Goodbye, 2011 – we will miss you. An upsurge of popular protest against our dysfunctional economic system finally arrived, Western-backed dictatorships in the Arab world were toppled, and social movements began to take on innovative, unfamiliar forms.
One person who will be trying to banish the memories of 2011, though, is Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls. Less than a year after he joined the TUC’s March for the Alternative to say ‘there is an alternative to these cuts’, his first major intervention of 2012 was to announce that ‘we are going to have keep all these cuts’.
The nuances of Balls’ speech, delivered to the Fabian Society on January 14, suggest this is not quite the 180-degree reversal in approach that delighted commentators on the right suggest. What it certainly does represent, however, is a continuation of the slide into a post-political consensus in the UK’s parliamentary politics. In the ever‑shrinking centre-ground that the three major parties inhabit, differences of opinion over fundamental issues are sidelined for an image-based popularity contest in which winning power is an end in itself. And in pursuit of victory in this contest, as evidenced by its refusal to support the pension strike, Labour is willing to trample upon its support base in pursuit of the elusive centre-right floating voter. Miliband’s Labour turns out not so different from New Labour after all.
Labour’s vacillations over the cuts are an exemplar of the deeper crisis of social democratic parties across Europe. If there was any doubt over the matter before, it seems certain now that significant progressive change will continue to be driven by movements outside the formal political process. This issue of Red Pepper contains several critical reflections on the successes, failures, challenges and opportunities in this arena. These range from a discussion of the historical lessons for the Occupy movement and an analysis of the relation between leaderships and grassroots members in trade union mobilisations for N30, to a look at the student movement’s ability to bypass conventional union structures altogether.
Paul Mason outlines the extent to which horizontal forms of political organisation combined with new communication technologies have created protests that repressive regimes find hard to contain, and that also, as he puts it, have a ‘congruence with the human values of the generation’ in a way that increasingly tired traditional left organisations do not. In the surreal contest between Ed Miliband and David Cameron to offer condemnation of ‘predatory’ or ‘crony’ capitalism, or the Economist’s plea to ‘Save the City’ as ‘even the bankers’ supposed allies are putting the boot in’, one can read the far-reaching impacts that the likes of UK Uncut and Occupy are now beginning to have.
There are grounds for caution as well as optimism though. As our essay by Adam Leaver outlines, the past three years have seen the entrenchment of a coalition of big banks, leading politicians and civil servants within the most powerful organs of the British state, which has successfully blocked financial reform. The democratic disconnects hereby created will be hard to overcome. Additionally, as Nina Power’s sobering analysis of the legal system’s crackdown on student protests and Mika Minio-Paluello’s report from Cairo remind us, successful movements usually encounter repression.
The EU’s lurch towards technocracy exemplifies the regressive direction in which official politics may be heading as political elites seek to contain the discontent caused by imposed austerity. There is an urgent need for new ideas that challenge the technocrats’ neoliberal programme, which threatens to undo the social gains of the past half century and erode the basis of mass democracy itself.
This issue seeks to provide a space for discussion of some of the alternative proposals for a route out of the EU’s current crisis, in the hope that we might ‘keep good ideas alive until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable’.
The quote is borrowed from Milton Friedman, who endured decades in the political wilderness during the Bretton Woods era of state capitalism. The coalition of interests that the likes of Friedman provided the intellectual foundations for, later subsumed under the label ‘neoliberalism’, was well placed to take advantage of the collapse of the post-war economic order in the 1970s.
At the time of writing, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s has, ironically, issued a stark warning over the shortcomings of Europe’s austerity obsession via a rating downgrade of France and Austria. Ernst & Young economists have announced that Britain is back in a double-dip recession and that unemployment will rise to three million in 2012.
As Friedman was fond of saying, every crisis is an opportunity. And as the failures of neoliberal doctrine proffered by both the EU technocrats and the UK’s coalition become more apparent, the space for alternatives is opening further.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
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
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
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
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
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 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
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope