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‘To inherit a government,’ wrote Tom Paine in Rights of Man, ‘is to inherit the people, as if they were flocks and herds.’ Paine was referring to the evils of hereditary succession, but the remark seems apt with David Cameron expecting to be handed power by default. Our political system means that – whichever party ultimately triumphs – they will be inheriting an existing architecture of power that constitutes their room for manoeuvre.
This is not to say that the results of general elections are of no consequence: the Tories would surely have less compunction in attacking the most vulnerable. But elections are not in themselves sufficient vehicles for exercising popular sovereignty.
Every party is now promising serious cuts to public spending in order, they argue, to ‘fix the budget deficit’. It is clear that the room for political manoeuvre is strictly limited. But where is the public clamour for cuts? Our views apparently count for rather less in this ‘democracy’ than the non-negotiable demands of the international bond market and the credit rating authorities.
The power of the financial markets is a prime example of the arbitrary and unaccountable power that overrides our capacity to determine social and economic priorities democratically. But our political leaders might be discomfited to find that the public is in no mood for passive acquiescence. In a foretaste of what could be heading our way, Ireland has already been rocked by protests at a budget package that slashed the pay of public sector workers and cut back on welfare payments to vulnerable groups. Similarly, the public’s support for the action taken by striking refuse collectors in Leeds is indicative of the potential for a fightback in Britain against draconian cuts.
And yet, despite such evidence of popular resistance, the media continues to reinforce the view that cuts are ‘inevitable’. As Natalie Fenton and Jeremy Dear make clear in this issue, commercial pressures on staffing mean that journalists are increasingly constrained in their ability to canvass opinions beyond the elite, allowing this false picture to go unchallenged.
Meanwhile, the trade unions themselves often lack proper democratic accountability and their leaders can act as a barrier to the expression of opinion at the grassroots, as Irish Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins testifies in relation to role of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). Outside the labour movement, the ‘right’ to political protest is being curtailed as the state uses anti-terror legislation and covert surveillance to harass nonviolent protesters. The situation we are in seems a million miles from Paine’s revolutionary vision of a democratic society in which power ultimately rests in the hands of the people.
To evoke Paine is no mere romantic affectation. His ideas, forged in a historical context of tumultuous popular struggle, can still inform very practical efforts to empower communities and allow people collectively to influence the decisions that impact on their lives. In the wake of both the Soviet era’s bureaucratic distortions of ‘socialism’ and the rampant power of capital under neoliberalism, it should be no surprise that republican ideals are again being revisited by thinkers on the left. As Stuart White argues in this issue’s essay, republican thought offers a cogent model of popular sovereignty based on an active conception of citizenship, underpinned by a strong notion of liberty and economic equality.
This framework of themes can be a useful guide towards rethinking the basis of existing structures of power. For example, if we are to do more than patch up the financial system so that it can resume ‘business as usual’, it is incumbent on those striving for a world organised to meet social need rather than private greed to begin developing practical alternative models for banking and investment.
We are already witnessing campaigns demanding that banks wholly or largely owned by the taxpayer – such as Northern Rock and RBS – develop models of investment that are responsive to the needs of the community rather than the whims of the market.
And beyond calls for action around specific institutions, there is a growing need to think about how the financial sector as a whole should be transformed under democratic public ownership and control. To this end Molly Scott Cato considers how banks could operate on a model conducive to ecological sustainability, while Costas Lapavitsas explores the possibility of transparent and accountable public banks.
In developing an alternative political economy based on egalitarianism and accountability, ideas from the republican tradition, such as the right to a guaranteed basic income, could become important political demands. David Cameron and the Tories take note: the days when democratic engagement meant voting once every four or five years are long gone. We aren’t flocks or herds and will refuse to be treated by the political class as if we are.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
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
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
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