They say the only certainties are death and taxes and recently we seem to have been hearing an awful lot about both. A tranch of high-profile ‘celebrities’ have died recently. Perhaps this is the sign of things to come as the first of those who came to fame as a result of the 60’s social revolution (those who didn’t succumb to live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse) are now aging and becoming victims of our other great societal scourge – cancer. (Though dementia is waiting in the wings for recognition!) However, iconic celebrities are always with us, they are an infinitely renewable commodity, and it is taxes I really want to focus on in this editorial piece.
Already this year we have all become aware of the ‘T’ word in a number of contexts. From Google and the ‘iconic’ companies tax affairs to the Scottish government finally (almost) achieving tax powers and the stooshie regarding Council Tax (will they/won’t they sign up), to say nothing of Scotland ‘refusing’ the Bedroom Tax (remember the Poll Tax anyone?) taxes seem to command more interest among the ordinary folk than referendums on Europe. Even given the refugee/migration ‘crisis’ happening all around us, our focus remains more firmly ‘at home.’ We want to know how our income will be affected at home before we stretch our thoughts beyond our own patch. Being part of Europe (or not) seems far less important to the average Scot than the immediate result of what’s in his pay packet (or benefits cheque.) I suppose this is natural, but it doesn’t seem so long ago that we were all beefing on about ‘social justice’ and I wonder whether we appreciate that social justice is an international, nay global issue. We seem happier to sign up for global capitalism (and its benefits to us) than to accept the consequences of a global system of injustice brought about by said global capitalism.
Certainly taxation is one of the big issues of our day. And there’s nothing new in that. Leatham had plenty to say about it over his 60 year writing career. But he also believed in the concept of social justice beyond one’s own pay packet.
‘if it were the case that the average wage-earner cared only for immediate benefits to himself, then we might very well ask: What hope would there be that we should ever see industries and services socialised on any fairly general scale? I grant at once, not very much.’
More than a century on, I wonder how many of us truly look beyond our own pocket when taxation is mentioned. I think that it’s interesting (never mind important) to look back to a time when the world was very different. A time before the tax laws that now govern us were dreamt up to suit the capitalists. Before capitalism itself was a shoe-in for the new global religion. And so, in this edition of Gateway, you have the opportunity to go right back to the 1880s/1890s with Leatham as he undertook his own political awakening. In an introduction to ‘cooperative collectivism’ one can see a path that was not taken. It may have its utopian element and indeed its pitfalls, but while today’s system may have lost the utopia element (or even the desire to put social justice for all at the heart of our society) it has many pitfalls of its own. Capitalism is no more workable than utopianism for the vast majority of people. The battle ground is really between self interest and community values.
We need utopianism like we need emotion. And today we are in dire need of an injection of both into our individual and cultural beings. ‘Emotion’ has been down a long dark path in the last century, with what was once seen as ‘noble’ sentiment becoming dismissed then denigrated in favour of the ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘intellectual’ approach. How’s that working for us? I suggest that a bit more looking at heart and a little less head-based competition could make us into a somewhat more caring, thoughtful and socially just society. Forget ‘what’s in it for me?’ and start thinking about others as different but equal to self. I believe this might be termed embracing diversity. But words are just words. We need to think really seriously about the meanings attached to the words we adopt. It’s a case of don’t just talk the talk…start putting on the shoes for a different journey.
Imagine if we accepted that all are equal in social value and that money is a myth. (Maybe even a ‘creation’ myth for the God of Capitalism).
That’s hard to take on board? After all, money is at the centre of global capitalism. But I ask, whom does is serve? Most of us, after all, serve it.
While today many seem to unquestioningly accept that the world (and all of us in it) are/is capitalist/s, in Leatham’s early years this was far from a given. Maybe it’s high time for us to revisit some of the philosophical and political views from the past. Views that have for too long been hidden under the cloak of copyright, which is a handy tool for silencing divergent voices. Leatham wrote:
‘Are not nationalization and municipalization infinitely better than any of the strange gods to which the reformists of capitalism have ostensibly transferred their allegiance?’
When thinking about the living wage, note that Leatham said, ‘I am a lifelong opponent of low wages and pinchpenny parsimony’ and that he fought for the print workers to have decent working conditions, at great personal cost, in the 1890s. What can the junior doctors in England learn from him? What can we all learn from him?
We have to accept that many things have changed over the last century or so – but I think we are falling into a dangerous place when, as we seem to currently, we place The First World War as the focal start point for our ‘history.’ I suggest we look back before this centenary from time to time to the world as it was before The Great War and learn something about the people and the ideas who did not ‘win the day.’ We are always fed the history of victors. It’s up to us to find out about the losers. I submit that for the many of us who are not iconic celebrities, or millionaire business men headed for Presidential glory, we are all to varying degrees ‘losers’ in the capitalist system. The glory of the system is that it keeps telling us to aspire to be ‘winners.’ That we can all be President/pop-star/billionaire businessman/ footballers. Sorry to burst your bubble but we can’t! In a pyramidical structure we cannot all be at the top. Talk about utopian dreams!
Jeremy Corbyn is often accused of being a throwback to the Labour Party and ideas of the 1970s, as if that is necessarily a bad thing. I think we need to look back somewhat further than that. And I submit that James Leatham could teach him, them (and us) all a thing or two about Socialism. It’s certainly not the narrative of socialism I ever learned through academic study or media engagement. When I read Leatham I see nothing so much as opportunities lost.
I offer a warning. We live in a world of information overkill. A world where there is so much ‘content’ out there that we are encouraged to ‘tailor’ it to our own needs. All the while we are in danger of being guided (and duped) like sheep toward the abbatoir. It is time to step outside of the box and recognise it for the constraining sheep pen (or gilded cage) that it is. It has become ever more important for us to seek out different opinions and views and learn how to think for ourselves. We need to learn how to engage with and assess argument across the spectrum. We need to start looking in the places not up in lights, and not celebrity endorsed, if we want to find answers that do not accord with the mainstream/box/cage/prison in which we find ourselves on the rare occasions we raise our heads from our consumer-based feeding troughs.
When I was growing up there were (generally) three kinds of young people. Those who bought into Top of the Pops and those who eschewed it, seeking their musical pleasure and education beyond that mainstream. Subculture or counter culture if you will. And then, there was the rare breed who could ‘consume’ all the musical culture of the time, put it into context and understand that being tribal about music or culture (or politics) is actually the consequence of being manipulated.
We are all manipulated now, on a daily basis. But we don’t have to sit back and take it. We need to wake up and question what we are told. We need to find out and work out and understand for ourselves. The flow of information may be overwhelming and the easy way is just to accept what’s given out. Accepting the news ‘your way’ isn’t the answer. That’s just a way to reinforce prejudice and small mindedness. We need to step outside our comfort zones. We need to put some effort in. Otherwise, we are totally condemned to a world where it’s acceptable for corporations (and individuals) to do outrageous things with the get out clause ‘we’re working within the tax laws.’ We need to remember that sometimes laws need to be changed. And we need to stop giving over the responsibility for our lives to everyone else.
So, in this month’s Gateway, I hope you’ll use the articles as a start point for your own journey of discovery. Start thinking for yourself about the big issues. Taxation amongst them. Ask yourself – how did we come to this situation? Really. And what can/should we do about it? Look below the sound bite. Engage.
Headline news: ‘Scotland votes on tax raising powers and votes to keep them the same. Beneath that? The Scottish Government is engaged in a major battle with the UK government. The outcome will affect all of us. The ‘financial settlement’ is the key issue of our day. Without independence it’s a battle fought with one hand tied behind our back – as indeed this year is the ‘tax raising’ power. Next year our Government will have the power to raise (or lower) taxes at a variable rate. We don’t know who the government will be that has to make that decision. We will decide on that in a few short months. Let’s make it an informed decision!
There is so much we don’t know about the future (or even the present) and we have been taught to believe that security is possible. It’s not. We still cannot predict the future, but if we look at the past we can start to see recurring patterns. About winners and losers if nothing else.
We don’t know when or if tax law will change so that corporations have to be more transparent. We live in uncertain times. It’s always been the case. But if we don’t find out more about how we got here, and what alternatives were abandoned on the way, we are not fully prepared to fight for a better future – we’ll just sit back and take the future we are given. Is that what you really want? I don’t. There may be nothing we can each do as individuals that makes a difference. But when the moments come that we are given the power to have a say – it’s up to us to take some personal responsibility, start learning, and make our choices with informed judgement.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.