Sara's Reviews > The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It

The Establishment by Owen   Jones
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it was ok
bookshelves: theory-of-bloom

Disciplining the home team

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The book is intended as a primer on neoliberalism for the British masses fallen prey to establishment-manipulated media and therefore in need of an "eye-opening" account of how power is really wielded - undemocratically, i.e. not in the interest of the masses - in the UK.

It is this assumption that I find worn-out, cheesy and totally unconvincing, not least because it offends the intelligence of those masses the book aims to liberate. It is offensive to think that a bunch of ridiculous right wing think-tanks can manipulate the electoral decisions of millions of people, and Jones' respect for their supposed influence is embarassing.

My competing assumption is that voters have a clear, material (not ideological) grasp of the side of the class war they are on. Contrary to Owen Jones, who sticks to traditional Labour boilerplate, Thatcher's success was not due to neoliberal propaganda (which was and still is odious), but to a material shift of class war's goal posts. Thirty years of US funded welfare state had turned the working class into a new bourgeoisie (or working aristocracy) inhabiting a "new Jerusalem" increasingly reliant on third-world commodities and work, as had already been the case during the British Empire, but with US-backed sovereign debt now acting as a multiplier of wealth. In the Eighties then new unregulated private debt kicked in and from the Noughties a dramatic surge in purchasing power thanks to ever cheaper containership goods completed the separation of the British (and in general western) working classes from their developing counterparties, and their "antagonization".

Voters know what side they are on when banks are bailed out and the NHS privatized. They know that materially they are on the same side as the Etonian idiots in office, or the American auditing firms who have captured the Commons and HMRC. They know they are just being "disciplined", for their class's sake.

What is awesome is the international, invisible legal, financial and technological infrastructure that constitutes the real establishment - not the people that from various political angles, but a single class standpoint, contribute to its development.

Jones' contribution to the establishment consists in perpetuating the illusion that nothing is structural, that it is only a matter of democracy being temporarily betrayed by bad press and greedy politicians looking forward to their next revolving door appointment. And also in nurturing the view that the UK is a self-contained economy and society, not depending on other economies and societies, which are mentally tucked away in a remote, foggy "overseas" no one cares about, preferring to think that sound left wing politics is to keep the NHS in public hands - as if it made any difference on the real class war front.

To be fair to poor Owen Jones, his theses are widely held and there are stacks of other right wing books making his same points. See for example the exhilarating - and highly original - Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown, and the apologetic but accurate (except of course for the totally missing class analysis) Thinking The Unthinkable: Think Tanks And The Economic Counter Revolution 1931 1983.
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Reading Progress

May 31, 2015 – Started Reading
May 31, 2015 – Shelved
May 31, 2015 – Shelved as: theory-of-bloom
May 31, 2015 –
page 10
2.79% ""“The Establishment represents an attempt on behalf of these groups to ‘manage’ democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests. In this respect, it might be seen as a firewall that insulates them from the wider population"."
June 6, 2015 –
page 256
71.51% ""“The Companies Act 2006 includes nothing about maximizing profit. Rather, it calls on the director ‘to promote the success of its members as a whole’, including taking into account ‘the interests of the company’s employees’ and, crucially, ‘the impact of the company’s operations on the community and environment”"."
June 7, 2015 –
page 332
92.74% ""“To some on the left and in the labour movement, on the other hand, the EU seemed to offer some protection from the new Establishment"."
June 7, 2015 –
page 350
97.77% ""“If it is good enough for German workers, it is surely good enough for British workers” - German workers have seen their wages stagnate more than in any other country, despite (or because of?) their representation on corporate boards."
June 7, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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unperspicacious Sara - any recommendations for contemporary analysis that is global but grounded (ie. not overly theoretical)?

message 2: by Sara (last edited Jun 09, 2015 01:25PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sara Beyond Erik Olin Wright (Class Counts), I can offer Class Struggles, which provides an historical perspective, and dare with Class Struggle on the Home Front: Work, Conflict, and Exploitation in the Household - recommended in this amazing online course on Marxian class analysis in theory and practice:, even though I cannot stand gender studies (very post-workerist). For a transnational perspective, The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class and Divided World Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism.

unperspicacious Thanks Sara. Also - any China recommendations? ML stuff?

Sara For a discussion of the official revolutionary classes and their evolution in China, Class in Contemporary China (not a critical approach). What does ML stand for?

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