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general politics

The campaign group Republic, with its mission of “Campaigning for a democraticImage alternative to the monarchy”, is fighting to be heard over the pomp and nationalism greeting the Royal baby (#RoyalBaby) into a life of more pomp and nationalism. They had two minor victories on the BBC News Channel today, with Republic’s Graham Smith and Independent journalist Owen Jones both getting a three minutes head-to-head with a monarchist opponent. In Spain, activists opposing Royal rule are mostly socialists, but Republic seems much more balanced. Eleven Labour MPs, the one Green MP and two Liberal Democrat MPs support the group, while ‘Conservatives for a Republic’ started off in September 2012. The single-issue cause across the political spectrum of replacing the monarchy is difficult to get excited about, though. France and the USA have successfully freed themselves from this feudal leftover, and are they something we want to imitate? Our head of state may be decided by blood, but the American presidency, relying so much on corporations to fund campaigns, is decided by capital. It’s hard to decide which is preferable to live in because political corruption and contradictions between classes function the same. This makes Republic’s “Born Equal” campaign seem very poorly thought through: do republics around the world not have an unequal distribution of wealth and therefore political power as well? In addition to being envious of the States, I’ve also found some republicans trying to relate to the Cromwellian Republic, which is not a good model and provides no useful lessons today.

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I’m looking to write some rebuttals to the publications by the London-based Stalin Society, with the aim of being “With Lenin Against Stalin“. By Friday or Saturday, I should have a response up to the GPGB(M-L)’s leaflet, ‘Trotskyism is a tool of the capitalists…‘, but for the much longer texts of the Stalin Society, I’d much prefer to work with someone else, preferably with a good knowledge of Soviet history. It won’t be necessary to defend every Trotskyist organisation, every stupid statement made by the Socialist Worker, or everything Trotsky wrote: just some of the more serious false accusations about his theories and life.

This isn’t an urgent matter I’ll admit, but if the Stalin Society or the CPGBML or the New Communist Party gain any popularity then it will be necessary to win the argument, so let’s be prepared.

If you are interested let me know in the comments, giving me a way to contact you.

Music students, I think, have something unique to offer if they wish to oppose capitalism and classist prejudice. The different fields of performance, composition, and music history or musicology are all useful platforms, if you find singing union songs to yourself isn’t enough.

Learning music history, particularly of Western art music, often feels like studying the history of the stuffy aristocracy, who have so little in common with the rest of us. If you are in a position to teach an overview of music history, it is perfectly possible to have a theme of class division and struggle in your lectures. Teach about what the ignored majority was doing with music and how it functioned socially. Place emphasis on the exceptions to what was expected of a musician. This could be the women composers all the way back to Kassia need to be mentioned, how the guitar broke some class boundaries in Spain, or how the first ‘superstar’ performer, Paganini, had a working class background. In terms of original research, ethnomusicology is very exciting for talking seriously about folk music, and music in class struggle and protest is the topic of many articles and books, such as Dorian Lynskey’s ’33 Revolutions per Minute.’

If you love performing in a classical style, and want to orientate your studies in that direction, then perform to as many different people as you can, in any setting. If you are asked to play a piece of music, or if someone wants to hear what you’re listening to you, and you dismiss this by saying “oh, you won’t like it,” it might just be embarrassment for your personal taste, but often I think it is a childish kind of elitism. Many more people will get into classical music if they are given they chance and if it isn’t presented in a way that makes it seem totally separate from all other music. I perform weekly in my university’s Performance Society, usually doing something by Fernando Sor, and accompanying a singer later on. Most people do a pop song or part of a musical so I feel like, by including classical music in this setting, I’m reducing any class implications of the music, in a small way. If you do any instrumental teaching like teaching folk guitar or jazz piano, you could suggest some easy classical stuff to show that it isn’t so boring. One of my earliest influences in guitar-playing was my granddad’s skiffle band and some ‘Guitar Legends’ compilation album, but my first teacher broadened my listening and playing by suggesting some simple flamenco-influenced pieces.

Composers, when writing stage music or anything character-driven, could present a typically unheroic character in a dignified way. Think Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ but without killing them off. Another option is to compose in a classical form but use an obvious folk influence, like Smetana, Glinka, Bartók and others have done before. Usually this is used for some kind of patriotism or nationalism, but it has the effect of legitimising the creations of poorer people as real art.

Like students of every discipline, music students need to protest tuition fees and put more pressure on the NUS or their own institution’s union to fight it. Many musicians are not having their talents fully realised when they miss out on a music degree. It goes without saying that we need to protest capitalism and austerity at every level, too. Poverty stifles creativity.

Finally! I got a copy of *that* Socialist Worker. It’s very unsettling to see a positive headlineImage in the Worker, and I’m not sure what it says that they needed a death to be able to write one. On the back of the Thatcher’s Dead pullout there’s a good section on how Labour are essentially trying to copy Thatcherism. “Labour’s failure to challenge right wing ideas has helped legitimise them.”

Me and nine others took part in an East Kent KONP (Keep Our NHS Public) meeting. We have plans to celebrate around 6th July, which will be the 65th birthday of the National Health Service. We will most likely have a showing of Spirit of ’45 and some speakers.

There was lots of other internal and publicity stuff to talk about, but we probably spent longer addressing the campaign against the Bedroom Tax. There are many myths that need to explain on benefits, but the main issue is that being unemployed and on housing benefits is the norm. This is only a minority. Most benefits claimants are either pensioners, disabled, or on in-work benefits. The divisive exaggerations are only a distraction from the billions lost in the rich’s tax avoidance, which doesn’t receive nearly enough outrage. Seeing as Ukip would go even further than the Tories with cutting benefits, there is an anti-Ukip leaflet that we will be giving out leading up to the Kent County Council elections. I have found from talking to people while leafletting or selling papers that many Ukip-supporters do not know what the party is really about, merely agreeing with the anti-EU stance. We agreed we need to pressure local Labour councillors to back the ‘No Evictions’ motion supported by independent left candidate Ian Driver, who has expressed his disgust at the bedroom tax and privatisation of the NHS.

For the next few days I will be responding to some widely accepted lies about Islam. They are all used to justify bigotry, making it sound concerned and respectable. It is a very common bigotry, with 61% of Britons not believing Islam is compatible with British culture*, but I have noticed how popular this kind of thinking is in atheist or secularist communities.

The issues are:

  1. The veil/burqa/niqab/hijab is misogynistic and oppressive
  2. Islam is anti-democratic
  3. Islam is violent
  4. Islam is un-British/Muslims can’t integrate

Comparisons to Nazism and antisemitism usually fall flat, but in Kevin Passmore’s A Very Short Introduction to Fascism**, he points out how, for national-populists, “the figure of the Muslim has taken over from that of the Jew as the embodiment of evil” (not to suggest that antisemitism no longer exists). The far-right may have led hatred against Muslims, but they aren’t the only ones buying into it, asking for this fear-based ideology to be treated with ‘serious debate.’ Essentially I only want to persuade you of one idea: that the about the supposed threat of Islam is fashioned out of media portrayals, and not the other way round.

*according to a 2009 Gallop poll

**pp120-121

First published on OpinionPanel, April 5th 2013

If there is one kind of conversation that the political elite should be grateful for, it is not the discussions in the background of conservative party conferences or the frequent appearances of right-wing think-tanks on Sky News. It is apathy. What could praise a government more than saying, defeated, that the political situation is “as good as it’s gonna get?” The acceptance of, and indifference to, global capitalism, supports it immensely. It is treated more and more as if it is the natural norm, here to stay.

It might be hard to believe, but the financial crisis of 2008 has not been politicised enough. Everyone Labour and left of Labour has consistently blamed the irresponsibility of bankers. There is no problem with this – it is better at least than waving a finger at the work ethic of a ‘broken Britain’. But if it was not one group of bankers, it would have been another. Truly politicising the problem would mean challenging a basic ideal that allows such crises. Systemic criticisms should always be favoured in place of individualistic attacks. Anyone can moralise and denounce an individual politician, or economist, or media baron. It takes no thought. When an anti-capitalist journalist denounces David Cameron or calls out a business for the pollution it has caused, this is not being uniquely anti-capitalist. A liberal or even politically undecided person can moralise in the same way and it will change nothing about how we think about governance. Karl Marx was rather sympathetic to ‘the capitalist’ in the Appendix of Capital Vol. 1, in which he briefly talks about how even the wealthy are enslaved to capital: “The functions fulfilled by the capitalist are nothing more than the functions of capital.”* Pointing to contradictions in current political methods takes more courage and is answered with more ridicule but, if it becomes persuasive and popular enough, could trigger a better aim that would prevent future financial crises and politically corrupt practises: a fundamental reorganisation of society.

Isn’t the polarisation of “scroungers and skivers” the result of not properly politicising the problem of unemployment? The subtext of this is much stronger than the explicit meaning: it implies that there is something horribly wrong with the values of much of the working poor and unemployed, and that there is nothing particularly bad about the current government or the one that preceded it. Ideology is here experienced as non-ideology: an entire class – and often the benefits system – is demonised by what appears to just be an annoyance at some inherently Bad People. Being aware of this manipulative rhetoric is especially important when the reactionary papers use it for their own political aims. We have just seen  the Daily Mail front page using the bizarre, tragic case of Mick Philpott and calling him and his family a “Vile product of welfare UK”.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats are essentially ideological allies, but enough can be made of their differences to create the illusion that the coalition is a real compromise between two opposing parties. This is done by focussing on smaller matters of law and order, and occasionally nationalised versus privatised industries. The debate over the Equal Marriage Bill was of course very significant, but is just one of many issues dragged out and eventually used to illustrate how progressive the Conservative Party can be. The bill does not truly address the shockingly high rate of hate crimes committed against LGBT people. By focussing on tiny, incremental increases in welfare and social liberalism, the capitalism that we know is never challenged as we become easily distracted from its alternatives.

Probably the most common general criticism that any kind of anti-capitalist faces is that “you’re just too utopian.” I’ve never been too sure what this means. Am I expected to believe that once railways are renationalised, Britain will start to look like a Stalinist socialist realism painting? Either way, it is the usual response from anyone who personally benefits from the social order the way it is. All that is clear is that economic and ecological disasters will not be permitted to keep on reoccurring. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek said it best: “The only true utopia is that things can go on like they do now indefinitely.”

 

*Marx later elaborates: “The self-valorisation of capital – the creation of surplus-value – is therefore the determining, dominating and overriding purpose of the capitalist; it is the absolute motive and content of his activity. And in fact it is no more than the rationalised motive of the hoarder – a highly impoverished and abstract content which makes it plain that the capitalist is just as enslaved by the relationships of capitalism as his opposite pole, the worker, albeit in quite a different manner.”