Some months ago, I was in a pub in Clerkenwell with friends when the conversation turned to immigration. Specifically, we began discussing whether immigration has a negative impact on wages. I argued that it probably does for certain groups and was doubtful about evidence claiming otherwise.
Arguing the other side was a friend I had known for about five years. I knew we disagreed – she is a radical communist and Corbynista – but she was someone I liked and enjoyed seeing. This time, however, was different. Within a few minutes, she began to use words like “racism”. “It has nothing to do with race,” I said firmly. “Xenophobia? Would you prefer that?” she snarled. She began to rant about the despicability of rich people with my “lifestyle” thinking it was fine to “fly around the world”, but not for poorer types to do so.
Before I could respond to this slur, she declared to herself, trembling: “I can’t do this.” And then she left the pub. The four of us looked at one another, shell-shocked. Beneath my astonishment, though, I felt oddly calm. She was obviously stressed and would contact me to apologise in due course, I thought. But she didn’t. I haven’t seen her since.
Last week, we learnt that Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs repeatedly met a Czech communist spy during the Cold War. I doubt that Mr Corbyn was a foreign spy, but he has a knack for cultivating links with all the wrong people (the IRA, Hamas, and so on). This should disqualify him from high office, but what worries me about the prospect of him winning power relates much more to what happened in that Clerkenwell pub.
My friend’s extreme behaviour was testament to the hard Left’s growing radicalisation. This isn’t directly about its policies. It is about the worrying shift in the way powerful Left-wingers think, an increasingly hard-line division of the world into the “profane” (rich, white, straight, male, conservative) and the “sacred” (poor, non-white, gay, female, Left-wing). It is a mentality that, as argued by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, is a defining feature not of democratic politics, but of religion.
At times, this way of thinking is highly visible. It is prevalent in the environmentalist movement, which draws heavily on religious ideas in repeatedly forecasting the end of the world and casting the West as the bearer of bottomless guilt. Some purveyors of identity politics have adopted religious norms explicitly by denouncing the publication of blasphemous Mohammed cartoons or allowing sex segregation at political gatherings.
This thinking has transferred itself seamlessly into the phenomenon of no-platforming and “safe spaces”, in which offensive views are banned, and the idea of “micro-aggressions”, which theorises that everyday speech can be a form of violence. The premium placed on victimhood, and the development of a hierarchy known as intersectionality in which a gay, black, disabled, trans person is inherently more oppressed and worthier than anyone who has fewer labels, surely owe their theoretical underpinnings to the ideas of predestination and “the meek” inheriting the earth.
The recasting of radical Left politics as religion helps to explain why, in the mind of the believer, every personal interaction is part of an epic battle. Like a neo-Nazi or a radical Islamist, the radical Leftist revolutionary believes that she must be ready to wage “war” at any time. Friendship, family, romantic relationships, films, books, museums, street names must be analysed through one lens and judged accordingly. Being “good” in this context is not about treating others with respect, fulfilling familial duties or looking after your children. It’s about associating with the “right” people and judging others based on a moral template, both in the “purity” of their views and their particular inherited qualities (skin colour, sexuality, wealth and so on).
This is, of course, no way to live and it’s even putting off Left-wing sympathisers. A feminist activist I met recently said that she had stopped attending activist gatherings because they mostly involving “judging others” and, she concluded, “they just weren’t very nice people”. And, of course, the notion that you can treat the people you encounter terribly, but still be a good person because of your wider “mission” will be familiar to anyone who has followed the Oxfam scandal.
There is nothing wrong with belonging to a religion and, for some, that will inevitably inform their personal politics. Nor is radicalisation confined to the Left (the growing hysteria of Remainers and the use of the word “traitor” by Brexiteers are examples). But only among Corbynistas has this religious mode of thinking become a framework for organising all personal relations, national politics and society. This mind-set can only be described as deeply authoritarian.
Look at what happened over the weekend in Leeds, where Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) held its annual meeting. The forum, which helps develop policies, had been due to elect a new chair, but Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had other ideas. It decided that the election shouldn’t happen due, it claimed, to a technicality. The real reason, though, was that the candidate preferred by the Corbynista campaign group, Momentum, was on course to lose. This dissent could not be allowed.
When she tried to defy the order, the NPF’s vice chair, Katrina Murray, was barged away from the microphone by the NEC’s chairman, Andy Kerr. The scene was, according to Labour MPs who witnessed it, “shocking”, “saddening”, “disgraceful” and a throwback to “old school control freakery”. Mr Corbyn’s supporters think this behaviour is justifiable in the service of their cause. This is the classic charter of the authoritarian.