Chris Nineham: Boris Johnson is a good example of the fragility of the ruling class today in Britain
I talked with Chris Nineham, political activist and author, the 3rd & the 8th of Sept 2020. He is one of the names closely associated with the Stop the War Coalition, a social movement responsible for massive demonstrations around the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and also the Counterfire collective. His voice comes from the sharp foreshortened perspective of the extra-parliamentary Left of revolutionary predilections, not typically welcome in most conventional discussion tables and mainstream media outlets. Hence, this is our chance to think about a few critical comments about the immediate past and present of Britain in these tense moments of Brexit and covid. We covered a rich variety of topics having to do with domestic and international politics, the “special relationship” of United States foreign policy and the United Kingdom, Right and Left politics, past and present formations of the Conservative and Labour parties, Brexit and Lexit, imperial British legacies, Scottish nationalism, a few cultural dilemmas and the imperative of class analysis, etc. We also focus on his book The British State: A Warning (Zero Books, 2019).
See this previous interview with Douglas Lain from Zero Books, “What if Corbyn Actually Wins:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcIaGKAr56g
How is political life in Britain in these times of Brexit and Covid and with a Boris Johnson majority government?
It is a complicated picture really because there are two events that dominate politics here. The first is the 2019 election result, which was obviously very bad for the left where Jeremy Corbyn and the left of the party were badly defeated by what is a very right-wing Tory leadership. And that was quite problematic, clearly. And I think it was very demoralising for people on the left. A lot of people had high hopes in the Corbyn project, a whole range of different people were very much involved in the whole operation. Specially after the 2017 result, two years before, which were actually a pretty good result for Labour and for Corbyn. And it led to the defeat of the whole Corbyn project. So that is very problematic because it was the most leftwing leadership Labour has ever had. It was a kind of insurgent leadership really which represented a real attempt to break with essentially a right-wing social-democratic tradition within the Labour Party. So that was a huge setback. So, we have a right-wing government. And then of course coronavirus came along which has all sorts of complicated impacts on the Left, including making organization quite difficult and making mobilization in particular very difficult. But it has also created big problems for the government. And it kind of has exposed the government as kind of sham really. They thought, and Boris Johnson thought, that they were in a very strong position, having delivered Brexit, at least an agreement in Britain on Brexit, and they used that partly as a way of beating Corbyn and Corbynism. They thought they were in a very strong position. But the moment they came up against a series of crises engendered by covid they have essentially fallen apart. They are so committed to the neo-liberal model and to the free market, they are so committed to privatisation and to corporate power that the idea that they have to step in and actually govern and use the levers of power to make things happen, is completely alien to them. It is alien in the sense that they do not like it. They are ideologically opposed to it. But also they do not know how to do it and that is the truth. Connected to that is the fact that they are very weak and the cabinet is a very incompetent group of people. So, they have been absolutely shambolic from the very beginning. As you know probably, they essentially embraced herd immunity as a strategy for dealing with coronavirus, which they were probably the first to do that. There were the first to that and there were very few governments around the world who did that. You could argue that the Brazilian government has done it and possibly one or two others. I don’t think you can say [Donald] Trump has done it because that would imply that he has a strategy. But they admitted, and the scientists around them admitted too, that this was their plan for the first couple of weeks. They had to row back because they realized what an absolute disaster it would have been. They rowed back publicly but they continued to take a kind of laissez faire attitude, largely herd-immunity-led approach to the virus, which it meant that time after time they came up against popular opposition. And now it has become a current standing joke even among the middle classes that this is a government that just u-turns, u-turns and u-turns. Maybe, arguably, twelve times they have changed the policy at the last minute about often fairly important issues. So they are very incompetent. They are very nasty. But they have also shown themselves to be very weak. And it has actually been public opinion, and in some cases popular mobilizations in difficult times, that has forced them to retreat. So, in that sense it is a complicated situation. It is one that poses big challenges for the Left, but also big opportunities in my opinion.
Did the Corbyn defeat take you by surprise?
No. Not when it happened.
Also, not in the manner in which it happened?
Not particularly, no, because, and I do not know whether you want me to go into that a little bit. In my opinion there were two main factors to it. It runs a bit deeper than this. But there were two main problems and both had to do with the way the ruling class managed to maneuver and to put pressure on Corbyn: they managed to convince at least some people that Corbyn was antisemitic, which is a complete lie, but it was lie that ended up having some traction, and at least that demoralized the Left and confused people, and secondly, more importantly, they managed to force a situation where Corbyn, against his better judgment, came unequivocally in favour of Remain, which was a disastrous position to take because it was totally undemocratic. His original position in 2017 had been to take the position of the people’s Brexit, given that the vote was for Leave. He took the position of a left-wing Brexit and that actually was a very strong position. It was the nearest you could get to uniting the Left and it also made it very difficult for the ruling class to attack him, and for the Right to attack him on that question. So, in 2017 they diffused the whole Brexit issue. By the time we get to 2019 he has been forced, partly by the Right, partly by the centre-left, to adopt a Remain position, which was disastrous, because millions of people had voted the other way, the majority voted the other way, he was actually buckling under pressure [because] the bulk of the ruling classes is remain. So, it really blunted the insurgent nature of his campaign. There were other factors that did the same. Those two ones were not the only thing. But by the time we got to 2019 it was fairly clear to me that there were signs that he was in trouble.
How would you characterise the “Stop the War Coalition” (http://www.stopwar.org.uk/)? What about Counterfire (https://www.counterfire.org/)?
There are two very different things. The “Stop the War Coalition” is a broad-based movement of protest and campaigning, which was launched soon after 9/11 in 2001 to pull together the widest possible alliance of social forces against the wars that we predicted at the time that the Americans were most certain to lead against we did not know who but it turned out to be Iraq and Afghanistan. We were fairly clear that the 9/11 attacks were going to lead to some very damaging and dangerous responses from the West and that’s what happened. So we mobilized for years. Very big demonstrations. I think we are part of creating a mood and a body of opinion that remains strong to this day which is that the foreign interventions are disastrous, that the “War on Terror” far from making the world a safer place, it actually creates the very thing it claims to be against. And the movement continues. It is obviously not quite so central to politics now, although it may become so again, but it is a united front of very different social forces, most of the Unions, lots of people from the Muslim and the Christian communities, large sections of the Left and so forth, which is united around a fairly specific game of stopping Britain and the West conduct these terrible and damaging foreign wars which have done so much of the political chaos that we see around the world at the moment.
“Counterfire” is a much smaller, much more kind of focused political organization, essentially, of socialists who believe the extra-parliamentary struggle is the key really. We very much supported the Corbyn project because we recognized that electoral politics is very important in Britain as in other countries, it is an important facet of the struggle, and if we had Corbyn elected, it would have been a real step forward for the Left, but at the same time we also regard social struggle, the wider class struggle, as being the crucial component, in any real strategy of transformation. We supported the Corbyn project very strongly, and very actively, but we also always said, “look, even if Corbyn gets elected, then he would not be able to make the kind of changes he wants to make, unless there is a very big participatory working-class movement behind him. And that is based on two arguments really, one is that capitalism is so entrenched in modern society that there is no real way that you can curb it or certainly abolish it from Parliament, and secondly that there is a whole bunch of institutions that are set up by and supported by the capitalist class, the police, the civil service, the judiciary, a whole panoply of institutions that are arranged against any kind of attempt to really change the status quo, and that is really what happened. The truth is the whole operation against Corbyn was run partly by the media, there were definitely civil-service involvement in alliance with the right-wing and Labour, so we always in Counterfire, as a Marxist organization, argue that change does really come from the mass movements. Change really comes from below. That is not to say that Parliament is not important. But in the end of the day it is a subsidiary part of any serious strategy for change.
What are the lessons learned after the massive demonstrations in London on Feb 2003?
First to be clear: the movement did not stop there. This was a very big demo, nationally and internationally but for years after we had very big demos, up until the American troops left Iraq, and actually beyond, particularly in relation to the question of Palestine and Lebanon, so the anti-war movement mobilized for a number of years and it continues to mobilize. Obviously, a lot of people were partially at least demoralized by the fact that we did not stop the Iraq war and that is understandable. We all felt a terrible sense of disappointment given that the demos were so big and the global movement was so big. But at the same time we need to be very precise here in terms of our assessment of the impact of the anti-war movement because it seems to me that it did a lot to shape society in Britain and indeed in the United States and elsewhere probably to a lesser extent. There is no question that Tony Blair’s reputation was massively damaged. He was fatally wounded by the Iraq war, or the failure of it, and by the mass demonstrations against him. He may have survived for two or three more years but in the end of the day his reputation remains very, very bad outside the media-obsessed Westminster bubble of the kind of commentariat or sections of the commentariat. Secondly, we created a situation in which the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign-Policy establishment in Britain still complains about, which is people in Britain are against foreign interventions. And that is a massive thing. I mean, Britain is one of the oldest imperialist countries. It had the biggest empire in world history, which it did not relinquish until the second half of the 20th century. It tries to do everything it can to maintain its political reputation and its world role on the basis of the memory of that imperialist past and yet, partly due to Blair’s criminal idiocy but partly also because of the mass movement we are now in a situation where overwhelmingly there is an anti-war mood in this country, which means that there is absolutely no possibility at the moment, this could change, but there is no possibility at the moment that Britain could participate in a major foreign war. And the main reason for that is because of public opinion and because of the anti-war movement. So, yes, we did not stop the Iraq war, but I think we had a huge impact on the body politic in Britain. And I do not believe Jeremy Corbyn would have been leader of the Labour Party if it had not been for the fact that he was at that demonstration in 2003. So I would not underestimate the impact that the movement has had.
I have read your book The British State: A Warning (Zero Books, 2019), written in the cautious spirit of a possible victory of the Labour party of Jeremy Corbyn (p. 83). The book is a “warning” to the readers that the state as presently constituted will not go away if such victory were to happen. Warning received. You have already told us some things you think about the last election. The argument of the book, the way I see it, is that the state is far from being a neutral manager seeking the gradualist improvement of the majority of its population with a benign intent. You cite Marx and Ralph Milliband for inspiration. You are a bit critical of Paul Mason in his neglect of the state… The state is a strong ally of the capitalist class and nourishes its narrow set of interests against those of the majority of the population which can perhaps still be called labour or working class… Is the state the enemy one would have to occupy? Is the state where the main action of politics is? You quantify 400,000 civil servants, or the state apparatus (p. 1) in a society of about 66.5 million passing through the Oxford-Cambridge clearing house (p. 35). Is this the main place, I hesitate to say, or the fundamental environment for political intervention, at least according to the main book argument…
The book obviously focuses on the state. To answer that more general question, which at the end of the book I come on to, I think it is important to recognize that the relationship between the state and the capitalist class and the fact that the whole of industry and the whole of production and almost everything in society is owned by a tiny minority of big capitalists. And the state institutions are there obviously, and this is what I argue in the book, although they have a kind of aura of neutrality a lot of the time, they have essentially been evolved and developed during the 19th century and into the 20th century as a way of protecting and maintaining the status quo. But that does not mean that they are the only problem. The bigger problem is the question, which is the most fundamental question, of who owns production and who actually controls, sometimes by the state and sometimes [by others] kind of, if you like, behind the state. Who owns the production of goods, of services. Who controls this: the capitalist class. So, in a sense, there are two items, and they are connected, and any strategy for change has to think about the relationship between those two entities, the capitalist class proper and their protegés, if you like, to put crudely, in the institutions of the state. They are both important and they both need to be factored into any serious socialist strategy. The point I was addressing is, as you say, was kind of one of the intellectually weak points of Left reformism, or the project of changing society through the Parliament, is that: Parliament is surrounded by a series of institutions, whose aim and commitment is to maintain the current set-up of property relations and ownership relations and of relations of production. And even within the Corbyn project, which is by far the most Left-wing project in Labour-Party history, there was no really serious discussion even about what are you going to do about these bodies and institutions. You can go into the civil-service offices and say “I want this happening, I want this done,” but history tells you that if the policy threatens to democratize the control that capitalists have over production, one of the first lines of defence will be civil servants simply not agreeing to carry out that policy. It is not something that they would accept. And I go in the book through the history of the 1970s where, again, there was a relatively left-wing government, Labour-Party elected in, and at least parts of the government were left out of things. When they tried to institute policies that threatened capitalist control over production, they were blocked. And that point they were not blocked by the military or the police, or the actual capitalist class, they were blocked first and foremost by the civil servants. In that sense, we have to understand that the state is not a lever that can be just moved at will by a new political grouping. It presents a series of obstacles to change. And I think, just to finish this point, what we found is that those obstacles to change moved into action, even before Corbyn became Prime Minister, and in a quite sophisticated series of maneuvers, created the scenario where Corbyn did not even get to go into Downing Street. You are right: I was right in the book in the hope that he would get elected, but I think in a way the book proves my thesis quite conclusively because they moved against him, the state moved against him, in alliance with the Labour-Party Right clearly, and they moved against him even before he got into office.
A nice thing about the book is, as you said it, once we have a nice Left formula of the state, and the intervention or the occupation of the state, the core of the narrative is perhaps, if I may say so, the one traveling through the three crises in chapter four (1919-1926; 1945-1951; 1974-9) and now, we must add the two tails of Brexit and covid. Is Margaret Thatcher (the 1980s) the immediate history of the present moment?
Yes, definitely, that’s true. We are all living with the outcome of, I hesitate to say, the “liberal takeover,” the readjustment of corporate capitalism, or the neoliberal turn, because it was not a takeover. Sometimes it is discussed as being a counter-revolution or something [like that]. It was not any such thing. It was [instead] a new strategy developed by the same elites really. There was some churn (31.34). There were personnel changes in various state institutions at that time, including Parliament, obviously. But it was not tremendously controversial among the ruling class because by the time they got to the early or mid-1970s they all knew they had problems at all sorts of different levels, economically, politically in terms of the level of resistance and so forth. So it was a turn, that is a good word, and we are still living with the results of the success of that turn from the point of view of the ruling class. I suppose in the book one of the things I am trying to do is sort of slightly temper what is a widely held view that neoliberalism has got an unshakable grip on modern capitalist society, and really argue that justice [is] the previous incarnation of the mixed economy, the quasi-Keynesian type model, which sometimes is called Buckscalism (32:59) in Britain, that ended in the mid-1970s or late 1970s. Just as that came to an end, because it went into crisis, I want to argue that neoliberalism is now absolutely in a deep crisis at a number of different levels. So, we are living with it. We are living with both the difficulties of overcoming the defeat of the working class that took place, particularly in the 1980s, but has continued to a certain extent since, and we are also dealing with a situation in which the Left being at the same time weak [as] the ruling class [which] is in a profound crisis. You just have to go around the world and look at some of the various characters running countries… There is a hegemony problem here.
Tell me more about the crisis of neoliberalism and the levels of the crisis.
It works at a whole number of different interlocking levels. Maybe starting with the geopolitical level and working back, I think that one of the big problems, which is particularly important in Britain, is that the kind of Western imperialist order is under threat in a serious way, partly as a result of the disasters of the War on Terror, but more profoundly as a result of the emergence of China mainly, as a major economic competitor with the United States, and beginning to become a military competitor. I think a lot of the crisis in the U.S. comes down to the ruling class not having an answer to how to deal with that. They vacillate between this sort of wild adventurism and the kind of isolationism. Neither of them are adequate answers to the chronic and quite intense problems of imperial decline. And obviously Britain is very much part of that because since the end of the Second World War we more and more hitched our wagon to the fortunes of U.S. imperialism. That creates massive problems with this. That’s why the Iraq War was such as big deal in Britain because it kind of exposed so many things about our declining status in the world, our dependence in the U.S., and also at the same time exposed the fact that the U.S. just at the time when we are getting closer to it is in deep trouble itself. So, that is one level of crisis at the geopolitical level, and even perhaps more profound, but connected to that, is a deep crisis of profitability in the capitalist system. That became very clearly exposed in the crisis of 2008. You can see 2003 and 2008 as the two major sign posts on a road to a wider political crisis: first off, you have a crisis of imperialism, then you have a really deep crisis of the economy, which was a big problem in itself, but also it kind of exposed the fact that the free market was not delivering. If you look at profit rates in the West, there has been some movement, but overall neoliberalism set itself the task to try to get back to the level of profitability that could match the high points of post-Second-World-War. It hasn’t achieved that. And that is a fundamental underlying problem. So, that is another fundamental aspect of it. But linked to that, is the fact that in the process of trying to get back to those levels of profitability, it has adopted a very short-termist, kind of hit-and-run, smash-and-grab model of accumulation that is much less palatable to the wider population than the accumulation regime that we still after the Second World War, that kind of petered out in the 1970s, because that was based, roughly speaking, on a gradual increase in the standards of living, a gradual increase in welfarism, etc. Since then we have seen a model of accumulation which is much more rapacious, brutal, open and exposed and therefore much more difficult to sustain over a long period of time politically. So, what you see in that situation, you put those two or three things together and you’ve got the emergence of a proper political crisis really which I suppose first became really obvious in 2014 in Britain when you had the near-independence vote in Scotland. The particularity of it was a surprise to everyone. But it was a shock and absolutely terrified the ruling class because you very nearly saw the break-up of the United Kingdom. So, that is the first sign that these profound crises of imperialism and economics were beginning to break into the political realm in an institutional way. And then of course that was quickly followed by the victory of Corbyn in the Labour leadership election and that the terms / terminal presented by that (39:33) and the Brexit vote. All these three things in a different way were expressions of what is now a massive political crisis in British society. There is no question about it. To some extent, the ruling class hoped in 2019 and the result of the election was a kind of return to normality and some sort of stabilising impact but then of course [covid came along]. I never believed that. I never believed that was going to be true. I thought the triumphalism was completely misplaced. Apart from everything else, Boris Johnson is not a serious politician, which is a problem in itself, but it is also a symptom of a ruling class that can’t really generate [something more substantial]. What he is really offering is a slightly amended version of more of the same. And that was never going to fly, in my opinion. It might have had a period of honeymoon lasting a few months, maybe even a year, but it was never going to be longer than that. Then of course coronavirus happened and that has again sort of exposed the economic and political problems with neoliberalism. And the acute and very intense form that takes in Britain. Funny enough, one of the things that has happened is a real return of class consciousness in a roundabout way, which I think it has happened in a lot of countries, probably virtually all countries to a certain extent, people saying, “hang on a minute, bankers and stock brokers, and CEOs, aren’t actually key workers, the key workers are the ones selling stuff in the shops, the ones who take care of patients in hospitals, those who make trains run, those who make the factories turn over in so far as there are factories in Britain, etc.” And that is a huge thing. So, in a way, coronavirus is taking us back to a kind of, “hold on, we are many, they are few, what are we going to do about it?”
I suppose the landing of the crisis for people at the street level will be the curtailing of the welfare state or the social-democratic rights (to free education, decent work, living wage, housing, health services, pension, holidays, free movement, etc.). Isn’t this where we are now and not only in Britain?
Yes, I think that’s right. I think part of what happened by about 2014-15, the accumulated anger over the cuts, combined with the revelations of 2008 that the market is a complete disaster created a situation in which people said “we do not want to carry on like this anymore.” And that was 2014 in Scotland was about. That is actually more than anything what Corbynism is about, but is also what, in my opinion, Brexit is about, which is a sense that people felt that they had completely lost control, that everything that made life possible, or just about sustainable, was taken away from them. So, yes, that is where we have arrived at in 2015 or 2016, now the question is how is that going to play out. That has generated huge discontent to various social forces. The question is what social forces are effectively and more successfully going to express the kind of alienation and discontent that that realisation has brought about. And that is really the challenge for the Left. There is nothing inevitable about that obviously. And we can see around the world in various places right-wing expressions of that. That the right can channel that feeling, quite irrational but in quite potent ways. But my argument would be that too much of the Left feels like there is a kind of inevitability about the rise of the Right in these circumstances, actually if you go around the world, there’s been plenty of examples where a left response to the crisis at least for certain periods has been the main one, certainly in Britain, whether you want to talk about Corbynism or the Sanders surge in the U.S., a very serious thing, and involved massive popularization of socialist arguments and even the idea of Socialism in the heart of neoliberalism. We have seen it in Greece in 2015. We have seen massive left-wing movements a number of times in France. We have seen it in Spain over different times, even in Italy earlier in this century. So, it is not the case that in these circumstances Left responses can’t be very powerful and can’t be at the forefront expressing the discontent that this series of crises has created. But the question then comes, what kind of Left-wing response do we need? And that is really the discussion that we need to get on to it. But in order to get on to it, I think we need to tackle a certain pessimism that exists, which is, you know, somehow, this is the right-wing terrain, which I do not think that is a natural thing. I do not think there is anything inevitable about that at all. In fact, I always thought that in order for it to be fundamental change capitalism is going to expose itself, it is going to have a kind of crisis, and that is never entirely pleasant, there is always going to be a cost to it, but nevertheless this is a moment when the left needs to rise up to that challenge and really try to grasp the opportunity.
So, in a sense, it is as though Margaret Thatcher’s TINA (“there is no Alternative”)has also percolated through sectors of the left… How can we be analytical with the Labour Party adjustments, or the Left in general, to market-economy demands culminating perhaps with the decade of Tony Blair? Nice moments in the book are when you are critical of Attlee’s Labour government after WWII (pp. 60-1), you have harsh words for Neil Kinnock (p. 74), you are, I suspect, closer to Tony Benn than Roy Jenkins in the EU membership debate in the 1970s. Tony Blair takes the biscuit with the Iraq and the Afghanistan Wars...). And the open question is now with Keir Starmer. But the general question that the book lays out, and not only in Britain, is the series of readjustments or compromises on the part of the Left, perhaps we can call it Social-Democrat Left. As an aside, I tend to see parallels between Britain and Spain, in the sense that the former government of [Felipe] González is to [Tony] Blair’s what the current Prime Minister Sánchez is perhaps to Starmer. I know that Spain is far away from the British imagination in general. It is not a country that is close by. But there are parallels there coming from a Socialist movement, historically speaking, and a series of readjustments and even collaborations with war, NATO, and things like that. I suppose I do not want one formula and you will say that every conjuncture will be different…
Yes. I think that’s true. One way of looking at it, since the Second World War, social democracy certainly in Britain, and I suspect in other countries as well, that does not work in Spain as a timeframe, partially it does towards the latter end of it actually, but essentially since the long boom, social democracy which was able to, because of the relatively healthy state of capitalism that surprised many people, it was able to negotiate a relative improvement in very different levels for working-class people, especially compared with more or less militant Trade Union movements who were able to increase wages, and there was some kind of social contract which was always massively contested, but it nevertheless achieved something, and these things should not be underestimated, and nor should the role of mass movements or mass opinion in winning those achievements be written out of history, which often is, but nevertheless it comes a turning point in the mid to late 1970s when as I say the economic crisis becomes very serious and the rate of profit slows down where the capitalist class is less prepared to offer that kind of deal and becomes less concerned with long-term hegemony and more concerned with assuring short-term gains. In some sense it is much more difficult for the Social Democracy to kind of make much of an impact and make much headway and start delivering things. And you see from the early 1980s onwards, in Britain social democracy moves to the Right quite sharply, reaches its height and absolute peak, kind of collusion with big business in 1997 when Tony Blair takes over. Corbynism is very much to be seen a rejection, a response to that, an attempt to kick back against that. But that attempt has failed so the long-term trend seems to be to be more and more of an accommodation, an acceptance of TINA, abandoning any idea of there being any sort of alternative to capitalism. The left needs to understand a bit more the structural nature of that development. And the second thing is, there is the sense that social democracy tends to be quite amnesiac about the real history of the Labour movement.
In relation to your book The British State, you point out, an increasingly a “corporatised” state outsourcing its goods and services (you mention 50%, 93.5 billion pounds, p. 77). You speak of an unprecedented crisis of popular legitimacy (14), and the breaking apart the “manufactured consent” (Chomsky) of the post-WWII (post-)welfare state… And yet Boris Johnson gets the majority of the vote. Now, how do we explain that?
The main way I explain that is by arguing that the election of Boris Johnson is part of the crisis of legitimacy of the mainstream. The whole Brexit thing which he played massively in the election campaign is itself a complicated thing and it represents a whole combination of different points of view, but it partly represents a rebellion against Westminster mainstream, against the politics as usual, against the kind of globalized neoliberalism that people have experienced pretty much since we entered into the European Union. That seems to me to be just a fact. The majority of the British ruling class are against Brexit. They want to stay in the EU. This is the kind of perception certainly in large parts of the country, outside of London, is that the elites are pro-EU and there is a lot of truth in that. So, partly, Johnson’s victory was a result, a symptom, of a kind of anti-establishment feeling. Obviously the man is part of the mainstream but that is the way sometimes that the ruling class absorbs discontent by deflecting into relatively safe channels. So, that is one aspect of it. The other aspect of it is the defeat of Corbynism, of which I spoke earlier. It is still true that Corbyn got ten million votes. And he is the most left leader of the Labour Party has ever had. So, the fact that Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party under such massive attack got ten million votes is another aspect of the crisis of legitimacy in a sense. He was someone as events proved that was regarded as beyond the pale in official elite politics and yet he got ten million votes. Not evenly, but on both sides of that election, there were elements of that anti-establishment mood and sentiment in evidence.
Your book does not pursue a detailed analysis of the “state,” which is, if I may put it thus, the “enemy” to occupy. You do not tell us about the structures and intricacies of Whitehall and Westminster, the tensions between Number 10, Gove, Cummings and the civil service, the web of bureaucracies, etc. For that, I suppose we can reflect with historian Peter Hennessy, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04fd8md, who recently spoke of the pre-covid and post-covid moment of post-World-War British history (https://www.channel4.com/news/i-would-divide-british-post-war-history-into-before-corona-and-after-corona-historian-peter-hennessy). You are more interested, it seems to me, in what you have said, an anti-establishment mood or disposition, what we can call “the street,” and also in those moments of fracture, tension and challenges from the outside, ideally bringing impossible demands to the conventional Westminster / Whitehall politics… Is this fair? How do you see the present moment?
I don’t go into a huge amount of detail into the state in terms of the immediate arguments within the ruling class over different contemporary issues. But I think what my argument about the states is, the book is mainly about the state, as opposed to the opposition to the state, what I do argue is that the Left as a whole underestimates the extent to which the state is what it says it is really, which is a neutral set of institutions designed to just sort of administer the country under whatever government gets elected in. I go through in some detail about the way in which the “four bears” or the foundational institutions of the British state, were constructed in a semi-conscious way by the emerging ruling class of the nineteenth century and the extent to which those institutions were designed to limit democracy, or in instances like for example the police force, were specifically designed to sabotage and break up popular movements, the way in which the civil service was deliberately set up to be a body that would provide conscientiousness to the ruling class and it was since a buffer against the possibility of radical change, once the universal suffrage was accepted and so forth. My concern mainly in the book is to provide a kind of map or a blueprint or an understanding of the fact that the state is ultimately part of a series of defence mechanisms for the status quo and for the ruling class. That’s the crucial argument here. It is not about the detailed debates and arguments among the ruling classes, because my perception is that, not just in Britain, but in large parts of Europe and beyond, the Left has adopted over the last couple of decades what is essentially a kind of electoral perspective as to how change will come. Now, I am not trying to say that some of those developments are not important. But in that process the left has forgotten some very important lessons about the kind of way that capitalism operates and central to this is a critique of state institutions which I think has gone, fallen by the wayside, even among people who call themselves Marxists, so on and so forth. My main concern is to re-establish on a contemporary basis some sort of understanding that the state is not neutral, that it can provide obstacles to change. Any idea that an electoral strategy for the left on its own can provide a way forward is very problematic and needs to be looked at more seriously. In a way thinking about it I was surprised that this book was necessary. But I do think it is necessary.
In the context of foreign affairs, can we establish that the United Kingdom political class remains in the abject subordinate position to the U.S., whether Bush 1 or 2, Obama, Trump or Biden? It does not really matter whether Republican or Democrat, Tory or Labour… What else is there to say?
There is a great deal more to say than that. Brexit reinforced the centrality of that relationship for the British ruling class. And I think they are very worried about it, not so much because they are worried about the things they should be worried about, which is the danger of getting drawn into another series of foreign interventions, and in particular the dangers of being dragged into a steady cold war with China. But they are worried because they do not really think that Trump is that bothered about any kind of collaboration. He is not that he is an isolationist, exactly. Although he has those moves. But he is more of an unilateralist. And I think the British ruling class is worried about that. I think they are worried, if Biden gets elected, [that] he will be more of an Europeanist, even more so possibly than [Bill] Clinton. I know in fact that the Foreign Office are very worried about becoming more and more irrelevant, even under the relationship with the U.S. But they have absolutely no plan B. They are completely committed to this subservient relationship to the U.S., because Britain has more foreign direct investment than any other country in Europe by a long way. It has more international interests than any country in Europe by a long way. It needs power projection. And it recognizes the only way it can get that now is by trying to make itself useful to the U.S. in some fairly desperate way.
Is Covid the new herald of the new China era? Do you see it as a fundamental factor in international political affairs?
I think covid has been an accelerator. I think in general the trends and the facts about society that it has exposed were largely already there. I mean, even when it comes to the economic crisis, that everyone is talking about now, the recession being the worst in a hundred years, etc. That situated has obviously been massively exacerbated very seriously by the impact of coronavirus. There was going to be an economic crisis anyway and it was going to be fairly serious. If you look at the figures, and if you read some of the projections from 2019, it was obvious that they were expecting a recession. The underlying weakness of the economy, both in terms of profitability and in terms of the levels of debt, are such that it [the crisis] was going to come. It will be much more extreme by the virus. It has accelerated events in all sorts of ways. I think you are probably right that the anti-Chinese rhetoric that has been coming out of the U.S., the White House, that has been pumped up, and made more extreme by the corona conditions, partly just because Trump feels vulnerable, partly because his handling has been so incompetent, so it is a form of political deflection and so forth. I think a number of different trends have been accelerated by the virus and I think we would have been anyway entering into a period when China is now not just economically really challenging to be the front runner. It is still marginally behind by most estimates, but on the other hand it is the main economic trading partner of more countries around the world than the U.S. is, so in terms of its influence and its hegemony that is definitely increasing. Its military firepower is still way less as you know but nevertheless it is accelerating very rapidly now. It is easily the second arm spender in the world. It’s got 15% arm spending now, which means it is way ahead of any other competitor, and it is clearly looking at the situation more and more in military terms. Trump response is provocations, the tariffs war he is undertaking, the sort of security conflicts that he’s picked over Huawei, Tik tok and so forth, again, all these are accelerators towards a more open military conflict with China. I think that 2019-2020 has probably been the turning point for that. I am not sure this is because coronavirus to be honest, but it is definitely a tipping point.
When you look at the world, in the West, let us say, the standard terminology is “the liberal West,” the free nations of the world, the democracies, the open societies, etc. and when you look at China or Russia, the terminology is rather awkward because they accuse Putin of being something like a thug, authoritarian and so forth, but they fail to engage with the system as such. Are we dealing with different forms of capitalism? Are we dealing with a state-sponsored capitalism or socialism of some type (in the case of China)? The word capitalism is not used that often. The “positive” terms would be free, open societies, “liberal societies,” and there is awkward or clumsy nomenclature for others. What would you call other societies, state-sponsored capitalism, post-Soviet societies or what exactly?
I would argue that in both cases there are rather different state capitalist regimes. I do not see them being a kind of contradiction between state ownership of parts of the majority of industries and capitalist accumulation. Even in Britain, which it has always had a mixed economy, which very much has its free-market ideology. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, large parts of the industry and of the infrastructure were run by the state, that did not make it socialist. It sometimes opens up debates about democratic control, but these decisions, these nationalisations, the decisions for that were essentially undertaken in order to increase the efficiency of the capitalist system. I think what you’ve got in China is a very dynamic, highly exploitative system which is obviously now interfacing with free markets in lots more ways. But I believe it has always been, in the end of the day, about competing with the West, and about generating a profit and a surplus internally. In the 1960s and 1970s, and during the Cold-War period, the military was the main medium of competition, but nevertheless Russia and China there were both engaged in competition with Western capitalism. And so that made them capitalist countries because they were very class , highly exploitative economic regimes which accumulated large amounts of surplus. So, for me, these are forms of capitalism.
There is one reference to Chatham House (p. 96). How do you see this think tank among others and perhaps we can have the words of Robin Niblett & Jim O’Neill in the background (https://www.fernandogherrero.com/blog-1)? Is this type of think tank an arm of the state holding different schools of thought, if you wish?
I think it is essentially, if I am honest. One of the things that an experienced and long-lasting state like the British state does is to create spaces for serious debate inside the ruling class about strategy. They are happy to have some slightly dissident voices in order to keep them on their toes, in order to be able to generate up-to-date ideas, in order for there to have some challenges to this sort of received thinking. But nevertheless, essentially, it is a body that is there to generate the best possible range of advice for the ruling class. That would be my view.
Even though now, this particular institute is now not particularly close to the Boris Johnson government…
Yes. But you can have those tensions within the state, you know, and that happens. Because there are different [views]. And partly that is something the state needs to be able to do under capitalism or any other state, really It needs to be able to allow there to have different voices in order for their point of view sensible policy framework to develop. So, I don’t see that as contradictory.
It is more interesting in cocktails to have differences of opinion…
Turning to Brexit: page 88 in the book is a superb page about the “Brexit fiasco as an expression of a general crisis of the British state.” Tell me more about the fiasco and the crisis.
As I said before, the crucial thing that many people miss is that the majority of the British ruling class are pro-Europe, more pro-Europe now than they were in the 1970s, the top finance houses, the banks, the big manufacturers, they all see their future as being wound up with the European Union. That’s the truth. So, when Cameron agreed to the referendum, he was doing it in order to try to kill off inside the Tory Party a kind of what he saw as an old-school, little-Englandism that he wanted to move beyond and he wanted a more kind of globalised, pro-E.U., part of the ruling class to have its toll taking the Tory Party. But he underestimated two things really: the opposition within the Tory Party itself, while the majority of MPs were pro-EU, the majority of members were [not]. And the Tory Party is a very aging party. It is very small. It’s been shrinking for decades. It only had about a hundred thousand members?, age over 65, pretty much old school kind of colonial types, very upper-middle class, and lots of them were pro-Brexit, which was a problem for the Tory party, and he [Cameron] also underestimated the extent to which the issue of Brexit could become a lightning conductor for the anger that people felt for what’s happened in general in British society over the last twenty or thirty years but in particular the kind of arrogance of the Westminster political elites. And that is what happened in my opinion. That created a various serious problem for the ruling class. Suddenly, the main party for the British ruling class, the Tory Party, was on the wrong side of the very central strategic argument for the British ruling class. And that played in very turbulent ways really.
On pp. 82ff, you speak of the present “dangers of decline.” What are those dangers and what is that type of decline in contemporary Britain that we are talking about?
[We are talking about] the very long process of accepting the fact that we are no longer a colonial power. The British ruling class has resisted that insight for so long now, it is incredible. The writing was on the wall in the 1940s, let alone the 1950s, since the Suez Canal crisis, the Vietnam war, Aden back in the early 1960s when they were booted out of Yemen… All of these things should have been enough to make the British ruling class realize that Britain is no longer a major player, the whole process of not being able to hold on to Empire, but nevertheless there is this kind of very obstinate feeling that we can’t ditch this history, which partly as I say, rests on some material basis, which is on the one hand the high level of foreign investment that Britain mobilises around the world and on the other hand the fact that we’ve got the fourth or fifth military in the world, and a big arms industry as well. So, these two things [combine]. And actually also, funnily enough, the fact that Britain is a big financial centre, London is one of the biggest financial centres in the world, that is also linked to the ruling-class imperial ambitions. But, nevertheless, despite wanting to hold on to it, despite this nostalgia, the reality of the situation is that Britain is becoming less and less important. The U.S. is becoming less and less important but Britain is becoming massively less and less important. This can have all sorts of impacts. One of the impacts it can have is the sense of melancholy and loss that the ruling class feel may translate into a kind of popular mood of anger against progressive thought. It is one of the ways in which right-wing populist movements can base themselves on. There is a connection there. It is not inevitable. It is far from being inevitable, though.
In matters of Brexit, I think it is safe to say that you will be “Lexit”?
Yes. I voted to leave. Yes.
And what kind of Lexit and what does that mean? The question is genuine. Because it seems to me that [it is a complicated matter]: How to steer this position in ways that do not land in the lap of Boris Johnson’s Tory government? We have read about the Anti-EU vote loaned to the conservatives in the “red walls” and figures like Nick Timothy talk the talk of working class and Brexit… How does the Lexit position “split hairs,” if you wish and articulate a different set of arguments from the Tory Brexiteers, the Johnsons, Goves and Rees-Moggs… ?
I would have much preferred if this issue never had come up, really. I mean, it is a diversion from the real questions of politics. But it has come up and when you are faced with a question like that you have to give an answer, you can’t say anything. I would turn your question on its head and say, actually, the way to ensure that the whole of Brexit opinion, the whole of the mood represented by the Brexit vote, definitely falls into the lap of the Right, is to take a Remain position, especially in defiance of a popular vote. You are right that we were not able to articulate a broad popular Lexit position, because of the position taking by the majority of the Left, but what we were able to do, and I think that was important in a small way, is, once the vote had been taken and won by Brexit people, we were able to argue very, very hard that any move by the Left and trying to unpick that vote and to say that we want a second referendum or this type of thing was absolutely catastrophic. Because that would have been an undemocratic move. It would have precisely played into the rhetoric of the Nigel Farages and the rest that the Left is kind of elitist, disdainful and contemptuous of working class people, they don’t respect democracy, etc. Our position within the rest of the Left was, whichever way you voted, whether you voted Remain or Leave, once the referendum has been lost or won, you have to fight to respect that. And that argument, although it was not strong enough to win the whole of the Left to it, it made some inroads.That was very important, actually. If the whole of the Left had united behind a second referendum position, we would have been in a worse position than we are now.
Apropos Brexit, I want to summon the serious debate between Roy Jenkins and Tony Benn (1975, Panorama, David Dimbleby). You speak of both (pp. 65 & 67). Benn (“old left”) lost then. Does he win now and is his message largely appropriated by the conservatives: would this be fair?
No. I don’t think it would at all, because the Left argument for Brexit is entirely different from the Right argument. There may be some overlap but there are two different arguments. I mean, really, the Left argument is a/ Brexit is a re-assertion of democracy in the sense that there are massive limitations to the EU’s level of democracy. It is really not a very democratic institution at all. And we do not want to get ourselves in a situation where, for example, unelected bureaucrats in Brussels can tell a British government that they can’t nationalize an industry. And that is the situation. And that was the situation under the EU. You can talk about the complexities of it, but essentially that was the situation we were in. And ,the argument was also about economics as well and the two things overlap. The truth is that the EU has been one of the main vocal engines of the neoliberal project around the world and the combination of that with its lack of democracy means in my opinion it is very hard to argue, from a Left point of view, that it is good to stay in it. It just seems to me it is a fairly simple argument really. Now, that is very different from the Right-wing argument for Brexit. Tony Benn’s argument would have been like our argument and not like theirs. Now, what’s true is that, although the vote for Brexit was quite inchoate and quite instinctive actually, I mean, lots of people just voted Brexit “to do one eye on the elites,” and there is also the sense of that we lost control of society, which was a very basic instinctive feeling. But, what is true is unfortunately because the Left case was relatively weak, that the way in which the Brexit vote articulated in public in official politics was to the Right. But that is all the more reason why we must absolutely do what we can to provide a left-wing focus for the Brexit vote. We did not succeed as much as we would have liked to have done but nevertheless it was absolutely the right thing to do, it seems to me.
In light of the superb Trostky quote (p. 36), I know I am going to get in trouble now but I cannot resist the temptation to try to add to that vision of Britain, “the pioneer of bourgeois civilization, etc.,” what else would you like to say, almost like giving a Trostkyte reading of your own society? I could chip in at the very beginning and say: the nation of shop keepers, never fully listening to the universalist flights of French-Revolution emancipation calls, finding itself in the crisis of high street turns decisively to the Right among melancholy echoes of post-imperialism and post-colonialism, and grows a resurgent English nationalism and yields to strong anti-immigrant measures and advocates a delinking from their European neighbours and give majority to Boris Johnson… Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire have a lot to account for. People like [Steve] Bannon [in the U.S.] and Nick Timothy say they are all about the blue-collar vote. What else if you would dare do the same with British society?
That is something your wrote, yes? O.k. a few things here. The main reason why Johnson won the election is because of the failure of the Left. I am not trying to argue that there is a sort of progressive content to the Johnson vote. What I am trying to say is as a secondary question that a vote for Brexit, and a vote for Johnson, was not particularly good for the ruling class because they do not want Brexit. So, I am just saying it raises [a whole set of issues] and in that sense it raised an element of kind of you know… but not in a good way obviously. Not in any way am I trying to say that the vote for Johnson was any good. But, just to go what to the main question, Trotsky’s quote was mainly about the ruling class, not entirely but mostly about the ruling middle classes. The little characterisation you gave of the current situation, the kind of Trotsky update, carries a lot of weight, about the British ruling class and about the upper middle class and even about some sections of the lower-middle classes. But, but, but: the thing that the Left misses, and I think the Left misses it not only in Europe but also in other places, and in Britain itself, is that there are these strange phenomena that kind of cut very much in the opposite direction. These are just empirical facts, that in 2017 Britain had the biggest radical vote in any country in Europe proportionally with the possible exception of Syriza. No other European country got close to getting 13 million people voting for someone like Jeremy Corbyn. These are things that it would be a big mistake to miss because we actually do want to grasp the exact nature of the situation we are in. And I think a kind of pessimism about the situation misses the complexities of it. In 2003 Britain was at the cutting edge of the anti-war movement. It led to the biggest demonstration in British history. We were central to the biggest protest in world history. The country that had the biggest empire in world history in rebellion against imperialism. All the foreign wars, with the possible exception of the Lybia intervention, that Britain has tried to be involved in, have been deeply unpopular. We have a population [that is presently very much against foreign wars]. So, any idea that there is a dominant reactionary block in Britain is wrong. I think that there is a very big danger of the development of the kind of a vertical block that does have all the characteristics that you said, but it is not dominant at the moment.
Do you see like some do the un-making of the United Kingdom as a consequence of Brexit? How do you feel about it? What would a Left response to that theoretical unmaking of the U.K. feel like?
It would feel like a party. It would feel like a big celebration.
In what way? How so?
Because any such moves would massively weaken Britain as an imperialist power. It would massively weaken the hegemony of the ruling class. It would cause a huge crisis in the financial centres. The ruling class would be in a very, very bad place. It would be very, fundamentally weakened. So, yes, I would be absolutely over the moon. And actually, by the way, as a matter of what, these tendencies predate Brexit. The near-miss Scottish independence ballot was in 2014, which is two years before Brexit, so these are one more example to the extent to which there is real opposition to the Westminster way of running society. There is no question that basically the Scottish independence vote in 2014 was a progressive vote. It was a very progressive vote. It was all about against austerity, against Tridant as well, there was quite a strong anti-militaristic element to it. So, yes, that is not to say that all our problems would be over obviously. There would be new problems created by that situation. But that is another example of the deep structural crisis that the U.K. is going through.
Do you see left positions always or often in solidarity with minority populations near the awkward “BAME” nomenclature or not necessarily? Is this the way to go? And why or how so?
Yes, absolutely, because there is massive racism in British society and there are massive levels of discrimination in British society, which is all connected, obviously, to the imperial and colonial history of Britain. And anything we can do [we will be there to help out]. But there are not just about colonial and imperial history. There are also one of the mechanisms that are used to sustain a crisis-ridden regime, so the attempts to divide and rule people, to turn the bitterness and anger against refugees and asylym-seekers and migrants. It is a constant attempt to turn and deflect the anger from the actual people who cause it in the first place. So, the left needs to do and does everything possible to support Black Lives Matter, and campaign against the criminalisation and the deportation of migrants and asylum seekers. I think it is a very important part of what we need to do. There is no question about it. And we made a lot of headway. The Black Lives Matter has a lot of support in Britain. No question about it. Mass support. Not one or two hundred thousands, but the vast majority of working people support it.
I suppose that we want to see oppositional forces in the summer of some statue-toppling, BLM and BAME visibility in the U.K., you speak in the book about the increasing racism of English nationalism and of the so-called “tepid multiculturalism” during the Blair years. So, what about now? How do you see things in this summer of discontent? Do you see that resurgence piling up? I do not want this to sound the wrong way but I do see the U.K. mimicking what is happening in the U.S.in a much more restrained and constrained, trivialized fashion, at least as portrayed by the mainstream media. Stuart Hall said this beautifully in Policing the Crisis, how the U.K. mimicks the U.S. in both right-wing and left-wing politics… I am not dismissing it. And yet it feels that we have to do that and it feels a little bit insufficient.
I think those are fair points. But again we have to be accurate about the situation because it is quite complex. We’ve got a ruling that is fundamentally facing very serious economic and other problems. They are definitely more open to using serious racism as a way of trying to defend itself than it probably has been for some time. But, at the same time, you’ve also got a situation where, partly because of the anti-war movement and the whole Iraq experience, there is actually a very strong sense of solidarity with migrants or minority communities in Britain. It is patchy. It is uneven. There is definitely 10, 15 or 20% per cent of the population that is seriously racist, but there is a very big anti-racist movement and feeling in Britain. When Trump came over, for example, one of the number of times when he has come over, we were a quarter of a million people who were protesting against him. The majority of British people did not want Trump to come to Britain. So, it is a polarized situation. That’s what it is. And in general, the polarization, at least until last year, was in general stronger on the Left than it was on the Right because Jeremy Corbyn got 13 million votes in 2017. So, there is a struggle going on and I don’t sense either side is particularly winning at the moment. I think it is a stand-off. But the moment start taking the initiative, the moment the Left start moving onto the streets in a decisive and serious way, we make a lot of headway. That was not just a defensive movement. That was an aggressively, not in terms of its demeanour, ]but in the sense of being] an offensive movement that was trying to push back against racism in its serious way and it made real headway. Now, it does not mean it has won. Of course. But you know the battle is on, that is the point I am trying to make, and the left is in the game. We have serious forces on our side and we mustn’t be frightened to think like the rabbit in the headlight. We mustn’t be paralyzed by the risk of the far right because they want us to be terrified of that. Actually, the game is in play. We have a huge amount to win if we operate in a decisive and confident way in my opinion.
Do you find in general the talk of “British identity” useful at all?
No really no.
And why not?
I just think I have got much more in common with you that I have with Boris Johnson. To be honest with you, I have more in common with a migrant trying to get to Britain from Sudan than I have with Boris Johnson. And I think that is true of a lot of people. So, I think it is a false construction, really.
Which categories would you like the Left to prioritise in its analysis of social reality besides the state? You want us to do state analysis… But there are also class divisions, race and ethnicity differentials, gender, the whole world of work or labour, etc… Do we have to bring them in the rucksack so to speak? Would you have a priority preference, state analysis and economic reading of society or what?
Obviously what the Left needs to do is to construct a theoretical totality of the situation we are in and understand how the different elements of it interact. And that does involve state analysis, dynamics of racism, structural impact of sexism, the way women are oppressed in society, the whole question of the independence and the fractures around the U.K…. We need to build up a total picture. But, for me, the element that is absolutely central to it, and I do not mean this is in a crude or an economistic way, is the question of class. Class is the question that the Left has not taken seriously enough. I think that class is the central contradiction in capitalist society precisely because it is the one around which the economy is structured. The driving force of capitalism is the accumulation of profit by the corporations and big business and that is their overwhelming preoccupation. That is the central thing that shapes everything else in society. The production of profit depends on exploitation and depends on having a working class that you can force to work. And that is the central question for capitalists, and it really needs to be the central question for us, which is not to say that all the other things aren’t important. In fact, the opposite, the only sensible way that we can have a class-based politics is one that takes on the question of racism because racism is one of the mechanisms to undermine class solidarity, so we have to take racism very seriously. We have to address the question of women’s oppression because you cannot have a class movement that does not understand that liberating women has to be a central priority. That is the way these things need to be drawn together and understood.
You would obviously oppose, I suppose, all those attempts that at least in academic circles have received the adjective of “cultural” and have tried to pull strength away from class analysis…
Culture is important. Obviously the whole question of cultures in British society, the question of ruling-class culture and how you relate to it, etc. All these things are part of the picture. But it is a picture that is fundamentally structured by class not in a reductionist way, in a complex way, and obviously then culture impacts on the question of class and we have to be able to understand all these things in their complexities. But we also do have to understand that class analysis provides a possibility of the unity of the oppressed.
Stop the War Coalition site includes the video of The Clash’s “I am so bored with the U.S.A.” What music should we listen to for the dreams of England? Vera Lynn? Johnny Rotten? The Proms? Who else? Who do you recommend we should listen to?
For me personally the Clash was a very important influence. They were a very sophisticated cultural intervention. There is a very big new jazz scene in London and in other parts of Britain at the moment. And I think it is very interesting because it reflects some of the Black Lives Matter experience, a growing sense of militancy among Black people in Britain, and it is also trying to grapple with the whole question of how to create a culture which is on the one hand opposing the dominant culture but on the other hand incorporating it and trying to embrace the best of bourgeois culture. And I think the jazz movement in Britain is trying to do that, which I think it is a very interesting project.
Do you have a name to give to me to chase down?
There is a very good saxophone player, a young woman called Nubya Garcia (https://www.nubyagarcia.com/). She just got a new album called “The Source.” And one of the songs in this thing is called “Stand Together.” What she is really saying is that, it does not have any vocals, but the sentiment behind it is, as she says, “we all need to go on each other’s demos.” And I think that is a useful corrective to the worst excesses of identity politics because what she is saying is that gay people need to go on black people’s demos, and we all need to support striking workers, white people need to support black people, men for women, that seems to me something that some of the Left has lost. But it is a very, very important message for us today