But surely we are free?
“But surely,” you say, “we are free?” I often think about American ‘freedom’, it is, after all (as Captain James T Kirk once agreed with the ‘Yangs’, in an early episode of Star Trek), your ‘worship-word’. Let me say without equivocation, that there is so much that I dearly, admire, and – yes! – even envy in America. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where so much personal license is assumed, in matters of artistic expression and personal behaviour. Commercialism notwithstanding – even, darn it, commercially-fuelled! – yours is a vibrant and diverse culture. Your music alone is a phenomenon. I should say your musics, plural. Here in the United Kingdom a similar license of expression exists, of course, in the context of a smaller, more concentrated, more homogenised nation – why! – the very fact that I am at liberty to publish these dissenting views is, surely, testimony and tribute to that license…
Yet the license you and we enjoy exists not because it is intrinsically good, but because it does no harm to the power structure and system that is in place; further, it can firstly be used to the advantage of that structure/system which projects itself as the protector of that license, and secondly be exploited as it can be harnessed to, and indeed ultimately dictated by and reduced to, mere purchasing options.
This license is, of course, intrinsically good in is own right and considered independently of that power and structure, and is a principal that should be carried forward wherever we go from here. But it is not dependant upon the structure and system. It is, of course, very easy for the apologists of that structure and system to claim otherwise, citing the collapse of the dismally flawed Bolshevik experiment and its regime of regulated behaviour; dissidence flourished there nonetheless, and all who dissented saw refuge in ‘The West’ as being their avenue to practical expression of that dissent – it was, let’s face it, ‘the only game in town’ when it came to exiting Bolshevik influence. However, during the nineteenth century, when Marxism was nascent and still a matter for fierce debate, the most cogent critiques to it were offered not from the right, but from further left. It was from the libertarian left that demands of full public participation – of democracy in effect – came, not from the capitalism that Marxism and the other ideologies of the left sought to challenge as a major opponent. The capitalist had no interest whatsoever in the extension of democracy, any more than he cared about the condition in which his workers lived.
Seeing that this license should and must exist independently from the power structure and system, is not dependent on it, nor strictly speaking defended by it, let me take you further down the road of that system’s curtailment of democracy.
Neoliberalism as a global regime.
Neoliberal capitalism is often referred to as globalism, as the phenomenon of trans-national corporations has grown. Neoliberalism is not any longer, strictly speaking therefore, a ‘system’. We have seen that it is in a dictatorial position when it comes to influence upon national governments, even where those governments are made up of willing participants. It is no longer a matter of policy, driven by politicians or elected technocrat-managers, and no longer directed by any democratic or ‘democratic’ process. Neoliberal capitalism is therefore this – an over-arching global regime, unaccountable, and beyond the influence of those it sits above. We are not its citizens. We are its subjects. As with our exercise of license in expression and behaviour, our vote is, therefore, of negligible effect. That’s why they let us vote.
Ultimately, that is why to vote is to surrender. Ultimately, that is the slavery you submit yourselves to each time you utter that single letter ‘X’.
All this happened while we were asleep, it seems. Global neo-liberalism, with its billionaires who seem to exist independently of nations, above and beyond their laws, dictating how the world should organise itself, is The World Order. It happened, it is here, and we had no say in it. It is the most complete, most powerful, most comprehensive, most total, most totalitarian hegemony the world has ever known. It is greater and more powerful than the empires of Alexander or the Caesars, than the medieval Church of Rome, than the empires of Spain or Britain ever were, greater than the Third Reich or Bolshevism, greater even than America itself, though America was its cradle, is its heartland, is its main enforcer.
When the future looks back at us, it will wonder what amoral creatures we were to give our consent to this. It will look back at us the way it looks at the millions of Germans who gladly embraced Nazism, at the slave owners of the South, at the Romans who gladly watched slaughter in the arena. “How could they have not seen?” future observers will say. “How could they have not known?”
But you can’t simply criticise all this without offering an alternative.
Well, in fact, yes I can. What is more, I must criticise the system without offering an alternative. Why? Because it is not up to me to serve up an alternative on a plate. It is not up to me to be a leader, a cadre, a demagogue. Resistance – a movement for change that does not and cannot depend on periodic voting nor on lobbying the managers, an impetus to realise a revolution rather than piecemeal reforms – must come from you, from the grass roots, working it out for yourselves.
I spoke against piecemeal reform there. Let me be quite clear about this: part of the governing process of this over-arching system is the neutralisation of protest. The managers of the regime look at an area of growing public concern, work out whether it can be accommodated without any major disruption to the current distribution of power, and where it can – and by and large it always can! – be accommodated, they embrace it. Just think back to issues over the past few decades, for example women in the workplace and the level of their pay: this was embraced because it caused no disruption, and in fact in ensuring a surplus of supply (of workers) over demand (available jobs) it ensured that pay levels were suppressed. Take same-gender marriage: this has been embraced because it is merely a social detail compared to the actual wielding of power. Take concern for the environment: how many TV ads by businesses have you seen where they fly the flag of greenness? By embracing such things, the technocrat-managers and businessmen can seem to be progressive, social progress can be seen to be made, and the radicalising, politicising, and activism of those at grass roots level is neutralised. This is not simply the deliberate exclusion of public participation, but the systemic exclusion of public participation.
But that radicalising, politicising, and activism is, in itself and while it lasts, a manifestation of actual politics – what we do, right here, right now, at this level, at our level – at work, actual democracy at work. Actual democracy. When we let go of it, we sink back into thraldom, we abrogate democracy once again and become subjects.
Cause-driven, issue-driven activism is good, but only inasmuch as it teaches us how to be active. It is by being continually active, and only by being continually active, that we will ever stand one chance in a thousand of denting the armour of power, of coming up with an alternative to our thraldom.
If I can suggest anything to you, it is this: do not let this knowledge die. Promise that you will think about this, wondering how you can begin to live the alternatives in your everyday lives, in cooperation with others. Be prepared to challenge every assumption, every cultural ‘given’, every constitution, every pronouncement, everything right down to yourselves and what you do. Remember – what you do and how you live is politics.
I won’t tell you what to do, I will tell you to stay active. Don’t surrender.
Or you could vote, and surrender.
Is that all?
No. This is a short essay. It neglects so much, I freely admit that, and is far from being the whole picture. There are whole shelves full of books, whole databases full of information, that do not simply augment what I have written, but extend it. Information exists to show the extent of the unaccountable regime under which we live. There are similar resources devoted to alternatives. And of course there is a vast amount of material produced to project the opposite point of view to that which I have given – to advance how virtuous the power system and structure is, to promote the value of participation in the extant voting process. It is entirely up to you where you research and what you read. All I wanted to do today was to answer the meme as briefly as I could and, in doing so, to give you something to think about.
Hopefully I have done just that.