It’s ironic that Suzanne Moore should cite ‘pragmatism’ as the reason for her continued opposition to Jeremy Corbyn. Pragmatism is a much over-used word and far too often it is abused to mean ‘let’s live in the worst aspects of the world we find ourselves in and convince ourselves that it is the only realistic path’. The trouble with that is that it comes rapidly to mean ‘let’s enthusiastically pursue those worst aspects because that way we are being gritty and edgy’ – a lot of the accomodations that Blairism made with turbo-charged finance capitalism made no sense even in their own terms, because of the inherently unstable short-termism that implied and the failure to develop alternatives. At every step, Blairism’s pragmatism took us further up the levels of a house of cards that was guaranteed to tumble down.
Then it did – and in the rubble the Tories, who had embraced the same nonsense, saw their chance to tell a moralistic fairy-tale about how all this was the result of profligate kindness to the unworthy poor, who should have their belts tightened for them for the general good. What was left of New Labour was reduced to arguing about which notch on those belts was least unkind as an alternative to examining their own folly not in the profligacy for which they were being blamed but in their infatuation with a high finance they did not understand as well as they thought.
All they had had to do was read – not radical thinkers even – just sensible figures from the centre like the late JK Galbraith.
In the present situation, pragmatism is a matter of making what one believes to be, if not the best, the least bad choice. Voting for people complicit in the follies of Blairism (and yes there were achievements as well) and in the abjection of the last five years of non-opposition was a vote for more or the same, with a serious risk of the same result. The pragmatic choice was the leap in the dark, the attempt to create something new – and yes, there are aspects of Corbynism it is possible to take issue with. And pragmatism dictates that, when a choice not all aspects of which one likes, but which is less bad than other choices, comes along, one leaps at it.
It’s fashionable to be irritated with Suzanne and other members of the feminist commentariat – lord knows I sometimes am and with good reason – but they are not Tories and for the most part they are not part of the Blairite rump. I beg them to consider this – it is no good being above the struggle and it is no good allowing high-mindedness to prevent you getting involved in something real.
There is a movement – I saw it going on on the refugee march. Sometimes I think that the reason why I am in my sixties still a bit radical is that I have never felt showing up on demonstrations to be entirely optional and beneath me. We are seriously at risk from a conservatism that would turn the clock back as many decades or centuries as it can manage and we must resist, we must not accomodate. Part of the answer is action on the ground; part is radical thinking – Suzanne is right about that but wrong to think it is not being done. And part – a pragmatic part – is trying to do something radical through the existing organisms and organizations of parliamentary radicalism.
This is a time for taking sides, a time to get involved – not a time for getting paid to sneer from the sidelines for money and call it pragmatism.