Saturday, 27 December 2008

British Politics 2009: Sweden v Italy?

Robert Peston: Journalist of the Year 2008, surely? So what are we to make of his Christmas Eve statement that:
"As a nation, our fortunes in 2009 will be conspicuously tied to the fortunes of our banks as never before........ the balance sheet of the British public sector can be seen as the aggregated balance sheet of some substantial banks - because the state now controls three banks, Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley and Royal Bank of Scotland, and will have a huge stake in a soon-to-be created fourth, LloydsTSB/HBOS. It means that if the perceived credit-worthiness of our banks - with their trillions of pounds of assets and liabilities - were to deteriorate further, that would have an impact on the perceived credit-worthiness of the state."

Paulie labels this UK Plc, and he's onto something. Dear old Ralph Miliband quoted Paulie's mentor, Kautsky, as once saying, " ..the capitalist class rules but it does not govern." But if the fortunes of the State per se are now so tightly tied to the fortunes of finance capital this may not be remain quite so inevitably true.

That hoary old Marxist chestnut of a question, the relative autonomy of the State, may rear its head again. A thousand undergraduate essays on old Ralph and sad Nicos will be dusted down and regurgitated. But the old essays may be missing the point. It may be that the thing to explain in 2009 is not the 'gap' between direct class power and State action which Miliband and Poulantzas tried to theorise, but the speed and nature at which this gap decreases.

One potential logical move, for finance capital, when faced with a situation where their basic instruments of profit are owned by the State, is to find a Berlusconi type figure: someone who will run the State much more directly in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole, or even a specific fraction of it as in the Italian situation. Britain has a different history to Italy of course, and the availability of 'hero innovator' types from the private sector is really quite limited. But I wouldn't bet against Cameron 'bigging up' - perhaps even 'ennobling' and pushing onto the front bench - a few folk like Branson.

Meanwhile Gordon has to plug away at his son of the manse act and at least pretend its all going to be Sweden: the temporary nationalisation of the banks pending their fattening up and resale. But in reality no such resale is going to happen anytime soon. Gordon - or his successor - is going to be running the British arm of international finance capital for its owners for a good while yet.

So the political question of 2009 is - to put the matter in anachronistic Marxist terminology - who will come out on top in a clash between the direct logic of finance capital and the logic of a (relatively autonomous) capitalist state. It seems the future of our country rests on this battle.


  1. Nothing anachronistic about that terminology, and chances are you'll be seeing a lot more of it if the increasing interest in Marx continues! But that is a very interesting tension you bring out there, and one that some Marxist academics somewhere are probably already beavering away at. Just keep an eye on the Historical Materialism journal. If it's to appear anywhere, that will be the place.

  2. Thanks for stopping by AVPS. I'll try to post a bit more on what I mean by 'anarchonistic' in this context later - bearing in mind your own injunction that short posts are better!