Dear Blairites, dear Corbynistas: Open letters to both.

gettyimages-547077382.jpgJeremy Corbyn // Getty Images

Dear Blairites, New Labour factionists, John McTernan, etc etc:

If you will indulge me in a little smugness for a moment: It wasn’t meant to be like this, was it? You were supposed to offer us a convincing humanoid that could “unite” the party that you disunited. You were supposed to rig the election in favour of this uniting android by purging those who refuse to vote for him. You were supposed to get Corbyn out, come hell or high water. What you did instead was a comedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Your candidate was a gaffe-prone sexist and former corporate lobbyist who justified his attacks on female politicians as “banter” and justified his work for Pfizer as part of left-wing espionage. Your red-scare purges against “Trotskyists” and “entryists” could not compete with the enthusiasm of new members. Your attempts to discredit your democratically-elected leader by wheeling out former leaders like Tony Blair (war criminal) and Neil Kinnock (two-time election loser) were largely ignored.

This really hasn’t been your year, has it?

I myself am one of the “Trotskyists” that you purged during the first leadership contest. I paid my £3, made a serious effort to learn more about Labour, and even considered joining the party as a full member. But I barely had a chance to burn my copy of The Permanent Revolution before you kicked me out. When the coup sprang up and you raised the fee to £25 in an attempt to keep out low-income voters (how’s that for being a “party of the people”?) I decided to refrain.

Why? Because even if I managed to escape the McCarthyite purge, I began to wonder whether I wanted to be associated with a party that is so hell-bent on rejecting its legacy. I have sympathized with Labour ideals for all of my adult life, and yes, I admit I find myself further left than most Labour MPs, but it is not just Tory and UKIP voters that you should be welcoming. You should be encouraging people like me to stay.

A vote is a vote, and you need people of all different stripes to be convinced of your programme. You still haven’t got my vote. The next few months will determine if you ever will again. Think carefully, as you no doubt plan your next vote of no confidence. I and others will be watching closely to see how you behave, and we have just as much say in this election as the right-wingers that you obsessively court.

Above all, bear one thing in mind: Part of the reason that Ed Miliband lost last time was not because he was seen as too left-wing (quite the contrary, he was a mild socialist at best), but because he failed to take a stand and stake a claim to an ideology. What did Ed Miliband stand for, exactly? Nobody remembers, nobody cares. But with Corbyn, you know what he stands for, what he plans to do, and who he is beholden to. You have an enormous opportunity to harness limitless enthusiasm inside and outside of your party. You have wasted it twice. Making that mistake for a third time would be grave indeed.

Many people don’t like what Corbyn represents, but few voters have much respect for those who scheme from the shadows either.

Dear Corbynistas, Guardian readers, John McDonnell, etc etc:

This leadership contest has been something of a Pyrrhic victory for us. On the one hand, our chosen candidate now has a renewed mandate to lead the party, and thousands more people have signed up to take part. Naturally, this attempt to democratize a political party was always going to ruffle some feathers, but we at least have some breathing space to take stock and plan our next moves.

Divisions within political parties are as old as political parties themselves. I know many of you are probably feeling very bitter and angry towards Owen Smith supporters and Blairite MPs. I share your anger, and I agree that something has to be done so that we don’t find ourselves in another leadership election next year.

But we must tread carefully, my friends. I would love nothing more than to kick out every Hilary Benn and Chuka Umunna within Labour’s ranks, to seize back control of the party and enfranchise millions of people through expanded welfare programmes and investment. Sadly, this is not entirely possible, at least not yet. There will always be centrists and right-wingers within the party: it’s how you manage them that matters.

Implementing mandatory reselection and bringing back Shadow Cabinet elections are both hot topics right now. I support these measures, provided the second one gives party members, not MPs, a vote in who sits in the Cabinet. Corbyn is once more extending an olive branch to hostile MPs in order to unite the party, but so far they have thanked him for it by undermining him whenever possible. He should not repay them by giving them another chance to do so through cabinet elections. It should be members who decide how their party is run, not self-appointed gatekeepers.

While Corbyn handles the administrative side of things, our job is to mobilize, organize, and demonstrate. Teresa May’s government is devoid of any mandate whatsoever, and at a time when we should have been focusing all our efforts on shutting her down, we had to busy ourselves with this coup nonsense instead. So many wasted opportunities, so many missed chances. But now that the coup is over, we must build a grassroots opposition to Teresa May, alongside Corbyn’s governmental opposition.

This must be done at a local level to win the hearts and minds of those unconvinced by or unsure of Corbyn’s message. Without you, on the streets with leaflets and facts in hand, Corbyn is left with interviews on The Andrew Marr Show. As we are well-aware, he is hardly given a fair hearing in the press, and if this continues, we will never convince those whose only sense of politics comes from the 6 o’clock news. We have to reach people who do not attend rallies or demonstrations. We have to go knocking on doors.

Time will tell if a better Labour Party is on the horizon. For now, we can celebrate, but we ought not to see this victory as the final nail in the coffin of New Labour. There is still much work to be done to get Corbyn into No. 10, to manage the stranglehold that Blairites have over the party, and to start helping people again.


What’s in a name?

If you’ve ever delved deep into the superabundance of message boards and forums of the internet, you’ll know that no topic is really off-limits. On discussions of politics, this is especially true, and when debating others about the limits of state power – or more fundamentally, the nature of authority – there is seemingly no end to the facets of the philosophy. Indeed, the writings of Hobbes and Mill are debated as thoroughly today as they were when they were first published.

While property rights, forms of governance, and the concept of taxation are most heavily discussed among political philosophers, there is one sorely neglected area of political philosophy: The state’s power to regulate the names of their citizens. Compared to the tax code or the electoral system, this may seem like a trivial aspect of governance, but it still raises that most fundamental question that anarchists and libertarians ask of us: Why does the state have the right to legislate over us, to dictate to us the very foundation of our external identities – our names? If I sincerely want to call my child Dickhead – having considered all of the societal ramifications, and accepted that in doing so, I would be the real dickhead, not my child, then who is to tell me I can’t?

Of course, this immature exercise of free will would probably be short-lived; The child would surely change its name at the first available opportunity. Naturally this is not a serious example, and so can be discounted quickly. But what about names that are carried by millions of people across the globe? Why should the state have the power to legislate over the Joshuas, Amelias, and Maliks of the world? These are inoffensive names.

Most countries do have some level of legislation related to names. In some parts of the United States, names like ‘Mahershalalhashbaz’ are rejected for purely technical reasons – they don’t fit on official documents. In New Zealand, parents are forbidden from naming their children after official titles like ‘Prime Minister’ in order to prevent confusion. Germany even forbids prospective parents from naming their child after commercial products, perhaps out of copyright protection, but more likely to prevent embarrassment.

Though the degrees of strictness vary between nations, one ordinarily progressive country has gained notoriety in recent years for its unusually strict naming laws. In Iceland, a Naming Committee comprised of three government-appointed intellectuals legislates in order to approve or reject every new citizen’s name. Every infant citizen of Iceland has to have their name approved by this government body within six months of their birth, and if their name is rejected, their parents are legally required to change it.

If the child’s name is not on the pre-approved list, it must meet five conditions:

  • It must not cause the owner societal embarrassment or public outrage.
  • It must have a cultural or historical connection to Iceland.
  • It must not contain any letters that do not appear in the Icelandic alphabet.
  • It must conform to the grammar rules of the Icelandic language.
  • It must match the gender of the owner, with a few exceptions.

It is the second requirement – compatibility with Iceland’s cultural traditions – that causes the most confusion.

For instance, the Committee recently added Owl Mirror (Ugluspegill) to its approved list of names, under a very long-winded and flimsy justification. Ugluspegill is the Icelandic translation of Ulenspegel, the folklore name of a German trickster who supposedly visited Iceland sometime during the 14th century. In short, there is a historical connection to Iceland, and the name is therefore acceptable. The name Harriet, on the other hand, bears no such connection, and was banned in 2014, costing a ten year old girl the right to a passport. Ugluspegill good. Harriet bad.

Even the former mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr, fell foul of the rules when he tried to remove any mention of his father’s name from his surname. Icelandic surnames are often culturally formed from a parent’s surname, with the suffix -dóttir if from the mother, and -son or -sson if from the father, and so Gnarr’s request to remove the ‘Kristinsson’ from his surname flew in the face of committee rules. He described the Naming Committee as “unfair, stupid [and] against creativity”, and eventually resorted to having his name recognized in a Texan court.

The Naming Committee is evocative of Mark Dunn’s novel Ella Minnow Pea, which takes place on the fictional island of Nollop, just off the coast of South Carolina. Ruled by a despotic council, the island gets its name from Nevin Nollop, a deceased writer who supposedly created the phrase “the quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog”, which is displayed on a memorial statue. When the adhesive on the statue’s letters begins to wear, they periodically fall to the ground, and the council interprets this as Nollop’s divine will, informing them that the letters are tainted. The council instructs the police to remove all trace of the fallen letters from the island, and threatens those who dare to use them with imprisonment, banishment, and even execution. By the end of the book, barely any letters remain, and many citizens lie dead.

In Iceland, the Naming Committee does not rule with such an iron fist, but its arbitrary decrees on acceptable and unacceptable names recalls a similar aspect of totalitarianism, casual though it may be. ‘Alex’, ‘Adriana’, and ‘Kelly’ are all banned. ‘Einar’ with one R is approved, but ‘Einarr’ with two R’s is banned. ‘Caitlin’ is banned, but ‘Kaitlin’ is approved.

Thankfully, Iceland may soon be free from this casual oppression. A recent poll shows that at least 60% of citizens are against the rules, and even the current Minister of the Interior Ólöf Nordal, has gone on record stating that she would like to see it destroyed.

So the next time you find yourself getting knee-deep in a discussion about the rights of citizens on 4chan or Reddit, spare a thought for the Harriets and Einarrs of Iceland too.

If you want to defeat Trump, the worst thing you can do is vote for the ‘lesser evil’.


Hillary Clinton embraces wanted mass murderer Henry Kissinger at the Atlantic Council // Jonathan Ernst // Reuters

The 2016 Presidential election looms ever nearer. On the right, Hillary Clinton offers platitudes, false promises, and outright lies, while on the far-right, Donald Trump echoes the sentiments of fascist demagogues before him. Both candidates pledge to kill enormous amounts of people if elected. Both candidates have little to no response to the growing global crises of our age. Both candidates essentially hope to fiddle while Rome burns.

If you’re familiar with any of my previous works, you’re probably thinking I sound like a stuck record. Last April, I wrote a piece about Clinton’s penchant for bloodthirstiness and corruption, a piece met with derision by devoted Democrats (the sort of people who talk about Barack Obama as though he were their personal friend, or some such nonsense).

Though I published this piece way before the rise of Donald Trump, I was (and have been) repeatedly informed by liberals that even mild criticisms of Hillary Clinton boost Trump’s chances of winning the election, and thus the chances of losing our hard-won social victories. It was my civic duty as any kind of progressive to hold my tongue and support Clinton on election day (despite being a British citizen) to stop fascism in its tracks.

We might call this Lesser Evil Syndrome, whereby voters begrudgingly support the candidate with the best chance of winning who isn’t the candidate they hate or fear. Of course, many people who intend to vote for Hillary Clinton are enthusiastic disciples, but others who are critical or even hostile towards her will still reluctantly vote for her in November because the idea of a Trump Presidency is too much to bear. To varying degrees, her lackluster campaign seems to rely on this – it often substitutes meaningful policy substance with foreboding tales of Trump’s plans.

John Halle and Noam Chomsky recently published a defense of Lesser Evil Syndrome, in which they essentially argue that voting should not be a form of self-expression or any attempt at a moral judgement. Instead, it should be a measure designed to inflict the least amount of harm on the fewest people possible, in this case by voting for Hillary Clinton. For the authors,

“The suffering which [Trump’s] extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency” and “should Trump win [because of the left’s] failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration”.

At face value, Halle and Chomsky’s defense of Lesser Evil Syndrome has the curious effect of telling all of those who will be victimized by Hillary Clinton to go to hell.

If Clinton’s record is anything to go by – from threatening to commit nuclear genocide against Iran, to joining Haiti’s factory owners as they sought to destroy a minimum wage increase – she has, at times, implemented many of Trump’s policies.

The fact that she recognizes the threat global warming poses and Trump doesn’t (something Halle and Chomsky stress repeatedly), does not mean she has done much to mitigate it – her time at the State Department reveals that she repeatedly pushed fracking onto countries that didn’t want it, and meekly supported the Keystone XL pipeline until it became impossible not to oppose it.

Immigration, also oft-cited by those suffering from Lesser Evil Syndrome, yields few fruits either – Trump’s plan to deport millions of people is shocking and brutish, but Clinton has boasted about supporting a Mexican border wall, and admitted to deporting orphaned refugees while at the State Department.

“Truly, how can we call something “lesser” when it creates the framework for the “more””Andrew Smolski

Regardless, Halle and Chomsky’s crucial point is that if Trump wins, the left will be blamed for the things he does, making it harder to get their voice heard within the Democratic Party and get the changes they want in society more generally (if not supporting Clinton makes the establishment stronger, imagine what will happen if you do support her!).

In fact, the exact opposite seem to be true, as borne out by two dark chapters of European history:

In the final days of the Wiemar Republic, the Social Democratic Party of Germany sensed that the country’s mood was decidedly right-wing. In the belief that Paul Von Hindenburg could reign in the worst of fascism (he was considered the ‘lesser evil’), the SDP refused to put forward its own candidate, and backed Hindenburg in order to keep Hitler out of power. So enthusiastic was their belief that Hitler must be stopped at all costs that according to Hal Draper, they “rejected with scorn the revolutionary proposal to run their own independent candidate against both reactionary alternatives”. Hindenburg won the election, failed to rescue the German economy from depression, and appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor in 1933.

Mussolini’s rise to power during the 1920’s offers a similar warning. Italy at this time found itself in the grips of the Squadrismo, bands of fascist thugs who assaulted and murdered people and seized control of public spaces. Liberal politicians in the Italian Parliament sought to stop this fascist violence by any means necessary – even if it meant refraining from criticizing Mussolini, or even openly supporting him. In their cowardice, many praised his no-nonsense approach to corruption and disorder, and saw him as the only one capable of reigning in the Squadrismo. In other words, Mussolini was considered the ‘lesser evil’ even though he was responsible for much of the violence liberals were afraid of.

Naturally, the United States in 2016 faces very different calamities to those of the past. But the point is that allying with establishment or ‘lesser evil’ candidates rarely staves off the threat of fascism and idiocy, and certainly does little to shore up the ideological basis of the establishment philosophy. The SDP and the Italian liberals were not shored up by opting for the lesser evil – they were destroyed by it, and so was the chance for a real leftist opposition.

Even if we ignore the warnings of the past, Halle and Chomsky have not properly considered how Donald Trump has risen so high to begin with. It is not down to the work of Fascist Fairies who delicately sprinkle White Supremacy Dust on people’s pillows at night – it is down to decades of political corruption, economic stagnation, endless hungry wars, racist police violence, and an ever-widening gulf between the rich and poor, all of which establishment candidates are directly responsible for regardless of which party they hail from. No, Trump will not depart from this playbook, but he promises to, and that’s all that matters.

Democrats may humanize the inhumane through cutesy social media distractions, and throw the occasional tasty scrap down to the proles, but to think that they have any meaningful economic or foreign policy differences with the Republican Party is absurd and anti-historical. To think that opting for the right-wing instead of the far-right is anything but a self-defeating and short-sighted attempt at defeating fascism is also absurd and anti-historical. Both parties serve the interests of capital, above all else.

When one examines Hillary Clinton’s record in any meaningful detail, Halle and Chomsky’s argument seems to be that she is the preferable candidate because she will offer platitudes to today’s global crises and may leave the door ajar for the left to squeeze in. Conversely, Trump offers no such platitudes, and so he must be stopped. Reassuring lies are apparently a meaningful and preferable difference to frightening lies.

If the difference between the greater evil and the lesser evil is in the speeches they give and the language they use, rather than what their record shows, then voting truly has become a totally nihilistic and pointless exercise.

Signing the death warrants of Palestinian children at the ballot box is not a worthy price to pay for a candidate who will entrench corruption and illegality but will at least take good selfies while she does it. If for no other reason than that it doesn’t work.

The Nazis are back.

860x860Laura Ingraham gives a Nazi salute at the Republican National Convention // Bloomberg

Comparisons to Adolf Hitler are dime a dozen in the contemporary political climate. Bush is Hitler. Obama is Hitler. Angela Merkel is Hitler. These comparisons often cheapen the argument being made, have no real basis in reality (many of history’s ratbags are frightful, but not architects of genocide), and do nothing to further the discussion at hand.

At least, that used to be my view, but since the current election cycle in the U.S. began, I fear that the comparison may be rapidly becoming accurate. At first, I too laughed at the Donald Trump campaign. Like Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, I regarded Trump to be an inept and bumbling outsider who was going to do nothing to transform the political landscape of the Republican Party, let alone the country at large. ‘Sure’, I thought, ‘he says awful things, but nobody’s really going to take him seriously once the campaigns get down to brass tacks, and I doubt he believes half the stuff he says anyway’. How wrong I was. How wrong we all were.

If the experiences of Laurie Penny are anything to go by, this year’s Republican National Convention was an opportunity for fascists and, dare I say it, neo-Nazis, to band together. Such contemptible figures as Daryush Valizadeh and Milo Yiannopoulos can do little on their own, but in greater numbers, their rhetoric translates into calls for violence. Indeed, Yiannopoulos was recently banned from Twitter after he helped to lead a merry band of white supremacists to direct a hate campaign against Leslie Jones for her role in the new Ghostbusters movie. This is the consequence of allowing fascists to speak freely.

Alone, they can do little but pout on the internet. In numbers, they can drive people off Twitter. But with a leader? That’s when the real nightmare begins.

There have been early signs that Trump was becoming such a leader of the American fascist movement. For instance, he has retweeted a quote from Mussolini, as well as a racist and inaccurate crime infographic, and has been endorsed by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. But at the RNC, he openly and clearly declared himself the leader of this movement, in an acceptance speech full of lies and dogged by aggressive rhetoric.

In this speech, we heard Trump offer insight into how he views the world, and it’s not pretty. Immigrants, refugees, liberals, Muslims – for Trump, all of these groups stand in the way of America’s greatness, and all will be swiftly dealt with once he assumes office. Rife with warnings and threats, the speech reads less like an outline of policy and more like a declaration of war against cultural dissenters. It is truly frightening to read, and it is even more frightening to hear the screams and cheers from the audience, whose members are so eager to surrender the rights and freedoms of others on the basis of lies and fear.

In school, our grandchildren will read books about Trump’s rise to power, and his acceptance speech may well serve as a warning, a warning that fascism has a new face, one which offers a firm but fair loving approach in public, while advocating the mass deportation of 11 million people in private. Like the March on Rome, or the publishing of Mein Kampf, it represents the first real step nominee Trump has made to lead America deeper into the bottomless pits of Hell, and to actively recruit new converts for the upcoming struggle.

It would be foolish to underestimate the threat that Trump and his supporters now represent, a threat that while significant, is nothing compared to what it may become. Trump’s real success as a fascist leader will come when he convinces ordinary people to devote their lives to the planned race wars, trade wars, or actual wars that his Presidency will no doubt have in store, much in the same way that Benito Mussolini converted apolitical Italian citizens.

How is this done? In Christopher Duggan’s Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy, the author uses diaries and letters to show how angry and frustrated ordinary Italians had become with the established order, and how this frustration drove them into the hands of fascists, who promised stability and order (all while promoting nothing but chaos and violence). Though many questioned the motives of Mussolini and his squadristi, the thought of returning to the political status quo, with all the corruption and ineptitude it brought, was too much to bear.

Given that the United States is also highly corrupt and unstable, it’s no wonder Trump has done so well. But fascism needs a modern face – there’s no Treaty of Versailles or Communist Party around to blame any more, and the cultural landscape has shifted dramatically.

But Trump’s speech shows he is more than prepared for this. He included LGBT and African-American victims of the status quo in his posturing, which may just be the equivalent of “How can I be a racist when I’ve got black friends?”, but it probably has more to do with seeking new recruits (this, to some extent, seems to be working – Penny recalls seeing gangs of young gay men wearing ‘Twinks for Trump’ t-shirts at the RNC). Overtures were made to Bernie Sanders’ supporters too, many of whom also happen to be extremely dissatisfied with the established order.

Of course, Trump embodies all of the characteristics he criticizes in Hillary Clinton, if not more so, and his policies will only accelerate the death of the empire, but none of that matters provided you meet just two conditions: a) seek power in a country strangled by corruption and poverty, and b) give good speeches.

Perhaps a quote from Michael Rosen might help explain this further.

“I sometimes fear that people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. Fascism arrives as your friend. It will restore your honor, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighborhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you. It doesn’t walk in saying ‘our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution'”.

This is why Trump routinely lies and refuses to apologize without losing support. Fascists are fundamentally orators who rely on a disaffected and angry population in order to thrive and destroy what remains of democracy. What better place than the United States, a country whose legislature has already become terminally ill due to the Republican Party, a country already facing small-scale armed insurgencies at the hands of Oath Keepers and Tea Party members?

Fascism has been coming to America for a very, very long time. Trump just represents the latest and most successful attempt at implementing it.