Questions facing The People’s Assembly; austerity or neo-liberalism and hierarchy or democracy?

Last Saturday I was at the People’s Assembly conference sub-titled ‘How can we achieve an anti-austerity government?. I have two problems with this phrase. Firstly, I believe the word austerity has been hijacked by the ruling class to act as a euphemism for ‘bankers’ bailout’. And secondly, covering up for and bailing out the ruling class when they break stuff is pretty much what government in the UK, and Europe, and much of the world is for. And I have gone into that at some length elsewhere. The main problem that I have with the concept, is that austerity is the euphemism that the European ruling class use to mask a specific stage in the neo-liberalism cycle. The greed of the rich broke the system, so they are using the State to force the poor to pay for the breakages. It is a fundamental aspect of neo-liberalism. I would argue that even using the term makes us complicit in that cover-up, whether we realise it or not.

That being said, and ignoring the sleight of hand for a moment, I do think that we need a new system of organising society. One that is based on equality, freedom and openness. And I would imagine that a starting point would be the collectivisation of production, consumption, responsibility and power in absolute terms at every level, individually, locally, regionally and globally. So nothing too radical there then. But I would also suggest that I really don’t think it is even possible to discuss it while we are mimicking the capitalist model of organisational structures and relationships. But I’ll come back to that.

The reason I went to the People’s Assembly conference last week was, because I have been to most of them since the original convening meeting of the People’s Assembly in London. Which, if I remember correctly, was held in 2003 in Westminster. Then it was an attempt to solidify the anti-war movement with the wider radical left, into a forum that could work towards a fairer, more just, and equal society. I still agree with that, and I believe that it is still the objective for the vast majority of the attendees. But it is also worth remembering what Tony Benn said at a subsequent People’s Assembly back in 2007, when he reminded us that if we are not careful we will end up fighting the same battles from one generation to the next. I think there is a case to be made that if we do keep fighting the same battles from one generation the next, then in all likelihood we are doing something wrong.

At this most recent conference organised by the People’s Assembly, I was at a session on how we can organise as progressives to combat a mainstream media that only represents the top 1%. One of the things that came up during the Q&A was the question of classism. Not just in terms of the right-wing media, but even in the self-styled liberal media. The argument was made that the leftists who get the most airtime and column inches are invariably those that went to top universities and use a language that requires an education from a top university to understand. The suggestion was that this stops the vast majority of the population from feeling able to engage with the left. It is difficult to argue against this. But I would go further. I think in certain instances exactly the same thing happens in the radical media and campaigning organisations.

Amongst certain progressive organisations, there is a tendency to mimic the structural inequalities of the capitalist society. The theory that leadership is required within the structures of the ruling elite is a self-justifying and completely understandable logic, for them; I am elite, therefore elites are required. But If we as progressives mimic that flawed and self-serving logic, then it is no wonder we struggle to demonstrate our relevance to the wider population. It’s not the language we are using, or even the length of our pros, it is the fact that we are no better than the 1% if we are just trying to replace them. How ever clever we think we are, my guess is that it’s patently obvious to the outside world. And perhaps never more so than in the use of closed hierarchical structures through which we profess to inform and campaign. Even the most benign inequality is still at it’s absolute core, fundamentally unequal.

I think it is only right to declare a vested interest in this. I left school at 17 with no real education to speak of. I struggled to get my writing taken seriously for years. Some say I still haven’t. And even when I tried to formally educate myself through the Open University, I was priced out by the coalition government. And as to the language I use. What I write about are complicated structures of oppression and exploitation. I’ve educated myself in order to understand and unravel the systems they use to exploit me. I feel the need to tell others what I have learned, and what I think about it. I try to do that as quickly as I can. But, I can’t unravel, and coherently point out the totalitarian and exploitative aspects of the modern taxation system in emojis or 280 characters. It’s a little more complicated than that. And to pretend otherwise, I would argue is an attempt to mislead. Exactly the sort of behaviour which exemplifies the arrogance and superiority normally associated with the privately educated elite. Definitely something that the People’s Assembly and the wider movement may want to consider.

Oh yes, and just as an aside, I’ve put up the full essay Consumed by Mistrust and Resentment, We Stand Alone. It argues that free market democracies are anti-social, anti-democratic, and environmentally catastrophic. And how by allowing our activism to be led, we are losing our power to do anything about it. Apparently, it is in a language that requires a 13th grade education. If it is any consolation, I only have the equivalent of an 11th grade education and I wrote it.

It was first published by Znet on 18th January 2018. To read it here or to download a .txt version please click through to the page.