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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.
Corbyn just won a prize for peace activism - so why is the Labour Party still committed to renewing trident? Lily Sheehan investigates.
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
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
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny