This is a guest post in response to Paul Mason’s recent article in The Guardian: “Bond traders, Trots, and mumsnetters must unite against Farage’s mob”
I was a huge admirer of Paul Mason for his decision to go to Channel 4 in order to escape the confines of the BBC that had stymied his ability to report economics accurately. Last year, I heard him speak in Athens on the state of the economy. It was something of a Marxian argument – technologies have developed to such a degree that we don’t need to work like in the days of old and can be liberated from the fetters of inefficient drudgery.
My admiration was in large part hopeful – “if he continues his line of reasoning, perhaps he will come up with something interesting”. But on the basis of his latest piece on Brexit, which was published in The Guardian (see link above), this hasn’t happened.
Mason doesn’t help his cause with his form of argumentation. A brief scan of the comments demonstrates that his opponents aren’t as thick as he believes them to be. It didn’t take long for someone to call out that his condemnation of Farage’s call for a demo is a wee bit hypocritical.
His characterisation of these demonstrators as racists and xenophobes are not helpful either. It is far too easy to dismiss the rationality and reasoning of others in order to effectively “no platform” them. It’s easier to call them names than to consider that there may be reasons for the demonstration that are based on sound political reasoning.
It’s symptomatic of “the left” to forego argumentation and simply name-call. Dogmatism, incoherent unthinking, and hypocrisy abound on the left as much as on the right, whether in relation to Islam, gender, race, direct action, immigration, class or a multitude of other topics. Often, both “left” and “right” suffer one-dimensional thinking.
Mason confuses the diverse reality of Brexiters with their ridiculous ,homogenising representation in the media, claimed by the right-wing gutter press as their boot-boys and by “the left” as new Nazis. Might it not be the case that each one of these people might have their own reasons for taking a particular position? Or is it just the “right” that attracts mindless drones?
Potential Brexit demonstrators have as much right and reason to demonstrate as anybody else. Some may be concerned about immigration, others about jobs, and others that a movement to exit the EU that pushed back against most of the establishment (whilst being backed by the remainder of it) will be disregarded because most Parliamentarians don’t want to leave the EU. It is perfectly reasonable to demonstrate such concerns.
Now Mason being incorrect doesn’t mean Farage is correct. Farage, the Daily Mail, Express, The Telegraph and the rest of the gutter press either don’t understand the constitution they so desire to save, or they do but don’t care anyway. The most obvious and uncontestable principle of the British constitution is that Parliament, not the people, is sovereign. The people can’t make policy, only Parliament can. Not the Queen, not the army, not workers’ councils. Parliament is sovereign. Parliament decides. So of course the Courts will have to rule in favour of Parliament in order to avoid a constitutional crisis.
So to pitch the demonstration as a response to a constitutional crisis is obviously nonsense. But to dismiss it as a coup attempt by rabid racists is also nonsense. Indeed the foundation for this in Mason’s piece is a quite ridiculous dichotomisation into them and us:
“Anti-racists, globalists and believers in the virtues of science over mumbo-jumbo … winning elections”
I would be very grateful to know precisely what this means. I thought the globalists were the bankers. I thought all white people were racist. I thought combatting Islamophobia entailed being respectful of religious belief while ridiculing Christianity and Christians.
It appears to Mason that we face a modern faultline between anti-racists, globalists, and science bods on one hand and racists, nationalists, and religious freaks on the other. But that’s a bit too easy a diagnosis. His solution is even more simplistic.
The apparent way to sort out “the problem” is to ban the Daily Mail from flights to the UK, set up a liberal newspaper (without realising he was writing in just such a newspaper), ask the Director General of the BBC to send an email to staff, and finally, ask capitalists and revolutionary Marxists to be friends and go on a demonstration together.
“that means bond traders from Canary Wharf, arm in arm with placard-carrying Trots!”
If this happens then “we” can save the values of “our” country for all those who want:
“this country to be run by parliament, with the judiciary guaranteeing the rule of law, to remain engaged with the multilateral, global institutions and be tolerant to migrants and foreign visitors.”
For Mason, these are the values of nice, middle-class professionals and business people:
“the vast majority of business leaders, professionals and educated people operate in a world regulated to global standards, where markets depend on freedom and the rule of law.”
The gist seems to be that if “we” subject ourselves to the values of global capital, then we will be okay. If you don’t, you’re a xenophobic racist.
There is a sense in which Mason is being a good Marxist here. It is clear that capitalism presents progressive values, despite the incoherent nonsense of sections of the left suggesting capitalism causes racism/sexism/homophobia/bad weather. Of course it is rarely the case that anyone espousing such slogans can explain the mechanisms behind these processes beyond sloganeering. Indeed the opposite argument can be made – capitalism is amoral in the sense that its basic need is for market expansion and economic growth. To exclude any consumer group from the economy is to restrict capitalism growth.
So is that the answer then? Champion liberal capitalist values and bad things will go away? Well evidently not. Of course capitalism integrates opposition into its sphere, but only on its own terms. Black business leaders, female politicians, gay sports people, and working class politicians tend to be changed by institutions rather than being able to change institutions.
But either way, Mason’s rallying call is based on ridiculous presumptions about shared beliefs among those who he assumes wish to stay in the EU – bond traders, Trotskyists, Kurds, and women who use Mumsnet. It is also based on ridiculous assumptions about the motivations of those who wish to leave the EU.
But this is the modern political world. Rhetoric is more important that analysis. Generalisations are more convincing than specifics. We live in a media saturated world where nobody believes what they read in the press, but everyone believes what they read in their chosen press. Whether through algorithms of Facebook, contextual searches of Google, or simply choices in social interaction, our prejudices are reinforced in the echo chambers we select for ourselves, and Mason’s latest piece is a paradigmatic example of this.
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