petej + vanguardism   10

What hope for Labour and the left? The election, the 80s and ‘aspiration’ | openDemocracy
This is how hegemony works, of course: the power of the hegemonic group becomes so taken for granted as to become invisible, to the point where actually naming it comes to be understood as a pathological gesture; their values and ways of acting in the world are accepted as mere ‘common sense’, any deviation from which must be a form of mental disorder. So of course the vast majority of Blairites are not conscious that their entire world-view is handed down to them by the financial elites, or that deference to the authority of those elites is the single thread linking together an otherwise quite incoherent set of policies and preferences. But it is.

A great example here is the language of ‘aspiration’ which was circulating among the leadership contenders before it started to become apparent that it wasn’t working for them. This was the Blairite keyword in the weeks following the general election defeat, with Blairite candidate Liz Kendall not only condemning Labour’s general election campaign for having failed to connect with voters’ ‘aspirations’ and with aspirational voters, but actually arguing at one point that what was wrong with white working class children was that they lacked ‘aspiration’ and that governments ought to take it upon themselves to force them to have some.

What does ‘aspiration’ really mean, in this context? It seems to refer to a very narrow set of values and to express the idea that they are the ones that everyone naturally shares. Now, I don’t think that anyone really believes that the narrow, consumerist, individualist, competitive values of commercial culture are the only ones which really motivate human behaviour. But everyone knows that those are the values of the City, the bankers and the sections of the corporate and media world which are closest to them; and this is what ‘aspiration’ is really a code-word for. Think about a phrase like ‘aspirational fashion’. What does it mean? It means people wearing clothes that consciously ape the clothes that rich people might be assumed to wear.

When someone like Kendall says ‘we must respect and encourage aspiration’, she doesn’t really just mean ‘we must respect and encourage people wanting to improve their lot and that of their families’. What she really means is ‘we must signal to finance capital that we will continue to defer to its social authority by enforcing its values as the only acceptable norms in our culture’. Her saying this is predicated on the understanding that the balance of forces in the UK and globally is such that there is simply no point proposing any political project which even minimally challenges the hegemony of finance capital. I don’t mean she necessarily consciously thinks any of this. She probably thinks that ‘aspiration’ as she defines it is just normal, everyday human behaviour and that encouraging it is simple common sense. Well, that’s hegemony for you.
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september 2015 by petej

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