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This Is Why We Hate You: December Editorial

by | December 3, 2019

What is there to say? 

What can Salvage possibly add by way of ‘encouragement’, ‘propaganda’, ‘intervention’, with regard to the forthcoming British General Election, that has not been said already by those with far greater reach and impact than us? That our readers do not already know? 

Yes this is the most important election for at least a generation, yes the partisan behaviour of the purulent carrion-feeding and -excreting British media, including the supposedly neutral BBC, is epochally scandalous, yes the polls have been disheartening, yes they are improving, no they are not predictions whether accurate or not, yes everyone reading this should not only vote Labour but donate time and money and energy and effort to their campaign, yes there is everything to fight for, no not just out of some tragedian performance or rote duty but because yes, yes, yes, yes, yes there is a chance that we might win. 

And yes, we might not. 

It is exhausting to keep on keeping on, faced with that latter possibility – still touted as near-certainty by an emetic commentariat unbowed by their risible recent record of prognostication, let alone analysis. It is worth, then, taking a breath and stock of the moment. 

When Salvage started life, inextricable to the inauguration of the project, our political perspectives were overwhelmingly bleak. As we repeatedly stressed, this did not mean we had surrendered the project of liberation – that we had no hope. (Those of our critics who enjoy being provoked by provocations sternly ‘disapproved’ of our early slogan ‘Your hope disgusts us’, mistakenly focusing on the second word, rather than the first, thereby, like the subject interpellated by Althusser’s cop, proving they ‘believed/suspected/knew’ that they were the ‘you’ in question, their Bad Hope a brake on transformation.) But what earned hope we had for reform of any meaningful kind, let alone for anything more transformative, was for the medium, the long and/or the very long term. 

For all the exhausting and degrading and enraging problems that face us now, let us marvel at what has happened in a handful of years – the fact that we can now war-game immediate, day-to-day political actions (voting, phone-banking, knocking on doors, leafleting and so on) that could help to usher in a once-in-a-generation transformative reformist regime, and curtail the reign of a feral and sadistic clique of vampires, not merely in the shorter term, but in the next ten days

Agitate, and out of hope, vote Labour. 

This is not the punitive, ahistorical, obligatory optimism of the cosplay Left: this is earned and concrete and very fucking urgent hope. Whatever happens on 12 December 2019, the terrain has shifted dramatically, and if not unambiguously and unequivocally in one direction – when does history operate so? – the urgency is increasing and the potentialities for betterness are closer. 

To that end, and in that context, our support, and the support we urge, for the Labour Party does not hem and haw, does not cavil and mutter about least-worsts, does not agonise about holding noses and the pains of the politically homeless. It is proud support, full-throated, clamorous. 

Agitate, and out of pride, vote Labour. 

Which is not, for the hard-of-thinking, to say that it is uncritical. We have repeatedly put on record our disagreements with decisions taken by even this unprecedentedly left Labour leadership – over issues of free movement, for example, over issues of policing, the shibboleth of nuclear weapons, an initial too-slow and inadequate reaction to the small number of real examples of anti-Semitism within and around the party – though we utterly reject the grossly unjust and easily disproved narrative that such prejudice is particularly pronounced within the Labour Party, and the attacks on the Jeremy Corbyn himself on this axis: as Michael Cushman of Jewish Voice for Labour puts it, ‘[w]e do not underestimate the real pain people are experiencing; we contest the false narrative that inflicts that pain’. Nor, of course, are we under the slightest illusion that the 2019 Labour Manifesto is a clarion for the abolition of the value-form – which remains our own horizon. 

The Labour Manifesto is, rather, one for the rolling back of an increasingly sclerotic, tottering and vicious form of late neoliberalism, for a moderate social democracy. But even as such, even so ‘reasonable’, so limited, given the last four and a half decades, and without even slightly dewy eyes about the history of actually-existing Labourism, its triumph would represent a massive puncturing of the carapace of venality, cruelty, extraction and curtailed psychic horizons under which we are forced to live. 

A Labour victory, Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn, would be an unprecedented moment to breathe, to find new forms, a moment of collective support, an opportunity to build a 21st-Century social democracy, from where to go further, to fight on, with renewed energy. It would represent, and enable, an enormous expansion of the capabilities for self-organisation and expression of the working class, of exploited and oppressed communities within the UK – and, by example and inspiration, beyond – who have long been told that all such were dead for us, forever. It would be a triumph. In an epoch in which we have been told not only that any such triumph is impossible, but that the merest aspiration for anything of the sort is a sin that will be severely punished. 

At Salvage we have always considered our project to be the negotiation of the ongoing drive for rupture, for a fundamental revolutionary reconfiguring, with that of day-to-day amelioration of conditions of existence for the mass of people. In terms of the latter, a Labour victory would be a victory against a system of – let us remember the hecatomb wrought by austerity, and not mince words – mass death, of growing viciousness, of the rule of braying sociopaths for whom the rest of us are dust. For whom a fifth of people living in poverty, the exponential rise of children too hungry and cold to get through the day without struggling, at the same time as inequality skyrockets, the 120,000 excess deaths resulting from austerity, is neither news, nor a scandal, nor of the remotest interest. For whom the stoking of racism, the shrewd and conscious deployment of tropes leading to rises in racist violence is a tactic, for whom the deportation and death of British citizens of colour is an inconvenience only in that it was found out and reported, for whom the everyday deportation and death of non-citizens remains business as usual. 

Would it be possible, we wonder, in the manner of a ‘costing’, to calculate how many lives the Labour manifesto would likely save? From the policy to make Truvada available on the NHS, from ending austerity, from ending arms sales to Israel and Saudi Arabia? Can any previous political manifesto have promised survival for so many?

Agitate, and in mourning, vote Labour.

As the Thatcherite common sense of There Is No Alternative is increasingly challenged, as the ruling class’s room for manoeuvre narrows and what sops and crumbs the right once threw to just enough of those it despises, as part of a hegemonic project, grow less and less available to it, even more than usual, the Conservative party is organized viciousness. Johnson’s Conservatives set out deliberately to stoke, and to tap, the worst human drives. They are bureaucratised barbarism. This is the party form of spite and sadism. To the rich and powerful of course it offers riches and power. And to the rest? To those without, whom it cannot persuade to disenfranchise themselves, its offer is that, weak and poor and despised as they may be, there shall be a spectacle of someone weaker and poorer and more despised being punished for being so. 

‘[B]are of you politicians are evil and wicked and this is why we hate you’, wrote Stormzy, after Jacob Rees-Mogg opined about the regrettable lack of common sense of the immolated of Grenfell. It is impossible not to share the sense, in his words, not only of disgust and loathing but of the scale of aghastness, of near disbelief, of the shock – without surprise – that human beings can consider others in such a way. Stormzy is precisely right: this evil and wickedness is why, and what, we hate. And we should feel no shame so to hate. We hate this system, and these people, who have done this, and who do it, and who choose to continue to do it, for whom the mass misery of others is not even a detail. 

Agitate, and out of hate, vote Labour. 

Yes, yes, yes, all of this clear. How then, why then, do not just the rentiers and hedge-fund happy, but good numbers of those for whom the reign of the Johnsonians will represent a continued diminution of life, buy the blather, or at least enough of it to refuse to oppose it? What, indeed, Is The Matter with Kansas, and with the Kansases of the UK? 

A serious engagement with this question is necessary not only to dispense with the class sneer and lachrymose elitism of most liberal answers thereto, the better to understand it, but, in such fervid moments as these, to retain one’s sanity. At a time of such stakes, when a sceptic ignores or shrugs off every irrefutable datum that Labour represents the best hope for them, let alone for the planet, despair often follows. Understanding the processes can help, a little, not only to agitate effectively, but to be girded against that activist despair. 

As opposed to the vulgarian ‘rationalism’ of the New Atheists (remember them?) and their leftist variants, Tad DeLay, in his examination of the politics of the white Evangelical in the US, deploys a powerful left-Lacanian framework to approach such questions. The focus thus also moves away from some semi-mythicised working class to ask why anyone holds certain beliefs, against all sense and/or their own obvious interest – citing for example the evangelical who opposes the very public healthcare that might keep them alive. 

Though he is clear that he is not ‘absolutist’, that it is certainly worth arguing with people, DeLay is also ‘adamant about the idea that we are subjects who desire, not subjects who desire to know … and only occasionally does that desire attach to a desire for knowledge’. Nor of course is it heroism or rigour that distinguishes a clearer from a less clear thinker about evidence: it is often a ‘crisis’ that ‘creates the certain mental conditions by which they [people] can transition into a different way of thinking about something’. The contingency of this model should obviate any potential arrogance, let alone systemic contempt, in those for whom politics is informed by a degree of ‘desire to know’. In addition, it may prove succour, if of a very bleak kind, in the face of those – from Chelsea as well as Kansas, and plenty of hacky Leftists too, from all over – who remain obdurate in the face of arguments that should be the end of the matter. Because in them the desire – to fit in, to say the right thing, to be pleased with oneself, whatever – is not sufficiently a desire to know. 

But it might yet become so. Crisis might yet come. And having the argument – up to a point, and the judgement as to that point, and of the balance of an interlocutor’s desire to know, desire other-than-to-know, and outright sadism, is key – is not necessarily without traction, even if they seem to remain unconvinced. ‘[I]t’s a rare thing to desire to know something,’ as DeLay puts it, ‘and that is a precious thing, and that is something that must be fostered and tended to carefully, the desire to know, because it’s not a natural thing, and I cannot force you to know or force you to think certain perspectives. … If my students have a complete change of heart, it’s because I at most inspired a bit of desire for knowledge … and then they did 99.9% of the work’. Thus pedagogy – and thus political propaganda and agitation too. 

Agitate, and in preparation for the future, vote Labour. 

There is an unease on the Left at a ‘merely’ ethical socialism, tipping as it often has into mawkishness and moralism. Those concerns are well-placed, and all due care must be exercised. All the same, politics cannot and should not be extricable from or immune to psychic drives, which means political ethics. 

Hating what we should, we strive, too, for kindness, to act, in the celebrated formulation, as if in the early days of a better nation. It is easy to mock Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘kinder politics’, and they have, indeed, been most unkindly mocked – including, uneasily, by some on the left. In fact, for the most part they have proved themselves to be sincere and admirable and, for many, a compelling rebuke to the structural shame-mongering and malice of reaction. Sentimentality is always a danger, and always reactionary: but sentiment is human and inevitable and necessary, and the sentiments animating a Labour vote, however muddied with whatever, however much further one wants to go, however contradictory, are at fundament distinct from those animating the Conservatives.

Agitate, and out of solidarity, vote Labour. 

For all the flaws and inadequacies of the Labour Party, however much farther than their aims are the horizon for which one hankers, however clear-eyed we are, as we must be, about the party’s history, however ready and ruthless we must be to jettison it if it ceases to be a vehicle for the progress we need, the truth remains. With this manifesto and this leadership at this historic instant against this opponent with these stakes and this possibility before us, to, without illusions, vote Labour – and by all means caveat what follows, translate the formulation however you choose, dress the designation up in clothes with which you are more comfortable, to prove your hard-headed materialist bona fides as you need, whatever you prefer – is to vote against evil. 

Vote Labour.