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Blue Labour, social democracy and modernity

Chuka Umunna writes about ‘the political salience of culture and belonging’. Lisa Nandy urges ‘patriotism’ rather than ‘placards’. David Goodhart defends ‘somewheres’ against ‘anywheres’.

As the left’s working class support in post-Brexit Britain continues to erode Labour’s intelligentsia is increasingly speaking the communitarian language of Blue Labour.

The eloquent advocacy of Maurice Glasman and Jon Cruddas helped the Blue Labour movement win influence after the party’s defeat in 2010, inspiring the One Nation phase of Ed Miliband’s leadership and guiding the policy review that informed significant elements of the 2015 manifesto.

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The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher – a review

Mark Fisher’s latest – and tragically – final book The Weird and the Eerie explores encounters with the outside and the unknown in 20th and 21st century film, music and literature.

Mark’s two previous books, prolific journalism and compelling blog established his reputation as one of the most brilliant cultural critics and political theorists of the past 15 years.

Capitalist Realism (2009) named and brought into sharp focus the widespread and largely unspoken assumption that no alternative exists to prevailing neoliberal orthodoxies for ordering our cultural, economic and political life.

Ghosts of My Life (2014) developed Mark’s perception that 21st century culture is haunted by a sense of ‘the slow cancellation of the future’, the erasure of the modernist impulse that pulsed through postwar social democracy: the hope that history has a vector, and that tomorrow will be different from today.

The Weird and the Eerie is a less overtly political work, but every page is lit by the restless desire for new horizons – for the possibility of change – that was the great theme of Mark’s work.

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The Soviet web

When brilliant Soviet cyberneticist Viktor Glushkov designed a blueprint for a computerised planning system, the Soviet Union looked on track to become web pioneers. In the end, however, there was to be no digital network. Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote for The Calvert Journal:

Visions of an advanced postcapitalist economy run by digital networks have long haunted the socialist imagination. Alexander Bogdanov’s 1909 Bolshevik sci-fi fantasy novel Red Star imagined the achievement of communist utopia on Mars, an abundance of wealth and leisure made possible by a sophisticated command economy planned and automated by prototype computers. Cerebral Martian engineers, their “delicate brains” connected to the machines through “subtle and invisible” threads, fine-tune economic inputs and outputs from a control room tracking production gluts and shortfalls.

Bogdanov’s thought experiment anticipated contemporary speculations about the possibilities digital networks open for new forms of economic exchange. One current best-seller, Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, suggests that the ease with which information can be shared online, together with the advent of 3D printing technologies, is seeding a new economy in which goods and services can be exchanged for free. Another, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future, envisages an automated economy set in motion by the seamless interactions of millions of connected devices.

Read the full article on The Calvert Journal.

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Bowie and religion

Like millions of other Bowie fans I find myself listening to his music more than ever since he died a year ago today.

And, as for them, it continues to offer consolation, not only for the hard fact that we shall hear no more from him, but for the particular challenges of my own life. Why should this music, so often abstract, glacial, detached, obscure and mockingly ironic, hold such a powerful emotional appeal for so many?

Bowie’s work delighted in illusion and artifice, his elliptical wordplay as elusive as the quicksilver music itself, with its shimmering surfaces and sudden, bracing chord changes. And perhaps it is that very weightlessness, that impressionistic quality, that gives his songs their power, an ability to communicate a sense of the perpetual Speed of Life, with its continual flux, contingency and strangeness.

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2017, the Russian Revolution, and the idea of utopia

Billed as a year of imagination and possibility to mark the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, 2016 didn’t quite work out that way.

2017 offers another opportunity to consider the meaning and value of the idea of utopia, marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the most significant utopian enterprise since the American and French revolutions.

For most, the Soviet experiment, like 2016, will be remembered for its dystopian character: the bloody civil war that followed the Revolution; the swift suffocation of the nascent workers’ democracy by an overbearing bureaucracy; the immense suffering of forced-march collectivisation and industrialisation; the terrors of the 1930s police state; and the chronic misfiring of an economic engine that finally sputtered and died. The hulking edifice of the USSR stands as a ruined dream factory, utopia’s tombstone.

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