Thursday, January 28, 2016

It's not just Corbyn: Labour is intellectually finished too

The conventional wisdom amongst "moderate" members of the Labour party and their supporters in the press, is that although Labour has made a big mistake in choosing Jeremy Corbyn as leader and although the political pendulum has (quite gently) swung to the Tories, in the end a new leader and the inevitable Conservative failures will one day bring the return of a Labour government.

The problem is that Labour's problem extends well beyond the short term and the tactical. As we have noted before, their very ideology is not merely irrelevant, it is intellectually bankrupt. This bankruptcy can be seen ever more clearly in the attitude that key Labour figures, albeit from the left wing of the party, continue to show towards Communism.

We have seen Diane Abbott suggest that Mao Zedong was "more positive than negative", We have seen Seamus Milne, an unapologetic defender of Stalinism, become one of the most powerful figures in the party. Labour moderates are aghast, but they fail to understand their own culpability. The ambivalent attitude of "Democratic Socialists" to their undemocratic cousins is part of a critical problem.

The fact is that no state that followed the example of Soviet Socialism has ever been anything except a charnal house. Every single time Communism has been tried as a state ideology it has resulted in mass murder: the death toll of Communism everywhere- in the USSR, in China, in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Angola, Cuba,*everywhere* - is horrific and stands in the tens or even hundreds of millions. 

The fundamental problem is that at the very root of Marxist thought there stands the idea of the sectional interest defined as class. The idea of "working class" is in fact pretty arbitrary, the industrial proletariat were supposed to be the elite of Communism, yet the definition of what was a "good class" and what was a "class enemy" rested on more or less fictitious considerations. In any event the idea of some random class elite having the moral authority to dictate to not merely wider society but the whole world is as ludicrous as the idea that some random race- a concept as vacuous as class- should have such power.

The fact is that Soviet Socialism and National Socialism are morally identical. Both believe that narrow and arbitrarily defined groups have the moral right to seize power and establish a dictatorship of unlimited power. 

However, the British Left has utterly failed to understand the moral equivalence between Fascism and Communism. Too many have made excuses for Communism. Too many have even suggested that there is a core of moral good at the heart of Communism which does not exist in Fascism. Sometimes those who are confronted with the moral degradation of Communism try to suggest that the Soviet model is not "Real Communism". It is a totally specious argument: when everything that is called "Communist" behaves in the same, brutal and murderous way then why accept the moral opprobrium of the name. The fact is that adding a hyphen to "-Communist" does not alter the vile and blood stained history of the ideology.

So when Dianne Abbott or Seamus Milne defend or even promote Communism, they are either fools or knaves. Communism is indefensible and yet in terms of language, even the "moderate" Labour party still uses the concepts and the vocabulary of the utterly discredited Communist ideology. "Working Class" is the shibboleth of self-proclaimed Socialists.

Yet the fact is that the intellectual justification is growing as thin as the moral justification for Communism. In the face of the increasingly diverse world of self identifying collectives, economics-based, "class" identifications grow ever weaker- and this is a matter of choice, not the machinations of some fictitious oligarchy. The world of Facebook is not simply an IT based communication facility, it is a world of a myriad of communities. A social, political or economic analysis that continues to reference some non-existent working class solidarity is about as relevant as the spinning jenny in the world of the Internet.

Some Labour figures have clearly understood this. Indeed the Labour modernizers under Tony Blair actually seemed to have moved Labour from a class based analysis to a more generic, albeit shallow, "progressive" agenda. Yet Blair and his allies are now seen as politicians who not merely abandoned "Socialism", but abandoned all principles. That lack of authenticity has been fatal for the Labour brand. However, in seeking to re-establish guiding principles the party has made the fatal mistake of reverting to the intellectual void of discredited Socialism.

Labour is now fatally split between those who recognize the moral turpitude of Socialism and those that do not. This is not a house that can stay together.

The question for those who believe in any political vision for Britain that is different from the Conservatives is how to make a united case when a significant part of the Labour Party does not even understand the terms of the debate and prefers to simply howl at the Moon. In Scotland the divisive SNP may be feasting on Labour's corpse, but the vision they offer is a political cul-de-sac, which in a world of volatile oil prices is utterly unrealistic in any event. 

Liberals and progressives are still dealing with the political evisceration of the Liberal Democrats, and although small signs of recovery exist, even to climb back into the same, weak position the party had in 2010 is a formidable task. The tactics of local political organisation no longer mark out the Liberal Democrats' unique selling point. Nor is it clear that the party recognizes what path it should take. Yet even still, the Liberal Democrats do have a core vision which has retained its intellectual validity. More to the point it is increasingly clear that it is not merely tactical reasons that could bring a realignment of the historic centre- left of British politics. 

Disillusioned supporters of Labour, both within and outwith Parliament, are reappraising their own political ideas. Dialogue is beginning. The election of Jeremy Corbyn underlines that Labour has reached the end of the road. The repeated failures of Communism and Socialism reveals Marxist analysis is an empty failure. Socialism is stone dead. A new analysis is opening up.

In time I believe that a political agenda that understands the impact of technology on our society and promotes freer, more open social communities can emerge. It will be less tribal and less exclusive, reflecting a more mature view of the positives and negatives of policy. It will not espouse the all embracing grand theories of Socialism, but will be more pragmatic and more open. 

It is time to open up new debates and new ideas. The power of an open society, a Liberal society, prosperous and open and based on scientific method and tolerant scepticism is still within reach.

Perhaps much sooner than we think, there will be demand for a new political vehicle or alliance that can unite behind this agenda. It is about time we began to live in a post-Socialist world.

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