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Current Affairs

The Black Hole at the Heart of Parliament

CORONA –

2. In Astronomy, the rarefied gaseous envelope of the sun and other stars. The sun’s corona is normally visible only during a total solar eclipse, when it is seen as an irregularly shaped pearly glow surrounding the darkened disc of the moon.

There’s a particular pained expression Boris Johnson makes that has fascinated me in recent months. It’s a face he makes when he’s determined to look serious, when circumstances seem to demand reverence and consideration rather than boisterous joshing, and it looks a little like a poorly proved loaf of bread, a packet of biscuits that’s been sitting in the cupboard too long, or, more obviously, a sad clown. This national health crisis has been both the culmination of his entire acting career as a particular kind of self-aware aristocrat, the well-to-do clumsy eccentric who knows how to have a bit of a laugh and loves a good civic project or two, and a strange kind of unravelling. It’s nothing quite as simple as a near death experience changing a man, or the Churchillian myth he has fashioned for himself coming together in a grand victory of anachronistic national belonging; the right man for the right time so to speak. What begins to become apparent rather, if we look carefully, is that behind the immaculately kept furniture and grand ostentation of the number 10 interior, underneath the lacquer of that table on which the Prime Minister is carefully propping himself, is another world. A world in which politics simply doesn’t take place. A world which, it might not be an exaggeration to say, doesn’t contain much of anything, and yet for some is the grand total of everything.

British politics has long been the practice of an anti-political world view. It’s a cliche much used by the right that London is some kind of metropolitan bubble disconnected from the rest of the country, and a fiction, but the truth is potentially far worse, and involves the kind of insular bureaucratic inner-group consciousness we might usually think the preserve of the other, those corrupt nations somewhere in the eastern fog that serve as the projection of every secret injustice we perpetuate. The enduring historical image in my mind during this crisis has not been of the second world war, or even the black death, but that of Chernobyl; an expansive disaster of almost unthinkable proportions exacerbated and allowed through the pavlovian response of a group of totemically arrogant paper-pushers. To make such a direct historical link might seem fatuous or simplistic, and it’s true that we cannot simply reduce the contingencies of the present to the certainties of the past, but I use this image to illustrate the sheer enormity of government failure, and more precisely a kind of depoliticising and systematic incompetence that’s widely agreed to underpin those events.

Because the scale of institutional failure here is difficult to overstate; it is difficult to think of another crisis or point in recent history in which every axis of the neoliberal economy has been so steeped in the waters of decay. The culmination of the Thatcherite project in which successive governments take another crack at hollowing out public services, each lining up to bash the pinata some more until presumably some sweets fall out somewhere down the line, has come to a head in a whirlwind of frantic PR babbling, in which successive Tory apparatchiks of varying disrepute try to convince us that we have won the battle, driven off the enemy even as the problems mount up around them. Each press conference simply seems more desperate, more empty of content, more out of step with the lived reality of people whose lives have now become overshadowed by the ballooning and sickening pall of premature mortality. It is as death more prominently than ever in recent days hangs over the land, that British politics turns steadfastly away and starts bleating about “British common sense” and “indomitable spirit”…

The spectacle has run away with itself, turned back on itself, torn itself to shreds and put itself back together again in the midst of the charade. Outsourcing, the economically baffling process New Labour became convinced was a “powerful public good” in the words of interminable Blair cultist John McTernan, has built on its legacy of corruption, failure and inefficiency with every step taken. The only explanation left as to why important state tasks are contracted out to disreputable companies is good old routine, we simply don’t know how else to do things anymore. The great promise of Johnson and Cummings was that they would shake up politics, they would do things differently; apparently, we weren’t getting the same old politicians that spent all their time huffing and puffing around the commons chamber asking for endless Brexit extensions. An empty promise as it turned out. Neoliberalism is still the name of the game, and a dash of Keynesian “generosity” doesn’t change matters, as it becomes apparent that public infrastructure is now nothing more than a carcass, partitioning everything to corporations seeded in anonymous office blocks with no real expertise in anything besides corporate politics and fraud seems to be the only thing left, and we will do it until we keel over of exhaustion.

The old canard of broken promises might be wheeled out now, but it seems to have no purchase here, not only have there been so many promises that they barely held any weight, but fulfilling promises ceased to be a concern. When we say “post-truth” we speak as if this is not only some kind of new development, but almost invariably without any kind of truth to speak of; what truth are we referring to, is it simply that of consistency? Is it the religious truth of conviction? Both are dismissed as mindless populism whenever they arise, or worse the telling symptoms of raving fanaticism. No, we mean a wholly inconsequential truth, a truth confined by the co-ordinates of politics-as-is. The theatre of the commons has recently delivered some telling displays of contained opposition, where, successful as they were, the Labour Party’s calls for consistency and truth have consistently stopped short of questioning the premise. Political opposition this is not. What is expected appears to be more of a perpetual list of corrections, a legal register of complaint. Excuse me, this doesn’t add up. Could you clarify this point please. The people want to know. Behind all of this, Capital remains the only game in town.

It remains to be seen whether there will be some kind of mass revolt or turning of opinion against the conservative government in the manner opinion shifted on Churchill after the war, indeed predictions of this kind remain a fools game in the flurry of nothingness and non-information being spewed forth from the groaning depths of our political machine. Rather than a “parliament of the people” what is on display here is the clumsy illusions of a government who never wanted to protect anyone, wasn’t particularly invested in the popular will beyond it’s own comfortable majority, and is at every step more interested in washing its hands, the empty sheen of endless ritual. Wash your hands, clap for carers, stay at home, stay alert, all just slogans to people who know that they won’t be made homeless, who can exist in the fantasy they construct.

It’s here in this fantasy that they reside, and its a fantasy empty of concern, where Brexit, or the lack of it, just meant a convenient vehicle for success, and poverty is just a concept. Despite the displays of chummy, backslapping jingoistic confidence, there is no solidarity here, there is only a yawning black maw into which all our hopes and dreams are gradually emptied as Tory MPs laugh at your concerns, open their mouths in mock horror, and stand to attention in an endlessly repeated minutes, ten minutes, ten hours silence to honour what, the cadaver of politics?

Of course, they have to be a bit more careful today. No longer can your friendly neighbourhood technocrat simply sit there and claim that a nuclear disaster simply cannot occur in the united kingdom. Unlike the Bolsonaros of the world, Johnson would never have been able to pretend that nothing was happening. Instead it is with the public outpouring of admiration that we are plied, a trust in queen and country, in fish and chips, common sense and the steadfastness of dear old blighty, the old nationalisms given new life. Even as socialists were jeered away and rejected out of hand for their ties to the past, the Blitz spirit returned, the old slogans wheeled out, the queen sat before us and delivered what seemed more like a simulation than usual for our monarchy, as decked out in pure, unadulterated post-feudal glitz as it may be.

All this crescendoed some weeks back now. People are getting tired of lockdown, it is said, whispers abound of people crowding the beaches, a government caught in the kind of tangled web of disarray it might not be able to escape, the “resilient” economy in tatters… Triumphant pronouncements of the end of neoliberalism should be resisted. Declaring the end is the perfect door through which neoliberalism re-enters our politics. Regardless, hasn’t it been running on empty for around 10 years now? It can go on for longer. Neither, it has to be stressed, is Capitalist Realism over, and to proclaim it over at every moment something happens is to flagrantly miss what makes it such a powerful phrase in the first place; it’s not that nothing happens, its that everything happens, but nothing changes. Left melancholy sets in when we stake our faith in everything and none of it works.

We are, however, at the mercy of history. One thing that we do tentatively seem to have seen the back of is the end of history. Certain pressure valves could no longer hold, and fissures erupted. This was true of Brexit, Trump, and now that we are being assailed by an inhuman entity, the storm of stammering justifications we receive in response. There is nothing currently for us in the centre besides a hideous mass. There is no centre, just an arc of matter in which we find ourselves, an indeterminate horizon somewhere under the spires of parliament into which everything is drawn. What lies beyond this dead anomaly, it remains impossible to say.

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Current Affairs Updates

Quarantine Dream

“Well this was unexpected” I say to myself in strangely vertiginous moment of calm. But then this exclamation is followed by a doubt, a question, was it? Was a global pandemic like this ever actually that far away, isn’t it true that for some time now it has been reasonable to suspect a crisis of some magnitude to befall the global economy, virus or no virus? The possibility of a normality-shattering crisis has lain at some indistinct moment arguably for a decade now. It was a question of when, not if it would arrive.

This doesn’t really do as much as we’d like to think to prepare us for its moment of arrival. As Jodi Dean observed poignantly on Twitter, no amount of dystopian fiction prepares you for the sadness of collapse, and in this vein no amount of theory prepares you for the events of history to play out in front of your eyes. Perhaps there is something of this to the immediate and widely derided responses of various theorists, from Agamben to Badiou, not to mention the almost impossibly fast announcement of a new book by Zizek on the coronavirus pandemic. Where do these academics of varying fame find themselves in the progression of events? Arguably, nowhere. They, like the rest of us, are simply swept up within them, whether they are pantomime performer or lecturer. Their comments, while previously more welcome, now have a tendency to come off as hackneyed, detached responses from people who have spent too long staring at the same piece of paper. Sure, we could apply the analysis that holds the virus as the confrontation of capital with its suppressed Real, and perhaps it holds, but in some sense, it all seems to be a bit obvious, and more to the point it tells us nothing of how to handle it, how to proceed from this moment, even the minutiae of living under it.

Part of the problem with tackling events this time around is quite how simultaneously real and unreal they seem, evoking in one breath a million fictional pandemics, zombie outbreaks and collapse scenarios, but in its horrifying, alienating reality outstripping any of them. Only a month ago, the idea Europe would now be in an effective quarantine scenario would have sounded outlandish, more like some kind of alternative history series than current affairs. The notion that nothing really happens here, that epidemics, wars, social collapse are things that happen in other places, the “third world”, had set in deeper than we could possibly imagine, a bubble of western exceptionalism that was inexplicably supposed to keep us safe from the ravages of the world. There was never really any reason to think that “normality”, as in the rhythms and flows of daily life, would continue unabated indefinitely, even if its sudden imposition means that the eventual disruption was nigh impossible to plan for.

All of this means in all likelihood that a lot will have changed on the other side of this crisis, the co-ordinates will shift, in fact they already have [What Brexit?] but it’s entirely unclear at this stage to whose benefit and to what end. It’s possible, yes, that the floor may be opened for a number of previously maligned socialist policies and ideas, but just as likely, indeed the pessimist in me suggests more so, that the far right will gain more from all this. It’s not hard to see how an argument for hard borders can be constructed from the emergence of the pandemic, as much as for UBI or other measures. The left should be careful in our pronouncements, and remind ourselves of the current stakes of power. While the virus and its reaction is demolishing our unchecked notions of capitalist normality, in some quarters it only seems to be more fuel for the fire of anti-leftist contempt. In light of all this, before any grand calls for building a utopia from the ashes, I will hold my tongue. Reality is too violent and mercurial to fashion as we would wish.

And so I’m left to read through the rest of Adorno’s Minima Moralia, a text that I’m finding takes on a strange relevance at a time like this. Adorno’s famous miserablist outlook, aphorism after aphorism, seeming to make a morbid degree of sense in the current climate. That famous quote of his from a Spiegel interview has come back to me repeatedly. Two weeks ago, the world seemed in order, well, not to me… I don’t mean, and I doubt Adorno did, to single myself out for some kind of special awareness here, but something Adorno really strikes at, more than a lot of Marxist thinkers I’ve read, and even in his most questionable moments, is the horror and death that not only lies underneath but facilitates our comfort. It’s why, while I understand our wish in these situations for a return to normal, that it would all go away, this wish is also predicated on a kind of exceptionalism. We expect to live in a bubble for which others must die. Not only this, but their deaths are invisible, buried, easily ignored. The kind of stark inequality and societal violence that oils the cogs in the quotidian monolith of capitalist routine becomes a horror we can’t collectively turn away from at times like this. Society returns with a vengeance in conditions of isolation.

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Current Affairs

Comments on Brexit and Class

Following thoughts from what I posted last, what’s evident to me is the sheer difficulty of mapping class politics accurately onto Brexit. While there is quite an easy picture that’s been drawn, one that presents us with a working class “Brexit Heartland” in the north, it’s worth bearing in mind the multiple reasons we have to be deeply suspicious of this, not least the common appeals to what’s become called the “traditional” working class demographic. Of course, as figures like Ash Sarkar have accurately pointed out, despite the “metropolitan elite” that some have pointed to being at the heart of the remain vote, there are many living in metropolitan areas who are anything but elite, many from immigrant backgrounds who reside in council estates and high-rises. On top of this we must add the precarity of city existence that really intrudes now on any sense that anyone living in London is within some kind of luxury bubble. I don’t mean this to suggest that, as some people have suggested “class doesn’t exist” [to suggest that is simply absurd on quite a basic level, who would believe that we have somehow already transitioned into some classless society?] but that when it comes to what motivates remain/leave in the trashfire of Brexit really doesn’t project neatly on top of it in the way that would be required to see it as a direct parallel of class conflict.

To be more accurate, I would add that the concept of “class” must be expanded. It can no longer be held to mean merely a white male worker, some gruff northern chap who works in a factory, an outdated archetype that no longer has much bearing on post-fordist labour, and actively excludes consideration of black or immigrant working class communities. In many ways we can speak not just of class consciousness, but as Fisher suggested of subordinate group consciousness, in this way approaching a more intersectional analysis of how capital captures groups into a system of oppression and moving away from the risk of adopting a kind of reactionary, nationalist reading of class which fundamentally goes against the aims of emancipatory politics on an international scale.

It all comes to this; Brexit cannot simply be seen as a vehicle for class. It is an ideological tool, one that was employed for reactionary ends but could [and perhaps must at this stage] be taken as a hint towards collective desire for change. What Farage and his lackeys have successfully intimated in their audience is this desire for change, and in their vision this becomes a reactionary change, a move away from the future, towards a fascist-golden age scenario… your situation is bad, things used to be better, here we can return to that! From this it can most successfully be taken as a call to galvanize left politics, to offer something Brexit can’t; the future.

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Current Affairs

The Brexit Dichotomy

Below I present a piece of writing sent to me which presents a series of interesting points to consider and importantly frames the Brexit conversation within the much ignored and [regardless of any who might throw the ludicrous line around that “class doesn’t mean anything anymore] ever looming issue of class conflict. I’ll leave it without comment for now, but may consider adding my own remarks at some stage in the future.

The Brexit Dichotomy, by the Stranger –

Brexit represents a civil war within the British Establishment.

The EU Referendum of 2016 was constructed by David Cameron. He wanted to create a battleground on which the hard-right faction of the Conservative Party — who do not believe in the ongoing project of integration into Europe, the dissolution of nationality into globalised capital — could be defeated, and so consolidate the power of his faction, the centre-right faction, in the party, and thus the British Establishment. He gambled, and he lost, turning a brief political skirmish into a protracted civil war.

Brexit is an attempted revolution by the hard-right faction of the British bourgeoisie against the centre-right faction of the British bourgeoisie.

The centre-right faction of the bourgeoisie is socially liberal and globalist. The hard-right faction of the bourgeoisie is socially conservative and nationalistic.

***

Let us first recognise that electoral politics is an abstraction of warfare – specifically, and most usually, CLASS WAR.

Representative democracy is a vent for class frustrations, without which society would erupt into physical confrontation between interest groups who are essentially opposed to each other.

As with the many military conflicts humans have fought on this island in centuries past, it was the common people that were the meat in the armies, dictated to by the warring factions of the ruling class of British society. The feudal lords amassed armies of peasants to act out their opposing self-interests. Whoever has the biggest army wins – and so it goes with electoral politics. In the first-past-the-post system, the aim is not to reach a consensus or compromise but to have a large enough voter base to beat your opponent into submission.

***

The pro-Remain movement is a counter-revolution.

The pro-Remain movement is an alliance between the petit-bourgeoisie and the centre-right bourgeoisie, in the interest of the continuation of neoliberal capitalism, which makes the upper-middle class and Establishment succeed economically (at the expense of the working class).

At the beginning of the month of June in the year 2019 of the Common Era, the Labour Party faced betrayal by the petit-bourgeoisie, who have allied themselves with the centre-right faction of the ruling class. They call for a People’s Vote, to recreate the conditions of the loss of the centre-right establishment against the hard-right establishment, with the hope of instead defeating the hard-right and returning the prevailing neoliberal political consensus to a period of stability. However, this is impossible, as the conditions which caused many of the working class to be recruited to fight for the pro-Brexit hard-right bourgeoisie have not changed; namely, the continually decreasing ability for the working class and lower middle class to economically survive under neoliberal capitalism.

If there is another EU referendum it is just as likely Leave will win.

***

Where does the working class stand in this civil war?

Leave vs Remain is a false dichotomy that does nothing for the prospects of the working class. If Britain Remains in the EU the working class remains fucked. If Britain Leaves the EU the working class will be fucked. The working class is fucked because of the breakdown of the post-war social contract, caused by the neoliberal consensus.

The leadership of the Labour Party is shrewd to reject this false Brexit dichotomy. The petit-bourgeois elements within the Labour Party who demand Labour commit to a People’s Vote and explicitly Remain position do so in their own class interests. This class interest seeks to stabilise neoliberal capitalism, which makes it opposed to the interests of the working class.

Another solution must be devised by the Left that rejects the Brexit Dichotomy.

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Capitalism Current Affairs

Careering; The Hangover

I will admit I recently fell into a bit of a political slump. Usually I’ve maintained, despite volatility, an optimism and a confidence in the left’s capacity to win, and the potential to build a future, but the labyrinthine collapse into personal grievances and polarized trench warfare that the issue of Brexit provokes has really tested that optimism with a choking, persistent aura of dread. Now that positions have calcified around an all or nothing scenario it’s difficult to see past the pissing contest that ensues, and attempting to do so has practically left me with a migraine… this, coupled with my creeping thoughts regarding the catastrophic consequences should the left be defeated again, has led me also to an exasperation; at the Remain camp as much as the leavers, if not more. Despite this, I’ll attempt to unravel my thoughts somewhat, if only to get this crushing feeling out of my head.

I oppose Brexit. I think it is, as it stands, something borne out of reactionary fantasy and mired in impossible promises, a conjured chimera presented as a kind of backward-looking medicine for our troubled times. This said, it didn’t emerge out of a vacuum; we have to understand our politics in terms of structures and networks of affect, not simply a series of events that happen out of the blue yonder, and Brexit is no different. It emerged due to a number of factors, promises made and campaign lines run on, but the core libidinal attractor of the Brexit vote was a distinct disaffection and sense of impotence. The lesson we can pull more broadly from the rise of the far right, of styled eccentric populism, of reactionary sentiment both here and across the atlantic, is a desire for change, and as it happens what precise form that change takes becomes of little importance. This is why Farage and others have found it so easy to appeal to their followers on the most simple terms, they have an understanding of what people are looking for, that being a way out of their predicament, and they have at their disposal a cabinet full of nice easy solutions for a cheap price.

In this regard, the fundamental error of the remain campaign, one that aligns with the error of the Clinton campaign, contradicts the initial surge of Corbynism, and one that has been made again and again, that we show no clear signs of learning from, is the lack of positive solutions. What Farage is increasingly pushing now is not only pulling on the disaffection soaking the very ground we stand on, but an optimistic vision and promise of how to escape it. Now from this position we can tell he’s selling snake oil, but that doesn’t belie precisely how well he’s selling the stuff, shifting boatloads not because “people are idiots” but because he knows, like any good capitalist, how to take hold of people’s desire, to fashion it into profit. This has been the major impasse of the left for some time now, the failure to deliver a positive vision. If we continue to campaign on the back of “we’re not those guys” or “not that”, we will fail, fail, and fail again, as this simply misunderstands where we’re at, through appealing instead of to a desire for change, to the desire of the bourgeoisie for things to stay the same.

This of course feeds into a widespread fantasy, one where we can speak magic, consign Brexit to some crazy episode of history and everything will revert back to a pre-brexit state where things definitely seemed more stable. Did they? We seem to have lost our memory. Surely this is the only explanation as to why we are so quick to reconcile none other than Alistair Campbell, key figure of the left’s neoliberal capitulation and architect of Blairite limbo, speaking as if he is some noble, beset upon figure. What of the Liberal Democrats. They have become no more convincing in their utter lack of conviction, refusal to stand for anything and readiness to say anything if it might lead to election success.. have we forgotten the part they played in ushering in the best part of a decade of Conservative rule? That despite their current opportunistic anti-Brexit platform they had been pushing for an EU referendum since about 2008? What do they represent more than some petit-bourgeois protest party? We claim to vote for them based on their lack of fence-sitting over Brexit while they are a party of fence-sitters. They do practically nothing but sit on fences all day and only announce a position if it might garner them more votes, making sure they can nimbly hop back onto the fence again at the first sign of difficulty, the Lib Dems are an answer to nothing and a home to nobody. They offer nothing but more of the same, turgid, grey dystopia, a melancholic attachment to the neoliberal boom of the 2000s.

And so this is the root of my fear, that due to the total dominance of Brexit as an issue we have completely lost sight of any kind of slightly large picture, that we will happily jump behind anyone, no matter how dubious their political aims if they support a remain position. It seems, based on recent outcomes, that we will happily risk scuppering the left’s chances of victory and opening the floodgates for the far right if we get our personal wishes on Brexit validated. The famous Rosa Luxemburg quote has repeatedly come back to me at this moment; “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.” It strikes me that we stand at just such a crossroads, and that the left simply cannot afford to fail, lest instead of collectively building the future we regress through individual fragmentation into a fascist resurgence. The centre has died, and it will not wake up again no matter how many times we try to resuscitate it.

This all seems to represent nothing less than one giant hangover from Thatcherism, the neoliberal doctrine that languishes now in a state of terminal decline economically and yet still maintains a spectral hold on our consciousness. We still think in terms of individual preference, of voter as consumer, of the nicely packaged individual psychology wherein our subconscious musings stem from us and us alone, where the political can sit in comfortable distance separate from the personal. This is how we justifiably expect a political movement, instead of moving us towards a broader aim, towards changing society, to simply give us what we want. The consumer logic that drives an ostensibly free market applies here to the ways in which, rather than think in terms of collective transformation, politics resembles instead the segmented, individualised and yet notably formulaic factories of social media, where the illusion of that mythical beast, individual autonomy, takes hold of our psyches in the darkness of cyberspace.

I still maintain confidence. It is definitely true that anti-capitalism is inching its way into mainstream discourse, and that there is a general sense that things cannot proceed as they are for much longer, especially set against the looming threat of ecological collapse. What is essential now, if we are to progress, and to move towards an imagined collective future in earnest, is a psychological re-orientation, nothing less than to change what Thatcher addressed as the “heart and soul”. What is needed is a reconstitution of solidarity, abstract political belonging and ultimately comradeship as Jodi Dean outlines it, for unless we can meaningfully unite as a political entity this left future is but an individual fantasy, consigned to the scrapheap to be ground up into paste under the ironclad boots of the future war machine. We must on top of this realise precisely what is at stake, the serious polarity of the situation and the cost of failure, to pull from this crushing negativity a reason to continue.

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Capitalism Current Affairs

The Sadness of Theresa May

Yesterday, Theresa May, despite holding on by her fingertips for months, finally let go of her position as Prime Minister, delivering a resignation speech in front of number 10 that picked apart was a truly offensive display, at every turn giving an opposite account to the political consequences of her government. In what was an interesting and jarring echo of history May, like Thatcher, broke into tears on her way out, giving credence to those who hold that these times stand in parallel with the 80s, with the hopeful Corbyn Labour party representing here the failure of Michael Foot and the wider, bitter failure of the left during that decade. Of course, the comparison holds about as much water as a sieve, falling apart as soon as one bares in mind the stark contrast between what both Thatcher and May were leaving behind.

Thatcher, despite her eventual fall, had succeeded. Unlike May’s government in the very first instance, she had set out to wage ideological warfare with an uncompromising goal, and over the course of the decade, had fought tooth and nail to achieve the complete demoralisation of the left, the dominance of neoliberal economic doctrine. Her iron-clad war-machine had run rough-shod over all opposition. Amid the bodies, the spoils of war, she had been victorious, and as such her tearful exit holds an air of the army general ousted before his time. She had more war to wage … if only she’d been given the chance to wage it. She didn’t have to, however. Her victory proved total, to the extent where in the following decade the Labour party rode in through acquiescing to the war machine, surrendering to the neoliberal terminator and ultimately turning it onto us, leading into a time dominated by the underlying assumptions of Capitalist Realism. We now enacted our own domination, the march of post-fordism ensured our inability to see past it, in time dividing not only resources but time, time to act, time to think, time to change.

May came in, the result of a sudden leadership contest in the aftermath of the EU membership referendum, amidst the dying embers of the established order. The total ideological victory of Thatcher, neoliberalism, had grown lazy, arrogant, and decadent. During the 2000s the assumption was that it would last forever, Francis Fukuyama’s proclamation of the “End of History” was all too real, an endless limbo from which we could not escape. First the financial crash of 2008, then years later the surprise result of the EU referendum and the election of Donald Trump in the US, alongside a number of sudden resurgent fascist interests and imitators, were ugly impositions on the assumed comfortable reality of Post-Fordist capital, of course representing the repressed knowledge that it was never that comfortable at all.

The time of Theresa May’s PMship can be recognised as the desperate scrambling attempts of the conservative party to restore some semblance of order, against the backdrop of a gradually more apparent descent into squabbles and infighting. The Tories, having put into practice their idea of being the natural party of government for so long now, can’t now reconcile their insistence on maintaining the limbo of yesterday with the collapse of today. May exits on a pile of unspoken misery, of the onward march of a ruined respectability. Increasingly she struck the figure of the aristocrat holing themselves up in castle Gormenghast, away from the destitution below and amidst the crumbling, overgrown parapets of a dead or dying order.

It is against all this that her sadness must be measured. In a blustering, sputtering response to Owen Jones yesterday upon his statement that he felt “less than no sympathy” for May, we heard a plea for a “human response”. What is a human response if not to point out the absurdity of presenting a “woe is me” narrative in relation to someone who in tandem with their allies furthered a wave of misery and destitution, who refused to acknowledge their part in the deaths of hundreds of working class people in fear of weakening their ideological hegemony. There should be no more sympathy here than she and her government ever displayed to the people they plunged into precarity, poverty and homelessness, the people they have systematically shamed for finding themselves at the bottom of society.

Theresa May’s sadness cannot be seen as a mere individual reaction, it is a sadness undeniably loaded with the delusions of the ruling classes. The fact that so many right wing politicians and commentators will jump onto this to moralise at the left … show some empathy … demonstrates precisely how rich her tears are with symbolic leverage. For years we’ve seen the unspoken insistence reign that more empathy is to be shown for the respectable bourgeoisie than the feckless scroungers at the bottom, and this is why; so that when it comes to facing up to the human consequences of their actions the leverage of sympathy lies with them, so that we all feel sorry for the fallen politician who was dealt a rough hand and was only trying to do their best, rather than tackle the real violence they perpetrated in the role and the ideological underpinnings of their policies. So by all means, show some sympathy, but not for May, for all the people who’s lives she and her government helped ruin and take. Indeed is it sympathy as much as anger that should be driving us in this moment, an anger that can be effectively channelled into something to replace this crumbling edifice for good.

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Current Affairs

The Stare of Empty Bliss

Theresa May, summoning each swiftly waning digit of strength as her government continues careening into the abyss, and with no small degree of sheer gall, spoke recently at a “youth violence summit” about the need to tackle violent crime amongst young people.

“We cannot simply arrest ourselves out of this problem”

Indeed, we cannot, but even if we could in some absurd counter-reality, it’s hardly as if the Police have the resources to undergo such a task in the first place. In this conservative governments attempts to appear to have a hold of itself it only appears more and more out of sync, the words spoken gradually slipping into a spacio-temporal disconnect with the world around them. We cannot arrest ourselves out of it .. so clearly the blame is to be placed on those working in public services, already under hideous strain and threat of redundancy under further cuts, to somehow “spot the signs” of violent crime amidst the youth in their purview.

The grotesque contortions of these suggestions are compounded by the routine denunciations of culpability; of course we have nothing to do with it. Of course, neither the full bombardment of police forces or the watchful eye of public service workers will do anything; at least, for all the lip service to adressing the “causes” any actual addressing of cause is what is notably absent from the whole discussion. In placing the focus on a purported duty to report crime what the government is doing here is attempting to depoliticize it, to remove from the realm of possibility any hint that a rise in crime may be connected to a rise in poverty and dispossession, of precarity and homelessness.

The irony here is that what May is suggesting is simply another way of trying to arrest our way out of the problem. She and her cabinet likely know full well that addressing violent crime, crime of any stripe for that matter, requires addressing the socio-political issues that birth it, but to do so is simply beyond their political programming. The wasted remains of the neoliberal terminator still slowly drags itself across the blasted sands, unaware at this stage of its lost functionality, its state of comatose denial. Crime, like terrorism, must time and time be reduced to transcendential causes. When Donald Trump made that comment, about good people with guns stopping bad people with guns, he vocalised without the double entendres and politesse of neoliberalism exactly what it implies with its approach to such issues; that people do bad things because they are bad. This worrying rise in violent crime amongst young people, it must just be because they simply aren’t behaving properly, or we aren’t disciplining them properly.

The cause is left mystified, in a haze of infinite distraction. It must all be reduced to some kind of problem related to moral character or strength of will. Some people just want to watch the world burn … some just want to earn a living. It has become obvious in most quarters that we exist now in some strange state of transition, that the putrescent moderation of the past decades has fallen into disrepute … and yet it continues. Despite everything, in the conservative government, in the rather amusingly limp posturing of the newly minted replicants of the “new centrists”, in the neoliberal bastions over in europe, institutions remain locked in a dystopian fantasy land where business and markets dominate our consciousness and will do for the foreseeable future.

This stare of empty bliss is nothing however if it is not an opportunity for the left to take action. We don’t have to acquiesce and we don’t have to rely on the glimmer of hope, but if we cannot in the twilight of the doddering clowns of westminster seize onto a newfound confidence, then we have some way yet to go.

Categories
Current Affairs

The Brexit Balderdash Meat Carnival

You take a half-hearted bite of the dried meat, a vaguely rancid flavour hitting the back of your mouth as it goes down, with a good few particles of dust. It barely registers. A jolt of electricity might perhaps, straight to the nervous system. It feels like ten wretched, misbegotten years of dragging your feet down this dust trail without any sense of movement or change. In truth it’s been far less than that, but you severely doubt anyone would be around to question you regardless.

Almost as if in answer to that thought a fuzzy humanoid form seems to materialise ahead of you, though you know better than to trust your eyes at this point, reaching for your water bottle and taking a conservative swig. The form gradually becomes more defined, until, like a pallid nightmare, a dying man looks back at you through hooded eyes, all cracked parchment skin, a husk, ready to crumble at the slightest invocation. He lies, propped against a rusty pipe, perhaps a vision of flickering hope, more likely just another failed attempt at reconciliation, the residue of an experiment in living.

As you approach him, he attempts to raise his arm but cannot, and it flops down in resignation. You have a hand on your water bottle, both in anticipation that he may be deceiving you and that he may ask for help. You draw close and it becomes clear that he is not in a good way, oscillating between the living and the dead at this point he is in a delirium, even if he is still cogent enough to recognise you as another human face. He looks you straight in the eyes, and in his you find the milky whites faded, strata of rock leading to a central point, covered in fleshy membrane. As he looks at you his lips part, with great effort, and great pain. A wheezing croaking sound at first, but eventually words, he slowly asks you a question.

“what … is … your … opinion …”

He pauses, continuing is a difficulty. In this moment you are baffled, but wait to hear the end, part of you hopes he’ll pass out before that happens.

“… on … Brexit?”

As soon as this word passes his lips you stand back and look at him with horror and pity. What on earth could possibly lead a man to the point where such concerns override his own survival? What unearthly possession must take hold, what hellish program? You suspect he is one of the acolytes, abandoned by their own gods, stripped of rank and denied meaning during the aftermath in which you are now a traveller. His face suddenly takes the form of an emaciated dog, caught between a bark and a growl, drooling over the shuddering artillery blasted concrete beneath, eyes rotating in their sockets as he starts to choke on something. He falls to the side coughing manically, clawing pathetically at the ground, staring wide-eyed ahead in panic.

Something emerges from his gullet, hitting the ground with a muted thud, covered in drool and slime. He drops, lifeless, and disintegrates, drifting apart in the wind. Stepping closer you begin to ascertain something, a smell, the awful, acrid smell of rancid meat overtakes the senses. It’s a slab of rotten flesh lying there covered in grey dust. a small note is stapled to it, barely readable and soaked in slime. IN HERE it reads, and with certain degree of sheer disgust you realise it’s telling you something is IN the meat. You close your eyes and pick up the degraded brown-green slab, holding it at arms length and thrusting your other hand into it until you find something there.. something hard, a stone? You extract it, little pieces of rotten meat falling off its smooth surface.

There are words on the stone, scratched into it roughly and very small. You squint but can barely make it out. Taking out a handkerchief you wipe first your hands and then the stone, an actually rather boring granite pebble. Holding it up the light you make out the words, written in a hurried and simple script. With dawning confusion and exasperation, you intone the words as they stand; “Brexit means Brexit”. What on earth? You ask yourself under your breath, trying to recall what this is supposed to mean, what it refers to. This word, Brexit. Ugly, sticks in the mouth like the an acrid aftertaste. You dimly remember reference to it, but these memories slide away from you as soon as they appear contorting out of vision constantly. All that returns to you is the slab of rotten meat, now lying distended on the ground before you as you investigate the stone.

Wait, the meat is reconstructing itself. Slimy, discoloured tendrils slither together, weaving into a solid sickening wall of fibrous mulch. It keeps going, extending and duplicating, a crude meat figure emerges, a poorly formed humanoid meat man standing in front of you, gulping up gobbets of gristle and unidentified matter. The rotten meat golem attempts to speak but cannot, only succeeding in rasping strange noises. You back away slowly in fear, the meat man advances; for what purpose? It is a ramshackle being, falling apart as it walks, but the sheer sight of it flares up as panic, compelling you to run, despite your utter despondency, your lack of a reason to care, you sprint away from the creature as it walks towards you, juices leaking onto the ground, creating channels in the layers of dust…

As you run, you spot a building to your right, a particularly run down construction, barely a shed, and slip through the door, immediately on the look-out, still hearing the slurping sound behind you somewhere as the golem drags himself with increasing speed towards you. Did he spot you? To your dismay a poorly formed hand immediately reaches around the door, flailing for a grip, and you back towards the corner of the structure, thinking of ways to avoid the meat man without directly engaging it, the door opens and two newly formed eyes gleam from crude sockets, barely holding their position and likely struggling to get even a solid visual. It walks, assuredly this time, towards you and grabs you by the arm, dragging you painfully out of the building. You look around and let out a muted cry.

Obelisks of meat tower over the landscape, barely holding together, slowly pulsating and expanding, tentacular limbs grasp onto each other forming lattices up which more meat climbs, forming heads, hands, shoulders, hearts, disembodied pieces of people and animals growing from the meat walls. Vaguely, a low chanting is heard, an unintelligible language amidst which the word rings out loud and clear, that awful word; Brexit. You see a circle, people dressed in meat, drinking from cups made of meat, enjoying themselves, a hideous carnival of meat. They speak some kind of strange patchwork of language, words known and unknown hastily glued in place and splurged out into space. Meat juice pools on the ground, and where it runs up sprout new forms, new walls and structures, but of meat. They instantly collapse into vast piles of rancid, awful meaty nothingness.