as Johnny Void pointed out recently, Labour go from standing ’slack-jawed on the sidelines‘ to being one more adversary for those struggling against the depredations of neoliberalism.

Labour’s defeat is not our defeat, and whilst the prospect of five more years of David Cameron is horrifying, we should take solace in the further weakening of the Labour Party. Every defeat they suffer is richly deserved, and reduces their ability to act as a bulwark against the left. There will be a lot of disillusionment with Labour after this defeat, and we need to speak to that disillusionment before the Labour Party are able to turn the page on it with whatever repulsive new leader they thaw out.

Five years of Labour in the nominal opposition is five years in which they have to pretend not to oppose the left, five years in which we’re fighting against people virtually no one is confused about. That, too, is a silver lining of sorts.


(1) In an earlier version, this piece erroneously stated that 20.8 % closely resembled the percentage of the population with an income upwards of £ 200,000 a year. The ONS figures represent the most recent available survey.

Ed Miliband: Unconscionable, Rubbish, or Unconscionable Rubbish?

With regard to Ed Miliband’s repeated declarations that he’d rather let the Tories back in than reach any kind of pro-worker accommodation with the SNP, there are essentially two possibilities: Either he’s serious about it, in which case it’s unconscionable, or he’s bluffing, in which case it’s not only unconscionably dishonest, but breathtakingly pathetic strategy.

Let’s think about this for a moment. What everyone who’s been paying attention knows is that the next parliament is going to be so well hung it will probably be used in those revolting knit cocksock adverts that keep showing up in my Facebook feed, and Labour and the Tories are going to be remarkably close (which isn’t surprising, since politically they’re remarkably close).

In other words, Labour are going to need to reach some kind of accommodation with other anti-Tory parties, principally the SNP, if they want to form a government and have it survive more than five minutes. Obviously, assuming that he’s bluffing, Miliband would like to go into those negotiations with the strongest hand possible, which means maximising the number of seats Labour hold on to in Scotland (stop laughing) and trying to gain some ground in England and Wales.

To this end, Miliband announces that he’d rather see David Cameron back in Downing Street than reach an accommodation with parties that happen to be somewhat to the left of his own. Now, what’s the likely outcome of this gambit? For one thing, he’s basically told Scottish voters to get knotted and confirmed all the worst things that people have come to believe about Labour in Scotland after all these years of malign neglect and active attacks on working-class living standards. That’s hardly going to endear people to a party they already have every reason to feel abandoned by, and, indeed, every time he starts speaking in this vein, yet another safe Labour seat turns out to be built on a sinkhole.

Meanwhile, in England and Wales, the only real reason most people vote Labour anymore is tactical, to keep the Tories out. However, that only works if the Labour leadership are in fact committed to keeping the Tories out. The minute Miliband announces that he’d rather see another Tory government than make a deal to keep the Tories out, the whole rationale for that tactical voting collapses, meaning that anyone who is considering voting Green or TUSC, but is afraid of letting the Tories back in, now has no reason not to simply vote for what they want rather than voting for a party who are openly announcing that they’re willing to let the Tories back in.

In other words, the only possible effect that these pronouncements can have is to weaken Labour’s hand in the eventual negotiations, both in terms of the number of seats Labour will need to make up through a deal with one of the parties to their left, and in terms of the level of humiliation that will be involved in admitting it was all a bluff. Neither of which outcomes I have any complaints about, personally, but I still have to wonder what the fuck Miliband & Co. were thinking.

There Were Only 19

(Melody: Redgum, I Was Only 19)

Mum and Dad and Danny saw the Reclaim Oz parade at Fed Square Melbourne
The locals were quite unimpressed.
It was the Nazis‘ all-Australia tour and it was Victoria’s turn to host
There was much rejoicing on the Yarra when they left.
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Don’t They Know It’s Bollocks


(To the tune of ‚Don’t They Know It’s Christmas‘)

It’s Christmas time – just don’t turn on your TV.
At Christmas time, the shite they show’s no good for you or me.

If you just avoid the telly you can spread a smile of joy,
That’s how you keep your supper down at Christmas time.

But say a prayer, pray for the other ones
Stuck home watching Geldof and just yearning for a gun.

There are rich folks on the telly
wanting you to know they care,

come to beg you for your money,
so they can hold on to theirs.

And the Christmas songs they sing there are pure bourgeois wankery

So tonight thank god you’ve got a DVD.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
(because most places there it’s summer, you gobshite)

Where nothing ever grows,
(‚cept the cash crops we all know).

Did you lot even research this at all?

Here’s to you
By now you must want a drink.

Every yuletide they’re here to pimp the poor,
in Africa – the poverty here they ignore.

Here’s to them,
With their exiled bank accounts.

Every year it’s the same old act –
Why don’t these bastards just pay their tax?

Don’t they know it’s bollocks, after all?