Category Archives: Politics

Crocodile Tears

In the Financial Times, Jason Cowley regrets that there is ‘no politically committed writer to whom we can turn and learn from at moments of national consequence or crisis.’ The story behind this lack is a story of growing integration among the various powers, so that true criticism – as opposed to carping, point-scoring and jockeying for power – finds no outlet in our media: such voices are simply not heard.

Politically committed voices were loud during most of the 20th century when ‘left’ and ‘right’ were at it like dogs fighting over a bone – the bone being power, with a juicy marrow of money that tends to accompany power. But during the last three decades of the century, parties of right and left gradually shed their extremists and a new consensus arose. This consensus somehow picked up the name ‘neoliberalism’.

Neoliberalism unites the powers of BigState and Big Capitalism into a new power, which tolerates the worst abuses the mind can imagine: genocide, torture, murder, robbery of land and livings, destruction of the environment, ‘science’ (meaning profit from legally-enforced monopolies of knowledge) and the fragmenting and insecure bondage of ever-growing debt. Some of these abuses take place in far-away lands, in client states run by gangster governments. Others – debt and systemic robbery, for instance – carry on at home behind hidden laws and hidden doors.

Critics of neoliberalism say its ‘democracy’ is a sham, its ‘freedom’ a mirage, its ‘concern for the underdog’ rampant hypocrisy. Such writers are little heard. An eminent newspaper editor once said to me: ‘It is not the policy of any mainstream newspaper or journal to allow criticism of the fundamentals of our civilisation.’ The situation is further complicated by lingering loyalties to ‘left’ and ‘right’. Writers who who reach for a different understanding – true democracy, true freedom for instance – have no widely-established readership.

So to Jason Cowley I would say: there are plenty of politically-committed writers making interesting comments, but no one has the opportunity to turn to them, let alone learn from them, because journals and newspapers like the New Statesman and the Financial Times deny them the opportunity to be heard.

Ivo Mosley’s latest book is ‘In The Name Of The People’ (Imprint Academic, 2013).

Making Sense of ‘Margaret Thatcher’.

The person, the image, the icon: when so many people are shouting hysterically both for and against the phenomenon known as ‘Margaret Thatcher,’ a temptation rises in a  mind like mine to try and make sense of it all. What simple truth can be told?

Take one thread: what she did to England. The story, to my mind, begins a hundred and fifty years ago. The great capitalists had not only deprived the independent poor of most of their land (‘the enclosures’): they were combining in companies and industrial corporations to deny their workforces all but the most basic supports of life, reducing them to conditions often worse than slavery (visiting American slave-owners were often shocked at the high mortality of English workers, particularly children: slaves, representing capital investment, were not squandered so recklessly.)

So, the birth of trade unions: a simple way for workers to combine and protect themselves against the new capitalists: against laws made in their favour, and the power those laws gave them, often exercised in the most horrific manner.

Over time, however, power corrupts; and the trades unions were no exception. After a hundred years, their own power was being exercised irresponsibly, unaccountably, with no concern for wider society. If this memory is not available to all, it needs to be recovered.

And so a proportion of voters (was it 34% of the electorate?) voted in a government headed by Mrs Thatcher to take on irresponsible trades union power. Whatever else happened, her government accomplished the job. But she and her party represented an even greater power: the power of naked capital, and capital-creation, to appropriate for its own profit the wealth and labour of others.

And so, quite simply, the gridlocked corporate industry of England was destroyed: and the City of London was liberated, to loot and pillage the world via the most corrupt system of finance ever invented. This power-house of appropriation has supplied the government with borrowings (and tax) to feed those reduced to meaningless subsistence by the destruction of corporate industry. And England became the place we know today: none of Thatcher’s successors have chosen to confront or undo a legacy which gives them so much in money and power.

At this point, the famous quote of Acton ‘all power corrupts…’ seems inadequate. The words of Jacob Burckhardt seem more appropriate:

‘Now power is in itself evil, no matter who wields it. It is not constant or dependable, it is a lust, and therefore insatiable: unhappy in itself, it is bound to make others unhappy too.’

A story simple enough.

‘Representative’ democracy? You have to be kidding!

‘The American people are trying to figure out how something can have 90% support, and yet not happen’ said President Barack Obama on Thursday, as a measure to expand background checks for gun-buyers was rejected by ‘representatives of the people’.

I would suggest, in disagreement with President Obama, that on the contrary: most Americans are thoroughly familiar with the reality of their democracy. Representatives don’t represent citizens, they represent power. If ‘the people’ aren’t aware, they should be: it is over a hundred years since Woodrow Wilson wrote the following, in his book The New Freedom:

“Suppose you go to Washington and try to get at your government. You will always find that while you are politely listened to, the men really consulted are the men who have the biggest stake,—the big bankers, the big manufacturers, the big masters of commerce, the heads of railroad corporations and of steamship corporations. I have no objection to these men being consulted, because they also, though they do not themselves seem to admit it, are part of the people of the United States. But I do very seriously object to these gentlemen being chiefly consulted, and particularly to their being exclusively consulted, for, if the government of the United States is to do the right thing by the people of the United States, it has got to do it directly and not through the intermediation of these gentlemen. Every time it has come to a critical question these gentlemen have been yielded to, and their demands have been treated as the demands that should be followed as a matter of course.

“The government of the United States at present is a foster-child of the special interests. It is not allowed to have a will of its own. It is told at every move: “Don’t do that; you will interfere with our prosperity.” And when we ask, “Where is our prosperity lodged?” a certain group of gentlemen say, “With us.”‘

Things have only got worse since then. What is this strange pretence, ‘representative’ democracy? Once they got rid of English domination, Americans had a perfectly good democracy to build on: the town council system of New England, praised by a swathe of historical ‘greats’: Jefferson, Tocqueville, Maitland, Hannah Arendt… but they let it languish. Well, it could still be built upon, if enough people wanted to…

The hypocrisy behind calling our representative systems ‘democratic’.

Many people are coming to the conclusion that if we do not have some better kind of democracy, the dishonesty and deceit of our elites will lead us to a bad end.

Not many people know, however, that until 1800 our form of government – electoral representation – was thought to be the very opposite of democracy. It was those grand illusionists the Americans who put about the idea that representatives could be ‘democratic’.

The founding fathers themselves disapproved mightily of democracy: they wanted elected representatives to be a ‘natural aristocracy’ – the best among us, chosen by ‘the people’. They used the word ‘democracy’ in the old-fashioned way, to mean citizen assemblies and selection by lot. Their remarks are illuminating:

Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention… and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. (Madison, 1787)

The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very nature was tyranny. (Hamilton, 1787)

Democracy wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide. (John Adams, 1814)

Democracy is impracticable beyond the limits of a town. (Jefferson, 1816)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) is credited (perhaps wrongly, though it’s not out of character) with the statement: ‘Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.’

The system the founding fathers wanted was republican and unashamedly based on ‘rule by the few’. But soon it became apparent that many more votes could be got by pretending representatives were democratic than by proclaiming them as ‘natural aristocrats’. And so the great deceit began.

If we want some real democracy, we will have to shed this particular illusion. If the people are not ruling, then the nation is not a democracy. If we hire someone else to clean our windows, we are not cleaning them ourselves. Systems of true democracy are available, well-tried and well-practised: we should adopt them. Some of these systems are: citizens assemblies, assemblies selected by lot, referenda, indirect election starting at grass roots level, rotation of office…

This is extracted from Chapter 4 of my book In The Name of the People published 25/02/13.