Beauty persists

It seems that, unfortunately, normal service has been resumed. We again have reports of terrorists running lethally amok in our capital city catching us unawares at rest. Three are dead and other remain critically ill in hospital. The public have decided that mass demonstrations are now safe despite what the medical experts warn. Each day reports of crowds packing our town centres show us just how transmission of a virus can be facilitated. Even the Germans have got in on the act with rioting reported in Stuttgart yesterday. Never one to follow experts, Mr Trump has decided that, like the other demonstrators, he can hold rallies without even insisting that masks are worn. It seems that surprisingly his supporters had more sense than he did and stayed away in their droves. The R number has jumped up again in Germany after initial excellent results, and we can see the increasing rates of infection in America especially in the South where it is going to play havoc with an elderly, diverse population with high levels of disadvantage. There is little to lift the spirit watching this slow-motion catastrophe unwind

This was never going to be a short game. We knew from the start that this we were in this long haul. We managed phase one but seem to be failing in the second round. We are acting as if we have won and starting to celebrate. It is a little like the scene in the movie when the psychopathic killer has been beaten after the lengthy fight. The heroes, in victory and relief, don’t watch as the dead villain’s hand creeps towards the gun. Like them we are about to discover that round two has just started. This is the round when we try and create a new way of life despite the presence of the coronavirus. It is no longer just adequate to hide away, we did that and regrouped, now is the time we need show we have learnt the lessons on social distancing and changing our behaviour. It is now we must learn how to live and work without being physically close. We have to find alternative ways of doing things. We shouldn’t be waiting for the pubs to reopen, or the package holidays in sunny climes to restart, we should be thinking what we can do instead of those activities.

There are potentially many improvements that might follow these changes; necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. There will be unexpected bonuses. It is highly likely that Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is going to lose him the election later this year. While not a foregone conclusion it is nice to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I am not sure Biden will make a great president but feel pretty confident in saying that he (and just about anyone else) is going to be better than the present incumbent. But there will be major challenges. The economic downturn that we are about to face is going to demand major political change if the years of increasing inequality and globalisation (which has benefitted capital at the expense of labour) are to be reversed. Other wise we can expect that the debt, as always, for the pandemic will fall on the shoulder of the poorest in our societies – the people who worked to pull us through this nightmare will be the one’s who have to pay to ensure that the wealth of the privileged is not threatened. When I look at the parties on the left in Europe and America, I am not sure that they are ready for this task. Unless they drop their focus on identity and individualism and regain their focus on the structural class and democratic issues, they will prove to be irrelevant. Not just irrelevant but worse – counterproductive – as they set one group of the working class against another and fail to mount an effective fightback. If they fail, then there are groups emerging on the right who will propose themselves as the saviours of the poor. The greatest risk factor for the development of fascism is economic collapse and the fear it engenders which make strong, tough talking leaders dangerously attractive.

While I get depressed, I try to take my own advice and try to find new ways to live happily. My social activities are minor and infrequent now, and I need to learn how to find pleasure in other ways. I used to enjoy concerts but these are unlikely to be a feature of my life for some time. However, we have thousands of hours of music and concerts available to us already. I have found that going back to look and listen to some old favourites obviates the need to find the new and fashionable. There is so much music I have never heard already recorded and available that I could never sate my appetite even if another new work were not created (Though I am sure that they will be).

It is a shame, but I can never describe music to someone else. The pleasure that it gives is personal and, I find, impossible to put into words. I am going to end this piece with the gift of a piece of music for you. I could use words such as sublime, beautiful, heart lifting, magnificent and they would all be correct, but they only tell you what the piece does to me. However, I trust that most of us are in essence similar and, whether you like this piece or not, that you will recognise the emotion and hope in this piece. A species that can create something as beautiful and powerful as this is surely going to knuckle down for the long battle against this virus and win.

Voces8 with Edward Nimrod (Lux Aeterna)

The New Class War by Michael Lind

The New Class War by Michael Lind

Looking around the world it is obvious that there are concerns about the growing success of the populist movements; mainly right-wing but occasionally arising from the left wing of politics. America has been rocked by Trump’s victory and Britain by the Brexit Referendum, across Europe far-right parties have entered the governmental chambers and in Hungary and Poland taken power. This is not a problem limited to the west; Latin America has seen Brazil fall to Bolsonaro and in India Narendra Modi’s religiously tinged populism has proven electorally very successful.


Though local factors often colour the appearance of the local populist groups, and they do vary a little between them (Podemos in Spain leans to the left as do factions of the 5 Star movement in Italy), the causes seem similar much the world over. There is an increasing disengagement between the governed and those who govern them. People feel increasing disempowered from decision making which seems like more and more a remote activity over which local people have little say. As this has occurred, public involvement in society and its governance has declined with a serious reduction in the amount of community participation in government at any level. Indeed in many developed nations the number of the populace who turn out to vote has fallen by alarming levels, These changes have coincided with a growing wealth inequality so that the relative gap between rich and poor has widened greatly. All of these change provide a fertile ground for a world view that proposes the real battle, the real class war, is between us and them – ‘us’ the poor, the masses, the populace and ‘them’ the rich, the others, the elite.

This book explores the development of these changes and details them well. It does not shrug off the fact that they have occurred. It is correct that the power of the working class has waned (trade unionism is at an all time low), it is correct that power has been taken away from national democratic bodies and now resides with international, corporate friendly, agencies without democratic responsibility and that structures which previously gave support and strength to the masses (family, church, society) have been greatly weakened by by the growth of individualism and the fracturing of societal bonds. These changes have been promoted by the development of a “management elite” (as described by the one-time Trotskyist James Burnham ) or “technostructure” in the words of J.K. Galbraith whereby an oligarchy, a small group of people, hold concentrated power and run an increasingly unequal society with only the semblance of true democracy.

To this point the book is much like many, bewailing the populist advances and recognising the problems which have started this wave of protest. However, the book then proceeds to propose how society might avoid this. Not simply making a diagnosis but also suggesting a treatment. This is based upon the idea of “democratic pluralism” which looks for societies built up of a number of groups with significant power ;-

“For democratic pluralists, the state – usually a nation state, but sometimes multinational state or independent city state – is not a mass of individuals to whom a general will can be attributed, but a community made up of smaller communites.”

pp148


The three main foci of power he considers are the “guild” (labour and the economy), the “ward” (government) and the “congregation” (culture). The book discusses ways that these groups in these areas could work to create balanced power groups :-

“In the economic realm, the guild would would exercise countervailing power on behalf of working class citizens against employers and investors. In the realm of government, the ward would exercise countervailing power on behalf of working class citizens against organized money and organized expertise. And in the realm of culture, the congregation would exercise countervailing power on behalf of working class citizens against overclass media elites and overclass academic elites.”

pp 136


Using a different approach in considering the power imbalances in our society, and the need to tackle the divide in inequality, the book proposes different solutions to perennial problems such as funding the welfare state, or managing immigration, which could defuse right-wing populist growth by rejecting racism and isolationism in favour of communitarianism and cooperation. He summarises the problem well –

“Demagogic populism is a symptom. Technocratic neoliberalism is the disease. Democratic pluralism is the cure.” 

There are many books listing the problems we have. Many philosophical tracts describing the state we are in. However, as Karl Marx correctly said it is not enough just to describe the situation “the point is to change it” and the outline of a better, fairer system is sketched out here.

The practicalities of how we push for these changes is not the subject of this book but it may not need the upheaval of a revolution to attain it. As he is aware, under democratic pluralism there will still be a managerial elite although one with a positive and democratic philosophy. And, to end on a positive note :-

“Most members of the elite under the new policy regime will have been members of the elite under the old one. The fact that most ruling classes include large numbers of opportunistic careerists is a blessing in disguise. It means that radical revolution in policy can take place, without a radical replacement of personnel.”

pp167

A simple test for nationalists.

A simple test for nationalists.

Brexit has changed everything. This seemingly simple referendum on our membership of a trading club has had effects much larger than many had anticipated. These are not just simple economic effects, the strength of the Pound or the change in our GDP, but major political and social changes as well. Our ‘two party’, ‘First Past the Post” parliamentary system has creaked and groaned with the strain of trying to contain the effects. The two major parties have lost their support bases and also their raison d’etre and at the same time the public has witnessed just how tawdry and self-serving the whole mess has become.

However, perhaps the biggest change is that the possible dissolution of the United Kingdom itself no longer appears improbable. It looks increasingly likely that Scotland will vote to secede from the Union, Northern Ireland may consider that a way to remain in the E.U. is to reunite, and following shocks such as these the increasingly ‘indy-curious’ Wales may follow suite. As an opponent of Big Government I will be happy to see all, or any, of these changes. However, while I share the joy of the nationalists in recent events, I am still rather reluctant to consider myself a signed up nationalist.

Nations have been created over the great span of history. While it is true that they represent some common interests such as language, culture or even kinship the main motive force in their generation has been power and authority. Wars and revolts have been fought to draw lines on maps which define nations and state who controls what happens in certain patches of land. This was obvious when it was King against King but it is no less true when it is State against State. Nations are there to define the edges of power; to say who controls what happens where.

However, any boundaries which we create should not be based on power and authority they should be based on assistance and support. Our instincts are to live in communities not political structures or economies. People naturally find ways to band together to their mutual benefit and to share common interests and goals. Such groupings are natural and should be supported. If people of a certain language, or religion, or cultural practice want to voluntarily band together then, as long as they don’t infringe on others, they should be encouraged in their mutual venture. The smaller these communities are, the more democratic they are; as each individuals voice carries a greater weight. Further, as they are voluntary people can vote with their feet if they see changes in their chosen community which they can’t tolerate. Nations tend not to be voluntary. Entry to and exit from the nation tends to be controlled and nation states tend to enforce their view of the national culture on any dissenting members.

Whenever nationhood affords a smaller block for democratic organization this is usually a good thing. If nations seek to expand their areas of control this is universally bad. This is the question for nationalists. Does your vision of nationhood bring democracy closer to people, make the demos a smaller group, and reduce the power and authority that others have over people ? If it does, then your nationalism may be beneficial. Are you also happy that, once nationhood is established, the people may decide that an even smaller unit for self governance makes more sense (e.g. “North Wales”, “Y Fro Gymraeg”, “The Shetlands”, “Yorkshire”, “Gaeltacht”) ? If your answer is not ‘yes’ to this then you are missing the point; you are just redrawing lines on maps rather than expanding peoples’ freedom.

If your view of your nation is monolithic and you see it as something good in itself you are following a dangerous path. There will be the risks that you will enforce your views on the national culture, or tongue, or religion on all those who live in your newly defined patch. There is the danger that you will see yourself as better than others who have the misfortune not to live in your nation and, finally, there is the danger that you might think you have the right or duty to export your nation’s benefits to your neighbours whether they want them or not.

So the question for nationalists is easy. Do you want to take a big power structure and break it down into smaller pieces, or, do you want to take your small nation and make if bigger and stronger ?

If it is the former then go ahead and get on with it but remember once you have created a smaller national group there may be scope for further reductions (counties, cantons, districts) which you should also embrace.

If it is the latter, an urge for a stronger bigger nation, then stop ! Remember it was precisely this drive for power and expanded authority which lead you to want to fight for your nation in the first place. You needed to throw off the yoke of another’s power, don’t start fashioning another yoke for others.

It has been said that “Small is beautiful” and there is truth in this statement. In the age of globalization nations can be the smaller building blocks which allow us to build a better future, but sometimes nations themselves can be too large and need to be broken down into smaller, more beautiful communities. I remain a nationalist but only in as far as I am an anti-imperialist, anything more starts to become rather risky.

Spain lost today

Spain lost today

The Spanish state lost tonight. The scenes of Spanish policemen fighting with civilians in Catalonia when they tried to vote in the referendum were unsettling to see. I have no strong views on the case for independence of Catalonia, I have no dog in this fight. However,  it is always right that people have the right to express their views. Even if the Spanish state is intent on ignoring the results and calling the ballot unlawful they still have no right to stop people expressing their views.

It is ironic that, all the polling evidence, suggested that the majority of the Catalan public did not wish independence and that the Spanish state would have probably won a referendum had they supported and participated in it. Now, the satisfaction with the Spanish state is likely to be very seriously damaged and the drive for Independence is likely to be significantly strengthened ; you do not make yourself popular by attacking your own citizens with truncheons and rubber bullets.

Another group whose popularity should suffer a decline is the other heads of the EU countries. They have been noticeable by their silence. A handful of nationalist and separatist politicians from other EU countries have spoken in favour of Catalan’s independence, but the heads of the EU have been silent while one of its member states has seen civil strife with its army fighting with its populace. When a core democratic right has been threatened it seems the EU is willing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear if it is for the sake of further European ‘Unity‘.

This has been a shameful day for Spain and Europe but it may be one of the first steps to start to break up these over-large, undemocratic institutions in which we live.

 

 


via Daily Prompt: Popular

Totally Free, Totally Independent

Totally Free, Totally Independent

A lot of territorial changes are anticipated in the wake of a letter from Theresa May to Donald Tusk. By triggering Article 50 it clear that the political map of Europe will need to be redrawn. There is a great deal of uncertainty of how Britain’s leaving of the European Union will be managed, what form trade arrangements will take, what new international arrangements will be made, how will new opportunities be handled. Although slightly apprehensive, I am optimistic that this is a step in the correct direction and one which will allow us to become more democratic, more responsible and able to have relationships with a wider range of people and places.

It is also likely that this change may lead to changes in the make up if the ‘United’ Kingdom itself.  The S.N.P. see Brexit as an opportunity to push for a second independence referendum and, were they successful, Plaid Cymru may follow suit. Although this is rather opportunistic of the S.N.P., I have no concerns over this. Smaller is better in terms of democracies and, in the absence of a federal or canton system in the U.K. , four smaller nations would be less undemocratic than one large unit. These smaller states would be more flexible and responsive than their larger progenitor. This could possibly, though not necessarily, lead to better economic and social systems.

My only concerns are that the S.N.P., with its large state policies and plans to seek continued membership of the European Union, is not promoting policies which bode well for an independent Scotland’s future. On the one hand their policies suggest a future reminiscent of the nightmare of Venezuela (Inefficient oil-backed socialism) while Europe’s policies sugest and equally unsavoury prospect of a Greek future (of externally imposed austerity and reduced public spending).

If we are going to try to use nation states to break up bigger units and bring power closer to people we have to be careful that we manage to do this. Break up the United Kingdom by all means but break up the European Union also.  Don’t bring powers back from London simply to send them further away to Brussels. If we are going to ‘Cry Freedom’ lets go for full freedom and independence. Fully free we can work out our economic and social plans for ourselves.

 

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Territory