"[...] this is not climate leadership. It’s climate catch-up."
"[...] this is not climate leadership. It’s climate catch-up."
17th November 2021 / Article
A Green New Deal for Whom?
By: Dalia Gebrial
[...] this is not climate leadership. It’s climate catch-up.
"[...] this is not climate leadership. It’s climate catch-up."
The past few years have been something of a climate awakening in the Global North. Across Europe and North America, the movement to decarbonise our economy has not only become more organised, but the analysis of how we got here and who is responsible has become clearer. The imagination of what constitutes climate action has begun to be wrenched from the grips of liberal environmentalism – an ideology that abstracts our relationship with nature from how we run our political and economic systems. It is slowly dawning on us that we are staring down the barrel of 5 degrees warming by the end of this century, not because people don’t eat organic or have their own compost heaps. Rather, it’s because the way we have designed the modern world demands we exploit ourselves, each other and the world around us at all costs. From the Sunrise Movement, to Black Lives Matter, to the Youth Climate Strikers: the streets are making it clear that climate action cannot just be about reducing, reusing and recycling. It has to also be about revolting, resisting and rebuilding.
The Green New Deal Shift
At a policy level, this shift in thinking is being articulated through the framework of a ‘green new deal’. Although varying dramatically in their radicalism, most green new deals acknowledge that climate action cannot be about incentivising ‘greener’ individual behaviours. Rather, vast amounts of capital and political will must be channelled into reconstructing our society around renewable energy – creating public infrastructure and millions of ‘green jobs’ in the process.
To be clear, this is not climate leadership. It’s climate catch-up. Movements in the Global South and in Indigenous communities have been situating climate breakdown as an explicit product of colonial capitalism for decades. Their analysis has been actively and violently removed from decision making processes by the very institutions claiming to be at the forefront of climate action.
Yet, even as the penny starts to drop on the systemic nature of climate breakdown, we have not grappled with the global implications of climate breakdown, and our responses to it. Much of this stems from the legacy of Roosevelt’s original New Deal – which the Green New Deal builds on.
The New Deal’s Nationalism Problem
The New Deal was a historically exceptional example of the state intervening to shift resources away from capital and towards labour. It is true that it offered many working class North Americans a social safety net during a time of crisis. Yet, baked into this were the racialised and geographic exclusions that have always defined social democratic notions of ‘progress’. From redlining, to the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese people, there were strict boundaries around who was and was not included in Roosevelt’s vision of public investment. Indeed, the racialised inclusions and exclusions of the New Deal is summarised no better than in the image of Japanese internment camps being built by employees of the Work Projects Association, one of the largest state agencies set up under the New Deal.
What’s more, the New Deal was designed to be a distinctly national programme. It did not concern itself with the global impacts of the financial crash, despite the central role played by US institutions in creating the crisis. It also did not question the premise that the US can and should use its geopolitical power to secure its economic interests abroad – particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It is within this context that we must scrutinise the assumptions underpinning Green New Deal frameworks emerging out of the Global North. Who is, and is not included in these visions of ‘green growth’ – and on whose backs is this development being built?
Good green jobs for whom?
One angle we can look at this from is that of ‘green jobs’. The green new deal promises Europeans and North Americans millions of secure, unionised jobs. Like the original New Deal, the vision is that these green jobs will be created through the building of massive public infrastructure projects, which will need to be built as part of a green transition – things like renewable public transport, green housing and solar panels. Rightly so, much of this has been focused on ensuring that already precarious oil and gas workers will not be abandoned in the shift to renewable energy. Rather, their expertise and skills are to be repurposed under a just transition. Research by Platform has found great appetite amongst offshore workers in the North Sea Oil for being part of such a change.
It is absolutely correct that the green new deal focuses on this workforce, who have a right to to be skeptical about the likelihood of a just transition. You only have to look at how successive governments have gutted and then abandoned industrial towns and cities, to understand why there’s little faith in the state to protect local communities during transition periods. However, when approached globally, this represents just one part of a much bigger story about work and climate crisis.
Without a global justice lens, visions of abundant public infrastructure fuelled by renewable energy in the North will be upheld by the exploitation of human labour and resources in the South. We must not forget what a renewable energy revolution looks like for those further down the supply chain, particularly those in industries that are assumed to continue – and possibly even expand – in a system based on renewable energy. Global production of batteries, solar panels, electric cars and wind turbines relies on rare earth minerals like cobalt that are overwhelmingly sourced from the Global South under horrific ecological and labour conditions. Not only does the digging of mines displace and endanger those living near them, but the mining industry is responsible for some of the most exploitative labour practices in the world. The International Labour Organisation found that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where much of the world’s cobalt is extracted, 93% of the mining workforce experiences labour exploitation – many of whom are children as young as seven. As the demand for renewable technologies massively expands, downward pressure is worsening the working conditions of Chinese assembly lines.
Much of this demand is coming from companies headquartered in the Global North. The scale with which this expansion is taking place is driven by a ‘green growth’ agenda, which looks to essentially continue the current way in which our society is organised, but where carbon is replaced by rechargeable batteries and green energy. Existing visions of abundant green infrastructure in the Global North have not adequately grappled with what this means for the workers globally.
This is the danger of pursuing a green new deal that focuses primarily on workers in certain sectors or geographies of the supply chain – or that limits its imagination within national boundaries. The reality is that supply chains that make possible green technologies and other consumer or infrastructural products are transnational – and these supply chains are heavily implicated in any vision of a green new deal – global or otherwise. These workers, because of their geographic, class and racial locations, tend to be out of the purview of policymakers, especially in the global north. They are made vulnerable by some of the more West-centric green new deal discourses, despite being already at the sharp end of climate breakdown.
Care jobs are green jobs
Many of the working conditions that are most severely impacted by climate breakdown – and which will be heavily implicated in our responses to climate breakdown – are in forms of labour that aren’t even considered work.
Climate discourse in the Green New Deals of the Global North tend to focus on those masculinised industries deemed “productive” to GDP – like energy, transport and construction. However, the conditions of both paid and unpaid social reproductive labour – the work that goes into caring, cleaning, cooking and educating – tend to remain unaddressed. This is despite the fact that this kind of work is not only the building blocks upon which the rest of society relies, but it is essential to surviving climate-induced crises.
This is also part of the legacies left to us by the framework of Roosevelt’s New Deal, which transformed the working rights in many industries – but still relied on women doing the lion’s share of unpaid domestic labour in the home – and did not address the conditions of largely racialised, paid domestic work. This invisibilisation of domestic work is baked into capitalism itself. Today over 75% of unpaid care work in the world is undertaken by poor women and girls. Their contribution to the global economy when valued at minimum wage is $10.8 trillion – more than three times the value of the global tech industry.
Indeed, COVID-19 showed us what happens to the working conditions of women when crisis hits. When food supply chains are disrupted and care systems are overwhelmed, it’s marginalised women that absorb the fall out. They fill the care gaps, they strategise around food and energy stability and provide emotional and mental support to the community around them. Climate-related crises are no different. As our sense of stability is and will continue to be shaken, the labour of caring for one another will increase in its scale and intensity. A global green new deal must reckon with this, and ensure that women – particularly in the South – are not paying the highest price for climate breakdown. This means distributing social reproduction fairly, and building our infrastructures of mitigation and resilience around collectivising this labour and providing a material safety net for all.
A key reason why the issue of global and gendered inequality continues to pervade our responses to climate breakdown is because we are still relying primarily on the political units of change that created this crisis. Units such as the nation-state, capitalist growth and patriarchal notions of ‘productive’ labour. There are of course practical reasons why some of our thinking needs to be articulated at the national level, but the existing model of nationally bound green new deals make it almost impossible to not reproduce colonial logics of green development – also known as ‘green colonialism’.
The green new deal can begin to work through these contradictions by re-imagining what it is actually trying to do. We often hear that the aim of climate action is to ‘save the world’ – understandably so given the loss of life we can expect if we continue as we are. But we must also be clear that we do not want to save the world as it currently exists; a world that engineers inequality in order to sustain its model of growth and development. We want to change the world. We want to change how we connect to one another, and what assumptions underpin the systems in which we live.
In the case of work – we want to change what it is we are working for: are we working to build more roads so companies like Amazon can provide next day delivery? Or are we working to make sure that we all have our care needs attended to in meaningful ways? Is the aim for everyone to have a 9 to 5 industrialised job in order to sustain unhealthy capitalist demand, or is it for the essential work of living to be distributed fairly, freeing up time for things other than work – things that give us joy, pleasure and safety? By asking fundamentally different questions, we create the space in which truly radical and global answers can begin to emerge.
The climate crisis presents us with an existential threat that requires a global response. But the scale of response needed also offers us a unique opportunity to do something much bigger than simply save work. It gives us the chance to reimagine it.
For more on what a global green new deal could look like, check out Dalia’s co-curated illustrated book ‘Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal’. You can order a copy of the book for free from www.global-gnd.com. You can also hear from activists from around the world in Dalia’s co-hosted podcast, Planet B: Everything Must Change, which explores the key pillars of a globally just green new deal. You can find Planet B wherever you get your podcasts. Supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany / the German Federal Foreign Office.
Dalia Gebrial is a PhD researcher at the London School of Economics. She is also an associate researcher at Autonomy UK, and co-author of Empire’s Endgame: Racism and the British State.
This piece was commissioned as part of the Contextualising Climate Crisis series.
30th June 2021
To mark the recent publication of Stuart Hall, Selected Writings on Marxism, edited by Gregor McLennan, we are partnering with publishers Duke...
"The question is - what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s..."
"The question is - what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s..."
15th May 2017 / Article
The Crisis of Cosmopolitanism
By: Professor Jeremy Gilbert
The question is - what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s election mark the crisis of?
"The question is - what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s..."
‘The Crisis of Cosmopolitanism’, an essay by Professor Jeremy Gilbert unearths the roots of the Brexit-Trump crisis in the neoliberal politics of the Third Way, and reflects on the continuing relevance of Hall’s ideas. The essay began life as a talk given at the launch of the book Stuart Hall: Selected Political Writings at the University of East London’s Stratford campus in March 2017.
For Stuart Hall.
The Crisis of What?
‘Crisis’ is a word that gets overused, not least by the likes of me. But if any year in recent memory marked some kind of crisis for both British and American politics and culture, it was 2016. And nobody taught us how to think through crises in general, or gave us the tools with which to understand this one in particular, more surely than Stuart Hall.
The question is – what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s election mark the crisis of? There are several ways of answering this. Clearly, on one level, they mark the termination of a certain professional political class’ capacity to manage the sphere of formal politics. Cameron and Clinton, like Renzi in Italy, represent a technocratic elite committed to neoliberalism, globalisation, social liberalism and aspirational culture. They also share a commitment to a specific form of cosmopolitanism, that tends to favour open borders, multiculturalism and global mobility, provided they take forms which are always compatible with aspirational individualism. What we might call ‘neoliberal cosmopolitanism’ is happy for individuals to travel the world in search of work or profit – in fact it insists that they should. What it does not want is for those individuals to develop strong bonds of solidarity with others, either at home or far away, which might encourage them to think or organise in any way that could inhibit the smooth accumulation of capital. Because above all, this faltering professional political class is dedicated to serving the interests of it masters on Wall Street and in the City of London.
It is this professional political class first and foremost which, in the second half of 2016, appeared to completely lose control of the situation. This was true at least at the level of the nation state and of government’s capacity to manage and derive legitimacy from a general sense of national community, purpose and preferences (what Gramsci calls the ‘national-popular’). It is notable that at the level of the supra-national – the EU, the IMF, etc – the technocratic class has not shown any signs of wavering in its commitment to unadulterated neoliberalism, or its capacity to go on implementing it (although there have been disagreements about the scale and intensity of its implementation). This latter point might explain why, at present, the corporate masters whom these technocrats serve do not seem to be particularly alarmed by the failures of their viceroys in Washington and Westminster. Whoever or whatever this is a crisis for – it isn’t a crisis for the major corporations, the hedge funds or the banks. Or at least not yet.
But it is also not a crisis for the national political classes alone. Because the election of Trump and the Brexit vote have clearly been experienced as traumatic defeats not only for the specific members of those elite cadres (represented in the UK by the anguished Tony Blair), but also for many members of the liberal middle classes and of the radical metropolitan left. And the latter – the members of the radical metropolitan left – define themselves against the neoliberal political class as much as against anything else. So what is it that they have in common with that political class which renders this a shared crisis for all of them?
The answer lies, I think, in their shared commitment to certain forms of cosmopolitan culture and ethics. In fact, I would suggest that this shared commitment has been crucial in persuading sections of the population, especially in the major cities, who might otherwise have proven more resistant to neoliberal hegemony, to acquiesce to it more-or-less passively during long periods, especially under the Blair, Clinton and Obama regimes. The fact that such governments have at least been hostile to explicit racism and xenophobia – which have never been fully absent from popular news media or from the politics of the populist right – has played a significant role in diffusing popular resistance from some of those communities most historically inclined to organise against systematic exploitation. Despite all their other differences, these groups have shared with the neoliberal elite – and with sections of the suburban middle classes – an uneasy consensus in favour of open borders, liberal feminism, sexual liberalism and multiculturalism. It is specifically this cosmopolitan consensus which collapsed – or at least lost its power to define the political mainstream – in 2016. Despite coming from the heart of the political class herself, it is May’s rejection of neoliberal cosmopolitanism, in her embrace of Brexit, that has enabled her to distance herself from that failing technocratic elite while entirely marginalising the metropolitan left, thereby claiming ownership of the British political sphere.
I think this is a crucial situation to understand, and one that requires careful analysis. As Stuart Hall showed in some of his most acute and important political writing, issues relating to ‘race’ and immigration, while having been factors of British political discourse since the sixteenth century, emerged in a specific form in the post-war period to become crucial to objects of social contestation in the 70s and 80s . As he showed more clearly than anyone, Thatcherism specifically connected the economics of neoliberalism with an authoritarian populism, depending for its legitimacy on appeals to racism and to anti-immigrant, anti-welfare rhetorics that were deliberately amplified and circulated by the popular press. Anti-feminism and homophobia, normally coded in terms of appeals to ‘traditional’ ‘family values’, were also crucial elements of this assemblage. This obviously provoked violent reactions from certain sections of the left, and from the broader social groups whose interests they most closely represented.
The Rise of Neoliberal Cosmopolitanism
What marked the distinctive politics of the ‘Third Way’ – the name given in the 1990s to the programmes of Clinton, Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder – was its disconnection of neoliberal economics from social conservatism. Instead of authoritarian populism, the Third Way embraced neoliberal cosmopolitanism. I always remember Stuart remarking, some time in the early 2000s, how disconcerting this had initially been. He said that Tony Blair had seemed like he might be a welcome change from previous Labour leaders because ‘he looked like someone who might have a gay person to dinner’. That feeling of slight disorientation, and that certain sense of relief, which even Stuart admitted to, I think explains a great deal about the subsequent reactions of key sections of the Left to the Blair, Clinton, and later Obama regimes. It’s not that all of the problems with them were not on full display. It’s not that we didn’t oppose, complain, resist and protest where we could. But those of us doing so were often very isolated and completely unable to effectuate significant change, in part because the broader social groups who had once been mobilised against Thatcherism were largely passive in the face of generally rising living standards and the absence of a clearly authoritarian cultural agenda from government.
These constituencies are mostly based in our multicultural cities, and are made of groups of people historically influenced by the politics of the New Left and by the radicalisation of trade unionism and municipal socialism in the 70s and early 80s. They include public sector workers and members of the more militant trade unions, as well as low paid and precarious workers in many sectors who are influenced by the culture of the urban milieu in which they live. Altogether they add up to a far more considerable section of the population than was widely believed prior to the emergence of Corbynism, which has made this ‘metropolitan left’ distinctively visible for the first time in many years.
Historically, of course, these social and political groups have not been bound together by any commitment to neoliberal individualism, and have tended to look for far more democratic, egalitarian and collectivist answers to the question of how to live together in a globalised, liberalised world. The original use of the term ‘multiculturalism’ was never supposed to designate, as Blairites like Trevor Phillips would later claim, a policy of encouraging communities to live parallel but separate lives. When deployed by progressive local government bodies in the 70s and 80s, the term was generally taken to imply a policy which assumed that interaction and intermixing between different cultural and ethnic groups, in order to build general cross-community solidarity, was the ultimately desired objective. It was a cosmopolitan acknowledgement of the inevitably hybrid nature of all identities, of what Stuart would call, quoting Salman Rushdie, ‘our mongrel selves’. This was an idea directly influenced by forms of ant-racist, anti-imperialist and Black Power politics, which always understood cosmopolitanism not simply as an end in itself, but as a necessary feature of any real culture of working class solidarity in a multi-ethnic society and an internationalised economy. The idea was never simply to give everyone an equal chance to become a successful liberal subject of advanced consumer capitalism.
The same can be said of radical forms of feminism and sexual politics. For example in the early 70s the British Gay Liberation Front famously rejected the terms of the Wolfenden report (the government report recommending the decriminalising of homosexual acts between consenting adults) because it was predicated on the classical liberal claim that sex was a private matter. Heavily influenced by the feminist assertion that ‘the personal is political’, the GLF argued for sexuality as a feature of human life that should be politicised and democratised – subject to open discussion, negotiation, experimentation and evaluation – not simply confined to the de-politicised sphere of the private. The women’s movement was always predicated on a set of similar claims that issues as intimate as sex itself must be up for discussion and debate, if it is to be possible to address the most basic and intense forms of oppression. At the same time, the movement made a set of claims and demands which, in countries like the US And the UK, have been achieved or not almost precisely to the extent that they can be contained within a neoliberal policy regime. Equal access to the labour market for qualified professional women without children? Pretty much. Socialised free 24-hour childcare? Forget it.
Despite the obvious gaps between these democratic aspirations and what neoliberal cosmopolitanism was prepared to offer, the voices still calling for the former became very weak and isolated in the 1990s and 2000s. Even in relatively protected areas such as universities, forms of personalised identity politics often substituted for any kind of movement-oriented radicalism. There were many reasons for this and the main one was the sheer weakness of the global Left after the massive defeats that it suffered in the mid 1980s. My purpose here is not blame anyone for this situation, but to understand its effects.
One such consequence was that there was no collectivist alternative offered to those other social constituencies who increasingly found themselves losing out from the implementation of Third-Way cosmopolitan neoliberalism. Working class citizens in impoverished post-industrial regions not only did not see any serious attempts to rebuild their local economies, but experienced rising levels of immigration, especially from countries joining the EU from the former Soviet bloc, as an uninvited imposition. As such, and with much encouragement from the popular press, it easily became an explanation and a metonym for all of their grievances and sense of disenfranchisement.
I think it is essential to be very careful and clear in our analysis of what takes place in such situations. There are clearly important strands of genuine racism and genuine xenophobia (though I’m not sure that the two are always the same thing) informing British political culture, as Stuart showed us with such extraordinary acuity. But I think that these strands are often quite latent and are often activated by other, more immediate grievances. And in this case I think the grievance is one which is simply barely registered by a broader political culture within which the very idea of democracy has suffered a degree of degradation, as liberal individualist norms have become so hegemonic as to be almost invisible. That grievance is simply this: nobody asked them. Nobody asked these people if they wanted a significant cultural recomposition of their communities and nobody talked to them about why it might be happening and why it might be beneficial or necessary and on what terms it might be managed so as to make it feel like less of an immediate threat.
Community, Democracy, Liberalism
I know that many people reading me say this will already be feeling uncomfortable, even slightly shocked, and I would ask you to reflect for a moment on why that might be the case. If I were talking about the members of a housing co-op, then the idea that they might be consulted before new members join their community would not be seen as shocking by anyone. So why is it shocking to consider the possibility that members of an ordinary local community might be given some such say? We might tell ourselves that it is because of our fear that such communities might make decisions informed by racism or xenophobia. I have several responses to make to this.
The first is that I’m not sure that is the reason for a certain basic, intuitive rejection of this idea from many middle-class British people, including those who might think of themselves as left-wing. I would suggest that in fact the first reason for such a response is that many of our assumptions – too many – are shaped by a tradition of liberal individualism which has a very impoverished idea of the public, while regarding the domain of the private as sacrosanct and inviolable. From this perspective, it is simply a vulgar idea to have any opinion at all about who your neighbours are. One is supposed to be supremely indifferent to the question of whether one has any cultural commonality with them, because to have any feeling at all about the matter is to break the cardinal rule of minding one’s own business. Of course, minding one’s own business is much easier for a homeowner with a private garden than a council-flat occupant whose only outdoor spaces is a park shared with all of their neighbours. But that is precisely why both traditional liberalism and neoliberal individualism tend to the view that, among other things, nobody can really be a successful human being if they are not a homeowner with a private garden.
Of course for most people reading to this, there will be something much more complicated going on. Most of us live in highly multi-cultural and international urban environments and we positively welcome it. We are not just indifferent to having neighbours who might be different from ourselves. We actively welcome it as an enriching, educational and entertaining aspect of our lives. The lack of any direct input into the question of how our communities are composed is not experienced by us as directly disempowering, because we have the resources – educational, social, cultural and material – which enable us to benefit directly from a culture of free movement and to constitute robust networks of friendship and support which are not dependent on locality. We don’t need strong local ties but where we are able to form them, we get a special and real sense of empowerment from our ability to do so despite and across differences of culture, ethnicity, age and ideology.
The problem is that people who don’t have those resources, outside of the metropolitan centres, do not experience the situation in the same way, and they generally do not get much sympathy from us when they express that. What they have experienced, at least until recently, is a culture in which various agents – from government and corporations to whatever representatives of the metropolitan left they might happen to encounter – are basically just telling them that they ought to be more like them, and more like us; and that if they were, then everything would be all right. And I think that we, the metropolitan left, have been largely complicit with this. We have been complicit with a situation in which neoliberal cosmopolitanism has been imposed on communities both as an ideology and as the lived reality of immigration appearing to lead to increased competition for access to resources. We have been complicit mainly because we have been too weak and disorganised to be anything else, but partly because we didn’t really have a problem with cosmopolitanism being imposed on people – even if it was neoliberal cosmopolitanism – because we believe very sincerely that cosmopolitanism as such is a good thing.
Well, with the Brexit vote, as with Trump’s election in the US, we have come up against the limit of this complicity. At the same time, the metropolitan Left, in the form of Corbynism in the UK, the Sanders campaign in the US, and the new left in various parts of Europe has already withdrawn its consent for the broad cosmopolitan-neoliberal consensus. So it is no surprise at all that, with the power of the right-wing press behind it, it is the anti-cosmopolitanism of the Brexit agenda which has made the most headway amongst those disenfranchised voters. The question is – what can we do about it?
For Democratic Cosmopolitanism
The answer, I think, is to return to the animating spirit of the New Left. This spirit will always insist on politicising and democratising issues which conservatism, liberalism, neoliberalism and Labourism (to name, I think, all four of Stuart’s key objects of opposition throughout his career) would like to keep locked in a discursive space which is de-politicised and not democratic. Because let’s be clear about this. When the Right ‘plays the race card’ (to use an appropriately vintage term for such an antiquated manoeuvre), they do not, as some liberals like to object, ‘politicise’ race or immigration in any real sense. They do not open these issues up for interrogation and examination – they merely seek to use them to close down any proper discussion of the issues at stake. Our response should not be merely a liberal depoliticisation of the issues to counter a conservative depoliticisation – it should be a proper politicisation of them. Most importantly this would mean we, the metropolitan Left, developing, or recovering a robust democratic politics which is cosmopolitan, but without predicating that cosmopolitanism on any commitment to liberalism.
What this would mean in practice would be something complex, uncertain, possibly frightening, something, to misuse another famous phrase of Stuart’s, ‘without guarantees’. In short it would mean demanding and initiating processes whereby communities around the country could actually be engaged in meaningful discussion about issues such as globalisation, the EU, international conflict, etc, and empowered to take some ownership over the policies affecting the composition of their own communities, while being given access to information about these issues through channels not controlled by Murdoch, Dacre et al. It would mean opening ourselves up to the risk that there might be genuine racism and xenophobia out there, as Stuart always said there was, but also having enough confidence in our own convictions to believe that we could actually win support for our positions if we articulated them explicitly, rather than having some distorted neoliberal version of them imposed on unwilling communities on our behalf.
The importance of recognising this as a distinctive position has never been greater than it is today. We can see this if we consider the problems inherent in most of the available responses to the political and social changes to which I have referred. There have effectively been two such types of response prevalent on the political Left in Britain in recent times. The first is simply to insist that Blair was right – in the world of the twenty-first century, we face a choice between a cosmopolitan neoliberalism and various kind of revanchist nativism; nothing else is really on the table. Neoliberal cosmopolitan centrists, such as Macron in France, present themselves as the only realistic bulwark against a rising tide of proto-fascism, and their projects as the only achievable form of modernisation. Where they cannot plausibly play that role any longer, they appear willing to allow the Right to gain ascendancy rather than permit the Left to take leadership of a new coalition which might resist conservative nationalism. The Parliamentary Labour Party’s sabotage of the Corbyn project – and The Democratic National Committee’s strenuous efforts to prevent Sanders from winning the presidential nomination, despite polls showing that he would have beaten Trump amongst the very blue-collar voters who eventually handed him the White House – followed precisely the same logic.
The other typical response to the situation that we have been describing is one which argues for the Left actively to reject cosmopolitan values in favour of some kind of progressive nativism. In the UK, advocates for ‘Blue Labour’ have argued that the Labour Party should present itself as the protector of communities whose integrity and way of life have been threatened by globalisation, neoliberalism and multiculturalism, advocating for immigration controls on the grounds that free movement of labour only facilitates the exploitation of workers. Perhaps the most intellectually ambitious thinker to have been associated with this current, Jon Cruddas M.P., specifically identifies cosmopolitanism with the politics of Blairism and other ‘Third Way’ projects of the 1990s. Cruddas makes a strong case that the Left simply cannot entirely abandon ‘ownership of political categories such as home, community and nation’ to the political Right. Although he explicitly argues for an ‘inclusive’ patriotism, Cruddas seems to counterpose this to any form of cosmopolitanism.
The problem with this approach, as interesting as it is, is that it tends to argue as if neoliberal cosmopolitanism were the only form of cosmopolitanism that had ever existed or could ever be imagined. But this rather seems to overlook the possibility that communities might have coherent relationships to each other, to their localities and their histories, which are also informed by a commitment to open relationships with others. The history of human culture is full of examples of violent and exclusive tribalism, but it also furnishes many examples of cultures wherein hospitality to strangers is regarded a key normative ethic. Critics of contemporary cosmopolitanism seem to struggle with taking seriously the fact that for many inhabitants of cities like London and Glasgow – including many poor and working-class people – cosmopolitanism is just as real and authentic a characteristic of our identities, our histories and our communities as localism and nativism might be for others.
In fact this is a key reason why the emergence of Corbynism came as such a shock to so many political commentators: they simply didn’t believe, and still don’t believe, that the culture of the metropolitan left has any kind of reality or existential purchase. In this, they are simply, demonstrably mistaken. There is a long history of what Stuart, among others called ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’ – what Mica Nava has called ‘visceral cosmopolitanism’ – in the everyday lives and popular culture of urban and suburban Britain, which cannot be dismissed from any attempt to make sense of that history or the culture which it has produced.
What I’m arguing, in short, is that while neoliberal cosmopolitanism clearly has to be rejected, it would be a mistake to throw out the cosmopolitan baby with the neoliberal bathwater. The alternative is for us to reclaim the idea of a democratic cosmopolitanism. By ‘democratic’ it is crucial to appreciate that we cannot simply mean ‘demotic and widely available’. A widely-available demotic cosmopolitanism is precisely what cosmopolitan neoliberalism offers as one of the principle rewards for participation in contemporary consumer culture. Anybody can buy themselves a bit of cosmopolitan culture – ordering a take-away, taking a cheap holiday, downloading music from around the world – provided they have the means. A democratic cosmopolitanism must imply something more than this. ‘Democratic’ in this sense must designate a certain rejection of individualism and privatised culture in favour of the idea that people should be able to deliberate, make decisions and take action as members of groups, about the things that affect their lives. The appeal of Brexit for almost everyone who voted for it is the feeling – however misplaced – of democratic efficacy that it offers them. It’s no accident that ‘take back control’ became the Brexit slogan. The Left will never counter it without offering people more control than Brexit does. But there is no future either for the Left in going along the with fairy-tale that the democratic agency people so desperately want will actually accrue to them simply by virtue of laving the European Union. Only a truly democratic politics, willing to confront entrenched inequalities of power in both the economy and our venerable political institutions, could take us beyond the current impasse for the Left.
What would it even mean to make such a politics the basis for a political programme in relation to issues such as Brexit and UK immigration policy? I don’t claim to have all the answers to this question, but I do insist that it is the right question, and that is a start. I suspect that any political programme informed by this analysis would have to begin with our leaders acknowledging both that the Brexit vote was a democratic one which must be accorded some legitimacy, and the demonstrable fact that it was shaped by a 30-year campaign of propaganda and misinformation by the right-wing press. I suspect that policy ideas which have barely been discussed in this country, such as the regional devolution of immigration policy, would have to be considered. If Stoke wants to reject immigrants but London wants to welcome them, then why not? Perhaps this would force government to address the desperate inequality within urban centres like London, rather than effectively forcing immigrants to move to parts of the country where property and labour are cheap. Obviously all kinds of objections could be made to such an idea, but this is merely an example. I strongly suspect that a government committed to the kind of project that I am proposing would have to implement a large-scale programme of political education and public deliberation in order to try to overcome the demonstrable ignorance of the public on a number of crucial issues, before making any attempts to shift the political direction away from euroscpetic nativism. Either way, these are the kinds of questions which a democratic cosmopolitanism would raise, and that almost nobody in mainstream British politics is raising today at all. A rare and valuable exception, deserving of all our support, has been the Take Back Control project (https://takebackrealcontrol.com/about/) organised by The World Transformed (http://theworldtransformed.org) an inspiring and inspired series of participatory political education events organised specifically in Leave-voting areas this year.
Such a politics must obviously take seriously the conditions which gave rise to Brexit and the reasons why so many have been alienated from the cosmopolitan neoliberal agenda of the Third Way. This is why I doubt that those political and social groups still committed to that project and its assumptions are ever likely to be sympathetic to a genuinely democratic alternative, however genuinely cosmopolitan it may be. Their inability and unwillingness to process the situation was made clear during the period immediately following the Brexit vote, when Labour MPs and their supporters took to blaming Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed lack of enthusiasm during the Referendum campaign for the failure of enough working class voters to support Remain.
This is a position so absurd that it is difficult to discuss it in measured terms. For one thing, it was put forward by precisely the same sets of people who repeatedly complained that Corbyn could not connect with ‘ordinary’ voters (so how would his greater enthusiasm for EU membership have persuaded them?). More fundamentally, it simply ignored altogether all of the history which I have referred to here, as well as ignoring some key contextual facts. One of these was Corbyn’s historic euroscpeticism, which he had never hidden. Another was the fact that the referendum campaign was being fought while memories were still fresh – especially on the radical Left – of Syriza’s humiliation by the EU heads of state. This understandably dampened the enthusiasm of many on the Labour left for EU membership, or at least their emotional ability to campaign vigorously for it.
It was clear enough, given how irrational it was, that this blaming of Corbyn was never motivated by any genuine belief that Brexit was Corbyn’s fault. In actuality it was motivated by the fact that, to a certain cosmopolitan neoliberal elite, Corbyn represented something similar to Brexit. What both Corbyn’s capture of the Labour leadership, and Leave’s victory in the referendum, represented, was the end of their capacity to dictate the political and cultural agenda for the UK, including the Labour Party. This was a privilege which they had long since come to take for granted, and they are never likely to be reconciled to giving up any of those privileges at all. That is why, in the medium to long term, I suspect that a democratic cosmopolitan politics is more likely to find support amongst the working-class communities who recently voted Leave than among the furious disenfranchised elites who assumed that EU-membership, like control of the Labour Party, would always be their birthright. It is never likely to be in their material interests to endorse a genuinely democratic, genuinely egalitarian form of cosmopolitan politics
But I think that this is precisely the kind of politics that Stuart’s analyses and their informing assumptions were always implicitly committed to – experimental, future-oriented, and radically democratic; never merely defensive, never merely complacent with the limited forms of liberation offered to us by advanced consumer capitalism. Stuart’s analyses of authoritarian populism in the popular press of the 70s remain astonishingly relevant today. Brexit is simply the ultimate end result of exactly the campaign for right-wing xenophobic populism which he saw beginning then and which, frankly, the Left has never had any organised plan to counter. His arguments for a politics of New Times which would be radically democratic, technologically liberated, egalitarian and cosmopolitan at the same time remain more relevant than ever in a moment when the emergence of ‘platform capitalism’ makes both the possibilities of such a future, and the dangers implicit in every possible alternative to it, more vivid and immediate than ever. As we carry on the struggles for democracy, for justice, for cosmopolitanism and for socialism, into the 21st century, there will be no more important set of tools than those he has left us with, for many years to come.
 I see from a quick google search that I didn’t invent this phrase. Peter Gowan has used it widely, but more in the International Relations sense of ‘cosmopolitanism’, designating an internationalist approach to relations between states, than in the sense of specific particular modes of living in specific local environments – see https://newleftreview.org/II/11/peter-gowan-neoliberal-cosmopolitanism. Emily Johansen uses the phrase in a much more similar way to how I am using it here, in her 2015 article ‘The Banal Conviviality of Neoliberal Cosmopolitanism’ in Textual Practice , Volume 29, No.2, London: Taylor & Francis.
 Stuart Hall (1978) ‘Racism and Reaction’; (1982) ‘The Empire Strikes Back’; (1992) ‘Our Mongrel Selves’ in Stuart Hall (2017) Selected Political Writings: The Great Moving Right Show and Other Essays. Durham: Duke University Press.
 Selected Political Writings pp. 275-82.
 Selected Political Writings chapters 5,9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21
 See http://www.compassonline.org.uk/publications/reclaiming-modernity-beyond-markets-beyond-machines/
 Nava, Mica (2007) Visceral Cosmopolitanism: London, Bloomsbury.
 https://www.ipsos-mori.com/DownloadPublication/1634_sri-perceptions-and-reality-immigration-report-2013.pdf; http://www.septicisle.info/labels/migrants.html; http://www.anorak.co.uk/422965/news/hurrah-for-the-migrants-daily-mail-cheers-for-murderous-scrounging-asylum-seeking-scum.html; Peter J Anderson ‘A Flag of Convenience? Discourse and Motivations of the London-Based Eurosceptic Press’ in European Studies: A Journal of European Culture, History and Politics, Volume 20, Number 1, 1 January 2004, pp. 151-170(20); Oliver Daddow ‘The UK media and ‘Europe’: from permissive consensus to destructive dissent’ in International Affairs 88: 6 (2012) 1219–1236
 Stuart Hall (1989) ‘The Meaning of New Times’ in Selected Political Writings.
 https://www.lwbooks.co.uk/sites/default/files/nf8485_11murray_gilbert_goffey.pdf; Nick Srnicek (2016) Platform Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity
"We use the term the slavery business to encompass the range of economic..."
20th July 2020 / Article
By: Catherine Hall
"We use the term the slavery business to encompass the range of economic..."
20th July 2020 / Article
Thinking About the Slavery Business and its Legacies
By: Catherine Hall
We use the term the slavery business to encompass the range of economic activities associated with British slavery.
"We use the term the slavery business to encompass the range of economic..."
The news that major institutions from the Bank of England, a number of universities and Oriel College Oxford, to companies such as Lloyds of London and Greene King have acknowledged their varied links to the slave trade, slavery and empire and announced their intentions to take down portraits and statues, provide money to redress inequalities and be more inclusive in their practices is most welcome. It has been a long time coming. Attempts to address Britain’s historic engagement with the slavery business and its life into the present have been going on for decades. Visual artists, film makers, writers, activists and historians have worked to unpick the national story of a liberty loving and humanitarian people who led the world in the abolition of slavery, and challenge the assumption that race and slavery are problems for the US, not here. The bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007 kick-started an unfinished and unresolved national conversation about the meanings and legacies of race and slavery. This time the serious protest movement in the wake of the brutal killing of George Floyd and the toppling of the slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, under the banners of Black Lives Matter, ‘end racial injustices’ and ‘we can’t breathe’, has forced another reckoning. There are huge differences – not least the scale of the angry, passionate and energetic involvement now of young people – black, brown and white – and the role of social media in mobilising protest. In 2007 Blair refused to apologise for Britain’s slave trading past. This time the scale of the major demonstrations alongside public recognition of the disproportionate number of South Asian and black deaths due to Covid-19 have forced responses from institutions and companies that have had the information available as to their shameful histories for years but have chosen to ignore it.
The Legacies of British Slave-ownership database (www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs), was made public in 2012, and we have been adding material to it ever since. The recent press coverage of Lloyds, Greene King etc has drawn directly on the research conducted by the LBS team, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Board and supported by UCL. Public money has produced public history. The initial research concerned the 20m paid in compensation to the slave-owners when their human property, enslaved men and women across the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape, were emancipated in 1834. Slave-owners were paid a proportion of what was deemed to be the market value of these 300,000+ persons. People who had been bought and sold were now for the last time priced as commodities and the money went to the slaveholders. They invested their spoils in a whole range of economic, political and cultural activities – from building railways and developing merchant banks to buying art works some of which now grace our national collections, refurbishing country houses some of which the National Trust and English Heritage preserve, and investing their capital, both human and mobile, in the development of the new colonies of white settlement in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Emancipated men and women, meanwhile, struggled with their varied conditions of limited freedom. Our subsequent research has focused on the Britons who owned property in land and people in the Caribbean from the mid-eighteenth century to 1833 – opening up the long histories of white families who lived off the exploitation of enslaved people over generations. Our aim has been to provide unequivocal evidence of the ways in which white Britons have benefitted from the slavery business and how practices of racial injustice are historically embedded in British society and culture, how the past lives on in the present.
We use the term the slavery business to encompass the range of economic activities associated with British slavery. There is confusion in many people’s minds between the slave trade – the capture of men, women and children, mainly in west Africa, their sale to European traders in exchange for guns, textiles etc, their terrible forced crossings of the Atlantic and sale in the New World – and slavery, the condition of being enslaved, working on plantations, in stock-breeding pens and as urban workers, in the Caribbean, producing the sugar which had become part of British life, treasured not least for that iconic English cup of tea. Both the slave trade and slavery were supported by a host of other activities which were crucial to the development of the British economy in the late C18 and early C19. Merchants provided the credit lines for both traders and plantation owners, the metal industries produced guns, fetters, bolts, nails, all manner of iron work necessary for the plantation economy, the famous firm of Boulton and Watt sent some of their earliest steam engines to Jamaica, the shipbuilding industry, the dockworkers, the sailors, the sugar refining industry, the grocers who sold to the consumers – and so it went on. And none of this stopped after emancipation, when British capital moved into cotton and fed the massive expansion of US slavery in the South, the extensive use of indentured labour on the tea plantations in India and for sugar in the Caribbean.
The history of Greene King gives one glimpse into some of these entanglements. Benjamin Greene was the son of a draper and apprenticed to the leading brewing firm of Whitbread in London. In 1801 he moved to the country town of Bury St Edmunds and established a partnership with William Buck, the father-in-law of the famous abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. A neighbour, Sir Patrick Blake, owned estates in St Kitts and when he died childless Greene became the manager of the estates. In due course he inherited the estates from Blake’s widow and he also took over the management of properties belonging to a Norfolk family. There were many West Indians, as they were called, absentee slave-owners living off their Caribbean estates, not to speak of the widows enjoying annuities funded by enslaved labour. Greene became an active pro-slaver, and in 1828 bought the Bury and Suffolk Herald to use as a platform for his ultra-Tory views. He steadfastly opposed parliamentary reform, attacked Thomas Clarkson and defended the West India interest. He was one of the c4,000 in Britain (20% of whom were women) who received compensation. His share was £4,000 for 1,396 enslaved men and women in St Kitts and Montserrat.
In 1829 he had sent his oldest son Benjamin Buck Greene to manage the estates and he gained a great reputation as a successful planter. By the time he returned in 1836 there were 18 properties and he had substantially increased the family fortunes. His father moved to London that same year and established a shipping and sugar importing firm in Mincing Lane. Benjamin Buck Greene married the daughter of a man with extensive trading and sugar interests in Mauritius and a new partnership, Blyth and Greene, became a leading London merchant house dealing in colonial merchandise and shipping. Benjamin Buck Greene gained recognition as a most respectable entrepeneur, public man and philanthropist, ‘a pattern of what an English merchant should be’. He was appointed a deputy governor of the Bank of England in 1850 and served as Governor from 1873-5. Meanwhile the brewery flourished under the management of his brother Edward Greene, later to partner with King, and the Caribbean estates continued to be profitable up to the 1840s.
A younger son of Benjamin Greene, Charles had been dispatched to St Kitts aged 16 to look after the estates but died 3 years later having fathered, it was believed, 13 illegitimate children. The novelist Graham Greene, his great-nephew, wrote powerful depictions of the closing years of empire in his fiction, peopled with disillusioned colonial officials and whisky sodden priests, one of the traces of a long history of connection between metropolitan and colonial worlds. In his autobiography, A Sort of Life, published in 1971 Greene does not mention slavery but records his encounters with ‘coloured Greenes’, one of the many legacies of British slave- ownership. His family’s activities as slave-owners and merchants, buttressed by inheritance, strategic marriages and partnerships, had secured their fortunes for generations. The ‘coloured Greenes’, alongside the descendants of the enslaved and the indentured on their plantations bear witness to the unequal legacies of racial capitalism as it was practiced across the empire.
In the next phase of our work we aim to aim to establish a new database documenting the enslaved of the British Caribbean in the last decades before emancipation, thus facilitating tracking connections between named men and women, the slaveholders and the estates and properties. between 1817-33. Who knows what connections into the present will emerge from this work and what demands it will be possible to make on the basis of new evidence?