Corbyn Blimey: Labour and the Present Crisis

by John Merrick


The experience of three millennia has not made people any cleverer; on the contrary, it has made them more confused, more prejudiced, has driven them mad, and the result of this is the political state of present-day Europe.” Engels, ‘The Condition of England II: The English Constitution’

Over the past year there has occurred the most profound shift in the British political establishment since the landslide Labour victory following the end of the Second World War. In Scotland, a traditional Labour heartland, the Scottish National Party swept to an enormous victory taking fifty-six out of a possible fifty-nine seats (up from 2011’s six, and a previous best of eleven in the 1974 general election). This was matched in the rest of the UK by the continuing crisis of the three major parties. Both Labour and the Conservatives polled under 40 per cent of the total vote, and the Liberal Democrats lost forty-nine of their seats by polling under 2.5 million votes in total – around 1.3 million less than UKIP, despite Farage’s party coming out of the election with just a single seat.

Then came Corbynmania. For the first time in its history, the Labour Party leadership election was conducted under a One Member One Vote system, as opposed to the previous block vote. Brought in under the leadership of Ed Miliband in an effort to appease the right wing of the party – who feared an increasingly intransigent trade-union leadership and their ability to mobilise the ‘dead souls of Labourism’, in Tom Nairn’s famous phrase – this measure, for the first time in the history of the party, introduced a genuinely democratic element into the leadership race. However, this move towards a more open voting system was the end result of a long process in which the already ossified party structure became increasing top-heavy and autocratic, rather than any genuine opening up of the party hierarchy to the individual members.

The history of the Labour Party since the defeat of the Bennites in the mid-’80s, and the following long road to Blairite reaction, was one of a hardening of the internal structures of the party. The once influential conference became merely a tubthumping parade for the parliamentary leadership, in which a dwindling membership was wheeled onto the stage yearly for the usual union and National Executive Commitee (NEC) cheerleading. The NEC itself was slowly pushed from the corridors of power in favour of the inner sanctum of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), comprising the cabinet and a string of loyalist seat-warmers. The Constituency Labour Parties (CLP), once regarded as being – for the most part – far to the left of the PLP, also proved that following Tony Blair’s disastrous war in Iraq any teeth they once had had been ground-down with barely a whimper.

From this position, the decision by Miliband to open up the leadership contest to all members, plus anyone with a permanent and verifiable address and at least three pounds in their bank account, could be seen by the PLP as a logical move to remove the one sticking point for an otherwise docile party: the union leadership. This backfired spectacularly for the Blairite PLP majority, whose heir apparent Liz Kendall gained only 4.5 per cent of the votes. Jeremy Corbyn, stalwart socialist backbencher and serial whipbreaker, swept to the top seat in the party by a staggering majority from all areas – except, of course, the PLP.

Yet the months since the Corbyn and SNP landslides have publicly demonstrated a curious and oft-forgotten aspect of contemporary British politics and society. From the new SNP cohorts’ first days, with them being scolded by John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, for breaking the centuries-old ban on clapping in the House, to the media outcry at Corbyn’s lack of ‘statesman-like’ appearance and proper credentials to lead, what has become apparent is the peculiarly archaic and aristocratic nature of the ruling class in Britain. Corbyn has taken a mauling at the hand’s of Britain’s establishment on everything from his opencollaredshirts and grey slacks, to his three-day beard, his two ‘E’s at A-level and lack of university degree and even his inability to drop his head to the requisite angle in front of a giant stone plinth (that angle, as the Telegraph demonstrated with a truly bizarre diagram, should be forty-five degrees). Perhaps the most naked demonstration of this entrenched ruling class mentality has been the repeated threats from ‘senior Army Generals’ that if Corbyn were to become Prime Minister then they would be forced into action, effectively threatening to topple his rule by coup.

All of this has once more demonstrated that the British state runs on a series of undemocratic and archaic institutions. The ‘mother of parliaments’ still retains an unelected second chamber filled with chinless landed aristocrats, bishops and second-tier party and civil service flunkies, has a monarch as the head of a state which maintains a royal prerogative, an unwritten and nebulous constitution, a privy council and the ‘Crown-in-Parliament’. MPs swear allegiance to the Crown, rather than to their respective parties and members. All of these pre-democratic institutions remain central to the modern British state.All of this is alongside an undemocratic first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, which is skewed in favour of the two-main parties. FPTP massively exaggerates the lead enjoyed by the party that come first and forms the backbone of Britain’s ‘elected dictatorship’; a fact amply demonstrated by the great ‘landslide’ victory of Tony Blair and New Labour in 1997 which netted them 63 per cent of the seats in the Commons with only 43 per cent of the vote (around a third of the total electorate).

Yet, once within the heart of power, the balance of forces becomes even more rigid. The upper echelons of British society are still dominated by the old school tie and Oxbridge connections. Only 7 per cent of the British population attended private school, yet 33 per cent of MPs, 36 per cent of Cabinet members, 71 per cent of senior judges, 62 per cent of senior armed forces officers, 53 per cent of diplomats and half of the House of Lords attended one of Britain’s grand old schools. Once Oxbridge attendance is factored in, the results become even more concerning. From just 1 per cent of the British public come 75 per cent of senior judges, 59 per cent of Cabinet ministers, 50 per cent of diplomats, 38 per cent of Lords and 24 per cent of MPs.1

How did this come to be? The idea of the Thatcherite revolution of the lower middle classes seizing political control from the toffs that ran the government until the 1970s is now ingrained in our political consciousness. Between Alex-Douglas Home’s resignation of the leadership of the Conservatives in 1965 and the accession of Tony Blair to the Labour leadership in 1994, there were no public school leaders of any of the major parties. In the intervening years, the Conservatives couldn’t risk the prospect of entering an election without a leader from a lower-middle or working-class background, as Douglas Hurd discovered in 1990. After the old Thatcherite fable of the working-man done good, followed swiftly by the meritocratic ’90s – running along to the soundtrack of D:Ream’s ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ – we’re once again shown to be stuck in the perpetual nightmare of an all-powerful ancien régime.

The truth behind Britain’s peculiar and undemocratic parliament was thrown into the blinding light of popular consciousness after the House of Lords rejected the Tory bill that would have seen the scrapping of Working Tax Credits in October 2015. George Osborne, hardly known as a great defender of democratic accountability, said that the vote raised ‘constitutional issues’ as the bill had been defeated by ‘unelected Labour and Lib Dem lords’. The obvious intent behind Osborne’s statement was to signal that the Lords have too much power and should either be filled with more Tory stooges who could safely tick off whatever measure was handed its way, or its power of veto should be rolled back and more power given to the Crown-in-Parliament to act on whatever whim or wish they fancy.

But to what extent do these archaic and bizarre rituals of the British state matter? The usual line, mirrored on both sides of the political divide, to questions of constitutional reform is that the rituals and show of government are a justified lie; both affirm the same basic principle: that it’s all a show and does not reflect reality. For the left, what matters is what is acting behind this, whether that is the working class, which is removed from government by several degrees, or the actual interests manifest in parliament. For the right, the justified lie is the ritualistic cherry on an otherwise unimpeachably democratic, and thoroughly modern, system. What both of these positions rule out is a symptomatic reading of this democratic deficit at the heart of government, i.e. that the archaic state reflects something rotten at the heart of the British economy and society.


Nairn, Anderson and the Pecularities of the English

In a series of influential articles for the New Left Review in the 1960s, Tom Nairn and Perry Anderson argued that the ‘origins of the present crisis’ – that being the dual crises of the British state and economy in the mid-’60s which culminated in the decline of British manufacturing, a crisis of profitability and, ultimately, the long Thatcherite offensive of the late ’70s and ’80s – lay within the archaic structure of British society itself2. Nairn-Anderson charted the long arc of development from the English Revolution from 1640-9, the restoration of the monarchy and the Glorious Revolution, through the industrial revolution, Chartism, Labourism and its roots in the peculiar form taken by British trade-unionism, and ending with the quasi-ancien régime that is the contemporary British state.

The two most important features of continuity for Nairn-Anderson in this long arc were, firstly, the nature of the British state and its personnel unencumbered by popular reconstitution. Britain’s uniqueness sprang from its position as the first nation to develop capitalist social production relations. The unusually centralised feudal state structures of post-Norman England allowed the lordly class to react to the general population crisis of the fourteenth century by raising rents and making use of Parliament to tighten the controls in place on peasant movement. Yet this population crisis increasingly exacerbated the inter-lordly competition for peasants as the peasant:land ratio continued to plummet. The crisis of revenue of late-feudal England, followed by the freeing up of peasant movement following the uprisings of 1381, allowed for the development of what was, in effect, a commercial leasehold on land and the development of the typically capitalist triad of landowner, tenant farmer and rural labourer, as well as the singular feature of the capitalist mode of production, generalised market dependence.3

The revolutionary upheavals of the mid-seventeenth century, then, for Perry Anderson, were the result of Britain’s position as the first capitalist economy. According to this analysis, Britain’s ‘Bourgeois Revolution’ occurred too soon, before capitalist social property relations had time to fully develop and before the advent of industrial capital around a century later. As the first to experience such upheavals, the revolutionary decades were fought out in overtly religious language, and between differing factions of what was essentially the same class of rural, capitalist landowners (although with more forward-looking and dynamic members on the side of the Parliamentarians, alongside the London merchants, and the more traditional and backward strata on the side of the Crown). When, in the decade following 1640, the ‘middling sort’ entered the political stage as actors for the first time, this was swiftly shut down by the rural bourgeoisie within Parliament. From here the restoration, following the crisis of legitimacy after the death of Cromwell and 1688, provided the basis for what is, in effect, the political system still in place today. As Anderson wrote:

After 1688 the state was never again formally altered nor was a new Constitution ever proclaimed. Rather piecemeal reforms of suffrage or administration, in homeopathic doses, slowly modified the structures of traditional power and privilege, without ever radically redrawing them at a stroke.

For the other major capitalist states, their ‘Bourgeois Revolutions’ were ongoing processes, carried out in fits and starts comprising a series of drawn-out revolutionary and constitutional upheavals. The classical example of this is in France, where the initial revolutionary process of 1789, and its institutionalisation under Napoleon, was repeated in 1830, 1848, and 1871. The European states were also almost entirely reconstituted by the upheavals of the European civil war fought between 1914 and 1945 – a process which was not replicated on the British side of the Channel.

Although this analysis was complicated somewhat by Arno Mayer’s now classic account of the ‘persistence of the ancien régime’ across the continent, making the case for British exceptionalism in this regard untenable, it was the thirty year continental conflict that was to have the decisive role in the persistence of archaic remnants within the British state. Up until the 1920s, landowning and agriculture still politically dominated in Britain over and above industrial capital. By this point, the peculiar form of agrarian capitalism which gave rise to the development of industry in Britain had been more or less defeated economically, yet its legacy remained as a politically dominant sector. Seen in this light, it would appear that the composition of a succession of British parliaments running right into the twentieth century is not merely a quirk of the institutions at the political heart of the establishment, but reflected a deeper dynamic of British society. Once landowning began to decline in importance, it was finance that was to take its place. As opposed to the great centres of industry in the North of England, the Midlands and Clydeside, the great landowners and financiers were based predominantly in London and the home counties, and were for the most part from aristocratic or upper bourgeois backgrounds, having gone through the great training houses of the, the public schools and Oxbridge.

The second feature highlighted by Nairn and Anderson was the quietistic British labour movement whose main forces, unlike the strong Communist traditions of its continental cousins, are the corporatist trade unions, and the parliamentarism of the Labour Party. As Ralph Miliband pointed out in his great anatomy of Labour, Parliamentary Socialism, ‘of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system.’

Anderson and Nairn chart this quietism to the legacy of Chartism. In the original formulation of the thesis, Chartism was a pre-socialist movement that, whilst having the dynamism of the early labour movement, came before the development of a fully worked-through socialist theory which would guide its institutional practice beyond mere reformism. Later, this element is downplayed in favour of a break between 1848 – which saw the decline in the first generation of the labour movement in Britain – and the second half of the nineteenth century, which for the first time generated a labour movement with institutional stability and continuity, in the form of trade unions. The legacy of 1848 ‘left a great memory but little organisational legacy behind it’, whereas the legacy of the post-1848 labour movement was almost entirely organisational.

The gradual extension of the franchise, first in 1867 and again 1884 to the more well-to-do sections of the working class, still left Britain with one of the most restricted franchises in Europe. The labour movement which developed during this time, then, gained an unparalleled organisational strength, yet lacked any form of political representation. The House of Commons was still dominated by the great Liberal-Tory divide, an ancestor of 1688 despite its mutations in political content since then, and left the labour movement a captor of the less nakedly aristocratic of the two, the Liberals. As Anderson notes, it wasn’t pressure from the rank and file which changed this but rather a political crisis within the Liberals. The Liberal split over Ireland, and the Tory crackdown on unions which lead to Taff Vale in 1901, forced the TUC to set up the Labour Representation Committee which piggy-backed its way into the House of Commons during the Liberal revival of the prewar years.

The 1918 constitution of the Labour Party formally ratified the dominance of the unions, specifically the union bureaucracies, within the party and thus, as Anderson points out, effectively neutralised the influence of individual members from its very moment of inception until today. Paradoxically, it was the union dominance within the party which in turn led to the further separation of the two distinct spheres of Labourism – economism and electoralism – rather than any joining of the struggles into one, potentially revolutionary, force as occurred with the early Social Democratic and Communist parties in the rest of Europe.

It is this fateful conjuncture of a quietist labour movement, reaching its peak in the closed-off meeting rooms of the Labour Party, and an archaic and pre-democratic political system that have lead to the particular, and peculiar, impasse that is Jeremy Corbyn. The global crisis of parliamentary democracy, anatomised so lucidly by Peter Mair, has facilitated a continent-wide populism, both from the left and the right. But that only partially explains why Britain has ended up with a socialist at the helm of Labour.


Surplus Capital and the City

Since the crisis of productivity in British manufacturing in the mid-1970s, the once reliable prop of public ownership for vast swathes of failing industries has been removed for good. The British economy, bloated by City money, has led the world in the shuffling of surplus capital into the financial services sector rather than back into the so-called ‘real economy’. Whilst the industrial heartlands – or the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ as it has seemingly been renamed by the current Tory government – are left to rot under the weight of plummeting wages, unemployment and benefit cuts, the City, rescued by a bailout amounting to billions of pounds of public money, is once more thriving.

Thomas Piketty’s 2014 bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, is one of the best diagnoses of the composition of this new financial elite. Piketty’s study claims that, when left to their own devices, capitalists will seek to shore up their profits by moving their capital from industry (where the rate of return is uneven) towards investment in land and/or finance. This is reflected in the principle dynamic that Piketty sees at the heart of capitalism. That is, when the rate of return on capital exceeds the growth of incomes and outputs, inequality not only increases but becomes entrenched. This entrenchment of inequality is furthered by the tendency (through expensive economic management) for larger fortunes to have higher returns than more modest ones.

As Piketty’s figures show, due to the political, social and military upheavals of the early decades of the twentieth century, inequality decreased globally during much of the twentieth century. The postwar years saw, through the increased bargaining power of labour and the political and economic ‘shocks’ of the two World Wars, a decrease in the ratio of total capital to per annum national income, and a subsequent decrease in the levels of inequality. This was an era (the only one in the history of capitalism) where growth of outputs and incomes exceeded the rate of return on capital (capital, for Piketty, being any form of fixed or fixable property – i.e. both capital and wealth). This, alongside the destruction of capital and its value, led to rather more meritocratic forms of inequality, where it was earned income rather than inherited fortunes that were key to wealth.

Fundamental here, however, is what has occurred since the neoliberal revolution of the 1970s and ’80s. Through the destruction of the power of labour and the reduction of income taxes, there has been an explosion in the number of super-rich, usually in the form of what Piketty terms ‘supermanagers’. This, in turn, has followed the typical historic pattern as this newly monied elite (although not necessarily historically un-monied) has reverted to its traditional role as rentiers and financiers, once more cloaking itself in the garments of the ancien régime. This, for Piketty, is typified by the heiress of L’Oréal, Liliane Bettencourt, whose fortune increased from $2 billion to $25 billion between 1990 and 2010, despite her own admission of having ‘never worked a day in her life’.

The development of the new rentier class is a direct consequence of the restructuring of the global economy since the crisis of the 1970s. The political reaction to this was to favour the social-Darwinian functions of the free market and its clarifying competition in the hope of removing the entrenched privileges at the heart of the British economy – privileges held up by connections to the seats of power. The aim was to ensure that the private sector was made more profitable, and hence internationally competitive. Yet, via the mechanisms demonstrated by Piketty, this has once more resulted in an entrenchment of wealth and the opening of the doors of power.

A key feature here is that the pre-modern ancien régime, on this account, is actually very much a modern class. It is one of the characteristic features of capitalist development itself, rather than any pre-modern remnants, that has fostered this new category of the supermanager. Yet, it is a very modern class which has rather aristocratic pretensions – and through this has joined up once more with the old Etonian toffs at the helm of the current Tory party.

Alongside this, real wages, declining since the 1970s, have recently been shored up by massive increases in personal and state debt. In the UK, the combined total for household and state debt has risen from 170 per cent of GDP in 1997 to 283 per cent of GDP in 20144. Globally, this has resulted in a process of bubble-driven economic expansions, where the debt was offset by the rising value of financial assets, until these bubbles eventually burst. Once they do, as has happened with house and stock market prices since 2007, households are increasingly reliant on paying down this debt to avoid their asset:debt ratio from spiralling out of control, resulting in the decline in spending we have seen since the financial crisis.

This is particularly serious for the UK economy, where the financial sector is the largest, as a percentage of GDP, of any country in the G7. As Tom Nairn noted in The Enchanted Glass, Britain became something of a ‘super-Venice’ in which British industry ‘became locked into the early-modern forms of commercial and financial dominance’ which were further ‘nourished and eternalised under colonialism’5. Although Nairn is mistaken in seeing the dominance of finance as an early modern (or mercantilist) remnant rather than as distinctively capitalist in itself, his suggestive account of financial dominance reveals a profound truth about British capital. In 2009 the financial sector of the UK peaked at around 10 per cent of GDP, whereas its nearest rival was Canada’s 6.7 per cent. Since 2009 this has decreased, although Britain still leads Canada and the US, the next nearest, by a small but not insignificant margin.


Corbynmania and the British Left

The resulting storm of austerity blowing across the globe has been particularly pronounced in the states of Southern Europe and Ireland. Each has, in one way or another, seen the rise of populist anti-austerity parties, whether – like Greece and Spain – from the ashes of the social movements that came about as a result of the first years of austerity, or – like Ireland and Portugal – from belated movements against further injurious measures. Alongside this, the countries of Southern Europe have seen a ‘Pasokification’ of their previously Social Democratic parties – although todiffering degrees – whilst the ‘people’ have entered the stage in the interminable populist battle against the ‘corrupt elites’.

The process of Pasokification has, as the name suggests, been most notable with Pasok. From being the political powerhouse of the Greek state post-dictatorship, their share of the vote has plummeted to just over 6 per cent in the most recent election (a figure which also includes its coalition partner Dimar). Pasok’s decline can be put down to the punishing austerity measures implemented by successive Pasok governments at the behest of the IMF, European Central Bank and the European Commission. Yet, this is by no means an exclusively Greek phenomenon. As Richard Seymour has pointed out, Pasok’s ‘fate is only an extreme form of the implosion threatening most European social democratic parties, from the German Social Democrats to the French Socialists’.

Why, then, has the same process not taken place with the Labour Party? If anything, it paved the way for the rightward shift of European social democrats in the 1990s, with Tony Blair’s Third Way a pioneering force. Why has the rise of a populist anti-austerity movement come from within Labour rather than from a newly formed populist front?

The peculiar structure of the British state – and in particular its undemocratic FPTP electoral system – must be seen as the root of such a development. As Nairn and Anderson pointed out some fifty years ago, Britain has neither a strong, well-rooted left-of-Labour tradition, nor a political structure permitting anything more than a two-and-a-half party system. Any party to the left of Labour has – if not since 1989 then certainly since the implosion of the Socialist Worker’s Party – become politically irrelevant (assuming it was relevant to begin with), whereas the obvious gains on the right in Britain, notably with UKIP, have been more or less neutralised by FPTP. It was only the pre-Corbyn decline of Labour and the disastrous involvement in the No campaign against Scottish Independence that allowed room for the ‘palest of pink’ SNP to gain so much ground north of the border.6

If the conditions do not exist on the continent to develop a genuine alternative to the brutal regime of austerity and debt, what hope do we have in Britain? Labour’s opening up of the leadership race, if not matched by increasing pressure from CLP members to further open up the party, will merely have produced an (embattled) socialist leader within an openly hostile party. Labour, despite what its membership cards might say, has never been a socialist party. There is no ‘reclaiming’ a party which was never socialist and is organisationally structured to give power to an unaccountable minority. But Corbyn’s surge, if it is able to push back against a hostile political establishment, could reinvigorate classic social democratic ideals, and perhaps even the idea of mass democracy.

If Corbyn were to survive until 2020, what would be the chances of him wielding power for the left as the Tories have for the right? The state is not a neutral medium that can be used at will, but a conglomeration of vested interests and entrenched privileges. Nowhere in Western Europe is this so apparent as in Britain. The long history of the development of the British state structure is also the long history of the British state acting as a bulwark against any form of change that occurs from the left. The outlines of the peculiarities of the Britsh state and its personnel traced here go some way to show that unless there is an opening up of the structures of power and privilege, then even the idea of a moderate social democratic platform not only gaining power but even having the remotest possibility of implementation, is nigh on impossible.

The period following the Labour Party’s general election victory in 1945 gives one of the most striking examples of this. Once the initial raft of nationalisations occurred, the CLP activists urged the party on to further deepen and broaden the process of state ownership. At successive conferences, delegates tabled such proposals, towards an incremental development of socialism. Yet, setting a long, tired precedent, the party itself pulled back towards what it termed ‘consolidation’ – in effect, indefinitely postponing any attempts to go beyond the ‘mixed economy’. All of this was carried out with the same back-room personnel as had been in place under the wartime government. As Clement Atlee pointed out after returning from Potsdam, ‘our American friends were surprised to find that there was no change in our official advisers and that I had taken over with me [as my Principle Private Secretary] Leslie Rowan, who had been serving Churchill in the same capacity.’ What occurred in 1945 was not Labour changing the function and processes of parliament in the interests of the common good, but Labour’s absorption into parliament tout court.

The idea of the state as a neutral medium is mirrored in the current discussions across the European left around the rather nebulous category of ‘the people’. This is a lesson learnt by Podemos after Ciudadanos, another new populist party, eked away at Podemos’ share of the votes whilst aping their populist rhetoric for the centre.


The Experience of Defeat

As Endnotes have perspicaciously pointed out, a common leftist response to defeat is to look for ‘betrayal’7. From Ebert and Noske to Chavez and Tsipras, betrayal signals a failure of will, resolve or commitment on the part of organisations and individuals. Of course, to look for betrayal is to search for moral failings. Yet, the difficult task is not to search for individual weakness but for the structural reasons for the historic failures of the left. We must learn to find in defeat not personal failings, but the limits of movements and circumstances. Few see Corbyn as the great hope of socialism – the particular Labourist tradition of which he is part looks to the early Fabians and the dissenting religious radicals of the late nineteenth century as heirs, as opposed to the Marxist tradition – but surely no one envies the task ahead of him either. Our aim must be to begin the process by which we take stock of the task ahead of us.

We must not underestimate the severity of the conditions facing us if we hope for a socialist renewal in Britain. Part of this must be to recognise the British state as the bulwark against change that it is. To note that Britain’s state contains overwhelming anti-democratic structures and privileges is not to argue for some teleological solution for a new, fully bourgeois revolution to democratise it, as if the road to socialism is paved with bourgeois democracy; the experiences of left-wing governments almost universally has been one of open hostility no matter how democratic the state structures. Rather, such an assessment of the particularities of the British state must be made precisely to make clear the dangers involved in the parliamentary road to socialism in Britain, and, fundamentally, the hard road to renewal that lies ahead.


1) Figures taken from the Government study ‘Elitist Britain?’ Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, 28th August 2014 (accessed 17th November 2015)

2) The principal texts at issue published in NLR were Tom Nairn, ‘The British Political Elite’, and Perry Anderson ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’, NLR23, January–February 1964; Tom Nairn, ‘The English Working-Class’, NLR24, March–April 1964; Tom Nairn, ‘The Anatomy of the Labour Party’, NLR27and 28, September–October and November–December 1964. Sequels included Perry Anderson, ‘Socialism and Pseudo-Empiricism’, NLR35, January–February 1966, and ‘Components of the National Culture’, NLR50, July–August 1968; Tom Nairn, ‘The British Meridian’, NLR60, March–April 1970, and ‘The Twilight of the British State’, NLR101, February–April 1976. The debate was taken up again in 1987 in Perry Anderson’s ‘Figures of Descent’ NLR161, January-February 1987.

3) This account of the development of capitalist agriculture in Britain is based primarily on the work of Robert Brenner. For the best introduction to this approach see: ‘Property and Progress: Where Adam Smith Went Wrong’ in Chris Wickham (ed), Marxist History-Writing for the Twenty-first Century (Oxford: 2007).

Many historians working in the wake of Brenner’s analysis, notably Ellen Meiksins Wood in The Pristine Culture of Capitalism, have taken issue with the Nairn-Anderson thesis for over-playing the idea of the pre-modern remnant. My position is broadly sympathetic to the Wood-Brenner line, although I would suggest that there’s more in common with Anderson’s works, particularly his later revisions to the Nairn-Anderson thesis, than Wood would allow for.

4) Figures from OECD (2015), General government debt (indicator). doi: 10.1787/a0528cc2-en (Accessed on 18 November 2015) and OECD (2015), Household debt (indicator). doi: 10.1787/f03b6469-en (Accessed on 18 November 2015).

5) Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass (Verso: 2011), pp. 239, 241

6) See Neil Davidson’s analysis of the Scottish referendum in The Scottish Watershed’ NLR189 (2014)

7) Endnotes #4: A History of Separation

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