Magazine article Soundings

Hope and Experience

Magazine article Soundings

Hope and Experience

Article excerpt

The Soundings Manifesto project is aiming to be part of an intergenerational dialogue about the best ways to resist neoliberalism and put forward alternative visions of a good society. This issue of the journal, as well as publishing two more instalments in the manifesto, carries articles that engage with and extend its arguments in a number of different directions.

A recurring theme in these discussions has been the continuing importance of left traditions as sources of critical understanding for our current predicament (especially New Left thinking, and Gramscian understandings of hegemony and common sense). These ideas are now being taken up and developed by a new generation, while people who have their own distinctive critical traditions are also bringing their ideas to the discussion. At the same time there has been a renewed interest in history as a source of ideas, in terms of inspiration, lessons to be learned and alternatives to be recuperated.

In this issue Doreen Massey's manifesto instalment analyses the ways in which the language we use to discuss the economy shapes the way we think about it, and reinforces neoliberal values as common sense. Michael Rustin's contribution is written from within a New Left tradition that combines a critical and cultural analysis of capitalism with a focus on the social nature and interdependence of humankind; his analysis of a relational society shows how neoliberalism eats away at the values that sustain connectedness and mutual care.

Tom Crompton's article is written from the perspective of someone who has been involved for many years in the environmental movement and has given much thought to the way in which values are articulated in political discourse. As he argues, the most accomplished politicians - such as Margaret Thatcher - know how to implement policies that, as well as furthering their political aims, also reinforce their values and increase people's sense of identification with their project. The classic examples here are Thatcher's right to buy policies, and her promotion of popular capitalism through offering up state assets for individual share ownership. As Tom argues, when politicians of the left argue for their policies in terms of neoliberal values - such as competitiveness, labour-market flexibility, choice - they are not only failing to put forward their own coherent alternative values; they are also contributing the further consolidation of neoliberal values as the only possible world view. The aim of this discussion is to make us more aware of what values we are promoting in our campaigning, and to point to the importance of forms of politics that articulate a different set of values.

Richard Johnson's article is an extended riff on finding sources for hope in Gramsci's work. As he points out, Gramsci was a man who wrote for the future even though he spent the last decade of his life in a fascist prison. Richard is arguing for an 'optimism of the intellect' - for 'theories and concrete studies that map out a more hopeful future, yet ground strategy in realist historical analysis'. He points to the importance of a deeper understanding of how political settlements are constructed, maintained and undermined, and of the terrain on which we operate: analysing civil society as a site of multiple forms of contestation can open up our ideas about what politics is and where it is to be found, and suggest ways in which we can work to create a new culture. He also argues that people in Britain today - especially young people - are better educated than ever before, and thus more able to be critical, nonconformist and creative. Aspiration can be social as well as individual, and there is plenty of good sense to be found in popular culture alongside its more commercial side. The real question is how to articulate all this potential into a political project.

Nick Stevenson's revisiting of the long revolution continues this vein of critical optimism. …

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