Sunday, 15 May 2011

Why Labour's leaders should stop 'Blue Labour' and the agenda of 'flag, faith and family'

There has always been an uncomfortably close connection between Fabian social democracy and fascism. Throughout the 1920s American progressives, leading socialist thinkers such as the Webbs, G B Shaw and H G Wells fell over themselves to praise Mussolini and even Hitler – at the heart of this praise was the view that such leaders “did something”, were men of actions in tune with the syndicalist tradition at the root of social democracy.

The birth of a new idea – “Blue Labour” – seems to come from this tradition of social democracy. Founded on an almost mystical characterisation of the working class, Blue Labour seeks to refound that party as a traditionalist, nationalist organisation operating through syndicalist – almost corporatist organisational structures. Its progenitor, Maurice Glasman puts it this way:

The starting point for Blue Labour is that the banking crisis of 2008 marked the end of New Labour economics and opens up the possibility for renewal. The tradition is strong and the party should honour it. In its explanation of the crash it must point to the volatility and vice of finance capital and the necessity of a balance of power within the firm and stronger institutions to constrain capital and domesticate its destructive energy.

The lessons of New Labour are not to have a contemptuous attitude to the lived experiences of people but work within them to craft a common story of what went wrong and how things can be better. To bring together previously separated political matter in the pursuit of the common good.

To this we can add the rejection of New Labour’s commitment to globalisation and free trade and a deeply worrying equivocation on the subject of immigration and race:

But it is immigration and multiculturalism which has become ‘the big monster that we don't like to talk about', claims Glasman. Mass immigration under Labour, he believes, served to ‘act as an unofficial wages policy'. The party's position, Glasman contends, occupied a ‘weird space where we thought that a real assault on the wage levels of English workers was a positive good'.

More seriously, he charges the last government with having acted in a ‘very supercilious, high-handed way: there was no public discussion of immigration and its benefits. There was no election that was fought on that basis. In fact there was a very, very hard rhetoric combined with a very loose policy going on.

That people in the Labour Party are prepared to engage with the issue of immigration is welcome but, when that discussion is combined with syndicalist trade unionism, elements of jingoist patriotism and nostalgia for times past we step too close to the elements that forged Mussolini’s Fascist Party. And we see these same elements cropping up in political movements across Europe – movements often mistakenly termed ‘right-wing’ by lazy pundits.

The populist True Finns Party has unveiled its manifesto for the upcoming parliamentary election. It advocates tax increases for the higher paid, opposes the mention of Finland’s EU membership in the country’s constitution and demands cuts in social benefits for immigrants.

According to the Danish political scientist, Ole Borre, the DPP is right-wing “only” in connection with questions regarding value-policy while they can be consider to belong to the left on the right-wing on issues such as distribution of wealth (Borre, 2001: 181).

Similar positions will be found in Italy’s Northern League, in the overtly Fascist platform of the Vlaams Blok and in the programme of Ireland’s Sinn Fein. All these parties look to a tradition that could be called a marriage between the conservative idea of nation and social democratic ideas of social justice – using the appeal of “flag, faith and family” to appeal to the working class voter and linking this appeal to promises of worker power, higher wages and protectionism. While some look to an English radical tradition as a source for this nostalgia – akin to Tony Benn romanticising the levellers – I find it strange and rather worrying that the solution to Labour’s disengagement with the working class lies in adopting a policy platform difficult (overt racism aside) to distinguish from that of the British National Party.



David said...

Excellent post Simon. From the chats/tweets I've had with most Labour supporters "Blue Labour" is a non-starter. The 'Blairites' view it as a load of bunk and the genuine socialists view it much the same way you do (and in much the same way as they view Phillip Blond's Red Toryism). It'll be forgotten by the end of the summer.

Eddy Anderson said...

‘There has always been an uncomfortably close connection between Fabian social democracy and fascism.’

I think you have a responsibility to explain yourself more fully or retract the statement. This is a flippant comment but it's also extremely provocative. I don't understand why someone with such an admirable knowledge of politics would stoop to making crass, ill-informed, and bombastic comments like this.

Fascism is a radical, authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists advocate the creation of a totalitarian single-party state that seeks the mass mobilization of a nation through indoctrination, physical education, and family policy including eugenics. Fascists seek to purge forces and ideas deemed to be the cause of decadence and degeneration and produce their nation's rebirth based on commitment to the national community based on organic unity where individuals are bound together by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and ‘blood’. Fascists believe that a nation requires strong leadership, singular collective identity, and the will and ability to commit violence and wage war in order to keep the nation strong. Fascist governments forbid and suppress opposition to the state.

Simon Cooke said...

I don't actually have to explain myself at all Eddy. Nor do I need to cut a chunk from wikipedia to understand what is or is fascism. It is a fact that H G Wells called for a "liberal fascism", that Croly and other US progressives praised Mussolini to the heavens and G B Shaw - among others - lauded Hitler's agenda (in Shaw's case including its anti-semitism). All the people are closely connected to the Fabian and social democratic movements in the UK and USA. On the matter of policy, Mussolini's original Fascist manifesto is something few Fabians would take issue with I suspect.