I spent this morning at work in my garden. A very, very British thing to do, weekend gardening.
I spent this afternoon listening to Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Burgon talking about patriotism and national security. How quickly we forget what it was like when the good guys were getting to do all the big political speeches.
Patriotism is looking after the people and the land around you. Community work and environmental work, in other words. Oh and gardening, of course.
National security is about dealing with the threats the people are facing. What threats are our people facing? Climate change, pandemic, global conflict – so build relationships across the globe to address global-scale problems, recognise that you can’t put a fence round one little island in the North Sea to stop viruses, extreme climate events or nuclear missiles at the border.
We need to stop UK companies selling chemicals and weapons to the countries creating the conflicts, causing the disasters, driving the refugee tides. What other threats do our people face? Shortage of housing, of wages, of food – so we need to build council houses, create jobs, pass laws making food a human right, and look at how we produce and price food. What else? Threats to our health service? so we need to re-instate and re-fund the NHS. Where will the money from all that come from? I know, says Jeremy Corbyn – let’s use the billions the current government are planning on putting into creating weapons to feed more wars.
Farewell to Prince Philip
Go on, give him a couple of minutes thought, or however long you generally spend on someone you’ve heard of, who’s died. Patriotism, and national security, depend on us recognising that no one person is more important than the others, but keeping faith with the rule that every single one does matter. Let us hope that the current generation of young royals will put the monarchy idea peacefully to bed now – maybe when their gran passes on.
Meantime, we – all of us – need most urgently to find out how to get control of the rest of the elite who are wrecking the world – the aristocracy, the billionaires, the privileged, public school set who think they own the country. Please put your mind to it, and help with finding the ways. It’ll take all of us – and it’s the most patriotic thing you could be doing with your time.
This seems to be playing in my head, so here it is – you’d better listen to it too.
You don’t just not need the mainstream media – you need to liberate yourself from it. I focus here on one newspaper and one TV channel because they tend to be the last ones people give up – the ‘best of a bad bunch’, as it were.
Like many people (including you, probably, if you’re reading this) I worked this out gradually, over the course of a decade. I was ‘not watching TV much’ 20 years ago. I went from not buying mainstream papers much to not buying them at all around 15 years ago, when the Guardian went completely insane, obsessing first over how much the editor and all its obedient little reporters hated Julian Assange, and then they all went completely hysterical over how much they hated Russell Brand – just when he was providing a very efficient media-deconstruction service to young people, strangely enough.
Up till then, I was one of those who said “oh but they have some good writers, I don’t read the silly ones” – but during the Assange and Brand assaults, I noticed that the ‘good’ writers were, consistently, whilst being sensible and interesting, including some kind of bitchy side-swipe at the current scapegoats along the way, to keep in with the boss, I suppose. Drip, drip, drip, and we all subliminally half-believe Assange, Brand – Corbyn more recently – are dodgy. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. It’s pathetic.
Most people think most people watch telly so that they know what most people know … but what if most people *aren’t* watching telly?
The mainstream media have a hysterical edge quite often now. They know their power is slipping. For example, when a confident, well connected writer gets into hot water with the Guardian and decides to walk, it’ll take her about 5 minutes to find her own online platform and gather in her loyal readership. She’s not lefty enough for me (and she’s not quite given up the Guardianista talk – see Russell Brand link above) but if she was one of your favourites, be assured, you don’t need to follow her to some other mainstream newspaper. Go find her own words, online. She’s worth more, her readers know, than any dying rag.
So, having become better informed, and with more time to do my own thing, since ‘hardly ever’ became never, I spent a few years being frustrated by people who kept doing ‘common sense’ at me, telling me the things they’d gleaned from the mainstream media, things they’d sensibly worked out by ‘reading between the lines’ of their papers, or watching BBC coverage ‘critically’. Yeah, some good stuff occasionally – and you may spot when it’s laced with misleading crap, but how do you spot what it’s missed out altogether?
I’m a socialist a feminist, and an environmentalist and an anti-racist so when the very obvious mass reaction to a well-cared for 99-year-old man dying in his bed was “why the f*ck can’t I watch my favourite telly program!” my first thought was well, I’m glad the fascist, sexist, tiger-shooting racist old so-and-so wasn’t the nation’s favourite after all – but my second thought was more sobering.
Are people really so stuck in their ritual BBC/ITV ogling? Are they only angry at the royalist propaganda because it interfered with their weekend viewing list? Jonathan Cook tells the tale, of the BBC being so inundated with indignation they put up (then hastily took down) a special, dedicated complaints page. It didn’t help.
Listen to the language of people who ‘don’t watch TV much’ – it’s remarkably similar to that of people who ‘don’t drink much’ or ‘don’t do drugs much’. So this is for people who are beginning to feel uncomfortable with their mainstream media habit, who are vacillating between a desire to give it up, and a clinging fear that people like Assange, Brand and Corbyn may really be a bit evil, and that they couldn’t have worked it out on their own.
Shouldn’t you rather be worrying what embarrassing daft ideas you are repeating because they were seeded into your news by the Beeb?
So many people are dithering on the boundaries now, feeling that they just can’t quite ‘give up’ this particular paper, or that particular program. Thing is, there is absolutely nothing to ‘give up’. I may not know who won Bake Off, but I know far, far more fascinating things than I ever found out on the telly – including stuff about how to cook and what famous actors are up to – I am also more up-to-date with politics and current events than I used to be when I wasted the best part of an hour a day on BBC news.
You’re reading this blog online, are you not? That last program, or that long-loved writer who you flag up as your reason for occasionally dipping into TV or papers are also online. There’s hardly a journalist alive who doesn’t have a blog nowadays, and on their blogs, they are more themselves than they ever dare to be in the corporate papers. And any program aired on TV that’s worth its salt will also be available online somewhere. Even BBC news clips get passed around social media on the odd time they manage to say something interesting and important but, once you get used to looking wider, you’ll find there’s more and better coverage of most things being produced and published by better people on YouTube, on blogs on things like Patreon or Medium or – I don’t know what’s which, there’s so much to choose from and all you have to do is join a few social media pages that flag up indies, and take your pick.
Do yourself a favour – hang onto the best of what we learned in lockdown – let’s carry on finding our own stuff to read/watch/talk about in the pub. Until the pubs open, our mates are on zoom, but even after that, so are universities, political groups and specialists in anything we could possibly wish to learn about and discuss – and most of your favourite musicians and comedians, not to mention the world’s favourite classic movies – are all over YouTube. (If it’s your favourite alternative comedian you’re stuck on, think again – ask yourself why the telly’s hung onto Ian Hislop, but dropped Nish Kumar). Let’s keep, and build on, the new freedom. It’s telly-out-the-window time.
Very well, you are right. No more cheeky comments from me. Yes, we should observe eight days of mourning.
DAY 1 Mourn for the ones who, in Mr Johnson’s words, have lost loved ones ‘sooner than we might have wished’ to COVID-19.
DAY 2 Mourn for the ones who have died – old and young, many key workers, many more forced to continue unessential work due to lack of funds, the NHS workers, predominantly racialised ones, who died of COVID-19.
DAY 3 Mourn for those who died the horrible death of being homeless and sick.
DAY 4 Mourn for those who died the horrible death of being poor and lacking social care.
DAY 5 Mourn for those who died on The Journey, seeking asylum. Explain to those who say it’s mostly young men who wash up here, so they must be economic migrants, tell them that that’s because the women and the children, the old and the sick don’t make it.
DAY 6 So mourn for the old and the sick who died on The Journey, and those who stayed home and died amidst destruction.
DAY 7 Mourn for the women and the children stolen away from camps like Calais by traffickers.
DAY 8 Mourn for those who die of bombs and pollution and climate change in all the places that will continue to be destroyed until we learn how to control our aristocrats and our billionaires, and *especially* the billionaire aristocrats, who bomb and starve and squeeze the whole world.
And yes, okay, give a thought to rich and well-cared for old men who die in their beds, in their castles, aged 99.
Socialism A, socialism B, and why everyone who was paralysed by despair on 13th December 2019 should be back in action by now...
The Ministry of Truth
We’ve always been very keen on throwing the term ‘Orwellian’ at anything we consider less than honest but in recent years, the term seems to apply more and more often. Last week (April 2021) a story broke which qualifies 100% – a firm of UK lawyers get the job of doctoring textbooks to suit the Israeli market
And reading that, I remembered that during the compilation of the recent report on racism (that found there wasn’t any) there had been talk of providing ‘the real truth’ to schools. Just trying to imagine what such a scheme would look like under our current government made my toes curl.
The impossibility of agreeing ‘the truth’ with the average citizen you meet in the street was a constant burning problem for Labour activists during the 2017 and 2019 election campaigns, not to mention during the nightmare of the Brexit referendum. The enormity, the impossibility, of that task in the face of a government and a mainstream media drifting ever further from reality is beginning to be discussed by relatively mainstream reporters and academics now, two years after That Terrible Day…
But, having had two years to get over the reeling horror of what happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, most socialist activists are probably beginning to see, as my comrades do, that we already knew we’d been beaten by 2019. We’d run the campaign in a state of denial, based on the fact that the media had spent the last two years telling us we’d lost when in fact we hadn’t, and so we completely failed to acknowledge reality when we really had lost.
So what happened to real socialism? Why could we not see the wood for the trees? There’s hardly anyone in the Labour Party who doesn’t claim to be a socialist: from the very best paid and most privileged members of the plap (as we took to calling the Parliamentary Labour Party after some of our more bruising experiences), right on down to the lowliest of activists out on the street between DWP maulings, ‘the grassroots’ helping out with Unite Community campaigns against Sports Direct and other exploiters — all insist that they are socialists. How can so many, so very different people, people absolutely at each other’s throats, think they’re socialists?
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of socialism – or at least, there’s socialism, and a very convincing faux socialism that often takes its place. I found a good, clear definition of the distinction in Snakes and Ladders by Selina Todd. The subtitle of the book is ‘The Great British Social Mobility Myth’. Todd makes extensive use of the personal accounts collected in endeavours such as the Mass Observation Project
She demonstrates a change, over the generations, in the publicly perceived aims of socialism. She looks at early socialist projects, pre-Second World War, which tended to be local subscription schemes, co-ops where communities banded together to solve problems and help each other, thus reducing their reliance on the ‘power people’, the oppressors. Then she looks at later ones which tended to be more individualistic efforts to lift ‘high achievers’ into the middle classes. She follows the developing clash of these two ideas via conflicts in the Workers’ Education Association, over whether their work should centre community education projects for everyone, or whether they should focus on creating scholarships for ‘achievers’.
The problem gradually comes into focus. Clearly, lifting individuals out of the oppressed, working classes into the middle classes isn’t really socialism – you can’t lift everyone into the middle class. If that is your aim, what does ‘the middle’ rest on? Who is going to scrub the floors and wipe the arses? Do we discuss this thorny issue, or do we close our eyes and trumpet ever louder the catch-phrases of socialism B….?
Tony Blair was one of the more notorious proponents of ‘meritocracy’, enthusiastically espousing ‘equality of opportunity’, and mixing meritocracy with the wide-ranging benefits which generally come with a Labour government in a very enticing agenda which, for one-and-a-half terms of office, successfully covered a creeping privatisation that left us with our hospitals deeply in debt, school grounds being sold off and a range of other troubling developments including the over-riding horror of the Iraq War. A loss of socialist vision that more than justified Margaret Thatcher’s statement that New Labour was her greatest achievement.
But Blair was a socialist – and initially a very popular one. What happened?
A good source of detail on how ‘meritocracy’ works is Miseducation, by Diane Reay, which surveys stats and experiences of UK education from the very start of mass education, and discovers an unchanging strategy of using the majority of children as a buffer (collateral damage is the term she uses), the contrast that allows those bright achievers to be ‘top of the pile’. There were only ever so many grammar school places back in the 11-plus days, and middle class parents were always good at making sure their children got them. The few working class people who clawed their way into grammar schools often felt lost and defeated when they got there, cut off from their working class roots, not quite good enough for the alternatives… Comprehensives looked, for a while, like a solution to that but there was, eternally, the private school system sitting on top, limiting their efficacy; and even within those comprehensives, streaming systems recreated that hierarchical ladder for the ‘achievers’ to climb… and the corresponding snakes for others to slide down.
The now-proliferating academy businesses appear to be even more focused on this idea, with their competitive, motivational, aspirational straplines, and their quiet assurances to teachers that no-one will have to handle more than one of those problematic set 3 classes, where the kids all seem to have SEND or mental health issues: the latter translates, in some opinions, to kids who are angry, depressed and/or distressed – the ‘collateral damage’ – the necessary foil of the class system.
Those kids need rescuing – or they need to learn to rescue themselves. Is that a skill they’re going to learn in those schools?
Corbyn – a return to socialism A?
It was extremely hard to sell Corbyn’s version of socialism to everyone – it sold itself to pretty much everyone who actually met him but, strangely enough, it didn’t get an honest airing in the mainstream media, and the high-salaried, high-achievers in the Labour Party didn’t take to it too well. Nevertheless, team Corbyn kept him out on the road, meeting people in their tens of thousands, and good instincts led many, many people to recognise that the socialism of Jeremy Corbyn was something different, something that provided redress – as some analysts noted, Corbyn’s acknowledgement of ‘the left behind’ was key.
Corbyn wasn’t cheering people on to ‘rise above’ the herd, he was constantly calling for them to ‘stick together’, to ‘build the community’ and make socialism happen.
The one big Momentum call-out
Initially, the organisation Momentum became the instrument of the mass movement. When the plap made their first major attempt to nip Socialism A in the bud (an exercise now known as ‘the chicken coup’) they found the House of Commons surrounded by tens of thousands of – well, people – just people – responding to Momentum’s call to hold the line for Corbyn, chanting ‘for the many, not the few’ and ‘no-one left behind’.
It was instinctive, it was right (I think) but, as many lefty commentators said after the Terrible Day (13th December 2019) the majority of the movement lacked background knowledge, it lacked political nous, and was completely un-leadable. It scared the heck out of Jon Lansman who, at that time, considered himself to be in charge of Momentum. It gets very personal here but it seems to me that from that day on, Lansman back-tracked furiously, aiming for his own natural home which was most definitely Socialism B. His methods came from the secret weapon of the right at the time – Identity Politics.
The Politics of Divide and Rule
Where Socialism A always centres the class struggle, aiming to unravel the ‘meritocracy’ view in favour of community and class action, Socialism B will reply with divide and rule – sometimes centring the ‘high achievers’ to create an elite, other times centring a minority competing in ‘the oppression Olympics’ – for example, look at who was getting kicked out of the Labour Party during the struggle to get Corbyn into number ten – top of the list was Jewish Socialists – especially black and female Jewish socialists – accused of anti-semitism.
Were there really hordes of anti-semites in the Labour Party, or was this an attempt to use one section of the Jewish community against another? And then came the leaks, and the signs of racism and sexism running through backroom party bureaucracy.
It was Momentum that scuppered the CLGA left slate system that the new, mass membership relied on to compensate for our lack of political experience and literacy, and it was Momentum in general, Jon Lansman in particular – who did the damage, first by throwing the anti-semitism bomb at Pete Wilsman in the middle of an NEC election, and more recently by making sectarian demands of CLGA candidates that exacerbate the divide between gender-critical feminism and the trans rights movement.
Lots of lobbying or lots of people?
How do you heal those divides? The two styles of socialism can be seen in the choice all political movements make between foregrounding community- and movement-building or foregrounding lobbying. The lack of experience of many of us newcomers to party politics led to an expectation that if only we could get our particular case in front of Corbyn or MacDonnell, all the problems would fall away. Many sections of the movement attempted to build and lobby, but there was always too much belief in the ‘Corbyn will sort it out’ feeling. I suspect that it is, even now, slowing the development of the current Corbyn Project, as too many sign-ups sit at home waiting for Jeremy to work his magic.
It was the failure of that misplaced faith that led us all to slump into despair as the election results came in on 13th December 2019, and Corbyn resigned as party leader. It was the same failure of faith that led so many campaigns to wander off down their separate, and often antagonistic, paths since then. Failure of faith in ourselves as a collective. It’s time to pull those paths back together – we need to recognise truth speakers such as Corbyn, to listen to them and honour them, but not expect them to work the magic. We need to know that we can campaign side-by-side with people of different opinions, but we need to be politically literate enough to know whether they are real socialists. I don’t know if the Labour Party itself is any use to us now, but nor do I expect Mr Magic Corbyn to start a new party.
What we need to do is a lot more homework, then we need to get out there and make sure more people really understand what happened, and what is happening. Keep the conversations going until enough people understand… and as so often happens, I was just trying to work out how to say all that, when I realised someone just had.
I’m not sure how long the share token for ‘The Truth’ will stay live but, if it’s stopped working when you get to this point, try searching for Caitlin Johnstone and the-problem-isnt-human-nature…