Norman Yoke- Myth or Reality Update

‘Mythology is the loom on which [we] weave the raw materials of daily life into a coherent story.’ David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner (quoted in Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, 2011, Sex at Dawn, New York: Harper Perennial, p.32.)

walterscottnorman

‘O what mighty Delusion, do you, who are the powers of England live in! That while you pretend to throw down that Norman yoke, and Babylonish power, and have promised to make the groaning people of England a Free People; yet you still lift up that Norman yoke, and slavish Tyranny, and in the People as much in bondage, as the Bastard Conquerour himself, and his Councel of War.’ Gerard Winstanley, In The True Levellers Standard Advanced, December 1649.

Over five years I wrote a piece about England and Englishness for the What English Means to Me website. I was pretty upfront about admitting that the idea of a post-1066 ‘Norman Yoke’ being imposed upon England plays a significant part in how I look at Britain and British history. The only major difference in my attitudes since 2008 is that I would be quite happy with a British Confederation rather than out and out English (and Scottish, Welsh etc.) independence- blame the unifying effect of last year’s Olympics for my change of heart!

However, the idea ‘Norman Yoke’ is just a myth, albeit one which for me is a lot more edifying than a lot of myths doing the rounds. Furthermore, a lot of people get the idea of ‘myth’ wrong. To quote Ryan and Jetha:

‘The word myth has been debased and cheapened in modern usage; it’s often used to refer to something false, a lie.  But this use misses the deepest function of myth, which is to lend narrative order to apparently disconnected bits of information, the way constellations group impossibly distant stars into tight, easily recognizable patterns that are simultaneously imaginary and real.’ (ibid, p.32)

It was this idea of myth which informed Plato’s belief in The Republic that the statesman’s task is to ‘offer people good myths and to save them from harmful myths.’ (quoted in Tom Nairn, 1981, The Break-Up of Britain, Second, Expanded Edition, London: Verso, p.266)  People who believe that Actual Existing Capitalism in the US and UK is the ‘free market’, the ex-Soviet Union was under ‘workers’ control’ or the world is run by a Jewish-Masonic Conspiracy are just as bigger believers in myths as anyone who thinks that the ‘Norman Yoke’ has some explanatory value when trying to understand post-1066 British history. Out of those four, I’m pretty sure which myth is least harmful.

Plus, unlike the other 3 myths just cited, the evidence for a post-1066 ‘Norman Yoke’ keeps popping up. For instance this and this. The only caveat I would make is both articles say 1170 was 4 years after the Norman invasion, when it was 104. In 1070 the Normans were still acting like a bunch of war criminals, not least in the North of  England  (‘Half the vills of the North Riding and over one third of those of the East and West ridings [of Yorkshire] were wholly or partially wasted.’ Peter Rex (2004) The English Resistance, Stroud: Tempus, p.106).

normansburnhouse

1066: Normans burn down a house in Pevensey- because they can. Starting as they mean to go on in England….

HARRYING%20OF%20THE%20NORTH%201069

Thinking about the Norman invasion, I was reminded of this, which is even older (June 6th 2006) than my contribution to What England Means to Me. Not much to add, except that The Last English King will probably appeal to anyone who likes The Game of Thrones books (Sean Bean would make a good King Harold if they ever make a film/TV series of it- he has that flawed medieval-era hero down to a tee.)

seanbeanarrows

Uruk-hai arrows, Norman arrows, they’re all the same to me…

I’m just looking for a new England…

lastenglishking

One of the best novels I’ve read in recent years is Julian Rathbone’s The Last English King (originally published in 1997, I have an Abacus 2001 edition). It tells the tale of Walt, the last surviving member of King Harold II’s bodyguard in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman takeover of England. Walt travels towards the Holy Land in the hope of redemption and in the process tells the story of England from the end of Danish rule in the early 1042 until 1066.

bayeuxtapestryharolddeath

Walt, on the left, having the worst day of his life…

It is told in modernish English vernacular, contains some minor but not annoying historical inaccuracies & anachronisms, and contains enough swearing, sex and violence to make it a worthwhile read! However, it is quite clear where Rathbone’s sympathies lie. That is, with the ‘freeborn’ English, not the ‘Norman Yoke; that was imposed upon them after 1066. When I say about one day my writings perhaps helping to create an English Mutualist Party [perhaps I should have deleted that!], Rathbone’s description of pre-1066 English society will have played its part (p.99):

‘…while the country was, yes, an intricate web of interconnections and interdependencies seen both horizontally from farmstead to manor, from village to burgh, from sheep-farmer to fisherman, from charcoal-burner to iron smelter, or vertically from the King to serf, each community accepted responsibility for itself and all its members- the aged, the sick, the women, the children and even the wrongdoers. Step out of line in a way the community felt brought it into disrepute and it could well treat you more harshly than the laws of the land. “There had to be a word to describe this interlocking of self-interest and genuine altruism. The Latin words mutuus and communis suggested themselves. English society could be said to live and act per mutua, mutually: thus Mutual Help was the process by which it all worked.’

Furthermore, Rathbone outside of his fiction has identified ‘two Englands’, whose origins stretch back to the Norman Invasion. The talk below was made a few years ago on behalf of the British Council (the link to his piece seems to have disappeared, so consider this as me saving the late- he died in 2008- Mr Rathbone’s talk from disappearing down The Memory Hole):

I am not a scholar or an academic. I am not a historian, sociologist, ethnologist, anthropologist… or even a cultural critic. I am an undisciplined creative artist, more specifically a writer, a novelist. I am also emotionally if not intellectually, a Romantic – as will become apparent. I’m here because I have written two books that, amongst other things, explore my ideas of Englishness, The Last English King(1997) and Kings of Albion which was published by Little, Brown in May 2000.

A general assertion: a culture is self-perpetuating as long as nothing intervenes to change or destroy it. At a micro-level you can see this in schools where the entire pupil population can change every five years but traditional patterns of behaviour repeat themselves over decades, even centuries without being codified or imposed – the songs sung at the back of the bus that takes teams on trips to away matches, initiation rites, and so on. There’s a PhD thesis waiting to be written about back-of-the-bus subcultures. Therefore my thesis that what is English has its roots in pre-conquest culture, though warped horribly by the Normans, is not vitiated by the thousand years that separates us from that terrible date.

The English. There are two strands in Englishness which I believe achieved a sort of uneasy meld, uneasy because of the basic contradictions between them, by about 1450, and remain dominant right down to present times. They derive from two cultures.

First, the Anglo-Saxon-Danish. The Anglo-Saxons were teutonic, Germanic. When their conquest of what we now call England began they were a split culture – the males were warriors and focussed on their leader or king. Women lived in an almost separate realm where they were powerful and respected. It is arguable that the Freudian conflict between war and work on one side and hearth and sex on the other was not entirely resolved. On the male side at least obedience and loyalty were the most highly-rated virtues.

The Danes, whose more or less assimilated descendants amounted to at least a third of the population by 1066 but had their own traditions and laws, the Danelaw, were also a warrior culture but perhaps based on smaller units whose size was circumscribed by the number of men in a long-boat. They valued individualism and individual feats more then the Anglo-Saxons did, individual pride over-rode a loyalty that could become servile in the Anglo-Saxons.

The political organisations of both retained strong traditions of a democracy an anarchist like Peter Kropotkin would have found congenial. A sort of mutual-aid ran through village-based society, moots or meetings at all levels took decisions after endless discussion, all principal offices including kingship were elective, and so on…

Then came the Normans who were, and are, like their leader, bastards. It is true that they were descended from Norsemen who had arrived in northern France a hundred or so years earlier, but during that hundred years they had lost their language and most of their way of life. If I may interpose a thought here, I think historians generally have failed to make enough of the effects of intermarriage between conquerors and conquered. Conquerors rarely bring their women with them and certainly never enough women. The Danes arrived in England and intermarried into a culture that in many ways was significantly similar to the one they brought with them, and they thus retained much of their own identity. The Normans, from the same roots, arrived in a France where the culture was very different, and within a hundred years no longer lived, nor even looked much like the Norsemen they were descended from.

Following 1066 the Normans imposed a rigid hierarchical, ethnically-based authoritarian bureaucracy on the anarcho-democratic systems they found. They were anal, dull, cruel. They practised ethnic cleansing in the West Country and South Yorkshire, in the latter case reducing a well-populated, prosperous area to what the Doomsday book itself, twenty years later, called a barren wasteland. They did not assimilate. Laws were not written in English until the 1390s, and the first postc-onquest king to speak English easily was Henry V. Imagine Germany had won the last war. It is as if the official language would not revert from German to English until 2,300.

However, the Normans were few in number, not more than 10,000 initially, maybe less, and they brought few women with them. They therefore relied on Anglo-Saxon collaborators to fill the minor posts of government and the lower echelons of the church, and to some extent they interbred – initially by rape.

The result of 1066 is the English: two, possibly three conflicting strands which I believe are with us today and make us what we are. On the one side individuality and the rights of the individual are more highly valued here than almost anywhere else in the world. Most of us object to government, do not respect politicians, hate and fear bureaucratic interference. We are hedonistic, pragmatic, empirical, pluralist, hate dogma. We like a good time. We do not understand spirituality because we reject the duality that is a precondition of the concept of spirituality. We are Roger Bacon, William of Occam, John Wycliffe, Jack Cade, Wat Tyler and the Lollards; Langland, Milton and the Levellers; Blake, Tom Paine and the Chartists; Turner and Darwin. We are lager louts and we hate the French. We are adventurers. We believe a change is as good as a rest.

On the other side we are Normans. We are superior, we rule by right, we obey the rules, though we congratulate each other when we get away with breaking them. We are one of us. We are control freaks. We are bossy. We like systems so long as we are in charge of them. We march, we do not amble, we fire as one and not at will, and we take our hands out of our pockets when we speak to me. We tabulate, order, divide. We are deeply prejudiced (God is an Englishman – a Norman actually) and intolerant.

And worst of all, somewhere in between, we are collaborators- In exchange for security, a certain status, we will keep order for the Normans, we fear change, we are tidy, we clip our hedges, we keep off the grass (pun intended), we do as we’re told.

With these contradictory strands, no wonder we don’t know who we are, but I believe, in spite of 1066, we are at best Vikings with some of the stolidity, reliability, even dullness of the Anglo-Saxons, and, well, pardon my Anglo-Saxon, fuck the Normans and the collaborators. I really do believe that at last, like the House of Lords, they’ve had their day.

Well, the House of Lords is still here…I need to embrace my inner Anglo-Saxon (with some Celtic and Danish attitudes thrown in) a bit more…

Why My Blog Has Gone To Pot…

An Artist's Impression

I’ve been reading a hell of a lot of books in recent months. In alphabetical author order:

Chris Aguirre & Mo Klonksy (1988) As soon as this pub closes…The British Left Explained

Heather Brooke (2007) Your Right to Know: A Citizens Guide to the Freedom of Information Act

Heather Brooke (2011) The Revolution Will Be Digitised: Dispatches from the Information War

Margaret Canovan (1977) GK Chesterton: Radical Populist

Kevin A. Carson (2010) The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low Overhead Manifesto

Gary Chartier & Charles W. Johnson, eds, (2011) Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist anarchism against bosses, inequality, corporate power and structural poverty

Jeffrey D. Clements (2012) Corporations Are Not People

Nigel Copsey (2008) Contemporary British Fascism: The British National Party and the Quest for Legitimacy

Timothy Evans (1996) Conservative Radicalism: A Sociology of Conservative Party Youth Structures and Libertarianism 1970-1992

Belen Fernandez (2011) The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work

Thomas Frank (1997) The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture and the rise of Hip Consumerism

Thomas Frank (2012) Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right

Glenn Greenwald (2011) With Liberty And Justice For Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

David Goodway (2012) Anarchist Seeds beneath the snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward

Richard Griffiths (1983) Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933-39

Christopher Harvie (1995) Fool’s Gold: The Story of North Sea Oil

Tom Hodgkinson (2007) How To Be Free

Richard Ingrams (2005) The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett

Greg Muttitt (2011) Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq

Loretta Napoleoni (2008) Rogue Economics: Capitalism’s New Reality

Loretta Napoleoni (2010) Terrorism and the Economy: How the war on Terror is Bankrupting the World

Loretta Napoleoni (2011) Maonomics: Why Chinese Communists Make Better Capitalists Than We Do

Stephen L. Newman (1984) Liberalism at Wits’ End: The Libertarian Revolt against the Modern State

Carl Oglesby (1977) The Yankee and Cowboy War: Conspiracies From Dallas To Watergate

Greg Palast (2012) Vultures Picnic: A Tale of Oil, High Finance and Investigative Reporting

Brian Pedroche (2011) Do Not Alight Here: Walking London’s Lost Underground and Railway Stations

Ann Pettifor (2006) The Coming First World Debt Crisis

Sonia Purnell (2012) Just Boris: A Tale of Blonde Ambition

David Sirota (2011) Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now- Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha (2011) Sex at Dawn: Why We Mate, Why We Stray and What It Means for Modern Relationships

Matt Taibbi (2011) Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History

Paul Talling (2011) London’s Lost Rivers

Paul Willetts (2005) Fear & Loathing in Fitzrovia: The Bizarre Life of Writer, Actor, Soho Raconteur Julian Maclaren-Ross

A.W. Wright (1979) GDH Cole and Socialist Democracy

…And I still have Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man to tackle!

Reading all this (plus the good stuff on the internet, and the occasional magazine/newspaper article) in recent months has not so much changed my outlook on the world as clarified a few matters and even brought me a bit closer to ‘grand synthesis’ in some areas. I hope to finish off Guy and Herbert in the next couple of weeks before I go off on holiday to Vancouver (again!) for a few weeks. After coming back I want to do some planning about what I’m going to write about next…then I want to seriously knuckle down on the writing front over the winter (which, if the last 12 months has been any guide, will last from early October 2012 through to late May 2013!). Then I will see where I am at…

Ooh me head…

…I’m mulling over a lot in my mind at the moment and I don’t want to drone on at length until I am sure what I want to say. Part of it arises from the last General Election and my sincere wish never to be put in that  situation again. I want to be able to vote for a political party that I can believe in. It will be a while before I can say that about the Lib Dems again! (yes, I still admit I voted for them. I won’t be like the several million people back in the 1980s and early 90s who never admitted they voted Tory between General Elections.)

I am wondering how much of an anarchist I want to be. I have a lot of time for anarchism and anarchists. They are the one political tendency I have real problems finding good arguments to oppose (this goes back 20 years or so, when I used to read Freedom in the University library and mouth ‘Yes, but…’ and quickly ran out of steam when I tried to mouth more). However, although I sometimes call myself a ‘closet anarchist’ I am not yet a total one. I still believe in voting in changing society (or at least as a device to  legitimise change). Anarchism is a great ideal to believe in, but so is Democracy and as things stand at the moment, there are lot worse things out there to confront before proper Anarchists and genuine Democrats have to start slagging each other off bigtime!

So, suffice to say, I am thinking about a lot of serious stuff at the moment. I need to print a fair deal off the Invisible Molotov website and revisit the Center for a Stateless Society one (they are asking for cash at the moment- I wish I could help!). A piece which really addresses the issue of economic democracy and the practicalities of where we go from here can be found at the IWCA website.

So, with all that, plus my Birthday, Xmas and New Year coming up, I cannot guarantee you will get many posts from me, although I hope to put up a few things up around this way to inform and/or amuse you all. I will leave you for the moment, firstly, with the Non-Aggression Principle, as put forward by my Facebook friend Jay Hailey:

No human being has the right — under any circumstances — to initiate force against another human being, nor to advocate, threaten or delegate its initiation.

Secondly, with Robert Dahl from On Democracy (2000: Yale Nota Bene, p,182):

‘..in the older democratic countries some employee-owned firms not only exist but actually flourish. Yet trade union movements, labour parties and workers in general do not seriously advocate an economic order vonsisting predominantly of forms owned and controlled by their employees and workers.’

(Leave it all to Big Business and the Big State instead why don’t we?)

The Flag of Anarcho-Mutualism…

Direct workers’ control of enterprises and the non-aggression principle…now that would be worth getting out of bed to vote for!

Socialism- the s-word…

Just a thought…

I really wish I could be either enthused or appalled by the fact that Ed Miliband is now leader of the Labour Party. I know the ultra-Blairites, with their fellow travellers in the BBC and on the Murdoch Death Star, who rallied around his brother David as the next best thing to The World’s Favourite Money Grabbing War Monger, are shocked that their cunning plan failed (‘if it hadn’t been for you meddlin’ trade unions…’) Best make the best of a bad job chaps… and go and join the Conservative Party- Education Secretary Michael Gove for one seems pretty keen on embracing the Blair Legacy.

Anyway, ‘Red Ed’? Do me a favour! You may have heard the comment that his father Ralph Miliband claimed that socialism could not come through Parliamentary means and his two sons have gone around proving it in practice. Only in a country where most mainstream politicians are in such awe of a handful of  mindlessly Thatcherite newspapers with declining circulations could someone like Ed Miliband be called a ‘Red’.  It is a bit like Business Secretary Vince ‘privatise the Post Office’ Cable being called a ‘Marxist’ for criticising the City of  London. If there is any sort of ‘Marxist’ class war in this country it is the City of London and its patsies in the mainstream media and the main political parties  against the rest of us…

Now if Vince had walked  around the Square Mile with this placard…

Anyway, socialism is a real political swear word isn’t it? Sometimes I try and think if anything has not been tagged with the ‘s-word’ at some point. I realise that for a lot of people, ‘socialism’ is any form of state intervention in the economy. Sometimes this is expanded to include any state intervention in wider social life or state interventions abroad. I then wonder how it got to this. After all, most of the original socialists were often extremely anti-state…

Every couple of years or so I seem to repost this blogpost written in 2006 by Larry Gambone, a Canadian evolutionary anarchist who now lives in Nanaimo (that’s right isn’t it, Larry?), largely as a quick refresher for those who automatically think socialism = the state:

The Myth Of Socialism As Statism [May 6th 2006]

What did the original socialists envision to be the owner and controller of the economy? Did they think it ought to be the state? Did they favor nationalization? Or did they want something else entirely? Let’s have a look, going right back to the late 18th Century, through the 19th and into the 20th, and see what important socialists and socialist organizations thought.

*Thomas Spence – farm land and industry owned by join stock companies, all farmers and workers as voting shareholders.
* St. Simon – a system of voluntary corporations
* Ricardian Socialists – worker coops
* Owen – industrial coops and cooperative intentional communities
* Fourier – the Phlanistery – an intentional community
* Cabet – industry owned by the municipality (‘commune’ in French, hence commune-ism)
* Flora Tristan – worker coops
* Proudhon – worker coops financed by Peoples Bank – a kind of credit union that issued money.
* Greene – mutualist banking system allowing farmers and workers to own means of production.
* Lasalle – worker coops financed by the state – for which he was excoriated by Marx as a ‘state socialist’
* Marx – a ‘national system of cooperative production’

Would that sound better on ‘The Apprentice’ or ‘The Dragon’s Den’, Karl?

* Tucker – mutualist banking system allowing farmers and workers to own means of production.
* Dietzgen – cooperative production
* Knights of Labor – worker coops
* Parsons – workers ownership and control of production
* Vanderveldt – socialist society as a ‘giant cooperative’
* Socialist Labor Party – industry owned and run democratically through the Socialist Industrial Unions
* Socialist Party USA – until late 1920’s emphasized workers control of production.
* CGT France, 1919 Program – mixed economy with large industry owned by stakeholder coops.
* IWW – democratically run through the industrial unions.
* Socialist Party of Canada, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1904-05 program – common ownership, democratically run – both parties, to this very day, bitterly opposed to nationalization.
* SDP – Erfurt Program 1892 – Minimum program includes a mixed economy of state, cooperative and municipal industries. While often considered a state socialist document, in reality it does not give predominance to state ownership.

Well? Where’s the statism? All these socialisms have one thing in common, a desire to create an economy where everyone has a share and a say.

Why The Confusion

The state did play a role in the Marxist parties of the Second International. But its role was not to nationalize industry and create a vast bureaucratic state socialist economy. Put simply, the workers parties were to be elected to the national government, and backed by the trade unions, cooperative movement and other popular organizations, would expropriate the big capitalist enterprises. Three things would then happen:

1. The expropriated enterprises handed over to the workers organizations, coops and municipalities.

2.The army and police disbanded and replaced by worker and municipal militias.

3. Political power decentralized to the cantonal and municipal level and direct democracy and federalism introduced.

These three aspects are the famous ‘withering away of the state’ that Marx and Engels talked about.

The first problem with this scenario was that the workers parties never got a majority in parliament. So they began to water-down their program and adopt a lot of the statist reformism of the liberal reformers. Due to the Iron Law of Oligarchy the parties themselves became sclerotic and conservative. Then WW1 intervened, splitting the workers parties into hostile factions. Finally, under the baleful influence of the Fabians, the Bolsheviks and the ‘success’ of state capitalism in the belligerent nations, the definition of socialism began to change from one of democratic and worker ownership and control to nationalization and statism. The new post-war social democracy began to pretend that state ownership/control was economic democracy since the state was democratic. This, as we see from the list above, was not anything like the economic democracy envisaged by the previous generations of socialists and labor militants.

So there are ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ forms of socialism. I definitely identify with the latter type, while the former attracts the power hungry ‘socialist’, whatever his or her professed stripe (notice how many erstwhile ‘Bennites’ in the Labour Party thirty years ago became evangelicals for ‘Blairism’?). ‘Top-down’ socialists who identify with the Big State are a bit like ‘free marketeers’ who excuse Big Business rather than support independent trades people and the self-employed because, to use Kevin Carson’s mocking phrase, ‘Them pore ole bosses need all the help they can get.’ (Kevin A. Carson Studies in Mutualist Politcal Economyi, p.116)

Of course, to talk about a Non-Statist or Libertarian form of  Socialism throws a lot of people. Well, here another phrase to throw about: ‘market collectivism.’ That is:

a community of producer cooperatives. Each cooperative is owned and run by the workers themselves. Their products are sold on a market. They purchase the required raw materials themselves. There is little or no central planning….a market collectivist society is not capitalist because….workers are self-managed; they do not work under the direct or indirect control of a capitalist. In addition the workers (collectively) own the product of their labour, which they bring to the market for sale.’ Geoff Hodgson The Democratic Economy, p.177.

The nearest to a ‘market collectivist’ economy any of us have seen is Yugoslavia under Tito. Now that eventually collapsed in the wars of the 1990s but how much did market collectivism have to do with it? I suspect the lack of political freedom and the plunging of the whole country into deep debt during the 1970s and 1980s had a much more profound effect in bringing about the death of Yugoslavia.

The main theorist of market collectivism is Jaroslav Vanek. An interview with him from the early 1990s, in which he says why it has been hard for co-operatives to take off in the West, can be found here.

So what is a pore ole Market Collectivist to do? I cannot think of a British political party that is opposed to co-operatives per se. However, are any of them likely to say in the foreseeable future that co-operatives should be the dominant enterprise model for the economy? I doubt it. Even the Co-operative Party is hobbled by its links to the Labour Party. Perhaps one should just keep plugging away and things will change.  It is worth noting that the economic situation in recent years seems to have encouraged the growth of co-operatives in the US. This ‘bottom-up socialism’  is definitely better than the top-down ‘War Socialism’ which is encouraged by the Republican Party in the US:

The U.S. economy increasingly resembles the dual economy of the Soviet Union, with an overfunded military sector and a chronically weak, dysfunctional civilian sector. Like the Soviet Union in its decline, we are bogged down in an unwinnable conflict in Afghanistan. The Soviet system was supported to the end, however, by Soviet military and intelligence personnel and defense factory workers and managers. Their equivalents exist in America. Conservatives are not being irrational, when they ignore the civilian economy while fostering the military economy that provides orders and jobs to many of their constituents. Theirs is the logic of Soviet-style conservatism.

‘Watch what we say, not what we do,’ Richard Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell famously remarked. Out of power, the Republican Party preaches Ron Paul-style libertarianism. In power, the party practices Martin Feldstein-style military Keynesianism and military socialism — and Hank Paulson-style financial sector Keynesianism and socialism.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there. I do not expect to quickly change the minds of those who think socialism must always = the state, but I’ll give it a go!

Update: Suzanne Moore goes down memory lane with Da Brudders:

I have vague recollections of the Milibands thousands of years ago when I worked at Marxism Today. There were many young men around who made the tran­sition from Communist Party backgrounds to New Labour without much trouble. It ­simply required a degree of faith and opportunism.

There is still to be a good book written on how a load of erstwhile self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ (whether from a Communist or Trotskyite background) and/or ‘Hard Left’ activists (Freud would have a field day) ended up supporting the largely pro-City of London/Big Business agenda of New Labour. They took on different ideals and goals but used the similar methods to achieve them. Discuss.

Early August Musings

There are various ways of looking at the world and coming up with pithy slogans to summarise what is going on. I am increasingly of the opinion that the Big State and Big Business are like a pair of  policemen. The problem is that too many people on the so-called ‘Left’ think the Big State is the Good Cop and Big Business the Bad Cop. Too many on the ‘Right’ take the opposite view- Big Business is the Good Cop and the Big State is the Bad Cop.  Too many people in the political ‘Centre’ tend to see both Big Government and Big Business as Good Cops, although both are prone to the occasional ‘excessive’ acts which cause ‘quiet concern’…

These thoughts came to mind on reading the thoughts of David Stockwell , who tried to control the Federal Budget in the early years of the Reagan Administration until the importance of ‘Military Keynesianism’, justified by the ‘Soviet Threat’, to Reagan’s Big Business backers overcame the concerns about debt professed by free marketeers like Stockwell. If Wall Street is ‘a ward’ of the Federal Government, as Stockwell maintains, why should anyone on the ‘Right’ prefer Wall Street to the Government? Similarly, why should anyone on the ‘Left’ prefer the Federal Government (currently teeming with Goldman Sachs alumni) to Wall Street? Surely, at best, we have a ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ scenario, the goodness and badness of each ‘Cop’ is purely in the eye of the ideological beholder.

Over this side of the water, Airstrip One’s state-backed and taxpayer-guaranteed banks are in profit again. Peter Wilby comments:

Is there a word to describe the state we find ourselves in? It isn’t exactly capitalism, as the government is now part-owner of Lloyds and RBS – which seems to give it no powers whatever – and underwriter to other banks, while small businesses are virtually at a standstill because they can’t get bank credit. Nor do we have socialism or even social democracy, though many of us thought these would return after market liberalism was discredited.

Perhaps the word is feudalism. Medieval peasants received protection from their lords in return for a fixed proportion of their produce. That’s roughly the relationship we now have with financial institutions. They provide pensions, insurance, mortgages and so on – providing protection against, for example, accidents or poverty in old age – and they cream off a “tax”, estimated by some analysts at 25 per cent, from all transactions. Governments are largely powerless, as were medieval monarchs against feudal barons.

‘It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.’  -George Carlin.

While it is Happy Days again for Big Finance, the middle classes are getting crushed by those above them. This is happening both in the USA and over here. It would be good to think this will all end in economic and political disaster for those who are currently (re)lording over the rest of us- perhaps it will.

Closer to home, getting in by just 74 votes at the General Election seems to have concentrated the mind of Hampstead and Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson. Unless something dramatic happens (if only!), it looks like a straight Lab-Con contest here comes the next General Election. I doubt whether anyone here would take a ‘Only Lib Dems Can Win Here!’ flyer seriously next time around. In terms of the opinion polls, the Lib Dems are in trouble, although a real internal bust-up is only likely if there should be a ‘No’ vote in the referendum on the Alternative Vote scheduled for May next year. If the Lib Dems cannot achieve the goal of electoral reform (even in the feeble form of AV- which is NOT Proportional Representation) the question of what they are for will be increasingly asked of them.

Talking of opinion polls, the latest evidence does not suggest Call Me Dave’s ‘Big Society’ idea has caught the public imagination. Larry Elliott suggests co-operatives and mutualism could be a way forward towards a Big Society. However, although all three main parties make noises in support of co-ops and mutuals, they only back new enterprises to be co-ops or mutuals. They never suggest replacing the current owners or property relations inside existing enterprises. The idea of  workers owning their own existing enterprises and the management and boards of existing companies being answerable to the people who work there, not to some outside body or bodies, is too much. As a good idea for revitalising the Left though…

I think some of Satan’s Devils probably have the red-hot pokers ready…

I almost choked on my lunch a couple of days back when in the back pages of The Guardian’s G2 section I read ‘To be religiously illiterate is foolish.’ I then saw it was Tony Blair plugging his Faith Foundation. Well, the money-grabbing war-mongering fraud has a book to promote, don’t you know, which is already being plugged bigtime in the US, where I think a lot of Neo-Con Know-Nothings probably think he’s Margaret Thatcher’s son.

For those of you into NuLab memoirs, it is called The Journey, which might be a nod to his Messiah Complex. However, I do not think it is a reference to his post-Prime Ministerial globe-trotting.

I wonder how often Blair’s autobiography will mention his Sedgefield constituency and the Labour Club in Trimdon where he used to have regular photo-ops holding a pint when foreign dignitaries were visiting. It is now closed and up for sale- a metaphor for what TB did to the Labour Party and its supporters? As John Harris argues, only when Labour confronts the legacy of Blairism will it be able to move forward.

I think this was the RCP’s ‘Vote Conservative But Build The Fighting Socialist Alternative’ moment. Although it was no more daft than the SWP’s mid-90s slogan:  ‘Why Won’t Blair Fight The Tories?’ Because he is one, you daft…?

Way back in the 1980s I used to occasionally see in the back pages of The Guardian an advert for a ‘Preparing for Power’ conference in London, illiustrated by a soldier falling after being shot. The meetings were organised by the Revolutionary Communist Party, which as I got older and more politically aware, realised on the whole  put the ‘Arse’ into ‘RCP’. Having said that, I did subscribe in the  early ’90s to their glossy monthly magazine  Living Marxism (which should have renamed itself Loaded Marxism: ‘For Trots Who Should Know Better’) before I got bored with their mindless cheerleading of  the Serbian side in the Bosnian War, support for whale hunting (logic being: the Japanese hunt whales, so you must be a racist to oppose whale hunting. What about Iceland and Norway though? However, putting hype before experience tended to be the LM way) and its general posture of being controversial for its own sake. I think its condoning of Imperial Japanese war atrocities in World War Two led to my final parting of ways with them (its automatically pro-Japanese stance on many issues made me wonder if the whole RCP/LM caper was funded by somebody- or some body- in Tokyo, but there’s no evidence….). Anyway, the RCP is no more. However, many of its former members (inmates?) are still out there, as Jenny Turner discusses.

However, as it is the height of summer I  won’t finish off with politics. That will come and get us all again, whether we like it or not, pretty soon. To be honest,  you  will find a lot more interesting stuff at the new breed of literary event than the average political meeting!