Neil Faulkner at Bristol Momentum

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It took about six months, but last week I finally got to a Momentum meeting.

Momentum’s a left-wing campaign group – the boisterous, PLP-spooking successor to the grassroots uprising that made Jeremy Corbyn Labour leader, and about the most promising vehicle for non-sectarian radical politics currently out there.

It’s far from perfect. Already, there are things I don’t like about it. I think (even as a Corbyn supporter) there’s a danger it could become a bit too pro-Corbyn – fawningly pro-Corbyn, to the extent that it risks degenerating into some sort of Church of St Jeremy personality cult.

And I hate that it’s followed Corbyn and the unions into the politics-as-usual obsession with economic growth (a subject I’ve written about extensively elsewhere). Western economies are grotesquely oversized. Providing the consumption-crazed Western lifestyle to the West has ravaged the ecosystem to the point of near-collapse – and we’d need four planets to provide that lifestyle to everyone alive. Continue reading “Neil Faulkner at Bristol Momentum”

Why I bother (a very merry Radically Atheist Christmas)

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For a teetotal halfway-to-vegetarian rejecter of all things consumerist, I actually quite like Christmas

On a good day, my strange lifestyle is a semi-successful attempt to boycott the worst bits of ecocidal consumer capitalism. And at this time of year, more people than usual ask me why I bother.

That’s probably because more people than usual notice it. Normally very much off the radar as far as most people I know are concerned, at Christmas the whole political extremist thing surfaces in polite society like a hippy-communist submarine – “how’s the Christmas shopping going?” “I don’t do any”, et cetera.

So. Why am I so cynical/miserable/judgemental/extreme/anti-fun/generally intent on making life more difficult for myself than it needs to be? Continue reading “Why I bother (a very merry Radically Atheist Christmas)”

Not Alice’s Adventures In Dismaland

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This week I went to Dismaland. Dismaland mushroomed on the site of the derelict Tropicana lido in Weston-Super-Mare about a month ago, bamboozling almost everyone. No-one knew it was coming, no-one knew what it was.

It turned out to be a ghoulish ‘Bemusement Park’ conceived and executed by elusive street artist Banksy. Part art installation, part fun fair, part indictment of empathy-crushing consumer-capitalism – ‘a festival of art, amusements, and entry-level anarchism’, as the PR spiel puts it, bringing together the work of 58 artists from around the globe – it became one of the world’s most talked-about visitor attractions overnight.

Usually I’ve got no interest in art, but it was on my doorstop and only cost £3 to get in, so I decided to go. Probably unsurprisingly, given that I’m a bleak-humoured anti-capitalist who thinks Western societies have been lobotomised by consumer culture and tragically insulated from the suffering of their fellow human beings, I quite liked it. Continue reading “Not Alice’s Adventures In Dismaland”

Tolpuddlin’

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For the second time ever, and the second year in a row, the Bemolution went to Tolpuddle on the free Sunday. It was basically the same as last year, but we’re reliably informed it’s basically the same every year. And there’s value in that consistency – it’s a respite weekend/networking event for socialists in neoliberal society, and it does it very well.

Essentially a sort of far-left Alan Partridge, we can take or leave the chanting and the speeches and the fist-pumping renditions of “There Is Power In A Union”. But what we particularly appreciated this year was the dedication shown by the staff and organisers – from the hi-vis-jacketed stewards spending literally hours in the sun making sure lemming-like festival-goers weren’t mown down trying to cross a main road, to the boundingly enthusiastic volunteer chuggers collecting spare change to help pay for it all (hello Sophie from Bromley Unite).

It’s a huge undertaking, and the TUC runs and pays for it every year, at a loss. Veteran Tolpuddler Dave Chapple, quite possibly Somerset’s most dedicated and active socialist trade unionist, was telling us that by the early ‘90s the festival had become a bit rubbish – a toothless, mainstream jolly for old-style trade union bosses, with tea and cake provided by ‘the wives’. Tony Blair even came. Then current South West TUC regional secretary Nigel Costley took it over, and turned it into the vibrant, egalitarian, subversive event it is today. Continue reading “Tolpuddlin’”

Seven Marx Out of Ten: Cherry-Picking From The Left’s Favourite Thinker (Modern Socialism #3)

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One of the main reasons this blog, this series of posts, and the thing we’re for the minute calling Modern Socialism all exist is because we think the Left needs to abandon its obsessive fixation with Marx. Rather than trying to desperately crowbar Marxism into contemporary relevance, we need to cherry-pick its best insights and work them into a new, accessible, modern manifestation of radical socialism. And then, with all that’s worth preserving safely extracted from the stifling dogma, we need to leave the old symbols and the old jargon and the old near-theological splits and squabbles behind.

That’s what this post is going to have a go at. Separating the delicious, nutritious, mind-expanding socialist wheat from the variously discredited, irrelevant and just-wrong-in-the-first-place dogmatic chaff. Examining Marx. Then providing a sound barrier-breakingly fast (and necessarily selective) whistle-stop tour of Marxism after Marx. For socialism, for equality, and for great justice.

Karl Marx was a very clever man, and having spent considerable time studying history, politics, and economics, he decided he’d figured out a grand theory of everything. He called it dialectical materialism. Continue reading “Seven Marx Out of Ten: Cherry-Picking From The Left’s Favourite Thinker (Modern Socialism #3)”

Modern Socialism #2: What Is Socialism?

GreshamCollege-AneurinBevan_VernonBogdanor234 Last time, in the first bit of this series, we sketched out what the thing we call Modern Socialism is and why we think it’s needed. This time, we’re more interested in socialism in general.

A question that seems stupidly obvious to begin with, but gets harder to answer the more you think about it – what actually is socialism? If you’re over-precociously trying to modernise something, you better have a cast-iron grasp of what it is, and what it isn’t. So, as quickly and painlessly as it can possibly be made – an attempt to nail down an increasingly fuzzy and flippantly-employed socio-political concept.

There are really two types of left-of-centre political position. The first is what’s called social democracy. The second is what’s called socialism.

Confusingly, the terms are often used interchangeably – or in distorted, politically motivated ways. But there’s a fundamental difference between the two. Social democracy aims to make capitalism nicer. Socialism aims to replace capitalism with a nicer system. Continue reading “Modern Socialism #2: What Is Socialism?”

iPhone 6 – Consumerism Encapsulated

Chinese workers making iPhones -  in 2010, 14 committed suicide, having worked in conditions that investigating Chinese academics likened to those in labour camps
Chinese workers making iPhones – in 2010, 14 committed suicide, having worked in conditions that investigating Chinese academics likened to those in labour camps. In 2013, journalists found iPhones being made by employees working 12-hour shifts standing up, given just a single 30-minute break  

It bends in your pocket, takes chunks out of your hair and, on the side, is a neat emblem for a lot that’s wrong with our economic system, and our way of life – it’s the iPhone.

Last month, American tech giant Apple released the iPhone 6, the latest device in its flabbergastingly successful line of smartphones. In cities around the world, gadget devotees queued outside Apple stores for days in advance, hoping to be among the first to bag themselves one of the £539 handsets. Media outlets reported a lucrative trade developing in prime spots near the front, with one eager beaver in New York selling his place in the line for £1,500. At Apple’s flagship shop in Regent Street, London, tents began to appear with about a week to go until launch day. In a Parisian shopping centre, customers fought over one of the few remaining units in stock and had to be restrained by police.

In healthy societies, these people would probably be sectioned. As it stands, they’re just particularly extreme examples of the consumer mania that grips whole populations and, as such, are just treated like kooky oddballs good for a chuckle on the six o’clock news. Continue reading “iPhone 6 – Consumerism Encapsulated”

London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Three) – Canary Wharf

The oligarch's den
The oligarch’s den

Click here for Part One.

… and here for Part Two.

Our unexpectedly politicised amble around the capital had been equal parts fascinating and grim, but it was time to go. The rubbery sandwiches on the coach back to Somerset weren’t going to eat themselves.

Despite our rampaging cynicism, The Bemolution is a sucker for a poetic conclusion. And of all the places we could’ve ended our London adventure, a climactically big square surrounded by international banks seemed especially apt considering everything we’d seen, thought and talked about along the way.

It was completely by accident. We thought we’d try and squeeze in a last rendezvous with a third friend – sassy and savage-witted writer type from home, spent two maddening years bombarding the capital with fruitless job applications, finally got hired and is now doing quite well – before making a mad dash across London to catch the last escape pod out of Hammersmith Bus Station. Travelling to meet her in Greenwich, our witless provincial brain almost overloaded trying to work out where the Jubilee Line met the DLR – you have to physically leave one station at Canary Wharf and walk to another, it took us an embarrassingly long time to realise. And as we glided ethereally up the escalator and emerged from the glass Teletubby dome of the station entrance, it suddenly hit us that Canary Wharf was that Canary Wharf. Continue reading “London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Three) – Canary Wharf”

A) for the planet’s sake, and B) just to survive, the Left needs to get ‘generic’

The status quo risks the destruction of our species and the ecosystem all life relies on
The status quo risks the destruction of our species and the ecosystem all life relies on

The blogosphere reverberates with people self-importantly telling each other what ‘the Left’ should be doing. What the world and her springer spaniel are clearly crying out for, then, is another deeply unpopular, laughably unlikely ramshackle leftist strategy, hastily rammed in the virtual left-wing suggestion box and probably never seen again. The Bemolution lives to serve.

The Left should radically and unsentimentally revamp itself, turning what is all too often a fossilised remnant of the early twentieth century into something specifically addressing the social, political and ecological here and now. It should drop the blinkered obsession with past ideological battles. Instead, it needs to hammer itself back into contemporary relevance, going back to first principles and relating them afresh to the way the world is today.

Ecological crisis looms, providing humanity with the biggest threat to its continued existence in thousands of years. Faced with probable environmental disaster, caused for the most part by the growth-obsession and chronic waste of a culture skewed in the interests of the scandalously wealthy, we need to radically reshape civilisation and make our species live within its means. A system that has already used and abused millions of individual homo sapiens as disposable tools for enriching tiny minorities, along with squandering the potential of millions more by dismissing them as stupid and/or leaving them to flounder in poverty, is now well on the way to ravaging the planet beyond the point of no return. Continue reading “A) for the planet’s sake, and B) just to survive, the Left needs to get ‘generic’”

Dion Rabouin on Martin Luther King

The hullabaloo that’s surrounded the 50th anniversary of MLK’s heroic ‘I Have A Dream Speech’ has predictably reduced the man to a civil rights campaigner with a nice line in oratorical flourishes. Obviously he was the twentieth century’s foremost rhetorically pleasing civil rights campaigner, but he was also a fierce critic of economic inequality. Like it does from everyone from George Orwell to Jesus, the mainstream media celebrates the bits of King’s legacy that are acceptable to the present-day political consensus and scraps the rest. Dion Rabouin of the Huffington Post has a good go at rebalancing the coverage by celebrating King the economic radical. But he also casually rubbishes socialism along the way, rattling through the standard American thought process that sees ‘socialism’ as 90% of the way towards ‘Communism’ which in turn is just a byword for initiative-crushing state tyranny. Apart from when it squeezes a hugely varied, adaptable view of the world and how it should be changed into the shoebox of stereotype – and to be fair to Rabouin he’s just reflecting King’s own stated views – it’s a nice article.

Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dion-rabouin/martin-luther-king-capitalism_b_2506893.html