‘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.
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry