Don’t Ban Morris Dancers Who ‘Black Up’

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Flagcrackers’ George Speller and daughter Lucy

Shrewsbury Folk Festival has banned Morris dancing teams from wearing full-face black make-up as part of its routine.  Under threat of legal action from the quango FRESH (Fairness and Racial Equality in Shropshire), the festival felt compelled to ban the acts but have expressed hope the issue can be discussed in public.  And now it has been reported in local press and the Daily Telegraph.  Although FRESH’s discovery that the Shrewsbury Folk Festival is actually a seething hotbed of ‘Hate’ runs counter to the impression of everyone who attends, FRESH’s principles include ‘challenging oppressive and discriminatory views and behaviour’.  In their view, the tradition of ‘border Morris’ which has involved the use of black make up for half a millennium is a bit like the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’ that existed on the BBC up to the 1978 when it had become a source of sensitivity and embarrassment.  The BBC show however did at least warrant certain allegations of insensitivity since the blacked-up characters did behave in racially stereotypical ways that many in society were wanting to challenge.  That is unlike border Morris.  The BWM show at its peak attracted 21 million viewers, but notably it was never banned by authorities or threatened with legal action.  There were petitions and complaints against it, but the decision to axe it wasn’t quite authoritarian, it simply reflected a changing social landscape.

Contrast this with FRESH’s approach to border Morris.  FRESH, although it calls itself a community group, has no roots in the community.  It only has 30 members, nearly half of whom are Directors, and liaises most of the time with authorities such as the police.  The notion they should target a harmless traditional activity, mistakenly seeing it as a far-right racist campaign, is blatantly a misuse of anti-racist resources.  Real racism consists in things such as the police deporting minorities back to places like Somalia, broader immigration controls, or violent wars being waged against people of colour, all things FRESH is silent over.  They ignore real racism and invent it in the sphere of innocuous entertainment.

Further proof that border Morris is part of a cultural tradition rather than an expression of

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The Black and White Minstrel Show – superficial similarities obscure contextual differences

modern-day racism lies in the realm of historical study.  The very term ‘Morris’ is derived from ‘Moorish’, an allusion to the Moors of Morocco.  Morris dancing as has evolved since the 1500s was partly a fusion of Basque inspired imitation of Moroccan dance and even older English pagan rituals of the battle between Summer and Winter, hence the emphasis on the contrast between light and dark.  None of these sources of influence are remotely like modern-day racism any more than dancing ‘Gangnam Style’ is ‘racist’ against South Korea.

There are three main harms that have occurred by the Shrewsbury Folk Festival ban.  1) they have curtailed people’s enjoyment.  2) they have banned a cultural expression on the spurious grounds they think it expresses the ‘wrong’ sort of politics.  Through doing so, they are politicising art, just as the totalitarian one party state in China polices ‘immoral art’.  So it is harmful to society.  3) they have slandered Morris dancers such as the Flagcrackers of Craven (a team who were considering taking part at Shrewsbury), as ‘racist’.  But Morris dancers are the gentlest folk you could hope to meet – the idea they are closet racists is grossly offensive and insulting.  This is harmful to the individual when done by a quasi-state entity.

May the black faces long dance up and down the country, and may the FRESH faces be sent to Bedlam.

 

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Traingate: Jeremy Corbyn Goes Off The Rails

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Through his spat with Richard Branson regarding alleged overcrowded trains, Jeremy Corbyn has revealed he wants to be treated like an Emperor.  Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor of an off-peak Virgin train from London to Newcastle, having a moan about privatisation.  However, CCTV footage released by Virgin Rail shows there were many seats available on the train without reserved tickets.  Corbyn chose to sit on the floor as a publicity stunt that has somewhat backfired.  Now he says ‘what he meant’ was he wanted a free double-seat so he could sit with his wife.  But that expectation is absurd.

The humble hoi-polloi are well aware if you want to sit with family members, it is best to book in advance where that can be fully accommodated.  But Corbyn who thinks he has a god-given right to be the next Prime Minister simply because he pays lip-service to ‘socialism’, believes special measures should be laid on just for him.  The fact is that no train company – state owned, or private – could have guaranteed that Corbyn and his wife could sit together if they haven’t booked in advance.  It is a utopian dream whilst any company has to operate within the parameters of the market, be it a nationalised company or a private company.  It is simply too expensive to generate enough carriages for everyone to have lounging room, hence seats are designed on the fair principle – one man, one seat – based around the physical structure of the human being.  If you bring someone else on to the train without booking in advance, you should expect you may be separated.  Normal people put up with this.  Normal people also remember when rail was nationalised – prior to 1996.  It was a shoddy overcharging service with overcrowded trains back then as well.

It isn’t ‘bloody Tory privatisation’ or whatever, it is derived from the efficiency of the market.  If you want a superior system to this, you need to go beyond the capitalist mode of production and develop the train network far beyond what is possible if everything has a price.  So Corbyn’s threat to nationalise the rail network really means, in this context, he will tax people more to fund his desire for himself and whoever he decides to travel with in the lap of luxury whilst everyone else struggles to make ends meet (because their tax bill has risen).  But the solution is to transcend the “nationalisation vs privatisation” debate.  Nationalisation to the extent it implies social ownership is only useful if it exists in the context of a broader liberatory challenge to capitalism, i.e. that the goal is part of a project to abolish the wage-labour/capital social relation at the heart of things through a social revolution.  This leads to the erosion of the law of value so that people become free to produce longer trains without the need to consider profitability at all.  As well as this, the likelihood of getting rid of all train staff becomes possible.  If you can have driverless cars, you can have driverless trains.  A fully automated network would also not require any station staff or guards, freeing all these people (3068 of them in Virgin Rail) to do more rewarding jobs than just travelling the same old routes up and down the country again and again just to earn the right to survive.

Corbyn’s supporters such as the Guardian’s Owen Jones has argued that privatisation is a tactic of greedy capitalism so they can overcharge on fares and cut corners on delivery in order to make super profits.  Is he for real?  Whilst Virgin Rail’s annual turnover is just over £1bn, their net worth in 2015, the latest year where figures are available, is only £42m.  When you think of the millions of journeys made in any year, a net worth of £42m is a pitiful sum.  Virgin Rail are definitely not making super profits, they are only just surviving, if that.  The problem with the capitalist mode of production isn’t that it makes some people rich, it is that it cannot develop the economy enough.  It is thus that we are stuck with an inferior train network which neither privatisation nor nationalisation can solve, since both are wedded to a wider market structure.  If Corbyn’s ‘socialism’ was anything more than moralistic posturing, he might be able to grasp this point.

Turkey’s Failed Military Coup, One Month On

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President Erdogan sends the police in to attack gay pride demonstrators and hates images like this

The main question for me has always been who is on the side of democracy, the office of President Erdogan, or the coup plotters.  On the night of the attempted coup, I backed Erdogan simply because he was elected.  But further analysis since, suggests the plotters had admirable goals.  They wanted to return to the secular democracy that is enshrined in the constitution rather than the Islamisation of the country that has taken place.  Under Erdogan, it is said by US Senator John McCain that there are more journalists detained in Turkey even than in Iran, such is the state’s contempt for Articles 25 and 26 of the constitution about freedom of thought and its dissemination, and opinion.  Erdogan is also now seizing extra powers to allow the Presidency to overrule the Parliament, suggesting there is little regard here for democracy.

A bugging question remains however, did the plotters have the support of the population, or at least a large part of it?  If not, that would always make a coup worse than putting up with an elected dictator, because such a coup would be bound to degenerate into even worse authoritarianism.

The editor of spiked Brendan O’Neill, contemplating this issue, wrote shortly after the event that the coup “lacked roots in society; it lacked a connection with any kind of public” and was just the action of a “few thousand conscripts.”  In which case, it would be indicative of a broader theory espoused by spiked – that the public are apathetic in relation to attacks on formal democracy and they need to be re-energised to believe in ‘Enlightenment values’.

But actually the coup did command support from a wide section of the population.  Why else have there been 70,000 arrests, removals, and suspensions of people in the judiciary, media, education, healthcare, and other sectors?  It is reasonable to assume these 70,000 are just the tip of the iceberg in relation to the desire to topple Erdogan, so it’s more than just a ‘few thousand conscripts.’  Although Erdogan’s popularity has apparently grown since he defeated the coup, domestically this is explained as a misleading statistic of an opinion poll of 1275 Turks who approved of him to the tune of 67%, an opinion poll conducted under an official ‘State of Emergency’ where the small sample might feel intimidated to give a correct answer.  And internationally, Erdogan is favoured because of his tough stance against Russia and his support for Islamist fighters in Syria entirely glossed over, such is both the Turkish Presidency and the international community’s faux concern over ‘human rights.’  On the night of the coup, although Western media has painted the thousands who took to the streets as in defence of Erdogan, the truth is far from clear how many supported him and how many were supporting the coup – for example, in some pictures it appears as if the protestors are riding the coup’s tanks in support rather than attempting to stall them.

It is also reported that yesterday a ‘few hundred thousand’ turned up at a pro-Erdogan rally – yet the organisers were expecting 3-3.5m, the actual number fell far short.  Just because the anti-Erdogan camp are not shouting their anger at him does not mean it does not exist – they likely fear for their safety and exist only in individuated ways because of the climate of state terror.

A key thing to understand is the question whether the military were acting as representatives of the state or as representatives of the people.  The military always embodies these two things but in different ratios at different times: thus in 1974-5 in Portugal, an army rebellion toppled a fascist dictatorship.  And again in 2011, the Egyptian military rallied behind the people in toppling Mubarak, before sadly later switching sides and clamping down on the democracy they had previously championed.

Obviously what needs to happen is for the Turks and Kurds to loudly express their voice, but this won’t be helped by all the congratulations of Erdogan or fretting about a ‘crisis of liberal values.’  On the latter, the changes that are taking place in the middle east ought not be measured by yardsticks of stable liberal democracies in the West, but by what kind of vision for a democratic future the struggles on the ground invoke, even if imperfect.  The only thing that’s crystal clear is that more Erdoganism is the road to greater imperfection.

On ‘Estranged Labour’ and ‘Sustainable Development’

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The idea of ‘estranged labour’ simply refers to the character of work undertaken for someone else, under the pressure of coercion or force, and especially when the product of labour is acquired by your enemy.  Labour under such conditions has to take on an ‘estranged’ character because it is not something pleasurable or creative, it is endured as a chore.  With estranged labour, work is just a ‘means to an end’ – physical survival and reproduction of the next generation of labourers, and it is only after the working day is finished that the worker perceives his life begins, yes for those few hours of watching TV then falling asleep.  This is our lives.

Estranged labour has been justified by the ruling class under capitalism in a number of ways.  They’re never honest about it.  The true motive for their imposition of estranged labour on the rest of the population is just to expand capital, the ruling classes’ own alien boss.  If this was made transparent to everyone it is doubtful how long the system could last.  However, they conjure myths about what you are working for, some idea of the ‘greater good’.  In the past this has been ‘for Empire!’ or ‘for the Nation!’  Today, the justification is that we work for the ‘environment!’  Sadly, the only challenges to this symptom of estranged labour comes from people who just want to substitute one excuse for another – their new excuse is we should work for ‘Growth Growth Growth!’  To tackle estranged labour requires a far bolder critique, one which would situate necessary labour in terms of what people need, and reduce necessary labour time to the bare minimum for satisfaction of needs as technology develops (it’s already developed quite a bit, as I’m sure you’re aware!)

So firstly, the justification for estranged labour in terms of the ‘environment!’  Today we are told we are on the verge of environmental apocalypse (a lie), and that people must work to produce wealth that can be used to mitigate climate disasters, stem overpopulation (apparently Africans by virtue of their poverty reproduce too much), to fund expensive green energy projects that would be considered non-cost effective in more rational times, and in other ways to ‘preserve nature’.  This lie for why we produce is bolstered by publicly funded ‘science’ that is open to question, and also structurally reinforced by rules on recycling your waste and monitoring your energy usage, as well as the fact we are bombarded with environmentalist messages all the time in the media.  All of this is loosely banded together under the banner of ‘sustainable development’.  There are critics of this, but as I shall argue later, they are even worse.

This situation, where the ostensible aim of production is for nature, is similar to ancient societies that thought they were working for the gods.  As Karl Marx wrote of this:

“To be sure, in the earliest times the principal production (for example, the building of temples, etc., in Egypt, India and Mexico) appears to be in the service of the gods, and the product belongs to the gods.  However, the gods on their own were never the lords of labor.  No more was nature.” (‘Estranged Labour’, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844)

The gods, since they don’t exist, were never really the driving force for these labours, it was man’s own activity itself, just existing in an alienated form.  And this alienated form emanated from the fact that you had divisions in society, e.g. with the Pharaoh on top doling out orders.  When man isn’t free, you get a society of estranged labour.  Society sustains this set up through the conjuring of myths.  Today, with production for nature, the same thing is occurring.  The great chasm between the capitalist with immense power at his disposal versus the atomised worker creates a new estranged labour and is sustained by the conjuring of the myth your work benefits ‘the planet’.

Hard environmentalists have criticised this situation because they think we are producing too much and still raping Goddess Gaia.  But because no-one wants to regress to the stone age, their ideas aren’t taken seriously.  A far more significant critique of sustainable development is that it is not progressive enough, with ‘progress’ here defined as mankind dominating nature even more, producing more.  This attack on sustainable development that comes from both right and left political quarters holds that deifying nature comes at the expense of expanding the market and stifles growth.  There is nothing humanist about this critique and do not be deceived by the occasions in which human needs are sometimes employed in the discourse to disguise the truth.  The fact is you will still be suffering from estranged labour (because you work for the alien power capital), it is just that the justification for your hard work replaces ‘nature’ with ‘growth for growth’s sake’.

Marx continues: “And what a contradiction it would be if, the more man subjugated nature by his labor [whilst simultaneously deifying her] and the more miracles of the gods were rendered superfluous by the miracles of industry, the more man were to renounce the joy of production and the enjoyment of the product to please these powers.”

Here we have a clear indictment against the 21st century.  Through estranged labour, we do not enjoy work in the slightest because it is not undertaken as part of a communal project, furthermore we cannot fully enjoy the products of labour.  Witness today’s frenzies for calorie counting all foodstuffs, paying a penance to Gaia through recycling as if we have to apologise for consuming the products of our own labour, and the whole hoohar that we must reduce our carbon footprint – i.e. consume less, in an age where we have achieved a great plenty of goods to consume.  From estranged labour flows estranged consumption – at no stage of life do we actually fully enjoy any of it.

There is a solution to all this which doesn’t fit the environmentalist critique (produce less) or the bourgeois-deviant critique (produce more).  We need to change the social relations of production so that we all become equal partners in the production process.  With equality, we can freely associate as autonomous beings, uncoercively producing as and when necessary (which doesn’t mean producing more), developing technology to make our lot even easier, and fully, sensuously enjoy what we produce with no estranged-based guilt trips.