Wednesday, 5 June 2013

May Day Manifesto Relaunch Seminar at Marx Memorial Library

This proved to be a great event - a Relaunch Seminar for the May Day Manifesto, held at the Marx Memorial Library on 23rd May 2013.

It brought back memories of our great UEA days; our great experiences as undergraduates there.

'Soundings' (a journal of politics and culture and published 3 times a year by Lawrence and Wishart, London)
is  re-issuing the May Day Manifesto (which was originally published in 1968) with a new introduction by Michael Rustin. And this event was a re-launch of this Manifesto (as the first one was so successful and not everyone that wanted to attend was able to).

There were 2 speakers at the launch:
Michael Rustin and Madeleine Davis

The event proved to be quite historical, looking back at the political and cultural changes in the UK over the last 45 years or so. And this also made it very moving for me; the 1970's were a great and special period. There were changes afoot for ordinary people and there was great optimism. Well, we only got to go university because of all these wonderful changes, with the building of the new campus universities in the 1960's, which the University of East Anglia was one of, of course.

Michael Rustin, Professor of Sociology at University of East London and a public intellectual, spoke first. Michael Rustin started 'Soundings' with Stuart Hall and Doreen Massey. He is now on the Editorial Board of the journal, along with Stuart Hall, Joe Littler, Doreen Massey and George Shire. Prior to that he was on the Editorial Board of 'New Left Review' -

Michael Rustin began by exploring why the 1968 manifesto was published. He explained that there was a strange feeling of disappointment with the Harold Wilson government after 13 years of Tory rule. The Labour Party had won the election; there was a Labour Government in power, but there had been no real Labour break-through. It was not a transition to socialism; instead, the Labour Government was just adapting to capitalism. The manifesto was a state of protest against this, and a call for action. I remember how intensely Glenn and I felt this disappointment ourselves; we were disappointed with both the Wilson and Callaghan governments. But in retrospective, how good they were compared to what subsequently followed. Dear oh dear! Yet, all this, of course, led to what we now have - neo-liberalism.

Michael Rustin continued, pointing out that there was also the 'Cultural Revolution' at the time. Raymond Williams, for example, believing in the possibility of the working class being able to engage in cultural pursuits and bringing about a different kind of future. Williams was a very powerful and influential figure at the time, and indeed, we loved his work and it had a profound effect on our thinking, as did so many of the other left thinkers and writers at the time - e.g. Ralph Miliband, Peter Townsend, Willmott and Young.

Meanwhile, though. the 'New Left Review' became more theoretical and more academic, and was not so amenable to ordinary readers. Michael Rustin explained that it became rather disengaged from political life and political action. Whereas, the earlier 'New Left Review' was much more involved with politics, and in particular, was closely aligned to CND. Rustin thought that if the 'New Left Review' had stayed in its old form it would probably have been more powerful. Or perhaps it might have been better if 2 different types of journals had continued to be published (so not an either/or). Mike thought it was a shame that that did not happen really.

So, all this also helped to lead to the creation of the manifesto, which sold no less than 10,000 copies in 1968.

However, in some ways Mike thought that the Manifesto had been a mistake because it was a simple statement and it did not provide any opportunity for discussion. Also, that it was published 2 years after the Labour had got into power, and that it would probably have been more effective if it had been published before they got into government.

The relaunch of the manifesto is in 12 issues. There are contributions from various people and there is more discussion. Mike thinks that it is better than the original Manifesto in this way.

However, the analysis and predictions in the original Manifesto have proved to be very right. People spoke about its prediction of imperialist wars; poverty and worsening inequality (e.g. Townsend); the Labour party becoming less democratic; the increase in marketing and spin; the media being dominated by private corporations etc. All this and much more was predicted in the manifesto.

The New Manifesto (or the Kilburn Manifesto as it is sometimes called as it was written in Kilburn), aims to describe and analyse the system as it is, rather than looking at alternative systems.

Then Madeleine Davis spoke. She is a lecturer in Politics at Queen Mary College, University of London. Madeleine said that the New Manifesto is rekindling the critical left. The Left are often criticised for being politically weak and too academic.

Madeleine said that the Labour Party today is looking towards the traditional left and that there has been a renewal of left critique of community, reciprocity etc. A space for critical thinking. However, that in some ways it is quite superficial. But the Labour Party needs this left critical thinking in some ways, to inspire it.

The launch of the original manifestos was not timed very well  (2 years into the Labour government got into power) but the time of the relaunch is better - 2 years before an election.

The original May Day Manifesto can be downloaded from the Internet.

In the discussion there was talk about moving beyond neo-liberalism. Furthermore, that there was a need for action outside of the Labour Party, to make Labour change and do something.

One of the courses that Madeleine teaches on at Queen Mary College, is on the 'History of Socialist Radical Thought'. I thought how wonderful it must be, to teach subjects like that. And, I was full of admiration for her; well, for both her and Michael Rustin.

There was also some further discussion about the big cultural change in the 1960s. Before that, culture very much belonged to the dominant class. But the 1960s changed all of that and that. Raymond Williams said that culture can be popular. This revolution has now happened; we have radical film makers and authors etc. In this way, there is now a more democratic space and the cultural change has been permanent and that is a good thing, said Michael Rustin.

On the way out I also bought the latest issue of 'Soundings' - (Iss 53, Spring 2013)

In the Editorial of the issue it refers to their online manifesto 'After neoliberalism', written by the journals 3 founding editors, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Mike Rustin, saying:

"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 good displaces profit as the ultimate goal." (p.4)

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