Friday, August 28, 2015

Corbynmania - retro politics, or NOW!ist politics? (updated SEPTEMBER 10)

Contestants for the leadership of the Labour Party, and media commentators, are in a free fire war to tar the side they don't like with the concept of "retro politics" - accusing each other (or in the case of most media pundits, castigating Jeremy Corbyn) with attempting to turn the clock back, being a throwback, being an Eighties revivalist, a restorationist (reinstating Clause IV) etc.  Years of retrogade infamy or historic defeat - 1983, 1997, 1992, 1979 - are being hurled back and forth as damning instances of replay and reenactment. 

A quite different argument is this one made by Matthew d'Ancona from a few weeks ago in which he presents Corbyn (and Trump) as figureheads for a kind of NOW!-ist politics that offers a salve for the injuries caused by globalisation / neoliberalism.

D'Ancona starts by saying that Liz Kendall is justified in labelling JC "as a retro-politician, peddling  'Bennism reheated, a throwback to the past … We are the party of the future not a preservation society'.” .... 

But then he argues that "such attacks slide off the Teflon Trot because they misconstrue the role of history in contemporary culture.....  When Blair announced his intention to transform his party, he simply renamed it New Labour. When the freshly elected Tory leader, David Cameron, wanted to unsettle his veteran opponent at his first PMQs in December 2005, he said of Blair: “He was the future once.” Yet we seem to have moved on even from that division between nostalgia and modernity. Corbyn’s appeal to his party is not diminished by the association of his ideological position with almost every disaster that befell Labour in the 80s. According to the new rules, the candidate’s past is not only struck from the record but irrelevant."

This is because

".... a quite different form of politics is emerging, with a quite different structure. To borrow the jargon of semiotics, it is “synchronic” (cross-sectional) rather than “diachronic” (part of a serial narrative, with a before and after). It is governed by what Martin Luther King, in a very different context, called “the fierce urgency of now”. It recognises that today’s voters are the children of the digital Big Bang, bombarded with an unprecedented blitz of information, data and noise.

"They exist in bubbles of digital mayhem, less bothered by the future and the past than by getting through life moment to moment. Their universe is defined by the immediate and the deafening data stream. The contents of that stream are not ideologically coherent but they are identifiable. Corbyn, for instance, speaks to the fear that global capitalism, for all its success, has made serfs of us all, no longer citizens but the puppets of planetary corporations that are accountable to none."

JC's rise is "a response to a very specific, vivid sense of alarm. In countenance and bearing alone, Corbyn soothes that pain"...

"History did end, but not the way that Francis Fukuyama meant. It was simply absorbed into an all-encompassing present.... In the Babel of the digital nanosecond, voters are driven less by pristine moral imperatives than by the crushing weight of the immediate and of proximate stimuli. Successful politicians of tomorrow will be those who stretch out a hand and offer an analgesic. That’s why Corbyn is winning. He understands that the axiom of our era is not “Lest we forget” but “Make it stop”.

Cross-reference perhaps with Douglas Rushkoff's Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now 
(which I started to read a few years ago - but have not - boom-boom - had enough time to finish)

Yet another time-based argument about Corbyn's appeal is the "lost future" / "restoring the future" tack - the idea of going back to go forward (in which privatising the railways and the energy companies was the retrogressive step, etc etc - neo-liberalism being a new Victorianism - so why wouldn't we want to pick up again where the social democratic project was paused / sent into reverse? Renatioanlise the utilities, de-privative the NHS, etc). A Seventies revival that would actually be more advanced and forward-moving than the post-socialism of Thatcher-Major-Blair-Brown-Coalition-Cameron.

A sort of hauntological argument, even .... Corbyn's beard and clothes reassuringly reminiscent of a kindly teacher you might have had in the 70s or 80s, earnestly attempting to speak to the kids on their own level, talking about loving Dark Side of the Moon.  The ghost of an Open University lecturer.  A figure from a Look Around You bygone era.  

Not to be outdone or left out of all the "backward" accusations flying hither and thither (but mostly in his direction)  Corbyn has himself accused the Tories of 1979 revivalism

"Parliament can feel like living in a time warp at the best of times, but this government is not just replaying 2010, but taking us back to 1979: ideologically committed to rolling back the state, attacking workers’ rights and trade union protection, selling off public assets and extending the sell-off to social housing."

Update 8/29/15 - missed this prime slice of of retro spectre argumentation from last week's Guardian's by Rosie Fletcher, a young woman who sees her Corbynmania as a response to the fierce urgency of NOW - how can she be nostalgic for a moment she wasn't even alive for? 

"These patrician warnings that Corbyn only serves to drag Labour backwards serve to make me, as a young voter, feel patronised and unwanted. I had never considered that Corbyn was a throwback until people started banging on about how bad the 1980s were, seemingly forgetting that we are not actually electing a leader to be sent back in time into the exact circumstances of Jim Callaghan’s resignation. You’d think Michael Foot himself was running, attending debates in a hammer and sickle-print donkey jacket, from the amount we’ve been talking about him.
We are warned not to look to the past from people looking desperately to 1997. The Blair landslide is itself old enough to vote; it’s going round Ikea buying saucepans and looking forward to taking on £45,000 of student debt. The anti-Corbyn message clings to the past as much as it accuses his supporters of so doing.
But instead we are looking to the future. The passion and enthusiasm in these Labour members and supporters doesn’t long for the Good Old Days, whenever they may have been, but looks forward. I don’t view Corbyn as some kind of vintage nostalgia, tied up in bunting with a Keep Calm and Renationalise the Railways poster. He offers progress, not the safe stasis of the other candidates."
Her passion riled up the Ghost of 1997 himself for one last ditch blast of capitalist-realist reasoning, whose message is "resign to yourself to dreamless existence". Opening sentences: 
"There is a new phenomenon in politics or perhaps the revival of an old one. But whatever it is, it is powerful
Update 9/4/2015

More time-based "who's really the throwback" rhetoric in this Independent piece which draws analogies between Corbyn and Thatcher as conviction-led politicians on the fringe of their party who come in and take it over - to the consternation of the party establishment / "grandees", who fear that their new leader is an "unelectable extremist" - but in fact set it on the path of victory and nation-transformation / political-consensus reshaping for decades:

"The past is a comforting place, but it’s the Blairites who seem to be living there, rather than Corbyn. People who for so long believed wearing a business suit immediately conferred electoral credibility.
They seem shell-shocked by Corbynmania, but really theirs is a failure to understand that politics in Britain is being reconfigured by a bewildering array of forces: austerity, Cameron, Ukip, the SNP, immigration and inequality, to name a few. Reading off a fading Xeroxed script faxed to them in 1993 by Peter Mandelson just ain’t going to cut it anymore."

Update September 10 2015

Via the Guardian, a late contender that takes the biscuit:

Jon Cruddas tells Cruddas told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he's worried that a Corbyn-led Labour party "might turn into an early 80s tribute act, a Trotskyist tribute act, which has a culture around it which is very hostile to anybody who disagrees. "

No comments:

Post a Comment