Movement Discussion Guide

The purpose of this book is to promote discussion and debate in the movement about the strategic challenges facing the UK left on the road to systemic change.  This guide is designed to help you continue the conversation.  We’d encourage you to get together with a group of friends, with your local party, or with whatever grassroots groups you organise with, to discuss the questions below, or others that may occur to you.  The guide is there to be used however you like, but can be followed as a self-guided five-session reading group, discussing one Chapter per session.  This can also be adapted for those who haven’t read the book using the questions that relate to the shorter articles and videos we’ve signposted.

Chapter One

Questions

  1. Go around the group and each say a few words about what drew you to left politics and the change you want to see in the world.  How optimistic do you feel about the prospects for change today?  What do you see as the greatest challenges?
  2. What does the “democratic economy” mean to you?  Do you agree that this is an important part of the change we need?  What other ideas do you think are important? 
  3. Thatcher said: “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul”.  What did she mean?
  4. Choose an area that matters to you, or that your group has been working on (e.g. housing, work, healthcare).  How has neoliberalism affected this area? How might the left undo this legacy and build a more democratic economy in this area?

Resources

Joe Guinan & Martin O’Neill, ‘The institutional turn: Labour’s new political economy’: http://renewal.org.uk/articles/the-institutional-turn-labours-new-political-economy

Chapter Two

Questions

  1. Go around the group and each say one thing that struck you when reading this chapter—a story or quote you liked, something that made you think differently or that you disagreed with.
  2. What do you think the experiences of the Attlee and Thatcher governments have to teach us about how governments can achieve transformative change?   How do these lessons apply to Labour today?
  3. Choose one of either the Ridley Report or the Powell Memorandum.  Read it and discuss what you think today’s left could learn from its approach.  What would a modern left version of this strategy look like? 
  4. Choose an area that matters to you, or that your group has been working on (e.g. housing, work, healthcare). What vested interests would need to be overcome in order to transform this area? What sources of power can the left draw on?

Resources

The Ridley Report: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/110795

The Powell Memorandum: http://law2.wlu.edu/powellarchives/page.asp?pageid=1251

Chapter Three

Questions

  1. This chapter deals with some quite technical economic issues.  Go around the group and each say one thing you found confusing or would like to understand better.  Make a list and discuss how you might find answers to your questions.
  2. In the video, Grace Blakeley argues that Labour needs to take on the banks today just as Thatcher took on the unions in the 1980s.  Do you agree?  If so, what does this mean for the movement and the Labour Party?
  3. Do you think a Labour government would be likely to face serious backlash from vested interests, including the City of London, or do you think there are ways this could be avoided?  If so, what might the government and the movement need to do to prepare and respond?
  4. Read the article “John McDonnell is right: We need a new left internationalism”.  This develops the chapter’s argument that international co-operation will be needed to seriously tame the forces of global capital.  Do you agree?  If so, what should we be doing to help build a new political consensus internationally as well as at home?  And how does this relate to surviving in a hostile international environment in the meantime?

Resources

Video: Grace Blakeley at The World Transformedhttps://twitter.com/i/status/1044153784325345281

Recording: The World Transformed session, ‘A Movement in Government’https://soundcloud.com/theworldtransformed/a-movement-in-government-bad-audio-quality

Christine Berry: ‘John McDonnell is right – we need a new left internationalism’https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4086-john-mcdonnell-is-right-we-need-a-new-left-internationalism

Chapter Four

Questions

  1. Choose one of the three suggested readings below (or use your reading of Chapter Four).  Discuss how you think the Treasury might act as a barrier to radical change and what can be done to overcome this.
  2. This chapter argues that in order to transform the economy, we need to radically democratise the state, and that this will only succeed if it is demanded from below.  Do you agree?
  3. If so, what should the movement be doing to build pressure for change—in the public debate, within the Labour Party or at local level?  What does this mean for your group or organisation right now?

Resources

The Kerslake Review of the Treasuryhttp://www.industry-forum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/9076_17-Kerslake-Review-of-the-Treasury-_-final_v2.pdf

Dave Powell, ‘Transforming the Treasury – the biggest and best idea of all’https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/david-powell/transforming-treasury-biggest-and-best-idea-of-all

Sir Nicholas Macpherson, ‘The Treasury View: A testament of experience’https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/speech-by-the-permanent-secretary-to-the-treasury-the-treasury-view-a-testament-of-experience

Chapter Five

Questions

  1. In the chapter, a former Syriza member says: “Governments are inside the state and have big pressure from the state—you have to create balance and counter power, pressure from the movements and the left”.  Do you agree?
  2. What do you think are the different roles of political parties and social movements in achieving social change?  What do the experiences of Podemos and Syriza teach us about this?
  3. Read Ash Sarkar’s article and discuss what struck you about it.  What could organisers in your area do to help build the kind of grassroots movements she talks about?  What initiatives are already happening that you think help to do this and how could you support them?
  4. In the video, John McDonnell talks about the ways in which radical people came together in the past to build their understanding of the world and how to change it, and how we can do the same today.  What is currently happening in your local area that plays this role?  If there isn’t enough happening, how could you make it happen?

Resources

Video: John McDonnell on political educationhttps://twitter.com/TWT_NOW/status/1040671839100563457

Recording: The World Transformed session, ‘Making the case for political education’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaiN5vtWFjA&feature=youtu.be

Ash Sarkar: ‘This isn’t just a culture war – we need a radical anti-fascist movement right now’https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/21/anti-fascist-movement-far-right

Rosie Baines: ‘Framing the economy – how to win the case for a better system’ – https://www.opendemocracy.net/neweconomics/framing-economy-win-case-better-system/