Thursday 17 February 2022

Reality and the Left – A Bitter Divorce.

Things Fall Apart: The events of the past ten days offer ample evidence of just how seriously social decay has weakened New Zealand society. A more confident New Zealand Left, recognising the weakness of the system, and its acute vulnerability to those who would enlist the aid of “gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals” would have no hesitation in identifying the so-called “Freedom Convoy” as the reactionary, quasi-fascist, enterprise it has always been.

WHERE IS REALITY HIDING amidst all these claims and counter-claims concerning the protest encampment in Parliament Grounds? In an excruciatingly post-modern political moment, reality seems to have gone AWOL, leaving behind only a noisy collection of competing narratives.

To make matters worse, the state itself, supposedly the supreme arbiter of what is and is not politically real, is refusing to do its job. Even though it is his sworn duty, the Commissioner of Police, Andrew Coster, has made it frighteningly clear to the public that he lacks both the will and the means to assert the state’s authority. The New Zealand Defence Force, meanwhile, holds itself aloof from the fray. Jacinda Ardern and Christopher Luxon, powerless to intervene, look on ineffectually. The crisis deepens.

Ask yourself: what does it mean when tow-truck drivers, asked to assist the Commissioner of Police, refuse? At what point during the last decade did citizens begin to tell themselves that they had no obligations to the society in which they live? That nobody had the right to tell them what to do – not even the Police? What business is it of theirs if the people of Wellington, their neighbours, need their help?

It has been reported that at least one towie openly declared his support for the protesters encamped on Parliament Grounds. Entirely understandable. The occupiers don’t accept that their government has the right to require their vaccination against Covid-19. Nor do they believe that they owe their fellow citizens even the slightest co-operation in the fight to limit the harm of the virus. That tow-truck driver recognised kindred spirits when he saw them. Andrew Coster and Wellingtonians could go fuck themselves.

Not all the towies were so bloody minded. According to media reports, some of them were just plain scared. They claimed to have been threatened with dire retribution if they allowed their trucks to be used by the Police. Considering those trucks carried the names and phone numbers of their owners, it’s not difficult to understand the impact of such threats. Were someone to burn down a towing company’s premises, torch its trucks, that would be multiple livelihoods lost and a business ruined. Who wouldn’t think twice?

Such tactics are, however, remarkably effective. I remember reading about Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters’ bitter battles with the trucking companies. The bosses could rely on local politicians, local judges, local editors and local cops to defend them against Hoffa’s strikers. The union was on a hiding-to-nothing, until Hoffa reached out to the Mafia. It only took a few dozen torched trucks for the bosses to get the message. The Teamsters won their improved contract. But the spoon Hoffa took to his dinner with the Devil wasn’t quite long enough. His beloved Teamsters’ Union now belonged to the Mob.

Now, you might think that people on the left of New Zealand politics would recognise the danger of holding up the occupation of Parliament Grounds as a praiseworthy assertion of working-class power. As if poverty and marginalisation, frustration and anger, ignorance and credulity are always and everywhere evidence of moral force and progressive intent.

Karl Marx himself recognised the acute political danger inherent in what he called the Lumpenproletariat. According to the Encyclopedia of Marxism, this social formation is composed of the “outcast, degenerated and submerged elements” of industrial society:

It includes beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals, tramps, chronic unemployed or unemployables, persons who have been cast out by industry, and all sorts of declassed, degraded or degenerated elements. In times of prolonged crisis (depression), innumerable young people also, who cannot find an opportunity to enter into the social organism as producers, are pushed into this limbo of the outcast. Here demagogues and fascists of various stripes find some area of their mass base in time of struggle and social breakdown, when the ranks of the Lumpenproletariat are enormously swelled by ruined and declassed elements from all layers of a society in decay.

That our society is in decay can hardly be doubted. The events of the past ten days offer ample evidence of just how seriously that decay has weakened New Zealand society. A viable Left, recognising the weakness of the system, and its acute vulnerability to those who would enlist the aid of “gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals” would have no hesitation in identifying the so-called “Freedom Convoy” as the reactionary, quasi-fascist, enterprise it has always been.

Alas, New Zealand no longer possesses a viable Left. Identity politics has schooled a whole generation to accept the self-definitions of “oppressed groups” at their face value. Drilling down into the actual character of such groups, and scrutinising their relationship to the ruling class, is not encouraged. Even among those leftists who still acknowledge the primacy of class politics there is a pronounced unwillingness to subject movements like the Freedom Convoy to any kind of rigorous class analysis.

For these leftists, it is enough that the occupiers of Parliament Grounds are, or were, members of the working-class. So desperate are these “revolutionaries” for the slightest hint of revolutionary consciousness that they are willing to overlook the absence of anything remotely resembling a concrete programme for the social and economic emancipation of the working class. The only programme in evidence among the occupiers is the one demanding the instant cessation of all measures aimed at minimising the hurt and suffering of Covid-19.

How self-proclaimed “socialists” could possibly mistake such a noxious potpourri of anti-social attitudes for anything remotely progressive is a mystery. Perhaps it is no more than the curious allure of the demi-monde, coupled with the magnetic eccentricities of the Bohemian temperament, that has led these desperate socialists to mistake reactionaries for revolutionaries. Clearly they have forgotten that Adolf Hitler himself was a Lumpenproletarian. A more “declassed, degraded and degenerated” specimen History has yet to supply!

It was the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) who understood most completely the extraordinary fluidity of reality in periods of acute social stress and political disintegration. Moments in history when the hegemonic explanations of the ruling-class have lost, or are beginning to lose, their power to allay the fears and misgivings of subordinate classes. In such times – and we are living through them now – people are desperate for new and more persuasive narratives about the nature of reality.

Not all of those narratives are addressed to the best that is in human nature. Sorting out the lies of charlatans and demagogues from genuine revolutionary truths isn’t always easy – especially in this age of social-media algorithms. Leftists are often surprised to learn that Mussolini was a socialist before he became a fascist.

Gramsci put it best when he wrote: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Or, more succinctly: “Now is the time of monsters.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 17 February 2022.


Odysseus said...

Wow, just wow! The State as "the supreme arbiter of what is politically real"? In North Korea maybe, but not in a democracy founded on the rule of law and freedom of speech. Nor has the State any right to require the vaccination of any ordinary citizen for any purpose. That would be a flagrant abuse of international law including the Nuremberg Code and the UN Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. Let's cool it shall we?

pat said...

AKA, power for its own sake.

Jens Meder said...

Ultimately, all human ambitions on the material level are subject to the basic natural law of physics, that nothing can be created out of nothing by humans.
Can anyone refute that as not the absolute truth ?

Tiger Mountain said...

As Chris alludes to at the top, the ascension of post modernist philosophy where anything can mean anything, has majorly helped get us to this Wellington debacle. 38 years of Roger and Ruth’s toxic neo liberal legacy has resulted in both Chicago School hegemony and what academics fashionably called a while back–the atomisation of the working class–stable life long careers and jobs turned precarious, highly skilled uber drivers, the fading of collective union action. False Consciousness as the default setting for many aspirational types and miserable lives for the alienated and discarded.

The old materialist bent for nailing things down to agreed meanings, even by those on different sides of an argument, has morphed into a head spinning contest of alternate claims.

An organised NZ left has indeed lost its way and needs urgent rebuilding. One of the Rogernomes early acts was to dissolve the Joint Council of Labour where the FOL and unions had engaged directly with the Labour Party Caucus. National’s union busting Employment Contracts Act of 1991 worked well to drive down union density aided by one of the biggest class errors of the late 20th century–the formation of the class collaborationist NZCTU. To this day the CTU tails the Labour Caucus, “welcoming” this or that rather than being the fighting class left organisation worker exploitation still demands.

NZ had a rich marxist culture too in the 60s, 70s and 80s. These groups had a lot of influence if not wide community knowledge of them, though Prime Minister Rob Muldoon certainly had the SIS busy following the reds around! They managed to fight themselves to a stand still over international and sectarian issues rather than effectively lead the NZ working class. Most of them are just online shadows now, though many of the surviving old comrades like Robert Reid and John Minto still play a role.

The Wellington lot includes a number of ferals that live in manky vans and don’t accept the state in their lives in any respect re licenses, census, medical care, fire arms, home schooling and COVID requirements perhaps just sent them over the edge. It is mildly amusing watching the inertia of our great leaders and even the Police. The cops are usually quite happy to bash, choke hold, shoot, taser, baton and pepper spray their way out of many other situations–what gives here Rainbow Cop?

John Hurley said...

Chris Wilson rejects the fascism label

You can't seem to accept that despite the sugar coating media coverage, Labour has been off course for years.

Now the working class is seeing the fruits the political class has sown.

also it is clear that left-wing misinformation is having an effect

Brendan McNeill said...

Why are Adhern and her fellow travellers so shaken by a group of protestors that they are presently ensconced in a “National Security Crisis” meeting?

There is no national security crisis.

Yes, there is a political crisis occurring amongst those who live in a virtual world, who are adept at controlling the narrative, but who have lost control of the narrative. Their world has been disrupted by the physical world of real people, job losses, mandate disruption and Government overreach.

The intrusion of the physical into the virtual was always bound to happen eventually. Our political elites are floundering; totally unprepared. It would not surprise me if they adopted reactionary and exaggerated measures similar to those implemented by Trudeau in Canada in order to 'win' and re-establish their dominant 'order'.

That would be a mistake.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" Nor has the State any right to require the vaccination of any ordinary citizen for any purpose. That would be a flagrant abuse of international law including the Nuremberg Code and the UN Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. "

Well actually, in certain circumstances the government can require people to be vaccinated, it's not quite so simple as that, and several cases against mandates brought to the European human rights Court have been dismissed. It's always a balance between someone is right not to be vaccinated and it is someone else's right not to catcher disease because of someone's carelessness and lack of social responsibility.

DS said...

Magnificent article, Mr Trotter.

One thing I would mention, however - the notion that these are the lumpenproletariat almost gives them too much credit. When one sees poncy gits driving down from Cambridge (think of the petrol cost!), I have a very hard time considering this some sort of working class rebellion.

David George said...

Wellington students association:
"1964 saw a spontaneous storming of Parliament when 150 students stormed Keith Holyoke’s office at the tail-end of the capping procession. Ironically, the Prime Minister returned in kind by talking to them and providing them with refreshments'

No one is storming Parliament but Ardern refuses to even talk with the assembled protestors or their representatives. She's just confirmed what was obvious with her "two classes of New Zealanders yip, yip" gloating that her famed empathy or understanding or even common decency is just an act.

Unknown said...

1) Could The Enxyclopedia of Marxism be a liitle blinkered in its world view? Just maybe?

2) Omicron cases double every 4 days or so, in a 95% vaccinated population. The idea that the remaining 5% getting vaccinated would make a drop of difference is ludicrous.

3) There is therefore no moral argument for a vaccine mandate; its arbitrary removal of peoples labour rights.

4) The populist right deserves the support of the poor in this case; they are doing the job of the Left.

Unknown said...

Infections are doubling every 4 days. What difference does a vaccine mandate make? None. Except to ruin those whose labour rights are removed for no reason.

Archduke Piccolo said...

I'm starting to wonder what the hell is going on here. Now, this protest in Wellington I don't go along with - for two reasons. I think their ostensible target - anti-compulsion concerning COVID vaccines - is ill-chosen; and there is something 'band-wagonish' about the whole thing, in the wake of the 'shockingly peaceful*' protests in Canada.

Having said that, it seems to me that the ostensible target really represents people's real fear; state and big business over-reach. Kiwis have been swindled, robbed, and their civil liberties eroded, ever since 1981 inclusive, at a rate that accelerated after 1984. Even the relatively liberal 'Tory Lite' Fourth Labour administration reacted with indecent haste in late 2001 to push measures encroaching civil liberties in this country in reaction to events that happened 9000 miles away from this country. Kiwis by and large knew it was happening to them, and knew equally well that there wasn't a blind thing they could do about it.

It also ill behoves anyone paying attention these days to imagine that the police have any relation to the communities they are supposed 'to serve and protect' other than being 'them' and no longer 'us'. In the UK and US, the police have become just another gang, the only difference being that they are publicly in the pay of the State, and the control of State's pay masters.

In New Zealand, the police have not progressed anywhere near as far down that road, but that seems to be the direction they are headed. I have no doubt whatever that the soi-disant 'intelligence' agencies - who are even further removed from 'the people' - will have their people in amongst the crowd.

It might have been a good idea right at the outset, before the ordure was about to strike the rotors for preference, for the government to see what the impact of their policy might have been on the truckers - if any so specific. Such an approach might have achieved nothing, it might have made matters clearer. Maybe even some kind of rapprochement could have been reached.

Now we have the ludicrous situation in which to carry out a clearance mission, Coppery has to plead with an unsympathetic tow-truck industry. Who could possibly have guessed the towies would tell Coppery to take a running jump? And then, get this, T. Malland, MP, says 'we'll talk only once the barricades come down.'

This is straight out of the US negotiations handbook, which is probably why it is called 'Soviet style' of negotiation. Make several demands - matters, mark you, that ought to be topics for negotiation - as prerequisites for for even showing up at the table. All that does is to announce to the other side of the argument that who makes such a demand has no intention of keeping faith.

But apart from that, it also hints (though without positively indicating) that the Government agrees that there is something to talk over. If such were so, then why wasn't such an approach attempted right at the beginning? See my paragraph 5.

This has become a hell of a mess, and there are no 'good guys' in this, though I should not be surprised if there are quite a lot of 'bad guys' - on all sides.

Ion A Dowman
* 'Shocking peaceful' - a Canadian cop's description of the Canadian trucky protests.

Archduke Piccolo said...

Tiger Mountain: Good on you, mate!

The Barron said...

It is as if every school bully is grieving for their old relevance. Indeed, perhaps if we examine their grief as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described five common stages of grief in 1969.

They have gone through denial (misinformation), we have seen the anger stage, currently they demand bargaining. What is left for them? What we have seen in the States when anti-vax proponents and anti-mandate spreaders - depression when they or those in their life get ill, and finally acceptance - their or those in their lives hospital bed or funeral.

Maybe acceptance is a step too far and we should invest in "Told You It Was A Hoax" tombstones.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"There is no national security crisis."

Just a bunch of people talking about hanging MPs. I bet you'd be a little bit more cautious if they were talking about hanging everyone called Brendan. :)

John Hurley said...

I think everyone projects on the protests.
I'm hoping this is general- a general dissatisfaction with the establishment.
The media has been too successful to the point where they are just going to call the country Aotearoa whether we like it or not!
Imagine knighting Key for highest ever migration (and housing crisis), secretly giving co governance to Ngai tahu, trying to change the flag and now forming a property development company with the Chows.
Labour set out to make an instant multiracial society of disparate people's fuelled by constant immigration; they believed TV/radio could sell it to us.
I project (once more) that this is a divorce.
I received an email to tell me that the Geographic Board had (after due rubber stamping) decided to call Maxwell P(something).
I called the bureaucrat a government a___ wipe. And I meant it.

Pablo said...

Two blasts from the past: (top three posts).

Glad to see that we are now beginning to see things in (roughly) similar terms.

greywarbler said...

Was this really said?: T. Mallard, MP, says 'we'll talk only once the barricades come down.' No wonder the country is stuck in a pile of imitation horse manure! It just shows that the system of choice of politicians that we presently have means we end up with more amateurs and deadheads than can be diluted by humanistic thinkers who are also pragmatists and planners.

It's time for a change - and a careful change or we will be further victimised by the audacious and self-absorbed mercurial people who are flooding out from universities knowing everything but with learnings like partly-painted Colour by Numbers templates for aspiring DIYs Banksys'. They form their own new homilies and cliches but the one from the past to keep in mind at times of change is 'Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater'.

greywarbler said...

And unknown at 14.32. proves that there is a solid percentage/s of people who have no understanding of the complex world we live in, and were looking out of the window at school. Or maybe, perhaps, they were home schooled so parents pass on their partly digested knowledge to their children, like birds. But birds can survive reasonably well as long as people don't pollute their food chain, and at the end of their growing period, their fledgings fly on with their lives. Humans in much of the world stumble to their feet and fall on their noses, into their own poo. What a piece of work is man, how noble his reason (and include wimen in that). What have we been thinking snd doing since Shakespeare's time?
Advance - and be recognised!!

What a piece of work from Hair

What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving
How express and admirable
In action how like an angel
In apprehension how like a god
The beauty of the world
The paragon of animals

I have of late
But wherefore I know not
Lost all my mirth
This goodly frame
The earth
Seems to me a sterile promontory
This most excellent canopy
The air-- look you!
This brave o'erhanging firmament
This majestical roof
Fretted with golden fire

Why it appears no other thing to me
Than a foul and pestilent congregation
Of vapors
What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How dare they try to end this beauty?
How dare they try to end this beauty?
Walking in space
We find the purpose of peace
The beauty of life
You can no longer hide
Our eyes are open...
Wide wide wide!
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Galt MacDermot / Gerome Ragni / James Rado

(What a piece of work is man!" is a phrase within a monologue by Prince Hamlet in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. › wiki › What_a_piece_of_wor...)

sumsuch said...

Why are the followers of Christ on the side of the powerful Brendan? Hope this won't cause you to blow a wire. This is why I'm an atheist -- the followers.

You've seen their horrific work in America and still believe? You have the happy chance to live in our historic social democracy.

Your sure and secure certainty is the end of the species.