The blogosphere reverberates with people self-importantly telling each other what ‘the Left’ should be doing. What the world and her springer spaniel are clearly crying out for, then, is another deeply unpopular, laughably unlikely ramshackle leftist strategy, hastily rammed in the virtual left-wing suggestion box and probably never seen again. The Bemolution lives to serve.
The Left should radically and unsentimentally revamp itself, turning what is all too often a fossilised remnant of the early twentieth century into something specifically addressing the social, political and ecological here and now. It should drop the blinkered obsession with past ideological battles. Instead, it needs to hammer itself back into contemporary relevance, going back to first principles and relating them afresh to the way the world is today.
Ecological crisis looms, providing humanity with the biggest threat to its continued existence in thousands of years. Faced with probable environmental disaster, caused for the most part by the growth-obsession and chronic waste of a culture skewed in the interests of the scandalously wealthy, we need to radically reshape civilisation and make our species live within its means. A system that has already used and abused millions of individual homo sapiens as disposable tools for enriching tiny minorities, along with squandering the potential of millions more by dismissing them as stupid and/or leaving them to flounder in poverty, is now well on the way to ravaging the planet beyond the point of no return.
The Left should take environmental crisis and build a new left-wing position around it. Elite-serving mega-capitalism now threatens the very basis of life itself. Fighting for liberty, equality and human wellbeing has become fairly meaningless without a wholehearted commitment to the preservation of the ecosystem, and a shambolic and disunited twenty-first century Left should see this as an opportunity. It should band together around this most ominous of big issues, and push for social and economic equality as part of a general drive towards sustainable living.
It needs a new Red/Green perspective, fighting for real, radical democracy, the end of economic growth, an eco-minded overhaul in energy production, transport and farming, and a fairly huge reduction in the amount we consume and waste. And it needs to be radically humanitarian – clawing its way towards a sustainable world organised so that no-one has all that much more than they need to live healthily and comfortably, and no-one has less.
Circa 2013, the Left’s fundamental aim should be to make economics answerable to politics, and make politics work in the interest of roughly seven billion stringy bipedal organisms and their environment rather than a jumped-up minority.
As it stands…
As the social and cultural terrain that sustained it for decades has buckled, the Left has been bent into strange, insular, uncooperative shapes. It’s been warped by years of setbacks, and its various components, always going through periods of mutual hostility, seem more scattered and divided now than ever. Brief alliances of convenience – Iraq, anti-cuts etc. – can’t count when the primary lefty socioeconomic objectives are still so woefully far away from being achieved.
Really, the Left is fighting for its continued existence. It needs to make itself relevant in the next few decades or accept near-extinction as society moves on without it. Ideally, before that time, it needs to get its act together, which means jumping on its ideological JCB and burying the quibbling hatchets that have left it divided and next-to-irrelevant for the best part of twenty years.
This blog spouts from the position that a lot of Marxism just isn’t applicable any more, that Marx-worship has probably prevented the emergence of new kinds of radical left-wing thought more suited to the present day and, more fundamentally, that the fixation with such a dense and inaccessible kind of political thinking actually hurts the modern-day prospects of equality, liberty, proper democracy and all the rest. Of course, some of it remains dazzlingly insightful and extremely relevant – especially in the hands of the Gramscis and Marcuses, and Harveys and Zizeks of the world. But out of horrible necessity, the quarrelsome factions of the Left will have to be mutually tolerant and, for many, uncomfortably pragmatic.
The Left needs to sell itself on practical left-wing policies and a broad vision of an alternative to neoliberalism, rather than one or other particular philosophical underpinning – a kind of ‘generic’ Left, accessible, inclusive, and based on the values and principles that unite left-wingers rather than the scraps of ideology that divide them.
If the Left was sensible, open-minded and reasonably coherent, which it probably isn’t, it would pull together out of necessity. The odds against leftish change are now vertiginously huge, and, especially given the crusty insanity of the British electoral system, the more fragmented you are, the less clout you have. Yes, trying to get left-wing ideas into the public domain is one long head-banging tussle with media disinterest and bias. But by fragmenting into miniscule grouplets and talking in a baffling private language, the Left has also contributed to its own media exile. It has made itself blissfully easy to ignore.
This is an era in which altruism, collectivism, egalitarianism, and the cartload of other standard-issue ‘isms’ of the Left have gone majorly out of style. Culturally and politically, prevailing ideas are often impenetrably hostile to anything even mildly socialistic.
With so much stacked against it, the Left can only claw its way back into contention by clubbing together, getting savvy about how it communicates, and generally maximising its effectiveness in the necessary battle for the airwaves. Political common sense has been defined by the Right for decades, and if we stand any chance of changing that, the alien jargon has to go. We have to talk plainly about economic democracy and environmental sustainability, pulling them out of the clouds and tying them to people’s everyday experiences.
The market crash, recession then state-imposed ‘austerity’ have massively increased public awareness of how the economy is dominated by a self-serving financial elite. There’s a chance this can be built on and turned into some kind of foundation-rattling popular movement that can force political prioritises to change. The eco-politics will be harder to sell. We need to hammer home the grisly truth of climate change, that our present inaction is jeopardising the future for the generations to come – that more of the same today equals no tomorrow.
But in both cases, as in so many others, it’s neoliberalism that stands in the way. Old-style social democrats, greens, communists, Trotskyists, anarchists, third-world focused humanitarians and assorted discontents too busy to work out where they are on some Dulux colour chart of left-wingery are united by the need to break the neoliberal chokehold. We need to clearly, inclusively and non-dogmatically rebut the neoliberalism mainstream elite politics has gone bananas for – and, in everyday language zealously purged of exclusive jargon, to broadcast an alternative.
Fuzzy postulations are all very well, but how is any of this going to actually come about? Well, to end on a typically mordant note, it probably isn’t. Our situation is bleakly unpromising for all the usual grand international socioeconomic reasons that have been banged on about ad museum elsewhere on this blog. But even if a more equitable, humane, sustainable world isn’t exactly looking likely any time soon, what about the far more modest objective of at least achieving a vaguely coherent and effective British Left?
In the UK, the odds are mightily stacked against any attempt at some left-of-New Labour political party. That hasn’t stopped people trying – dismally unsuccessfully, it has to be said – and it won’t stop people trying again. This approach stills has a few ‘pros’, though. Even though its chances of power would be laughably tiny, a kind of left-wing UKIP equivalent could force Labour leftward for fear of losing votes.
On the other hand, huge amounts of political time, effort and energy would result in next to no electoral impact – our warped voting system heavily discriminating against smaller parties and leaving the power pendulum swinging exasperatingly between Labour and the Tories.
Then there’s the Labour Party. Socialist types have always tried to use Labour’s clout to push for more radical ends than a perennially risk-averse party leadership. It’s always contained activists who have done sterling work, fighting the corner for the hard-working and underpaid, defending the vulnerable and the like. There’s an argument, sometimes quite convincing, that left-wingers should re-join Labour, play the long game, and seek to influence how it develops in the decades to come
Then again, there’s also a depressingly persuasive counter-argument that says Labour is now full of hustling careerists who earned their political stripes during the Blair era, are unbendingly hostile to anything even mildly left-wing, and who have destroyed internal party democracy. It is, after all, a neoliberalised sham of what it once was thanks to Tony and co.
The answer, so it seems, is that there is no answer – no ‘good’ way for the Left to move forward. We’ve living through bleak and turbulent times, and, to be brutally realistic, whatever leftists try is fairly likely to be met with failure in the short-term. But for the small matter of the continued existence of everything alive, we have to do everything we can to maximise our chances of success – and that means cobbling together an non-dogmatic, jargon-free, eco-focused and inclusive Left for a new century that’s going to be radically different to the one that preceded it.