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Watch Question Time – or any TV programme where politicians are on display – and it’s clear that our cover theme, turning David Cameron’s ‘we can’t go on like this’ back on him and all the main parties, sums up a popular mood. Disillusionment with politicians has fed into a deepening anger at the way in which the political establishment have been subservient to the filthy rich, from the unconditional and unaccountable bail-out of the bankers to Lord Ashcroft’s private tax wheeze.
Underlying this behaviour is the long-term tendency towards Britain becoming a casino state – with some of the participants betting on its collapse.
The dependence of the British economy on the prosperity of the financial sector is extreme, built up over decades. Harold Wilson’s deference to the pound in the 1960s kyboshed the opportunity to invest in a major restructuring of the economy with the revenue from North Sea oil. Thatcher’s attack on trade union power, destruction of manufacturing and, above all, her deregulation of finance, fed the international power of the City.
Finance capital grew, from being a dominant power in a bargaining process that also included manufacturing industry and the unions, to becoming the prime driver of the economy and the state. This has skewed government policy – whichever political party is in office – against taxing the rich and capital gains, towards intensifying the Atlantic alliance and favouring investments supporting the infrastructure of the financial sector. This includes, most recently, the investment in Heathrow’s expansion, and now public spending cuts, reducing public debate to a matter of ‘when’?
The cuts are not primarily about covering the cost of the bank bail-out. They are to pay for the loss of revenue from a crisis-ridden financial sector on which the government has become massively dependent. In fact, a rush to cut will simply lock the economy into this dependence and prepare the way for a further crisis and a spiral of decline.
What is needed is action to direct the formally public banks to fund investment in the real economy – generating revenue which will eventually, with redistributive taxation, not only cover the deficit but also address its cause. There’s no lack of possibilities and needs if we look beyond Canary Wharf: public investment in developing regional economies, including the growing social economy, supporting green restructuring, extending access to information technology to the whole population and more.
The jaded figures on our cover share a taboo on state action to counter the damaging dynamics of the capitalist market. Still in thrall to neoliberal nostrums, they compete to dismantle the state as a provider of services, leaving its function as primarily a prop to private capital. This denial of political agency creates the impression that the City has been hit by a tsunami – that ‘the markets’ are equivalent to ocean waves and we must all make sacrifices in the face of an unavoidable disaster.
To counter this, our aim must be to rebuild democratic – state and non-state – bargaining power in the face of entirely human-made powers. We need to call the bluff of the institutions that are hidden behind the market mystique and that are effectively betting on the futures of millions of people.
This isn’t about rebuilding the nation state as we have known it. It’s about intellectual work like that of Mary Mellor (page 40) to develop a vision of embedded public institutions drawing on recent thinking about the commons and participatory democracy. It’s about starting from and interconnecting the new or hybrid sources of non-state democratic power that so many of us are involved in. We need to link up innovative trade union and community initiatives and alliances, like the campaign for a “Robin Hood tax” on speculation now gaining a mass following (see page 30) and web communities like those that, 40 years from the founding of the women’s liberation movement, are reclaiming an activist feminism.
And we must find ways of up-scaling all this into an internationally oriented movement, directly concerned with social control over the economy.
In this context, the election campaigns of inspiring left wing candidates like Caroline Lucas and Salma Yaqoob (page 16) are as important in their capacity to develop voters’ confidence to speak out and get organised as to win votes. Vital too are campaigns (page 14) that are using the election to build clarity and support for the struggles that will be necessary from the morning after polling day, whoever wins.
‘We can’t go on like this’ is not a call to arms, as if the line of march is already mapped and the generals in place. On the contrary, it’s an insistence that we act on our contempt for the political elites by realising our own capacities, with the latest means of communication, as potential creators of new institutions and new political projects. We can recombine the useful of the old with the possibilities being opened up by the new, so that we truly no longer should carry on like this.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun