Tony Benn; who will carry his fire?

In memory of the man (who died today, aged 88) watch this;

As I listen to him- his appreciation of the history of working people in their struggle against the power and wealth of the few, his hate of war and injustice, his passion, grace and good humour, I pray that there will be those who will take up the same issues for the next generation.

I am sad to say that I am not sure who these people are, and where they will come from.

Tony Benn on aging towards the left…

Tony Benn

Image from The Guardian

This blog has contained a lot of politics recently- and I almost began this post with an apology. However, I am too angry to apologise really. Whoever said that you should never mix religion and politics was a fool. Followers of Jesus can never absent themselves from politics, but I would argue that our politics inevitably lead us towards the poor, the broken, the sick, the old. It has to be motivated by the motivations of Jesus.

I am seized by a the feeling that we are wasting time. Perhaps this is that point of my own life when the end feels nearer than the beginning, when what we have become seems an urgent issue rather than vague possibilities.

In many ways most of my friends and I started on the left then gradually slid to the right, if only in our passive acquiescence. I hated that in myself, and at least in my thinking, currently I am heading in entirely the opposite direction.

It was such a treat then to read this interview with Tony Benn today, particularly in the wake of yesterdays post about the disengaged politics of Russel Brand. In some senses, Benn’s experience might support Brand’s assertion that democratic politics has failed. Benn became progressively more left wing as he became older, before leaving the House of Commons as he put it “To devote more time to politics.” However, Benn remains a man who believes passionately in the democratic process. Here are a few quotes;

If you look back over history, most progress has come about when popular movements have emerged led by determined men and women. They take tremendous punishment from the establishment, and then if they stick it out they win the argument.”

“How does progress occur? To begin with, if you come up with a radical idea it’s ignored. Then if you go on, you’re told it’s unrealistic. Then if you go on after that, you’re mad. Then if you go on saying it, you’re dangerous. Then there’s a pause and you can’t find anyone at the top who doesn’t claim to have been in favour of it in the first place.” It strikes me that his belief in this process must have sustained him during the long periods in which he was mocked and marginalised.

The financial crash will, he believes, eventually force a change in strategic thinking. “What happened in 2007-8 is now used by the government as an example of the failure of the Labour party. But the changes that were brought about led to a need to think about something more radical, and more radical ideas – on, for instance, public ownership and education – would win popular support if they were presented to the public.” Having been deemed mad and then dangerous, Benn reckons the moment when his ideas are claimed by others is coming.

I really hope he lives to see it…

In the meantime, this is an itch I will continue to scratch. Where it will lead me, I do not know, but I have a conviction that politics can also be pilgrimage, even accepting that getting lost along the way from time to time is inevitable.

Capitalism and democracy- joined at the dollar?


This is not an attack on Democracy by the way- I can think of no better system for the governance of nations. However, there is a real question about the operation of our own democracy and the symbiotic relationship between democratic states and rampant consumer capitalism.

The relationship is so strong that it is not really possible to imagine democratic state that does not organise its fiscal matters according to the rules of international capital. Neither the other way round.  Ah- but what about China, I hear you ask? Here is  from The Guardian, Sunday 17 February;

When, during a recent TV debate in France, the French philosopher and economist Guy Sorman claimed democracy and capitalism necessarily go together, I couldn’t resist asking him the obvious question: “But what about China?” He snapped back: “In China there is no capitalism!” For the fanatically pro-capitalist Sorman, if a country is non-democratic, it is not truly capitalist, in exactly the same way that for a democratic communist, Stalinism was simply not an authentic form of communism.

This is how today’s apologists for the market, in an unheard-of ideological kidnapping, explain the crisis of 2008: it was not the failure of the free market that caused it, but the excessive state regulation; the fact that our market economy was not a true one, but was instead in the clutches of the welfare state. When we dismiss the failures of market capitalism as accidental mishaps, we end up in a naive “progress-ism” that sees the solution as a more “authentic” and pure application of a notion, and thus tries to put out the fire by pouring oil on it.

When you think about it, the co-existence of capitalism and democracy is a strange pairing. Hitler used to say that the logical end result of democracy was communism. Marx suggested the same, from a rather different perspective. Both seem to have been proved entirely wrong. The end result of inequality, globalisation, banking crises, depressions, high unemployment, destruction of the environment is- more capitalism. And we all vote for the party that strong arms our austerity packages that supposedly free up the market to solve our problems for us.

Why do we do this?

I am just reading Tony Benn’s book ‘Letters to my Grandchildren’.



Benn is quite clear that our democracy is not- well, not democratic. It never has been- it allows for endless manipulation by those in power. The rhetoric of democracy is simply that- rhetoric. He lists some methods of control often employed;

  1. Violence
  2. Religion
  3. Via employment- fear of unemployment
  4. Debt
  5. Fear of dangerous enemy- USSR, Terrorism, Hitler, Kaiser etc
  6. Fear of immigration
  7. Fear of crime
  8. Demoralisation- a feeling that only the ruling educated elite have the skills to run things
  9. Cynicism- in all the media- ‘they are all the same’ ‘nothing ever changes’ etc.

There are many more means of control. The strange thing is that I do not even think that these are always deliberately exercised. I am not a conspiracy theorist. Rather I think that we have made a monster that constantly feeds itself- and we sit at it’s feet, hoping to get fat on the scraps- or at very least hoping that it does not notice us and devours someone else.

What to do about it? That is the question…