Barbara Speed at the i:
Other voices piped up, claiming that these reports from terrified Syrians, and the warning by UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon of possible “atrocities” taking place in Aleppo, and the Red Cross’s statement about a “deepening humanitarian catastrophe”, were mere propaganda. Footage circulated of Syrians celebrating in Aleppo at the impending government victory. Then there was the Morning Star, a socialist daily tabloid. Its front page declared the near-“liberation” of Aleppo this morning, while other publications raised the possibility that “massacres” were being committed there. (Social media was quick to pick up on the fact that when the Berlin wall fell, the paper ran with “GDR unveils reforms package” as its front page splash.)
The front page of the paper that claims to represent the British labour movement:
While the UN and all reputable news sources report on pro-government forces in Aleppo executing dozens of civilians including women and children, British Stalinists hail the massacres as a “liberation”.
The Morning Star‘s uncritical support for Assad and parroting of Putin’s propaganda throughout the Syrian war has been a disgrace that must call into question the financial support that this filthy, lying rag receives from major unions.
The only – small – thing to be said in the rag’s favour, is that it has published a few letters from a couple of readers who retain some shreds of human decency and critical thinking. As they don’t appear on the rag’s website, we reproduce them here:
December 3-4 2016
GIVEN that the United Nations estimated in October 2016 that there were no more than 900 Nusra Front fighters in Aleppo out of a maximum of 8,000 rebels in total, I’m confused by the recent Morning Star headline: “Thousands freed from jihadist grip in eastern Aleppo” (M Star November 30)
I realise the make-up of rebel groups in Syria is complex but I’ve not seen any evidence to suggest the rebels in Aleppo are all jihadists.
Furthermore, rather than cite the Kremlin and the Russian Defence Ministry as the article does, perhaps it would be wiser to focus on reports from NGOs such as Amnesty International which has called on Russia to “end indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks” in Syria, including the “use of cluster munitions and dropping unguided bombs on civilian areas.”
IAN SINCLAIR London E15
December 7 2016
I HAVE read recent reports and an editorial on Syria in our paper with dismay. I note the use of such expressions as “solidarity with the nation’s struggle against foreign-backed aggression” but never is there any mention of the people of Syria’s struggle against the hated and feared Assad regime.
Has everyone forgotten that the conflict in Syria started when the people came out on the streets, in the tail end of the Arab Spring, in revolt against the brutal repression of President Bashar Assad and his torturers?
Of course, much has changed since then, with the intervention of many other forces in this complex war but there is overwhelming evidence that the Assad regime, aided by the Russians, has been bombing civilians, hospitals and schools: murdering Syrian civilians because they oppose the regime and then describing them as “terrorists”.
It seems convenient for some to forget what the Assad regime stands for, the repression and brutality, the torture used not just to extract information but to put fear into the population so that no opponents of the regime will challenge it.
Perhaps readers are not aware that, to give just one example, a 13-year-old boy was arrested in 2011 during a protest and then tortured, castrated and his body mutilated while in the custody of the Syrian government.
I support the position of the Stop the War Coalition which I believe is that there should be no intervention or bombing, including by Russia and that we must do everything possible to achieve a negotiated settlement.
There is no easy solution but surely we must not gloss over decades of appalling human rights abuses in Syria and express solidarity with the regime at the expense of the Syrian people?
DAVE ESBESTER London SW19
December 9 2016
IN A RECENT editorial the Morning Star argued “there would be no advantage for Assad in carrying out atrocities” such as bombing hospitals and schools (M Star November 29).
If one is trying to force a large city into submission through the application of overwhelming and deadly force, as the Syrian government is doing in Aleppo, then it is logical to target hospitals in an attempt to make life unbearable for the rebels and the population they are living amongst. Furthermore, bombing hospitals significantly reduces the fighting capability of the opposition relying on the hospitals to patch up their wounded.
Surely it is the duty of all thinking and humane people to raise their voice in opposition to this illegal, murderous and morally depraved military tactic — whether it is carried out by Western/Western-backed forces or Syrian/Russian forces?
IAN SINCLAIR London E15
NB: see also Comrade Coatesy, here.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined with supporters of Syria Solidarity to intervene at a speech by Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday. The reason was obvious: Corbyn and the Labour front bench have remained silent while Assad and Putin have bombed hospitals, aid convoys and civilians in Syria. This has been the biggest massacre of a civilian population since World War Two.
East Aleppo has been besieged for months, with Assad using his favourite tactic against civilians (after barrel bombs, that is): starvation and the denial of water, shelter and medical treatment. The UN has predicted that Aleppo will become “a giant graveyard” if Assad and Putin continue to refuse a cease fire.
Yet the so-called Stop The War Coalition, which Corbyn continues to support, says nothing. Perhaps because its current Chair supports the Russian bombing.
The politically bankrupt and morally depraved Morning Star (reflecting the policy of its political master, the Communist Party of Britain) openly supports Assad’s attacks and cheer-leads for Putin’s intervention, parroting his propaganda.
Now, the Morning Star (a paper, remember, funded by the subs of Unite members and other rank and file trade unionists, without their knowledge or consent) attacks Tatchell for disrupting Corbyn’s speech and, supposedly, “diver(ing) attention away from the crucial issue of women’s rights and domestic violence”. The M Star goes on to quote the repugnant pro-Assad convenor of the so-called “Stop The War Coalition” and professional liar, Ms Lindsey German, spreading her typically dishonest poison about Tatchell: “He claims to be on the left and a supporter of Stop the War initially but the reality is that he has supported every war since we were established”.
In the face of these Stalinist lies, and pro-Putin/Assad apologetics, we republish below, Peter Tatchell’s statement about this incident:
Syria Solidarity UK activists were joined by Peter Tatchell when they protested during a speech by Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday 10 December. They urged the Labour Party to pursue “actions not words” to save civilians in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.
Jeremy Corbyn was outlining the Labour Party’s commitment to fundamental rights on Human Rights Day. Syria human rights campaigners walked to the front and stood in front of him with placards saying: “Action not words: Back UK aid drops now. Protect civilians.”
Protest participant, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said:
“The protest was organised by Syria Solidarity UK. It was not against Jeremy Corbyn or Labour. It was an appeal for them to act, to defend the human rights of Syrian civilians, by actively campaigning for a parliamentary vote on humanitarian aid drops, sanctions and war crimes charges against the Assad and Putin regimes, UN-supervised evacuation of civilians and White Helmet rescue teams to safe havens, and for Syria to be suspended from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire and stops blocking aid deliveries. Neither Labour nor Jeremy are actively campaigning for any of these initiatives.
“We urged Jeremy Corbyn to press for a parliamentary debate and vote to mandate UK aid drops of food and medicine to besieged civilians in Aleppo and other cities. He declined to give that commitment when I asked him. Why isn’t he holding the government to account for its inaction, and publicly demanding that it agree to a vote in parliament on air drops of humanitarian aid?
“Labour has never organised even one event in solidarity with Syrian democrats, socialists and civil society activists. It never promoted or campaigned for the passage of Canada’s UN Syria resolution under 377A – Uniting for Peace – which called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid access and an end to all sieges.
“The protest was polite and lasted five minutes. Jeremy was briefly delayed but not stopped from speaking. He addressed all the issues he originally planned to speak on.
“It was initially a silent protest until Labour officials indicated they wanted to know what it was about, which is when I spoke.
“Jeremy thanked us for raising the issue of Syria and we will now be pressing him for dialogue and action to help save lives in Syria. I will continue to support much of what Jeremy is striving for. Both of us remain friends.
“Jeremy’s speech rightly condemned Saudi war crimes in Yemen but made only a passing reference to Syria and offered no proposals to remedy the humanitarian crisis there. This has a whiff of double standards.
“What action has Labour taken to protect civilians in Syria? Nothing, so far. Aleppo is the Guernica of our age. Labour’s fine words need to be backed up with deeds. It is not listening to the appeals for action from democratic civil society activists inside Syria. We heard their cry for help and acted at their request. Our protest gave effect to their appeal for action.
“On Human Rights Day, Labour gathered to celebrate the noble sentiments in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in Aleppo, the Syrian and Russian military are targeting fleeing refugees, children in schools, doctors in hospitals and civil rescue teams from the White Helmets. Hundreds of boys and men have allegedly gone missing from the areas seized last week by Assad regime forces. At least 100,000 civilians are being deliberately starved in Aleppo and a million others elsewhere in Free Syria.
“Labour must act, not just speak. So too must the Conservatives – and all parties. We call on Theresa May and Boris Johnson to also heed our call. We will protest against them in due course. There must surely be a cross-party consensus on humanitarian air drops. Why aren’t they happening? Labour should give a lead by initiating a House of Commons vote to make them happen,” said Mr Tatchell.
Clara Connolly from Syria Solidarity UK added:
“Do Syrian civilians have human rights? If so, why are we allowing this to continue? Western diplomats have conceded that there are no technical obstacles to delivering airdrops of food and medicine to Aleppo using a GPS-guided parachute system. What is lacking is the political will. If we stay silent, if Western politicians refuse to take what actions are available to them, then they are complicit in these massacres.”
Syria Solidarity UK are calling on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party MPs and members to publicly and vocally:
• Support calls for humanitarian access to besieged areas in Syria.
• Push for a parliamentary vote on unilateral UK aid drops.
• Demand the suspension of Syria from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire, and stops blocking aid to besieged areas.
• Request UN-supervised evacuations of the White Helmets and the civilian population.
Illustration: Steve Bell (the Guardian)
It should have been an open goal for Labour: the evasion and waffle emanating from May and her Brexit teame has become increasingly threadbare, failing to convince even her own side, or to obscure the obvious fact that the Government has no coherent plan whatsoever, beyond pandering to the racists and nationalists who drove the Leave campaign and bay from the Tory backbenches.
Labour’s Commons motion read: “That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; believes that there should be a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU; and calls on the Prime Minister to ensure that this House is able properly to scrutinise that plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked.”
Excellent! Except that, in advance of the debate Labour let it be known that they accepted that the government should not have to disclose anything that might ‘undermine’ its negotiations with the EU, thus accepting the May/Brexiteers’ premise that the UK is dealing with enemies.
This fatal concession provided May with her escape route in the face of a backbench revolt, and the Government tabled the following amendment that Labour cravenly agreed to support:
“ … and believes that the process should be undertaken in such a way that respects the decision of the people of the UK when they voted to leave the EU on 23 June and does not undermine the negotiating position of the Government as negotiations are entered into which will take place after Article 50 has been triggered”.
This commits Labour to backing the Government’s exit plan (ie to serve Article 50 by the end of March 2017) and commits the Tories to virtually nothing, beyond a continuation of their meaningless waffle about “the best deal for Britain”, etc, etc. No wonder the Brexiteers and their nativist press chorus are crowing with glee.
The BBC’s Laura Kounssberg hits the nail on the head here:
“Accepting the amendment does not mean they have promised to do anything in particular.
“Number 10 sources say they have not committed to publishing anything specific – a Green Paper, a White Paper, or frankly, even Theresa May’s shopping list.
“They say she has always said she would update the Commons and the public, as and when it was possible, without damaging her negotiating strategy.
“They also have not given any promise on when they might publish whatever that is. And in theory, sources point to the fact that all the public comments the prime minister has made so far on Brexit have been “published”, as in , she uttered the words, and then they appeared in the newspapers, online or on the TV or radio”.
This blunder on the part of Labour does not just flow from tactical ineptitude: it’s the result of a profound political weakness on the part of the present Labour leadership as demonstrated by Corbyn’s low-key role during the referendum and John McDonnell’s dreadful statement last month, promising not to obstruct Bexit.
“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
The following resolution was passed by the last Unite EC:
“On the back of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, the decisions taken by the British Government on the shape of Exit could have profound implications on this [union]’s members. Therefore we believe nationally and locally Unite should be campaigning on the following:
– To ensure at the very least all workers rights currently in EU law come into force in UK law.
– To ensure European works council structures are not affected and we continue and we continue to increase our co-operation and solidarity with our sister trade unionists in the EU.
– To defend the free movement of people as it currently exists including our right to work in the EU and European workers rights to do the same here. The best guard against employers using Brexit as an excuse to attack pay and Ts and Cs not putting up new borders but strong trade unions organising all workers regardless of where they are from.”
Given that Unite continues to fund the Morning Star, which advocates a withdrawal from the single market, perhaps the union should make its democratically decided view known a bit more clearly – especially to the CPB and the Morning Star: and if the paper and the party continue with their reactionary stance, Unite should cease spending members’ money supporting them.
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.