Editorial


Neoliberalism and how to end its dominance has been a central concern in Soundings since its inception. In this issue, we carry the framing statement for our online manifesto, After neoliberalism?, written by the journal's three founding editors, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Mike Rustin. (1) The aim of the manifesto is to focus attention on the nature of the neoliberal settlement, including the social, cultural and political battles that have attended its emergence and maintenance - and those that might help bring about its demise. It argues that mainstream political debate largely avoids confronting the systemic failures that underpin the financial crash, preferring to believe that normal service will shortly be resumed. And as long as this belief continues, political debate will centre on the extent to which state spending should be cut rather than on how to secure a political economy in which all of us have enough to live on, and a society in which the common good displaces profit as the ultimate goal.

As Andrew Gamble notes, Labour saw its vote drop below 30 per cent in 2010, amid a widespread sense that it had been responsible for the economic regime that had brought about disaster, and that it had few ideas for future change. His prescription for a renewed Labour Party has three main elements: a focus on extending democracy and constitutional reform; a rethinking of its ideas about cultural and national identity; and a drive to associate the party with creativity in the economy, especially through green technology. Andrew acknowledges that this is a difficult task but judges that Ed Miliband is taking steps in the right direction. In this vein, the Labour Party Policy Review process can be understood as a welcome attempt to think through the necessary conditions for creating a new economic and political settlement for Labour and the country. We are cautiously optimistic that this will help shift current debate on to more promising terrain for the left.

Natalie Bennett, the new leader of the Green Party, believes that her party occupies the large political space that was vacated when New Labour shifted to the right. And she argues that Labour continues to be too cautious on many issues. For example on education it has not come out against free schools, and its academies policy in many ways opened up the way for current Tory practice. And although it could be argued that the Green Party has the luxury of not needing to look like a government in waiting, it is also true that a lingering attachment to a privileging of choice over equality, and to competitiveness as a key way to achieve success, is evidence of the entrenched difficulty of moving away from the New Labour legacy. Natalie herself is not hopeful of real change in Labour, and suggests that the Greens are the way forward for those who seek a sustainable future and social justice.

Paul Mason has no doubts about the depth of the current crisis, and thinks that we are witnessing a global revolt against neoliberalism, especially from young people who believe that the system has failed to secure their future. This has been aided by the communications revolution, which assists the development of horizontal and networked groups. He believes that most critics of this kind of organisation are shaped by a time when there were 'structured, hierarchical movements with a clear counter-narrative and demands'. This time has now passed, and current movements reflect the new realities as well as the nature of contemporary working life - fragmented, short-lived, ephemeral, lacking ties. But in spite of this the social movements are seeking to develop a counterpower within capitalism, and ways of living differently. And given that neoliberalism is indeed incapable of delivering a secure future, it is likely that things will continue to kick off.

We believe that dialogue between such different positions is crucial. It is important - not to say self-evident - that critical politics takes many different forms. …

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