Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Centre Stirs...

David Marquand:
I'm worried, not because the Government is departing from New Labour's legacy, but because it's sticking to it. Here, I believe, both Government and Opposition are engaged in a phony war. Despite all the furious charges and counter-charges that echo through the Westminster air, they are both on the same side. They both want to return to business as usual as quickly as they can. They disagree furiously about the route, but they agree about the destination. They want to get back to the sunlit uplands of ever-rising material prosperity, fuelling and fuelled by ever-rising consumption, both public and private. Both are dominated by short-term policy wonkery. Neither seems to have grasped the need for a new politico-economic paradigm, post-Keynesian, post-socialist, post-Thatcherite, post-national and above all post-affluence. I don't carry such a paradigm in my knapsack, I hasten to add. But I feel in my bones that this is what used to be called the left should now be working on.
Now, ignoring for a moment the rather impressive number of usages of the prefix 'post' in that, er, post, isn't this interesting? We have the primary academic representative of the line that runs from Crosland to New Labour (via the SDP) saying the game is now up, and the current froth of politics represents little more than a churning of outdated verities.

I think he's right. I just don't think that prefixing the word 'post' before every previous paradigm is particularly helpful. Challenging the inherited meaning of 'affluence', for instance, seems to me to be pretty vital - re-defining it as meaning something different: an 'affluence' of equality, resource sustainability and greenery springs to mind as the objective. &, of course, I'm not willing to concede we're in a world that is, by definition, post socialist.

Famously - and I can recall getting a lot of stick for this 25 years ago - Marquand, despite being then in the SDP, wrote regularly for Marxism Today. Quite who was trying to exercise hegemony over whom might still provoke a pub argument or two with friends to my Left. But if the would-be generals of the -so far - imaginary armies that are supposed to resist the coming cuts are to put flesh on their 'strategic' posturings, they must find a language which calls people who conceive of themselves as 'centrist' to the banner, as well as the thin ranks of the more committed Left. So it is always worth maintaining that dialogue with people like Marquand in my view.

3 comments:

  1. I don't have any interest in dialogue with an ideologue like Marquand, but you are right that a left strategy has to be able to win over the social strata of which he is a part i.e. the Middle Classes, whereas the Left has generally - probably a bit of hair-shirt wearing given the social origins of most of that Left - saved most of its ire for that Middle Class - calls for high rates of Income Tax and so on - rather than focussing on Capital as the real enemy.

    I think he has a point about realistic views about economic prospects, as I've said myself. But, let's not get carried away here. There has been a seismic shift in economic power Eastwards, and economic reality says westrern workers living standards are going to fall relatively as a result, and probably absolutely for a period. But, even if the illiterate economics of the Liberal-Tories (incidentally I recall that in the 1970's the CP was also in a bloc with them in the Student Movement, and looked what happened to them) and their co-thinkers on the populist Right in Europe, leads to a Depression (I think unlikely but a serious recession now looks likely) it is in the context of a rapidly growing global Capitalism that is exhibiting a dynamism unseen before. A serious recession, and certainly a Depression in Western Europe, would have the effect of resolving the contradictions of that changed situation quickly rather than it being drawn out. The consequence would be much lower living standards in the West, and a resultant competitiveness against the east. It would mean decrepit Capital cleared out, and the way opened for more dynamic Capital. It would mean much higher rates of profit, and a more accelerated accumulation of Capital. That in the context of a still rapidly growing world economy, would be a powerful force.

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