Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Dereliction of Duty

Oliver Letwin is coming to York University to make a speech on 'Why Toleration?'. It's the big keynote annual speech type thing organised by the Political Philosophy/Theory branch of the Politics Dept. Every year a fairly well known figure comes in to make a speech on the niceness and goodness of toleration mmkay. I really should go. All of the previous ones that I have attended have been very interesting and very well done. But I'm afraid I just can't face this one. Even the thought of free wine at the after speech reception type thing (it's a tough life, academia) doesn't quite do it.

Funnily enough I wouldn't mind seeing Letwin speak. Sure, the man's a complete twerp. But he is, at least, an engaging twerp. He's an interesting twerp. He's an articulate twerp. I just cannot stand the thought of sitting in a lecture theatre half full of braying undergraduate Tory boys and Tory girls and half full of doddering old hangemandflogems from the local Tory party branches. I just cannot stand it. I'll burn up. It won't be good for my health. I'll spend the entire duration of the lecture thinking hateful thoughts.

I'm afraid I can't go. The trouble is that it feels like I am running away.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

HM Conference 2006

Finally found some details online about the Historical Materialism conference this year. You can download a pdf file with details here. I've got my cheapo train-ticket and have arranged cheapo accommodation with a London dwelling friend. The conference is going to be a fairly cheapo affair, too, since there isn't a fee - only a suggested donation rate, which I interpret as something that doesn't necessarily apply to cheapos like me. All it will take is little bit of skillful collections bucket dodging every now and again. Of course, I'm only only joking.

Some highlights:

David Harvey on 'Accumulation by Dispossession and Capitalism Today'
Ben Fine, 'Economics Imperialism and the Prospects for Political Economy'
Peter Hallwood, 'Haiti 2004: the Perfection of Neo-Imperialism?'
Alfredo Saad-Filho on Marxist and Keyensian critiques of neo-liberalism.

Other people I'd like to see speak include, Andrew Glyn, Bob Jessop, Peter Gowan, Elmar Altvater, Leo Panitch, Daniel Bensaid, Hilary Wainwright and Werner Bonefeld.

I note there's a Socialist Register plenary session on 'Eco-Socialism, Democratic Planning and Political Strategy' (with Greg Albo, Frieder Otto Wolf and Hilary Wainwright) which, I hope, might help to dispel some of the doubts I have expressed about democratic planning in the comments box in the post below.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Liberal Anaemia

I have been thinking a little more about what it is that I find so unsatisfactory about liberalism (in the philosophical sense - it's obvious what's wrong with 'economic' (neo)liberalism - although whether one can make a clear distinction between these two strains of liberalism is matter for some debate. It's quite easy to argue that the two go hand in hand - and modern philosophical liberalism, in my opinion, often functions as a kind of 'ideological shell' for neo-liberal 'economics', precisely because, more often than not, liberal political philosophers have absolutely nothing to say about capitalism - as if it doesn't exist. There is, therefore, an implicit, unspoken apology for liberal capitalism - it is taken as a given). I read a paper, recently concerning (amongst other things) 'deliberative democracy' - and something became quite clear to me. Deliberative democracy, like 'cosmopolitan democracy', is a vague, foggy conception of the 'good society' which a lot of left liberals seem to be bandying around at the moment. There is nothing particularly uncongenial about 'deliberative democracy' - in fact I'd be rather in favour of such a social and democratic arrangement. What's so deeply unimpressive about it is the fact that it's so nebulous. What would be the concrete political institutions in which deliberative democracy could be embedded? How would it work, precisely? What, if any, are the political, economic and other obstacles to its functioning in contemporary societies/states? How might it be set up? What are the political and economic obstacles to the creation of such a thing? These questions, of course, do not concern most liberals in the slightest, because liberalism is a politics free-zone. There isn't, as far as I can see, the slightest interest in strategic political questions (ie. how do we get it?) or in specific analysis of the concrete institutional stuctures necessary for the functioning of such an arrangement (ie. how would it work, exactly?*). Its this absence of politics, this luxurious contemplative passivity, this treatment of social/ethical questions purely in terms of a kind of intellectual parlour-game that annoys me.

I find myself in agreement with the general principles, the ethical drift, of egalitarian liberals. I think we are on the same side in these terms. I am a socialist because I am fairly convinced that it is impossible to realise those principles in any meaningful way within a society in which market forces, the law of value, governs. I am a socialist because I can see that there are deeply embedded structural obstacles in capitalist society to the establishment of a just, egalitarian and democratic society. I was radicalised, not because I liked the idea of being a radical or because I had some a priori attraction to the idea of class struggle or the expropriation of capitalist property. I was radicalised because it occurred to me that in order to have any chance of overcoming the obstacles to the establishment of a just society one needs to get politically radical (whether one likes it or not). There is no way to abolish poverty without taking on the power of private property. Even relatively modest reforms run up against the logic of capitalist accumulation - it would be difficult for a relatively radical left labour government to carry out a programme of redistribution and nationalisation without being subjected to a run on the currency, spiralling inflation, an investment strike, disinvestment of FDI and so on. In other words, capital has power of veto over capitalist democracy. It's this that liberals don't see, or don't want to see. How does one overcome capital's power of veto? You have to resist it, you have to confront it, you have to take it away. You have to act quickly and decisively, you have to build a movement capable of taking it on. Anathema to liberals of course - we are getting far too political.

One can, like Jurgen Habermas, for example, spend one's time building up the moral and philosophical case for some kind of cosmopolitan democracy, some 'transnational civil society' in today's 'Post-National Constellation' (cough, bollocks, cough) - but this is simply pie-in-the-sky unless you analyse the obstacles and constraints on the construction of such a thing and unless you concern yourself with questions of political strategy. Otherwise it's just glorified navel gazing.

This is the thing. Liberals won't like to hear this, but it is socialists who are the realistic ones. Liberals are the utopians and dreamers.

* Although, come to think of it, I would make exactly the same kind of criticism (the latter one I mean - socialists are very good at the former) of Marxists, here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

David Coates

I've just found this little treasure trove of resources and because I'm an egalitarian kinda guy I'm going to share the wealth with you, my electronic friends. David Coates is an extremely good left wing political economist. On his home page are a variety of recently published or yet to be published articles which you can download for free. I haven't read all (or very many) of them yet, but I would recommend that you have a look at the top essay on the list: "The Category of Labour: Its Continued Relevance in Social Theory".

Unfortunately I can't quote any of it here, since Coates makes it quite clear that he doesn't want anyone quoting any of this unpublished stuff without permission.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jarvis Cocker

Apparently Jarvis Cocker is going to 'launch a direct attack on the iniquities of global capitalism' on 'Later With Jules Holland' tonight. Should be interesting. I imagine it involves being very rude about Geldof and Bono.

Let's hope he sorts out those iniquities by tomorrow morning.


Nothing of the sort happened. The Radio Times is an organ of liars and scoundrels.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Let's Have a Heated Debate!

Do you wear a red poppy? Answers below, please. I'm just curious.

I wrote something about this last year so I might as well link to that rather than chug through it all again. Every year, however, I am forced to rethink my position a little bit - to re-justify it to myself. I'm not wearing one this year, by the way. I thought about getting a white one, but they seem a little bit naff to me (is that a bad thing to say?) I associate them (white poppies) with absolute pacifism, and while I have nothing in particular against pacifism, I ain't one myself.


Richard Gott on poppies and remembrance:

"Poppy-wearing... has become required dress for establishment figures - as though the poppy was itself a military medal. "

"The Cenotaph was originally designed... as a temporary wooden structure. The military opposed its permanent site in the middle of the highway, since it obstructed their parades."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bello on China's Boom

I've just come across this website - Global Alternative - which is the internet website of the Russian Institute of Globalisation Studies. The director of the institute is Boris Kagalitsky, who happens to be one of my favourite political theorists.

It looks fairly good so I'll add it to the sidebar. There's an interesting essay by Walden Bello which I would recommend. I don't know enough about the world economy to offer much opinion on what he says, but it seems convincing. He argues that growth in the US and Chinese economies are bound up in a simbiotic relationship which can only really end in tears for both parties. China's amazing rate of growth depends upon US consumption of its goods while US consumption is effectively financed by "Beijing's lending the U.S. private and public sectors a significant portion of the trillion-plus dollars it has accumulated over the last decade from its yawning trade surplus with Washington". Clearly this makes for an unstable kind of relationship. One thing I didn't realise about China is that there is huge overcapacity in that country. China's strategy is to maintain its growth by holding down wages - but as Bello points out this can only exacerbate the problem of excess capacity because of the limits to domestic consumption determined by the fact that Chinese workers are paid low wages. Bello suggests that at some point the Chinese economy will face a severe crisis of overproduction and since the health of the Chinese economy is so important for US health, too, and since the US economy is central to the global economy the reverberations from such a crisis will be severe.

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