Saturday, 6 May 2017

Britain and the Delayed Appointment with Millennial Revolution

2017 is the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Apart from the spate of new historical interpretations of it, one other feature of this anniversary is going to see Western radicals attempting to rejuvenate the mythos of Revolution, pointing towards Revolution and the possibilities it opened up being relevant now.

China Mieville is one such enthusiast along with Richard "Lenin" Seymour, a blogger in the mould of polemical pamphleteers past, who both saw the return of American Imperialism in the 2000s and the failings of neoliberal capitalism as providing the space and time out of which spectre of revolution could be resurrected.

Mieville starts off badly, however, in trying to retail it to a new audience. For a start, applying the lessons of Revolution to the present would first mean not reinventing it in a propaganda mould. But it's the rebranding of Revolution for the 21st century that's interesting, the way history can be weaponised and mythologised.

'Besides anything else, the socialist uprising in Russia in October 1917 is an extraordinary story'.

It would certain have been if that's what October was. Only it was not. The Bolshevik seizure of power was a coup d'├ętat within the Revolution in which all other socialist and anarchist-or liberal-alternatives were permanently put an end to by Lenin , Stalin and Trotsky. This was achieved by dissolving the Constituent Assembly'.

The usual way of rationalising totalitarian terrorism is to nit pick with authoritative accounts through various crude propaganda projections worthy of cynical commissars. Seumas Milne is a master of this trick. Mieville is as handy at preserving the mythos by pretending 'establishment' accounts are manipulations of truth.

The first standard technique is psychological projection 'The revolution also matters because it was, quite properly, millennial. Its opponents regularly charge socialism with being a religion. The claim, of course, is hypocritical: anti-communism is just as often infused with the cultish fervour of the exorcist. '

Hypocrisy is less a mental vice than Orwellian doublethink. Opponents remain unknown strawmen who are conjured up as 'enemies' of the revolution, the better to allow propaganda to be hammered home that easily blows them apart as demon figures, just as much as real humans were killed for political opposition.

Utopian urges are always dangerous because opponents become enemies of realising heaven brought down to earth and so require banishment before the new world order could be established. The use of concentration camps was integral to Lenin's Bolshevik revolution from the outset in this sense: Stalin just perfected it.

Kundera's Notion of Kitsch and Consumer Versions of Revolution.

Milan Kundera referred to Soviet concentration camps as 'septic tanks' whereby the Communist order could be cleansed of those whose nasty desire to spoil the collective vision of paradise was an offense. The vision Mieville writes of as an inspiration today is not just displaced religion but a form of populist yearning for a kingdom of kitsch.

Kitsch is about creating a space beyond this world, the horizon towards which the people could be together in forging a new kingdom to come that, even if it could never be realised amidst the decay and turmoil of the present, offers a shining vision yonder that could enable up to gear up all our efforts towards realising.

Such utopian longings could result in great artistic achievements. But in politics they tend to create an early political version of the model harnessed by New Labour, with its risible Things Can Only Get Better and the use of Tony Blair as lodestar of the bright new future. Peter Mandelson used his Young Communist experience well.

The Corbyn phenomenon is firmly in this mould, though his model of democratic centralism relies less on the idea of a shallow charismatic and more on the gnomic prophet of a new order that he alone can empower the people from below to 'do it' themselves if only they had enough collective faith in present potential.

This chippy version of a British DIY revolution relies more on a Mr Benn version of 'All Power to the Councils and Ordinary People' set to a background of Billy Bragg's anthem of humility The Milkman of Human Kindness. Even so, it's a sort of mild revolutionary re-enactment compared to the sort of murder spree that Mieville or Seymour crave.

The Prospect of a Revolutionary Lexit.

Part of this yearning for a new millennium is boredom. Politics was so fundamentally boring under the Blair regime, as borne aloft upon the high tide of neoliberal economic globalisation as it once was, that the idea it was inauthentic led frustrated leftists to fester in the revolutionary underground dreaming of a time of more vital political realities.

Fortunately for them, Blair's vision of hastening a new world order bases on exporting liberal democracy by military force-and unifying Afghanistan and oil rich Iraq within it-led to a new form of pseudo-imperialism that was marched by an equally fake 'Stop the War Coalition' led by otherwise redundant revolutionaries.

When Iraq descended into greater bloodshed and the jihadi forces that spawned ISIS were created, the financial crash and consequent economic slump meant a chance for Labour to radicalise and open up membership in such as a way that Corbyn could have the leadership role thrust upon him. Even when he fails in the 2017 election, revolution is in the air.

The reason is that Theresa May's Brexit government could well face economic and so political volatility as the EU disintegrates and the potential for chaos develops apace. Revolutionaries have longed for a 'lexit' that would destroy the capitalist EU cartel and open up new radical alternatives of which Corbyn is but a start.

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