In my retirement, I am continuing to write, using the time freed from teaching and administration (but constrained by having foolishly moved house!). I am continuing to write work directed at two audiences: first, non-academic left activists, including through my blog; and secondly, academics - albeit that politics continues to be an integral component of my 'academic' work.
My current writing projects, in roughly the order in which I am working on them, are:-
1. A short book on ‘Localism’
This is aimed at both at academics and at left activists, particularly those involved in politics in the locality where they live. It is therefore written in a ‘popular’ style which does not assume too much knowledge of Marxism and social science. I aim to complete the book by February 2019. Here is an outline:-
Chameleon Localism: the conflicting political uses of the local scale
This book examines the phenomenon of ‘localism’ in the richer countries. Localism has developed as a powerful ideology over the last forty years or so. The best known form of localism, on which the existing literature concentrates, is the decentralisation of powers from national government to regional and local government and from the latter to neighbourhood organisations. But more important are locally-based and locally-specific organisation of the economy, social life, culture and the reproduction of people. There is a strong consensus across the political spectrum that localism is good: it can solve problems which national and international organisations cannot, it empowers ordinary people, it builds community and ‘social capital’, and it strengthens democracy.
The book argues that, behind the apparent ideological consensus, the material practices and effects of localism differ sharply depending on which political-economic strategy deploys them. These strategies range from right to left, involving quite different class relations, approaches to capital accumulation, and use of spatial scale and territory. In the book I consider neoliberal strategy (including xenophobia); corporatist strategy in which the state cooperates with and subsidises large capital; social democratic strategy which seeks benefits for both capital and workers/ residents; associationalist strategy which emphasises small-scale ‘bottom up’ initiatives; and socialist strategy which seeks to build the collective organisation and militancy of workers and residents. These strategies are often deployed differently within localities in a particular country, and within each locality there is often a mix of political strategies. Nevertheless, the effects of localist practice depend crucially on which political strategy is deployed.
The book places localist strategies within national and international contexts dominated by neoliberalism, albeit that in many countries corporatism and social democracy also play important roles in national politics. It is argued that neoliberalism is beset by multiple failures and contradictions, to which all localist strategies are a response. The promise and problems of each localist strategy are analysed. The book concludes with a discussion of how socialist, feminist, anti-racist strategy can use the local scale.
2. A short book, New Labour’s New Localism
I have been writing this book in parallel with Chameleon Localism. It applies the general theory worked out in the latter to a particular country and time period, the 1997-2010 Labour government in Britain. The government carried out a large number of political decentralisations, including Scottish and Welsh devolutions, regional governmental bodies in England, local strategic planning, and greater powers for neighbourhood organisations. There were extensive reforms of land use and infrastructure planning and infrastructure funding. The government carried out a major Housing Market Renewal initiative focused on the neighbourhood scale, and prioritised brown field rather than green field sites. It took some limited initiatives to re-regulate public transport. I argue that the many initiatives at the regional, local and neighbourhood levels were responses to contradictions for both capital and labour of neoliberalism. Most of these initiatives attempted to increase the social organisation and coordination of economy and social life at sub-national scales in corporatist, social democratic or associationalist fashion. But these often served neoliberal ends, or were undermined by their neoliberal context. The government's espousal of 'localism' was therefore in practice riven with contradictions rooted in the class-political character of its strategy.
I also plan to finish for publication three theoretical papers which I have in draft:-
3. Theorising the existence, dynamics and contradictions of the local state
This paper develops a broadly Open Marxist approach to the spatiality of the capitalist state. This is intended as a contribution to studies of local politics, and in particular to the extensive debate on ‘rescaling’ of the state between its national and local levels.
4. Crises in local economies and Marxist crisis tendencies
This paper considers how crisis tendencies as theorised by Marxist political economy are developed and manifest in crises of local economies. The fundamental crisis tendencies considered centre on over-accumulation relative to final demand, relative to local labour power, or relative to ecosystems. This over-accumulation is found in both production and the built environment.
5. The concept of ‘generalised rents’ and transfers of value within cities
This paper develops a novel theoretical framework for understanding high prices of property, land and some types of labour power in major cities, and their impact on both production and the reproduction of people. The model is based on flows of ‘generalised rent’. I argue that the ‘core’ sectors of large cities – finance, business services and the media – reap ‘surplus profits’, rates of profit on capital larger than the national economy average, hence ‘rents’ in the sense used in mainstream economics. A part of these surplus profits flows into rents on offices, and part is reaped as ‘surplus wages’ by some workers in the core. Surplus wages then bid up the price of housing and some consumer services. The resultant high prices of buildings and land then impact negatively on businesses and workers outside the core. High commercial rents drain firms outside the core (manufacturing, consumer services, public services), and high house prices drain the income of non-core workers and unwaged residents. The result is severe problems for a large proportion of residents, and pressures on the state’s provision of public services and housing.
The theorisation of rents is based on Marx and Polanyi. It centrally involves two commodities which are not produced by capital, namely labour power and land. The concept of generalised rents enables one to theorise the combined and uneven development of sectors, core and non-core, and their contradictory unity within a city. This is a more concrete development of some of the processes analysed in paper 4 above.
An accompanying appendix shows how British official statistics could be used to measure the flows of generalised rents in south-east England.