I’m going to try to collate some (most, hopefully) of the substantial political analysis I published in 2020. This is just stuff relating directly to the general political situation in the UK and (to a lesser extent) the US. If you want more theory, music, culture or whatever oriented content, well…it’s easy enough to find.
Labour’s Defeat and the Triumph of Johnsonism (My Massive Post-Mortem of Corbynism)
This is from January 2020. This, and the long follow-up article published the following September, basically amounts to a shortish book. In fact, the inestimable Dan Hind wanted to publish it as an e-book, but the the pandemic happened, and I had to spend a year teaching my kids maths and helping them not go insane, and I never had time to engage with that idea.
This is published in 6 parts on that wonderful web-site open Democracy. Because they have better things to do, they’ve never got around to updating the set links on the pages for the first 5 parts, so most people have thought it was a 5-part series. Which is a shame because the final part is the longest and widest in scope.
Here are the shorter pieces I published in the Guardian in 2020:
This is an article arguing that the defeat of Corbynism represents yet another defeat for Labourism
This is an article written just after the 2020 US Presidential election arguing that the UK has an even worse electoral system than the US and that this is one reason why factions that hate each other so much are forced to constantly fight it out with each other inside the Labour Party
Politics Theory Other Interview
Here’s an interview I did with the excellent Politics Theory Other podcast. There is a part two to this which was only available to patrons of the show. I also did a much more recent interview about the current situation for Labour (like, just a few days ago at the time when I’m posting this), but that’s easy enough to find if you want it.
The Aftermath of Defeat: A Conversation with Anna Minton and Richard Seymour
I recorded this conversation with Anna and Richard for the Culture, Power, Politics feed in April 2020.
Here’s the latest long, long analytical essay for open Democracy. It’s basically trying to look at the whole conjunctural situation of the left in the UK and the US, after the defeats of Corbyn and Sanders and under the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The title might seem like a tautology, but my editor Adam, who’s a very good judge of these things, liked the phrase and pulled it out from the main text to use, and it certainly captures something at the heart of what this is about.
You should definitely read it all or else you’re lazy and a bad comrade. But if you must have a very short summary…
•The left in the US and the UK has been through a very similar process over the past yew years. We built a significant democratic movement for the first time in decades, we tried to take control of the main party of the ‘left’, we had limited success and eventually were denied any chance to form a government.
•We got beaten by two forces….
•On the one hand, the centrist neoliberal technocrats who have run the Democratic and Labour parties for decades ultimately succeeded in blocking us, because the threat posed to their own jobs and status by the rising Left was of more immediate concern to them than, for example, the threat of planetary destruction if the Left’s programme is not implemented soon.
• This opened the door to the electoral success of a right-wing nationalist project (and kept it open), in each case headed by a figure who is popular basically because they used to be on TV a lot and precisely because they present themselves as fundamentally unserious politicians.
•This leaves two major tasks ahead of us: building class consciousness amongst workers to challenge conservative nativism; disaggregating the social bloc that is led by the (neo)liberal technocratic political class. It’s a serious mistake to see these tasks as mutually exclusive or to prioritise either at the expense of the other.
•The big challenge that we’re likely to face in the coming years will be the attempt by the Right to de-legitimate demands for a Green New Deal (or comparable programme),with working-class citizens (especially white working-class citizens). They’re likely to do this both by pursuing culture-war tactics which will seek to associate any Green project with metropolitan ‘elite’ culture and with liberal cosmopolitanism, and by offering some material concessions (safe jobs, relatively affordable homes etc.) to key constituencies of workers.
There’s also stuff about, like, how to theorise racism. But that’s mostly in passing.
In terms of what all this means pragmatically…err….well, one thing is I think people who make viral videos and those kinds of media should really be thinking about how to persuade financially comfortable gen-x voters that the kind of politicians that they habitually like to vote for (eg. Keir Starmer, Kamala Harris) are NOT going to do anything to fix climate change, pointing out again and again that their predecessors (Blair, Clinton, Obama) had every opportunity to do so and failed, because they were ultimately in hock to capitalist interests. Of course we also need to revive the labour movements and organise workers in the rust belts. But that’s not really my area of expertise.
One thing I will say is that I think a particular problem right at this moment is that to some extent, in both the UK and the US, we’re in a holding pattern, waiting to see if Biden can win and if Starmer can ever actually build up a significant poll leads (as Blair already was doing by this point in his leadership). The resolution of either of these issues doesn’t have any overriding effects on our strategies, but it will make a difference to where some people focus their energies and attention. If these figures can consolidate their positions, then we’ll have to do almost all of work outside the party structures, trying to shift actual public opinion among key constituencies. If they don’t, well, we will still have to do that; but the opportunity to once more make a play for power inside the party structures will be too significant – and the temptation too great – for this not to become a preoccupation for at least large numbers of us, once again.
FWIW, while we will know whether Biden has won or not on one day in November (presumably…maybe not though…), the question of when we will ‘know’ if Starmer has managed to stabilise his position or not is more open. But, all other things being equal, I would expect the Labour membership to start getting very restless if he is still pursuing a totally uninspiring strategy of trying to win back centrist and socially-conservative voters, but hasn’t secured Blair-style massive poll leads, by some time next year.
Anyway, that’s enough…I got really useful feedback on this essay from Alex Williams, Anthony Barnett, Adam Ramsay, Neal Lawson and Clive Lewis. Thanks for that!
Some other recent contributions on left strategy, in the UK at at least, that are definitely worth checking out:
A few weeks ago, when many UK university staff were on strike against a major attack on their pension rights, I was invited to speak at the teach-out organised by the UCU (University and Colleges Union) branch at Goldsmiths, University of London.
I gave a 20-minute talk from notes that I’d made the previous day. The talk provoked a really interesting discussion, and I promised a couple of people that I would make the notes available once I had had time to write them up. Well, I’ve written them up and they’ve become quite long, but that’s not all that surprising. This is still just notes – it’s not supposed to be a worked-out argument. But here it is in case anyone finds it useful.
So just after the election Alex and I did a talk at the Anti-University of East London event on this subject, which will be central to our forthcoming book (among many other things). The video is HERE
A week or two after that I wrote a long essay on the subject and the implications of the election, but I had already promised to write on this subject for Fabian Review, so I produced a short edited version for them which was published here last week. I did an even shorter version for IPPR but I don’t think that’s been posted yet.
The full length version is on open Democracy HERE.
There were a couple of points that got edited out for space. One is that the first use of the terms ‘Corbynism’ I can remember was by Alberto Toscano, who was using it, years before Corbyn became Labour leader, to designate a sort of highly principled but totally ineffectual (outside of very local contexts) Marxist activism. How things have changed…
The other was my now obligatory reference to John Medhurst’s That Option No Longer Exists, in order to point out that the division between radical decentralisation and centralising social democracy isn’t some kind of split between that hard and soft left, or whatever, but is as much as anything an expression of an ambiguity that always existed within Bennism: pro workers-control, but anti-PR; naive about the socialist potential of a sovereign parliament and tribal Left Labourism, but scathing about the corruption of the British constitutional institutions in general. I think that ambiguity is still there within Corbynism, rather than being a function of its relationship to anything outside of itself.
Finally it’s worth saying. Really we don’t want ‘Corbynism’ at all, because the best thing about Corbyn is the way he keeps saying that this movement is not about him. We need 21st century socialism, of which the pro-Corybyn political movement can only be one essential component.