The long read.
These days, there can be a number of reactions when you mention the word *socialism*, not all good. Sadly, common comments in our Town range from: – talk about Stalin and the Gulags; mass state terrorism and murder; Chairman Mao and dictatorship; the lack of personal freedom; we’ll “end up like Venezuela”; The West is Best; Capitalism Rules and cuckoo to you. Seriously. These are the sorts of comments that have been returned just for mentioning that Friedrich Engels loved Eastbourne.
Yet in friendlier circles *socialism* is now a word being reclaimed by the Labour Party under a Corbyn leadership preparing for government. Socialism is what most Corbyn supporters want; be they Labour Party members or in the wider movement beyond. So when Lewes Constituency Labour Party hosted a speakers event headed *Rebuilding Britain for the many not the few: Municipal Socialism*, some of us jumped at the chance to get along to find out more.
The event was held at the All Saints Centre, a converted church in Friars Walk, bar included. It was a full house. The first speaker was Joe Guinan, a Senior Fellow with Democracy Collaborative. (Essential reading, link below). He opened by honouring the fighting spirit of Tom Paine, a spirit we will all need if we are to succeed in forging a New Left Politics. We are living through a period of enormous change. A whole political economic system is failing all around us. Neoliberalism produces obscene levels of inequality that is inbuilt. A damning systemic flaw. It is a systemic crisis, and systemic problems require systemic solutions. The need for a radical alternative could hardly be clearer. The extractive economic new rulers of the world earn money by owning and controlling assets. Their new wealth is achieved by extraction of both our earth’s resources and our human resources. They extract as much and give as little as they can get away with. All is expendable. Scientist tell us the earth’s 6th extinction age is underway.
The need to build a sustainable economic democracy is now deadly urgent and awfully apparent. But at critical moments such as these, there are (luckily for us all) exciting possibilities for transformative change. The potential now is for a new system of democratic ownership and control of the economy. Joe spoke of the ‘extraordinary progress’ made for the New Left under Corbyn’s leadership and of how here in the UK we are at the ‘forefront of historical work’ – ‘at the very tip of the spearhead’. But we need to prepare. How to bring about those big shifts? Our mistakes? How did we let Neoliberalism happen? We’ve protested what we opposed but how to build the alternative? This is the beginning of a new start but lessons need to be learnt.
Neoliberalism did not arrive fully formed when Thatcher and Regan joined forces. It was prepared for in detail. There was a lot of groundwork including the establishment of Mont Pelerin Society in 1947 under Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, et al. This influential group diligently laid the rules of the game to come. This was admirable. It was organised. It was intelligent. And it worked. We can and should learn from this example. We need to organise our alternative in preparation. Danger is not a lack of ideas, it is a lack of preparedness.
Joe set out 4 areas needing our commitment 1) a power analysis of our weaknesses and our strengths i.e. a battle plan. 2) We need to be ready for the reaction of those who most stand to lose. Global market reactions could sink the New Left in Government. Just as Thatcher was fully prepared for the battle with the unions, so too must we be ready. Joe talked about John McDonnell reaching out to the City of London in the hope of an accommodation of some sort. Joe was less optimistic on this. But who knows? 3) We need to be ready to transform institutions like the civil service, presently imbued with mechanisms that support neoliberalism. Like ghosts in the machine working against transformative planning. 4) We need a mass grassroots movement to demand radical democratic changes and to keep a Corbyn Government on track when it moves away from a radical direction.
Joe works with the Democracy Collaborative, an organisation set up in 2000 with a mission “to carry out a vision of a new economic system where shared ownership and control creates more equitable and inclusive outcomes, fosters ecological sustainability, and promotes flourishing democratic and community life”. It’s about Community Wealth Building. It’s about system change and democratising ownership. Please check it out: – https://democracycollaborative.org/
Please also check out YouTube videos of Co-founder Gar Alpervitz: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UD7MKPvFVLs&feature=youtu.be
Our next speaker of the night was Preston City Council Cabinet Member, Councillor Martyn Rawlinson. This is Corbyn’s “Model Town” where the groundwork of Community Wealth Building is moving forward. Martyn was not faint hearted and did not use the replacement term for Municipal Socialism “New Municipalisation”. No. Reclaim that word Socialism. Fear not. It’s a good thing and it’s working in Preston. The 2008 bankers’ crisis saw the eventual abandonment of the £700 million regeneration scheme. The council had put all its eggs in one basket and were relying on incoming private money under the “inward investment model” of town development. But after being left dangling with delivery for many years and with life getting increasingly worse under Austerity, a small group of people dared to explore the alternatives. They looked at the Evergreen co-operatives under the Cleveland Model. They looked at the example of places like Marinaleda in Spain. They were mindful at first of being laughed at and derided. How could such systems work in a Town like Preston? But desperate time and desperate measure etc. So they set to work? Where was Preston’s money coming from? What were the Anchor Institutes? Where were these institutions spending their money and who was benefiting? How could they ensure that money circulated locally to benefit the Town?
The Council then began making systemic changes away from relying on global companies that took money away to create shareholder wealth or to be deposited into off shore hideaways. They started to reform the city’s public procurement processes by harnessing the potential of the anchor institutions for Community Wealth Building. Anchor Institutes that came on board were: – Preston City Council, Lancashire County Council, Lancashire Constabulary, University of Central Lancashire, Preston’s FE College and the Community Gateway Association.
Progress was made. They encouraged the Lancashire Pension Fund to invest locally. They instituted a living wage policy that led to people being lifted out of poverty and more money circulating locally. They committed to the development of a regional bank with a co-operative ethos that would provide funding for local developments in ways the standard global banks did not. They established the credit union Clevr Money and a partnership with Lancashire Community Finance. With a CWB officer they focused on creating local co-operatives and set up the Preston Co-operative Development Network. Outcomes e.g. the swimming pool is now a workers co-operative.
An exciting development going on now is the creation of a cinema and restaurant complex. Being developed half by private money but not via bankers’ delight methods such as private finance initiatives (PFIs). No. This debt will be paid off within a sensible time scale after which the complex will become a community asset. Common Wealth Building. It can’t be said often enough. Stand down Margaret, there is such a thing as community. The reign of individualistic greed is drawing nigh. If we work at it. If we prepare.
One criticism of the Preston Model is that it is insular, that the circulated money only benefits locals. But this is shown not to be the case. Analysis has showed an extra £70M was created for the benefit of the people of Preston plus an extra £200M for Lancashire. This is sideways seepage of Community Wealth. Unlike the false claim that wealth trickles down from the top.
Preston has firmly set foot on the path of Community Wealth Building. It has work to do in taking it further. How to get larger Anchor Institutions on board e.g. Hospitals? Meanwhile, their work has provided a blueprint that become an economic proposal for the Labour Policy. Work is currently being done in the Shadow Treasurer to explore this economic model further e.g. Clive Lewis MP’s appointment to look at Sustainable Economics.
Please check out: – https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/case-study/the-preston-model-of-community-wealth-building-in-the-uk/ for more information.
The final speaker of the night was world known political economist Ann Pettifor, best known for predicting the global crisis. Advisor to John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn. One of the developers of the Green New Deal. One of the leaders of the Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation campaign when $100 billion was written off.
Ann began her speech but telling us that back under New Labour she had disagreed with the direction of travel under Gordon Brown about joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism. She saw as a disaster waiting to happen. Her views didn’t go down well at the time and she failed to get elected as a Labour MP. She concluded that the Labour Party at that time lacked confidence in their ability to manage the economy and that the Left in general lacked confidence in their ability to understand how the economy works. She set about demystify economics. Women were dealing with it every day. The difficult part was the statistics but the mechanisms were straightforward enough.
Fast forward to Brexit and how the shambled way the Tories run the country has been woefully exposed. It is time for the Left to set a strategy that builds from the bottom up. She told us the story of a council owned tea shop in Highcliffe, Dorset. Sean had run it for years but the new contract went to a big international shark that was in a position to undercut local entrepreneurs whilst at the same time stripping the tea shop of all its character and showing no respect for workers’ rights – zero contract hours etc. This way, with the global sharks gobbling up the local minnows, money ends up in far way places giving no benefit for local people. “It’s not rocket science”. Ann spoke of her faith in the gut instinct and intelligence of ordinary people to understand the injustices involved.
So what can we do about it? We have to talk about managing the International Global System in the interests of the majority rather than the elites. This will not be easy but there is beginning to be an incentive even from huge organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Namely, that the populous backlash of the injustice of it all is giving rise to people putting their vote behind neofascist regimes. This, in the hope they will be protected in ways that Social Democracy did not deliver. Think UK and the rise of UKIP when New Labour was unable to offer a real alternative.
We need radical, bottom up wealth creation. We need to inform ourselves of the possibility for this and spread the word. We could set ourselves on the path of achieving this potential with John McDonnell and a Jeremy Corbyn taking us in that direction. We have an opportunity that needs pursuing.
As early as 2008, Ann and Caroline Lucas and others focussed on setting out an alternative. They developed the Green New Deal. The New Economic Foundation put it on their website and published it but it didn’t sell. Last year Ann was approached by the US Justice Democratics during the pre-primaries. Politicians like Alexandria Otasio-Cortez. Their aim was a transformation of the financial system to recapture the system and subordinate it in the interests of the people. They adopted the Green New Deal. It’s time had come.
Just as Roosevelt had done during the Dust Bowl Crisis when he turned things around for the people’s benefit, so too is the challenge of today. But how to build a fairer system that will not be easily dismantled; that will not be destroyed by a new Neolibralism of the future? How to bring about a systemic change that will endure? The old state ownership model made it too easy for the globalists to pick off prime public assets for their own self-interested wealth creation. Think Richard Branson.
The need for Community Wealth Building and localised common ownership is ringing resoundingly in our ears. With local people having a direct stake in a new system that benefits the whole community, it is unlikely we will ever let that be taken away. As it is, the NHS is being privatised piece by piece without people realising. How to build a system where people will notice when their common assets are being threatened. Enter Municipal Socialism. Enter Community Wealth.
For more information: – https://www.annpettifor.com/
So there you have it. 3 excellent speakers on Municipal Socialism. So I’ll end paraphrasing words of Joe Guinan and Christine Berry’s new book…… “People get ready!: Prepar(e) for a Corbyn Government”.
Note. Assistance required. Nothing is achieved without a lot of hard work and a determined campaigning spirit. Join the movement. Let’s be a part of it. Let’s take our place in history and help bring about a radical new system that can benefit the many.