Filed under: Capitalism, Imagination | Tags: Bechtel, Democracy, Ecuador, Edinburgh, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Financial Times, Glasgow East Byelection, Guayaquil, Hope, Labour Party, Lawrence Summers, New Labour, Scotland, Scottish Independence, Tariq Ali, Thatcherism, Venezuela
Yesterday, I heard Tariq Ali speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Warning: bagpipes at link!). Erudite, gentle and compassionate, Ali began with last month’s Glasgow East byelection, in which the Scottish National Party defeated the 25th safest incumbent in Britain, inciting Ali to label the incident ‘the end of New Labour’, and moved expertly from British politics to South Ossetia, China, Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela and back to Scottish independence. It was a masterful performance.
Ali pointed out that when Tony Blair’s New Labour came to power in 1997, if you read what Blair and his ministers were actually saying (which of course Ali did to no avail), they were advocating a continuation of Thatcherism. Surely the privatization of the Royal Mail should have keyed us in to the fact that there is little difference between the Conservatives and Blair’s Labour. Ali pointed to the chameleon tendencies of Tory ministers who found no difficulty finding a new home. Indeed, the recent confidence motion that demanded 42-day detention capabilities for anti-terrorism police saw progressive Labour MPs voting for the bill while every Tory voted against it. Under neoliberalism and capitalism, Ali argued, when you believe that the Market can solve everything, why, exactly, do we have government at all? Pro-market MPs are incidental, opportunistic and utterly indistinguishable.
Well, the party’s over. ‘When you base your politics on a lie’, Ali stated, ‘it’s only a matter of time before you get caught out’. He cited a Financial Times article by (sexist bigot) Lawrence Summers about the mortgage crisis in the United States:
the government should use its new receivership power to protect taxpayers and the financial system. In the process, payments to stock holders, holders of preferred stock and probably subordinated debt holders would be wiped out, conserving cash for the benefit of taxpayers. The GSEs’ borrowing costs would fall considerably, helping prospective homeowners.
In this scenario, the government would operate the GSEs as public corporations for several years. They would then be in a position to extend credit where appropriate to support resolution of the current housing crisis.
Punishing shareholders. Nationalization without compensation. ‘In the olden days,’ Ali said, ‘this was called “expropriation.” China’s recent explosive growth has emphatically demonstrated that capitalism and democracy are not companions. Now, to save us from the devastation neoliberalism has wrought, the ex-president of Harvard University, in the pages of the Financial Times is advocating social democracy as the only available solution.
Under time constraints, Ali turned briefly to the situation in South America, where populist anti-poverty movements are changing the political landscape of a continent and delivering social change to the people. ‘It’s not revolutionary’, he said simply. ‘It’s social democracy’. If Scotland, for example, continues its path towards independence, they will have a new space in which to build a robust democracy. There is no point in earning it, Ali says, unless you are prepared to do something with it. Actions like the Ecuadoran village of Guayaquil, and their winning fight against Bechtel who sought to privatize their water supply should provide us with hope that we do not have to doom ourselves to another term of neoliberalism, now Labour, now Tory. ‘Change is possible’, Ali concluded. ‘If the will is there’.
So let’s, shall we?