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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 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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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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My favourite books of 2016

There are some chaps who are no good for anything but books. I plead guilty to being such a chap. EM Forster, A Room With A View

Indeed. Here are ten books I particularly appreciated this year – though not necessarily published in 2016 – listed in alphabetical order. I reviewed quite a few of them for various online magazines, and where applicable have provided links to the versions archived on this site.

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Arrival and the possibility of conversation

Arrival, the film adaption of the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, has been recognised as one of the most intelligent sci-fi films of recent years, as concerned with helping us see our own world anew as with what might exist beyond it.

It is especially poignant, perhaps, that Denis Villeneuve’s movie was released only days after a bitter US Presidential race, whose outcome was only the most shocking upset of a year that has exposed seemingly irresolvable political and cultural divisions. For essentially it is a story about the possibility of communication, of bridging the abysmal gulfs that stop us talking to each other.

An alien civilisation visits Earth, their opaque, ovoid spacecraft – monumental structures recalling 2001’s monoliths – materialising one day at various locations across the world: the Indian Ocean, the Siberian tundra, the plains of Montana – twelve in all. Their portals hover a few metres from the ground, inviting entry.

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