Philip Whiteley's Blog

October 6, 2011

There is (still) no alternative

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:45 am

Many lapsed socialists can recall where they were, and what they were doing, when they lost the faith. I was listening to Tony Benn, leading orator of the British left, in a hall in Chesterfield in 1987. He eloquently denounced the policies of the then Thatcher Government, and rounded on the way in which the coal miners had been treated. They didn’t want to work for a nationalised industry run by people like Ian McGregor [the conservative American industrialist hired by Margaret Thatcher]; nor did they want a return to privately run mines. Great, I thought: I’m finally going to hear about an alternative form of organisation that married organisational effectiveness with social justice. Nothing.

A couple of years later I watched Michael Moore’s documentary Roger and Me. The ‘Roger’ in question was Roger B Smith, chairman of General Motors, which had laid off 30,000 auto workers in Flint, Moore’s home town. It was a shocking but at times comedic portrait of an industrial town in decline and the efforts people were making to earn a living. This included the road-side stall of a woman who bred rabbits. You could buy one as a pet, or if you were feeling hungry …. (children please look away).

As with Benn’s speech, I awaited an outline of a plan to ensure better innovation and productivity at GM, such that it could keep people their jobs and keep the community alive. Again, nothing.

I realised then that when Thatcher had declared: ‘There is no alternative’ to her neo-liberal policies, she was actually correct. There was no alternative, because the left did not develop one, and has not aspired to – before or since (see also the 26 September post ‘Anti-business unions and anti-worker business’). In a competition between a bad theory and no theory, the bad theory always wins. This is on the basis of the ‘Yes Minister’ principle: Jim Hacker, the minister in the satirical sitcom once famously thundered to his civil servants: ‘Something must be done about it! This is something, so let’s do it.’

So the current protests at Wall Street, which ought to be heartening, are also troubling. Investment banks have been guilty of colossal miscalculation and outright fraud. They tested the neo-liberal model to destruction and the result was destruction. But we do need an alternative, and I don’t see one yet. One banner even read: ‘The corporation is not people.’ Pure neo-liberalism. Milton Friedman would be proud.


1 Comment »

  1. Unfortunately there never will be “an Alternative” until such times as society makes a firm commitment to introduce the concept of Responsibility.
    The recent problems of some familiar UK banks illustrated the way in which individuals was remunerated on the basis of the alleged burden of responsibility which was shouldered. In a somewhat strange turn of events, it appears that these individuals may have not acted in the best interest of all concerned, and the results of any errors or judgement or failure of responsibility resulted in what many would consider to be removal to a very comfortable retirement.
    In a similar situation the Chairman of British Airways defended his remuneration on the grounds of his considerable responsibility. This responsibility did not however appear to cover the situation of allowing one plane to fly around with viable explosives onboard. These had been placed on the plane as part of a training exercise and apparently any responsibility for failures stopped well short of Board Members.
    Responsibility has to become an integral part of society in order for Alternative to be developed and more importantly deployed.

    Comment by Matt Boyle — October 6, 2011 @ 10:33 am | Reply

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