I wasn’t sure whether to say “big bad”, “big diabolical” or “big disingenuous” …
In the end, I’ve settled for “clever”. It’s fairly neutral. I could’ve chosen “ingenious” too. Or maybe “self-serving”. I’m sure each adjective tells a story of moral baggage; their choosing – or not – just as much.
So. Anyway. The one I’m plumping for is the one in the title.
If I were a big clever capitalist, what would I do? Faced with the “threats” of Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Jeremy Corbyn (shortly) in the UK, and a right-wing extremism which similarly serves to splinter received opinion everywhere (read the establishment’s power to decide what people are prepared to publicly think), I’d probably do something pretty much like what’s being done.
Less playing with fire, though. And, now, with a much grander dose of urgency:
- For a couple of years I’d let austerity bite to a pretty savage degree, focussing on those who find it difficult to defend themselves in mainstream media.
- This would serve to create a narrative whereby the poor (whether in a condition to work or not) were to blame not only for their situation but also for the parlous state of an economy which once – many years ago – had journeyed hand-in-hand with a quite different narrative that stated it would aim to engage with the biggest majority possible (full employment; social security; health services for all etc).
- Meanwhile, I’d confuse the official parliamentary opposition into shutting up about the injustice of blaming the poor for their poverty, so making it impossible for the aforementioned opposition to develop any substantial counter-narrative.
- Once I’d undermined the poor’s sense of self-worth, and the opposition’s sense of right and wrong, I’d proceed to make the reasonably well-off a tad nervous about the privilege they were beginning to learn how to count.
- The goal of all the above being, of course, to keep everyone – whether poor or reasonably well-off – on very uneasy voters’ toes.
- Come general election time, the risks of “austerity lite” – ie austerity operated by people not entirely convinced by anything, it would seem – meant that “austerity full-on” was bound to win the day. (Well. Actually, 901 voters won the day – but that’s a bit of a different story …)
- This would then lead to a pendulum swing for the opposition itself, as halfway houses were shown to have failed dismally. No “lite” anything – not any more. Balance and equilibrium in reply had manifested substantial failure. What was needed, instead, was “something else full-on”, to battle violently against what we assume to be Capital’s unremitting idiocy.
- Here, however, we come to the big clever capitalist bit. Playing with fire, it’s true, as consciousness amongst those most hit by “austerity full-on” begins to come together, and as time is left for cogent contra-argument to find its mainstream. But let’s imagine the following was the process; the following was the thinking of the big clever capitalist I would gladly become:
- Kick people into desperation through a manufactured austerity.
- Generate interest in all kinds of alternatives to traditional capitalism.
- Allow society to splinter into two grand blocs: a) the “haves” who slowly begin to fear they might one day not; b) the “have nots” who’ve little clear idea how to achieve anything concrete any more.
- Make bloc b) gravitate to a politics easily described as extreme (even though of extremist thinking we could surely argue any austerity has more than its fair share), so bringing together in full view of bloc a) the neighbours, friends and family who’d happily sign up to the terror of a democracy where the “have nots” can effect something concrete.
- Once the two blocs are delineated, and the differences and loyalties are sharp, and even as we recognise this is dangerously playing with fire, roll out in dribs and drabs – slowly, but ever so slowly – ameliorations of the nastiness that has been deliberately employed to put people out of dignified work.
I know. It’s all too organised, structured and planned for any of the above to really tell useful truths. But unconditional basic income (UBI), as an alternative to traditional capitalism, is a form of neo-capitalism that could maintain the former just about as is.
What’s the real problem for traditional capitalism structures when it comes to the figure of semi-permanent austerity? Why, the lack of regular income streams which simultaneously serve to keep people more or less in place.
Fairly hard work – not very hard, just hard enough – was enough to keep us in the weekend money and weekly drudge without complaining too much.
In the future absence of such types of work (not only for technological reasons; also because of the capitalism I’ve been describing today), we not only lose our weekend money, we also begin to suffer a 19th century weekly drudge that, once more, truly means we have nothing to lose but our chains.
Yet imagine how that might completely change with a minimum level of unconditional, state-delivered and sanctioned comfort.
Imagine what would happen if the “austerity full-on” right decided, little by little, to trundle out such change. They’d sell it as an anti-poverty measure, of course, and in essence that is what it would do. Nevertheless, it would also, in reality and primarily, serve the needs of traditional capitalism to have a continuous supply of solvent customers.
They wouldn’t trundle it out before Jeremy Corbyn broke the back of a Labour Party whose back has already been broken, and whose cracks have been ineptly papered over, several times in the past twenty years. No. Politically, expediently, cleverly (to use that word again), the right would wait for Labour to fully tear itself apart.
But the cementing of any opposition’s final destruction – exactly what Peter Mandelson dreamed of with respect to the Tories all those New Labour years ago, but in reverse – would surely be on the table for Cameron & Co.
By cruelly allowing the dispossessed to clamour intelligently over the next couple of years for a place at the top table, and then carefully spinning the introduction of a radical initiative like UBI (which to an eternally “sensible” voting public such as the British could be made to seem a perfect squaring of all these complex circles), the right would not only beat Jeremy Corbyn but would also knock the labour movement into a corner it had openly chosen to paint itself: the corner where coherence born of long-suffering frustration led to the nailing of flags to masts of unchanging political analysis.
Capitalism’s strength once more: to renew its appearance and potential desirability, even as its practice has been generating its ugliest moments.
So. To summarise.
If I were a big clever capitalist, most of the above is how I’d be planning to beat a labour movement, and parliamentary opposition, led by the figure of Jeremy Corbyn.
But then since I’m not, who am I to say?