Selected Political Writings gathers Stuart Hall's best-known and most important essays that directly engage with political issues. Written between 1957 and 2011 and appearing in publications such as New Left Review and Marxism Today, these twenty essays span the whole of Hall's career, from his early involvement with the New Left, to his critique of Thatcherism, to his later focus on neoliberalism. Whether addressing economic decline and class struggle, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the politics of empire, Hall's singular commentary and theorizations make this volume essential for anyone interested in the politics of the last sixty years.
About the Author
Stuart Hall (1932–2014) was one of the most prominent and influential scholars and public intellectuals of his generation. Hall appeared widely on British media, taught at the University of Birmingham and the Open University, was the founding editor of New Left Review, and served as the director of Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. He is the author of Familiar Stranger: A Life between Two Islands and Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History, both also published by Duke University Press. Sally Davison is the managing editor at Lawrence & Wishart and the editor of Soundings. David Featherstone is Senior Lecturer of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow. Michael Rustin is Professor of Sociology at the University of East London. Bill Schwarz is Professor of English at Queen Mary University of London.
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Selected Political Writings
The Great Moving Right Show and Other Essays
By Stuart Hall, Sally Davison, David Featherstone, Michael Rustin, Bill Schwarz
Duke University PressCopyright © 2017 Stuart Hall estate
All rights reserved.
The new Conservatism and the old 1957
The disorderly thrust of political events disturbs the symmetry of political analysis. Before Suez, one would have been tempted to speak of contemporary British Conservatism as a brand-new thing. Fashioned by tough-minded political savants and intellectuals for the new world that is post-welfare Britain – thriving, lively, realistic, with its feet firmly planted in the political middle ground, its fingers on the pulse of the expanding middle classes, its winning smile on the faces of the 'new men of power' and future safe behind the glass doors of the giant oligopolies – the 'new Conservatism' offered itself as a going concern with a gilt-edged future, a safe investment for the politically uncommitted. Forced to re-examine the 'new' Conservatism in the light of recent events, most socialists would be tempted to say that it is merely the 'old Toryism' writ large. They could certainly muster an impressive case. One would have to go back to the heyday of imperialism – to plunge back several decades, behind two world wars – to discover the sources of the assumptions which appear to have governed the Conservative government's policy in the Middle East. If this is the 'new Conservatism' in action, it is not merely 'old' – it is prehistoric, dislocated from and insensitive to its environment, ranging abroad like a mastodon in Kensington Park.
But it seems closer to the truth to say that contemporary Conservatism is an unstable blend of the new and the old. The process by which it remained in business – the process of public theft and private accommodation by which the new Tories snatched up the welfare state and roped in the middle classes – is an unfinished process, and precisely because it is unfinished, it has had a disastrous effect on the party and its public philosophy. The scope of the party has expanded, but its character has not radically altered. Within its structure, conflicting tendencies are held together in a state of comparative disequilibrium.
The left and the right of the party are not two distinct groups. Each assuages its prejudices by selecting symbols in the other's camp. The new middle-class recruits to the party are the most aggressively nationalist: the defenders of capital punishment promote defence cuts; the advocates of bipartisanship, turn out, under pressure, to be militantly anti-American. Mr Angus Maude, whose The English Middle Classes (with Roy Lewis) is one of the classic defences of 'enlightened' Toryism, is discovered as one of the ordering minds behind the Suez Group. The party is held together, not by a coherent social philosophy, but by an unquestioning allegiance to the most rootless archetypal images. It subscribes to a confused rhetoric: 'Britain's prestige abroad' is a phrase which covers the Suez debacle; 'the incentives of free enterprise' appear compatible with a widening dollar-gap and shrinking markets; a 'property-owning democracy' supports the plea for 'realistic rents'; our 'responsibilities to the Commonwealth' covers our wilful disregard for the imperatives of Commonwealth opinion. Party policy is consequently the pawn of irrational forces and the prey to disguised and muted pressures. Behind the facade of Butskellism and bipartisanship, the old prejudices wax, the old interests play, the old neuroses govern.
'Liberal conservatives', who distrust Mr Butler's ambivalences, like to think that he was not necessary to them. This view is factually incorrect. Between 1945 and 1954, it was the rhetoric and the persona of Mr Butler which worked such wonders for the party. His success was due in large measure to the skill with which he assessed the electoral consequences of Labour's 'peaceful revolution'. But the party has, for the moment at least, taken his measure: his 'philosophy' still provides the party with its public front, but in a moment of crisis, it seeks its leadership elsewhere.
It is necessary to summarise briefly the main trends in that 'peaceful revolution', in order to comprehend the altering shape of latter-day Conservatism, and the shifts in popular opinion which sustain it.
The period 1945 to 1951 can be regarded as the focal point in a challenging new-style middle-class revolution. It was a revolution with two distinct phases, and the Labour Party was responsible for only one of these, and even there it could not or did not wholly assess its social and political implications.
The limited revolution
The welfare state – with its three main planks, social security, income redistribution and nationalisation – had valid but limited objectives. It sought to redistribute wealth towards the middle, and buttress the structure of 'opportunity' from below. It tried to redress the balance of social forces in the community – but not to alter the relationship of one group to another, within the still hierarchical structure of British society. The social pivot of the revolution of 'welfare' was consequently located somewhere about the middle of the social scale. The consequences of increased assistance were to swell the ranks of the middle classes, and to validate what may be called 'middle' virtues in British society. As Angus Maude and Roy Lewis put it:
A great part of the strength and of the value of the middle classes in English political life has been their ability to set off, within themselves, intellect against money, common sense against intellect, and a tradition of gentility against all three (p72).
And later, perhaps more revealingly:
They are what they are by virtue not of trade but of organization, not of property but of independence; not by virtue of government; not solely because they wanted to have but because of what they wanted to be ... 'What shall we do to be received?' the new middle classes have cried, and in every generation the retort has come – from above and below – 'Learn to behave like gentlemen! (p69)
As Alistair Cook observed, at the time of the 1955 general election, the result would depend on how many working-class men, looking into their mirrors, saw middle-class faces. The Conservative victory was reply enough.
It is difficult to see what else could have been expected. So long as the general pattern of the society remained inegalitarian, social mobility implied the gradual assumption of middle-class ways of life and middle-class values by the promoted. The economy remained, at base, capitalist in character: and because of the manner in which a capitalist economy functions and grows, an unequal structure of wealth – and hence of social power and position – was a necessary feature. Over and above the cost of social welfare, the imperatives of growth in a capitalist economy had to be obeyed. The welfare state consequently established its own norms: given the logic of the economic structure, there were 'natural' levels beyond which redistributive taxation could not go, 'realistic' costs below which health and housing could not be permitted to fall. These were the unspoken checks and balances of the mixed economy with a massive private sector. And although that two-headed monster was spawned in the no-man's-land between the two parties, the cumulative pressure from the private sector tailored Mr Butler, rather than Mr Gaitskell, to the job.
It was reasonable to assume, therefore, that the Conservative Party, refurbished from the left, would continue to govern innocuously on the basis of a negative vote of confidence from those whom mobility had dislodged from their natural political allegiance. But the climate of post-war Britain, and the character of the support behind the Conservative Party in the country, was considerably affected by other, deeper changes in the society, with their roots not so much in the welfare state as in the capitalist sector of the economy.
Logic of social change
The most important of these changes reflect mutations in the capitalist system itself. The growth of management – the proliferation of supervisory jobs in industry – marked the expanding scale of capitalist production itself. It was a witness to the growth in the scope of the service, distributive and supervisory functions in large-scale production, which had been taking place since the turn of the century. The private sector consequently offered the most attractive opportunities, guaranteeing wealth, power and prestige. The young men of talent, particularly from the lower-middle class, promoted by the mechanism of the state, found themselves drawn into positions of power, demanding loyalty and responsibility, in private industry. This was another stage in the logic of social change in a mixed economy.
To find the legitimate satisfaction of their ambitions in the upper ranks of management implied the gradual – if difficult – acceptance of the whole philosophy of a private economy. In a limited sense at least, this assumption of new status undermined their allegiance to several of the cardinal principles of the welfare state. Taxation became a public enemy: the guarantee of full employment, limited controls, the cost of state assistance – these were re-interpreted as restraints and hindrances to growth and prosperity. When the authoritative voices of the Economist and the Financial Times called for 'the removal of restraints', for an imaginative release from 'the rigid state', for a 'modest dash for freedom', they spoke as much for the new as for the old industrial elites.
The pressure for the removal of restraints was buttressed from below by the general sense, pervading the middle classes, that further redistribution of wealth could proceed only at the expense of their own social and economic prospects. These fears found release through a profound sense of irritation against the whole panoply of state assistance, and particularly against the encumbrances of the bureaucracy in government circles. No doubt these attitudes were to be found in their most aggressive form in the small but articulate group which had benefited most. But they had become in a sense the thrusting spearhead of the middle-class revolution, and their responses to the conditions of post-war Britain had very soon eaten back into and undermined the whole morale of the society.
These various phases of the 'peaceful revolution' must be seen in the context of the cold war, and in the light of Britain's declining prestige abroad. A world of divided, hostile camps placed intolerable strains on a society undergoing profound social change. While the very fabric of the society was being rewoven, the dictates of foreign policy grew more rigid and insistent. Because of the role which Britain had chosen – as the pivot of the North Atlantic alliance – it was committed to defence expenditure far beyond its means, and implicated in policies in Asia and the Middle East totally beyond its capacities. Its failures to adjust to the dramatic changes in the world beyond Europe witnessed, not merely to the disintegration of the 'morality' of the welfare state, but – more simply – to a failure of nerve and realism. The pursuit of prestige by a second-rate power in a nuclear age is a disturbing phenomenon to observe. Caught up by virtue of its weakness and dependence in the web of American diplomacy, Britain worked consistently against its best interests. It took such steps as the re-armament of Germany, calculated to intensify the cold war, ignoring the more difficult but more rewarding path towards a military detente.
The logic of cold war politics was rigid, implacable and inhibiting. It forced restraints upon Britain in a period in which it should have been seeking a greater freedom of range and movement. Instead it conspired merely to maintain the polarity of power in the world. Its desire to retain – if not restore – its crumbling imperial heritage fettered its freedom. And this reckless, half-hearted pursuit of prestige abroad was conducted under the compelling shadow of nuclear weapons, in a world in which fear itself has become the prime factor in stability.
Ethos of discontent
The consequence of these pressures, exerted upon the society from several quarters, was a state of muted, but at times extreme, moral confusion. The society was an open arena, in which conflicting forces from without and within had free play. The political apathy which characterised the period between 1951 and 1955 had its source, not in disinterest, but in bewilderment. The economy had to reconcile within itself the opposing claims of the welfare state and a refurbished capitalism: it had to balance off the cost of social security against the driving and persistent pressure for private capital accumulation. The widening dollar-gap, the prospect of shrinking markets, increased international competition, the burden of defence and of 'diplomatic' assistance to the 'uncommitted' world, were constant irritants. At home, the society tried to accommodate a profound social revolution within the constraining limits of a mixed economy and a hierarchical social structure. It sought to satisfy the stimulated ambitions of the middle classes within the traditional social framework, and to establish an arbitrary community of interests between the groups whose power derived from consumer power and those whose power depended directly or indirectly on increasing profits. The morale of the society was beset by the play of unsatisfied ambitions, unfocused irritation, spurious dissatisfactions and uncertainties. For the 'peaceful revolution' appeared to have brought only the encroachment of bureaucracy, with its distancing effects upon intelligent and spontaneous participation in the life of the community: and the end of the war had brought only a self-perpetuating state of armed peace.
But the most common reward today for success achieved through the legitimate, taxable channels is to find a boot crunching firmly on one's presumptuous head; and the boot belongs not to a member of the aristocracy, keeping presumption in its place, but to the Socialist state, the revolutionaries' state, the state of blessed opportunity.
And so here we are, with our degrees and our posh education, our prideful positions in the public service, our ambitious names in print, trying to get on with the work brought home in the bulging brief-case, while the baby cries in the next room or even in the same room, or while the mortgage slowly and respectfully strangles the life, the love, the adventure and the talent out of us.
Mr George Scott's Time and Place, from which this passage is taken, is an unpleasant but representative document of this period. It catches in an authentic form the suffocated, thwarted ambition, the explosively inverted class prejudice, the rooted self-interest of the new men of power manqué. It is through the 'salon poujadism' of Time and Place, the disabled romanticism of Look Back In Anger, or the conspicuously antiromantic amorality of the Lucky Jim 'archetype', that the temper and tone of the post-welfare generation found their legitimate expression.
'Democracy v. Liberty'
In the end, it is the informing spirit of the 'peaceful revolution' which, despite the remarkable achievements of social security, has not been satisfied. It is this spirit, in repressed forms, which is the source of the strange motions that disturb the ordered universe of post-welfare Britain, and which has urged the Conservative Party into irrational and dangerous paths.
Through its attempt to capture the 'revolution', the Conservative Party made itself the guardian of a state which had preserved only the external forms of stability and ordered growth.
... this vast and elaborate structure, which has come into existence as the end product of the activities of myriads of men seeking security as well as truth, may produce in single individuals feelings of powerlessness, loneliness, ultimately of revolt and destructiveness.
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Table of Contents
Introduction / Sally Davison, David Featherstone and Bill Schwarz 1 Note on Texts 16 Part 1: The New Left and after 1. The new Conservatism and the old (1957) 18 2. A sense of classlessness (1958) 28 3. The supply of demand (1960) 47 4. The Cuban crisis: trial-run or steps towards peace? (1963) 70 5. Political commitment (1966) 85 6. A world at one with itself (1970) 107 7. The first New Left: life and times (1990) 117 Part 2: Thatcherism 8. Racism and reaction (1978) 142 9. 1970: Birth of the law and order society (1978) 158 10. The great moving right show (1979) 172 11. The 'Little Caesars' of social democracy (1981) 187 12. The empire strikes back (1982) 200 13. The crisis of Labourism (1984) 207 14. The state: socialism's old caretaker (1984) 223 15. Blue election, election blues (1987) 238 16. The meaning of new times (1989) 248 17. And not a shot fired: the end of Thatcherism? (1991) 266 18. Our mongrel selves (1992) 275 Part 3: Neoliberalism 19. The great moving nowhere show (1998) 283 20. New Labour's double-shuffle (2003) 301 21. The neoliberal revolution (2011) 317 Afterword / Michael Rustin 336 Notes on historical figures 354 Index 361
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"Stuart Hall was one of the great political intellectuals of our time—learned, perspicacious, provocative, and wise. He was also a master essayist. This splendid selection, spanning more than fifty years, is a feast."
"Hall's writings make an extremely important contribution not only in our understanding of the past and the cultural, political, sociological, and theoretical formations that Hall analyzed, but as documents that provide us with powerful political and theoretical tools to understand our present and change our future."