45-degree change model -
verticalities, horizontalities and mediation
Introducing 45-degree change
Critical to this (45-Degree Change) are new forms of connective leadership. Transforming the world will require new knowledge from both the horizontal and vertical knowledge worlds. The popular production of knowledge from innovative horizontal practices will be assisted by new forms of lateral digital communication and exchange, whereby citizens can find things out for themselves and exchange experiences, thereby becoming more specialist. But the knowledge world cannot simply be transformed from below; it also requires progressive forms of specialisation from technical experts who are prepared to serve a universal and progressive cause because their vertical knowledge is informed by a horizontal dimension (for example, open source software and a new public internet will require progressive programmers). This accumulated sharing of knowledge has been referred to as the ‘general intellect’:
(Neal Lawson, 2019. 45-Degree Change, Compass Publications).
Figure 1. 45-Degree Change
This web page builds on the previous page 21st Century Gramscian Theory and Politics by further interpreting the extended Gramscian concepts through the 45-Degree Change Model.
Figure 1 represents a Gramscian approach to understanding the relationship between state and civil society in the creation of progressive change. Neal Lawson (2019) used this schema to argue that 45-degrees, representing the intersections of state and civil society, can become the faultline of creative politics that combine the energies of networked social features civil society with the solidity of institutions. The combination of both dimensions is required for sustainable progressive change.
In early 2019 I was involved in these Compass deliberations and subsequently developed the 45-degree metaphor into a more general political and theoretical framework emerging from the study of Conservative political hegemony and critiques of top-down socialism/social democracy and network idealism. As part of this reformulation, the axes of state/institutions and civil society were relabelled 'verticalities' and 'horizontalities' and the 45-degree line became known as the '45-degree zone of mediation'. These reconceptualisations encouraged several further theoretical developments.
First, verticalities and horizontalities are broader definitions than the original labels of institutions and civil society, allowing each of the axes to contain different elements that can be arranged into 'assemblages of hegemony'.
Second, as a unified framework, the 45-degree change model recognises that both the dominant and subaltern and dominant blocs operate within the same political parameters (albeit in differing ways) and that the 45-degree framework is thus one of social and political contestation. As part of this and as demonstrated in the previous web page, the concepts of horizontalities, verticalities and 45-degree mediation have additional analytical value by providing new ways of conceptualizing the formation of 'historical blocs' both regressive and progressive.
Third, the concept of the 45-degree mediation zone is similarly broad and multi-layered, containing several theoretical and activity elements as part of the general exercise of hegemony and counter-hegemony.
Taken together, these conceptual innovations arguably represent a new theoretical approach to change, the different parts of which are explored throughout the Ken Spours 2024 website.
Regressive Historical Blocs
Established and dominant historical blocs - economic-political-social-ideological formations - are essential for the exercise and maintenance of capitalist hegemony. Without the 'assemblages' that surround the capitalist class, its rule would be routinely threatened. Furthermore, an understanding of capitalist renewal over recent decades is to be found as much within the anatomy of regressive historical blocs as within the class itself. Dominant historical blocs (transnational and nationally based) can be seen to comprise three related components - regressive verticalities, horizontalities and mediation. Regarding the proportions of each within this type of historical bloc, verticalities constitute the main component, whereas horizontalities play a relatively minor role. That said, the extent to which dominant forces reach into the horizontal world to frame everyday relations is an important sign of their hegemony. Accordingly, the main regressive mediation activities are to be found within the vertical sphere.
Figure 2. Regressive verticalities, horizontalities and mediation
Multiple regressive verticalities
This collective term refers to 'assemblages' of vertical economic, political and ideological structures and relations associated with the hegemony of the dominant bloc. Current verticalities (of the neoliberal kind) play a highly regressive role and have been instrumental in the renewal of capitalism and the marginalisation of progressive forces over the past four decades. It is helpful to view regressive verticalities as a multi-layered set of 'coercive regimes'.
Globalised neoliberal capitalism - comprises a range of national capitalist systems. Gramsci originally saw economic relations as part of civil society. However, there are good reasons to view neoliberal capitalism as part of a verticality due to its coercive nature and its close integration with hierarchic transnational and national institutions. Within this overall economic system, excessive private wealth can also be seen as part of this economic regime and thus, a verticality due to how it can 'purchase power'.Neoliberal economic globalisation, together with its ideological and political assemblages, has dominated the economic and political climate of the past 40 years. This hegemony has contributed to the claim of the inevitability of capitalism in which there is no alternative. Neoliberal globalisation has been led by Anglo-Saxon capitalism (the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK). But the globalised order also contains varieties of capitalism including Asiatic state-led capitalism and the more socialised capitalism associated with Germanic and Nordic countries. The bipolar world of US imperialism and Soviet Socialism has been replaced by a much more fractured global landscape in which severe competition within varieties of capitalism (notably between the US and China) is weakening Anglo-Saxon leadership. Moreover, the sense of capitalist inevitability has been called into question since the 2008 Banking Crisis. It can be reasonably argued that all these capitalisms are now involved in a chronic global poly-crisis.
National political and governmental states - has been the established Gramscian definition of the vertical. The political governmental state comprises state institutions as well as powerful private organisations, such as the media organisations that are closely linked to the machinery of government. This part of the expanded state also includes those that are influenced by representative democracy, such as Parliament. As Figure 1 illustrates, these can be located closer to the 45-degree line. Interestingly, political parties can located on either side of the median according to the extent of their internal democracy and the strength of their relationship with the forces of civil society.
Dominant organic intellectuals - one of the great theoretical contributions of Gramsci was an understanding of the role of 'organic intellectuals' who give the dominant class and its wider social and political bloc a sense of cultural and political direction by articulating particular values and attempting to overcome apparent contradictions of outlook within the dominant historical bloc. The role of regressive role organic intellectuals is thus overwhelmingly ideological and political. In early 20th Century Italy, these included political leaders, state functionaries, business leaders, the Catholic clergy, philosophers and academics and those leading the printed media. By the same token, Gramsci insisted that to create the basis for future rule the subaltern classes had to develop their own organic intellectuals, both individual and collective. In the 21st Century, the organic intellectuals of the dominant bloc are more varied and numerous including those not only those identified by Gramsci, but with the critical addition of people working for Big Tech, the financial sector and the multitude of social media bloggers committed to reactionary causes.
Platform technologies - while the use of new social media can be seen as a 'horizontality' allowing for informal and formal networking, the actual organisation of social media through Big Tech companies is undoubtedly a verticality. Its coercive role has been highlighted by Shoshana Zuboff's concept of Surveillance Capitalism which details how everyday personal data is harvested by platform capitalism to produce behavioural predictive products, described as the 'behavioural surplus'.
Legacy verticalities - are historical vertical influences – institutional and ideological - particularly affecting the formation of dominant organic intellectuals including traditional hierarchical knowledge in universities. Countries in the Global South also experience legacy verticalities through post-colonial environments and the current impact of international aid and debt regimes administered through transnational organisations such as the IMF and World Bank.
Interactions within the vertical assemblage - these vertical elements play different roles within the exercise of hegemony at various levels. At the level of globalised Anglo-Saxon capitalism its essential mode of operation, based on financialised capital and property-based accumulation, has resulted in a prolonged economic crisis (the 2008 banking crash and low growth since). Simultaneously, state-capitalist systems such as China have grown to the point that they now threaten US economic hegemony and this competition has become a major source of global tension. In the allied political-military field, rivalry between NATO and Russia has flared up into outright war in Ukraine. The Israel-Palestine conflict also has its links to US hegemony, reflected in its so far uncritical support for the Israeli apartheid regime. At this global level, it's increasingly evident that Western neoliberal hegemony is being challenged and that the previously dominant order is in retreat.
In the case of the UK, globalised neoliberal capitalism provides the wider political economy context within which policy is formulated. It also provides the private and corporate wealth underpinning regressive power. Recently, Neal Lawson and I have described the relationship between national politics and this wider context as the 'Ship and the Sea', in which the aim of progressive politics should not only be to build of ship of change but also to harness the energies of the sea.
The fulcrum of regressive verticalities in the UK context appears to be a tight relationship between wealth, powers of the governmental state and conservative ideologies of either the neoliberal or populist kind. At the same time, however, and from the perspective of the dominant bloc, the relationship between verticalities can be far from harmonious. Contradictions occur in any historical formation. The continued problems of neoliberalism following the 2008 Banking Crash were laid bare by the Conservative policy of austerity from 2010 onwards, a populist reaction in the form of Brexit and then Johnson's disastrous premiership. The UK crisis of neoliberalism and Right Populist Turn has sparked new crises which threaten to bring the current Conservative political era to a close in 2024.
The key role of regressive political organic intellectuals (e.g. Conservative Party, Right-wing formal media and social media) is to attempt to lessen these contradictions and to restore a sense of order. Within the UK, insofar as government by the Conservative Party is a clear sign of restoration/continuity, their mission presently looks a hopeless one. But this doesn't mean there are no other possible lines of action. If the Conservative Party cause is a lost one for now, then its mission could be to politically weaken the mandate of Starmer's Labour and possibly foment a new far-Right movement when it does form a government.
As a result of the impact of dominant verticalities and regressive mediation, horizontalities can also exist in regressive or, more accurately, in disorganised and restrictive forms. This is reflected when forces of the dominant bloc have been sufficiently confident to make ideological forays into the horizontal realm, notably to privatise the social realm, individuate social relations and restrict progressive thinking through its domination of privately-owned media. The disorganisation of the horizontal also includes the distractions of the culture of consumerism and narrow performative approaches to education. This area of 45-degree analysis deserves further attention and, in particular, the shaping of popular 'common sense'.
Regressive 45-degree mediation by the political and ideological forces of the dominant bloc includes the attempted alignment of vertical forces and factors to eliminate contradictions within the bloc formation required to maintain regressive hegemony. The major disjuncture for the dominant bloc is the tension between the concentration of wealth of the few and the development of democracy that involves the many. For the dominant bloc, therefore, the historical task is a predominantly political-ideological one to persuade sections of the people to support their continued leadership as the keepers of a 'superior' capitalist system to which there is no alternative. This is an example of aligning the economic and political systems. Regressive mediation at its most ambitious includes attempts to absorb the horizontal ideas and energies of the subaltern forces to produce new political and social settlements that, on balance, benefit the dominant force. As is often the case, a political and social crisis brings a response that constitutes the 'least possible' to restore some sense of order. This process of 'modernisation from above' was described by Gramsci as 'Passive Revolution'.
Progressive historical blocs as political-economy-ecology ecosystems
Verticalities can also exist in a progressive form, although there are currently fewer instances of these. A leading example would be scenarios in which progressive political parties win national and transnational elections and thus take control of national parliaments. Other examples would include the progressive role of universities in producing new knowledge and the role of regional and local governments in coordinating economic strategies. Future change, however, will require what has been described as 'facilitating verticalities', in which progressive forces occupy and steer state-led strategies and transform national and international institutions. This promises to be a long historical process because of neoliberal capitalist resistance to deep and meaningful change.
Progressive horizontalities refer to assemblages of horizontal economic, political and ideological relations mainly associated with subaltern economic, political and ideological relations. The subaltern assemblage of horizontal relations, associated with Civil Society and emergent progressive Historical Bloc, can also contain elements of the vertical, reflecting hegemonic ambitions and role of 45-degree mediation. The most prominent progressive horizontality with significant verticalities in UK presently is local and city-based government.
As Figure 1 shows, however, the horizontal zone contains a variety of social, political and ideological elements including:
Radical civil society organisations including trade unions, elements of local government, civic anchor institutions;
Private and social relations
Shared socialized knowledge (common sense to the General Intellect)
Emergent organic Intellectuals
Socialised digital technologies
The assemblage of horizontalities is overwhelmingly located in civil society. Moreover, horizontalities tend to be more localised, hence the issue as to how they can develop into progressive institutional forms.
Figure 3. Progressive 45-degree mediation of the vertical and horizontal
Progressive 45-degree mediation focuses on building a new historical bloc by organising and connecting various horizontal forces (e.g. social movements and campaigns, civil society initiatives and trade unions). At the same time, progressive mediation also involves institution-building at the local and regional levels through local government and the reform of national institutions when progressive political parties have won general elections. This type of mediation is focused on developing 'facilitating verticalities'.
Progressive mediation at its broadest can be defined as the 'organisation of the totality of horizontal and vertical relations to create a hegemonic progressive settlement. At this point, a distinction can be made between weak and strong mediation. Progressive mediation is at its strongest when mediation activities are organised into reciprocating layers in the 45-degree zone of innovation comprising multilayered socio-political-economic-ecology-technological-spatial terrains and relations. This is where the ‘progressive historical bloc’ is optimally developed. Conversely, mediation activities could be considered as weaker when they are isolated and not involved in synergistic relations.
Key mediating factors would include the following.
Mediating mission - a common mission to work with horizontal and vertical forces that create a sense of historical direction and unite the various social partners.
Mediating actors – leadership role of organic intellectuals to create a progressive political economy-ecology.
Mediating organisations - collective and institutional leadership of terrains and relations including civic institutions, local government and political parties.
Mediating thinking – the Organic Intellect – the combining of a progressive horizontal General Intellect and progressive vertical Connective Specialisation to create transformative ‘praxis’.
Mediating activities - reforming vertical factors and forces (facilitating verticalities) and connecting horizontal factors and forces (collaborative horizontalities).
Mediating technologies – the role of socially assistive AI/ML to enhance mediating thinking and activities.
This layering of mediating factors and forces could also be viewed as a political-economy-ecology ecosystem, in which the construction of a progressive historical bloc is enhanced and accelerated by synergistic relationships between economic, social, political, cultural and technological factors to produce different social ecosystem variants. Figure 3 contains the Social Ecosystem (Learning and Skills variant) produced in the 45-degree zone.
Historicity is integral to Gramscian thinking as a result of his assertion that every human idea and activity can be explained by its relationship to wider historical social, political and economic factors. Here it will be argued that it is important to build on the concept of historicity to conceptualise two different approaches to time - progressive and regressive.
Regressive time - regressive approaches to time can take a number of forms.
The end of history - with the collapse of the Soviet socialist model, Francis Fukuyama (1992) declared that liberal democracy and free-market capitalism marked the final phase of human economic and political development and thus constituted the 'end of history'. This capitalist determinism replaced the socialist determinist idea that socialism would automatically replace capitalism.
The expanded present - Christopher Pollitt in his work on institutional amnesia argued that the absence of organizational memory and constant change contributed to an expanded present. In previous work I have taken the idea of an expanded present further by linking it more overtly
However, the new polycrisis and new ecosystem ideas mean building on the concept of historicity to develop a progressive ecological concept of time.
Ecological time as slow and deliberative development - in earlier social ecosystem work, the concept of 'ecological time' was conceptualised as a 'long haul' of social ecosystem development. The idea of the slow expansion of social ecosystem relations and systems was contrasted to the generation/degeneration/spin-off cycles of the marketised entrepreneurial ecosystem model. However, the emergence of polycrisis has prompted further reflections on the concept of time.
Polycrisis and constrained time - due to wasted decades of relative inaction, Humanity has a little more than 10 years to move decisively towards Net Zero. The recognition of constrained time can be regarded as a new historical phenomenon.