"The class war will find me on the side
of the educated bourgeoisie." John Maynard Keynes, Am
I a Liberal, 1925
Keynes, brilliant Cambridge graduate and subsequently Fellow
of Kings College, successful investor, renowned aesthete and
leading member of the Bloomsbury group, bohemian, bi-sexual
and celebrated épatant was what we would have
once called a bourgeois intellectual. The strange thing was
that he was not initially interested in economics. He graduated
in mathematics and philosophy and was primarily interested
in art, philosophy, literature and general lifestyle issues.
However, the first World War followed by the Treaty of Versailles
and the ensuing economic and political turbulence of the 20s
and 30s, convinced him that political struggle was unavoidable.
This struggle was necessary to establish economic and political
stability which was, as Keynes saw it, the absolute precondition
for the pursuit, of these higher aims. Keynes saw nothing
systemically wrong with capitalism - nothing that could not
be solved by the right personnel and the right policies. He
firmly believed that as an engine of economic growth capitalism
was about the best system on offer. As the (post-Gladstonian)
liberals - Keynes, Beveridge, Lloyd George - saw it the problem
with capitalism was with its random and unequal distribution
(which tended to cause chronic instability), combined with
its tendency to wreak social and environmental havoc. He wrote
that "decadent but individualistic capitalism ... is not a
success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is
not just, it is not virtuous - and it doesn't deliver the
goods." (The Yale Review 1933)
Keynes' view was that capitalism's travails were due to the
stupidity of the capitalist class. This ingrained boneheadedness
was he thought due to the hereditary principle. He wrote:
"The hereditary principle in the transmission of wealth and
the control of business is the reason why the leadership of
the capitalist cause is weak and stupid ... Nothing will cause
a social institution to decay with more certainty than its
attachment to the hereditary principle".
Moreover these bovine proclivities were not peculiar to the
captains of industry. They were also shared by the Treasury,
Bank of England, the City of London and most of economic academia.
Keynes' self-belief was such that he was quite prepared to
take on this formidable coalition. His long struggle eventuated
in the publication of probably his most important work: The
General Theory Employment Interest and Money (1936). The
policies outlined in the book as well as during his time in
the Treasury, where he was an official until his death in
1946, laid the basis of what was to become known as the 'Keynesian
revolution'. After a trial run in Roosevelt's New Deal America
during the 1930s, these prescriptions become standard economic
policy throughout the capitalist world post-1945. It should
be stated at this point, however, that both demand management
and fiscal fine tuning which became the standard macroeconomic
instruments of western governments during this time fell a
long way short of what Keynes actually wanted.
For all of his fulminations against the feeble-mindedness
of the bourgeois class, however, he was nonetheless still
a member of that class. One is not necessarily damned
for being middle-class; after all most great theorists of
socialism are drawn from this particular social stratum. But
Keynes was consciously striving to protect the capitalist
system. As bourgeois intellectual he argued against
the prevalent beliefs, worldview and value-system of the middle
and upper strata. In so doing he articulated - opposition
notwithstanding - the long-term and objective interests of
the bourgeois class. His great historical achievement was
to save capitalism from itself. Moreover we should also be
in no doubt about his hostility to socialism: "How can I adopt
a creed (socialism) which preferring the mud to the fish,
exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the
intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality
of life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement."
(A Short View of Russia -1925)And again: "Ought I ...
to join the Labour Party ? There are great difficulties. To
begin with it is a class party, and that class is not my class.'
(Am I A Liberal).
In a similar vein other bourgeois intellectuals took a sober
and realistic view of the capitalist system and its leaders.
The great German social theorist Max Weber argued in a parallel
manner. "I am a member of the bourgeois class: I feel myself
to be such and have been brought up on its opinions and ideals.
But it is the solemn vocation of our science to say things
which people will not like to hear ... When I ask myself,
(is) the German bourgeoisie at present ready to be the dominant
political class ... I cannot at present answer 'Yes'.
(The National Interest in Imperial Germany 1895). Weber
also opposed Bismarck's anti-socialist laws, not out of any
love for socialism, but because he thought that the SPD would
be more effectively neutered through incorporation into the
bourgeois state. Direct political repression was likely to
be counter-productive. The SPD should be unbanned, allowed
to participate in Parliament, and allowed participate in the
institutions of civil society ..."then it would be shown that
social-democracy is not conquering city and state, but on
the contrary that city and state is conquering social-democracy."
Clever stuff this.
Earlier still John Stuart Mill had also expressed strong
misgivings about the rapacious nature of undiluted Manchester
capitalism: "I confess that I am not charmed with the ideal
of life held out by those who think that the normal state
of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the
trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each others
heels, which form the existing type of social life, are the
most desirable lot of human kind, or any but the disagreeable
symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress."
(Principles of Political Economy).
The message seems clear enough. Free-market capitalism lacked
moral legitimacy and undermined social stability; it subverted
everything it touched and created conditions which if left
unchecked will result in some sort of social, political, or
more recently, environmental crisis. In such a crisis the
bourgeoisie and their system may be deposed. Therefore, argue
the reformers, capitalism, must for its own good, be controlled.
Turning again to Keynes:
"I would like to warn the gentlemen of the City and High
Finance, that if they do not listen in time to the voice of
reason their days may be numbered. I prophesy that unless
they embrace wisdom in good time, the system on which they
live will work so very ill that they will be overwhelmed by
irresistible things that they hate much more than the mild
and limited remedies offered them now." (Collected
The Thatcher counter-revolution of 1979 gave short-shrift
to these sentiments and was directed as much against such
liberal reformers as it was against socialism. Mrs. T was
herself the archetypal provincial petty-bourgeois. Her project
was underpinned with a belief-system - it is much too crude
to merit the description of 'ideology' - which might best
be described as a re-envenomed Poujadism of the most reactionary
type. Also included were the archaic postulates of 18/19th
century political economy plus the nonsensical monetarist
nostrums of Milton Friedman. This mish-mash of half-truths,
middle-class folklore and outright prejudices was then promoted
by right-wing think tanks, politicians, businessmen and media
Amazingly this balderdash became ascendant and consolidated
itself as the conventional wisdom. This was only made possible,
however, by the craven capitulation of people who ought to
have known better. The sight of University Chancellors, Heads
of Nationalised Industries and Public Coroporations, heads
of the Civil Service, public broadcasting luminaries, those
with responsibility for the arts, journals and journalists,
and above all the leaders of the Labour Party - vast swathes
of late capitalism's middle and upper strata - falling into
line and extolling the virtues of free-market has been one
of the most abject betrayals and desolate spectacles of the
We are presently confronted by a system of market totalitarianism
that tolerates no opposition and which has seeped into every
corner of political and civil society. This market fundamentalism
can be heard in its unreconstructed form from spokespersons
such as Ruth Lea of the Institute of Directors, or in the
bar at the Purley Oaks Rotary Club.
In the public sector the language and ethos of the private
sector are similarly all the rage; here there are business
plans, arbitrarily imposed targets, performance indicators,
audits, appraisals and assessments of various kinds. Fuddy-duddy
notions of public service, duty, and the public good have
all but disappeared from public discourse. The leadership
of New Labour is unquestionably convinced that in essentials
Lady Thatcher was right. This explains their enthusiasm for
free-markets, privatisation, PPP, deregulation and the rest
of the neo-liberal package. To be sure the focus is slightly
softer, but the difference is essentially one of degree. Both
the far-right and the centre-right (New Labour) continue to
live in the shadow of the handbag.
In an age like ours when the cultural and political agenda
is set to the lowest common denominator we might ask where
are the great and the good? Keynes' 'educated bourgeoisie'
seem noticeably absent. The truth is that the great social-democratic
and liberal reform movement of the 20th century has disintegrated.
Lunchtime O'Booze (of Private Eye fame) aka Murdoch, Berlusconi,
Bertelesmann, Turner et al. now determine, both the style
and parameters of the debate. These are the soi-disant Guardians
of Newspeak and globcap. Given this hegemony of what John
Stuart Mill once called 'the stupid party' the global crisis,
in all its multidimensional aspects, will surely accelerate.
Bertrand Russell once wrote of the bourgeoisie and capitalism
that "The present holders of power are evil men, and the present
manner of life is doomed." (The Practice and Theory
of Bolshevism, 1920). This is truer now than it was then.
It is axiomatic that contemporary capitalism is unable to
produce any critical thinkers, or if it does then it is unprepared
to listen to them. This is surely an indication that the system
is both morally and intellectually bankrupt, and historically
obsolete. It seems clear from the contemporary situation that
if humanity is to have future then the present dispensation
can have none.