HS2 Ltd, the high-speed railway, boasts that: “HS2 is a state-of-the-art, high-speed line critical for the UK’s low carbon transport future”. To quote an earlier article from Francis Hart of Local Matters – “HS2 Ltd has released data on how the high-speed train link between Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London will affect both industry and the environment. It states that 19,590 jobs would have to be relocated with 2,380 permanently lost (2,340 jobs are set to be created by the development), 1,740 buildings set to be demolished which includes 888 homes, 985 businesses and 27 community facilities. This will undoubtedly affect communities, but industry, bricks and mortar can be replaced. According to a report released by The Wildlife trusts in 2020, the operation will pillage 5 wildlife refuges (protected by UK law), 33 sites of special scientific interest (also protected by UK law), 693 classified local wildlife sites, 21 designated local nature reserves, 4 nature improvement areas (awarded £1.7m of public funds), 22 living landscapes – schemes to restore nature, 18 Wildlife Trust nature reserves, 108 ancient woodlands, as well as the risk to endangered wildlife such as Barn owls, white-clawed crayfish, willow tit, lizard orchid and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the net loss is clear. HS2 is also set to release 14 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (12.7 times the amount of CO2 Bhutan produces annually) and phase 2B is to generate 58 million tonnes of landfill alone. To put this into perspective, this is four times the amount of waste the UK creates annually. Set to cost £88.7 billion, this would pay for our annual rail expenditure for the next 21 years”. In this article, Francis discussed the great Tunnelers of Extinction Rebellion and how these modern age environmentalists are sold by the media to us as the ‘anti-patriot’ when in fact they are some of few regular people actively fighting the industrialists and corporate power from their position as concerned, unspecialised citizens.
This is not to undermine the phenomenal anti-corporate movements, but to say that these are Tunnelers for England in the way that the unnamed Diggers of 1649 were Diggers for England. Patriots on behalf of those living in England. Indeed, it is clear that the YouGov poll published in May of 2020 showed the public to be opposed to the building of HS2, with the majority of answers at least showing some disdain at the very least.
“Was the earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?” – Garrard Winstanley, Digger for England
Bureaucracy controls you far more than you ever thought.
To understand ‘Market Stalinism’, we must first understand a bit about bureaucracy under neoliberalism.
Bureaucracy has increased in quantity and intensified in magnitude as Mark Fisher points out in his book ‘Capitalist Realism’. It now comes in the forms of ‘aims and objectives’, ‘outcomes’, and ‘mission statements’ – neoliberalism was meant to destroy such things and liberate us of this burden, but it has instead proliferated so much that it now runs itself almost autonomously.
For anyone working in an office job or within the public sector or even where private sector makes contact with the public in matters of health or tax, we all know how any work project or meeting begins with us filling out the ‘aims and objectives’, ‘modes and methods’, ‘assessment’ of previous ‘actual outcomes’, our ‘strengths and weaknesses’ etc. We then have our ‘annual review’, ‘EOD’ or ‘end of the day reports’ that are graded against the matrix or dispersion of average scores within your department to ‘assess’ if you’re ‘sufficient’, ‘poor’ or ‘outstanding’ – We then hear our ‘notes for improvement. No longer can you be sufficient by doing what is sufficient’, even though ‘sufficient’ means sufficient, it means what needs to be done has been done. In other words, they perform the job for which they are hired to perform, in such a way that they did the job…sufficiently. I was once reviewed as “John works too closely to the task given to him in the morning task mail”. This for one week made my performance ‘poor’, and I never changed how I worked but my next review I was passed with the comment “John has shown considerable improvement”. Growing up in Suffolk, I was often told “least said, soon as mended” and my God they were right. This is how market forces make you an economic being graded in quality, in the same way as the parts of your computer may be graded.
The free-market was supposed to create a world where the desires of consumers could be met directly, without regulatory bodies. However, economists cannot stop analysing all things as profit. They measure what can’t be quantified. Assessing workers’ labor brought with it middle management, human resources and more bureaucracy, all to ensure the smooth transition of your labor into profit. We have all done things at work that managers like us to do but in fact take away from our time or work, often more effort goes into showing we did what we were asked than actually finishing our labor and going home. This creates a reversal of priorities where the key concern becomes how a worker, service or company presents itself over the actual improvement of the service, worker or company. This is ‘Market Stalinism’.
‘Market Stalinism’ and the Tories
The valuing of symbols over actual achievements. It becomes more important to sell the idea that something has been achieved than it is to even achieve it. As Marshall Berman explained, describing Stalin’s White Sea Canal project of 1931-33:
“Stalin seems to have been so intent on creating a highly visible symbol of development that he pushed and squeezed the project in ways that only retarded the development of the project. Thus the workers and the engineers were never allowed the time, money or equipment necessary to build a canal that would be deep enough and safe enough to carry twentieth-century cargoes; consequently, the canal has never played any significant role in Soviet commerce or industry. All the canal could support, apparently, were tourist steamers, which in the 1930s were abundantly stocked with Soviet and foreign writers who obligingly proclaimed the glories of the work. The canal was a triumph of publicity; but if half the care that went into the public relations campaign had been devoted to the work itself, there would have been far fewer victims and far more real developments – and the project would have been a genuine tragedy, rather than a brutal farce in which real people were killed by pseudo events.”
HS2’s destruction of wildlife refuges, sites of special scientific interest, classified wildlife sites, designated nature reserves, nature improvement areas and living landscapes is the Tories’ current White Sea Canal Project. The only people benefitting from it will be those who get 15 minutes off of their journey to their jobs in the centralised financial power of London. As Francis Hart pointed out “This forces a general public that has no need for this extraordinary project to fit the bill, all for the pleasure of corporate offices in the capital.” Targets’ have become the name of the game ever since New Labour. The movie ‘The death of Stalin’ by Armando Iannucci sums this up rather well in tandem with Zizek’s claim that the Soviet system was an ’empire of signs’, in which even the Nomenklatura themselves – including Stalin and Molotov – were engaged in interpreting a complex series of social semiotic signals. No-one knew what was required; instead, individuals could only guess what particular gestures or directives meant.
All of this is to say nothing of the fact that this is the wrong high-speed rail to be working on. We need high-speed underground rail networks, criss-crossing Europe, through Siberia and Asia. We will need more environmentally friendly trade for countries where wheat and barley once made up our primary food sources, these staples will need to be reintroduced as the meat industry continues to destroy the rainforest and starve the global south. If international trade is to continue, our future must include high-speed underground rails that alleviate the need for cross continental oil powered heavy goods vehicles and allow us to piggyback this cargo onto trains, as the Swiss and Autrians already do. This would alleviate the need for international shipping which is one of the worst contributors to climate change, alongside this we need new radical changes that create jobs, such as developing a systematic policy for rail and canal freights. We must stop our dependency on archaic and outdated oil producing countries and change direction as a continent together, particularly England as of all the European countries we are the most under the heel of American and Saudi Arabian oil. Closer friendships with independent European nations will be necessary to throw off our damaging power sources and international dependencies on American-Saudi foreign policy. If Boris Johnson really seeks to slow down the ‘brain drain’ from across England that fuels London based job creation, then HS2 is further proven to be the wrong project. We need jobs created for all regions, a new industrialisation that doesn’t hurt our world for profit but works with it.
Another example has been the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, just four trusts – Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust, University College London Hospitals, Calderdale and Huddersfield, and Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh – were busier than the year before. Dr Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham, said Downing Street was running a “brainwashing PR campaign” with ‘data that doesn’t stack up’. ‘We’ve gone back to how it started in March, with [the Government] claiming we need the measures to protect the NHS. This is not to discredit any of the NHS workers who have been dealing with covid deaths and sufferers. I am pointing out the government rhetoric we hear time and time again, we now hear more PR spin than Stalin could ever have dreamt of. As another example, in May 2021 Health Secretary Matt Hancock will face MPs and the media to respond to claims from Dominic Cummings that he lied to colleagues and should have been fired for his disastrous performance in the coronavirus pandemic. He then said he didn’t watch it as he was “out saving lives”. Is it a bird, is it a plane, or is it bloody Matt Hancock? You could say he was faster than a steaming locomotive… a steaming pile of something anyway.
Our NHS is no stranger to the government’s statistical manipulation, as shown by John Lister (secretary for Keep Our NHS Public) “The promise of 6,000 extra doctors (with the related promise of 50 million more appointments each year) – points to a long-standing failure of governments since 2015 to deliver on Jeremy Hunt’s infamous promise of an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020. In fact, GP numbers have fallen by 1,000 in the past five years, while waits have increased”. Free-market capitalism has been the ruin of the gentle Tory, the English gentleman Christopher Tietjens was right when he said “The land is England, and once it was the foundation of order. Before money took over and handed the country over to the swindlers and schemers. Toryism of the pigs’ trough.”
The solution, as ever, is direct forms of democracy from the bottom up. From citizen’s assemblies to local parliaments, the reimplementation of political education, to educate our children on the language of capital and to educate those around us past the lies. Market forces must be understood and seen for what they are, help those around you through mutual-aid for one another and promote the well-being of those around you. Never forget that democracy doesn’t mean government of the people, nor does it mean government for the people, these are both totalitarian ideas. It means government by the people, and government by the people is a moral statement and so must be started initially at a small, local scale where people can work together in communities. A new collective must emerge. We must explore the economic systems of Anarcho-syndicalism, distributism and so on. There are alternatives and we must explore their successes despite what spin we’ve been taught.
“Duty. Duty and service to above and below, frugality, keeping your word, honoring the past, looking after your people and beggaring yourself if need be, before letting duty go hang. If we’d stayed out of it, I’d have gone over to France to fight for France. For agriculture against industrialism. For the 18th century against the 20th, if you like.” – Ford Madox Ford, Parade’s End