An interesting article on Lenin’s Tomb a few weeks ago on the conjuncture in Britain introduced the idea of Petty Caesarism. It is a fascinating idea, debatable, but better than the continued assertion “this is a weak government”. Oh really, how is a government that is able to carry out its programme almost unencumbered weak?
The definition of Caeasarism, at least on Wikipedia centres on notions of charismatic leadership, personality cults and military rule. It would be transparently mad to apply that definition anywhere in Europe, let alone Britain. Fortunately Antonio Gramsci expanded the term. In his Prison Notebooks the term also can denote the convergence of party programmes, coalition government, national government and technocratic rule, the last is very important in somewhere like Greece.
The key point here is that social conflict either ceases or is brought to a stalemate, allowing an otherwise unrepresentative portion of society, be it the officer class or the banking or political elite to rule without the use of formal or informal democratic means, formerly considered essential. In other words - stasis. In Greece this is the result of rather intense class struggle. In Britain, if it exists, it is the result of weak or at least one-sided conflict. Further elaboration is perhaps needed.
The point I’m getting to is it made me reflect on a fact of the anti-fascist struggle (the following btw is not a justification of the LT article, just inspired by it). Unite Against Fascism and the English Defence League are clear cut manifestations of two different and opposing sides of civil society. The former is urban, multicultural (specifically anti-racist) and collective, the latter is suburban and rural, mono-cultural (racist) and petty.
The two groups represent two significant trains of thought in our society, yet the numbers of people actively battling it out are quite small. It regularly took tens of thousands to defeat the NF and BNP. It took at the most 4,000 to turn the EDL back in Walthamstow, and that has been the high-point of anti-fascist mobilisation this time round so far.
Compare this to ten years ago when Stop the War and the Countryside Alliance held similar marches within a week of each other, hundreds of thousands strong. It is a perverse fact but now the stakes have been raised people seem more reluctant than ever to take action. The Labour Party may have lost the will and the ways to mobilise against the far-right, or against anything, but it still sits there like the biggest boulder in the highway, and there is no sustained effort to remove it or go round.
This reluctance to come out is the basis of Petty Caesarism in Britain, if it exists. Power is so well insulated from the population the ruling class’s response to any challenge is, more or less, “what’re you going to do about it?”