With thanks to Peter Challen :
Presentation by Robert Corfe to the Global Round table on Wednesday 5thMarch 2008 at Friend’s House on his newly published 3-volume book, Social Capitalism in Theory & Practice, together with its introductory volume, Egalitarianism of the Free Society
1 – These books are primarily concerned with creating a financial-industrial infrastructure for a just and equitable society. If this was not the case, then I should not be addressing this round table today.
2 – But in presenting these books to the round table, I want to explain the context or framework in which they are placed, rather than concentrating on the ideas they advocate which in main I trust we anyway all support.
3 – It is my view that if we want to succeed in achieving an interest-free or minimum-interest free economy, then we must confront the political establishment on its own patch.
4 – It is simply not enough to present our own ideas or plans, however laudable or practical, as they stand. This is because they can so easily be side-lined as not relevant to the so-called “current debate.”
5 – If we are to be heard effectively, and to generate debate amongst a wider public, it is not only necessary to lock into the activities of the political establishment, but also, into the world of academia as we find it. If we fail to achieve such a two-pronged approach, we shall simply be whistling in the wind. We shall be dismissed as “dreamers” or builders of “castles in the air.”
6 – These books, therefore, are very political and confrontational, in the sense that their ideas and proposals are based on experience and rough and tumble in the worlds of industry and politics. They appreciate the need for Realpolitik.
7 – In making my point, let me, for example contrast their approach with that of two writers (amongst many others who might be cited), who in my view are wholly admirable, and successful in their practical undertakings, and whom I believe we should wholly support: viz., Mohammad Yunus and Hernando de Sotos.
8 – These are activists who are relieving poverty and generating a wealth creating process amongst the poorest sectors of the community in many third world countries. But they nonetheless seek and succeed to be non-political and non-controversial for reasons which may indeed be necessary, bearing in mind the territories in which they work. Mohammad Yunus, for example, states he’s prepared to accept globalisation – something which is tearing self-sustainable communities apart in many corners of the world. I am not suggesting that these men, or other persons working in a similar situation, should act otherwise. There may be sound political reasons for acting as they do.
9 – But for us working in the affluent West, with all its complications, the situation is quite different. It has to be our task to create an entirely new mindset before we can begin to implement our practical proposals.
10 – First we have to confront the socio-political situation, as we find it today, with an in-depth and comprehensive critique. This has to take the form of a wake-up call – something which provokes thought and arouses interest and debate amongst well-intentioned people.
11 – On the basis of that analysis we can then begin to lay the foundations for our constructive and practical plans.
12 – Let me explain how I came to write these 4 books. They have appeared through a gestation period of 30 years. The fact they are concerned with creating a socially just and equitable society occurred almost as an act of serendipity – a fortunate accident.
13 – When I set out on my researches, the question of social justice may have been at the back of my mind, but it was not in the forefront. My primary concern was the reversal of British home-based industrial decline. I knew at the start, back in 1979, on recognising the bifurcation of capitalism in different parts of the world, that one kind, through its own internal logic led to a more just society, whilst the other led to the polarisation of wealth, but these factors in themselves were not my principal concern. I was primarily concerned with promoting greater industrial efficiency for the sake of both enterprises and consumers, and it just happened that the more efficient system contributed to the more just and equitable society.
15 – Subsequently, through the process of research, this led to an ever-widening sphere of interest as one question led to another. Eventually, this led to such broad-based questions as, What is the purpose of industry, or work, or even life itself? Such an expanding thought process, of course, contradicts entirely the conventional academic approach to topics which calls for the use of a microscope rather than a telescope. But the strictly academic approach, because of its compartmentalisation of knowledge, could never have led to a satisfactory outcome.
16 – Economic science, I suppose, would have been the proper academic path to follow, but a broader examination of socio-political issues, soon exposes economics as an end-study to be nonsense.
17 – The ultimate authority in all matters, to which everything must eventually defer is Ethics, for that is where all argument ends when the wider picture is considered. And ethics often demonstrates that economic arguments are very shabby indeed.
18 – At an early stage I wanted to politicise the issues I had already uncovered through the parliamentary system, and so I joined what I thought at the time was the most appropriate party and became a founding member of the centrist SDP.
19 – But I soon found my ideas were not understood by ordinary political activists. In fact they became highly suspect. Anyone who spoke about industry was immediately tarred as attempting to promote a right wing ideology.
20 – But in the world of business itself, my ideas were clearly comprehended and
soon were taken up with enthusiasm by several leading industrialists with broad
interests in social issues. Amongst these were, Sir Peter Parker, formerly of British Rail, who contributed a Preface to an early publication; George Goyder, who financed the first two pamphlets which I launched in 1985, and Sir Charles Villiers, formerly Chairman of British Steel, who was a prominent enemy of Margaret Thatcher. These three industrialists were men with a strong social conscience who had each written excellent books on different aspects of democratising industry. Another prominent supporter, who wanted me to change my terminology (which for good reasons I refused to do) was Lord Derek Ezra; and yet another was Lord Gregson of Stockport, the President of the CFI – see below.
21 – My main ally, during these early years, however, was a Scotsman, George T. Edwards, and together in 1987 we founded the Campaign for Industry (CFI), which produced many pamphlets but achieved little else.
22 – Edwards and his friend, J.C. Carrington, had been students at Edinburgh University, and through a funded research project, they were appalled to uncover the reality behind the financing of industrial investment in the Anglo-Saxon economies, and how this contrasted with the more benign systems on the Continent and the Far East. As a result of this experience, they produced a book published by Macmillan, entitled, Financing Industrial Investment. Two years later they produced a second book, Reversing Industrial Decline, and after Carrington had been put out of action by threats to his career as a director of British Telecom, Edwards alone produced two more books on the same topic. All 4 books were published by Macmillan.
23 – When I met Edwards he had been lobbying at a high level for 8 years within the Conservative party in trying to propagate his ideas, but had recently left the party in disgust.
24 – Although his books were strictly economic texts, with no overt party political pretensions, they were regarded as sufficiently dangerous to attract the banking fraternity in attempting to buy him off. When this failed, his employers, the Post Office, were approached and told they should not be employing someone who criticised a savings institution. He was then seconded to another institution, and subsequently, about two years later, pensioned off.
25 – In setting up the CFI it was decided that the association should be free of party politics, and 18 months after the founding meeting in the offices of Unity Trust, investors to the trade unions, 4 of our leading backers and board members unexpectedly resigned within a 3-week period.
26 – Now it could not have been mere coincidence that 4 board members all stood down from the association within such a short time span.
27 – To indicate the external pressures which might have been placed on these men, I received, what I can only describe as a furious letter from Prof. John Heath, of the London Business School, stating he had “never committed” himself to the CFI and that his name should be withdrawn forthwith from our letterheads and any other papers connected with the association.
28 – Now the fact that he had willingly joined the association; attended the founding meeting; contributed constructively to the general discussion; participated in the election of officers; and voted on the use of funds, clearly indicates to me that such an established figure in academia could not have written such a dishonest, excitable, and absurd letter, unless he had been placed in a very awkward position by a threat to his career or reputation. I had even visited him in his home in Hampstead. Why should he have been motivated to write such an unfriendly letter? To my mind, this was the letter of a very frightened man.
29 – At that point I felt we should promote the social aspects of our findings and politicise these. But Edwards was deeply disillusioned and resigned from the association in 1990.
30 – I had stood down from the SDP after the split with the Liberal-Democratic
Alliance in 1988, and in 1994 I joined the Labour Party. I became deeply involved with the Labour Finance & Industry Group and other organisations at national and local level. I formulated the concept of New Socialism, hoping that such a concept would eventually be adopted as a modern form of Socialism, and I remained a party activist for 14 years. Again the attempt ended in failure.
31 – The reasons for this failure are analysed in these books, and they may be summarised under the following headings:- 1. A psychological chasm between the interests of industry and the idea of public service; 2. A mindset of conflict between capital and labour which cannot be broken; 3. What I have described as the missing “gene” of Socialism, or its inability to comprehend the need for the business instinct; and, 4. A hidden simmering resentment which is kept alive by a covert class consciousness.
32 – What, then, is the answer, and what are the constructive proposals put forward in these books? In view of the emergence of the new middle-middle majority, I believe the only appealing and practical politics for the future is one which sets out to attract all men and women of goodwill across the entire spectrum of society.
33 – The skills and imagination needed to confront the huge financial-industrial and environmental problems in the years ahead will demand the active support and goodwill of all members of society.
34 – This calls for a completely new mindset and approach to politics. In a sense, it entails a return to 18th century Enlightenment values on the unity of humanity with its emphasis on the individual.
35 – It necessitates a reversal of seeing humanity in the 19th and 20th century terms of a divide between the Haves and Have-nots, or capital versus labour, or class
36 – In the first volume of my book, Social Capitalism in Theory & Practice, I’ve
explained how industrialised societies in the developed world are ready for such a transformed view of humanity and such a fresh approach to politics.
37 – In the same volume I’ve also elaborated on the need for such a viewpoint, on the grounds that a fair and egalitarian society can only be achieved through the willing cooperation of all sectors of society.
38 – I’ve also argued strongly that a fair, free, and egalitarian society can never be achieved by Socialism as we’ve known it, for a host of reasons, but primarily because:- 1. The spirit and aims of collectivism contradict the needs of freedom and the individual; 2. The resentment of class consciousness oppresses aspirational values; 3. The bureaucratisation of enterprise destroys the business dynamic, and hence imposes an authoritarian elite for production and distribution; and 4. and most significantly, the idealisation of a proletarian class – however that is defined – has not led to a free and egalitarian society, but on the contrary and everywhere, to a society which is shackled by the restrictions of its limited vision.
39 – Social Capitalism, as described in the second and third volumes of my book, is dependent on the ownership and management of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, not by any abstract collective entity, but by individuals at the grass roots level, and through their influence on the hierarchy of authority.
40 – This is made practicable through changes to company law in conjunction with proven systems of co-determination and employee share-ownership. It leads to what I have described as the Responsible Society.
41 – In a Responsible Society there is no longer a divide between owners and employees, or bosses and workers, because all are owners and take on the resulting obligations.
42 – Something more must be said about the role of democracy. The question has been put: how can democracy flourish if society is not divided by economic interest
groups? Shortly after Roy Jenkins gave his Richard Dimbleby Memorial Lecture in 1979, when he became the senior statesman amongst the Gang of Four in setting up the SDP, he was asked the same question and was unable to answer it.
43 – Social Capitalism presents two answers to this question. Firstly, the dialectic of Productive versus Rentier capitalism subjects every economic issue to the criterion of fulfilling the first of these alternatives. The critique of such decision-making covers activities throughout every level of an organisation. Hence the conflict of economic interests in the future will not entail setting class against class, but rather through the objective appeal as to whether a decision contributes towards disinterested justice and equity, or on the contrary, fulfils purely selfish motives. In other words, the dialectic of Productive activity seeks to de-personalise economic differences which arise in society. This helps to make debate less emotional and more rational.
44 – Secondly, open democratic decision-making needs to be applied by all functional groups throughout society, irrespective of whether they be in the spheres of administration, business, or leisure.
45 – In touching on the question of democracy, mention should be made of the Nationality principle.
46 – As effective governmental-democratic systems are only workable within the framework of the nation state, it is therefore essential to maintain the cultural and economic integrity of countries.
47 – Social Capitalism therefore advocates the principle of nationalism within the broader framework of the international community.
48 – There are many reasons why the nationality principle is important, e.g., as a safeguard against the hegemony of transnational financial power; to help maintain
self-sustainable communities; as a defence against all forms of hidden economic imperialism; to uphold the communication channels of a society in enabling democracy; to preserve home-based property rights; or to facilitate uninterrupted
legislation in promoting justice and equity for the majority.
49 – From both a left wing or a right wing perspective today it may be very unfashionable to uphold the values of nationalism; but of course, the nationalism of Social Capitalism is something totally different from that which existed in the first half of the 20th century and before. This is because global humanity and the equality of all people is the underlying purpose of Social Capitalism as advanced in these books.
50 – The introductory volume to the main work, Egalitarianism of the Free Society, covers in some depth several important themes, viz.: The role of culture in a free and egalitarian society; the psychological and social roles of property ownership, and the questions which arise from these; democracy real and illusory, and what we exactly mean by these terms; and lastly, a very important topic, the epistemology best applied in discussing socio-political and economic issues.
51 – I’ve tried to make the books as readable as possible in attracting as wide a general readership as possible. With this in mind, I’ve adopted an essay style as contrasted with an academic or dissertation style, which I believe the general reader would find dull if not insufferable, and I’ve kept chapters short and broken them up with plenty of sub-headings.
52 – In summarising the books, to whom are they seemingly addressed? In intention, they are addressed to all thinking people of goodwill across the four quarters of the planet. But in taking a closer look, a great part of the text is seemingly addressed to those who are left of centre whilst nonetheless remaining critical of old Socialist thought patterns. However, should traditional Socialists feel offended as if they were under attack, it should be borne in mind that all 3 volumes constitute an attack on our financial-industrial system which Socialists, supposedly, have always opposed. Large pats of volumes II and III, especially those technical passages, are clearly addressed to business people or industrialists, and even to management accountants, whilst other parts are addressed to trade union leaders.
53 – How do the books intend to achieve their purpose? They will obviously be of greater interest to those who are already involved or interested in politics, and as they are addressed to those across the political spectrum from right wing Conservatives to left wing Socialists, I hope they will awaken the conscience of all those of goodwill.
54 – Without the technical skills, knowledge, and support of financiers, bankers, and others in leading positions in industry, it will be impossible to achieve the purposes we are trying to promote.
55 – There are already such socially broad-based leaders of industry waiting to take up our ideas. I’ve met them, amongst other places, in the Labour Industry & Finance Group – and these included merchant bankers and stockbrokers, as well as CEOs of small manufacturing groups – but the Group and the Labour party decided to side-line these people in favour of befriending conventional rentier capitalists who bought their way into the Labour party in order to control it.
56 – That is why it is the purpose of these books to create an entirely new socio-economic mindset. I am not advocating the creation of a new party. I am merely advocating the aims of a new movement to penetrate the existing parties as we find them.
57 – I am not suggesting even that anyone should change his or her party political allegiance. I am merely arguing that we should all become Social Capitalists irrespective of our credentials or position in life.
58 – This in itself will help to heal the political rifts in society. This, I believe, is a path we should follow, as the only hope for our future.
MORE DETAILS ON PURCHASING
Social Capitalism In Theory and Practice
is now available –
Volume I Emergence of The New Majority ISBN 978-0-9556055-3-6
Volume II The People’s Capitalism ISBN 978-0-9556055-4-3
Volume III Prosperity in a Stable World ISBN 978-0-9556055-5-0
+ introductory volume –
Egalitarianism of The Free Society and the end of class conflict
The old left/right divide, which has marked the pattern of socio-economic struggle since 1789, is no longer a useful tool in advancing the progress of humanity. Even the simplistic call of “capital versus labour!” is meaningless as a practical guide towards a fairer and more equitable society.
The transformation of society and the world of work over the past 60 years, has overturned all the established ideological assumptions which influenced thought and action across the political spectrum. This does not mean that injustice and inegalitarianism has ceased to be significant – even in the most developed economies – but that new methods must be applied in more effectively resolving such socio-economic ills.
The collapse of party memberships throughout the world, and the emergence of apathy and cynicism towards governments of every hue, are evidence that something is wrong with political systems today. The size and strength of single issue movements, on the other hand, demonstrates clearly that the majority of thinking people remain deeply concerned about their future and that of their progeny, but such movements are no substitute for the holistic approach required of party political movements. The public is therefore left with a sense of resignation in the face of political drift.
Political parties across the spectrum are trapped in a time-warp of the past. They have been unable to update core beliefs in meeting the new realities of a fast changing world. Percipient political leaders already have an inkling of this situation, which is partly reflected through an increasing tendency towards covert cooperation between opposing parties, and the obvious falsity of knockabout politics arising from desperate fault-finding in attempting to identify and highlight differences.
The sad reality is that party politics is not merely failing to address the most urgent issues of our time, but is failing even to perceive what those issues are. Consequently, many problems are being compounded rather than resolved by governments in countries across the globe.
In these books, Robert Corfe grapples with the socio-economic realities of our time, and pinpoints the true rifts which divide the modern world. He creates a new vocabulary, and presents new modes of thinking, in differentiating between the malign and benign aspects of financial-industrial infrastructures. Because of the emergence of a middle-middle majority throughout the developed world, political conflict in the future will not be class-based, or represent Haves against Have-nots, but rather represent a struggle against malign economic systems which are detrimental equally to the interests of the 90%+ majority.
The outcome will be the rejuvenation of democracy in implementing different mechanisms throughout every sphere of society by empowering functional groups in many walks of life. Existing political parties would be reconstituted, or merge with other groups, or sink into oblivion, or new movements would take their place.
Because of the nature and magnitude of problems in the future, governments everywhere will become more authoritarian than hitherto. In view of this, it is therefore essential to ensure in advance that such governments are fair and equitable, and that appropriate democratic mechanisims be put in place to lift any perceived or actual burden of oppression.
The relevance, clarity, and cutting edge of these volumes is not merely due to the author’s wide-ranging scholarship, but to his life-long experience in both politics (local and national) and senior management in business in this country and abroad. As a political scientist and business guru, he has contributed articles to leading newspapers and journals since the 1960s, and has written many pamphlets and books on socio-economic issues.
His latest book clearly shows that the breadth and profundity of his grasp of social, economic, and philosophical problems matches that of the most significant political thinkers of the past. These ground-breaking books, with their unique approach to the impending socio-economic and environmental problems of the 21st century, will become essential reading for students of the social sciences and all those of goodwill amongst the thinking general public.
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