Tony Benn’s Ten Minute History of Neoliberalism

Hat tip margarita, via OffGuardian.

And not only is Benn’s speech refreshingly direct, it’s inspiring to see how energetic he was at the age of 83. And I agree with him on the importance of anger and hope. Anger is depicted as a very bad emotion to have, at least here in America, and the resulting self-censorship stifles dissent.

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  1. John

    Tony was brilliant. He left us chastened, inspired and emboldened. As he said, the fight will never go away because there will always those that wish to rule over others.

  2. Mark P.

    Aneurin Bevan, primary founder of the NHS, during speech at the Manchester Labour rally 4 July 1948 –

    ‘…no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party …. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation.

    ‘Now the Tories are pouring out money into propaganda of all sorts and are hoping by this organised sustained mass suggestion to eradicate from our minds all memory of what we went through. But, I warn you, young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying now … I warn you they have not changed, or if they have they are slightly worse than they were.’

      1. Mark P.

        ‘Are you British? If so why the false partisan old-school stuff?’

        Nothing false about it. Bevan pushed through the NHS, which still stands; he was a great man and the attitudes he had — as expressed in that speech — were key. Recognize the vermin as what they are.

        Are you British? If so, you have little idea what an atrocity the U.S. healthcare-insurance system is. I do — I’ve even reported on it sometimes when I worked as a journalist — and I retain my UK passport though I’ve lived here in America for decades precisely because of what I’ve witnessed. Most personally, my father is alive in the U.K. and my mother died in the U.S. largely because of the difference between the two systems.

        Nothing wrong with hating New Labour. They’re vermin, too.

        1. ben

          You misunderstand me – I’m big pro-NHS. I just don’t like to see this partisan stuff. Yes New Labour are vermin :-)

  3. TheCatSaid

    Amazing talk–clear, powerful, direct, and well-grounded in Benn’s many years of personal experience. His perspective on Thatcher’s policies is eye-opening, and his perspective on British politics in general.

    Does anyone know what event he spoke at, and when? The link doesn’t say.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Well, hew was born in 1925 and he talked about 80 years ago when he was 3 so he probably gave this talk sometime around 2008.

  4. ben

    I call the self-censorship “American positivism” which is a great play by the elite. The poor, in the face of overwhelming evidence, somehow try to “be positive”. They also censor others who complain.

    It’s an amazing system.

    1. Synoia

      Your so called “self-censorship” is driven by the press, in their role of propaganda distribution.

      As in: The lying liars, lied again.

  5. norm de plume

    A conservative Brit friend put me on to this after Benn’s death, saying he was ‘the one Labour pol I always respected’, recognising in a genuine opponent an integrity lacking in the Tory fellow-travelling New Labour.

    Speaking of Respect, George Galloway in one of the videos that popped up at the end of this one eulogises Benn in almost reverential tones.

    Several of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, such as the re-nationalisation of the railways, were pioneered by Benn. Benn’s son Hilary, also a Labour MP, say his dad would be delighted by Corbyn’s victory. Pity he wasn’t around to see it.

    1. ks

      Hilary’s dad might have been delighted but was New Labour MP Hilary Benn? There must have been a high wind when that particular apple fell from the tree.

      1. norm de plume

        Don’t know nowt about Hilary I must admit. After saying that about his dad he spends the rest of the interview carefully distancing himself from some of his leader’s positions – Trident, EU, Syria.

        ‘I’m a Benn, not a Bennite’ he says, as if that term was the kiss of death. Which I guess it was for many years, but what he might have missed is that the positions his father staked out in unpromising ground during the neoliberal ascendancy have now become much more mainstream, as evidenced by the tsunami of votes (and new members) Ccorbyn galvanised. To be ostentatiously non-Bennite showed some nous, or at least was wisely conventional, over the years, but in these times perhaps it shows the opposite.

  6. Synoia

    What Benn does not address was the tremendous amount of Labor (Worker) strife in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and the cause of the strife.

    I will quote a socialist song, the Red Flag:

    The Working Class can kiss my arse
    I’ve got the foreman’s job at last

    Enterprises get the Unions they deserve. If the management is toxic, so is the worker sentiment.

    My experience in graduating and going to work for a major Bank in the UK, was such a revelation I never again worked for British management.

    No only do the working people need unions, the working people need to believe the management care about both the customers and the workers in an enterprise. Contempt for both customers and workers become a cancer on society, and is, in my opinion a hallmark of our large enterprise who serve citizens.

    Management needs to be answerable to its employees, because employees have more invested, their lives, that shareholders. Money is liquid, livelihood, employment, is not.

    Examples: Walmart, large Banks, BP, Volkswagen, Centralized Government….

    As a side note, Benn’s comments on spending are completely in harmony with the monetary part of MMT, but not with its treatment of trade, tariffs and local production, which are complete nonsense.

    1. TheCatSaid

      “Benn’s comments on spending are completely in harmony with the monetary part of MMT, but not with its treatment of trade, tariffs and local production, which are complete nonsense.”

      Can you say a little more about this?

      1. susan the other

        Yes, because I was disappointed by Wray and even Stephanie Kelton when they didn’t consider tarriffs or protections, just the the value of money. I think MMT describes best where we actually are today with the Fed. And it could be far more useful than it is allowed to be.

  7. say_what?

    “All the banks should be publicly owned” Tony Benn

    Well, all the explicitly and/or implicitly privileged banks and credit unions (currently, that includes all banks and credit unions) should be publicly owned (or else de-privileged*) but that raises another problem: determining creditworthiness without violating equal protection under the law. Shall private equity owners automatically be so-called creditworthy of the public’s credit as they are today? If so, then shouldn’t all private equity (especially land) be equally redistributed first?

    * a better solution and this would include the abolition of much private debt in a manner similar to what Steve Keen proposes.

  8. flora

    “Every single generation has to fight the same battles again and again and again. There’s no final victory and no final defeat. And therefore, a little bit of history may help.” -Benn

    Thanks for this post.

    1. flora

      Regarding Thatcher’s scheme of encouraging people to take on too much debt to buy houses even as her govt undermined wages; Reagan and co did the same in the US. 20-30-year-olds were encouraged to spend more for housing, and banks encouraged to lend more for housing than the traditional lending formula allowed, because (they were told) incomes for the young would only keep rising, just as their parents incomes had kept rising. The young were told they could pre-pay for their inevitable future prosperity by taking on too much debt. At the same time Reagan and co were undermining wages for most workers.
      Now 20-30-year-olds are being told that they can pre-pay for their inevitable future prosperity by taking on too much debt for college educations. It’s the same con.

      1. skippy

        Did someone say Thatcher and Reagan – ???????????

        Liberation Theologies, Postmodernity and the Americas
        By David Batstone, Eduardo Mendieta, Lois Ann Lorentzen, Dwight N. Hopkins

        “In 1985 david stockman. who came from a fundamentalist back-ground, resigned from his position as chief of budget for Regan’s government and he published a book entitled “the Triumph of Politics. He reproached Reagan for having been a traitor to the clean model of neoliberalism and for having favored populism. Stockmans.s book develops a neoliberally positioned academic theology, that does not denounce utopias, but presents neoliberalism as the only efficient and realistic means to realized them. It attacks the socialist “utopias” in order to reclaim them in favor of the attempted neoliberal realism. according to Stockman, it is not the utopia that threatens, but the fulse utopia against which he contrasts his “realist utopia of neoliberalism. Michel Camdessus, secretary General of the IMF, echoes the transformed theology of the empire grounding it in certain key theses of liberation theology. In a conference on March 27, 1992 he directed the National Congress of French Christian Impresarios in Lille Mid discussion he summaries his central theological theses:

        Surley the Kingdom is a place: these new Heavens and this new earth of which we are called to enter one day, a sublime promise; but the Kingdom is in some way geographical, the Reign is History, a history in which we are the actors, one which is in process and that is close to us since Jesus came into human history. The Reign is waht happens when God is King and we recognize Him as such, and we make possible the extension, spreading of this reign, like a spot of oil, impregnating, renewing and unifiying human realitys. Let Thy Kingdom come….” – read on

        Page – 38, 39, 40

        Skippy…. this is why some stare at walls…. better option…

  9. Paul Tioxon

    Benn said that just as in war, we should in peace time do whatever is necessary for our economic well being. This is an echo of the great public intellectual William James, whose famously pronounced that we need the moral equivalent of war in politics to serve the public interest to eradicate social problems and create widespread prosperity. Jimmy Carter repeated this phrase, the moral equivalent of war, in trying to marshal the energy of society to snap out of the 1970s stagflation and national malaise.

    From The Moral Equivalent of War:

    “I spoke of the “moral equivalent” of war. So far, war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community, and until and equivalent discipline is organized, I believe that war must have its way. But I have no serious doubt that the ordinary prides and shames of social man, once developed to a certain intensity, are capable of organizing such a moral equivalent as I have sketched, or some other just as effective for preserving manliness of type. It is but a question of time, of skillful propogandism, and of opinion-making men seizing historic opportunities.”

  10. Masonboro

    Every generation must fight it’s own battles. Another politician held the same view.

    “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.
    The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is
    wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts
    they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions,
    it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. …
    And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not
    warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of
    resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as
    to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost
    in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from
    time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
    It is its natural manure.”

    Thomas Jefferson

  11. RBHoughton

    Benn is right – education, specifically the ability to deliberate, is fundamental to a functioning democracy. Western governments have made schooling so expensive that only the 1% can afford it. It is a feature of oligarchy not democracy.

    “Anger against injustice and hope for a better world” – Benn captures the motivations of 99% of humanity.

    Yves, I’m sure you are constantly busy but this link is to a political thriller about a Corbyn-like politician who becomes Prime Minister in UK:

    1. norm de plume

      One of the great British political dramas. Better than House of Cards, which was fun but a bit camp. Yes Minister and Thick of It were a riot but didn’t address the core issues either, being primarily comedies. The Politician’s Wife was very good but more personal than public in it’s concerns. State of Play was OK too, but a caper drama at base.

      Only The Ploughman’s Lunch, Edge of Darkness, and Defence of the Realm approach A Very British Coup for speaking truth to power in a trenchant but entertaining way.

      They are linked by their concern to probe the real power bases behind the political veil, and feature great central performances from Jonathan Pryce, Bob Peck, Denholm Elliott and RayMcAnally respectively.

      From the review of AVBC:

      ‘It is the near future. After a wave of public revulsion at the excesses of corrupt bankers, the Labour party has enjoyed a landslide victory under a far-left leader. He’s got a mandate to revitalise the British economy on a more equitable basis and ditch the UK’s nuclear deterrent. His rise to power surprises and horrifies the establishment, as well as the US, who assumed he was the usual “bungling incompetent” under whose leadership previous attempts at British socialism had run aground. They tried every dirty trick on him, particularly media vilification. The Times, says the PM in his victory speech, called him a “simple-minded fool”. He duly takes the opportunity to thank the mass of “simple-minded fools” who just voted him into office…

      Remind you of anyone?

      ‘His nemesis is Sir Percy Browne, head of MI5, who behaves with Jeeves-like solicitude to the PM’s face, but is secretly plotting to subvert him – with the help of the military, a Rupert Murdoch-style newspaper mogul, the US, and even members of the unions and Labour itself. Perkins is only too aware of the machinations against him, calling them “people who work quietly, behind the scenes”, whereas he himself is a believer in full accountability and public inquiries, words which. The very notion makes the clandestine, aristocratic Browne blanch’

      This from George Galloway’s obituary of Tony Benn is apposite… with the recent comments from the unnamed general indicating that such scenarios are perhaps not as far fetched as they might initially seem:

      ‘At the height of his campaign when he seemed to be about to carry all before him, Benn was struck down by an obscure illness The Guillain – Barre Syndrome which attacked his nervous system, confined him to bed, and left him shaky on his legs for the rest of his life. It seemed suspicious at the time, and it still does now. Especially after what happened to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and other left-wing leaders in Latin America.

      For that to sound less fanciful one must recap on what Benn might possibly have done. He might have won the deputy leadership of a Labour Party then regarded as a natural party of government. And quickly thereafter, its leader. He would have pulled Britain out of NATO and from the EEC. He would have scrapped Britain’s vastly expensive, unaffordable and essentially useless nuclear armaments. He promised public ownership and workers control of the commanding heights of the British economy. He would have nationalised the banks and many other industries including pharmaceuticals. He would have mounted a profound challenge to the rich and powerful in Britain and beyond, AND he had mass popular support in doing so.

      The media hysteria had to be experienced to be believed. Think Scargill, Livingstone, Crow, add it all together and double it. It was that bad. Whole pages in serious newspapers were given over to cod-psychologists making the case that Tony Benn was, literally, insane.’

      As Yogi Berra might have said ‘It’s deja vu all over again’

  12. Chauncey Gardiner

    Although the current system has many characteristics of the current definition of neoliberalism: deregulation and defunding of federal regulatory agencies; no criminal prosecution of individuals employed by TBTFs for control and securities frauds and market manipulations; government fiscal austerity; effective privatization of public assets though sales, leases and priority access to natural resources such as water; legal primacy of interests of transnational banks and corporations over the sovereign state, public welfare, and individual debtors; disempowerment and defunding of local governments; defunding of public schools; wage suppression and rising levels of private indebtedness… this system fails to meet the primary test of neoliberal ideology WRT financial markets. There we have seen a high level of state-central bank intervention in partnership with privately owned entities over the past seven years, together with massive direct and indirect subsidies and transfer payments; i.e., welfare for the rich despite their claimed ideology of “free markets” in order to assure their continuing accumulation and concentration of capital. Over the past seven years, the U.S. financial markets have been anything but “free markets”. Before they next utter the term “Welfare Queens” and attempt to cut funding for food stamps and other social programs, the beneficiaries of these policies should look in the mirror.

    Appreciated Benn’s observation about unquestioned funding for military actions versus the intense fiscal scrutiny placed on government fiscal outlays for domestic infrastructure and social spending initiatives. His comments, made in a speech in 2008, seem to be timeless.

  13. Tenney Naumer

    What a vibrant leader! Thanks for posting this, Yves.

    I have long thought our real source of any value is the land and what is on it (Benn points also to what is below it), so I have been wondering about the murkiness of the foundation of value in this country, and the mind-boggling amount of leverage in the markets created seemingly from thin air.

  14. harry

    Very much enjoyed AWBs comments. And I think I have grown into them – independently coming to the same conclusion.

    Interestingly I have some right wing relatives who have also come to the same conclusion. They just dont accept the morality. One might decide that injustice is natural and normal and that elites should live better than the masses. Mind you they are a lot richer than me.

    And I must say I have missed the comments. I completely understand why they needed to be suspended but I still missed them.

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