By Joe Booth (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)
Statistics show that help for young people with mental health issues is dramatically decreasing. A 2016 investigation by the Guardian and 38 Degrees showed that trusts around England were “drawing up plans for hospital closures and cutbacks” in an attempt to avoid a £20 billion shortfall by 2020. This means that young people aren’t getting the help they need or deserve.
Some 75% of mental health issues begin before the age of 18. The charity, MQ, estimates that on average, there are three children in every classroom with a diagnosable mental illness or unrecognised mental health problems. In January, a 16-year-old friend of my family committed suicide: she was severely depressed, and the problems in the world were hard for her to cope with.
She was not alone. 26% of young people in the United Kingdom experience suicidal thoughts. Likewise, the 44% of 16-24-year-old LGBT+ people who are frequently bullied are at a higher risk of suicide, self-mutilation and/or depression. Looked-after children and care leavers are between four and five times more likely to attempt suicide in adulthood. 18.9% of looked-after children below the age of five (19.3% of boys and 17.4% of girls) showed signs of behavioural or emotional problems.
These statistics emphasise that there are too many young people — and adults — who kill themselves, harm themselves or suffer from depression because of living under an oppressive and alienating society. Depression and self-hatred may come from loneliness or pessimism, or from alienation and oppression. We need improvements in facilities to help young people. YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.
According to them, more than 850,000 children and young people in the UK have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. YoungMinds do the best they can as the leading organisation committed to philanthropically helping people, but they are limited by being a charity. Young people may receive help from this charity, or from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), but we also need to discuss and address why young people are suffering, and the ultimate solution to it.
I want to respond to the death of my family friend by learning from her and campaigning for the politics that will prevent it happening again.
We need not just philanthropy but political demands and a significant change. I think we need help groups or services to become politically radical and open to the prevention of young people harming themselves or become depressed. We need a fund or organisation that is socialistic, with an overall objective to understand why young people with mental health issues, and neurodivergent young people, commit suicide, harm themselves and/or suffer from depression, and to consider the solution to it. We need solidarity against the causes of mental ill-health and low self-esteem; we need activism and revolutionary socialist politics.
Brexit opens the way to progressive politics? Even the Stalinists now have doubts
On the day that Britain takes a great step backwards towards nationalism, isolationism and nativism, Tory backwoodsmen, Ukip and other and racists throughout England are celebrating.
Those on the left (and, indeed, liberal-left and Greens) who campaigned for internationalism and anti-racism against Brexit are divided between advocates of giving up in despair and those who vow to fight on to reverse this historic defeat.
But by far the most pathetic, incoherent and demoralised observers of the Article 50/Brexit debacle are the shower of supposed “leftists” who advocated Brexit on the grounds that it could magically turn into something progressive – a “people’s Brexit” or “Lexit” some fantasists called this mirage. Chief amongst these self-deluded idiots were the Stalinists of the CPB and Morning Star, though a few degenerate ex-Trots followed in their slipstream, bleating about how the vote was nothing to do with immigration, but all about opposition to neo-liberalism, austerity, etc, etc.
Most of these fools remain (in public, at least) in complete and utter denial – even in the face of sustained increases in racist incidents directly attributable to the Leave campaign and referendum result. The wretches of the Morning Star show some very slight signs of recognising the disastrous results of their pro-Brexit idiocy. Today’s editorial (which can be read in full here), includes the following admission:
“Since the result of the June 23 vote, almost everything has gone wrong, with the significant exception of the left’s success in mobilising even more Labour Party members to re-elect Jeremy Corbyn in 2016 than in the previous year.
“To those who see Brexit as a victory for narrow nationalism, this is hardly surprising.”
To which those of us who do, indeed, see Brexit as a victory for narrow nationalism, can only agree that we’re not surprised in the least. In fact, we predicted it.
The M. Star continues:
“The vote to leave the EU is interpreted as a triumph for the right which has predictably knocked the stuffing out of the left.
“But the risk is that assuming people voted to leave the EU for right-wing reasons, and that Britain will therefore lurch to the right in consequence, is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Right! so the fault lies with those of us who warned about the inevitable consequences of a Leave vote, and “interpreted” it as “a triumph for the right” instead of deluding ourselves with the ridiculous reactionary socialist fantasies of the CPB and the Morning Star.
On this day of defeat and shame, serious socialists need to recall the words of a Marxist revolutionist who doesn’t meet with the approval of the Morning Star:
“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s programme on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives — these are the rules of the Fourth International” – Leon Trotsky, The death agony of capitalism and the tasks of the fourth international, 1938.
NB: see also Comrade Coatesy, here
Coyne supporters ‘expose’ McCluskey’s ‘skeletons in the cupboard’
By Anne Field
Ballot papers for Unite the Union’s General Secretary and national Executive Council elections have now been sent out to the union’s 1.4 million members.
West Midlands Unite full-timer Gerard Coyne is the right-wing challenger to Len McCluskey, the incumbent General Secretary seeking re-election for a third time. Ian Allinson is also standing as the candidate of rank-and-file democracy.
The basis of Coyne’s campaign is to make right-wing appeals to disengaged members of Unite. Apart from a promise to freeze union dues for two years, Coyne is standing for election on a largely policies-free platform. The vacuum is filled by mud-slinging.
Coyne has homed in on Unite putting over £400,000 into a share equity deal which enabled McCluskey to buy a £700,000 London flat. Coyne’s conclusion: “The man who talks about greedy bosses is a greedy boss himself.”
Another of Coyne’s targets is the £75,000 which Unite lent to Jeremy Corbyn’s 2016 Labour Party leadership campaign, and subsequently wrote off as a donation. Coyne’s response: “I’ll focus on saving the jobs of our members, not the job of the leader of the Labour Party.”
More recently, Coyne teamed up with Tom Watson to portray McCluskey as being in cahoots with Momentum in a plot to take over the Labour Party. Coyne’s criticism: “Unite members’ money should not be used to prop up the ultra-left. This is not what trade unions are for.”
Coyne’s strategy is to portray McCluskey as being engrossed in Labour Party politics and out of touch with ordinary Unite members: “Luxury flat loans and propping up the hard left: McCluskey is losing touch with Unite members.”
According to Coyne, “Len McCluskey and Jeremy Corbyn are yesterday’s men.” A victory for Coyne would be a chance for Unite members to “take back control” of their union.
Coyne’s campaigning methods have corresponded to the substance, or lack of substance, of his campaign. He is not interested in arguing with McCluskey and winning over his supporters. His target is the most passive and inactive layers of Unite’s membership.
In early March Coyne’s supporters staged a publicity stunt by lobbying a meeting of Unite’s Executive Council at the union’s head office, wearing skeleton masks and carrying model skeletons. (Theme: McCluskey’s skeletons in the cupboard.)
In mid-March his campaign mailed copies of a freebie broadsheet entitled Unite Herald to all Unite branches. The broadsheet covered the usual ground and appealed to members to “give McCluskey the two-fingered salute” by voting for Coyne.
In late March Coyne was given space in the Sun, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Express to attack McCluskey and promote his own campaign:
“McCluskey is obsessed with Westminster power games rather than looking after the real needs of Unite’s members. A low turnout (in the election) would suit Len and his supporters. But if the majority of Unite members vote, his time at the top is over. Unite is not the private property of Len McCluskey and friends.”
The response of McCluskey’s campaign to Coyne’s attacks underlines its limitations: McCluskey is relying first and foremost on the Unite apparatus and the United Left election machine, rather than on political argument and membership engagement, to turn out the vote for him.
Coyne’s alliance with the right wing of the Labour Party has not been used by McCluskey as an opportunity to open up a political debate among the Unite membership about implementation of the union’s own political strategy.
Instead, McCluskey’s response has been to argue that a political strategy plays no role in his campaign and that his only concern is members’ bread-and-butter issues. His supporters boast that just 3% of his tweets have mentioned politics.
When Coyne’s Unite Herald was sent to branches, Unite Acting General Secretary Gail Cartmail wrote to branch secretaries warning them that they could be “exposed to legal proceedings for defamation” and also disciplined under the union’s Rulebook if they distributed the broadsheet to their members.
Coyne was (rightly) denounced for having written for the Sun – above all in a widely circulated article published in the Morning Star: “Collaborating with Murdoch is a taint that never fades”.
So, writing for the Sun is an irremovable stain. But writing for a paper which acts as an apologist for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, left anti-semitism, Brexit, attacks on freedom of movement of labour, and anti-Trotskyist witch-hunts in the Labour Party is an honour and a privilege.
(Coyne doesn’t care about the opprobrium heaped on him for having written for the Sun. Metaphorially and literally, it is the readership of the Sun which is his target audience.)
In many ways such examples sum up McCluskey’s campaign: based on a bureaucratic machine, averse to a real debate among the membership, and ‘left wing’ only insofar as the politics of the Morning Star can be deemed to represent what counts as ‘left politics’.
Despite lacking the vast resources which Coyne and McCluskey have at their disposal, Ian Allinson secured enough nominations to be included on the ballot papers which have just been sent out. This is no small achievement in itself.
But while his campaign has challenged McCluskey from the left and raised basic ideas about what a lay-member-led union – in which full-timers are properly accountable to the membership – would look like, his campaign has not really ‘taken off’.
It also suffers from three basic problems:
He has not suceeded in defeating the argument that his campaign will achieve no more than taking votes way from McCluskey, thereby increasing Coyne’s chances of winning. But Allinson himslef accepts that a victory for Coyne would be a disaster.
Nor has he suceeded in defeating the argument that his boast of being more pro-Corbyn than McCluskey himself is incoherent – given that he is not a Labour Party member himself and refuses to even attempt to join the Labour Party.
In fact, Allinson’s support for Corbyn amounts to a particularly crude version of Corbyn-cultism. It is not part of any strategy for transforming the Labour Party. And it defines what the Labour Party is in terms of who its leader is at any particular moment in time.
Allinson also makes support for freedom of movement a major feature of his election campaign. But he is also reported to have tweeted in January: “I wasn’t in Lexit campaign. Did vote out. Most arguments on both sides rotten. Key issues now workers rights & movement.”
Allinson’s current position therefore amounts to defending migrant rights which are under attack as a result of the course of action which he supported last June.
(The tweet is no longer visible in his account. If reports of the tweet are inaccurate, Allinson can correct them and clarify the position which he took in last June’s referendum.)
Unite members should vote for McCluskey. But that is no more than the first stage of the campaign needed to transform Unite into an organisation capable of promoting its members interests both industrially and politically.
This article by David Aaronovitch first appeared in The Times on 15 March 2017. It’s so good that I thought – at risk of incurring the wrath of his lawyers – it aught to be released from behind Murdoch’s paywall; it’s a superb reposte to the”intellectual” relativist apologists for racism, David Goodhart and Eric Kaufmann. The Socialist Party and CPGB/ Morning Star “left” Brexiteers should also read , learn and weep:
Trying to draw a distinction between ethnic self-interest and racism is a highly topical but fatally flawed argument
Let’s talk about whites. Readers of other colours are welcome to listen in, but this is really about us and our legitimate white self-interests, which are not at all the same thing as racism.
We owe this formulation to David Goodhart, head of the demography, immigration and integration unit at Policy Exchange, a think tank. An article by Mr Goodhart entitled “White self-interest is not the same thing as racism” was published on its website a fortnight ago as a curtain-raiser for a report by Eric Kaufmann of Birbeck College London called “Racial self-interest is not racism.”
Goodhart says the main aim of the report was “to distinguish between white racism and white identity politics”. Or as Professor Kaufmann put it, to create “space for ideas around ethnic interests to be more openly aired without accusations of racism”.
The contention here is an important one: that what might be called The Great Upheaval (Trump, Brexit, Wilders, Le Pen — add or subtract as you please) is partly explained by the resentment of majority white populations at the way their legitimate interests have been overlooked. The implied remedy is that their interests should now be factored into public policy, in areas such as immigration. As you might imagine, it has provoked something of an argument.
Broadly speaking, Kaufmann takes the view that liberals have got it all wrong. Wanting your neighbourhood to reflect your ethnic character, he says, is not racist. Feeling “discomfort” when your group “no longer sets the tone in a neighbourhood” may be inward-looking, Goodhard adds, but “labelling that feeling racist risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy, driving white resentment”. Both men cite the work of an American Muslim academic, Shadi Hamid, who has also written about supposedly non-racist “racial self-interest.”
Kaufmann cites some revealing responses when American voters were asked whether it was racist or just “racial self-interest, which is not racist” to want an immigration policy that “maintain his or her group’s share of the population”. Nearly 73 per cent of Clinton supporters and 11 per cent of Trump supporters opted for “racist”. You may have already have spotted the flaws in this argument. The first is, how do we define “white”? To an extent, Kaufmann and Goodhard are guided by people’s own description. But if “white” is the classification, does that mean that “setting the tone” is literally the skin tone? Which, for many whites, could be expressed more honestly as “too many blacks”. Or by “white” do we mean “English-speaking”? Or “Christian”? Or “non-Muslim”?
A clue comes when, in Goodhart’s new book he talks of “white British people, especially those from lower income and educational backgrounds, [who] do still wish to retain a non-supremacist ethnic identity”. He assumes that this conveniently benign identity is threatened by the presence of others who are not regarded as sharing it. And since the top signifier is colour of skin it follows that the main threat to this group comes from non-white people.
As it happens I agree with Goodhart and Kaufmann and plenty of others that the soubriquet “racist” has been horribly overused. When a mild-mannered don is accused of racism for feeling that, on the whole, a statue of Cecil Rhodes is no great threat to humanity, then that’s an abuse of language. And it is also true that fear of being labelled racist has inhibited weak-minded public officials from doing their jobs, from the Victoria Climbié case to the British-Asian grooming gangs. Furthermore, as over the Satanic Verses, I support a robust defence of democratic values and rights — rights that have been hard won.
But when they talk about legitimate white “racial self-interest” in a society where 86 per cent of the population is white, I struggle with their argument. Kaufmann, for example, is indignant in claiming that “whites” must have their own interests if other racial groups have theirs. He cites a Zoroastrian (an ancient Persian religious group) as arguing against “marrying out” to preserve the existence of the ancient religion.
But this is an absurdity, There are nearly no Zoroastrians left. There are quite a few white people. And a similar read-across doesn’t work for minorities. Take my black nephew and my white nephew. My black nephew inhabits a society where he can witness us having an argument about whether there are too many of him. My white nephew has never encountered such a thing. My black nephew has an interest in dealing with prejudice. My white nephew doesn’t. Of course, if he were poor he would be disadvantaged and still white, but it would be the poorness that marked him out.
It is a feature of the times, of course, that a multi-millionaire aristocratic think-tanker, daughter of a 15th earl, can write to the Financial Times (as one did last week) complaining about a “liberal animus against whites” and not be thought eccentric.
White males were declared an “endangered species” in the same week that University Challenge managed a programme on which every person appearing was white and male. We are living through a moment of cultural reaction that has little to do with reality.
So let me spell it out. I find it very hard to imagine any “racial self-interest” that whites might have (in a country where they are, after all, in the majority) which wouldn’t have a negative impact on minorities. If, for example, we fashion an immigration policy that embodies the desire to “maintain” a white share of the population, then that policy will have to be racially discriminatory. Since we are never worried about white people moving into “ethnic” areas, a housing policy reflecting white self-interest could be aimed at keeping others off the list. More of my white nephew, less of my black nephew, just so that some people don’t feel “uncomfortable”.
And when Kaufmann writes, sympathetically, that “cultural conservatives hold elites responsible for enforcing antiracist norms — in the workplace, government and mainstream media — beyond the bounds of what they consider appropriate”, I reply “Didn’t they always?” Didn’t they first tell us that tribalism was natural, as was preferring your own, and that it was better to be educated separately but equally, to want your daughter to marry someone just like daddy, a human right to be able to let that spare room to someone you could identify with rather than a black or an Irish? I’m not racist. I have nothing against them. I’m just acknowledging my racial self-interest. Which is that I’m white. So give me the job.
- Eric Kaufmann responds in a letter published on 19 March by The Times, here
Sarah AB (at Harry’s Place) reports:
You are receiving this email as a member of Unite the Union.
It invited me to unsuscribe from future emails from Gerard Coyne. Looking back, I now see that I received an earlier email from the Coyne campaign on 20 March. It begins:
Your union should focus on the day job – protecting you at work and fighting for better pay and conditions for our members.
But Len McCluskey has been obsessed with playing Westminster politics. That’s why he gave £225,000 of your money to Jeremy Corbyn to get him elected as Labour leader.
Now this weekend we have learned of plans to link your union Unite with far-left political faction Momentum if Len McCluskey is re-elected.
If you support me for General Secretary, I won’t let Unite become a political football. I won’t spend your money on political games.
I have been a member of AUT, NATFHE and UCU – but never Unite. It has been reported that many Labour members are receiving these emails, and that this could represent a breach of data protection legislation. I would welcome more information on this issue.
“The final decision rests there. However, Unite has been provided with overwhelming evidence that Mr Simon’s campaign and Mr Coyne’s campaign have entered into some form of a mutual support arrangement, which has included the shared use of Labour party membership data.
“The Labour party has acknowledged that this has happened, that it was unauthorised and that it should be halted.
This article first appeared in the New European, 19 August 2016:
Martin McGuinness on why Brexit is an affront to democracy
Fifty-six per cent of people in the north of Ireland voted to remain in the EU. The late Martin McGuinness, in an article written while he was still Deputy First Minister, explains why Brexit is an affront to democracy and explores its consequences:
The British Government appears determined to usurp the democratic will of the people here by dragging the north of Ireland out of the European Union against our will.
That is an affront to democracy.
Fifty-six per cent of the people in the north of Ireland – unionist, nationalist and republicans – voted to remain in the EU. That mandate should be respected not dismissed.
However, the new British Prime Minister – who I met in recent days – seems determined to ignore that mandate.
And that should be of no surprise to anyone because this toxic debate was never about the desire of the people. It wasn’t even about Brussels bureaucrats or British sovereignty. It was a power play within the Tory party which unleashed and fed upon xenophobia and racism.
The dynamics which led to that schism within the Tory party are still there. They will continue to influence the Tory leadership in the time ahead and we are the collateral damage.
Because there is nothing good in Brexit for Ireland. There are no opportunities. There are no silver linings. Brexit is an economic, political and social catastrophe.
Due to our legacy of conflict and peripheral geography, the north of Ireland is particularly dependent on EU support.
Between 2014 and 2020, we were set to receive 3.5 billion euros in direct European funding. A sizeable portion of that will be at risk if we are forced out of Europe. Such funds will, of course, not be available at all in the years following 2020 and I don’t think that anyone seriously believes that the British Government will reimburse these losses.
Certainly when I met with Mrs May she offered no guarantees about recompensing the North of Ireland for this loss.
The impact of losing billions from our economy will be a devastating blow in a region which is still emerging from a long and bitter conflict. We still suffer some of the highest levels of deprivation seen anywhere on these islands. We are dealing with the legacy of generations of neglect and under-investment from successive British governments, all of which has been compounded by the austerity agenda of the Tories.
In a society emerging from conflict, we need to be able to demonstrate that politics can deliver for people, that it can bring about positive change and consolidate the peace process. Our ability to do that has been crippled by the Tories and Brexit threatens to make a bad situation incalculably worse.
As well as these direct European funds, we are already losing an unquantifiable amount of private investment as foreign direct investors turn their attention to regions which can guarantee access to the European market.
The European Union has also been central to the peace agreements which have underpinned the incredible progress we have made in the past 20 years.
The role of Europe is written into the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit would directly challenge the integrity of that internationally-binding treaty and represent a major setback for the political process in the North.
It would undermine the all-Ireland bodies and co-operation created by the peace process and harden partition.
It would have huge consequences for human rights legislation which, again, is specifically referenced in the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.
The most tangible aspect of that would be the return of any kind of border on the island of Ireland.
An EU frontier, hard or soft, stretching from Dundalk to Derry is something no one in Ireland wants.
And it’s all very well for Theresa May to say she doesn’t want a return to the borders of the past. But when she was Home Secretary, she was absolutely clear that Brexit would inevitably lead to renewed border checks of some form.
I fear that is exactly what will happen.
And the simple fact is that Theresa May hasn’t ruled a new border out because she can’t rule it out. It’s not within her gift to make that decision because this will be a matter for negotiation with the other EU member states. It will be one of the many prices of Brexit.
And that is the great folly of this entire issue. Brexit may well mean Brexit but nobody – Theresa May included – has any idea of what it will actually look like. It is abundantly clear from the engagements I have had with the highest levels of the Westminster government that they are scrambling in the dark. They have no demonstrable plan to plot a way through this crisis because they didn’t expect this to actually happen.
I personally warned David Cameron nine months ago that he was sleepwalking us all out of the European Union. He clearly didn’t think then that he would lose the referendum but that is precisely what transpired. The British Government recklessly dragged us all into the unknown and they did so for entirely self-serving reasons. It was a foolish attempt to placate UKIP racists and the loony-right within the Conservative Party.
Unfortunately, for us, we will be dealing with the consequences of that decision for generations.
From our perspective, what is needed now is an island-wide approach to dealing with the EU. That is why Sinn Féin called on the Taoiseach to establish an all-Ireland forum to discuss the impact of the referendum. That now needs to go ahead.
The Taoiseach and the Irish government need to play their part in ensuring that the democratic rights of all Irish citizens are protected, regardless of where they live on the island.
Despite the huge challenges Brexit presents, it has also led to a focus on the potential for building a new Ireland.
The people of the north voted to remain in the European Union and we have to explore all options to give effect to that mandate.
A debate has already begun across the country about what a new Ireland within the EU, would look like.
That debate needs to be as wide-ranging as possible, inclusive of the views of a wide range of civic and political opinion from right across Ireland.
The example from Scotland has shown that such a debate can be carried out in a mature, reasonable and sensible manner.
The Tories and the British Government have demonstrated, yet again, that they care little for the needs, entitlements and democratic wishes of the people in the north of Ireland.
I believe the people here see their future as part of Europe. As part of an outward-looking, positive and inclusive new Ireland.
The agenda being pursued by the Tories is contrary to all of that and it is time we had a genuine, mature and rational debate about how we make that happen. regions which can guarantee access to the European market.
By Carrie Evans (this piece also appears on the Workers Liberty website and in the present issue of Solidarity):
On 10 March 1997 something was created that changed my world forever. This is not using hyperbole to illustrate a point. Buffy the Vampire Slayer shaped my world. Unfortunately for me (or fortunately depending on context) I’m not the only person who feels this way. Which is why Buffy has launched a thousand think-pieces.
But Buffy’s originality still stands up today because it took every cliché and trope and turned them on their heads. To the people who still think Buffy is exclusively for hormonal teenage girls who long for the “bite” of a vampire and basement-dwelling neck-beards — where have you been for the last 20 years?
The first time I saw Buffy I was seven years old and BBC 2 just happened to be on. There was this new American show with a stupid name, but the title sequence caught my attention… Episode One opens as a horror genre show would open. A beautiful blonde, with a petite frame and soft voice, wearing a Catholic school uniform, is being talked into breaking into school by her bad boyfriend.
The boyfriend is an archetypal creep who is simultaneously trying to impress a girl with his badness and bully her into “making out” with him. I remember the rush of fear and excitement I had knowing she was about to die. “I’m scared. I think I can hear something outside” says Darla. (“Owww, she’s definitely about to get it”, thinks me.) “Baby, there’s nothing out there” says creepy boyfriend. Then in a plot twist that my seven-year-old mind could barely comprehend, Darla says “Good”, transforms into a vampire and sinks her teeth into creepy boyfriend’s neck. “OMFG! She was the monster!”
From then on I was completely and utterly hooked. I was a Whedonite (fan of Jess Whedon, the show’s writer). I wasn’t disappointed by the rest of the show. Whedon purposefully makes the opening scene a microcosm of what is to come.
Buffy started out simply. Firstly, what if a young woman walks down a dark ally at night and gets attacked by a monster. But instead of dying as she would in a horror show, she kicks that monster’s arse. Secondly, growing up and going to secondary school is hell for most of us. But what if your school was built on the mouth of hell?
Buffy is a typical teenage girl in every respect apart from the fact she is the vampire slayer. The one girl on earth with the supernatural strength and skill to fight the forces of darkness. Horror is a brilliant medium through which to represent society’s fears. It is why “penny dreadfuls” and Dracula became widely popular during the 19th century’s industrial upheaval and intense urbanisation. Buffy is simply the last and in my opinion best example of this tradition. On the surface it a show about vampires, demons and the forces of darkness. However the demons are metaphors for our own demons. They allow us to safely process and analyse our own deepest fears.
For instance, Angel, the love of Buffy’s life, is a vampire cursed with a soul. In the buffyverse the demon takes your body when you’re “turned” and the soul quits you, unharmed. All that’s left should be a remorseless killing machine with no empathy or morality. However Angel is thought to have killed the most beloved daughter of a gipsy clan. They exacted the perfect revenge by putting his soul back into his body to spend the rest of eternity fighting with his demon.
Angel has a conscience. Angel has to be suffering all the time. If he feels even one moment of true happiness the curse will be broken and his soul will be freed. Here’s the real kicker though, guess what makes Angel happier than anything else? You’ve got it, Buffy. Or more specifically, sex with Buffy. In the episode Surprise Buffy turns 17 and loses her virginity to Angel. Only to wake up the next day with a boyfriend that’s a monster. The story is fantastical yet completely truthful at the same time. Many women experience this phenomenon of going to bed with one person and waking up with someone else. The phrase “He wasn’t like this when I first met him” is a cliché for a reason.
Demons and magic also act as devices through which to analyse wider society. Sometimes this takes the form of long overarching narratives, as with the dark and brilliant Season Six, with three separate but intertwining story lines painting a grim pictures of what it’s like to be a twenty-something woman in the modern world. A lot of this season focuses on Buffy trying to reconnect with humanity.
The Scooby Gang (Buffy’s friends) accidentally bring Buffy back from heaven, thinking that they were saving her from a hell dimension. Only her mother has died, so she’s pulled out only to face being the primary carer to her kid sister, having medical debts her mother’s brain tumour incurred and having no prospects except menial jobs and poverty wages. The season is a great big metaphor for the depression you face in your mid-twenties. Buffy is directionless and lacking inspiration. She isolating herself, alienating her friends and engaging in risky sexual behaviour. Meanwhile two “big bads” are developing right under her nose in the forms of Dark Willow and The Trio.
Dark Willow is the storyline in which Buffy’s best friend becomes addicted to magic. She transforms from being everyone’s favourite shy geek into the world’s most powerful and out-of-control dark witch. Buffy is unable to stop this from happening or even recognise it because she is so lost herself.
The Trio is a group of super villains who are in fact just three misogynistic men, who can’t cope with not being popular, athletic or sexy and decide to turned their frustrations on the Scooby Gang. The Trio start out as comedy villains — typical sad, hapless, kind of pathetic, misogynists, but morph into something a lot more sinister. By the middle of the series, one of the Trio has bewitched his ex-girlfriend into being his sex slave. Fortunately for her his spell goes wrong; she wakes from the spell, confronts him with the reality of what he did, telling him that this isn’t just some sick fantasy but that he has repeatedly raped her. He freaks out and murders her.
Whedon and his gang of merry writers often analysed society’s ills in a single episode, often directly critical of capitalism. In the episode Double Meat Palace, Buffy is forced to take a job in a fast food restaurant but soon realises that her co-workers are disappearing at an alarming rate. At first we think the secret ingredient in the double meat medley is in fact human meat, but there is actually a demon who is picking the workers off one at time. In our culture, workers are just disposable pieces of meat; they come, they go and no one notices. Buffy: “Wow they’re all so identical”. Boss: “Yeah they all start to look the same to me too.” Buffy: “No, not the employees. The chicken slices”.
Similarly in the episode Life Cereal, Buffy takes a job in retail and gets caught in a time loop, forcing her to live the same day over and over again. This is a pretty obvious (even heavy handed) metaphor for the monotony of working life. In the same episode Buffy gets a job in construction but is fired because the men can’t cope with her being stronger than them. In The Wish, the vampires work out how to mass-produce and start factory farming humans. They reflect on their activities: “Undeniably we are the world’s superior race. Yet we have always been too parochial, too bound by the mindless routine of the predator. Hunt and kill, hunt and kill. Titillating? Yes. Practical. Hardly. Meanwhile, the humans, with their plebeian minds, have brought us a truly demonic concept: mass production!”
Marx delved into the world of gothic horror when explaining capitalism and often (quite poetically) compared it to Vampirism: “Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”
Another favourite episode was Anne. Here Buffy runs away to LA and takes a job in a diner. Again, she notices young runaways are disappearing with no trace. She follows the trail and it eventually leads her to a church group that are doing outreach work with the young and homeless. But free meals come at a cost. If you allow the group to baptise you, you get sucked into a parallel hell dimension where you are forced to slave in a factory until you die, for a boss class of demons. As a final cherry on the cake for communist buffy fans, when Buffy does lead the factory rebellion, she picks up two tools to fight with — a Hammer and Sickle. Buffy literally destroys the exploitative class and frees the slaves using a Hammer and Sickle!
I don’t think every staff writer on Buffy was a Bolshevik; I think they saw the opportunity for a joke and ran with it. But there were a lot more thoughtful criticisms of capitalism, state power and modern culture in Buffy than in most popular TV.
Buffy was one of the first shows to treat TV as a complex art form, rather than just cheap entertainment. It established a reputation for innovation, experimentation, witty dialogue and meta humour. It broke new ground in what a prime time TV show could do. When Whedon was accused of using witty, pithy dialogue as a crutch for the show, he decided to do a whole episode, The Gentleman, in silence. It is still one of the funniest and scariest things I’ve ever seen. Here, The Gentlemen come into town and steal everyone’s voices in order to help them harvest organs. When they rip out your heart no one will hear you scream.
There is also a musical episode, a few episodes set entirely inside dreams and an art house episode called The Body which has absolutely no score — a first for television. Another stand-out arty episode is Normal Again. In this episode we find out (or do we? no we don’t. Wait, maybe we do? No. Fuck, I have no idea what is going on…) that the whole Buffyverse is actually just the complex delusion of an institutionalised girl. By doing this, the writers were able to tear down the fourth wall and critique their own work without being obnoxious. Psychiatrist: “But Buffy, it all fell apart when you introduced this sister character into your delusions didn’t it? You can’t just invent a sister out of nowhere.”
Breaking new ground was very apparent in the way the show dealt with gender and sexuality. Buffy isn’t just one super-woman in a man’s world. The whole show centres around amazing women. Women who are powerful, intellectual, magical, caring and sexual. Some of them butch, some of them fem, some of them gay, some of them straight. Most of them are a mixture of both bad and good. All of them however, are belittled, talked down to and held back and physically abused by men who couldn’t even dream of being in the same league as them.
Then when you think you’ve seen it all, Buffy goes and pulls the ultimate socialist feminist move by giving her super powers away to every woman in the world. She is no longer the chosen one, nor is she the burdened one. We all share the power and work together. Buffy: “What if you could have that power now? In every generation a slayer is born because a bunch of old men made up that rule. Those were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of those men combined. So I say we change the rule… From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers everyone of us. So make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”
So yes, Buffy may look like a show about vampires and high school, with cheap production and a painfully outdated wardrobe, but there’s a reason it consistently features in “best TV ever made” lists. It is camp, complex, beautifully moving and never patronising. It inspired women and girls all over the world to stand up and be strong. It got a generation of writers to treat TV as art and push the boundaries on what is acceptable.
Forever a Whedonite.
There was a time when no Islamist terror outrage was complete without an article published within a day or two, from Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Terry Eagleton or the undisputed master of the genre, Seamus Milne, putting it all down to “blowback”. Such articles usually also claimed that no-one else dared put forward the “blowback” explanation, and the author was really being terribly brave in doing so. No such articles have appeared for a few years (the last one I can recall was after the Charlie Hebdo attack), so here’s my idea of what such a piece would read like today:
LONDON – In London today, a police officer was stabbed to death and pedestrians killed by a car driven by a so-called “terrorist”. Police speculated that the incident was deliberate, alleging the driver waited for some hours before hitting the pedestrians
The right-wing British government wasted no time in seizing on the incident to promote its fear-mongering agenda over terrorism, which includes pending legislation to vest its intelligence agency, CSIS, with more spying and secrecy powers in the name of fighting ISIS. A government spokesperson asserted “clear indications” that the driver “had become radicalized.”
In a “clearly prearranged exchange,” a Conservative MP described the incident as a “terrorist attack”; in reply, the prime minister gravely opined that the incident was “obviously extremely troubling.” Newspapers predictably followed suit, calling it a “suspected terrorist attack” and “homegrown terrorism.” A government spokesperson said “the event was the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings” and added: “That something like this would happen in London shows the long reach of these ideologies.”
In sum, the national mood and discourse in Britain is virtually identical to what prevails in every Western country whenever an incident like this happens: shock and bewilderment that someone would want to bring violence to such a good and innocent country, followed by claims that the incident shows how primitive and savage is the “terrorist ideology” of extremist Muslims, followed by rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation. There are two points worth making about this:
First, Britain has spent the last 16 years proclaiming itself a nation at war. It actively participated in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and was an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist War on Terror abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister revealed, with the support of a large majority of Britains, that “Britain is poised to go to war against ISIS, as [she] announced plans in Parliament  to send CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to battle Islamic extremists.” Just yesterday, fighter jets left for Iraq and the Prime Minister stood tall as she issued the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil.
It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Britain’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of British bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.
That’s the nature of war. A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.
The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on civilians and police officers to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.
Those fairy tales are pure deceit. Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.
If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.
Second, in what conceivable sense can this incident be called a “terrorist” attack? As I have written many times over the last several years, and as some of the best scholarship proves, “terrorism” is a word utterly devoid of objective or consistent meaning. It is little more than a totally malleable, propagandistic fear-mongering term used by Western governments (and non-Western ones) to justify whatever actions they undertake. As Professor Tomis Kapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in The New York Times on Monday: “Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of ‘terrorism.’”
But to the extent the term has any common understanding, it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends. But in this case in London, it wasn’t civilians who were really targeted. If one believes the government’s accounts of the incident, the driver attacked pedestrians at random, but his real targets were in uniform. In other words, he seems to have targeted a policeman– a member of a force that represents British imperialism.
Again, the point isn’t justifiability. There is a compelling argument to make that police officers engaged in security duties are not valid targets under the laws of war (although the U.S. and its closest allies use extremely broad and permissive standards for what constitutes legitimate military targets when it comes to their own violence). The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is completely inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism,” and yet it is reflexively applied by government officials and media outlets to this incident (and others like it in the UK and the US).
That’s because the most common functional definition of “terrorism” in Western discourse is quite clear. At this point, it means little more than: “violence directed at Westerners by Muslims” (when not used to mean “violence by Muslims,” it usually just means: violence the state dislikes). The term “terrorism” has become nothing more than a rhetorical weapon for legitimizing all violence by Western countries, and delegitimizing all violence against them, even when the violence called “terrorism” is clearly intended as retaliation for Western violence.
This is about far more than semantics. It is central to how the west propagandizes its citizenries; the manipulative use of the “terrorism” term lies at heart of that. As Professor Kapitan wrote in The New York Times:
Even when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetoric of “terror” is applied both selectively and inconsistently. In the mainstream American media, the “terrorist” label is usually reserved for those opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By contrast, some acts of violence that constitute terrorism under most definitions are not identified as such — for instance, the massacre of over 2000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps in 1982 or the killings of more than 3000 civilians in Nicaragua by “contra” rebels during the 1980s, or the genocide that took the lives of at least a half million Rwandans in 1994. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some actions that do not qualify as terrorism are labeled as such — that would include attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS, for instance, against uniformed soldiers on duty.
Historically, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion, but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror.
At this point, “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin skeptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it.
(c) Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Patrick Coburn, Seamus Milne, George Galloway, John Rees, Lindsey German, Peter Oborne, the SWP, Stop The War Coalition, etc, etc.
Above: the threat from Watson’s man Coyne is too serious for “leftist” gestures
By Johnny Lewis
The latest concocted row about an alleged “hard-left plot”, supposedly orchestrated by Momentum and supporters of Len McCluskey, to “seize permanent control of the Labour party” is palpable nonsense, being cynically used by Tom Watson and the right wing candidate in the Unite general secretary election, Gerard Coyne. The claims don’t stand a moment’s scrutiny, but nevertheless the way they’ve been seized upon by Watson, the right of the PLP and most of the media, demonstrates exactly what’s at stake in the current Unite election. And it demonstrates quite decisively why a victory for Len McCluskey is of crucial importance to the serious left, and why Ian Allinson’s left-wing challenge to McCluskey is an irresponsible indulgence.
I was chatting to some friends who are foot soldiers in McCluskey’s re-election campaign and I innocently asked if now Allinson is on the ballot and he’s proved a point will he step down and throw his weight behind McCuskey? I was met with laugher and a look which I can best describe as pity. Not a chance, I was told: he’s out for his fifteen minutes minutes of fame. They also believe Allinson actually thinks he can win (whereas I’d put any statement Allinson may have made about winning down to hyperbole rather than the man being delusional).
Although they were laughing it was clear they are very angry with Allinson as they consider Coyne could take it if he is able to mobilise those who don’t usually vote. To get to these passive members Coyne is relying on social media and will surely see the red tops back him, and if anything will win it for him it will be The Sun. Also, as pointed out in a previous post Coyne will pick up numbers from the old AMICUS section who voted Hicks last time, viewing Coyne as far closer to their craft ethos than McCluskey. Although a Coyne victory is unlikely its very possibility is the context in which Allinson’s candidacy has to be judged and is the source of the anger of McCluskey’s foot soldiers.
While the consequences for Unite of a Coyne victory are not that easy to quantify, the impact on the broader movement is a known quantity. Unite is the buckle which holds the Labour left together: a Coyne victory would see that left unravel. A victorious Coyne would in quick order ensure Unite delegates on Labour’s Executive would vote with the right giving the anti Corbyn forces an inbuilt majority. All this is known to everyone, so why does Allinson continue to press his case?
Given the stakes in this election, the justification for left winger to stand against McCluskey needs to be pretty good. Allinson’s core reasons for standing can only be a combination of a belief that McCluskey has fallen short / sold out the members industrially and therefore needs to be challenged and, secondly, a desire to make propaganda for his vision of socialism through demonstrating an alternative to the supposed industrial shortcomings of McCuskey.
Self-evidently these reasons for standing do not have equal weight: the cornerstone of Allinson’s challenge must necessarily show McCluskey has failed to pursue a militant industrial policy; I don’t think that would be difficult to show – I think it is impossible. Apart from some lacklustre sallies at some of the union’s industrial activity Allinson has nothing to say on this matter. While the industrial ethos of McCluskey’s tenure has been one where the union supports all workers who take industrial action, refuses to repudiate strikes, and has set up a substantial strike fund. Of course it is quite possible to have a different assessment from McCluskey of what is possible but that is a matter of judgement / tactics rather than principle.
On this fundamental issue there is no difference in substance between Allinson and McCluskey, yet the context in which this election takes place means this industrial question is the only conceivable rationale for standing a left candidate. Unable to make any sort of case of ‘McCluskey the sell-out’, his campaign can only turn tactical differences into major concerns and invert the relationship between McCluskey’s industrial record and Allinson’s desire to propagate his socialist views so that the latter dominate.
While my Unite friends tell me that at nomination meetings the SWP and other Allinson supporters have tried to squeeze every ounce out of any real or imagined failure on the union’s part, it is Allinson’s broader socialist musing which dominate the debate – and those musings really are not to be taken seriously. To give one example:
While Allinson is clearly a Corbyn fan he is more ambiguous about the Labour Party he tells us:
‘…if there is a real movement of resistance to Tory policies at grass roots level, “wait for Jeremy” is not good enough when our rights, jobs and services are under attack every day’.
The political literacy of this statement is, to say the least, suspect. To start with the idea that Unite is ‘waiting for Jeremy’ originates from the socialist stricture that unions should not curtail industrial demands to placate an existing Labour Government or, indeed, to maximise the likelihood of a future Labour Government. The idea Unite is being held back from industrial action by the possibility of a Labour Government is palpable nonsense. Perhaps it is a propaganda point to show that Allinson has no illusions in Labour or Corbyn?
Then there is the question of what Allinson calls ‘a real movement of resistance’: now this is instructive because Unite has been at the centre of the People’s Assembly and I think it is doubtful whether that body would have much life without Unite’s support. So Unite under McCluskey has been central to building ‘resistance’ and it seems to me as an outsider it is the cornerstone of McCluskey’s general political approach. In fact Unite has done more to develop political activity outside of the Labour Party than any other union or political organisation. Allinson may well have done this or that aspect of campaigning differently but in the broad sweep of things he can have no serious difference with the present Unite leadership. The final point is his silence on what to do in our failure to date to build such a movement.
While he reckons the best means of defending Corbyn from right wing attacks attacks is to build ‘a real movement’, Allinson has no idea what to do in the absence of such a movement except make propaganda for building one. This of course betrays a passivity towards the Labour Party. While that may be OK for a political organisation it is not OK for a trade union. Whether he likes it or not the battle to support Corbyn and to get a Government that supports unions is taking place inside the Labour Party and among union members – and the crucial job of the left within the unions is explaining to them why they should vote Labour.
The Unite election encapsulates two tragedies for the left: first that a large number of activists think it is quite permissible to split the left vote on what is to all intents and purposes an indulgence, and second that it is the right whose victory is contingent on mobilising sections of the passive membership. Or perhaps the nub of the left’s problem is that few people outside the ranks of the committed really care.