Category Archives: Essays

Longer pieces up to 2000 words exploring subjects in some depth.

Neoliberalism: Not Just A Financial Crisis But A Crisis Of Democracy

Part I: Democracy is not the same as absence of government.

The most clichéd description of democracy is “government of the people, for the people, by the people.”

This and all other concepts of democracy presume ‘government’. Democracy is not the same as absence of government. Any meaningful concept of Democracy implies that by participating in democratic processes of government citizens can significantly influence the conditions under which they and their fellow citizens live.

Neoliberal theory describes all government as necessarily inefficient and collective democratic decision making as inevitably oppressive. The stated aim of Neoliberalism is to maximise ‘freedom’ by reducing the role of government to the absolute minimum; to the functions of defending the nation from external threat and maintaining law and order – by which they primarily mean the protection of property rights.

An absence of government the Neoliberals argue, will make us all free. But this is clearly not a theory of democracy; if anything it is a theory of anarchy. Continue reading

On Harmony, Conflict And Class

I read an interview with George Lakey in this month’s. Peace News. Lakey is a life-long activist who re-imagined the nonviolent revolutionary strategies of Gandhi & Dr Martin Luther King for the modern era. In the interview he had some interesting things to say about class and conflict and it really got me thinking. Take this section for example:

“The function of the middle-class is to manage, and nurture the working class on behalf of the owning class. So it is bred into middle-class people from when they are little itty bitty people that management is key…..So, do you know any managers who have moved ahead in their careers because the people they are managing are constantly in conflict? No. The sign of a good manager is conflict resolution. The sign of a good manager is to have people working cooperatively together in a harmonious way.

Middle-class political pacifism similarly has a very strong interest in the common ground, in reconciliation. ”Let’s find a way to come together,” that’s very strongly the concern. So that is hugely a value in the middle-class, harmony and common ground.”

This seems bang on the money but the problem for me is that although in many ways I am middle-class, certainly by education, i.e. Prep school, Grammar School and University, I was never successfully socialised into this middle-class, ‘harmony above all’, disposition. As a result I have always found negotiating the British class system very difficult. To me it seems self-evident that conflict is inevitable, and indeed, in democratic discourse to be highly valued – “No dissent, no democracy!” Continue reading

On Holding The Country To Ransom

It is often argued in the Anglo-American press that strikes are universally illegitimate; that they are an abuse of power by workers. “The unions are holding the company/country to ransom”, is the cry. “Why should the innocent general public suffer for these greedy workers?” “It shouldn’t be allowed”.

But surely an employer is ‘holding the workers to ransom’ when they threaten large-scale redundancies unless workers accept lower wages or worsening terms & conditions? Why is it morally acceptable for employers to do this and not workers? After all it is workers who create profit, not the legal entity that is a corporation or even the shareholders who own the company Continue reading

The Democratic Threat to Capitalism

As described in The Scorpion And The Frog, the interests of capital are in the generation of profits and, by extension, the maintenance of the social, financial and political conditions that maximise profit.

And it the second part of the sentence in italics that is important for this discussion.

Theoretically at least, perhaps generating profit and democracy can sit together without contradiction. However, where capitalism and democracy come into conflict is in the fact that to secure future profits capitalism, as a system, has to ensure that social and political institutions do not interfere with profit making. In other words capitalist enterprises are not and can never be politically neutral, capitalist enterprises have to try to maintain a significant measure of influence, not to say control, over the political system because they are duty bound to try and maintain the social, financial and political conditions that maximise profit. Continue reading

On The Cult Of Managers

We live in a world in which corporate CEO’s and senior managers are feted as a class of Ubermensch to whom the rest of us mere mortals owe gratitude, allegiance and deference.

It is often claimed that the multi-national corporations rival nation-states in terms of global power and influence. The managers of these corporations earn staggering 6 and 7 figure salaries, eat in the finest restaurants, wear the smartest clothes, travel first class, if not by private jet and chauffer driven limousine, so that they can meet with and influence the worlds political leaders  – all at shareholders or tax payers expense.

And yet for the most part these corporate Ubermensch are not innovative, risk-taking, capitalist entrepreneurs. On the contrary for the most part they are time-serving corporate apparatchiks who have never risked anything in their lives and who are often handsomely rewarded – even when the organisations they manage spectacularly and publicly fail.

What on earth is going on? Continue reading

The Revolting Underclass?

[Note: A Tory perspective of much of what I am saying in this post was echoed by the Daily Telegraph Political Editor Peter Oborne, in his article, The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom , on Saturday 13th August.

Which illustrates a broader point, i.e. to reduce everything to issues of economic interest as both classic Marxists and the free-marketeers do is to take away the individuals moral responsibility and ignore so much of the existential experience of the oppressed. Emotional experiences like humiliation and shame are as much a part of being ‘poor’ as is lack of money. Indeed, I would argue that those emotional facets of oppression are still present on a daily basis for the working middle-class who have money but no autonomy. Which is why I am attracted to the writings of socialist anarchists like Emma Goodman or Kropotkin or even Marxists like Gramsci because they do not reduce these ‘cultural’ aspects of oppression to economic interests alone. The concept of equality is first and foremost is a ‘moral’ concept, not an economic one.

Which is also why I believe so strongly that when campaigning the Left have to believe there is a ‘moral’ dimension to what they are fighting for – rather than a simple economic self-interest. Psychologically people often make amazing personal sacrifices in a cause that represents a collective ‘greater good’ rather than their own self-interest – this is the whole point of ‘patriotism’ as a concept, without it would the millions who died in WWI have collaborated so willingly in their own slaughter? Today look at those dying in Syria, or the British who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War, or the sacrifices of early trade unionists, the list is endless.]

Last night On BBC 2’s Newsnight, Kelvin McKenzie was literally raging at two young articulate black men, saying that the teenage rioters should be shot with rubber bullets. Michael Gove was practically screaming at Harriet Harman because she had the temerity to make a link between poverty and crime.

Their argument seemed to be that, “not all poor people riot or resort to crime therefore poverty cannot be the motivating factor for those who do.”

Almost any analysis of crime and poverty in the last 100 years will demonstrate a direct statistical link between crime and poverty. When unemployment and relative poverty increase, crime increases (see http://www.poverty.org.uk/summary/links.htm or http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/poverty-pushing-young-into-crime-1473256.html ).

But Gove and McKenzie seem to fear that by acknowledging reasons for the events of the last few days we are somehow making excuses. But to recognise poverty and social exclusion as factors in these riots is not to excuse individual acts of criminality, it is simply to recognise that at the margins of society as the effects of unemployment and poverty become harsher there are those who will be tempted into crime who might not have been otherwise. We are all autonomous individuals and have to take responsibility for our own actions but we are also members of communities and of society as a whole and our decision-making is socially determined to a degree most of us would not care to acknowledge (see behavioural economics). To suggest a link between two social phenomenon is not to claim a universal connection nor to suggest a direct causal link: not all teenage binge drinkers become alcoholics but a lot do; not all people made redundant have nervous breakdowns or commit suicide but some do; not all MP’s fiddled their expenses but a lot did. There is a statistical link between poverty and crime and to deny it is silly. We can argue about what the link actually means but for goodness sake lets acknowledge the facts. Continue reading

On The Cult Of Managers

We live in a world in which corporate CEO’s and senior managers are feted as a class of Ubermensch to whom the rest of us mere mortals owe gratitude, allegiance and deference.

It is often claimed that the multi-national corporations rival nation-states in terms of global power and influence. The managers of these corporations earn staggering 6 and 7 figure salaries, eat in the finest restaurants, wear the smartest clothes, travel first class, if not by private jet and chauffer driven limousine, so that they can meet with and influence the worlds political leaders  – all at shareholders or tax payers expense.

And yet for the most part these corporate Ubermensch are not innovative, risk-taking, capitalist entrepreneurs. On the contrary for the most part they are time-serving corporate apparatchiks who have never risked anything in their lives and who are often handsomely rewarded – even when the organisations they manage spectacularly and publicly fail.

What on earth is going on? Continue reading