Patrice Riemens on Thu, 15 Jun 2017 09:58:33 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Paul Mason: Jeremy Corbyn has read Antonio Gramsci (Guardian)

Original to:

Jeremy Corbyn​ has won the first battle in a long ​war​ against the 
ruling elite
by Paul Mason, The Guardian, June 13, 2017.

Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci understood that before taking power,
the left must disrupt and defy common sense – just as Labour
defeated the proposition that ‘Corbyn can’t win’

To stop Jeremy Corbyn, the British elite is prepared to abandon Brexit
– first in its hard form and, if necessary, in its entirety. That
is the logic behind all the manoeuvres, all the cant and all the mea
culpas you will see mainstream politicians and journalists perform
this week.

And the logic is sound. The Brexit referendum result was supposed
to unleash Thatcherism 2.0 – corporate tax rates on a par with
Ireland, human rights law weakened, and perpetual verbal equivalent
of the Falklands war, only this time with Brussels as the enemy; all
opponents of hard Brexit would be labelled the enemy within.

But you can’t have any kind of Thatcherism if Corbyn is prime
minister. Hence the frantic search for a fallback line. Those revolted
by the stench of May’s rancid nationalism will now find it liberally
splashed with the cologne of compromise.

Labour has, quite rightly, tried to keep Karl Marx out of the
election. But there is one Marxist whose work provides the key to
understanding what just happened. Antonio Gramsci, the Italian
communist leader who died in a fascist jail in 1937, would have had
no trouble understanding Corbyn’s rise, Labour’s poll surge, or
predicting what happens next. For Gramsci understood what kind of war
the left is fighting in a mature democracy, and how it can be won.

Consider the events of the past six weeks a series of unexpected
plot twists. Labour starts out polling 25% but then scores 40%. Its
manifesto is leaked, raising major questions of competence, but
it immediately boosts Corbyn’s popularity. Britain is attacked
by terrorists but it is the Tories whose popularity dips. Diane
Abbott goes sick – yet her majority rises to 30,000. Sitting Labour
candidates campaign on the premise “Corbyn cannot win” yet his
presence delivers a 10% boost to their own majorities.

None of it was supposed to happen. It defies political “common
sense”. Gramsci was the first to understand that, for the working
class and the left, almost the entire battle is to disrupt and defy
this common sense. He understood that it is this accepted common sense
– not MI5, special branch and the army generals – that really
keeps the elite in power.

Once you accept that, you begin to understand the scale of Corbyn’s
achievement. Even if he hasn’t won, he has publicly destroyed the
logic of neoliberalism – and forced the ideology of xenophobic
nationalist economics into retreat.

Brexit was an unwanted gift to British business. Even in its softest
form it means 10 years of disruption, inflation, higher interest rates
and an incalculable drain on the public purse. It disrupts the supply
of cheap labour; it threatens to leave the UK as an economy without a

But the British ruling elite and the business class are not the same
entity. They have different interests. The British elite are in fact
quite detached from the interests of people who do business here. They
have become middle men for a global elite of hedge fund managers,
property speculators, kleptocrats, oil sheikhs and crooks. It was in
the interests of the latter that Theresa May turned the Conservatives
from liberal globalists to die-hard Brexiteers.

The hard Brexit path creates a permanent crisis, permanent austerity
and a permanent set of enemies – namely Brussels and social
democracy. It is the perfect petri dish for the fungus of financial
speculation to grow. But the British people saw through it. Corbyn’s
advance was not simply a result of energising the Labour vote. It was
delivered by an alliance of ex-Ukip voters, Greens, first-time voters
and tactical voting by the liberal centrist salariat.

The alliance was created in two stages. First, in a carefully
costed manifesto Corbyn illustrated, for the first time in 20
years, how brilliant it would be for most people if austerity ended
and government ceased to do the work of the privatisers and the
speculators. Then, in the final week, he followed a tactic known in
Spanish as la remontada – the comeback. He stopped representing the
party and started representing the nation; he acted against stereotype
– owning the foreign policy and security issues that were supposed
to harm him. Day by day he created an epic sense of possibility.

The ideological results of this are more important than the
parliamentary arithmetic. Gramsci taught us that the ruling class does
not govern through the state. The state, Gramsci said, is just the
final strongpoint. To overthrow the power of the elite, you have to
take trench after trench laid down in their defence.

Last summer, during the second leadership contest, it became clear
that the forward trench of elite power runs through the middle of
the Labour party. The Labour right, trained during the cold war for
such trench warfare, fought bitterly to retain control, arguing that
the elite would never allow the party to rule with a radical left
leadership and programme.

The moment the Labour manifesto was leaked, and support for it took
off, was the moment the Labour right’s trench was overrun. They
retreated to a second trench – not winning, with another leadership
election to follow – but that did not exactly go well either.

As to the third trench line – the tabloid press and its broadcasting
echo chamber – this too proved ineffectual. More than 12 million
people voted for a party stigmatised as “backing Britain’s
enemies”, soft on terror, with “blood on its hands”.

And Gramsci would have understood the reasons here, too. When most
socialists treated the working class as a kind of bee colony –
pre-programmed to perform its historical role – Gramsci said:
everyone is an intellectual. Even if a man is treated as “trained
gorilla” at work, outside work “he is a philosopher, an artist, a
man of taste ... has a conscious line of moral conduct”. [Antonio
Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks] 

On this premise, Gramsci told the socialists of the 1930s to stop
obsessing about the state – and to conduct a long, patient trench
warfare against the ideology of the ruling elite.

Eighty years on, the terms of the battle have changed. Today, you do
not need to come up from the mine, take a shower, walk home to a slum
and read the Daily Worker before you can start thinking. As I argued
in Postcapitalism, the 20th-century working class is being replaced as
the main actor – in both the economy and oppositional politics –
by the networked individual. People with weak ties to each other, and
to institutions, but possessing a strong footprint of individuality
and rationalism and capacity to act.

What we learned on Friday morning was how easily such networked,
educated people can see through bullshit. How easily they organise
themselves through tactical voting websites; how quickly they are
prepared to unite around a new set of basic values once someone
enunciates them with cheerfulness and goodwill, as Corbyn did.

The high Conservative vote, and some signal defeats for Labour in the
areas where working class xenophobia is entrenched, indicate this will
be a long, cultural war. A war of position, as Gramsci called it, not
one of manoeuvre.

But in that war, a battle has been won. The Tories decided to use
Brexit to smash up what’s left of the welfare state, and to recast
Britain as the global Singapore. They lost. They are retreating behind
a human shield of Orange bigots from Belfast.

The left’s next move must eschew hubris; it must reject the illusion
that with one lightning breakthrough we can envelop the defences of
the British ruling class and install a government of the radical left.

The first achievable goal is to force the Tories back to a position of
single-market engagement, under the jurisdiction of the European court
of justice, and cross-party institutions to guide the Brexit talks.
But the real prize is to force them to abandon austerity.

A Tory party forced to fight the next election on a programme of
higher taxes and increased spending, high wages and high public
investment would signal how rapidly Corbyn has changed the game. If it
doesn’t happen; if the Conservatives tie themselves to the global
kleptocrats instead of the interests of British business and the
British people, then Corbyn is in Downing Street.

Either way, the accepted common sense of 30 years is over.

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