Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Vote What Went Wrong: Paper Abstracts

The Vote What Went Wrong: Summaries of Conference papers

Logie Barrow 'ENFRANCHISEMENT AND STUPEFACTION: vaccination and the vote'

This talk will NOT add directly to the researches of Ian Bullock and Logie Barrow for their recently paperbacked but 1996 "Democratic ideas and the British Labour movement 1880-1914". Rather, it will look at the effects of ascribing to ourselves and each other an in/ability to think. Preferring one Greek loan-word to ten short Anglo-Saxons, I have for four decades been dubbing this ascription "epistemology", but alternative suggestions remain as welcome as ever. Around the 19th century, the key areas of epistemological confrontation were education (see, centrally, the books of Brian Simon) and medicine. Within the latter, contempt between elitists and democrats was often mutual. One democratic example would be mid-century medical botanists: overwhelmingly plebeian, disproportionately Northern English and virulent about orthodox medics, seen as glorying in letters after their names and in Graeco-Latinate jargon. (Not that all the medically heterodox were democrats: some homoeopaths, for example, were as elitist as any of the orthodox).
The key medical struggle was over compulsory smallpox-vaccination. During 1866-7, parliamentarians agonised over which narrow band of working men might be trusted to use "intelligently" a right to apply for a place on the list of electors (which was all that "the franchise" meant until 1918). But, in debates characterised by contemptuously low attendance, the same parliament sharpened vaccinal compulsion into a boomerang which was to be sped by further enfranchisements (1884, 1918 and 1928). Radical and some other historians enjoy the years 1910-14 as exhibiting a loss of ruling-class control in the criss-crossing areas of Ireland, gender and the shop floor. For almost anyone who recognised vaccination as the sole hope against smallpox, the plunging of vaccinal uptake towards 50% during those very years was a no less grave symptom. Among vaccinists themselves, this too triggered symptoms, as with their obsessive fulminations at the populace, seen as bringing down on its stupid heads a pandemic sufficiently shattering to teach it to obey its medical betters. A more "Darwinian" scenario, occasionally even articulated, had the anti-vaccinal masses smallpoxing each other into evolutionary extinction, leaving the medically obedient to inherit the earth. In the event, interwar Britain was indeed to be non-Soviet Europe's smallpox slum. But, by viral good luck (or whatever), most infections were of a relatively mild variety. Uptake of smallpox-vaccination remained below, often well below, 50% until one of the briefest clauses in the massive National Health Act of 1947 buried the old boomerang of compulsion formally. We can also view Prof Sir Almroth Wright as providing vaccinists with welcome solace: not, of course, from his being a "passionate Ulsterman" and gynaecologically gesticulating opponent of women's suffrage, but because he trumpeted that vaccinal and similar interventions would soon replace much of medicine and surgery. By 1914, many other medical researchers were beginning to distance themselves, but his trumpetings had somewhat consoled many vaccinists for political defeat.
How, then, could so many circum-2000 politicians suffer nightmares at an uptake of MMR vaccination which their post-1880s predecessors would have seen as utopian? Blair's Tory public-schoolboy character is irrelevant. Rather, from Thatcher to Blair-Brown, the Right has reverted to the 1930s by embracing the "free economy in a strong state", with the latter directed less inhibitedly than before against victims, not perpetrators. From the 1930s, much of the Left had renewed the Bellamyite-Fabian reliance on a Great State. This might be either an enhancement of the existing one, or Soviet or some hybrid; but it would always have a great role for "experts". Consistently or not, much of the Left had also fallen for demagogic versions of democratic epistemology: Lysenkoite ("peasant scientists", pictured as enhancing Soviet agriculture against sabotage from vile, bourgeois geneticists) or, later, Maoist (great leaps forward, followed by even greater proletarian cultural revolutions, etc). Leninism had, of course, been pressed into service on both sides: by elitists and demagogues. From the 1930s to the '60s, many Labour people had also swallowed I.Q.-testing as scientific and meritocratic, overlooking or forgiving its origins in eugenic neuroses about the stupid masses outbreeding the intelligent classes.
Employee, patient, hunter-gatherer and peasant versions of knowledge must constantly battle for the right to redefine themselves and against being defined from above out of existence. Elitist versions tend toward the eugenic. However, this tendency can become no more than latent within some strategic situations. Thus 2nd World War-time radicalisation plus revulsion at Nazi death-camps helped de-legitimise eugenics for a long time. Awareness of these factors was probably one reason why the 1940s Royal Commission on Population turned into the lengthiest and most voluminous waffle-shop since ... its Vaccinal predecessor of 1889-96.

Ian Bullock - 'Gulfs, fissures and cracks. Democracy and the British Left in the early 20th Century'

Nothing more divided the early C20 Left than democracy; its meaning, its importance, and the means of achieving it. Full universal suffrage and abolition of the House of Lords were common goals for most of the Left, but otherwise there was little or no agreement. In 1906 when the Fabians identified ‘a gulf which unfortunately cuts the Labour movement down the middle,’ the gulf lay between those like the Fabians or the ILP leadership who - with the important exceptions already mentioned - more or less accepted the confines of the existing “British Constitution” and those – like the SDF and supporters of the campaigning Clarion paper - who believed a much greater degree of accountability of the elected and direct involvement of citizens via the referendum and initiative was necessary to secure ‘Real Democracy’
Even among those suspicious of the latter, there were smaller, but significant ‘cracks’ between constitutional conservatives like Ramsay MacDonald and those like the MP Fred Jowett who – in Robert Blatchford’s words in the Clarion – thought parliament needed 'to be taken to pieces and rebuilt on wholly different lines.'
From 1910, with the influence of syndicalism a new fissure opened between those for whom ‘real democracy’ was workplace-based and those who remained committed to “citizens’” rather than “workers’” democracy. The influence of the former was hugely extended by the appeal of the soviet democracy of the Russian revolution. Could both be combined? By 1920 the idea that there needed to be some sort of ‘industrial’ representation of workers – in addition to representation qua citizens - informed not only guild socialism but even the normally constitutionally conservative Webbs and MacDonald.
Meanwhile as another huge gulf opened between those who saw the Bolsheviks as intent on establishing a “higher” form of democracy and those who detected another species of tyranny, fissures and cracks opened among the advocates of ‘soviet democracy’. The ‘Left Communism” of Sylvia Pankhurst and her group clashed with the ‘orthodox’ variety Some of the self-proclaimed “British Bolsheviks” of the Socialist Labour Party left to join the CP but the remainder clung to their De Leonism and denounced the idea of proletarian dictatorship as “nonsensical” in the context of Britain.
The interwar ILP at took on guild socialism in the1920s and “workers’ councils” for some time in the ‘30s, while a conception of parliamentary democracy very different from that of the Labour Right - one that owed much to Jowett – underlay the rift that led to its disaffiliation from Labour in 1932.
There was little agreement about democracy on the British Left in the early decades of the last century – but no shortage of ideas and debate. Yet the post 1917 ‘gulf’ was much wider than the one identified by the Fabians in 1906 – at least there were some issues then which those on both sides thought worth campaigning for. How did this affect the slow progress of democracy in 20th century Britain?

Owen Ashton 'W. E. Adams, Chartism and Republicanism'

A printer by trade and one of Chartism's key lieutenants, W.E. Adams (1832-1906) became well known in radical circles on both sides of the Atlantic as the editor -in -chief of Joseph Cowen's Newcastle Weekly Chronicle. Inspired by the writings of Thomas Paine and the Italian revolutionary, Guiseppi Mazzini, Adams made a signicant contribution to the tradition of English dissent and to the indigenous Republican movement of the late nineteeth century.The talk explores the range of Adams' republican values and activities, and suggests how the republican narrative which he and others upheld are still relevant to contemporary British politics.
Owen R. Ashton
Prof Emeritus, Staffordshire University,
Stoke on Trent

Neil Davidson 'Social Neoliberalism, “Regimes of Consolidation” and the Assault on Representative Democracy, 1989-2008'

Neoliberals claim that the establishment of free market policies will automatically produce comparably beneficial effects in other areas of social life. Not only are these claims false, neoliberalism also exacerbates all the inherent evils which capitalism involves in all its incarnations. Consequently, so long as citizens are able to vote, and as long as they have political parties prepared to represent their interests, however inadequately, for which to vote, there is always the possibility that the neoliberal order might be undermined. Neoclassical solutions to this dilemma were twofold. The first was to ensure that only sympathetic politicians are in control of the state, if necessary by non-democratic means. The Chilean option is not however the preferred one, mainly because of the many inconveniences which military and still more fascist dictatorships tend to involve for bourgeoisies themselves. The recognition that formal democracy was desirable, but that substantive democracy was problematic, suggested a second solution, that economic activity should be removed as far as possible from the responsibility of politicians who might be expected to deploy it for electoral purposes. One of the key successes that neoliberalism has achieved for capital has therefore been to render inconceivable alternatives to the economic policies established by the initial regimes of reorientation–or at any rate, alternatives to their left. Debates now have the quality of a shadow play, an empty ritual in which trivial or superficial differences are emphasised in order to give an impression of real alternatives and justify the continuation of party competition. The increasing irrelevance of politics has given rise to several clear trends across the West, including increasing voter volatility and decreasing partisanship, indicating that many of those electors still involved casting their vote do so–appropriately enough–on a consumer model of political choice, where participation is informed by media-driven perceptions of which result will be to their immediate personal benefit. Unsurprisingly, the numbers prepared to carry out even this minimal level of activity are declining. Central to this shift were the “regimes of consolidation”, formally characterised by social or liberal democratic rhetoric, which were able to incorporate the rhetoric of social solidarity while maintaining and even extending the essential components of neoliberalism. This apparent supplementing of the naked laws of the market was originally marketed as a “third way” between traditional social democracy and neoliberalism, but is more accurately described as “social neo-liberalism”, since it involves not a synthesis of the two, but an adaptation of the former to the latter. Their capitulation represented the final stage in the normalisation of neoliberalism: the point at which it became accepted, not as a temporary aberration associated with the programme of a particular political party, but the framework within which politics would henceforth be conducted. It remains to be seen whether it can survive the renewed onset of economic crisis. (470 words)

Keith Flett 'The Electoral Impulse'

If I was to situate my politics in respect of electoralism in the context of the history of the British left I would have to describe myself as an anti-Parliamentary socialist. Someone whose attitude to the Labour Party was strongly conditioned by Ralph Miliband’s Parliamentary Socialism [1960] but someone who also who while not an anarchist would not see Parliamentary activity as in anyway the key to changing society. In that sense I would view participation in electoral politics as a tactical issue not one of principle, although once the decision is made to participate to be taken very seriously indeed.
However as an historian,particularly one of Chartism, I know how much effort was invested by the working class movement in winning the vote.
That would probably make me more SDF than ILP and perhaps even early Socialist League.
The impulse to electoralism has been a strong one on the British left, even if there have been other impulses,perhaps most importantly syndicalism.
It is difficult to make sense of Peterloo, William Cobbett or the near revolutionary furore around the 1832 Reform Act without understanding the focus on Parliament that radicals had.
It may have been the legacy of 1649 and the brief Commonwealth period that made radicals feel that it was worth fighting for Parliamentary representation, but the more immediate inspiration had come from the French Revolution and the foundation of the London Corresponding Society.
Ralph Miliband laid out 50 years ago in Parliamentary Socialism the attachment of the British Labour Party to the former rather than the latter word of his book’s title but Hardie or MacDonald or Henderson did not invent the electoral impulse.
Join me in my search for the origins of that impulse and see on 27th Feb what I discovered.

Mike Haynes: 'Crime & Corruption'

Crime and corruption at the top is a constant in class society. Under capitalism it has assumed new forms which have too often been seen as marginal to the system or treated as a source of political criticism of the hypocrisy at the top rather than a major consequence of the way capitalism is organised and significant in their own right. However, the level of top level crime and corruption has varied. As capitalism developed there was an attack on and an undermining of the legitimacy of forms of ‘old corruption’ linked i n part to democratisation. In more recent decades structural changes have allowed the level of crime and corruption at the top to grow again and to a degree to be legitimised, creating elements of a ‘new corruption.’ The existing forms of democratic control of those at the top have proved inadequate and to an extent been further undermined by this ‘new corruption.’

No comments:

Post a Comment