Four-twenty

If there’s one glimmer of light in the increasingly gloomy vista that is our contemporary political landscape, it’s the gradual normalisation of marijuana use. In the US, even with a drug-hostile regime now occupying the Justice Department, the roll-out of legalisation at state level seems unstoppable, and, while we might be a bit behind the curve here in Europe (especially in the UK), medicinal cannabis is making inroads into public acceptance, and it seems only a matter of time before the prospect of relaxing the prohibition on recreational use becomes uncontroversial enough to persuade some ambitious politician that it might be a vote-winner with the youth, not to mention the ageing ex-stoner demographic.

I guess I’m broadly in favour of these developments (not that I ever have the time to get high these days), but there’s a sense of loss too, as my once radical lifestyle choice is commodified by big business into a pastime so unhip that even Canada has no problem with it.

When I was younger I looked forward to the day when my generation would grow up and take over the world, and, while legalising pot was certainly one of the things I imagined that we’d do, it is disappointing that we seem to have given up on all the other good stuff, like eradicating poverty and ending war, and are content to live like our parents did, only with better weed. Still, if, as seems increasingly likely, we’re all headed to hell in a handcart, at least we’ll be mellow…

The future is now

The first time I saw the Pacific Ocean was when I visited San Diego in the early 90s. The morning I arrived, after a long overnight trip on the Greyhound, I dropped my bag at the youth hostel, just a short walk from the beach, and headed down to the shore to wash days of accumulated grime off in the warm sea.

I had travelled all the way from the cold east coast in a couple of gruelling bus journeys, and basking in the warm Californian sun felt like heaven. I ended up staying in San Diego for about a week, mostly just loafing on the beach, recharging my batteries while planning my onward course up the west coast. Wanting to travel a bit lighter, I packed most of my thick clothes in to a parcel which I sent back to the UK, figuring that I wouldn’t need them now that I had reached warmer climes. This was a decision I came to regret when I reached Oregon, and even more so when I got to Seattle, though the heavy plaid shirts I was obliged to purchase there to avoid freezing to death did make nice mementos of the trip.

The hostel in San Diego had a bookshelf with a good selection of pulpy sci-fi, which was perfect for undemanding beach reading. One story in particular caught my mood during those long, laidback days; a trippy tale of aliens from the Andromeda galaxy trying to invade the Milky Way through some kind of telepathic mind-control thing. I didn’t really comprehend all the subtleties of the narrative – the starships were all modelled on playing cards for some reason, meaning the stylised space battles took the form of cosmic games of trumps, and it was never clear which characters had and hadn’t been taken over by the aliens – partly because the volume I had was something like the third in a series of seven, so I had missed all the set-up, mostly because I was pretty baked at the time. It didn’t really detract from my enjoyment though. In the years since I’ve occasionally thought about tracking down that book – I’ve forgotten the title of course – and the rest of the set, so I could finally work out what it was all about, but, wisely I think, I’ve always resisted that impulse, as it would probably spoil what is a very fond, if hazy, memory.

Anyway, I was thinking of this because the one thing that I do remember about that book is its author, Ursula K. Le Guin, who, sadly, passed away last week. I’d read, and loved, her Wizard of Earthsea cycle when I was at school, though I’m not sure that that really prepared me for her more out-there sci-fi. I subsequently got to know more about her political outlook, which was not dissimilar to my own, and appreciate that her stories of the future, like all the best science fiction, were really about how we live now, what we need to change, and, most importantly, that change is not only possible, but inevitable. That’s a message that it’s good to hold on to in these dispiriting times.

Futurama

Here at SLS we’ve tried our hands at prognostication more than a few times in the past, with generally disappointing results; we’ve erroneously assured readers that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for the Presidency (twice), confidently identified as winners teams in major sporting events who go on to exit at an early stage, advised against investing in dead-end companies like Google and Facebook, and completely misread the political mood of our own home nation. The only thing I can find that we actually got right was forecasting Barack Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney, which didn’t exactly require Nostradamus-level predictive skills.

Still, it’s the start of a new year, so I thought it might be fun to put down a marker on the two big political questions of the day; at the very least, come December, we’ll be able to look back and laugh at our hopeless naivety.

First up: will Donald Trump still be President of the United States at the end of 2018? I think … yes. The reasoning behind this answer rests on a recognition that, while Trump’s behaviour may well provide a legal justification for his removal, by impeachment, or through application of the 25th Amendment, the decision to actually trigger these processes is a political one, and there’s no sign that a sufficiently large section of the Republican Party has the stomach for it. The arithmetic may change after the midterm elections of course, but given that Trump seems to have a solid electoral base who will stick with him no matter the outrage he provokes elsewhere, I just can’t see the numbers adding up. Naturally I hope that I’m wrong about this, and that the kickback seen in Alabama (fuelled by an energised left actually getting its supporters to the polls) becomes a nationwide phenomenon, giving the Democrats the majorities they need in the House and the Senate to carry an impeachment through, while also moving the whole centre of political gravity leftwards.

Next: is there going to be a second Brexit referendum? I think … yes. This is based less on political calculation, and more on gut feeling, particularly the general sentiment that the country is becoming ungovernable, and that the current administration cannot last. It’s possible to imagine a series of events involving a collapsed government, another election, Labour opting to campaign on the issue of giving the population a chance to vote on the final Brexit deal, and a relieved electorate seizing the opportunity to ditch the whole sorry business. There are, admittedly, large elements of wishful thinking in this, but it’s not completely impossible. The timescale is tight though – we won’t have to wait until December to see if I’m wrong about this; if there isn’t an election by the summer the exit process might well prove to be irreversible.

Finally: two bonus predictions – Germany to win the World Cup, and definitive proof of extraterrestrial life to be found before the year is out.

Thoughts on Catalonia

Of the many developments in world politics that I entirely failed to comment on this year, the Catalan Independence crisis is perhaps one of the more notable. I did think of writing something when it was all kicking off around the referendum a couple of months ago, but never got around to it, partly due to indolence, but mostly because I felt there was little new to say – the whole situation has played out in a way that would have been familiar to Marx back in the nineteenth century, and any commentary from me would have been nothing but a series of quotes from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

I think that this analysis has been largely borne out by subsequent events, as the bourgeois nationalists, after their first flush of reckless adventurism stalled, failed to harness the one force that had the potential to carry the project to success, the enthusiasm of the Catalan (and Spanish) working class for progressive social change. Fearful that the wave of proletarian expectation that they initially encouraged might end up sweeping them away too, the Catalan bourgeoisie have hastened to compromise with their counterparts in Madrid (and Brussels), a process that has led to today’s regional elections.

Of course once started these movements take on a momentum of their own, and as I write the early returns seem to indicate that the election will be inconclusive, and the crisis will enter a new phase. What happens next will depend in no small part on the leadership provided by left elements of the independence movement, and the solidarity shown by the left in the rest of Spain, and in Europe generally.

It would be hard to make any predictions about all of this in the best of circumstances, but it’s doubly difficult looking at it from the UK, though the distorting lens of our own current anxieties over Brexit. The Catalan crisis raises many important questions about the pro-capitalist nature of the EU, and support for the progressive cause in Catalonia would seem to fit into a wider anti-EU narrative, with echoes of previous events in Greece. However around here Euro-scepticism is a predominantly right-wing phenomenon, which makes it tricky to formulate a left perspective which can encompass criticism of the role of the EU in southern Europe without giving any ground to the toxic xenophobia of resurgent jingoism.

Our comrades in Catalonia, from what I’ve read, do seem to have a pretty good grasp of what needs to be done, so I’m as hopeful as one can ever be that things might work out well there. I’m somewhat less optimistic that the horror show that is British politics can be steered towards a happy ending, but that’s a topic for another post.

Red October

Today marks the centenary of the events in Petrograd which would culminate in the foundation of the world’s first workers’ state. Plenty has been written about this subject over the years, and it would be somewhat of an understatement to say that there are a multitude of opinions on the nature and legacy of the October Revolution, from right-wing hostility to the whole project, through the standard liberal view that a Bolshevik coup derailed the progress promised by the bourgeois overthrow of Tsarist feudalism, to the embrace by the left, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, of the vision of communism proclaimed by Lenin and his allies.

I’ve been consciously involved in political activity for more than three decades now, and the arguments about October 1917 haven’t changed much in that time, though perhaps the “Bolshevik coup” theory has become more solidified as accepted wisdom, even among elements of the left.

What is different these days is that the debate doesn’t seem as vital as it once did. While the centenary has exited activity in academic and left political circles, the mainstream media has more or less ignored it, and it would be hard to say that it has impacted on popular consciousness at all.

Of course the degeneration, and eventual demise, of the Soviet Union, along with the general decline of the left in the West, does seem to confirm the idea that the October Revolution is nothing but an episode of distant history, no more relevant to today’s politics than the intrigues of Ancient Rome. On the other hand, the class struggle, which so animated the workers and peasants of Russia at the start of the 20th century, is still with us, and in a form which is not so different from that which was so successfully waged by the Bolsheviks.

Perhaps I’m just an aging revolutionary, clinging to dreams of the past, but I still think that that October 1917 represents the most progressive period in human history, one from which we can learn a great deal. The problems facing the world today, stemming from levels of inequality in wealth and power not seen since the days of the Tsar, call out for an upheaval in social relations on a similar scale. One hundred years on, armed with a knowledge of how things went wrong last time, it’s time the workers took power again.

The Grenfell Tower disaster

In a story that would be dismissed as ridiculously melodramatic if it appeared in a work of agitational fiction, it turns out that hundreds of working-class tenants in London’s richest borough have been burned to death in horrific circumstances because someone chose to skimp on fire-resistant cladding for their homes, to save the grand total of £5000. That the block was converted into a death trap in order to improve the view of the wealthy residents of neighbouring mansions adds insult to the considerable injury, as does the response of the council and the government, who have largely left the bereaved and homeless to fend for themselves.

Coming on the back of the recent electoral resurgence of the left, some are predicting that a tragedy like this, which so starkly illustrates the descent of our once proud nation into an uncaring kleptocracy, might be the trigger for real social change. I’m hoping for that too, but I have enough experience to know that the system has weathered many such storms before, and will probably get through this one too.

Whether our Prime Minister will be in office for long is another question, though, paradoxically, she may be more secure now than she was a week ago, as no one else in the Conservative party seems particularly keen to take charge in the current state of chaos, particularly as another election is the last thing that they want. I expect the administration will limp on ineffectually, though what this will mean for domestic and foreign policy is unclear to say the least. Will they try to win back the centre with relaxed austerity and a softer Brexit? Or double down on the hard-right ideology? I suspect the former, though really the only prediction one can make with any certainty these days is that things will remain unpredictable.

Jez he could

Well, evidently political surprises can come from the left as well as the right. To the shock and consternation of just about all mainstream commentators, Jeremy Corbyn managed to not only forestall the widely-predicted Conservative landslide, but to increase the Labour vote to a level not seen in a generation, and come tantalisingly close to overall victory.

Close, but not quite there. As I write, Theresa May is still clinging to power, scrabbling around for support in the wilder fringes of UK politics, though it does seem likely that she will become the second Tory premier in less than a year to depart after an ill-judged consultation of the population.

In theory May’s downfall should trigger another election, which one would imagine that Labour would win, but making any sort of political prediction is a mugs’ game these days, so I guess that I, along with the rest of the nation, will just have to wait to see what develops over the next week or so. Things are looking more promising than they have done for some time though.

State of dismay

So here we are on the eve of the election, and I have yet to come up with a prediction of the outcome. This is partly due to my recent woeful record in such endeavour – I couldn’t have been much more wrong on TrumpBrexit or the last general election – but I’ve also been wary of getting too caught up in the enthusiasm around the Corbyn campaign, because at my age I can’t really stand any more disappointment.

That said, I do think it’s safe to conclude that left-wing politics have been given a bit of a boost, whether or not that is reflected in the final numbers. What the campaign has clarified is the ideological divide between the main parties, and even if the Tories do get their landslide (as the latest polls suggest), Corbyn has done well enough to consolidate his hold on the Labour party leadership, which will provide a base to build on in the years ahead.

I do need a forecast though, so I’ll go with my heart; Labour minority government. I have to be right one of these times…

Ten Years After

Rather remarkably, today is the 10th anniversary of the very first post on this blog, and, while I started out full of enthusiasm, I don’t think I would have predicted that I’d still be churning them out a decade later.

It’s not been a steady stream of course – when I did a retrospective on the occasion of our 5th birthday back in 2012 I had a lot of material to work with; the pickings this time around are somewhat slimmer. There have been a few highlights though; here are my favourites:

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

So there you have it, 16 worthwhile pieces in 5 years. Is that a good enough return to justify keeping this blog going? On balance, I think so, though I guess we can revisit the question in 2022. In the meantime I’ll revive one of our traditions, which had sadly fallen into abeyance, the contrived musical link.

À droit

What with the local election results confirming that the country is swinging further to the right (even round here), no doubt presaging a Tory landslide next month, I’ve been thinking that I should just give up on Anglo-Saxon/Celtic politics, and turn to our enlightened neighbours on the continent for some relief.

Let’s see, what’s happening in France?

Fuck…