Postfordism and since: the 'New Times' approach


These notes are meant to accompany lectures and seminars. They are not intended to be fully sufficient as self-instructional-materials.

The sessions on offer here represent a fairly recent contribution to a debate about leisure and enterprise from a socialist perspective. Students will be expected to critically evaluate it exactly as they would any other perspective.

There is also some sociological material on postfordism and its organizational consequences - 'just-in-time regimes'. An additional source I forgot to include is A. Lipietz 1992 Towards a New Economic Order - postfordism, ecology and democracy. There is also an excellent reader,offering a much better summary and discussion of the different accounts: Amin A (1994) Postfordism -- A Reader, London: Blackwell [now with a 'reading guide' online here]


 'New Times

1.      'New Times' came to be the term used to describe the theme of a number of discussions centred on the journal Marxism Today. Participants included marxists, academics, journalists and Labour Party members. See J. Clarke (New Times and Old Enemies) and 'Manifesto for the New Times' in Hall & Jacques. The discussions were about the recent changes in social life affecting Britain, how they might underpin the success of the Tory Party, and how socialists might respond.

2.      Social changes included the apparent decline of the organised working class and other social groups likely to oppose Tory policies. Social inequality had not declined, though. The Labour vote had waned among those groups.

3.      Economic changes at the production end arose from the impact of new technology described best as 'post-fordism' (see below). At the consumption end, the 80s could be the age of the new consumer, more knowledgeable, more sophisticated, and more dynamic. This trend feeds back to production, producing problems in the prediction of demand, the right level of stocks etc. See also Tomlinson ('Intro' to Tomlinson ed) on the problems for providers of leisure amenities especially, given much more volatility in demand.

4.      These changes have affected popular and political cultures in Britain, made them more changeable, less stable, less tied to class. The New Right have been quickest to organise to exploit these changes, in the name of choice, freedom and modernity. There are growing social strains which threaten the New Right line, however. The old socialist policies have lost their appeal too - there is a new opportunity to think out a new socialist approach.


You might like to think out some implications for leisure directly:

*       Are any of these social and economic changes recognisable in leisure policy and provision? What do they look like these days?

*       What are the dilemmas in leisure provision these days in terms of providing for the consumer?

*       Is there an alternative to new right versions of choice and freedom?


1.      Let's start with Fordism, a name given to some economic and social changes in a discussion in a major hero of the New Times group - Gramsci (see Smith and Hoare (eds) A. Gramsci: Selections from the Prison Notebooks). The ideas aren't all that new, but they offer a neat discussion of the changes likely to affect post-War Italy after the coming of new mass production techniques. These techniques would bring widespread social changes, Gramsci thought, involving new social disciplines at workplaces and in families - and in leisure patterns too (think of the impact of shiftwork, for example). Marxist theorists (well, gramscians anyway) saw these analyses of offering a particularly good example of how to do marxist analysis, how to demonstrate the links between economic and social forces.

2.      Gramsci's insights were deepened by more recent work  - Aglietta's especially. This offered an account of different types of  'accumulation regimes' and focused on the problems of regulating production -eg by government legislation, by the market, by financial controls (the one which is growing in importance) etc. There is a growing internationalisation of these financial regulation mechanisms too - and this added complexity brings with it an increased risk of instability. Briefly, Fordist accumulation regimes are in trouble, says Aglietta, from inflation, competition, and various international crises (like the growth of world debt), and are now at the mercy of very volatile money markets (cf the sterling crisis on leaving the ERM). Hence the dawn of a new postfordist era.

3.      Postfordism as an approach might not have gone far enough, however, to grasp the implications of a fully fledged finance capitalism or a new postmodernist form of work and social organization. For a non-marxist analysis, for example, see the article by Hutton (who writes regularly and accessibly in the Guardian, and the Observer, and who has written a best seller -- The State We’re In)

Activity: at this point:

*       turn to page 117-8 of Hall and Jacques and summarise Hall's list of characteristics of postfordism.

*       Try also the original article by Rustin (an abridged version of which appears in Hall and Jacques) - in New Left Review 175 1989). Have a preliminary look at Rustin's critique too.

*       Read the review of a new book on postfordism, by A. Lipietz (a mate of Aglietta's in the Guardian 13 Feb 1993. You can find this on CD-Rom or on paper.

OK now on with the exposition...

4       Certain policy implications followed for the enthusiasts:

*       The trend to postfordism was an irreversible one, a definite 'leading edge' -(so, eg, 'tankies' should leave the Communist Party, and 'real socialists' the Labour Party).

*       socialists must not resist the trend but struggle (what else) to capture the better sides of the developments - and Murray's piece 'Bennetton Britain' in Hall and Jacques offers ways to strengthen the side of labour in the new context.

*       more generally, socialists must learn to articulate (sic) policies based on the new possibilities to win popular consent for Labour's policies (including leisure policies) (apparently interpreted as spend more on PR, all wear suits, look happy on TV etc - successful wasn't it?). NB Tony Blair is alleged to have hailed M Jacques as a major guru. Mulgan and a few others have founded the socialist think-tank DEMOS, while other lefties have gravitated towards other thinktanks.

5       Murray mentions the case of Bennetton as a new postfordist industry, but I recently came across an even stranger case - a post-postfordist one perhaps - KwikSave. This offers us a chance to see how you can make money by not actually producing anything. There are a whole range of these 'industries ' around at the moment, of course, involving movements of money - buying and selling shares, lending money, raising money by taking over rival companies.

Kwiksave seems to operate rather like the example I give in lectures - how my sister started as a plumber and ended as a speculator on copper futures - only it's been a success. According to an interview with the founder on Radio 4, KwikSave makes no money at all from the buying and selling of groceries: indeed, the goods are often sold off below cost price. So what's the source of KwikSave's success? Apparently it all arises from movements of money - the revenues from sales are banked as quickly as possible, and bills are not paid for as long as possible. The money that should have been paid out to suppliers stays in banks earning interest, and the interest provides sufficient funds to pay all creditors (eventually) and return a nice profit to Mr KwikSave. Everything depends on quick sales and rapid supplies, of course, and on creditors waiting for their money (and probably on high interest rates). Of course, Marx (and others) might still be right in thinking that this sort of profit making cannot be really central to long-term economic growth of the system as a whole - but it will be interesting to see how long it can last.

 State and capital - debates

1.      If new patterns are emerging, and if social changes are irreversible, and if there is a need for new socialist policies (and these are ifs - there have been some marvellous critiques of the whole 'New Times' approach from other socialists - Rustin and Hirst in Hall and Jacques - and the wonderful polemic by A. Sivanandan in Communities of Resistance...) it is clear we should all think about new patterns of regulation involving some combination of State (local and national - even international) and capital (ditto).

2.      But what kind of beast is the modern State? How can we turn it to the good side (sorry - a bit of StarWars crept in there)? What contradictions (and there must be some for good socialists) are there, even in the modern neo-conservative state, and how can we exploit them?

3.      One famous approach (not a gramscian one, but/so I like it myself) is offered in a classic by J. Habermas - Legitimation Crisis - written when modern states were largely social-democratic, before the neo-conservative turn that swept Britain, Germany and the USA in the late 70s. Basically,  such states acted as referees in the contest between labour (via organised trades unions mostly) and capital. This involved the state in an increasing managerial role: on the one hand - keeping things stable and open for capital; on the other - involving labour in decision-making in exchange for a level of social discipline and moderate wage demands. Part of the deal with labour involved delivering a 'social wage' - welfare state provision (including leisure), and jobs on quangos.

4.      That kind of state was increasingly prone to crisis, though, and probably still would be, if we still had it. The social democratic state was facing two ways at once, managing an economy based on profit motives, ( or in marxist terminology the commodity form and exchange values), and managing an ever-growing welfare state driven by notions of needs and rights (non-commodity form, use-values). Fumble and botch beckoned, leading to a loss of legitimacy. No-one who remembered it would want to go back.

5.      Habermas's model; of legitimation crisis spells out the possibilities and predicts escalation of the crisis tendencies in subsequent developments:

*       Concentrating on the economy, abandoning the welfare side, going for profit motive staves off one contradiction - but the state cannot manage the economy these days (partly for reasons we've outlined - international money markets etc). Economic crises recur, and the state, having made us all suffer in the name of some apparently universal interest in a stable economy in the first place, loses legitimacy and looks more and more partisan as if it acts only in the name of the few financial fat cats making megabucks while industry sinks. An economic crisis increasingly looks like a political crisis.

*       Committed to economic modernisation as the only answer, states find themselves having to intervene more and more in social matters after all, and with some embarrassment - to push competition into more and more areas, to simulate markets in education to get us all used to it, to weed out backsliders and progressives in the media, to teach people the value of money in local government, to police dissent more and more thoroughly - and so on. Even after all this, though a deeper crisis beckons - the state controls us more and more, imposes more and more on our culture and controls more and more of our motivations - until apathy, lethargy, fatalism, deep resentments, or, worst of all, a ritualism, a mere 'going through the motions' affects us all. Innovation, entrepreneurialism in its best sense, is stifled and discouraged more than ever. This is the nastiest crisis of all - a 'motivation crisis'

6.      We've pushed on a bit from social democratic states to neo-conservative ones, and into Habermas's later work (see his stuff on the neo-conservative turn in Bernstein R (ed) 1985 Habermas and Modernity). As you can see, even from this short bit here, Habermas thinks the crisis will not disappear with conservative withdrawals from the welfare state. You might be interested to read that he also warns of a return to fascism (briefly meaning a politics based on irrational symbols and dangerous emotional appeals and collective myths rather than actual policies) as a likely next step to address the motivation crisis. Can't wait, can you?

Activity: Get nice and pessimistic. Use your experience to comment on the Habermas analysis outlined above as it applies to leisure - eg: have 'market forces' pushed on into leisure provision as far as you know? Are there any signs of any emerging crises as a result? Eg...

*       any crises of leadership, entrepreneurs giving up saying it ain't worth it, investors holding back because they just don't know what will be the next government legislation to affect them? Any signs of permanent disillusionment with the Government?

*       any signs of apathy, disillusionment etc among the clients? Any withdrawal into the private sphere as a result? NB in their different ways, both Rojek (Capitalism...) and Baudrillard (eg his 1988 Selected Writings, ed M Poster) predict widespread apathy and private cynicism among mass audiences, although not quite for the same reasons as Habermas.

*       for a revealing account of the failures of even a fascist attempt to make people do leisure, defeated by the constructive apathy of the Italian people, see De Grazia in Donald J and Hall S (eds)1986 Politics and Ideology

 Conservatism/Social Democracy

1.      It follows from what we said above that there are serious dilemmas for those wishing to overcome Thatcherism - eg:

*       Was it permanent or temporary - simply a Tory Party vote-winner or representing something more deep-seated and long term?

*       What should socialists do about it - keep opposing it until it runs out of steam, or deal with it some other way (eg pinch the best bits of it).

2.      One famous approach was developed by the New Times group, and by S. Hall especially, over a number of publications and pieces (see Harris Ch.10 for details). Briefly, Thatcherism came to be seen as a clever political discourse, weaving together ('articulating') a number of plausible accounts of social change in Britain in ways which did genuinely touch upon significant grievances among the voting public. This was very skilfully done and had a broad appeal - many people were fed up with bureaucratic rigidities, the tedium of the old order, the unions. Some of the grievances and promises to right them were contradictory or strange - but Thatcherism managed to weave them all together, at least sufficiently well to gain power and launch what was to be a very radical programme of transformation of British life.

3.      Increasingly, Hall and the others became convinced that the solution for socialists was to work equally hard at an alternative articulation of grievances and solutions which would sweep Labour to power - once the secret of Thatcherism had been unlocked by sufficient academic analysis, of course. Labour (and the CP) had to be changed first, though.

4. However, socialist articulations could not be merely linguistic manipulations, mere sound bites designed cynically to express some ill-thought-out malaise. Such cynical articulations were the stock-in trade of the despised SDP of the 1980s and were subjected to fierce critique (in The Hard Road to Renewal). The truly socialist articulation would still have to blend some real issues. It is easy to see here some lingering marxist theory, of course, some continued belief in the reality of the class/sex/’race’ struggle, or of radical experience and tradition.

5.      Considerable objections were raised to the analysis, principally:

*       Jessop and his colleagues (in New Left Reviews 147, 153, 165, 179) launched a number of attacks on the 'over-ideological' nature of Hall's analysis of Thatcherism, the over-emphasis on ideas and articulation at the expense of a grasp of the real effects of Thatcherite economics (basically - to create two nations in Britain, and rely upon the electoral bloc of the rich nation - not a very stable tactic in the end, they argued)

*       Other marxists (eg in their different fields Whitty and Johnson - email me for references if you are interested in Thatcherism and education) agreed with Jessop et al that Hall had made far too much of the unifiying effects of Thatcherite political discourse and underestimated the considerable instability of the project as it tried to reconcile different political factions. Here, there are undertones of the Habermas analysis outlined above - that all modern states face great difficulties in legitimating themselves (or at least in modernising and legitimating the changes).

Activity: to end with - what is the state of play now that the main parties have changed? For example:

· Thatcherism was replaced (?) by Majorism? What were the major (sic) ideological themes in Majorism? What were the main economic policies? . Has the State been ‘rolled back’ or has it become a modern necessity? . What general appeals can still be launched to unite us behind the Government? Where do alternatives lie now?

· Blair has reformed the Labour Party, so where do Labour stand now? New Labour seems to have embraced the market economy, Europe, lower taxation (so lower State spending), competition and targets for public services -- and much else besides.  Is New Labour the (one-nation) Conservative Party, or the petit-bourgeoisie’s mouthpiece? Is New Labour the Mark II SDP -- all articulation and no real policies? Can  ‘the new responsibility’ offer a universal appeal? Is the 'Third Way' a mere gesture?