How former Blairites morphed into radical advocates of a borderless utopia
Politics is really the art of winning influence over other power brokers to further one's true agenda, which may be self-aggrandisement, commercial interests or the pursuit of long-term ideological change. Personally I think most politicians fall into the first category of wishful thinking opportunists, eager to make a few gestures to please their electoral base, but more concerned with their career. Over the last century or more it seems it hardly matters who wins parliamentary elections, big business will always get its way anyway. The old dichotomy of a state-interventionist redistributionist Labour Party and a more laissez-faire pro-business Conservative Party was always a mere façade. In reality big business supported most of Labour's radical social transformation policies. The age of mass consumerism required a compliant but contented populace, something that naked capitalism could never provide left to its own devices. Indeed welfare dependency rose fastest not in the 1960s or 70s under Labour, but in the 80s under Margaret Thatcher as manufacturing moved overseas.
In the last two years British politics has undergone some quite unexpected realignments. The reemergence of Left Labour as a major force in British politics under veteran backbench rebel Jeremy Corbyn has taken many by surprise. Labour now has over 600,000 members, mainly critical of Tony Blair's legacy as a poodle of US foreign policy and big business. Back in 2003 many Momentum supporters would have marched against the US-led invasion of Iraq. I remember powerful speeches from the late Tony Benn, a younger Jeremy Corbyn and a grandiloquent George Galloway. The protest attracted broad support from disparate groups. The two most visible contingents were the far left, in their neo-Trotskyite and neo-Stalinist incarnations, and the Muslim Council of Britain. We also had a lower-key ensemble of mainly middle class Greens and left Labour activists embarrassed with their leadership. However, most participants were just well-intentioned teachers, social workers, charity workers, learning support assistants and even a few with normal jobs who were like me just generally disgusted with the idea that our government was about to authorise a military intervention that would likely trigger a wider conflict. Two years later the British electorate gave Tony Blair's government a reduced majority, but with just 35% of popular vote (and only 21.5% of potential voters). Many left-of-centre opponents of the war such as myself voted either Liberal Democrat or SNP in protest. When the Labour lost to a Conservative-led coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, this rainbow coalition regrouped to oppose cuts in social services, welfare and the perceived privatisation of healthcare. Nonetheless the general public had little appetite for a traditional left platform that might include the re-nationalisation of privatised services and industries, much higher taxes for the rich and massive cuts in defence spending. On this latter point many fail to realise that while conservative public opinion tends to oppose military adventurism in far-flung places, it's all in favour of defending the realm. In power New Labour seemed to take the opposite approach overstretching limited military resources in numerous conflicts around the globe, while failing to defend national borders, literally instructing border officers to wave through new migrants with minimal checks. Amazingly working class voters were much more concerned with social cohesion in Birmingham, Bradford or Luton than media reports of atrocities in Baghdad, Kabul or Pristina.
We may speculate that social media has played a major role in building support for the various causes that tend to inspire virtue-signalling trendy lefties. However, this apparent shift may reflect the changing strategies of corporate wheelers and dealers eager to undermine the residual power of national governments and replace traditional cultures with a global superculture.
Since the fall of the former Soviet Union, Marxism has kept a low profile, despite the fact many Western far-leftists had long distanced themselves from Stalinism. In Britain the Socialist Workers Party used the slogan Neither Washington Nor Moscow but International Socialism. As early as the 1930s Antonio Gramsci realised the workers would not rise up to overthrow their capitalist overlords, without a cultural revolution. Ironically Mussolini's government pioneered a close collaboration between the state and large companies, known as corporativismo, although in Italian a corporazione was not a limited liability company, but a state entity that coordinated smaller industrial concerns. Nonethless mid 20th century fascist regimes believed strongly in close liaison between the state and private enterprise. They viewed democracy as an illusion and tended to prefer plebiscites as a form of patriotic consultation. Gramsci feared that a workers' uprising in the more advanced capitalist countries would result in the kind of national statism we saw both in the German Third Reich and Stalin's Russian Empire. Many of us misunderstood what Marxism really meant. Marx did not argue for an all-powerful national state to protect the interests of local workers against predatory global corporations. Instead he argued that modern capitalism would inevitably yield to socialism, which in turn would eventually evolve into stateless communism, in the same way as primitive communism (based on an idealised Rousseauian view of early humanity) gave way to slave societies, feudalism and later, following the industrial revolution, capitalism. Early Marxists concerned themselves as much with culture as with economics. In 1884 Friedrich Engels wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State advocating the eventual dissolution not only of private property, but of nation states and families. Engels genuinely envisioned a world free of economic, ethnic or sexual hierarchies where we would be motivated not by personal betterment, familial or tribal advantage, but by the progress of humanity as a whole. Over the last 120 years Marxists have mainly debated how to achieve these ends.
As the student-led protest movements of the 1960s failed to inspire the working classes of Western Europe, who despite their daily struggles were by and large glad they did not live on the other side of the Iron Curtain, the Marxist Left, still strong in Italy and France, devised a new strategy, Eurocommunism, which advocated a mixed economy and gradual social reform. Indeed on practical policies little distinguished the Italian and French Communist Parties from their social democratic cousins in Britain or West Germany, where local communist parties struggled to win popular support. On the great divide between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, the mainstream Labour Party remained staunchly Atlanticist in outlook. The Eurocommunists simply recognised that the Soviet Union could not serve as a model that would unite the working classes of the West with their comrades in the developing world. Their aims had not changed, only their strategy. Yet among a small clique of intellectuals in the Labour Party and the tiny CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain), the New Left exerted much influence via organs such as the Socialist Register and later Red Pepper. One such intellectual was the late Ralph Miliband, born in Belgium to Polish Jewish parents who later migrated to England 1940 to escape Nazi persecution. He remained a committed Marxist until his death in 1994, having published numerous articles and books on Marxist theory. He was a close confidant of historian Eric Hobsbawm, who notably sympathised with the former USSR, and the radical Fabian, Tony Benn. In recent years the Miliband brand has been more associated with Ralph's sons, David and Ed. As Labour leader from 2010 to 2015, Ed Miliband tried to distance himself from Tony Blair's military adventurism. However, his brother not only supported the Iraq War, but willingly served as Foreign Secretary working alongside Hillary Clinton to promote commercial and military globalisation. After narrowly losing to his brother in the Labour leadership contest, David Miliband accepted a well-remunerated role in New York as CEO of the International Rescue Committee, which seeks to aid refugees worldwide. Earlier David had worked as Tony Blair's head of policy from 1994 to 2001, when he became an MP.
To most Momentum activists, Tony Blair is nothing but a traitor to the causes of social justice and international peace. However, the young Aaaron Bastini, one of the masterminds behind Momentum, opted in 2010 to support David rather than Ed Miliband. I mean at least the latter decried the Iraq War. Did Mr Bastani suddenly have an epiphany before he embraced Jeremy Corbyn's idealism only five years later? This would seem a rather odd move as most of us tend more to idealism in our youth. Not surprisingly two of the other leading lights in the People's Momentum, Adam Klug and James Schneider hail from the same upmarket districts of North London as the Milibands. Small world, isn't it?
One may wonder how both Tony Blair and Tony Benn could belong to the Fabian Society or how the son of Marxist scholar could embrace early 21st century US imperialism, while one of his close associates backed a longstanding opponent of US imperialism as Labour leader. Here it is important to understand that most Marxist strategists are not pacifists. They are quite prepared to support military might if the outcome is more likely to pave the way to international socialism. Indeed over the decades self-professed Marxists have adopted some startling positions on global conflicts. The British Communist Party failed to support the Second World War until Hitler's invasion of the Ukraine and Western Russia. Meanwhile some former Trotskyists, while opposing US imperialism before the fall of Soviet Union, became cheerleaders of US-led global policing operations ever since, most notably the late Christopher Hitchens who supported the 2003 Iraq War to defeat the looming danger of Islamism. However, the globalist left remained bitterly divided over military interventionism in the Middle East. They had to support both global cultural convergence through mass migration and the projection of Western values on the rest of the world on the one hand and appease the growing Muslim lobby at home on the other.
Every problem in the world today seems to demand one solution, more globalisation. It doesn't matter whether it's climate change, unemployment, unsustainable debt, regional wars, organised crime or terrorism, our main media outlets, national governments and global institutions just propose tighter international integration and the undermining of traditional nation states and support structures. The growing concentration of power in a handful of high tech multinationals naturally demands greater coordination of governments to regulate them and prevent tax evasion. It should really not surprise us that the New Left does not advocate the nationalisation of Google, Amazon, Microsoft or Tesco. It needs these profitable organisations to bankroll its social engineering plans. And it appears it's succeeding. Big business has for some time not just embraced rapid cultural change, but openly promoted it.
Ahead of the Curve
Momentum has cultivated an anti-establishment reputation, often accusing the BBC of bias and openly campaigning against what it sees as reactionary newspapers or political organisations. I've lost count of the number of online petitions against the Daily Mail or Nigel Farage. Yet one only needs to watch a BBC soap opera to understand the convergence of the BBC's social agenda and Momentum's objectives. Both support open door immigration. Both welcome the ethnic transformation of British cities. Both support greater state intervention in people's private lives. Both support the concept of multiculturalism, while also promoting the dissolution of traditional family structures at odds with practically all traditional cultures. However, the BBC still has to offer the pretence of impartiality and patriotism. It only seems yesterday when each evening of televisual broadcasts would end with the national anthem. Now we have 24/7 news, non-stop sports, endless repeats of soap operas and pop concerts.
Behind the scenes the leading proponents of Blair's third way do not really disagree with Labour's radical rebranding. They may complain about Corbyn's irresponsible spending plans or his opposition to Britain's expensive token nuclear deterrent, but actually such disagreements may not matter as much as we might like to think. The current debate about Britain's exit from the European Union has only exposed just how little independence once powerful nation states really have. It seems without the oversight of one supranational organisation or another, the country will grind to a halt. Vegetables will rot in the fields and sick patients will be left untreated because of a lack of migrant farm labourers and nurses willing to serve us tirelessly. You see both Blairites and Momentum activists love mass migration, because they hope the ensuing social dislocation will let them turbo-charge their vision of a socialist utopia, bankrolled by the same corporate behemoths they claim to loathe.
Of course, some people will always be more equal than others.