I have never considered myself a Marxist. I came to adulthood at the end of the one, forty year long, period in the history of Western civilisation when there was a reduction in the chasm between the rich and ordinary people.
In consequence I believed that a tolerable society might be achieved by simple measures to ameliorate capitalism. I grew up with public ownership of utilities, natural monopolies and strategic industries, with free healthcare and medicines, free university tuition with good maintenance grants, schools under control of elected local councils, controlled fair rents including the private sector, significant public housing.
We thought it would last forever.
In 1973 I joined the Liberal Party. Much of the 1974 Liberal Party manifesto I could still believe in now. The above things like public ownership of utilities and major industries and free education were not in the manifesto, because they did not have to be – they already existed and were the basic structure. The manifesto added things like a basic guaranteed income for everybody in society, compulsory worker shareholdings in those industries not nationalised, workers’ councils, and a rent freeze in both public and private sectors.
I am not claiming it as a great socialist document – there were signs of right-wing thought creeping in, like a shift to indirect taxation. But the truth is that the Liberal Party manifesto of 1974 was at least as left as Corbyn’s manifesto. Some of its ideas were far ahead of their time – like the idea that continuous economic growth and increasing consumption are not sustainable or desirable.
Believing in essentially the same things now, I find myself on the far left – without ever having moved!
Here are a couple of extracts from the 1974 Liberal manifesto which may surprise you. This kind of language you will not hear from Keir Starmer’s Labour Party – indeed it would probably get you thrown out:
That Liberal Party is of course gone, along with the radical, anti-war, anti-unionist traditions of British liberalism. They were diluted by the merger with the SDP and finally killed off by Nick Clegg and the “Orange Bookers” who turned the hybrid party fully neoliberal, a doctrine with almost no resemblance to the liberalism it claims to reassert.
Those hardy souls who follow and support this blog are witnessing the last knockings of the legacy of political thought that was bestowed by John Stuart Mill, William Hazlitt, John Ruskin, John A Hobson, Charles Kingsley, Bertrand Russell, William Beveridge and many others, seasoned by Piotr Kropotkin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. I don’t imagine any further generation attempting to be active in politics will develop their worldview with those thinkers as their primary motivators.
But the point of this self-absorbed drivel is that I am not a Marxist and do not come from an organised labour or socialist background or mindset.
The key thought towards which I am plodding through this morass of explanation is this: I grew up in the one era when capitalism was sufficiently moderated by palliative measures that it seemed a reasonable way to conduct society. That ended around 1980 when the doctrine of neoliberalism took hold of the Western world. In the UK, that doctrine now firmly controls the Conservative, Lib Dem, Labour and SNP parties and is promoted relentlessly by both state and corporate media.
The result of this neoliberal domination has been a massive and accelerating expansion in the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of society, to the extent that ordinary, once middle-class people struggle to pay the bills required simply to live. The situation has become unsustainable.
In short, it turns out Marx was right. The crisis of capitalism is now upon us. Neoliberalism (another word for designing state systems deliberately to lead to incredible concentrations of wealth amid general poverty) is coming to the end of its course. There are no palliative measures that will make the situation bearable. A radical change in the ownership of assets is the only thing that will address the situation – starting with public ownership of all energy companies, from hydrocarbon extractors like Shell and BP, through gas, electricity and fuel generators and manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
Nationalisation should be done properly, without compensating shareholders. If I had to choose between compensating the shareholders and imprisoning them, I would imprison them. I suggest we do neither.
That is only one sector and only the start. But it is a good start. I frequently pass the Grangemouth refinery and am amazed that all that land, massive equipment, all those chemicals and processes, go primarily to the benefit of Britain’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, who is considering buying Manchester United as his latest toy, while his workers protest at another real-terms pay cut.
This obscenity cannot continue forever.
Wars are not incidental to neoliberalism. They are an essential part of the programme, because untrammelled consumerism requires massive acquisition of natural resources. Constant war has the helpful side-benefit for the global elite of enormous profit to the military industrial complex. The cost in human misery and death is kept at a discreet distance from the Western world save for refugee flows, which meet with a response increasingly founded in the denial of humanity.
The promotion of continual war has led to the acceleration of crisis. Much of the current cost of living explosion can be directly attributed to the provoked, prolonged and pointless war in Ukraine, while neoliberal doctrine forbids control of the horrendous associated profiteering of the energy companies.
There is going to be public anger, come spring, of a strength and reach not seen in my lifetime. The ultra wealthy and their political servants know this, and therefore strong action is being taken to forestall public protest. The new Policing Act is only one of a raft of measures being brought in to clamp down on avenues for free expression of public discontent. Demonstrations can simply be banned if they are “noisy” or an “inconvenience”. The 2 million person march against the Iraq War in London, for example, could have been banned on both grounds.
I met and talked last weekend at the Beautiful Days festival with the admirable Steve Bray; we don’t agree on everything but his public concern is genuine. He is getting used to being removed by police from Parliament Square after being specifically targeted in legislation. I reminded him – and I remind you – that the Blair government had also banned protest near the Westminster parliament, and the Scottish parliament has recently taken powers to do the same. Intolerance of dissent is a feature of modern neoliberalism, as people in Canada and New Zealand are also witnessing – or as Julian Assange might tell you.
But in addition to legislative and state attack on protest, the neoliberal state is also ramping up its more subtle elements of control. The security services are continually being expanded. The media is not only increasingly concentrated, it is increasingly under direct security service influence – the Integrity Initiative, the Paul Mason revelations, and the barely disguised spookery of Luke Harding and Mark Urban all being small elements of a massive web designed to control the popular imagination.
The splitting of the political left by identity politics has been the go-to weapon of the state for several decades now. The replacement of horizontal class solidarity by vertical gender solidarity being the most obvious tool, epitomised by the notion that it was better to elect the multi millionaire, corrupt, neoliberal warmonger Hillary Clinton than the class politics espousing Bernie Sanders, simply because the warmonger was a woman.
A specific use of this tool has been the weaponisation of fake sexual allegations against any individual likely to be a threat to the state. You see this in the cases of Julian Assange, Tommy Sheridan, Scott Ritter and Alex Salmond (they tried it on me when I left the FCO but had to drop it because they could not find – despite massive efforts – any woman who knew me who would say anything bad about me).
Those in power know that the portion of the left who identify as feminist, which is almost all of us, are highly susceptible to support alleged victims due to the extreme difficulties of real victims in obtaining justice. This makes sexual allegations, no matter how fake, very effective in removing the support base of anti-establishment figures.
The propaganda narrative against Assange, Salmond, Ritter and Sheridan depends on the idea that at the very moment that each of these men reached the peak of a lifetime’s endeavour and posed the maximum threat to the state, they lost focus, lost their marbles and acted very wrongly towards women, despite no previous history of such behaviour.
It astonishes me that anybody does not see through it.
Rather quaintly, they use different methods on women. Brigadier Janis Karpinski was the chosen patsy to take the blame for the USA’s Abu Ghraib atrocities (entirely unfairly – she had no role or authority in the CIA controlled portion of the jail where the atrocities took place). Dismissed from her post, she was prepared to testify to a memo personally signed by Donald Rumsfeld authorising torture.
How did the US security services fit up a woman, not a man, who threatened the powers that be? Shoplifting. The day after her enforced resignation, Karpinski was “caught shoplifting”. Because of course, when at the eye of an international storm and under CIA surveillance, you immediately go out and steal some clothes.
The cynical weaponisation of the trans debate has taken the art of using identity politics to split the left to a whole new level, and in particular to alienate the younger generation from traditional left feminists. It has also been used successfully – and remarkably – to neuter the most potent current threat to the UK state, by driving both the non neoliberals and the more ardent Independence supporters out of the SNP.
Similar to the use of gender politics to undermine class solidarity is the weaponisation of accusations of anti-semitism. Just as accusations of misogyny, however false, succeed in alienating left unity, so do allegations of racism.
Here it is not so much that accusations were believed – the conflation of criticism of the crimes of Israel with criticism of Jews per se being all too obvious – as that the attack was so blistering, with the full weight of the establishment political and media class behind it, that people cowered rather than face up to it. The worst example of cowering being Jeremy Corbyn.
One lesson from both the “leaked report” and the Forde report is that Corbyn and his office believed that if they threw enough sacrifices to the wolves, betraying decent people like Tony Greenstein (son of a Rabbi), Mark Wadsworth and Ken Livingstone, then the wolves would be appeased.
Israel is the last large scale project of colonisation by physical occupation of a conquered land by European people. Ukraine and Israel are the two current neo-liberal violence projects, which it is not permitted to criticise. The banning of any nuance of opinion on Ukraine should frighten everybody who is thinking rationally. If you are thinking rationally, try this small antidote to the unremitting propaganda:
The Ukraine war is unusual in the attempt to enforce wartime levels of unanimity of narrative on the population, in western countries which are not only not combatants in the war, but not even formally allied to Ukraine. The United States was a party to the Vietnam War, but it was still possible for Americans to criticise that war without having all media access banned. Today you cannot criticise Ukraine in the state or corporate media at all, and your social media access is likely to be severely restricted unless you follow the official propaganda narrative.
This is the Establishment’s strongest method of control – the labeling of opposing opinion as “misinformation” or “disinformation”, even when there is no genuine evidential base that makes the official “facts” unassailable, as with Douma or the Skripals. To ask questions is stigmatised as traitorous and entirely illegitimate, while official journalists simply regurgitate government “information”.
Yet, despite this interwoven system of dampening all dissent from the neoliberal agenda, the Establishment remains terrified of the public reaction to the crisis that is about to hit. The controlled opposition is therefore used to attack actual opposition. Keir Starmer’s banning of Labour MPs from union picket lines is a clear example of this.
We are seeing for the first time in many years an assertion of the rights of organised labour in the face of the massive attack on workers’ real incomes. This is the first time many adults under thirty will ever have encountered the notion that ordinary people are able to defend themselves against exploitation – that is one reason the impressive Mick Lynch has been such a revelation, and is viewed by the “elite” as such a threat.
The Starmer line is that strikes inconvenience the public, which you will recall is the government excuse for banning protest also. Well, of course they do. So does the spiral of real terms wage cuts. The fractured workers of the gig economy are now showing interest in unionising and organising; this is too little and too late to avert the crisis that is about to hit us, but a useful indication of the will to resist.
Popular resistance terrifies the elite and thus must be demonised. The political class is to be protected from insult or contradiction. You may recall in February it was headline news that Keir Starmer was “mobbed” in Whitehall as he walked down the street, by protestors shouting at him over lockdown and over his role in the non-prosecution of Jimmy Savile (and, less reported, in the extradition of Julian Assange).
In fact, nothing happened. Aerial photographs showed that the protestors numbered about a dozen, that they were heavily outnumbered by Starmer’s handlers and the police. The only, mild, violence was initiated by the police. There was no threat to Starmer other than the threat of being verbally opposed by members of the public on subjects he did not wish to be discussed.
This protection of highly paid politicians from the public, this claim that it is extremely bad behaviour for ordinary people to confront elite politicians with an opposing view, is an extraordinary assertion that the people must not challenge their betters.
We are going to see a great deal more of this in the coming crisis. There is currently the most extraordinary manifestation of it in Scotland where the Chief Constable has announced an investigation into people daring to protest against the Tory leadership hustings in Perth.
In truth, absolutely nothing abnormal happened. People protested. Nobody spat at anybody – there is no evidence of it at all, nobody saw it, none of scores of media cameras and people’s telephones captured it, none of the very large police presence witnessed it, not a single journalist claims to have personally seen this “spitting”. Yet the entire media reported it, to delegitimise the protest.
These are the “reports” the Chief Constable refers to – unevidenced media lies. That is the basis of policing today.
An egg – singular – may or may not have been thrown. Media showed photographs of a single broken egg on the pavement after the event. Again, footage of it flying through the air is conspicuously absent. Someone may have just dropped their shopping. It may even be a false flag egg!
Personally, I don’t care if somebody did throw an egg at a Tory. Egg throwing at politicians is a traditional expression of popular protest with hundreds of years of history behind it. It is not really dangerous – I am not aware of a single instance of a politician being maimed by a flying egg – and carries a comedic punch. Personally I would rather see the custard pie, but those crowd barriers…
But what really rattled the political class was the lack of deference shown to their agents of control, the client journalists. One such creature, the BBC’s James Cook, walked through the barriers dividing the journalist pool from the pen for the public, and walked up to the barriers to provoke a reaction.
The propaganda of the BBC is particularly unpopular in Scotland, so Mr Cook got the reaction he expected. He was shouted at, and called a “traitor” and “scum”. The most vociferous abuse came from one particular individual not known to local activists, who may or may not have been an agent provocateur. That the British security state employs such tactics is beyond dispute. But I do not enormously care if he was an agent or a genuinely annoyed member of the public.
The fact is this. Mr Cook, like Mr Starmer above, got shouted at. He did not get hit. He was not the victim of the great egg throwing scandal. Nobody spat at him. Mr Cook met with verbal disapprobation of his journalistic output, after approaching people specifically to that purpose.
Here is a photo of James Cook immediately after the “someone spoke rudely to me” incident, showing exactly how shaken and concerned he was:
The reaction from the controlled, neoliberal opposition in Scotland was off the scale.
The notion that the BBC does “not support any viewpoint”, particularly on Independence, is laughable. Also how much scrutinising of the Ukrainian government has it been undertaking recently?
Mr Cook has form in claiming that Scots expressing their opinion in the street amounts to some form of illegitimate mob or riot, when it is in fact perfectly peaceable.
A couple of days after the Perth non-incident, the neoliberal controlled opposition were joining in with the client journalists in their claims to victim status.
The interesting thing here is that these neo-liberal politicians plainly believe that it ought not to be allowed for people to call them or their journalistic enablers traitors or scum. The expression of popular protest is in itself illegitimate, according to their worldview. Politicians are using the verbal armoury of cancel culture – talk of “offence” and “safety”, as reasons to limit freedom of speech – to justify the suppression of criticism of those who wield the power of the state.
This extends to the suppression of free speech and popular protest under the guise of protecting employee rights. The neoliberal opposition quickly hit on this line on the Perth incident. Mr Cook should not have been abused because he was only an employee “doing his job”. Everyone has a right to be protected from abuse in the workplace.
As though voicing state propaganda is the same as serving coffee and as though Cook’s work is morally neutral. It is not.
Perhaps aware that journalists are not the most popular recipients of public sympathy, James Cook decided to spread the accusation of abuse wider:
Here James Cook is simply lying. I have very frequently heard extreme discontent at the BBC expressed by Independence supporters, both at public demonstrations, including outside BBC Scotland HQ, and in meetings. I have never once heard any anger expressed at staff other than the lying “journalists”.
In meetings I frequently express the view that upon Independence, BBC Scotland should be closed down and everybody made redundant (I last expressed this in Dunfermline last month). I have taken to always adding that this should apply only to editorial and journalistic staff and not to technical, clerical and industrial staff. The reason I always add it now is that, if I don’t, I am invariably corrected from the floor. There is no animus against these people.
Cook is making it up, which I suppose is his profession.
The resonances to wider cancel culture are not accidental. That the near approach of capitalism to its crisis is marked by both legal and social suppression of freedom of speech is not an accident. There is a strong resonance between the Perth incident and the cancellation of the Edinburgh Fringe show of veteran Glaswegian comic Jerry Sadowitz, for which the excuse given – accepted by a remarkable number of people on the left – was that the workers’ rights of the staff of the venue were affected.
This co-option of workers as state censors is remarkable given the complete disinterest in staff rights shown by the state in general, and by the large Edinburgh Fringe employers in particular. As food for thought, here is a 1987 transcript of Sadowitz’ act where he discusses the Establishment protected paedophile, Jimmy Savile:
“There have been serious allegations in the news of child abuse in Cleveland. Now to my mind there is only one way of finding out whether it is true or not, and that is to call in Jimmy Savile. You can’t afford to fuck about, bring in an expert. Am I right? Now a friend of mine reckons that Jimmy Savile is a paedophile, rubbish he’s a child-bender. That’s why he does all the fucking charity work, it’s to gain public sympathy for when his fucking case comes up. I’ve always known that. Aye, aye, well he may have fooled you, not fucking me, I am telling you that. He doesn’t fool this big-nosed Jewish bastard over here, I’m telling you that. I have always thought that if you took the action of a voice and turned it into a wank you would get Jimmy Savile wouldn’t you? (Savile masturbating impersonation).”
Read that with an eye to how many things in it could today have got Sadowitz banned, because somebody on the staff could have taken offence or been triggered. Pretty well every single sentence. Yet Sadowitz was one of a tiny number of people prepared to tell the truth about Savile.
I hope that puts you off the idea of canceling free speech “on behalf of workers’ rights”.
To sum up.
The 2008 banking bailout gave hundreds of billions of dollars straight to the ultra-wealthy, to be paid for by ordinary people through over a decade of austerity cuts to social services, real terms cuts in pay, and increased taxation. In the current crisis the plan is to advance money in some form to ordinary people, for them to pay off by a further decade of the same.
In neither instance was taking money from those with billions in personal wealth even considered.
The neoliberal phase of super-capitalism has run its course. The gap between the wealthy and ordinary people has become so extreme that, even in the West, ordinary people no longer can afford to live decently. Consumerism has desperately depleted natural resources and accelerated climate change. The policy of perpetual war has finally undermined the world economy to a fatal degree.
The situation is not sustainable, but the global elite have no intention to give up sufficient of their massive wealth to make any difference. They seek to control society through the propaganda model and through increasing state repression of dissent, allied to an assault on “incorrect” thought by censorship of the internet and by populist demonisation. “Left” causes such as identity politics and protection from offence have been weaponised to support this suppression.
There is no democratic outlet for popular anger. The “opposition” parties which people can vote for are all under firm neoliberal, warmonger control. Democracy has ceased to present any effective choice that offers any hope of real change. The revival of interest in organised labour and the willingness of young people to engage in direct action in the field of climate change offer some avenues for activism, but it is too little, too late.
Yet this will not hold. Discontent is now so strong, and public anger becoming so widespread, that change is coming. With no available democratic mechanism for change and a firm clampdown on the development of coherent radical programmes and on radical organisation, that change will initially manifest in chaos.
The Establishment response? They clutch at their pearls, twitch at their curtains and condemn the uncouth masses.
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