Wednesday, 8 July 2009

L'Étoile du Nord

The election of Al Franken is part of a much wider trend, the re-emergence at long, long last of the tragically lost American movement of the inter-War years that would have united Franken’s Farm-Labor Party in the West, the Catholic Enclycists in the North, and the Agrarian populists in the South.

White supremacists? Not all of them, and so were a lot of people in those days. Anti-Semites? Not all of them, and so were a lot of people in those days. Embarrassingly sympathetic towards Hitler and Mussolini? Not all of them, so were a lot of people in those days, and no one is ever castigated for having been more than sympathetic towards Stalin before the War. Desperately wishing to avert another war was in any case not the same thing as supporting Hitler, and the belief that the money would have been better spent on social welfare measures, particularly when we are talking about thousands of nautical miles from Germany, is really very difficult to fault.

Any programme hammered out among these three elements would have been hugely beneficial to blacks and Jews regardless of the intentions of any of those who had done the hammering out. And we now live in the world as it is, in which the white supremacism and the anti-Semitism of America, or Britain, or all manner of other places in the Thirties, are simply an irrelevance. Certainly not an irrelevance, however, are rural radicalism, Catholic Social Teaching, and the spectacularly explosive combination of the two.

Senator Franken of the Farm-Labor Party may only just have been declared elected, but those votes themselves were cast on the same day as practising Catholics predominantly, and Southern whites quite considerably, cast the votes that sent an economically populist foreign policy realist to the White House. The same day, in fact, as that candidate carried California and Florida while they reaffirmed traditional marriage, and carried Ohio and (probably) Missouri while they declined to liberalise gambling.

And the Farm-Labor Party itself is also a salutary reminder of the lost history of our own Left, a loss which has had, and continues to have, devastating consequences both for the Left and for the countryside. Conviction that every household should enjoy a base of real property from which to resist both overmighty commercial interests and an overmighty State (a key point, even the key point, of encounter with Catholic Social Teaching). Resistance to enclosure, clearances, exorbitant rents, absentee landlordism, and a whole host of other abuses of the rural population.

Organisation of farm labourers, smallholders, crofters and others in order to secure radical reforms. Identification of real agriculture as a clear example of the importance of central and local government action in safeguarding and delivering social, cultural, political and environmental goods against the ravages of the “free” market. The fight for affordable housing in the countryside. And so much else besides.

Just as the rural and Western half of the Republican Party found itself compelled to support the New Deal, so the Tories found themselves compelled to accept so many achievements in these veins. But they could never have accepted everything that could and should have been done. Yet Labour, like the Democrats, never properly kept up the pressure. Had it done so, then not only would the Tories never have become instead the electoral vehicle of the boys from Planet Think Tank, but Labour itself would never have been replaced by another such vehicle, New Labour.

And who knows what the electoral map may have come to look like? After all, in the Twenties, when it first became possible to speak of safe Labour seats, most were county divisions, with the only exceptions in certain parts of Glasgow (which really belonged to the ILP, as subsequent events showed) and certain very particular parts of London (where the real force at work was the Communist Party).

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