Mob rule

The reaction of the tabloid press to the High Court ruling that parliament must have a necessary involvement in the Brexit process was both contemptible yet predictable. These rags regularly wrap themselves in the Union Jack, claiming to stand in the frontline against the encroachments of European law, then they respond with a disdain for the very constitutional process they have been supposedly championing!

This is a worrying development. All of this has come off of the back of a campaign won by a blonde-haired demagogue exploiting the mob to pursue his own ambitions with a cause he never really believed in in the first place. It reminds one very much of “mobs and nobs” in the eighteenth century. Whenever the aristocracy wanted to put pressure on the government, they would whip up the mob to a frenzy. Lord George Gordon, for example, inflamed anti-Catholic feeling in response to small concessions granted to Catholics by the Papist Act of 1778. Hence, the Gordon Riots. Aren’t we seeing something similar with mobs and nobs now, except the fear of Catholics has been replaced by that of migrants?

That the Mail and other rags would exploit such low fears for their own ends should not surprise us: ‘Hurrah for the Brownshirts‘ anyone?

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Repentance: the mistakes we made

The aftermath 

From the moment we opened our eyes on the dawn of 24 June, our minds were thrown. It has taken from then till now to reach a place of equanimity. A reckoning is in order – what happened, and was our reaction wise or just?

What happened in the outside world we have sketched already and we see no reason nor has anything materialised to change our minds about our analysis of it. In short, an irresponsible, unserious, unscrupulous and stupid section of the ruling elite has taken power, or is in the process of taking power, based on a campaign of lies designed to whip up the fears and emotions of the poor and bewildered. The result has been just as predicted by those denigrated during the campaign as “experts” – so not Project Fear at all, but Project Reality. The brains were for Remain. But the brains lost. Project Hate is taking the reins of government and the lid that had been kept on racism and social divisions in recent decades has been lifted off, with explosive and ugly consequences. Can there possibly be a bright side to any of this?

The best that we can be
There might well be, but to get there we need to look a bit more closely at our reaction to the news – to what happened internally. As we said, our minds were thrown. We were angry, and depressed, and sought people to blame. Having picked a scapegoat, the one we believed to be most immediately and obviously responsible, we picked up hot coals of anger and thew them – burning our own hands in the process. That this is understandable and (we hope) forgiveable should be derivable from our honest and we believe factual assessment of what had happened. But never mind the justifications – was it right? Was it just? Was it wise?

At times like this, full of anger, of sorrow, of confusion about the best way forward, we turn for guidance to those who are more highly evolved than we are. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen master. That means he is a master of his mind and his emotions and is therefore more capable than we are of making wise decisions in the heat of the moment. When he first came to America from Vietnam during the war there, his country too was in crisis. And, it should be needless to say, a much more severe crisis than we are facing. Thich’s country was being destroyed, his friends, family, loved ones and fellow countrymen slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands. When the gentle monk stood up in a meeting to speak for peace, an audience member interrupted and asked what a kook like him was doing over here in his country, giving lectures. If things were so bad, why didn’t he go back home where he belonged and put his attention there? Thich remained completely calm and gently explained that his country was on fire. Given that the cause of the fire was over here in America, he’d come over to see if he couldn’t help put it out. Later, after the talk, Thich was found by his friends standing outside, trembling and shaking all over and breathing deeply. He explained to those who asked him what was wrong that anger had arisen in him as that man had spoke. Then why not express that anger, he was asked. Surely the fool who had asked the question deserved it – surely Thich was justified in expressing it. Maybe so, said Thich, but I am not here for myself. I am here to represent my fellow countrymen who are suffering so badly. I must show people here in America the best that we can be.

I can never relate that story without choking up. And the lesson from it is clear. We failed to be the best that we can be. Following the path of peace and wisdom is a hard one that takes many years of training to yield success. We do not beat ourselves up for our failure, but we do bow in gratitude for the lesson – it is humbling to the ego to know how far one yet has to go. It inspires us to begin anew and try again.

Eknath Easwaran, a spiritual teacher from a different tradition and inspired by Gandhi, says that anger is not a problem as long as you have trained your mind to be slow. If your mind is slow, you can see and watch gently as anger arises, take steps to calm yourself, not feed your anger with thoughts, and drive the energy of anger instead into wise and compassionate action and kind speech. If your mind is fast, there is no hope for any of that. You will have no chance of taking hold of and transforming your anger – your anger will tear off and drag you in its wake. You won’t use it, it will use you.

That is what happened to us when we learnt of the EU referendum result. Our minds raced off and anger and fear fed greedily on the thoughts. Social media made it worse – as social minds they are faster even than newspapers and TV and are therefore, unwisely used, poisons. Drunk on thought and poison and anger, we started wars with all around us. Thank God, the war of words has not yet escalated into a real war – though how easily that happens should now be obvious to all who are paying attention to the predictable and predicted rise in racist and xenophobic violence. We happily (or rathe unhappily) started wars of words with friends and family. In the country, others are starting literal wars of hatred with their neighbours. How desperately and urgently we need to slow and calm down and begin to make peace!

Drive all blames into one: the only revolution that will work
In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a system of slogans to help you with daily living known as lojong. One of the slogans forms the subhead to this section: drive all blames into one. What this means is that when things go wrong or aren’t to your liking, when disaster or dissatisfaction in whatever form strikes, whether in big ways as in wars or in small ways as in irritation with your neighbour, what you can do is to take all the blame for the situation onto yourself. This is not the normal way of proceeding, of course. Normally we start looking for someone to blame. To reverse that normal way of behaving is to begin the only revolution that will ever work. It doesn’t mean to turn yourself into a doormat for other people or to ignore or tolerate bad behaviour in others. It simply means to take full responsibility for every situation you find yourself in. If you look deeply, you will see that you personally always bear, or at the least share, responsibility for creating the situation you are in.

In the wake of the EU referendum result, we started to blame those most responsible. The Leave campaign. The people who voted for it against all the advice of the experts. The social situation that led the working class to so distrust the political class – the fact that they had been shat on from a great height and ignored or taken for granted by both sides of the political divide. And so on and so on. But we are to blame too. We failed to mount a successful enough campaign – in the first place against holding such a stupid and undemocratic referendum, in the second for the right result. We failed to get out there and connect with and educate the ignorant. We have failed to inspire confidence in the left project. We didn’t work hard enough to support those being shat on by the elites – the fact that they no longer trust them is our fault too. Our behaviour and conduct and thinking as socialists has inspired precisely how many people to follow our good example? Would zero be too cruel an answer?

This is our task now as our country slips into crisis. To drive all blames into one and act.

Maybe…”
There is another Zen story that is relevant here. It goes something like this. A man comes into a great inheritance and is given a ton of money. You are so lucky! say his friends and family. Maybe, he says. With his windfall he goes out to buy himself a new car and drives it into a tree on the way home. At his hospital bed, his friends commiserate with him. You were so unlucky, they say. Maybe, he replies. While he is in hospital, a mudslide destroys his house. How unlucky, say some of his friends. How lucky you were not in the house at the time! say others. Maybe, he replies…

The point of course is that we cannot see all ends and must work well within the situation as it is, whatever it is. The vote for Brexit struck us as a complete disaster – and, of course, in so many ways it is. But might there be a bright side? Maybe.

For a start, Brexit may not even happen. The odds that it will and the political feeling that it must are against such a conclusion, but the possibility of EU fudge, a new deal, a general election, a feeling of Bregret when Brexiteers realise they’ve been sold a pup and cannot have the best of all worlds and that the costs of Brexit will be severe, means that a Breversal, as The Economist puts it, cannot be ruled out.

But more optimistically still, we have the situation in the Labour Party. The Blairites may have miscalculated here. They took Jeremy’s lukewarm endorsement of Remain and his supposed footdragging in the campaign as the excuse they’ve been desperate for ever since Jeremy was elected leader to launch a coup – flavoured, as might be expected, with shameful, even evil attempts to break Jeremy on a human level, a brew seasoned with lies and Machiavellian plotting and backstabbing. They have done everything in their power to unseat him – except, of course, to trigger a leadership challenge that they must surely lose. (The membership remains firmly behind Jeremy.)

Could, then, this crisis lead to a final reckoning in the Labour Party? Picture the scene – Jeremy wins a renewed mandate for his leadership. The movement that supported him gradually steps up to the challenge; MPs deselected, the PLP and shadow cabinet filled with Corbynistas. Come election time, a highly energised Corbynista Labour Party is able to connect to the least bigoted of the Leavers, thanks in part to Jeremy’s well known euroscepticism, winning back Labour’s core vote. The very fact of Jeremy’s survival and likely victory so discredit the mainstream narrative about his lame leadership that the aspirational middle class begin to see that there is little to fear in the Corbynomics plan to grow the economy. Following Corbyn’s victory, the very fact of Brexit gives the new Labour Party the freedom to pursue economic goals that would have been problematic under EU rules, and a moral power to renegotiate access to the single market with freedom of movement combined with protections for the sections of society that lose out most from such deals. In other words, from the jaws of Brexit defeat, we snatch a social democratic victory beyond present imagining.

That this scenario is almost ludicrously optimistic from the point of view of the intellect and of political and social realities we would be the last to dispute. There barely seems to be time for it to be realised, let alone the will. But there is a final spiritual lesson to learn from this ongoing disaster – and it is perhaps the most important of them all. It is that pessimism of the intellect and objective realities can hold no power over a fully developed, undiscourageable, ever-renewed optimism of the will. So if our scenario is in the slightest bit appealing to you, don’t just sit there – and certainly don’t just criticise or sneer. Join the Labour Party – join Momentum, the movement that supports Jeremy. Do it today.

Regardless of the prospects for our utopian scenario, at the present time Jeremy remains the great hope for a progressive outcome for this crisis. He is also something of a model when it comes to political conduct. He may not have mastered his mind as Thich Nhat Hanh has, but he is a pretty remarkable operator nonetheless – committed to a politics of kindness, honesty, seriousness and straight-talking that even the right finds refreshing to behold. Jeremy doesn’t do personal. But he does do tireless political work for peace and socialism and compassionate action. Let Jeremy be our role model. Let’s get behind him now.

Paris – compassion and forgiveness is the only answer

The first response to the events in Paris must be to fully face the horror, the fear, the despair, the sadness. Our heartfelt sympathies are with those killed and injured, their families and friends and loved ones; with those who were not injured but are traumatised by the violence, and with those who helped put an end to it; and with the Muslims and refugees living in the West, many of whom must be especially nervous and fearful of reprisals and blame. But eventually, we will have to pull ourselves together and move on, not least because giving in to fear and terror is precisely the aim terrorists have in mind. And as our mainstream media and ruling political class so often insists, in this case rightly, we can’t allow the terrorists to win. When we can breathe easily again, our minds will turn to what can be done to prevent such atrocities happening again. In our political and social climate, the only decent answer will sound like wishy-washy, hippy bullshit, but it is really and truly the only pragmatic, hard-headed and efficacious one. It is compassion.

It goes without saying that what happened is morally unjustifiable, truly reprehensible and repugnant – but the simple-minded explanations and the violent and merciless solutions that we will hear proposed in the following weeks and months will not suffice, and are insulting to thinking people everywhere. Whether we like it or not, the people who carried out these atrocities are motivated into action by a moral code – they think they are trying to ameliorate a greater evil perpetrated by Western governments. By telling ourselves that these people are just ‘brainwashed’ or plain ‘evil’ is the stuff of self-deceit and it prevents us from asking the most obvious, but uncomfortable questions: ‘Was it anything I did?’

The fact that we wholly disagree with what they did and stand for only makes it all the more important that we ask this question seriously and think about the answer deeply. It’s a shame, but we do not expect any inner-contemplation, feeling or compassion from the “practical” people who comprise the political class. These people seem incapable of anything other than grandstanding and portraying themselves as innocent victims rather than as the Machiavellian war-mongers they actually are. This self-deception has to be challenged and we implore them to consider a moral and spiritual truth that they might perhaps be familiar with: ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us’. Or as the front cover of the first issue of Charlie Hebdo after the previous terrorist attack in Paris put it, “Tout est pardonné”.

Compassion and forgiveness: this is the only basis on which we can move forward as a human race.–Dave and Stuart

Warriors for peace

Shortly after Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory as leader of the opposition, we said that the predictable response would be to whip up fear. Less than a week later, we have a serving army general saying that there would be a military coup in the wake of a Corbyn general election victory.

We also said that the only hope for Corbyn in the face of such fear is for the electorate to grow up. What we mean is that all those people, including ourselves, who see hope for the future in a Corbyn-led Labour movement must learn how to smile in the face of such threats. We must much rather take on the responsibilities of peace than live in fear and tolerate wars. For how childish is it really to propose to establish peace from behind the barrel of a gun, to slaughter those we see as threats, to sincerely believe that nuclear weapons could be the answer to anything?

To steal some imagery from a book we are reading, we must be prepared to walk a tightrope over the abyss, to summon up the courage to stare right into that abyss and keep walking, to transcend our everyday humanity and become the very best it is possible for a human being to be. We must become warriors who can smile at fear and walk the path of peace.–Stuart&Dave

Jez we did! Now let a new conversation begin…

There’s nothing more thrilling and warming to the radical soul than that moment when the power structure cracks and crumbles. What had seemed so right and obvious and eternal is gone in an eyeblink. Ceausescu’s face when the booing started. The cracks in the Berlin Wall. Portillo. The Blairites during Jeremy Corbyn’s victory speech.

So, Jez we did indeed! This is a stunning victory for the left, and a crack in the near-four-decade-old edifice of Thatcherism, and it’s been a long time coming – a whole lifetime coming for some political activists, including those talking to you now.

The Tory reaction has so far been politically clever – if disgusting and cynical from a human point of view. It is to whip up fear. The first Tory response to the Corbyn victory, one no doubt long in the planning, was that Labour now represents a “threat to national security”. The Tories are now under instruction to use the word “security” as often as possible in the hope that the meme will take hold of minds before any facts can get in – in much the same way that many people already believe that the Corbyn shadow cabinet, with its majority of women, is somehow all-male. We can only hope the electorate can grow up in time to see through all this. History cautions against being overconfident on this score.

The New Labour reaction was scarcely more edifying. The Blairites pride themselves on being political weather vanes, wetted fingers in the air, focus group data at the ready. And you could argue that Blairism was indeed a clever response to the prevailing political winds of its time. But the wind has changed and their psephology has failed them. As is to be expected from conservatives and dogmatists of all stripes, they stick to their ideological framework when the facts change. All they have left is the unedifying dogma that the only thing that really counts is power and that the only way to beat the Tories is to once again cosy up so as to be indistinguishable from them. For us however –as in fact for some Tories – the very fact that we have an opposition again is something to be cheered by all genuine democrats, regardless of the extent to which you share Jezzer’s vision.

The Blairites have a fear card of their own to play, which is that Corbyn will destroy the Labour Party, the only organisation powerful enough to stand up to Tory attacks on the poor and working class. Call us simple-minded, but we rather tend to the view that the best way to oppose is to oppose, not to play cynical political games, and if this destroys the Labour Party, then it is clearly not fit for purpose anyway. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that the very opposite is the case: that Corbyn is Labour’s only hope. In any case, it is the settled and democratically expressed opinion of the majority of Labour Party members, not to mention the social movement that now backs it, that the old New Labour just wasn’t worth saving anyway. Let’s see what can be built to replace it.

But can we win? #Thatchwecan!

The big question now is whether this social-movement, Occupy-style Corbyn victory signals the beginning of the end of the 40-year-long neoliberal project. Who knows? The movement against remains weak and it faces powerful enemies. Power fights back. But at the very least, a new conversation will begin, and this is needed more than anything else.

The pundits are doing their best to assure us that a Corbyn election victory is not possible. It should be remembered that these are the very people who only last month ruled out as ludicrous the possibility of a Corbyn leadership victory. And it wasn’t so very long ago that Labour swept to victory on a left-wing ticket and made some of the most progressive, socialist reforms the world has ever seen. So of course it’s possible – Jez could be PM in 2020.

It’s worth remembering that Thatcher herself was very much a Jez figure – a radical opposed by her own party who espoused ideas that mainstream opinion agreed were just nuts. But society was in crisis and change of some kind was irresistible. Something somewhere had to give. Thatcher won by pulling sections of the working class along with her project – the key also to a Jez victory. Thatcher promised material advancement – offering shares and council houses at knockdown prices. We were promised a ‘property owning democracy’, and a ‘popular capitalism’ — a nation of ‘Sids’. The ‘Sids’ now are still arguably doing pretty well out of the Tories – the relatively wealthy pensioners who vote for them have had their wealth ring fenced from austerity cuts. But the reality for many more – many of whom don’t vote – has been one of falling real wages, precarity at work, benefit cuts, massive student debt, and property ownership in decline. Social mobility has virtually stopped as inequality has widened.

It is for these reasons that Corbyn, and the movement that he has engendered, just may have a chance. There are plenty of people unrepresented in this democracy of ours, who are feeling ever poorer, and are thoroughly sick of political business as usual. Some of Corbyn’s policies are already popular – the renationalisation of the railways – and it is to be hoped that he can bring them along on other questions – militarism, immigrants. Corbynomics is the method, but the object must be the soul. And at least there is at long last a Labour leader who can actually do their job – in the first instance, to vehemently oppose the Tories latest plans to shackle the trade unions and cut welfare spending, and argue for a compassionate response to the refugee crisis. At the very least, this should make the Nasty Party think twice before launching further attacks and hopefully create a questioning culture in our society that challenges the general confidence of the rich and powerful on a day-to-day basis.

Perhaps we’ve at last completed the cycle that began with Thatcher. The possibility of building a fairer society has just opened up once again, and whether or not moves in this direction are led by Corbyn, by his movement, or by something else that comes in its wake, it is an opportunity we must be thankful for and grasp with both hands. All those who have supported or cheered Jez so far have a moral responsibility to follow through, back him, and get involved in organising the alternative. How you do this is of course entirely a matter for you. But joining the movement would seem to be a good first step.–Dave&Stuart