The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When I were a lad, this were all fields

Over the past few days I've had a worse sense of insecurity and instability than I had after 9/11, and far more unsettling than I anything I felt when I was actually, ah, present at scenes of considerably more consequent rucks, not to mention rocks. Seeing Lewisham's clock tower on the telly had me thinking along the lines that when I was that age we knew what we were fighting for. There's probably a blue plaque there in our memory.

On Monday evening I watched The Grand Experiment, a documentary in a series on Great Thinkers: In Their Own Words - their words to, and on, the BBC: which institution, we are reminded, was a grand experiment in itself. I spent the rest of the evening and too much of the small hours watching BBC News 24 on the riots, the night Croydon burned.

The Grand Experiment was, of course, the postwar Keynes-Beveridge full-employment welfare state. Supported by the main parties of left and right, by the end of the sixties it was coming under attack from both flanks: you can see Tariq Ali calling for the abolition of money and the power of the soviets, and Milton Friedman calling for the ascendance of monetarism and the freedom of the markets, and in the middle some floundering mouthpiece of the consensus, such as poor old Lord Balogh marching into the lions' den of Chicago to defend the Labour Government.

It seems obvious now that the postwar settlement had reached its limits by 1979. But I sometimes wonder if a more rational left than I was part of could have carried it forward, rather than helped to bring it down.

I blame the parents, and the parents were us.

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I share your sorrow, but blame serves no-one except the historians. The question is, what do we do now? I don't mean what ideology do we adopt now. I mean, what can we actually *do* that will make a difference?

If memory serves, it was Rosa Luxemburg, in one of her last writings, who called for full employment in a true socialist society. That, perhaps, is the difference between social democracy and socialism. But I have the luxury of never having been refused a job, menial or professional, or a place in university.

While visiting Manchester Library last year, a fellow attempted to hand me some propaganda. I surprised him by asking what tendency he represented, and he finally and sheepishly admitted they were Trots. I suggested he re-think his allegiance to cul-de-sac movements. There was a day, long ago, when socialism was a mainstream movement with its own media. But I'm not sure I agree with your assessment. I think the generation that dropped the ball was the one that signed up to fight in 1914.

Dear Ted,

Very good point. On a big scale, I don't see how anything is feasible without a mass media that addresses its audience as working people rather than consumers. And yes, a vulgar, populist mass media Nothing is more tedious than the existing leftist "newspaper". On the small scale I do things like refusing to buy bananas. This very unusual boycott allows me to talk to whomever becomes curious about the murder of union organizers by death squads in Guatemala. I also refuse to invest by not taking advantage of my university's retirement benefits scheme. Colleagues find this stand extremely shocking. Does it have an effect? Who knows.

Don't overthink it. Keep blaming the rich, 'cause they're the ones that funded every evil thing that's been done.

As I'm sure you're aware, no system or institution will ever stand the test of time if it is imposed.


Not quite what you're referring to - it may even have been before the Lewisham march proper - but it was a real awakening for me when I saw an NF march on the news, protected on all sides by a huge phalanx of police, and heard the newsreader state calmly that the police protection had been necessary owing to threats of violence from the International Marxist Group. Fascists are being protected by the police, and protected from the IMG? And the BBC News is OK with that?

Christ, I'll be getting nostalgic for the NF in a minute.

On a lighter note & for the record, Ken is a fantasic parent & neither of his (grown up) children were involved in the riots.

Hm, here in the U.S. we can get bananas that are supposedly fair trade, but I don't know how that translates as far as fair labor practices go.

In England I've noticed that the fair trade label has quite a bit of traction, but here it's virtually unknown outside of the food co-op demographic. Is it anything like that where you are?

The fair trade movement definitely gives me some hope, but it seems like it has a long way to go.

Very complex events Ken, and not your fault, but thanks for offering to take the burden.
No-one ever mentions the fact that quite a few post-war British jobs were founded on the economic power of the empire; I faintly remember strikes which were about the fact that Liverpool Docks strangely didn't need as many dock workers any more, and this was attributed entirely to bosses' malice...
Then again, maybe nobody mentions it because I imagined the whole thing.

Part of the problem was that Old Labour was the flipside of Schumpeter and Chandler -- it had a cultural affinity for giant, managerialist bureaucracies.

A viable agenda for a postwar socialist movement might have included replacing the regulatory state with taxes on economic rents and negative externalities (like land value and extraction of non-renewable resources), and replacing the welfare state with a guaranteed minimum income or social dividend -- coupled with promotion of a large cooperative sector.

How does full employment which does not abolish the corporation unfold, really?

Ted - in the UK the Fair Trade label is available in most big supermarkets, and the Co-op is a major supermarket chain.

Anon, the Liverpool dock strike was in the 1990s, and by then the opportunities of the 1970s were long gone.

Kevin - well, the buraucracies may have been giant and managerialist, but they didn't get in your face all the time. In the second half of the 70s I was, I'm afraid, a bit lazy, but any time I wanted a job I could go to local high street branch of the bureaucratic labour exchange (I think they were already called Job Centres) and find some kind of work straight away. And there was no hassle about it, no CV or selling yourself or interview.

In that book by Colin Wilson I wrote about a few posts ago, he does the same thing in the 50s - some of the time he dosses or writes, and then the hunger gets too much and he goes to the labour exchange and gets a job - which he often walks out of after a few weeks or months, and then repeats the process.

That was full employment.

The BBC sucks bad. Sky not much better, maybe worse, can't decide. Russia Today 4 me.

The few broadcasts I've seen--all posted by my FBfriends--were excellent. As for myself, I never was an optimist (despite all attempts by my NYC teachers to gung-ho me), but stuck and am sticking to a few Leftist principles.

Here are those principles. I see no human-intrinsic basis for any profit motive. Hence, none for profit. Hence none for money. Hence none for any sort of capitalism. Now: Why do I believe all this? Since I hold that some sort of feeling of friendship, or being well-intentioned towards others, has some sort of basis 'in' us. Then I hope that the reach of this feeling can be extended, to what Kant called 'all rational beings.' Of course one problem is how to realise these ideas, which are Kantian.

PS. For 'can be extended' read 'can and should be extended.' This makes the idea's normative status clear. These notions come from Wilfrid Sellars, and are merely schematic. He got them by thinking about Marx, Kant, Royce, and his father, the American philosopher Roy Wood Sellars.

Well the welfare state of the Keynes is not actually dead, in fact in 2008 we saw that under the theatre of 'free markets' there still remains the mass state that sees its mission as the public insurance of employment. In the current US we see that what ever the political colours of ideology of people it is assumed the state has a duty to assure full employment.

I would see the post war period as the first stage of a much much larger long term project. On that might be scaled back but essentially seems established at the core for the long run.

The problem with Keynes solution over all the others around is its scientific moderate compromising view of the world is the perfect technocratic solution of the late 20th Century devoid of emotion meaning. Thus it lacks the ideology appeal of say 'work' or 'family' or other neo-conservative neo-fascist ideas that support more neo-liberalism.

Writers like Iam M. Banks seem to me to be starting the long term practice of creating an imagination space for this kind of system. The way readers love the Culture shows that it is possible to image a system without markets, without money, without status and without power than can gain the hearts of millions of people. But building an ideology for post scarcity will take time.

"Full employment"="labour shortage".

None the worse for that, but be ready with an answer to those employer-class types who cry for a solution to the "labour shortage". It's not actually in need of a solution.

Ken, that sounds a lot like the Longshoremen's old hiring hall system on the West coast.

Interestingly, there was an AFL-CIO organizer a few years back in the Bay area experimenting with a combination hiring hall and worker co-op as replacement for the temp agency. It would make sense, because the capital outlays are minimal and there's typically a 3-1 differential between what the temp agencies charge their clients and what they pay their workers.

I'm not sure the politicians have a clue how the figures have changed meaning, on employment. Here in the UK, a lot of jobs are short-term. Which looks better to the politician, and which looks better to the worker: 100 jobs lasting a year, or 1000 lasting a month?

The politicians point to the number of jobs, but the churn rate makes a big difference.

I have a long ramble that comments on this among other blog posts here.

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