Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The New Labour Legacy - Humpty Dumpty Language

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, - neither more nor less.'
Lewis Carroll, Alice Through The Looking Glass

One of the things, amongst many, which annoys me about the New Labour experience under Blair and Brown has been the perversion of language. New Labour and their spin doctors have taken words from the socialist and radical lexicon and given them a completely different meaning to previous common usage.

To be fair, this mangling of language and meaning went on under the previous Tory administrations in Britain too, where anarchistic, anti-state language redolent of the Sixties revolts was put in the service of monetarism and reaction. People were to be 'liberated from the state', were to be free to 'realise their aspirations and desires' in a new world where old fashioned institutions and barriers were 'swept away' by the 'revolutionary' action of government. In fact the Thatcher and Major years saw a massive strengthening of the repressive apparatus of the state and a loss of any vestige of democratic control and accountability in whole swathes of public life as services were transferred (sometimes via a brief period of populist 'mass share ownership') to control by slippery remote financial centres and transnational corporations.

This process continued under New Labour - the same neo-liberal agenda pursued, if anything at a faster and more enthusiastic pace. However, this time crumbs were thrown to community and workplace organisations and the so-called reforms were dressed in the language of 'libertarian socialism' (a favoured term used by New Labour Minister and lickspittle Peter Hain) with nods to the cooperative and mutualist traditions. Blair even wrote an intro to a work on mutualism today. Again, like the Tories' 'mass share ownership', the New Labour 'liberation' of public assets to ALMOS, quangos and voluntary & faith organisations has been a transmission belt to corporatism. Their 'localism', pinched from green thought, is by and large an excuse to break up organisations with some level of public oversight and ownership to ready them for piecemeal and patchwork privatisation.

Unsurprisingly some old greens and socialists have been taken in, dazzled by the thought of the '68 generation coming to power and lulled into a false sense of security by the superficially radical language. You therefore have the unedifying spectacle of Solidarity (the libertarian socialist group of the 60s and 70s) old hands and Ecology Party veterans leaping to the defence of the neo-liberal privatisation agenda, with its accompanying capitulation to American imperialism on the global stage. In some cases this appears to be foolish naivete (still crazy after all these years!) in others it is transparently venal self interest for those who now have a large stake in the status quo - like the ex-left commentariat.

Much the same could perhaps be said of the New Labour clique itself and its closest supporters - a collection of those who have fully capitulated to the doctrines and ideology of the market-worshipping New Right (but are clever enough to cover this with leftist babble as notably evident in the recent Deputy Leadership contest in the Labour Party)and those who still hold to a simple minded belief that words have the same meaning now when spoken by New Labour ministers as they did when spoken in the streets and smoke-filled meeting rooms 30 or 40 years ago. This ever-decreasing group of simple souls still believe that incremental progress towards 'socialism' and 'democracy' is ongoing and unabated.

The Mandelson/Campbell breed are archetypes of those whose words, like those of Humpty Dumpty, mean whatever they choose them to mean. The shame, and quite possibly the intention of this mangling of language is that the real alternatives to state capitalist centralised bureaucracy or casino economy neo-liberal corporatism are tainted by the misuse of terms arising from their historical ancestors. It is the Situationist concept of "recuperation" made real in the 21st Century.

The real third way between rampant neo-liberalism and sclerotic command economies was never the corporatist security state perched on a casino economy that we are headed for in Britain, plutocracy with a nice line in liberatory rhetoric. The real alternative, in Eastern Europe and elsewhere was local democratic control and workers power - a self managed economy. In the East at the fall of the command economies and their security apparatus the first priority of both the kleptocratic nomenklatura and Western plutocratic imperialism was to prevent anything of this nature taking root. And of course, they got something approximating to what they wanted - full capitalist restoration to gangster-capitalist regimes led by right-populist demagogues.

The question of economic democracy is one inherent in the history of libertarian socialism, cooperativism and mutualism, but it is a concept that would never cross the minds of the New Labour Cuckoos, entranced by the orthodoxies of the Washington consensus. For them, the new Father, Son and Holy Ghost are the Market, Confidence and the Invisible Hand.

Maybe a new New Left, a new socialism, will have to develop different ways to describe
things, use different terms with less room for abuse around the concepts of economic democracy and ecosocialism. We will have to be careful that the language we use is selected not to be misunderstood in the light of the fake-left free marketeers' rhetoric.

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'

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At 6:33 pm, Anonymous Phil said...

You therefore have the unedifying spectacle of Solidarity (the libertarian socialist group of the 60s and 70s) old hands and Ecology Party veterans leaping to the defence of the neo-liberal privatisation agenda

Splain plz. The only ex-Solid I can think of who you might be thinking of is Paul Anderson - in which case, fair enough, but 'old hands'? (there's only one Paul Anderson). And 'Ecology Party veterans' has me stumped.

At 9:13 pm, Blogger greenman said...

The main offender of the Ecology Party veterans is of course a high profile individual beginning with P who is given to writing about how capitalism can help save the world these days......
As for singular and plural, methinks you doth protest too much ;)


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