In 1948 Anuerin Bevan (the son of a Welsh coalminer and Labour MP who founded the NHS) made a speech in Parliament which started “No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin”. As the Conservative Party Conference creaks on, #lowerthanvermin is making the rounds on Twitter, as true as it was 64 years ago when Bevan first created the hashtag. I don’t know if it’s a pleasing historical continuity or just a sign of how far we haven’t come. As well as outlining plans to cut welfare by £10bn, demonising the unemployed during a recession exacerbated by the Government’s own economic policies and having a large number of their members protesting against gay marriage (LOWER! THAN! VERMIN!), George Osborne unveiled another big idea.
It is a plan that workers receive shares in return for giving up some of their rights. This situation is less like being unable to distinguish between The Thick of It and the actual Government, and more like being unable to distinguish between the Guardian and the Daily Mash. Obviously, £100m spent on a scheme to give tax breaks to shareholders of small businesses is very much part of the Tory property-owning dream. The money would be better spent on Sure Start centres or bursaries for low-income students or investing in green energy. But whatever. It won’t help with deficit reduction, but then again we all know that “deficit reduction” is a vehicle for reducing the size of the state, and ensuring workers’ rights are upheld is clearly a part of the state Osborne would like to see trimmed.
It’s not the worst idea in the world until you get to the part that says people will be able to purchase these shares in exchange for giving up their workers’ rights. Like their right to unfair dismissal. Like their rights to request flexible working hours. Like certain aspects of the right to maternity leave. I don’t think it would be possible to conceive of a single policy more illustrative of the conservative mindset. It simultaneously aims to puts a price on the rights that people have fought for for centuries, and then puts a false tension between possible material benefit for oneself and one’s support of universal human rights. I mean, surely Osborne could just spend £100m on giving out these tax breaks if he wanted to? But his borderline sadistic political mindset sees a Government doing something beneficial for a population presumably as akin to having a Nanny State . I mean, what if people just bought these shares and benefited from them?! They might get a taste for voting for Governments which proposed redistributive measures to improve their lives, and then where would we be? STUCK IN A CYCLE OF SLAVISH STATE DEPENDENCY.
The idea that workers’ rights are in some kind of opposition to the concept of employee-owned shares is a false dichotomy. I am all for employees having a share in their business, but then that’s because I’m a Marxist who sees capitalism as inherently exploitative. For the same reason, workers’ rights are a good thing. For most people, more universal rights are synonymous with them (as the Tories put it) “getting on in life”. This is only untrue for a tiny minority at the top who profit from lax workers’ rights, and as usual, the Tories are conflating the interests of the 1% with the interests of the population as a whole. It’s also classist dogwhistling of the most tiresome sort, dividing the country into the sort of (entrepreneurial) types who want to own shares in a company and the (lazy) ones who think workers’ rights are important. The Conservative party conference has been doing this over and over again – not content with painting the unemployed as people living a life of total luxury on £50 per week through sheer fecklessness, they are now trying to portray working people who want to keep their rights as in opposition to responsible shareholders. I know, I know, The Pope is a Catholic, bears shit in the woods and Tories try and sell their policies through divisive, classist rhetoric.
They just don’t get that people may support universal rights for reasons bigger and more profound than the capital those rights may allow them to accrue. Unable to conceive of anyone holding motivations larger than their own self interest, this is an ideological move to undermine the solidarity of workers who have organised for decades to fight for these rights, because the conservative mindset can only view mass organised movements with suspicion.
I could write something about how this commodification of the very concept of workers’ rights represents a new frontier for capitalism. About how when George Lukacs wrote about the commodification of greater and greater aspects of the human experience, he probably didn’t think this would one day come to include putting a price tag on workers’ rights. About how Marx must be turning in his grave.
Instead I thought I’d draft some policy ideas which I’m sure we’ll see the Chancellor announce in due course:
– Students to swap right to protest in exchange for £1000 off their tuition fees (rising to £2000 in their final year for a clean track record of no political action whatsoever apart from the occasional Port & Policy session).
– Parents could swap their right to parental leave in exchange for vouchers for private schooling for their firstborn.
– The disabled could swap their right to accessible workplaces in exchange for keeping their disability benefit.
Honestly, this is so easy, I don’t know why I’m still unemployed when I could easily be working as a Conservative policy advisor.
“Calm down dear”. Iron My Shirt! You’re likeable enough. This, and countless other examples, are the background noise of sexism that all female politicians have to put up with, caught in a bind where drawing attention to sexist attacks is usually far more trouble than it’s worth. Julia Gillard, the Labour Prime Minster of Australia, and first woman to hold that office, yesterday launched a blindside against the Conservative Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, for his history of sexist and misogynist remarks, and the video is a masterclass of a political takedown. If you only watch five minutes, watch the first four and the last one. It will have you cheering your computer screen.
The speech is so caustic that Abbott appears to be visibly diminishing in size throughout the fifteen minute video; by the end he looks about two inches tall. The background story is that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, had been caught sending some graphic and sexist text messages to an aide; the opposition called for his resignation (he has now resigned) and Abbott said that the Government’s “support” of Slipper “was another day of shame for a Government that should have already died of shame”. The Government wanted to wait until the results of the investigation came through, and Gillard in particular was “not about to be lectured about sexism and misogyny by [Abbott]”, especially considering he is close friends with Slipper himself.
In a brilliant political move, Gillard defended her decision not to call for Slipper’s resignation until the court investigation had terminated while at the same time turning the tables back on Tony Abbott for “the sexism he brings to public life”. She turned a situation that could have been a defence of her failing to call for Slipper’s resignation into an attack on her opponent for his sexism and misogyny. It was the first time I have seen charges of sexism used seriously as a political attack. It was extremely effective, due to Gillard’s delivery and, hopefully, the political climate having progressed enough for accusations of sexism against a high-level politician to be treated with the seriousness they deserve.
She runs through his “repulsive double standards when it comes to misogyny and sexism”. The rhetoric is excellent – (“this is something he said not when he was a student, not when he was at high school, but when he was a Minister”) and the delivery is spot on. Gillard is absolutely on the attack – passionate, offended and contemptuous. At 3.22. Gillard brings up a boorish comment from Abbott about women “doing the ironing”, to which she replies with “thankyou for that painting of womens’ roles in modern Australia”. A comment as inane as Abbott’s doesn’t require a brilliant comeback, but the way she delivers her riposte is absolutely withering. The next two minutes are the most devastating – she recounts Abbott’s comments that Gillard “make an honest woman of herself” and the fact he stood next to a sign saying Ditch the Witch.
The brilliance of the attack is in weaving together the sexism he has displayed against women generally throughout his life, with the specifically sexist nature of the attacks against Julia Gillard. All women in public life put up with this draining and offensive sexist shit. Specific remarks about women’s inability to lead are less common than the insidious, belittling, supposedly “funny” comments that Gillard drew attention to – factually empty references to ironing and high heels and hormones that could be better described as sexist dogwhistling. The sexist atmosphere that Abbott feeds off is one where the youtube comments on the first page of videos featuring Gillard regularly say things like “bitch please” and “get back in the kitchen” and “silly bimbo slut” and “lying bitch”. The mixture of accusations of malevolence, manipulativeness and incompetency contained in those phrases would have no equivalent in insults for male politicians. I’m not saying female politicians aren’t sometimes callous, manipulative and incompetent. But the gendered language used against them links those insults with the very concept of women having power. How many times has Hillary Clinton been described as “ambitious”? Anyone wanting to lead a country is ambitious. It’s only when women want to that the word is used with suspicion.
Gillard’s luck was in finding a situation where she could make the workaday political charge of hypocrisy against an opponent but use it to passionately, articulately and contemptuously denounce his record of sexism. Not just the Victorian-era statements about men being “more adapted to exercise authority”, but the tiring, offensive, vile shit that includes calling her a “bitch” and suggesting her father “died of shame” because of her “lies”. I imagine every female politician on the planet could make a similar speech without too much difficulty, but the political impact of “playing the gender card” would usually outweigh the benefits. In mixing righteous anger, contempt and humour, Gillard has achieved what I previously thought was impossible – political capital from calling out sexism. What usually happens is that individual sexist comments, from fellow politicians or the media, are brushed aside by a majority who can never see it as structural oppression, and the woman left trying to highlight the insidious sexism of the public sphere is painted as victimizing herself. She also draws attention to the original attack, which can often backfire, seeing as the goal of this sexism is to draw attention to a woman’s femininity, amping up the patriarchal mood music which reminds us that women having power is unnatural and terrifying. It’s also the case that it’s just plain horrible and upsetting to be called a bitch or a nag, and women in public life don’t want to spend their limited time and energy on dealing with that immature shit. They do, after all, have countries to run.
When Gillard quoted some of Abbott’s worst statement back at him, the House filed with audible groans. But it was her treatment of his contribution to the background noise of undermining sexism that she puts up with which was particularly brilliant. These jibes are treated mostly by an uncritical media and public as incidences of the kind of political sniping that all politicians face, making it very hard for any woman in public life to draw attention to the sexism they often contain. While the comments are usually about as funny as accidentally treading on an upturned plug, the veneer of humour to them leave anyone who calls it out open to being called humourless or in favour of censorship. Gillard’s speech was much funnier than anything Abbott has ever said, and its humour was in its contemptuous delivery.
Not only did Gillard destroy her political opponent over his previous sexism, ensuring that he’ll never say anything along those lines in public life again, she also managed to make very clear that the sexism she faces is a facet of the sexism faced by all Australian women. Weaving together his comments on abortion (“the easy way out”, apparently) with his sexist attacks on her brilliantly made the case for the enduring structural injustice of sexism while pinning a fair share of the blame for it on Tony Abbott himself. Her delivery is as contemptuous as his comments deserve.
We’ve got a long way to go in addressing both everyday sexism and female underrepresentation in politics, but Gillard’s blistering, occasionally funny and always deadly serious attack on an opponent for his sexism and misogyny feels like a huge step forward. Sexism in politics, as in daily life, is not funny, not ironic and not trivial, and I hope this is the first of many attacks on the countless male politicians who still think sexism is a legitimate way to undermine their opponents.
Thank you Julia Gillard, for using your position to call out the sexism that pervades public life. What a woman.
Every time I read about climate change, I get R.E.M stuck in my head. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and everyone else seems to feel fine.
George Monbiot wrote another excellent article, which starts “There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.”
Why is this not on the evening news? Why is this not the number one priority of every Government on Earth? Why do most people still seem unaware this is happening?
If you go to Paris and spend the day in Montmartre, you’ll see the Sacré Coeur, and a small square nearby named after Louise Michel, both of which are intimately connected to the events of the Paris Commune. Louise Michel, described by Emma Goldman as “sublime in her love for humanity”, was one of the most inspirational women in the history of anarchism.
Nineteenth-century Paris was a hotbed of anarchism, socialism and other left-wing ideas. Anarchist theatre, anarchist communes and anarchist terrorism all flourished. The communes on the outskirts of Paris planned full programmes of concerts, country walks and communal meals for working-class families, asking that people gave what they could, and took only what they needed. Anarchist, Marxist and socialist literature abounded to give those who wanted it a political education, but the aim was to embody the ethos of anarchism – Mutual Aid, comradeship and joie de vivre – in the here and now. In the city itself, forms of direct action ranged from releasing rats into bourgeois theatre audience to attempts to bomb the Chamber of Deputies. Everything I assumed started in the 1960s at the earliest turns out to have been in evidence in Belle Epoque Paris.
And in the March of 1870, the citizens of Paris, beginning in Montmartre, rose up against the State. The immediate catalyst was the events of the Prussian siege of Paris, but poverty was widespread and extreme, and anarchist ideas had been gaining traction. The Revolution of 1848 was in living memory for most people. An attempt by the military general Adolphe Thiers to seize the cannons that had been stored in Montmartre to fight the Prussians quickly turned into a revolutionary situation, as the soldiers joined the side of local residents and local militias. The government fled and the Commune was established on March 28th, with a Central Committee democratically elected to run the city of two million.
Louise Michel fought on the barricades and then was one of several anarchist women who threw themselves into the running of the Commune. The Commune gave women the vote, had directly elected representatives subject to immediate recall, set up secular schools and nurseries, and put businesses under the control of workers. Louise Michel wrote of it as the happiest time of her life.
On May 24th, the Communards organised a popular concert in the Tuileries garden, in what used to be the gardens to the Louvre palace, in the district of Paris that we might now call the home of the city’s 1%. But Paris was singing its requiem. That night, Thiers’ troops entered the city and thus began one of the most shameful episodes in European history. They slaughtered not only Communards but anyone suspected of supporting them, killing 40,000 people in one week, with the battle ending in Pere Lachaise cemetery, with the last of the Communards shot again what is now known as the Mur des Féderés (the Federalists’ Wall, in reference to the Communard belief in a federation of communities rather than nation states).
Marx argued that this meant the Communards should have spent less time organising elections, and more time organising a revolutionary vanguard to finish off Thiers’ troops, an opinion whose implications reached their conclusion in the Russian Revolution 50 years later. Louise herself had offered to go to Versailles to assassinate Thiers. When she was captured by his soldiers and lined up against a wall she is rumoured to have told them “Since every heart that yearns for freedom must expect its measure of lead, go ahead and shoot me! For if you don’t I shall spend every moment of the rest of my life seeking my vengeance on you”. They didn’t shoot.
She was instead exiled to New Caledonia for seven years. Thousands greeted her return to Paris, and she spent the rest of her life between London and Paris, educating and agitating, including lengthy spells in jail. “If the equality between the sexes were properly recognised”, she wrote, “it would be a noteworthy exception to the history of human stupidity”.
When offered release, she refused without “amnesty for all”. Anarchism was the guiding principle of her whole life, and even friends criticised her habit of taking in anyone from the street, feeding and clothing them even when she had nothing. “La Bonne Louise” lives on in popular memory as France’s schoolteacher, the stubborn, headstrong woman caught between a burgeoning bourgeois feminist movement, and the internalized misogyny of her anarchist-socialist comrades. As the French say, plus ça change…
So next time you go to Paris, ignore the military victories commemorated by the vainglorious Arc de Triomphe and instead take a walk in Père Lachaise cemetery. In 1870 the gunshots that raged among the Baroque headstones were testament to a battle between two views of what human society is for – co-operation or competition? Human flourishing or the pursuit of profit? The people who believed in the latter won in that round, and went on to lead the country into the butchery of the First World War, and the attendant horrors of the twentieth century. But under the Mur des Féderés you’ll doubtless see a basket of red flowers, not too wilted, placed in memory of the thousands who lost their lives to a belief in a fairer society, and the need to fight for it. Their ideas did not die. La lutte continue.
Humour piece originally published in The Boar as “Two pints of lager and a couple of dicks” (the most read article published in that period!), then republished in the Vagenda as “Why Lad Bantz won’t get me out of my pants”.
So, Unilad. I’d heard a lot about it, and following a Facebook acquaintance’s repeated posting of ‘hilarious’ pictures from the site, a mixture of curiosity, masochism and having loads of free time now exams are over drove me to actually sit and read it in an attempt to understand ‘lad culture’. The site is basically an instruction manual for LADS (it’s always capitalised) on how to conform to a view of masculinity so archaic it doesn’t so much pre-date the Second Wave as pre-date the invention of the wheel. Yes, the site is a festering pool of misogyny, classism and homophobia, but the more I read, the less I felt outraged and the more I felt simply contemptuous, even pitying. Let me explain.
The actual TOP 5 DO NOTS OF BEING A LAD (and nothing says being secure in your gender identity like capitalised prohibitions on certain behaviours!) is as follows: LADS must not listen to music, ever turn down sex, alcohol or the chance to play Fifa or um, use tumblr. These instructions clearly have nothing to do with impressing women, seeing it’s fairly common knowledge that being a borderline-alcoholic sex pest with no interest in anything but football isn’t exactly a foolproof way to get laid. In fact, what slowly dawned on me was that the constant quest for ‘gash’ has less to do with sex for its own sake, and more to do with reporting back to the LADpack (yes, really) afterwards. It’s almost as if without meaningless sexual encounters with women they have zero respect for or even interest in, the LADS would have nothing to BANTER about; banter being, as we all know, what people who can’t hold CONVERSATIONS do to pass the time while getting horrendously drunk. What amazes me about unilad is how it manages to turn the popular pursuits of sex and drinking into a tiresome point-scoring contest of proving one’s masculinity to the rest of one’s equally insecure male peers. This is done namely by seeing who can drink the most and score the most, even if that means ending the night in bed with a girl you find repulsive, or possibly throwing up in a taxi. One of the tales starts by happily recounting a night of ‘projectile vomiting into club toilets’. Woah guys, talk about living the dream!
The obsessive focus on ingesting fluids in the form of beer (or possibly spirits, to really daringly push at the boundaries of heteronormativity) and expelling them in the form of meaningless, drunken sex as the only worthwhile leisure activity while at university is so repetitive, mindless and one-dimensional I actually got bored reading it. What is perhaps even more ironic than the constant use of the word WENCH is the way that the sexual liberation the LADS enjoy has everything to do with a movement called feminism, and nothing to do with the archaic sexual double standards their shitty site espouses.
Page after page of what would be termed ‘lifestyle articles’ if they were about a million times better written reassure lads that the essence of manhood involves drinking eight pints of lager a night and constantly imagining sex with the women around you despite it rarely happening. After all (and all quotes are genuine, apart from the spelling mistakes I had to correct); “thinking about sex all the time might cause a few misjudgements, but at least you’re misjudging tits”. I don’t know about you, but if my every waking moment was consumed with a mostly fruitless quest to shag anything that moved, I probably wouldn’t want people to know? I wouldn’t think it made me some kind of liberated latter-day Wildean hedonist, I would assume it made me sound deeply sexually and socially inept.
This view was only confirmed when I encountered sex tips like “a girl is sexually driven by her mind and not her body”, which reads more like a reprint of a Victorian sex manual (you know, because women are turned on by the thought of weddings and babies) than the expert advice of a modern man who has, I don’t know, had sex more than twice in his life. The creepy emphasis on going for ‘insecure’ girls with ‘daddy issues’ and ‘fat-thigh-complexes’ comes across as projection on a vast scale; if you’re looking for people who use 30-second sexual encounters in club toilets as a way to shore up their low self-worth, it seems to be less the ‘sluts’ the site constantly mentions than the writers of unilad themselves.
Anyway, if any LADS are offended by the content of this article, and my insinuation that their adoption of the norms of this tragic subculture speaks to nothing more than the abyss where their senses of wonder, revolutionary spirit and/or ability form relationships should be, I say only this – I am writing this for the purposes of HUMOUR. It’s just BANTER between me and my feminist chums, and failure to find it funny means you are totally unable to take a joke. Got it?
“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. We don’t need to sit around scratching our heads about what the problem is – the problem is sexism. That’s literally it. We’re not making it up.”
It would be hard to improve on Bidisha’s closing statement at the recent ‘We are the 22%’ event at Warwick University. I chaired a panel of four female speakers; Gabrielle Shiner, writer for Spiked, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, a journalist and trade union organiser, Professor Shirin Rai, from the University of Warwick and Bidisha, the broadcaster, writer and journalist. 22% referred to the average level of women’s representation across the board in professional and influential industries. This level has stagnated for years; the debate was about why, and how to change it.
The first question of the evening came from Welfare Officer Izzy John, incidentally the only female member of the seven Sabbatical Officers at Warwick. She asked what the panel thought of the phrase ‘glass ceiling’. They were pretty unanimous in hating it – ‘instead of smashing the glass ceiling, we need to blow up the whole building’. As with so many gender-based issues, instead of examining the structural inequality of a system built by men in the first place, the glass ceiling narrative refocuses the problem on women’s behaviour. It elucidated a wider debate about whether the problem of a lack of female participation in politics is a problem to do with women or a problem to do with politics itself. I am certain it’s the latter.
This argument can come off as essentialist and patronising. I don’t think women (or men) are essentially anything, and I don’t think women are incapable of debate, combativeness or self-assertion. By blowing up the entire building, I mean that our entire conception of what it takes to ‘get ahead’ and what we mean by ‘success’ needs to be redefined. Part of the problem with masculinity is that is has been characterized by dominance, competition and acquisition for a very long time within our culture. This is not only bad because it hinders women from success in life, but it’s bad in itself because that whole definition of success is wrong.
We see a successful businessperson as someone who has acquired vast amounts of capital, and a successful politician as someone who has defeated his opponents and managed to hold onto power for as long as possible. This is the crux of capitalist ideology, which commodifies the idea of accomplishment like it commodifies everything else.
Men are trained to achieve this commodified success to a greater degree than women are. Women are encouraged to put more store by personal relationships, to co-operate instead of competing, and to put other peoples’ needs ahead of their own. The only reason these attributes are seen as weaknesses is because the dominant ideologies of capitalism and patriarchy have for a long time needed the model of masculine-provider and female-consumer-and-nurturer to sustain itself, and have rendered feminine-coded behaviour as inferior.
Most feminists agree that femininity as a social construction socialises women, generally, to act in certain ways that are anathema to what is needed to achieve what our society terms ‘success’. Thus, they can accept that women are largely socialised to be co-operative and not to put themselves first, without accepting that men’s socialisation is equally constructed, and possibly equally damaging. Furthermore, it’s not clear that a more feminine-coded way of doing things, is necessarily less productive or effective, particularly in terms of personal happiness, as the higher rates of male depression, alcoholism and suicide would attest to.
On a societal level, what with the crisis of capitalism and all, it seems as though the tide is turning towards more co-operative and collective methods of getting things done. Discussion of how feminine traits disadvantage women is far more common than discussion of how masculine traits disadvantage men, both individually and as a community at large. Yes, these traits may help men (and women who possess them also) to achieve what is commonly thought of as success, but the structure of achievement is all wrong in the first place. We live in a society where a hedge fund banker is described as more “successful” than a midwife, when it’s really not clear that the first deserves to be more celebrated.
Accomplishments such as a happy family, wonderful life experiences and a positive difference made to the lives of those around you fit uneasily into our capitalist model that defines success as accruing capital, and more readily equips men with the traits needed to achieve this. Depicting the mass acquisition of capital as the primary goal of human existence is threatening not only to our society, but now, through the threat of climate change, civilisation itself. Instead of smashing the glass ceiling, let’s deconstruct the whole building, and make something else – a “pagoda of equality”, perhaps.
What would this pagoda look like in terms of political life?
We currently have around 22% of female MPs, and a political culture that rewards winning arguments instead of finding solutions. How exactly does the jeering Punch and Judy culture of Prime Minister’s Question Time, with its emphasis on putting down one’s opponent, help to advance political debate?
Furthermore, our electoral system discourages coalitions, meaning that as long as a party can win about 35% of the vote, they need not take into account the ideas of any other party. Even if women were rendered physically incapable of holding any professional position whatsoever in society tomorrow, the power structures of politics, business and the media would still need to change. That’s the thing with privilege – it allows the bad behaviour of privileged groups to be seen as the problems of individuals, whereas the behaviour of marginalised groups is used as evidence for their inferiority as a group. Ultimately part of the problem is the structure and behaviour of the dominant community in and of itself.
I love a good debate, and I don’t subscribe to the opinion that civility is always the most important thing even when confronted with bigotry and ignorance, but I do think that the best debates are conducted with the aim of furthering the pursuit of truth, and not of winning. This was exemplified by the one I chaired. The four panellists frequently disagreed – yet there was no talking over one another, no aggression, and no mockery.
Politics should be about finding solutions to the only question which matters, that of how we ought live, together. It should attract people with convictions, intellect and organisational skills; it currently attracts self-aggrandising people who aren’t put off by the expectation that they defend their beliefs incessantly despite all evidence to the contrary. The ability to perform Oxbridge-style rhetorical fireworks, much more easily acquired with access to all kinds of privilege, not just male privilege, don’t seem to have produced the best politicians we could possibly have. The best cohort of politicians we could possibly have would be 50% female, because women are just as capable as men of running the country, and the world.
The focus should be on structural issues, not women’s behaviour. These structures are bad; they exclude women, but they are also often just bad in and of themselves. They derive from a masculine culture that has as many mistaken stereotypes at its heart as does femininity.
Traditional ideas of femininity and masculinity can be damaging to men and women, hence why a lot of them need to be deconstructed and done away with. But we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we think that the solution is getting women to ape the selfish, aggressive, combative dick-waving that characterises so much of our political and business life.
Listening to other people, caring about what they have to say, and essentially, recognising we really are all in this together, is the solution – not only to the divisions within feminism, but perhaps to most of the crises caused by late capitalism. That women are taught to do this from an early age is not a weakness, it’s a strength.
In October 2005, Citigroup sent out a series of memos to their wealthiest investors which essentially celebrated the fact that some societies (including the US and UK) were no longer really democracies but plutonomies – countries controlled entirely by the top 1% of the population, who had more wealth than the bottom 95% combined.
Under “What Could Go Wrong?” they wrote:
“Our whole plutonomy thesis is based on the idea that the rich will keep getting richer. This thesis is not without its risks. For example, a policy error leading to asset deflation, would likely damage plutonomy. Furthermore, the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash. Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfrachisement remains as was – one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation (on the rich or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous laborers, in a push-back on globalization – either anti-immigration, or protectionism. We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments”.
Yes, those bits in italics aren’t from a member of Occupy London but someone working for Citigroup. And in the next breath they tell you protest doesn’t change anything…
The Government’s Higher Education White Paper: “Putting Students at the Heart of the System” is such utter garbage, so barely cognisant of what a university is, what the very concept of an education is, and how it might be a good thing if lots of different kinds of people could benefit from one, I barely know where to start with summarising it. I will, at a later date, but for a fuller idea of just how damaging this White Paper is, you can read the full text here, and the response of the Alternative White Paper here.
The Alternative White Paper concludes, correctly in my opinion, that:
“The commodification of higher education is the secret heart of the White Paper, which the government does not wish to debate openly. The government seeks a differently funded sector, one which can provide new outlets for capital that struggles to find suitable opportunities for investment elsewhere. Against the backdrop of collapsed productivity in traditional sectors, we are in a new phase of private sector stimulus at the expense of public provision. The role of government will act as a broker for private investment in services and it will be achieved on higher levels of individual indebtedness and higher leveraging at institutions. These are the very conditions which have given rise to the current financial crisis”.
We need to force this debate to happen in the open.
So it turns out the BBC don’t have to reply to your complaint in 10 days… I don’t know what kind of reply I expected, anyway. An Occupation has started at my university! I’m not staying there, but I have been down every day for General Assemblies and to help out in other ways, and I’ll be dragging my more apolitical friends to every talk I can persuade them to attend. We’ve got lecturers from loads of different departments doing some really good talks, and my big idea is to try and get some, essentially, free-market cheerleaders in to debate with us “unwashed socialists”, as a charming member of the Conservative Party Society here at Warwick referred to us. This was followed by a suggestion (ironic, of course) that someone should come along in the middle of the night and gas everyone sleeping in their tents. I guess raising that level of vitriol from the right must mean we’re doing something to challenge their worldview (subconsciously, of course). Anyway, I think it’d be great to have a big debate going in a public space, where passing students can listen and join in, and find out just why so many of their fellow students feel so strongly about these economic issues that we’re willing to sleep outside in November.
So, my thoughts on the situation. What I am desperate to do is get as many people as possible on our side. I want to make people understand what is happening, and I know that the message needs to be clear and concise if the Occupy movements have any chance of fundamentally changing the narrative, and we need to change the narrative before we can change anything else. People, ordinary people, need to get really angry before change will come about. People who have never protested before need to realise the extent of the problem, and we need to get those people out on the streets. And this might sound simplistic, but the most important thing I want people witnessing the protests to come away with, is a sense that the current system is something that can be changed.
Free-market capitalism has sold itself as the logical outcome of every other economic and social order that ever existed. For me, this demonstrates its moral and intellectual failings; it is presented as the only option we have for organising society, rather than one of many. If Cameron would stand up and make an intellectual argument about the benefits of privatising the NHS, we could prove his points wrong. It would also simply be a nice change to hear the man announce his real beliefs for once, but that’s another story. It’s clear that he wants a smaller state, it’s clear that he thinks the unemployment and disenfranchisement of millions of people is a price worth paying to keep a wealthy elite as rich as they are now, and he no doubt justifies this to himself through calling himself a realist, doing nothing more than following the dictactes of global capital, which is apparently now the main responsibility role of any world leader in 2012.
Being brought up in a society where you are made to believe that not only you, as an individual, are powerless to change anything, but that people as a whole have no power to shape their own societies and economies, is criminally dispiriting. It’s a huge sapping of morale and resistance. Dictatorships expend a lot of energy indoctrinating their citizens with propoganda about how their tinpot country is the greatest and best in the world, constantly beseiged by enemies. We aren’t even given a moral or intellectual case for the neo-liberalism we live under. There is no alternative. There is nothing to argue against. There is no debate. It’s a sad intellectual climate to grow up in. This isn’t to negate or ignore the left-wing sentiment that exists all over the world, and in Britain. But it’s simply that free-market capitalism can only be understood as a totalizing theory in a way that a mixed economy or socialism aren’t. You can’t argue that capitalism works brilliantly for some things, terribly for others, and needs to be regulated heavily in any case due to the inequality it causes, within the ideological framework of free markets. Most mainstream views of socialism aren’t anti-capitalist at all, they just see capitalism as one element within a balanced society, not a way to organise the entire thing. It’s this attempt to explain everything through one totalizing system, despite the huge human suffering it causes, that I think will make the next century look back on the intellectual prison of classical economics in the same we consider doctrinaire Marxism today.
We are told to believe that all we can do is make conditions as favourable as possible (essentially, by getting rid of workers’ rights and welfare systems) for the forces of global capital to be attracted enough to our country to invest in it, as if instead of the “markets” being about the decisions of a minority of property-owning individuals, they were simply like iron filings irrestibility drawn to the most magnetised states – magnetised being a metaphor for the most neoliberal. And in case you start to wonder about the possibility of living in a society where the distribution of resources had more to do with human need than with the bizarre ideology that considers the desire to acquire vast amounts of wealth for oneself not as a pathology, but the principle around which all of society should be organised, you needn’t bother. We need to make savings. We’re broke. There’s no money left. Obviously there was the £1.5 trillion we added to our debt to bailout the failed banking system, but if we did anything to regulate it after the crisis, well, those natural forces of global capital would depart and OMGZ GREECE. I’d sum it up more eloquently but you’ve read this far, you know the story.
The current system doesn’t work in the interests of most people; only the 1% want it, and yet even Labour politicians tell us there is nothing we can do about it, essentially. The best we can hope for is to try and attract global capital and skim off more of it than the Conservatives would to pay for “non-productive parts of society” like schools and hospitals. Those were the actual words of a Conservative MEP on Question Time this week – this is the rotting effect of neo-liberalism on peoples’ minds – what a failing of intellect, but mainly of empathy, to consider the saving of lives and the education of the young to be non-productive! It makes sense if your only measure of the usefulness of any activity is the capital it produces. To me, that’s an understanding of human experience so limited as to be suggestive of pathology.
If you want a smaller state, argue for it. If you think that taxpayers collectively paying for a free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare system is a luxury society can’t afford, and yet bailing out a failed banking system and not making it repay the taxpayer is just the kind of blip we can expect in an otherwise wonderful capitalist system, you need to make that case. No one does, of course, because it’s completely logically inconsistent. So they fall back on TINA – “there is no alternative”. It seems to me that making people believe that the current system is the only viable way in which society can avoid an enormous, yet unspecified, catastrophe is usually more of an indicator of a dictatorship than a democracy.
On a related note, I think the only time I’ve felt respect for a member of the GOP was when John McCain was asked in a debate some bullshit question about Obama being a Nazi or a Kenyan or a Muslim and McCain’s reply was “I may disagree profoundly with Obama’s beliefs and convictions, but he is a good person and you have nothing to fear from his becoming President”. That is having the courage of your convictions, and that is the kind of reasoned line rarely heard from the mouths of free-market cheerleaders.
If I had a daughter, I would tell her this – you are allowed to talk back to your own culture. All of this There is No Alternative bullshit serves to make you believe that resistance is futile. And so you do the best you can in a country with rising unemployment and a world with rising sea levels, and you try and put aside some money for your children and don’t stick your head above the fence. And when school playing fields are sold to Tesco, and when every High Street in the UK contains exactly the same shops, and when train fares go up by half as much again and when the higher fees have made you feel a bit more strongly than university isn’t for everyone, that’s just the way it is. That life is all you can hope for, apparently. That is considered by this ideology to be enough to provide a full human existence. It isn’t.
This is why I’ll be at Occupy Warwick this weekend, and why I’ll be urging everyone I know to listen to the talks, and come to the picket line on Wednesday to support University staff – because accepting that there’s nothing I can do to change the society I live in would make me feel like I was less alive, less human. If the neoliberal worldview managed to provide every human being on Earth with a decent standard of living and a solution to climate change, I would still consider it an ideology that does criminal damage to humanity because of the way it understands all human activity and perception in terms of money. There is nothing that cannot be understood through the medium of the commodity. They seek to turn education into a commodity. As much as I rely on Facebook, the way it has commodified human relationships makes me uneasy. Public space is privatised; the commons are eradicated, and this also has, of course, the side effect of making street protest illegal. To tell people that their moral convictions are pointless is, I think, more damaging than telling them they are wrong. This poisonous ideology renders the oppressed utterly powerless, and the oppressors completely vindicated – they never have to answer the uncomfortable question of just how they sleep at night while their policies damage so many peoples’ lives; after all, There Is No Alternative.
The Occupy movements feel like a small breathing space in the intellectual straightjacket of neo-liberalism we increasingly live under.
To quote Thomas Docherty, an English professor at Warwick, who told us that the purpose of universities was the pursuit of three things, the good, the beautiful and the true, and not a monetary investment, he also said “So next time someone tells you that old lie, Tina, that There Is No Alternative, tell them – What about H.o.p.e? By which I mean “Hey, Other Possibilities Exist”.