What I believe is the case and what I wish for can be confused. The UK regime is collapsing. The depth of corruption and incompetence exhibited by the current government is a superficial sign of this. The break up of the United Kingdom is not. It is an indication of a deep unravelling of the basic integuments of the regime, that which was founded by the settlement of 1688-89. The exposure attendant on the withdrawal from the European Union means the chips are down. The EU was joined because it was a last ditch attempt by the UK elites to hold together the Union which lies at the core of the constitution. The hope was that membership of the European Club despite its republican aura or perhaps because of it, would offer a modern fig leaf to cover the UK’s semi-feudal constitutional arrangement, parliamentary monarchy. This is of course specifically true in relation to Ireland. The prospect of a united Ireland, with Sinn Fein playing a significant role in its polity will send shivers down the spine of those with any historical sensibility. Ireland was England’s colony, brutally exploited for raw material, until the danger heralded by the French Revolution made the oppressor nation hastily include it in the union in 1805. Thus it followed Scotland who had been coerced and cajoled into participation in 1707. It’s all a recent story. It was at the very end of the 13th Century, 1284, that Edward 1 King of England, Lord of Ireland, having accomplished the first (possibly except for Gascony) settler colonial operation, ‘settling’ English farmers on stolen land in Wales and building castles to oversee the colonisation. Edward crowned the process by having his son Edward born in Caernafon and later invested him Prince of Wales in 1302. This was before he went on to terrorise the Scots. He had Robert Bruce’s sister suspended live in a public cage, the English practicing the arts later refined in the slave plantations of the Caribbean.
Simultaneous with this imminent break up is the moral disintegration of the Labour Party. The elites may need a compliant second string to their bow and the Labour Party historically has been happy to submit to the honour. The Corona pandemic has not just ripped through the UK population like no other but like a corrosive illuminant it has exposed the inoperancy of the UK state, the whole rigmarole, the two-party absurdity, the obsessive centralisation, the bluster, the muddling through, the completely irresistible tendency to think of governance as ruling over the population and the utter incapacity to think socially. There is a deep fear of socialism. There will be some who believe that this is unwarranted, especially those that tend that way, but the smell of rank panic floats over the land.
The crisis is deeper than they fear. It is not just socialism they have to be scared of – partly because they are having to operate policies that have the odour of this perversion – but it is ecology, ecological thinking, that should make them quake The failure to recognise the Corona pandemic as an ecological event and to understand that it’s impacts need to be dealt with socially, by society as a whole, is deeply connected to their failure to understand human society as an outcome of our development as a species. This is why their response is deeply racist and stupidly nationalistic. They think of it as war! They think of it as a one-off crisis. They keep saying, about testing and about vaccines, that we should be comforted that we are doing better than Europe or America or..and the numbers prove it! Canute tried beating back the waves with his sword.
If there is no informed alternative, the break up of the old order faces us with catastrophe. The alternative can only come from a popular movement that engages with the deep and vital connection between ecological and socialist thinking. This is the simple truth as I see it. This deep connection is already being made and, as it becomes stronger, the energies that it engages with will generalise themselves. But we need to get moving. We are unprepared and part of what absorbs our energies is the idea that old institutions can do new things. The years immediately before this crisis gave us signs of what is involved now. There was a significant mass popular movement against austerity which was sparked by the student rebellion of 2010 and that grew as it pushed Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership of the Labour Party. There was the extraordinary inventiveness and innovatory energy of Extinction Rebellion. And more recently there has been the popular uprising around Black Lives Matter. There has been, throughout the land, the mutual aid movement mobilising solidarity, responding to the community impacts of the Corona virus crisis.
We have to be prepared for a deep struggle for social and environmental justice. The formation of the UK regime derived from the English Revolution of 1642. The energies that structured the regime flow from the extraordinary upsurge of popular revolutionary consciousness that marked this event. This movement was captured and incorporated through the formation of a constitutional settlement, a brilliant historic compromise, establishing power and sovereignty as emanating from the ‘monarch in Parliament’. This was sealed by a hybrid protestantism and operationalised by an imperial war machine financed by the innovatory central bank, the Bank of England (founded in 1694, specifically created to produce the credit to enable a war against Catholic France), thus the dominance of the City of London was affirmed. All this, the ideology, the values, the tone, the key personality of the ‘English Gentleman’, the good chap, he who can ‘smile as he kills’, sword or umbrella at the ready though carefully and seductively concealed, all this is passing into history; it is threadbare, a parody of itself, sinking slowly into a mire of incompetence.
Regimes and all political structures are made by counterposed energies of resistance. As resistance is overcome the energies are channelled into the new structures and institutions. The energies of the current regime derive from the English Revolution but its deep roots are in the patriarchal structures that arose from the male ‘take over’ of the original human culture developed at the birth of our species by coalitions of human females. This historic process is associated with the Neolithic Revolution and the spread of agriculture approximately 12,000 years ago. This is why the break up of the UK regime is not an isolated event. It is connected to a crisis of the nation state. This is a form of organisation that derived specifically from the process of territorialising power and sovereignty in the western part of the Eurasian land mass after the break up of the Roman Empire. The state formation in England (only that part of the British isles that was colonised by the Romans) was such that it was a model for the wider dispersion of this form. Nation states developed as a system in a mimetic process articulated through wars. The hierarchical forms of patriarchy driven by the need to produce, taming and exploiting our species’ reproductive processes, were binary. Men could not simply rule over women through physical force but had to take over symbolic power and justify their dominance. This continual need to dominate women’s reproductive power drove the impulse to produce and exploit natural resources. The continuous process of male take over is like a colonisation of the original female-oriented human culture. Capitalism in all its successive forms is a political system that derives directly from patriarchal hierarchy. Its appearance as an economic system is a part of the way it constantly obscures its operation. This is apparent in the continual process of abstraction and quantification that accompanies its development. The ultimate movement of this process is the transformation of money into digital information.
This means that the crisis underlying the break up of the UK regime goes to the very roots of our species’ existence. We are engaged in a struggle for our humanity. Unsurprisingly it is deeply connected to the prospect of human extinction. I believe that the key to succeeding forms of human organisation is knowledge. I mean this in every sense of the word. The idea of knowledge that underpins our current system is subject to hierarchy and limitation. Knowledge is interaction. This is as true for quantum physics as it is for our coming into being as humans. Intersubjectivity, the capacity to be deeply moved and changed by our encounter with the other, was and is at the centre of the inventions made by coalitions of human females in the Rift Valley of Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. It was essential to the development of big-brained, early-birthed creatures whose need for physical protection and cultural identification was the primary work. Of course in later human development all these capacities remained but they were systematically exploited. Human development becomes reduced to the supply of quantities of labour power to a productive machine on which, we are led to believe, human survival depends – or, at least, the continuation of our ‘way of life’.
I have suggested in previous blogs that a social network is needed of activist reporters in every constituency feeding into a central source of knowledge and information, primarily about the impacts of the Corona virus. This local knowledge network should be capable of spreading out to different sectors locally to engage with the care community, the NHS community, the teaching community, the retail community, the delivery community, the mutual aid and self-help community. It should engage with local expertise on the environment, on productive activities and on judicial and legal processes. This could quickly form an easy to access cross-referenced source of real knowledge that would be actual intelligence. It might be similar to Mass Observation. This network of living breathing human beings concerned to create a people’s picture of our society and its needs would be a basis for a movement for environmental and social justice.
About ecology as I understand it:
The core value of ecology is the interconnectedness of life-forms in systemic co-developmental interdependence. The unit of ecology is the ecosystem, complex mutual aid relationships between species. Human social organisation is deeply embedded in these relationships and the sum total of all the different forms of human organisation are our species total interaction with the biosphere. These different forms of organisation, adaptations made by human groups to the different biomes and bio-regions of our planet, form the basis of the different societies, cultures and political regimes. All of this biomass, the flora and the fauna, and the geology of the earth has a history, in other words it changes interactively. The history of the human species is a part of the natural history of the Earth.
About socialism as I understand it:
Socialism is a communal recognition of the collective nature of social life. It is not a state form. Rather than human life being shaped around the imperatives of the economy and production, socialism enables people to develop their lives equally and according to their needs through political practice, through social organisation and through using economic activity as a tool to serve this end. Essentially it views the products of people’s work as being the common, public property of society. Necessarily this involves distributing wealth, in goods and investment, according to people’s needs. A part of socialist practice has happened in societies where collective ownership has been used as a means of industrialisation, of expanding production. Socialism in a post-industrial setting requires a rethinking of the model offered.
About bringing ecological thinking and socialist ideas together:
Bringing the ideas of ecology and socialism together is a way to understand how the UK regime and the capitalism and patriarchy which it embodies can be surpassed. It is not a matter of if but when. It will disintegrate when coherent ideas of social and natural development seize the hearts and minds of a critical mass of the population. The insights derived from an ecological understanding of how our human system’s interdependence on the multiplicity of the Earth’s ecosystems can clarify the basis of the UK regime’s historical development and its demise. Socialism is a body of human political experience that contains both principles and sometimes difficult lessons that can help guide the development of social forms through which people can take over the running of society. We are going through a change in our species being. A new paradigm of what it means to be human is emerging, free of racial prejudice, nationalism and imperialism. The specific circumstances of the UK regime make it a prime candidate to make a break with the system of which it has been a progenitor but its break up will not be isolated from other irruptions of a similar sort. Humanity faces extinction and as it does so it will engage with its origins in the brilliant invention of the coalitions of human females in the Rift Valley of Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago as our species emerged. This enormous capability, though suppressed and exploited, is current in our lives and lives in us as the vital revolutionary energy that we can call on to reconstruct our lives.
I am writing this at a crucial moment, a moment of change. The UK has now left the European Union and we are in the midst of the Corona virus pandemic. I am an old white English man. My mother’s family were working class from the Midlands and my father’s middle class from Lancashire. I had the benefit of the 1948 Education Act, went to a Grammar School (becoming a comprehensive half way through my time there), got into Cambridge University and subsequently worked as a theatre director and writer. As a young adult, maybe as a direct consequence of being at the Bloody Sunday March in Derry in January 1972, I joined the Communist Party and was a Borough Organiser in Brent which then included a significant industrial district. I was on the editorial staff of Marxism Today. My work as a theatre practitioner initially involved touring theatre that, in two notable instances, was financed and supported by the National Union of Mineworkers. Latterly I have worked internationally and this led, amongst other things, to a collaboration with a theatre company in Gaza, which is ongoing. My work as a theatre practitioner was sidelined more than ten years ago by my need to engage with climate change and this led to my doing a Masters in Ecological Economics at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. I say all this so you know more or less where I’m coming from. I may not be alive to see the changes that I am able to describe and I feel strongly that it is voices other than mine that need to be heard. We who are old and white should listen. And writing can be a way of actively listening.
Getting attuned to listening is a way of joining a dialogue and it is only this that will activate the knowledge we need. I am aware of a need to engage in philosophy. The new paradigm that I mentioned above requires new knowledge. This is important in our circumstances where such a lot of information is available. Knowing must be practical and active. I think of this as materialism. The ‘knowing’ that I believe is required is connected to the human capability for intersubjectivity, how we know and recognise the other and how we become who we are through this process. This human capability is central to the inventions made by coalitions of human females at the origins of our species when the priority for the human group was enabling the reproduction of large-brained early-birthed creatures that required protection as they grew physically autonomous and socially aware. It is in the nature of this paradigm shift that we have to go back to our roots in order to go forward to our future. Whatever social and popular movement arises will base itself on communication and exchange that can situate itself successfully, and take up a creative relationship, with electronic social networking, information technology and technological intelligence. The kind of material knowing that I am describing is completely compatible with analytical and systemic wisdom and awareness.