Nye Bevan, the driving force behind the creation of the NHS, gave a succinct description of the process now destroying one of the greatest achievements of the Attlee government – indeed, of any Labour government. He declared that: ‘In practice it is impossible for the modern state to maintain an independent control over the decisions of big business. When the state extends its control over big business, big business moves in to control the state.’
While he could not have anticipated the extent to which private companies have moved in to control and profit from the steady destruction of the NHS ), he did show an appreciation, rare among politicians, of the asymmetric power of private business.
It is a power which has grown enormously over the past half century, both pressing for and gaining from the political creation of a deregulated and globalised capitalist economy.
It is vital here to distinguish between capitalist markets and markets more generally. Indeed the economic historian Fernando Braudel referred to capitalist markets as ‘anti-market’, because of their secrecy, and their predatory drive to accumulate partly through eliminating and taking over competitors.
The problem is that the ‘naturalisation’ of the capitalist market – the uncritical acceptance of ‘the free market’ and the idea that there are unavoidable ‘imperatives’ of globalisation – has elided this distinction. It has created the impression that we face ebbs and flows as unstoppable as the ocean when in fact we face institutions driven by power struggles and flawed human decision-making, legitimately open to challenge.
Our political institutions, meanwhile, have allowed themselves to be effectively occupied, or more accurately warrened-because half of the process has not been visible from the surface-by these anti-market (and anti-public) institutions.
The result has been a lethal gulf between parliamentary politics, where the growth of economic power is hardly debated – beyond one-off scandals – and people’s daily lives, where the opaque, unaccountable pressure of corporate power is pervasive: at work (or out of work), as service users, consumers and debtors, and as pensioners. This induces a feeling of powerlessness and lowers expectations of change.
A fatal problem with New Labour – now questioned by thoughtful Labour party members such as John Denham – was that its strategy of encouraging the capitalist market with the aim of redistributing some of the results treated private corporations as ‘wealth creators’ rather than as concentrations of power. This includes power over the workers who create the wealth pocketed or controlled by the shareholders.
Corporate power has grown as regulation has receded, so that most markets are now controlled by three or four companies whose assets dwarf those of many nation states. The outsourcing of public services has played a major part in this growth of private economic power.
Serco and Capita are two examples of companies who have been propelled into the FTSE 100 on the back of public contracts. In the process, they have become political players, not simply lobbying for contracts but influencing supposedly public policy.
When Nye Bevan first became an MP in the 1930s, he described parliament as ‘a sword pointed the heart of private property’. The last 30 years have seen the executive, first under Thatcher, then under Blair, allowing private companies to thrust a sword into the heart of public property.
Cameron is now finally trying finally to destroy the public hands that could seize it back.
Public power cannot be rebuilt through the parliamentary institutions that so beguiled Nye Bevan. Rebuilding public and social power requires new strategies at every level of society, including state institutions.
An experience such as Bolivia (see issue page 28), however distant from our own, indicates the importance of politicians seeing themselves as empowering social movements, internationally as well as locally. And, in a more ambiguous way, Brazil (page 25) points to spaces for challenging the US-dominated power of the global market.
Resistance to the cuts can simultaneously build the power to improve public services, even bringing them back into public ownership, as has happened in Germany and Norway. The movements for free culture, open access to knowledge and expansion of the digital commons is producing a new imaginary around the centrality of common goods and infrastructure that can spread beyond the digital world (see issue page 44).
In all these ways, and through intensive exposure and education, we must bring the concentrations of anti-democratic economic power to the centre of political struggle.
Apart from anything else, in age where people aspire to autonomy and democratic control, it is the way to turn the tables on Cameron. It is essential to an effective strategy to save and update the legacy of Nye Bevan.
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
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