A guest post by BOB MYERS
Many people will have been bitterly disapointed when they found that most consumers had bought the Eton toffs’ slogan “Get Brexit Done”, rather than the product on offer from Labour. And I agree, it is utterly nauseating to see the public school aristos put in charge of the tuck shop, and stuffing goodies into their slavering mouths faster than their arseholes can evacuate their waste.
When Jeremy Corbyn beat the remnants of Tony Blair’s privatising war junkies, and became Labour leader, thousands of people were excited by the prospect of what Corbyn himself described as “a new kind of politics”.
However, Comparethepolitics.com has looked at the election, and found little or no actual
evidence of “new politics”. While the products on sale may have had very different labels, the contents were identical in one vital respect.
Both set out to sell their products to a passive audience sat in front of TVs, mobiles and toilet paper dressed as newspapers. Both said: “Vote for me to solve your aches and pains.”
Where was the “new” politics?
Now Labour Party leadership hopefuls are rushing to the Guardian to tell their middle class readers that they know what the working class really want and need.
The hard truth is that the defeat of the miners’ strike in 1985 by the Thatcher government saw the almost total destruction of the British working class.
Of course there are workers: workers on ever deteriorating wages, workers on zero hour contracts, workers living homeless on the streets, workers doing two or three jobs to get by, workers on benefit systems that are driving people to suicide and despair. But this is not a working class. A working class comes into being when people start to organise themselves in one way or another to solve their own problems.
Instead what we now have in the UK is an atomised society where people are reduced to being consumers: consumers of food, of entertainment, of experiences … and consumers of news and politics. Corbyn never once moved outside of this realm, no matter how “radical” were his selling points.
And in this world of the passive individual, the ideology of the dominant elite rules the roost. Petty self interest, flag waving xenophobia and nationalism – all the ancient tricks of the elite marketing strategy, to divert resentment from themselves on to the “other”, the outsider, were always going to win the day. (Indeed, Labour Parties, and Greens, across Europe are waking up to this and adding a dash of anti-foreigner rhetoric to their placards in order to get elected. And look, it works. They get elected.)
Jeremy Corbyn’s selling strategy was largely organised by his advisers, one of whom was a long-time admirer of “socialism” in the Soviet Union, and the other of “socialism” in china. Two countries ruled by murderous, dictatorial elites. Maybe that gives you an idea of how they see “the voters”.
Now of course Jeremy is a very nice man, and many of his products on sale looked very nice … but none of this constituted “new” politics. On the contrary it is absolutely the politics of hierarchy, of bureaucracy, of patriarchy in the form of “we know whats best for you” and “please don’t bother to get out of your armchairs because we’ll sort things out”.
Australia is on fire. In the drive for raw materials, in the drive to push ever more products down your throat, in the drive to make their bit of capital profitable, banks, industries and industrialists are bringing the planet to the point of being uninhabitable. This can not be stopped by the very people creating the problem, but only by the mass of humanity, the working people of the world who create all the wealth but are denied any say over how it is made or utilised, taking matters into their own hands.
The politics of the Tories can not be beaten at the ballot box by consumers but only by people finding ways to organise themselves to resist and overcome the multiple problems facing them.
But wait! A Labour hopeful is saying the same thing! Lisa Nandy has suddenly discovered people power. “Unless we change course we will become irrelevant. This change starts with empowering people to make changes themselves.”
How nice. So she wants the Labour Party to play a part in people organising themselves – but to do what? What’s this extra-parliamentary activity for? Well, to get Labour re-elected at the next election of course. In other words the aim of the activity is to propel a few solicitors into parliament. Not for people to actually take the enemy by the throat and strangle them to death.
No, if people really do take matters into their own hands they will inevitably come into conflict with good old parliament, the mother of democracies etc. And where will Lisa Nandy be then? With the people or with parliament? Well of course we can never say what this or that individual will do, but we can say what institutions will do. And the Labour Party will always put it loyalty to parliament before all else. Its always has done, throughout it existence.
It is very hard for people born after the miners’ strike to imagine a “new” kind of politics. They have never, in the UK at least, seen people take events into their own hands. They have never seen people come together, fighting for their own cause; people become different people because they develop a collective consciousness, no longer passive consumers but actively trying to create the world they want; people no longer leaving things to others (their “betters”); and learning to see through the lies of the Thatchers, Blairs and Johnsons.
But raise your eyes from these shores, around the world people are confronting and bringing down dictators and corrupt regimes. Yes, not yet finding lasting solutions, not yet finding a way out of the nightmare world our present rulers are creating, but on the move. Going through bitter defeats, but picking themselves up and learning. Sudan, Hong Kong, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq and on and on, people confronting corruption, nepotism and unaccountable power.
However hard it is to imagine, people here will also, at some point, start to take matters into their own hands – because the Jolly Toffs as sure as hell aren’t going to make things better. Northern powerhouse? With its head office in Mustique??!
But wait, you say, we couldn’t even get Jeremy’s cautious product sold, how the hell can you talk about revolt? But that’s the point. You never will get Jeremy’s product sold. It’s like trying to roll the ball up the pyramid. The whole parliamentary system is designed, or rather has evolved over a thousand years, as a way of managing a hierarchial, patriarchial class society. Yes of course popular struggles have changed the way it works – votes for women, general franchise, and so on – but not the essence of it. It is, and always will be, an institution for administering a class society.
So what might a new politics here in the UK look like?
Start by going back a bit to events which people who want radical change might have reacted diferently.
First, the Euro-crisis in Greece. The institutions of the European Union, utterly undemocratic remote bodies, wanted the Greek people to pay for the massive debts run up by speculative gambling of the global banking system. Because of their resistance, the Greek people found themselves out of medicines, out of many things that people in the UK and across Europe could have collected and taken to them (as a group of us did, on a small scale, during the Yugoslav wars. when we took convoys of food to miners and other workers in Bosnia who were trying to withstand a siege aimed at ethnically dividing them).
In a thousand ways, we could have helped strengthen the resistance in Greece. If that had started, it would have made the whole debate over Europe, what kind of Europe do we want a very different debate.
Second, the Grenfell tower fire. The tenants did organise themselves, but were left relatively unsupported by people at large, and with their political inexperience and lack of muscle they were pushed into supporting a government “inquiry”.
If an alternative people’s inquiry had been set up, I’m sure that a week-long hearing could have found all the relevant minutes of meetings where government ministers and local authorities took decisions that meant that saving money was more important than peoples lives. Seventy-two people died as a result of these decisions. And you can bet your bottom dollar no government minister will go to prison for manslaughter.
Government inquiries have only one purpose – to bury things until public concern has died away and then do nothing. But the horrific nature of this class society could have been brought out by people coming to add their anger to that of the tenants.
You cannot artificially create self-organised protest or self-organised efforts to change the way we live, but you can begin to strengthen the work of all those who right now see the need for change and who are willing to get up and do something. But we can only do this by challenging the thinking that the electoral process, and the Labour Party in particular, is going to ride to our salvation. We can only do this if we stop appealing for the people who are pushing us to the brink to change their ways. They can not. We have to change the world and ourselves by our own efforts, by finding our own solutions. We have to assist in the rebuilding of a working class movement.
When Greta Thunberg addresses all the great statesmen and industrialists, the governments and politicians, they all applaud. But she is right to question what they are really doing, when the applause dies away. These are the people who are the administrators, the spokespeople, the champions of a society that threatens humanity, precisely because it is uncontrollable and unreformable.
People like Corbyn think that if they win elections they are at the helm, but it is the rapacious nature of our existing society that dictates what politicians can and can not do as long as they abide by the “rules”. It is this that our revolt has to confront. 7 January 2020.
■ Thanks to Bob for these thoughts. Previous comments on People & Nature about where we go in the UK after the election: