May you live in interesting times

March 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm (capitalist crisis, labour party, Max Dunbar, Obama, parasites, plutocrats, poverty, welfare, workers)

I know I’m a naive optimist but aren’t the general public getting pissed off with inequality? The spectacle of incompetent businessmen walking off with pensions equal to the GDP of a developing nation while hardworking families are forced into the black market at sub minimum wage is so glaring an injustice that it is making an inroad into the UK’s normally servile working class.

I used to rant about executive pay during the boom years and people would tell me, ‘Well, maybe he’s worked hard for that money’. You can’t imagine that defence being used now. The boom years carried a deferential faith in the wisdom and benevolence of the aristocracy of wealth that has, like the bubble, burst.

Studies are showing that unregulated freemarket capitalism is perhaps not the best way to run societies: moreover, people tend to be happier and more successful in societies run along egalitarian lines.

Gaze across the pond and you realise what we’re missing and what a chronicle of wasted time the last decade has been. Barack Obama has repealed several of Bush’s anti-labour laws plus the religious conscience law, he has legalised stem cell research, he has ordered the closure of Guantanamo and the secret CIA prisons, he has ended rendition, he has lifted Bush’s restrictions on funding for family planning NGOs, he has expanded state health insurance, he has made it legal for women to sue for equal pay, he has capped executive pay, he has scrapped Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy… and the guy was only elected in, like, January. Radical journalist Greg Palast looked on in astonishment:

Then came Obama’s money bomb. The House bill included $125 billion for schools (TRIPLING federal spending on education – yes!), expanding insurance coverage to the unemployed, making the most progressive change in the tax code in four decades by creating a $500 credit against social security payroll deductions, and so on.

Look, don’t get your hopes up. But it may turn out the new President’s … a Democrat!

It’s been argued on Shiraz Socialist that Obama has achieved more ‘in the course of the past few weeks than the free-market lackeys of our so-called ‘Labour Party’ have managed in nearly twelve years’.

All this is registering. As Will Hutton says:

[W]hile a clear majority do not like current levels of inequality, support for doing anything about it is falling, at least through the tax and benefit system. Rather than doing as we would be done by, the British have a keener-than-ever awareness of being cheated by benefit frauds and unjust claimants and are not minded to pay up for more redistribution.

This isn’t ‘troubling’. It’s common sense. The Great Crunch has shown us that the tax burden falls overwhelmingly on the middle and working classes. Why should they pay to sort out the mess that the rich have got us into? People hate benefit fraudsters but also, now, billionaire tax dodgers. Labour’s best chance of winning the next election is to assume that it will lose and to go down fighting on a honourable programme of redistribution of wealth.

Of course my optimism could be misplaced – as David Toube pointed out, hard times make for ugly politics and ‘there is every reason to believe that the defining themes of the present economic downturn will be xenophobic, anti-immigrant and racist’. We have to be ready to challenge and fight this when it appears but, overall, I think there’s scope for hope as well as hate.socialism-rich


  1. badnewswade said,

    I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think it’s going to get any better. They’ve got the Left busy pushing anti-semitism and the working class busy blaming immigrants for everything. It really does look like things are completely sown up around here. I’m frightened of what kind of monsters are going to be unleashed; it really does look like they’re using racism to keep peoples’ minds off how badly they’ve been ripped off, and it’s working.

    If only the Left could be left-wing again, maybe we’d have a chance. But it’s not, it’s in thrall to a bunch of murderous clerics, and this is why: The way society protects itsself is like an immune system. Somehow at just the right time, the meme virus of blaming “Diffrunt people” gets launched, and takes off simply because its’ easier. Why bother thinking, formulating a critique of modern capitalism and a solution to the problems it creates when you can just blame the Jews / black people / Polish / unemployed?

    We’re in for some dark times. Please keep writing- people like you give me hope.

  2. maxdunbar said,

    That’s it. I think I have been laughably optimistic. We are in for a rough ride.

  3. Caz said,

    That’s not laughably optimistic. I think you’ve hit on something that is happening at the moment.
    Where I work there are redundancies on the way which would always have provoked opposition. But there’s something more going on this time I think. People are really, really angry and it’s partly because the old lie that ‘there’s just no money to pay for public services’ can be seen through by anyone who reads a paper or watches the news. Everyone’s first reaction is “well they bailed out the banks didn’t they. That’s why we’re getting the cuts now”.
    The danger is that if the trade unions aren’t up to the job of focusing that anger and turning it into a fight for jobs and services that it will dissipate, turn to disillusionment or even the far right as you point out.

  4. maxdunbar said,

    Yeah. I’m not claiming to have the answers. You make good points and it could easily go either way.

  5. pobept said,

    Quote” May you live in interesting times ”

    Thats an old Chinese curse !!

  6. maxdunbar said,

    I know.

    I first heard it through Terry Pratchett.

  7. badnewswade said,

    “The danger is that if the trade unions aren’t up to the job of focusing that anger and turning it into a fight for jobs and services that it will dissipate, turn to disillusionment or even the far right as you point out.”

    I’m assuming that the trade unions are going to be more interested in their Israel obsession than anything else.

    Yes, people are angry but in hard times they always seem to find their anger displaced onto the innocent, simply because the guitly fuckers are just too damn high up to challenge. That is my gloomy, Gothic view anyway – I hope and pray that I am wrong but as I say, I fear we may see race riots and the like before this is over. Things just seem to go from bad to worse.

  8. maxdunbar said,

    To be fair, most trade unionists don’t have this Israel fixation. Sue Blackwell was defeated at election recently.

  9. badnewswade said,

    I have noticed that the Pales-tard crowd does tend to get beaten quite severely at election time. Which is encouraging. What gets me, is how many there are, how many people like Loach whom I’d considered to be really cool have turned out to be such rats. How many more of these bastards are going to come out of the closet?

  10. maxdunbar said,

    This is just a result of antisemitism being more acceptable in polite circles.

  11. a said,

    Obama hasn’t really ended rendition and will just be shipping people to Bagram in the future rather than Guantanamo. Also you do realize executive pay is only capped for firms being bailed out, right?

  12. maxdunbar said,

    I don’t say Obama is perfect and certainly his government should be scrutinised and criticised, I just think he has achieved a hell of a lot in such a short time.

  13. Wally Wibblywellies said,

    “the UK’s normally servile working class.”

    As opposed to our ‘decents’ who are such sterling examples of non-servility, no doubt. The British working class is anything but ‘normally servile’ as its history shows, from the General Strike to the Heath years to the miners strike, Wapping, the dockers, the Poll Tax struggles, you name it. Its those who have claimed to lead it who have generally – with some exceptions – been ‘servile’ to the bosses and have actively sought to suppress and undermine working class militancy. Workers are not ‘servile’, they have been crapped on and often betrayed, which is a completely different thing.

    Its quite amusing watching these middle class elitists discuss the working class. Contempt drips from their every pore, even when they’re trying to play up their sympathy with workers.

    Obama, Will Hutton and David Toube – just what our class needs (snigger). I don’t think so!

  14. maxdunbar said,

    And I suppose you’re writing this from the blacking factory, are you?

  15. Wally Wibblywellies said,

    Where I work is hardly the point. I am a long time trade unionist who often has to cope with unsocial hours. That’s all I am prepared to say about myself.

    But all of the political trends debating here are hostile to independent working class political action, as are Obama, Toube and Hutton as political people. The statement that the working class is ‘normally servile’ is an insult, and very revealing.

  16. maxdunbar said,

    For a busy trade unionist you seem to have a good deal of time to spare posting on a site which you don’t like.

    I pity whoever you represent.

  17. voltairespriest said,

    But all of the political trends debating here are hostile to independent working class political action, as are Obama, Toube and Hutton as political people.

    On the first point, that’s nonsense to the degree that I’m not sure you really understand the concept to which you’re referring. On the second, the three names you mention all have very different politics from each other.

    And the secrecy would be because… you’re worried about people thinking “ahh – willwanker, that’ll be yon fella from the Bull and Bear, I’ll go and beat him up because of his views on the word ‘cunt'”? I mean, come on

  18. Wally Wibblywellies said,

    “On the first point, that’s nonsense to the degree that I’m not sure you really understand the concept to which you’re referring.”

    I understand enough not to picket trade union offices denoucing workers for defending their jobs against anti-union employers, as the leaders of the AWL originally wanted during the LOR strike. This dalliance with anti-working class ‘decents’ is very indicative.

    “On the second, the three names you mention all have very different politics from each other.”

    None of them remotely working class, however.

    Do you think the UK working class is ‘normally servile’ VP? Or do you agree with me that this is an insult?

  19. maxdunbar said,

    Do people have to be working class to care about working class interests?

  20. Wally Wibblywellies said,

    No. But statements to the effect that the working class is ‘normally servile’ reflect a jaundiced view of the working class. It is ignorant and inaccurate, and reflects the views of other classes of the working class. My view is that those from other classes who aspire to further the interests of the working class have to overcome such contemptuous attitudes – through study of the history of the workers movement, and working alongside the working class to defend working class interests in whatever way is available to them.

    I’m not hostile to the progressive sentiments in the above post, by the way, but where these kinds of elitist attitudes show up they need to be challenged.

  21. maxdunbar said,

    So, do you have to like someone to want to help them?

    I don’t think so.

    And I hate the super-rich and the bourgoisie too. Don’t worry, I am an equal-opportunity elitist.

  22. Wally Wibblywellies said,

    “So, do you have to like someone to want to help them?”

    Very Sydney Webb. Fabianism reborn – paternalistic bourgeois ‘socialism’. Good to see it expressed with such clarity so there can be no misunderstanding.

  23. maxdunbar said,

    If you’re campaigning for solidarity with Palestinians, do you have to know personally, and get on with, every single Palestinian?

  24. Wally Wibblywellies said,

    It’s about making generalisations. Max Dunbar said the UK working class was ‘normally servile’. A generalisation that is untrue, which undermines solidarity and implies that the forces that can change things come from somewhere else, not from the working class. Hence Obama, Toube, Hutton, etc.

  25. Sue R said,

    The members of the working class that Max comes across are normally servile, working as they do in his Daddy’s firm. (Still, better dead than christian.).

  26. maxdunbar said,


    My dad is a secondary school teacher.


    Sure I think the working class can be a driver of change. It’s just, in this day and age, it generally isn’t.

  27. Sue R said,

    Chill out Max, it was a joke. Wally: Respecting as you do other cultures quaint little ways, what’s your feelings if a bunch of Mulsim tradeunionist a) refused to allow female trade unionists into meetings or made them sit at the back and not speak? and b) insisted that women have separate unions?

  28. Abdul-Rahim said,

    Uhm Obama hasn’t done shit, sorry to say. He has not expanded Healthcare, I don’t know where you got that idea from. The anti-Union legislation is still on the books, he hasn’t repealed anything, and the new Employee Free Choice act that would do a lot for unionisation has a long way to go before it can get his signature. In fact people in America are wondering what exactly this guy is doing!

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