Two right-wing myths about the state – and one left-wing one

The state isn’t a threat to capitalism: it enables the free market, and always has. If we look to the state to save us from capitalism, we’re fooling ourselves.

The visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping is already providing a masterclass in the hypocrisy of the British establishment. Only hours before the president’s plane was due to arrive on Monday evening, Theresa May was promoting the government’s latest counter-terrorism strategy on the Today programme, where she explained that British values include democracy and tolerance of those with different faiths. Meanwhile, the Chinese government routinely uses torture, including torture of thousands of members of the religious sect Falun Gong – and not just against them, claims Human Rights Watch, but against their lawyers. Mind you, with Prince William scheduled to lecture the Chinese people about the ivory trade on television and British and Chinese flags fluttering side by side in front of Buckingham Palace, we have here one unelected head of state meeting another unelected head of state, so the moral high ground isn’t really ours to occupy.

The most striking thing about Xi’s visit, however, is what it tell us about the role that the state plays in modern capitalism.

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Cameron’s problems line up after piggate

BBC interviews protester in front of placard reading David Cameron shagged a dead pig

The real significance of piggate is the divisions it reveals among the Conservatives – and the more thoughtful Tories are worried.

As Tories meet in Manchester, you might expect right-wing press to be triumphant – after a surprise election victory, Conservatives have an overall majority and have set about putting their manifesto into practice, with their trade union bill passing its second reading three weeks ago. Certainly Tory commentators are producing a lot of froth about how Corbyn’s leadership of Labour is a disaster for the left, as well as much manufactured outrage in the last couple of days about conference delegates being egged and called Tory scum.

But more sensible Tories are also charting the serious problems ahead for Cameron. Of course, none of this will automatically lead to the government’s collapse, but the issues are real. The Telegraph has this morning published a piece by their veteran columnist Philip Johnston, for example, headed with the words “The election is already a distant memory as the PM tries to stop his party and country falling apart.” Johnston detects two major difficulties: the scale of the forthcoming cuts and Europe.

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Pope Francis – radical or reactionary?

What do we think of the Pope? It all seems a bit complicated. One minute he’s telling the US Congress that “we, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” and that they have to take climate change seriously. Speaking in Bolivia in July, he called unfettered capitalism “the dung of the devil.” Since he arrived in America, right-wingers have described him as “anti-capitalist Pope”. On the other hand, the Catholic church still continues to oppose marriage equality at every opportunity. Back in February, Francis compared any account of gender which “does not recognise the order of creation” – such as those which validate the lives of trans people – to the use of nuclear weapons. On Thursday, the Pope canonised the missionary Junípero Serra, who oversaw a regime of horrific brutality against Native Americans in California, where colonisation and conversion went, as so often, hand in hand.

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Beatriz Preciado – Testo Junkie

Testo Junkie book cover

Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, Feminist Press, New York, £16.99 (Amazon Kindle edition £6.47)

Testo Junkie addresses its theme – sex, drugs and biopolitics – in two ways. The first is autobiographical, Preciado’s account of her life as she takes testosterone, in the form of a gel applied to the skin. This she does without medical supervision, since she isn’t interested in transitioning, in going through what she sees as a medically defined process through which she rejects her female identity. So the doses of testosterone are low – not enough to cause “masculinisation” such as facial hair. This is an experiment, to test or play with her identity as a woman, to examine its boundaries. She is, in her phrase, a “gender hacker”. She writes:

I do not want the female gender that has been assigned to me at birth. Neither do I want the male gender that transsexual medicine can furnish and that the state will award me if I behave in the right way. I don’t want any of it.

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A quarter of a million voices for change

Jeremy Corbyn has been elected by a quarter of a million people – but the Labour right is already on the attack. How do we defend Corbyn and seize this opportunity for the left?

An era has ended, and I can actually remember how it began, or at least the moment when I first noticed Tony Blair. “Who” is asked my flatmate as we watched the TV news “is this pompous little shit who’s Shadow Home Secretary now?” This would have been in 1992. I don’t need to recount the later career of the pompous little shit. It’s summed up, I think, by a comment Margaret Thatcher made in 2002: asked what her greatest achievement had been, she replied “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.” Blair created a political world in which all the major parties supported basically the same things – which in the context of the time meant privatisation and war. It’s a joy to see that particular world come to an end.

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Refugees, Corbyn and the death of Blairism

The last month has seen extraordinary shifts in two areas of public opinion where it was assumed – including by those of us on the left – that the right had established domination. First, migration. It seems clear that the photo of Aylan Kurdi that appeared in the media at the end of last week has prompted a major shift in the coverage of the current crisis. As late as Thursday evening, the front page headline in the London Evening Standard focussed on the “13-hour Eurostar ordeal” of British travellers inconvenienced by refugees in Calais. This angle – British people have their summer holiday ruined by refugees – had been playing in the right-wing press through the summer. Attacks on migrants had included a Daily Mail cartoon based on the “joke” that “illegals” were even besieging heaven, and another – blatantly racist, in this case – depicting a white couple whose hotel room had been taken over by Sudanese people. When London2Calais first took clothes and food to the Calais camp in mid-August, they were one of few groups doing anything like this. Last weekend, when returning to Britain, they were harassed by the authorities.

The coverage now is completely different. On Friday the Guardian reported that people across Britain were acting in support of refugees, from a travel agency in London to a parish councillor in Yorkshire. A petition to parliament to accept more asylum seekers has gained over 400,000 signatures. Even the Daily Mail is leading on refugee human interest stories.

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Our Country’s Good

by Timberlake Wertenbaker at the National Theatre, tickets from £15

Actors gather to perform the play within a play

I can’t say that I enjoyed Our Country’s Good, and I think the basic problem is the play’s politics. It’s a worthy liberal play, its primary theme the rehabilitation of criminals and the redemptive power of art. It’s reasonably well written, and at the National Theatre it’s well acted. And yet…

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Audre Lorde – Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

zamiPublished in 1982, Zami is a memoir by Audre Lorde, the black feminist lesbian writer. Lorde died of cancer in 1992, having gained a position of great respect in the 1980s women’s movement for her writing about the overlapping issues of race, gender and sexuality which had formed the context for her own life. As I recall, while the word “intersectionality” wasn’t used back then, these were live issues – there existed a Gay Black Group and a Gay Lesbian Group which met at Gay’s the Word bookshop.

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