Noticeable by its absence By William Bowles

9 October 2003

Prolog 26 September 2015: Ok, I got this one wrong, really wrong but my excuse is that I’d just returned to the UK after an absence of many decades and didn’t realise just how backward this country really is! Well that’s my excuse. WB

Scanning the newspapers or listening to the BBC these days is like being stranded in the desert when it comes to Iraq – aside that is, from the predictable reports of mayhem, suicide bombers, allegedly carried out by ‘supporters of Saddam’.

But as to what is actually happening in the country as far as rebuilding or political developments – nada. My ‘favourite’ newspaper, the London Independent, has become banal to the extreme and no longer gives me gems of hypocrisy to play with. Frankly, it’s too boring even to read. I’ll have to cast my net wider if I am to continue my mulling of the media.

As to what’s actually happening in the press is a reflection of the unspoken alliance between the media and the state over what constitutes ‘news’ these days. The turnaround came about six weeks ago when the media announced that it was ‘time’ to focus on domestic issues, too long overshadowed by the Iraqi ‘sideshow’. And a very convenient refocusing given how disastrous the Iraqi ‘adventure’ has become. The less said about it the better as far as the state and the media are concerned.

The majority of the coverage this week has been of the Tory Party (also noticeable by its absence) conference. So perhaps it’s worthwhile casting an ascerbic eye over this moribund and surplus to requirement party of the right, which by its own admission, now only has support from pockets of print dresses and retired stockbrokers in places like Windsor. If there was ever a perfect example of Marx’s observation of political parties representing constituencies that no longer exist, the Tory Party is it. The closest contemporary example I can think of is the South African Nationalist Party, that other relic of the past.

But nevertheless Ian Duncan Smith has had a makeover in a last ditch attempt at getting people to notice him. He now pounds the pulpit, his arm, wooden as a puppet, moving up and down, even raising his voice on occasion. The ‘quiet man’ is no longer. His vocal delivery, now a ridiculous parody of Blah’s, even down to the pacing and choice of phrase, will convince no one and more to the point, nobody is listening, not even the Tory Party, who anxious to recapture the rightwing vote will, in the fullness of time – once they dump IDS that is – move even further to the right than Blah has. But no amount of voice coaching or prepping for the cameras can alter the fact that the man is a complete non-entity, an anachronism along with his party in the age of Blahism.

Frankly, the Tory Party haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of recapturing the constituency stolen by Blah. They fail to realise that there’s been a total reshaping of the political landscape in Britain, the land of clogged freeways and hypermarkets; stoned youth and private hells. A state run by the product of corporatised universities, that churns out the smug managers of ‘late’ capitalism, exemplified by the government of Blah and his clique of PR consultants and media mavens in an unholy alliance with the former upstarts of Thatcher’s inaccurately named neo-liberals.

For the most part, in this benighted land where the citizens are under constant surveillance by one organisation or another, want nothing more than to escape into a world of ‘reality’ TV or some more acceptable alternative to the one that’s been created by Blah’s corporate security state. And no wonder, for given the chance wouldn’t you, failing any viable alternative?

But it’s what it tells us about the state of politics in the UK that is the most important aspect life in these here septic isles. Without a viable left of any kind, there’s a vacuum in political life, a vacuum that is also noticeable by the absence of any challenge to the status quo, aside from the trade unions, who caught between a rock and the Labour Party, are in a quandary as to what to do.

To dump or not to dump (the Labour Party), that is the question? But branded as the ‘awkward squad’ by the corporate/state media whenever they dare poke their collective lefty heads above the parapet of public exposure, it will take more than an appeal to ‘old Labour’ values to introduce new life into what remains of our socialist traditions.

And in any case, there’s no going back. The Labour Party of yore had already compromised itself beyond redemption by trying to bridge the divide between capital and labour as if it was still 1945. Political survival is the game and a game played better than anyone else by Blah and his unprincipled cronies.

Frightening as it may be, it may well take an economic – or perhaps in these days of climate change, an ecological disaster – to wake people up to the realities of life in the 21st century. And even then, without a coherent progressive alternative to offer, it’s more likely that we’ll see an even more extreme move to the right. The conditions are all there, including (Adolf) Blunkett’s demonising of asylum seekers, his demands for even more intrusive surveillance of our lives and in general, the assault on our hard-won (and already very limited) civil liberties.

Depressingly, those to the left of the trade union leaders or the handful still in the Labour government are stuck in a time warp as well. The other day, when on the demonstration against the occupation of Iraq, I did a tour of the left parties on display in Trafalgar Square. The following (brief) exchange is indicative of the situation. I asked the guy manning the table of I think it was the Communist Party of Great Britain (GB), what kind of Marxism they adhered to and was told it was “of the pure kind of Marxism”. Further enquiry as to what constituted “pure Marxism” he informed me that it was of the “Leninist” variety, to which I replied, “You mean you’re operating underground and in a clandestine fashion?” The conversation went no further.

Now you can accuse me of being cynical and perhaps you’re right, although I don’t think I am. And I’m not claiming to have all the answers, but it’s clear that whatever form a progressive alternative takes, it will have to take into account the realities of a globally connected world, especially the developing world. It will also have to include a complete reappraisal of ‘our’ value system and a renunciation of the insatiable materialism that is gobbling up the planet. And dare I say it? A ‘return’ to a simpler, collective life based upon relationships that extend beyond the nuclear family, which in any case, no longer exists except in name as a parody that the dominant culture laughably calls ‘family values’. Values that in any case it tramples on daily as part of the process of ‘doing business’.

And obviously this will entail dismantling corporate capitalism, something that’s obviously not going to be done on a country by country basis. But given the globalisation of production and the creation of ‘post-national’ corporations, I contend that it will be possible to effect a transformation that will transcend national boundaries simply by virtue of the inter-dependence of national economies. Push one and you’ll push them all. A genuine ‘domino effect’ that the imperium will have every reason to feel scared of rather than invent it.

As those of you who have read my investigations collectively called ‘The Split’ here on the site, I have my own vision of where and how I think this process will occur. I think my analysis is firmly rooted in the historical experience of Europe and of the developing world, both of which have been irretrievably transformed by the experiences of the 20th century, ‘neo-liberalism’ notwithstanding.

Will it entail the breakdown of the social order? Frankly, I don’t think capitalism needs any help in this department, it seems to be achieving this without any help from the left. But, and although never a Boy Scout (I was in the Woodcraft Folk, whose colours were a prescient red, green and gold), we must be prepared. That’s why it’s crucial that we overcome the legacy of the past and use the experience we gained from the struggles of the 20th century to guide us in articulating a new socialist vision. And if you’re not happy with the word socialist, feel free to come up with an alternative that you think you will be more ‘acceptable’ to a demoralised population.

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