Two versions of history: April 29th 2011


At stake on Friday the 29th April 2011 are two radically different ways of conceiving history. This becomes even clearer when we note the attempt by the Conservatives to put an end to the May 1st International Labour Day and create instead a “national day” on St. George’s Day [see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12640636] .

The first version of history is one that appears as “national unity”: the affirmative history of the county’s great people and events. This is the version of history promulgated by the BBC, with their endless nostalgia programs: e.g. washed-up British celebrities remembering some Great Winter past, or the 1966 world cup victory, or “the excitement” of various cultural events – the Beatles, some TV series,  the 60s, the 80s… even the miner’s strikes. “The Royal Wedding” is the paradigmatic example.

Essential to this version of history is an affirmation of national unity and a common identity, which is “so basic that it binds us together despite our differences”.

The second version of history is one that appears as one long class struggle: the critical history of social antagonism, and of various oppressed groups’ – women, ethnic groups, LGBTQ, the working classes – struggle to assert themselves as political agents. It is an ongoing struggle, given the everywhere evident concentration of wealth and political power in the current conjuncture to the detriment of everyone but the privileged elite orchestrating the demolition of the welfare state, attacks on workers, and the restructuring of the economy to the benefit of capital and the destruction of all else.

It is not mere griping, or anti-royal feeling, then, that necessitates a determined opposition to “the Royal Wedding”: it is the attempt to shrug off a nationalist ideology and its false image of history, and to assert ourselves as political agents. By “nationalist ideology” I don’t mean “rascist” or “fascist” – I mean precisely what I say: nationalist. Discourses of nation can function in various ways. What is quite clear here is that the discourse of “Britishness” is being used to shore up the centre-right’s political hegemony: to offer up an affirmative image of unity and collective identity on the one hand and, on the other, to silence dissent and obscure its traditions. Here two worrying examples of these trends spring to mind: the first is the way that the wedding has been used to justify new aggressive policing measures: premptive arrests, increased intelligence gathering, attacks on protestors’ right to anonymity, etc. The second, which comes at the same time as this attack on left-wing street movements, is a pandering to the English Defence League (EDL) and the right: e.g. David Cameron’s speech attacking multiculturalism, which was given on the same day as the EDL marched against “Islamic extremism”. However, the real aim of this is not to pander to the far-right but to shore-up the “muscular liberalism” of the centre. That is to say, to produce an ideological rationale for a “liberalism” that applies only to the market: no to free speech; no to free assembly; no to protest; no to social mobility; no to access to education; no to workers’ rights; but a resounding yes to business: “Britian is open for business”.

The Royal Wedding cannot be extricated from this politico-economic project: the attempt to do so is already a capitulation to the ideology of this project, which wishes each of its moves to be assessed in isolation. The Wedding was not rigged up by the ConDems, but its objective function has been determined by the situation the ConDems have orchestrated. And so, now it matters very little what your opinion of the Royal family, or weddings, or the chauvinistic treatment of Kate Middleton in the media happens to be, so long as you accept the terms in which this event has been posed: as a national event, rather than as a calculated attack by the bourgeoisie on the middle and working classes.

Wit

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~ by Wit on April 27, 2011.

One Response to “Two versions of history: April 29th 2011”

  1. Indeed so. I particularly liked ‘to produce an ideological rationale for a “liberalism” that applies only to the market’; the the equation of free-market economic liberalism and ‘democracy’ is one that has a nasty history. I am reminded of Thatcher, sitting on a sofa in a rented house on the Wentworth golf course, praising her good friend Augusto Pinochet for being a ‘great democrat’. What she meant was that Pinochet introduced monetarism to Chile after the coup against Allende, an experiment that preceded and foreshadowed the programs launched in the UK and USA at the turn of the 80s. Never mind the repression, incarceration and murder of the Chiliean people; for her, neo-liberalism WAS ‘democracy’. The contemporary rhetoric of ‘choice’ has teh same foundations. By the way, I tend to think that the BBC is a force for cultural good in this country, but its handling of events like the RW show it at its very worst – a kind of palsied, sentimental nationalism which is meant to affirm some kind of ‘shared heritage’ and community. Garbage, of course. The most perplexing thing about the whole charade was the nakedness of the repression of political/cultural dissent on this issue – I wonder why they’ve been so brazen? Do they have the 2012 Olympics in mind (a much bigger show)?

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