Sunday, 3 May 2020

Neil Davidson

The London Socialist Historians Group was very sad to learn of the death of Neil Davidson (1957-2020), a socialist and trade union activist and Marxist historian and sociologist based in Edinburgh who worked at the University of Glasgow, whose work on the history of Scotland and Scottish nationalism, and wider theorisations and mediations on the nature of bourgeois revolution, the uneven and combined development of capitalism, neo-liberalism, the nature of the European Union, and the far right were thoughtful, important and powerful contributions to wider debates underway on the Left.  Our condolences to his family, friends, and comrades - RIP Neil.  
Comment by Keith Flett, LSHG Convenor
I was very sorry to learn of the death of Neil Davidson at 62. I’d known Neil for many years as a socialist and historian and its fair to say that he was amongst the earliest supporters and contributors to the work of the London Socialist Historians Group, albeit of course as one of our friends in the north.

He spoke at the 2010 conference on the vote. A synopsis is below and remains very relevant 10 years on. He also spoke at the 2006 conference on the 50th anniversary of the events of 1956 and indeed at the conference that led to the People’s History of Riots book (CSP).

It wasn’t just the writing though. He had a distinctive speaking style and presence that always made a paper by him an eagerly awaited occasion.

I had read his FB posts on being treated for a brain illness and one always hopes that matters will turn out well as treatment continues. Sadly this is far from always the case.

Neil leaves a substantial legacy as an inspiring speaker and an incisive historian as well as of course a great socialist and comrade.

Synopsis of paper given at the London Socialist Historians conference on the Vote: What Went Wrong? Held at the Institute of Historical Research on 27th February 2010

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)