A Free Society Is About Who Can Give Orders, Jamming, 01/06/2015

At least, that idea is what I want to think about today. I came across something very weird in the news today. Well, when you consider modern politics, most of the news is actually pretty weird and unsettling: a serious civil war being fought in eastern Europe, massive earthquakes hit Nepal and the Pacific near Japan, a series of wars are raging in Nigeria, Libya, Syria-Iraq (and Turkey), Yemen, and there are civil uprisings against the systematic racism of police forces across the United States. Oh, and two major states in the Americas, California and São Paulo, face crippling drought while a heat wave in southern India has killed 2000.

So yes, that’s quite a lot of terrible things I could be talking about on a day I decide to post something about some interesting or unsettling political event around the world. I decided to pick a weird little demi-hoax that appears in the wake of last month’s UK election. 

I think I'm going to make sure I only use silly or unappealing
photos of any politician whose ideas and style I dislike.
I think I’ll focus on this because every other major political event around the world is so horrifying that the only sane reaction is a scream.

First, some context. Thanks to displeasure with the policies of Labour under Ed Miliband, it seems there were a few Labour Party members in Scotland who voted for the Scottish National Party instead this year. 

Because we all constantly broadcast our ideas on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs like this, it was very easy for Labour Party officials and staffers to identify who, individually, among their Scottish members grumbled about their own party and voted SNP instead. 

Well, it turns out there’s a rule in the by-laws of the Labour Party that says such people can be disbarred for up to five years for doing such things. The particular rule is on Page 27 of the copy of the Disciplinary Rules that I found here

The Labour Party can kick someone out of its ranks for conduct that it considers “incompatible” with continued membership. The clause is pretty vague, precisely because people are going to do ridiculous and awful things all the time, which are different from what’s come before. So you need a rule general enough to adapt to any case.

There was a Mr McLean who received a letter from the Labour Party that his services would no longer be required. McLean sent a copy of this letter to Jamie Ross, a reporter for Buzzfeed in the UK. Ross then tweeted its image, which went a little viral and spread rumours of some awful things about the Labour Party. Many reputable sources picked it up from Buzzfeed and ran it without further investigation, including The Guardian, and me.

It seems quite draconian to expel members simply for expressing public dissent. It occurred to me that it fit the presumptions of the political cultures that were influenced by fascist political movements. The health of the Party requires total uniformity. The draconian aspect is that there’s a central authority within the Party bureaucracy that applies the rules to the cases they see fit, and welcome or expel members because of how well they follow the party line. 

The strength of the Party is in its control over its people. This is how I’ve heard many self-identified libertarians* describe the left in general: autocrats and dictators who would submit the freedom and will of the individual to the authority of the government to control their lives to achieve some peculiar ideological conception of the perfect society.

The slightly infamous letter.
* It’s also an opinion that I’ve heard, in my personal experience and in my reading of political news, from many generally conservative thinkers who don’t like to admit to themselves just how deeply influenced by libertarian thinking they really are.

So I was relieved to discover the entire affair seems to be a hoax. Well, not quite a hoax, because this Mr. McLean really was booted from the Labour Party. But he was booted because he’s always been an advocate for Scottish independence, though he was never affiliated with the SNP. 

It seems he joined the Labour Party specifically so he could get booted out. He’s a Scottish nationalist version of James O’Keefe, the famous American hoax journalist. McLean wanted to join the Labour Party, get kicked out, and then start a viral rumour that they booted him for online expressions of being dissatisfied with Labour policy. 

He’d then be able to paint Labour as a party of autocrats who wanted to control their members’ opinions. When Labour Party officials found out that this was the only reason he joined, they booted him. Which is exactly what he wanted them to do, and he then humiliated and demonized the Labour Party in social media.

I never said that Labour Party officials were all that smart in the first place.

That Labour would disbar a member for holding a dissenting opinion and expressing it in their personal communication platforms is horrifyingly draconian. But, and this is rather nice to think about in the context of our catastrophic modern world described at the start of the post, no political party is this rigidly authoritarian anymore. 

At least no political party in the liberal democracies and socially liberal cultures of the West. Indoctrination into ideological conformity used to be a major task of political parties: this was the purpose of propaganda and political education. Credit where it’s due: the new liberal movement after the Second World War identified these totalitarian tendencies lurking in our partisan democratic systems. 

They called enough attention to the genuine contradictions of democratic beliefs with the enforcement of partisan conformity of thought that we don’t do it anymore. It’s a sign of how this thread of our politics, whether it occurs on the right or left, or black or green, has been influenced by new liberalism. 

The problem is that new liberalism has very quickly hit its own decadent phase. Many people who developed their train of thinking under its influence still believe that leftism is about submitting your free thought to the control of a party apparatus. They don’t realize that truly progressive leftism is about channelling our self-organized social movements for systematic liberation and justice into slow-moving but substantive changes in our entire civilization.

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