Got any Money?

Photo of train wheels with the caption Jobs Express - from TUC poster

BM Blob on monetarism, the "moral majority", regeneration after the 1981 riots, etc.

Submitted by Fozzie on April 15, 2022

The Tory Government had by the end of Oct '81 nominated a hit squad of 25 'socially concerned capitalists' (!) drawn from the banks, building societies, insurance companies and funds (including Barclays Bank, the Woolwich Building Society and the British Petroleum Pension Fund) and charged with producing a series of reports on private/public sector cooperation. Since then they have visited several American cities including Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta. (All in the line of duty £2000 of smackers a piece was provided by the Government as pocket money when they visited the States).

This sham fact finding mission is sure to underline Thatcher's determination to reduce the economic role of the State still further. The reconstruction of American cities following the long hot summers of the '60s will be used as a pretext to fundamentally alter, in theory at least, the pattern of State financing which has overwhelmingly dominated urban renewal in postwar Britain.

However the clocks are unlikely to go that far back. Heseltine (Min. for Environment) has wisely kept his options open while pretending not to. In a carefully worded speech to the Tory Party Conference last year, he accepted the inevitability of central government spending if all else fails. The Thatcherite Tory faithful gave him a standing ovation but the joke was on them. They had moronically assumed Heseltine's bussing of 30 odd bankers and financiers through the devastated areas of Liverpool to be, in strict accordance with principle, the Tory Government's final word on the subject. When Heseltine eventually repudiated this error their ears were too clogged to hear properly.

Heseltine's strategic retreat does not mean the Tories are any nearer to understanding the special position of finance capital in Britain. Going to America won't help in this respect either. Though the dollar is still the world's major trading currency finance capital has never, in contrast to Britain, occupied the same pre-eminent place in America. There are for example Federal regulations restricting inter-State savings and loans. To believe for one moment those remote banking leviathans that straddle the City of London are now going to sponsor, in partnership with the State, a localist 'community bank' ideology is the height of absurdity. On the contrary they have long since consigned everything in the UK outside St Paul's, Blackfriars Bridge and a very select mythology of British gentility, to oblivion.

Shortly after the Brixton riots a wealthy Nigerian businessman, Chief Francis Nyeribe came up with a pet project for stimulating private enterprise in Brixton. He has not been heard of since but at the time it made the Front Page. This hoax clutched at like a last straw by the media was also highlighted because it set a mock serious example for other businesses to follow.

Not only the moneylenders but industry was expected to make due atonement to the inner cities and regions it had plundered with such 'insensitivity' in the past. Significantly after the Financiers had reported back from the States an organization called BIC (Business in the Community) made its appearance on the British scene subjectivizing political economy still further. Again it does seem to be influenced by American examples. For instance after the Watts riot in Los Angeles in '65 a group of wealthy capitalists got together and formed 'The Community Committee' to see what could be done to save their worthless hides. They did this spontaneously but British business has to be cajoled. Sir Monty Finniston and Lord Melchett former heads of British Steel may readily put their names to ace deviant sociologist asshole Laurie Taylor's 'Keep Out' campaign aimed at 'reducing the use of custody for young people'. But British management is generally characterized by a suicidal introversion making them their own worst enemies.1

What little dough the banks have coughed up - a mere £70 million: the Bradford Interchange alone in the early '70s cost £18 million and a packet of crisps to construct - is based on the Urban Development Action grants which were used in the US, so apologists would have us believe, to attract six dollars of private money for every one dollar of public money spent. In fact these urban aid grants will still be funnelled through the Government. Only now bankers will in theory assess the viability of the competitive tenders put in by local authorities, business or community groups pushing to one side wasteful tribunals of civil servants accustomed to thinking money grows on trees.

To even begin to apply lessons learnt from the American experience is to whistle in the wind. When it comes to palming off the view that peace in the American ghettoes during the '70s was traceable to the success of these joint ventures (e.g. the still flourishing Watts Labour community Action Committee) the British Government is a major shareholder. Differences in economic climate limp along in second place as an explanation.

The 'reconstruction' of the ghettoes is looked upon too as a shining example of American free enterprise. In fact whatever change has come about is more than likely due to profligrate Federal expenditure which convincingly donned the mask of American style independent entrepreneurship. Only days after the riots had subsided in the UK some reporter managed to sniff out a Watts rioter who picturesquely recalled how in the mid '60s he had only to stick his hat out of the window to hook the greenbacks whizzing past. No one living in English cities in the months after the riots can possibly match this welfare yarn. A year later the charred rubble is still there setting fire to the imagination..............

The British Government as part of the 'riot package' is pedalling for all its worth the appearance of social peace which has swept across American society since the late '60s. There is little doubt it is banking on cool short summers in American cities this year and the next and the next. (Some hope!!) By singling out the importance of derivative political strategies they can play down the much changed economic situation which will weaken their likely impact. To hope for a respite like America has enjoyed over the last 10 years or so is to hope in vain.

Twist and turn as it may the choices open to capitalism are quite narrow. But the sheer scale of its present difficulties has led to this undeniable foreboding of the imminent suspension of the laws governing capitalist accumulation. It strikes like lightening in day to day contracts, positioned somewhere between liberation and the funny farm. An 8 year old kid in Brixton's April '81 riot exchanged a ripped off gold bracelet for a can of coke just because he was thirsty. Strictly speaking it wasn't even barter because there's nothing commensurate about this form of exchange.

Even the bourgeoisie pale before their calculations. Their once superior econometric models 'understood' by the select few and always managing to end in some obscure but comforting note have been almost levelled. It's as if the 'continent' of higher mathematics had been reduced to a few intelligible ciphers scratched in the sand. 2 million unemployed, then 4 million, finally even 10 million. To even admit to this statistical probability is for economists equivalent to playing Russian roulette with an adding machine. Losing their nerve they reach for the bottle and the abacus in the play pen. The Cambridge Econometrics unit recently suffixed one of its predictions with the staggering claim unemployment will only begin to fall by the year 2000. Privately they must know as well as anyone, High tech and developing automation ('capital's self contradiction in motion' - Marx's Grundrisse) makes this impossible.

But the most advanced extrapolation possible from the Grundrisse that can, in a highly schematic way, be applied to the general drift of capitalism, have no immediate relevance to Britain piled high amid the scrap metal of industrial dereliction. British monetarists may have had. before all else an industrial and social plan, one that appealed to the foulest instinct of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat but this has now foundered. Those who stood to really gain have been the financiers in the City of London - as always. Sir Keith Joseph, former Tory Minister for Industry said on June 19th '81 barely three weeks before the riots, 'there has never been so much money available in this country' locked away in banks, pension funds and insurance companies. He went on to speak colourfully of banks with 'money running out of their ears'.

This is just the sort of loose talk that gets the labour left hopping mad. Consequently they have once again undertaken to nationalize the banks and the pension funds which has always been good for a rousing cheer at Labour Party Conferences. How they are going to prevent a flight of capital in the face of such a threat is not clear. But it's a good gambit able still to reign in some of the proletariat behind an imagined 'red' nationalism. For this reason the industrial bourgeoisie aren't over enthusiastic about such schemes. They know that in the unlikely event of such a thing happening the proletariat in the interests of social peace, will prempt money that would otherwise have been available for capitalist investment.

Monetarism. Britain v America.
A multitude of sins or just bad house-keeping?

Monetarism as practised by Thatcher and Reagan may have eaten out of the same Friedmanite trough but comparisons all but end right there. In Britain monetarism is not a cultural movement to the degree it is in America. It is brutally economistic unadorned by born-again Christians, moral majorities and creationists.

Top ranking Tories may in private be sympathetic to regressive sexual codes and there are backwood murmerings amongst constituency parties favouring their restoration. But such things as high street chastity centers successfully sponsored by a Republican Senator from Alabama will never open in the UK. The Tories lack the money, the will and even the pretence to a 'moral majority'.

Having a woman as PM has made it harder to convincingly argue that the proper place for women is in the home. Even in America where an unliberated first lady, affecting to not miss wearing a tiara obediently hosts for the Big White Chief, plans to repeal the Equal Rights Amendment are loaded with contradictions. How come Mrs Schlafly, the sweetheart of this monetarist kinder, kirche and kuchen movement found time to write so many books and be so active in the Republican women's federation? In between house cleaning, changing nappies, cooking and ironing for six kids? Or was it all done with a brace or two of black maids?

Irrespective of legislation either way mass unemployment does mean women are likely to be more house bound. But by the same token so are men. In fact all the pressures of unemployment ties everyone more to the home which then becomes as tense as an over crowded prison cell. This is not restoring the family unit on the contrary straining it to breaking point. Things have come to a sorry pass when eagerly seized on evidence (Mary Whitehouse) of a teen' revival in happy families rests on such shaky foundations.

A major political realignment of the drivel that generated the 'The Festival of Light' is also unlikely. Campaigns against abortion, porn, sex n' violence on TV have in the past attracted individuals known for their continuing or former support of the Labour Party. Moral conservatism in Britain is in comparison to America a free floating commodity belonging as much to the establishment left as the right. It is neither militantly for capitalism or implacably hostile towards 'communism' (i.e. totally nationalization or State Capitalism) still bearing the imprint of its birth - in particular Thomas Carlyle. There is talk of 'communist' infiltration into the media from time to time but in Britain the typically rightist muddling of liberalism with 'communism' is a comparative rarity. Media vigilantism in the UK, parting company with its American cousin is obsessively preoccupied with the great bawd sex and to a lesser degree by violence.

Home spun virtues combined with a cracker barrel religious faith in laissez faire capitalism has traditionally been the bedrock of the American right. The obverse is true in Britain: on the hot-tin-roof fleshpots of the unregulated market place sexual lewdness is the ultimate profiteer. Moreover in the century or so which has elapsed since the left was first cast as defilers of children etc, it has never been in this country a serious rival to Vanity Fair.

Getting party political backing is not the style of moral rearming politics in Britain. Even if there was such a thing as a plebiscite in Britain when it comes to legislating on morals a private members bill is preferable because it is unencumbered by bourgeois voting rights responsible for leading the flock astray in the first place. Fundamentalist movements in the States are obliged to drum up some sort of 'majority' no matter how wildly exaggerated the sums turn out to be. But in the UK the custodianship of public morals is the business of the select few harking back yet again to the elite quasi feudal anti-capitalism of its beginnings. Not surprisingly it shrinks from laying hold of the machinery of publicity treating radio and television especially as the devil's own handiwork. Lastly behind the prim and proper demeanour there is no rich ministering angel ready to payroll (or bilk, all depending) every squawk of moral indignation.

And what of creationism in a country where the Origin of the Species first saw the light of day? The Museum of Natural History in Kensington, London, issued a pamphlet for the public which included the phrase, 'If the theory of evolution is true' and was immediately pounced on by the Nature journal. However it was far from being a poplarising concession to creationism. It was simply a way of stating if fitness to survive determines the selection of the species, primitive organisms are 'excellent solutions'. So why the change in complexity? It is a scientific question reflecting the difficulties some dissident biologists now have with Darwin's theory. Not remotely is it likely to herald a rash of court cases or Government lobbying as in America.

Only in a couple of instances are extra-economic monetarist comparisons between Britain and America permissible. Both Governments have got the backs up of environmentalists. However, ironically Heseltine (Minister for the Environment) while on the one hand failing to stop farmers from ploughing up National Parks, destroying 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest' and turning the countryside generally into prairie has, in response to the riots, proposed plans to bring back nature into the cities by changing industrrial grey belts into green areas. Even here Heseltine trod warily. There has been no hearty slaps on the backs pace the United States Interior Secretary Watt, for farmers preparing to plough up Exmoor. Instead of 'code of conduct' has been got up that panders to traditional folklore by charging capital intensive, agri business Tesco-type farmers with the custodianship of the hills and dales and trees and flowers. Fat chance.

Finally turning scrounger/welfare bums into devils incarnate has been endemic to both election campaigns. As a vote catcher it more than helped swing the election in Thatcher's favour. But she lived to rue the day. Rapidly mounting unemployment was lessening tension between the unemployed and employed who well before the riots, were beginning to turn a blind eye on a crumbling black economy.

  • 1Bradford cotton manufacturers formerly the vulgar butt of T.S. Eliot's derision are pawning their silk top hats by the dozen in the local Oxfam shops as mill after mill closes. Instead of becoming more capital intensive or moving over seas in the '50s and '60s, they preferred to rely on round the clock working, decades old machinery and cheap docile, mainly asian immigrant labour. Confronted as they were by the summer riots of '81 with an insurrection of asian youth who number over a third of the school population, Bradford's depleted Chamber of Commerce will going on past behaviour react with all the speed of a tortoise on crutches to inner city rescue operations to save capitalism.