Sunday Hot Takes, May 9th, 2021

Political pugilism and the Labour Left.

Politics for me but not for thee — Elias Khoury, University of Michigan

I have a confession to make: I’m a UFC fan. More precisely, I enjoy watching mixed martial arts. And the best promotion just so happens to be the UFC. With a few notable exceptions, that’s where the top fighters compete.

I consider my fandom hugely embarrassing. The embarrassment stems from the fact that the UFC is the trashiest sports league known to man. The fans are trashy (excluding myself, of course), most of the fighters are trashy, and, above all, the president, Dana White, is incredibly trashy. So it’s no surprise that, a couple of weeks ago, White made an appearance on Hannity in which he told nothing but lies. Perhaps the biggest lie White told was that he and his promotion are apolitical.

“One of the things that I’ve really tried to do… is stay out of politics,” White remarked. “When people tune in to watch sports, they don’t want to hear… what your opinions are or who you’re voting for… You want to listen to [politics]? Turn on any other station.”

(Allow me to remind you that he said this, without a hint of irony, while speaking to Sean fucking Hannity.)

White forgot to mention that he spoke at the 2016 and 2020 RNC. He also left out his history of dragging top fighters along with him to Trump rallies. Heck, Trump even came to UFC 244 and White pointed to his attendance as proof of the promotion’s growing popularity. The UFC is, without question, the most political American sports league — and I would happily debate anyone who disagrees.

Why does any of this matter? Well, it matters because White’s hypocrisy is representative of the Right’s general attitude toward the intersection of politics and sports. They only have a problem combining the two when liberal or left-wing messages win out. God forbid Colin Kaepernick kneel for the anthem in support of black lives.

But if Darren Till calls for Lula Da Silva’s imprisonment in a post-fight interview, that’s just freedom of speech. If Jorge Masvidal calls Joe Biden and Kamala Harris communists, and warns that their administration will turn the United States into Venezuela, he’s just expressing himself. I assume welterweight Colby Covington doesn’t know how to read, but he appeared to be doing just that, scanning a copy of Don Jr.’s Triggered at a press conference ahead of his title fight — which he would go on to lose via technical knockout — versus Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman.

I’m so over the double standard. It’s time we start fighting back. Be political and proud of it.

How do we win? — Griffin Mahon, University of Virginia

Novara, impressive media outlet of the Corbynite left in the UK, recently ran a series called “How We Win” by James Schneider, former Corbyn spokesperson. The series sums up the experiences of the last few years, which we have much to learn from since we went through our own similar ringer. I think the U.S. Left looked longingly at Corbyn from this side of the Atlantic, but, honestly, I think we might be in a better position now. Either way, it’s worth examining their prescriptions.

The series begins with an important reminder: wars, climate change, financial crises, the pandemic, and political movements have revealed a constituency for social democratic politics. It’s on us to seize the opportunity. 

Interestingly, Schneider describes Corbynism as a “war of maneuver,” a phrase from Gramsci meant to imply a high level of nearly-kinetic struggle. I think this is wrong but that Schneider corrects this point later.

The first section, on movements, prioritizes five struggles socialists should engage with: trade unions, the unemployed, renters, environmentalism, and antiracism. Schneider makes the point that Corbynism represented the political cohering of previously disorganized movements. That trade unions are one among many is a bit disconcerting, especially because he advocates remaining within the Labour Party. Socialism depends upon organized workers, so that arena deserves special attention. Schneider says socialist must defend Left leadership of large unions, but not much more.

I get the sense that Schneider chose these movements because they’re there (not a bad reason). For instance, there’s nothing on the political dynamics of tenants unions; they’re almost certainly different in the UK, but here the emphasis on tenant organizing is a difference between “base-builders” and some of DSA. There is, however, a restrained critique of the apolitical, spectacle-focused Extinction Rebellion brand of environmentalism, in favor of a majoritarian, class approach.

Schneider then turns to the Party — no, not that communist abstraction, but the Labour Party. Despite Clause Four, Schneider says that Labour is not a socialist party and that it did not have a socialist strategy under Corbyn. Instead, it’s made up of four orientations: socialism, right-wing social democracy, Fabianism, and social liberalism. 

There is a relatively long digression about anti-semitism. Schneider seems to think the Left’s handling of the whole ordeal was indicative, but I think he is a bit soft on what from across the pond appeared to be an obviously baseless smear campaign by conservatives and the media, clearly meant to scandalize socialists’ chances.

This softness extends to current Leader Keir Starmer, whose campaign promises apparently give the Left something to fight for within the party because the members support progressive policies. Of course, Keir could simply have lied. What then? Schneider proposes an “alliance” between the Socialist Campaign Group, left-led trade unions, and Momentum — albeit one that preserves these groups’ “autonomy.” But it seems after the Corbyn experiment that it was precisely the autonomy of the leaders that eventually undermined the Left.

More on the state, global politics, and communications next week.

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