The Hopeless And The Rest Of Us...

Why socialism has been reduced from a mass movement to a sect in little over twenty years, and why what little remains is apparently happy to line up facing entirely the wrong way is complex. The steady distancing from the class is possibly pivotal. Yet snobbism cannot in itself excuse the excess of stupidity the left call politics - Joe Reilly investigates
We have seen it so often - a sort of calculated stupidity that places the liberal left so often, and so spectacularly on the wrong side of practically any controversy. Most recently it has been evident in Sighthill, previously in Oldham, Bradford, and Paulsgrove. It could I suppose be described as a twisted logic, except any logic is largely absent, though the underlying antipathy is real enough. It was there in Socialist Worker editor Chris Harman's remarks about the generally 'hopeless' lives of Paulsgrove residents. It was all too easy to spot in Independent columnist (and LSA candidate) Mark Steels 'joke' that '"it was a good job they [Irish] had a potato famine or by now they'd be falling into the Atlantic". (Independent 3.8.2000). Steel's sneering was more than a little tinged with genuine racism, but that's apparently permissible, because he was you see, decrying the supposedly illiberal attitude of the Irish to refugees at the time. A similar lip curling disdain can also be detected in the routine references to the 'declassed' that pepper discussion sites like the UK Left, and in papers like Weekly Worker when classifying working class BNP voters as "plebeians".

In all the name-calling what is unmistakable is the enthusiasm for defining the real working class as a social strata 'other' than the idealized working class the left pay homage to - and - consider themselves to represent. One of the reasons why former communist David Arranovitch must have felt confident he was speaking for many a lefty when he proclaimed "Sighthill is not a dump because of asylum seekers and Burnley is not poor because of Pakistanis. Glasgow City council may be wise to appoint a mediator to assist in reducing tensions in Sighthill, but the mediation that is needed is not between Scots and foreigners, but between the hopeless and the rest of us". (Independent 10.8. 01)

Should anyone doubt the gulf between the 'hopeless and the rest of us' Peter Bart, editor of the Hollywood trade paper Variety, has helpfully spelt it out in the most graphic terms. Commenting on the race/class divide in America, he went out of his way to emphasize "the big distinction between people they call 'niggers' - who are the ghetto blacks who can't even speak, get a job and bury themselves in ‘blackitude' - and those who are better looking, better educated, smarter and who own the world; the black middle class." (Guardian 1.9.01)

As a card carrying liberal Arranovitch might wince at the use of N word, but like Bart he too argues that the problems with ghettos like Sighthill, are caused primarily by the ghetto dwellers in Sighthill. "I could happily imagine a population exchange in which we swapped half a million Afghans, Kurds, Turks, Palestinians etc for every BNP voter, sending them off to the land of the Taliban. We could get all those women desperate for education, and they would get the violent boastful boys and shell suited hippos of Paulsgrove and Oldham with their total resistance to being schooled."

It is telling that 'deport them' (for Arranovitch the white working class only, though logic suggests Bart’s list would be more comprehensive) can these days be presented as liberal policy, when the essential difference between Nick Griffin's and Arranovitch's final solution is merely the finger-pointing / scape-goating of different targets. Ok, so Arranovitch has a visceral hatred for the working class and makes no bones about it, so what? Well, for one he is clearly not alone. All too many feel entitled as Bart, Arranovitch, and Steel seemingly do, to display a hatred of the poor when 'defending' minorities.

Which begs the question, is this deep fear and loathing despite them being liberals - or because of it?

Certainly the reflex in what is termed far-left circles is little different from that of the liberal elite, most of the time it is indistinguishable. Whatever the tabloids want the left is 'agin it'. If, say the News of the World mounts a campaign against paedophiles the left campaigns in their defence. If there is some controversy over immigration, the left rushes to pour unthinking scorn on working class concerns. On Radio Five Live a month or so back, an interviewer for once asked some fairly sensible questions in relation to the allocation of refugees to Sighthill. 'Was it advisable to force 1200 refugees onto a single estate without any consultation?' the interviewer asked. Adding with rare sensitivity: "I am middle class person, and I can hardly imagine what it is like to live in an estate like that",

Rather than address the implications of pitting refugees against the most visibly down trodden, or perhaps showing a modicum of understanding for the position of the indigenous working class, the no doubt well salaried do-gooder replied in standard nationalist fashion. "Well many people in Britain do not realize what it is like to be a refugee!" she bristled. She didn't describe locals as "gap-toothed Neanderthals" as one Scottish Labour Party would publicly do, but she made it plain that for her, in terms of intellect, culture and social ambition, refugees were (as she of course considered herself to be) of superior breeding to their hosts.

Predictably the debate around Sighthill followed what Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland described as "reassuringly fixed lines." One camp led by the right-wing newspapers attacks "and instantly an enemy coalition assembles made up of liberals and the left gets ready to rally to the offenders defence". As has been previously flagged, it matters not a jot what the offender is alleged to have done. What matters only is that the liberal left is seen as OPPOSITE. It has become "habit" Jonathan Freedland argues, but more than that it is also "a severe habitual error which puts progressives on the wrong side of too many arguments leaving them defending the indefensible."
As he sees it the near automatic contrary liberal position is driven by "a set of impulses".

Of these, "the first is social: liberals simply don't like people on the other side and opposing them is reflex". The second impulse "is social too, and no more noble, for it is rooted in class snobbery. It regards those who oppose their position "as pawns" of "tabloid hysteria" - code for any view held by the vulgar masses. If something outrages large number of regular people then the elite rapidly condemns the "mob mentality" of the gross unsophisticated, usually via the newspaper they read."

Certainly the SWP/ANL makes constant references to the tabloid media being the arch-villain in regard to the controversy surrounding issues such as paedophilia, refugees, and racial violence. While no one would deny the ‘red tops’ are more than capable of playing a decidedly negative role, more often than not, being typically opportune, they strive to reflect public opinion more than shape it. By comparison the liberal left view that working class readers as having no views, no individual experiences, and of being generally incapable of reaching any conclusion prior to picking up a copy of the Daily Star. This is a mindset that arguably robs the working class of individuality, dignity, and perhaps even humanity and would if allowed to govern a country’s policy be instantly revealed as frankly sinister and, dare I say, a tad fascistic.

"Last summer presented" according to Freedland "a clear display of this brand of liberal snobbism, when the citizens of Paulsgrove estate mobilized, an admittedly ugly protest, against paedophiles living in their area and were drowned in metropolitan derision - a wave of broadsheet hysteria. Their accusers...could adopt an impeccably liberal stance towards released child molesters, safe in the knowledge that none was about to be housed next to them".

This exact point was made in a Red Action article at the time. We were, as far as I know, the only ones to make it, or indeed to make any effort to even try and see the issue from the perspective of the parents, many of them single mothers.

But then, as always, to the charge that paedophiles had been dumped on the estate the first line of defence of the liberal left was 'deny, deny, deny'. From Socialist Worker and Weekly Worker, propaganda was pumped out along the following lines - 'more children get killed by cars, most child abuse takes place in the home, most paedophiles don't re-offend' and so on.

Meanwhile any opportunity to discredit the campaigners was seized on with relish. Much for example was made of the fact that one those on the Paulsgrove 'list' was a 17 year old boy with a conviction for having sex with a 15 year old girl. This case of an innocent wrongfully accused was highlighted to such an extent that you would imagine the concerns of residents were entirely baseless - 'a purely lumpen mob whipped into a frenzy by tabloid hysteria'.

Remember too, the jeering at the working class in general, when someone scrawled 'paedo' outside a paediatricians office somewhere in Wales. The instant media assumption, swooped on with glee by the middle classes of all political hues, was that this apparent illiteracy, in confusing paedophile with paediatrician summed up in one mis-spelt word the case against the Paulsgrove women succinctly.

Yet to this day no one really knows what the graffiti referred to, or who it was done by. It might have been a child, or a disgruntled patient carrying a personal grudge. But whatever the reality, liberals felt vindicated. Many months later, tucked away inside the Guardian magazine it was a little ruefully admitted that of the 21 named on the Paulsgrove list, as many as 18 were convicted sex offenders. So for convenience, if say roughly half of the 800 strong estate was made up of children; this works out at a ratio of approximately twenty per sex-offender. Making Paulsgrove a 'paedo des-res' presumably.

Never one to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story Weekly Worker just won't let it lie. Wrongly conflating the media protests at the release of Thompson and Venables in June, and the Paulsgrove case (which is markedly different) Mark Fischer stakes out in Weekly Worker where he believes the left must stand and fight. If in the event "we see a re-run of the scenes of protest and violence prompted by the News of the World recent anti-paedophile campaign...we must be clear these are not authentic expressions of working class anger and cohesion. They are actions of an atomized people, cohered into a reactionary mob, expressing blind snarling hatred against a society that seems of out control. What has that to do with working class politics?

Yet - incredibly - groups such as Red Action and the Socialist Party attempted to tinge these anti-paedophile protests 'red', to suggest they had some sort of progressive potential. We should be clear the reminders of the deep as yet untapped reservoir of reaction in contemporary society. They are opposite of the politics of the working class whatever their sociological composition."(28.6.01)

Two months later picking up where Fischer left off, Ian Donovan remarks that "in general we are clear that this kind of consciousness is reactionary - when it rears its head in the form of the kind of lynch mobs that seek to hunt down 'suspected paedophiles', or the two kids convicted of the killing of James Bulger, we are rightly outspoken in condemning these reactionary outbursts of 'working class' lynch law. We have correctly criticised Red Action for tailing these kinds of movements."
(Weekly Worker 30.8.01)

Politics aside both statements are factually inaccurate. For example Fischer maintains the News of the World campaign prompted Paulsgrove, when in fact the papers campaign was prompted by (a new editor adroitly jumping on the bandwagon) Paulsgrove. Next, despite the insinuation repeated by Donovan that Red Action are more than happy to endorse blue-rinsed Daily Mail type ranting, the Bulger affair has never once been commented on - even in passing.

As for the suggestion that the Paulsgrove demonstrations had "progressive potential', the most pertinent remark made at the time, and posed in the form of a question asked "Do the working class EVEN when coming from the rougher end of the market - have rights?" (RA Sept/Oct 2000)

The response from the Left, particularly in the lengthy discussion that followed on the RA discussion site, was as now, a resounding ‘NO!’

Generally speaking it was felt that working class women had no business interfering with the policies of the local authorities. Any alleged dumping of sex offenders in their community was none of their business. They should trust the authorities, and if not, at least stay at home. Moreover it was unlikely they could ever be genuinely concerned anyway considering how they brought their kids up themselves. The suspicion therefore must be that their motivation was not civic-mindedness, but rather some form of self-aggrandizement. Certainly whatever the feelings of "anger" expressed, these outpourings were neither representative nor "authentic". No, it was firmly stated these people are - "opposite".

Interestingly as in Sighthill, parts of Oldham, Bradford and Burnley, a prerequisite of the left was to first try and strip away any form of class-cred, prior to vilification. It can be assumed that in an ideal liberal world such 'a lumpen reactionary mob' would be physically chastised. (Socialist Worker, for a time fervently hoped something of this nature would occur in Paulsgrove). It is one supposes axiomatic now for those describing themselves socialist/communist to regard any future expression of working class concern for its children with the deepest political suspicion. It is possibly beyond reason to expect dyed in the wool liberals to comprehend that truly lumpen behavior would be to greet the municipal colonisation of their community by sex-offenders with studied indifference. Or to recognize that rather than taking to the streets to protect children, ‘lumpen proper’ would be more likely to put kids on the streets.

"Sometimes I am ashamed to be a "leftie" remarks columnist Ros Coward "When I see vigilantism my first thoughts are always; what has the community witnessed, has it seen children's lives destroyed, have they been let down by the legal system? It was no surprise that the spokesperson for the vigilante group in Portsmouth turned out to have been abused herself. When asked why she got involved she said, "How else is anyone going to listen to a common person like me?" They won't." Because as Coward observes with commendable candour, "The left doesn't care about these sorts of people."

In any walk of life the worm that destroys you is to agree with your critics to get their approval. Over more than half a century the left, seduced by liberal blandishments has gradually been eased away from all independent working class perspectives. But the working class stood firm. Though this 'easing away' has appeared a gradual almost logical process, it is one which has nonetheless caused - not the lower orders - but the Left with a capital L, - to become declassed. Repelled by the sometimes extraordinary caricature that remains, significant sections of the class, over as much as two decades could, if one paid enough attention, be seen leaning ever so slightly in the opposite political direction. Euro-nationalism was created in part to accommodate them. Almost incredibly, without as much as a punch being thrown, the nationalist right is widely recognised as the radical alternative on the continent for the simple reason that enough of the working class find it less alienating than the liberal left.

Barring unforeseen good fortune, just enough anticipate the European pattern repeating itself in Britain in a little over six months time to make it a reality. The paradox facing the unreconstructed socialist Left now, (whether it has the wit to heed it or not) is that its electoral credibility and probable survival now rests on convincing 'the plebs', the 'declassed' and the 'people they don’t care about' otherwise. The sheer improbability of that proposition, explains why the socialist left finds itself on the wrong side of so many arguments: it has for some time, instinctively felt more comfortable standing not with the class, but with forces opposed to it. At this critical juncture, rather than leading the class, unreconstructed socialism finds itself in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with it. Why socialism has been reduced from a mass movement to a sect in little over twenty years, and why what little remains is apparently happy to line up facing entirely the wrong way is complex. The steady distancing from the class is possibly pivotal. Yet snobbism cannot in itself excuse the excess of stupidity the left call politics. Besides, time has already run out on any prospect of mediation between the hopeless and the rest of us.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin, Dec '01/ Jan '02