Corbyn and Contradictions.


 

The old contradictions haven’t gone away. At the heart of everything is that most stubborn of all contradictions, that between the private ownership of the world’s wealth and the socially created nature of that wealth, creating a situation where a relatively tiny handful of multi-billionaires  have gained control over the world’s resources and industries while an increasingly impoverished global population grimly toil just to survive. In various forms, this contradictory situation has been around for millennia, stretching back to the dawn of slave owning society, through the feudal epoch and then into the highly dynamic capitalist era. This dialectic between the private ownership of socially produced wealth has been around for so long that one could be forgiven for thinking that this is the natural order of things. It permeates everything and seems to forever frustrate any qualitative advance in how we humans organise ourselves. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory will very likely drag this contradiction into the full light of day.

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Migrants


The distinction between refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants

Is as repulsive as racism itself.

The very essence of humanity is migration

Nobody wants to be left on the shelf.

 

Our descendants all originally migrated from Africa

In search of food and a safer place to live

Those that would make criminals out of migrants

Commit a crime that is impossible to forgive.

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London Mayoral Candidates: Where’s The Big Idea?

Ken Livingston had his Fares Fair , which of course soon got bogged down in the Tory courts. Boris Johnston had his cycling revolution which also got bogged down, though this time through lack of conviction. Painting a few blue lines on the road maketh a revolution not. But at least both Livingston and Johnston had something of a big idea.  But the current crop of Mayoral hopefuls really are a sorry lot. A chance to lead one of the planet’s leading metropolises and not one of them can come up with an inspiring policy. Of course all the Labour candidates are mouthing the right sort of platitudes on housing, transport and the environment but you get the distinct feeling that none of them really mean what they say.

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Corbynomics: TRWNBT

There’s a man going round who’d rather jaw jaw

than carelessly set off a nuclear war war.

But they call him a threat to national security.

 

There’s a man who’s opposed to austerity

whose alternative shows a great deal of dexterity.

But they say he’s a threat to the nation.

 

There’s a man who wants QE for the common people

instead of mindlessly pump-priming the capitalist steeple.

But they say he will wreck the economy.

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Kids Company: Scene of a Triple Crime

The Tory media would have us believe that this once loved charity had, in the last year or two, descended into a hotbed of financial misdeeds and sexual depravity. The evidence for such wrongdoings is patchy to say the least. Hard evidence, it seems, is non-existent. But there have indeed been crimes committed in and around Kids Company, and they are crimes so horrific that a public enquiry should be set up without delay and mass protests should be organised to name and to shame those responsible. These crimes do indeed involve financial wrong-doings and abuse of all types. And worse still, they include violent criminality of every conceivable description up to and including the premature deaths of young people. The crime I speak of is none other than the crime of poverty and neglect and it is endemic in our communities. And like all crimes, there are victims and there are perpetrators.

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Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee, 2015, Penguin, London

Timing is everything. Released at a different moment and perhaps Watchman might not have created such a ripple. But coming in the wake of the current spate of police violence against America’s Black communities and the subsequent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and suddenly Watchman is the book of the moment. As a piece of literature the best that can be said is that it is patchy. At its high points it invokes all the masterly beauty of To Kill A Mocking Bird, but towards the latter pages it becomes turgid and lecturing. Little wonder Lee’s original publishers recommended she go away and rewrite the thing from a different perspective. But literary merits aside, the book disappoints politically because after some stirring words from the leading protagonist, Scout and perhaps Lee herself seem to come to a begrudging accommodation with KKK terror and racist bigotry generally. Of course, written in the mid-fifties, this accommodation is probably not that surprising. The civil rights movement had yet to reach its full maturity and in many ways Harper Lee was ahead of her times. And critically, this accommodation with bigotry gives us an insight into the deep, deep roots of American racism still so blatantly on show in American society to this very day.

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A Very British Coup, Chris Mullin, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1982

Just revisited the magnificent TV version and then thought I ought to read the book just in case there were some nuances that the TV series had left out. As it turned out the TV adaption, for my money, does a far superior job in painting the dark picture of a British/US right wing coup than the original text. But both book and TV series are compulsory tools in exploring just how the ruling establishment, on both sides of the Atlantic, seamlessly come together to rid themselves of any threatening left wing upstarts. Written in the wake of both the CIA orchestrated Chilean and Australian coups, ‘A Very British Coup’ simply imagines the same thing happening in Britain should the British electorate have the audacity to elect anything like a radical social democratic government. And the genius of Mullin’s efforts is that his imagined scenario is actually unfolding in front of our very eyes in the wake of a possible Corbyn administration. Mr Mullin, we owe you a debt of gratitude. 

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Postcapitalism, Paul Mason, Allen Lane, 2015

When Mr Mason is not busy demonstrating to his readers just how clever he is, he provides us with a highly readable, highly thought-provoking discussion on post-capitalist scenarios. In actual fact Mr Mason is a very clever chap but he could do with adding a touch of humility whilst laying out his theories. Mason just can’t wait to tell us where Marx and Engels and Lenin got it right and where they got it wrong. As an accomplished journalist well-grounded in economics, he has every right to make such criticisms, but such criticisms might profitably be couched in more temperate language. I recall Mr Mason dismissing the entire Marxist/Leninist ‘Labour Aristocracy’ theory as ‘rubbish. Hardly the sort of approach to give his later arguments the gravity they might otherwise deserve. But ’notwithstanding this little criticism, I found Mr Mason’s latest offering both inspiring and unsettling in equal measure. Not only does he paint a picture of a gathering storm; environmental, economic, political and technological, he turns this perfect storm on its head and creates a future scenario of unimaginable possibilities. In short, he grasps perfectly the dialectic between scarcity and abundance thereby reawakening the entire Marxist understanding of a humane, rational, communist future. Not a future that is set in stone but a future of infinite permutations. The end of pre-history, as Marx once mused, and the real beginning of the human story.   

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Dear Jeremy Corbyn

Dear JC,

I remember you well. During those dark, dark days when Irish Republicans stood defiant in the face of the vicious remnants of British colonialism, you offered them a sympathetic ear. In fact you did more than that – you gave them qualified support. When nearly all in the Labour Party had washed their hands of the Irish Republicans’ legitimate demands for self-determination, you took a principled stand. I suspect you understood those searing words from Marx: ‘The English working class can never be free while it colludes in the oppression of the Irish nation.’ And as far as I can recall, you took a similar principled stand on Palestinian rights, anti-apartheid and a host of other ‘untouchable’ issues. So if you were to achieve nothing else in your political career those courageous, principled stands would mark you out as a success story in terms of political leadership. And as we have witnessed over the post war decades, political leadership has been a rare commodity in the British Labour Party. So whatever comes next in the roller-coater of political life, you should be well aware that your past record is an entirely worthy one. In fact I think it fair to say, an admirable one.

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Moses Ascending, Sam Selvon, Penguin, 1975

Couldn’t be absolutely certain that I haven’t read this one a few decades back, but either way, it made for a thoroughly enjoyable read. Certainly not politically correct by today’s standards but since when has satirical humour worried about such niceties as political correctness. It was a bit like watching some old episodes of ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ or ‘Rising Damp’. Some highly dubious satire but funny and poignant in places nevertheless. There is no doubting Selvon’s astuteness when it comes not only to the racial tensions of the London of the 1970’s but of the human condition in general. So while we might conclude that his comic portrayal of those dark days is a little dated, we might equally conclude that there is a wonderful universality about this tale. Thwarted ambitions, petty prejudices and immigrant dilemmas never really go out of vogue, they simply mutate and change their form a little. Substitute, say Somalians and Romanians for West Indians and South Asians, and one quickly realises that London has not changed that much at all. All the personal and political aspirations on display in ‘Moses Ascending’ are still being played out in  millions of households across dozens of global cities. In fact, wherever migrants are seeking to better their material circumstances you will find a Moses Aloetta.

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Orange is the New Black, Netflix, Series 1-3

It was billed as the new ‘Wire’ but I think it only lived up to that exalted rating in a most patchy and superficial sort of way. The Wire was dark and cutting edge throughout. It tore contemporary America to pieces. It touched on a deep alienation within American society that hitherto had seemed beyond the possibilities of any TV script. It held its audiences spellbound for five series and launched a few acting careers in the process. It became a marker for all future and past TV and had credibility in the claim that it was the greatest TV series of all time. ‘Orange Is The New Black’, despite a number of poignant moments, is most definitely not in that rarefied atmosphere. Too light-hearted, too glib and in places just too crass.

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The British Labour Party: What is it For?

 

Of the three great issues facing people everywhere, nowhere can the British Labour Party claim in any sense to be in the lead. Nowhere can it claim to be in the vanguard against environmental destruction, against growing inequality and against corrupt centralised governance. In fact it has been failing miserably on all three fronts. Which is not to say that both in government and in opposition it has not had its moments of enlightenment. New Labour did introduce the Sure Start programme to help combat the shocking disparity between the life chances of the better-off and of those of the dispossessed and disenfranchised. It did introduce tax credits and the minimum wage to partially bridge the glaring gap between those at the top end and those desperately trying to eke out an existence at the other end. It did make some tentative moves in the direction of  political devolution of this rather dis-United Kingdom. And there were some haft-hearted concessions to the renewable energy industry.  But after thirteen years in government it was all too little and way too tame to make a noticeable difference.

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A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel, Forth Estate, 1992

There is one thing you can say with some degree of certainty about Mantel. She understands class, she understands sex and she understands human frailties. What better tools can novelist possibly need? The fact that she is a writer of stunning ability is the final ingredient for greatness. Nearly nine hundred pages of historical recreation and not for a single moment does the tension let up. Having been blown away, like so many people, by Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ and her subsequent ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ I was very reluctant to take on a novel that was written over twenty years earlier. Surely I would be disappointed. Surely it would just represent her apprenticeship for the masterpiece that was yet to come. No sir! Mantel’s, ‘A Place of Greater Safety’ is a masterpiece in its own right. Readers need not fear a sense of anti-climax having read the first two parts of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. What Mantel has done for our appreciation of Cromwell, she has equally done for our understanding of Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins. And the brilliance that she has bought to the first two parts of her Tudor trilogy is every bit in evidence in her reconstruction of the French Revolution.

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The Lebedevs: Schizophrenic Oligarchs

 

The Lebedev’s, owners of the London Evening Standard, just can’t make up their minds. One minute they’re whipping up support for the Tory Party and generally behaving as one would expect a reasonable size cog in the corporate machine to behave. Next minute they are masquerading as tribunes of London’s working class, championing everything from literacy, safe cycling, affordable housing and clean air. The only problem with playing these two roles is, for the most part, they are diametric opposites.

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Greek Negotiations: Podemos is the Elephant in the Room.

Strictly speaking, the above title is incorrect. The real elephant in the room is not so much Podemos but neoliberalism itself. Give in to the wholly reasonable demands of Syriza and every anti-austerity party across Europe and beyond will take heart. The battle lines are crystal clear. It’s the exponents of monetarism and neoliberalism versus those at the receiving end. The ruling establishment’s narrative is that there is no alternative, yet one after another leading economists; including Nobel Prize winning economists, are telling us that neoliberalism and its attendant inhuman austerity policies are a busted flush. What they are telling us and what bitter experience is teaching us is that the policies of neoliberalism as practised across  Europe are creating ever greater levels of inequality and making global recessionary pressures even worse. Just ask the Greeks. Of course you don’t need to be a Nobel Prize winning economist to tell you this. Any high school economics student will tell you: spend your way out of recession and then trim the deficits during the boom years. It’s basic Keynesianism.

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Women’s World Cup

There is still an awful lot to decry concerning the state and status of women across the globe. One half of the human population still seems to take a sadistic pleasure in degrading the other half.  Whichever way we look, east or west, north or south, the material and social outcomes for women is considerably below that of their male counterparts. Women are on the receiving end when it comes to equal pay, equality in education and employment, and perhaps most telling, their general status in society. In the east women are still battling to rid themselves of the chains of feudal bondage. Women may be formally free but the dead weight of centuries, nay millennia of slavery and feudal oppression still asserts itself. Violence against women is endemic, and the law, such as it is, seems powerless to protect. The situation in the west seems at first glance to be an improving one, but dig a little deeper and violence against women is still at epidemic proportions. And again the law seems unable or unwilling to intervene. Just look at the appallingly low rate of successful prosecutions for rape to get a sense of how entrenched western patriarchal attitudes still are. And in the west the objectification and commodification of women shows no sign of abating.  I think it was Marx that once declared that a civilisation can best be judged by how it treats its women. By nearly all criteria, civilisation, east and west, is failing miserably.

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