Republished, with permission, from Jacobin; a very important piece, I think, about race, guilt, and class politics (albeit from a US perspective):
Guilt is a sad, passive emotion — and it won’t help us build a more diverse left.
It could be any meeting — an ad hoc general assembly, an emergency gathering for immigrant defense, a planning session for an upcoming strike. The speaker is usually white, but not always — and depending on this, their tone is guilty or accusatory.
On the rare occasion that this query is accompanied by a positive proposal, it is abstract, likely no more than a call for reflection. When the speaker is white, it often functions to absolve them of the need to actually do something about it.
Sometimes, on its face, the question is reasonable. Any political collectivity in the age of Trump which consists only of white people is an example of an abject failure — a failure of outreach, at the simplest level, but also a political failure, a failure to challenge the white supremacy which is threaded through American history.
But sometimes the question reveals nothing more than sanctimonious ignorance. It would be hard for me to count how many times I have sat in a meeting, often right next to several other people of color, and watched as someone righteously declared, “Everyone here is white.”
In the moment, it makes my blood boil. As a Muslim American, I have been detained at airports and verbally abused in public places. When I heard the news of Trump’s Muslim ban, I wondered whether I would be able to see my parents again. And I am one of the lucky ones.
Given the opportunity to cool down, I have to reflect on the strange psychology of these statements. Could it be simply the racist assumption that anyone who attends a political meeting and can speak English well must necessarily be white? It is hard for me to read it otherwise, and it is disturbing to imagine the potential consequences of this white practice of speaking for others. We should hope that this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy, alienating and driving away people of color whose presence is erased by guilty whites.
The question is itself exclusionary, in its reliance on the empty abstraction of “people of color.” In your city, wherever it is, there is likely a young white male who is addicted to Vicodin, struggles to support his children on fast-food wages, and is on the verge of eviction. Where is he during this political meeting?
Middle-class activists are adept at deluding themselves with complicated explanations. But it is not a difficult question to answer. Like many people of color and many other whites, he is doing what he can to make it to the next day.
As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “the privileges of white skin run very thin in a country where nineteen million white people languish in poverty.” Every day in a capitalist society is a struggle for the poor. Attending a meeting called by some unknown organization — and we all know how excruciating these meetings can be — will not put food on the table for your children. It will not help you recover from long hours of monotonous, draining work. It will not compel your landlord to fix your broken toilet. It will not stop the collection agency from calling.
This is not an appeal to holding up some mythical “white working class” as the abandoned core of the American masses. It is a simple recognition of lived reality of the working class, which contains white people and people of color, people of all genders and sexualities, the employed and the unemployed — a multitude of people irreducible to any single description.
Many socialists argue that across these differences, all of these people have a common interest — a point easily skewered by the identitarian liberal who asks how the young woman seeking an abortion and the evangelical protester, the undocumented immigrant and the salaried worker, can possibly have the same interest.
But this challenge is afflicted by the same condition it claims to diagnose. It mistakes the casual description of a shared trait with a claim about identity. We all have numerous interests, which are related to our identities but also where we work and where we live. To say that these different spheres of life interact and intersect is a banal truism which neither explains how our society is structured and reproduced, nor how we might formulate a strategy to change this structure.
A meaningful common interest does not somehow exist by default. We cannot reduce any group of people and the multitudes they contain to a single common interest, as though we were reducing a fraction. A common interest is constituted by the composition of these multitudes into a group. And this is a process of political practice.
White supremacy is the phenomenon whereby the plurality of interests of a group of people is reorganized into the fiction of a white race, whose very existence is predicated on the violent and genocidal history of the oppression of people of color. The self-organized struggles of oppressed people against white supremacy managed to significantly undermine, though not eliminate, this kind of organization. The likes of Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos now attempt to restore its earlier strength.
Those of us who seek to change the world will have to fight against this effort, and this will require us to put forward an organization of resistance — one which collectively constitutes a common interest.
This common interest is beginning to take shape as the opposition to Trump. But it must be built further than that, to an opposition to the whole capitalist system. Because it is the structure of the capitalist system which prevents all people who are dispossessed of the means of production, regardless of their identities, from having control over their own lives, and thus from pursuing whatever interests they may have in all their particularity. Monsters like Trump only bring this ongoing tyranny of capital to the surface.
To merely criticize the composition of a political meeting is a defeatist practice. Yes, any anti-capitalist organization must reach out to the most disenfranchised and marginalized of our population. Yes, it is unacceptable if they are unable to speak for themselves.
But what is most important of all is that you are there, whoever you are. What is important is that in a society which steals our free time, leeches our energy, and crushes any hope for an alternative, you have decided to commit yourself to the revolutionary possibility of that alternative.
Guilt is a sad, passive emotion. Its foundation is the wish that the past was different, and the failure to recognize the possibility of acting to change the future.
It is crucial for all socialist organizations, which today find themselves experiencing rapid growth, to formulate means of incorporating the excluded, in all their forms. The current composition of many of our organizations is a result of our lack of a social base — it’s a problem that we must overcome through organizing. But this will mean going beyond guilt and constructing ways to meet the needs unfulfilled in capitalist society, and the means of asserting popular power.
You showed up. You are at a meeting. Your presence is an indication that it is possible to initiate the process of change. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by guilt. Instead, sharpen your analysis and enhance your organization, until your ranks grow so large as to include everyone.
Jacobin: our next issue, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.
Leonie Hannan, Vice Chair of the Labour Party’s Belfast branch, spoke to the unofficial Momentum magazine, The Clarion.
For an open letter from Momentum supporters in Northern Ireland to the Momentum NC, arguing for their right to organise a group, see here. At present the Labour Party in Northern Ireland meets regularly, decides on policies, campaigns on issues and sends delegates to conference, but is not allowed (by the national Labour Party) to stand candidates in any election.
How has the Labour Party in Northern Ireland changed over the last eighteen months?
LPNI has changed in two main ways. First of all it has grown dramatically, from around 350 members back in May 2015 to over 3000 now. There was a first surge during and just after the leadership election in the summer of 2015 and then a second leap in membership prompted by the coup and the prospect of a challenge to the elected leadership.
This first change, in many ways, predicts the second – that the politics of the party here have shifted to the left and members have an appetite for active involvement in politics. It’s clear that people are joining because they are motivated by Corbyn’s leadership, his critique of society’s problems and the kinds of policies he is advancing. When the party was much smaller, it did not have the reach that we have now, it was in some ways quite de-politicised because the focus was trained almost exclusively on the right to stand in elections – which LPNI still does not have and which remains a very important issue for us.
However, despite this difficult context for Labour activism, now we are seeing new members who are primarily motivated by politics and the need to contribute to the Labour Party’s new direction – a direction which they see holds potential to address the serious problems facing society, problems that have been compounded by years of austerity and which have particularly acute ramifications in Northern Ireland.
What kind of people are involved and what motivates them?
Well this is the really interesting bit and points to how our increased membership can contribute significantly to our long-standing campaign for the right to stand candidates. LPNI attracts members from across communities, people who see the system isn’t working for them and who feel a profound disillusionment with sectarian politics. We have trade unionists joining us, we have BME members and many LGBT members too – who don’t always feel comfortable in some of the other political parties in this region.
We have members who might describe themselves as Republicans alongside those who hold Loyalist views and, of course, many in between and this is something quite unique in Northern Ireland. Something quite unusual and yet extremely powerful. For progressive politics to make an impact here, we have to draw people from across the sectarian divide around issues that affect all communities – the effects of poverty, loss of jobs, social, educational and health inequality, homophobia and racism and the continued repression of reproductive rights. The larger a party we are here in Northern Ireland, the more motivated activists we attract, then the greater pressure we can apply on the issue of our right to stand candidates. We are here, we are many, we are diverse and we need Labour representation.
Corbyn won 70pc of the vote in your nomination meeting – more than in his own CLP. Why such strong support?
He didn’t just win 70% of the vote at our meeting, he won 70% of the vote in the election itself. Moreover, he would have had an even higher share of the vote if the majority of our members had been able to use their vote. In the end, much less than a third of members could exercise a vote (because our membership is disproportionately new and therefore found itself subject to the NEC’s last minute rule changes). I just think this shows the way Corbyn’s political agenda resonates in Northern Ireland, which is a post-conflict society suffering deeply at the hands of its own power-sharing government and their implementation of Tory cuts.
In fact, at the nomination meeting, person after person stood up to say why they had been brought into politics (often for the first time and, for some, after decades of disillusionment with politics) by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. They saw this change as offering an opportunity to rehabilitate the Labour Party as a political party for ordinary people; a party that would not put the needs of corporations above those of struggling workers.
How does the LP fit into, or stand out from, the framework of sectarian politics and the constitutional conflict in NI?
As I mentioned, LPNI draws its membership from both communities and provides a much-needed space for non-sectarian politics. In fact, its growth in membership speaks not only to the interest in Corbyn, but also to the disillusionment with Stormont [the Northern Ireland Assembly]. Effectively we have a government made of false opposites – Sinn Fein and the DUP power share, they govern together and they implement the Tory agenda. Of course, engaging with the Labour Party doesn’t preclude having a view on the Union, but in the end the Good Friday Agreement ensures that any change would have to have the consent of the people.
What is your relationship with the trade unions?
We have a really strong relationship with Unite, who provide us with space for our meetings, who campaign with us on local issues and who resolutely support the project of standing Labour candidates in NI. There is really high trade union membership here in Northern Ireland, many as part of affiliated unions and so it is a real disservice to those affiliated members not to have the possibility of full political representation.
Please explain about this issue of standing Labour candidates.
Historically, the Labour Party has tried to remain neutral in relation to Northern Irish politics, preferring to sustain a relationship with the Social Democratic and Labour Party instead. The SDLP are sometimes referred to as a ‘sister party’ and attend Labour Conference.
However, there are a number of problems with the SDLP in terms of Labour representation. First, they do not (and cannot) attract support from both communities because of their status as a nationalist party. They have their origins in the Civil Rights movement and the Catholic community’s struggles in the 60s for equality. Today, their commitment to equality only goes so far, they describe themselves as a pro-life party and their spokespeople have continued a virulent attack on women’s rights by vocally supporting the current abortion law (women cannot even have an abortion in Northern Ireland in the circumstances of rape, incest, foetal abnormality or risk to a woman’s health – interesting considering the recent Polish women’s campaign).
Besides this key issue, the SDLP hold conservative views on a range of issues and just don’t offer a left-wing alternative to the ultra-conservatism of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, founded by Ian Paisley). In these circumstances it is just not reasonable for the Labour Party to suggest that Northern Irish people should support the SDLP in the absence of Labour. I suppose the other simple point to make is that 3000 people didn’t just join the SDLP, they made themselves clear when they joined the Labour Party and I think they should be listened to.
What are the big issues the party, or its members, campaign/should be campaigning on over there?
Northern Ireland is an economically deprived region, a problem which fosters sectarian tension, and has suffered a series of devastating job losses. JTI Gallagher let workers go in May, Caterpillar announced job losses in September, cuts have been seen across the voluntary and community sectors, library service cuts and many more. There are also the same issues as elsewhere with un-unionised labour, which need to be tackled and LPNI is playing its part supporting worker organisation and strike action wherever possible.
The Momentum NC in February passed a document saying the organisation wouldn’t organise in NI. What’s your view on that?
We are writing a letter to the NC making our case for Momentum organisation in NI. The main point is that their decision not to organise is based on a a statement made by a Momentum national officer that Labour does not organise in NI. Well, as I have just explained – Labour absolutely does organise in this region and so there is no reason why Momentum should not also organise, especially so considering the motivation of the vast majority of our members. I regularly get forwarded emails received by Momentum from members in NI who are eager to be involved, the demand is there and it really should be met. Like the right to stand issue, it is a bit much to be told by people in England what we can and cannot hope to achieve over here in relation to Labour politics. Really, the people in England, both Momentum and Labour, ought to listen to the 3000 Northern Irish residents who are telling them very clearly what it is they need.
Northern Ireland Labour Party members protesting against cuts
By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)
“In late modernity, authoritarian movements have arisen again that seek to ideologically combine an organic and holistic natural-social order, a purified nationality, a primeval mysticism, and a belief in a superlative civilisation that was created by an ancestral community of blood.” (Bhatt, 2000: 589)
Post-9/11 sections of the British Left have championed the term ‘Islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) to describe and challenge the surge of racism against people signified as Muslim. This term, however, has limited power to explain the vilification and discrimination of Muslims in the contemporary era both since 9/11 and with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. This prejudice and harm should be understood as anti-Muslim racism. What’s more, Islamophobia’s implied antithesis, ‘Islamophilia’ (love of Islam), is an inadequate basis for a politically progressive anti-racist politics. Much of the British Left – posed as champions against Islamophobia – through its anti-war campaigning at the height of the imperialist War on Terror, identified as allies Islamist movements to the disregard of solidarity with secular, feminist, and democratic forces who opposed both imperialism and Islamism (see Bassi, 2009). This Left not only failed to critique religious fundamentalism, but went further in silencing its critique of religion in general. Through the Stop the War Coalition, at rallies and on demonstrations, women-only areas were organised alongside propaganda stating, for example, “We are all Hezbollah”. Racism as a common sense ideology fixes and orders the world through a hierarchy of assumed and desired homogenised groups of people, whereas a socialist anti-racist politics should understand the reality, and our own desired future, of the world as driven by dynamic exchange and hybridisation of peoples. At a moment when reactionary nationalism is on the ascendancy, it is worth reasserting that we are in favour of globalisation – a globalisation by and for our class. Read the rest of this entry »
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):
Populists High on the Hog.
From the vantage point of the left, from liberals to socialists, Donald Trump is a ‘truth’, a reality, the “actuality of the populist revolution” that is hard to grapple with. The thousands who demonstrated against his Muslim/Visa Ban in London on Saturday, (40,000 to the organisers, 10,000 to everybody else), and the anti-Trump protests across the country, express heartfelt outrage at the US President’s xenophobic measures. It is to be hoped that they continue in the event of a Trump State visit to Britain. But beyond our backing for the worldwide campaigns against the new President the nature and destination of his politics needs serious reflection and debate.
In What is Populism? (2016) Jan-Werner Müller described modern populism as a “moralistic imagination of politics”. Müller’s description is tailor-made, not only for populist protest, the indignation at the ‘elites’, the neglect of “hard-working people” and respect for those who are “more ordinary” than others that marks UKIP and the galaxy of the Continental radical right.
But, What is Populism? argues, it is not just that for populists “only some of the people are really the people”. Trump has passed from the idea that his election represents the will of the ‘real’ American people, a claim to sovereignty that overrides any consideration of the plurality of the electing body, to efforts to bring the sovereignty of law to heel. In this case, the emerging political model, is an alternative to the ‘non-adversarial” consensus in ‘liberal’ democracies.
But Trump’s triumph is very far from a mobilisation against the “élitocratie” favoured by supporters of ‘left populist’ anticapitalism, through grassroots movements involving forces capable of giving voice and a progressive slant to demands for popular sovereignty.
It is an illiberal democracy.
Müller predicts that in power,
..with their basic commitment to the idea that only they represented the people”. Once installed in office, “they will engage in occupying the state mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of anything like a critical civil society. (Page 102)
This looks a good description of Trump’s first weeks in office.
Nick Cohen has warned that the British Conservatives have not only failed to stand up the British Populists but forces may lead some of them to shift in the same direction (What has become of conservatism? Observer. 2911.17)
Populist Calls to Break up the EU.
After Brexit, Trump’s victory has reverberated in the democratic left as warning that, for some, that the left, from its ‘liberal’ US version to our socialist and social democratic culture, has lost touch with ‘ordinary people’. A rapid response has been to advocate some kind of ‘left populism’. For the moment the prospect of a left-wing populism in Britain looks reduced to making appeals to the ‘people’ against the Tory and financial elite. Or to put it simply, using the term as a way of looking for popular support on issues which play well with the electorate. A more developed tool-box approach, perhaps best mirrored in the efforts of the French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to stand up for La France insoumise, ends up with precisely the problem of illiberal democracy sketched above.
This can be seen in the demand, formally announced today, by the French Front National, to prepare for what Marine le Pen has called ‘Frexit’. That is for a process which, if she wins power in the April-May Presidential elections, begins with renegotiating European Treaties, proceeds to France dropping the Euro, and ends with a referendum on leaving the European Union (Marine Le Pen promises Frexit referendum if she wins presidency).
Organising and supporting the anti-Trump demonstration were a number of individuals and organisations (Counterfire, SWP, Socialist Party) that backed Brexit. Trump is famous for his support for Brexit. It is alleged that Ted Malloch, who wishes the “break up of the EU” is waging a campaign to become Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union (Patrick Wintour. Guardian. 4.2.17).
Trump is said to be “cheering on” the populist forces in Europe. While not supporting UKIP the British ‘left’ supporters of Brexit cast their ballot in the same way to leave the EU. The results of the Referendum, it need hardly be said, are probably the best example of the failure of the left to ‘channel’ populism in its direction
Will these forces also welcome the “break up” of the EU? Would they back Frexit? An indication that they might well do comes from the strong support and attendance of Trade Unionists Against the EU at the ‘Internationalist’ Rally last year (May 28th Pour le Brexit) organised by the pro-Frexit Trotskyist sect, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique.(1)
If they take this stand, and these groups have to have views on every EU issue, regardless of ‘sovereignty;’ a part of the British left is in letting itself in for some major difficulties. In What is Populism? Müller asked, by placing the construction of the “people” against the “market people” – or the People against the European Union ‘neo-liberal superpower – will this “import the problems of a genuinely populist conception of politics? “ (Page 98)
The sovereigntist ideal of the Front National is quite clear about defining who the French ‘people’ are; it even intends to give them preference in jobs (préférence nationale).
What kind of ‘construction’ of the People around what Laclau has dubbed On Populist Reason (2005) as an “us” opposed to an (elite) “them” is that?
This indicates the kind of action Marine Le Pen takes against critics (the journalist asks her about employing her thuggish bodyguards as “Parliamentary Assistants” on the EU Payroll.
(1) “quitter l’Union Européenne” Wikipedia. More details in the Tribune des Travailleurs on the ‘Constituent Assembly’which will carry out this process. Mouvement pour la rupture avec l’UE et la 5e République
Local lad Phil Burton-Cartledge (who blogs at All That Is Solid) concludes his series of articles on Stoke-on Trent in the light of the forthcoming by-election:
Previewing the Stoke-on-Trent Central By-Election
Finally, here’s the third installment on the Stoke-on-Trent politics special. We’ve spoken about Tristram Hunt’s career in The Potteries, and we’ve turned our attention to the local scene. Now it’s time to go all Mystic Meg and break out the politics astrology charts. For which party do the stars align?
Labour have got to be the favourites. Stoke-on-Trent Central was born a Labour seat, and the party will be stretching every sinew to ensure it stays that way until the Boundary Commission kills it. Labour has some very strong cards to play. Firstly, the membership. All the Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire parties are active, campaigning organisations in-between elections. The bad old days of nothing happening unless we were asking for votes are long gone. Additionally, the combined membership of these parties are huge. Stoke Central itself is pushing 500, the other Stoke parties are more or less the same and nearby parties are, if anything, even larger. And we know people are going to travel from far and wide to help out. In short, a tsunami of Labour activists are poised to swamp the constituency, and none of the other parties will come close to matching it.
Read the rest of this entry »
Above: what sort of accent would he have had?
Guest post by Robin Carmody:
In October 1984, early in the season that ended with Bradford and Heysel, there was a major fire at Norwich City football ground. You’ve almost certainly never heard of it, because it didn’t happen during a match and so nobody was killed. But it very easily could have done; football grounds had been allowed to decay, partially out of a Tory belief that the conditions in which working class people had to live didn’t matter, so badly that Bradford, like Hillsborough, could have happened to multiple other sets of fans at multiple other times. It is, in fact, a wonder that they didn’t.
But imagine if that fire had actually killed as many Norwich fans as Bradford or Liverpool fans were killed in the disasters that did happen. How would the Left’s response have differed? Could it – would it – have responded with as much empathy and fellow feeling for the dead and the bereaved? Might elements of it, even, have felt that those who died were en masse class traitors, unworthy of equal levels of support?
The unfortunate situation that continues to prevail on much of the English Left is that when many Leftists say that they support working class people who do not speak RP, and the right of those accents to be heard and not discriminated against and perceived as a badge of stupidity, they only mean working class people in areas, and the accents of those areas, which were largely made by the industrial revolution and have experienced heavy non-white settlement since 1945. When it comes to working-class people in areas, and especially the accents of those areas, which were largely unaffected by the industrial revolution and have not had such levels of immigration (other than, in a much more concentrated period the reaction to which has now had disastrous political consequences, from Eastern Europe), they are often capable of the most obscene levels of prejudice, discrimination and the treatment of entire forms of working class speech as badges of stupidity.
It hurts much more to hear this sort of thing from the left in the same way that, even after Maxwell had withered away the paper’s soul and got rid of everyone from Pilger to Waterhouse, it hurt much more to see the Daily Mirror run covertly racist and anti-Semitic lies about the Beastie Boys in 1987, or to equate modern Germans with Nazis in 1996, than if it had been The Sun; you simply expect better, and expect more, from those who portray themselves as against prejudice and discrimination. Portrayal of people with, say, Scouse accents as thick – a partial factor in the Hillsborough disaster (and over-compensated for by the constant tabloid references to “Jamie” Bulger, a name never used by his family, as if they could only counterbalance the years of dehumanisation with an equally insulting faux-chumminess) – comes pretty much entirely from people who do not deny their prejudice, but flaunt it, boast about it, wallow in it. You don’t expect anything else from them. Portrayal of people with West Country or East Anglian accents as thick, on the other hand, comes disproportionately from people who make a great point of how immune they are from prejudice, how even-handed and equal their treatment of others is (eg leftie comedians on Radio 4). But in this field they completely abandon those rules and are, quite often, guilty of some of the most obscene, incontinent and just plain unpleasant abuse and mockery of other people I have ever come across. It is, by those criteria, far more actively disappointing.
And what makes it worse is that the prophecy is self-fulfilling. While accents with left cred, such as that of Liverpool, have strengthened and enhanced, those without are in the process of withering and dying. Worse, leftists from regions such as south-west England have, in many cases, internalised such rhetoric and believe it applies accurately to themselves; in my direct personal experience, they frequently do not speak up against negative stereotyping of their regions and actively join in with it themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
Dear Friends and Comrades,
Today is a terrible one for America and the world.
Unlike too many on the left, I’ve always been pro-American. Pro-American in the sense that I love and admire American culture, the the ideals of the founding fathers and the noble battle by black and white Americans to achieve Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for all US citizens. Most of all, I admire the fact that America is a nation of immigrants – multi-cultural in the best sense.
Now all that appears to be at risk, with the election of a narcissistic, isolationist bigot who quotes Mussolini with approval and openly admires Putin.
Trump may not be a fully-fledged fascist, but he’s certainly giving the far right a major opening. “Trump has shown that our message is healthy, normal and organic,” one white nationalist leader told the New York Times.
Racist violence and harassment, whether or not it’s driven by organized groups, is already on the rise. The past two years have seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Muslims, and the month before the election witnessed a spate of anti-Black incidents in Mississippi–including an African American church that was set on fire and spray-painted with the words “Vote Trump.”
Now the left will have to figure out how to mobilize against the threat of a growing far right. As Dorian Bon wrote for SocialistWorker.org:
[T]he right wing can’t be shrugged off as insignificant, and protesting against it shouldn’t be dismissed as giving the right the attention it craves. The vile ideas of figures like Trump, just like the more developed reactionary filth of openly fascist parties, have to be named and confronted…
Equally important, the right wing’s politics of despair and scapegoating have to be countered with a positive alternative–one that stands for justice and democracy, in contrast to the prejudices of the right. This is why building social movements against all the oppressions and injustices faced by ordinary people is important–not only for winning change on particular issues, but in challenging the success of the right wing that tries to exploit these conditions.
Trump, the boorish, sexist, racist, tax-dodging mountebank, charlatan, billionaire, has been the unworthy beneficiary of working class and middle class disillusionment with both the Democrat and the Republican so-called “establishments”. The dreadful Hillary Clinton was the embodiment of the reviled “political class” that has left blue collar workers rotting in enforced idleness and industrial areas turned into rust-belts. She and her Democrat fixers had privately welcomed Trump as the Republican candidate, believing him to be unelectable. The reality was that Clinton was the ideal opponent for Trump. Much of what he and his supporters said about her was sheer sexism, but some of it was true – or, more importantly, it rang true: privileged, out of touch, uninterested in the day-to-day concerns of working people. Ironically, the self-styled socialist Bernie Sanders would have been a stronger candidate and quite possibly have beaten the charlatan.
Richard Rorty in his last book, “Achieving Our Country,” written in 1998, presciently saw where a post – industrial USA was headed.
Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
Populist and fascist movements build their base from the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the mainstream political process . The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements. Hannah Arendt, echoing Durkheim, noted that “the chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships.”
We have seen this in the UK in the form of “Brexit” and the racist carnival of reaction it has unleashed (some on the supposed “left” to their shame, even supported a “Brexit” vote!), so for me personally, the Trump victory is a second body-blow to come within a few months. Elsewhere, authoritarian nationalist populism is in power (Putin, Erdogan, Modi) or waiting, menacingly, in the wings (Le Pen, Golden Dawn, Wilders, etc).
I believe America will survive and eventually defeat Trump and Trumpism. Your democratic tradition and history of civil rights struggle is too strong to be permanently subdued by this creature. But it will take a revived left, embracing workers of all ethnicities and decent people of all classes an d backgrounds, willing to take on not just the proto-Fascist Trump, but the “respectable” Democrats so disastrously personified by Hillary Clinton. Joe Hill’s famous words to Big Bill Hayward have become something of a cliché over the years, but rarely have they been more apposite than now: “Don’t mourn, organize!”
Remember Shahrokh: build a movement!
Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign officially launches!
The Campaign to build solidarity with the workers’ movement in Iran was officially launched last week on 20 October in London. The meeting, held at the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers heard contributions from a number of speakers from the labour and trade union movement and included veteran Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
Opening the meeting, PCS activist and Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network (IWSN) supporter, Matt Wells outlined the aims of the campaign and the reason for launching it now, at the same time bidding farewell to IWSN, whose work the new Campaign will build on. The Iran regime’s opening up to ‘Western’ Capitalism had not paid off for the workers and youth of Iran and repression of the labour and trade union movement continued. The death of Shahrokh Zamani last year underlined this. His imprisonment and then, what we believed to be murder, for forming an independent trade union and refusing to be silenced even when behind bars, was meant as a warning to workers and youth from the regime. However, we refuse to be silenced inside and outside Iran.
Daniel Randall, activist in the RMT trade union and worker on the London Underground, then spoke. Daniel outlined the importance of solidarity for the workers’ movement; that the solidarity was based on class and not national borders. Daniel recounted how the petition to free Shahrokh and Reza (Shahabi) had been important not just in the aim to secure their release but also in raising the consciousness of his workmates about the importance of working class unity.
Omar Raii, executive committee member, National Union of Students, and NCAFC activist then spoke. Campaigning around the statements issued by the Campaign so far had helped to re-politicise the students’ movement in Britain and also raise awareness of the workers’ movement in Iran.
The meeting then heard from Aram Nobakht, a Workers’ Action Committee activist in Iran, who told the meeting about his shock and disbelief when he heard about Shahrokh’s death. Initially he thought it was rumour. When they were talking to Shahrokh exactly on the night prior to his untimely death “he was, as always, full of energy” But then it became clear that it was true. Shahrokh’s body showed signs of poisoning. But the activists had no time for sorrow. Aram went on to say: “It’s no coincidence that Shahrokh was killed at exactly the moment when the labour movement and its militancy and the radicals have been on the rise again, including daily strikes, including street clashes with the cops, even factory occupations and so on.”
“Shahrokh was tirelessly organising day and night from his prison cell. What made Shahrokh different from other typical labour activists was his obsession with building a revolutionary party. In the past we repeatedly asked him to tone down the language of his articles and his statements. He said ‘I have been sentenced to 11 years in prison, I have nothing to lose, there is no way out of here. … Can you assure me that I’ll be released alive from this prison? If … [so] then I will keep silent. … I don’t want to lose the chance to fight this regime.’
“The legacy of Shahrokh is still alive. … In his last days Shahrokh was emphasising the importance and significance of publishing a bulletin as an organising tool, as an organising organ for our committee. Over the past year we’ve been systematically involved in publishing and distributing bulletins in the labour areas, in areas around factories … along with distributing and handing out leaflets … in defence of other political activists …”
“We do believe that we are [following] on the same way as Shahrokh suggested and this is the only trustful and reliable way for founding a party, a revolutionary party from below … by finding the most militant workers, educating them, recruiting them, that’s the only basis for our future party. And this is the legacy of Shahrokh Zamani.”
Kelly Rogers, BECTU activist and leader of the strike movement amongst cinema workers then outlined how her own experience in the workplace had taught her the importance of solidarity in the face of attacks from the employers on the pay and conditions of workers. This had inspired her to organise with her workmates. Kelly said that while there was no comparison in Britain with the harshness of the conditions faced by Iran’s workers struggling against their employers and the regime, she understood that the attacks on workers come from the same place – the ruling class.
Peter Tatchell then gave a powerful and inspiring speech which concluded with a promise that the Iranian regime’s tyranny would fall.
The meeting agreed to launch a statement which will be published in the next few days and publish a model motion for trade union, labour movement and student movement organisations which is published below.
NB: all spoke in a personal capacity unless otherwise stated.
Affiliate to the campaign!
A model motion for trade union branches, student and labour movement organisations:
SOLIDARITY WITH WORKERS IN IRAN
This branch notes
1. That the July 2015 nuclear deal between the Iranian, US and European governments has opened up trade and diplomatic relations. However there has been no “peace dividend” for Iranian workers, as shown by the shocking flogging of 17 gold miners for protesting against layoffs in late May.
2. The continuing plight of working people in Iran: unemployment is still 12.2%, with youth unemployment at 27.8%; high inflation and unpaid wages pushing many employed workers into poverty; around 18% of children suffering from malnutrition etc.
3. The continuing imprisonment and repression of workers, teachers and other political activists for exercising basic democratic rights such as forming independent trade unions, expressing dissent and calling for equality for women, national minorities, disabled people, LGBTQ people, etc.
4. That despite continuing repression there has been a resurgence in Iranian workers’ protests in many sectors – car workers, rail workers, miners, nurses, gas workers, steel workers, sugar cane workers, teachers …
This branch believes
1. That Western governments and organisations like the ILO agency cannot be trusted to push for genuine workers’ and human rights in Iran. Iranian workers and others fighting for their rights need international solidarity from labour movements around the world.
2. That above all, like workers everywhere, Iranian workers need the right to strike and independent trade unions freed from state control.
We resolve to
1. Publicise the struggles of workers in Iran as well as other battles for human rights against the dictatorship.
2. Invite a speaker from the newly formed Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign, named for the Iranian trade unionist and socialist jailed for campaigning to form independent unions and found dead in prison last year (September 2016).
3. Support and publicise the SZAC’s activities and protests.
4. Affiliate to the SZAC (which is free) and make a donation of £…
(Bank account: ‘WSN’ – Sort code: 60-83-01 -Account Number: 20018467)
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