Attempting to Answer the Good Question.

July 30, 2018

So — what is the crisis of the left, and how should the left respond to it in order to succeed in overcoming the crisis, and what would that entail?

It is not a crisis of the left in South Africa all by itself. The global left has lost power, or has changed itself into something no longer leftist in order to retain power. Evidently, something has gone wrong which is not simply South African. But here we are in South Africa, and so let’s see how the crisis here has played itself out.

The general objective of the left — the dissemination of political and economic power throughout society — has been abandoned by those in power for several decades. The economic and political system is now explicitly devoted to destroying this objective by enriching plutocrats and immiserating the rest of us. The “democratic” system is fundamentally separated from actual political power, which resides elsewhere. Hence the “democratic” system serves largely as a technique to persuade the immiserated masses that there is no political solution to their problems. The generally-presented solution appears through attacking carefully-delineated politicians defined as “corrupt” (or whatever concept serves plutocratic interests by enabling them to seize power or wealth on the pretext of struggling against it). Thus the political system today is implicitly Bonapartist, but without a Bonaparte; or perhaps like early Italian Fascism without Mussolini.

The former authority which the left had in respect of public opinion has been dissipated as the right has inserted its values and slogans into the public mind and held them there by propaganda and patronage. The left has meanwhile lost most access to the media, and to other opinion-making sources, except when individuals purporting to be leftists produce material which serves interests outside actual leftist interests — in which cases the leftists involved are often funded by right-wing elements.

Much of this suggests that the left’s external crisis has internal components, of which the following are a sample:

The organised left has ceased to pursue actual leftist interests where it is in power.

The organised left, where not in power, does not pursue truly leftist interests but prefers to pursue the momentary interest of factions and individuals, usually by attacking targets made easy because they are already being attacked by more powerful right-wing forces.

There is more to the problem than this, yet this will surely do for a start! It doesn’t matter much what kind of capitalism is driving the system, nor does it matter much how serious the immiseration problem is (although it is serious and growing more serious and is almost entirely ignored by the public information dissemination systems, the “ideological state apparatuses” as they are correctly called by Althusser). The left is marginalised, and has colluded in this process of marginalisation — which means that there are at least two problems needing to be addressed here, as was evident when looking at Hall and McKinley and seeing that they were devoutly and stridently pretending that there was absolutely no gigantic grey flap-eared long-trunked creature in the room and standing on their toes.

Is there even a constituency for a left to take advantage of any more? Evidently there is. The EFF managed to get a million voters by doing little more than getting a reputation for wanting to nationalise the means of production, declaring that this would be their policy if elected, and then putting their names on the ballot-paper. Granted they eventually threw this policy away, along with most of the rest of the reasons for supporting them, and this must obviously disillusion many or most of their voters. Still, it shows that it is possible to mobilise considerable support for the left if anyone seriously tries. (It is significant that before the EFF nobody seriously tried.)

So if it is possible to do this even with frivolous celebrities taking the lead, with scanty organisation, and against a vast barrage of right-wing propaganda, it might be possible to do much more with a solid ideological base, a clear message of relevance to the bulk of the population, a decent organisation and a more reliable and trustworthy collection of leaders. It might be worth developing a left-wing political party possessing these characteristics, instead of the current stock of deadbeats, hoopla artists, fraudsters, clowns and traitors.

The obstacles to this from outside any possible origin or constituency for such a movement are obvious. The plutocrats will smear such a movement, and will try to buy off its leaders or bully its members. If the movement becomes a serious force, it is quite likely, even in the most purportedly liberal countries, that violence and even murder might be used — especially if the members of the movement are ethnically or religiously different from the plutocracy, as with the war against the Black Panthers in the United States and against the Irish Republicans in the United Kingdom. While the most resolute members of such a movement will resist any and all such attacks — and, paradoxically, the more strenuous attacks often arouse more strenuous resistance — weak or ignorant supporters may be driven away.

A still more important danger is, however, the problem of what those supporters consist of. The rank and file of any such part are usually “all right” in the sense that they have had some experience of immiseration and oppression, or have identified it out of their own experience even if they are not directly immiserated or oppressed, and therefore are eager to resist it. It is among more senior cadres of the support for such a movement that the real problem comes.

Someone who has earned (or been given) status and authority within a movement is naturally eager to cling to such status and authority, especially if it is that person’s only chance or opportunity at getting it. Therefore, that person will want to make sure that the movement facilitates that status and authority — and money, if possible — changing its structure and agendas to suit the process. In other words, such organisations may be subverted by individuals, or groups of individuals, seeking to use those organisations to feed vanity or greed.

So what is needed is not just an organisation with policies which appear right and are couched in ways that appeal to the public, but also an organisation capable of maintaining tight discipline on its membership and at the same time arousing an enthusiasm for relatively selfless behaviour. This is not only about preventing people from stealing the cashbox — it is also about discouraging people from campaigning against the actual interests of the organisation, and against its future success, because their ideologies tell them that these interests are false consciousness and that future success is undesirable. Unfortunately, people following such ideologies tend to be hard-working fanatics.

Also, a disciplined organisation tends to be hijacked by leaders who use the discipline to impose their own ideological preconceptions on the organisation. In order to ward off these dangers, the organisation needs simultaneously to be flexible and rigid; to be filled with a sense of open debate and discussion, and absolutely tied to a programme of action based on a rigid framework through which the political world is understood.

These are impossible contradictions, but they have to be managed through time and through leaders who are prepared to set boundaries and accept challenges. The organisation has to be democratic. But it also has to be authoritarian. Where the leaders exploit a situation for their own purposes without due cause they have to be challenged, or even removed, but not by leaders who are simply exploiting that situation again.

What is needed, therefore, is a clear knowledge of organisational history as well as national history, of ideology and also the meta-ideology which is about how ideology evolves and how it is used and abused. These are issues which are almost never properly incorporated into the tedious brainwashing which South African organisations usually substitute for political education, and this is why those organisations so often collapse into shapes which amount to the opposite of what they purport to stand for. Political education is not just an addendum — it is actually what politics is all about.

And all this has to be done against the background of transforming South Africa. The debate is all very well, but understanding the nation and understanding the organisation are only tools towards changing it. So nobody can get bogged down in the processes of defending the organisation against internal threats and external menace, of education and debate and discussion and continual reformation — a kind of permanent revolution, if you wish, but not exactly as either Trotsky or Mao carried that kind of thing out.

All this surely means that the current organisations cannot fulfil the needs of the left in South Africa. A wholly new organisation, consisting almost entirely of personnel not drawn from the historically corrupted organisations, would have to be set up. Such an organisation could still draw on the kind of people who have supported leftist organisations in the past, but its goal would have to be to reconstruct, from the ground up, the political structures, debates, insights, faiths and values which the South African left once aspired to, between the 1950s and the 1980s.

Even if the South African left of that time did not actually manage any of those things (but in retrospect much of the left, particularly the left which was not ossified by exile, attempted these things much more effectually than any other political tendency in the country) they are worth pursuing as ideals. They are not impossible dreams. They have simply been disregarded and discarded by the corrupt exploiters who have taken over all of our politics. Now that virtually every sane person is aware that our leaders are corrupt exploiters, it is not going to be enough to merely remove them and replace them with someone else who might be marginally less corrupt or slightly less exploitative. We need to purify ourselves, without becoming leftist variants of the Islamic State.

It isn’t going to be easy. But it has to be done.

 

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Bad Answers to a Good Question (II): Dale McKinley.

July 30, 2018

It might seem a bit silly to follow up a critique of a serious and profound intellectual like Stuart Hall by critiquing a doltish airhead like Dale McKinley, but the step isn’t really from the sublime to the ridiculous, for politics isn’t so much about intelligence as it is about a combination of personal prejudice and social circumstances, and as Hall’s example shows, intelligence and experience count for nothing against a weak position and a dubious ideological analysis.

McKinley was a Zimbabwean Trotskyite who was sent to the United States to study, no doubt because he was deemed the most promising Zimbabwean Trotskyite, and then went to South Africa to launch a campaign against the ANC once the apartheid regime had been defeated by the ANC and it was safe to do so. He wrote a book and headed up a couple of tiny but well-funded fake-leftist organisations, had a brief stint as a columnist for a right-wing newspaper, and generally did all the things which an ambitious fake leftist serving imperialist plutocracy might be expected to do. However, let us pretend that he was actually a leftist, and ask what his position ought to have been when he wrote “The Crisis of the Left in Contemporary South Africa” in 2008.

That was not a good year for the left, in South Africa or indeed most other places. Despite the conspicuous failure of neoliberal economics, plutocracy was able to take advantage of the failure to enrich itself at the expense of taxpayers as it had previously done at the expense of consumers. Reactionary regimes were on the march across the globe, even if the excesses of the Bush administration were clearly leading to the victory of a right-wing Democrat who would be the catspaw of big financial interests.

In South Africa, the long retreat of the organised left from possessing any influence over the government had only been reversed by abandoning all pretense at leftism and throwing their weight behind the most reactionary and plutocrat-friendly ANC leader available, namely Jacob Zuma. This meant that the influence they had was in the direction of increasing the power of the plutocracy, which was also being enhanced by the growing power of openly pro-plutocrat parties like the Democratic Alliance and the activities of non-governmental organisations which were backed by American billionaires with close ties to the U.S. government. Meanwhile the actual power of the plutocracy over the general public was growing steadily and the access of the public to any capacity to challenge it was dwindling.

So the core question would have to be how to do something about this; how to mobilise people against the growing inequality of wealth, how to roll back the overweeking influence of the plutocracy over all spheres of government, and how to promote the basic values of the left which the organised left had so signally abandoned, against the background of a world movement which was increasingly hostile to any such moves.

So, what did McKinley have to say about all this? He acknowledged that all these problems existed, and added that the left had become balkanised on special issues — which was not actually an adequate statement, because the Trotskyite left had deliberately focused on special issues in order to further the objectives of their sponsors such as the pharmaceutical industry, whereas the left of any numerical significance, the SACP and COSATU, had not devoted all their energy to these things. However, such balkanisation was an obvious danger as Hall’s ill-advised recommendations revealed decades before. So we may accept this.

Instead of addressing this, however, the articles goes on an extended whine about how the ANC had supposedly become neoliberal twelve years earlier (essentially repeating the stale and false pretenses of McKinley and Bond at the time) and, simultaneously, supported a German-style corporatist state (failing to notice the contradiction between neoliberalism and statist corporatism). This he also blames on the SACP and COSATU.

But he then suggests that what might be desirable is “vibrant anti-capitalist forces capable of and willing to contest fundamentally the politics, policies and overall developmental agenda of both capital and the state”, although (correctly) he notes that neither the SACP nor COSATU would be capable of this. Of course, contestation is only meaningful if there is a prospect of successful contestation; couching the concept in “contestation” is rather problematic in itself, suggesting a commitment to opposition for its own sake. However, he does suggest the possibility of being able “contest power relations within South African society”, which might offer something meaningful. But it is also painfully abstract.

What does this mean in practice? It turns out that to McKinley it means that “the leadership of the SACP and COSATU” must “cut the long-standing umbilical cord with the ANC”. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the political positions of these organisations (or nothing which cannot be fixed by helpful advice from McKinley and his comrades) but the only problem is that they are linked to the ANC. In other words, the problem is not capitalism, not the intricate structures of exploitation built into society which had been able to interpenetrate the ANC as well as the SACP and COSATU and ultimately take them all over for its own purposes. The problem is simply the ANC. Solution: boycott the ANC. Then the ANC will drop dead automatically, apparently, and all problems will then be solved.

Of course McKinley doesn’t say this. Indeed, he says that “the capitalists who own and manage the means of production” are “the core foundation of South Africa‚Äôs accumulative path”. But then, apart from repudiating the ANC, what’s to be done about these capitalists and stop them from running the whole shooting-match? And how will repudiating the ANC facilitate this process? One waits breathlessly for an answer.

One would probably turn blue, however, if that were the case, for instead McKinley veers off into complaining about the fact that the little front-organisations and NGOs which Trotskyites had set up or successfully infiltrated, devoted to “poor communities'” “basic services and free expression” (actually what McKinley means is electricity theft and corporatised propaganda in the media) were not getting much traction from the SACP and COSATU once they had gained positions in government through their support for Zuma. Is McKinley really interested in solving the problems of the left, or is he upset because he his own slice of the cake is significantly smaller than that of others as a result of his miscalculation of the correlations of power?

Again, when McKinley says that these little front-organisations embody “the possibilities for those implicitly anti-capitalist battles to give birth to more explicitly socialist politics” it is almost amusing to reflect that one of the organisations which he identified, Abahlali baseMjondolo, became explicitly pro-neoliberal when it went over to the Democratic Alliance, while McKinley himself now works for Right2Know, an organisation funded by and for South Africa’s big corporate media conglomerates. Of course, he is right to say that “[t]he question that the South African left needs to ask honestly is whether or not it still believes in the possibilities of actually overthrowing capitalism”, to which the honest answer in the case of the SACP and COSATU (and all other unions and all Trotskyite movements) must be “No”, an answer to which McKinley seems to have no response, since all his ideas depend entirely on the answer being the opposite.

McKinley presumes to advise everybody on the errors of “vanguardist” parties in the “collapse of Communism” (although he is nothing if not a vanguardist) but he also claims that “it is quite clear that concrete struggles against, for example, privatization of the public sector and for socialized provision of housing, water, electricity, basic foodstuffs, and land are aimed at contesting capitalist relations of ownership and distribution”. This is certainly not clear. Anti-privatisation campaigns may simply be based in a desire to get actual services which would not be provided by capitalists — actually, they usually are. None of these campaigns in South Africa has advanced the cause of socialism, and most of them, because they have been opportunistic and unrealistically mounted, have not retarded the cause of capitalism in the slightest.

Meanwhile, McKinley suggests that what is needed “is a strategy that essentially forces unionized workers to respond politically to intensifying mass struggles from . . . grassroots communities”. In other words, McKinley and his friends must organise the grassroots to do things which will enable them to control the trade unions, while pretending that this is a spontaneous process. This is an obvious side effect of McKinley’s delusions of spontaneity against the background of his actual vanguardism.

Such dishonesty is pathetic, but it is also preposterous; if the unions are not responding to the immiseration of their own members, why would they respond to the orchestrated activities of organisations outside their membership? Indeed, although NUMSA is much more influenced by Trotskyites than before, it is not very good at getting workers to respond to anything other than immediate wage demands — even the recent sensible critique of the Ramaphosa assault on the minimum wage and the Labour Relations Act drew very little support from NUMSA members. One can only imagine how little support they would have offered to issues wholly unrelated to immediate union interests. Thus McKinley’s dreams of using his tiny groupuscules to hijack really significant organisations — that perennial fantasy of western Trotskyism — appears to lead nowhere even on its own terms.

For the most part McKinley’s conclusion, avoiding serious discussion, relies on empty and windy phrases like “a new kind of left politics” [read: the same old stuff McKinley had been pushing for twenty years] and “a real and meaningful left unity” [read: everybody at last listening to McKinley’s same old stuff] and “a new organizational form” [whatever that means]. In effect he had, in 2008, nothing to offer except more of the same dressed up as something different.

Which means that after fourteen years of failing to accomplish anything through the familiar tactics of western Trotskyism which had failed to accomplish anything anywhere else, McKinley’s response to a fresh series of crises of the left was to demand that everyone accept that the familiar tactics of western Trotskyism must be accepted by everybody on the left as the solution to all these crises. It’s as if a doctor were to respond to a patient’s diabetes by prescribing leeches, and when the patient then develops lung cancer, the doctor were to prescribe even more leeches.

This is only one person’s incapacity, of course, and he was a fairly incapable person even before he displayed this so dramatically in a long badly-written article in an obscure and uninfluential journal. All the same, it is an example of a kind of ideological paralysis, in which it is simply impossible to imagine that, all other things having changed, anything other than what one has just done and wants to do again can be done. Yet there is also the acknowledgement that those things have changed. This is weird; we have failed, so fail again; fail better. But when we fail worse, fail again, for it is as if failing worse is more important than succeeding, so long as we fail in the proper way.

And, towards the end of this failure in the proper way, reality has to be twisted; the actual problems are pushed into the background, the past failures are forgotten, opponents’ successes are discounted, lies are repeated regardless of whether they serve any purpose, and generally everything is subsumed to the demands of wholly baseless ideological confidence. Any problems can be covered up with jargon, or, in McKinley’s case, wholly spurious statements that this or that dubious claim from a dubious source authoritatively proves whatever it is that McKinley wishes to see proven at the moment. It is strangely similar — or perhaps not so strangely — to the behaviour of the Soviet Communist Party’s ideological “theorists”, or high priests of the dead religion of Brezhnevian Stalinism, in the last years of the USSR.

Which maybe makes sense. But isn’t this, actually, the core of the crisis of the left? The left’s inability to address the crisis of the left? Is this why the crisis became a crisis — wise people were fooled, and fools became dogmatic? It certainly seems so.


Bad Answers to a Good Question (I): Stuart Hall.

July 30, 2018

The Good Question is, of course, “What is the problem with the western Left, and what should it do to resolve the problem?”. Stuart Hall’s book Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left: The Hard Road to Renewal is an answer to this question. It isn’t a good answer, but firstly it’s a good position from which to have asked the question, and secondly it’s interesting to see that someone as astute, informed and motivated as Hall is unable to answer it effectively.

Hall was a Marxist cultural commentator, a formidably astute figure in the tradition of Raymond Williams, emerging from the cabal of leftists who formed the New Left Review in the aftermath of the 1956 splits in the British Communist Party. However, amid all these, and despite Hall’s resolute Oxbridge tone and slightly pedantic, astringent style, one tends to forget one other thing — he was a West Indian from Jamaica, and highly conscious of his blackness and of the forced inferior status of blacks in the United Kingdom versus whites. Hence his class consciousness was always related to his racial identity — which helps to explain what happened.

The book covers the period 1978-1988, basically the period during which the British Labour Party suppressed its left wing and, with it, all pretense at socialism, during which the British Labour Party also lost power (never to regain it as a party of labour) and during which the British Conservative Party rose from near-collapse to near-complete hegemony. It was also the period during which the British left outside the Labour Party threw away whatever chances they might have had of developing some access to power and even of a substantive understanding of what was going on. So this is the background, and one would expect — and Hall claims — that the book is a response to this.

Where it starts out is the collapsing situation of the Labour Party under Callaghan and Healey, who first proclaimed the death of Keynesianism and the necessity of wage cuts and the crushing of trade unions, which led ultimately to the collapse of Labour at the polls in 1979 and the victory of Thatcher’s Conservatives. Hall recognises that this is happening, and recognises what is coming, but at the time he had absolutely no answer except to point out the situation; he couldn’t see any way of improving Labour, and was scathing about both its behaviour and its potential to change itself, and yet couldn’t see any alternative to it which could fight the Conservatives.

On the other hand, Hall initially underestimated the scale of the ideological transformation which was to come — having lived all his life in a society which was fundamentally leftist he did not understand what it would mean for the character of that society to be forcibly shifted rightward — although by 1980 he was recognising that this was happening, in “The Great Moving Right Show”, he didn’t understand that the transformation was likely not to be a minor or temporary one, but would change the circumstances within which the left would operate, and very much for the worse.

After Thatcher’s victory and once the Conservatives had been able to place right-wing ideas at the forefront of public consciousness, couched in the terms of a challenge to orthodoxy, Hall was able to find a couple of events in public affairs which concerned, and seemed in part to console, him.

He proclaimed his enthusiastic support for the striking miners and shipworkers of Gdansk as a heroic struggle against the statism which he identified in Stalinism and also opposed in the Labour Party. On the surface this made a certain sense since the miners and shipworkers were engaged in a struggle against an oppressive, undemocratic and foreign-supported government. On the other hand, they were engaged in a struggle whose aim was ultimately the restoration of capitalist relations of production — they were fighting for the right to be exploited by bosses (without properly understanding, in most cases, that this exploitation would entail shutting down many of the mines and most of the shipyards which were kept afloat by the socialist system they were opposing). In other words Hall was fighting for capitalism in the name of fighting for democracy, and was also fighting for the system which he claimed to oppose in Thatcherism. He was endorsing the new Cold War precisely at the time when the Euro-American right was using the new Cold War as a bogey to distract the public as they pushed through right-wing changes to constitution and society.

However, one cannot say that Hall was simply a Thatcherite agent, for he also opposed the Falklands war, jeering at the government which was sending armed forces to fight for British interests in the South Atlantic. He was not jeering on the grounds that the Falklanders deserved to be deprived of their citizenship and forced to live under a quasi-fascist dictatorship, or that the Argentinean claim to the Falklands was so strong that it obliged him to support that dictatorship. He was jeering on the grounds that this was an “old-fashioned ” action, that a “modern” government would have done things differently (Hall naturally did not specify what else could have been done, since the choice was between surrender or resistance). He also jeers strenuously at the Labour Party for being so old-fashioned as to support the government in their attempt to resist an aggressor and further the interests of Britain.

This raises interesting questions about the realism of Hall’s frequent declarations of his own “realism” in the context of his leftism, and how committed he actually was to the latter rather than to the former. The questions were to some extent answered after 1983, when, in despite of the unpopularity of the actual policies of the Conservative Government and the manifest failure of their claims to superior competence, the Labour Party was once again defeated, and very thoroughly.

There were various reasons cited by the Labour left for the defeat. One was the split of the “Social Democrats”, the extreme right of the Labour Party, and their well-funded and successful campaign to divide the Labour vote. One was the internecine fighting in the Labour Party after its 1979 defeat, which saw the left under Benn routed and instead a compromise candidate, Foot, installed as a thoroughly unsuitable and weak leader with the real power in the hands of the right-wing and thoroughly discredited Healey, the architect of the 1979 disaster. This led to a severe disjunct between the rank and file and the leadership, and to a very weak message getting across with very little support from the Labour Party’s central office which was under the control of the right and wished to ensure that when Foot was discredited, the left did not regain any power of influence.

These are very important factors, and could in themselves have been decisive (although they are not to be seen as excuses for the left in the Labour Party and the country generally to rest on their laurels; the left had been repeatedly defeated over the past decade and the Labour Party also faced very serious challenges outside these issues).

On the other hand, the right in the Labour Party argued that the problem was simply the Labour left, which was forcing Labour to adopt absurd policies like democracy, opposition to armed aggression and wealth redistribution and which was merely a Trojan Horse for a vast Russian conspiracy seeking to take over the country through the Trotskyite entryists — in effect, the right in the Labour Party was repeating Tory Party propaganda as depicted in the tabloid newspapers and more decorously in the Tory broadsheets. Instead of recognising that this was important propaganda, however mendacious, which had to be countered by intelligent responses, the Labour right pretended to swallow it whole because it served as a stick with which to beat the left.

But Hall does not see things that way. Instead, his position is in part that the left is indeed the problem. In a sense this is fair, for since Hall was on the left it was reasonable for him to seek to put the left’s house in order. Basing his ideas on a reading of Gramsci, he defined Thatcherism as “authoritarian populism”, which seems fair. However, this also had the effect of reducing Thatcherism not to the expression of plutocratic interests exploiting the prejudices of the petit-bourgeoisie and exporting those prejudices into the working class, but rather of erasing the plutocratic interests in favour of the propaganda which they made use of. In other words, although the authoritarianism was certainly there (insofar as Hall acknowledged this, however, he focussed predominantly on its impact on black Britons in a “law and order state”) he felt that the problem was the marketing tools which it employed.

Acknowledging this, then, he declared that Labour, largely because it was beholden to old-fashioned statist Fabianism and hostage to the “fundamentalist left”, was failing to market itself properly. It needed to modernise, and above all to recognise that there had been a fundamental shift in the working class which old-fashioned leftists had not identified. At first, wisely, Hall did not say what this fundamental shift consisted of.

Instead, he pointed out that, with the exception of the Greater London Council which he valorised beyond anything else, the Labour left was too old-fashioned to grapple with the new forces in society. By these forces he meant campaigns for gay rights, women’s rights and black people’s rights, which, he said, the left was wholly failing to address, being trapped in a white-straight-patriarchal complex. Later, to this he added the fact that wealthy pop singers were undertaking campaigns to increase economic aid to third world countries, which he noted as yet another seismic shift in British society. This latter point indicates the emptiness at the core of Hall’s analysis.

Of course gays, women and blacks deserved to be liberated, and of course they deserved to be represented, and their liberation and representation was a part of the left’s broader campaign for the liberation and democratisation of society. This had been the case since the eighteenth century in the case of women and blacks, although gays had been largely ignored until the 1960s (which gives some credence to Hall’s claims about the conservatism of the left, though this shouldn’t be taken too far).

But the point is that while the left must support the interests of gays, women and blacks, gays, women and blacks do not have to support the left. They need to be given a reason to support the left. What the left needs to do is to integrate the interests of gays, women and blacks into the broader project for the liberation of society and to persuade gays, women and blacks that one common struggle is ultimately to their advantage — otherwise, any political body, however reactionary, would be able to gain the momentary support of gays, women and blacks (themselves anything but homogeneous groupings anyway) by throwing them a conspicuous bone — even if it later turned out to be a rubber bone. Hall didn’t recognise this, instead simply praising the doomed GLC, shut down a year after he offered his praise, for its stances.

In fact, though there were obvious reasons for Hall’s stance, not least his own skin colour, an important issue was also the need to portray the left in the Labour Party as old and outmoded and therefore to be removed. Hall, together with his Communist colleague Martin Jacques and Eric Hobsbawm, became one of the leading lights of the “renewal” movement in the Labour Party which had hitched its star to Neil Kinnock and to denouncing the Labour left (shifting to the centre much as the Eurocommunists were doing in parallel with the Russian Bolsheviks abandoning what little remained of their principles under Chernenko and Gorbachev).

Eventually, in 1985, Hall said what he meant by modernisation. One was to address the new technologies being applied in the workplace which would adapt to them rather than challenge the way they were used to undermine the interests of workers. One was to accept globalisation (in the sense of capitalism using the globe as a tool against the working class in a particular area, and financialisation as a tool against any leftist government) as a necessary part of the modern world rather than challenging it. One was to repudiate statist socialism in the form of Eastern Europe, China, Cuba and so on. The last was to accept that the right wing was correct in calling for the downscaling of spending on welfare, and that the “welfare state” was no longer possible.

In other words, Hall was calling for complete surrender to neoliberal capitalism and its values, disguising this as the renewal of the left.

The problem came for Hall in 1987 when his thesis that what was wrong with the Labour Party was predominantly its weak propaganda, its inappropriately extreme leftism and its lack of modernity was tested under a leader whose entire focus was on making propaganda and attacking the left, and who was wedded to the idea that the Labour Party needed to be modernised (artfully not saying precisely what that meant, but it was strongly hinted that it meant accepting the Thatcherist view of society). Labour lost decisively; evidently, faced with Labour and Conservative Thatcherites, the electorate chose Conservative ones. Either Hall would have to acknowledge that his theses were wrong, or would have to explain how his thesis had not been falsified given this obvious test, or he would have to expose himself as a political charlatan.

The last was his decision; he went on calling for “modernised” surrender to plutocratic financialised capitalism and an abandonment of socialist principles, and denouncing what he called the “hard left”, namely those who, like Tony Benn and Derek Hatton, criticised such surrender and attempted to pursue other paths. In the end, Hall paved the way for the utter destruction of Labour as a leftist organisation, which eventually took place under Blair. Manifestly, if Hall had understood the questions in the first place, his answers showed that he was not only unrealistic, but that he seemed not to realise how unrealistic he was. Unless, that is, he had been diverted from his goals by other factors, such as a desire to get jolly nice lunches with right-wing editors, jolly good opportunities to air his reactionary views in Marxism Today and the New Statesman, and a jolly sense of his own importance and rectitude, even if this was justified by nothing in heaven or earth.