Are we being served? By William Bowles

21 October 2013

Central to us on the left is the dilemma of a seemingly indifferent working class to the changes that impact directly not only on our material well-being but on the corporatisation of our cultural lives. Some argue that it’s down to the prevailing sense of powerlessness as the gulf between those who govern and the governed, deepens and widens. But there is perhaps another explanation for our disenfranchisement; the role of the ‘middle class’ as a mechanism of social control.

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The sheep look down By William Bowles

23 February 2012 — Strategic Culture Foundation

The Sheep Look Up, John Brunner’s remarkably prescient ‘science fiction’ novel, first published in 1972 concerns the destruction of the entire environment in the US and the rise of a ‘corporately sponsored government’ leading to the eventual total breakdown of US society.
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A history lesson By William Bowles

25 December 2011 — Strategic Culture Foundation

I don’t remember much about my high school years. Some of the highs (few in number) come back to me but it was mostly lows which probably explains why I don’t remember much. It’s not that I was dumb, I just had no motivation, but I was interested in history, jazz and politics (thanks to my parents) and even won a prize for a history essay as well as starting up the school’s first jazz appreciation society (not appreciated by the school I might add, the head of music tore down my posters).

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In Training By William Bowles

31 October 2011

Some readers may find it difficult to believe that for a brief time during my early, spotty teenage years, like thousands of others of my kind, I hung out out on railway stations collecting engine numbers and ticking them off in my Ian Allen train spotters guide. When I look back on those days, I can’t for the life of me figure out why I did it. What was the attraction?

Perhaps it was the smell of steam and coal, which when mixed in the right combination, is a heady brew, something akin to the best sensemilla to a twelve-year old and by some miracle my Observer’s Book of Railway Locomotives of Britain has somehow survived the years, minus the dust cover unfortunately. A birthday present from my mum in 1957.

Victorian industrial capitalism is now viewed through steam-fogged glasses and it’s been transported to the fictional land of Heritage where the past is embalmed in nostalgia. All those amazing machines, with their pistons, cogs, gears and levers, all whirring away in perfect harmony and best illustrated by the steam engine, the engine of industrial capitalism.

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The invention of the railway network is probably the British Empire’s greatest, and only contribution to world culture but in an irony only possible for capitalism to produce, the railway– that made industrial capitalism possible–was jettisoned in the 1960s as surplus to requirement by those self-same ‘captains of industry’ the railway created in the first place.

Jettisoning the past is a central theme of capitalism, a necessary component if the nature of production is to be continually revolutionized and along with the workers who make it all possible.

When I was a kid apparently lots of boys my age wanted to be engine drivers (I wasn’t one of them), though it was a dirty, dangerous and grossly underpaid profession. But such is the nature of working class camaraderie, a ‘band of brothers’ but it also had its pecking order, with each function clearly delineated by union membership, grade and so forth. And an entirely male preserve.

A few years ago I wrote a piece about the Indian state-owned rail network, the largest in the world, carrying tens of millions of passengers a day and now an integral component of Indian culture in every sense of the word. Not without its problems and contradictions of course, especially as the neoliberal agenda asserts itself.

In the same essay I also wrote the following:

A couple of facts: The Indian Railway is the single biggest civil employer of people on the planet and the then newly-appointed minister of Transport’s first act was to rescind a decision to replace the locally made pottery cups that everyone traveling on the railway uses with plastic ones, because the switch resulted in 100,000 potters being made redundant.

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Now I contend that this is a good example of socialist culture in action. It may not be the most ‘efficient’ enterprise on the planet, it’s bureaucratic beyond belief, the entire network–the biggest in Asia–runs on paper, lots of paper, vast tomes get exchanged between guards when they switch shifts but so what?

The issue here is that the Indian Railway is not only intrinsic to Indian culture but also indispensable, socially as well as economically. It’s not merely an enterprise, for grouped around it are literally millions of people who are not directly employed by the Railway but who service the passengers as well as the railway’s needs. — ‘All Aboard!’

The contrast with the country that invented the railway could not be more stark once the UK decided that the automobile was the new generator of profit. The railway a relic of the 19th century but above all ‘unprofitable’, in money terms that is.

The double-whammy of the Beeching cuts and the privatization of the railways has left the the UK with the most expensive rail fares in Europe and the worst service. This from the country that invented it!

In retrospect however, I wonder if the ‘captains of industry’ are ruing the day they let the former boss of ICI, Beeching lose on the most comprehensive rail network in the world and smashed it to pieces? Literally. Capital infrastructure built over two centuries is not now easily or cheaply replaced but indicates just how short-sighted capitalism is.

 

Labouring under an illusion By William Bowles

30 September 2011

Note: This is in the way of a continuation of my last essay ‘In the belly of the beast‘.

Nothing could illustrate the paradox better than the Labour Party, ‘the party of labour’, financially supported largely by Britain’s biggest trade unions (representing around five million public employees) bankrolling the party which has led the way in attacking what’s left of the gains made since 1945. In a word, a traitorous political party that once again, faces the task of reinventing itself.

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The state unleashes the Dogs of Media By William Bowles

17 August 2011 — Strategic Culture Foundation

“At 9.22 the Brixton shopping centre appeared almost calm by comparison to Railton Road. Rubbish was strewn across the main A23 Brixton Road; burglar alarms rang vainly from looted shops; and knots of youths, black and white, drifted along in the almost complete absence of police.” — ‘Eyewitness: Looters moved in as the flames spread’

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In your Face! By William Bowles

26 May 2011 — Strategic Culture Foundation

Facebook transforms who you are, your likes, dislikes, beliefs and fantasies, all of it into a commodity that it alone owns, 600 million intimate profiles of people like you and me

Many moons ago, when the Web was still in its infancy I wrote that the way the Web was evolving led inevitably to the emergence of monopolies, whether of content or access to information. In the early days it was Portals, or the ‘place’ where you entered the Web eg, Netscape, Microsoft, CNN or whatever, that commanded ‘value’. Success, and hence an implied value, was measured in terms of ‘hits’ or to paraphrase, the proverbial ‘boots on the page’. It was assumed that advertising would be the revenue stream as users clicked on links and hopefully bought stuff.

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