Report on the National Situation: January 2019

9 posts / 0 new
Last post
Report on the National Situation: January 2019
Printer-friendly version

This is an important and rather comprehensive look at the evolution of the UK national situation over the last several decades, with special attention paid to the current Brexit impasse. A few things strike me though:

1.) The notion that the EU is some kind of separate locus of soverign power, with its own interests above those of the competing national states that make it up appears in there. I am not sure if the ICC intended this or not, but it comes through in a few places. It may be the case that the EU as a set of institutional arrangments is prone towards advancing the interests of particular member states over others (Germany). But is it possbile for there be some kind of trans-national interest (or consciousness) in a world in which the nation-state is the "highest form of unity"?

2.) I continue to be troubled with how we talk about "populism." In several places, the report seesm to suggest that the bourgeoisie is confronting populism, as if populism is some kind of alien class force contesting a united bourgeois hegemony. This could be a rhetorical slip and perhaps what is meant is the "main factions of the bourgeoisie," but then there is the idea opening the report that suggests populism is not a creation of the bourgeoisie, but an emanation of "civil society." This implies that populism is itself some kind of social movement responding to the conditions of life in decomposing capitalism, rather than the effect of decomposition on the bourgeois state, producing more and more irrational factions of the state that capitalize on the disconent of the population for political and electoral purposes.

Further, there is the additional possibility that populism represents something rather different, which the report does not consider--the attempt by a certain faction of the bourgeoisie to reassert the soverignty of the nation-state against the neo-liberal wings of the bourgeoisie, who remain enthralled to the orthoodoxy of globalization, regardless of the deleterious effects on the political legitimacy of the national state. In this view, populism is not so irrational and may even be a kind of antidote to the politically destabilzing effects of unbridled capital's logic of "creative destruction."

3.) On the political blue water between the Tories and Labour: This is interesting and demonstrates that for all the chaos affecting the UK bourgeoisie, there have been some successes. In this respect, revitalizing the Labour Party as a viable "left" opposition to the Tories again, as a real social democratic party, has brought some measure of ideological stability to the domestic situation at the least, stealing some of the thunder from UKIP (but also from the SNP?). In this repsect, the UK bourgeoisie is in a better situation than its US counterparts, which have been unable to create a real left-wing opposition party to "populism in power," as the Democratic Party twists and contorts itself under the weight of identity politics, but also the power of the Democratic corporatist establishment. Still, there are key elements in UK bourgeoisie, including with the Labour Party itself, that seem determined to prevent a Corbyn government. If the situation is less dire in the UK at the moment, neither bourgeoisie seems able to prevent the increasing problematization of the traditional left/right divide and there remains no clear party in the ideological division of labour that represents the "party of the working class" or stands consistently for values that are "left-wing." The problem of anti-semitism in the Labour Party (which is now emerging in the Democratic Party as well) but also conflicting rhetoric about migration and national labour markets makes it less than clear which party is supposed to represent which values.

4.) It would have been good to see a little more attention to the question of the UK's national problem. The defeat of the Scottish independence referendum was an important moment in maintaining the integrity of the UK itself, but this clearly did not exhaust the issue as the Brexit result has opened the possibility of territorial problems not just in Scotland, but in N. Ireland as well. How realistic is the possibility of the territorial break-up of the union itself and what would the ramifications be if it ever happens?

"The various campaigns

"The various campaigns against Corbyn, plus the behind-the-scenes arm-twisting by the state, have served to make him and his team more acceptable as a possible government. They are now in a position to defend the bourgeoisie’s policies, even including a second referendum if this is thought necessary, and to replace May if required."

More acceptable to whom? Of course, "more" is a relative term. With the recent split in Labour it seems there are still profound reservations about a possible Corbyn government and there are elements in the political class that will do whatever they can to keep that from happening, even if it means dilluting that "blue water," between the Tories and Labour.

Of course, this is not a situation limited to the UK; wherever populism reaches a certain threshold there is an emerging complication in the old left-right political divide (ideological division of labour) that has trouble expressing itself through the existing parties. The specific allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn seem to exhibit a by now familiar pattern: whenever a political formation emerges that challenges the neo-liberal status quo--it will be tarred in the media and by establishment politicos as racist, anti-Semitic, hateful, intolerant, etc. Phenomena as diverse as Trump, Corbyn, Sanders, and now the Yellow Vests are said to have profound problems with these issues.

Of course, there may be some varrying levels of truth to the charges, but the extent to which the neo-liberal establishment has become a kind of pitbull in stomping out any expressions of these sentiments (when before they were often tolerated or swept under the rug) tempts me to make a play on the title of one of Paul Mattick's books, "Anti-Racism: The Last Refuge of the Neo-Liberal Establishment." Of course, Adolph Reed already has an article like that: "Anti-Racism: A Neo-Liberal Replacement for the Left."

In any event, it is not clear to me the extent to which a classic left-right politics can co-exist in bourgeois society, with the increasing dominance of all kinds of cross-cutting identity claims. Already, there are major complciations emerging within the Democratic Party's primary field on these issues, in which to quote Reed: "Any claim or proposal concerning durable patterns of economic inequality is now taken as being tantamount to making excuses for white supremacy.'"

Obviously, the old left-right binary has not completely collapsed as income inequality is as much a defining feature of the period as increased identity claims, but it is not clear the extent to which these kinds of comepting narratives can co-exist in stable political blocs going forward. If the UK bourgeoise has had some success rehabilitating Labour as the "party of the working-class," its not clear how stable that success will be.

With jk I think that this is

With jk I think that this is a very comprehensive text that is strong on the historical decline of Britain as an imperialist power and its struggle with being a second-rate power right into the Brexit debacle which further threatens to diminish the role of Britain even more. This decline, as the text says, is also evident in the "special relationship", a fiction that's been useful for the British bourgeoisie that's been further undermined by the actions of President Trump.

I agree with the characterisation of Brexit as being a consequence of populism and that as an expression of capitalist decomposition. One question though: the British bourgeoisie were certainly well aware that it could lose the Brexit vote so why didn't Cameron and co. go for a two-thirds majority or something like it? Were they that rattled that they miscalculated or was it based on the entrenched position of "first past the post"?

The disarray and decline of the British bourgeoisie has been expressed on the diplomatic level (like the US, British diplomacy has suffered from the effects of the New World Order); the incoherence is shown in Boris Johnson the clown as British Foreign Secretary, which was not only an insult to the Foreign Office but friend and foe alike. It's an arrogance that comes from weakness; thus new Defence Secretary Gavin "why don't the Russians just go away" Williamson, threatens "lethal" force against China just as crucial trade talks were about to get underway between it and Britain. Similarly, ex-Foreign Secretary Hunt and trade minister Liam Fox, tried to hustle Japan into a trade agreement which back-fired on them. These idiotic and counter-productive actions by senior ministers of the state must point to the weakening of British diplomacy and the weakening of the backbone of the British state, the civil service, under the blows of decomposition.

I fully agree with the historical weakening of Britain as a consequence of the expression of capitalism's decadence and its further weakening as an expression of decomposition. But what I think the report fails to mention, and I know you can't say everything, is the role of Britain in the Middle East. Afghanistan and Iraq were certainly embarrassing defeats dressed up as victories but Britain retains enormous influence in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. It's not just a matter of Special Forces as the report suggests but the reach of its army (though declining it is particularly strong here) and its intelligence services which remain a solid asset which is very efficient at adapting to the "new realities".Britain is well-implanted in Jordan and very active in Libya. Given the significance of these "theatres of war", the role of British imperialism shouldn't be underestimated. Britain is trying to straddle the growing US/Europe divide with a foot in each camp so supports the Iran nuclear deal on one hand and outlaws Hezbollah's political wing on the other. These contradictions can only become sharper making the position of Britain more problemmatic.


Is Labour's endorsement of a

Is Labour's endorsement of a new Brexit vote symbolic of a certain defeat of the Corbyn wing or is it evidence of a further rehabiliation of Labour in the hopes of making it more reliable should it have to assume government? Still, there seems to be no end to the trashing of Corbyn in the establishment media, with the spectre of anti-Semitism still prominently in the background.

On Brexit, the British bourgeoisie is clearly in a conundrum regarding the democratic legitimacy of the state. Someone has to be seen to be preserving the "democratic will" expressed in the first vote, even as it seems they are hunting around looking for other democratic ideological justifications for a second referendum. But this would seem to raise as many questions as it would solve: what would the quesiton put to the electorate be and why would the result of the second vote be any more legitimate than the first? In this the UK bourgeoisie's dilema is more difficut than the US's, where they can simply criminalize the man Trump, in the hopes of boxing him in and ultimately removing him in 2020. Brexit can't so easily be undone.

Labour's anti-Semitism is a

Labour's anti-Semitism is a big deal within the British bourgeoisie at the moment. I haven't been following the issue very closely but it seems grossly exaggerated with terms like "endemic" and so on. The actual number of verified complaints by the party is less than 0.01% of the membership. About half-a-dozen Jewish Labour MP's have been sanctioned for anti-Semitism which suggests the main reason for the furore, when anti-Semitic abuse and attacks are rising from the right and far-right and fuelled by the likes of the British right-wing mainstream press, lies elsewhere. The main reason seems to be that any criticism of Israel is seen to be anti-Semitic and, given Corbyn's clear pro-Palestine views, this plays into the role of declining Britain in trying to maintain its position in the Middle East and, in this instance, along with the classification of Hezbollah politicians as "terrorist", staying close to the United States.

Labour MP, Siobhain McDonagh,

Labour MP, Siobhain McDonagh, adds that "part of the (Labour) left is anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic because it sees Jewish people as the financiers of capitalism". She went on to confirm the equation of anti-capitalism with anti-Semiticism. This is certainly true of the left wing of the bourgeoisie given its defence of the national interests and, in it's perceived advancement of those interests, it can also be pro-Zionist, as with Bevan and co. towards the end of WWII.

MP McDonagh generally votes to bomb Arabs in the Middle East - or abstains so the vote passes.  Labour Party members and their left wing elements are thus caught between support for Israel or, as with Corbyn, support for Hamas

The situation has developed

The situation has developed dramatically in just several days: 1 million marched in favor of--well, its not exactly clear what they were in favor of, Remain or a new referendum? A new referendum becasue they think it could only end in Remain this time? In any event, there appears to be a clear crisis of legitimacy not just in the establishment parties, but in the democratic ideology itself. What makes the marchers believe a new referendum would have any more legitimacy than the last one? How many referendums would it take for the result to be legitimate? Best two out of three? This illustrates the dilemna of the May government. Not a proponent of Leave, May has recognized that she must nevertheless appear to be working for it out of respect for the demcoratic will of the population. The elites can't appear to be too directly attempting to frustrate the process, less the entire charade be revealed for what it is.

Obviously, the current impasse is a direct result of the incompetent hubris of the Cameron government that allowed a vote to go forward with unclear parameters where a simple majority could put the entire UK state in a a serious political, economic and ideological bind. But what it reveals above that is the increasingly unpredicatable nature of bourgeois politics today, full of unintended consequences--the attempt to put the EU question to bed by the Cameron government has led in the span of two years to the point of something like parliamentary revolt and the deep problematization of democratic ideology itself.


Just to acknowledge what JK has written above; to agree with the core of it - we are witnessing in the political convulsions of the bourgeoisie of Britain (though not only in Britain) something unprecedented in half a decade which has implications across many levels our our analyses - and that responses will be forthcoming. Hopefully ...

There is also a certain

There is also a certain blowback element here playing out over a longer time frame, regarding the European project itself. The attempt to create a kind of supra-national bloc, has had the odd consquence of revealing the underlying fraility of various national projects themselves: Spain, but more importantly the UK, once the continent's preeminent power has been largely hamstrung by intra-bourgeois factionalism, but also from a popular revolt that refuses to accept the consensus of the media and other ideological mouthpieces of the bourgeoisie about what is in its own interests.

One is tempted to referene the quote from David Frum that when elites ask the populace to scale up their solidarity beyond the national state, some significant percentage will react by doing the opposite and scaling down. Of course, this tendency has its counter-weight in the emergene of new political identities and subjectivites under neo-liberalism that reject the very premise of the nation-state itself, seeking solidarities in expressive moral communities. Might it be too much of an exageration to say that the global situation has more the feel of 1630 than 1930 today?