And so, here we are, in the Brave, New, Post-Brexit World. But not really – despite the slim majority (52%) on the side of the Leave vote, article 50 – the clause of 2007’s Lisbon Treaty that covers the exit of a member state from the EU – has not been triggered. And may never be so. Cameron, in a clever, if thoroughly spineless, move refused to act immediately on the results of the referendum, saying instead that he was stepping down and would allow the next Prime Minister to move the situation forward. Meanwhile, over in the Leave quarter, we’ve seen more back-pedalling. Nigel Farage has distanced himself from any firm statement on the allocation of that £350 million weekly delivered to the EU, not of course that he has the authority to do anything with it, but the suggestion that this might be redirected to the NHS played no small role in deciding the minds of many. Iain Duncan Smith, much closer to the levers of power, has also downplayed that particular “promise.” On the xenophobic side of the Brexit coin, the Conservative MEP that headed up the Leave campaign Daniel Hannan has admitted that, even with an exit from the bloc, they will not be able to stem migration. A gormless, squirming Boris Johnson has as much as said that he didn’t expect to win. All in all, a pretty pathetic showing from the Victorious.
And that is merely a portion of what’s going on with the Tories and UKIP. In the country more generally, we’ve seen a continually declining exchange rate for stirling – at a 12% drop last I checked, it represents the most abrupt depreciation for the currency ever, and the lowest rate in 35 years. £125 billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 within 5 hours Friday morning, with continuing damage to the FTSE 250. At close on Friday, markets worldwide saw the loss of approximately $2 trillion, which has only increased in the new week. Last night, the country lost its Triple-A credit rating with Standard and Poor (the last major credit agency to rate them so, others having reduced their rating in response to austerity measures in previous years – though they too reduced their already slashed values). In Scotland, which voted almost unanimously (by area) for Remain, Nicola Sturgeon has begun the drumbeat of Independence once more, whereas Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland have called for a uniting with the Republic, and Plaid Cymru, in Wales, is calling for their own national referendum. The PLP Blairites have, in their wisdom, taken this time to stage a (failing) leadership coup. The arch-quisling Hillary Benn was sacked over the weekend for initiating it, and that rational move has set off a cascade of resignations from the shadow cabinet – 35 at last count.
I was, rightly, criticised for passing over the subject of migration in my last piece. To be fair, I didn’t intend to offer a comprehensive gloss of the situation, rather a background for my more academic concerns, but it has proven to be such a pivotal issue in the whole farrago that to not mention it was a glaring omission. As if we needed proof that, for many, this is the key issue of the referendum, we’ve seen a disgusting uptick in racist rhetoric and action since the results came in Friday. There have been instances of cars and homes leafleted with anti-polish slogans; groups of non-ethnic English verbally harassed up and down the country, even just outside Cambridge; there have been Muslims told “you’re next.” Reports are still trickling in from the weekend of multiple acts of vandalism, windows smashed and exteriors vandalised. Huffpo have an ongoing collection of reports, and it is troublingly long. People, people who have lived here for generations, are afraid in their own country. Although it occurred before the referendum was actually held, I would be remiss not to mention the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox by a white supremacist – Jo Cox who headed the all-party group Friends of Syria, focussing on Syrian refugee response. ANTIFA brigades are suddenly looking a lot less LARP-like.
This is something I struggle with in discussing these matters in conversation, choosing the level at which to frame them. Often times, I will, while holding to one level in the back of my mind, say something that accords with another, and later on foul myself up on the contradiction between the two. More to the point, the question – what of the rights of migrants? – has many answers, depending on how the question is framed. At the most normative level, the level of “what should the world be like,” the question is easily answered – acknowledging the illusory nature of borders and illegitimacy of existing power structures, digging into what ought to be available for people, yes, it is easy to say that there should be free movement of people and that they should be extended the protection and rights accorded to all humans vis a vis their humanity. Unfortunately, and this is particularly important when trying to convince someone sceptical of such a position, normativity is not sufficient.
In the world realpolitik, basic human rights, never mind those that are self-evident or supposedly God-given, get short shrift. As ever, freedom issues from the barrel of a gun and force rules the day. The legalese is good for little else than assigning blame once the damage is done, and arguing from a position of how-the-world-ought-to-be when your interlocutor holds to this is unlikely to get you anywhere fast. Thankfully, we haven’t (yet) sunk to that depth. However, there are still the circumstances on the ground to be considered when we ask the question.
In answer to this, then, at least on the level of ‘the hard-nosed, disillusioned realist,’ we must recourse to law. What law protects the rights of European migrants in the UK? Obviously, that of the EU. A set of laws that, if ever the Tories choose to take the plunge, will be rescinded. In this instance, what laws would the migrants have? None, other than those ensured by the UN and whatever invariably-odious writ the Government draughts to replace the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. It’s a safe bet that the rights – economic and otherwise – granted to foreigners in this yet-to-come piece of legislation will be sparse. It is, or will be, a fait accompli, and to have a conversation about it, framed with those parameters, is to accept this. What of the rights of migrants? The rhetorical question presents itself – What rights?
So, as rudimentary as the above all is, it does go some way to illustrating my trouble with the question. But, for we who hold to ideas of a better future, isn’t it our job to push against the ‘facts on the ground,’ to push against the way things happen to be, until they align more closely with they way they ought to be? It is ours then to make the case for why the laws need to be changed, to strive to realign the balance of powers such that we have the weight on our side, the weight enough to actually matter in the realms of realpolitik. Assurances have come from the like of Boris Johnson, saying that the status of EU migrants already present in the country will no change – but, looking at even just his track record of the last few days, you’d be a fool to think he won’t change with the wind. We need to push back against the racism, the scapegoating, the lies, and, in some ways most disheartening, the silence on the part of those who should know better (Lexit campaign, I’m looking at you).
All those are nice and stirring words, but that is about the sum of it without an actual, achievable, plan. Well and good to say that, after the Revolution, everyone will be treated justly and graciously, but it won’t be slogans alone that get us there. Demonstrations, and I stress that they are useful in some, limited, respects, don’t stop wars. We need to grapple with the situation, and that is one of parliamentary democracy. There is still hope for a Labour party run in a social democratic way – far from ideal, but this is about damage control now. There are accusations that Corbyn and his team didn’t do nearly enough for the Remain campaign, and even that they actively scuttled efforts amongst the Labour wing. The fact remains, two thirds of Labour voters, despite the obvious incentives of voting out (generational disenfranchisement, economic punishment by elites, continuing disposable status under the status quo – not all reasons for Brexit were racist) voted remain. Comparing this with 46% of Tory voters who voted to stay in the EU, it seems farfetched to say that Brexit was Corbyn’s fault, that he didn’t deliver (as if the votes of an electorate are some packaged object to be shuttled back and forth) the Labour constituents.
There is likely to be a leadership race within the Labour party, and, as far as the rights of migrants go, never mind a whole host of other issues, our best bet is to re-elect Jeremy Corbyn. But then we must hold his feet to the fire – it is not enough to simply elect and assume the job is done, we must hold him to his promises. Whatever his past malfeasances, large or slight, unfortunately, there’s no one else in the Labour party who is a better candidate.
This Ain’t My English
I’ve been living in England for a month shy of half a year now. It’s given me time to get my bearings, to settle in, and, finally, has allowed me to take a look around. As far as moving more or less half-way round the world goes, I’d be hard pressed to find a place closer to home. Same language, similar if not identical culture, same bloody monarch, and, if we want to dip into controversy, same phenotype. So, no big shift, really.
Though it took some doing, my paperwork is well on its way to being sorted. On the balance of averages, I probably know more, if not regional, then at least national, history than the domestic population. I’ve acquired a local pub. I can just about pass.
That is, I can just about pass – until I open my mouth. I said we have the same language, and, while it’s the same thing on paper as it is back home, the vagaries of the spoken language betray a wide gulf, wide as an ocean. It’s true that there are certain areas within Canada that are unique in their dialects, but that pales in comparison with England. There are numerous reasons for this – Canada’s population is too young to have developed beyond some rough and immediate differences, and the composition of our nation is largely immigrant based, which started the whole venture off as a bit of a melting pot. Two amongst many.
I grew up speaking what is known as the West-Central dialect, which, aside from some rather small regional quirks, is one of the geographically largest and most homogeneous dialects on the planet, stretching from the borders of Quebec through the Great Plains and on to the Pacific Ocean, paying no attention to international borders along the way. This isn’t to downplay those differences, but they are of the kind that requires some extra effort to decipher – it helps to be a native Ontarian if you’re interested in differentiating between someone from Pembroke and someone from Cochrane (mostly, well, because it’s unlikely that non-Ontarians, let alone non-Canadians, know people from either place, but I digress). Same thing goes for figuring out if what you’re hearing is a Thunder Bay accent, or that of Duluth, Minnesota. But these differences are far from as stark as those between Northampton and Gravesend, or Newcastle and Penzance, and, occur over vastly larger distances.
Thing is, though, as stark as these regional dialects may be from one another, they are known entities. English people know by ear if someone is English, whether they’re from the Lake District or from the Home Counties. And they distinctly know that I am not English. If I put the effort in, I can code switch and drop out most of my natural rhoticisms, to the point that someone thought I was an adept non-Native speaker, from some unknown corner of the Continent. I’ll allow the reader to make up their mind as to whether I consider that a compliment or not.
When not putting the effort in, I’m invariably nailed as a North American, and, due no doubt to the huge spread of West-Central, assumed to be American. I’m likely victim of my own neuroses on this point, but I can’t help but feel like people mistakenly pegging me as American comes with a whole heap of background assumptions – latter-day Imperial guilt and all the rest. Maybe not so bad amongst the English themselves, but certainly amongst expats of other countries, who have, at one time or another, been rubbed the wrong way by our bellicose cousins. I don’t need to carry that baggage – my country of birth has loaded me with enough for my liking, and, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of dear leader Harper, continues daily to heap it on.
What puts me in a bind, though, is that I’ve no interest in changing my dialect. It would be false of me to speak with a Received Pronunciation, and I have no interest in entering the fray of classism that is so inextricably wrapped up with how one speaks here, on either side. I guess that leaves me with the classic burden of all Canadians abroad – fleshing out the stereotype and politely correcting people when they mistake me for something I’m not.
For the first time in my life, aside, of course, from brief trips or holidays, I’ve been Othered, and been made to feel it. All the unheimlich of it aside, I’d highly recommend emigrating for a period, even if only for this. Difficult for us white hetero men to find it, otherwise.
You must forgive me the horrors I am about to relate, if ever this missive finds its way to you. My hands falter in the writing, and yet I will stay true to my pledge, I will make my account known, in spite of its attendant darknesses.
What fools we were! What blind innocents, taken in by the first smiling countenance we stumbled upon! I know not how much time I have remaining to me, so I will relate what I can with due haste.
As of my last record, we were waiting for Chief Rezu, the devil, to organise a mission to guide us back to society. Ah! If only we had cleaved more closely to the exact wording of Mbubu’s translations! We ought to have seen this fate in wings – but, no, we must confront what this life gives us as per our station, lest we be unmanned in His vision. Forward!
As I said, we waited for this mysterious feast the Lord of the Mahagger told us of. A day passed, and another. As they ran by, spent in idleness here amongst these savages, our numbers began to thin, though we did not notice it at first. On the third morning, I was awoken by a great hubbub. Kaseem, who had since become the nominal leader of the Mohemmadans, in their reduced state, was accosting a rather ill-bred exemplar of the Mahagger. Of course, neither man, despite the invective ejected by both sides, could understand the other, and it wasn’t until Mbubu arrived that any sense could be made of the situation.
The noise of there altercation, though, was decidedly great, and crowd began to form. Soon enough, the ordained translator was located, and the two men were able to finally communicate. Kaseem, finding the first Mahagger he could, had started berating the man, demanding to know where his three compatriots were. It seemed that, over the course of the last three days, one after another of the Moslem mariners had simply disappeared. None had mentioned anything about leaving the camp to their brethren, nor had they elicited any odd behaviour, the way the bedeviled Faisal had before his own disappearance.
As dialogue was laboriously translated, one side to another, the gathering came to the attention of Chief Rezu. When the Head Man was made fully aware of the situation, it was as if a dark cloud passed over his Blackamoor’s face. All would be made clear to us in time, he said, and we were forced to concede to his authority in the matter.
Tensions rode high the remainder of the day, with a near-brawl between another two of the Arabians and a lone Mahagger tribe member. Thankfully, Kaseem was able to reign in his comrades, else, I’m not sure what would have happened. At last, night drew near, the appointed time for this mysterious feast, and for the revelation of the whereabouts of the absent Arabs.
We all gathered at the paved parade grounds that had been the site of our earlier celebrations. Evening was drawing on, and a great fire had been built in the centre of the space. A troupe of dancers began to wave and writhe before the flames, in a most diabolic manner – the twistings of their bodies, the infernal rhythm, it could in no-way be born of a well-intentioned purpose. Watching the spectacle, I grew aware of a strange furnace-like protrusion amidst the fire.
After a hair-raising crescendo of drums and wind instruments, the dancers abruptly withdrew, and, in their place – the missing Arabs! The three men, draped in chains and battered bodily, were dragged out from some hidden corner and forced to kneel before the raised dais of Chief Rezu and his Consorts. There were shouts from the imprisoned men’s peers, surprised to see their comrades returned in such a state. Before any could more than raise himself from where he sat, Mahagger guards armed with wickedly sharp spears cautioned against any brash action.
A Mahagger man, a Lieutenant of Rezu’s, stood on the platform and called for silence. These men, we were told, had committed the crime of assaulting the Chief’s Consorts, a crime for which there was only one punishment: death. Rezu’s grim face split into a smile, revealing those evil, cruelly pointed teeth. The men, for their own part, seemed to understand the gravity of what was said, and protested their innocence. Vicious blows from spear shafts silenced them.
Following a signal from the Lieutenant, two Mahagger approached the furnace, and, with the aid of pairs of metal tongues, removed a red-hot bronze vessel from the fires. The fiendish vessel, a bowl of broad dimensions, was carried to the first of the accused. Initially, we were at a loss as to what was meant to happen, and then, then it became all to clear. It was the first victim that understood ahead of us, letting out a low, animal howl before the glowing urn was up-ended over his head. I, I cannot put to writing the horror of that poor soul’s demise. I but close my eyes now and I see it playing out before me, again and again.
Amidst the howls and wild screeches, the Lieutenant once again signaled his accomplices. One of the chained Mohemmadans fainted dead away, and the other broke out into gibbering uncontrollably, at times laughing, others weeping, switching ‘tween the two in the blink of an eye. As the Mahagger brought a second bowl to bear, a great “Nein!” rolled across the plaza.
Hans had leapt to his feet, brandishing a revolver he had secreted somewhere about his person. Without waiting to see if his directive was followed, he shot dead the men holding the bowl. There was a moment of stillness once the incandescent object thudded to the ground, and all gathered paused, trying to grasp what had transpired. Then Chaos was loosed.
A battle erupted, as Hans turned his weapon on those spear-wielding Mahagger closer to us, and the Moslems sought to avenge their murdered comrade. Several of us, Anhalt, myself, others of his company, repaired to our erstwhile dormitories to arm ourselves. We had, of course, not brought our rifles with us to the “feast.”
As I had said, these buildings were but sticks and mud, hardly defensible. Following Anhalt’s lead, once we had acquired our guns, we made for the stone pyramids and their trackless galleries. As formidable as our modern arms are, we were hopelessly outnumbered without sufficient shelter.
It was as we beat our way across the village to the relative safety that the worst betrayal of all befell us. Just as we were nearing the portal to the underground catacombs, I espied Mbubu. I called out to him, thankful to see that he had made it through the carnage thus far unscathed. A Mahagger warrior rushed out from behind a building, running at his top speed toward us, equipped with spear and shield. Anhalt, my dear friend Herr Anhalt, shot the knave down, the force of the well-struck blow knocking the kaffir back some yards. Alas, he proved his worth as sportsman at the end! As the German knelt to reload his rifle, Mbubu, the deceiver, picked up the fallen spear, and, before I could utter warning, hurled it at Anhalt. The deadly missile struck the man full-on in the chest, his topee tumbling off his head into the dust at his feet.
Had I not restrained him, Hans would have run to engage Mbubu, hand to hand. Alas, a troop of Mahagger, lead by none other than Rezu himself, had just rounded the corner. We made haste to find a secure position within the complex, but, before we had quit the scene, Mbubu called to us. His face, lit from underneath by fire, was terrible to behold. “I am slave no-longer, devil white!” It was the last I saw of him.
We made it into the tunnel, though another spear caught one of the accompanying Germans, a man named Alexis, in the leg. He bravely held the entrance while we travelled further in. I can only hold to hope that he passed quickly. As it was, the black demons were on our tails promptly enough. We paused for a moment at a junction, shooting off a volley back at our pursuants. There were four of us then.
Conrad was felled when the rogues rushed us once more – the tightness of the corridors, it made reloading our guns exceedingly difficult, and we didn’t have time enough to cover our own retreat. The situation was growing desperate. Seeing an opportunity, knowing that we would be picked off individually if we didn’t come some defensible redoubt, Hans ushered myself and Jorge, the doctor, into the first room we came upon. The door, made of stone, was quickly shifted into place. It was then that we took notice of what dungeon we had barricaded ourselves in, what our last resting place would likely be.
Once we got a torch going, we saw that the room was filled with a grotesque menagerie of artefacts, likely some store-house for the holy relics of these villainous Mahagger. It was at that point that any lingering doubts about the innocence of those poor Moslems, any vestige of confusion, was removed from my mind. Jorge examined what looked to be the flute used in the celebration at our arrival. Scheinbein. Mensch. Shinbone, human. A shudder ran through me, remembering the haunting melodies played on that macabre instrument. If only we had listened to what our bodies were trying to tell us! Too late. Under Jorge’s expert eye, it was determined that the flesh had been removed not by tools but by teeth, human teeth. Not only have we fallen in with a tribe of murderous barbarians, but they exhibit that most unholy of tendencies, that most vile of sins, cannibalism.
The other artefacts, and there were many, showed much the same source in their construction. Things too ghastly to describe in close detail, but the use of skin, and bone, is quite common. Or, I should say, was. Whatever our fate, I can rest easy knowing that we have destroyed these evil relics.
Our situation is grim. They have tried the door three times, and thrice we have turned them back. But time is on their side. We are short of shot, and, what’s worse, we have no food nor any water. We will stand to the last, but I fear for our fate should we be captured alive.
I doubt that this will ever reach you, but, on the faintest glimmer of hope, I write.
Goodbye, my love,
Hugh Octavius Pleasant
On the Recent Question Time
This was written (almost) immediately on the tail of watching a clip from the recent Question Time, the one that featured Russell Brand and Nigel Farage, inveighing in their particular way on the subject of immigration. Or, more to the form, “Is Britain really Overcrowded?”
There isn’t much to be said about Farage – he’s the leader of a petite bourgeois party, buoyed by populist rhetoric and the idiocy of that subclass. His nascent success has everything to do with Thatcherites realizing, post 2008, that the Tories don’t actually care about shop keepers.
No, what deserves discussion is Brand and his delivery. I’ll grant you, he’s got a solid platform – in the physical sense – on which to stand. He’s a charismatic fellow, with a penchant for prose. What he doesn’t have, seemingly, is the theoretical background on which to deliver. This has been the crux of it from the Paxman interview forward.
I’ll not disagree when it comes to his earnestness – he does seem to genuinely want to help. However, his methods won’t work. I’m not putting this forward as a mere nay-sayer, but rather based on historical proof. The unsystematic approach he endorses, it’s nearly the same thing we saw in the 1960’s – all righteous anger, all slogans and grandstanding, which got us nowhere fast. It’s the same utopianism we saw further back, in the 1800’s, with people like Owen or Saint-Simon. The vision is good, but the system to get us there, the nitty-gritty, the stuff that actually gets shit done, is absent.
It’s the reason why, when confronted as to why he doesn’t stand for government himself, all he could respond with was a gutless “I don’t want to become them.” As much as I might disagree with it, why not some critique of parliamentarism? Why not some description of ossification of standing power, of the way that our government quells lone voices?
Russell Brand is neither the leader, the speaker, we need, nor the one we deserve. I love that he feels motivated to speak out on these issues, more people should. However, to come at complex issues without the necessary facts, without the necessary systematic thinking, only leads to defeat. The position Russell Brand holds does a disservice to his program. Too many people will look to him, and become excited, and yet, their nervous energies, stirred, will dissipate when they realize he has no answers for them beyond the soft peddled aphorisms about collective governance and love.
Because he has no real position to speak from, Brand comes off as bad, as sly, as any careerist hack. You could see it in the discussion – he doesn’t address the actual question because it doesn’t fit with his nebulous talking points. He can’t pin-point these issues, because he doesn’t have the framework to do so. It’s no wonder that some in the audience felt preached at, felt patronized.
If this is all that people see on the scene, if this is the only leader they can point to, they will inevitably become saddened, and bereft of the will to fight. And the situation will worsen. The lack of any rigorous thought on Brand’s part is a liability. He cannot be our mouthpiece. We need someone better.
Look, this isn’t some prostration in front of the educated elite – I’m not coming after Brand because he was born working-class, or because he hasn’t been to some top university. He seems to have been able to sense some of the frustrations of the larger mass of society, without which, no amount of abstruse scholarship will get anywhere. However, having your finger on the pulse is just one part of it. You need to have a way of channeling that emotion, that anger, productively. And, from what I’ve seen, he has yet to find one.
A New Tack; or, Smash Your Damned Idols
I swear to whatever remains holy, if I see another Marxist pamphlet with Lenin’s face emblazoned on it, if I have to read another schismatic party’s organ hailing 1917 as “the most important event in human history,” I’m going to join the EDL. This is not the way forward. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite.
There is a reason I describe myself as Marxian rather than Marxist, as non-aligned rather than a party member. Too much of what qualifies as campaigning, as organising, as “fighting the good fight” amongst the Left of today is a just a stultifying, inward-looking, Bourgeois circle-jerk. If a puerile clown like Russell Brand can get people more excited about politics than we can, we who claim to have the answers (or at least the program), it’s pretty obvious we are doing something wrong.
Which working-class person, in this day and age, gives a flying fuck about Lenin, or Trotsky, or any other Menshevik/Bolshevik? None, that’s who. The whole experiment of the USSR was a fiasco, and should be consigned to history. Lenin is no hero – he, almost alone, had the power to stop Stalin from undoing whatever good had been accomplished in 1917, and he didn’t. Mind you, it’s likely the same, or worse, would have happened under Trotsky, but there you have it. We need to set our sights on the 21st century, not the 19th. Rather than offering discussion groups on the Communist Manifesto, we should be reading Harvey, or Cockshott, or anyone who isn’t actually 90 years dead. The Manifesto is a historical document of interesting note, certainly, but it is a product of its time, and doesn’t have very much to say about what’s on the ground today. Ain’t no spectre haunting Europe these days, unless it’s that of religious extremism and state oppression in the wings.
I’m not advocating for unreflective action, far from it. We should still read Lenin, we should still read Marx – but foisting rhetoric on an unreceptive public? That is no way of popularising our position. We have to recognise the damage done to our brand by the McCarthy’s, the Thatcher’s, the Reagan’s of the world. If we don’t offer people something real, something tangible tailored to their own reality, then they are just going to look at us with the same suspicion that’s been our unfair due for the last 100 years.
Self-congratulatory stances following having the biggest bloc at the local rally makes you look like a pissant. This isn’t a dick-waving contest. And if you think that that is what is of primary importance, building some mystical “Revolutionary Party,” rather than helping people in our own communities, now, well, I don’t want to be part of it. There hasn’t been any sort of viable revolutionary party in any of the Western European countries since Marx himself, and, it’s no big secret, ain’t gonna be one any time soon, either. What remains to us is to improve what we can, where we can, how we can. If that makes me some dirty Immediatist, so be it. Time is running out for us.