Don's diary

September 25, 1998

Friday. The Marxism Today seminar is convening at the Rentokil Training Centre in Surrey. The facade is country house, but inside is decidedly postmodern. After supper we congregate in the large seminar room.

Historian Eric Hobsbawm is extraordinarily energetic for 81. He brightens up the room immediately, and is so absorbed in the project at hand, in this case making sense of capitalism's current crisis, that to think in terms of old age seems shameful. Hobsbawm kicks off with a paper on "The end of economic neo-liberalism?" With his wonderfully measured way of speaking he considers the crisis. A 20-year phase of unfettered free marketeering is drawing to a close but Hobsbawm does not see a global depression of the scale of the 1930s on the horizon.


Stuart Hall has everyone mesmerised by his critique of the third way, which he argues is a political programme without an intellectual foundation. The modernising rhetoric is more about vanquishing "Old Labour", the emphasis is on morals and responsibility, a substitute for finding new ways of expanding local and social democracy.

A minor explosion from Geoff Mulgan, policy adviser to No 10 follows. The debates held in No 10 and those Mulgan himself takes part in across Europe are far more advanced than what he has heard so far. The universities do not have the "intellectual capacity" to inspire New Labour, he himself gets better ideas from community groups than from British academics. And, to put the record straight, the present government is pursuing a massive programme of redistribution, and is defining itself within the tradition of social democracy rather than against it.

The ensuing debate on Scotland, nationalism and constitutionalism triggers discussion about the spectre of a Tory England following Scottish independence.


Will Hutton in polemical mode: he does not like what the government is doing, he is concerned about pensions and insecure work.

My own session is billed to look softer (just as culture is always found in the back pages). I argue that working in culture in a self-generated, self-employed capacity, as a journalist, fashion designer, film editor, sound engineer ... is synonymous with willing self-exploitation, poverty in work and a conspicuous absence of private pensions. If this is the future of work, what mechanisms need to be put in place to make it more secure?

Angela McRobbie

Professor of communications, Goldsmiths College, London.

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