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Watch Question Time – or any TV programme where politicians are on display – and it’s clear that our cover theme, turning David Cameron’s ‘we can’t go on like this’ back on him and all the main parties, sums up a popular mood. Disillusionment with politicians has fed into a deepening anger at the way in which the political establishment have been subservient to the filthy rich, from the unconditional and unaccountable bail-out of the bankers to Lord Ashcroft’s private tax wheeze.
Underlying this behaviour is the long-term tendency towards Britain becoming a casino state – with some of the participants betting on its collapse.
The dependence of the British economy on the prosperity of the financial sector is extreme, built up over decades. Harold Wilson’s deference to the pound in the 1960s kyboshed the opportunity to invest in a major restructuring of the economy with the revenue from North Sea oil. Thatcher’s attack on trade union power, destruction of manufacturing and, above all, her deregulation of finance, fed the international power of the City.
Finance capital grew, from being a dominant power in a bargaining process that also included manufacturing industry and the unions, to becoming the prime driver of the economy and the state. This has skewed government policy – whichever political party is in office – against taxing the rich and capital gains, towards intensifying the Atlantic alliance and favouring investments supporting the infrastructure of the financial sector. This includes, most recently, the investment in Heathrow’s expansion, and now public spending cuts, reducing public debate to a matter of ‘when’?
The cuts are not primarily about covering the cost of the bank bail-out. They are to pay for the loss of revenue from a crisis-ridden financial sector on which the government has become massively dependent. In fact, a rush to cut will simply lock the economy into this dependence and prepare the way for a further crisis and a spiral of decline.
What is needed is action to direct the formally public banks to fund investment in the real economy – generating revenue which will eventually, with redistributive taxation, not only cover the deficit but also address its cause. There’s no lack of possibilities and needs if we look beyond Canary Wharf: public investment in developing regional economies, including the growing social economy, supporting green restructuring, extending access to information technology to the whole population and more.
The jaded figures on our cover share a taboo on state action to counter the damaging dynamics of the capitalist market. Still in thrall to neoliberal nostrums, they compete to dismantle the state as a provider of services, leaving its function as primarily a prop to private capital. This denial of political agency creates the impression that the City has been hit by a tsunami – that ‘the markets’ are equivalent to ocean waves and we must all make sacrifices in the face of an unavoidable disaster.
To counter this, our aim must be to rebuild democratic – state and non-state – bargaining power in the face of entirely human-made powers. We need to call the bluff of the institutions that are hidden behind the market mystique and that are effectively betting on the futures of millions of people.
This isn’t about rebuilding the nation state as we have known it. It’s about intellectual work like that of Mary Mellor (page 40) to develop a vision of embedded public institutions drawing on recent thinking about the commons and participatory democracy. It’s about starting from and interconnecting the new or hybrid sources of non-state democratic power that so many of us are involved in. We need to link up innovative trade union and community initiatives and alliances, like the campaign for a “Robin Hood tax” on speculation now gaining a mass following (see page 30) and web communities like those that, 40 years from the founding of the women’s liberation movement, are reclaiming an activist feminism.
And we must find ways of up-scaling all this into an internationally oriented movement, directly concerned with social control over the economy.
In this context, the election campaigns of inspiring left wing candidates like Caroline Lucas and Salma Yaqoob (page 16) are as important in their capacity to develop voters’ confidence to speak out and get organised as to win votes. Vital too are campaigns (page 14) that are using the election to build clarity and support for the struggles that will be necessary from the morning after polling day, whoever wins.
‘We can’t go on like this’ is not a call to arms, as if the line of march is already mapped and the generals in place. On the contrary, it’s an insistence that we act on our contempt for the political elites by realising our own capacities, with the latest means of communication, as potential creators of new institutions and new political projects. We can recombine the useful of the old with the possibilities being opened up by the new, so that we truly no longer should carry on like this.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
How can the heavily-armed Israeli state claim to be victimised by one teenage activist? By Richard Seymour.
Governments are manufacturing a new 'enemy within', write Yasser Louati and Malia Bouattia
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism