A weak government whose core values are misguided by nostalgia for a lost empire. A popular opposition founded on intellectually and morally credible principles of common wealth. Well, which is the likelier party to succeed?
After the euphoria of victory will come the sobering reality of a truly progressive government facing a commentariat of sceptical liberals and hostile reactionaries. I can see the uncomprehending headlines in the tabloids, and I can hear the quiver of anxiety laced with contempt in the broadcasts.
Supporters of the incoming government will need to remain visible and vocal, maintaining the radical energy within society beyond the conventional political frame. The conversation will be taken away from the coteries of vested interests and into the street democracy of honest ideas freely and imaginatively expressed.
With such support an agenda of comprehensive social change has a chance of succeeding. The moral compass will no longer point towards the District of Columbia whoever presides there. Alliances shall need to be forged with governments that understand the spirit of co-operative enterprise and the need for international peace. Reaction must be exposed as seeking social division in the guise of patriotism or common sense.
Among the sceptics are those who seek absolute victory but who fear absolute defeat.
These extreme positions have no place in the conversation. Anyone who seriously wishes to be included must adopt a model of enquiry and engagement. It may be passionate but it must not be irrational. Embittered refusal to engage will come to seem not principled opposition but cold and reptilian malice. Prejudicial language, finger-wagging arrogance, poisonous gossip and open abuse are scandalously inappropriate to the great task of reconstruction.
At first there will be a revolutionary air when so much will seem within reach.
The self-seeking materialism of a market society will be silenced and, so it will seem, in retreat. The scare tactics employed will backfire in a storm of mockery at the losing side. For a time it will feel as if the process is sure to be irreversible.
Initially the general public may welcome any reasonable alternative to the current mismanagement. They’ll give Jeremy Corbyn a fair hearing. Right-wing vitriol in the darkness of defeat will be held in abeyance, Success for Jeremy Corbyn beyond that honeymoon depends on a number of factors. He has the advantage of being genuinely open to argument on the question of Europe. Leaving the Union but remaining very close is likely to be his best chance. He would have accepted remaining on the basis of remodelling the Union on more socialised lines. He was doubtful, however, of the whole European project from the beginning.
General economic uncertainty and the evident failure of marketization could enable policies of public ownership to succeed by default. Public services, it might be acknowledged, cannot be run for profit. The neglect of public duty results in unmended roads and untended wounds. Falling wages and rising rents impoverish so many. These factors, often hidden behind diversionary news, will emerge to lend support to Labour’s claim on the public attention.
For a while, perhaps a year, the climate of opinion will favour Labour. ‘We’re all Socialists now’ they will say [as if they had said it always] until fairweather friends drift away. The lure of a fashionable cynicism will prove too tempting for some. The task of creating commonwealth asks so much of all of us.
To leave everything to chance is to deny the value of common cause and the public realm. The logic of the market society is for there to be no society. The referred term ‘nation’ seeks justification with reference to tradition. A debased romantic myth replaces what actually exists. What is actually at work is a directionless series of events glorified by the name of individual liberty. It is a liberty without reason or purpose.
A market society’s precept of liberty is essentially selfish. We each of us can manage our lives without reference to a common pool of experience and values.
There is a hierarchy, but at each stage we are responsible for the management of our affairs. To rely on others is a sign of weakness and failure. In a free society each of us is empowered. We float in our personal capsules, aspiring to complete autonomy. We text and tweet without meeting our Facebook ‘friends’. At work we adopt the language of a managerial culture on which ladder we seek to rise.
This is contrary to the biological imperative of association. An organism’s need and purpose is to communicate with other organisms. Social harmony and peace are not utopian dreams: they are nature’s laws of existence and survival. What is not only desirable but perfectly natural is a cohesive society. The arbitrary rule of managerial ‘leadership’ is no substitute for social action responsive to personal and public need.
It is very likely that we have reached, as a country and a continent, a moment of crisis when the social ethic of market freedom has failed not only intellectually and morally but on a practical level. It cannot deliver its promised gifts. It can crush dissent, as Merkel gleefully crushed the Greeks.
It cannot enter into dialogue. Because a common understanding is not even wished for we are a long way from a consensus. The walls that have fallen have been rebuilt higher and stronger.
Hitherto Labour governments in Britain have succeeded only in influencing events. They have gained only a limited role in defining the future of society. They have not provided sufficient mechanisms of root change. We have had liberal reform rather than radical restructuring. Wilson came close but was fatally undermined by powerful and ruthless vested interests.
Creating a coherent framework depends on rapid action before the backlash can gather strength. Effective policies articulated by benevolent discourse can secure the common core of support to withstand the reaction. The backlash will come not from international capital alone but from populist resentment of ‘intellectual privilege’ and ‘foreign intrusions’. Believing they are defending national history, the backlashers will be defending money and power, although the bus stop falangists will have neither.
It would be good to believe that the liberal [or ‘balanced’] media should stand firm against the reaction. Of this we cannot be sure. After the euphoria of victory the future is uncertain.
Measured responses are not what a vengeful reaction wants. The rich and varied history of international Socialism has been diminished and traduced by unconscionable tongues. The remarkable testimonies of resistance and transformation have fallen silent. They are struggling to speak again. It is possible they will be heard, but recidivist tendencies are a perpetual threat.
The indications so far are that any hearing given to the current Labour leadership is at best uncomprehending. Obsessing about the failings of the USSR [and never mentioning anything positive] is more the style. A monotonous litany of prevarications and distortions is the preferred option.
We know what to expect. Everyday acts of resistance shall be as necessary then as they are now. No government can succeed alone. Democracy, the great conversation, requires us to continue speaking. A market society is not the last word except in inscribing its own epitaph. It is neither strong nor stable. A good society is both and so much more.
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This post was written by Geoffrey Heptonstall