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Review: Free, Equal and Mutual by Martin Large and Steve Briault

A constructively critical review from John Green at Morning Star – many thanks to him for his consideration and intellectual analysis. Martin Large and Richard House respond below in a published Morning Star Letter entitled, ‘Vital questions for a post capitalist future.’

Free, Equal and Mutual

edited by Martin Large and Steve Briault

reviewed by John Green for Morning Star, 24th May 2018

Free Equal and Mutual

Flawed visions of achieving the ‘common good’

STARTING from a premise few would deny — the world is in a state of chaos — this collection of essays, based on the philosophical ideas of Rudolf Steiner, attempts to offer a way forward.

The “Threefold Approach” argues that our societies are comprised of three main pillars, the state (in the realm of polity), business (economics) and civic society (culture) and a meaningful and collaborative system involving all of them is the way forward to ensure our survival.

While there is a large dose of rationality in this approach, it tends to overlook the question of how such a collaboration can be achieved. Without political organisations representing large groups of citizens demanding change to push for such a collaboration, it simply will not happen.

The idea of involving “business” is fine if this relates to small businesses, whether producers, shopkeepers or tradespeople, but to believe that it is feasible to win over faceless transnational corporations or monopolies is to live in cloud-cuckoo land.

It is the endemic structure of capitalism, based on the greed and the profit motive, that leads inexorably to monopolies and financial dominance, as Marx pointed out in the last century. Without understanding those underlying mechanisms and their impact, attempting any meaningful societal change is seriously hampered.

Steiner proposed his three-folding ideas in response to a war-torn Germany in the aftermath of the First World War and “as a non-ideological alternative to Bolshevism, state socialism, capitalism, imperialism and nationalism,” writes Nicanor Perlas in his introduction. With the rise in toxic nationalism and far-right populism, as well as environmental breakdown, there is certainly a need for new ideas to help solve our pressing problems.

Contributors explore such ideas and provide practical examples, such as ethical banking, agricultural innovation in the Egyptian desert, as well communal land ownership and usage.
What is difficult to digest, though, is the attempt to incorporate Steiner’s rather fanciful anthroposophical ideas into what is, on the face of it, a rational set of ideas. The editors argue that these are intended to counter the stale duopoly of state versus “free” market. But is that still an ongoing debate?

In recommending the book, Stroud Labour MP David Drew states: “Today’s economies have reached a critical turning point. This attempt at rebalancing society through a co-operative commonwealth economy based on ‘voluntary socialism’ with a rights-based state and a flourishing civil society – all working for the common good” shows a way ahead.

But, interesting as these 17 essays are, I remain to be convinced that Steiner’s ideas are the way forward — though they can provide an important stimulus for policy-makers, environmentalists and socio-cultural activists.


Vital questions for a post-capitalist future

Morning Star, 1 June 2018, p. 14

We’re grateful to John Green for reviewing our new book on Rudolf Steiner’s three-folding prospectus for addressing the capitalist crisis (“Flawed formulas of achieving the ‘common good'”, M Star, May 28 . John’s argument that “without political organisations representing large groups demanding change, change simply won’t happen” is a strong one that we agree with.  Civil society bodies, including political and social movements, are standing up to government and business to rebalance society by pushing back both state and market.

Positive change for the common good can also come from social business and from the statutory sector.  However,  we argue that when the “three ‘legged stool” of  business, state and civil society play to their strengths and work in partnership, then society can flourish. For example co-op community renewable energy flourishes in Denmark, in stark contrast to the state-mandated capitalist energy oligopoly we have in Britain.

In Free, Equal and Mutual, we’re not arguing that Steiner’s insights should replace Marx’s capitalist analysis as a useful starting point.  However, rather than “class struggle” as the engine of social change, Steiner’s theory of change was based on the agency of engaged people working culturally, of citizens active in a human rights-based state and of ethical producers and consumers who are co-creating a social economy.

This theory of change sees people’s agency and initiatives as growing points for an emerging fair and thriving society. This is replacing the barren neoliberal social order, which is like a Tarmac road being broken up by trees growing in the cracks. The guiding values of freedom, mutuality, equality and sustainability animate the process, rather than “profit”.

However, we do understand that for John, change won’t happen without “class struggle”. We ask, “How might this realistically happen?”, and “Has anyone got a viable theory of change to a post-capitalist future?” At least let’s begin a debate about the ideas that John suggests do have some merit.  Heaven knows, we need all the new thinking and working examples that we can find to help address the crisis of late capitalism.

Martin Large and Richard House

Contributors to Free, Equal and Mutual: Rebalancing Society for the Common Good


Link to the original review here…

Buy the book here…

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