Sunday, 20 June 2010

Lefty Entropy

I: It’s been so long.

I’ve been really busy recently, which is why I’ve not been posting so much. But whenever I've thought of returning to political blogging, I've found obstacles. When summing up my political views I described myself as ‘an economic old leftist’. I guess it would have been easier to call myself ‘an old leftist’ of the Clement Atlee school: supporting universal health care and nationalised industries, but not caring about identity politics, and coming from a supposedly ‘less-enlightened’ time when unborn children were given legal protection and presiding over a time when a Brit socialist was weaving a far out fantasy of a Britain covered in CCTV. Also, whilst I don’t think immigrants should really have to earn respect, I do think that the commonwealth immigrants in the 40s-50s did so by showing a strong desire to conform to British values despite often receiving shameful discrimination. I suspect this was partially because the old left, entirely correctly, welcomed people of all colours, but asked them to respect the country.

Changed days now. One of the reasons that I was deterred from writing about politics was that I was utterly poleaxed by this article from one of Britain’s supposedly nice supposedly leftist supposedly intelligent journalists: Sunny ‘brown people should vote Tory’ Hundal.

Sunny didn’t let his previous words of support for the Tory party stop him from setting down his very own litmus test for what a leftist is: thinking people should be rewarded for breaking laws designed at helping prevent capitalist exploitation. In other words, no need to respect our laws aimed at helping the poorest citizens: in fact if you help to destroy these laws and subsequently help the middle classes find cheap labour, then welcome on board. If Brown disagrees he 'is not fit to lead the country (neither is Cameron of course, but I was always going to say that'. Course you were Sunny.

Whilst I am very much a part of a largely immigrant community, and spent the best part of a week recently helping elderly ladies who don’t speak English, I really hope I’m not alone in thinking that Hundal is speaking typical atomised middle class self-righteous drivel (I know nothing about Mr Hundal but I can’t help noticing that most our media class as well as being predominantly posh white also contains ethnic minorities who generally have no more to do with poor immigrants than their Eton WASP buddies). As far as I’m concerned the number one issue for British leftists is in restructuring the economy to help the millions who live under the poverty line, the large numbers of long-term unemployed and the millions living in unsanitary accommodation. Otherwise, incidentally, things will get even worse not just for the indigenous poor Brits of all colours (who the ‘progressives’ don’t care about) but for the immigrants who move into the bad accommodation and work conditions that our corrupt politicians have allowed to exist.

However, coming back and reading this really made me want to go away and leave the ‘left’ blogosphere for even longer. According to Hari the gay community were all for Cameron when he was talking about getting tough on the poor. But when it came to allying himself with social conservatives in East Europe (about which more later) they suddenly found their social conscience.

Hari (who previously attacked the ‘disastrous’ nationalised industries that disastrously provided employment for the urban working classes) also tries to lever the Lib Dems towards seeing things his way. The reason? The majority of Lib dem voters are ‘left wing’.

Again, is this what the left is really about? Thinking that a bloke should be allowed to become another bloke’s husband? I’m all for gay rights in oppressive regimes, and have signed Avaaz petitions to that effect, but really: living in a G8 country where tens of thousands of children are malnourished I don’t quite find it the most pressing issue of the day.

Furthermore, he speaks about the famous incident of Chris Grayling voicing his support for the B & B owners who turned away a gay couple: equating it with racism. Whilst I don’t think such discrimination is nice, I don’t think that lifestyle is the same as race (and incidentally, whilst I would find it extremely distasteful if a B & B owner did want to reject a black couple, I would indeed support their legal right to do so).

The third thing that deterred me was reading this and watching this. Yep, I find Alf Garnett more entertaining than Tanya Gold. Is that a sign I’m not left wing?

I'd say not. I think the Alf and Arthur sketch is so funny because it plays on male insecurity (and yes, I think 'Marigold' could have been a bit less camp) and it is funny how after roaring about 'pooftahs' they go all sotto voce when speaking about Lesbians. However, for today's PC squad who love to condemn because it makes them feel good about basically doing nothing, it could only be seen as a hate speech. So in the end everything challenging has to be edited out, and we are left with Tanya's 'hilarious' article about being a fat chick in a plastic costume. In the 'left wing' Graunland, where 'we' take three foreign holidays a year. And where people who 'never had it so good' would be 'under the poverty line now'. Some dafties make out that's because of inflation, but for Graun lefties the poor are just whingers.

II: The PC Dialectic

When I was younger I used to love watching wildlife programmes. One thing that still remains with me was the way that the lions would gracefully bound after a wildebeest, chase it, kill it, and then after a short-lived triumph they'd very often skulk away as a pack of scabby hyenas would scare them off and guzzle the prey.

That really reminds me of the story of modern Brit politics. The cultural left get very self-righteous, they try to destroy traditional values in the name of 'equality', they attack the language, the sense-of-humour, the faith the institutions of a country: then generally makes themselves so unpopular that the rightwingers come along and take advantage of the atomised miserable society the cultural Marxists have created where everyone hates each other and sees each other as devoid of value.

After that it's just a matter of making a few supermarkets with different prices and carrier bags: then watch friendless inadequates whose chief achievement is buying tomatoes in Waitrose go off on a Leni Reifenstahl about how much superior they are to us poor sods who go to Lidls.

Now there is nothing to choose between any of the three parties in anything but mild economic differences. All are anti-poor, anti-industrial, pro-abortion, pro-battery farming, anti-gun ownership, pro CCTV and in favour of saying whatever it is fashionable to say.

What is to be Done

In the words of Neil Clark:

'By organising a mass pan-European movement to oppose privatisation and cutbacks in state provision of health, welfare and education, we can defeat today's anti-democratic, money-grabbing, pinstripe-suited tyrants.'

Yes, by organising this we can. But can we?

I'd make a few points:

-The 'mainstream' political left will probably continue to fluff up any efforts to attract the large East European voting block in Britain that could be expected to be sympathetic to 'Old Labour' values.

Firstly because barely any Labour MPs are. Secondly, even those socially conservative leftists on the outskirts of the political system: such as Neil Clark and David Lindsey tend towards Euroscepticism, especially regarding immigration.

Whilst I realise that there is a lot wrong both with the EU and with Britain's immigration policy, I think we have to seize the opportunity of using the influx of foreign workers to revitalise the Old Left.

As my friend Bogdan says:
'Those who have turned the UK into a huge social engineering laboratory meant to create the new (politically correct) human being won’t stop'

This is very true and is reflected in our weird society, where many blokes think (or pretend to think) Sex and the City is a work of genius: rather than a stupid piece of materialistic consumerist crap aimed at the dumbest members of the fair sex.

I think few socially libertarian leftists really understand just how totalitarian the PC movement is: especially in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Whilst I have no desire to own porno, it was astounding how middle class radical feminists were quick to feel that THEY were the true victims of impoverished girls being exploited and team up with the right to take statist censorship policies in the USA.

For this reason, I really do think the most liberal prodigal sons of the left movement would be best returning to the fold (and incidentally, I don't oppose civil unions or generous immigration: I just think the focus of the left should be the urban poor).

I also think that there should be a left-wing web campaign designed at mocking the most self-righteous leftists.

Lastly, I think some leftists more intelligent and cultured than me should revitalise Atlee's vision of Brit TV as providing quality culture. Being honest I'm not above watching some pretty dubious stuff, but the Big Brother/ Stars in their Eyes mush is a powerful tool in the capitalist arsenal.


  1. First of all, it's good to see the blog back.

    My own is currently lying fallow and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future but I'm still knocking around our own obscure, misfit-filled corner of the 'Blogosphere'.

    Apart from gun control, I agree with just about everything you've put down here. It's just that we seem to be in a very small minority. I have even refered to myself as a 'Christian Socialist who doesn't believe in God' just to differentiate myself from all the 'progressives', angry feminists and professional atheists who make up the 'mainstream left' these days.

    I think you summed it up nicely yourself somewhere when you said that 'progressives' offer 'consumerism with childish rants against Christianity and the Monarchy'. I paraphrase of course.

    Anyway, hope things are OK. I'm a hayfever sufferer myself and I read in Private Eye about some kind of bother in Inverness libraries..

  2. Hi CK

    Thanks for your comment. I think it is difficult to know how many with our general politics there are. I probably wouldn't have known most of the people that visit my site if I hadn't posted comments on Neil Clark's blog.

    There's a philosopher called Nikolai Berdyaev who wrote very interestingly about political Christianity and reconciled ideas of freedom and collectivism.

  3. Hello Gregor,

    Happy to see you are blogging again.

    I agree with most of what you say. As a socially conservative/economically left-wing populist, I don't really have a political party to latch onto here in the United States, although there used to be movements like the original Populist movement and the Populist Party that were pretty close to my beliefs.

    I think a big part of the problem here is money. Socially liberal causes tend to be popular among wealthier folks, so those concerns get a strong hearing. It is not unusual to find socially liberal/economically neoliberal Republicans running for office out of wealthy districts.

    Also, while I can't speak for Great Britain, in the U.S., as working-class Americans faced stagnant or declining wages since the 1970s, and thus started working longer hours to maintain their standard of living, grassroots working-class organizations declined severely. There are other factors working here too, like the general atomization of society under neoliberalism, but the people who would be supporting an Old Left philosophy don't participate in politics or social life as much as they used to.

    I think this retreat of the working-class from active engagement in politics and social life is why the contemporary Left is so dominated by the viewpoint of middle-class or upper middle-class "progressives" who often put identity politics, the PC agenda, etc., before economics. In fact, these so-called progressives are often rather right-wing on economic policy.

    Neil Clark has written a lot about the decline of social life in Britain, so perhaps the same problems exist in the U.K. I know they do in the U.S., where we used to have a very socially active working-class.

    --Mr. Piccolo

  4. Even though I consider myself a social liberal on many issues (agreeing with the coalition's abolishing of ID cards, for example, and general avoidance of kneejerk making of law-and-order policy on the say-so of the tabloids - so far), I do not think the sort of issues often trumpeted by the Guardian left are really as crucial at the moment as they make out.

    Some seem to believe that we are still in a Mary Whitehouse Britain when frankly we are not, for better and worse in many ways. The economy is a subject many middle-class leftists have neglected, allowing Cameron-Clegg a relative free hand to do what they like. Serious thought and campaigning is needed on the banking sector, and a shift back to democracy in the workplace. Labour must realign with the interests of Labour, to be any sort of force. Identity politics has surely had its day; it is time for a focus on ideas and issues. A green social democracy (with sensible and sensitive liberalism) at home plus absolutely no imperialism abroad, would be my ideal.

    Much of the problem, as you subtly imply, is that the middle-class left can only conceive of our recent past as some stifling Mary Whitehouse prison; they do not think of, or articulate, the many positives of our corporatist social-democratic society, 1945-79. It is clearly a problem that whilst the middle-class left are smaller in number than the w/c Mirror-reading left, they shout the louder and are presented as The Left per se.

  5. The Guardian is so frustrating. There are many articulate left-wing voices out there, and yet they pander to the trivial mainstream 'lifestyle' nonsense far too much.

    Paul Foot and Hugo Young would surely not be employed today if starting their careers. Instead we get John Harris, and to be fair, there are worse even than that egregious, would-be 'mop top'.

  6. @ John

    Thank you for your comment. I think it is broadly similar in Britain, though I think Neil can tend to be a bit negative and to overestimate the hegemony of neo-liberalism in British SOCIETY as opposed to politics.

    I think consumerism is the greatest problem with our society and whether by accident or design, the way in which this has been fed to the working/ lower middle classes borders on Machiavellian genius. They have created a very conformist culture through TV and radio and also used this to dehumanise the people they sell it to.

    @ Tom

    Good to hear from you. I would agree with a lot of what you say. From opinion polls, the 1970s were one of the happiest decades in Britain. However, all we hear now is that it combined the worst of the Love Thy Neighbour/ Benny Hill social right and the worst of trade union violence.

    I think pop culture is something that has rarely received much critique from the left. It’s amazing, if you are into retro stuff, just how many rock/ pop stars have openly switched to the right, and how few openly identify with left wing political parties. I’m hoping to start a proverbial expression: more aging rock stars than a countryside alliance rally ;-)

    I think the 68 generation still haven’t come to terms with the fact that all their anti-state rhetoric achieved was damaging the state where it was most needed.

    Re identity politics there are many concepts I have sympathy with, but they don’t seem to understand that they are crying for respect in a system which is almost by definition opposed to respect of the individual. Furthermore, social liberalism often looks to statist solutions, but I’m with you in opposing ID cards. However, reading Bidisha's column going on about misogyny being at the root of attacks on Sarah Palin seemed to embody the worst of where Te Graun is headed.

  7. Wholly agreed with Gregor and Tom (and Czarny).

    The greatest enemy the Left faces today is fake "democrats" - Brendan O'Neill is a particularly odious example, but there are many in Manchester and Liverpool (the legacy of being Atlantic ports, I think) - who, as Tom hints, pretend that a set of views and a way of existence (Margo Leadbetter/Hyacinth Bucket, right-wing opposition to commercialism and big business and insistence on cultural standards, &c, &c) actually still exist and are still an enemy worth fighting. They've perpetuated these things in their public rhetoric and language - kept this fake enemy alive long after the de facto Thatcherite right/relativist left alliance killed them off as a significant force - because to admit that they no longer exist would be to admit that they themselves are completely aligned with the Cameronites, with the forces of economic and social inequality, with the de facto privatisation of state education and so on ... you even have someone on a forum I (increasingly rarely) post on suggesting that Rupert Murdoch's cause is somehow a left-wing one, that people only oppose the direction of British broadcasting because they hate the working class ... as I commented in reply (and then bailed out, out of sheer frustration), if wanting the best *of everything* for the working class makes you anti-working-class, most of the great socialists would be anti-working-class. Learning that everything I thought I knew about pop culture was wrong has been the hardest thing in my life, but I don't regret it; anything else would have been dangerously dishonest.

    Gregor, do you like any 70s progressive rock? I was brought up to despise it, as indeed was anyone raised on NME/Melody Maker of the 80s or 90s, and the interesting thing when I look back at the anti-prog consensus of that time (defined by punk, which itself contained many aggressive-individualist, Callaghan's-a-stuffy-old-fogey elements which only required a slight tweak to emergence on the other side as Thatcherism; I know he was *always* a poseur and a chancer, the equivalent of Spandau Ballet to New Pop, but c.f. Billy Idol's success in Reagan's America) is that it was dependent on the idea that prog's references to classical music and literature represented an appeasement of a privileged Tory establishment, and now of course that establishment has completely acquiesced to American pop culture, which I think is the single biggest reason for prog's rehabilitation, it no longer represents any kind of establishment culture and in fact is much more *against* that culture than much of the rest of pop and rock ... do you have any thoughts, Gregor?

  8. Hi Robin
    Thanks for your comment. I entirely agree about the left’s desire to pretend that there is a socially conservative movement in Britain and would add that the media is so America-fixated that its sense of right and left is skewed from a British perspective. My views on abortion might be seen as ‘right wing’ though I think in Britain would be closer to urban Irish-descended labour voters (not even mentioning the overtly right-wing nature of the pro-abortion movement in Britain) than the ‘single mother’ obsessed middle class. However, the efforts of the mainstream ‘left’ to pretend that the Tories are a pro-life party are just ridiculous. It is curious that they get so upset that the party of John Redwood might have a few Evangelicals in it. The party of Keith Joseph was never going to be too keen on saving the lives of unborn children, given the demographic that would most likely be encouraged to have them.

    The only modern one-nation Tory figure I can really think of is Peter Hitchens, though even he ruins a lot of his own works by very craven talk of ‘socialists’ in New Labour, which just demonstrates that if one-nation Toryism is allowed to survive it is only in a neutered form.

    Don’t know much about prog-rock; any recommendations?

  9. Peter Hitchens is unbelievably infuriating on this front (and others, such as when he falsely denied that he had ever said Labour would "definitely" take Britain into the euro if it won the 2001 election). He comes up with some excellent stuff about the uselessness and obsolescence of the big parties as they stand (yet then opposes PR!) and the wrongness of mass privatisation etc., but then ruins it all by pretending that everything he dislikes - which is mainly the product of a deregulated market and politicians afraid to tackle the likes of Murdoch - as "socialist", because as you said in an earlier post he cannot or will not grasp the true nature of neoliberalism, which combines a set of economic views which would have been seen as dangerously right-wing during the Butskellite era with an allegiance towards styles of popular culture which back then were seen as disturbingly left-wing.

    I can pretty much recommend most recordings by Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson (but especially their 1973 and 1974 albums) and Gabriel-era Genesis (not least for the bitter irony of what they later became, socio-politically). Whatever you do, avoid ELP - that's one band where the NME consensus was right.

  10. @Gregor,

    Interesting points about the Right/Left and abortion. I think there is a similar tendency in the U.S. While most people think that right-wing = pro-life, there are a number of pro-choice Republicans.

    Plus, if you actually talk to right-wingers in the street, it is likely that you will find support for abortion based on the idea that abortion reduces crime and keeps the number of poor children down. This is especially true if you talk to “Business Republicans,” that is, those who vote Republican because of their economics as opposed to “Religious Republicans,” who are likely to be former New Deal Democrats or their children, and who vote for the Republicans based on religious and social issues.

    That being said, sometimes even public right-wingers let their opinions of the poor slip through, like when Charles Murray argued for ending welfare because it encouraged "dysgenesis," the out breeding of intelligent whites by genetically inferior African Americans, Hispanics, and poor whites. And yet, Murray still has plenty of defenders at the National Review, perhaps the most prominent mainstream conservative publication in the country.

    What is really unfortunate, though, is the weakness of the pro-life Left. There used to be a vibrant pro-life Left about 30 or so years ago (many of the most prominent figures were veterans of the Civil Rights Movement) but when the Democratic Party was conquered by Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups, pro-life left-wingers like former Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey Sr. were marginalized. Thankfully, there are still some organizations out there that are both left-wing on economics and pro-life, such as Democrats for Life:

    ---Mr. Piccolo

  11. @Robin
    Peter Hitchens reminds me of a very perceptive comment by John Gray in Black Mass where he says something like 'Thatcher's Victorian utopia was more like 1950s Britain than anything like the Victorian Empire was'. I think it is why I'll never see eye-to-eye even with one-nation Tories.

    Thanks for the recommends. I liked court of the Crimson King, but most of King Crimson's stuff after that seemed a bit experimental.


    I have written a post about abortion and the left, but am going to reread it a few times. The difficult thing is that after being pushed back from this position, I think it is difficult to get the left to adopt 'fogeyish' positions about marriage and the like. (And I would agree with the feminists that abortion is often due to male irresponsibility and selfishness)

  12. I prefer Crimson's experimental stuff, though. That first album pretty much invented the mainstream prog sound - a hybrid of The Nice's bombast, Soft Machine's experimentation and the cod-philosophical musings of the Moody Blues - but as the 70s went on it became more and more predictable and, I think, too blatant a combination of bombast and acoustic interludes (c.f. Yes, though I do like "Siberian Khatru" a lot) and Fripp realised that he'd spawned a monster, so stripped everything down and re-emphasised the Soft Machine elements, while the classical influences came from Bartok rather than Wagner (and the obvious references - the very title of their first album makes no sense without a knowledge of Greig - were played down). Their heaviest album, 'Red' from 1974 - the last before Fripp knocked the band on the head until the early 80s - was hugely influential on indie-rock culture in the US (it was a particular inspiration for Kurt Cobain) but didn't have the same influence here because NME dogma was too powerful.

    Van der Graaf's frontman Peter Hammill is still making amazing music today, btw, and is one of the few people in British rock (as opposed to pop, a wider and less *inherently* American form) to have developed a wholly British style and vision without resorting to heritage cliches.

  13. Maybe I should try to listen to more of King Crimson's experimental stuff (but have to admit I'm so dense I never made the Hall of the Mountain King connection before). Still, I do think that popular culture has to be balanced between the popular and cultural. One figure I saw classed as Prog rock on Wikipedia was Frank Zappa, and whilst I love a lot of his Mothers of Invention music (especially Freak Out, We're Only in it for the Money and Hot Rats) I think his grander projects were embarrassing. Joe's Garage could almost be a parody of a wise-cracking, gifted guitarist with a knowledge of music theory coming to think he's Verdi and making something neither entertaining nor enlightening. At the same time a lot of his more popular songs became increasingly silly and childish, which I think was unfortunate given the clever wordplay of many of his earlier works.

    Still, whilst Zappa was one of the earliest rock stars to come out as a small-state conservative (even in his debut) he did at least have integrity and criticised America's Latin America policies. His video for You Are What You Is showed Ronald Reagan in an electric chair ('President From Hell') which I don't think many more 'progressive' musicians would dare to do.

    Just found via youtube a German band called Faust. Any opinion?

  14. Faust were great (as were Can, Neu! and others less well-known).