Monday, July 06, 2009

Rebellion and renewal

Terry Glavin has some posts up on the significance of the Iranian revolt. He sees two great hopes emerging from the protests. The first is that they have begun to break the bizarre and destructive alliance between leftists and a far right theocratic Islamism that had somehow managed to get itself accepted as a form of liberation theology. More importantly, from the perspective of Terry's particular commitment to Afghanistan, the street demonstrations have undermined the baleful influence of Iran in Afghanistan itself. Though the die-hards will still plug away with their apologias and elisions, illusions about Iran are dying.

Does this mean that we can relax, that the left has regained its senses? Not yet, by any means. Whilst anti-fascism went head-to-head with a crude anti-imperialism, a quieter betrayal of principle was taking place; the abandonment of the poor.

I have just started reading an interesting book of reportage on the white working class in the USA by Joe Bageant. In his introduction, he asks, "If the left is not about class equity, what is it about?" Not a question for John Denham. Fresh from his triumph in wrecking university adult education, he couldn't have put it more starkly. The Guardian reported,
A senior cabinet minister will warn tomorrow that "the egalitarian ideal" that has dominated left liberal thinking since the 1960s is redundant, saying Labour's traditional emphasis solely on the poor leaves the vast bulk of the population alienated and left out.
So the ideal of equality has dominated the left since the 1960's, has it? Denham might have been more convincing if he had talked about the 1360's. Here is one version of John Ball's sermon from 1381.
When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman. From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.
Equality is a long standing dream, central to any who would claim to be left-wing, not a self-indulgent sixties fashion.

Denham's sentiment is redolent with a cynical view of the electorate and locked into a model of voting behaviour as being based solely on a narrow calculation of self-interest, rather than one informed by an ethical world view. And certainly Labour are acting on just these assumptions. Take a look at the new welfare reforms. As well as producing some dubious practices, they are full of gems like this,
Three hundred thousand of the poorest households in Britain are expected to lose up to £60 a month from their housing benefit under government plans to curb the welfare budget. The cut, which would hit Labour's core voters a month before the next general election, could spark a revolt reminiscent of the 10p tax rate debacle.
And what about paying for the credit crunch? Oh yes, public sector workers will have to bear the brunt (and do read Will Hutton's strong dissent from the prevailing conventional wisdom here). Of course the election of two BNP MEPs has scared them into throwing a bit of potentially illegal raw meat to appease far right voters, but the bulk of the working class is left out in the cold.

The fight to establish social liberties is only one part of the historic role of the left, the other is the struggle for economic security and equality. That is why Terry is right to emphasise the role of the international solidarity of labour unions in confronting oppressive regimes. Others, though, have lapsed either into a Panglossian complacency about western societies, or a crude and self-serving electoral cynicism. If we are lucky, the left may be about to regain part of its soul, but there is still a world to win.


Anon said...

I've been a loyal reader of your blog for a good few months now, and I've been meaning ask your advice for ages. This post seems the perfect opportunity.

I'm lucky enough to have a couple of weeks of free time coming up soon between leaving the world of work and returning to university, and I'd like to get some decent reading done.

Can you suggest any really good books about the Left?

DorsetDipper said...

Equality of status and rights? Or equality of opportunity? Or equality of Outcome?

Should we ban lotteries because the outcomes are unequal?

how do you measure fairness?

Do we want to spend our lives doing our best for ourselves and our families only to have Harriet Bloody Harman leaning over our shoulders going "oo you've got a bit more than that person who's been sat on their arse for years so I'll just take some of what you've got and give it to them"?

Did the first trade unionists and co-operative founders want to be equal? Or to have some inequality and unfairness in their favour?

I think its reasonable to ask a few questions

The Plump said...


Yikes, there is a whole library out there. Well, it depends where you are coming from, what you have read so far and what you mean by 'the left'. Do you mean socialism, anarchism,radical liberalism? Historic or contemporary? Ideas or movements? Email me with a few more details on the contact email from this blog and I will be happy to give you some idiosyncratic recommendations. And good luck with your return to education.

Dorset Dipper.

I think its reasonable to ask a few questions

After the day I have had today I consider it entirely unreasonable. Actually, you are not asking questions you are trying to start an argument over notions of social justice, equality etc.

OK briefly.

1. All of them, even if they do conflict at times. Who said life was easy?

2. No. Chance and justice are not the same.

3. You can't, nor should you try and measure the unmeasurable.

4. You are contrasting the notions of commutative and distributive justice in such a way as to make it clear that you favour the former. For a liberal defence of distributive justice read Rawls.

5. Trade unionists and co-operators were not always the same. Ultimately they came from an understanding of the distribution of wealth that saw it as being based on power and exploitation rather than labour. This was rooted in the notions of just and unjust property and the productive and unproductive classes. Thus they were not seeking inequality in their favour, they were seeking a greater share in the wealth their labour had created and, for co-operators, to create self-help organisations to counter the impact of an unjust society. Modest in my view in that they weren't asking for the lot!

Phew! Can I have drink now?

Will said...

Peter -- you have the patience of a fucking saint -- except more so (cos saints are made up shit anyway).

Just tell the stupid cunts to fuck off or delete them.

Time well spent rather than answer the thicko fucking cunTs.

The Plump said...

It's because I am an educator rather than an agitator, Will. :-)