The road to hell is paved with neutral intentions

The BBC decided to mark the first (and hopefully last) anniversary of Trump’s inauguration by asking people around the world what they thought of him. Check it out

Of course, being the BBC, they had to ensure ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’. This meant that they had to find people who actually supported him – that’s fine – but they had to give them equal time to those who opposed him. So, they drag up some right-wing Israelis to crow their support.

There’s no such thing as neutrality or objectivity in journalism and the BBC’s commitment to it just makes it complicit in legitimating the system’s lurch towards authoritarianism, dictatorship, fascism, and hate.

Adolf Hitler was elected Germany’s Chancellor in 1933. I don’t know how the BBC covered his first anniversary, but can imagine a vox populi being produced with similar views as the one produced here for Trump’s anniversary.

‘Oh, he’s a visionary!’ ‘The economy is reviving!’ ‘The trains are running on time again!’

The BBC is a huge organisation that generates an incredible, often wonderful, and occasionally critical and even subversive output across its TV, and radio channels. However, in its news coverage, the BBC looks like it’s institutionally locked into its commitment to objectivity.  Sadly, as this video shows, we can’t look to the BBC here to shine a light in the darkness exposing the rising fascist politics of the ‘mainstream’.

 

‘How should cities deal with legacies of guilt?’ – a response to the Bristol Festival of Ideas event

pron

Dear reader,

I haven’t been blogging in recent months. I don’t feel I have much to say.

I have now moved to Bristol and I and my family are gradually settling in. The legacy of slavery looms large here and has loomed larger in recent years. The controversy of street and building names and, of course, monuments to slave-owners – most notably to Edward Coulston – has arisen here, not with the overt violence seen in the US, but still with anger, passion, and division.

statue-of-edward-colston

 

This morning, I attended an event entitled ‘How should cities deal with legacies of guilt? at the Watershed in Bristol. The event was of the Festival of the Future City itself presented by the Bristol Festival of Ideas. It was hosted by historian David Olusoga who facilitated a discussion between Tim Cole, a historian of the politics of memory of the Holocaust; Madge Dresser, a historian of Atlantic slavery and its effects on British culture; and Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol-based writer and performer.

Most of this hour-long discussion was a historically contextualised exploration of the politics and ethics of monuments. Central, understandably, was the question of whether monuments commemorating figures or regimes of violence should be brought down and, if so, what they should be replaced with. I was pleased to hear all three panelists speak supportively for monuments or artistic interventions that open up space for public contribution. I too believe that any replacements, even when expressing desires or demands for justice, cannot be monological entities that closed down space, but must be open and dialogical inviting us all to contribute to the narratives, past, present, and future, that we as citizens, as common humanity, share.

At their best, however, such monuments or artistic interventions can only create dissensus and spaces for transformation. They cannot be transformative in themselves. What must come next, then, have to be concrete processes that enable us all to work together towards truth, justice, and healing. It was disappointing for me, then, that, only when it was opened up for audience questions, did the discussion shift away from ‘ideas’ towards the realms of feelings.

The first contribution from the audience came from a young black woman who was clearly in a huge amount of pain. As I interpreted it, she expressed feelings of ‘humiliation’ in living in Bristol and facing not just the continuing architecture of historical violence, but the continued racism of our city and society. Responding to her, Vanessa Kisuule acknowledge this woman’s feelings. Kisuule gestured to her, by touching her hand to her heart and chest, telling her ‘I know!’ These were the two most profound and important words of the whole event. I was saddened, therefore, that, perhaps just instinctively, David Olusoga, the chair, responded himself by reaching out, touching Kisuule’s hand, and, jokingly, said something like ‘Careful! This could go deep!’ To be clear, this is not a judgment of Olusoga’s acts. I could well have possibly done the same thing. It felt like an articulation of an instinctive performance of regulating what can and can’t be said at events like these.

Perhaps this wasn’t the time and place for us to go deep; perhaps it was precisely the place. At some time, in some shared place, we have to go deep. We have to go far, far beyond ideas if we seriously want to deal with legacies of guilt. Yes, guilt can be defined merely in technical legal terms or, more ethically, in historical evaluations, but guilt is, first and foremost, a feeling. Where there are feelings of guilt, there is shame, there is violence, there is humiliation, there is vengeful anger, there is deep pain, there is trauma. Whether we like it or not, these are the ‘deep lakes’ of trauma, as Thomas Hubl calls them – personal and collective – that sit in our subterranea. The closer we are, historically and culturally, to their source, the more physically and spiritually we feel them, true. But, since we are one, we all feel them. There are hegemonic constructions not just of ideas but of feelings that lay the foundations and scaffolding for what Gloria Anzaldua has called our ‘desconocimientos’ – ‘The ignorance we cultivate to keep ourselves from knowledge so that we can remain unaccountable’. But, however, sturdy these constructions, those deep, wide lakes remain below.

A quick example of feelings. After the event, I spoke briefly with Vanessa Kisuule. What words were said are of secondary importance. Let me faithfully share my feelings. I felt like a white man telling a black woman about racism and injustice. I felt awkward. I felt like I was patronising even though I had no such intention. I felt like I wanted to be an equal human being with her, but I felt divided. I did not feel guilt. Please try not to judge these emotions. I’ve had a black woman tell me before that I should get over myself. She might be right. However, these feelings are not, as I understand them, feelings of self-pity at all. They are feelings of alienation from another human being with whom and for whom I want equality, justice, and solidarity.

I went home from the Watershed, cycling up those bastard Bristol hills in the drizzle. I got home, got my wet clothes off, changed into dry clothes, and sat down. I became aware of huge, powerful forces of feeling inside me – in my chest, my stomach, my throat. I decided to take 10 minutes to feel them. I sank down into them and images soon came to me. I was working some land by the side of a cliff which descended down into the sea. The grass was bright green, the sea bright blue, the cliff bright white. Suddenly, I was struck and cut on my shoulder. I saw a small beaten boy. He was dead. His body was pushed off the cliff. It bounced with thuds down to the sea below. Next, I was a man whipping the bloody, serrated back of a woman. Then, I was swimming in the sea through bodies and debris, fires from the cliffs. Was it a revolt? I don’t know.

Wounds can be bridges, declares Gloria Anzaldua. We fragment, we can reunite. But, these bridges are conscious processes of healing that we as a society need to build. I am currently involved in a process of group work, inspired and organised by Thomas Hubl, that seeks to delve deep into our personal and collective lakes of trauma in preparation for its participants to facilitate and support other processes of healing. But, what I am acutely conscious of in this and all processes is the need for those most direct victims of violence – not just the gratuitously physical, but the humiliating, dehumanising cultural, symbolic, often unwitting, everyday violence – to be silent no more and to name that violence, their feelings. In such processes, not only do they pronounce their own humanity (always there, but denied by the system), but they shine a light out of the dark towards our own reclaimed, unified, more complete humanity. This, I believe, nay, I feel, is how we must and can go forward in order for us all not just ‘deal with’, but to overcome legacies of guilt.

Thank you for reading

Blessings and peace to you

Joel

Dousing the Fires, Part Five – only love can overcome

Dousing the fires: On the crisis of hegemony, the forthcoming war of manoeuvre, and how only love can win this war

Part Five: Only love shall overcome

As usual, you can listen to this blogpost here…

In the previous article (part four of five), I predicted that, on the election of a progressive government, the combined factions of the state and capitalist class (financial, corporate, and media) would orchestrate a full-blown attack on the government and the social movements behind it. They would instigate a total war of manoeuvre, in Gramscian parlance. In this face of this onslaught, what is to be done?

I will answer this age-old question in four ways. It is a four-fold interconnected framework for the democratisation of power and the empowerment of democracy from the level of the state down to the smallest community. Each element of the framework is underpinned by the principles of radicalism and love.

By radicalism, I don’t mean extremism; I mean an approach that works on addressing and transforming the root systemic causes of the challenge. I also mean radicalism, therefore, in contrast to a reformism that seeks compromise with opposing social forces and piecemeal ameliorations within the current system. In the face of such a maelstrom, such an onslaught, brought on by systemically opposing forces, reformist compromise is suicide. This is a zero-sum game. This is the great lesson of all failed revolutions. By love, I mean a micro-political commitment, that is, a commitment in our own local communities, workplaces, assemblies, families, and, above all, in our own hearts to love –  suspending judgment of others (and self), non-violence, empathy, listening, dialogue, and, wherever possible, consensus.

The current system must be transformed. The four components of the overall framework for action are:

1) Temporary state socialism

2) Democratisation of political and economic power – municipalism

and co-operativism

3) Social mobilisation and organisation

4) Democratising our culture and our selves – creating a politics of love

1) Temporary state socialism

The capitalist class will wreak its economic havoc primarily through the financial markets. This means that the only way to stop this is to take the financial functions (supposedly) performed through markets under state control. This means the nationalisation (forced purchase of majority shareholdings) of any UK bank speculating against the government (in reality, all banks). In the case of a housing crisis, the government should immediately intervene to stop banks foreclosing on homeowners. There could also be a general erasure of all mortgage and private debts. This would mitigate the worst of the economic fallout and support living standards and economic activity. The launch of a national investment bank will help to invest in both the renovation and (ecological) modernisation of infrastructure and loan to new (co-operative – see below) enterprises.

Temporary state socialism also means the nationalisation of vital economic and security infrastructure – the energy grid and providers; the rail network and providers; the water infrastructure and providers; the National Health Service; and the Internet infrastructure and providers. This will ensure, at least, that basics are provided at hugely reduced costs for all.

All such interventions should be undertaken according with E.F. Schumacher’s famous maxim that ‘small is beautiful’, i.e. that the transfer of private property into collective ownership should proceed where possible by transferring ownership to the lowest and smallest community level possible. However, urgency of action, in the short-term, and economies of scale, in the longer-term, may require a more regional or national ownership.

Schumacher_201977.jpg

2) The democratisation of political and economic power – Municipalism and Co-operativism

The new government should move swiftly to democratise as much power as possible to regions and councils. In particular, the government should support and legislate for the emergence of municipalism, specifically the creation of neighbourhood assemblies across the country empowered to collectively take control of and manage local community resources. This overlaps with new legislation enabling and supporting workers to buyout private businesses and convert them into worker-run co-operatives.

Working Group

3) Social mobilisation and organisation

If a progressive government gets into power there will already have to have been a huge increase in social mobilisation and collective action to achieve this. What is absolutely vital is that this energy does not dissipate post-election under the false assumptions and hopes of liberal representative democracy. What we know far too well is that either our politicians will disappoint us or they will be thwarted in the ways outlined above. We need to be ready. This means community, civic, regional, and national action and demands. It may even mean the creation of self-defence brigades to defend our communities.

4) Democratising our culture and our selves – creating a politics of love

Mass mobilisation and organisation and the legal establishment and empowerment of neighbourhood assemblies is not enough if we continue to act in hierarchical, authoritarian, racist, sexist, and other oppressive and undemocratic ways. We have to democratise our culture and our very selves. We need those mindful of the principles and practices of democratic culture – those trained in anti-racism, gender equality, critical pedagogy, non-violent communication, spiritual practices, participatory art and theatre, and many other democratic and peace-making traditions and practices – to facilitate our meetings and to train us in these practices. We need to quickly (as quickly as possible) learn how to suspend judgment, listen to each other, find reconciliation, and, so doing, work with and make decisions with each other on a basis of consensus wherever possible.

The framework is for a transitional cascading down of power from state to community. It has to be this way. We cannot create a perfect direct democracy that brings down the state from below overnight. We have to begin where we find ourselves and this means that centralised decision-making and ownership will be necessary in the first months and years to ride out the maelstrom, defang those fiercely powerful opponents, and, ultimately, expropriate them. At the same time, we must do all we can to democratise that centralised, bureaucratic, socialist state power at the first realistic opportunity. This will require collective mobilisation and organisation. Finally, the decentralisation and democratisation of power will not democratise our society unless and until we democratise our selves. We cannot have democratic institutions without democratic culture and this requires the micro-level work within communities, within families, within our very hearts and minds. This requires a pedagogy and a politics of love.

Conclusion

Jeremy Corbyn is no radical. The fact that a social democratic figure who would have represented the centre-left ground in 1960s British politics can be characterised as an extremist ‘hard’ leftist reveals the true extremism of what has been the centre ground of British politics for two decades. It also reveals the fear that the ruling class holds for any harbinger of hope who might help us ‘rise like lions from our slumber’. If the Labour leader is to be demonised as a radical for mostly reformist policies, he might as well play the part and go all out for, in a struggle between two systemically opposed forces such as capital and labour,1 particularly in situations of crisis, there can be no compromise. He and his government will only do this, can only do this if they are supported and pushed by huge social pressure. This is our task.

friedman_quote

Naomi Klein has famously documented the ‘shock doctrine’ strategy in which the ruling class takes advantage of the social chaos that follows in the immediate aftermath of natural or engineered crises to push through the agenda of capital that would otherwise never have been politically achievable (see Friedman’s quote above). However, as Klein herself recently noted, evidence is growing that, after five decades, we are becoming ‘shock-proof’. Ironically, the neo-liberal resilience agenda has helped here. We are starting to realise what is happening and why and we are beginning to learn how to stop it happening. We will need to be resolutely shock-proof here in the UK soon. Writing and reading this article and stuff like it is a good start, I guess.

I am aware how UK-centric this article is. In many other countries, the crisis is playing out in very different ways, some seemingly far more bleak. Nonetheless, wherever the rule of autocracy seems ascendent, its seeming power really only reflects a rule by violence that betrays the facts both that hegemony is dead and that our collective democratic powers of resistance, imagination, and hope are rising. Take the US, for instance. In reality, the Trump regime is very weak, huge numbers of people are getting politicised and active, and, had the Democratic Party’s executive not stopped him, Bernie Sanders would be President right now. In countries in the periphery of the global system, though it is clear that your struggles inspire ours, it is also clear that radical change in core countries will be the best hope for radical change in yours. In the Middle East and North Africa, for example, the election of a progressive government would mean the UK’s withdrawal from the regions and the end of weapons sales. A start.

There can be no socialism in one country and, just as we in the UK have been inspired and informed by successful movements elsewhere, we hope that our recent advances will inspire and inform friends abroad.

I began this long article by declaring that:

‘The world is ablaze!! In Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Portugal, Pakistan, London, fires burn, destroying lives and fuelling the fires of righteous rage spreading right across our planet.’

These horrific fires are heralding the last days of the Capitalocene! What I have painted above is a stark and fearful picture. There is no avoiding this. This system – capitalism – has been in place for centuries and was forged and has been maintained ever since through violence. ‘Capital’, as Marx famouly put it, ‘comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt’. It will not go down without a hell of a fight. There are times when this will unavoidably mean a physical fight – always, of course, in self-defence. But, the greatest chance – the only real chance – of our overcoming capital, patriarchy, racism will be to fight fire not with fire, but with water. Ultimately, is there is to be a great transformation it will be a transformation in our hearts and souls. The scale of such fires of injustice and hatred can only be put out by a tidal wave of love, but this tidal wave is made up of thousands, millions, of individual drops of water. A macro-political revolution of our society begins and is driven by a micro-political revolution inside each of us. So, the revolution starts with each of us as individuals, but it ends in us as a society, as humanity. Let’s get educated, organised, democratised, and loving.

Thanks so much for reading.

Solidarity and love,

Joel

1What I mean by this is that capital accumulates through the work/energy of human and non-human life. In the workplace, capital and labour confront each other.

Dousing the Fires, Part Four – a war of manoeuvre

Dousing the fires: On the crisis of hegemony, the forthcoming war of manoeuvre, and how only love can win this war

Part Four: Predicting the next 12-24 months: an outright war of manoeuvre begins

As usual, you can listen to this blogpost here…

In the previous article (three of five), I offered evidence for how neo-liberalism is dead as a functioning ideology able to construct a hegemonic order and for how dramatic the leftward shift in the ideological landscape in the UK has been in recent months and even weeks. I am now going to do something possibly bold, probably foolish. I will offer a prediction of what I think will happen in the next 12 to 24 months. This prediction is based on my understanding of the history of capitalist crises and of hegemony.

Conservative collapse

I now see very little chance of the Conservative Party surviving the next 12 months. As I stated above, it is now faced with a dire choice. It can choose to try to out-Labour Labour. This will be received with even more cynicism than previous Labour attempts to out-Tory the Tories. Even if the Tory government continues with the government spending/social justice talk, it cannot walk the walk. To do so would be to betray its own structural interests and the interests of its capitalist backers. The events of this day of writing, 28th June, exemplify this. Under pressure from Corbyn, senior Tory ministers suggested the 1% cap on public sector pay would be reviewed this Autumn only for the Prime Minister’s office to deny this just hours later! This exposes both the practical impossibility of a leftward shift in policy and the complete chaotic confusion of the Tories right now. The second choice is doubling down on the politics of fear. This is the only feasible path. The problem is that, as the election revealed, the politics of fear is only successful in the absence of the politics of hope. Nonetheless, it is far too early to pronounce the death of the politics of fear just yet for two main reasons. First, the politics of hope is far easier to deliver convincingly when in opposition than when in government. Second, a new major economic recession could swiftly recreate potent conditions for a far more dangerous, outright fascist politics of fear. Both of these conditions are, I believe, going to materialise quite soon.

A progressive government faces the maelstrom

Whether provoked by a new financial market crash, economic recession, Brexit talks collapse, mass protests, Grenfell Tower fallout, or another unpredictable event, I believe that the Conservative government will collapse probably well within two years. In its place, a Labour majority or Progressive Alliance coalition government will be elected. This new government, with Corbyn as its Prime Minister, will then face the combined wrath and power of the British state and corporate and financial elites determined to crush it and all support for it.

The first mechanism in this reaction will be an orchestrated financial markets crash. The pound will be attacked; bond markets will raise the rate at which the UK government can borrow to rates comparable to Greece and Italy; if the new government ends the supposed ‘independence’ of the Bank of England and reins in quantitative easing, there may be a renewed credit crunch; the housing market will crash as foreign owners and buy-to-let landlords sell up. City banks, who have threatened leaving in the wake of Brexit, will start to actively move out of London. At the same time, many multi-national corporations will follow suit. As the financial crash shifts into the real economy, we will see major job losses and house repossessions. A serious economic and social crisis will unfold. This will all take place within months (weeks probably) of the new government coming to power.

With the right-wing press (and BBC too) shouting ‘we told you so!’ and decrying the predictable chaos of socialist governance and economics, the state will also move against the government. We know already that Jeremy Corbyn and other prominent left-wing politicians like Caroline Lucas have been surveilled by undercover police for years. We know also that, soon after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, senior military figures suggested the possibility of a military coup were he to be elected Prime Minister. When one joins the British Army, one swears an oath of allegiance not to the British people or its democracy, but solely to the monarch.1 The police swear a more progressive version, but, still, their first promise is to serve the Queen. Rest assured, the armed forces will make moves to uphold their oath. They will work with the police to sew ferment. This will begin with infiltrating and supporting nazi gangs to wreak havoc and will escalate to the funding, training, and arming – Northern Ireland style – of paramilitary groups. We cannot also exclude Islamist terrorist attacks, either genuine or state-created, further fanning the flames of hatred and division. Politically, there may be a split in the Conservative Party with a new far right nationalist alliance between Tories and UKIP forming and leading the political wing of this reactionary insurgency.

With regard to the mainstream media, they will, of course, denounce the new government as Britain and freedom-hating Stalinists and terrorists, of course. More insidious by far will be the social media strategies. We know that billionaires like Peter Thiel and Robert Mercer fund, develop, and utilise operations like Cambridge Analytica to manipulate us. With the election of a progressive government, this will develop into full-blown psychological warfare.

We can expect all this, then – a full-blown economic crisis generated partly by the inevitable bursting of bubbles reflated by desperate capitalist fiscal and monetary policy since 2008, but timed intentionally by the ruling class to bring chaos to the new government. This will be exacerbated by the full conniving wrath of the corporate, military, policy, and media sectors.

How can we overcome and emerge victorious from this crisis, from this war? This is the question I address in the fifth and final part of this series. I will set out a four-fold framework for the democratisation of power and the empowerment of democracy underpinned by the principles of radicalism and love.

Thank you so much for reading.

Solidarity and love,

Joel

1‘I (your name), swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors in person, crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and of the generals and officers set over me.’ See http://www.whodareswins.com/british-army-oath-of-allegiance.html

Dousing the fires: Part Three

Dousing the fires: On the crisis of hegemony, the forthcoming war of manoeuvre, and how only love can win this war

Part Three: The ideological crisis – a crisis of hegemony

As usual, if you prefer to listen to a recording of this blog, you can do so here…

In the previous article (the second of this five-part series), I offered an overview of the profound economic, social, and political crises gripping the UK right now in order to set out the underlying material context provoking the current ideological crisis. In this article (the third of five), I will offer evidence for this ideological crisis, this crisis of hegemony, and how the ideological landscape has been dramatically dragged leftwards in the last two years, decisively and transformatively so by our recent general election.

The ideological crisis – a crisis of hegemony

We are experiencing a profound ideological crisis. What I mean by this is that the ideology that had served to legitimate, justify, and naturalise the social order since the late 1970s – namely, neo-liberalism – can no longer perform this function. This means that the social ‘war of position’ – the war fought by opposing social forces in mainstream and social media and on the terrain of civil society is now raging. Things that were unthinkable and unsayable become thinkable and sayable. The parameters of common sense are shifting rapidly.

In the daily soap opera of rolling 24-hour news, we can be forgiven for having short memories that prevent us from identifying significant cultural and ideological shifts. But, we don’t have to look back that far to realise how profound the ideological shift that we are experiencing is.

JC as OBK 1

For the past three decades before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in August 2015, even moderate social democratic voices and views were omitted from our TV screens. Yes, a radical and articulate rage punctuated this hegemonic silence during the Occupy movement in 2011, but such was the ideological and material strength of neo-liberalism at this time that the mainstream media was quite able to sustain it by demonising, infantilising, and ridiculing protestors and their ideas. Nonetheless, a serious blow was dealt to the hegemonic order by Occupy’s powerful slogans and images around inequality in particular and, in Southern European countries gripped by crises, left-wing movements and parties made big breakthroughs.

occupy1.jpg

We can identify a crucial weakening in the hegemonic stability of neo-liberalism in these post-crash years in the way that, globally, official state and transnational discourses around ‘the market’ shifted. Gone were optimistic, utopian claims about the magic of the market’s ‘invisible hand’ or moral declarations about the goodness of greed. In decline also were the suggestions that one just needed to pull one’s socks up and work hard in order to benefit from the market’s benevolence. Such claims became increasingly hard to maintain in the face of growing numbers of benefits claimants already in full-time work. Instead, what we saw was a global shift to a discourse of ‘resilience’. While the resilience discourse expressed the classic neo-liberal traits of individual responsibility and self-reliance, it offered us no positive message. Instead, it basically told us that shit happens, natural disasters, financial crashes, job losses, and indebtedness happen – without exploring why, of course – and that we, as individuals and, now, as communities (‘big society’!, have to be resilient so as to deal with them.

Such a discursive shift reflects a major hegemonic weakening in neo-liberal ideology. In the wake of financial meltdown, austerity, and falling living standards, there was nothing positive left to claim. The core message went from ‘pull your finger out and get rich’ to ‘life’s cruel; deal with it’. In short, resilience = neo-liberalism – hope! This is an ideological journey from utopia to dystopia and dystopia cannot be sustained for long without increasing repression and violence. The shift to resilience signalled the impending death of neo-liberalism as functioning hegemonic ideology.

The key moment that heralded neo-liberalism’s ideological death for me was Teresa May’s inaugural speech as Prime Minister. Gone was even the faintest hint of market triumphalism. Instead, May gave a speech damning the ‘burning injustices of modern Britain. It’s worth quoting her speech here to remind us of the depth of this ideological volte-face from the government that brought us austerity!

‘That means fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others.

If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white.

If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.

If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.

If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.

If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.’

You can view the whole, brief speech here.

May’s speech was monumental, but she was never actually going to follow it with action. Consequently, in the absence of any positive message in this prolonged Great Recession, the ruling class doubled down on the hate agenda. If you can’t rule at all through hope, it has to be fear. Brexit, then, (aided by an almost equally negative Remain campaign) can be interpreted through this lens. There is, of course, a huge amount of justified despair and anger among working and middle class communities to exploit, but there is even more hope, pride and love to rekindle. The war of position was far from over. What was required, what was politically and existentially necessary, was a message, a vision of hope.

Common sense transformed

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in August 2015 was monumental. Corbyn’s election smashed through a ‘representative’ democratic system whose major parties had represented none but the interests of capital for decades.1 Instead, Corbyn’s priorities were the welfare of people and planet. Basic social democratic ideas and values, and even some more radical ideas, were back on our TVs and newspapers. Of course, they and those who espoused them were relentlessly ridiculed and demonised by the media. Corbyn was not helped by right-wing and doubting Labour parliamentarians who schemed against him. Sometimes he seemed not to help himself. Yet, an election period in which broadcasting is more tightly scrutinised by the electoral commission ensured Corbyn and Labour a relatively fair access to the electorate. Unsurprisingly, kind-hearted and eminently sensible ideas proposed by a clearly serious, sober, and compassionate man were received first with interest, then with support, and ultimately with excitement by millions of voters. The Labour campaign and manifesto and the ensuing election results have transformed the ideological order in this country. Working class hope was revived and working class anger was to follow.

The Grenfell Tower disaster will have, is having, as great a political and ideological effect on this country as the election. First and foremost, it is the final nail in austerity’s coffin. Austerity is now dead – as ideology if not yet policy. Even that most sacrilegious of notions – tax rises – are back on the Tory agenda!

Consider next a phrase that, in neo-liberalism’s heyday, came to exemplify everything supposedly ridiculous, overbearing, and infuriating about the paternalistic, invasive, and incompetent state: ‘health and safety’. Health and safety was public enemy number two (behind political correctness) for the Daily Mail (and other right-wing papers who relentlessly published myths on this theme) and became the knee-jerk, unthinking lament (Gramscian common sense) of many of its readers. I recall occasionally having to defend the notion to such folk that working people should be able to work in conditions that do not jeopardise their health or safety, conditions they struggled hard to secure. Now, in the wake of Grenfell, ‘health and safety’ is redeemed. Now, suddenly, even the right-wing Metro newspaper is lambasting government ministers for cutting corners on health and safety. I offer this as a concrete example of a radically and rapidly transforming ideological terrain on which our collective understanding and definition of common sense is dramatically shifting leftwards. Something major is going on when even Piers Morgan is savaging government ministers for their policies and responses to this terrible tragedy. Something potentially radical is going on when the expropriation of empty private property held by rich foreign nationals is being proposed by a party leader and supported by major newspapers!

At this point, I want to recap my argument so far. Neo-liberal hegemony is over, undermined gradually by a long-term decline in living standards and opportunities and extreme inequality, weakened by effective social movements and campaigns, and brought to its knees, first, by a positive Labour election campaign and, second, by a horrific man-made disaster. The Tory response has been a confused combination of faux hope – a promise of progressive policies and social justice – and full fear – Brexit, Islamophobia, immigration. A material crisis of capital is playing out also as a political and ideological crisis. The Labour resurgence under Corbyn has shattered the pro-capitalist democratic veneer. A combination of anger and hope is bringing huge numbers into political activity. People are mobilising and organising as groups, as communities, as social movements in really significant numbers, it seems.

In the next article (fourth of five), I will set out my predictions for what will take place in this country within the next two years. I predict the emergence of a full-blown ‘war of manoeuvre’ – the intensification of social warfare from primarily just cultural terrain (ideological warfare – ‘war of position’) to intense economic and even physical warfare.

Thank you so much for reading.

Solidarity and love,

Joel

1New Labourites would challenge this assertion. To be fair, they did invest in public services and welfare, but in ways that advanced neo-liberal capitalism, for example, private finance initiatives.

Dousing the fires, Part Two: The UK’s economic, social, and political crises

Dousing the fires: On the crisis of hegemony, the forthcoming war of manoeuvre, and how only love can win this war

Part Two: The UK’s economic, social, and political crises

As usual, if you prefer to listen to the blogpost, you can do so below here.

In the first article of this five-part series, I set out my overall argument and presented a brief summary of Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and how economic crisis (a crisis of capital) destabilises hegemonic orders. In part three, I will offer evidence to show how we’re in deep in a hegemonic crisis and how the ideological landscape has been dragged dramatically leftwards in recent months and weeks. However, first, I need to demonstrate the depth of the economic, social, and political crises provoking this ideological, hegemonic crisis. This is what I do in this second article.

Economic crisis

Let’s start with the UK economy. Here, I’ll rely on the outstanding Marxist economist Michael Roberts’ analysis and data. This will be a whistle-stop tour. UK growth rates are stagnant. While unemployment is at very low levels, real wages are falling and inflation is at four year highs. Indeed, as Michael Roberts reports, ‘British households have suffered the longest stagnation in real incomes in the last 166 years!’ Precarious labour and low-income self-employment are on the rise and worker productivity increases are stagnant.

real wage growth

Retail sales are now falling and even the housing market looks like it has finally peaked, with transaction volumes beginning to tumble. This is hugely problematic because it has largely been continued consumer spending and house price inflation keeping things afloat. With wages falling, consumption has been increasingly sustained by debt (credit cards, payday and personal loans) and with UK private debt to GDP ratios near historic highs and savings rates at historic lows, the wheels look ready to come off again. Despite the slump in the pound, the UK’s trade deficit continues to widen.

Uk current account to GDP

The key underlying indicator of the health of a capitalist economy from a Marxist perspective – the profit rate – has shown some improvement in recent years. However, this, according to Roberts, is concentrated among large tech and finance firms who have shored up profits through share buybacks. Profits are set to fall as the outcomes of persistently low investment levels take effect through 2017.

business investment

In short, Michael Roberts forecasts that the UK economy is about to ‘enter a period of stagnation at best’ and, with similar patterns elsewhere, ‘there is every likelihood of a new global recession in the next year or two’. So, nine years on, with literally trillions spent on bank bailouts (in 2008) and virtually free money for banks, corporations, and rich people through quantitative easing (printing money) and asset inflation (house and stock market bubbles) and billions taken from the hands, mouths, and stomachs of the poorest and most vulnerable (austerity), and we’re still neck deep in the shit…and sinking. And this is how we sink…

Social crisis

As for the depth of the social crisis, let’s start with our schools. According to the National Association of Head Teachers, 18% of schools are in deficit and 71% are only balancing their books by making more cuts to equipment and, increasingly, to staff teaching hours and positions. The National Audit Office says that schools will have to find another £3billion in savings in the next five years to cover the government’s funding shortfall.

As for our health, the NHS is, according to the British Medical Association, at breaking point. It reports ‘bed occupancy at record highs, social care on the brink of collapse, and patients unable to reliably access general practice’. NHS trusts across the country are reporting record deficits. The government had to pump in £1.8billion in emergency payments last year just to keep many afloat. It is surely a matter of time before the first declares insolvency. Last year, junior doctors conducted a series of strikes primarily not over pay and conditions, but the safety of the system. With Brexit looming, the NHS now also faces a recruitment crisis. Recently, a 96% fall in overseas applications for nursing positions was reported!

NHS_crisis_headlines.jpg

Then there are health crises – 15% smoking rates, 7.8 million binge drinkers, 1 in 4 is clinically obese! As for mental health, according to the Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS,

‘One in four adults experiences at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any given year…Mental health problems represent the largest single cause of disability in the UK. The cost to the economy is estimated at £105 billion a year – roughly the cost of the entire NHS.’

The political economy of mental illness is stark.

‘People with mental health problems are also often overrepresented in high-turnover, low- pay and often part-time or temporary work. Common mental health problems are over twice as high among people who are homeless compared with the general population, and psychosis is up to 15 times as high. Children living in poor housing have increased chances of experiencing stress, anxiety and depression.’

Relatedly, sufferers of mental illness are disproportionately ‘people in marginalised group…including black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, disabled people, and people who have had contact with the criminal justice system, among others. BAME households are more likely to live in poorer or over-crowded conditions, increasing the risks of developing mental health problems.

The Taskforce’s report is an indictment of our so-called ‘criminal justice’ system: ‘As many as nine out of ten people in prison have a mental health, drug or alcohol problem. Finally, the Taskforce spells out that mental illness increasingly means a premature death:

‘Suicide is rising, after many years of decline. Suicide rates in England have increased steadily in recent years, peaking at 4,882 deaths in 2014. The rise is most marked amongst middle aged men. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for men aged 15–49.’

And, due to austerity, as need is greatest, provision is ebbing away.

‘In its recent review of crisis care, the Care Quality Commission found that only 14 per cent of adults surveyed felt they were provided with the right response when in crisis, and that only around half of community teams were able to offer an adequate 24/7 crisis service…The number of adult inpatient psychiatric beds reduced by 39 per cent overall in the years between 1998 and 2012.’

Let’s look at two of the most basic areas of human need – food and housing. The number of three-day emergency food supplies given out by Trussell Trust Foodbanks has exploded from 25,899 in 2008-9 to 1.2 million in 2016-17! The reasons given are predominantly due, unsurprisingly, to low incomes and delays or changes to benefits payments. This goes on while an estimated 6 million tonnes of food are wasted each year in this country! Capitalist efficiency there, huh. The number of hospital beds taken up by patients with malnutrition has trebled since the economic crisis and austerity began.

foodbanks.png

Finally, a brief look at the desperate housing crisis: the highest house prices and highest percentage of incomes spent on rents in Europe; the number of rough sleepers has risen by over 140% since 2010, but the number of ‘hidden homeless’ – people staying with family members or friends – is far higher; whilst over 200,000 houses are empty across the UK.

And now we have the unspeakable, gut-wrenching tragedy of Grenfell Tower. One fridge explodes and a 24-storey block of flats burns down killing scores of men, women, and children. Their only crime was being poor (and non-white and immigrants largely). While residents plead and beg for health and safety concerns to be addressed, £8million is spent on nothing more than a patch up job with cheap, flammable cladding so as not to offend the eyes of the world’s wealthiest who live behind gates nearby. More on this later.

We’ve gone on a whistle-stop tour of broken Britain. Perhaps this final statistic sums it up most powerfully: over a quarter of all children in this country live in poverty! Oh and by the way, Two-thirds (66 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one member works.

Political crisis

So, this is the depth of the economic and social crises that provide the context to the unfolding political crisis. An out-of-touch, unelected Conservative Prime Minister calls a snap election. The combination of a cynical, illegal, and shambolic Tory campaign and a well run Labour campaign and genuine social democratic manifesto galvanises working class and young voters to deny the Conservatives a parliamentary majority.

May called the election to shore up a negotiating position on Brexit with the EU that was very weak before the election. She and her Party now have no credibility in Brussels at all. The Grenfell Tower disaster has exposed the corrupt core of the UK political-economic system and has weakened an already teetering government yet further. Her government’s Queen’s Speech (the main new pieces of legislation a new government aims to put through) was shorn of virtually all manifesto social and economic pledges. May now looks to shore up her parliamentary position with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, a party Frankie Boyle described as ‘the political wing of the Old Testament’ and a party and leaders with clear ties to unionist paramilitary terrorist groups. In the meantime, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is so popular in many circles that he’s headlining at Glastonbury!!

The Tory Party is now in a profound, possibly terminal, crisis. I say this advisedly. We are talking about a political party with around just 100,000 members. A similar number of people to that protested outside the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester last year! The average age of a Party member is now around 60! If this government falls and a Labour or progressive coalition is elected, electoral reform towards a proportional representative system (in which the number of votes a party gets actually corresponds to seats) may push the Party to the margins. Its resurrection may require a full conversion to fascism.

In this article, I have offered an overview of the profound economic, social, and political crises gripping the UK right now. I have done this in order to set out the underlying material context creating the current ideological crisis. In the next article (the third of five), I will offer evidence for this ideological crisis, this crisis of hegemony, and how the ideological landscape has been dramatically dragged leftwards in the last two years, decisively and transformatively so by our recent general election.

Thank you so much for reading.

Solidarity and love,

Joel

Dousing the fires: On the crisis of hegemony, the forthcoming war of manoeuvre, and how only love can win this war – Part One: introduction and understanding ‘hegemony’

Dear readers,

If you prefer to listen to this blogpost, you can do so right here…

Part One: Introduction and understanding ‘hegemony’

The world is ablaze!! In Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Portugal, Pakistan, London, fires burn, destroying lives and fuelling the fires of righteous rage spreading across our entire planet.

The fire that burned down the high rise Grenfell Tower in West London two weeks ago killed dozens (hundreds?) of (overwhelming Muslim and non-white, immigrant) working class people. All people with love in their hearts feel grief and, yes, a burning anger.

In the glare of these fires, why would anyone call for social theory?! Why the hell should we think about theorising about the state of the world when we are called by the most excruciating anguish to act in it right now?! It sounds crazy, but I want to argue that we need theory right now to make sense of our situation so that we can act in the most effective ways. When I say that I want to talk about Italian political philosopher and activist Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony I fear I can almost see readers’ eyes rolling back in their heads, but, please, trust me, stick around. It matters. It matters so profoundly. I’ll try my best to convince you why and how.

Gramsci

In this series of articles, I will first set out Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and why understanding hegemony is vital to any process of personal journey towards, and collective struggle for, real freedom. Basically, I will argue that ruling groups cannot maintain power through violence alone, so the construction of a dominant culture, a dominant understand of ‘common sense’, and a naturalisation of an arbitrary, artificial, and unjust social order is required. In short, the construction of a hegemonic ideology is essential. Over the last thirty years, this ideology has been neo-liberalism. A hegemonic ideology requires underlying social and economic stability to be credible. An economic crisis gradually weakens its foundations. This is what has happened here and all around the world. Because of the 2008 crisis and continued falls in living standards, very few believe in the core mantras of neo-liberalism anymore – ‘free’ markets, privatisation, pure self-interest, financial markets, austerity. Neo-liberalism as functioning ideology is dead. This means that ruling groups have to rule ever more through violence – physical, yes, but also communicative, that is, the politics of hate and fear. It also means that there is an opening at last for a politics of hope – both ideological and material. That is, there is a space for groups to present a hopeful vision of and for humanity and a concrete programme of action to achieve it. This is what has happened recently with Labour’s resurgence in the recent election. This has transformed the ideological landscape, our collective understanding of ‘common sense’.

thatcherTINA

In the second article, I take us on a whistle-stop tour of the nature of the economic, social, and political crises affecting the UK right now. This establishes the foundations and context for the current hegemonic crisis.

In the third article, I offer evidence for both why neo-liberalism is clearly dead (as hegemonic ideology) and for this recent dramatic shift leftwards in in the ideological landscape.

In the fourth article, I take a bold step and offer a prediction of what will happen in the UK within the next 12-24 months. Usually, the optimism of my will trumps the pessimism of my intellect, but here, perhaps for the first time, my pessimistic (realistic) intellect wins out. I predict a very scary scenario in which the Tory government falls and a progressive government (Labour majority or coalition) is elected. That’s not the scary bit! The new government then faces the collective wrath of the state and capitalist factions (army, police, financiers, corporations, political class, and media) who do their utmost to bring down the government and the movements behind it. What I describe is the emergence of a real ‘war of manoeuvre’ in which opposing social forces take their struggle beyond the cultural terrain into direct economic and even physical confrontation. That’s the scary bit!

In the fifth and final article, I will set out a four-fold framework for winning this war through the democratisation of power and the empowerment of democracy. This framework is underpinned by the principles of radicalism and love. By radicalism, I mean a governmental strategy and policy approach that addresses the root causes of crisis and injustice and makes no reformist compromise to social forces systemically opposing our ambitions. It is people and planet against capital. There can be no compromise and history’s battlefield is littered with the corpses of failed revolutions sold out by reformism. By love, I mean a micro-political commitment, that is, a commitment in each of our local communities, families, workplaces, and our hearts to a democratic culture of love – non-judgment, non-violence, empathy, listening, dialogue, and, wherever possible, consensus.

These failed democratic revolutions were also cut down by bureaucratic statism. However, the first component of the framework is a temporary state socialism. I advocate a temporary and necessary state socialism to defend against and expropriate the forces of capital; to sustain the people in the midst of crisis; and to begin and support a far greater democratisation of political and economic power. This democratisation of political and economic power, the second component of the framework, must take the forms of municipalism and co-operativism. Municipalism means establishing local control of councils and neighbourhood assemblies for communities to control and run local resources. Co-operativism entails the democratisation of companies through worker takeovers and conversions to worker-run co-operatives. The third component of the framework requires the continued post-election mobilisation and organisation of citizens on community, regional, and national levels to defend the election victory and to push the government, lured by reformism or cowed by crisis, towards radicalism and democratisation. The fourth and final component entails the vital micro-politics of democratisation – the democratisation of our culture and our very selves through collective learning. Ultimately, only water can overcome fire; only love and hope can overcome hate and fear.

I conclude with a call to all of us to get informed, to get ‘shock-proof’ (as Naomi Klein puts it), to get involved locally and nationally, and to open ourselves to love.

Hegemony

What is Gramsci’s theory of hegemony? In order to secure stable rule, ruling groups use the cultural institutions of society (media, education, civil society) to create if not active, but at least passive consent around the status quo. You might not like the society you’re in, but, through your constant exposure to the papers, TV, films, schooling, etc, you come to accept the ‘reality’ you see as normal, inevitable, and even natural. Stable rule through passive consent requires the production of an ideology so profound that you don’t even know it’s there. It’s ‘hidden in plain view’. One central way of thinking about what hegemony produces is our collective ‘common sense’ – that which becomes so ingrained in us as to be instinctive and unconscious.

The hegemonic ideologies of neo-liberal capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and more, then, are constructed through cultural institutions and disseminated through the countless words and images we see. Indeed, we reproduce hegemony ourselves through our own language, signs, mannerisms, clothes, bodies each day.

Hegemony is never totally stable because there is always resistance. However, one thing that capitalism has been amazing at is colonising and co-opting this resistance and invariably commodifying it. A potential social threat ultimately becomes simultaneously a point of social catharsis and a money-making opportunity. Think, for example, of the punk movement of the 1970s and 1980s or rap/hip-hop in the 1980s and 1990s.

Hegemony is a vital, I would say, fundamental, social theory because it helps us to see how we (our supposed freedom, our ideology, our subjectivity, our very selves) are produced. Indeed, crucially, hegemony is not just a cultural theory; it is a political economic theory because it shows not just how we as pliant citizens, but also productive workers and desirous consumers (not to mention stereotypical gendered and racialised roles) are produced. In short, we need to understand hegemony – the conditions of our mental enslavement – if we then want to pursue and struggle for our genuine freedom. We also need to recognise that all the institutions of society are battlegrounds in a social war and that this war is going on not just out there in society, but in here – in our family homes, in our kitchens, our bedrooms, our hearts, our minds, our souls.

Hegemony and crisis

An emphasis on the material foundations of cultural hegemony is crucial because this emphasis then sheds light on the conditions that either help to concretise or destabilise hegemonic orders. However partial and jaundiced the ‘reality’ that is constructed through the media, there has to be some correspondence to the reality we actually experience for the foundations of a hegemonic order to stand strong. It is in periods, then, of profound and prolonged social and economic crisis (crises of capital) that the widespread passive social consent for a hegemonic order begins to collapse as the perception gap between these mediated and experienced realities grows. Consequently, as, for reasons spelled out eloquently by David Harvey here, crisis is inevitable in capitalism, so are corresponding crises in the underlying/overarching hegemonic order.

Image result for cultural hegemony

We are living in such a period of material (ecological and socio-economic) and hegemonic (ideological) crisis. The ‘Great Recession’ triggered by the 2008 Financial Crisis is almost a decade old and living standards in post-industrial Western societies continue to decline as inequality continues to grow. In the second of this series of five articles, then, I will lead us on a brief overview of the situation here in the UK by way of example to capture the depth of the economic, social, and political crisis we face. We can then move on to look for evidence of hegemonic crisis too. That’s the focus of the third article.

Thank you so much for reading.

Solidarity and love,

Joel

To UK readers – A vote for Labour is a vote for yourself, for ourselves

Dear friends,

I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging in recent months. It’s been a combination of a bit of a crisis of confidence (which I’m over) and a lifestyle change that’s seen me move away from my desk for a few months. I’m actually working as a tour guide for a bit here in Oxford, before I move with my family to Bristol in late July. It’s been fun!

Anyway, here we are on the eve of another general election. I just want to make one main point – that a vote for Labour is really a vote of confidence in yourself, in ourselves, in society, in hope. I’ll explain what I mean in a second, but, first, this statement comes with a massive caveat: if you are in a constituency where Labour cannot win, but another party other than the Conservatives can then DON’T VOTE LABOUR. PLEASE don’t increase the Tory candidate’s chances by voting Labour. Instead, please vote Liberal Democrat, Green, Plaid, SNP, Sinn Fein, etc. In an imperfect system, we have imperfect choices. We have to vote tactically. I’ll be voting Liberal Democrat in my marginal seat of Oxford West & Abingdon.

Right, that said, check out these two party political broadcast videos…

When I watched the Labour video with my wife the other evening on Channel 4, we were both in tears. As a socialist, I couldn’t believe someone on my TV was saying that we, the workers, produce the wealth in this country and that we are taking it for sharing it among all! The key point I want to make, though, is simply the starkness of difference between the two.

The Tory video is asking us to place our faith in the hands of one person, one party. It’s a tiresome, worn out testament to authority, to charisma(!), to centralised power, to political passivity, to broken promises, to a bankrupt party and political system. In stark contrast, the Labour video is a call to place our faith in our OWN HANDS. There’s a lot of criticism about the backward-looking social democracy of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics. Some of that might be valid. However, a central, crystal clear message of Corbyn’s discourse right from the start of his leadership campaign has been this radical democratic mantra.

In Bertold Brecht’s play The Life of Galileo, one of Galileo’s students feels distraught and betrayed when he finds out that Galileo has recanted his theory to the Catholic Church to save his life. ‘Woe is the land with no heroes’, he cries. Galileo’s reply is profound: ‘Woe is the land that has need for heroes.’ We don’t need strong and stable leaders, we don’t need charismatic leaders. We need faith in ourselves!

Representative democracy is already dying. This is the beginning of the era of an increasing grassroots, communitarian, participatory politics – a real democratic politics. Labour’s video captures the power, energy, and relentless hope of this transition. It’s the struggle between what Paul Mason calls hierarchy versus network that network will ultimately prevail in.

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who’s read these blogs will know I’m no Labour Party member or voter. And there are many things to criticise about Labour, particularly as a bureaucratic institution. However, it’s also Corbyn who has been pushing hardest to democratise this institution.

So, please, vote tomorrow and vote, where possible, for Labour. And know that a vote for Labour is a vote for yourself, for ourselves, for us.

Whatever happens tomorrow, the tide has already turned. Neoliberalism as a functioning ideology is dead. It was proven dead when Teresa May dedicated her inaugural leadership speech not to the magic and justice of the market, but to those struggling to get by and those suffering from social injustice!! What has been put in its stead are empty words like these on economic opportunity, investment, and social justice and the hatemongering of nationalism. But, the whole spectrum has been shifted leftward by Corbyn’s election. Even UKIP are economic Keynesians now.
Corbyn’s campaign has shown that, surprise surprise, you can run on a social democratic manifesto and do alright in this country. The economically unthinkable and unsayable has become orthodoxy, if not yet policy – nationalisation, rent control, energy market caps, tax rises.

The goal now, whatever the result, is to keep the momentum going, keep the movements growing, keep the alternatives developing, and keep pushing at local, regional, and national levels demands and ideas far more radical than even the Greens promote.

Yours in hope,

Joel

 

On Comic Relief and charity generally: make charity history!

Here’s a post I wrote two years ago at the time of the last Comic Relief Day in 2015. I re-read it and it still resonated with me, so I’m reposting here.

Sorry I’ve not been writing. I will start writing again soon on some thoughts about the nature of ‘post-truth’ and how to respond.

Let me know what you think.

Best wishes,

Joel

 

Let’s call time on Liberalism! We need to talk about Capital

Dear friends,

I wish each and every one of you a very happy and healthy new year! I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging recently. My last post explains why, but I hope to be back into the swing of blogging again now, covering the big issues of 2017 and sharing my continued personal journeys into the world of mysticism, meditation, and consciousness.

This post is a response and antidote to recent articles by liberal commentators on The Guardian about the state of liberalism. I sent it to the paper itself, but, unsurprisingly, got no response.

As usual, if you prefer, you can listen to this blogpost below.

Thanks for reading and my warmest wishes to you all,

Joel

 

 

Let’s call time on liberalism! We need to talk about capital

In The Guardian’s Opinion pages, something big is up with ‘liberalism’. David Boyle insists it’s ‘alive and well’, but Kenan Malik says it’s ‘in trouble’ and Gary Younge sees liberals ‘in retreat’. Despite the proliferating paragraphs, pinning down a definition of liberalism is hard-going. Liberalism is apparently ‘Hydra-headed’ and ‘full of contradictions’. Some distinguish ‘economic’ from ‘socio-cultural’ liberalism. Most fundamental seems to be a commitment to the individual’s rights and freedoms. All commentators position their liberalism against the universally loathed ‘neo-version’ – ‘neo-liberalism’.

Such ambiguity isn’t just characteristic of liberalism, it expresses its essential political function – the act of depoliticisation. By ‘depoliticisation’ I mean two related things. First, the establishment of supposedly separate spheres of human existence – economy, society, politics, culture, nature – and, second, the ethical and analytical focus on the individual that obscures the systemic, structural nature of power. Identifying these flawed and myopic ontological foundations helps us understand why the copy produced by The Guardian’s defenders of liberalism sheds far more heat than light. When even that small amount of light proves insufficient, we can always count on them for a periodic rehash of the ‘excessive complexity’ argument.

Is it really just all too complex? What if we adopted a different definition of liberalism instead, seeing it simply as the ideology of capital? Capital I will define here as money deployed in a process of necessarily endless accumulation. This endless accumulation drives capital ever further and deeper into previously sacred realms of our ecology, our society, and our very selves. It was and remains the violent transformation of commonly shared and sustained resources into private property that defines and enables capital accumulation.

This definition of liberalism as ideology of capital reveals the foundation of these ‘contradictions’. Liberalism is and always has been, above all, in the service of private property. As Domenico Losurdo so persuasively shows, the European forefathers of liberalism’s supposedly universal individual rights and freedoms were also champions and, as property owners, direct beneficiaries of colonialism and slavery abroad and wage-slavery at home. Can we dismiss their contradictions as mere products of their time? Not when so many of their peers stood against these brutalities and not when this contradiction is maintained to the present day in the form of interventionism in the name of freedom abroad and the defence of capitalism, be it ‘free-market’ or social democratic, at home.

A key element of any hegemonic ideology is to make what is artificial, contingent, and temporary seem natural, stable, and permanent. With their wooly, reformist critiques, the Guardian’s liberals historically perform this function just as crucially as neo-liberals in the pages of the FT or Telegraph. Yet, the current crisis has exposed both the fragility of this set-up and the vacuity of liberal thought. Nowhere in these articles on liberalism, I posit, can we find a clear, persuasive analysis of what the hell is going on and, consequently, a proposal for action. Even the most self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ here, Kenan Malik, offers nothing but the vaguest of conclusions.

To his credit, Malik recognises the sharpening tensions between liberalism and democracy, identifying how liberal governance regimes are being constructed beyond democratic control. But, by not naming ‘capital’ – and the very real, material relations it expresses – Malik can offer neither diagnosis nor remedy. Putting liberal governance structures beyond democratic control in lay speak simply means trying to pursue policies aimed at maintaining and reviving corporate profits while imposing vast social and environmental costs with no fear of political reprisals. Just think how the ‘Troika’ of the ECB, European Commission, and IMF has crushed the supposedly democratic, sovereign state of Greece.

Malik insists that ‘democracy is not just about placing a cross on a ballot power’, but is ‘fundamentally about the contestation of power’. Indeed. Yet, the problem is that Malik, like all good liberals, has no realistic understanding of the nature and forms of power. So, while he rightly calls for a ‘new politics of solidarity’, he can offer no solidaristic vision. Why? Because his analysis is devoid of any materialism, i.e. the actual relations of production, consumption, exchange, and, above all, ownership in society. So, in my remaining two hundred words, I will offer a definition of power, of crisis, and of what we must do.

Power is always relational. It flows through the relationships we have with each other. In turn, social and natural relations express multiple, intersecting structures that make up our complete life system – the ‘web of life’, as Jason Moore puts it. These intersecting structures can and must be named. They include patriarchy, racism, colonialism, heteronormativity, ableism, ageism, and class. These structures construct and enforce binaries and divisions that maintain the painful illusion of separation: from our ecology, from each other, from ourselves. Here, I am emphasising the class relations of capitalism. We are experiencing the terminal collapse of capital as life – human and non-human – reaches the limits of its ability to meet capital’s extractive and exploitative demands. The threat of ‘permanent collapse’, as George Monbiot, has put it here, is real. The only solution lies in a transformation of relations of ownership as equally radical as the one that capital has driven: this time, from a regime of private property to one of collective trusteeship – a recommoning. This process is already well under way.

Neo-liberalism was new liberalism. Its ascendancy to dominance cannot be explained by remaining in the realm of ideas, as David Boyle insists, but by recognising how it met the urgent material needs of capital in the 1970s. The growing crisis has left capital increasingly unable to use neo-liberalism to legitimate its increasingly violent accumulative strategies. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we can’t solve our problems with the ideology that caused them. Liberalism – capital’s ideology – cannot solve the crisis of capital. We need to substitute the talk of rights and freedoms for the language of justice, and the cult of the individual not with the veneration of the worker, but with the defence and promotion of life in all its beautiful forms. I’m calling time on liberalism! We need to talk about capital.