I spent the train journey down to London this morning reading the first chapters of Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’, a master-work that was republished for the 60th anniversary of the NHS in 2008. Bevan is known as the father of the NHS, but his passion and vision extended much further, to a genuinely free, just and decent society. Given Bevan’s background – he was a miner’s son in Wales who started working in the pits himself at the age of 14, and lived in a society almost entirely without meaningful safety-nets for those who couldn’t fend for themselves – the breadth and depth of his vision are astonishing.
In honour of him and his legacy of big thinking, I’m going to let myself be a little bit visionary in this post, to look ahead to the horizon and to a reality that doesn’t exist yet but that can. What I’ll write here will hopefully reflect the thinking and aspiration that underlies what I usually write in more pragmatic and immediate terms. After all, we live in the social media age where ideas can spread like wildfire and change everything.
But because we need to be grounded and realistic as well, I’m going to touch on the ‘big idea’ while looking in more depth at the scale of the task we face – and the likely battle to take place before the great aim can be realised and stabilised.
And hopefully, in the process, I’ll impart a bit of hope rather than looking a complete, pretentious plonker!
As someone who advocates, and passionately believes, that we are not stuck at the ‘end of economic history’ (as right-wingers including David Cameron have stated with such hubris) and that there are viable alternative ways to construct a strong, successful economy and which do not require ‘planned misery‘ for the many in order to secure prosperity for a few, I believe that we need to approach the task of switching to this better way – and its consequences – with open eyes and resolute hearts. Why? Because we’re in a war of ideas, and the current incumbent of the dominant position isn’t going to relinquish it without a fight.
As the Labour conference continues in Manchester, I’ve already written about how I believe Ed Balls is wrong to accept the Tory premise of supposedly unsustainable spending; of ‘structural deficit‘ – a meaningless term that is useful in reinforcing the propaganda-induced public readiness to accept cuts that the Tories want to make for reasons that are entirely to do with ideology rather than practical necessity; wrong to agree to fight on a Tory-defined battlefield instead of drawing up his lines on a properly-described field of clear understanding of right-wing ‘disaster capitalism’ that exploits and even creates ‘crisis‘ in order to persuade the shocked masses to accept measures that would never be tolerated by an unshocked, clear-thinking people.
I believe he’s wrong – but I understand his logic to a degree. The beneficiaries and acolytes of vulture capitalism are not going to let anyone drive them away from the carcass of decent society on which they feast without a fight. To make a departure from that system in the first place will require massive political vision and will, and much more so to ‘make it stick’ and to win the fight that will follow. So maybe it seems easier and more practicable in the short term to try to present Labour as the most credible cutter. But it’s not how to win the battle that really matters, nor how to achieve a lasting improvement in the lives of the vast majority of people.
If we want to bring life and health back to our social structures that have been hacked at and bled for the enrichment of a few, we need a clear-eyed, cool-headed, stout-hearted recognition of the scale of the task – and of the kind of tactics that our adversaries will use to try to strangle any genuine, decency-led recovery at birth. And we need an obstinate refusal to bow to the pressure that will be applied to try to bring us back to the docile orthodoxy of the prevailing world-view: ‘this is just how it is.’
So, let’s let our imaginations free for a moment. Picture a time – perhaps not too many years into the future – in which a socially-responsible political party or group, led by a woman or man with vision and heart, succeeds in persuading the British people that there is a better way, that there are options and alternatives to build a decent, thriving society that is genuinely civilised because it takes full care of its elderly, its young, its vulnerable, its sick, its disabled citizens. How might the vultures – who will still run most of the rest of the world under a neoliberal, globalised system – fight back?
Just as orthodoxy is currently maintained and advanced by means of manipulation of information and opinion by the media in ways that are overwhelming, or subtle, or both as required, so the retaliation would be borne in on the back of constant, multi-faceted media attempts to control, colour, slant and distort information reaching the populace. We’re seeing it already in the case of France, where François Hollande’s steps toward implementing the promises on which he was elected – including a 75% top rate of income tax for very high earners – are being greeted by supposedly objective analyses of likely outcomes: the fleeing rich, the collapse of inward investment and business confidence, uncontrollable social spending, as well as being characterised as unrealistic, wishful, even suicidal, thinking in the face of the supposedly unchangeable reality of a ‘globalised economy’.
In the UK, Tories already constantly repeat the mantra that the rich (who are always implied to be the only ones capable of ‘creating wealth’, even though the reality is that the wealth they increase is primarily their own) will flee the country if we ‘overtax’ them (that is, if we expect them to pay their way according to their ability to do so).
If the UK unifies in order to enforce the expectation that the rich will pay properly for the privilege of living in a secure, stable, decent society, the media will mount a massive campaign to hammer home the idea that such actions are unsustainable, reckless, selfish and that they demonstrate (as they always say about perfectly rational industrial action) that those involved ‘only care about themselves’ and not about the ‘good of the country as a whole’ (though how fighting for the good of the 99% isn’t good for the country when maintaining a system that mostly only benefits the 1% is, is never touched on).
If we’re to hold to a true course and steer the country to a genuinely better place, we need a widespread public recognition of media tactics – we need to educate people diligently to be aware that what they see in newspapers and on a TV screen is often anything but neutral, disinterested and factual. In a society where many people are conditioned to exist for their next fix of ‘The X Factor’ and its like, this isn’t going to be easy – but it is essential.
Although the facts are little known to any who haven’t specifically sought them out, as they are either never mentioned in the media or else are presented in such a sanitised fashion that the real lessons can’t be seen, the last 40 years or so are full of examples of countries that have tried – and often succeeded – in building a society on decency and care for all. Where supporting a right-wing coup has not been considered feasible, those countries have been encircled and attacked by financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, and by ‘the markets’, in order to break the will of governments and bring them to heel.
Poland, Bolivia, South Africa and others have all been brought to their knees and then forced to accept ‘reforms’ that involved massive reductions in wages, job security and standards of living, cheap sell-offs of nationalised industries and the removal of currency controls and tariffs on businesses wishing to invest in, and profit from, the opportunities their populations and resources presented. The weapons used to achieve this include:
- withholding credit
- deliberately undermining currenciesand even
- inventing fictitious reports of financial instabilityAll of these measures are designed to reinforce and support the idea that the only viable economic system is the status quo, and that any country who departs from it is dooming itself to disaster – even though the reality is that the consequences are imposed punitively rather than being an inevitable consequence of the departure.
Countries who persist in following a course that is aimed at protecting their own national interest and the welfare of their people, may then be isolated – quarantined politically and economically, in effect. Cuba and Venezuela are two examples, where most trade and interchange is cut off and their leaders are ridiculed and vilified to a world that knows little about the reality.
It may be that if you’ve read this far, you’re daunted – even frightened – by the potential consequences of daring to stand up to the prevailing world system. That’s an entirely rational response. Who wants to pick a fight that is going to be so hard, so painful?
The answer to that question lies in understanding the present reality and the consequences of not fighting. The current system can legitimately be compared to a malignant cancer – one that starts quietly and has spread far before its host becomes aware of its existence, let alone of the extent of the spread of the disease.
Nobody wants to have cancer. It’s easy to let denial rule our thinking so that we don’t have to face reality. But if we persist in that, we’re dead – and we become just another carcass for the vultures to fatten themselves on.
Once we realise we have the disease, we face a stark but simple choice: fight it or surrender and let it kill us. While on an individual level, we might prefer to enjoy life for as long as we can and then die, when we face a social cancer like the one that currently permeates the whole world system, we don’t have that ‘luxury’. This is a disease that will eat not just us but our children and theirs for generations – unless enough of us decide the end result is worth the pain of the fight in the short term, and we cut it out.
I don’t think the fight is hopeless. I don’t think its unwinnable. I believe the seeds of the defeat of the current system are present in its very essence: its greed.
As long as it can rule the world and suck the marrow from the bones of our societies, it will do so. But if one or two countries set examples that others dare to follow, it won’t take too long before the capitalists capitulate. If we and others stand up, refuse to lie down in defeat and grit our teeth through the initial resistance, the vultures – whose unity lies only in perceived profit for themselves – will break ranks.
Seeing some companies – either new ones rising to fill the vacuum or members of the cartel that waver and are overcome by desire to exploit the opportunities that exist within countries of multiple millions of people – starting to profit by working with those brave countries on terms that their people will accept, the solidarity of avarice will crumble and a new form of capitalism will be born by default: one that is ready to work with countries for mutual benefit rather than latching on as a parasite to suck them dry and move on.
No matter what the threats of the doomsayers (who are part of the system that parasitises the world now), the truth is this: we are many more than they are – and they need us more than we need them. If we unite and are resolute, in the end they have no choice but to work with us on our terms if they want to make their profits and not have their wealth become a festering irrelevance.
The fight can be won, the system can be changed. It won’t be easy, or pleasant, or the work of a week or two – but it’s ‘fight or die’. Our society now and our descendants are depending on us to recognise the disease and do something about it.
I’m up for the fight. Nye Bevan definitely would be. Are you?