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.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
On the Narcissism of Small Differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility