CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? The specifics of the UK regime: for example, the Labour Party.

I have said elsewhere in this series of online pieces that the moral collapse of the Labour Party during the leadership of Keir Starmer is a sign of the break-up of the UK regime.  What role has this party played in sustaining the power of the ruling elites?   What is the meaning and import of the splits and divisions in it?

The Labour Party can no longer be the instrument for the suppression of socialism for the UK political elites.  The historical tensions that held it together have torn it apart.  In the aftermath of the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s project, it has reverted to administrative procedures and inner-party machinations to deal with political difference. It has conformed to the role designated for it as Her Majesty’s loyal opposition and in so doing it has succumbed to its function in the two party democracy that re-iterates the ‘trifunctional’ state, the kingship-based form that underlies the ‘monarch in parliament’ constitutional settlement that is the basis of the UK regime.  The popular movement for ecological and socialist change that will be the undoing of the regime must come from elsewhere, from other networks and alliances, dissociated from the institutions of the regime and not supplicant to them.

The early political development of sovereignty and constitutional adaptability that characterise the English and UK state have been both its enduring strength but will play a part in its undoing.  This state exhibits the most fulsome and coherent continuity between feudal and modern forms and also has succeeded in prolonging liberalism in a way that has given unique scope to the predatory and financialised forms of late capitalism

What are the specific contours of the UK state of which the Labour Party is a product? I have described some of the ecological determinants of the British Isles and the broad history of the political constitution of the nation state.   Has the geographical or bioregional situation of the islands of Ireland and of Britain, a relatively short distance from the landmass of the Eurasian continent on one side, and the Atlantic ocean on the other, shaped the social formations that have developed?  For example, from a meteorological point of view the British islands’ weather systems are subject to the alternate influences of the Eurasian continent and the Atlantic ocean. The additional and decisive impact of the Gulf Stream means that the islands are warmer than their northerly latitude would have dictated. These elements may have had an impact on the human populations predispositions, capabilities and temperament. I have described the political and economic impact of England’s position, and particularly that of London, being closer to Eurasian continent and the advantages afforded by the Thames estuary. How far are these physical circumstances determining for the formation of the political regime, of its centralisation and of its adaptability?

The societies that formed in the Western edge of the continent after the break-up of the Roman Empire tended to become nation-states earlier than those further east.  Germany and Italy became integral nation-states only in the later part of the 19th century.  England, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland all developed early and pursued that development through imperialism.  Ireland was dominated by England, as were the other nations, Wales and Scotland, that were the non-Roman-occupied regions of Britain.  

The British island provided immediate and clear borders advantageous to nation-state formation.  At an early stage the image of England became elided with Britain as the domain of the whole island. This laid the basis for its imperial ideology. Soon after the Norman invasion of 1066 Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the hugely influential pseudo-history The History of the Kings of Britain (1136) that depicted the island’s pre-Roman British/Celtic unity and is a major source for Shakespeare.  The latter gives John of Gaunt the blithe paean that celebrates ‘this scepter’d isle’, referring  to it as ‘This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England’, in the play, Richard II (circa 1595). The issue of how kingship was related to the territorialisation of sovereignty was worked through in literature and philosophy with an urgency that was unique. Richard II also most clearly dramatises the ‘king’s two bodies’ described in an earlier piece in this series.  Performance of it was forbidden in the closing years of the 16th century as Elizabeth I’s rule was threatened by insurrectionary social movements because it depicts the dethroning and murder of a king. 

The origins of christianity on the islands were complex.  One mission associated with St Columba (521- 597) and the Celtic Church came from Ireland creating the monastery on the Island of Iona as staging post in an ongoing mission. This was the main source of the gospel in Scotland and northern England.  A major centre of this missionary movement was established at Lindisfarne where Bede (672 – 735) worked. He wrote an ecclesiastical history of England.  The other main christian mission was that of Augustine (died 604) who established the centre in Canterbury.  The Canterbury mission is generally credited with the foundation of the Christian Church in England. There still exist the traces of this division between the northern church and the southern church. An example of this is the power of the Archbishopric of York.  The murder (1170) of Thomas a Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury therefore the Pope’s main envoy in England, by agents of King Henry II, shows how contested these relationships could be.  The English Reformation (1527) may have been made doctrinally more acceptable by this division between the celtic-rooted church of the North and the Archbishopric of Canterbury. However there is no mistaking the unique and integrating centralising force of this break with the Roman Catholic Church and the unity of the monarchical sovereign power that could boast both Head of the Church and Commander in Chief. This was a remarkable political innovation.

The power and influence of the English monarch’s court was amalgamated and interfused with the early development of parliament, eventually creating the basis for the nobles (landowning feudal lords who also had military capabilities and responsibilities) and the clergy (Bishops and Archbishops) to have their powers in relation to the crown installed in the House of Lords.  The House of Commons restricted membership to those capable of being taxed (non feudal landowners and merchants, the gentry).  The relationship between the two ‘chambers’ offered the opportunity for power to be transferred from one (the Lords) to the other (the Commons) as the state needed to modernise and democratise itself.  This process accomplished itself in the early 20th century with the relegation of the House of Lords (1911) and the final arrival of universal suffrage (1928). However even before the settlement of 1688 when the current UK regime was established, this system was already a highly centralised, adaptable and effective structure for conducting sovereign power.

Understanding the structural tensions and divisions in the Labour Party involves taking account of how political parties formed out of the structures that I have just described.   The groupings of interest that formed the two political parties that dominated UK politics up to the 1920s were shaped by the English Revolution (1642-1660).  The Tories emerged as the party that supported the monarchy and showed a more favourable inclination towards Catholicism though they were supporters of the Church of England.  They supported the Jacobite claim to the throne and the succession of James II, brother of Charles II, who was son of Charles I, executed for treason in 1649.  James was a Catholic and was deposed in favour of the Protestant William of Orange and his Anglican wife, Mary.  The Whigs were the main force behind the constitutional settlement of 1688.  At the beginning of the following century they affirmed their dominant influence as the UK state inaugurated the Hanoverian line of succession onto the English throne. This was the subsequent attempt to find a monarchy that was guaranteed protestant. The Hanoverians were the immigrant German family from whom the current UK monarch is descended. They changed their name from Saxe Coberg Gotha to Windsor during the First World War to avoid confusion.

It was as if the relative powers of the monarch and of parliament in the constitutional settlement of 1688 were enacted in the contest between these two parties .  As the UK state project moved forward, different interests expressed themselves through, and within, these two vehicles of policy formation and execution, the Whigs and the Tories.  At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Tories were more clearly connected to landowning and colonial property interests, while the Whigs or Liberals were more connected to manufacturing and encompassed the reform agenda that arose with emergence of the working class.  This reached a decisive moment in the outcome of the struggle over the Corn Laws.  These laws protected the landowners interests, keeping prices high by imposing tariffs on imports.  The Whigs became the Liberals because of their support for free trade and the abolition of the Corn Laws.  The success of this struggle led to price of staple foods being reduced to the advantage of waged labourers on whom the ongoing manufacturing expansion depended.

It was the Liberals that were replaced by the Labour Party and as this change took place the Tory Party altered its political base to accommodate this. The Labour Party became an intrinsic part of the UK state institutional machinery, an apparent strength. The Liberals’ reforming agenda carried on through the first world war, creating the foundations of a national insurance scheme and the beginnings of a welfare state. it was a Liberal, William Beveridge who elaborated the idea for this welfare state during the second world war. The Labour Party in 1945 put it into operation.  The Labour Party was aptly named since it became the major instrument for the ruling elites’ control over the cost of labour.

I refer once again to the work of Thomas Piketty who, in his explanation of ideology addresses the question of why it is that electorates do not vote according to their direct economic and social interests.  He proposes that the shape of the modern state with its adversarial democratic ‘choice’ between two political parties replicates earlier forms of state power.  His description of how the rule of the monarch was operationalised through a pre-democratic ‘trifunctional’ order wherein the warrior nobles and the clerical nobles collaborated and participated in the work of ruling and government. The third estate was the common people.  I have suggested elsewhere that the ceremonial and ritual roles of these two ruling components enact and display the ‘double’ two-bodied nature of the king.

The warrior noble and clerical noble groups that surround the monarch in the earlier state form were in themselves powerful as owners and controllers of the life around them, but were enlisted as a crucial part of the spectacle of power. They had a symbolic function, especially at a time when public parades and rituals displaying the ruling order were a key way of communicating and affirming power. The display of democracy has a similar symbolic and representational function in an age of print, broadcast and electronic media.  

The Labour Party was a product of the aspirational forces that impelled its foundation.  Its formation was shaped by the constitution into which it had to become effective.  Its function in this respect was prescribed.  The splits and divisions within the Labour Party can only be understood fully by taking account of the binary system of power, coercion that must conceal itself behind consent. They were determined by the field of forces the Party was active in.

The modern state, the secularised state, the democratic state, the property state, that which came into being with the American and French Revolutions, and that which the UK state conformed to through a process different in character if not in function to the preceding ‘trifunctional state.  Consent had to be internalised as freedom.  Rule had no longer to be ritually displayed in order to compel obedience to a sanctified social order of privilege and property but the very production and consumption of property itself became that which was displayed. It enlisted participation; subjects became consumers.  The mall along which the processional fineries of the monarch attended by the lords temporal and spiritual paraded, became the mall along which customers processed gazing with wisdom and wonder through the crystal awnings at the objects their freedom allowed them to believe they might own.  This space was further privatised and individualised in the array offered electronically through the spectacle of endless plenty that could be enjoined by the flickering movement of ocular and digital muscles on the internet. 

The function prescribed for the Labour Party by the ongoing constitutional project of the UK state was above all to modernise.  It is difficult to clarify how this ‘reform’ project layers itself over the primordial movements of the kingship nation state that it was induced to renovate and conserve.  In theatre practice we are used to the idea of underlying action being a subtext for the staged utterances and movements of which the performance consists.  We are practiced at holding and garnering the tension between the visible and the invisible. The process of modernisation was one of secularisation. The original meaning of the word secular described the movement of sacred objects from a sanctified place into an un-sanctified place.  Thus the sacred is maintained through a suppression that resembles concealment. The priorities of the regime are guarded through this process, thus they are internalised into the Labour Party as a tension between its sacred allegiance and its secular modernity.

This may be the reason that repressed religious structures make themselves so agonisingly apparent in the virulence and hocus-pocus of the recent goings-on in the Labour Party.

The question remains: what roles do political parties play in the nation-state structures that derive from kingship or monarchy?  What are they enacting or playing out?  There was an article in the online magazine, ‘unherd’, about nationalism or patriotism ( I’m not interested here in the distinction) in relationship to the death of Captain Tom Moore.  The writer told us that the Captain perfectly embodied two different, if not contrary, aspects of patriotism.  One could be symbolised by the Spitfire (the plane that won The Battle of Britain in the early years of the Second World War in which Moore fought), the other by the rainbow that symbolised the communal appreciation of the National Health Service.  The writer pointed out that the former could be associated with the Tories whereas the latter could be associated with Labour.  If the governing structures can display and play out an oscillation between these two aspects of the nation state, security and care, they can successfully absorb and express the energies of the multitude who inhabit them.  They can keep them politically satisfied. I believe this ‘play’ is the same as the ‘play’ of the warrior nobles and the clerical nobles around the king, articulating, feeding and ritualising the basic assumption of the sovereignty of the monarch, enacting the King’s two bodies, the temporal human and the eternal divine.  Pacification is the aim, passivity is the outcome.

This representational show which is described by political commentators from Bagehot to Miliband has transitioned and developed in the modern era. It is now different from the ‘trifunctional’ state, described by Piketty, in so far as it has to contain the threat of socialism. Piketty describes the state formation that replaced the ‘trifunctional state’ as the ‘Property State’.  The keystone was freedom of the individual as expressed through private property. This move in the direction of equality and participation requires an extra ‘dialogue’ to accompany that between security and care as core functions of the modern state. This is the ‘dialogue’ between stability and change.  Constant appearance of change is that which ensures stability.  This was the peculiar function of the Labour Party. Of course the dialogue cannot be diametrical.  Elements of security, stability and ‘spitfire’ are mixed to different degrees with care, change and ‘NHS’ in both parties.

I can only give a schematic account of the genealogy and functioning of the Labour Party.  It was founded principally through a need for representation in Parliament, and thus for participation in legislation, by the Trades Union movement.  The Trades Union Congress was founded in 1868.  At first there was a collaboration with the Liberal Party, until, for reasons I can’t go into here, this ‘vehicle’ started to go into political decline.  The other major element in the Labour Party’s initial development were the socialist groups that espoused the ideas of Marx and other socialist thinkers of the time.  The tension between these elements gave energy and dynamism to the new party.  Like the trade union movement it recruited and founded itself on individual card-carrying membership and this made it quite unlike the Tories and the Liberals.  It nevertheless absorbed the social mission of the Liberal Party and this became the glue that held the new vehicle together.  Its model of representation was structured by the janus-like function of trades unions.  They engaged with the employers and owners as agents or spokespersons of the claims and interests of the employees, the workers.  The unity of the workers behind them was their power. Looking towards the working people the representatives would be saying:  ‘Leave it to us.  We will get a good deal.’ Looking towards the owning class they would be saying: ‘Unless you give way to our demands we will unleash the power of the workers’.  As their political representatives the Labour Party was effective only in so far as it could win influence on state policy to legalise and protect the rights of collective bargaining. However to maintain the collective unity of their adherents, their members, they had to give expression to the general interests of the working class. The consequent programmatic demands for public ownership and redistribution gave the reforming agenda of the Labour Party a critically important energy.  It could be the receptacle of the socialist aspirations of the working class at the same time as restraining their actualisation.  Its strength rested on its ability to promise an outcome at the same time as assuring the ruling elites that it would never effect it.  Thus it was granted official opposition status. Its historic role was to both deliver and suppress socialism.  Due to this contradiction, because the Labour Party must at least seem to embody the general aspiration for social change, and also due to a rule change that empowered individual members of the party to choose the party leader Jeremy Corbyn was thrust into the Labour leadership. The party became the expression of the massive opposition to austerity and a rebellion against the conditions imposed by the solution to the 2008 crash. The elections of 2017 and 2019 demonstrated that there was a danger that universal suffrage may unleash an irreversible change towards socialism.

On two critically important historic occasions the contradictory function of the Labour leadership reached maximum intensity. The first was the General Strike of 1926 when the Trades Unions Congress capitulated to the Tory government and abandoned the mineworkers around whom significant sections of the working population and their organisations had united.  The second was in the period from 1972 to 1974 when events climaxed in the Tory government under Edward Heath calling an election on the question of whether it was the government or the miners who ruled the country.  The strike by the National Union of Mineworkers in 1974 the resounding victory in the 1972 strike which climaxed in a confrontation at Saltley Gates near Birmingham. The coke depot there was finally closed by engineering workers marching in solidarity from the nearby metropolis. This had followed another climb down by the government when in the struggle around the Industrial Relations Act dockers’ leaders who were resisting containerisation of the London docks were imprisoned in Pentonville Prison. Mass pressure led to their release. The result of the February election of 1974 was indecisive. This led the Labour Party to making a pact with the Liberals.  Those that lived through the days after that election will remember that there were 5 or so days when there was no government. Everything was stalled before eventually a deal was stitched together.  Tanks appeared at Heathrow. A state of emergency descended on the nation.  Ultimately these social movements – the General Strike of 1926 and the threat to government power posed by the Mineworkers Union in 1972 and 1974 – were defeated by the collusion between the Labour leaders and the ruling elites.

As a trivial aside to my description of these events, in 1976 a play called THE NINE DAYS AND SALTLEY GATES, about the general strike of 1926 and the Miners Strike of 1972, co-written by John Hoyland and me and co-directed for FOCO NOVO by Roland Rees and me, made a national tour backed by the National Union of Mineworkers and the Arts Council of Great Britain (as was).  Alarm bells rang and questions were asked in the House of Commons about taxpayers money being misspent on socialist propaganda.  That’s how touchy our rulers were about such things in those days.

If the historic role of the Labour Party for the ruling elites was to guard the constitution by suppressing socialist revolution this was complemented by its role as a moderniser.  In this it reached its apotheosis in the ‘reign’ of Tony Blair who, through impulses and inclinations that await their explanation elsewhere, had to re-balance his ‘clerical’ reform agenda by assuming the role of a ‘warrior’ leader.  His rule brought the UK into even closer political alliance with the EU on the continent where the UK state had first founded and asserted its sovereign form.  Had he succeeded in his desire to get the UK to join the eurozone he may have been able to resist his martial urgings.  His conversion to Roman Catholicism after he left office struck a personal note that resonated back to the English Reformation of 1527.

During the leadership of Keir Starmer the Labour Party has been unable to deal with the legacy of the popular movement that Jeremy Corbyn found himself at the head of without replacing political argument with administrative action and procedures. Jeremy was ousted from the party for a while and has still been excluded from the Parliamentary Party. It is too dangerous for the current leadership to offer an alternative policy to those presented in the manifestos of 2017 and 2019 because it might remind people of what they were.  What is at stake is so problematic that ‘anti-semitism’ has had to be used as a code for those views and adherences which are found to be so egregious.  The danger for the ruling elites of not having an alternative party that can contain and restrain opposition to its rule is that an oppositional popular movement will transcend the available political forms of expression and create new ones that are less easily incorporated into the UK project.

Installed in the Labour Party are the binary tensions of the regime of which it is a creature.  The party is often characterised as a broad church.  It is this inclusiveness that enfolds the splitting that is at its heart. However the move in the direction of socialism under Corbyn’s leadership brought about such a hysterical panic that some larger existential danger was evoked.  Leading figures in the party were shunned and ostracised as if some dreadful contagion had been encountered.  Curses were hurled. Ordinary civility and solidarity was abandoned. Strange judicial confessional processes were entered upon.  Humiliating pubic apologies were sought.  People were slandered and misquoted.  Oddly skewed investigations were carried out, followed by demands for contrition.  It was as if some deep secret bond of loyalty had been transgressed.  The evidence is that the Labour Party under Corbyn presented a challenge to the foundations of the regime.  It is the role of the Labour Party to absorb and channel revolutionary energy rather than enact it. It felt as if the party was being taken away from its proper role of loyal opposition.  All the fundamental primordial defences were invoked, as if the issue was existential, life or death, involving a deep elemental struggle between good and evil.  This could explain why the coded test of anti-semitism (expressed in thought, action, utterance, implication or association) was adequate to the emotional extremities that needed to be deployed. Like an infant dragged from its mother, or like a subsidiary space craft losing contact with the mother ship, the Labour Party was cast into vertiginous dark space. Timorous in engaging with this revolutionary space, the Corbyn leadership were intent on maintaining the illusion of inhabiting a broad church. They agreed to their sworn enemies’ demand to include the policy of a second referendum on EU membership in their manifesto thus hobbling any chance it might have of being elected to government in 2019. The new leadership knows no such restraint. Its collapse is absolute. It is getting down to details, seeking out a new dress code and practicing postural correctness before the union flag, a reassertion of patriotic allegiance so antiseptic it is as if the Party had been infected by an alien creed. 

The Labour Party under the leadership of Keir Starmer is failing to hold together the tension between the elements that brought it into being and that have made it such a crucial instrument for conducting the power of the ruling class. 

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? How did we get into the state that we’re in?

This is the fourth piece in the most recent series.  The first was a general outline of why, during this pandemic, the UK regime was breaking up.  It advocated bringing ecological thinking together with socialist ideas to facilitate this and called for a movement for environmental and social justice rooted in a localised network of activist citizen reporters building a big, deep and diverse picture of our lives under Covid and after.  The second traced the roots of the human story from the earliest female-oriented human societies through the male ‘take over’ of the neolithic agricultural revolution to the patriarchal nation states under threat in our contemporary world.  The third explores the UK from an ecological and bioregional perspective, pointing out how new forms of resource use need to be adopted.  This fourth piece explores the political structure of the UK regime.  I started writing a blog in May of last year because I couldn’t write plays.  The pieces I wrote from then until September were, like this current series, provoked by the Covid crisis and expressed a yearning for a popular movement against the dreadful Tory government.

It is not surprising that the shock of the pandemic is precipitating a general crisis.  The crisis will end the current UK regime, formed during the revolutionary settlement of 1688, which rules through ‘the monarch in parliament’. We cannot have regime change without ending capitalism.  The fuller participation of people in the organisation of society, making decisions about what is valuable and what we should invest in, is incompatible with capitalism. The regime in the UK disguises itself as a parliamentary democracy.  The monarchy is wrongly supposed to have ‘only’ a symbolic or ceremonial role.  Capitalism is falsely described as ‘just’ an economic system. 

Is what is true of the UK regime also true of other nation-state regimes?   Is the UK regime the original that other states more or less copy?  Nation states are a system and they conform by resembling each other in certain key functions.  They have sovereignty and this forms the basis of their agreement with each other.  The formation of nation states is an aggregative process.  They come into being together.  When did this process begin?  How was it worked out?  The idea that nation-states are generated in the break-up of empires is familiar.  When Germany in 1991 recognised Slovenia, previously a part of Yugoslavia, it precipitated its break up. From 1945, during the decolonisation process that followed the second world war, the European empires were broken up into nation states.  In this process, by and large, the template constitutional form, the model, was provided by the USA.  This had been the first nation state formed as it gained independence from European imperial domination.  Haiti may have been the second though its continued independence was compromised by continued oppression and debt.  I can’t go into a lot of detail here.  You get the picture.  

The nation state is a particular form of human group organisation that first occurred in the Western part of the Eurasian landmass.  Its original components were derived from the break-up of the Roman Empire in the complex process of migration and settlement that happened from 300 years after Jesus Christ was born and continued its development until the present day.  The commonly accepted crucially formative moment was the treaty signed between the European powers in Westphalia in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years War.  The 1300 year long movement was propelled by the structural and institutional energies of patriarchy (i.e. it was based on the collective oppression of women) and the development was collateral with that of capitalism.  1649 was the year the English Parliament tried and executed Charles I for treason; 1660 was the restoration of the English monarchy, ending the English Civil War; 1688 saw the constitutional settlement which brought the current UK regime into being; the foundation of the Bank of England was in 1694.

Unsurprisingly, since its components were derived from imperial structures, the nation state was a particle of empire.  Its monetary systems, based on national currencies, accumulating wealth towards ‘the head’ or the capital, thus forming capital, propelled expansion. Sovereignty constantly sought (and seeks) to extend itself. Borders were decided by war. Through its mercantile and then industrial development the European nation states created empires. From 1945 this imperial system transitioned, augmented itself and engaged in further financialisation. This was accompanied by an internationalisation of financial markets, trading principally on differences between currencies. The abandonment in the early 1970s of fixing the value of the dollar to gold was significant in the escalation of these processes known as neoliberalism and globalisation.  It was during this process that nation states appeared to be less influential in the circulation of value and many were dwarfed by multi-national companies. They became effectively competitors, deregulating and holding down wage costs, for inward investment from international corporations, . The period from the mid-1970 to 2008 saw a struggle between democracy and the international financial system that created a succession of modifications of state financial structures. This recent history is described by Wolfgang Streek in Buying Time, The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism.  The issue of nation state/government indebtedness is central to the crisis precipitated by the corona virus. The basic components in the recent story are the same as those that were brought into play when a group of bankers set up the Bank of England.  The deal was that the bank was permitted to print money if it would make loans to the ‘King in Parliament’ i.e. the government, to conduct a war against France.  This was the first central bank.

So what is the origin and nature of the UK regime, the nation-state form characterised by Parliamentary Monarchy? In order that our society can be reorganised and renewed in the light of the changes in our environment, signalled by the pandemic and global warming, this institution needs to be replaced.  However this needs to happen from the bottom up.  Productive and creative activity needs to be regenerated through people’s common understanding of what people’s needs are.  A version of what needs to take place is described by foundational economics.  How the perception of people’s vulnerability can be operationalised into an inspirational productive strategy requires participatory democratic bodies close to where people live.  To engage with human vulnerability our society needs to base itself on processes much more akin to those that flowed through the earliest human societies oriented towards reproductive needs and the physiological rhythms of human females. The awareness of education, teaching and caring as social priorities has been critically heightened by the pandemic. For this reorientation to happen the state needs to be radically decentralised.  Its functions need to be dispersed.  Many people will have sensed during the pandemic how crucially important local government is and how close to people’s needs the services it provides are.  The renewal process starts and continues with attention to the most vulnerable, turning human need into productive inspiration.  Dispersion of the state obviously requires the dispersion of investment decisions, of finance and banking.  To de-capitalise is both a geographical and redistributive process.  

In my play The Field events of this sort are described.  The crisis that the play depicts is precipitated by government failure in the face of an ecological challenge precipitating a financial disintegration. A popular ‘localist’ movement follows, with a radical government pushing through reforms.  This encounters a massive movement of resistance not unlike the MAGA movement in the USA, fuelled by male rage.  I wrote the play in 2019 and we made a public online reading of it in April 2020.

Our current social organisation, our state, inhibits participation and therefore destroys resilience. This is decisive in a period that is characterised by ecological changes, like the pandemic. The tendency towards passivity and confusion is to do with the deceptive nature of our political institutions.  The rule of the political elites must be disguised by democratic and participatory structures. People are induced into collaborating in their own oppression.  The problematic of patriarchy is that rule cannot be imposed simply and singly by brute force and terror.  The concealed nature of patriarchal power is that it rests on power over women’s power.  This source of power has to be hidden through making it appear sacred. The secularisation that has accompanied the development of state forms based on kingship preserves the sacred core of this form of power.  Kingship and sovereignty, the divine right to rule a given territory, meets the problem of how those who are ruled can be convinced of this authority.  Kantorowicz sheds light on this.  He calls his work, The King’s Two Bodies, a study of medieval political theology.  The King has a temporal/human body and an eternal/divine body.  This latter manifests the continuity and assumption of power.  The king is dead, long live the king! 

The study of political theology associates Kantorowicz’ work with that of his contemporary, Carl Schmitt who wrote about politics in the context of the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany in the 1930s and who invented the idea of the state of exception.  This is a moment when democratic and judicial processes are suspended.  This suspension is undertaken apparently to protect the very processes that have been suspended.  The justification is the identification of an egregious threat to the underlying stability of the state.  What it calls into play is the basic assumption of power by the King or the ruling group.  They, as it were, stand behind the constitutional structures.  The power that is assumed is the power over life and death.  

In Piketty’s book, Capital and Ideology, he describes the reorganisation of state power in the French Revolution that started in 1789 as being a renegotiation of the relationship between ‘regalian’ power (the assumption of power over life and death) and the power of the individual over his or her (private) property.  The state retains the ‘regalian’ power as long as it protects the freedom of the individual as embodied in private property. The state of exception suspends these latter rights in order to protect them and utilises state violence to do so.  The analysis that Piketty gives, which relies on the work of Blaufarb in his book, The Great Demarcation, where the transition from the trifunctional state to the property state is described. This also throws light on how these same political components were combined as a result of the English Revolution in the settlement of 1688.  I am drawing attention to this because the way our state is structured is such that the exception is the rule.

Another way of thinking about this is to consider the provisions of Terrorism and Counter Terrorism legislation.  Another is to consider how political parties work and how the difference between them is constructed; what remains the same when there is a change of government.  Another is to consider the meaning of the oath of allegiance, sworn by all elected members of the UK parliament except those from Sinn Fein who refuse to take up their seats.  The allegiance sworn is to the crown.

Where does sovereignty lie?  (By the way, I will return to the significance of the fact that the some of the earliest English monetary units were coins called sovereigns and crowns).  Does it lie with the people?  It appears to.  The House of Commons only assumed sole legislative power in 1911 when the House of Lords had to cede its power to impede legislation in a dispute about progressive taxation (Piketty p.163).  Has sovereignty in the UK regime gradually, a step at a time, come to lie with the people?  The final move towards universal suffrage was in 1928 when women gained political equality with men.  Is the sovereign, the monarch above the law, the source of the law or subject to it?  The central part of Kantorowicz’ book is devoted to the work of Henri de Bracton, the English political philosopher who wrote De Legibus et Consuetunibidis Angliae (The Laws and Customs of the English, 1235 CE). This is mainly concerned with the question of the king’s relationship to the law.  He wasn’t alone in the work of formulating and arriving at conclusions about this question. It was a major preoccupation of thinkers and administrators from this formative period in the 13th century through the English Reformation (1527) (when the English Monarch became the Head of the Church of England), up to the execution of Charles I (1649) and onward to the revolutionary settlement of 1688.  When Charles I was executed the question was raised as to whether it was the temporal human king whose life was ended or that of kingship.  At one point during the Civil War the cry from parliament was ‘We must defy the king in order to defend the King’. If the King was not enthroned in Parliament was he still the King?  Did the crown remain in parliament? Bracton’s conclusion, 400 years previous to the English Civil War, was that a ruler could only be called king if he exercised power in a lawful manner.

As the actual power of the sovereign appeared to diminish and become ‘only’ symbolic, the sovereignty of the people appeared to augment and actualise itself. This is myth. Friedrich Engels was quick to point out the anomalous nature of the English regime (The Condition of England by Friedrich Engels Vorwarts! No.75).  He describes how the power of the crown seems to have been reduced to nil and yet the constitution cannot exist without the monarchy.  He comes up with the image of an inverted pyramid where the apex is at the same time the base: ‘and the less important the monarchic element became in reality the more important did it become for the Englishman.  Nowhere, as we all know, is a non-ruling personage more revered than in England'(Engels op.cit.).  It is as if the sovereign presents, as a function of its apparent distance from politics, the essence of the people. 

Although the English or British example seems so specific, the regime, the constitutional arrangement, is an outcome of a historical process that becomes visible in the years following the break up of the Roman Empire and shares this provenance with other European nation-states.  The English model was formative in this process.  It managed to resolve key issues of sovereignty that were influential in European nation-state formation in this extended period (400 – 1648CE).  I want to emphasise the point that nation states come into existence as a system through processes of mimesis.  A crucial part of this mimetic process is the way in which in war the opposing armies line up against one another.  Wars are the decisive means of determining sovereignty in the establishment of borders.  The English state was an early developer in its refinement of kingship as the hidden core of the state and it was an early developer of advanced industrial capitalism and imperialism.  There is no logic, as I have said elsewhere, that would lead us to believe that since, in both these respects, it was first in, it will be first out.  However the UK resistance to becoming a modern republic may make it, under the kind of crisis circumstances like those of the CV-19, particularly fragile and in danger of break-up.

The danger posed by the secession of the American colonies in the war that started in 1776 and the French Revolution 1789 was considerable.  Only resolved for a time by the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The relationship between the English and French revolutions, that happened only just over a hundred and fifty years apart, is a good example of the part played by mimesis in the aggregative processes of the co-development of nation states.  This point is pushed home when you also consider the impact of the constitutional forms that emerged in the American Revolution that started in 1776. These latter were created out of resistance to the English ‘monarch in parliament’ form.  However in replacing it, it reappeared in the relationship between the President and the Congress, though the significant adaptation was the separation of these functions.  The attempt to retain ‘regalian’ power by Trump revealed the ‘kingship/monarchical’ forms that lurk under the surface of the democratic republican constitution.  During the attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol Joe Biden made the comment that Trump was not ‘king’ and the Congress was not the ‘House of Lords’ as a way of expressing outrage and giving a sense of a society having progressed beyond forms of power associated with a more antique regime.

It is important to gain an understanding of the history of this nation-state form of which the UK regime is an example because it has been systematically imposed, often with disastrous consequences, on much of the human population through imperialism and neo-colonialism (decolonisation).

The idea that the Roman Empire went through a ‘break up’ as ‘barbarian’ populations moved into the Western part of the Eurasian landmass doesn’t fully take account of the process of transition that these groups went through as they interacted with the communities occupied by Rome.  This story is superbly told in Guy Halsall’s book Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West – 376-568CE.  The initial movements of these populations into territories colonised by Rome were characterised by settlement and absorption.  In a wonderful description of how ethnicities changed and were fused Halsall makes significant observations about ethnicity itself.  The populations were incorporated into ‘Roman’ institutions and structures.  The structures of imperial rule which had synchronously adopted the Christian religion as the state religion, became the organising principle of the cultural and political lives of the ‘invaders’.  The cathedrals and bishoprics of Western Europe were derived directly from the centres of Roman imperial administration.  

The Christian religion offered, due to its universalist philosophy, a good homogenising imperial ideology that could give the emperor a model of kingship that amalgamated the human and the divine.  The creation of a hierarchy that, at its centre, had a figure that was proximate to Christ could validate the rule of a human being who was blessed by divine power.  It was later that the idea of christomimesis, the idea that the king takes on the role of Christ, was developed.  The hierarchical structure of the empire transitioned into that of the Catholic Church.  But this was contested.  The period in question was followed by an ongoing contest between Popes and Emperors.  To some extent this issue was solved by the organisation of the Crusades which started at the end of the 11th Century.  By this time kingdoms had emerged.

Dynastic claims to territory were consolidated through the assertion of divine right.  Borders were established through force and sanctified by holy benediction.  The figure of the king who claimed allegiance from other contesting leaders was anointed with the aura of godliness.  In the court structure that centred on the monarch, the warrior nobility played out one aspect of his power while the clergy, the holinesses of the church, played out the other.  One gave restless obedience while the other supplied divine blessing.

Looking backwards towards the origins of patriarchy in the male ‘take over’ of the human group at the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic revolution that I described in a previous piece, the emergence of the particular form of kingship that laid the basis for the nation state was a specific solution to what I have described as the problematic of patriarchy: how could men take women’s power without destroying it?  How could they successfully create hierarchies that combined the power of the warrior leader and the charisma of the shaman/priest?

Looking forward, the development of the king’s ritual, administrative and military functions were characterised by what Piketty describes as the tri-functional state (Piketty op. cit.)where the sovereign was surrounded by the community of the commonwealth, consisting typically of the lords temporal (warriors, nobles) and the lord spiritual (priests, clergy) and the commoners/subjects.  The functions of these institutions transitioned into modern ‘parliamentary’ democracy and the development of political parties. The underlying movement of the two-party state replicates the vestigial functions embodied in the tri-functional state.  By the way, this could explain the strangely sectarian ‘religious’ structure of the Labour Party and the sacerdotal demeanour of some of its factotums. Particularly, in this recent period, its use of anti-semitism as a kind of coded ‘test’ of loyalty accompanied by confessions, accusations, prohibitions, public recantations, disavowals, ostracisations, heresies, ritual judicial procedures and witch-hunts. 

What disposes human beings to form groups?  This might seem a stupid question since we are born into them.  They are a function of our existence. Are nation states derived from human needs that are not determined by specific ecological, historical or geographical circumstance?  Psychoanalysis has offered, through its intensive intersubjective co-examination of humanity in the consulting room, remarkable insights into human need.  Wilfred Bion explored the underlying structures that prevailed in groups brought together in a therapeutic setting.  In a sense what he lays bare is like the raw material of human group interaction but his analysis has more general application.  He arrived at a limited number of structures which he called ‘basic assumptions’ which determined the ‘culture’ of the group (Bion, op.cit.)Sigmund Freud wrote about group psychology and made observations of a sort that were to some extent the basis of Bion’s ideas and he arrived at two basic forms of what he described as ‘artificial’ groups: the Church and the Army.  The artificiality was connected to hierarchical characteristics.  To my mind the other great thinker about group formation is Elias Canetti.  In Crowds and Power he gives a comprehensive morphological account.  Many of these thinkers recognise the significance of money.  This is also true of another perceptive thinker, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who explained in Intellectual and Manual Labour, A Critique of Epistemology, how the abstraction of value that money presents is inextricably connected to its role in what he described as ‘social synthesis’.  I am going to go no further here in exploring these important ideas that are relevant to our understanding of the state we’re in. These thinkers were working when fundamental questions about social cohesion, power and leadership were being asked as a consequence of the collapse of the financial system in 1929 and the rise of fascism and national socialism.  

What might be going on in a given group – the example I have given above is the British Labour Party – may be typical and indicative of processes active in the social formation of which it is a part.  To understand how deeply lived and pervasive the structures of kingship might be can shed light on the fear and loathing provoked in the establishment, the media and in the Labour Party itself by Jeremy Corbyn as leader.  The party 30 years before had been galvanised by the extraordinarily charismatic triumphant war leader, Tony Blair. He was a winner. Jeremy Corbyn would be seen by acolytes, media arch-priests and political battalion commanders as a usurper, not a ‘real man’, incapable of pressing the nuclear button, unsuitable for the proxy ‘regalian’ powers bestowed on the prime minister, a loser!  It was after the election defeat in December 2019 that the party had to be purified and re-sanctified.  This process has led to its moral collapse and this is one of the key indicators of how far the deterioration of the UK regime has gone. 

In the next piece I will go into more details about the specific political contours of the UK regime as it came into being and as it now manifests itself in its dissolution.  Just to reflect back on what I’ve said about the UK regime being a particular manifestation of the European nation-state that based itself on kingship of a type that was an amalgam of political forms derived from the Christianised Roman Empire let’s look at Percy Shelley’s work.  The iconic moment of the movement that cohered around Corbyn’s leadership was his appearance at the Glastonbury Festival main (Pyramid!) stage in 2017.  At this event he unlocked the poetic roots of the slogan (‘For the Many, Not the Few’) that had brought increasing support in the election of that year, by quoting the final verse of the poem, The Mask of Anarchy, that Shelley wrote as a response to the Peterloo Massacre (1819) when the dragoons made a military charge on Chartist demonstrators in Manchester:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many, they are few

Shelley was in Italy when he heard the news of the massacre and the poem takes the form of a nightmarish parade of the English regime, the embodiment of murderous anarchy.  This was 1819, a hundred and thirty years after the English imported a king from the Netherlands, guaranteed to be Protestant thus crowning the movement that was initiated with the break from the Roman Catholic Church at the English Reformation in 1527, and settled him into the ‘Monarch in Parliament’ constitutional settlement.  Here are some earlier verses he didn’t read out:

And many more Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
All disguised, even to the eyes,
Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, or spies.

Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw -

With a pace stately and fast,
Over English land he passed,
Trampling to a mire of blood
The adoring multitude,

And a mighty troop around,
With their trampling shook the ground,
Waving each a bloody sword,
For the service of their Lord.

And a little later (just to drive the point home):

For with pomp to meet him came,
Clothed in arms like blood and flame,
The hired murderers, who did sing
'Thou art God, and Law, and King.

'We have waited, weak and lone
For thy coming, Mighty One!
Our purses are empty, our swords are cold,
Give us glory, and blood, and gold.'

Lawyers and priests, a motley crowd,
To the earth their pale brows bowed;
Like a bad prayer not over loud
Whispering - 'Thou art Law and God.' 

Henri de Bracton must have been turning in his grave!

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? Ecological limits.

Why has the corona virus pandemic been so devastating for the UK? The brutal indicators of excess deaths per 1000 have shown the UK to be a major disaster zone from the point of view of public health.  The economic consequences are even worse from an orthodox growth-oriented viewpoint.  As I have said already in this series it is the way the government has set out its policy as a balancing act between health and the economy that have been the sign and cause of its ineffectiveness.  The attacks on the public health system were central to the austerity programme of the 2010 coalition government so a whole decade has been spent grinding down the resilience of our communities.  Does the government’s incompetence coupled with its corruption mean that the UK regime is any less stable than others?  What is the underlying situation?  Can ecological thinking help to distinguish between superficial and profound instabilities in our political structures.

In the USA, of which the UK is a client state, the current crisis is centred on the response of a population to the loss of industrially productive infrastructure.  Exacerbated by the increased distribution of wealth and income towards the wealthy during the recovery from the 2008-9 crash, immiseration of large sectors of the middle class, casualisation of work, outsourcing of production processes have created a massive reaction of disillusionment, resentment and hatred of the central government.  So far this has been captured by the right. Racism and ‘masculinism’ have been the immediate forms of expression. The long-term devastation of the industrial heartland of the UK which began much earlier than in the US, during the Thatcher government of 1979 onwards, has had similar impacts.  The dramatic consequences of deindustrialisation are seen in a raw form in these two interlinked countries and it is manifesting itself as a betrayal of the poor white male by their ruling elite compatriots. This sector was bound by privilege, race and gender to ruling elites who now appear to have abandoned them.  In order to understand this unravelling it is helpful to look at the coalescence of factors that led to the early development of industrialism here.  The story of the rapid development of US industrial capitalism after the 1776 is well told in Trade Wars are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace by Matthew C. Klein and Michael Pettis.  Essentially these two processes were dynamically linked but that is a larger story.

The initial development of markets dominated by money at a critical scale took place in the mediterranean area in the 14th century and were centred on the mercantile centres of Genoa and Venice.  This network had eventually taken over from the Greek and the Pheonician trading ‘empires’.  The sheer volume and variety of goods, the way in which the merchant ships were the key focus for entrepreneurial investment, called for a stable means of circulating , measuring and storing value.  I’m not saying this was the origin of money simply that it was at this point that money was operationalised at a level that created previously unseen forms of capital and banking. It became systemically significant. The obvious question arises: why did industrial capitalism start so much further north?

Twenty years ago Philip Parker published a book called Physioeconomics, the basis for long run economic growth.  In it he relates climatic conditions to productive development.  Because he looks primarily at human need he describes causes of development as being associated with homeostasis.  This is the tendency for human beings to require their body temperature, whether they live in the hot tropics or the frozen north, to be stable.  I don’t want to simplify his argument but he attributes this interaction between human beings and the immediate average circumambient temperature to be a crucial determinant of how the productive infrastructure is developed.  Recently the study of bio-regionalism has developed and become more influential. Focused on the specific interaction between human populations and the immediate ecological circumstances of a given terrain it has given us a redrawn map of the earth cutting across nation-state boundaries. It has enhanced understanding of how human beings like other species, depend for their material existence on environmental resources and have an adaptive relationship to their habitat.  It is in this way that a population or a species will reach a carrying capacity determined by available assets. Interactions at a micro-level are related to those at a macro-level.  In broad terms this makes the history of human beings a part of natural history.  

Physioeconomics and bioregionalism help us to understand our situation.  Due to industrialism and imperialism human societies have transcended their immediate local supplies of environmental goods. The inventive use of input-output modelling has given us a sense of this extension of impacts in the composition of carbon-footprinting. Imperialism has exported the inequalities created by capitalist development thus extending their exploitation through trade. The colonised countries were (and are) sources of raw material for the industrial centres.  The costs, for the owners of capital, of raw material (natural resources, nature, or land) and labour (the production of labour power, reproduction) could be massively reduced by imperialist trade.  This did not simply consist of cotton or wood or oil but of human labour power that was apparently free of any costs of production.  This latter was the basis of the slave trade.  At the early stage the enslaved people were transported to where the productive infrastructure could consume their labour.  In the second wave of imperialism, globalisation, it was the productive infrastructure that was transported to where the production cost of labour power was lowest. By the second half of the twentieth century, on the basis of accumulated capital infrastructure and due to political imperatives, the high wage economies of the first and second waves of industrialisation had relatively high labour costs. Expectations of a high standard of living including the ‘welfare’ costs of public health and education had institutionalised these high costs.  The advantages experienced by the initial centres of capitalist accumulation later appear as burdens.  The austerity policies after the 2008-9 crash, brought in to facilitate the massive state subsidies to the finance sector, were a way of discharging this burden.  High wage costs act as a disincentive to investment so the problems of the first industrial centres have been exacerbated.  As states with trade surplus economies emerged, Germany and China in the present period, they tended to distribute wealth to the elites rather than sectors of the population are more likely to spend money and consume.  The elites tend to save and therefore decrease consumption imbalancing societies even further.  In the case of the UK as the first location of industrial ‘take off’, the first surplus industrial economy, the failure of renewal  and investment has also been made worse by the export of investment capital, benefitting from imperial advantage. 

There is no inevitable logic to the consequence of having been the first industrial power.  It does not necessarily mean that the UK will be the first to experience the full impact of post-industrialism but that is what’s happened.  The first phase (1979-2008) of this movement, that is complex because of the interaction between industry and empire, seems to have completed itself.  It has left the UK as the beneficiary of capital accumulation that reached its peak 150 years ago. There is residual capital infrastructure and wealth and, due to specific intra-imperialist relationships and conflicts, an over-centralised and internationalised financial ‘industry’.  It has left the UK population muddled.

The last major exploitable mineral resource within the UK territory was North Sea oil and gas.  The excess income derived from this enabled successive UK governments to continue with the  ‘run down’ of manufacturing industries and engage in wars.  The public housing stock was sold off as was most of the other public assets, services, infrastructures, and wealth.  The UK regime is unstable and will break up because the political elites have no more assets at their disposal.  They have no room to move and have no natural advantage.  Did they ever have?  What was the ecological basis for the development of industrial capitalism.

The wealth and well-being of people must derive from the land and natural resources with which they are surrounded and on which they live.  Of course culturally generated skills and knowledge, even predispositions, must play a part.  Ingenuity and inventiveness is natural and cultural.  Japan has been through extraordinary economic and natural crises and catastrophes over the last 20 years.  Bending Adversity by David Pilling is a book about the particular qualities of resilience that have shown themselves to be a part of Japanese culture and society. Interactions between human populations and their habitats are multiple and diverse and thus specific societies and groups and political regimes develop.

Every human culture is grounded in the unique response of human capabilities to the resources afforded by a given terrain and geographical position and is specifically developed from the social and political cultures that are antecedent to it.  The political contours of the British islands were formed by the extent and nature of the Roman occupation from 52 CE.  Whatever preexisting human developments – the British Isles were had a highly developed iron age culture – it was the Romans who first intensively extracted mineral wealth and organised agriculture in a systematic way.  The establishment of a major centre in London and the building of a system of roads that connected up the rest of the island to it was formative.  The extraordinary centralisation of communication that this provided has been determinant and is still. Already the benefits of the Thames river system and the harboured access to the sea were established. During the Roman occupation this facilitated the export of raw materials from the British Isles. Later the flow of trade would be reversed. The subsequent invasion (400-500 CE) by Germanic people in the period following the break-up of the Roman Empire kept within the geographical boundaries created by the Romans.  The Norman invasion, once again abiding by the Roman boundaries, was the last major movement of conquest and settlement that had started with the movement of people from the east, probably responding to climatic changes, who came into the western part of the Eurasian continent as the Roman Empire declined. The colonisation of the American continent that began 500 years later could be considered to be a continuation of this process of migration.  The country submitted to a comprehensive survey of assets carried out at the request of the new owners, the Domesday Book.  The suppression of resistance to this settler colonial invasion was violent and programmatic. It was particularly in the north that rebellion was most widespread, the suppression of which is remembered as the ‘harrying of the north’. The imposition of a ruling aristocratic elite was still being referred to during the English Revolution, nearly 600 years later, as the ‘Norman yoke’.  

As the political nation states of the Western region of the Eurasian landmass began to form themselves England was able to be peculiarly definite in its constitutional construction. This was partly due to the sea providing both a natural limit as well as a means of transport. Unity and homogeneity had been imposed by the Norman invasion. I will address the political consequences of this in another piece. The extraordinary natural harbour of the Thames estuary and the expeditious uniting of wool production with maritime expansion meant that within 300 years, England dominated the wool markets of Europe, even the cloth manufacturing of the Italian peninsula was dominated by this import.  It was rather the coincidence of shipping and wool that laid the basis for the introduction of Italian banking methods (Italian bankers became influential in England during the reign of Edward I) that extended the dominance of London and laid the basis for mercantile capitalism and later imperial expansion.  

The Romans started the exploitation of most of England’s coal deposits and thereafter, only when sources of timber began to run out from the 12th Century onwards, did coal production recommence. Maybe the impact of homeostasis can really be seen in this development in which the English, Welsh and Scottish were preeminent. The English dominated the coal market in Europe from the 1600s as they had the wool market. In 1905 the UK was still the largest coal producer. This is the underlying basis of the industrial development which took root at the beginning of the 18th Century.  Unsurprisingly the industries of cloth production and this newly exploited energy source were brought together in the steam powered looms which were so significant in the development of the factory system.  But the first innovation was the Newcomen steam engine that was developed to pump water out of coal mines.  Coal-mining in the UK was more or less brought to an early end in the mid-1980s by the Thatcher government’s declaration of war against what she stigmatised as the ‘internal enemy’ embodied in the militant trade unionism of the miners.  This they could only afford to do because of North Sea Oil. 

Although most of the mineral wealth of the British Isles has been extracted, the land is rich and rainfall means that it is well irrigated though there are signs that this land is exhausted. The ship-building that was so well keyed into the coastal and forest resources of the islands reached a peak of competitive success 100 years ago. The advantage that we gained from the early days of financial de-regulation in the mid-1980s, being conveniently placed between Asia and America and giving US banking access to deregulated financial markets, has been eroded by information technology innovation. The ideology of the peoples of the islands is badly divided and anything but homogenous.  The divisions between the north and the south which can be dated back to the Norman invasion have become more inflamed especially because of de-industrialisation. The huge distortion that the city of London has created in terms of wealth distribution has led to severe disruption between the rulers and the ruled.

A key-note in the speech Johnson gave to the Tory Party conference in 2020 projected a vision of the UK based on the exploitation of wind power.  He told members that wind would be to the UK what oil had been to Saudi Arabia. Johnson’s idea that wind would be to the British isles as oil was to Saudi Arabia needs a massive correction, it was wool or coal not wind.  

The British state, the UK project, has absolutely no obvious strength nor advantage.  The economy is highly indebted. This would be manageable if the currency remains stable.  However, sterling has already been downgraded because of what has been identified as political instability.  This will impact on the sale of bonds and restrict the ability of the central bank to engage in quantitative easing.  The impoverishment of the population by the 2008/9 crash has increased and this can become a source of deep alarm and discontent as the anti-austerity movement that started in 2010 showed.  The economic processes that are entailed in the exit from the EU look very different in the light of the ravages brought about by the pandemic.  The government are running out of credible candidates as target ‘enemies’.  There are efforts to engineer a connection between terrorism, left socialism, migrants, leftie lawyers and this could be escalated if they get into real trouble but, because of historical example, this isn’t an easy strategy for them.  They would need to prove widespread treason and subversion.  They have edged towards this in their attempts to isolate the socialist left but they have had to use the ‘veil’ of anti-antisemitism to do so.  Since the real enemy to their project must be social justice, egalitarianism, and environmental sustainability the reconstructed ‘war on terror’ can not serve them as a vehicle of counter resistance. They were only forced to construct this model of social struggle as the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived them of an obvious and powerful target.  It has turned out that the major consequence of the socialist movement that dominated the world in the twentieth century is the power and influence of the People’s Republic of China.  It is easy to forget that the victory there of the Communist Party was connected to the success of the Soviet Union in defeating German National Socialism.  Of course there will be attempts to show that China poses a deep threat – in the attempt to persuade people of this, the totalitarian nature of the Chinese Communist Party is always underlined.  At the moment this also appears as an unlikely target to focus counter-resistance around.  Will the external and internal weakness of the UK state with its economy so deeply in debt, so dependent on imports in all fields and on financial and related services that can so easily relocate and that anyway depends on the stability of a currency that is becoming more and more exposed, with a deteriorated education system, a damaged and demoralised university sector, a health service ravaged by privatisation, an increasingly apathetic and disaffected population that has lost a coherent sense of public responsibility and deeply distrusts its political institutions, be capable of being blamed on an internal or external enemy?

Do the weaknesses that I am pointing to mean that the UK regime is in a process of imminent collapse?  On their own they don’t but there is no feature of the situation which suggests any sources of strength.  The financial deregulation can be pushed a bit further and undoubtedly Brexit will act as occasion for this.  There is no North Sea oil nor can the UK look to be bolstered by a special relationship with the US based on military adventurism and shared security institutions. London continues to offer US banking an offshore deregulated haven. The US is also suffering relative decline. The cost of labour can hardly be driven any lower but undoubtedly the Tories will want to cut into it even more savagely.  The cohesion of its original colonising project first carried out through the colonial settlement of Wales in the 13th Century was grounded in the domination by the English of the British Islands.  It created a union with Scotland in 1707 and with Ireland in 1805.  It is clear that devolution of certain aspects of local government to the Welsh and Scots by the Blair government took place within the overall aegis of the European Union and this was even more pertinently the case with Northern Ireland.  This union is more and more fragile as we emerge from the EU.  Though this connection is more symbolically important than actually necessary, its meaning is powerfully central to the UK imperial project. One needs only to look at the Union Jack flag for confirmation of this

I fully admit that the picture I have given of the ecological determinants of the rise and fall of UK capitalism and imperialism is neither comprehensive nor authoritative.  It’s a sketch. What can these considerations tell us about what has supported the UK regime since it crystallised in the settlement of 1688-9.  Eventually imperialist advantage is worn away and wealth moves to where labour productivity is highest in order to recommence its cycle of dominance.  However radical changes in available and sustainable sources of energy have taken place.  What resources are available? The mineral raw materials that are the basis for electronics are not available in the old centres of imperialist power.  How can people reconstruct a productive and creative life conforming with these ecological imperatives or parameters or limits? 

Each of the elements of an ecological history of the British Isles has a political and social correlative impact. I will attempt to describe these consequences and interactions in the next piece.  I am not advocating ecological determinism. Also the focus on the UK may be misleading. The UK regime’s crisis is linked to an international crisis that is expressed through the specificities of the nation state. I am describing what factors determine the advantages and vulnerabilities of the political elites in the UK but also indicating the depth of the issues that must be addressed by a new movement based on ecological thinking and socialist ideas.

CV-19 Impacts: Regime Change? The human revolution?

I wrote in my last piece (see below) that ecological thinking based itself on a view of humanity as a species, a species inter-relating with other species.  I pointed out that this thinking would play a part in the break-up of the UK regime.  My question now is: can our understanding of human origins shed light on the specific underlying shifts, movements and crises we are aware of in our contemporary world?  Especially here in the UK and in the USA the signs of fragmentation are provoking a kind of rage of reaction and it might appear that the forces of radical patriarchy are strengthened through this chaos.  They are manifesting themselves in an extreme form but this may be impelled by despair deriving from a deep sense of loss.  In the midst of a tense exchange about the story of women in human evolution and the revolution, the brilliant anthropologist, Camilla Power, exclaimed in an email to me: “How can we use our past to help us reach that: we have the bodies, hearts and minds today that made that revolution before.  Care of children taught us how to do it!” Exploited and oppressed but constantly moving like a very deep dance the human truths that our bodies feel exact more vivid forms of listening and touching and community.  The deeper the crisis, the deeper into the past we have to go.

Much of what I am describing here has been described far better by others who know more and have thought more deeply.  I want to find a connection between what I have learnt from radical anthropologists like Camilla, other thinkers and writers and my own observation of what is happening around me.

Darwin’s work of discovering the developmental determinants of species underlies ecological thinking.  The formation of the new species of hominids, homo sapiens, was due to particular adaptations relating to selected characteristics.  These manifested themselves in distinctive genetic changes.  The erect posture of the immediately preceding species of hominids enabled their occupation of increasingly diverse terrains which gave a wider scope of food sources.  Collective organisation and communication abilities were related to larger brain in successive hominid species.  The trade-off between larger brain-size, thus the heavier, larger head, and the erect posture was complex. The birth canal of the human female was compromised by the erect posture so the size of the head needed to be accommodated by ‘early’ birth.  The human (homo sapiens) baby was born into a state of physical, emotional and social dependence. This engaged with the social and collective skills associated with larger brain size.  Our species needed to be social. The reproductory and child care processes were extended.  It involved protection against the most significant competitors, big cats. In order to build group solidarity it was necessary to isolate and disempower ‘alpha male’ selfish individualism. We needed to counter the behaviour that led to the largest male being able to make immediate sex for meat exchanges and to be destructively disposed towards offspring from other fathers.  These were the basic material narratives that selected for a high degree of social collaboration.  The development of the larynx giving the ability to make complex sounds, the shape of the human (homo sapiens) eye with the unique mobility of the iris against a white background gave an enhanced ability to communicate. Human females’ collaborative ability to control the rhythm of the availability of sex was connected to human males developing co-operative strategies in hunting, thus enabling social sharing of food.  The work carried out by coalitions of human females ensured that caring processes were at the centre of early human activity and this was enabled by the link between human biology and the cyclical movement of the moon, establishing a social rhythm of sex and hunting.  The development of intersubjectivity and of language both propelled and were outcomes of this new species development. This specific aspect of early human development is outlined in the work of the renowned primatologist, Sarah Hrdy in Mothers and Others: the Evolutionary Development of Mutual Understanding.  The other part of this story is to be found in the work of the Radical Anthropology Group but particularly in Blood Relations: Menstrual Synchrony and the Origins of Culture by Chris Knight, a colleague of Camilla Power who I quoted above. This social form of organisation was successful and enabled the spread of the new species from the Rift Valley of Africa 200,000 years ago to populate the entire earth.  The last significant land mass that was colonised by our species was Aotearoa (New Zealand) settled by Polynesian people from 1280-1350.

At the centre of developments in the sciences of primatology, social biology and anthropology in the past 70 years is the work of a growing number of women social and life scientists.  The influence of this new perspective is described in Chris Knight’s book.  A good recent example of this work is Human Origins, Contributions from Social Anthropology edited by Camilla Power, Morna Finnegan and Hillary Callan.  The idea that human females were responsible for the origin of culture and society is not surprising when looked at from an evolutionary point of view.  But what difference does it make to how we look at our current situation and the social forms which we inhabit?  Arguments are made that it was human males and their collective organisation of hunting that played the leading role in these developments and even that war played this role. This affirms a view that male dominance is natural. What is surprising is what happened 12,000 years ago when our female-oriented species was transformed into a male-dominated hierarchically-organised creature disposed exploitatively towards the natural resources with which it was surrounded. This transformation is complex, developing unevenly and gradually and some human groups exist where this transformation is incomplete.

Let us, for a moment, counterpose the vision of human origins articulated by contemporary radical anthropology with the vision given in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. This extraordinarily influential book was published two years after the execution of Charles I in London in 1649.  This event during the English Revolution was of crucial symbolic and political importance and Hobbes’ thinking was fundamental to the subsequent restoration of the monarchy and the eventual settlement of 1688-89 which I believe is the foundation moment of the regime that is beginning to break up. Hobbes describes the state of nature as a war of all against all where the intercession of the sovereign, the embodiment of reason presents essential unity.  The book encompasses descriptions of the make-up of the individual, how in each of us we wrestle to attain our better nature through processes that he connects with money accounts or rationality, and about how the commonwealth resembles an artificial man that is above nature and forms itself through a kind of contract. He bases his argument on deep consideration about the the senses and the external objects of the world, where contrary to Aristotle, he asserts an empiricism that diminishes knowledge as an interaction between material agents and emphasises the immediate responses of the senses to external stimulus and the separation of the subject from the object.  Nature is the objective and increasingly measurable reality that lies outside us and can be conquered epistemologically by reason.  The justification for the authority of the sovereign state derives from an assumption that the animal in us, the natural beast, is bad and must be struggled against through the construction of a sovereign power and submission to it.  I shall describe in a future piece why Christianity offered such a profoundly stabilising ideology to empire.  At the start of this Christian narrative we find man and woman in a natural state into which evil is introduced by the woman.  This state of sin is only redeemed for humanity with the advent of Christ who combines, like the kings for whom he was a progenitor, man and god. 

Murray Bookchin in Ecology of Freedom and elsewhere describes this initial period of human existence as the organic society and its break up as being signalled by the development of humans distinguishing themselves from the circumambient natural world and dominating it and the synchronous development of exploitation of humans by humans. These ideas have been influential on the work of Abdallah Ocalan, a leading member of the PKK, whose voluminous Manifesto for a Democratic Civilisation, written while in a Turkish prison, explores the specific impacts of the beginning of hierarchical society in the fertile crescent where the Kurdish people have their home.  He urgently asserts that the first intra-group oppression practiced by humans was the exploitation of women.  This oppression sets the precedence for other forms of slavery. Alongside his reexamination of the origins of society and of human oppression, Ocalan and his movement have criticised the central role of the nation-state in the liberation of the Kurdish people. This is an extraordinary and inspirational example of how re-thinking human origins has played a part in structuring a strategy of resilience for sectors of the Kurdish people, especially those in Turkey and Northern Syria.  The strategy is based on the liberation of/by women, ecological sustainable development and participatory democracy.  This last principle is based on calling into question the role of representation, of representative forms, in the functioning of democracy.   The full global implications of the political inventiveness of the Kurdish people have yet to be realised.  The Kurdish revolution as it is conceived by Ocalan is an attempt to confront the historical consequences of the development of patriarchy.

So what do we imagine happened during this transformation of human society, the male ‘take over’, and what are the consequences for subsequent human history? By the way I’ve written a play, THE STORY OF GO, about this event. It was given a reading in an event co-hosted by the Radical Anthropology Group. There’s brief description here. There were important ecological factors, such as the end of the Last Glacial Period and the changes in herding patterns that determined the movements of the big game that the human populations had come to rely on.  Correspondingly there was the success of human population growth which meant that certain stocks of hunted animals had been reduced by over-hunting, transgressing the critical point in a population when predation prevents replenishment of stocks.  Population growth also meant that the major competitive pressure was other human groups, thus creating conflicts between them.  There may have been other factors such as knowledge of terrain and its biomass potential that derived from inter-generational observation, also knowledge of herding patterns could have led to herd control and intervention in breeding that was the basis of animal husbandry, the movement towards settling land and cultivation may have derived from observation of river systems and exploitation of tidal movements in adjoining land. A number of books give accounts of the break up of the egalitarian society, for example, The Creation of Inequality: How our prehistoric ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery and Empire by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus.

The move towards the prioritising of production over reproduction, the turn from hunting group to war organisation, the re-emergence of alpha male dominant behaviour, the territorialisation of power and space that arose from crop cultivation and animal husbandry, the creation of surplus and the social dynamics of storage and distribution all shifted the basic structures of human life towards men’s dominance of women.  An important factor in this was the ability of men to take women’s power and institutionalise their possession of it.  To do this they mimicked the forms of power that women exerted over them.  The powerful mysteries of reproduction, the isolation and protection afforded by women to young females moving into adulthood, the first appearance of the menstrual blood, were ritualised and men were excluded.  Often in the current life of hunter gatherers this secrecy, exclusion, withholding and protection is the basis for social play.  Men copied their exclusion from the menstrual hut in the construction of men’s hut where they also performed rites of passage that involved blood and scarification. There, in these sacred spaces, the warrior leader and the shaman emerged as powerful actors. In recent discoveries at Gobeklitepe, one of the earliest discovered neo-lithic sites dating from 11,700 years ago and situated near the border town of Urfa in Southern Turkey it appears that the dynamic of the process of cultural development reverses a simple mechanical materialist explanation.  The creation of ceremonial sites connected to the burial of human remains and to the dramatisation of the border of the world of the dead were laid out in accord with the emerging knowledge of astronomy.  The evidence is that these sites which were in continual development that would have required the organisation of, and provision for, large groups of workers and thus it was these sites which preceded the developments in animal husbandry and crop cultivation made necessary by the organisation of their construction.  The need to exercise symbolic power drove the organisation of production.

The need for men to exert their control over the symbolic order, to create exclusive sacred spaces connected to power over life and death, was based on territorialisation and secrecy. Knowledge was to be the privilege of the hierarch and be controlled through control of space.  The driving energy was men’s exclusion from reproduction.  The continual impossibility of dominating women’s bodies drove the cultural project forward.  The energies derived from the oppression of women were effectively the energies of human reproduction recathected through men’s domination and control.  Men’s power was and is effectively women’s power.  The continual social enactment of domination is the very structure of the political institutions that we live in.  Men’s power is their power over women.  This domination is not an event but rather a continuous process of theft and coercion.  It is symbolic and actual and it depends not on women’s weakness but their strength – which at any given moment is their power over men – and this is the basis of their submission and incorporation into the social project dominated by men.

In fact one of the crucial processes that lies at the core of patriarchal cultural appropriation is a process of inversion. The stories and images of the truth of human origins in the work of human female coalitions are re-played so that the basic energies can be incorporated in a re-writing of the story that inverts the basic images and movements. This cultural appropriation through inversion and incorporation retains the source energies of the narratives.  Symbolic power was taken from women but my further point is that this is a continuous process.  It is in this way that men’s power is only their power over women and this power is women’s power re-cathected through the institutional forms of patriarchy. 

The energies that were engaged with as the process of male ‘take over’ started are effectively those which fuel our current social and political institutions. It is in this respect that the story of origins becomes important in terms of our understanding of the basis of our society and how it can change.  The presence of the power of the feminine and the story of the preceding organic society whose primary organisational principle was the reproductive activity of human females are seen in cultural manifestations everywhere. Anthropologist are skilled at ‘decoding’ the myths and stories in which the core values of women’s culture are revealed inside the, sometimes scarcely visible, patriarchal carapace.  But also in corporeal terms this other world, the world of the body and the collective, is constantly resisting the mental dominance of the male abstract, virtual, oppression. For a wonderful description of how hunter gatherer cultures can help us to contact our collective sensuality particularly in this pandemic see Morna Finnegan’s talk to the Radical Anthropology Group, Touched: Hunter Gatherers and the Anthropology of Power. This is why social change seems so dynamically linked to a return to our real nature.

It is the continuous nature of this cultural project that impelled patriarchy to construct a relationship with eternity and infinity in order to enact the basic assumption of male power.  It is almost as if this culture is energised by ever more superior forms of power, as if perhaps this is like the helplessness men encounter when faced by women’s power or beauty, or their mother.  Marx describes the cell form of capitalism as a commodity and describes how this object is endowed with a kind of power that he associated with fetishism. Look at Chapter One of Part One of Volume One of Capital He describes a system in which things have power over people. Capitalism is a development of patriarchy and it manifests itself in a typically mystified or disguised form.  It presents like an economic system rooted in humanity’s god-given nature.   Posing as an economic system it separates itself from the political forms that give it a rational carapace.  It ‘dis-embeds’ itself from real social human processes. The developmental movement is continually towards higher and higher degrees of abstraction.  The circulation of commodities appears as the circulation of money;  money appears as the circulation of quantities, money quantities appear as credit, credit money then appears as digitalised entities, money appears as information.

The early organisation of patriarchal culture is enacted in the figures of warrior leader and the shaman/priest/spiritual leader.  These figures are the core components of kingship.  This political structure is the basis of modern state organisation.  Power over life and death – I believe this is what Foucault refers to as the concern of bio-politics – which is the prerogative of the state must be sanctified by an appeal to a higher authority which acts as a ‘basic assumption’ (see the work of Wilfred Bion)  in the human group.  To achieve this, power must disclose itself as right.  Just as physical force and spiritual power must be virtually separated so that they can be brought together as the power of government.  This is reconciled in the production of knowledge as secrecy.  It admits of a fundamental splitting of human capability. 

In Thomas Piketty’s extraordinary study of modern politics Capital and Ideology he examines ideology initially from the point of view of the trifunctional state, the state form that existed in its clearest manifestation in the pre-revolutionary French state. There the basic operation of kingship, of sovereignty, was acted out through the three estates: the nobles, the clergy and the populace.  He traces the development of these forms through the revolutionary period as they make their appearance in the modern ‘democratic’ state.  He describes the action between the key political parties as being tributes from this earlier state form, the Merchant Right versus the Brahmin Left. The dance ritual of the modern state is a play between the vestiges of the warrior class (the Lords, nobles however constituted, reflected in the Tory Party in the UK, those who assume a god-given right to rule) and the clergy (the intellectual classes, the media, legal systems, the Labour Party in the UK). Piketty, constructing an international model, alludes to the Indian caste system in calling these secularised clergy, the Brahmin. We can see clearly in this organised and ritualised political form the original embodied forces that lay at the origins of patriarchy.  This dance between the different aspects of state power keeps the status quo balanced like a gyroscope and the basic energy is the suppression that derives from the constant reduction of women to objects, either as symbolic commodities or as functional providers and generators of labour power.

I believe the corona virus pandemic has sheered the outer casework from this weird machine so we can see the key operations of kingship, patriarchy, racism and look into the core processes of our social lives. These are, unsurprisingly, held together by women, consigned to the roles that are generative and essential, that of caring for human beings.  Beside them, behind the veil of justice and democracy, are revealed the heaving pitiful fearful creatures crouching in despair and hope that their outrage and anger will restore their king-like function. I am thinking particularly of the recent mob attack on the Capitol in Washington and the crisis of the regime there as the republican cover is blown off the monarchic core.  An immediate cause is a deep discontent at the impoverishment escalated by the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent bail-out of the bankers and in the foreground is the rage of these ‘real men’ so desperately afraid of weakness.  It is the symbolic reenactment of the Civil War of the 1860s that keeps emerging but even deeper in the formation of the US state is the agony of their modification of the structures of kingship that animated the rebellion of 1776. This story moves like a field of force in the undergrowth.  There is a deep ambiguity in the very formulations of a constitution made in the name of humanity by slave-owners declaring freedom.  Essentially patriarchy is hierarchical and is based on the assumption of superiority.  Initially exercised against women.  As the ever more complex social forms appeared this exercise manifested itself systematically as the extraction of labour power from the processes of reproduction, ever pressed into yielding product at lower and lower cost.  Racism inextricably linked with slavery is driven by labour power extraction and cost reduction employing similar cultural mechanisms of oppression.  Can the US regime admit this history without breaking up?  This crisis is joined to the one that afflicts the centre of the imperial system from which it appeared to gain its independence. 

I believe that the reason why our political structures are ‘double’, as described by Piketty are because they derive from the problematic of patriarchy in its suppression of women: how to exert violent power and justify this right so to do through symbolic power.   Vast quantities of intellectual work and social organisational effort were expended to reconcile whether the King or Monarch was above the law or the source of the law.  I will describe in further contributions to the CV-19 Impacts series and refer there to the remarkable book by Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies.

It is the continuous character of this drive to exploit reproduction through production that I am attributing to the endless project that patriarchy presents.  To call it a take over could be misleading since power is constantly taken.  Labour power and human need is constantly exploited.  This operates at every scale and level in our society.  It is the source of male violence.  Its theoretical extension lie in the bases of economics as it is taught and commonly understood.  In this discipline we are told that demand is infinite.

During the corona virus we have witnessed the break down of what is called the economy and we are told that public (and individual) health has to be balanced with the health of the economy.  The economy is assumed to be a mechanism that is dis-embedded, that has its own divine laws of motion.  Really the absurdity of this weird mystical system can only be summoned by saying it is based not on infinite demand but the underlying myth of infinite supply.

CV-19 Impacts: Regime change? Ecological thinking? Socialist ideas?

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.

About me:

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.

About knowing

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. 

CV-19 impacts: the merchants of grim privilege

In the face of the continuation of the CV-19 crisis the Tories attempt to deal with it by big talk, bluster, testing schemes designed by public relations firms rather public health professionals and the endless blame game.  The strategy is to set one part of the community against another either generationally or geographically.  They’ve worked out that the rich are not going to suffer. In fact under the cover of the augmentation of central state power they can hand out contracts and offices to their cronies and just blag it. This government is a disaster.  They should be forced to resign through popular pressure.  What lies at the root of the problem? You can read the pieces I’ve written about the Covid-19 crisis. The first was published on May 20th.

The latest actions taken by the government legislating, in contravention of the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union, to secure the ‘unfettered’ passage of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will have a number of impacts.  The UK are unilaterally breaking an international treaty.  Although there are claims in respect of the Finance Act of 2013 that a similar rupture was made, this aspect of the government’s action is unprecedented. The meaning in terms of the international good standing of the UK government is unforeseen.  The primary impact will be on our EU member neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, because of the arrangements made in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 .  

The customs border between Northern and Ireland and Great Britain agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement involved certain goods and services being subject to mutually agreed control in order to decrease friction on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  This would have left certain aspects of life in Northern Ireland remaining subject to EU regulation.  The open nature of the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border is a key feature of the 1998 agreement.  

A major factor in the movement of the UK state towards membership of what was then the EEC was the framework it offered to ‘solve’ the Irish question. In fact a major element in the violent uprising by the Protestant/Unionist population in the North in the mid-1960s was the indication given of this move by the UK state when Harold Wilson, UK Labour Prime Minister elected to power in 1964, and Séan Lemass, Irish Taoiseach from 1959 to 1966, met to discuss membership.  This integration into the EEC, founded by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, threatened the political and economic privileges of the Protestant community there. These had been the key ‘give aways’ that had been confirmed during the division of Ireland, consequent on the national liberation struggle of the Irish people.  The struggle for Irish unity had been forestalled by the connivance of the UK state in setting up a client state in the North and reigniting the colonial settler ‘ascendancy’ of the Unionist population, a minority in Ireland as a whole but a majority in the six counties of the Ulster region.  It was the Republican movement’s response, initially defensive of the Catholic/Nationalist community of the North against the violence of the unionist attacks that developed into the complexities of the so-called troubles or what should be described as the continuing struggle of the Irish people for the liberation of their island from English imperialism.  The main settler colonial movement occurred under the Commonwealth government of Oliver Cromwell, granting land rights to protestants imported from the British mainland in the 1650s.  The traces of this history are seen in the reinforcement of the rights of this colonial operation by the campaign of William of Orange imported from Holland in 1688 to solve the contradictions of the English regime in its need for a monarch that was tied to Protestantism and that would respect the merchants and capitalist property rights.  The Tory party represents this historic imperialist interest and it is significant that it was the Labour Party under Wilson that started to make this EEC-oriented reform and it was the first major act of the New Labour government of 1997 under Blair that brought about the Good Friday Agreement.  The Conservative and Unionist Party has written into their historical DNA an assumption of power over England’s first colony and an inability to countenance incursions on a sovereignty that symbolically underlies the unity of the Kingdom.  The spectre that haunts the Tories is that of a united Ireland and this has been made to resonate even more strongly with the historic advance of the Sinn Fein Party in the recent Irish elections.  Sinn Fein means ‘ourselves alone’ and is the party whose military wing is the Irish Republican Army.  Johnson’ pre-emptive swipe against Starmer accusing him of consorting with IRA supporters should surprise no-one.  

As the post-imperialist crisis of the UK drives the weird Brexit Tory clique deeper into their bunker, they assert sovereignty over the first territories grabbed by the English. This will increase the racism that is in its very being and make it reach out, in a kind of death agony, to kith and kin worldwide. Unfortunately, in a strange irony, the great white supremacist dreamland of the United States may provide a major injury to its erstwhile monarchic oppressor, and latter-day client state, when it refuses through its Congress the lifeline of a beneficial trade deal because the Good Friday Agreement has been subverted, aggravating the Irish-rooted population there.  And perhaps this will help to make sense of the strange sequence uttered by Johnson, apparently rattled by Labour criticism of its class-biased examination algorithm, imputing anti-NATO sentiments in the same sentence as the IRA slur to the feckless Labour leader.  

If Johnson is losing it, what exactly is he losing?  His wits? Or the carefully crafted English imperialist project initially practiced so programmatically, criminally and cruelly against the inhabitants of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. A project started possibly even before Edward I (1272-1307) solved the Welsh question by military occupation and settling English farming families in Wales (the imperial technique copied by Cromwell in Ireland later) and building a succession of castles to protect this colonisation.  He insisted that his wife give birth to what turned out to be their son, the future king Edward II, in Caernarfon, establishing a symbolic connection that still has to be reasserted by the dreadful monarchs lodged in, and predating on, our society. 

By the way, it was this first Edward that made the first expulsion of Jews from a sovereign territory in 1290, using racist sentiment to his clique’s material advantage – simultaneously he abolished all debts to them. This act followed almost a century of state-authorised restrictions that enforced badge-wearing, stigmatisations and the humiliation of compulsory attendance at sermons by Dominican clergy.  This racism was a rehearsal for the programmatic version that justified slavery as the imperialist project spread its wings. The connection of Christianity to territorial belonging and the use of racist exclusion to create coherence in the emerging nation-states of Europe was also connected to the crusades.  Edward’s first child, Joan, was born in Acre in what is now Israeli-ruled Palestine.  But it shouldn’t be forgotten that an initial target of the first crusades were communities of Jews encountered in the path of the Christian armies. If anti-semitism has any home here it is historically in the sullen, mean bosom of the Conservative Party.

So as the union, based on primitive racism, religious exclusion, territorial appropriation and commercial expansion, begins to fall apart the fissures in Ireland hasten the independence movement in Scotland. The cause of freedom for the people of Britain –  I mean by this the human rights of all the people who live and breathe here, naturally including those recently arrived on no matter what means of transport – echoes the observation made by Karl Marx (in reference to England and Ireland) that a nation that oppresses another nation cannot itself be free.  This idea of freedom, that the recognition of the rights and being of the other can be a liberation for both and all, is a component in a cultural movement that accords with human dignity.  This can be so hard for a population, a part of which has been won over to believe that they share an advantage and a benefit with the peddlers of supremacism, those that would have us believe that there are chosen people and our future is secure with the merchants of grim privilege.

The CV-19 impact: #StrikeForBlackLives

Watch this:

Rebekah A fronts the People’sAssembly’s online Solidarity Rally for #StrikeForBlackLives see it

Thousands of low paid workers will strike for 8 minutes 46 seconds across the USA today. There will be solidarity strikes in the UK. The basic demand is for 15 (£/$) an hour and union rights. This is the day: Monday 20th July 2020! The speakers at the rally last night were: an Activist from Strike For Black Lives in Missouri USA, Selma James (Global Women’s Strike), Wilf Sullivan (TUC) Asad Rehman (War On Want), a fast food worker activist from South London.

This is a shout out in solidarity.

This movement is reborn and restrengthened during the Covid-19/SARS 2 Pandemic and this is significant. The cry for racial justice linked to economic justice is linked to the demand ‘No return to Normal’. It is the surge of rebellion that arose as George Floyd was choked to death and continued with the toppling and dumping of the Colston statue in Bristol. It is gathering. Last night Selma James reminded us that it is a women’s struggle and Rebekah A said she couldn’t believe that she had omitted to say this. Of course. The vital link.

I remember reading Selma James pamphlet demanding wages for housework in 1972 when it was first published and the storm of controversy within the women’s movement that it caused. It implied that women were mainly responsible for domestic work! Or perhaps it didn’t. Shouldn’t we be breaking down this useless division of labour? Anyway, there she was last night radiant as the moon and clear as a bell.

Of course the strike is happening at dark moon. The new moon rises in cancer today at 13.32 EST (New York time)/18.32 BST (London time). You don’t see the new moon you feel it in the depth of your being. The swaying to and fro of death and life, the mood shift, the dread, the unaccountable hope. This time is resonantly connected to the coalition of human women who created the basis of our species’ life. At dark moon in our origins hundreds of thousands of years ago when the predatory night-sighted big cats had the advantage in the hunt and the humans collected themselves in polyphonic singing to big up the numbers and embolden their souls, when the rhythm of human being was pulsed through the menstrual synchrony with the moon, the dark time of blood loss and the second chance, the birth of language, laughter and deceit. All this beautiful work of reproduction – this time when the miracle of human birth and nurturing was the priority, when growth was not enumerated on a hedge fund bankers device but was the delight in the human wit of the young – is still our goal and our blessing. If you want to know more about this story find out of the work of the Radical Anthropology Group.

Nobody can mistake that the origin of racism and the use of racist ideas/insitutions/structures lies in the desperate competitive urge to reduce the cost of (re)-producing labour. It is women who produce labour. So it is the devaluing of care and nurturing. This function of caring, of real work, is racialised in our poor rich world. But nobody can be deluded by the impact of racism on poor white people. Or can they?

(Of course I was lucky in my teens I learnt most of what I knew from songs so when Bob Dylan sang his song about the Civil Rights movement ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’ and I listened to it in 1964 when I was 15 I just thought: Yes that’s obvious:

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin, ” they explain
And the Negro’s name
Is used, it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

But think about it. An English chap called Thistlewood who kept a diary of his time in Guyana on a plantation where he boastfully wrote about the inventive tortures he devised to terrify the enslaved workers also recorded 4000 rapes he committed against enslaved women. (if you want more details and reference to this story look at David Olusoga’s brilliant programmes ‘Profit and Loss’ and ‘The Price of Freedom’). The issue of crushing down the cost of producing labour through racism is deeply connected to the direct physical oppression of women. Men’s power is only their power over women. This is ‘power’ in our system. This is symbolic and actual. Of course this means that men’s power (production dominating reproduction) is really the power they took from women. They took it institutionally. This is the system we live in. This is the system we have to change. We need another system. It might not look like a system. The women in the People’s Assembly online rally for solidarity with the Strike For Black Lives kept talking about the feeling they had that they were making history. All true historic change is really unthinkable. It’s like the new moon, unseen but felt.

Watch and listen to the Solidarity Rally for Strike For Black Lives and get wise.

The CV-19 impact: local action plan

Since May 15th 2020 I have produced a series of pieces called The CV-19 impact published here online. I’ve been trying to think through what has happened to us during the pandemic. This post is separate but if you want some background to my thinking then be my guest.

What might a local action plan involve in our situation? Do we need to plan? A group of people in our local Mutual Aid group have spent three one-hour sessions discussing a local action plan to build back better after the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim is to make our neighbourhood more ‘liveable’, more resilient and more inclusive. The UK government’s strategy will lead to a further increase in infections during the autumn and winter and it may be hopeful to think of a just recovery, particularly as the impacts of the pandemic will be leading to greater inequality and hardship for those on low incomes. Food prices and unemployment will rise. The virus will remain current in the UK population for the foreseeable future. There may be other complex ecological and economic shocks. This makes what emerged as our main concern, resilience, even more crucial.

We quickly realised that a ‘neighbourhood plan’ , a statutory mechanism allowing a neighbourhood forum to intervene in planning under the Localism Act (2011), was not what we needed but the neighbourhood plan ‘road map’ had some useful procedural guidelines to share. We could see that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development had produced a Build Back Better strategy in June 2020 that resonated our basic values but we had to look at how the policies outlined could be applied to an inner city area. Eventually we realised that we needed to get broad participation in the idea of building back better by making a public event or series of public events otherwise the activity would be based on meetings and quite exclusively oriented towards data-gathering and priority-setting and target-definition. It would be no good for us to have a worked out local plan with no popular support. The Mutual Aid movement which is inspirationally effective here was based on doing things and people that did things tended not to want to come to a lot of meetings. We really needed to drive any cooperative action forward though ensuring inclusiveness, this particularly related to all the different communities that live around here. We needed to put the people who were usually excluded at the centre of our activities.

The next lesson was that planning couldn’t be separated from action and that planning was a process. Because people considered the environment to be a priority – the impact of the decrease of traffic on air quality during the lockdown, for example, had been remarkable – we could call on the experience of other ecological movements like the Transition Network . They had used ‘auditing’ or ‘evidence gathering’ as a primary activity in the movement of a local area towards sustainability. We would need to start this activity of reaching out/auditing/gathering evidence, renewing, extending and deepening our knowledge of the area at the same time as undertaking activities that brought people together. People were also very concerned that the next stage of local activism should continue and build on the work of the Mutual Aid movement.

We needed to aim at a participatory event or series of events where people were making something together at the same time as extending inclusion and building participation.

So what might the development of a local action plan look like? We would need to ensure that we made contact with all the communities in our area. This would give us an active big picture of the diversity of our local population. We would need to ask them to give an account of their experience of the lockdown and begin to ask how we could work together to create a more resilient community. We need more than a questionnaire. One idea was to base the communal activity on children’s drawing. We would need a theme. An additional idea was to have a parade or procession that would make its way around the whole area and collect the young people’s drawings adding them to a big book. At the end of the day we could present the book and celebrate its publication. Later we could make it available online and in a hardcopy edition. The procession could be accompanied by drums and music. One thought was that a processional dragon could be constructed over the summer and this could be paraded around with the music and the collection of drawings. If the dragon was a rainbow dragon it would resonate with a symbol often used over the lockdown to show community togetherness. The rainbow serpent or dragon is a profound and joyful symbol of coalition and solidarity. It transcends difference and summons a myth of collective creativity.

We devoted some time to talking about what might form the subsequent stage of our action plan. This was a conversation about food as a central issue for community resilience. A lot of the work of the Mutual Aid movement has been about food distribution especially to people who hadn’t enough money to buy it. Already the community cooking local WhatsApp group was the the most alive during the lockdown. Because of the diversity of cultures the sharing of food could be really joyful. Food involves issues of equality. It engages directly with poverty and wealth distribution. We talked about the fact that some people in our area don’t have a cooker. It could lead to talking about growing food locally and about health and well-being issues. Could we find out where food was coming from into the local community and find better ways of sharing and improving the quality and supply of food? Could we audit the average current nutritional levels and see if we can increase these levels by community action? Is it possible to make our area more equal?

As we talked we were mindful of the importance of connectivity, of engaging with local government, of thinking about increasing capabilities and skills, of the quality of work, of economic equality. Also we were aware that there was already a strong active group bringing local parents together to take action for better air quality. The area is subject to pollution from an extremely busy circulatory road system.

The shortcomings of the government are obvious. Where is resistance to come from if not from local areas, taking control? We now know that local outbreaks of the infection caused by the virus will be the focus of government lockdown strategies. Health and well-being concerns will become more and more grounded in neighbourhood action.

The CV-19 impact: Post Script

There are 5 other pieces in this CV-19 imapct series, The CV-19 Impact (1), Production and Reproduction (2), Popular Resistance (3), Scientific and International Differences (4), Last Post (5).

I want to address the issue of having seemed to be too intent on recommending unity as a prerequisite for popular resistance to the UK Government.  A bit ‘top down’ you might be thinking! It might seem to be contradicting my suggestion that a movement of true resistance must come from the ‘bottom up’. 

I had doubts about the idea, central to the “Covid 19 HQ” recommendation, made by Pete Jones and Chik Connors, that the ‘Labour Movement’ was sufficient to the task of offering a space of unity.  I have suggested that all existing political elements must go beyond themselves in the unique circumstances of the CV-19 ‘situation’.  My attention has been taken by the thinking that is happening in France where there has been a thorough description of different variations on the recovery process in, for example, Les quatre scenarios pour hégémonie politique du “monde d’apres” by Fabien Escalona and Romaric GodinAt the centre of this work is the proposal for an alliance between the green/environmental movement and the movement for socialism, the eco-socialism scenario.  This is repeated with a different inflection in De la CGT à Greenpeace, la société bouscule la gauche by Pauline Graulle.  I have emphasised in a previous piece in this series the complexity and systemic character of the CV-19 crisis which I have asserted is fundamentally ecological.  However, the first rebellion during the ‘situation’ has been triggered by immediate/violent and systemic racism, the police murder of George Floyd.  

A key significant event in this rebellion has been the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.  The ruling elites’ spokespersons were very quickly attempting to divide the people who took down the statue from the ‘peaceful’ protestors.  The response of the leader of her majesty’s loyal opposition was symptomatic of the dreadful disease of ‘splitting’ so characteristic of the ‘Labour Movement’.  He told the public through a radio interview that the statue should have been “taken down years ago” but this toppling was ‘totally wrong’.  Splitting is a painful condition that derives from the institutional history of the Labour Party and its double role in the representational democratic system, the role that wants to see itself as the good, kind master, that holds up the face of socialism to the working masses while making every assurance possible to the ‘higher ups’ that they will suppress and contain this movement.  The condition is that of having a forked tongue. It’s painful to look in two directions at the same time. The other signs of this pathology were discovered when The Work of the Labour Party’s  and Legal Unit into Antisemitism, 2014-2019 was made available. It turned out that party’s official machine was actively opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership but also that they were terrified and repelled by it and, apparently, by him. I think that this failure of the Labour Party to respond to the ‘history lesson’ given by the statue-topplers of Bristol is a historic turning point.  Of course the leader’s muddled self-contradiction are not shared throughout the Party. The Party in its very inner nature is divided and can only come together through an energetic force that is beyond it. Obsequious wriggling cannot solve this. The man whose statue dominated a central public space in Bristol had the initials of his ‘company’ RAC branded into the flesh of the people it was selling as slaves. Totally wrong? The people seeking systemic change within the Labour Party will be held in a dreadful and painfully compromised position.

I believe that one of the mysteries with which we have been faced is where and when the extraordinary ‘horizontalist’ energy of the Momentum movement would erupt again.  Similar social movement, in other political contexts, created separate organisations (Les Gilets Jaunes in France or Podemos in Spain) but here in the UK it animated itself in the Labour Party.  So where did it go after the Corbyn defeat?  I felt that this energy was on the streets of Bristol and that the emergence of a multiple rebellion earthed in anti-racism, environmental revolt and social justice was possible.

I thought it was remarkable how many times I heard amongst the protesters interviewed the view that, as young parents, they had had to go through the hell of institutionalised and violent racism and they didn’t want their children to face it.  I relate this to, what I understand to be, a shift in values, accompanying the CV-19 ‘situation’, away from production to reproduction.

The demand for the abolition of the police has given a systemic dimension to this movement.  As the ‘staged’ toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad in 2003 was echoed by that of Edward Colston in Bristol in 2020, so the demand for ‘regime change’, cynically promoted by the invading coalition, later resounded in many Tahrir Squares (and still does in Baghdad’s!).  The people want the end of the regime!  Not just a new set of stooges, not just a new government.  As Ta Nehisi Coates said in his conversation with Ezra Klein‘I can’t believe I’m gonna say this but I see hope.  I see progress right now!’  Her majesty’s loyal opposition are hopeless.  I especially say this as her majesty’s offspring squirms around behind high class lawyers to avoid exposure of his misdoings.  Abolish the police?  Abolish the monarchy!  Defund them, tax their wealth, defend their rights as an immigrant family (albeit from Germany in 1714), give them local authority council accommodation.

I am optimistically inclined.  Is this really a turning point?  When it comes to looking at systemic change it’s worth reading what Donella Meadows says, from a systems analytical point of view, about leverage points.  She was, along with others, responsible for the epoch-defining Limits to Growth, the 1972 report on the relationship between economic systems and earth resources, the first use of the kind of computer modelling used in climate change science.  In her thoughts about systemic change in 1997 she describes the link between these leverage points and a change of paradigm. This involves a simultaneous change at multiple levels of a system’s operation. The UK, US and Brazil have adopted an ‘exceptionalist’ approach to the CV-19 crisis.  This is unsurprising. There was a sense in the attitude of these leaders that the CV-19 couldn’t possibly happen here, an implication that it was for less developed and somehow ethically inferior, weaker parts of the world, that it could be beaten by ‘character’ rather in the way the Johnson describes his encounter with the virus as being like with a mugger – presumably the figure of the mugger and that of what he described as thuggery in the recent Black Lives Matter protests are related. The same kind of tone and mindset was in evidence when Trump called for the governors to dominate (Dominate, dominate, he repeated) in their use of police force against the protestors.  This exceptionalism is the underlying infrastructure of the racism that is instituted in the UK and US regimes.  This is a kind of thinking that sees production or economic activity as free of any bounds or limits.  It is the sheer exertion of will, the will to dominate, to dominate nature and not to be a part of it.  This is so stupid and destructive and we have yet to witness how the most recent application of this idiocy will play out, unless we can prevent it! We don’t know what the impacts of CV-19 are. We are all in our separate worlds, divided up.  Massive poverty deprivation and misery are being suffered. Look at Millions are suffering now as the economy tanks. Can you help? by John Harris in The Guardian.  The classical economic thinking is the current common sense and it treats natural resources as an ‘externality’, as if there is a limitless supply, as if biology is something to be conquered.  The simple truth is that if you don’t solve the biology the economy won’t recover.  This is why the first of the Principles of Just Recovery from Covid-19 is ‘Put People’s health first, no exceptions!’

Knowledge creation and information management is the core of any effective, even defensive, opposition. One of the CV-19 impacts is the severe financial crisis in higher education.  This will lead to a transformation of the sector deeper in many ways than in any other sector.  It will change the constitution and ethos of a wider social layer, the ‘knowledge classes’.  There will be major redundancies and increasing casualisation. What the student experience constitutes will change.  It is a time when the social energies engaged in these knowledge-creating institutions will be in turmoil.  This is a prime opportunity to connect these skills and abilities to resistance.

So this Post Script is aimed at redressing an imbalance and reiterating the sense that effective resistance, movements of social transformation, are principally ‘bottom up’.  The state must be displaced by a dispersal (localisation) of its functions.  Somehow magically this is happening in some measure in my neighbourhood where the local mutual aid organisation first presented itself at an ‘electoral ward’ level but was so popular that it had to break itself down into ‘polling station’ areas.  It is responding to shopping, food distribution and other needs and has, over the weeks in this polling station area, responded to requests for help from 120 households. It is actively creating solidarity and community. How will this extraordinary activism extend itself as the dimensions of the chaos being wreaked by the UK government become clear? 

The CV-19 Impact: Last Post

This is the fifth and last piece in this series.  The first set out some general ideas, the second expresses some ideas about how the ‘situation’ caused by the virus relates to production and reproduction, the third makes an argument for popular resistance based on participatory knowledge and information, the fourth explores interconnections between science and international relations.

The main point of this series is to make an argument for a united popular movement of resistance against the UK government’s ‘recovery’ strategies and to describe what I believe is the basis for it. Their apparent incompetence only faintly hides that the fact that they are interested only in sustaining their regime and to do so they must make the outcomes of their strategies profitable for the elites. They are playing the game of consensual governance but their underlying vision is of creating sufficient immunity for the continued operation of the economy. This requires them to spin information, appearing to act effectively against the impacts of the virus. Through public relations they are managing public resources, allowing the weak and dispensable to be culled, while centralising all operations in order to hand out benefits to the corporate sector. These benefits will take the form of privatised public utilities and well-packaged data. They rely on managing information, provoking and directing fear and rendering the mass of the population supine, isolated, divided and unable to effectively resist.

I have contested that this united resistance could be across all sections of the population. This movement of unity, not abstract though perhaps transitory and tactical, would present a united response to the government’s strategies deployed during and after the pandemic. It can be cultivated around the public service workers, bring together those in the Labour movement with those in the environmental movement, link the enormous creativity and inventiveness of young urban ‘horizontally’ inclined activists with the intellectual, manual and communication skills of more traditional trades and professions. This unity can be found in the need of the vast majority of the people for the truth, not handed down from on high but produced, like all useful knowledge must be, through participation. The government relies on the superiority of its management of information. This is its strength and therefore is its greatest weakness. I am recommending the setting up, not of an alternative power centre nor political movement that simply makes more radical claims than the already existing opposition, but a national network that activates the participation of local activists and ‘sectoral’ activists to collect and constantly update an information hub, at the centre of which will be an online space. This online space will enable, through the cross-referencing that is made possible by information technology, the building of a big picture of Covid-19 impacts. Specifically it will enable both a local view, for example, of ‘transport’ or ‘primary schools’ or ‘deaths’ or ‘care homes’ with a national view. It will be invested with the participation of hundreds of people. It will be infinitely more authoritative than the government’s media management.

We must replace the government from the bottom up. Obviously what I am recommending requires central organisation but only in order to facilitate a radical localisation of information sources. The template and format for the information has to be worked out by experts but the processes involved in observation and reporting would be participatory. It would engage with science disciplines in all known fields of human knowledge. It would bring together popular observation with expert analysis.

The principle of knowledge on which this is based is not individualistic or quantitative. Displacing the secretive and corrupt hoarding of knowledge as data can only be achieved by shifting the paradigm and recognising that knowledge is collective. We know deeply when we know together and we know together when we find out together what is happening by taking action. It is difficult to resist going into this in more detail. It was an ecological activist from an indigenous people in Brazil’s Amazon region who brought this home to me when she proposed ‘epistemological rebellion’. It is theatre as an art which, from its roots as an instrument of human knowing, lays bare the ability that we have to know ourselves and know the world in the same instant.

There is absolutely no comfort for me in knowing that what I am saying will be judged to be irrelevant to those who might best be able to put it into practice. Such is the awful situation that we are in. We have been rendered powerless and this means that the ruling elites only have power by having power over us. Why do we let them get away with it? Because we think they know more than us? There has been absolutely no response that would lead me to believe that this question of unity and the ‘knowing’ that I am proposing as the basis of it is considered important. My colleagues who have proposed a ‘Covid-19 HQ’ as a centre for a united response have remarked after one encounter with an influential labour movement organisation that ‘we are talking a different language’. There’s just no conversation. Nobody has said: “It’s already happening” “It’s unnecessary” “That’s no way to do it!” “What the hell are you talking about?”

The movement that has erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd has exposed the racist foundations of the US regime and the UK’s historic institutionalised link with it. This is linked in a complex way with the vulnerability of the BAME communities to the impacts of virus. In this crucible the deep issue of unity is already presenting itself. I am impressed by the slogan: ‘White silence is violence’. I’m white. How can this solidarity express itself beyond the necessary gestures and expressions? This may be the beginning of the resistance movement, far more dynamic than my arcane call for rebellion in the form of an information network but perhaps not exclusive of it.

Members of the scientific community have already shown the lead by creating an alternative voice to the Government’s co-option of ‘science’ in the setting up of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. The open letter from the opposition parties is interesting in this respect. As well as this there have been major disagreements from the remaining members of SAGE over the government’s relaxation of lockdown timing. The kind of connection I alluded to in my last piece between science, politics and commerce is exemplified by the latest issues and actions surrounding the anti-malarial drug, Hydroxychloroquine. Once again I would persist in saying that the underlying issue is that of transparency and of information management.

People have responded to the government’s track and trace app by refusing to participate because of the privacy issues involved. Months ago responsible technologists voiced their concerns in an open letter. The app was developed by Pivotal, a subsidiary of the US software company, VMware who are owned by Dell Technologies. The tracing contract has been awarded to US call centre company Sitel and the staff training is being undertaken by Serco. What public oversight of these companies is there? The government had the opportunity of mobilising our communities’ skills and talents and at the same time localising the delivery of a testing, tracking and tracing system through local NHS trusts who already have strategies in place through the organisation of responses to food poisoning and infectious disease management. There is an example of an initiative by retired Health professionals in Sheffield mentioned in an article in the British Medical Journal. Read there what Professor Alyson Pollock has to say about the importance of working through local networks centred around Doctor’s surgeries.

The government is unworried by the effectiveness of their strategies against the virus and are looking for the benefits that they can gain in the ‘recovery’ process. Why is there no coherent resistance to this? It is to do with a complete naivety about what a national emergency involves and a wholesale swallowing of the ‘story’ that these creeps have constantly re-spun that we are engaged in a ‘war’ against a dreadful virus. Their political management strategies are the only thing that is transparent yet the political culture we live in is so saturated with masculinist and idiotic ideas about strength and power that we are reduced to one dumb response to all situations and blinded to how the simple inculcation of fear is being used to herd us into grovelling allegiance.

At the moment the opposition is suspended, resistance is deferred. There is a belief that eventually there will be a settling of accounts and the government’s incompetence will be exposed and those responsible reprimanded. This is because there is a belief that the governmental chaos is to do with the extraordinarily difficult situation with which they have been presented. This is complete nonsense. Everybody gets very excited about the Chief Adviser breaking the lockdown rules. Strident calls for his resignation are bleated abroad. Given the Number 10 rose garden for his public apologia, he tells the public that this major breach was made in order to test his eye-sight. They’re having a laugh. It’s a display of power covering the use of it. What these boys have planned will make the great bankers’ bail out after 2008 look like petty theft. The great public inquiry will be just another episode in the charade and by that time it will be too late. The basic terms of the settlement, an orgy of deregulation and privatisation, that will be enhanced by the absence of a deal with the EU, will already have happened. We will be left being outraged once again.

Most of what I have said here is a repetition of what I’ve said before. It is difficult not to repeat political commonplaces in calls for unity and resistance. I’ve had a go at beating my little drum and this is the last post.