In a speech made by Peter Mandleson early in mid February 2004, he talked of criticism from within the British Labour, now New Labour Party, of its leader, as an infantile disorder. Mr Mandleson, a wooden politician is said to be one of the architects of this re-branding. His use of a famous phrase of Lenin, used in a work written to describe what he defined as Left Wing Communism, is a dead giveaway of the Bolshevik character of this new brand. The content is different, a ‘third way’ version of fiercely deregulated free market capitalism along with what remains of the social democracy made by those who fought World War II for us, but the style is the same. It involves an intense dislike of independent Trade Unions; the smearing and misrepresentation of critics and criticism; a reliance on unelected advisors and institutions under its patronage; a fetish of managerialism; and a cult of the individual, in this instance, Mr Blair. Tony.
This was well understood right at the start of their taking power by a witty, non-wooden politician, Ken Livingstone, now mayor of London when he referred to New Labour’s ideologues as The Millbank Tendency. Explaining jokes is in most cases, tedium waiting to happen, but Livingstone’s comment was so apposite it’s worth trying. New Labour’s first office from which serious centralized control was exerted was situated on Millbank, a Thameside office block; whereas in the 1980s the Labour Party was dealing with various forms of organized ultra-leftism including the best-known Trotskyite entrist group called the Militant Tendency. The Livingstone of that time well understood all the ironies of the situation, not just the Bolshevik style of New Labour, but how many of its proponents were themselves ex-Trotskyists or Communist Party members.
For there is such a thing as ultra-leftism. An historical example would be that, under orders from Moscow, the German Communist Part referred to Social Democrat party members as social fascists, just as Hitler’s rise to power had gained momentum. Not so dramatic these days but many Blairites, (for that, with no objections from them, is what they are called, the cult of the individual writ large) those especially, were ultra-leftists in the early eighties when it would have really helped if there had been none at all. Some were members of such organizations like Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers or, in the case of Paul Boateng until recently a hard line prisons minister, now at the Treasury, who then talked with all the arrogance and vanity of another Tony, Anthony Wedgwood Benn; people who as Maureen Duffy has it in her 1983 novel, Londoners, “don’t care as long as their point is made, their purity kept.” Not an accusation that could be made at Martov the Menshevik, standing up in the freezing space of the Russian Parliament of the first years of the Revolution, no doubt knowing he could be arrested at any time, and speaking of the real conditions of the people who the Bolsheviks claimed a monopoly of speaking for, and of their betrayal of their own constitution in the name of the Cheka. No, these people who have never faced anything worse than some other squirt winning the Student Union election, their purity easily found a new purity, a new set of certainties in New Labour. These certainties, the virtues of free market capitalism, allowed the continuation of their overwhelming confidence in lecturing other people on what to do, their responsibilities. That such a turnaround is possible, easy even, and was frequent in the inter-war period, is well described in the last chapter of Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis, and is not a wholly dissimilar political trajectory to that of those notorious American “neo-cons”
The ironies do pile up, Red Ken, as Livingstone was called, never spent his early career persuading the Labour Party that socialism in one country was realizable, a socialism built on manoeuvres within smoke-filled rooms – pipe smoke for comfort – that would make for conference resolutions demanding what any citizen knew was not going to happen, that and campaigns of arcane back-stabbing. This kind of ultra-leftism in true Bolshevik style did not build on grass-roots campaigns but leapt on any it could find and routinely fucked them up, most spectacularly the Miners Strike when they failed to push for the vote in the Union that would have kicked away one leg of the strategy of the Thatcher state government, and made defeat a lot less certain.
The ironies piled on ironies are not funny. The Bolshevism of New Labour has lived off the stupidities of that time ever since. The bitterness felt by Maureen Duffy at the time can only have grown, at what it has produced. If Tony Benn did not exist, Mr Blair would have had to find an equivalent. Describing some kind of together-in-the-studio scene between a Benn-type figure and what was then right-wing and is now “old” Labour she writes:
That one dipped his finger in the till of local government thought it can never be proved…
The other grew up in comfort, was privately educated, Oxbridged, has never worked a day in his life except at being politician, would remake the party in his own image, and bend people to it. ‘The swollen sheep are not fed’…
As things are now one would say of the finger-dippers, bring them back, they took their cut but at least they built the social housing without which London for one, will die on its feet. They would certainly be welcome back in the East London borough of Hackney with its present-day New Bolshevik administration. No doubt in the 50s and 60s there were rake-offs on council building contracts but things were built and did not collapse. Instead what you get now are nomenklatuta architect and consultant scams. Their many-times over-cost buildings become unusable in a short space of time.
At best the New Bolsheviks who saw the light bring with them, in addition to their meritocratic arrogance, a belief in the prime importance of the economic, and of targets in public services. Five year plans, and why not when private capital has ten or twenty year plans of its own as R. Panzieri pointed out many years ago, but it doesn’t have targets for social housing and where they do exist, in the areas of health and education, they are invariably imposed from above; involve, especially in the case of teachers, the ones on the front line, denigration and divisiveness from people who have never been on any front line, but who have made a mystique of ‘managerial skills’. Thomas Frank describing his book One Market Under God describes the New Labour think tank Demos as rounding up “various clichés from popular American management theory, and, adopting, a tone of extreme historical righteousness, recast this stuff as political advice…they initially inspire in the reader the feeling of awestruck inadequacy. The authors speak with this authority that seems to arise from an intimate familiarity with the massive overwhelming forces that are remaking our world and determining our fates.” The rebranding of Britain was one of their big ideas. Out of it came Cool Britannia.
The one common criticism of New Labour in the media is that they are “control; freaks”. It is quite possible that this phrase, with none of the political baggage and acumen of Millbank Tendency, originated from the party’s Propaganda Department itself. Some ordinary folk admit to it, that they’re a bit of a control freak. Better that than New Bolsheviks with their Commissars. For that, according to an outraged Max Hastings (Guardian 24/5/04), a pro-military but seemingly honest journalist, is what has happened to the top brass of the British armed forces, Commissars there at every moment to see that they don’t say the wrong thing. Or in deference to the Leader’s own rather particular Christianity- the slow to bless and quick to chide variety-that they all “sing from the same hymn-sheet.”
Mandleson’s attack, his reference to ‘infantile disorder’, was not directed at the real phenomena of ‘ultra-leftism’ at all, quite the reverse, it was aimed at the remnants of any critical intelligence in the “Labour movement”. Probably Robin Cook was on his mind. He talked of them “throwing in their lot with the right in their attacks, not just on the issue of war but on the prime minister’s personal integrity.” This is Stalinist Bolshevism, the absolutely bog standard Stalinist tactic of associating any questioning of its lunacies and especially those of the Leader with ‘the right’. You are with us or against us. And the war, in which thousands of people have died and which is costing money in the billions that might have gone into the public services they make the targets for (have they been adjusted to take account?) is just an issue, one of many ‘issues’ and not as important as the prime minister’s personal integrity. Besides, the Leader in responding to the Butler Report has given us a version of History Will Absolve Me, and The Ends Justify the Means. Yet one more reason for him to rubbish the 1960s, given that a non-Bolshevik left had some success in showing that the two could not be so divided; that the means determined the true nature of the ends.
Besides, everyone is now sick of Mr Blair’s personal integrity, whether it exists or not. What matters is how he lead the UK into the Iraq invasion. Treating the population as children was the style, and it did not come out of nowhere. David Marquand with a book out recently Decline of the Public: the Hollowing out of Citizenship, has described how it is the very nature of Blair and his New Labour. “Blair thought the public was too stupid and irrational for deliberative democracy to be feasible.” Instead he went for the “easy pickings of manipulative populism.” They have proved to be specialist in manipulation, but their attempts at populism have been naff as only Bolsheviks can be: Cool Britannia; the Dome. Risible! This in contrast to the ‘dinosaur’ Trade Unions which got the wonderful Respect Festivals up and running. Manipulation has proved far easier than creating anything, able to count on the nature of the media and its predominant attitude to the public. This is not just a matter of Rupert Murdoch, but of a whole raft of professional opinionists who have assumed to themselves the role of popular democracy. Like Andrew Rawnsley of the Observer painting a heroic picture of Blair two months before the war (26/1/03) for standing firm in his support for George Bush and not “pandering to” public opinion. As if of course the opinion of the public at large could only be stupid or emotional, full of “sentimental evasions” about Saddam Hussein. Blair himself had already got his patronizing in by then; at the time of the now notorious September dossier of 2002 he also launched a pre-emptive strike, attacking critics of a possible war for “not thinking things through if they believed Britain was too loyal to the USA.”
That’s children for you, just can’t think things through. It’s perhaps being an especially Christian Bolshevik that gives Blair his own particular style of dealing with criticism that must necessarily be infantile. It’s a mixture of sorrowful, suffering irritation: Suffer the children to come unto me for they know not what they do. Or is it the shepherd and his flock, that ghastly analogy Maureen Duffy homed in on. Some times the nice shepherd, some times stern. Stern of late, stern only, increasingly authoritarian and consistent in its unprecedented attack on civil liberties, which it sneers are only of concern to Hampstead liberals. These range from curfews to the wholescale abolition of the rights of defendents in criminal trials. More recently with true Bolshevik logic this has developed into an attack on the legal system itself, on juries, the real defenders of what democracy we have, and now on the independence of judges, an independence previously seen as a key feature of capitalist democracies, an indicator as to how developed or undeveloped is Russia for instance.
There are many other versions of the shepherd and his flock: monarchy; racist colonial; or modern day autocratic. The monarch and his or her subjects; the lords of all they surveyed; the great democrat of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, saying that “to free negroes was like abandoning children”; King Leopold and the ‘children’ of the Congo; fascist states; nominally Communist states; or, more often in the modern world, authoritarian states, or those with instinctively elitist tendencies.
Reading anything that describes the first period of Western colonization where so often indigenous peoples were friendly and trusting one wants to shout out, Don’t, don’t trust these bastards, don’t give them an inch: these are people from back-stabbing, paranoid, greedy societies. In respect of them, to be trusting is child-like. As colonialism developed however it would probably have been preferable to be regarded as the child, than to be a victim of a murderous eugenics. Unfortunately, as a reader you simply shout out in useless protest a hundred years too late as Leopold lets loose genocide in the Congo and still talks of them as children to be protected. These days they are dangerous children who need protecting for their own good. Thus the US-UK occupiers of Iraq push the line through a compliant media, that without them there would be civil war, while producing no evidence to back this claim.
At the beginning of the 1980s when the Polish Bolshevik regime was turning into a military dictatorship to deal with the grass-roots Solidarity movement, the Politburo sent its most liberal, or at least articulate member, Rakowski to go into the Gdansk shipyard and take it on face to face. It was recorded on a documentary film which needs to be rescued, for it is a moment when a speech by a sophisticated Bolshevik is confronted head on by Lech Walensa who says that they are not children, and will not be treated as children who “do not understand the full picture.” The disappearance of this moment of history has suited both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’; the left because they could never cope with Walensa’s Catholicism, and the failures of the Solidarity government to live-up to its ideals; the right because it is such a subversive moment, and one which does not suit their history of the Cold War and its end which, they would have us believe began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the policies of Ronald Reagan.
The treatment of citizens as children in modern authoritarian states, is well described by Jung and Piccoli in their Turkey at the Crossroads (Zed Books) describing the situation before the recent election. They talk of how the paternalist spirit of Turkish modernization was not exclusive to the army but that the whole of the Turkish social establishment showed “the insignia of inherited elitism. Whether officers, politicians, bureaucrats, journalists or entrepreneurs, many representative’s of Turkey’s elite display attitudes which developed within the hegemonic social block of Ottoman social reforms…high ranking Turkish bureaucrats view the state as a father figure acting with compassion and justice towards its children. Although an imitator of democratic procedures, the bureaucracy perceives democratic rules in merely juridicial terms . From the bureaucratic perspective, it is the bureaucracy itself that designates democratic structures as a formal set of rules.” It is only now, with a mass-supported “islamist” party government that this may change, just as it is tackling corruption, easing off repression of the Kurds and being more generally open to civil rights.
But the Turkish state as described above, no doubt trying to hold on to its power in the new circumstances, is rather closer to the Britain of New Labour and its programme of reactionary modernization. Bureaucracy in Britain is a whipping-boy word, producers of nothing but red tape. What a wheeze that is, red tape, as if it were all some ridiculous obstacle instead of the few remaining health and safety regulations of modern day Britain, the few regulations that might prevent the grossest types of labour exploitation. In reality, the civil service –itself increasingly politicized- is but one part of the bureaucracy. In the oligopoly of large financial and media companies and corporations, they just change the words and call it middle management, or senior management. Where the state is concerned, initiatives are dominated by a bureaucracy of unelected advisors, think tanks and institutes. All of whom seem agreed in the present period that rather less of the compassion is called for in relation to the children.
Speaking in relation to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in particular, David Marquand remarks: “Blair gained nothing by treating the people like children when he could have treated them like adults.” You can only hope he has gained the contempt of most present day citizens, this most conceited of elitists, but screw him and what he did or did not gain, what about the thousands who have died in Iraq. As the nominal reasons for the invasions, that immediate-threat WMD stuff, slowly, very, very slowly fall by the wayside, a new adult voice is adopted to speak to the children, the realpolitik speak that is caught so well by Joan Didion in her novel The Last Thing He Wanted, published in 1996 and dealing with the Iran-Contra conspiracy of the mid 80s.
This wasn’t a situation that lent itself to an MBA analysis.
This wasn’t a zero-sum deal.
In a perfect world we might have perfect choices, in the real world we had real choices, and we made them, and we measured the losses against what might have been the gains.
There was no doubt certain things happened we might have wished hadn’t happened.
There was no doubt we were dealing with forces that might or might not include unpredictable elements.
Elements beyond our control.
No doubt, no argument at all.
Consider the alternatives: trying to create a context for democracy and maybe getting your hands a little dirty in the process or just opting out, letting the other call it up.
Add it up.
This ‘we’ voice, using traditional rhetorical devices so that somehow it is different to the ends-justify-the-means ascribed to the other side in the Cold War, is insidious in its claim that its view of reality is the only adult view of reality. What also stands out in this context is the sheer amount of wishful thinking involved by the New Bolsheviks and their Leader. Irony piled upon ironies given that it is us the children, and especially those who think the world might be a better place with a lot less elitism and exploitation, who are accused of it. How British involvement in the invasion of Iraq came about, involved wishful thinking allied to the sheer vanity of the Leader, his delusions of grandeur, and a cabinet full of yes-men, the Molotovs. That and sentimental illusions about the ‘special relationship’, Worlds War II and the rest, sentimental and ignorant in the case of the Leader who appeared to believe that the USA was already fighting the war at the time of the London blitz. Childish, dare we say. As the then President Eisenhower wrote of Churchill in his diary, that he “had developed an almost childlike faith that all the answers are to be found merely in the British-American relationship.”
Childlike and vain, Mr Blair. Tony. We, the supposed children, knew at the time that he would follow US on the matter of Iraq come what may, something since confirmed, even if the jury is, as always in such matters, ‘still out on that one.’ He obviously believed that he would have influence on how things worked out, and confident that he would get that second UN vote when after all the Security Council of the time was full of other children, the governments of Angola, Cameroun, and Guinea for example. We now know, from the evidence of various senior US politicians and officials, that the British, now behaving more like the eager East German Politburo, had no consequential influence on American policy, even though polls in the USA showed that British involvement in the invasion was important to public support there. Not even that sop the road-map; that didn’t last long, and in the process revealed that if the US has a special relationship, it is with Israel. And, as a consequence, no interests in a democratic middle east.
These delusions are however institutionalized in a mesh of unelected US_UK think-tanks and foundations, some open, some secretive, as well as in a range of military agreements, some open, some secretive, involving a whole range of American military bases and facilities in Britain, the East Germany of the Warsaw Pact. It turns out (and this is well documented by Billy Clark: Lobster 45: Summer 2003) that some of the elected and even more of the unelected apparatchiks of New Labour have been involved in such transatlantic outfits from Demos to the British American Project. They have seen real power, and they like it. And if they’ve rationalized it, this power fetish, rationalized it all, it’s a belief that the ‘inevitable’ global free market will somehow be beneficial to everyone; as if somehow, more wishful thinking, neoliberalism could accommodate a previous orthodoxy, the utopianism of WW Rostow’s universal model of economic growth via stages. As Thomas Frank says of Demos, “you can’t help but marvel at the grip historical determinism still holds on this guy” even it has now become a tone of “historical smugness” with a keenness for inevitability.
In all their delusions, the New Bolsheviks were encouraged by the most obsequious of professional opinionists. Cheerleader Andrew Rawnsley concluded his Observer piece of 26th January by saying that Mr Blair was not only heroic in not pandering to public opinion, he was especially principled too in that he hadn’t asked the US for anything in return for his support, which meant that when he did ask, he would get it. A month later in The Guardian, Michael White, commenting on the first rebel vote in parliament against the war, argued that this vote would help Blair’s case and make it easier to keep the US on board and get that 2nd UN resolution, before dismissing the anti-war movement as middle class whingers. Such displays of double-speak emboldened the leader and his Molotovs to say, when the wishful thinking had collapsed, that France’s refusal to consider the war option made the war option inevitable. Double-speak?!
More recently the true scandal – the deceit involved in making Britain a ‘partner’ in the invasion- has been thoroughly treacled in boxed-off inquiries; pre-leak expert speculation as to what the inquiries should do, and what it might say; selected leaks; post-leak expert speculation as to what it will say and what that will mean; publication of the report with news conference and news deference; post-publication expert commentary; predictable post-report media positions taken; analysis of post-media positions taken, and what this will mean. This is all good ground for the New Bolsheviks, their fabled Propaganda Department rising to every challenge. The most recent of these inquiries- the Butler Report – shows that a dossier presented as being the work of the various spy services by the Propaganda Department, was in fact doctored by them to remove all the caveats of possibles and probables in what the spies said, and presented what was said as certainties on the basis of nothing but expediency. Palpable deceit. Not for John Reid, Health Minister and ex Communist Party Bolshevik. In a key radio interview he asserted that the ‘maybes’ and ‘possibles’ had been removed to protect intelligence sources. Secret stuff therefore we can’t prove that it isn’t true. Yes, possibly, but not such credulous children as to believe such nonsense, stuff that defies all logic.
“At a stroke, it is truth which has almost everywhere ceased to exist or, at best, has been reduced to the status of pure hypothesis. Unanswerable lies have succeeded in eliminating public opinion, which first lost the ability to make itself heard and then very quickly dissolved altogether.” This is Guy Debord in Reflections on the Society of the Spectacle. (Tr. Malolm Imrie: Verso). As so often with Debord, his virtue in frequently getting right to the point (John Reid could be in there as empirical evidence) is mixed with that absolutist tone which makes one feel that no protest is worthwhile. What is so heart-warming is how many of us ruled by the New Bolsheviks are not letting our collective, if diffuse, voice be dissolved. Despite the amazing power of a media oligopoly, people are not all sheep whatever old Bolsheviks are inclined to say. We will not have it, being treated like children, and then by the worst of parents.
And we owe it, not to be treated like sheep or children. To all those really, really dead people, mashed up and dead as a consequence of the Iraq invasion; and those who are mashed up and maimed. And then to President Lamine Sidime of Guinea, one of those with a temporary seat on the UN Security Council in March 2003, who stood up to the immense pressure being exerted, and exerted with confidence for a second Resolution authorizing an invasion. He had been prepared to be flexible on how long a deadline to Iraq might be, might have accepted less than the 45 days he asked for, but there had to be something measurable and definable about what constituted compliance by Iraq. This was anathema both to the Bush Administration and the New Bolsheviks. They hate being tied down like this, to facts and benchmarks, preferring rather to take “Saddam’s” attitude, as defined by themselves as the only possible benchmark. This Lamine Sidime resisted when he finally abstained saying he had been “affronted by American presumption.” It is clear that the US and the New Bolsheviks assumed that these Third World children would fall into line. One hopes the President had popular support for his action, he may need it because the warmongers have an instinct for revenge against all those who cross them.
We owe it also to ourselves. Addressing the wishful thinking of old-style Bolsheviks, but without the smug pessimism that often goes with it, Massimo de Angelis argued, “Real power cannot be seized…it can only be exercised.” We might also say the same of democracy, for the New Bolsheviks are –despite devolution- hollowing out what was already a low-intensity version. Even with the low-intensity version, the right merely to vote for one “bunch of public school monkeys or another”, there is a contradiction between it and capitalism in that each vote carries the same nominal weight, though the increasing apartheid of wealth and housing diminishes its actual weight in elections. Now with the Western capitalist decision that it has finished paying off the generation that fought and suffered for democracy in World War II, and the fast development of a non-patriotic, and de-regulated version of capitalist globalization, it looks as though we are going to have to fight for even a minimal bourgeois democracy. It’s one of the great attractions for the Old Bolsheviks who’ve turned New, that there’s a fresh Inevitable March of History involved, globalized capitalism, one which allows them to say with a smug shrug, “that’s reality I’m afraid,” and a reference to ‘inevitability’, when jobs are lost or ‘outsourced’
The inspiring thinkers of the late 18th century Scottish Enlightenment, an era when voting rights were restricted to gradations of property owners, were still able to see the potential dangers of the modern world. With the increasing specializations of knowledge then developing, they argued that the critical intelligence of the population at large, was of vital importance. At a minimal level, it would be a preventive intelligence.
One which act as a check on specialists of all kinds, and the specialists of power most of all, from making dangerous mistakes from what Thorstein Veblen called crackpot realism.
Bolsheviks, both New and Old have never had any interest in any mass critical intelligence, never wanted to make the connection between elitism and exploitation in the case of the Old, and in the New deleted the words from their vocabulary. Present education policy has no interest in its development, something well evoked in James Kelman’s novel A Disaffection. It is, rather, functional to strengthening of elitism and inequality, and to their utopian vision of capitalist development. Old and New and the Leader most of all, also share an intense dislike of “the 1960s and the burst of non-party political activism of that time. Now they are united in slagging off the present day non-party anti-capitalist globalization movement, a favourite line being as with the “Hampstead liberal”, that they are just the children of the rich rattling their prams. It is almost entirely untrue, that is to say, it is a smear which marginalizes what it has to say, and was most strongly used by Clare Short, who has veered wildly between Old and New Bolshevik. In her case it helped to fend off the far sharper critique of Third World activists.
This mutual dislike of the 1960s is also shared with both those famous neo-cons, and with militarist racists like Samuel Huntington. In his contribution to a book written at the time The Crisis of Democracy, he complained of an excess of democracy and made a plea for cultivating “discouragement and apathy.” He then went on to say that “Democracy is only one way of constituting authority, and it is not necessarily a universally applicable one. In many situations the claims of expertise, seniority and special talents may override the claims of democracy as a way of constituting authority.” It was not long after that Henry Kissinger justified the military coup in Chile on the grounds that the electorate had been so irresponsible as to elect a Communist. Who was not a Communist.
We do not live, at present, in such dramatic times, even if the Leader’s speech on the eve of the Iraq invasion had a bogus passion as if this really was Moscow and the Germans were getting closer. And this passion is somehow meant to fill the void, over which the New Bolsheviks shed crocodile tears, political apathy, voter apathy. True there has been devolution but at a local level, elected councils, even New Bolshevik councils lose power to ad hoc institutions manned by people with “claims of expertise…and special talents,” claims that are not open to any scrutiny. At a national level, the flexible British Constitution makes anti-democratic developments easy. Thus Jonathan Powell, brother of Margraet Thatcher’s foreign policy adviser Charles Powell, with his claims of “ expertise…and special talents” is now the Leader’s chief of staff with powers over civil servants, and this position given him through a “prime ministerial weapon that derives from monarchical power, an Order in Council.” As with the invasion of Iraq itself, the Leader did it, as Bill Clinton said of Monica Lewinsky, because he could.
We do not live in such dramatic times, and yet it feels that we are at a moment when the megalomania of the Leader, combined with the cocky authoritarianism of the New Bolsheviks has reached a danger point, one which, needless to say, will not be alleviated by voting Conservative. It was reached in July 2004 when, within days, the Leader, with his monarchical power so suited to the New Bolsheviks, attacked the 1960s for having “spawned a group of young people who were brought up without parental discipline, without proper role models and without any sense of responsibility;” and then in a Parliamentary debate on the Butler Inquiry which showed quite clearly how the meaning of intelligence reports had been radically altered ‘somewhere in Number Ten’, when the Leader did his usual not-me-guv act while at the same time taking full responsibility…for the triumph of his Iraq policy. This not-me-guv attitude, prevalent right through government and corporations would be laughable in a criminal court, the sentence doubled for sheer cheek. Not however in the Britain of the New Bolsheviks.
The Leader’s supposed throwaway remark about the 1960s is worth some deconstruction. Start with ‘spawned’, why that word, an immediately dangerous analogical verb that implies identical frogs. Note again that it is the ‘children’ we have to be on the look-out for. These unruly children who have carried these undisciplined childish ways into adulthood, For the leader now is the time to have some proper role models thrust upon them. Or rather, for those outside the meritocratic loop, make them work long hours for low wages. Huntington’s immense dislike of the 1960s was because of its excess of democracy. Another strand of reactionary American thought and politics, what are now called neo-cons, hated it also for reasons more openly akin to the Leader’s, Irving Kristol writing in almost identical terms though with a more personal distaste for sexual liberation. Classic neo-cons, and war-mongering hangers –on like Richard Perle, are pleased to define themselves as “liberals mugged by reality”. I suspect this is an attractive notion to the Leader, but we are entitled to ask, what reality; whose reality?
As to rights and responsibilities, the history of this rhetoric is also dangerous. In his history of 20th century Europe Dark Century, Mark Mazower describes the discrediting of inter-war democracies and how this was especially the work of both technocratic and conservative elites. The latter, backed by both the Catholic and Orthodox churches who seemed to find fascism easy to take up, constantly referred to the emphasis on rights rather than duties of the extant democracies of the time. This is not to make a dodgy analogy as the Leader did with appeasement, but to say that the rhetoric has a history, and it is a dangerous one. Our responsibility now is to refuse all the forces of infantilization and passivity, and instead take on board a comment of Susan George at the World Social Forum after September 11th. “Those who hold the future in their hands are not serious. They see no further than the noses of their bombers. Frightening though the prospect may seem, citizens must accept the risk of being serious in their place.”
POSTSCRIPT November 2004
In The Guardian of 18th August 2004 and ICM poll showed that out of ten topics, Iraq was considered the least important amongst voters when it came to how they might vote in the next election. This allowed Victor Keegan to write 2 days later in the same newspaper that “Outside the chattering political classes, the issue of Iraq is not the subject of saloon bar conversation.” The sentence is revealing in itself. “The chattering political classes” in relation to Iraq, is pure New Labour-speak. For one thing ‘chattering’ is instantly perjorative, as with the Hampstead liberals of David Blunkett’s world. On Iraq, it has been especially prominent. New Labour, which despises all independent working class organization, and indeed the morals and lifestyle of the real working class of now, single mothers, clubbers and all, has, on the question of Iraq, rediscovered its solid working-class base and told them and itself, that they don’t care about it. This despite the recent by-election results in Leicester and Birmingham. Their view of the real working class is so remote, apart from a determination to discipline its perceived hedonism, is that they inhabit ‘saloon bars’. Where are they these days?
On the following day, 19th August, a Mori poll in the Financial Times found that ‘the broad issue of foreign policy and defence’ is now the greatest concern of British voters, some 40% of people put it at the top of their concerns. Keegan does at least acknowledge this, but then some how conflates this with being a concern only about terrorism by reference to polls in the USA where a Pew Research Centre poll showed foreign affairs and national security to be the most important election issue. The implication being that if the Guardian poll had referred to the threat of international terrorism rather than Iraq, it would be that which made all the difference.
If I was suffering the paranoid variety of egomania, I could almost believe that in their daily internet website trawls with key words, the New Bolsheviks had come across my piece since in the Guardian of 6th September, an obsequious and credulous feature on Peter Hain (how does the paper know what was being asked at his MP’s surgery in Neath?), has him talking of his mission to take on the Liberal Democrats. “For months he has been worried that the revived Liberal Democrats are a threat to Labour. The conventional wisdom in the Labour hierarchy was that Charles Kennedy’s party helps Labour because it mainly takes votes from the Tories. But after the Iraq war, that is changing, Liberal Democrats are making inroads into Labour’s northern heartlands.” All this might “hand” such seats to the Tories.
What stands out here is how the New Bolsheviks want it each and every way. This does involve a degree of wishful thinking, something that is perhaps even more pronounced with them than with us ‘children’, as is evidenced by how so many must have convinced themselves that the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime by means of US-UK occupation would make for a pliant ‘democracy’. In this instance it has involved the constant refrain from the New Bolsheviks propaganda department that opposition to the invasion of Iraq was limited to the middle class, chattering class, media class and so on. It is a familiar form of belittlement.
Instead Hain implicitly concedes ground here and, on the basis of a paper from some junior Lib Dems that the party has become Thatcherite and therefore must be opposed, as well as the familiar refrain that anyone not voting for the New Bolsheviks is letting in the Tories. I hold no brief for the Liberal Democrats, except that they opposed the war and are, for now at any rate for PR voting which has the possibility of breaking the monologue of what we have now, but believe that a preventive vote is required. The wishful thinking of professional commentators who talk of New Labour as a ‘modern’ social democrat party, or revisionist social democrats, renewing it for the 21st century is as frightening as the arrogance of the New Bolsheviks themselves