Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Movement politics and voting with radical intelligence

Following the UK state's near-death experience on September 18, the spectacle of 'surgin' Sturgeon' has the establishment in another dizzy spin.

If the No elite and Daily Record's panicked production of the 'Vow' was about rescuing the Union, the same political cabal and service media have gone into similar emergency mode in shrieking 'clear and present danger' over the SNP's 'Scottish invasion'. Thankfully, many people won't be fooled again.

But, beyond the hysteria, there's a looming anomaly: why support any great effort to extinguish Labour in Scotland only to see a massively new-mandated SNP prop-up a Labour government at Westminster?

The answer from the SNP is, seemingly, obvious: to extract maximum concessions for Scotland while applying maximum pressure on Miliband to legislate more progressive policies for all.

It's a win-win strategy for the SNP, putting Labour on the spot. If there's any kind of 'deal', the SNP get to exert some influence. If Miliband walks away - as he's been strongly affirming - and either allows the Tories back in or struggles on in minority form, the backlash can only advantage the SNP and greater case for independence.

Yet, while applauding Sturgeon's star performances and canny game plan, two key questions remain. What real concessions are the SNP really likely to win? And can Labour's neoliberal mindset really be turned by the SNP or any other such force breathing down Miliband's neck?

Even if some arrangement does come to pass, what true radical purpose might it serve?  

While considerable pressure may be exerted over Trident, there's no real prospect of Miliband ever pledging its removal. That's because Labour is far too deeply-embedded in the corporate-military network to ever let that happen. 

Yes, there might be some amelioration of austerity. But, while welcome for many afflicted by the cuts, Labour has no serious proposal for any meaningful reversal of austerity economics. And, vitally, is austerity even the defining issue, rather than the human misery created by corporate capitalism at large?

Miliband's real fear of engaging the SNP in any post-election scenario is that he might actually have to do something which undermines his real neoliberal and corporate-safe agenda.

So, even with any marshalling of SNP, Plaid and Green progressives, we're still stuck with the same old Westminster politics. Why give it legitimacy?

On that dark post-referendum morning, my overwhelming inclination was never to vote in another Westminster election. Call it rejectionism. But it felt like an urgent need to negate the whole imprisoning system. 

Prior to his deeply-disappointing endorsement of Miliband, Russell Brand had asked: why bother voting when we're faced with such clone parties, politicians and policies?

If you're truly interested in radical and, yes, revolutionary change, a qualitative shift towards the real compassionate and caring society, that remains a critical question. Yet, there can also be assertive rejection of the system through the ballot box.    

So, how to reconcile the act of voting? Quite simply, elections and parties should be viewed as borrowed events and hired vehicles, used only where they serve a real mood moment in advancing any serious movement for change. 

Voting SNP can be seen in this regard as serving two such purposes: firstly, not to rescue Labour, but to break it; secondly, and most importantly, to maintain the momentum for independence. For so many progressively-minded and re-energised Yes voters, the two aims are inextricably linked.

And, indeed, wouldn't it be sweet to see the vibrant young activist Mhairi Black oust Douglas Alexander in Paisley? Imagine the Iraq war-supporting, Israel apologist and Henry Jackson Society member, Jim Murphy, being humiliated in East Renfrewshire. And there's also, for this writer, the hopeful prospect of seeing warmonger, enduring Blairite and scourge of refugees Tom Harris finally removed in Glasgow South.  

These would all be gratifying results. But it's what happens beyond any such landslide that matters most.   

The real danger for a nascent SNP lies not in being rejected by any proto-Labour government, but, against the mood of its rising membership, being incorporated into its Tory-lite agenda. You only have to listen to Miliband on immigration, deficit reduction and ongoing welfare cuts to see which constituency he is still talking to.

And yet, the usual 'left protectorate' are still urging us to back Miliband and the tired old default-line politics.

Consider this tweet from Owen Jones in response to Miliband's meeting with Brand:
Key point from Ed Miliband interview? His acceptance change comes from pressure from below. If he comes to power, we'll build that pressure.
My response:
No, key point is Miliband's acceptance of corporate rules. His/Labour's role is to CONTAIN pressure from below. Why endorse?
Jones's blind faith in Miliband's 'acceptance' of pressure from below reveals so much about the Labour vanguard and its key establishment role.

Alas, despite all his worthy radical thoughts in Revolution and The Trews, Brand has also now fallen for the same left establishment spin. In that late endorsement, he gazes into Miliband's eyes like some mesmerised child, takes his outstretched hand, and then assures his viewers: 'If we speak, he will listen'.

Brand has a good, compassionate heart. But the trusting naivety of this assertion takes your breath away. Remarkably, Brand has no searching questions, nothing to say about Labour's past villainy and true corporate face. How easy to lambast Cameron, Clegg and Farage, while exonerating and placing new faith in the 'people's party'.

Miliband, sounding like another Blairite salesman, can't quite believe his luck in 'bagging' Brand. Little surprise that the Trews and Brand's 'conversion to sensible democracy' is now getting wide media coverage. It's a sad but salutary lesson in the deep psychology of incorporation. Another well-meaning political soul picked-off by the system.

The Artist Taxi Driver says it all in his plaintive cry: 'Nooooooooooo!...Come back, Russell. Come back, mate.'

Labour at every level, he reminds us, from warmongering genociders to patronising disabled and poverty-battered people, are the same non-changing party.  

Mark and remember Brand's interview if Miliband does get to office and, after 'listening' to and ignoring all those below, starts into his true corporate-serving project. 

The same fall-back urgings to endorse Labour are being rushed-out by the Morning Star, which says of SNP voters:
This is a kind of nihilism which seems more intent on revenge than in considering the impact of a Tory government on working people in Scotland and across Britain, especially as there are green shoots of progressive policies emerging from Labour in the run-up to the election.
Really? Tell that to the poorest in Glasgow's housing schemes, the desperate users of food banks, those battered by years of Blairite as well as ConDem cuts, who voted Yes in a valiant effort to advance real change. As with its complicit No position, the plea to support Miliband is just more of the delusional Communist Party's slavish affiliations to safe Labourism
And, of course, from the higher liberal establishment, there's also The Guardian view that 'Britain needs a new direction, Britain needs Labour':
Election 2015 poses some profound questions for this country. Ed Miliband has better answers than his rivals, and so deserves a chance to govern'.
Again, not a word here about Labour's dark criminal record. As Media Lens co-editor David Cromwell asks (ML message board, 1 May 2015):
How much blood does Labour need to have on its hands, how many war crimes, how much genuflection before corporate interests, how much trampling on the poor, disabled, unemployed, etc., before the Guardian says, 'Actually, don't vote for Labour - or any of the "mainstream" parties. We need a revolution.'? A rhetorical question, obviously....
Likewise, for the Observer, again negating Labour's vast crimes and 'reformist' posturing, Miliband is the only game in town.

A Miliband government can't be made to implement progressive legislation, for the core reason that precisely none of its leadership - and that's what counts, not the long-ignored base - are seriously progressive.

It's not even just about Labour's plans to enforce cuts, clamp-down on immigration, issue token warnings to banks and other Tory-pandering policies. It's that they are deeply-entrenched into the establishment, an historic part of it, beholden to a stacked political system, neoliberal rules and corporate 'reality'.

I understand the anxiety of many, the fear of more Tory years, the proposed £12 billion of additional welfare cuts, the desire to remove the Bullingdon Boys. But would their replacement, with fanciful talk of Labour's 'green shoots', remotely promise the beginnings of something radically different? How many more 'chances' should a party so committed to the same essential ideas of neoliberal sovereignty get?   
The object isn't just about breaking Labour, it's about building an entirely new radical movement, something akin to Podemos in Spain. The closest thing we have to this at present is the Yes movement in Scotland - not just the SNP as a party, but, as Chunky Mark asserts, a people rising.

It's a zeitgeist moment, a gathering desire for change, and, yes, a crystallising class politics, now directed via the SNP as the most credible parliamentary vehicle for expressing that mood of dissent.

But, again, the question is where can that process lead if all it does is help maintain cabal parties, an archaic parliamentary system and the same old neoliberal politics? And let's be in no doubt that, despite Sturgeon's welcome leftward leanings, the SNP itself still has a long way to travel as a truly radical party.  

Which returns us to the primary point and purpose of voting. For those in Scotland, this election should be seen and used principally as another staging post towards radical independence. 

Looking beyond it, as far as Scotland is concerned - though, with radical implications also for the rest of the UK - what happens in the 2016 Holyrood election is much more important. And, with a PR system in place, it's an election that calls for particular forms of intelligent voting to lock out-Labour and return a maximum number of Green and other radical MSPs.

But even that event should be seen as just part of a wider process of radical political mobilisation.

And that's the essential difference in whether and how people do decide to vote. A vote in this Westminster election for the SNP isn't, for many, about party loyalty, it's a vote for an ongoing Yes movement. It's the voice of a resilient Yes alliance, a statement of defiance after being stitched-up by the Better Together establishment. It's the smart use of a loaded system. It's voting with radical intelligence.

In contrast, a vote for any Better Together establishment party is a vote for stasis, and in the particular case of Labour a forlorn hope in a dying one clinging desperately to the old order. No amount of appeals by Jones, Brand and others to 'get behind Ed' can change that truth.

Ultimately, it's not even about parties. There's a crisis of legitimacy in the whole hegemonic system. Alarmed by the threat, an elite exercise is underway to restore our faith in 'parliamentary democracy'. Predictably, the establishment media is awash with appeals urging us to register and vote.

One valid and highly positive political response is to deny it authenticity: don't vote. There must still come a point of true awakening over the mass illusion of Westminster and 'participatory politics' at large. But that honourable course of political action needn't invalidate voting as an intelligent tactic.

Where the lending of a vote even in that decaying process can help advance a radical cause, it's expedient to use that opportunity. But, again, any such calculation should be premised on a higher political awareness, that which contributes towards a viable political movement for qualitative change; that which raises the radical stakes and threatens the established order, rather than indulging the shallow world of party politics and legitimising a sclerotic system.

Beyond all the facile election hype, the consumer politics, the media distortion, the party pitches, this is the real level of political understanding we must aspire to. Vote or don't vote accordingly.


Unknown said...

Excellent,excellent article John, you really nailed it.

John Hilley said...

Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

Yep, you're one of the best political commentators around.
How about some 'share' buttons for social media like Twitter and Facebook to help readers spread your work?