Too-modest proposal

by
30 January 2007

Peter Day doubts the efficacy of this reform aimed at subverting capitalist thinking

Crossing the River of Fire: Mark’s Gospel and global capitalism
Wilf Wilde
Epworth Press £16.99 (978-0-7162-0599-9)
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

THIS IS an urgent and angry book that tries to do too much, and yet not enough. It is also unusual: not many Christian Socialists have earned a living in the City of London, as its author has. Wilf Wilde is an economist who worked in the oil industry, and then as a stockbroker.

But do not expect insider revelations about the City. This is a book with a large canvas; as he says, it is a strange mixture of theology, political economy, and history, born out of great disillusionment with the state of the world, and of socialism.

Wilf Wilde was introduced to Marx in 1971, and became a Christian in the same year. His closest readers will probably have followed a similar path. His Christ is a revolutionary; and he is angry with the way New Labour has (as he sees it) betrayed the mainstream Labour movement, and handed it over to global capitalism.

The first part of the book is a history lesson, a torrent of ideas, a tumult of citations. The Americas, Germany and England in 1914, and Africa are all examined in the context of colonialisation and then globalisation.

Part Two is a Bible analysis arising from this view of history. Mark’s Gospel is shot through with a much greater sense of the social, political, and economic ideas than normal analysis admits of, says Wilf Wilde. This is Mark’s Gospel as subversive, Christ as a political revolutionary, the Magnificat as a battle hymn.

After all this, the final chapter brings a distinct sense of anticlimax. It is a rather modest proposal: an alternative to global capital rooted only in Britain. “Because I am British. And rather than worrying about [global] institutions we cannot control, British Christians can at least engage here.” William Morris is the inspiration.

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It is only on page 249, ten pages short of the end, that Wilf Wilde launches what he tentatively describes as “A revolutionary reform for Britain?”(his question mark). This is a plan to turn every public company into a mutually owned social co-operative, by giving every beneficial owner one vote. He admits it may not sound much of a reform, but he says it will subvert the legitimacy of both capital and capitalist thinking.

I fancy it would take much more than just a vote. As we saw with mass privatisation in the 1980s, mass ownership of shares is ownership by no one, just as nobody really “owned” the great mutual building societies. It is quite a step from this back to the apocalyptic visions by which we have reached it.

This is a curious book — disturbing, but strangely muted. It will be a certain challenge to Christian Socialists, and for some an inspiration. The rest of us may well be left behind by that torrent of ideas.

Peter Day is the presenter of In Business on BBC Radio 4, and Global Business on the BBC World Service.

To place an order for this book, email details to CT Bookshop

To place an order for this book, email details to CT Bookshop

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