“Tinkering, .... is a preliminary to large-scale change. There can’t be large-scale structural change unless a very substantial part of the population is deeply committed to it. It’s going to have to come from the organized efforts of a dedicated population. That won’t happen, and shouldn’t happen, unless people perceive that reform efforts, the tinkering, are running into barriers that cannot be overcome without institutional change. Then you get pressure for institutional change. But short of that realization, there is no reason why people should take the risks, make the effort, or face the uncertainty and the punishment that’s involved in serious change. That’s why every serious revolutionary is a reformist. If you’re a serious revolutionary, you don’t want a coup. You want changes to come from below, from the organized population. But why should people be willing to undertake what’s involved in serious institutional change unless they think that the institutions don’t permit them to achieve just and proper goals?”
Marxism 2011 was my first visit to the annual Marxism festival in London, and on the whole it was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience. I thought I’d jot down a few of my impressions of the event. If you attended as well, then do feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments box below.
One remark I heard being made quite frequently throughout the weekend was that this year’s conference was better attended than most due to what’s been happening these past six months in the Middle East and North Africa. Plainly the various Arab revolutions and uprisings are not united under a socialist banner, but socialists and trade unionists have been playing an active and key role in those events nonetheless, alongside liberals and many other sections of Arab society, politically organised or otherwise. It is certainly true that the “Arab Spring” is of direct relevance and interest to the socialist left, whose analysis of global political economy describes an international state-corporate power structure wherein the despots of the Arab world are linked directly, through arms supplies, diplomatic support and IMF/World Bank seals of approval, to our own governments here in the West.
Listening to the first hand accounts of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions of activists visiting from those countries brought back for me some of the same feelings I’d experienced in January and February this year, when the toppling of Mubarak followed the toppling of Ben Ali, and (at least before the bloody stalemates in Libya and Syria, and the crushing of the uprising in Bahrain) the possibilities seemed endless. One cannot help being overwhelmed with admiration for the people who risked life and limb to resist those Western-backed police states; the people, for instance, who lay down in front, behind and to either side of the tanks deployed by Mubarak against the demonstrators, doing all they could to take force out of the equation and thus move the battle out of the state’s chosen terrain - violence - and onto territory where it could not resist the will of the people. My awe of their bravery was coupled with the shame of knowing that the British government had consistently armed and otherwise supported the forces that had been crushing those people for so long. The meaning of the much-used term ‘solidarity’ becomes very real in this context; speaking more of responsibilities than gestures. What better way, after all, to demonstrate our genuine solidarity with the Arab peoples than to campaign and speak out against Britain’s record of materially supporting the despotic regimes of the region, from Bahrain to the Israeli occupation of Palestine?
Being on the left, almost by definition, means standing in opposition to illegitimate power in whichever form it presents itself. As such, we find ourselves cut off from mainstream political discourse, dominated as it is by the corporate media and the political class, and so, in effect, cut off from each other, and rendered comparatively weak and isolated. For these reasons, any gathering of the left has the intrinsic value of boosting the morale upon which active political engagement depends, reminding us that we are not isolated and providing us with the opportunity for collective self-affirmation and reinvigoration. In that context, a bit of polemic in the various talks and discussion forums can be seen as no bad thing, although for me, the real value in those sessions was to be found in the analysis of the various issues under consideration, which was often of a genuinely high quality.
The stand-out session of those I attended was that hosted by retired academic Colin Barker as part of a series entitled “Understanding Revolution”. Barker explained in clear and engaging terms the ways in which revolutions tend to unfold, and how we can tell when a genuine revolution is occurring, doing so with constant reference to contemporary developments. As well as being fascinating in its own right, such analysis has a vital, practical function for activists who plainly cannot hope to engage with and challenge power in a productive way unless they have a serious understanding of the political economy and how it functions. More generally, by helping to promote a lively intellectual culture within the left, the Marxism conference helps to maintain the quality of our analysis and our political critique. In that respect, it was encouraging to see the breadth of topics under discussion in an impressively wide-ranging programme over five days.
One criticism I would offer is over ticket prices (and readers can make their own judgement on my hypocrisy over this, as the beneficiary of a free press pass myself). Forty pounds - or to put it another way, more than half a week’s jobseekers allowance - seems like rather a lot to ask of prospective non-waged attendees. I realise that the organisers must have considerable costs to meet, but free entry for the unemployed would potentially be a rather good way for the left to engage with and involve a key section of society that it hopes to represent. I don’t know how feasible such a policy would be, but it seems to be worth considering.
However, that’s one criticism set against a number of positive impressions. I look forward to next year’s event, at which point we’ll hopefully have the demise of a few more dictators to celebrate.
David Wearing is a post-graduate researcher in Political Science at the School of Public Policy, University College London, and co-editor of the New Left Project.
Just wanted to post footage of a press conference held by a lawyer acting for the woman who alleges she was raped by Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It’s quite long, but please do watch it, if only as a counter to the disgusting smears against her that have been circulating in the media:
“wherever in the world there is conflict, oppression or danger you will find Britain and America working side by side.” – William Hague
I could use the unveiling today of a statue of Ronald Reagan before a host of dignitaries and George Osborne as a flimsy hook on which to hang a number of different posts – a discussion of elite anxieties about the decline of the “special relationship”; an interpretation of Reagan as a symbol of this government’s ideal of a politically marginalised public; a look at how the economic approach introduced under Reagan and Thatcher helped produced the current crisis, and so on. I could even use it as the basis for an odd and undeveloped opposition between Reagan and Marx the only purpose of which seems to be to justify a punch line that isn’t even very good.
But I won’t do any of that, because the main thing that struck me about the ceremony was simply how revolting the whole thing was. Particularly egregious was William Hague’s eulogy to the dead terrorist, in which he expressed pride that the “great American hero” would now take his place alongside figures like “Nelson Mandela”, who was imprisoned by a regime supported by the Reagan administration. Hague proceeded to read a statement on behalf of Margaret Thatcher, who memorably (even if Hague and the British media have forgotten) described Mandela’s ANC as a “terrorist organisation”. This just a few days after he refused to support the flotilla activists currently trying to undermine an occupation likened by Mandela and other victims and opponents of South African apartheid to the regime they fought against. The man is shameless.
Hague even went so far as to suggest that the Arab Spring – the wave of popular uprisings against US- and UK-backed dictators across the Middle East – represented a manifestation of Reagan’s belief in freedom:
“The great idealist, who were he alive today might well be saying now ‘it is morning again in the Middle East’, spurring us on to help those in the region seeking freedom.”
This about a man whose administration supported precisely the oppressive regimes that people across the region are courageously struggling to overthrow and backed Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in which up to 20,000 people were killed. A legacy continued by Condoleezza Rice, who was also in attendance, apparently on the British leg of a Reagan tribute crawl across Europe.
The media meanwhile have taken the opportunity to trot out all the standard propaganda tropes about Reagan and the Cold War, and to regurgitate the same two or three quotes (can anyone say “evil empire”?), often multiple times within a single article. “Kim Il-Sung-style worship” [Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects:21] of Reagan is hardly a new phenomenon, but they’re not even trying anymore: thus, Sky News reports that Reagan is “recognised as among the greats”, even by critics of his “conservative principles” (in fact the Reagan administration, as Chomsky points out, “[broke] modern records in government intervention in the economy”, and was “by far the most protectionist president in postwar American history”, though presumably this is not the basis on which the people tortured, raped and mutilated by the death squads he supported would reject Sky News‘s characterisation of him [ibid.:211]); etc. etc.
The BBC’s report on the event quotes – and this is the full list – Thatcher, Hague, Reagan himself, Condoleezza Rice and Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary Lord Howe, all of whom offered glowing tributes. TheTelegraph added a bit of grovelling from the director of the foundation that commissioned the statue for good measure. The Guardian simply ran the video without comment, apparently too moved for words. (Aside, that is, from an ‘open thread’, which asked readers: ” Are the statues a fitting commemoration? And just who should be the next 1980s American icon to join Jacko [referring to, yes, the popstar Michael Jackson] and Reagan in the British capital?”).
This is a man, recall, whose administration was responsible for the mass murder and torture of tens of thousands of people in Central America, the Middle East and Africa. His administration earned the rare distinction of an official condemnation for unlawful use of force by the World Court. The only mention of these crimes I could find amongst the torrent of hagiography prompted by the statue were the following rather coy paragraphs from Michael Goldfarb:
“Inevitably, the effort to ‘preserve and promote’ Reagan’s legacy comes with a big injection of political spin. A quotation attributed to Lady Thatcher, ‘Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot,’ is etched on to the Reagan statue’s plinth.
Actually, there were plenty of shots fired during the Reagan presidency. It’s just they were fired by proxies out of earshot of Washington and London and so are easy to forget.”
Not so “easy to forget” for the victims, I’d wager, and if they are easily forgotten by citizens of the US and Britain, Goldfarb is not so impolite as to remind us in any detail.
That the British media showers praise upon a man who helped orchestrate a bloodbath is not a merely an offence against historical accuracy and good taste. The whitewash of the Reagan administration’s record is – as Rice’s presence today illustrated – part of a broader deceit about our government’s role in the world, a deceit that enables Reagan’s crimes to be repeated by his successors. To give one example: if more people had been familiar with the Reagan administration’s “war on terror”, some of the elements of which I’ve already alluded to, the sequel declared by Bush and Blair would have been received more sceptically, and lives, possibly many lives, may have been saved as a result.
The statue of Reagan is a monument not simply to the depraved individual it commemorates, but to the media and intellectual institutions that reinforce the enabling illusions on which he and his successors have relied. They should both be torn down, and replaced with something better.
All this gives me a good excuse to post the 1988 debate between Noam Chomsky and senior Reagan defence official Richard Perle, which covers many of the issues raised above. I say “debate”, but that’s putting it very generously. Part 1 of 18:
Update: I’d missed this by Michael White in the Guardian, which gestures to the fact that Reagan’s alleged opposition to ‘big government’ is a fraud, but which mainly complains that the ceremony failed to live up to Reagan’s “ability to light up a room simply by entering it”.
Sean O’Keefe is a former worker at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and activist in the PCS union. In this personal account, Sean explains the managerial culture and workload pressures that led him to resign for the sake of his health.
On every level of the large glass office block overlooking the dual carriageway, affixed to the notice board adjacent to the main entrance for each floor, there is a laminated card that demands the attention of all employees. It details the escape route staff must follow in the event that a bomb threat is received. An arrow snakes away from the building and around the nearby backstreets, terminating upon a refuge point of sufficient distance. It is here, at this point of safety, that staff are expected to assemble. This observation would be quite unremarkable, except that when one traces the path of the arrow they will discover with some disquiet that it points to an unfortunate clip-art graphic of an enormous explosion. I saw the laminated cards every day I worked in that large glass office overlooking the dual carriageway, until I walked out for the final time earlier this year.
Now that I am asked to write about the importance of 30 June those cards appear to me an insuperable metaphor for the civil service. They are the organisation in microcosm: something created for the best possible intention and yet at the same time hopeless at doing the one thing for which it was designed. This dualism can be found everywhere. Internal documents replicate corporate terminology like a cargo cult constructs a bamboo runway, in a failure of logical thinking where cause and effect are confused. Adopting the language and procedures found in private industry will always fail when it is implemented by a management culture that understands neither what it is doing nor why it should be done.
If you want to terrify a civil servant, whisper the following words into his ear: eight days in a rolling one-year period. This is the trigger point for disciplinary action for those absent due to illness. When I was signed off with stress in 2008, my doctor wrote to my manager, explaining that my absence would not be improved by issuing a warning to somebody with obvious mental health problems. I was told his letter was not valid medical evidence, that the warning I had received would be upheld and I was to be dispatched to ATOS Origin for an occupational health assessment (OHS). When I referred my manager to departmental policy, which states a warning should be withheld pending the result of an OHS report, she referred me to another page in the same policy which directly contradicted their previous advice. It states that warnings can be given and later rescinded if the OHS report finds in the employee’s favour and so the warning stood. I never attended the OHS referral: my manager lost the paperwork. I lodged a grievance, which was rejected, and then launched an appeal, which also failed. These were heard by the same managerial chain of command that had issued me with the warning. All must genuflect in front of the policy but it is a stacked deck, written by and for management, at the behest of senior civil servants terrified by a negative headline in the Daily Mail.
Once an absence reaches the eight day trigger point, disciplinary action automatically commences. Should no underlying health condition be found to justify the absence, a warning will be issued. Should an underlying health condition be found to justify the opinion of a manager that the medical complaint is “unsustainable to the business,” a warning will be issued. Once again: it is a stacked deck. No distinction is made between eight absent Mondays after a weekend tight on gin, and cancer, although the latter may be ignored until the employee returns to work, when any subsequent absences will counted, together with the original. For instance, six months absence due to chemotherapy would be considered a one-off but if the employee returns to work for one day and is then absent with a cold, the six months is included.
So perverse is this policy that a Jobcentre employee could find himself ejected on the strength of an ATOS Origin report if his health condition is found to be unsustainable, only to have to report back to the same Jobcentre the next week. If he attempts to claim ill health benefits, he will find himself sent again to ATOS Origin, who may well report that he is fit to work. Once a warning has been issued the trigger drops to four days; another absence will result in a written warning and any further days will lead to dismissal with a maximum of three month’s compensation. During my time as a member of the local PCS committee, I heard of countless such cases. One established representative, a formidable woman who fought hard for me during my own case, confided that we were losing an unprecedented number of cases. Those we were winning were on technicalities so obvious even the marble heads in middle management had to concede defeat.
Contrary to the widely held opinion that the public sector is a passport to bohemia at the taxpayers’ expense, working for the civil service represented one of the unhappiest periods of my life. For although I met many fine, exceptionally hard working people and made friendships I hope to maintain for the rest of my life, there were moments so dark I wanted to stave my head in at my desk. The same mindset that cannot see that a clip-art graphic of an explosion is an unsuitable icon for the assembly point in the event of a bomb threat is the same one that bullies and humiliates staff.
On June 30, although most of the teachers and lecturers in the NUT, ATL and UCU will be going on strike, not all of them will be. The following post, by Jacob Mukherjee*, presents a case for why those teachers should make the sacrifice and join the strike on June 30.
1) Strikes work
Even the threat of strike action in 2007 forced the previous Government to alter their plans to change conditions for existing members of the teachers’ pension scheme. Head Teachers have already voted for a strike ballot over pensions, and Unison leader Dave Prentis says his 1 million strong union will strike in the autumn if there is no compromise. Although the Government is talking tough, in reality they are eager to avoid a showdown with the unions. If the teachers’ strike is well supported, the Government will think twice before forcing through their changes and risking confrontation with the entire public sector workforce.
Public opinion is divided over the issue of public sector strikes, but evidence shows that the Government’s popularity tends to suffer after strikes and demonstrations. Opinion polls show that the Conservative Party’s approval rating took a hit after the student demonstrations against tuition fees, after the March 26th anti-cuts demonstration and again after the announcement of a ‘Yes’ vote in the June 30th strike ballots. Cameron is aware of this and is desperate to avoid being seen as a divisive leader like Margaret Thatcher. This Government is not confident like Blair’s in 1997. They have already made a string of U-turns on the forest sell-off, free milk for children, EMA and most recently NHS reforms. They can be forced to change course again.
2) The benefits outweigh the costs
The proposed changes to our pensions would cost some teachers over £200000. Even a small concession from the Government could win the average teacher thousands of pounds, at a cost of less than a hundred pounds in lost pay. Most teachers can afford to lose a day’s pay, but we can’t afford to lose retirement security. Any teacher who would suffer genuine financial hardship as a result of lost pay can apply for help from the unions’ strike funds.
3) Solidarity is what makes unions work
Some teachers may have doubts about the idea of striking, or may even have voted against a strike. Others may feel the changes have little impact on them, or that they can survive on a lower pension. But 92% did vote for strike action in a democratic, secret ballot.
The first principle of trade unionism is collective self-defence: workers defend each other when some of them are under attack. In this case, nearly all teachers would be harmed by the pension changes so we should all be on strike. All members benefit from the advice and protection that union membership gives them. In return, members should respond when the union calls upon them to take action. We will all gain if the strike wins concessions from the Government, so we should all be on strike.
*Jacob Mukherjee is a teacher and trade union activist in the NUT
Note: This piece was originally written for circulation among teachers - please pass it on to any that would benefit from reading it.
Carl criticises the “paternalism and snobbery” of those “pro-Palestinians” who excuse Palestinian antisemitism on the grounds that
“those who are lesser off than them should be pitied, left to their own devices, and if they express antisemitic views, well, who can blame them, ‘eh, after all they don’t know any better do they, they’re poor – and as all people know poor people are stupid and don’t deserve to be told they’re wrong to blame the Jews for their plight.”
Indeed, to attempt to excuse Palestinian racism on these grounds is itself “racist”. Carl, in opposition to this tendency, aligns himself with Zizek, who declares that Palestinian antisemitism “should not be tolerated”.
First, like As’ad, I’m not quite sure what this exhortation to intolerance amounts to. Should we be organising against Palestinian antisemitism? Should we be building ties of solidarity with Israeli Jewish communities who feel at risk from – or, at any rate, upset by – Palestinian racism? If a Palestinian expresses anti-Jewish prejudice, should we actively confront her and refuse to continue dialogue until she repents (that is, should we condition solidarity on Palestinians purifying themselves of racism?), or should we merely refrain from excusing her behaviour? Carl seems to interpret it as the latter: we should “refuse any patience with it [i.e. Palestinian antisemitism], refuse to tolerate it... [by] not excusing it as common practice of poor Arabs”.
But one cannot, surely, ignore the context in which Zizek’s remarks were made. Israel justifies its oppression of the Palestinians precisely by reference to their alleged antisemitism, which is held to be essentially innate and dating back from time immemorial. This allows the Israeli state and its apologists to portray the occupation as a response to Palestinian hostility and aggression – a defensive, rather than an offensive, measure. In this context, to simply repeat the standard denunciations of Palestinian antisemitism, without bothering to explain its structural causes, is to play into the hands of apologists for Israel’s occupation (hence As’ad’s sarcasm: “What do you suggest that we do with the most oppressed and poor Palestinians who express anti-Semitic views? Kill them? Occupy them again? Double occupy them?”). It is, therefore, to contribute to racist domination, rather than to undermine it, which rather undermines the moral stand being taken.
I agree with Carl that “excusing” antisemitism isn’t the way to go. But I also sympathise with As’ad’s reaction to Zizek’s pontificating. To explain, I’ll borrow an analogy from the American scholar Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein’s mother was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. When she was liberated and left Germany, she carried with her a deep and abiding hatred for Germans – all Germans – believing all of them to be antisemitic. This hatred, Finkelstein recalls, lasted all her life. Now, Finkelstein himself doesn’t share his mother’s anti-German prejudice, and I’m sure he wishes that his mother hadn’t possessed it either. But he also says that he was prepared to allow it from her – in the sense that he wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it, as one usually would towards expressions of racism – because given the circumstances in which they were formed, his mother’s views were, while not correct, at least understandable.
Now, I don’t think Finkelstein’s leniency towards his mother amounted to racist paternalism. And like him, I can certainly understand and feel less hostility to anti-German prejudice coming from victims of the Nazi concentration camps than I do towards racism in most other contexts. Does that mean I’m being racist and paternalist towards Jews, in Carl’s view? I suspect not, and the reason seems to me two-fold: 1) we can understand why a reasonable person might develop a (nonetheless unreasonable) prejudice towards Germans having been through Nazi persecution; and 2) the racism of Finkelstein’s mother was a reaction to domination and oppression, not an expression of it. Nazi racism functioned as a tool of domination – it provided a legitimating and motivating force for horrific abuses. None of that can be said of the racism of Finkelstein’s mother, which was, by contrast, the (misguided and possibly harmful) reaction on the part of a powerless party to extreme abuse and oppression by a powerful one.
To translate this to the Palestinian situation: it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to understand why a Palestinian, terrorised and humiliated on a daily basis by Jewish soldiers wearing the Star of David on the uniforms, acting on behalf of the Jewish State, which itself claims to be the institutional embodiment of the Jewish people, might harbour antisemitic prejudice. Even someone like Benny Morris, say, describes the development of Palestinian antisemitism as a spillover from hostility towards Zionist colonisation – hostility towards the Jews in Palestine slipped in many cases to hostility to Jews per se, a slip made easier by the fact that a) the Jews in Palestine were the only Jews most Palestinians would have ever encountered, and b) Zionist leaders themselves liked to (and still like to) conflate themselves and their political project with the ‘Jewish people’ as a whole.
I think that this analogy – between the anti-German racism of Jewish survivors and Palestinian antisemitism – helps explains As’ad’s reaction. The racism of Palestinians against Jews and of Jewish victims of the Nazis against Germans isn’t right – it’s still racism – but it’s structurally different to, say, Israeli anti-Arab racism and Nazi antisemitism. In the latter two cases, racism is an ideological tool being mobilised by a dominant group to oppress a subordinate one. This is racism as structural domination. In former case, the racism is a (misguided and harmful) reaction on the part of oppressed groups to their oppression; it isn’t a tool of oppression itself. (For similar reasons, I’m a lot less bothered when African Americans use the slur “honky” than when white Americans use the slur “n*gger”).
What this means, I think, is that if one is upset about Palestinian antisemitism, especially if one is coming from a position of complicity in Palestinian suffering (as we, as British citizens, are), one should work to end the occupation and the injustice that is its driving force, rather than piously preaching to (or about) Palestinians about the error of their ways. Imagine, after all, if a Zizek in the 1940s travelled to Nazi Germany and lectured a German audience that Jewish prejudice against Germans shouldn’t be “tolerated”. Would that not strike you as a little misplaced? A little jarring? And would it amount to “racist” “paternalism” to say so?
The wages and bonuses of top earners has been, within predictably narrow confines, the subject of much discussion recently. In their recent spring party conference the Liberal Democrats, attempting to reposition themselves as the party of social justice, announced that they were supporting increased ‘transparency over executive pay’ by proposing mandatory disclosure of the pay of top earners. Meanwhile Ed Miliband, in his rebranding speech on welfare, sought to recapture the perception of Labour as the ‘party of the grafters’, criticising unjustly high pay and emphasising the contributory principle with regard to top earners as well as those on benefits. The Conservatives too have engaged in their share of concerned posturing around the issue of executive salaries. It is all sound and fury. The vacuity of this distress can be inferred from by the complete lack of any concrete policy proposals within the political mainstream designed to terminate and reverse the growing disparity in earnings. Nevertheless, that our major political parties feel the need to gesture in that direction at least reveals a degree of anxiety about public anger over the issue.
A survey published in the UK this month demonstrates the yawning gap between the public’s view on remuneration and that which is being discussed within the media and proposed within parliament. The poll, conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), reveals that 78% of Britons support direct government intervention in order to reduce the disparity between high and low earners. A huge majority of 82% believe it is the role of the government to intervene in both the public and private sectors in order to influence levels of pay and close the earnings gap. There was also an overwhelming consensus that low-paid workers deserve significantly more; the average view of the respondents being that office cleaners should receive a 19% pay rise, prison officers a 20% increase, and painters and decorators 12% more. Meanwhile, it was thought that top-earners, both within the public and private sectors, should earn significantly less. The survey also demonstrates a more broadly egalitarian approach towards pay rewards, with only one quarter of respondents approving of the linking of bonuses to individual performance compared to half who thought that bonuses should instead be awarded on an organisational or team basis.
These stark findings come at a time when the levels of income and wealth inequality continue their seemingly inexorable rise, one that has persisted through Conservative, Labour, and now coalition governments. The wages and bonuses of top-earners have long since recovered from the brief blip they experienced during the nadir of recession. The Financial Times reported last week that the pay awards of FTSE chief executives rose by 32 percent last year, symbolised by the recently announced £14m pay and share awards to M&S Chief Executive, Marc Bolland. Meanwhile, the wages of low and middle income workers within both the public and private sectors continue at best to stagnate or in many cases experience significant decline in real terms, in line with the trend of the last three decades.
The public anger felt over this issue and the disillusionment in mainstream parliamentary politics is not confined to Britain, taking on more dramatic forms elsewhere in Europe. As Greece tumbles ever closer towards default, this week sees another general strike planned amidst renewed rioting directed towards the government’s latest discussions with the ‘troika’ (the IMF, ECB, and European Commission) and their drive for cross-parliamentary support for the intensified austerity measures. Meanwhile, the two recent gains by the Conservatives in Southern Europe conceal popular sentiment. The huge defeat of the incumbent Socialist Party in Spain’s local and regional elections last month, which occurred in the context of the widespread demonstrations and protest camps of the ‘indignants’, was widely seen as a protest vote against the austerity policies imposed by the central government in recent years. And as in Spain, the recent governmental elections in Portugal were marked by a sharp increase in spoilt ballots. In addition, the Portuguese poll was shaped by a manifest disillusionment, with over forty percent of those registered not casting their votes.
In accordance with polling on many other economic issues, the IPPR survey on pay demonstrates a widely held and progressive public view that neither has a voice within the mainstream nor sees political representation within parliament. Indeed, it is clear that the gulf between public opinion and mainstream political attitudesthought, both in this country and across Europe, has been drawn into sharper focus by the renewed economic crises, highlighting the widespread and acute democratic deficit that exists. What is not yet clear, however, is whether there will be the requisite backlash from those under threat to drive back the austerity measures and whether these movements of resistance can proffer and project a coherent alternative. From the gathering storm in Greece to the ostensibly still waters of Britain, each situation points in a different direction. But across the continent there is undoubtedly a common bubbling of discontent and dissent that must, to those in power, look ominous.
*Ewan McLennan is a writer, activist, and musician based in the UK.