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.
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
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
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