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My most memorable day of 2013 was being part of a huge crowd of anti-fascists preventing the British National Party from having a march around London on June 1st. The slogan that still rings in my ears among many from that day is, “The BNP is a Nazi party – Smash the BNP.” It’s not in my nature to be violent or confrontational. But when faced with supporters of the BNP or the National Front, many of us who usually want a quiet life become a different person. There’s no doubt why this is. It’s because you know what they think of you and what they’d do to you with any power. You know what they think of you whether you’re queer, a trade unionist, non-white, a religious minority, or you simply care for the wellbeing of any of these people. When I shout, “Smash the BNP” it isn’t just a scary chant but it’s what I want to happen.

They still have a couple of councillors but hopefully, with bankruptcy, internal crisis and splits, and no more MEPs!, the nationalists really are smashed. Though they might like to pretend otherwise, UKIP has taken a great deal of their vote. It is wrong to call UKIP fascist and probably wrong to call them far right. But the people they are a threat to are the same people who have been intimidated by the BNP. (No, I’m not talking about the ‘political establishment’.) Being gay myself (more-or-less) I can’t help but focus on their homophobic element.

Everyone knows that Nick Griffin hates us. He has used homophobia to appeal to traditionalist Christianity; uses slurs like “poof”; has intimidated individual same-sex couples; and has out-right called gay couples and men who kiss each other ‘creepy’. A great deal of media attention has been directed to the more outrageous comments made by UKIP candidates and supporters. Some have been suspended but it has ultimately had little impact on the outcome of the European Parliament elections. Roger Helmer MEP has been re-elected in the East Midlands despite his comment that “Homosexuality is not a valid lifestyle worthy of equal respect”. Nigel Farage has predictably defended Helmer by pointing out how old he is, apparently letting him off the hook: “If we asked the 70s and over in this country how they felt about [homosexuality], most of them still feel uncomfortable.” Farage doesn’t harbour the same hatred as someone like Nick Griffin but you’re a fool if you think his party doesn’t benefit from his kind of thinking being mainstream.

But how can UKIP possibly be homophobic! They also just elected David Coburn, an openly gay MEP in Scotland! We all know this excuse. “I’m allowed to make those comments – some of my best friends are disabled.” A National Front member once told me: “Why are you calling me a racist? I’ve got black family,” to which I responded, “Oh yeah? Why don’t you bring them on a fucking NF demo!” An openly gay MEP is just as capable as anyone else of internalising homophobic and sexist junk and being an oppressor. The only openly gay MP, Rokas Zilinkas (Homeland Union Party), in Lithuania is one of the key politicians in that country in opposing equal rights of protest and assembly for LGBT organisations like Baltic Pride. He also supports Russian-style laws against ‘gay propaganda.’ Coburn’s attitude suggests that he will do nothing to further the cause of queer liberation; he feels the battle has been one with civil partnerships.

I’ve heard Black and Asian comrades describe the racism they face day to day by saying it often makes them want to cry and hide under the covers. This doesn’t mean they are lesser activists or that I don’t consider them heroes. It’s the same way I feel most of the time faced with homophobia. It doesn’t hurt to hear one increasingly irrelevant and desperate fascist idiot like Griffin say what he has to say about sexuality. It hurts that his party has shifted the debate and that so much of his hate speech has mainstream acceptance.

There’s a particularly nasty conversation I overheard in school that I still play over in my head. I failed to intervene, probably because it was so accepted in secondary school that being gay was in some way sick or wrong. One of my classmates was telling about how his brother’s best friend recently came out as gay. Another student advised, “You should tell your brother to sew his arse-cheeks together.” Most of the class laughed. The teacher must have heard the conversation but ignored it. What’s the implication of this joke? Firstly that all gay men are sex addicts and attracted to every other man they meet; secondly that gay men are more likely to be rapists. These two ideas are the substance of so many jibes and insults you hear every day made against gay people which so often go unnoticed. There’s a parallel here with what one rs21 speaker called, in a meeting on racism and resistance, ‘politically correct racism’. He gave the example: “I don’t hate Muslims but don’t they treat women appallingly?”

Anyone can see a problem with the racism of a neo-fascist party, but the ruling class—the political establishment that UKIP must now admit it is part of—will always find a new way to make oppressive language acceptable. The efforts of Hope Not Hate and others in ‘exposing’ UKIP are not enough. I’ll leave it up to someone cleverer to work out the details, but to truly remove homophobia from political acceptability, sexuality and gender studies must be taught and understood in a way that allows future generations to see through the evasive language of ‘politically correct bigotry’.

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This figure is a decent illustration of the extent of inequality in the US, and reminds us that capitalism has become something beyond what Marx could have imagined. I found this image on the Facebook page ‘The Other 98%’ which is the kind of baffling liberal group that will happily expose capitalism but still show support for Obama. As we know, liberalism is characterised by a “reform, not revolution” mentality, as well as thinking that cooperation with the ruling class is possible so I worry that that people seeing this image are not thinking, wow, we need to reorganise society from top to bottom. Instead, they just want to rely on the wealthiest to be more generous.

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The main problem with this is that altruism can only be a short-term solution. It isn’t a system change that offers security for future generations. Once a rich person throws money at some problem, like homelessness, what are we left with? Some people now have a better quality of life but in the same situation that caused their poverty in the first place. Nothing has changed.

Or maybe something has changed, for the worse. At the heart of trade unionism is the idea that workers need to organise and demand or force their government/bosses to give them their comfortable working conditions and other basic human rights. Achievements such as the 8-hour day are achievements of the exploited and overworked. Now more than ever, with the ‘business ethics’ of Starbucks, books like Philanthro-Capitalism, and billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates and George Soros, the extremely wealthy want to take even pride away from the poorest. It’s a cruel trick: the minority who have most of the money, possessions, fame, and luxury, also want the reputation as the ones struggling against oppression. Charity will always only lift some out of poverty and disease, though. Socialism is needed for a system that makes these problems impossible in the first place. But altruism will cure just enough illnesses and lift just enough people above the poverty line that it will slow down discontent and anti-capitalist reaction. So really, by taking the advice from this statistic too literally, one would be supporting and dragging out inequality.

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.

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.”