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The future of post-socialism

The future of
Michael Rustin

This article discusses three contributions to new thinking
on the Left. * Two of these, Anthony Giddens’ s Beyond
Left and Right: The Future ofRadical Politics and David
Miliband’s collection Reinventing the Left (to which
Giddens contributes the first chapter), set out to provide
the new thinking which the post-Clause 4 Labour Party
certainly needs. Socialismfor a Sceptical Age, by Ralph
Miliband (Miliband pere), defends traditional socialist
positions against facile revisionism, as its author did
throughout his working life.

The most theoretically ambitious of these works is
that of Anthony Giddens. It is a prolegomenon to a
political programme, somewhere between a theoretical
framework and the specific policies it might generate. ‘A
Future for Post-Socialism’, one might say.’ This book
was originally announced in 1981 2 under the title
‘Between Capitalism and Socialism’. It was going then
to combine the project of realizing still-valid socialist
ideals with confronting the ‘absences’ in Marxism and in
actually-existing socialism: the role of violence, military
power, ethnic and sexual exploitation. But Giddens’s
thinking has moved on. Now he says socialism is
virtually moribund and looks to a post-socialist and
post-capitalist perspective, as if the enemies confronted
by these old ideologies have vanished into thin air, or,
more precisely, into cyberspace. 3

Giddens’s sociology of modernity
It is useful to see Beyond Left and Right in the context of

Giddens’s two decades and more of theoretical work, the
underlying coherence of which is now made clearer by
its political application. To begin at the beginning, in
Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971) Giddens
drew a contrast between the work of Durkheim and Marx
on the one hand (historicist, systemic, and naturalistic in
their ethics in grounding immanent or emergent values


in positive theories of social development), and Weber
on the other. Weber’s voluntarist action-based
methodology then become one foundation of Giddens’s
own approach. The separation of fact and value became
the grounding of an ‘ethical’ view of politics, and its
rejection of determinism and economism was the basis
for Giddens’ s critique of historical materialism. There is
an affinity between the theoretical preference for ethical
over materialist approaches shown by Giddens and the
ethical view of socialism now proclaimed by the Labour

In The Class Structure of Industrial Societies (1973,
revised edn 1981) Giddens demonstrated the distinctive
insulation between political and economic spheres which
he held, following Weber, to be the defining ?ttribute of
capitalism, later of capitalist democracy. This argument
supported Giddens’ s view that capitalism should be
understood as a distinctive system with its own laws of
development, not as a mere stage in an evolutionary
schema to which universal explanatory laws (e.g. of
historical materialism) applied. The distinction between
political and economic spheres became a basis for
Giddens’s institutional pluralism, since it denied the
causal priority of anyone (e.g. material) sphere. This led
Giddens on, in The Nation State and Violence (1985), to
the exploration of the means of violence and surveillance
as modern forms of social domination and threat. Critical
attention to the role of the state has, of course, had a
central place in ‘revisionist’ social theory of the left (in
the work of Mann, Parkin, Skocpol and the later E.P.

Thompson, for example). It made possible a full
confrontation with the oppressiveness of state socialism.

Giddens has continued to see the state as an ambiguous
force, sometimes oppressive, sometimes emancipatory.

In parallel with this work on the institutional
dimensions of society, Giddens also devoted much

Anthony Giddens, Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics, Cambridge, Polity, 1994; David Miliband, ed.,

Reinventing the Left, Cambridge, Polity, 1994; Ra1ph Miliband, Socialism for a Sceptical Age, Cambridge, Polity, 1994.

Radical Philosophy 74 (NovlOec



attention to the subjective and intersubjective dimension
of ‘action’. What is meant by ‘action’ in the sociological
lexicon are the dimensions of understanding, rulefollowing and decision-making which constitute
individuals’ relationships to society. Here, in his notably
syncretic way, Giddens has drawn on the work of
phenomenologists and ethnomethodologists like Schutz
and Garfinkel, and post-structuralists – especially
Foucault – to explore the different ways in which cultural
systems can be constraining of individuals, and yet, in
other conditions, the objects of individual reflection,
choice and decision. His concept of ‘structuration’

enabled him to theorize the idea that individuals are both
made by and the makers of social forms~ necessarily so,
since the means by which societies reproduce themselves
require that individuals and groups have to internalize
the rules by which their own lives are lived. But the
processes whereby individuals learned these cultural
scripts always allowed some scope to redefine and
reinterpret them as they did so.

This more methodological turn took place in a series
of works beginning with New Rules of Sociological
Method (1976), and continuing with Central Problems
of Sociological Theory (1979) and the very substantial
The Constitution of Society (1984). These works
attempted a new synthesis of sociological theory, the aim
of which was to transcend – through the concept of
‘structuration’ – the antitheses of ‘structure’ and
‘agency’, ‘system’ and ‘action’, ‘micro’ and ‘macro’

sociology with which sociological theory had been left
at the end of the long debate between functionalists and
interactionists. Both structuralism and phenomenology,
though antithetical to each other with respect to
individual agency, enabled Giddens to clarify that, in
drawing on implicit social rules in routine social action,
individuals were reproducing and instantiating a social
order which had often been wrongly misconceived in
positivist sociology as ‘external’ to them. Giddens sought
to replace the concept of ‘dualism’ (the supposed
antithesis between action and system, individual and
structure) with the idea of ‘duality of structure’, the
argument that individuals were both independent of and
yet also utilized the normative resources of the social
groups to which they belonged. 4 Structuralism
contributed to this understanding through its cognitively
and linguistically elaborated version of the social system~
phenomenology and ethnomethodology through their
view of social action as an intersubjective construction
of meanings which both drew upon and enacted implicit
social norms.

Giddens argued that the understandings of social
scientists were intrinsically part of this perspective. To


produce useful accounts of the social world, social
scientists need to be able to understand actors’ own
definitions of the situation. (This is another continuity
with Weber.) But in a ‘double hermeneutic’, as Giddens
called it, sociologists’ understandings were liable to be
reincorporated into social life, thus modifying the
thinking and behaviour of actors, and incidentally
maintaining the quality of social life as an open,
underdetermined system. This (at least theoretically)
interactive relationship between sociological thinking
and actual social life is one reason why Giddens should
still be seen as a ‘critical theorist’ . He believes that social
theory is emancipatory in so far as it thus enables actors
to redefine their situations and see new possibilities for

This reformulation of the grammar of sociological
explanations might not have amounted to much in
practice, except that Giddens linked this redefinition of
the relation between social actors and social structures to
a substantive theory of historical change. This asserts that
the scope for ‘reflexive’ understanding has undergone a
secular increase with the development of ‘modernity’.

Actors’ relationships to social structures have been
theoretically recast as ‘recursive’ (structures are always
and only reproduced through actors’ understandings and
practices). But what does change over time is how much
must be taken as given, and how much can be reflected
on by actors. Evolutionist models, rejected in their
deterministic, positivist, and materialist forms, thus make
an indispensable though covert return in Giddens’ s
theory of ‘disembedding’ and globalization. 5 According
to Giddens, these processes have the effect of enhancing
reflexivity.6 What was historically a mainly ‘dualist’

relation of individuals to unchangeable facts and
traditions now becomes more of a ‘duality’ as it becomes
possible for citizens to reflect on alternative definitions
of the real and the normative. A mainly coercive
relationship between actor and structure thus evolves into
a more voluntaristic one. ‘Modernity’ is defined by this
change in the relations between actors and structures. In
effect we might say that duality of structure becomes
defined as the modern condition, dualism as pre-modern.

Giddens arrives at this conclusion both through his
abstract arguments about ‘the constitution of society per
se, and through discussion of contemporary institutional
forms and social processes, in A Contemporary Critique
of Historical Materialism, Volume 1 (1981) and The
Nation State and Violence (1985). (Beyond Left and
Right was originally conceived as the third volume of
this trilogy.) In these books he argued for the centrality
to social theory of the concept of power and began the
elaboration of its different modalities, which, in his view,

should displace the mode of production as the main
principle of social classification.

Giddens’s argument remains, however, on a fairly
abstract plane. In A Contemporary Critique of Historical
Materialism he distinguishes between allocative and
authoritative resources, thus providing the conceptual
resource for giving due weight to the power of the state
as well as the power of capital in the development of
capitalist and other forms of society. He sees changes in
the boundaries of time and space over which power was
exercised as the key dimension in historical change. A
general concept of enhanced powers of various kinds is
developed, with application to military, bureaucratic,
economic, and informational resources. Different
epochs, different modalities of power, is Giddens’ sand
Mann’s essential neo-Weberian argument, in contrast to
the Marxian view which sees epochs as always
dominated by transformations of the mode of
production. 7 This pluralization of forms of power allows
Giddens to identify three main ‘axes of exploitation’

distinct from that of class, and to give these equal priority
with it. These axes are exploitative relations between
states, between ethnic groups, and between the sexes.

These dimensions of power are taken up in programmatic
terms in Beyond Left and Right.

But Giddens’s idea of duality of structures leads him
away from these conventional ‘external’ descriptions of
the institutional ‘containers’ in which power is located.

Power ceases to be defined largely as a coercive or
instrumental relationship based on the interests of
different actors (Giddens rejects this particular Weberian

idea) and becomes instead an internal relation between
actors and structure. As Mouzelis points out, 8
internalization replaces compliance (in a covert
convergence with functionalist thinking) as the primary
form of relation between individual and society. The
effect of this is to weaken the concept of power and make
conflict difficult to conceptualize.

Power becomes redefined not as the influence of one
actor upon another, or of structures upon actors, but as a
general process of the overcoming of boundaries of time
and space. In pre-modernity, actors are largely confined
within such boundaries, or embedded within local and
time-bound traditions and meanings. The processes of
‘modernity’ subject people to influences (whether
economic, coercive or cultural) which transcend these
time-space boundaries.

Giddens shifts the idea of the influence of one society
upon another from the specific institutional modalities of
military conquest or colonial exploitation to the more
abstract register of ‘time-space edges’, the juxtaposition
of the more with the less modern. A kind of evolutionism,
that of the enhancement of powers to transcend time and
space, is imported covertly into his argument, just as
earlier materialist and positivist forms are being
dismissed. This leads him to the view that in the
conditions of modernity, reflexiveness has become a
universal possibility. This idealist perspective – that
every aspect of nature, society and identity becomes in
principle available for reflexive choice – then informs
the political approach of Beyond Left and Right.

His model of transcendence of time and space
boundaries allows Giddens to generate concepts of
‘globalization’ and ‘reflexivity’.9 These are more-or-Iess
opposite sides of the same coin, since men and women
who are no longer confined within the conceptual limits
of a bounded region of time and space become free, or at
least are forced to define themselves more autonomously
and reflexively as individuals. (,Fundamentalism’, in
Beyond Left and Right, figures as a defensive or retreatist
reinvention of tradition in response to the anxieties of
this situation.)
What has been accomplished here is a reinvention of
the sociological concept of modernity and thus, in its
historical narrative, modernization. This is a new version
of the strategy followed by sociologists of the classical
period (Durkheim, Weber, Simmel, Tonnies et al.

between 1870 and 1920) in their attempts to provide an
alternative, reformist and pragmatic model of social
evolution in competition with Marxism. There, too, a
process of rationalization, abstraction and universalization of hitherto tradition-bound and local social
practices was elaborated. Where Marxism placed



emphasis on modes and relations of production,
technologies and social classes, the sociologists
emphasized the cultural and normative sphere as the
location of the crucial changes. ‘Modernity’ implied a
contrast, with pre-modernity, traditionalism or
backwardness. Whilst ‘modernity’ was recognized to
have its practical problems and ethical dilemmas, it was
viewed essentially as an end-state, not as a stage of
transition to something else. What this conception
abolished, in effect, was the idea of a necessary historical
struggle with and transcendence of capitalism. One might
say that this was always the ideological project of
academic sociology in its rivalry with Marxism. 10
In fact, Giddens’s approach is even more resolutely
normative and culturalist in its explanatory stress than
the classical sociology of modernity. This is an effect of
the ‘linguistic turn’ in social theory which he has
followed in his incorporation of structuralist and
phenomenological ideas into his theory of action.

Connected with this is his emphasis on surveillance,
information-processing and the ‘disembedded’ forms of
discourse which have become pervasive in the world.

‘Reflexiveness’ becomes the new basis of utopian
possibility, arising from the detachment of individuals
from given structures and from the possibility of arriving
through dialogue at fresh social definitions and

Recently, in Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and
Society in the Late Modern Age (1991) and The
Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and
Eroticism in Modern Societies (1992), Giddens has
become interested in the intra-subjective aspects of
identity, shifting his attention from the dialectical
interaction between individuals and society to the selfconstruction of individuals themselves, through the
exercise of what he calls ‘reflexivity’. To explore these
dimensions of what he calls ‘self-identity’, Giddens has
drawn attention to the prevalence in ‘advanced’ societies
today of psychotherapeutic discourses, as vocabularies
of self-construction and reconstruction. His emphasis on
the idea of ‘reflexivity’ as a kind of unencumbered
capacity for self-understanding and choice leads him to
prefer the rather depthless formulations of cognitivist
psychotherapies, not to say do-it-yourself counselling
manuals, to the theories which postulate a more
intractable human nature. The concept of the ‘pure
relationship’ ,11 which he sees as an emergent possibility
of modernity, would seem to a psychoanalyst
unrealistically omnipotent in its denial of the
unconscious sources of emotional identification and
attachment. Where Giddens takes an interest in
psychoanalytic writings, his leanings are, consistently


enough, towards the more cognitively oriented American
ego-psychologists. Giddens is antipathetic towards all
conceptions of constraining limits to choice, whether
these are set by the unconscious, by material forces, or
by social structure itself.

This recent interest in issues of identity and reflexivity
also had its parallels in the earlier development of the
sociological theory of modernity. Among the earlier
generation of sociologists of the transition, Simmel (upon
whom Giddens draws widely) came closest to Giddens’s
later conceptions of ‘individualization’ and ‘reflexivity’.

However, Simmel’s sense of the force and necessity of
‘the social’ as a reality sui generis led him to a balanced
view of what individuals’ freedom from the bonds of
social membership might amount to, as it did Durkheim.

Retracing these classical steps, Giddens now also finds
himself concerned with the problem of threatened social
solidarity, of how to repair and maintain social structures
in which individuals can have adequate trust. For
Giddens, as for his classical predecessors, ‘disembedding’

is not without its risks. Giddens has also in effect retraced
the paths of symbolic interactionism and phenomenology
in their earlier attempts to theorize the spaces available
for identity-construction within a more open social order.

Especially important to Giddens is the enhanced role
in society of the means of communication and
information. These are major agencies in the processes
of globalization, individualization and reflexivity The
ideas of time-space distanciation and disembedding
derive their everyday plausibility from images of
instantaneous global communication flows. Giddens’ s
utopian model of ‘reflexivity’ might even be regarded as
an ‘ideological’ effect of the underlying power relations
within an unequal system of communication, in the way
that the idea of freedom of contract was for Marx an
effect of the unequal relations of capital and labour.

Scott Lash and John Urry’ s recent Economies of Signs
and Space explains the main dynamic of ‘disorganized
capitalism’ as the development of the means of
information and communication, as the major dynamic
of ‘organized capitalism’ in the past was the mode of
material production. 12 Giddens does not choose to
formulate the issue in terms of the modes of
communication and information, even though to do so
would identify a domain of power which needs to be
confronted from a democratic standpoint. The reason is
that a formulation of social changes in terms of the
replacement of material production by information
would retain a neo-Marxian theoretical framing. The
‘mode of information’ might even be deemed to be
merely a variant and more advanced ‘mode of
production’ within capitalism, even if dis-organized or

differently organized, and thus to require little substantial
change in the theoretical scheme at all!

Giddens incorporates the role of communication and
information into his theory in a different way, through a
lexicon of globalization, disembedding, ‘detraditionalization’, time-space distanciation, and reflexivity. These
concepts, consistent with his ‘structuration’ approach,
theorize the social process from the point of view of how
it bears on and transforms the experiences of individuals.

The essential argument is that social relations which were
formerly contained within tight spatial and temporal
boundaries increasingly break free from these. Abstract,
impersonal meanings and values (of science, markets,
human rights) replace local and traditional norms and
meanings. Just as the ‘power containers’ of city-states
once gave way to the power container of the nation-state,
so national boundaries are now permeated and invaded
by many forces – economic competition, mass
communication, shared cultural aspirations – which
nation-states can no longer control.

Households and factories, for example, which
previously contained spheres in which stable power
relations of domination or equilibrium existed, are now
reshaped or disrupted by forces acting from a distance.

Zones of temporality are similarly disrupted, as, for
example, young men in Indian villages who may never
have had unsupervised contact with a young woman
outside their family can now watch highly sexualized
American MTV programmes beamed by satellite to the
local bar. 13 ‘Detraditionalization’, the ‘disembedding’ of
life patterns from their moorings in local, first-hand
experience, takes place as alternative versions of
experience become available on a basis of virtual
simultaneity. The most ‘advanced’ life-forms of
California, if one can call them that, become as vividly
present in the lives of people worldwide as what happens
next door. The reality of present and remembered
experience competes with the virtual realities transmitted
by the world communication system.

This widening scope and velocity of information flow
was one of the main factors which undermined the
control of Communist elites in the USSR and Eastern
Europe, sometimes, as with glasnost, by choice of their
own leading reformers. Gorbachev seemed to have had a
better understanding of the ‘post-industrial’ means of
information than he did of ‘industrial’ means of material

In general, Giddens’ s sociological theory minimizes
the inevitability of constraint, whether of social
structural, unconscious or material kinds. Both from
methodological principle, and in his assessment of the
current evolution of ‘reflexive’ forms of social

relationship, he gives weight to the new potentialities for
enhanced freedom and choice. Nicos Mouzelis, in a
telling article, has criticized Giddens for blurring the
differences between ‘dualism’ and ‘duality of structures’,
and for confusing those situations where individuals are
in effect constrained merely to reproduce institutional
rules and norms, with those rarer contexts where more
powerfully placed individuals are able to challenge,
question and modify institutional practices both for
themselves and for subordinates. 14 Mouzelis also points
to the importance of collective actors, combining
together in order to act from below, as well as
hierarchically placed actors, empowered to act from
above, in the monitoring and modification of institutional
rules and practices. There is more than one form of
relation to rule systems, and the differences between
them are politically vital, Mouzelis points out.

Something similar may be said of relations to the
means of information and communication, which plainly
do not empower all citizens equally, and whose
‘globalizing’ effect is in part to impose a hegemonic
consumerist view of the world on all who are exposed to
them. One might view them as a distinct and
concentrated form of power, linked closely to private
capital and to states, and themselves requiring a
democratic political response.

Turning a blind eye
Beyond Left and Right sets out to develop a political
agenda from these theoretical foundations. Giddens’s
work provides one rationalization for the shift from a
materialist, economistic and class-based conception of
socialism on which the Labour Party is now well and
truly embarked. As there are many forms of power, it is
assumed that there is no reason to give special priority to
the limits imposed by capital. The space Giddens accords
to reflexivity, and its ensuing preference for dialogue and
process over plans and outcomes, gives a theoretical
legitimacy to New Labour’s ethical and idealist
discourse. The causal indeterminacy of this analysis at
many points, and its undue level of abstraction, also
provides policy-makers with a distinct freedom to
interpret these realities as seems expedient at the time.

Idealism and ethics, in this system, may all too easily
translate into pragmatism and getting by. The fact that
New Labour is reluctant to outline specific policy
objectives, for fear of compromising its electoral
chances, now maps on to this theoretical indeterminacy,
in a worrying way.

However, Beyond Left and Right does locate itself in
relation to the four main sectors or levels of society which
Giddens has analysed in his social theory, although these


are unfortunately placed in no particular causal hierarchy
or definite relationship to each other. (Giddens’s
pluralism, unlike Weber’s, here reproduces the
indeterminacy of classical functionalism.) These are
capitalism, industrialism, the means of violence, and the
means of surveillance. In each he sees major dangers and
pathologies, and each generates a counter-position or
potential, from which a radical programme can be
derived. The operation of capitalism, or the global
market, generates a tendency towards economic
polarization. The appropriate response is to develop a
post-scarcity economy, in which less priority is to be
given to production and more to post-industrial values.

Industrialism, formerly seen largely as a means to
overcome scarcity, is now defined as a prime source of
ecological risk. The appropriate counter to these risks is
the idea of a ‘humanized nature’, in which societies take
responsibility for the consequences of their technological
interventions. The surveillance system threatens to deny
democratic rights. Giddens’s response is to propose a
‘dialogic democracy’, in which citizens become more
directly involved in decisions about their lives, in work
and neighbourhood as well as at the larger political level.


Technologically developed means of violence threaten
nuclear and biological destruction. In response, Giddens
calls for forms of ‘negotiated power’, lodged in
international forms of cooperation. Concepts of ‘active
trust’ , embodied in the informal sector and in voluntary
organization, and ‘generative democracy’ (as a way of
improving on formalistic democracy) are emphasized,
as concomitants of ‘reflexive’ social awareness and the
recognition of the importance of self-understanding and

Giddens identifies some modes of politics which he
now considers irrelevant. The distinction he draws
between ‘capitalism’ and ‘industrialism’ prizes apart the
combined capitalism-industrialism antagonist of the
socialist tradition, and suggests that different agencies of
change are needed to combat these separate forms of
power. Giddens notes uneasily that ‘the globalizing of
capitalist economic relations would seem on the face of
things to leave large business corporations in a dominant
position within the economies of states and in the world
economy as a whole.’ B ut this does not generate the
antagonistic political focus one might expect, since ‘the
demonizing of large corporations, so popular among
some sections of the left at one time, does not make much
sense now.’ The discrediting of state socialism, and the
deficiencies of Western welfare institutions, lead
Giddens to scepticism about state power, and encourage
his search for new forms of cooperation and social ac~ion;
It is as if, in Giddens’s view, the earlier, organized
forms of domination have melted into thin air.

Traditional kinds of social democracy (and, a fortiori,
Communism) are criticized for not recognizing that these
earlier forms of organization and control have virtually
lost their importance. In a familiar replay of recent
revisionist critiques ofthe ‘old Left’, Giddens argues that
many of its values and attitudes (productionism, familism
and statism, for example) are now part of the problem of
domination, not a solution to it. The book’s title, Beyond
Left and Right, is to be taken seriously. He accepts from
market theorists like Hayek the critique of the very
possibility of planning, or what he calls the ‘cybernetic
control’ of complex systems. Devolution and
decentralization, whether in the forms of the market or
of local deliberative democracy, need to replace the
aspiration to hierarchic forms of control.

The advocates of a reformed Labour Party
constitution have proclaimed that they wish to move
British socialism to an ethical foundation, away from its
earlier materialist basis. Giddens’ s programmatic
position is both ethical in its form and post-materialist in
its content, to the extent that Giddens seems not to think
that ‘socialist’ remains a useful term.

His argument that a ‘post-industrial’ society is more
concerned about post-material values and environmental
risk than it is about problems of scarcity enables him to
propose highly idealist solutions to the problems of
inequality and polarization. For example: ‘a generative
model of equality, or equalisation, could provide the
basis of a new pact between the affluent and the poor.

Such a pact would be an “effort bargain” founded on
lifestyle change. Its motivating forces would be the
acceptance of mutual responsibility for tackling the
“bads” which development has brought in its train; the
desirability of lifestyle change on the part of both the
privileged and the less privileged; and a wide notion of
welfare, taking the concept away from economic
provision for the deprived towards the fostering of the
autotelic self’ (p. 194). The idea of consensual ‘pacts’

looms large in Giddens’ s programme. There should also
be one between the sexes. Such negotiation is the means
by which international conflicts are to be solved.

Giddens calls his approach ‘utopian realism’. His
post-materialism contrasts startlingly with the dominant
value-system of what has been one of the most materialist
phases in British political history. The Conservatives still
place their political hopes, after all, not in ‘a pact between
the affluent and the poor’, but in further reductions in
taxation. As new mood-music for the post-Conservative
era, and as a way of displacing attention away from
awkward material claims, post-materialism and a new
ethical consensus may have some ideological potential.

But it hardly corresponds to the state of Britain today.

This post-socialist analysis, in both the theoretical
form it has been given by Giddens and in its marketed
version as New Labour image-making, has a quality of
‘turning a blind eye’ to problems and realities to which
no one currently has a solution. 15 The most important of
these remains the control and ownership of capital, and
its embodiment in large-scale private property. These
categories are largely absent from Giddens’s discussion,
in this book as elsewhere. Because even some
multinational corporations suffer a loss of power through
‘globalization’, it is inferred that power itself has
dispersed or evaporated. But the fact that markets and
capital flows have escaped from the control of
governments, or even of specific corporations, does not
mean that private capital has dematerialized. It does not
cease to have effects because it is less visible or less
spatially embedded.

Why do revisionist thinkers seem so reluctant to
acknow ledge that this remains the central issue of power
distribution? The agency of accumulation of capital
continues to drive the process of economic polarization
and ecological damage, all the more dynamically through

its transcendence of spatio-temporallimits and zones of
resistance. The ‘disembedding’ of capitalist systems is
not equivalent to their disappearance or abolition. This
idea is akin to the proclamation of the end of classes by
‘new radicals’ in Britain at the very moment when the
New Right were triumphally celebrating the reascendance of the bourgeoisie.

One reason for ‘turning a blind eye’ may derive from
a reluctance to acknowledge the existence of problems
to which there are no immediate solutions. To displace
the agenda on to some other topics, where political
progress may be made, and some solutions may be found,
gives an impression of optimism, even if it also tacitly
colludes with a lasting political defeat. This is one
explanation of the rewriting of the Labour Party’s

Clause 4 expressed in a memorable way a historically
important idea: that until there was some form of shared
or equal ownership of the main means of production,
justice and democracy were unattainable. It gave
expression to a philosophical view, the essence at the
time, of democratic socialism. Whatever revision Clause
4 may have needed (because of its implicit statism), the
problem it identified seems to have lost little of its
validity, on a global scale. But so pragmatic and presentoriented has modern politics become that it seems to be
impossible to tolerate a disjunction between the truthful
statement of a problem and the absence of an immediate
solution to it. The very idea of long-term aims, not
capable of immediate fulfilment, has been abandoned,
perhaps as part of a general rejection of evolutionist

However, there is another reason for the evasion of
the central problems posed by capitalism, by both the
author of Beyond Left and Right and New Labour. This
is that their main intellectual antagonist remains at this
point not the Right, or the market, but the vestiges and
survivals of ‘old Left’ thinking. It seems that an earlier
progressive project must be completely dismantled and
disclaimed before a new one can be put forward with any
confidence. After all, what does ‘New Labour’ mean
except not Old Labour? This version of ‘episodic’ or
‘discontinuist’ politics, to use Giddens’ s theoretical
terms, can be destructive of thought. One of the losses
from the death of the former Labour leader John Smith is
that, though a moderate, he seemed to have a greater
regard than his successor for the continuity of socialist
tradition. Unfortunately, many of the problems raised
within the old socialist agenda remain relevant, so a
programme whose main object is to avoid them risks
virtual nullity.

In his acute response to Giddens’ s opening chapter in




Reinventing the Left, Perry Anderson asks where the lines
of conflict are drawn in Giddens’ s perspective. Politics
is usually about interests and power, about friends and
foes, he observes, and a politics which ignores these
dimensions in favour of an exclusive reliance on dialogue
is liable to be ineffectual. This is the central problem with
Giddens’s programme, and it derives from his theoretical
idea that the moment of reflexive rationality has arrived.

To suppose that ‘pacts’ between rich and poor, men and
women, rich and poor countries, can undo all these
manifold inequalities of the world is to substitute
idealism for political reality.

The antagonism inherent in the power of private
capital is not the only one to which both Anthony
Giddens and the New Labour programme turn a blind
eye. One should take an equally robust and hard-headed
attitude to the other forms of institutional domination that
a pluralist analysis properly identifies, and construct
programmes to reform them in democratic and
egalitarian ways. It is not that one does not see the
relevance of the ‘life-politics’, ‘active trust’ and
‘generative (i.e. deliberative) democracy’, or does not
wish to see a new radical agenda which includes these
dimensions. But these goals will require contests for
power and depend in each case on the construction of
definite political forces to be realizable.

‘Post-scarcity’ values depend implicitly on the growth
of the new modes of information and communication to
generate their active constituencies. ‘Reflexivity’ is a
product of education and cultural diversity, as well as of
social dislocation. Perhaps reasoned, informed solutions
to problems have become more ‘normative’ for those
groups for whom high cultural resources are facts of life
and occupation. But if this is to make sense not merely
among the new professionals of Islington or Cambridge,
such resources – education, public-service broadcasting,
information highways – also have to be fought for.

‘Reflexivity’, or deliberative democracy, requires a new
distribution of powers, which has to be won from existing
hierarchical institutions. This would be a desirable
outcome, but it is not yet our condition.

One can illustrate this problem with reference to what
Giddens has to say about welfare. He proposes a more
active, ‘generative’ welfare system, with greater
diversity, autonomy and collective self-help, against a
merely bureaucratic conception of the welfare state.

These ideas have some base in reality, in more complex
life cycles, demands for a high quality of experience at
each stage of life, greater autonomy for women, even
greater ‘reflexivity’. There are now more self-active
voluntary organizations and social movements, which
have partly displaced class parties as political agencies.


There is more autonomy in public-service provision, in
part as a by-product of internal markets in education,
health and welfare. 16 The ideology of individual rights,
so actively promoted as a form of possessive
individualism by the Thatcherites, has undermined
structures of deference and status in ways that could even
have some democratic benefit. 17 Giddens’ s specific ideas
for more empowering kinds of welfare at different points
in the life cycle, for example, and for more flexible
approaches to retirement, are often interesting, and more
of them could be developed within this perspective.

But more diversity and choice cannot be the whole
story. Without sweeping compulsory insurance schemes,
or universal entitlements funded from taxation, such
‘pluralized’ systems merely become generators of
inequality, means by which the better-off can escape
from the limitations of state provision, whilst leaving
others even worse off than before. Without a strong
conception of common citizenship and entitlement, the
idea of diversity of provision will be a source mainly of
greater social division and marginalization, as it is
already becoming.

It is important to question power wherever it is
concentrated, whether in the market, the state, or the
means of surveillance, but it does not seem that a
coalition for reform can be built unless some more
general sense is made of the main sources of inequality,
injustice and turbulence. In our world, the concentration
of private capital and the unrestrained operation of
markets are the main agent of this kind. One can see why,
in the present ideological climate, New Labour is
reluctant to breathe a word of this – the rewriting of
Clause 4 was a promise never to do so again. But in the
long run, it will only lose from such a silence. One cannot
build a constituency for radical change if the single
largest force standing in the way cannot even be named.

Perhaps politicians have to operate within the realm
of the possible, but it is the role of intellectuals to keep in
the public mind those powerful realities which may not
be immediately amenable to remedy. An ‘ethical’ politics
which does not take account of such realities is not likely
to be guided by an ethical compass for very long. Nor
can there be ‘reflexivity’ unless the social world is made
transparently available to reflection.

Other reinventions and reminders
In the introduction to his edited volume of essays,
Reinventing the Left, David Miliband says that Anthony
Giddens’s chapter provides the foundations for the
analytic work pursued throughout the book. Miliband has
recently gone from Labour’s think-tank, the Institute of
Public Policy Research, to Tony Blair’s office, so there

is reason for viewing these arguments as significant to
new Labour thinking.

The collection pursues the implications of these ideas
for different areas of policy, although, in the New Labour
style, it offers few detailed policy proposals as such.

There are chapters, each with brief commentaries, on
democracy (by David Held and Anna Coote), on equality
and difference (by Elizabeth Meehan and Raymond
Plant), on ethnic differences (by Tariq Modood, with a
comment on the positive value of religious differences
by Bhikhu Parekh), on Europe (by David Marquand and
Jos de Beus), on socialist parties (by Manuel Escudero
and Margaret Hodge), and on the environment (by
Stephen Tindale and Susan Owens). These give
substance, with varying degrees of clarity and
connectedness, to the areas posed for programmatic
clarification by Miliband’ sand Giddens’ s introductions.

There are also major chapters on economic and welfare

Miliband claims that his contributors agree on four
fundamental themes: ‘that the left’s traditional emphasis
on the value of equality and solidarity needs to be
supplemented by a renewed commitment to personal
autonomy’; ‘that it will be through the integration of
public action and market decision, rather than their
counterposition, that the social interest will be best
secured’; ‘that while conflicts in the workplace are a
central feature of capitalist societies, politics is defined
by relations of power beyond the labour process as well
as within it’; and that there is ‘the need to overcome
traditional roles of political organisation both within and
beyond the nation-state. The value of politics lies in the
process as well as the result; democracy is an end in itself,
as well as a means to an end. ‘

Miliband writes that the purpose of the comments
which follow each chapter is not to ‘deconstruct the
argument of the chapter, but instead to take forward some
of its ideas, as well as to introduce new (though related)
ones’. Fortunately, the text does not bear out this
aspiration for perfect harmony. A number of the
commentaries, from Perry Anderson’s onwards, take
issue with some of the main arguments of the book.

For example, Joel Rogers and Wolfgang Strueck
argue a case for what they call productive solidarities:

the idea that the Left must save capitalism from itself in
the post-Fordist era just as it did previously during the
period of Keynesian Fordism. The Left should offer to
ensure that needs of training, social insurance,
infrastructure, equalization of costs and effective supply
are met, needs which businesses cannot meet by
themselves. This is to offer a bargain in which a left
government will take on the role of collective capitalist,

negotiating various benefits of relative equality and
democratization in return. Yet Robert Kuttner points out,
‘capitalism has a long history – some would say a logicof tolerating arrangements which are far from optimal
for the economy or the society but which are convenient
for owners of capital. And as long as flagrant crisis is
averted, the system marches on.’ The system suffers not
at the level of the productive economy, but of the society,
through violence, poverty and unemployment. The
connection of these problems with the economy may be
too indirect for the owners of capital to seek a different
bargain, especially as they can often insulate their lives
from these problems. Most large corporations opposed
President Clinton’s health-care plans, even though they
would have reduced company costs, because they
disliked the notion of an extended role for government.

Kuttner argues that the need for a politics of the demand
side, based on the power of the trade-union movement
and the state, is undiminished, and indeed necessary to
realize the programme that Rogers and Strueck propose.

Gordon Brown argues a revisionist case which
downgrades productionism, state ownership and the
expropriation of capital. Because knowledge may now
be more important to the economy than access to capital,
it now matters more to enhance the value of labour than
to expropriate capital. This is one basis for Labour’s
emphasis on education and training. Anne Phillips, in
her comment, states some sympathy with Brown’s aim
of empowering individuals to improve their position in
the labour market – accepting as facts of life the
occupational slots which the labour market generates,
and seeking to improve mobility between them – but she
also notes that without state intervention to change these
slots, by means which go beyond training and education
(for example, through paid leave for carers, and reduced
working hours), many will remain trapped at the bottom
of the labour market, their potential unfulfilled.

Gpsta Esping-Andersen’s chapter is based on his
comparative study of welfare systems. He accepts that
Fordist welfare systems have met insuperable fiscal and
demographic problems. The United States model of low
wages, minimal welfare, and low unemployment
surmounts the problem only at an unacceptable social
cost. The German solution of high wages and welfare
payments succeeds only at the expense of excluding
many, especially women, from the labour market, and
keeping them in domestic servitude. A solution lies in
developing a post-industrial family and life cycle, in
which the objective of the welfare system is to support a
more flexible and mobile relation to the labour market.

Such a welfare system will generate low-paid work
(especially for women), will invest in human capital, and


will support access to the labour market.

Esping-Andersen makes optimistic assumptions
about the high rate of upward movement out of the lowwage roles ofthe service economy. Only if these are valid
would his labour-supply model lead towards social
justice. Frances Fox-Piven dissents. Any welfare system,
she says, will strengthen workers’ bargaining position in
the labour market and make them more reluctant to
accept low-paid or dead-end work. The contradiction
between the demand for protection from the insecurities
and hardships of the labour market and the norms of the
market are inescapable and need to be accepted, even
exacerbated, by the Left. There is no alternative but to
accept this conflict of interests, and to seek to win support
for greater social protection. This is the most intransigent
defence of social democracy in the collection. It is
interesting that the two most radical critiques of New
Labourism, by Fox-Piven and Kuttner, come from North

It follows from these critiques (Will Hutton and
Margaret Hodge provide others) that some more radical
strategies are needed to supplement these plans to
enhance mobility and the value of human capital by ways
which presumably are not thought to involve a significant
redistribution of resources (since none is mentioned).

One starting point might be the idea of a new ‘social
contract’ in which the opportunity or right to work is
exchanged for


heightened obligations


responsibilities of which Tony Blair has recently spoken.

However, the concept of a contract would acknowledge
the existence of structured social conflicts and admit the
need to abate the power and rights of capital in the public
interest. This is a topic about which New Labour is now
most reluctant to speak. There is much that is interesting
in its new political discourse, but its effect is to mystify
these fundamental cleavages.

The old cause
Ralph Miliband’s Socialismfora Sceptical Age is a book
in a different register. It reaffirms his lifelong view of the
damaging and unstable nature of capitalism, his
confidence in the mass opposition which capitalism must
generate to itself, and his continuing faith in the
possibilities of a socialist alternative. Ralph Miliband
died between the completion and publication of this text,
so it is the last political statement of one of the foremost
advocates of democratic socialism.

On the whole, the book is most convincing in its
critical opening chapter, where it sets out what continues
to be wrong with capitalism. It is important that such
realities are not glossed over in the cause of electability
or of reducing any uncomfortable gap between


perceptions of the actual and the possible, but what is
surprising about the main programmatic sections is how
far an author whose first distinctive contribution was the
critique of ‘parliamentary socialism’ remains bounded
by the perspectives of electoral politics. Miliband’s
prospect of socialism is conceived as the eventual
achievement of a socialist majority in parliament and its
enactment of a legislative programme. Of course, he
envisages this being supported by the democratization of
economic and social institutions and by the mobilization
of mass support. Nevertheless, it is winning a
parliamentary majority and electing a government which
is key to the project. This is in marked contrast to a
sociological perspective, like that of Giddens, which sees
changes in society and culture as formative – and national
political struggles as secondary – means to shape and
regulate these forces.

Since winning a parliamentary majority for a socialist
programme now seems as remote a prospect as
mobilizing the man in the moon, this conventionally
political focus gives a somewhat unrealistic quality to
Miliband’s proposals, even though he takes into account
most of the problems that socialists have learned to
acknowledge in recent years – the dangers of neglecting
civil liberties, bureaucratization, the pathologies of state
socialism, and so on. Readers may ask: what is the value
of a detailed programme which is not going to be
implemented in the foreseeable future? Miliband’s
answer to this would have been, I think, consistent with·
his lifelong political practice. He thought it vital that
there should be a principled socialist opposition, in
whatever circumstances. The programme of this book
probably had the main purpose of sustaining this
oppositional commitment and the sense of rational
possibility on which it depends. Manifestos can be
valuable in more than one way, as intellectual platforms
for minorities, even if they can’t always be mandates for
governing majorities. Ralph Miliband accepted the
necessity of the long haul. He would have welcomed the
end of Conservative rule, but he would have remained
vigilant towards its successors.

1. Giddens points out that the concluding section of
Crosland’s The Future ofSocialism, in which he discusses
how people might develop fulfilling lives in a socialist
society, is disconnected from the rest of that work(Beyond
Left and Right, p. 77). Giddens’ s project is to make central,
issues of life-politics which for Crosland were an

2. In A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism,
London, Macmillan, 1981, p. 248.

3. The proposition that socialism is moribund is much less
controversial now than it was even a few short years ago’

(Beyond Left and Right, p. 8). This is a curiously oblique
way of stating a view.

4. ‘Duality of structure – structure as the medium and
outcome of the conduct it recursively organises: the
structural properties of social systems do not exist outside
of action but are chronically implicated in its production
and reproduction’ (Glossary, The Constitution of Society,
London, Macmillan, 1984, p. 374).

5. ‘Disembedding – the lifting out of social relationships
from local contexts and their recombination across
indefinite time/space distances’ (Glossary, Modernity and
Self -Identity, Cambridge, Polity, 1991).

6. ‘The reflexivity of modern life consists in the fact that
social practices are constantly examined and reformed in
the light of incoming information about those very
practices, thus constitutively altering their character’ (The
Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge, Polity, 1990,

7. See Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power,
Volumes 1 and 2, Cambridge, Cambridge University
Press, 1986 and 1994.

8. Nicos Mouzelis, Sociological Theory: What Went
Wrong?, London and New York, Routledge, 1995, ch. 6.

9. ‘Globalisation can thus be defined as the intensification of
worldwide social relations which link distant social
localities in such a way that local events are shaped by
events occurring many miles away and vice versa’ (The
Consequences of Modernity, p. 64). A term closely related
to reflexivity, and connected to globalization in the same
way, is ‘individualization’. Although Giddens’s emphasis
on ‘life-politics’ ‘self-actualization’, ‘pure relationships’,
etc., incorporates much ofthe sense of ‘individualization’,
he does not use this term. It is, however, a major concept
for Ulrich Beck, whose work is close to Giddens. See U.

Beck, Risk Society, London, Sage, 1992, and U. Beck, A.

Giddens and S. Lash, Reflexive Modernisation: Politics,
Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order,
Cambridge, Polity, 1994.




10. This was the argument of Goran Therborn in his Science,
Class and Society, London, Verso, 1976.

11. ‘Pure relationship: a social relation which is internally
referential, that is, depends fundamentally on satisfactions
or rewards generic to that relation itself’ (Glossary,
Modernity and Self-Identity, p. 244).

12. S. Lash and J. Urry, The Economies of Signs and Space,
(London, Sage, 1994) significantly advances the ideas of
their previous The End of Organised Capitalism
(Cambridge, Polity, 1987). Whilst the earlier book
concentrated on the break-up of the earlier forms of
‘Fordist’ system, the later work theorizes the role of the
mode of information and communication in constituting a
new global system.


13. I owe this example to Jess Hall.

14. Nicos Mouzelis, ‘Restructuring Structuration Theory’,
Sociological Review, vol. 37, no. 4, November 1989. A
review of Giddens’s position from a materialist point of
view is provided by E. O. Wright, ‘Giddens’ Critique of
Marxism’, New Left Review 138, March-April 1983.

15. The idea of ‘turning a blind eye’ is taken from John
Steiner, ‘Two Types of Pathological Organisation in
Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus’, Psychic
Retreats, London and New York, Routledge, 1993.

16. I have tried to develop this argument in ‘Social
Membership in a Privatised Society’, Renewal, vol. 2, no.

2, April 1994; and ‘The Idea of Community and the Nonprofit Sector’, Renewal, vol. 3, no. 2, April 1995.

17. For example, a property-owning democracy would not be
such a bad thing if everyone owned the property, and ifthe
governance of corporations reflected the interests of all
their various stake-holders – employees, those who hold
shares through insurance and pension funds, consumers.


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