Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Every crisis is an opportunity

There is an urgent need for new ideas that challenge the technocrats, writes Andy Bowman

February 8, 2012
5 min read

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.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

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

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite