neoliberalism

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Condemning the University of Leicester — Standing for Political Economy and Critical Management Studies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/01/2021 - 3:32pm in

On January 18, senior managers at the University of Leicester (UK) notified dozens of academic staff members and professional employees that their jobs are at risk of redundancy. On the very first day of second semester, in the midst of … Continue reading →

Insecure work is a virus, and it’s making us all sick

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/01/2021 - 3:13am in

The pandemic reignited important debates concerning the future of work, and the value we place on essential industries and those who work in them. Last year, workers who have historically been made invisible were thrust into the political spotlight and praised as heroes. For a brief moment there was an uncomfortable acknowledgement that some of the lowest paid and most precarious workers in this country were doing much of the work that really mattered, prompting calls for a progressive new vision. One year on, however, it’s clear that Australian labour laws and workplace trends are moving in the opposite direction, signalling a regressive future for the world of work—if we allow it.

As many sectors came to a standstill in March 2020, a stark contrast was drawn between those who could comfortably transition to working-from-home arrangements—the working parents who took up the difficult ‘double shift’”—and those who continued to show up to work every day, albeit now with face masks and gloves. A run on toilet paper prompted many to consider—seemingly for the first time—how products get made, by whom, and under what conditions. High rates of workplace transmission among precarious workers politicised the issue of insecure work and gained public interest. 

Heroes and villains: anti-worker hostility persists

Despite much fanfare, the public conversation about essential workers remained fraught with tension. On one hand, the precarious and often exploitative working conditions of many essential workers were revealed, and for a few fleeting months the public took notice. On the other hand, however, a genuine acknowledgment that care workers, cleaners, warehouse workers and food-production workers—among many others—produce significantly more social value through their labour than the average executive is a challenge to the classist hierarchies of work. As such, for the most part, the Australian political and media class remained uncomfortable in the suggestion that frontline workers—primarily women, international students, migrants and older workers—are not low skilled or disposable, but essential. 

Hollow praise and applause for essential workers never gave way to serious discussion of the social value of labour, pay increases for essential workers or the abolition of insecure working arrangements. Instead, much of the public discourse reinforced the notion that insecure work is unfortunate yet inevitable—a risk to be managed in the interest of public health. Victorian premier Daniel Andrews labelled insecure work ‘toxic’, and responsible for Victoria’s second wave, contributing to 80 per cent of new COVID-19 cases. However, this did not address the main systemic driver of precarity:, the fact that many essential industries have endured decades of neoliberal restructuring in order to erode workplace conditions and safety in favour of minimising costs and thus maximising profits for the owners. Insecure work isn’t a glitch; it’s by design. 

Rather than investigate the historical erosion of workplace conditions, mainstream media outlets ran stories of individual workers doing the ‘wrong thing’—working multiple jobs across sectors (due to widespread underemployment), working when sick (in the absence of paid sick leave), or unwittingly spreading the virus to patrons (where no PPE was supplied). Very quickly the narrative shifted from praising workers to blaming them.

Focus on individual workers obscured the social responsibility of employers, some of whom were actively undermining worker efforts to keep their workplaces and communities safe. In Victoria, school cleaners spoke out against employers who denied their requests for time off to await COVID-19 test results. At an industrial laundromat in Dandenong, workers successfully fought for their workplace to be thoroughly cleaned despite threats from their employer. In Melbourne’s west, warehouse workers were physically shut inside their distribution centre when they attempted to cease work over health and safety concerns. Such events took place in unionised workplaces—one can only imagine what happens in the shadows. 

The Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill signals a dangerous future of work 

At a time when the state should step in to protect basic workplace conditions, the Morrison government has instead introduced a suite of measures that seek to expand insecure work, undermine unions, and grant employers new powers to control and discipline their workers. Introduced by Industrial Relations (IR) Minister Christian Porter in December 2020, the IR Omnibus Bill signals a dangerous trajectory for the future of work in Australia. These measures underpin ongoing IR reforms to systematically weaken existing protections and implement greater flexibility—a well-worn euphemism that has roused concern among unionists that WorkChoices-era reforms are being reintroduced by stealth.

Scheduled for debate and review in March 2021, the IR Bill is expansive and addresses issues discussed in 2020 working groups consisting of employer groups and unions. The subsequent recommendations, however, are not in the spirit of compromise but come straight from the boss’s wish list. 

Employers decide who is a casual worker

Employers and unions alike have long wanted to solve the problem of defining casual work, particularly in the context of gig work. The Bill introduces a new definition of casual employment into the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) that grants employers the power to decide who is a casual worker. So long as the employer makes no ‘firm advance commitment’ of continuing and indefinite work and the employee accepts the job on this basis, then they are a casual worker. 

After twelve months employers must offer a permanent position if the employee has worked six months of regular shifts, but employers can easily vary rosters to avoid meeting this condition. This measure in effect disincentivises regular and predictable work scheduling. Failing this, employers can simply deny permanent employment on ‘reasonable grounds’, which are defined in the broadest possible terms. 

New measures also seek to prevent ‘double dipping’ by casuals, a preoccupation of employer groups that is predicated on the myth that casuals receive 25 per cent loading in addition to leave benefits. A report published by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in 2018 showed that the casual premium is in reality 4 per cent to –5 per cent compared with the pay of permanent workers, and around one third of casuals reported not receiving any casual loading at all. Many casual workers, in particular labour-hire workers, are paid less than permanent workers in addition to not receiving any leave entitlements.

These attempted changes to casual employment are not in response to the pandemic but to an important 2020 Federal Court decision—Workpac v Rossato—which found that casuals who worked regular and predictable hours had been made a ‘firm advance commitment of work’ and as such were in fact permanent employees entitled to back pay of leave entitlements. Employer groups and business lobbyists have been on the offensive ever since, which is why the IR Bill grants employers the power to define casual work as they see fit. 

Deregulating permanent part-time work

The Bill will also allow the Fair Work Commission to vary modern Awards—minimum rates of pay and employment conditions across industries. Of note, the introduction of ‘part-time flexi’ in twelve key Awards in the retail, accommodation and food-services industries seeks to deregulate permanent part-time provisions by stripping overtime rates. For instance, the Bill would enable an employer to have an employee work their regular sixteen hours per week plus an additional sixteen hours (maximum thirty-eight hours per week) at the regular rate of pay without overtime. This removes the conditions that make permanent part-time work distinct from casual employment. Workers most likely to be affected are women, young workers and low-income earners.

Undermining unions and minimum standards 

The Bill also allows employers to bypass the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) for two years. The BOOT is foundational to Australia’s current IR system as it ensures that workplace agreements cannot fall below minimum Award conditions. This is particularly important for workers subject to non-union agreements, and members of the workforce who are particularly vulnerable or may not know their rights at work. The suspension of the BOOT echoes former prime minister John Howard’s WorkChoices era, during which the ‘No Disadvantage Test’ was abolished, allowing subpar non-union agreements to proliferate. 

Suspension of the BOOT has drawn criticism from unions and will likely be stopped in the Senate, where minor parties hold the balance of power. Regardless, any attempt to undermine basic workplace protections signals the dangerous intentions of employer groups and the Morrison government. The BOOT may be salvaged, but all other measures are still on the table and could become law. Any attempt to undermine the BOOT signals regressive intentions, as minimum rates of pay should be increased to keep pace with the cost of living, not dismantled. 

Employer powers extended, again

Raising alarm from unions, the JobKeeper measure directed much-needed wage subsidies to employers rather than workers while granting employers significant new powers to control workers. The IR minister sought to quell concern by assuring unions that the new powers would be limited by a sunset clause expiring September 2020. However, this has since been extended to March 2020, and the IR Bill seeks a further two-year extension. Under the measure, employers have the power to stand a worker down, direct them to work fewer hours, and change the duties, location and time of work—with only three days’ notice. These dictatorial powers further erode mutual reciprocity in the employment relationship and encourage toxic workplace cultures of worker passivity and deference. 

Where’s the carrot?

Supposedly, the balancing measure of the Bill will be to introduce harsher penalties, including jail terms and fines, that criminalise wage theft. However, the maximum penalty is too low and unlikely to be applied in any case. Federal wage-theft laws would override existing state-based laws in Victoria and Queensland that are arguably stronger and better targeted.

Wage-theft laws do not address the structural causes of wage theft, such as outsourcing and subcontracting, which are predicated on skimming wages. Overall, wage-theft laws are unlikely to discourage wage-thieving bosses who know they won’t be caught. The best deterrent against exploitation is an engaged and unionised workforce that is empowered to keep their employer honest. Rather than tackle the root cause, the IR Bill only gestures to wage theft in a superficial way while making it harder for unions to negotiate enterprise agreements that protect workers.

The disciplining threat of unemployment

For the precariously employed, the distinction between employment and unemployment is often trivial. The expansion of insecure and nonstandard forms of work means more workers are cycling between precarious jobs and unemployment payments, or supplementing poverty wages with welfare benefits. By international standards Australia’s welfare system is tightly targeted, coercive and inefficient. Australia is the only country in the OECD to outsource the entirety of its publicly funded employment services to the private sector, resulting in a predatory network of job service providers, a punitive mutual-obligations regime and robo-debt

The doubled JobSeeker measure that temporarily lifted thousands out of poverty has been scrapped, with bipartisan support for measures that punish the poor and the unemployed. The JobMaker hiring credit will further incentivise the expansion of underemployment and casual jobs through the provision of a wage subsidy for employers who take on young workers in low-hour contracts. For instance, a company can double its subsidy earnings by employing two workers at twenty hours a week each rather than one full-time employee. In this context, employer groups, Australia’s welfare system, and changes to labour laws act in concert to discipline workers into accepting the lowest conditions and driving a race to the bottom—albeit one that is highly profitable at the top. 

Insecure work is about control

The employment relationship plays an important role in constraining the power of employers, but the standard employment relationship that characterised postwar Australia has broken down, giving rise to the re-emergence of deeply precarious models of organising work. Rising precarity can affect full-time workers too, referring not only to the hours and duration of employment but also the quality, conditions and enjoyment of work—factors that have been in decline for several decades.

Insecure work is a powerful de-unionisation strategy. ABS data shows that less than 5 per cent of casual workers are union members. A significant reason for this is that insecure work is conditional and imposes high costs—including loss of employment—upon workers who act in any way that is unfavourable to their employer. Put simply, if the choice is between joining a union or potentially losing shifts, most workers will opt for survival. 

Employers can constrain worker autonomy through a range of legal mechanisms that systematically weaken the employment relationship or outsource it entirely: labour hire, sham contracting, piece rates, casualisation, opaque supply chains, digital platforms and more. Low union density in precarious settings weakens the bargaining power of all workers. If successful, the IR Bill will further entrench these problems. 

More gigs—what’s old is new again

Australian IR changes are taking place against a backdrop of social and political forces such as technological change, a stagnating economy, and working-from-home arrangements. In this context it is likely that gig work—the process of breaking a job down into discrete tasks that are quantified and compensated for on an individual basis—will proliferate. While exploitation within on-demand delivery services is well reported, gig work is steadily expanding into health, care and service industries as well. 

This has a historical precedent. The nineteenth-century ‘putting-out system’ was a form of proto-industrialisation that sought to contract out work to be completed in the home or at off-site facilities. Closely aligned with the piece-rate system of the textiles industry, the manufacture of small firearms and other light industries operated in this way also. 

A high-tech putting-out system has been revitalised by working-from-home arrangements. Disaggregating production and service work to the home, or anywhere with an internet connection (a cafe, a public library), is a cost-saving strategy of modern capitalists. Rather than absorb the costs of maintaining an office, employers can create virtual factories comprising workers who only meet online, drawing in labour from across borders and temporal zones. In the context of insecure work this will likely increase instances of virtual outsourcing and bogus self-employment. 

Whether the centralised production line or the home office, control remains an important feature of any system of work. In 2020, sales surged in technologies that can track and monitor workers remotely while speeding up the pace of work. Extending earlier management techniques that relied on direct human supervision, algorithmic management enables the scaling of operations using data and surveillance to optimise for desired outcomes, including lower labour costs. As critical historians of technology David F. Noble and Langdon Winner have shown, technological development in the workplace favours the interests of the dominant class and will often sacrifice efficiency gains in favour of greater control over workers and the labour process. 

Organising for a new world of work

Despite the challenges, there are moments to be optimistic. In the past twelve months Australia has witnessed a surge in industrial action and several unions recorded membership growth at a time of rising unemployment. While fleeting, the spotlight on essential workers has drawn critical attention to many areas of work that were rarely considered in public debates before the pandemic. However, status quo organising and public acknowledgement will not be enough to fend off many of the upcoming challenges. 

Unions, climate activists and social-justice groups must organise across the working class, not by employment status. All workers—employed or unemployed, gig workers or permanent, Australian citizens or temporary migrants—need powerful unions and grassroots movements that will organise at the sharpest point of exploitation. Unions should leverage the industrial power of high-density sites to support the struggles of more precarious industries. United Workers Union campaigns that connect workers across the supply chain are a case in point. The actions of warehouse workers to leverage their industrial power in solidarity with farm workers are a powerful example to follow.

Union organising must be on the offensive and anticipate anti-democratic technological developments before they arrive in our workplaces. Australian unions can look abroad to the United States and United Kingdom for early warning signs to pre-empt future trends. If we continue only to react, we will remain on the back foot, and new management tactics to monopolise power and control over workers will continue to outpace organising efforts.

Ensuring workers have job security is an important first step that can enable new models of greater worker ownership of production. From here, workers could engage more holistically in social and political life. Economic security also facilitates stronger community organising for broader social-justice issues of the climate crisis and international solidarity. Once the floor is raised, the struggle for shorter working hours and more leisure time for all should again be taken up as a priority for all workers. 

What’s really essential?

In 2020, the virus of insecure work laid bare a status quo that reproduced inequality and exploitation for too many, for too long. This year and beyond there exists an opportunity to reflect upon the lessons of the pandemic and decide what comes next. We must drastically rethink what is really essential. Who creates values, who simply extracts value, and what forces in our society are actually destroying value? The future of work in Australia is steadily moving along a dangerous path and course correcting will not be easy. The tremendous power and value of essential workers must be held firmly in the spotlight as we chart our way forward.


Change the Rules

Damien Cahill, June 2019

Breaking the rules to change the law.

In the Wake of the Riots: The Blowback from Defeating Trump was Criminalizing Dissent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/01/2021 - 6:36am in

The Capitol building riot of January 6 marked the messiest transition in the recent history of ruling class power from one chief executive of the capitalist world to the next. If that history is any guide, the change of guard neither portends better treatment of working people nor a reduction of the threat of fascism.

Trump may have been booted off the mainstage, but the next act promises to be worse. Beyond the particularities of either Mr. Trump’s or Mr. Biden’s personalities, or even the parties they represent, fundamental institutional factors have, and will likely continue, to determine the trajectory of neoliberal capitalism towards an ever more authoritarian state. Austerity for workers, and imperialism abroad.

 

Trajectory of neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is the current form of capitalism in the U.S., replacing the New Deal regime that incorporated elements of social democracy. Jimmy Carter foreshadowed the neoliberal era with his mantra of deregulation and small government. The “small” referred to the state’s role to ensure the social well-being of its constituents, but not its coercive functions, which would expand.

Next came the full-blown neoliberal Reagan revolution. When Democrat Bill Clinton became president, he did not reverse the trajectory of neoliberalism. Instead, he extended it by passing NAFTA, ending “welfare as we know it,” contributing to mass incarceration, deregulating banking, and launching wars of his own. And in those endeavors, he was assisted by then-Senator Joe Biden.

While Republicans and Democrats are not the same, no lesser an authority than then-President Obama explained that the “divide” is “not that wide” with “differences on the details” but not on “policy.” Differences between the two parties lie in their “rhetoric and the tactics versus ideological differences.”

Biden may bring some relief: he will be better about wearing COVID masks and is rejoining the voluntary Paris Climate Agreement. But as a whole, there will be more distinctions without differences as with the two parties’ response to the existential threat of global warming: one denies it; the other believes in it, but fails to combat it. Under oilman George W. Bush, U.S. oil production declined. Under his Democratic successor, production nearly doubled with Obama bragging, “we’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.”

Biden defended fracking, promised the military-industrial complex that war appropriations would be maintained, and guaranteed Wall Street “nothing would fundamentally change.” Next Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured the new administration’s imperialist policies would follow Trump’s, but will “more effectively target” official enemies such as Venezuela and will double down on Russia.

 

The devolution of Donald Trump

According to the rulebook for bourgeois democracy, the POTUS. serves the interests of the owners of capital. To legitimize this arrangement, elections are staged to give the appearance of choice, but only those who can raise billions of dollars can successfully run. The blatant buying of candidates by the rich is protected as “free speech” by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The presidential primary is an audition contest where hopefuls prove they can appeal to the voters while being vetted by funders. Donald Trump gamed that extravaganza riding on his TV reality show celebrity and personal wealth. He was lavished with billions of dollars of free TV coverage because his antics boosted ratings. Hillary Clinton and the DNC, as revealed by Wikileaks, abetted his campaign.

Against expectations, Trump became number 45. Throughout most of his presidency, his rule was garden variety neoliberalism with a veneer of racist, nativist populism. Despite hyperbole from left-liberals, Trump was no more a fascist than was Biden socialist.

Trump erratically made rhetorical feints against establishment orthodoxy “to get out of endless wars to bring our soldiers back home, not be policing agents all over the world.” He railed: “Unelected deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself.” Last spring and into summer such maverick utterances gave way to anti-China, anti-BLM, and anti-socialist rants. The veneer of hard-right populism became increasingly Trump’s essence as he careened towards the debacle of January 6.

 

Was January 6 a riot or a coup?

The event of January 6 was a demonstration turned riot, leaving five fatalities. But did it rise to the level of a coup?

After storming the Capitol building and taking selfies, the demonstrators simply left after a few hours. Regardless of the intentions of the inscrutable Mr. Trump, the clumsy and violent attempt to influence the electoral process by disruption did not and could not have led to the seizure of state power because all the institutions of state were aligned against him along with a nearly unanimous ruling class.

The Democrats, most of the corporate media, and much of the left reported a premeditated attempted coup, focusing on the violence, collusion by police and Republican politicians, and the racist nature of elements of the crowd. Their emphasis afterward has been on the punishment of the Trumpsters so as not to “embolden” fascism, while downplaying the need to address root causes: treating the symptoms and not the disease.

Some right-wing media claimed that Trump walked into a trap designed to discredit and isolate him. A poll taken shortly after the incident found 68% of Republicans believed Antifa incited the violence. Although such involvement is highly unlikely, the poll suggests many Trump partisans did not favor the violence and thought it was a false flag operation.

Putting the event to the cui bono test (who benefits), the outcome went badly for Donald Trump. The flight into the Democratic Party’s big tent precipitously accelerated by members of Trump’s own party, his administration officials, military brass, and security state spooks, leaving a sitting president with little more than his next of kin to comfort him. His prime creditors, the Deutsche and Signature banks, dropped him. Cutting to the quick, even the U.S. Professional Golfers’ Association canceled their scheduled tournament at one of his golf courses.

 

The preparation for fascist rule

Fascism is a form of capitalist rule where the legitimizing role of elections is done away with in favor of more authoritarian means of maintaining elite hegemony. If the façade of bourgeois democracy can be maintained, the ruling elites have no need to impose a dictatorship over themselves to preserve their class rule.

Analogies made of Trump to Hitler are misleading. While material conditions for many Americans are distressing, they are not as dire as Weimar Germany. Nor do the Proud Boys and company approximate the hundreds of thousands of trained and armed paramilitaries under Hitler’s direct command. Most importantly, the mass working-class communist and socialist parties in pre-Nazi Germany were positioned to contend for state power.

As long as such contending forces are absent, the U.S. ruling elites have little incentive to resort to a fascist dictatorship. But that does not mean that they need not prepare for the contingency of fascist rule, which is where the present danger resides.

Capitol Riots

Jill Biden surprises National Guard troops outside the Capitol with cookies, Jan. 22, 2021. Jacquelyn Martin | AP

The collateral damage of the Democrats’ offensive against Trump may turn out to be the left. Bans from social media and broad definitions of sedition have been and will be used to suppress progressive expression and action. Particularly misguided is the leftist acquiescence to the establishment’s call for yet new repressive legislation, such as Biden’s domestic anti-terrorism measures. Even existing hate crime legislation has been used to disproportionately target people of color.

Already on the books, Obama’s abrogation of habeas corpus and Biden’s incarceration state legislation facilitate fascist rule. The Democrats’ romance with the FBI, CIA, and other coercive institutions of the unelected permanent state may be harbingers of a dystopian future. That supermajorities of Democrats in Congress voted to extend the Patriot Act and for the war budget should be warnings that supporting Democrats to defeat Republicans risks falling into the pit of preemptive fascism.

Proposed cures for Trump’s purported fascism may cultivate the disease. The blowback from the victory over Trump is criminalizing resistance to the government.

 

Trump’s second impeachment

The left-liberal framing of January 6 as a violent fascist assault has some validity, though it paints the tens of thousands of demonstrators all in one color, failing to put to the forefront the underlying causes of right populism. Underplayed is the distress that has fed the movement led by Trump.

That 74 million voted for such a repugnant figure is proof that folks are hurting and looking for relief. Not all Trump voters identify with the racist, populist right veering towards fascism. Many are traditional Republicans, fiscal conservatives, and simply people – seeing the bankruptcy of liberalism – who voted for what they perceived as the lesser evil. Within that assemblage, from a progressive point of view, are those that can be won over, those to be neutralized, and those to be defeated.

The second impeachment of Trump was a gift allowing the Democrats to appear to take decisive action. This symbolic gesture did not cost their donor class, nor did it address relief from the pandemic and the economic turndown. Had timely $2000 stimulus checks been distributed, some of the wind might have been taken out of the Stop the Steal demonstration on the 6th.

With Democratic majorities in both houses, Congress refuses to vote on Medicare for All at a time when record numbers of people have lost their health insurance while being threatened by a deadly virus. The Squad demonstrated that they were more beholden to their party’s leadership than their constituents’ health but got off the hook of #ForceTheVote with the distraction of the Capitol building riot.

 

The neoliberal order’s impending crisis of legitimacy

Neoliberal capitalism is heading into a crisis of legitimacy as the system proves itself increasingly incapable of meeting the needs of its people. Class disparities during an economic recession are ever more evident.

U.S. billionaires added $4 trillion to their net worth since the onset of the pandemic. That obscene windfall was a product, not of a rising economy, but of a bi-partisan policy to benefit the class the politicians serve. Meanwhile, the politicians are still bickering over a stimulus package that will be a fraction of what was already gifted to the superrich.

Petty partisan sectarianism by both major parties is on full display. Republicans believe the Democrats stole the 2020 election; Democrats believe the Russians stole the 2016 election. Three-quarters of the U.S. population agrees the country is heading in the wrong direction. Overall, the failing institutions of bourgeois democracy are being seen as fraudulent.

Although conditions appear ripe for fundamental challenges to the capitalist system, incipient challenges have either been defeated or co-opted. The November presidential election was noteworthy, given two truly unattractive candidates. Rather than a rejection of the two corporate parties through abstention and third-party resurgence, the opposite happened with the absorption of a historically vast popular mobilization contained within the two major parties of capital.

Trump’s and Sanders’s campaigns both spoke to popular discontent, though with different messages. That these potential insurgencies could be contained within the two-party duopoly is a testament to the current strength of bourgeois institutions. Trump’s stepped out of bounds and was crushed. The other attempt was derailed by the DNC, and the campaign co-opted into supporting neoliberalism.

 

The resistance

Bernie Sanders has been unfairly criticized for not leading a progressive insurgency out of the Democratic Party. But Sanders has always been a principled epigone in the Democratic Party who would not bolt for fear of facilitating a Trump victory. Sanders is kept around for his ability to give the Democrats a false patina of progressivism.

Had the Resistance been the genuine article and not the “Assistance,” the political landscape would have been different. Instead, the progressive movement massively capitulated.

The slogan “dump Trump and then battle Biden” of the self-described “progressive thinkers” was at best ingenuine, because they surrendered their guns – their vote – before going into battle. Now, these leftists of faint heart – having passed the “we have to hold our nose and vote Democratic” phase – are in the “hopeful” phase of their perpetual four-year lesser-evil cycle. This soon will be followed by the predictable “so terribly disappointed” phase and then a brief “we’ve been sold out” phase.

The Trumpsters are more perceptive; they go directly to the “sold out” phase. Ashli Babbitt recorded a video, yelling “you guys fail to choose America over your stupid political party.” Shortly thereafter, draped in a Trump flag, she was silenced, fatally shot by Capitol Police. The system failed her and millions more, and it is at our peril to ignore their cries of anguish. She had no illusions about failed liberal pretensions, which is a clue why right-wing populism is on the rise in the U.S. and globally.

Indicative of the current state of the left is that “red states” are rightwing. Ralph Nader has been haranguing the liberal-left to get outraged for decades. No one has to make that plea to the populist right, whose outrage is manifest and dangerous. Trump may recede, but right populism will not because the conditions that foster it continue.

As the neoliberal state’s crisis of legitimacy matures, anti-terrorism laws and the institutional apparatus of fascist repression are being perfected to use against future insurgencies. Tahe left is faced with serious challenges, from (1) the neoliberal state and (2) right populism precipitated by failures of that state, and will need to develop effective means of struggle on both fronts.

Feature photo | A padlock secures a guarded access gate outside the Capitol, two days after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. Rebecca Blackwell | AP

Roger D. Harris is on the state central committee of the Peace and Freedom Party, the only ballot-qualified socialist party in California.

The post In the Wake of the Riots: The Blowback from Defeating Trump was Criminalizing Dissent appeared first on MintPress News.

The need is to fix the system, not just to provide ‘sticking plasters’

Food Bank Cupboard stocked with tinned and packet foodImage by Staffs Live (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

It feels lately that we, like Lewis Carrol’s Alice, have fallen down a rabbit hole into an immensely troubling surreal situation with seemingly no idea how we are going to extricate ourselves.

Whether it is the distressing daily reports of Covid-19 deaths, the disturbing video accounts of the huge pressures on our NHS or care services, the political upheavals taking place across the Atlantic and elsewhere or the most serious challenge of all, climate change, it seems ever clearer that we are in Antonio Gramsci’s ‘time of monsters’ in which ‘the old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born’.

What that world will look like remains to be seen, but recent political events would seem to suggest that we still have some way to go before the ‘old world’ breathes its last. The pandemic, combined with the consequences of forty and more years of Neoliberalism Central which has infected every aspect of our lives and dominates political decision making, has created not only public disillusionment, but also petrification as our institutions sit in their blinkered bunkers holding on for dear life to all they knew.

Whether it’s the existing and growing union between government and global corporations, policy decisions which have increased inequality and poverty and encouraged charity, volunteering and philanthropy to take up the reins of public provision, or the promotion of sound finance as a vital component of good governance, the old structures are embedded in our consciousness.

It wasn’t always like this.

During the second world war, William Beveridge was appointed to investigate social security in Britain and his report, published in 1942, identified five major problems which prevented people from improving their lives. These were:

Want (caused by poverty)

Ignorance (caused by a lack of education)

Squalor (caused by poor housing

Idleness (caused by the lack of jobs or the ability to gain employment)

Disease (caused by inadequate health care provision)

It was recognised that government had a role to play in addressing those five ‘evils’ and as a result of the Beveridge report, the post-war government set up the social security system and pursued policies which aimed to address them including full employment. It may not have been perfect, but it changed people’s lives for the better.

Over recent decades, that connection between the state and publicly paid-for provision, management and delivery of services has been broken. Responsibility for such provision is increasingly being shifted into the charitable/voluntary sector, whilst at the same time, the dominant orthodoxy of individual responsibility has led to shaming and blaming people for their situation as the government takes a back-seat role.

Food banks have become a normalised feature of Britain, as Therese Coffey, the Tory minister for the Department for Work and Pensions, indicated last year when she referred to people using food banks as ‘customers’ and suggested they were a ‘perfect way to help the poor’. It implies that government has no role at all in ensuring the economic well-being of its citizens, and worse, that the 14 million Britons who do not have enough to live on are there through their own lack of moral fibre!

When charities buy into this picture and act as mitigators for a rotten economic system (which drives the poverty and inequality, that drive, in turn, the consequences including hunger, homelessness, and illness), they are not aiming to fix the system, but to provide sticking plasters. As such, it demonstrates how they, too, have been captured by an ideology and accept it without question.

This was made shockingly clear in a paid-for content article in this week’s Guardian. The CEO of the Bethany Christian Trust, when talking about tackling the problem of food insecurity said: ‘if by giving someone a meal we’re sitting them down with people they can talk to about debt counselling, mental health issues, addiction, domestic abuse, or whatever help they might need, then that plate of food can work so much harder’.

Rather than starting with the political roots of these problems, charities increasingly view them as issues to be solved through improving the capacity of the individuals themselves to manage the challenges they face.

Quite simply, this facilitates the shifting of blame onto people, rather than highlighting the failure of the government to make provision for its citizens and is classic neoliberal text. As Neil Valley suggests in his article in the New Internationalist ‘The Self-Help Myth’.

‘The pervasive rhetoric of personal responsibility has transformed the role of government and society in the neoliberal era. Where once the role of government was to safeguard the general happiness of the majority of citizens, albeit to varying degrees, its primary role now is to facilitate the conditions where each citizen can take on more and more individual responsibility, absolving the state from its responsibility towards its citizens.’

Then step in charities to fill the gap in service provision and provide the mitigating support for the rotten toxic system which has created the need in the first place and designates those in receipt of such support as customers rather than victims.

The increasingly pervasive narrative, which is being driven further by the pandemic crisis, is that charities and the voluntary sector should be at the heart of our local communities to ensure that vulnerable people don’t fall between the cracks, rather than publicly paid for, managed and delivered state provision.

It was, therefore, all the more disconcerting this week to read the proposal in the left-wing publication The Tribune that a National Food Service should be set up. Whilst its aims to serve the public good rather than private profit are indeed laudable, one has to question the logic.

Of course, one could not object to the removal of private companies delivering public services, given that the tentacles of private profit are growing exponentially as government distributes contracts to its friends and large corporations with few strings attached, whilst at the same time the coffers remain largely bare to serve the needs of those who have for decades been at the sharp end of government policies. The resulting poverty and inequality have been highlighted during this crisis.

The proposal, however, seems to suggest that we mitigate for the crisis of capitalism being played out in the growth of hunger through mutual on the ground action, rather than dealing with its root causes – government policy driven by ideology. We don’t need a plan to ‘respond’ to this fundamental crisis of capitalism, we need a plan to change it; to put public purpose and the interests of citizens, not to mention the planet, at the heart of all government policy.

Over the last few decades, working people have borne the consequences of a toxic economic ideology underpinned by the notion of monetary scarcity, which has led to the reduction in their share of their productivity, which has translated into lower wages, insecure employment and underemployment and a decline in living standards. Poverty is the direct result. The constant repetition of these ideas via politicians, think tanks, economists and the media has led us to believe that this is the inescapable default.

Government, far from serving its citizens, has overseen through its employment and other policies, huge disparities in wealth and access to resources, allowing, for example, chief executives of big corporations to earn many more times that of their employees, not to mention garner political influence as a result.

To add to this picture is the decimation of our post-war public and social security infrastructure, which existed to provide health and social care through various publicly paid for institutions, to ensure that those in need had access to shelter, food and warmth, in times of personal tragedy, sickness, unemployment or economic collapse. When this infrastructure was built, the profiteers had no place in this model and nor should they today.

Whilst the human suffering continues to play out across the nation, the government cynically continues with its U-turns on policy in the vain attempt to keep its MPs and the public on side. Last week, as noted in the MMT Lens, Boris Johnson told MPs that ‘most people would rather see a focus on jobs and growth in wages than…welfare.’ This week, with his signature tune U-Turn, he has indicated a potential rethink of ending the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift, saying he wanted to ensure that ‘people don’t suffer as a result of the economic consequences of the pandemic’. You couldn’t make it up.

Yes, indeed, to more jobs through the implementation of a Job Guarantee, to drive better wages overall and restore the government’s role as the price setter and rebuilding public service provision. But in the meantime, let’s ensure while the consequences of the pandemic continue to cause economic and social pain, that all people have enough to pay their bills and keep food on the table without worry, stress or having to get into debt to keep their heads above water. We have witnessed the power of the public purse, let us not allow that knowledge to be polluted by the restoration of household budget politics.

It is regrettable that politicians, journalists, institutions and think tanks, in their weekly forecasts of doom and gloom, continue to build up the narrative of money scarcity and a future price to pay for this massive round of government monetary intervention. A narrative that will be used to justify eventual hard decisions or another round of austerity in some form or another.

Whilst the livelihoods of many people lie in the balance, not just for now but in a rapidly changing world, we still have to endure the false notions of tax rises to pay for government spending and the penchant for sound finance. Such narratives suggest, not only that people must suffer, but also that the cost of saving our planet from climactic destruction will be too high.

The fact that the government continues to find huge sums of money to support businesses and yet quibbles over a few pounds to working people, suggesting that it is unaffordable should surely be a public conversation starter!

As the chancellor opines that there are some hard choices ahead, one of his treasury ministers clearly of the deficit dove variety, softens the blow by suggesting that the need for tax rises to tackle the record levels of government borrowing could be delayed at least until the economy ‘bounces back’. As if somehow increased tax revenues equate to the capacity to spend or pay down the national debt.

The experts at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and other think tanks then put the fear of God into the public that £40bn in tax rises might be necessary to put the public finances back onto a sustainable footing. Thus, making that public even more cautious about the government’s future spending plans. Self-fulfilling prophecies come to mind.

And then, just this week, when people thought that the vast round of government spending signified a change of approach to managing the economy, Rishi Sunak told Conservative MPs that he will be using his March budget to begin the process of restoring ‘order’ to the public finances through implementing higher taxes.

To those Tories who would like to see the Universal Credit uplift continue beyond April, he gave a reminder of its high cost which represents, according to his calculations, an equivalent of 1p on income tax plus 5p per litre on fuel duty. Thus, further reinforcing the idea that the provision of higher welfare benefits means collecting tax from elsewhere to cover it.

The ‘someone, somewhere will have to pay for it’ model of the state finances will no doubt be used cynically to drive further wedges between the haves and the have nots and justify the further decimation of the already inadequate social security safety net.

According to this narrative, the magic porridge pot is running on empty and needs replenishing in order to pay down debt and avoid a giant burden for future generations.

This tale of supposed coming woe serves to keep people in their place while reinforcing the old myths about how governments spend. It displays both economic illiteracy and a disregard for the lives of those who will lose out as a result, not to mention addressing the biggest challenge of all – climate change.

And then at the ‘left’ end of the household budget scale, we have economists, opposition politicians, unions and other so-called experts, urging the Chancellor to take advantage of low borrowing rates of interest to avoid tax rises until the economy gets back on its feet and restores tax revenues, or reinforcing the false narratives about taxing the rich to pay for the pandemic. The household budget model is endemic and those on the political left keep shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly.

A paper published by the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute last December, using data from 18 OECD countries over the last five decades, concluded unsurprisingly enough that tax cuts for the rich didn’t trickle down; that they contributed to inequality and did little to stimulate business investment.

The authors then went on to suggest that it was time to tax the rich more to repair the public finances. This was backed up in the same month when the Wealth Tax Commission, founded in April of last year, concluded that a one-off wealth tax would raise significant revenue and be fairer and more efficient than other alternatives. To be exact, it suggested that a ‘one-off wealth tax on millionaire couples would raise £260 billion’ The implication being yet again that such a tax could be used to repair the public finances.

Whilst we can’t avoid these false tropes, which lead the public astray and reinforce the messages that government spends like a household, we can challenge them. When Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, bleats on as he did this week about the NHS Pay review body taking ‘account of the extremely challenging fiscal and economic context’ in its decision about future pay rises, we can show the public that such decisions have no connection, either with the current state of the public finances or the future monetary affordability of those pay rises.

We can reinforce the message that curtailing public sector pay won’t increase the ability of the government to ‘set the public finances straight’, any more than the decade of austerity did. It could actually have a negative, indeed disastrous, effect on the economy at a time when it will, without doubt, need continuing government support.

Aside from the fact that public sector and, indeed, other key workers have seen their pay dwindle in real terms as a result of a decade of pay freezes or inadequate employment legislation, and that the pandemic has revealed the vital nature of their contribution to society, all increasing taxation will do is leave less money for working people to spend into both the national and local economies. Also, should that increased taxation fall on corporations, (as is being suggested) who will likely pass that additional cost on through higher prices to working people anyway, it will create a double whammy effect.

Whilst a pay rise will increase tax revenues, it will not increase the government’s capacity to spend. But we see the false narrative again in a study published this week by the London Economic Consultancy. The report claimed that the government would recover 81% of the cost of any pay rise in additional taxes, which would, in turn, have significant ‘knock-on’ benefits for the Treasury. Clearly suggesting that tax funds its spending.

Whether from the left or right of the political spectrum, the public is treated daily to a mishmash of false information dictated by the dominant economic paradigm which masquerades as truth. It’s no wonder that people are confused and feel disempowered or turned off by politics and economics, which they feel do not relate to their lives at all, even though, in reality, these things have everything to do with them.

While politicians, journalists and economists argue about monetary affordability and who should pay for government spending, people are dying and will continue to die for the want of a government that puts their interests first.

What happens next will depend on a successful challenge through raising public awareness that there is indeed an alternative to the vast disparities in wealth, the rise of poverty and inequality, the whittling down of democracy and increased corporate dominance in our lives. And it starts with understanding how government really spends.

 

Upcoming Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Pavlina Tcherneva – Online

January 24th 2021 @ 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm GMT

GIMMS is delighted to present another in its series ‘In Conversation’.

Phil Armstrong, author of ‘Can Heterodox Economics Make a Difference’ published in November 2020, will be talking to Pavlina Tcherneva.

Pavlina is program director and associate professor of economics at Bard College and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute. She conducts research in the fields of modern monetary theory and public policy and has collaborated with policymakers from around the world on developing and evaluating various job-creation programmes. Her work on the Job Guarantee spans over 20 years.

Author of the recently published book ‘The Case for a Job Guarantee’, she challenges us to imagine a world where the phantom of unemployment is banished and anyone who seeks decent living-wage work can find it – guaranteed. It will be of particular relevance as we begin to grapple with the economic fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic but for anyone passionate about social justice and building a fairer economy it should be essential reading.

We invite you to join us for this informal event which we are sure will be both stimulating and insightful.

Tickets via Eventbrite

 

Past Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Fadhel Kaboub – Online

Author and MMT Scholar Phil Armstrong talks to professor of economics and president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity Fadhel Kaboub about how MMT insights apply to the global south, colonial reparations, the MMT Job Guarantee contrasted with Universal Basic Income, and much more.

 

 

Audio via the MMT Podcast here

 

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The post The need is to fix the system, not just to provide ‘sticking plasters’ appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Book on Utopias from the 17th Century to Today

Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd 2011).

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything for several days. Part of that is because the news doesn’t really inspire me. It’s not that it isn’t important, or that the Tories have stopped trying to strip working people of their rights and drive them further into poverty and degradation. Or that I’m unmoved by Trump trying to organise a coup to keep himself in the Oval Office like just about every other tin pot dictator throughout history. Or that Brexit isn’t threatening to destroy whatever remains of British industry and livelihoods, all for the benefit of the Tory superrich and investment bankers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have their money safely invested in firms right across the world. Or that I’m not outraged by even more people dying of Covid-19 every day, while the government has corruptly mismanaged their care by outsourcing vital medical supplies and their services to firms that are clearly incompetent to provide them, because those same firms are run by their chums. Ditto with the grossly inadequate food parcels, which are another vile example of Tory profiteering. It’s just that however disgusting and infuriating the news is, there is a certain sameness about it. Because all this is what the Tories have been doing for decades. It’s also partly because I can’t say anything more or better about these issues than has been already said by great bloggers like Mike, Zelo Street and the rest.

But I’ve also been kept busy reading some of the books I got for Christmas, like the above tome by Ruth Levitas, a sociology professor at Bristol Uni. The blurb for this runs

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of Utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia offers the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

It has the following chapters

  1. Ideal Commonwealths: The Emerging Tradition
  2. Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism
  3. Mobilising Myths: Utopia and Social Change in Georges Sorel and Karl Mannheim
  4. Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future
  5. The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris
  6. An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche
  7. A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies
  8. Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia.

I wanted to read the book because so many utopias have been socialist or socialistic, like the early 19th century thinkers Karl Marx described as utopian, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen, and was interested in learning more about their ideas. In this sense, I’m slightly disappointed with the book. Although it tells you a little about the plans for the reformation of society, and the establishment of a perfect state or political system, the book’s not so much about these individual schemes as a more general discussion of the concept of utopia. What, exactly, is a utopia, and how has the concept been used, and changed and developed? Much of this debate has been within Marxism, beginning with the great thinker himself. He called his predecessors – Owen, Fourier and Owen ‘utopian’ because he didn’t believe their particular schemes were realistic. Indeed, he regarded them as unscientific, in contrast to his own theories. However, Marx did believe they had done a vital job in pointing out the failures of the capitalist system. Marxists themselves were split over the value of utopias. The dominant position rejected them, as it was pointless to try to describe the coming society before the revolution. Nevertheless, there were Marxists who believed in their value, as the description of a perfect future society served to inspire the workers with an ideal they could strive to achieve. This position has been obscured in favour of the view that Marx and his followers rejected them, and this book aims to restore their position in the history of Marxist thought. This idea of utopia as essentially inspirational received especial emphasis in the syndicalism of Georges Sorel. Syndicalism is a form of radical socialism in which the state and private industry are abolished and their functions carried out instead by the trade unions. Sorel himself was a French intellectual, who started out on the radical left, but move rightward until he ended up in extreme nationalist, royalist, anti-Semitic movements. His ideas were paradoxically influential not just in the Marxist socialism of the former Soviet Union, but also in Fascist Italy. Sorel doesn’t appear to have been particularly interested in the establishment of a real, syndicalist utopia. This was supposed to come after a general strike. In Sorel’s formulation of syndicalism, however, the general strike is just a myth to inspire the workers in their battle with the employers and capitalism, and he is more interested in the struggle than the workers’ final victory, if indeed that ever arrived.

The book also covers the debate over William Morris and his News from Nowhere. This describes an idyllic, anarchist, agrarian, pre-industrial society in which there are no leaders and everyone works happily performing all kinds of necessary work simply because they enjoy it and find it fulfilling following a workers’ revolution. Apart from criticisms of the book itself, there have also been debates over the depth of Morris’ own socialism. Morris was a member of one of the first British Marxist socialist parties, Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and the founder of another, the Socialist League, after he split from them. Critics have queried whether he was ever really a Marxist or even a socialist. One view holds that he was simply a middle class artist and entrepreneur, but not a socialist. The other sees him as a socialist, but not a Marxist. Levitas contends instead that Morris very definitely was a Marxist.

When it comes to the 20th century, the book points out that utopias have fallen out of fashion, no doubt due to the horrors committed by totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist, which have claimed to be ideal states. However, the critic Tom Moylan has argued that utopias have still been produced in the SF novels of Joanna Russ, Ursula le Guin, Marge Piercy and Samuel Delaney. He describes these as ‘critical utopias’, a new literary genre. The heroes of this literature is not the dominant White, heterosexual male, but characters who are off-centre, female, gay, non-White, and who act collectively rather than individually. The book criticises some earlier utopias, like News from Nowhere, for their exclusive focus on the male viewpoint, comparing them with the Land of Cockayne, the medieval fantasy that similarly presents a perfect world in which everything is seemingly ordered for men’s pleasure. In contrast to these are the feminist utopias of the above writers, which began in the late 19th century with Harriet Gilman’s Herland. It also discusses the value of satires like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and dystopias like Eugene Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Levitas does not, however, consider utopianism to be merely confined to the left. She also considers Thatcherism a form of utopianism, discussing the late Roger Scruton’s Conservative Essays and citing Patrick Wright’s On Living in an Old Country. This last argued that the Conservative promotion of heritage was being used to reinforce old hierarchies in a markedly racist way. Some members of society were thus delineated as truly members of the nation, while others were excluded.

The book was first published in 1990, just before or when Communism was falling. It shows it’s age by discussing the issue whether the terrible state of the Soviet Union served to deter people dreaming and trying to create perfect, socialist societies. She argues that it doesn’t, only that the forms of this societies are different from the Marxist-Leninism of the USSR. This is a fair assessment. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of books about the future colonisation of Mars, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, the colonists not only succeed in terraforming the planet, but also create socialist society in which authority is as decentralised as possible, women are fully equal and patriarchy has been overthrown and businesses run by their workers as cooperatives. At the same time, those wishing to return to a more primitive way of life have formed hunter-gatherer tribes, which are nevertheless also conversant with contemporary technology.

Further on, although the Fall of Communism has been claimed to have discredited not just Marxism but also socialism, recent history has shown the opposite is true. After forty years of Thatcherism, an increasing number of people are sick and tired of it, its economic failures, the glaring inequalities of wealth, the grinding poverty and degradation it is creating. This is why the Conservative establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party, were so keen to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, a Communist and Trotskyite, or whatever else they could throw at him. He gave working people hope, and as Servalan, the grim leader of the Terran Federation said on the Beeb’s classic SF show, Blake’s Seven, ‘Hope is very dangerous’. A proper socialist society continues to inspire women and men to dream and work towards a better world, and it is to stop this that the Blairites contrived to get Corbyn’s Labour to lose two elections and have him replaced by Keir Starmer, a neo-liberal vacuity who increasingly has nothing to say to Johnson and his team of crooks.

Back to the book, its discussion of the nature of utopia therefore tends to be rather abstract and theoretical as it attempts to describe the concept and the way it has changed and been used. I didn’t find this really particularly interesting, although there are nevertheless many valuable insights here. I would instead have been far more interested in learning more about the particular ideas, plans and descriptions of a new, perfect, or at least far better, society of the many thinkers, philosophers and authors mentioned.

2021 – Looking Forward

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/01/2021 - 5:01pm in

Tags 

neoliberalism

However you look at it, 2020 was a train wreck.

Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with two friends of the show, Chris Williamson and Michael Hudson, who shared their views on what we can look out for in 2021.

The post 2021 – Looking Forward appeared first on Renegade Inc.

2021 – Looking Forward

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/01/2021 - 5:01pm in

Tags 

neoliberalism

However you look at it, 2020 was a train wreck.

Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with two friends of the show, Chris Williamson and Michael Hudson, who shared their views on what we can look out for in 2021.

The post 2021 – Looking Forward appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Scared Alex Belfield Mockingly Rants about Diane Abbott Leading the Labour Party

Yesterday right-wing YouTuber and internet radio host Alex Belfield put up a video expressing his surprise and horror over a discussion on Twitter about the Labour party. The peeps there were saying that Keir Starmer had finally had enough of leading the party and was about to stand down. Ready to take over from him was Diane Abbott. The rest of the video was just Belfield doing a very unfunny impression of the veteran Black MP making some kind of acceptance speech for the leadership. Abbott is one of the most vilified MPs in parliament. She receives half of all the misogynistic letters received by female parliamentarians. Belfield appears to be one of the people, who has a singular dislike of her. He’s been presenting her as thick as ever since she made a stupid maths mistake talking to one of the presenters of Talk Radio about Labour party policy and how it would be funded a year or so ago. He’s also played up the fact that Abbott has been extremely critical of the police, who I think she feels are racist, but had to call them for help when she was threatened by her privately educated, drug addict son.

I can’t say that Abbott is my favourite MP, and while I can see her being many things, stupid is not one of them. Plenty of Tories have been caught out being unable to do basic Maths as well, but Belfield and the Tories are obviously determined to push the idea of Abbott being massively thick in the hope that it will colour public perception of her. This says to me that they’re afraid, desperately afraid of her. Belfield put up a video a month ago ranting against Abbott’s nomination as MP of the year. I think he may have been one of the right-wingers, who was outraged at a similar vote by a sizable number of the British public in favour of Jeremy Corbyn for the same award a year or so ago.

Last week the Groan published an article from one of the leaders of Operation Black Vote arguing that the Tories were trying to set the working class against Blacks. This is absolutely correct. Belfield constantly harps on about how White working class boys are the most disadvantaged group in the UK. He has a personal chip on his should about this, as he is also constantly talking about how he is a working class lad without a degree from a pit community, in contrast to the ‘woke’ leftie snowflakes at the BBC, who are over-promoting Black performers and drag queens. I’ve no doubt that Belfield is right that about the disadvantaged condition of working class White boys. But he is definitely using it as a weapon for party political purposes by placing them in opposition of Blacks. Part of the reason White British youths are disadvantaged is due not to affirmative action programmes for Blacks and other minorities, although these have played their part, but to Tory policies that have devastated working class White communities. This included the closure of the mines which supported villages like Belfield’s. The Tories have absolutely no interest in helping the working class, whether White, Black, Asian or whatever. They’re only interested in using their underprivileged condition to generate hatred against the Labour party and programmes designed to improve the situation of Blacks in the UK.

As for Starmer giving it all up and deciding to pack it as leader of the Labour party, oh! If only! He’s been a disaster as leader. He has no policies, no real opposition to the Tories and, I would argue, no morals. He’s a typical Blairite. His only real opposition is not to neoliberalism and the Conservatives – he seems to be following Blair’s example of adopting Tory policies while trying to present Labour as better able to carry them out – but to the real socialists in his own party. He and Rayner have been doing everything they can to carry on the witch hunt against true Labour centrists – the peeps who want a return to proper Labour policies and values – by smearing and expelling them as anti-Semites. He has done everything he seemingly can to protect the plotters and intriguers, who conspired to sabotage Labour’s chances at last year’s elections and in 2017. These individuals were also guilty of real racism towards BAME MPs and activists. But no action has been taken against them, to the disgust of the party’s Black members and supporters. His leadership is also becoming a personal autocracy, as he and the new head of the NEC impose rules silencing local parties from voicing their criticisms of his leadership. Local leaders and officials have been suspended for breaking these rules.

I and many, many other Labour members and supporters would be delighted if Starmer went. And while I have problems with Abbott – I think she does go too far in her accusations of racism – I would certainly rather have her as leader of the Labour party.

And that, I think, is what’s behind Belfield’s constant mocking and pillorying of the MP. He’s afraid. Afraid that others like me would also prefer to have her as leader of the Labour party. White peeps from working class families. The same people he and the Tories are trying to turn against Blacks.

As far as I know, Starmer isn’t planning to retire from the leadership anytime soon. But I’d be highly delighted if he did. He has done nothing for the working class. And the Tories aren’t going to do anything for them either, except make them poorer and even more desperate. Only the Labour left is going to do this, and that includes Diane Abbott. I don’t think she’d be popular with the general public, as Tory propaganda has probably gone too far.

But I think intellectually she’s more than a match for right-wing loudmouths, and has and will do more for working class peeps than he and the Tories ever will.

The decline of the ‘state effect’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/12/2020 - 10:37pm in

In the space of four years, the institutions of British liberalism suffered a triple-whammy which may ultimately turn out to be fatal. The 2016 referendum was a full-on assault on the democratic credentials and constitutional pre-eminence of parliament. The resulting wreckage produced the conditions for the Johnson leadership, that would have been scarcely thinkable under any different circumstances. Then, almost as if the Gods wished to teach Britain some brutal lesson about the consequences of sacrificing competence for entertainment, a pandemic arrived.

To grasp how much has changed in this short historical window, consider it as follows. A core driver of that 2016 rupture was a profound, and in many ways understandable, alienation from the democratic and bureaucratic institutions that make up the British state, though this was cynically reframed by the right-wing press and prominent Brexiteers as a cultural failing of specific ‘elites’. Either way, it is now clear (and should have been much earlier) that large swathes of British, and especially English, society felt unrepresented and lied to.

A little over four years later, however, and the problem is quite different. A mentality of suspicion and disillusionment, that once would have been witnessed amongst those furthest from power, is now being expressed by the ‘liberal elites’ themselves. The worry that the ‘official’ version of events conceals something else altogether is no longer the preserve of the disenfranchised or the conspiracy theorist, but is spreading amongst those in positions of influence and cultural privilege. The infamous tweet that appeared briefly on the official civil service account in May, asking “can you imagine working with these truth twisters?” spoke of how the crisis of credibility was now internal to the machinery of government, rather than external.

Permanent Secretaries have departed their posts, as it becomes clear that their political independence is no longer accepted. City Mayors and MPs have been aghast to discover that lockdown plans for the regions they represent are disseminated anonymously to journalists, before being discussed with political representatives. Anecdotally, I’ve been struck by how many people – who would never entertain typical conspiracy theories – refuse to download the NHS COVID-19 app, on the basis that it isn’t all that it seems. The way the NHS brand is being instrumentalised (a tactic that Vote Leave pioneered with impunity) is indicative of how people’s trust and solidarity is being used against them. This isn’t a process that can be simply reversed.

For the many people, on both the left and the right, who never felt duped by the integrity of liberalism in the first place, these developments might appear like a healthy disillusionment. What, after all, are people really trusting when they place trust in ‘the state’? The pandemic has cast a fresh and unforgiving light on Britain’s vast and lucrative out-sourcing industry, but the reach of Serco et al is far from new. It was back in the early 1990s that many social scientists proposed that ‘the state’ was merely a metaphor or effect, that concealed a web of interlocking contracts and providers. One of the leading scholars in this regard was political scientist Rod Rhodes, author of a 1996 paper with the prescient subtitle, “governing without government”.

Be that as it may, the mass confidence that there is such a thing as a ‘nation state’, with generally recognised legitimacy, is a powerful illusion that allows us to be governed as we do. Antonio Gramsci’s notion of ‘hegemony’ implies that the modern state will seek to govern via consent as much as possible, which is established with the aid of the media, civil society and a socially acceptable form of economic regulation. What we’re witnessing in Britain today is the disintegration of ‘the state’ as we previously imagined it (not least, in a geographic sense, as policies splinter region by region) and a crumbling of the conditions of any possible hegemony. For better or worse (and many of us fear the latter), this will alter how power works.

How has the Brexit, Boris, Covid triple-whammy combined to achieve this? When Rhodes and others were analysing decentralised networks of ‘governance’ in the 1990s, this coincided with the surge of public sector marketization that was built on the foundations laid by Margaret Thatcher. PFI, outsourcing and targets permeated the public sector with a logic of efficiency and return on investment. The ideology known as ‘neoliberalism’ sees politics (its rhetoric, modes of judgement, rituals and so on) ousted by economics. But in its ecstatic refusal of any economic rationality, Brexit punctured the credibility of this programme.

With the addition of the Johnson-Cummings leadership, government is now just as reliant on the private sector as it ever was, only now without that veneer of economic rationality or justification. It is almost as if, following thirty years of rampant de-politicisation of public service delivery, we are now seeing a sudden jolt of re-politicisation, but with the requisite politics being fidelity to Brexit and Downing Street. As the neoliberal mantra of ‘transparency’ (typically meaning value for money assessments) collapses, we increasingly fall back on our own personal suspicions, especially those of us who are paying close attention.

Then take the extraordinary political challenge presented by the coronavirus itself, which is one vast collective action problem. Nation states can be understood as solutions to such problems, to the extent that they achieve peace within their borders and mobilise people en masse towards war. To the great surprise of many behaviorists advising the government, this residual power of state enforcement and national mobilisation was witnessed over the spring, as people dutifully put their lives on hold for weeks on end. The state ‘effect’ had one last hurrah.

But as details have emerged regarding individual restrictions and policy measures, suspicions have flourished. Where exactly is the evidence for why certain parts of the country are suffering stricter rules than others? What does it mean, that certain cultural pass-times or venues are rescued, while others are abandoned or forced to close? What has been the public benefit of all the money thrown at Nightingale Hospitals, PPE and ventilator contracts and data analysis? Johnson is left making half-hearted appeals to a spirit of national solidarity, while being one of the major reasons collective action is breaking down.

Unable to govern via consent, Johnson will inevitably become more reliant on force and secretive decision-making instead. But perhaps the biggest factor in that relates back to Johnson’s lifelong weakness: the lure of tomorrow’s newspaper headline. The thread running through this generalised crisis of trust is a political coterie that believes all problems can be solved by storytelling and distraction, regardless of consistency. Rather than using the media to manufacture consent (as the title of the famous Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky book had it), Johnson uses it to manufacture confusion – an effective way of getting through the day, but a disastrous way of getting through the winter.

Thatcherism has long been accused of weakening the bonds of society through shrinking the state. Johnsonism could produced further fragmentation, but via different means. It’s not the size of the state that is shrinking (certainly not as a proportion of GDP), but its integrity and credibility in the eyes of the public. And a state that no longer appears like a single unified entity, but rather a set of private contractors, anonymous briefings and political strategies, is no longer an effective modern state at all.

Originally drafted 16th October 2020

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