Starmer, missed steps and misused terms

6 Jul

Sometimes I miss steps in my own arguments, making them non-sequiturial. One example was in my last post but one. Speaking of Starmer’s election victory on July 4th I wrote of:

… the wider context as set out in many a steel city post – this for instance – of a UK ruled by rentiers, its manufacturing base destroyed for the short term gain of the same, in which the neoliberal interests Starmer no less than Sunak stands for are under threat as the waning of 500 years of western ascendance continues apace.

Missing here is the truth that destroyed manufacturing and waning imperialism leave hundreds of millions – in Western capitalist economies premised on most of us having to sell our labour-power in order to eat – in a race-to-the-bottom chase for ever fewer buyers of the stuff. To date this has been ameliorated by a social contract, its terms more grudging and parsimonious with each passing year.

Besides backing America’s forever wars, aimed at bolstering its power to exact global rents, 1 it is the task of Western governments of superficially differing stripe to lower expectations of the state – health, social security and other welfare provision – rooted in post-WW2 boom but now unaffordable without denting profits 2 for the few who rule behind a chimera of democracy.

To pull this off without sparking costly unrest requires a softly-softly approach of year on year stealth. Where organised labour has been tamed by legal constraint on the one hand, law of supply and demand on the other, this may be more easily achieved by governments avowedly Left of Centre.

And that  is the step I missed in my haste to set out the context for Sir Keir’s reclaiming of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition for Britain’s ruling class.

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Also in that last post but one is my citing, not for the first time, of a Tariq Ali phrase – he wrote a book of the same name – the Extreme Centre. It’s been on my mind for a while, as I wrestle with thoughts yet to fully cohere but taking in:

  • The appropriation of ‘Woke’ ideals for reactionary ends within the West. 3
  • Their further appropriation as an ideological arm – ‘liberalism’ versus ‘authoritarianism’ – of the West’s recklessly counterproductive 4 efforts to delay or even reverse the waning of its 500 years of rule as the world embraces an energised multipolarity.
  • The parallel playing out of that very material clash with another ideological duality: the ‘rules based order’ a fading hence triply dangerous hegemon sought to impose, versus the rapidly emerging restoration of Westphalia as characterised by the sovereignty of nation states – its attendant international anarchy managed not by Pax Americana  but by Balance of Power. 5
  • Neoliberal depiction of social conservatism, and the prioritising of national interest over ‘globalisation’, as neo-fascist. That may still be fooling the liberal intelligentsia but – ask Emmanuel Macron 6 – no one else is buying it.

Taking up that last point is a piece today by political economist Michael Hudson. He opens with the tepid (see footnote 6) electoral victory in Britain of Starmer’s eviscerated Labour Party:

We Need a New Political Vocabulary

The July 4 landslide defeat of the neoliberal pro-war British Conservatives by the neoliberal pro-war Labour Party poses the question of just what the media mean when they describe the elections and political alignments throughout Europe in terms of center-right and center-left traditional parties challenged by nationalist neo-fascists.

Political differences between Europe’s centrist parties are marginal, all supporting neoliberal cutbacks in social spending in favor of rearmament, fiscal stringency and the deindustrialization that support of U.S.-NATO policy entails. The word “centrist” means not advocating any change in the economy’s neoliberalism. Hyphenated-centrist parties are committed to maintaining the pro-U.S. post-2022 status quo.

That means letting U.S. leaders control European politics via NATO and the European Commission, Europe’s counterpart to America’s Deep State. This passivity is putting its economies onto a war footing, with inflation, trade dependence on the United States and European deficits resulting from U.S.-sponsored trade and financial sanctions against Russia and China. This new status quo has shifted European trade and investment away from the Eurasia to the United States.

Voters in France, Germany and Italy are turning away from this blind alley. Every incumbent centrist party has recently lost – and their defeated leaders all had similar pro-U.S. neoliberal policies. As Steve Keen describes the centrist political game: “The Party in power runs Neoliberal policies; it loses the next election to rivals who, when they get in power, also run neoliberal policies. They then lose, and the cycle repeats.” European elections, like this November’s one in the United States, are largely a protest vote – with voters having nowhere else to go except to vote for the populist nationalist parties promising to smash this status quo. This is continental Europe’s counterpart to Britain’s Brexit vote.

The AfD in Germany, Marine le Pen’s National Rally in France and Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy are depicted as smashing and breaking the economy – by being nationalist instead of conforming to the NATO/EU Commission, and specifically by opposing the war in Ukraine and European isolation from Russia. That stance is why voters are supporting them. We are seeing a popular rejection of the status quo. The centrist parties call all nationalist opposition neo-fascist, just as in England the media describe both the Tories and Labour as centrists but Nigel Farage as a far right populist …

Read the full piece on Naked Capitalism.

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  1. 800 military bases ringing the planet aside, the principal mechanism for exacting global rents has been a dollarised world. First Bretton Woods in 1944, then Nixon’s decoupling of dollar from gold in 1972-3 – shortly followed by the petrodollar as OPEC’s quid pro quo for US permission to hike oil prices – created what France’s Valery Giscard d’Estaing referred to as the “exorbitant privilege” of a demand for dollars regardless of the health of America’s economy, and for US Treasury Bonds no one expected would be redeemed. (See Bryan Gocke’s explanatory piece, featured in Who pays for the US war machine?) While the pace of global de-dollarisation is often overstated, it is indeed a thing; both cause and effect of waning US power.
  2. My talk of denting profits goes beyond a ‘fairer sharing of the cake’. Neoliberal inequality is both obscene and economically dysfunctional, to be sure, but the West’s problems run deeper than wealth redistribution – though to be welcomed – can solve. As the Ukraine War is now highlighting, those problems arise more from asset stripped economies than unfair ones.
  3. The ‘weaponising of wokeness’ has many aspects. As specimen charges I’d cite (a) use of alleged sexual misconduct to rob Julian Assange of ‘woke’ support, (b) odious misuse of the antisemitism charge against first Jeremy Corbyn and now opponents of genocide, (c) the weakening of civil liberties in loosely framed laws, ostensibly to combat ‘hate crime’ but needed (since repressive tools claimed by the state as necessary in one context are always reused in others) to manage social unrest attendant on ‘austerity’. And as Caitlin Johnstone noted: “in just 200 years we’ve advanced from expecting our leaders to kill brown-skinned people while saying racist things, to expecting them to kill brown-skinned people while condemning racism.”  Since ‘people with vaginas’ are the disproportionate victims of Empire’s wars, we can add ‘women’ and ‘sexism’ at the appropriate places.
  4. Elsewhere Michael Hudson has likened US-led efforts to shore up Western hegemony to the Sophoclean Tragedy, Oedipus Rex.  While thinkers from Freud on have looked to its eponymous hero for insights on the male psyche, it can escape non classicists like me that Oedipus knows his destiny to be parricide, regicide and incest. The tragedy being that all his efforts to avert that which is written in the stars serve only to expedite it.
  5. Examples of this reinvigoration of Westphalia principles pour out daily. For a flavour, try Andrew Korybko’s post today. It examines President Modi’s planned visit to Moscow in light of a New Delhi fearful of Russia becoming too dependent on India’s rival, China.
  6. M. Macron may be the most visible example of failure to scare voters with the spectre of  ‘fascism’ but he’s not alone. Starmer’s victory last week – absurdly overstated by liberal media when his eviscerated party won fewer votes than Corbyn had in 2019 – owes much to a Tory meltdown fuelled in ways direct and diffuse by the nationalism impressively tapped by Nigel Farage’s Reform Party. In sum, Rishi Sunak too is a casualty of Extreme Centre disconnect with the masses who, strangely enough, don’t much care for soaring energy bills in the name of “helping plucky Ukraine”. Nor for the diverse social costs of immigration levels which have zero impact on the Macrons, Sunaks and Starmers of this world, and not a lot more on the second home-owning, latte-sipping liberal castes who deem the said masses racist and xenophobic. And no, I’m not saying immigration is the root of the West’s many evils. That should be clear from this and a zillion other posts on this site. I’m saying that disregard, by those least affected, for the disruptive effects of immigration too fast for assimilation is one of many drivers of anti-globalism. Of which Brexit was a coalmine canary.

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