October 24, 2009

False discussion in this institution

    Callam Opacic, 19, whose grandfather came to Britain as a Polish refugee, said: "All of them apart from Nick Griffin were hypocrites. They didn't let him say a word on so many political issues."

The issue is why this judgement, quoted in The Guardian's report on responses to Griffin's appearance on Question Time in Burnley, can appear to make sense. From the point of view of liberal commonsense, which has been congratulating itself about its "defeat" of Griffin on Thursday, it was the BNP leader who was caught up in lies and evasions and exposed as a hypocrite. Yet Griffin embodies - or rather speaks for - the logic that the neoliberal consensus in Britain replies upon, but cannot own. It's now clear that racism is the necessary excrescence of neoliberalism, the obscene supplement that asserts itself in the space from which politics has been evacuated. At the risk of repeating familiar arguments, the idea that race - or broader, "identity" - is the Real of social antagonism has suited neoliberalism well: because it naturalises social differences, because it blocks off any possibility of universality, because it shatters class solidarity. What is evaded here is the way that racism is not some naturally-occurring tendency but, necessarily, a displacement of the class antagonisms which the neoliberal consensus - hello everyone on the QT panel apart from Griffin - has a vested interest in covering up.

What's interesting, though, is that, in making the logic of racialisation explicit, Griffin stirs the spectre of class. The neoliberal tactic has been to ignore resentment and aggrievement altogether - to maintain that such feelings are a moral, educational or pyschiatric failure of those who have not accepted metropolitan, "modernising" values ("diversity" on the one hand, neoliberal "solutions" on the other). Much of the BNP's appeal derives from its granting of legitimacy to those feelings of resentment and aggrievement - yes, it says, you're right to feel angry and betrayed, you're right to feel that your anxieties are being ignored, you're right to feel that there is something fundamentally wrong. Here, class emerges - because who has done the betraying and the ignoring if not the metropolitan "elite" which Griffin attacked on Thursday? But this brief flash of class antagonism is immediately subsumed by race-logic: the problem is not the class structure itself, the BNP wants us to believe, but the elite's "pandering to minorities". Needless to say, this has it the wrong way round - the real problems, to name only a few of the most glaring, are the precariousness and poorly paid nature of post-Fordist work, the running down of public services, the pathetically low rate of council house building. Yet the right wing media, not just the BNP (the BNP merely feeds off the conditions that the press and their stooges in parliament have created) relentlessly sends the same message: it isn't the poor provision of services and resources that is the issue, but the monopolisation of these services and resources by whatever racial Other is being demonised that week. Given this incessant media bombardment, given this one narrative, it isn't surprising that some working class people "experience" the social in this racialised way.

So it's clear that it isn't at the level of 'argument' - still less, 'debate' - that the BNP can be tackled. It's at the level of narrative - the frame through which the social is experienced and explained - that the battle for the hearts and minds must be fought. The Question Time thing showed that, at the moment, the political landscape is a symbiosis posing as an antagonism: a discredited neoliberal consensus set against its excremental product, a far right Master narrative. Only when working class grievances and resentments can be re-narrativised by a new politial agent can this frame be broken.

Posted by mark at October 24, 2009 03:22 PM | TrackBack