“Heil Trump!” This is what “respectable” conservatives are kowtowing before
“Everywhere you look you see conservatives sniffing the air and catching the scent of the radical right. It tempts them with the most seductive perfume in politics: the whiff of power. Populists are rewriting the rules and conservatives have seen they can break the old taboos, assault the constitutional order and lie with ease. Their suppressed thoughts now look like election winners.”
On the principle of avoiding living in a political echo chamber, I’ve been a subsciber to the right of centre UK magazine Standpoint since shortly after its launch in 2008. Although I’ve never agreed with its editorial ‘line’ (broadly neo-Conservative) it was well-written, intellectually challenging and contained some excellent coverage of literature and music as well as politics. But it’s become noticeably more stridently right wing over the last couple of years. It went seriously down in my estimation when it backed Brexit. The present (Dec/Jan) issue urges readers to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt“. This is a step too far even for me.
I’ve even taken the trouble to send the editor my thoughts:
So, Standpoint urges us to give Trump the “benefit of the doubt”; so much for all the dire warnings about the Putin threat and Obama and the “EU elite”‘s reluctance to confront him. So much for the evocations of “Western civilisation” and basic democratic norms. What a craven sell-out, apparently because “several American contributors to Standpoint … are close to or even part of the new administration.” I note that your execrable pro-Trump editorial closes with an appeal for funds. You will not be receiving any from me. In fact, please cancel my subscription.
For intelligent right wing commentary I’m switching to The Spectator. It would be excellent if some of Standpoint‘s less craven/swivel-eyed contributors (eg Nick Cohen, Julie Bindle, Maureen Lipman) walked out over this.
I’m hoping Cohen, at least, will walk, given his excellent piece in last Sunday’s Observer (from which the quote at the top is taken), on the capitulation of “respectable” conservatives to the radical right. Theresa May and the Daily Mail are two obvious examples. Standpoint is another.
Above: incitement to hatred
The individual who murdered Jo Cox a week before the EU referendum shouted “Britain First” and similar slogans as he snuffed out her life. In court, when asked his name he replied “Death to Traitors.” We now know that in the bag he carried during the attack there was a leaflet about the referendum (from the ‘Remain’ side, but quite obviously not because that’s the side he supported).
Jo Cox was, of course, a well-known ‘Remain’ campaigner and had also been outspoken in demanding that the UK did more for Syrian refugees. She was murdered on the very day that Farage unveiled his notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster.
At the time of the slaughter, it was pretty obvious that the killer was a ultra nationalist, driven into action by the extreme nativist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Farage/Banks wing of the Leave campaign (which the likes of Johnson and Stuart were, of course, quite happy to go along with). But the Remain side pulled our punches on this – mainly, I suspect, because it felt distasteful to seem to be making political capital out of a human tragedy. Even Shiraz Socialist was hesitant about making the link in plain language. The likes of the SWP and Morning Star, usually quick off the mark in pointing out that politicians’ racist language (eg Cameron’s use of the word “swarm”) can have practical consequences in the streets, avoided pointing the finger – for the obvious reason that they found themselves on the same side as Farage, Johnson and Stuart, however different their motives may have been
But now it can be said – indeed, must be said: although the killer is a far from being a typical ‘Leave’ voter (he is a neo- Nazi and may well be mentally ill), he was undooubtably stirred into action when he was by the ‘Leave’ campaign. In the wise words of Alex Massie (one of the few journalists to make the link at the time, though he stopped short of holding Farage personally responsible):
When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’
When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen
Illustration: Steve Bell (Guardian)
The US Presidential election is the culmination of the long-standing economic and cultural grievances of America’s non-commissioned officer class, a subclass largely composed of white men from the rust-belt, whose factories have been asset stripped and sent abroad and whose unions or small businesses, pensions and prospects have been decimated. They are not the poorest of the poor – not even the poorest of the white poor.
But neither was this a revolt led by the white working class rank and file, the many who never fully shared the benefits of life in the skilled trades and ascendant key industries of a dominating economic power. From this platform, they had assumed a quasi-social leadership role over the traditional working class and, through their unions, often fought for broad programs of social remediation within the existing social order that they also jealously defended.
This election was a revolt headed by those who had acquired a modest stake in middle class life and now find that life, and the institutions that made that life possible, disappearing. It is led by white working men whose fortunes have fallen, afflicted by wage stagnation and an ever-widening social disparity in income and wealth that has consigned them to the wrong side of the divide. They prided and deluded themselves that they and they alone had reliably done society’s heavy lifting and were, in turn, entitled to certain expectations. Above all they had the expectation of a well-run and stable social order, an order in which they would continue to enjoy a place of respect and authority and a rising standard of living, which could be passed down to their children.
They had, above all, placed their confidence in the ruling class, who had historically indulged this self-estimation only to find themselves abandoned in an increasingly globalizing economy. This sense of free-fall has been massively reinforced by a shift in equality’s center of gravity owing to greater racial and gender inclusiveness, with which it coincided. That abandonment has become the crucial factor in the increasingly polarized and caustic political conflict, a conflict that can be resolved in a progressive or reactionary direction.
Society’s NCOs asserted themselves. But they did not assert themselves in a vacuum. Nowhere in the developed capitalist world has the left acquired traction. Our manifold debacles need not be rehearsed. Suffice it to say that the left has not provided an oppositional center of gravity that could capture this white working class disenchantment and channel it into a progressive direction.
No one expecting to extract a concession from the system could reasonably vote for the Greens. There are perfectly honorable and noble reasons to cast a protest vote, to put a place marker on a vision of liberation that may yet be. But this is not where concessions are realized absent a massive movement surge from below. And that, unfortunately, does not describe the current American scene.
But the liberal wing of the American ruling class, having neutralized the Sanders’ insurgency, effectively corralled this discontent into the Trump alt-right pigsty, where, they thought, it could be contained. Clinton had something to offer Wal-Mart and fast food workers: a raise in the minimum wage, subsidized childcare, a modified Obama plan. She could offer a path to citizenship to the dreamers and subsidized public tuition. But by failing to derail voter suppression through the South – and even in Wisconsin, and by failing to offer a grand inclusive program of economic reconstruction to restore the white working class and sweep up the multiethnic poor and near poor into co-prosperity, she could not counterbalance the appeal of the far right.
Clinton was perceived, and correctly so, as being the agent of global financial and corporate interests, the very interests that had inflicted this protracted social setback to white workers. She was the face of the status quo.
This is a neo-fascist moment and it is bleeding into advanced economies throughout the world. It was all but announced here by the open intervention of the deep state, in the form of the FBI’s bombshell intervention on behalf of Trump barely two weeks before the election. And make no mistake about it. Neo-fascists, unlike traditional reactionaries and conservatives, are unencumbered by economic orthodoxies and can run an economy. They, like the far left, fully understand that capitalism is not self-correcting and place no faith in markets. They fully appreciate the need for massive doses of state intervention and are fully prepared to blow a sky-high hole through the deficit.
That is why, contrary to Paul Krugman and others, the stock market, after an initial shortfall, began to boom. Massive tax cuts, a protective wall of tariffs, relaxation and elimination of environmental and Wall Street regulations, huge public works in the forms of infrastructural renovation, the promise of a border wall and the spend-up on military hardware all herald and shape the state-led investment boom to come. Caterpillar and Martin Marietta soared. As did Big Pharma, soon free to price gouge without fear of criminal investigation. Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin had field days. Private Prison corporations are licking their chops at the prospect of the FBI and police being let loose on immigrant communities and communities of color. Student loan services and lenders, no longer facing government competition, got a new lease on life. Even too big to fail banks stocks rose with the prospect that Dodd-Frank being repealed. Increasing after tax incomes will stimulate working class demand and in the hands of the wealthy drive up share prices.
Paradoxically, gun manufacturers saw a drop in stock prices. Speculators shorted gun stocks presumably because the threat of gun regulation has been removed thereby eliminating the perceived urgency on the part of gun enthusiasts to stockpile arms in anticipation of that threat.
The Trump insurrection, fueled by this NCO revolt, effectively defeated the two political parties, the Republicans no less than the Democrats. It appealed to white workers equally on the basis of anxiety over economic decline but also on the basis of prejudice, the loss of class status and the promise of a return to class collaboration, a new deal –if you can pardon that usage, with a responsive nativist-oriented ruling class. It promises, in other words, rule by like-thinking CEOs who can be relied upon to restore prosperity within the confines of a retro 1950s-like social order that erases the gains of women – right down to basic bodily autonomy — and minorities. In that regard, Trump will refashion the civil service, the permanent government bureaucracy, on a purely political basis, essentially ending the primary path to upward mobility on the part of minorities who cannot be relied upon to pass a political litmus test. If proof is needed, see how an tea-party Republican such as Scott Walker could decimate the civil service in Wisconsin and then tweak that example to fit Trump’s outsized predilections.
The nominal Republican Party has been effectively transformed into a white nationalist party and if it succeeds in raising rust-belt white incomes and economic security on that basis, while checking the aspirations of Blacks, Hispanics and women, it will have legitimized and institutionalized that transformation.
The Democratic Party has discredited itself. It is an empty vessel, unable to defend the living standards of the multi-ethnic American work class. It is a party of split loyalties, in which workers, women and minorities take a back seat to corporate interests. And the corporate interests they take a back seat to are precisely those global, financial and tech sectors that are decimating living standards and feeding the revolt.
Trump has started the political realignment in this country. Social movements, central to which is labor, can stay loyal to the Democrats and cave, or they can find their way to political independence and make a credible appeal to Trump workers to jump ship on the basis of class solidarity.
Barry writes for New Politics magazine
Dale Street reviews Kasztner’s Crime by Paul Bogdanor (Transaction Publishers 2016)
Was Rezso Kasztner, leader of the Budapest-based Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee during the Nazi occupation of Hungary, a hero who saved the lives of tens or even hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust? Or was he a collaborator who knowingly played an indispensable role in assisting the Nazis in the deportation and murder of nearly 500,000 Hungarian Jews in a matter of weeks?
To answer that question Paul Bogdanor has examined previously unused documentation, including Kasztner’s private papers, and evidence provided by Kasztner himself in two libel trials held in Israel in the 1950s. Bogdanor’s answer is summed up in the title of his recently published book: Kasztner’s Crime. (Bogdanor’s own politics are certainly not socialist. His personal webpage is the cyberspace equivalent of “The Black Book of Communism”.)
Bogdanor concludes that Kasztner deliberately withheld information about Auschwitz from Jewish communities in Budapest and the Hungarian provinces, and then misled them into believing that the Nazis were deporting them to another part of Hungary rather than to Auschwitz. Kasztner also undermined and blocked rescue activities organised by other Jewish activists, knowingly delivered hostages to the Nazi SS, misled foreign contacts about the fate of Hungarian Jews, and betrayed to the Gestapo Jewish paratroopers sent to help organise resistance in Hungary.
After the war Kasztner gave evidence at the Nuremberg Trials in defence of high-ranking Nazi war criminals who, as he knew full well, had played a central role in the Holocaust. Bogdanor describes Kasztner as “a high-level informer for the Gestapo” and “a collaborator in the genocide of his own people”. He was someone who had been “recruited by the Nazis as a collaborator” and who “betrayed his duty to rescue the victims and placed himself at the service of the murderers.” Kasztner occupies an almost iconic status in those “anti-Zionist” versions of history which claim that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis in carrying out the Holocaust, as part of their “strategy” to achieve the creation of Israel.
The most notorious example of this is Jim Allen’s play ‘Perdition’. Dating from 1987, it purports to be a dramatised version of a libel trial dealing with the role played by a Dr. Yaron (i.e. Kasztner by another name) in Nazi-occupied Hungary. Allen described his play as: “The most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches at the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, which is itself racist.”
In summing up the play’s central argument, one of the characters talks of “the Zionist knife in the Nazi fist”, describes Israel as “coined in the blood and tears of Hungarian Jewry”, and claims: “To save your hides, you (Zionists) practically led them (Jews) to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”
The play treats Yaron/Kasztner not as an individual but as the embodiment of Zionism per se. The now defunct Flame magazine summed up the central argument of the play: “There is a story here which the Zionists do not want you to know … about the role of the Zionist movement in the war and its collaboration with the Nazi regime. The Zionist leadership of Hungary bought their freedom in a shameful deal with Eichmann, whilst the Jews of Hungary were led to the gas chambers.”
“The Zionist movement stands accused of sacrificing the majority of the Jews in Hungary so as to save a thousand Jews to fulfil the Zionist conquest of Palestine. Clearly, the Zionist movement regarded the establishment of the state of Israel as a higher priority than saving their brethren from the concentration camps.”
Bogdanor makes passing mention of the controversy about ‘Perdition” and the identification of Kasztner as “the avatar of a Zionist-Nazi conspiracy to murder the Jews of Europe in order to justify creating the ‘fascist’ state of Israel.” Bogdanor’s riposte: “such ideas, if they can be dignified as such, have no contact with reality.”
In Nazi-occupied Hungary, there was no “neat” dividing line between bad Zionists (or bad Zionist leaders) and good anti-Zionists. On all sides there were people foolishly thinking Jews could benefit from trying to do deals with the Nazis. The Budapest Judenrat (Jewish Council), for example, was created by anti-Zionist community leaders acting under instructions from the Nazis in March of 1944.
It “demanded blind obedience to the Nazis from the Jewish community” and was “enlisted in Eichmann’s effort to deceive the widest strata of Jewry.” By 24 April it was “summoning selected Jews for ‘internment’ – which in reality meant death – at the hands of the Nazis.” Only in mid-June did it reverse its “previous decision to handle news of the slaughter [in Auschwitz] confidentially” and begin to “circulate the eye-witness report [of Auschwitz] among the Hungarian elite.”
Far from being the ultimate expression of Zionism, Kasztner himself repeatedly came into conflict with other Zionist activists who were doing exactly what ‘Perdition’ claimed they were not doing, i.e. opposing the Nazis and trying to save Jewish lives.
In late 1943, Hungarian Zionists began organising an armed underground movement in preparation for a possible Nazi occupation. The movement was to be open to all Zionist parties (apart from the Revisionists) and to non-Zionists. But Kasztner scuppered the plans for armed resistance in favour of “negotiations” with the Nazis. Hungarian Zionists also helped to smuggle Jews out of Poland and Austria and issued them with forged Hungarian ID papers, as well as providing financial support to Jews in the Polish ghettoes and Jews in hiding in Austria.
Kasztner wanted an end to such activities, for fear that they would jeopardise his “negotiations” with the Nazis. But the Zionist youth ignored Kasztner’s instructions and continued their activities, with the support of most of the Hungarian Zionist leaders. When the deportations of Jews began in Hungary itself, Hungarian Zionist youth activists set about encouraging Jews to flee the Nazi-created ghettoes in Budapest and the provinces. Again, Kasztner sought to undermine and block such activities. Other Zionists organised “protected houses” in Budapest (i.e. houses covered by Swiss diplomatic immunity, or by the protection of other foreign missions) and children’s homes with Red Cross extraterritorial status which provided safety for thousands of Jews.
As Bogdanor points out, the number of Jewish lives saved by Zionists without any help from Kasztner is an indication of how many more could have been saved if Kasztner, as head of the Relief and Rescue Committee, had not placed himself at the service of the Nazis. The gap between Kasztner and the broader Zionist movement is further underlined by the fact that in mid-April of 1944 the entire Hungarian Zionist movement was banned by the Nazis. Kasztner’s Relief and Rescue Committee, on the other hand, enjoyed the patronage first of the Abwehr and then of the SS.
Above: Galloway and fellow Red-Brown dictator-lover Neil Clark on Putin’s TV channel
It had to happen: Red-Brown scum break cover to welcome the Trump victory; I presume that what these neanderthals mean by “an excessive focus on identity issues” is any concern about racism or misogyny.
Letter to the Morning Star (published Nov 12-13):
THE US Democratic Party has been defeated in the person of the most economically neoliberal and internationally neoconservative nominee imaginable. From the victory of Donald Trump, to the Durham teaching assistants’ dispute, the lessons need to be learned.
The workers are not the easily ignored and routinely betrayed base, with the liberal bourgeoisie as the swing voters to whom tribute must be paid.
The reality is the other way round. The EU referendum ought already to have placed that beyond doubt.
There is a need to move, as a matter of the utmost urgency, away from an excessive focus on identity issues, and towards the recognition that those existed only within the overarching and undergirding context of the struggle against economic inequality and in favour of international peace, including co-operation with Russia, not a new Cold War.
It is worth noting that working-class white areas that voted for Barak Obama did not vote for Hilary Clinton, that African-American turnout went down while the Republican share of that vote did not, and that Trump to 30 per cent of the Hispanic vote. Blacl Lives Matter meant remembering Libya, while Latino Lives Matter meant remembering Honduras.
The defeat of the Clintons by a purported opponent of neoliberal economic policy and of neoconservative foreign policy, although time will tell, has secured the position of Jeremy Corbyn, who is undoubtedly such an opponent.
It is also a challenge to Theresa May to make good her rhetoric about One Nation, about a country that works for everyone, and about being a voice for working people.
DAVID LINDSAY Lanchester council candidate, 2017
GEORGE GALLOWAY former MP for Glasgow Hillhead, Glasgow Kelvin, Bethnal Green & Bow and Bradford west
This piece also appears in Solidarity:
Donald Trump has won the US Presidential election.
He won by tapping into the reality of and the fear of poverty and failure among millions of working-class Americans.
He won by exploiting the deep racial divisions that have blighted the US for centuries. He attacked all Hispanic workers when calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. By scapegoating Muslims.
He won because millions of Americans wanted to revolt against the political establishment. But this man is not the “blue collar billionaire” that his supporters dubbed him. Just a billionaire and also part of, the nastiest part, of the establishment!
Donald Trump is an idiot blowhard but the political functionaries around him are not. This election was probably won by the Trump camp calculating the “demographics” of the USA. By exploiting the different insecurities that many people feel. By understanding and approving of social fragmentation in the USA and working it to Trump’s advantage.
But in short, Trump made his appeal to a white working class which has been excluded by the powerfully destructive forces of US capitalism over the last 30 years as it moved its business to anywhere in the world where labour is cheaper.
Even when Trump made his appeal to African-Americans, in order to soften his image, he could not resist treating those communities as people whose real political views and interests were worthless to him. “What have you got to lose”, he said, “Your life couldn’t get any worse”. Unsurprisingly, the polls said 90% of those African-Americans who were voting, would not vote for Trump.
As shocked as we are by this result the truth is that Trump always stood a good chance of winning after the exit of Bernie Sanders from the election. With his calls for free college tuition, the removal of student debt, a national health service, Sanders represented a radical break from the status quo, but one which, with sufficient organisation on the ground, the whole of working-class American could have united behind.
By nominating a a presidential candidate who was always going to continue the Clinton-Bush-Obama programme of complacency, corruption and corporate-interest politics, the Democrats ensured discontent among millions of people would rise.
It was simply Hillary Clinton’s turn to pursue austerity and warmongering. Donald Trump was there to exploit and hypocritically ridicule this “establishment”.
What happens now? He may not be able to put through a programme of economic nationalism. He may not be able to expel thousands of Hispanic workers. But he will be able to load the Supreme Court front bench with conservatives. Already vulnerable abortion rights and the right of LGBT people to marry are under threat. Trade unions too will be under attack.
Trump’s election will give the green light to the neighbourhood vigilantes who fear young black men so much they are prepared to put a bullet in their back. The reactionaries who stand outside abortion clinics. The virulently anti-immigration Tea Party people. The organised fascists. And some of these people — the alternative right, the libertarians — are already part of Trump’s camp.
Not everyone who voted for Trump approve of his violent sexism. But many did. There were people who overlooked the serious charges of sexual assault; that is they do not think this behaviour is wrong. Not everyone who voted for Trump is racist. But many are. US racial divisions run deep.
One of the saddest things about this election is how long-time union members, who in different circumstances would regard themselves as anti-racist voted for Trump.
In places like West Virginia where there virtually no stable jobs Trump won big majorities. Maybe people just hear what they want to hear when Trump uses opportunistic lies like “I am going to make America great again”. But the coal mines will not reopen. The miners will not go back to work. This is a man who made his fame on the basis of ruthlessly telling people “You’re fired”. If big business is now in fracking, and not coal, that is where state support under Trump will go.
Capitalist rule as is in fact epitomised by the US two-party system, may have lost it’s legitimacy but without a socialist alternative to replace it, things can get much worse.
What can the socialist left do now? Passively regarding Trump voters as ignorant rednecks who could never be pulled away from his politics is wrong. Yes, many millions are poorly educated. But in this vastly wealthy society that is a shocking crime. As are these facts — that 21% of American children live in poverty, that 10% of workers are in low waged jobs, that 30% do not have health insurance and 40% do not have a pension.
Wherever the left is — in the US or in Europe — we all have to argue for class politics, the politics of justice and solidarity and at the same time making the strongest challenge we can against racism and xenophobia.
We do have a chance to do these things. Remember Bernie Sanders drew larger crowds than Trump for his attacks on Wall Street and the power and privilege of the “millionaires and billionaires.”
Here in Europe our struggle is against Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen and Beppe Grillo. But it also against those in the labour movement who think anti-immigration sentiments and mild token opposition to the rule of capitalism is enough. And we also warn against a left which makes semi-populist stances against “the capitalist EU”, against globalisation, but never sets out a positive socialist programme: for equality, for working-class unity across borders, for the appropriation for the banks, for secure jobs and homes for all.
Events are showing us that campaigning for a social-democratic left “getting into power” is not enough. Getting working-class representation is about building a mass political labour movement organised around socialist politics. The necessity is not new but it has just got many times more urgent.
2017 Nightmare: Presidents Le Pen, Trump and Putin (Financial Times): big chance for the left?
In 1928 the Stalinised Communist International (Comintern) adopted the “Third Period” line which led the German Communist Party to denounce the Social Democrats as “social fascists” and dismiss the threat of Hitler taking power: it said “fascism” was already in power, and another form of “fascism” could thus be no new threat; and anyway, “after Hitler, our turn next!”.
The reality of Nazi rule led the Comintern to drop the Third period approach in 1934 and seek alliances with bourgeois forces via the so-called “Popular Front.”
Historical analogies are never 100% accurate, but the similarities with the Third Period were apparent as the Communist Party of Britain and their follow ‘Left Exit’ fantasists tried to give the Tory/UKIP dominated Leave cause a left-wing figleaf during the referendum campaign. This has led to some extraordinary Daily Mail-style editorials in the Morning Star (the CPB’s de facto mouthpiece) culminating in a shameful attack on parliamentary democracy and the campaigners who brought the High Court case forcing the Tories to acknowledge parliamentary control over Brexit.
The CPB and Morning Star have continued their lurch towards Third Periodism in their coverage of the US Presidential election. An article in August accused Clinton of “demonis[ing]” Trump and praised his “sensible comments about the anti-Russia, anti-Putin hysteria rampant among policy-makers of both parties.”
The suspicion that the Morning Star‘s formal neutrality between Clinton and Trump (in itself a respectable enough stance, taken for instance by most Trotskyists) wasn’t in reality quite so “neutral” as all that, has been confirmed by todays editorial, which (after a few words about Trump’s racism and misogyny) includes the following:
Some commentators highlight Trump’s different tone taken in his acceptance speech, with platitudes about being president for all Americans, as though willing Trump to come into line.
This desire regards political normalcy as the target for all politicians, although it lies in tatters today.
Trump’s election isn’t alone in pulverising this discredited thesis. Britain’s referendum decision to leave the EU has similar aspects.
Both campaigns were derided by Establishment politicians and liberal media outlets from the outset.
Those whose votes secured the election of a self-styled outsider as US president and said No to membership of an unaccountable, institutionally neoliberal, bureaucratic EU superstate were demeaned as racists, xenophobes and idiots by liberal elites unable to believe that their conventional wisdom had been spurned.
Polling organisations’ failure to foresee the result of either phenomenon illustrates an inability to identify or empathise with those who have had enough and want something better.
There will certainly have been racists, xenophobes and idiots involved in both campaigns just as there were backing Clinton and Remain.
Insulting voters for their temerity in disagreeing with a business-as-usual agenda in these terms breeds resentment and makes political revolt more likely.
When defamatory name-calling is conjoined with efforts to dress up the Establishment choice — whether Hillary Clinton or the EU — as the “progressive” alternative, self-delusion takes over and assumes Emperor’s New Clothes dimensions.
Millions of working-class US voters have seen closed factories, lost jobs and plummeting living standards as their material basis for voting Trump because of his pledge to overturn free trade deals championed by Clinton.
Will Trump honour this pledge or be able to carry it through Congress?
Time will tell, but the possibility exists that those who backed him on this issue will mobilise seriously to insist that there is no backtracking.
The genie of working-class revolt, albeit scarred with unattractive features, is out the bottle and may not be so easily restrained again.
Cross-party neoliberal consensus is crumbling in the US, in Britain and across Europe too, which demands a socialist intervention.
Or, to put it another way: “After Trump, our turn next!”
(NB: I should add that I don’t disagree with the need to understand why workers are attracted by ultra-right wing racist populism as exemplified by Brexit and Trump, and to then argue for a socialist alternative – but I do object to the stupid and dangerous delusion that these movements are somehow progressive and good for the left).
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!”
The terrifying possibility of a Trump victory tomorrow is mitigated only by a certain perverse amusement at the sheer narcissism and witless buffoonery of this vainglorious mountebank. And there is one voice in particular that should now be raised in scathing denunciation: that of Philip Roth, the magesterial chronicler of American mores, society and politics of the last century, whose counterfactual book The Plot Against America describes (through the eyes of a young New York Jewish boy), the events following the victory of the Nazi sympathising celebrity Charles Lindbergh in the 1940 presidential election.
Of course, in reality Frankin Roosevelt won, and Lindberg wasn’t even on the ballot (the Republican candidate was the businessman Wendell Willkie), but he was the leader of the hugely popular ‘America First’ isolationist anti-war movement, and the idea of him winning the Republican nomination and then the presidency itself, is not ridiculously far-fetched. Indeed, with the rise of Trump, Roth’s alternative history looks far less outlandish than it did when the book was first published in 2004.
It should also be noted that on the evidence of his infamous Des Moines speech of September 11th 1941, Lindbergh appears to have been a less egotistical, more thoughtful and probably more personally honest individual than Trump:
So why have we heard nothing from Roth in the course of the present tragicomic presidential contest? Surely, Trump is perfect Roth material – and Clinton also worthy of his forensic scorn?
The sad answer may be found in Roth’s 2007 Exit Ghost, which opens on the eve of the 2004 US election and contains a description of the protagonist Nathan Zuckerman’s withdrawal from political involvement – and, indeed, from much of contemporary life. Roth has never made any secret of the fact that Zuckerman is an alter ego for himself. The following gives us a taste of what we’re missing, and the reason why that is so:
I had been an avid voter all my life, one who’d never pulled a Republican lever for any office on any ballot. I had campaigned for Stevenson as a college student and had my juvenile expectations dismantled when Eisenhower trounced him, first in ’52 and then again in ’56; and I could not believe what I saw when a creature so rooted in his ruthless pathology, so transparently fraudulent and malicious as Nixon, defeated Humphrey in ’68, and when, in the eighties, a self assured knucklehead whose unsurpassable hollowness and hackneyed sentiments and absolute blindness to every historical complexity became the object of national worship and, esteemed as a “great communicator” no less, won each of two terms in a landslide. And was there ever an election like Gore versus Bush, resolved in treacherous ways that it was, so perfectly calculated to quash the last shameful vestige of a law-abiding citizen’s naiveté? I’d hardly held myself aloof from the antagonisms of partisan politics, but now, having lived enthralled by America for nearly three-quarters of a century, I had decided no longer to be overtaken every four years by the emotions of a child — the emotions of a child and the pain of an adult. At least not so long as I holed up in my cabin, where I could manage to remain in America without America’s ever again being absorbed in me. Aside from writing books and studying once again, for a final go-round, the first great writers I read, all the rest that once mattered most no longer mattered at all, and I dispelled a good half, if not more, of a lifetime’s allegiances and pursuits. After 9/11 I pulled the plug on the contradictions. Otherwise, I told myself, you’ll become the exemplary letter-to-the editor madman, the village grouch, manifesting the syndrome in all its seething ridiculousness: ranting and raving while you read the paper, and at night, on the phone with friends, roaring indignantly about the pernicious profitability for which a wounded nation’s authentic patriotism was about to be exploited by an imbecilic king, and in a republic, a king in a free country with all the slogans with which American children are raised. The despising without remission that constitutes. The despising without remission that constitutes being a conscientious citizen in the reign of George W. Bush was not for one who had developed a strong interest in surviving as reasonably serene — and so I began to annihilate the abiding wish to find out. I cancelled magazine subscriptions, stopped reading the Times, even stopped picking up the occasional copy of the Boston Globe when I went down to the general store. The only paper I saw regularly was the Berkshire Eagle, a local weekly. I used TV to watch baseball, the radio to listen to music, and that was it.
Review of The New Philistines: How Identity Politics Disfigures the Arts by Sohrab Ahmari
The Philistines identified by Matthew Arnold had a narrow and reductive view of the arts as only good if they upheld a particular morality. The 1890s and the aesthetic movement upturned them, the aesthetes were despised by the Social Realists in the 30s, who were taken on by the liberal creatives bursting out in the sixties, the New Leftists returned, along with the feminists, with shock and political art and now the identitarians have moved in. The identitarians are Ahmari’s New Philistines, who judge, and sometimes make, art via their ideology, caring about the political point rather than craft or beauty. His contention that they dominate the culture is reinforced by how his frequent use of “beauty” and “truth” now seem antiquated as critical terms.
Ahmari has a reverential attitude towards high art, so Part I of his readable polemic, Intruders in the Temple, tells of how he was affronted by a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe. Emma Rice was the director and it included a sound-and-light show, a gay male Helena and the love juices were date rape drugs. I share his pain as I too have ground my teeth at a goose-stepping Coriolanus, say (Coriolanus is not a Fascist, and it made no sense). Directors making stupid political points are as annoying as hectoring comedians.
However for every modish production of a Shakespeare play with a Hoxton-hipster Hermia there’s a straightforward, well-acted piece in robes and furred gowns. In the RSC production of King Lear I saw the other night Anthony Sher was a mound of pelt. Although the director had rehearsed it during Brexit, and thought there were parallels with bad decision-making and a union falling apart he did not present Cordelia as Angela Merkel nor Goneril as Theresa May and left us to draw the modern parallels about power and powerlessness and the times being disturbed.
It shows a particular cultural strength that the educated Shakespearean audience sees interpretations as variations on a theme, because the plays are so well known, as Athenian play goers liked to see what a playwright would do with the myth of Orestes or Dionysus.
I can’t get too holy about Shakespeare. He has his longueurs and a lot of his humour is lost with his language so the actors have to force out laughs with cod-fingering. Cuts can be enhancements. There are plenty of excellent productions including those broadcast at local cinemas by the RSC and the terrific Wars of the Roses series on the BBC a while back.
Ahmari does make a good thrust about shallow gimmickry in theatre productions:-
The bhangra and Bollywood numbers, and actors of south Asian heritage in two leading parts, suggested an Indian sensibility. Now a Midsummer with a well-developed south-Asian concept – juxtaposing or blending say, the rich mythology of the subcontinent with English folklore – might have worked well. Such a concept would have required a sincere, rigorous encounter with these sources. Yet identitarian art is rarely capable of such engagement. The texture and weight of genuine difference elude art of this kind, with its ironic posturing and tendency towards the flattening pastiche. Identitarian art rarely manages to raise marginalise and ‘subaltern’ voices. Doing so successfully requires really listening to such voices in all their rich complexity – whereas identiarian art usually searches for subaltern props with which to bash the ‘dominant’ culture. Opposing the ‘oppressive’ mainstream is more important than examining the peripheral as it really is.
Actually I do wonder that Emma Rice wasn’t castigated for cultural appropriation by Indians, or someone purporting to speak for Indians. These fashions change so fast. Emma Rice however will not be around to do brash shows based on Shakespearean texts. She has had her marching orders because her use of neon lighting is against the spirit of The Globe. The Guardian thinks that is a bad idea, and The Spectator a good. So it goes in culture-land.
Ahmari finds a parallel with other ideological arts e.g Socialist realism but “Say what you will about the Soviet critics, at least they were erudite. Not so with today’s identitarian critics, who care little for art history and aesthetics. What they are blessed with is lots of opinions about everything – all of which invariably revolve around race, gender and class, power and privilege.”
I’ve seen just such criticism of the gooey headed Corbynistas from dialectic trained old Trots about the Corbys’ lack of hard analysis. Unlike Victorian evangelists and Marxists, the identitarians have no authoritative scripture to use as a measure for their particular world view – Foucault comes closest, but Ahmari does not find his identitarians actually quoting so much as osmosing, which he lays out in the second part of his polemic, The Illiberal Imagination. This follows discussions at Artforum. I found it a useful primer for such terms as “queer”, “performative”, “visibility” and “legibility” (something lots of people want to see and enjoy).
Liberal societies have increased “visibility” in the form of social and political rights, and liberal-minded writers were part of this process eg the authors of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Oliver Twist. And as far as visibility is concerned the marginalised have moved more towards the centre. The RSC’s King Lear had a lot of black actors without making any identitarian big deal about it and that would not have happened a generation ago. And those who fulminate against political corrrectness, would once have grumbled about a black Edmund and Cordelia.
Ahmari has fun with the appalling jargon his Artforumites use and its view of art as “a place where we can treat the self as historical and social material”. This particular idea has permeated through to artists whose work he goes to see in the third chapter. Some have talent but, “their curiosity is limited by politics; identitarian politics takes away their freedom to explore great big questions in an uninhibited way; without pre-determined answers and concepts. Foucault, hardline feminism and queer theory wrap their art like a straitjacket. If their English grammar sounds broken, it is because their creative grammar is, too, and the source of the brokenness is the same.”
His tour of identitarian art – videos and installations – and dance – political twerking – is amusingly terrible. My own experience of such things – neon tubes of slogans repeating banalities and amateurish looking videos saying things that are neither new nor true – has sent me along the road to the museum of handsome and interesting artefacts. The audience for this work is the highly educated white liberals that it castigates, the ones who take city breaks in grand European cities who have preserved their past.
Of course fashions change. “The Great Wall of Vagina”, plaster-casting 500 women’s sexual organs that Ahmari evokes may be deemed to be transphobic in a year or two, and Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, which used a vagina theme in ceramics, is beautiful as well as polemical. Ideological art does not mean ugliness of course- as demonstrated by the great mass of Christian and Islamic art. So the ugliness may come from lack of craft as anything else. That may be the fault of the art schools, as well as the zeitgeist. Also, while the subsidised galleries and the grant receiving artists may be at work on such things the commercial artists will be turning out posters and cards of quite a different complexion for the mass market. Modern culture is definitely not all of a piece, nor stagnant.
Ahmari’s last chapter is about the effects of this ideological art on our society. “Ideas that being with elite, avant-garde institutions invariably trickle down to popular culture, then go on to impact our daily lives.” and he instances criticisms of eg Downton Abbey (which deserves it – the servant class was not treated with anything like that consideration but caste superiority has to be prettied up for the modern audience). Downton Abbey may be castigated by someone in the Guardian but it will be made as long as it makes money and Julian Fellows is ready to turn out scripts.
He thinks identitarian politics is responsible for the rise of white-rage politics of Trump and UKIP.
Is it any wonder, then, that Americans and Europeans are increasingly embracing nationalist parties and illiberal movements?..
Having been told for decades that the promise of universal rights is a lie, that group identity is all that there is to public life, that the Western canon is the preserve of Privileged Dead White Men, and that identitarian warfare is permanent, many in the West have taken up their own form of identity politics. .. When culture only rewards the assertion of group identity (black, female, queer etc.), the silent majority will want its slice of the identitarian pie. They can do identity politics, too; it’s called white nationalism. ..
Surely identitarianism is a muted annoyance compared to eg mass migration, demographic changes, a globalised economy and the sense of the world is becoming a more dangerous place. But the cause and effect of culture and politics is a large subject. In crude terms, far more read The Sun and the Daily Mail than get annoyed by The Guardian.
“To repair our politics, we could do worse than to start by expecting better from our arts and culture.”- is Ahmari’s final call, and that really is the chicken-and-the-egg. I would expect a generational shift for talent and brains will break out of a strait-jacket and they’re at work somewhere on a hub near you. Our society does have teeth and a stomach and it’s a wonder what it can digest.
After reading Ahmari I re-read Robert Hughes’ Culture of Complaint, which has a similar theme, and is richer and funnier from someone wholly engaged with the art world. It was published in 1992 and how little has moved on from then. What Hughes calls political correctness, we now call identity politics but they are essentially the same thing, constant language policing, a favourite target for conservative satirists.
Satire loves to fasten on manners and modes, which is what PC [political correctness] talk is, political etiquette, not politics itself. When the waters of PC recede – as they presently will, leaving the predictable scum of dead words on the social beach – it will be, in part, because young people get turned off by all the carping about verbal proprieties on campus. The radical impulses of youth are generous, romantic and instinctive and are easily chilled by an atmosphere of prim, obsessive correction. The real problem with PC isn’t ‘post-Marxism”, but post-Puritanism.
Generous, romantic and instinctive I’d like to believe but what is reported from the universities is an equal impulse for correction, censoriousness and righteousness. And against the post-Puritanism is the post-Restoration of the alt right and Milo Yiannopoulos.
So though not as apocalyptic as Ahmari, I do share some of his concerns. It is a chronic condition for liberalism to be in danger as it is an unnatural state for a tribal species and it has plenty of enemies, whether the new Red Guards of identitarianism,, the Islamic Fascists and their idiot enablers, the Guardian Cultural Sensitives, the Lock-em-Up Tabloids, and a whiff of blasphemy laws from the government.
“It’s a free country,” we would say self-righteously at my primary school during disagreements. That sentence had a long political and cultural history behind it. Do they still say it now?