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Labour’s left is like the alt-right? Not even close. October 12, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Rafael Behr in the Guardian a week or so back made some fairly questionable statements about the Corbyn leadership and the alt-right, not that they are the same but that:

Corbyn’s team will never recognise in themselves a symmetrical alt-left to the “alt-right” menace they revile. The two tribes envisage very different end-states. But there is between them a cultural affinity in the romantic fantasy of creative destruction; a similar quickening of the pulse at the prospect of the old order crumbling. Tory Brexit-pushers and Labour Brexit-enablers both have an ear for the music of breaking glass and a shared secret: their plans require things to get worse for most people before anything would get better.

Is this even close to true? Frankly the main characteristic of the current Labour leadership is its basic moderation. I’ve noted it before. There’s little or nothing that would not have been waved through with a cheery smile by Jim Callaghan in the mid 1970s – for which, by the way, we should be grateful because for all the reality that he was then on the LP ‘right’ his government oversaw a vastly more socialised British society and economy and appeared to have relatively little issue with that.

But it’s not even true about the Labour ‘left’ for which read the bulk of the membership which is actually pro-EU but also pro-Corbyn. Behr himself has to argue that this anti-EU Corbynite (sic) approach is a ‘strand’ within the BLP. A small one at that.

Moreover there’s the small problem that Labour isn’t in power and the Tories are. Then there’s the fact that pro-EU sentiment is divided between ‘remain’ and ‘soft Brexit’. Given the likely course of the next year or so there’s tactical as well as strategic sense in a position closer to the latter than the former. Count nothing out but be politically astute – the chance of a rerun referendum are low. And finally there was a referendum which for all its myriad flaws went one way. The UK is a divided polity – but it is reasonably clear that a majority would settle for something along a Norway model approach. And it is that ground which the BLP has slowly been moving towards.

There might be something in what Behr was saying were the Labour leadership adamantly pro-hard Brexit. But at all points they’ve been well back from that position. And indeed, as noted above moving closer to a soft Brexit position. Behr argues that Corbyn is meant to be the great evangelist and surely he can persuade people, but I’m unconvinced. It’s one thing to argue for renationalising the Post Office, or British railways, quite another to push back against an identity issue like Brexit. Simply put too many are too invested in a worldview about that. Moderation is perhaps dull, perhaps uncourageous, but it does make sense.


1. peaceandneutrality - October 12, 2018

I don’t know who Behr is, but since the political formations that have dominated the EU for decades have taken more and more power away from the peoples of the states of the EU and transferred that power to the EU institutions which are dominated by neo-liberal economic values and a major acceleration towards the creation of an EU Army, opposition to the emerging EU Empire is the only logical position to be taken by an anti-imperialist. Since most of European Social Democrats led by Blair supported imperialist wars and no-liberalism economics, it is not at all surprising that it is the far right that campaign for the restoration of National Democracy is gaining massive support, and Social Democrats are in decline. If the British Labour Party under Corbyn is bucking the trend it is because he always opposed the neo-liberal and imperialist values that dominate the EU. When we voted to reject the Nice & Lisbon treaties, the Irish ruling class had to spend €millions to win the second referendums. Ok, so they are winning, over 3 million US troops have landed in Shannon Airport on their way to their perpetual wars and the Irish Army is to be integrated into the EU Army via PESCO, but this is a long struggle going back to the 1790’s and it is not over. We fought a national war of Independence against the British Union & Empire and the values we had then have not gone away, and will return as the dominate values in due course.


WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2018

I wonder, I think the idea of the far right gaining massive support is overstated – they’re generally with one or two exceptions (or in national conservative form as in Hungary) knocking along on the same levels of support or close to as the CPs did for decades in many European states that is low to mid teens.secondly I think in analyzing them it is crucial to keep in mind it is immigration rather than ‘national democracy’ that fuels them. And thirdly when in power they tend to step smartly away from any real anti EU or anti imperialist actions as distinct from rhetoric. Indeed there is simply no analogue to Brexit it any force likely to emulate same in any state in the EU.


Paul Culloty - October 12, 2018

Watch Bavaria – the Greens are climbing to 20% in polls ahead of the regional election, with AfD now falling to 10% – the former are actually rising precisely because they are pro-immigration.


GW - October 12, 2018

Ah no – the Greens are making gains principally because the CSU have made a complete bollix of coalition government, especial Heimat Horst Seehofer who is determined to bring as much of the house down with him as possible as he’s forced out of politics.

Some of the vote may be a reaction to the CSU aping the AfD but I’d say it’s far more disgust at their machinations at the federal level. I’d like to think it’s an entirely pro-immigration vote but I don’t think that’s so.

Part of their miscalculation was that aping the AfD would do them any good, and that moving against Merkel would win them votes.

I suspect the Greens are refuge for middle class voters who are sick of the CSU and won’t vote for the SPD or die Linke. I’m not sure how the AfD will come out – I hope that their vote does reflect the polls on Sunday but I’m not holding my breath.


Lamentreat - October 12, 2018

More on the topic of the center than the left, re. the last paragraph: At a federal level recently it looks like a straight migration of SPD voters to the Greens, what exactly their motivation is is not clear, maybe a dislike of the venal coalition decision, maybe just a sense that the SPD is a fading historical force, with an aura of something worn out. It seems like a sheering off of some of the SPD’s right wing support in that direction. But I can’t imagine they are moving to the Greens because they think that party is *less* likely to make a coalition with the Christian Democrats. The Greens seem quite prepared to do that.


GW - October 13, 2018

You’ve got it about right there Lamentreat IMO, the Greens are Merkel’s preferred choice of coalition partners with good reason.

The Greens have fully bought in to (and indeed created with in Agenda 2010) the imposition of austerian ‘debt brakes’ on Germany and the attempt to make this model hegemonic in Europe generally.

The Bavarian elections will be followed closely by a number of state elections where the question of whether the CDU will coalesce with the AfD will become sharper. The CDU/CSU is split on this ATM.


GW - October 12, 2018

Well what you have is a general break down in the political legitimacy and structures among the parties of neoliberal governance. The far right is an essential part of one escape route out of this in developing a nationalist, racist and more authoritarian neoliberalism.

It’s not the support for the nationalist racist right that matters (anywhere between 10 and 30 percent) but the willingness of the conservative centre to ally with them – for example in the case of Austria in a new formation of authoritarian neoliberal government. In the Italian case you have the racist right driving a clueless coalition partner.

So the people fighting ‘national wars of independence’ and promoting the return of ‘dominant values’ are the Lega Nord, AfD and co.

There is space for the left to set the agenda but it can’t be in the context of nationalism or anti-immigration, because that space is occupied by the right. See Gauleiter Gauland’s praise for Sarah Wagenknecht because she refuses to support a broad-spectrum anti-racist and pro-migrant demo this weekend in Berlin.


2. Michael Carley - October 12, 2018

Behr looks rational compared to this:

Ernst Thälmann, leader of Germany’s radical left in the last years of the Weimar Republic, thought the centre left was a greater danger than the right. We should remember his miscalculation.
By David Winner

The leader of the left, adored for his “authenticity” and destined for cult status, saw himself as a fighter for radical change. His transformed party was the biggest of its kind in Europe, and bursting with youthful vigour.

On the other side of the political spectrum lay the far right and its sinisterly absurd demagogues, thugs and ideological lunacies. Naturally, the leader of the left regarded these people with contempt and viewed his party as the only authentic resistance to them. For strategic reasons, however, he was willing to help them achieve a key part of their dream, which he shared. The dream was to break the loathsome old liberal order. Such a break, reasoned the leader, would create conditions under which the left would sweep to power and transform the country for the better.

Any similarities to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are far from coincidental. But the leader in question is Ernst Thälmann, chief of the German Communist Party (KPD) in the final years of the Weimar Republic. Thälmann is a tragic and disastrous figure. Dogmatic, passionate, stubborn and stupid, the former Hamburg dockworker divided the left and became one of the right’s first victims. Within weeks of Hitler’s takeover in 1933, he, along with thousands of other communists, was arrested and tortured. Unlike many of them, he survived in prison for 11 years before being murdered on Hitler’s orders in 1944.

After the war, the leaders of Communist East Germany built a personality cult around Thälmann, erecting statues and naming streets, a Berlin park and a metro station after him. The cult depicted him as the bravest and noblest of working-class heroes, Germany’s supreme anti-fascist martyr. That he had also been one of the Nazi regime’s unwitting enablers was erased.

History never repeats itself exactly, and there are obvious and big differences between conditions and politics in Britain now and those of Germany in the run-up to the Nazi dictatorship. But there are a few uncomfortable parallels.

For one thing, even our relatively mild versions of far left and far right seek momentous change – in this case a destructive Brexit – for ideological reasons. For another, the far left’s current mindset is reminiscent of one that had unintended consequences – and is doing so again.

In the 1930s, fear of Bolshevism persuaded many middle-class Germans to support Hitler (and led the Catholic Church to throw in its lot with fascism in Italy, Spain and elsewhere). These days, fear of Corbyn buttresses the worst Tory government in living memory. Worse, although we again face danger from the far right, the far left refuses to work with potential allies in the centre and centre left. Again. Instead, it spends much of its energy attacking them. The obsessive hatred for “Blairites”, “red Tories” and “centrists” is reminiscent of the KPD’s hatred of “social fascists” during the years when Nazism could have been stopped. If the phrase is new to you, you’d be forgiven for thinking it signified some form of fascism. It didn’t. “Social fascism” was the communist term for social democrats – and it helped pave the way to catastrophe.



Barnes - October 12, 2018

Excellent post


GW - October 12, 2018

Well, the split in the left in Germany since 1919 was a necessary if not sufficient enabler of the Nazi’s rise to power. The rest about Corbyn is complete nonsense.

More pertinent and with greater resonance today is that fact the the conservative and centre parties in Germany were willing to legitimate the National Socialists and form alliances with them, imagining that the NSDAP could be held on a leash, or would prove themselves unable to govern.


Lamentreat - October 12, 2018

You’re right to post it here, it’s doing the historical work in the same campaign as the Behr article. As GW says, the split on the left was a terrible thing in 1933, but to call it hate on the left’s part or “stupidity” of Thaelmann as an individual is as disingenuous as the Corbyn comparison.

He leaves out the KPD’s justified mistrust of the SPD in the late 1920s and early 1930s, not even as a memory of 1918-19 and aftermath, but fueled by immediate events like the killings by the SPD-controlled Berlin police in the late 20s. Kind of disappointing – I liked his books on football.


WorldbyStorm - October 13, 2018

Yep, I’d think that’s a fair point Lamentreat. It was wrong of the KPD but it didn’t come from nowhere.


GW - October 13, 2018

Absolutely fault on both sides. The KPD were driven by the Leninist need to be the monopoly party of the left and the SPD were stained with their support of WW1 and their cooperation with they right in their suppression of the workers’ uprisings between 1918 and 1924.

In no place was it more tragic than the splitting of the German Trades Union movement in the 1930s – one of the two forces that Hitler feared along with the military.

Liked by 1 person

3. CL - October 12, 2018

‘in just eight years, 2010-2018, the world has seen the extreme right move from being outside the corridors of power to the center of power itself….
The extreme right expropriated the anti-globalization critique from progressives…
as the broad left was paralyzed by mainstream social democratic parties’ continued adherence to the neoliberal ideology that unleashed the financial crisis in Europe and the United States, right-wing parties in Europe gradually deemphasized the anti-tax, anti-big-government, and free-market concerns of their original petit bourgeois base and opportunistically embraced an anti-neoliberal agenda and the welfare state….
The extreme right has now married these traditionally left-wing concerns to a vicious racist, chauvinistic, and anti-immigrant agenda that is reminiscent of the platform that the fascists and Nazis offered to people during the volatile 1930s:’

‘The great prophet of how market forces taken to an extreme destroy both democracy and a functioning economy was not Karl Marx but Karl Polanyi. Marx expected the crisis of capitalism to end in universal worker revolt and communism. Polanyi, with nearly a century more history to draw on, appreciated that the greater likelihood was fascism.’

‘What is happening in Brazil matters not just because it’s a huge country with one of the world’s largest economies and oil reserves, but because the dynamics driving this extremism are similar and linked to the dynamics driving fundamental changes in other Western democracies, including the disappearance of the “center” in lieu of a far right (as well as a more progressive but out-of-power left)’


WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2018

True, and yet take Brazil. It already went through one sub-fascist phase in the 64-85 period. Isn’t it disturbing how even that relatively recent political memory is now forgotten? I also wonder was the PT exactly Neo-liberal in the way that European social democrats were?


CL - October 12, 2018

Not exactly the same, no. But similar.
‘ Lula’s embrace of the free market-IMF structural adjustment policies has led to the evisceration of agrarian reform policies, a decline in employment and real wages, the slashing of pension benefits and negative per capita economic growth – the worst socio-economic performance of any civilian regime since the military dictatorship.’


Gavin Mendel-Gleason - October 12, 2018

I would say that unfortunately the political memory is *not* now forgotten. Bolsonaro is winning by making explicit reference to the period of dictatorship, including torture (which he jokes about) and suppression of socialists.


WorldbyStorm - October 13, 2018

And yet CL I can find link after link of why right wingers are embracing Bolsonaro precisely because they believe that the PT was ‘statist’. https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Did+Brazil+embrace+free+market+policies&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

So perhaps the reality lies somewhere between the two points.

Yes, that’s a very good point GMG. This isn’t a case of forgetting – it’s a case of colonel-nostalgia. That’s worse. Much much worse.


CL - October 13, 2018

Statism and neoliberalism are not incompatible. One of Polanyi’s main points in his analysis of the previous epoch of market fundamentalism was that a strong state was needed to implement it. The Thatcher and Reagan regimes were not examples of weak states. German ordoliberalism also was imposed by the state.

“Werner Bonefeld, in his The Strong State and the Free Economy, argues powerfully that neoliberalism is a political project grounded in a strong state. A free economy, he argues, is built through a state that protects itself from democratic interests and imposes an order of economic liberty on society.”


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