“J

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ust as so­cial­ism is no rem­edy for cap­i­tal­ism, cap­i­tal­ism can­not be a rem­edy or an al­ter­na­tive for so­cial­ism … The con­test is never sim­ply over an eco­nomic sys­tem … For the rest, it has to do with the po­lit­i­cal ques­tion: It has to do with what kind of state one wants to have, what kind of con­sti­tu­tion, what kind of leg­is­la­tion, what sort of safe­guards for the free­dom of the spo­ken and printed word; that is, it has to do with what our in­no­cent chil­dren in the West call ‘bour­geois free­dom’. There is no such thing; free­dom is free­dom whether guar­an­teed by the laws of a ‘bour­geois’ gov­ern­ment or a ‘com­mu­nist’ state.”

– Han­nah Arendt, ‘Thoughts on Pol­i­tics and Rev­o­lu­tion: A Com­men­tary’

We have to re­learn lis­ten­ing and we have to re­learn ar­gu­ment, to free both ac­tiv­i­ties from the in­dul­gent wrath of the new dig­i­tal age. I am not mak­ing a Lud­dite ar­gu­ment against new me­dia and es­pous­ing a re­turn to forms of tra­di­tional com­mu­nity that have been smashed in the fiercely in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic and amoral eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tions of cap­i­tal­ism in the last quar­ter cen­tury. I like liv­ing in a mul­ti­cul­tural me­trop­o­lis and I am happy to do so. But in the com­plex dance be­tween the ideal of lib­erty and the ideal of jus­tice that should be cen­tral to pro­gres­sive and demo­cratic pol­i­tics, we need to take se­ri­ously the per­spec­tives of peo­ple who are fear­ful of their eco­nomic fu­ture and that of their chil­dren.

The “strait­jacket of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” is not that it doesn’t al­low the de­plorable to be ex­pressed, but the ex­pec­ta­tion that we must all use a lan­guage gov­erned by aca­demic and bour­geois forms of ex­pres­sion. This pre­sup­poses a knowl­edge and a dex­ter­ity in the use of such lan­guage, and in its most elit­ist forms si­lences con­flict and can­not recog­nise hu­mour. It is not nec­es­sar­ily anti-im­mi­grant to pose the ques­tion of how Euro­peans are to main­tain a so­phis­ti­cated wel­fare sys­tem with a con­cur­rent com­mit­ment to mas­sive mi­gra­tion, when the orig­i­nal con­sen­sus be­tween labour and cap­i­tal has col­lapsed. The con­cerns that work­ing-class peo­ple have about the en­trench­ment of gen­er­a­tional poverty, and the re­sult­ing break­down of fam­ily co­he­sion in their com­mu­ni­ties, are not al­ways anti-fem­i­nist. And to be proud of one’s eth­nic and cul­tural back­ground is not al­ways to be racist, just be­cause that his­tory might be “white” or “An­glo” or Celtic. To cede such ques­tions, con­cerns and de­sires to the most vir­u­lently xeno­pho­bic and right wing of politi­cians and par­ties is dis­as­trous.

I have re­turned again and again to ‘Racist Friend’ in writ­ing this essay, and once more I am gal­vanised by its fierce pol­i­tics and trou­bled by the ruth­less­ness of its con­clu­sion. When I was a younger man be­ing in­tro­duced to an­ar­chist and so­cial­ist pol­i­tics, I met men­tors and friends who shared such ruth­less­ness. They were staunch in their com­mit­ment to re­con­sti­tut­ing the world and slic­ing off fam­ily, friends and com­mu­nity who could not fol­low them in their rad­i­cal­ism. Be it your sis­ter / Be it your brother / Be it your cousin or your un­cle or your lover. I learnt that there was a long legacy to such ruth­less­ness, ar­guably one that was birthed from the rad­i­cal Ja­cobin­ism of the French Rev­o­lu­tion and blighted the left when it led to gu­lags and Cul­tural Revo­lu­tions. It is also re­flected in a more comic vein, though equally self­de­feat­ing, in the sep­a­ratism and sec­tar­i­an­ism that have all but de­stroyed the cul­tural left. I now be­lieve that its his­tory stretches even fur­ther back, forged in the Mes­sianic tra­di­tions of late Sec­ond Tem­ple Ju­daism, gleaned in the dec­la­ra­tion of Je­sus that he has come “to turn a man against his fa­ther, a daugh­ter against her mother”, and is ev­i­dent now in the apoc­a­lyp­tic lan­guage of con­tem­po­rary rad­i­cal Is­lam. The eco­log­i­cal cri­sis con­fronting hu­man­ity makes such apoc­a­lyp­tic fer­vour at­trac­tive. And sin­is­ter.

I have racist friends and racist fam­ily. Some­times the malev­o­lence of such ex­pres­sion has cre­ated a sep­a­ra­tion be­tween us. And some­times with strangers I have faced the hate­ful punch that de­clares any con­ver­sa­tion and any com­mu­nal­ity im­pos­si­ble. There have been times when I wished

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