Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Metropolitan Elite Myth - Part 2 of 4

 As I set out a while ago, racism, along with other forms of bigotry, developed along with the early mercantilist forms of capitalism, so as to reconcile its ideology of liberty and equality with its actual practice of slavery. It avoided having to deal with facts, and today what connects all of these Alt-Right conservatives is the same desire to avoid dealing with facts, to instead present their own “alternative facts”, as part of a “post-truth” environment, or as Michael Gove put it during the referendum, a rejection of “experts”.

So, Britain's problems, we are told, are caused by foreigners, be they immigrants or EU Commissioners. Le Pen tells the same tale in France, Trump in the US, and so on. For Putin, Erdogan or Netanyahu, that narrative is easy to tell. It justifies Putin's military action in Ukraine, Erdogan's actions against Kurds, inside and outside Turkey's border, and it justifies Netanyahu's attacks on Palestinians, the building of a wall and so on.

In Britain, UKIP and May claimed that Labour was out of touch with workers, Trump made the same claim, in the US. Of course, in part, the lie is always based on some kernel of truth. For thirty years, Labour and Democrats were under the sway of conservative, centre-ground ideas that focussed on the blowing up of asset price bubbles that created the delusion of paper wealth, whilst real productive wealth stagnated, papered over by an expansion of debt, a consumption of capital, and an anaesthetisation of the pain of large numbers left behind, by increasing doses of welfare. In the modern world, the welfare state has replaced religion as the opium of the people.

Its true, therefore, that the policies of the political centre – essentially conservative policies implemented by centre-left and centre-right parties within an overall social-democratic framework – failed to address the question of real capital accumulation, which in turn meant that as old industries disappeared, whilst labour was simultaneously shaken out by rapid technological development, as intensive accumulation replaced extensive accumulation, large sections of workers were displaced in concentrated geographical areas.

In Britain, the concentrations were in coal mining districts, which were also often accompanied by steel production, and in some cases shipbuilding. Old industrial sites were levelled and replaced with shiny new retail parks, which provided jobs for the wives and children of the former male industrial workers, but they were much lower paid jobs, much less secure jobs, as workers were employed on a casual, often zero hours basis that made union organisation much more difficult. And, as a result, these urban areas also deteriorated.

In the 1930's, large new council estates, and some new privately rented housing was developed. But, in the 1980's, with the focus on inflating house price bubbles, pursued by Thatcher, not only was new council house building stopped, but existing council houses were sold off, on the cheap, in the same way that other state assets were sold off on the cheap. And, driven by the same economic delusion about the expansion of paper wealth, Blair and Brown continued that process in the late 90's and through to its inevitable consequence of the financial meltdown of 2008.

The same process could be seen in the US, with the decay of the rustbelt, but also in the same asset price bubbles, the sub-prime crisis and so on.

That is the kernel of truth that the centre-ground parties, during that period, effectively did abandon large sections of the population, and settled for ameliorating their condition, with ever larger doses of credit and welfare, financed out of the increasing paper wealth of those sections of the population that appeared to benefit from those astronomically inflated asset bubbles, which then also found its inevitable limit, as the 2008 financial crisis unfolded, and led to those same abandoned sections of the population bearing the brunt of the insane policies of austerity that were inflicted upon them. Countries such as Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal were merely an expression of that on a grand scale.

It is also why those Blair-right politicians, and sections of the media who recoil at Corbyn, or similarly at Syriza, Podemos, and even Sanders, and hanker after a return of that kind of Labour Party, are seriously deluded. It was those policies, over thirty years, that created the problem. They are not now the solution. The experience in the US was instructive. Bernie Sanders, and the large grass roots movement behind him was an expression of the same phenomenon seen with Corbyn in Britain, but which could be seen in different forms with Syriza and Podemos, and has now been seen with Hamon in France.

But, the Democrats used their control of the party machinery to block Sanders, in the same way that the Labour bureaucracy tried to do with Corbyn, when they realised their mistake of allowing him on to the ballot. The consequence in the US is now clear. All of that anger and frustration at the experience of the last thirty years was blocked from expressing itself as a vote for Sanders, and so, instead, it either stayed away, or expressed itself in a vote for Trump. The good news is that the organisation built up behind Sanders, and from the Occupy Movement, is now expressing itself in a ground war of outright opposition to Republican politicians, and conservative Democrats, in every district across the country. There is a lesson there for Labour in outright opposing Brexit rather than the nonsense of supporting the reactionary policy of Brexit, justified in weasel words about a “People's Brexit”, or some form of Brexit-lite!

But, the fact that Clinton won a majority of the popular vote is also to some extent besides the point here, because, as with Labour's vote in Britain, it can pile up in those areas where workers feel they have not done too badly – for example, in London – but stagnate in those places like Stoke, where large numbers of workers feel like they have been abandoned. However, the fact is that even on this basis, the concept of some ill-defined, metropolitan elite, based in London, being the determinant of Labour's politics in Britain, the Democrats in the US, and so on is fallacious. The idea that workers in Stoke are less concerned with issues of sexuality, gender equality, the environment, human rights and so on than are workers or the middle class in London is nonsensical.

It presumes that there are no LGBT workers, or a much smaller number of them, in Stoke, than there are in London; that women workers face less problems with job and pay equality, in Stoke, than in London; that workers in Stoke, whose environment was blighted, by industry, for decades, are less concerned with improving that environment than workers in London. In fact, the concept of the so called metropolitan elite signifies a total disdain and disrespect for the workers of places like Stoke, by those that propose it, because it suggests that they are in some way simply too ignorant, too uncivilised to be concerned with any of these wider issues, relating to the quality of their lives, beyond being simply drones destined to work, eat, sleep and procreate for the benefit of their employers.

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