John Harris: Does The Left Have A future? The Guardian 6th Sept 2016

 

Here is an excellent article; comprehensive, insightful and coherent. But it is an article that is crying out for some sort of conclusion. However, Harris is either unwilling or unable to provide one. Of course, in his defence, there are no glib conclusions to the fragmentation and demoralisation of the old European working class any more than there are easy conclusions to be drawn from the relentless march of globalisation and automation. These are the trickiest of subjects. Harris, like the rest of us, does not have a crystal ball, so he can be forgiven for not offering his readers too many definites. But he could have made some tentative suggestions as to where the left should be heading.

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The Rio Olympics: The Usual Unpalatable Truths.

1.      

The Rio Olympics are taking place in the middle of a carefully orchestrated domestic political coup against the Brazilian Workers Party, a coup that the world media, including the Brazilian media itself, have singularly refused to comment on. This is the same Brazilian monopolistic media empire that openly supported the military coup way back in 1964.

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Jeremy Corbyn, The Boy Is Doing Good, Editorial

 

With the likes of the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, Channel 4’s Michael Crick, and the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee all pouring out bucket loads of venom against the democratically elected Mr Corbyn, not to mention the usual bile from the Tory tabloids, it’s a wonder that JC has remained so upbeat and energetic. With journalists like Kuenssberg and Crick, who needs enemies. Our clique of esteemed ‘investigative journalists’ imagine themselves to be rigorously journalistic in their hounding of Corbyn but they are not. Good investigative journalism would be focusing on Corbyn’s radical policies. They would be teasing out the respective merits or otherwise of the public ownership of the nation’s infrastructure; the value or otherwise of returning to free university education and the wisdom or otherwise of keeping the NHS solely in the public sector. They might also care to investigate the merits of a nuclear free foreign policy. But no. Our oh-so-knowledgeable media superstars are more intent on persistently undermining JC on the spurious grounds of Trotskyist infiltration.  

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Angela Eagle: A Bit Part in A Very British Coup

On the 24th of June 2016 I finally woke up in a foreign country. I had lived and worked in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for twenty-eight years, up until that morning. In all those years it had never felt like an alien place but on that Friday – all of a sudden – it did.

The Brexit vote had come and gone and it seemed to me that more than half of the country had just told me to pack my bags. It felt very personal.

However, at least could I console myself with the thought that this result had badly weakened the government and provided the opposition with a fantastic opportunity to press home an advantage against a wounded and divided foe.

 

What was I thinking?

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Jeremy Corbyn is Winning: Editorial

 

I’ve no idea if Mr Corbyn can win a national election. At first glance the political demographics seem   stacked against him. The so-called traditional working class vote is fragmented, demoralised and disorientated. And, caught as it in a vice like grip between globalisation and automation, shows every sign of continuing its relentless decline. But beyond this narrow definition of the working-class lies the ninety-nine percent. They too can also be defined as the working class because in the final instance, the vast majority of this ninety-nine percent must rely on selling their labour power in order to survive. If Corbyn’s Labour leadership can tap into the imagination of this vast constituency, then a Corbyn led parliamentary victory may be yet possible. But win or lose, in one important sense, Corbyn has already won a mighty victory. Jeremy Corbyn and his team are setting the new political agenda and the rest of the political pack are having to play catch-up.

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“Brighton Table Tennis Club -Refugees & Asylum Seekers are Welcome Here.”

First there was Anh 
In January 2015 I was introduced to Anh, a Vietnamese 16 year old in foster care in Brighton. He was a victim of trafficking, from Vietnam in the back of a lorry from China.  His journey had taken a year and he arrived in November 2014. The Virtual School for Children in Care asked if Brighton Table Tennis Club could provide some 1:1 Table Tennis and English tuition for Anh. I had no idea that this was the beginning of something big, of which we are both the front line and just the start.


Humble Beginnings
In 2007, Brighton Table Tennis Club was set up at the Brighton Youth Centre, formerly the Boys Club, two minutes from the Pier and in the centre in town. The demographic of the local children in the area was white, British and working class, lots of whom were, at the time, and for lots of different reasons, disengaged, not interested, drifting. Some of the success stories of these local lads after nine years are brilliant. One example is of a 14 year old boy excluded from school for throwing chairs and tables around the classroom, who, through involvement with the club and the positive role models it gave him, is now a fully qualified glazier ready to set up his own business and take on his own apprentices – this is despite some close shaves and run-ins with the police over the years.

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Chronicles, Thomas Piketty, Viking, 2016

It’s refreshing for an economist, and a damn good one at that, to be able to put their arguments in a way that the lay person can grasp. Thomas Piketty has done just that, though I should add that I found his monumental ‘Capital’ pretty tough going. But the essence of Piketty’s polemic, be it in full academic mode, or the more accessible journalistic mode, is that inequality is increasing across the planet, with the one percent getting an ever larger share of the cake and the ninety-nine percent having to scramble around for the remaining crumbs.

 

Chronicles is a collection of nearly fifty short journalistic style articles dating back to the financial collapse of 2008 and running through to late 2015. In those eight tumultuous years I can honestly say that not one of these articles have unduly dated or become redundant. On the contrary, they seem fairly essential reading if we are to get anything like a grip on the contradictions that are bedevilling our times. The collection is grouped into three sections: 1) Why Save the Bankers? 2) No, The Greeks Aren’t Lazy 3) Can Growth Save Us? These three sub-headings are self-explanatory enough but if the collection were to have an overall title it could usefully be ‘The Contradictions of Globalisation’.  

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Corbyn’s Leadership Must Be Defended.

 

I’m very certain that the Parliamentary Labour Party could find themselves a shiny new Blairite face in a sharp business suit to lead the party and enhance the chances of Labour getting into No 10. But to what purpose? Labour, under Tony Blair, won three national elections and during that thirteen-year period of governance the inequality within the country continued to grow, the markets and financial system continued to be unregulated, the social housing stock continued to decline, the principle of university fees was entrenched into the education system, further parts of the nation’s infrastructure were privatised and our foreign policy continued in a pro-imperialist, neo-colonial direction. In other words, a continuation of everything Thatcher and her neo-liberal chums stood for.

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Post Brexit: Editorial

 is 

‘All that was once solid melt away into air’. Karl Marx was reputed to have said these words or something similar way back in the nineteenth century, words that feel most apposite in the wake of the Brexit vote. British political parties are in turmoil as is the British State itself. And the political ramifications go so much further. The entire EU project could unravel. The Front National in France are emboldened. In fact, right wing and openly neo-fascist parties across Europe, already somewhat in the ascendancy, are ready to jump on the anti EU bandwagon. And perhaps most significantly of all, in the wake of the Brexit vote, a Trump presidency seems to inch ever closer. Marx also noted that; ’In fifty year’s history barely moves a day and then in one day it can suddenly move fifty years.’ Once again, hugely apposite, but whether we have moved fifty years forward or fifty years backward is a matter of fierce contention.  

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The Untold History of the United States, Chapter 2, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

 

So rich in detail and documentation is this unprecedented history of the United States that I promised myself that I would review each and every chapter. Then I got side-tracked and I only managed to deliver on the introduction and chapter one. Well now I’m back with the full intention of delivering on the original pledge. If we want to get a grasp on the current state of play in US political history there is no better place to start than this explosive chapter. It’s got everything; corporate fascism US style, greedy bankers holding the country to ransom, fascist plots a plenty and the ‘revolutionary’ New Deal as served up by President Roosevelt. It’s as if someone has pressed the replay button. All that history we have witnessed with Reagan and the two Bush’s and the Clintons with Trump in the wings, it all seems to have its roots way back in the inter-war period. Just have a look at this selection of quotes to see what I mean.

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All That Man Is, David Szalay, Jonathan Cape London, 2016

 

Not so much a novel than a series of short stories, which potentially could have been far less satisfying than a single story. But no need to worry on this score because Szalay has produced a work of fiction that is every bit as absorbing as anything a high quality novel might offer. And here’s the wonderful thing. After each magically produced story the reader is momentarily left frustrated that it’s all come to such a sudden and premature end, but almost immediately Szalay has us totally gripped by the next totally discreet story with its totally new set of characters. That is surely a real skill and for me, Szalay does not put a foot wrong. Every character and every piece of dialogue is so genuinely convincing that by the end of the nine stories I was left with a sense of reader satisfaction as complete as any conventional novel could ever hope to deliver.

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Being Dead, Jim Crace, Penguin, 2000, London

 

I’m still reeling from the wonder that was ‘Harvest’, Jim Crace’s most recent novel, and I was very reluctant to try one of his earlier novels for fear it might disappoint. It didn’t. In fact, in many ways it was the equal to Harvest – haunting, compelling and unsettling in equal measure. To say that Jim Crace is Britain’s most powerful living novelist is perhaps too wild a claim, but for me he is right up there with the very best that the English speaking language has to offer.

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Bad Jews, Joshua Harmon, Theatre Royal Haymarket, 2016,

 

Had loads of fun with this one. Cleverly scripted, well acted, and most critically as it turns out, a highly topical polemic. In short, brother and sister are at war with each other. Usual sibling rivalries but with an added ingredient. Jewish brother brings home his blond girlfriend/fiancé who just happens not to be Jewish. Sister berates brother for threatening to marry outside of the Jewish faith thereby weakening the purity of Jewish line. Brother retaliates by accusing sister of upholding a fascist ideology more akin to the Nazis. All good fun, but in the light of the ‘anti-Semitism’ accusations swirling around the Labour Party at the moment, and in particular those aimed at a certain Mr Jeremy Corbyn, this turns out to be deadly serious stuff.

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Hillsborough: A Case Study in Britain’s Tainted Democracy

 

Much of the British media, excluding of course the criminal Murdoch Empire, are feigning a moral outrage at how shabbily the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy and their surviving relatives and friends have been treated. Perhaps some of the outrage is genuine but it doesn’t feel so. It feels manufactured for the moment, and will be just as quickly forgotten as soon as the next big news story comes along.

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The Plague, Albert Camus, 1947, Penguin, London

 

A mountain of words has been written about this all time post-war classic, so it remains only to ask the question; how goes the plague in 2016? On one level Camus’ Plague clearly concerns how we humans respond, in our various ways, to fascism, be it military, institutional or cultural. Some of us oppose it outright, others seek to accommodate to it, while others willingly collaborate with it. And of course there are a thousand shades between. But I suspect Camus’ Plague operates at a far deeper level still. For Camus, the Plague is that of human indifference, of a deficit of empathy; of a retreat into ones own selfish needs. As such, the Plague is always with us, lurking in every country, in every community and in the consciousness of every individual. Try as we might, we can never  totally inoculate ourselves against this form of plague. It is a virus which seems to be an integral part of the human condition. One only has to look at the developed world’s faltering response to the current refugee crisis lapping at the shores of Europe to get a sense of what Camus was getting at.

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Purity, Jonathan Franzen, Forth Estate, London, 2015

If you’re looking for purity in this world, and I’m pretty damn sure there is only this world, then don’t bother being born. It’s as simple as that. Because, sure enough, the moment you pop your messy head out of that messy womb, you’re bound to compromise your messy arse until the day you die. Your family will compromise you; your political world will comprise you, your work, or lack of it will compromise you; and for absolute certain, any and all of the relationships you stumble into will bury you up to the neck and beyond in all manner of messy compromises. And all of your ideals, slippery as they invariably are, will definitely land you in a quagmire of compromise. So, if you’re foolish enough to be looking for some sort of purity, then planet earth is definitely not the place for you. Jonathan Franzen, in his third major novel, makes this point abundantly clear over every page of his engrossing tale of the fruitless search for purity.

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