I have an essay in this week's New Statesman, 'From New Times to End Times', reflecting on the state of capitalism, in the tradition and style of Marxism Today which closed twenty years ago. The article is taken from a forthcoming edition of the ippr's journal PPR, which will be dedicated to examining the contribution and legacy of Marxism Today, including articles by many of its leading figures. This builds on the ippr's excellent recent work on renewing the left's 'political sociology', including Graeme Cooke's Still Partying Like It's 1995. My essay argues:
What Stuart Hall named “Thatcherism” was in many ways a success story, both electorally and economically. A post-industrial path to prosperity appeared to be opening up, analysed as “post Fordism” and the “end of organised capitalism”. The recession of 1991-92 notwithstanding, this new path did indeed deliver substantial growth over the subsequent 20 years, and captured the political imagination. The economic and political conflicts of the 1970s and early 1980s seemed to have been ameliorated via a new ethos of cultural democracy, whereby individuals expressed themselves through taste, consumption and lifestyle choice. The message to the left was to take this seriously and engage with it.
Today, however, conflicts and crises merely multiply, often defying existing logic.We still have no clue as to the micro- or macroeconomic bases of future growth. The cultural egalitarianism of consumerism no longer looks so benign, after televised images of teenagers looting branded goods during the August riots in England. The left feels that levels of inequality are no longer sustainable – and that the opulence and self-gratification of the economic elite have become intolerable – but lacks either the language or the policies to act on this. Where capitalism was coalescing around a series of themes in 1991 – weightlessness, consumption, flexibility – today it is disintegrating but without simply returning to a pre-Thatcherite politics of class. The problem is that we feel less that we live in “new times” than in, as Slavoj Žižek suggests, “end times”.