As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...
- Name: Alistair Livingston
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Monday, February 09, 2015
Did the Scots invent Thatcherism?
|Kennedy & McConnell's cotton factory , Manchester 1815|
On 13 May 1988, prime minister Margaret Thatcher addressed the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party conference in Perth. In the speech she launched a campaign to ‘strengthen the Union by winning back Scotland for the Conservative and Unionist cause’. Thatcher went on to say:
Mr. President, I'm sometimes told that the Scots don't like Thatcherism. Well, I find that hard to believe—because the Scots invented Thatcherism, long before I was thought of. It is more than two hundred years since Adam Smith, David Hume, Adam Fergusson and others first set out their ideas of a world in which wealth would be generated and spread ever more widely. They saw that it's not Government which creates wealth—it's people. That People do best when they pursue their own vision. And that a wise Government will harness the efforts of individuals to improve the well-being of the whole community. So they proposed to restrain Government and to liberate men and women. Mr. President, those are the ideals I hold most dear. And they had their origins in the Scottish Enlightenment.
In making this claim it is unlikely that Margaret Thatcher was aware that nine years earlier leading French philosopher Michel Foucault had made a very similar claim. In March and April 1979, Foucault concluded a series of lectures at the College de France on neoliberalism by identifying Adam Smith, David Hume and Adam Ferguson as the ‘inventors’ of what he called English liberalism. It was on the foundations of this English liberalism , so Foucault argued, that neoliberalism was built.
Since Thatcher did not become prime minister until May 1979, Foucault was unable to connect neoliberalism with Thatcherism. However, it is now widely accepted that Thatcherism was a form of neoliberalism. [For example see David Harvey ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’(Oxford, 2006) pp 56-63]
In which case, since the very different figures of Margaret Thatcher and Michel Foucault both identified the Scots as the ‘inventors’ of neoliberalism making a counter-argument will be difficult. Difficult but, I hope, not impossible. However, in making this counter-argument I will be drawing on some obscure corners of Scottish history. In particular, my starting point will be the Lowland Clearances which preceded the more familiar Highland Clearances.
2. From Local to National History
During and since the referendum campaign I have noticed many people commenting that they were never taught Scottish history at school. I was fortunate since ‘Changing Life in Scotland 1760 to 1830’ was the topic I had to study for O Grade history at Kirkcudbright Academy in the 1970s. Looking back however, it would have been even more interesting if connections had been made between Scottish and local history during the period covered. It was only after I returned to Galloway after 20 years in England that I began to discover the connections as I read my way through the local history section of Castle Douglas Library.
One of the discoveries I made was that what we had been taught at school to call the Agricultural Revolution is now described as the Lowland Clearances during which a whole class of farm workers- the cottars- disappear from Scottish history. Unlike the dramatic Highland Clearances, the Lowland Clearances were a ‘silent revolution’ which did not lead to rural unrest- apart from in Galloway. Here in 1724, the beginnings of Scotland’s eighteenth century agricultural revolution were met with an armed uprising by cottars and tenant farmers who had been evicted from arable farms to make way for cattle farms. The uprising lasted for several months and was only suppressed after a regiment of dragoons was sent to Galloway.
Inspired by the Galloway Levellers, I began digging deeper into local history. One surprising discovery is that in the 1780s a small group of young men from Galloway became apprentices to a textile machine maker (also from Galloway) who was based near Bolton in Lancashire. In the 1790s four of these young men moved to Manchester where they soon became leading cotton spinners. One of this group was John Kennedy (1769-1855) who promoted the Liverpool-Manchester railway and was a judge at the Rainhill Locomotive Trials in 1829 which were won by George and Robert Stephenson’s with their famous ‘Rocket’.
Kennedy’s business partner was James McConnell who married Margaret Houldsworth. Her brother Thomas owned a rival cotton spinning business and later became an MP for Manchester. Her other brother, Henry moved from Manchester to Glasgow where he set-up Scotland’s first steam powered cotton mill in 1801, using machinery supplied by Kennedy and McConnell. Then in 1836, with financial help from his brother Thomas, Henry Houldsworth bought Coltness estate near Wishaw in Lanarkshire. Beneath the estate were rich seams of coal and ironstone which provided the raw material for the Coltness iron works which Henry established.
Ten years later, Henry Houldsworth established the Dalmellington iron works in Ayrshire. Part of the finance for this venture was provided by James Murray, Henry’s son-in-law. James’ father was George Murray who with his brother Adam was one of the Galloway-Manchester cotton spinners.
As well as the Galloway-Manchester, cotton-iron connections, I also found a Liverpool connection. William Ewart senior was a Galloway born merchant in Liverpool where his business partner was John Gladstone from Biggar. William Ewart’s son William became an MP. William Ewart junior was a supporter of the Anti-Corn Law League and a keen advocate of free-trade. William Ewart senior was godfather to John Gladstone’s son William Ewart Gladstone the famous Victorian prime minister.
To this group can be added another significant player, Galloway born economist John Ramsay McCulloch who was described by Friedrich Engel’s as ‘the English bourgeoisies’ favourite political economist’ in 1844.
However, before discussing the role these Scots played in the creation of ninettenth century ‘English liberalism’ we need to go back to the early eighteenth century and take up the story of the Galloway Levellers again.
In 1723, the year before the Levellers uprising began, the Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture was established in Edinburgh. Its patron was John Dalrymple, second earl of Stair and its secretary was Robert Maxwell of Arkland in Galloway. Amongst the Society’s members were John Clerk of Penicuik, Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie in Galloway and James Steuart of Coltness. Of these, Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie was one of the landowners who attempted to negotiate with the Galloway Levellers and John Clerk’s brother was a customs officer in Kirkcudbright at the time and kept his brother Clerk informed of events through a series of weekly letters. The troops sent to quash the Levellers were the earl of Stair’s dragoons. Members of the Society were therefore very aware of the events in Galloway.
Although Galloway was quiet the following year, cities across Scotland were not. An attempt to raise the duty paid on malt, essential for beer making, led to riots. The worst of these took place in Glasgow where the rioters had control of the city for two weeks in 1725 before General Wade was able to restore order with his troops.
Tucked away in the ‘Select Transactions’ of the Society of Improvers, edited by Robert Maxwell and published in 1747 is ‘An Account of the Society’s Endeavours to Promote our Manufactures’. The Society began these endeavours in November 1723, focussed on promoting the linen industry in Scotland. Work on this idea continued through 1724 and 1725. In 1726, a ‘Bill for Encouraging and Promoting Fisheries and other Manufactures and Improvements in that part of Great Britain called Scotland’ was laid before Parliament. The ‘Select Transactions’ includes the complete text of this Bill.
The Bill was supported by prime minister Robert Walpole but opposed by English members of parliament who objected to the costs involved. Walpole replied that it would be cheaper than maintaining 6000 troops in Scotland to maintain order. Walpole’s fear was that so far the Union of 1707 had failed to stimulate the Scottish economy and that this was being exploited by the Jacobites to stir up resentment against the Union. While Glasgow and Dumfries had been hostile to the Jacobites in 1715, if nothing was done to increase employment and prosperity in the Presbyterian west of Scotland, this could change. Indeed, if there had been popular support for the Jacobites in southern Scotland in 1745, the Jacobites might well have succeeded.
Between 1727, when the Board of Trustees for the Improvement of Manufactures and Fisheries was established, until state regulation of the linen industry was abolished in 1823, Scottish production of linen rose from 2.2 million yards in 1728 to 36 million yards in 1822. Although since 1780 the linen industry had been overshadowed by the rapid growth of Scotland’s cotton industry, the Board of Trustees successful improvement of the linen industry laid the foundations for the rise of cotton.
The significance of the establishment of the Board of Trustees is that it operated through the era of the Scottish Enlightenment as a successful example of state intervention in the Scottish economy. When the Board’s origins in the work of the Society of Improvers is taken into account a further significant factor emerges. In 1723 the Union of 1707 had not delivered an economic boost for Scotland. Since key members of the Society like the second earl of Stair and Sir John Clerk were supporters of the Union and opponents of the Jacobites, they were very aware that without some form of state support and intervention in the Scottish economy, the future of the Union was at risk.
Of course the Union might still have survived without state support for the Scottish linen industry in the eighteenth century, but it is interesting that the movement towards Scottish independence was boosted in the late twentieth century by Margaret Thatcher’s antagonism to state intervention and support for key Scottish industries.
3. The Scottish Enlightenment and the Origins of Liberalism
The Union of 1707 created an anomaly. While the centre of political power moved south to London, only a few Scottish landowners, like the dukes of Buccleuch, were wealthy enough to live in London. However, the remaining landowners were still influential through the Commissioners of Supply (local government) which the Union had not affected. The Church of Scotland retained its autonomy, as did the Scottish universities. Along with the Convention of Royal Burghs and the persistence of the Scottish legal system, the shadowy outlines of a Scottish state endured thus giving members of Scotland’s ruling elite limited but real power within ‘that part of Great Britain called Scotland’.
I believe that it was the uncertainties and ambiguities of their new situation which forced the more intellectual members of the Scottish elite to think more deeply about the nature of society, about the economy and about political power. These philosophical speculations were given an extra edge in the aftermath of the Jacobites final defeat in 1746. As the Jacobites advanced south, there was panic on the streets of London and Scots were portrayed as barefooted barbarians and destroyers of civilisation. It was only after 1746 that the Scottish Enlightenment really took off and the Age of Improvement began.
What occurred was an elite led, top-down attempt to modernise and civilise Scotland and the Scots. Across Lowland Scotland landowners began sweeping away the physical signs of the old Scotland by rationalising the farmed landscape. The Military Map of Scotland made by William Roy in 1755 captures the beginnings of this process. It shows, dotted across the Lowlands, the houses of large landowners surrounded by neat chequerboard patterns of square fields bounded by hedges and dykes. Over the next fifty years, estate by estate, county by county, the square or rectangular fields of improved farms spread out over the landscape. The old fermtouns were swept away and new stone built steadings replaced them. New villages and towns were built, 86 in Dumfries and Galloway alone. These in turn were linked together by a network of new roads, improving and speeding up communications.
Significantly, this transformation was brought about not by the actions of the British state, but by Scotland’s civil society. However, the actions of the British state did facilitate the process by providing opportunities for Scottish merchants, soldiers and even doctors to make huge fortunes as what was to become the British Empire expanded across the globe. Many of the improving landowners were not members of the traditional landowning elite but had bought their estates with wealth gained overseas. By improving their new estates and, in the process themselves, the newly rich could disguise the origins of wealth gained through crude and brutal exploitation and become ‘gentlemen’.
Across Dumfries and Galloway and the rural south of Scotland, the late eighteenth century landscape of Enlightened Improvement survives. In central Scotland it is overlaid by a very different landscape, a landscape shaped by the Industrial Revolution. While it has been argued, for example by Joel Mokyr in ‘The Enlightened Economy’ [Yale, 2010] that the Industrial Revolution was a product of the Enlightenment I am not so certain.
Although the first of James Watt’s steam engines began working in 1776, they were used as pumping engines. It was not until the 1790s in Manchester that steam was used to directly power cotton spinning machinery. For Friedrich Engels, writing in 1844, it was this combination of steam plus cotton machinery that began the Industrial Revolution and Engels was the first to use the term in an British context.
Freed from reliance on water power and close to sources of coal, the cotton industry grew rapidly in Manchester. The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway in 1830 removed transport problems caused by the slow and expensive canal network, leading to further growth. But then the cotton manufactures encountered another problem. During the Napoleonic Wars, farmers and landowners profited from the high price of wheat. When prices fell in 1815, their dominance in the unreformed House of Commons and in the House of Lords led to the passing of a law to keep corn (wheat) prices high by excluding imported wheat. High corn prices, it was argued, led to high wages which in turn pushed up the production costs of cotton. After several years of struggle, in 1845 the Manchester based Anti-Corn Law League succeeded in getting the 1815 act repealed. From 1845 until 1914, ‘free trade’ became the cornerstone of economic policy in the UK, supported and promoted by the ‘Manchester School’ of English (British) liberalism.
In the mid-nineteenth century, France Belgium, Prussia, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Holland, the Hanseatic league, Switzerland, Austria and the German principalities adopted free-trade polices. However, beginning with France in 1875 and soon followed by Germany, enthusiasm for free-trade began to wane and measures to protect domestic industries from ‘unfair’ competition were introduced. In the USA, the slave-owning, cotton producing states favoured free-trade while the more industrialised northern states were protectionist. The victory of the northern states in 1865 was therefore also a victory for protectionism.
After WW1 there was a period of economic recovery but the Great Depression which followed saw even the UK give up free-trade in favour of a protectionist system of ‘imperial preferences’. Combined with the rise of fascism and communism it seemed that economic liberalism was dead. But, as Foucault argued, the same period saw the birth of what was to become neoliberalism after WW2. The key moment identified by Foucault was a conference held in Paris in August 1938, inspired by the work of Walter Lippman in the USA.
As well as Lippman himself, the meeting was also attended by Wilhelm Röpke and Alexander Rüstow from Germany and Austrian School theorists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Participants from France included Raymond Aron, Robert Marjolin, Louis Rougier, and Jacques Rueff and entrepreneur Ernest Mercier. Hungarian born but UK based Michael Polanyi was another participant. Participants from France included Raymond Aron, Robert Marjolin, Louis Rougier, and Jacques Rueff. Walter Eucken, the founder of German neoliberalism, called ordoliberalism, was invited to the conference, but was not given permission to leave Germany.
Significantly, based on his experiences as a journalist, Lippmann argued that policy makers could ignore public opinion and even dismiss it. Lippmann believed that public opinion is incoherent, ill-informed and lacks an organised or coherent structure. Effectively, Lippmann was arguing for a tightly controlled and limited form of democracy. Eucken's contribution was drawn from his writings, where he argued that the state has the task of providing the political framework for economic freedom, in contrast to Adam Smith's doctrine of 'laissez-faire'. For Eucken, the essence of the market was competition rather than exchange To facilitate market competition, the state should maintain legal and institutional frameworks, including the maintenance of private property, enforcement of private contracts, liability, free entry to markets, and monetary stability. However, the state should not direct or intervene in the economic processes of daily practices, as occurs in a centrally planned economies.
Necessarily, since his lectures were delivered before the elections of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the USA, what Foucault called neoliberalism is not quite the same as today’s neoliberalism. However, by locating the origins of neoliberalism in the 1930s rather than the 1970s, Foucault’s work challenges the tendency, especially in Scotland, to simplify its complex history by equating neoliberalism with Thatcherism.
4. Scottish Influence on English Liberalism
Finally, from my own research, I have found a Scottish link which connects Adam Smith’s ‘laissez faire’ liberalism with Foucault’s ‘English liberalism’. In his book ‘Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence , 1600-1850’ (Cambridge, 2011), Prasannan Parthasarath highlighted a significant lecture given to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society by John Kennedy in November 1815. Kennedy’s lecture was on ‘The Rise and Progress of the Cotton Industry’ and Parthasarath noted that Kennedy drew on Adam Smith’s work to explain the success of the British cotton industry. This was the first time Smith’s work had been used in this way.
This marked a significant change since in the final quarter of the eighteenth century the cotton manufactures of Lancashire had favoured and benefited from protectionist policies which cushioned them against Indian competition. It was only after improvements pioneered by Kennedy and others increased the quality and lowered the cost of their cotton that Smithian free-trade was adopted by the Manchester cotton barons. One result was that the flow of the cotton trade was reversed.
Textile manufactures in the Indian subcontinent suffered grievously with the rise of Lancashire and the rapid growth in exports of British cotton yarn and cloth. By 1820 the English [British] East India Company had terminated its cloth trade and closed down the network of factories that had been purchasing Indian cloth for nearly two centuries. [Parthasarath 2011, p.153]
In addition to John Kennedy, the work of the Galloway born economist John Ramsay McCulloch (1789-1865) provides an important link between the liberalism of the Scottish Enlightenment and that of the Victorian era. Described by Engels in ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’ as the ‘English bourgeoisies’ favourite political economist’, McCulloch edited The Scotsman from 1817 to 1821 before publishing ‘ The Principles of Political Economy’ in 1825. Unable to secure a university position in Scotland, McCulloch moved to London where he became professor of Political Economy at University College in London from 1828 to 1837. In 1838 he was appointed Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, a position he held until his death.
The move to London brought McCulloch into close contact with leading politicians like Robert Peel who was prime minister 1834-5 and 1841-46. Peel became a close friend and McCulloch, despite disagreements over economic policies, also had a ‘cordial’ relationship with William Ewart Gladstone who was a member of Peel’s cabinet and then Chancellor of the Exchequer 1852-5 and again 1859-66. After McCulloch’s death, Gladstone became prime minister four times. Gladstone’s great rival Benjamin Disraeli attended McCulloch’s lectures on political economy in the 1830s.
Although, as Marx pointed out in ‘Theories of Surplus Value’ (1860) McCulloch did not make any major contributions to political economy as theory, through his journalism, lectures, books and influential friendships, McCulloch brought the practice of economic liberalism into the heart of the British state. In addition, through his friendship with leading cotton manufacturer John Kennedy of Galloway and Manchester, McCulloch was able to bring the Scottish Enlightenment version of economic liberalism up-to-date by including the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the British economy.
A final connection is provided by William Ewart (1798-1869). Ewart was the son of the Galloway born Liverpool merchant William Ewart mentioned above and was first a Member of Parliament for Liverpool before becoming M.P. for Dumfries. Ewart was a keen supporter of free-trade and a fierce opponent of the Corn Laws, working closely with Richard Cobden and John Bright of the Anti-Corn Law League.
In the Introduction to their book ‘Yes-The Radical Case for Scottish Independence’, James Foley and Pete Ramand noted that the 300th anniversary of the Union of 1707 passed with very little public celebration despite the fact that the Union ‘marked the beginning of two centuries of global domination’ by the Britain and its empire. Although the immediate results of the Union were slight, its long term consequences shaped world history no less than the French Revolution or the American War of Independence.
While the sun has long since set on the British Empire, a very different legacy of the Union continues to influence and shape the world today. What is now called neoliberalism has become over the past 35 years the dominant economic paradigm or belief-system. However, before advent of Thatcherism in the UK and Reaganomics in the USA, in series of lectures in 1978-79 French philosopher Michel Foucault identified an earlier form of neoliberalism. Foucault’s neoliberalism had its roots in the Great Depression of the 1930s which had created a crisis of confidence in traditional economic liberalism. Faced with the threat from the left and the right of state intervention and control of national economies, the neoliberals’ counter proposal was to deepen and extend liberalism so that the state would become the servant of the economy.
Foucault then showed that the idea that the economy should act as a limit or restraint on state power was already present in what he called ‘English liberalism’, drawing on the work of Adam Ferguson, David Hume and Adam Smith to support this claim. But as I have found, the failure of the Union of 1707 to improve the Scottish economy led to lobbying by the Society of Improvers for state supported intervention via the Board of Trustees for the Improvement of Manufactures and Fisheries. The Board played an active role in developing the Scottish linen industry from 1727 to 1823.
In England over the same period, the early cotton industry was protected from competition from India by import tariffs. Manchester’s cotton capitalists only adopted the doctrines of free-trade after the process of mechanisation allowed Lancashire cottons to be mass produced at high quality. This had a devastating impact on India’s traditional cotton industry. Beginning with John Kennedy’s 1815 lecture, the history of the English cotton industry was then re-written to fit with Adam Smith’s economic theories.
Once its history had been re-written, the huge success of the Lancashire cotton industry in the later nineteenth century was used to prove the economic superiority of laissez-faire and free-trade policies over state-led economic policies based protectionism and market intervention. This went hand-in-hand with a selective reading of Adam Smith’s work to emphasise his support for the ‘free-market economy’ while the work of former Jacobite James Steuart of Coltness was sidelined. Steuart was a former member of the Society of Improvers. Steuart favoured more interventionist economic policies in his book ‘The Principles of Political Economy’ which was published in 1767, nine years before Smith’s ‘On the Wealth of Nations’.
Margaret Thatcher was an admirer of Adam Smith and told a Conservative party conference in 1988 that it was the Scots who first invented Thatcherism. Thatcher was also a committed Unionist. But as the Society of Improvers recognised in the 1720s, unless the Union could improve the Scottish economy, it would fail. Their response was to actively promote state support and intervention in key Scottish industries. It may prove to be an irony of history that it was Margaret Thatcher’s version of Adam Smith’s liberalism which began the break up of the United Kingdom.
Friday, December 12, 2014
Anarcho-punk and the Spectacle of Neoliberalism
|Demolition of Ravenscraig Steel Works 1992|
Wow, that was fun. Just spent 90 minutes on the phone (due to Skype malfunction) with Matt Grimes doing an interview for a research project on ‘the role of cultural memory in the lives of former participants in the British anarcho-punk scene aged 52 to 65’. This was the third interview I have done with Matt.
Why is it fun? It is fun because it is quite challenging. With some of the questions Matt asks I can answer almost by rote, they are questions I have answered before in various (written) interviews but every so often Matt throws in a question which stumps me and my reply becomes more vague, less certain as I rack my brains trying to formulate a coherent response.
There are two aspects to this problem. One relates to conflicts and tensions at the time. The other are conflicts and tensions which emerged later.
At the time there were conflicts and tensions between both the anarchist aspect of anarcho-punk and the punk aspect. From the perspective of people who were already self-professed anarchists, the punks were not really anarchists at all. Most punks had picked upon ‘anarchy’ via the Sex Pistols and were only in it for the chaos [‘get pissed, destroy’] and knew nothing of the history and current practice of actually existing anarchists.
At the same time, by 78/79, musically punk was already splitting off into 57 varieties of what is now called post-punk. What was to become anarcho-punk was only one part of this creative confusion and, apart from Crass, scarcely existed as a genre. But punk was always about more than the music.
One of the questions Matt asked me was about direct action as an anarchist tactic. In my answer I talked about road protests but I didn’t mention squatting as a form of direct action. Thinking about it a bit more, I think squatting was very important for the development of punk towards anarcho-punk, but also reveals the limitations of ‘anarcho-punk’ as a descriptive category.
If we go back to 1976, there already were a lot of squats in London which had their origins in the late sixties/early seventies countercultures revival of squatting .[There had been a large spontaneous squatting movement post- WW2 as a response to the immediate post-war housing crisis]
Punk squatting began 1977/78 when hundreds of young people were inspired by punk to move to London and had nowhere to live. It was not a ‘political’ act, it was purely practical, but once established within the punk community it became part of punk-as-a-way-of-life as an alternative and in opposition to punk as music based subculture. Squatting could not be co modified, could not be ’sold’ as a punk product, it meant living punk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Squatting was also a practical way in which punk acted out the situationists’ theory of re-imaging the city.
Although there were punk squats in other cities, the sheer size of London and its then possession of thousands of derelict/ empty/unused properties plus the continuity of squatting from pre- through to post-punk eras allowed the creation of a critical mass of punk squatters. At the time, via my involvement with the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective, my perception of ‘anarcho-punk’ was of its emergence out of the punk squatting scene and its overlap with the counterculture squatting scene- for example pre-Wapping Autonomy Centre gigs at a squatted church (St James) on Pentonville Road where Rubella Ballet and the Mob amongst many others played1980/81. [The first punk gigs at the Wapping Autonomy Centre were in late 1981].
That trajectory carried through from Wapping to the Centro Iberico on Harrow Road and then to a whole string of squatted buildings across London. [And in other cities but that is not part of my direct knowledge.] But although what was to become anarcho-punk overlapped with the London punk squatting scene the two were not identical. Through Crass’ high profile and their willingness to play in village halls and community centres across the UK, anarcho-punk grew and flourished in many very different situations and contexts. Equally, the punk squatters in London were a very diverse group numbering in the thousands while the Wapping Autonomy Centre and Centro Iberico gigs attracted only a few hundred punks, many of whom were teenagers.
My benefit of hindsight interpretation of this is that although squatting is a practical form of direct action and therefore has a political/anarchist dimension, living in a squat in itself/ on its own did not ‘politicise’ punk squatters. Rather, where there was an awareness of squatting as a significant act, its significance was understood within a generalised/vague countercultural opposition to the status quo. This aspect or element of the punk squatting scene acted as a pathway towards many punk squatters becoming ‘new travellers’ in the mid /late eighties, with a corresponding blurring of the distinction between ‘punks’ and ‘hippies’.
In the conversation /interview I also tried to highlight the ways in which Kill Your Pet Puppy engaged with the more Crass influenced aspects of anarcho-punk which we felt at the time were narrowing the possibilities punk had opened up. One way we did this was by putting together a ‘recommended reading list’ which republished in KYPP4 (summer 1981 -ie pre-Wapping Autonomy Centre). Here it is…
KYYP 4 (1981) recommended reading list (complied by Brett Puppy)
The Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
The Floodgates of Anarchy by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer
News from Nowhere by William Morris
Play Power by Richard Neville
Ivan Illich’s books
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
Functions of the Orgasm and The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich
The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea
Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach
The Christie Files by Stuart Christie
Spectacular Times (booklets) by Larry Law
Beneath the City Streets by Peter Laurie
Music (listed immediately below the reading list)
The Mob x 2 , Soft Cell, Lou Reed, Syd Barrett, T. Rex, The Associates, The Cramps, The Igloos, Charge and a couple I can’t read plus the Barracudas….
I think the diversity of books suggested above illustrates the diversity of sources KYPP was able to draw on in constructing our particular version of punk. It is important to remember here that KYPP was successor to Tony Drayton’s Ripped and Torn which was first published in October 1976 and ran through 19 issues to1979. This meant that KYPP never doubted its punk credentials so we [the Puppy Collective] were fully confidant that what we were doing was a continuation and expansion of ‘punk’ in its pure form.
But were we really articulating the essence of punk? Yes we were, if punk is a ‘permanent revolution’, a continuing creative ferment which keeps re-inventing itself/ ourselves, resisting commodification, resisting ossification, resisting becoming a known and knowable entity. Neti, neti. Not this, not that, but always something more, something beyond limits and constraints, always challenging the fixed and frozen time/space of the spectacle. Cue Situationist quote…
Another side of the deficiency of general historical life is that individual life as yet has no history. The pseudo-events which rush by in spectacular dramatizations have not been lived by those informed of them; moreover they are lost in the inflation of their hurried replacement at every throb of the spectacular machinery. Furthermore, what is really lived has no relation to the official irreversible time of society and is in direct opposition to the pseudo-cyclical rhythm of the consumable by-product of this time. This individual experience of separate daily life remains without language, without concept, without critical access to its own past which has been recorded nowhere. It is not communicated. It is not understood and is forgotten to the profit of the false spectacular memory of the unmemorable. [Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967, # 157]
The above quote is what inspired me to start my Greengalloway blog in 2005, but even before then - back in 1996- I was challenging limited versions of the history of (anarcho-) punk as this quote from my sleeve notes of ‘May Inspire Revolutionary Acts’ (2007) by the Mob shows.
I am listening to The Mob’s 1983 album ‘Let the Tribe Increase’ and looking at the cover of a 1996 book which shows two ‘new age traveller’ style road protestors standing on a pile of chalk at Twyford Down, blowing horns. The photo is on the cover of ’Senseless Acts of Beauty : Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties’. It is a damn good book, moving from free-festivals to acid house raves, but it annoys me. Or rather this quote does:
Of all the successful punk and post-punk outfits, Crass alone managed that most difficult of manoeuvres: to avoid recuperation, to maintain political and artistic autonomy in the music industry. That is such an achievement. If punk was a discourse of authenticity, obsessed with street credibility, with not ‘selling out’, Crass must be placed at the centre of that discourse.
[Back in 1996 when I first read the book] I underlined the ‘Crass alone’ bit and scribbled ‘ What about the Mob!’ in the margin. Then I took it up with the author, George MacKay, who was a lecturer, now professor, of Cultural Studies. He apologised. He had never heard of The Mob, did not know about the many ‘Anarchy Centres’, about the punk squatting scene, about fanzines like Kill Your Pet Puppy… about any of it. A whole underground punk ‘culture of resistance’ had grown, flowered and faded between 1978 and 1985. It spread like some strange mutant weed through an ever shifting and changing network of squats across London. Then it vanished without trace, leaving only ‘Crass’ in its wake.
Although the Crass/MacKay interpretation of anarcho-punk remains the dominant narrative, 18 years on the MacKay ‘argument from ignorance’ cannot be sustained without a 1984 style re-writing of history to consciously exclude alternative constructions of anarcho-punk. In particular the sheer volume of material archived since 2007 on the KYPP blog site -music, print material, photographs and personal recollections- challenges the simplification of anarcho-punk. At the same time, Rubella Ballet, Zounds, the Mob and Hagar the Womb to name but four groups have all played live, recorded and released new material recently.
At the same time, to give credit to MacKay, he did attempt to trace the continuing story of the counterculture through the free festivals and new travellers as a parallel and overlapping narrative from the seventies through into the road protests and anti-criminal justice act protests (which drew in the acid house ravers) of the nineties as ‘cultures of resistance’. Although the targets for the resistance may change, there is a continuing counter culture of creative opposition to power. Significantly, this counterculture has emerged and grown as what is now called neoliberalism has developed and grown as the dominant ideology of global power.
EDIT- I have just cut a 2000 word section on the history of neoliberalism which I wrote here. My conclusion was that neoliberalism can be equated with the situationists’ society of the spectacle.
But this conclusion confuses the construction of anarcho-punk as a distinct genre, as a distinctive subculture. Instead it becomes one among many historical forms of resistance to/ disruption of ‘the existing order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue.’ [From Chapter 1 part 24 of ‘The Society of the Spectacle’].
Such historical forms of resistance are very interesting. I started my Greengalloway blog while I was researching the (armed) uprising of the Galloway Levellers in 1724. Although now regarded as only a minor incident, I found that it had connections backwards to the early 17th century Plantation of Ulster and forwards to the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the late 18th/early 19th centuries. I also found that only one account by a participant had survived- that of John Martin 1710-1801. Martin had run away from home to join the Levellers as a teenager, had been fined for his actions and gone on to become a respectable clock-maker, living long enough to pass on his recollections to a local antiquarian.
So when I started jotting down my memories of anarcho-punk, I was also thinking of the Galloway Levellers, of history from below as a form of resistance to history from above. The idea being that the existing order’s laudatory monologue contains the subliminal message ‘resistance is futile, resistance is futile’, that opposition will always be negated and/or assimilated. What this does is keep the possibility that resistance is fertile submerged below the level of historical consciousness.
The world already possesses the dream of a time whose consciousness it must now possess in order to actually live it. [Debord, Society of the Spectacle #164]
taken from :
Marx, Letter to Ruge, September 1843: "The world has for a long time possessed the dream of a thing, of which it now suffices to become aware so as to really possess it."
But ‘dream of a thing/time’ suggests fantasy not reality. I would re-word this as ‘The world already contains the potential of a future which we must become conscious of before we can make it happen’.
This fits with the experience of the independence referendum in Scotland. At the beginning of the process, independence was a possibility. As the grassroots Yes campaign began to develop outside the official Yes campaign, through thousands of debates and discussions on doorsteps, community centres, village and town halls and online, the reality that another Scotland is possible became part of a collective, historical, consciousness.
But as opinion polls showed the Yes vote gaining traction in the last few weeks of campaigning, the No campaign went into overdrive. Scotland was bombarded with scare stories of job losses, price rises, pensions being slashed and economic meltdown. At the same time promises -a ‘Vow’- of maximum home rule and the federalisation of the UK were made.This combination of fear and hope was enough to win the vote for No on the day.
However, it is beginning to look as if it is not over yet. The No vote on 18 September 2014 now appears to have been a pause rather than a defeat for the process of independence. Attention has now shifted to the next UK general election which will be held in May 2015.
Stepping back, the bigger picture is that it is neoliberalism/the spectacle which seems more and more like a dream (nightmare) or fantasy. In this dream, the global economy stimulated by the free play of competition, would continue to grow forever and ever. That dream died with the global economic crisis of 2008. The spectacle of neoliberalism is now on life support, kept from flat-lining only by billions of money units being pumped into the system via quantitative easing and near zero interest rates.
The problem is that the spectacle of neoliberalism has been so successful at presenting itself as the only possible reality while eliminating and extinguishing alternative realities that it has become an evolutionary dead-end. It cannot adapt to changing circumstances, to shifts in the tectonic plates of reality. Locked in to its cold-blooded ideology of competition uber alles, it cannot conceive of warm-blooded progress through cooperation and mutual aid.
To talk of evolution and adaptation to changes in environmental/ecological circumstances brings in a final theme- climate change. Throughout our history, humanity has survived living under many oppressive/repressive social/economic systems. But history is only a record of the relatively recent past, the 6000 years or so since writing was invented, against the 195 000 years that ‘anatomically modern’ homo sapiens sapiens have existed. Writing and history can be connected to the domestication of plant and animal species (farming/ Neolithic revolution) which began about 10 000 years ago when the end of the most recent Ice Age created a more stable climate. This was essential for farming and the ability of post-Ice Age human communities to cooperate in building up surpluses of food which in turn allowed settled/fixed communities to develop. Within these communities specialisation of labour emerged and with it ‘civilisation’.
Climate change will disrupt out ability to create food surpluses. No food surpluses = no civilisation.
The spectacle of neoliberalism comes in to play here because it sees the shifts necessary to mitigate climate change as ‘anti-competitive’, as placing limits and restrictions on economic behaviour. Unfortunately by the time the food starts to run out it will be too late to do much about it. Fortunately, civilisation is about more than food surpluses, it is also about the accumulation of knowledge. Civilisation requires education as well as farming. Both are long term projects.
Liberalism as an economic doctrine had its beginnings when the industrial revolution took place in late 18th century Manchester gave rise to modern/industrial capitalism. This place and period strongly influenced Marxism because Karl Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels wrote ‘The Condition of the English Working Class’ based on his encounter with Manchester 1842/3. Marx’s major work ‘Capital’ was subtitled ‘A Critique of Political Economy’. In Engels’ book he mentions that Galloway born John Ramsay McCulloch (1789-1864) was the English bourgeoisies’ ‘favourite political economist’.
McCulloch is interesting since he provides a link between the theories of political economy developed by Adam Smith before the industrial revolution and the practices of industrial capitalism/ political economy which was then developed in Manchester. By the 1850s these had become the ‘Manchester School’ doctrines of free-trade and laissez-faire - the idea that economic success requires minimal state intervention. This can also be called economic liberalism.
Neoliberalism could then be described as an attempt to wind the clock back to the golden years of capital in the nineteenth century before it was contaminated by socialism. It was the doctrine adopted by Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the USA in the 1980s and which has now gone global. This was the version of neoliberalism set out by David Harvey in ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’ in 2006. However…in 2009, French authors Pierre Dardot and Christian Lavall came up with an alternative understanding of neoliberalism which was published in English in 2013 as ‘The New Way of the World-On Neoliberal Society’.
Dardot and Lavall trace neoliberalism back to the later nineteenth century when Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) who came up with the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ as a simplification of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This simplification was challenged by Friedrich Engels in 1875.
The whole Darwinist teaching of the struggle for existence is simply a transference from society to living nature of Hobbe's doctrine of bellum omnia contra omnes [a war of all against all] and of the bourgeois-economic doctrine of competition together with Malthus's theory of population. When this conjurer's trick has been performed...the same theories are transferred back again from organic nature into history and it is now claimed that their validity as eternal laws of human society has been proved.
By the 1870s, Britain’s supremacy as the first industrial nation was threatened by Germany and the USA. Dardot and Lavall suggest that this led to a shift from the idea of the market as a place of exchange to the idea of the market as a place of competition. By the 1930s, as old fashioned liberalism was threatened by the rise of ‘state capitalism’ via fascism and Stalinism, a new liberalism based on the need to ensure competition began to emerge. The outlines of what was to become neoliberalism were established at an economic conference in Paris in1938 but had to wait until after WW2 to take root- in post-war Germany and in what was to become the European Union.
Dardot and Lavall go on to argue that neoliberalism has moved on from being an economic doctrine or ideology to becoming a ‘rationality’. Within this rationality the necessity of ‘competition’ has become so deeply embedded that, for example, the idea of cooperation is considered irrational and therefore impossible. What this means is that, as Margaret Thatcher once said ‘there is no such thing as society’, there are only individuals competing with each other as economic agents. Human beings are not social animals, they are calculating atoms existing within a global market place in an economic war of all against all. In this war the fittest, those who maximise their economic advantages, survive and prosper while the unfit, those who fail to compete successfully, must resign themselves to lives of enduring poverty.
This rationalisation of competition takes us back to Thomas Hobbes and ‘bellum omnium contra omnes’ - the war (or struggle) of all against all- which Hobbes believed was humanity’s condition before the invention of civil[ised] society. Yet, based on studies of existing pre-agricultural societies, their survival is rooted in cooperation rather than competition. We are a social species.
The spectacle of neoliberalism is a flawed rationality, a false consciousness which is slowly destroying our socialised humanity and the ability of the planet to sustain ourselves and a large part of life on earth.
Yet even now, there still seems to be a separation between economy and ecology, a belief that the struggle for economic justice is separate from the struggle against climate change. Bringing the two together is therefore the most pressing challenge we face.
Coming back to anarcho-punk… its cultural memory is useful to the extent that it was a culture of resistance, but it is also distraction, shading over into nostalgia. Of more interest to me right now is work I am doing-writing/researching- on the 19th century Scottish iron industry, showing how it combined economic exploitation of its workforce who lived in appalling physical conditions with unsustainable exploitation of natural resources- iron ore and coal- leaving a legacy of social deprivation and adding millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This combined legacy is very relevant to the present day in Scotland, influencing the political landscape and acting as a warning for the future against economic reliance on an oil industry which is also a contributor to climate change.
Thursday, October 09, 2014
Tanith Livingston -road protestor
Newbury Road Protest-9 Jan 1996 : Attempts to start clearance work on the route of the Newbury bypass are foiled when hundreds of security guards and contractors are prevented from leaving their overnight base by protestors perched on scaffold tripods.
Here are scans of three road protest related documents composed by Tanith Livingtson (1962-1996)
First set- Newbury 1996
Second set Bath 1994
In 1994 Tanith had been a protestor at the Bath Road Protest and been arrested- she reckoned it was her 24 'political' arrest. She was summoned to appear before Bath Magistrates Court 15 July 1994. Tanith had been a student at the London Schoolof Oriental and African Studies on and off since 1987 and had most recently passed courses on Public International Law and Law and the Environment. She used this knowledge to construct a her defence based on international environmental law. However, although we all went down to Bath for the 15th, her case wasn't heard and seems to have been dropped.
Thirds set- Wanstead/ M11 1993
In 1993, Tanith was involved with the ant-M11 extension Road Protest at Wanstead in east London. The protestors occupied a couple of houses due for demolition and decided to declare independence for Wanstonia as they called it.[This was probably inspired by Frestonia ] Tanith decided to take this idea seriously and used her international law text books to explain how Wanstoniua could declare independence properly.
1. Newbury Road Protest 1995
2. Bath Road Protest 1994
3. M 11 Road Protest- Wanstead/ Wanstonia 1993
The Peace Convoy 1986 Report
From 1986, a booklet about the Peace Convoy (new travellers) in the aftermath of the eviction of Molesworth Peace Camp and the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985. I contributed some discussion about punk and the 'bomb culture' (page 9). I met the authors Ann Morgan and Nick Mann at Glastonbury where survivors of Molesworth and the Beanfield were given refuge at Greenlands farm. This did not just create problem with the ordinary residents of Glastonbury. The 'new age' (crystals and mysticism) residents of Glastonbury who had settled there since the late 60s and were now almost respectable were also unsettled by the travellers. Although Ann Morgan and Nick Mann [author of 'The Cauldron and the Grail' 1985] were part of Galstonbury's mystical community, they were sympathetic to the travellers -hence this booklet. Bruce Garrard who is mentioned in the credits is still running his Unique Publications in Glastonbury.