New Left Project Review of the Year 2014

by The editors

New Left Project’s editors reflect on contributions to the site during 2014 – and look ahead to 2015.

First published: 06 January, 2015 | Category: Activism, Class, Climate Change, Inequality, Racism

2014 was anything but a quiet year, during which NLP worked to report, analyse and make sense of the constant stream of events, providing commentary, hosting debates and breaking stories. We revisit some of the highlights here. 

The scientific community issued a series of warnings, which together boiled down to a sobering ultimatum: if we are to avert the most severe consequences of human-induced climate change, we must halt carbon emissions by 2100, completely.  Whereas in the past, less dramatic claims were either ridiculed or simply ignored, 2014 was different.  From Desmond Tutu to the heirs of the Rockefeller oil fortune, there were calls for an end to the ‘fossil fuel era.’  One important factor shaping this change in attitude has been the new forms of global activism linking climate change to a range of longstanding economic and political struggles.  Over the year, NLP contributors took a closer look at the various strands of this resurgent climate movement in the UK.  Clare Walton from the campaigning organisation Fuel Poverty Action explored how grassroots activism, borne out of people’s everyday experience of cold and indebted homes, is providing answers to the closely related fuel poverty and climate crises.  Izzy Koksal, also from Fuel Poverty Action, drew attention to a newly drafted ‘Energy Bill of Rights’, which has the support of parliamentarians, community and direct action activists, pensioners and students alike.  Chris Garrard of the ‘Art not Oil’ coalition reported on how a growing number of ‘actor-vists’ are devising creative ways of protesting oil companies’ strategy of reputational management through corporate sponsorship of the arts.  A group of Oxford-based activists intervened in similarly colourful fashion to denounce Oxford University’s close ties to a range of oil companies, highlighting their problematic influence over the focus of academic research.  James Angel drew on common themes in all of the above articles in his analysis of how new forms of solidarity, bolstered by the convergence of local and global environmental concerns, have led to a powerful anti-fracking movement in the UK.  It is a movement that has so far successfully stymied corporate and government efforts to champion controversial shale gas extraction techniques and challenged the narrative according to which fracking is a realistic solution to climate change. 

In January, the jury in the Mark Duggan inquest concluded that he was lawfully killed when shot dead by police in August 2011.  Nadia Beard reported for NLP on the cynical reaction to the verdict amongst London’s Black communities, and Eleanor Kilroy and Estelle du Boulay of the Newham Monitoring Project interrogated the evidence presented to the inquest and provided vital context  about police impunity and the role of race and class in the British criminal justice system.  Outrage at the violence and institutional racism of police in the US prompted protests and solidarity actions in the UK towards the end of the year when NLP began publishing its timely series on the history and politics of race and class in Britain.  The ongoing discussion based around Satnam Virdee’s Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider has considered how race, racism, and anti-racism has shaped the history of the working class in Britain, up to and including how ‘white van man’ became the ne plus ultra of Britishness, and the ways in which gender intertwines with both race and class in organising workers’ resistance to capital.

April saw the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian talks engineered by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Norman Finkelstein’s analyses for NLP both of the threat to Palestinian rights posed by the Kerry initiative, and the reasons for its ultimate failure, merit re-reading as moves to re-start negotiations gain traction.

In a year when the news cycle spun ever faster and contemporary events moved so quickly it sometimes seemed impossible to keep up, it could be useful to pause for breath, look back and reflect.  As well as dealing with topical issues, NLP contributors engaged with the history of the left and beyond in articles on the Hundred Years War,  late-Victorian radicalism, the cooperative movement, post war social democracy, a revisionist analysis of the Labour Party in the ‘crisis years’ of the 1970s, and a look at the parallels between the community activism of Focus E15 and the East London Suffragettes.

Housing activism was one surely one of the most exciting and energised political movements of 2014.  Campaigns like Focus E15 Mothers, New Era estate residents and the West Hendon Estate residents, with their fights for decent, accessible social housing, forced housing justice onto the national agenda. Throughout February and March we published a series of articles addressing questions of who our cities are really for, looking at housing, gentrification and regeneration in the UK and internationally.  Jeff Garmany wrote about changing urban space in Brazil and the accompanying urban social struggles.  Tom Gann wrote about the private renters movement in London and the ways in which it is challenging the commodification of housing and asserting the right to the city.  Stephen Baker looked at the capitalist rebranding of post-conflict Belfast, and Tom Davies talked about the gentrification of his local area, looking beyond the lazy caricatures about hipsters and gastro pubs.  In Helen Kearney’s visionary piece, we saw a reimagining of the Compulsory Purchase Order, so often used in the service of the powerful, but here used as a means of democratising and reclaiming the city.

Inequality dominated the year’s political agenda, reflected in the surprise commercial success of Thomas Piketty’s 600-page tome.  NLP contributors addressed the issue from a number of fronts.  John Quiggin argued against technological explanations of rising inequality, showing that the real causes are political; Ronen Palan problematised discussions of wealth concentration by opening up a distinction between wealth ownership and wealth control; Danny Dorling provided a statistical summary of wealth distribution in the UK; and Stuart White reconstructed an ‘alternative liberal’ tradition of solutions to inequality.  In an account spanning 5,000 years, Jeffrey A. Winters argued that wealth concentration is the single most enduring feature across all polities from ancient Mesopotamia to the present, and assessed evolving oligarchic strategies for wealth defence.  Radical economists Sam Gindin and Andrew Kliman, meanwhile, debated the impact of neoliberalism on inequality and the causes of the 2007-8 financial crisis, while Carl Rowlands and Shaun Fensom disagreed over the capacity of co-operatives to offer a meaningful alternative.

In the run up to the Scottish referendum, we published a series of articles examining the politics and economics of independence.  Adam Ramsay argued that an independent Scotland would have been a serious blow to British nationalism and neoliberalism, taking on the common argument that this would have left England forever at the mercy of the Tories and we hosted a debate between Ramsay and Phil Burton-Cartledge on whether an independent Scotland would have strengthened or weakened the left.  Leading economists Ann Pettifor and James Meadway debated the likely monetary and economic consequences of independence, and after the vote Ben Jackson reflected on the ‘political space’ for social democracy post-referendum.

Finally, in December we launched our ebook, Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy.  In keeping with our aim to look beyond the cramped horizons of the present to broader political-economic possibilities, the book’s co-authors Robin Hahnel and Erik Olin Wright dug deeply into questions of system change and viable alternatives to capitalism.

In the year ahead, NLP will continue to examine a wide range of political issues.  We also plan to expand and deepen our engagement with economic alternatives, both theoretical and practical, including through producing some short films.  We welcome contributions from readers to help reflect – as a collective – on emerging political issues and to shape the political discussion in the year ahead.

Happy New Year!

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