Generic Left: And Now For More Of That Scintillating Political Positioning Stuff (Part 2)


Spank your mouse here for part one.

Back when it was a short-trousered blog-based non-phenomenon, the Bemolution was also influenced by the anthropologically-tinged historical perspective of Ken Livingstone, Labour left-winger and ex-Mayor of London. From his 1989 manifesto for the ‘90s, Livingstone’s Labour:

“We evolved over 5 million years as a cooperative animal. Throughout that time the norm was for ten to thirty early humans to live together in extended groups, in much the same way as a the great apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees do today … The whole evolution of our species over 5 million years is thus linked to cooperative groups and values. When Mrs Thatcher argues that there is no such thing as society but only the individual, she is denying the very essence of our humanity”.

Ken’s fairly devastating conclusion: “Almost all that has happened to us in these few thousand years has gone against the grain of our evolved, cooperative humanity”. There’s no point trying to pretend human pre-history was all bounteous and lovely – it was undoubtedly grim.

But it’s also very clear that, out of blunt necessity, for the vast majority of their existence human beings have lived far more equal, social, cooperative lives than the ones we lead today. The unnaturally atomised, individualistic way of life we’ve been forced into, particularly over the last few decades, looks a very likely root cause for increasing levels of unhappiness and depression amongst relatively very affluent Westerners.


From Buddhism Without Beliefs by another Bemolutionary favourite, agnostic Buddhist writer Stephen Batchelor:

“In today’s liberal democracies we are brought up to realise our potential as autonomous individuals. It is hard to envisage a time when so many people have enjoyed comparable freedoms.

Yet the very exercise of these freedoms in the service of greed, aggression, and fear has led to breakdown of communities, destruction of the environment, wasteful exploitation of resources, the perpetuation of tyrannies, injustices and inequalities.

Instead of creatively realising their freedoms, many choose the unreflective conformism dictated by television, indulgence in mass consumerism, or numbing their feelings of anguish and alienation with drugs”.

Buddhism has always appealed because of its focus of selflessness, compassion, and the trivial nature of the material things we immerse ourselves in opposed to what really matters.

Like all mammalian life, humans are just naturally-occurring sacks of chemical reactions. We’re spat into directionless existence and very quickly spat out again, after which, the Bemolution believes, you’re permanently, irreversibly dead. And the greatest thing you can do with your brief and arbitrary spell above ground isn’t to make as much money as possible, or score your name into the annals of history, or be pictured being sick in a bin on the front of Hello! magazine, it’s trying anything and everything you can to reduce the preventable suffering in the world and ensure the wellbeing of everyone alive.

Writ large, it’s a worldview with clear political implications. If our culture didn’t excuse sociopathic levels of self-obsession and greed, the big answers to the problems we face would be rationally and morally obvious. Take some of the excess squandered in one part of the world and use it to take billions out of poverty elsewhere. Society blatantly needs reorganising, not just for the wellbeing but for the continued existence of the species.

Paul Foot
Paul Foot

The sadly deceased Paul Foot was a ferocious Trotskyist journalist and political campaigner. What set him apart from so many other Marxists was his ability to write with seemingly effortless clarity:

Neoliberals claim “the ‘free market’ system which has made them rich is the only known system which fits what is produced to what people want and need. Yet the plainest fact of all about a world dominated by the market demonstrates exactly the opposite.

From every corner of the world comes the suffocated howl of millions of people whose desperate needs and wants are being systematically ignored. What a waste it all is! How many men women and children are flushed down the pan of history without even for a day savouring their own abilities, dreams and joys”.

A quarter-century post-communism, thirty years into the neoliberal dystopia, it’s become fairly inflammatory to say you think socialism is a way forward. We’ve discussed how the ‘S’ word has been systematically slandered before on this blog, so we won’t dwell on it again now – suffice to say, rubbishing an incredibly broad, versatile idea about how societies should be run because one narrow interpretation of it was warped into something horrific is like refusing to touch sea food again after one abhorrent prawn paella.

For all its crazed cod-philosophical ramblings, then, the Bemolution’s practical politics boil down to something very familiar. Socialism doesn’t have to be an intellectualised nightmare, although it’s striking how rarely it’s expressed in accessible terms. It’s important, because there are potentially thousands of people who could be won over by a broad, clear, primary colours radical perspective.

In essence, socialism is just a different way of running societies – radically restructuring them to be more equitable and humane. Taking power and wealth from tiny, privileged minorities and handing it back to the vast majority. The result? Less rich people, no impoverished people in affluent countries, less mad materialist excess in the West, no people dying through lack of food and clean drinking water in the South. Huge investment to stabilise and rebuild those areas ravaged by extreme poverty and violence.

Public control of socially crucial services and industries. Investment in creating jobs for the sake of employment rather than private profit, and strict limitations on working hours and conditions to restore some semblance of work-life balance. And an end to the private schooling and private healthcare that raise a tiny minority above society.

Far fewer decisions made by unrepresentative political elites sitting in rich capital cities, much more local decision-making. Radical, genuine democracy – important decisions put to votes of the people affected, and much more direct public participation in running supposedly public-owned services. In general, a reassertion of the superiority of the electorate above all else – above corporate interests, above elected politicians, above unelected civil servants.

Our own shambolic worldview is personal nonsense, and we’re in no way attempting to disseminate it as some viable alternative way of looking at the world. Some people might like it, others won’t. These, on the other hand, are ideas that most left-wingers can agree on. At a time when things look so dire for the Left, it’s this common ground we need to be focussing on as we try and get radical ideas back in the popular consciousness, and chisel away at a consensus furiously hostile to them.

Let’s face it: despite it being well within our capabilities as a species, the emergence of a political system like the one described above remains woefully unlikely any decade soon, and that’s the whole problem.

We’re not so much battling for socialism as fighting for the survival of the very idea that there’s any sort of alternative to the system we live under now, pitted against profound public apathy and deeply ingrained neoliberal attitudes. Anyone and everyone who believes in that alternative needs to chuck aside their differences and band together, recognising the seriousness of the hole we find ourselves in.

This is the ‘Generic Left’ we’ve been flogging to within an inch of its life. Far too much time and effort has been wasted by leftists arguing with people who believe fundamentally the same things as themselves but differ on minor details. That level of self-indulgence has to end, as left-wingers pragmatically cooperate to pull radical politics out of the pit it finds itself in. It’s not about us all holding hands and skipping off into a lovely egalitarian future. It’s about getting all hands on deck, because otherwise we’re going under.

GA Cohen
GA Cohen

Yes, it’s not the cheeriest of ways to end. You can delude yourself into thinking the road to a better world is a lot smoother than it actually is and live your life being vacantly jovial. Or you can be glumly realistic and better appreciate the size of the task. It’s worth recalling the words of another dead leftist, this one a genial academic who started out as a Marxist, lost faith in the prescriptions of the Bearded One but continued as what you could call a ‘generic’ radical socialist. From G.A. Cohen’s Why Not Socialism:

“Any attempt to realise the socialist ideal runs up against entrenched capitalist power and individual human selfishness. Politically serious people must take these obstacles seriously. But they are not reasons to disparage the ideal itself.

The socialist ideal is to extend community and justice to the whole of our economic life. I agree with Albert Einstein – socialism is humanity’s attempt to ‘overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development’’.

Our attempt to get beyond predation has thus far failed. I do not think the right conclusion is to give up”.

Final Thought

One last note, though – the Bemolution believes it’s vital that socialism is reinvented as the natural, rational response to our swelling populations and the approaching climate crisis.

Ecology isn’t something to be flippantly stapled onto pre-existing ideas about the world. For the sake of the species, the planet, and everything else we share it with, we need to bang on about the destruction of the environment as the pinnacle of what’s wrong with a system that prioritises short-term profit over long-term planning.

The aim has to be a world where Westerners have, buy and consume less, inequality is radically reduced, partly to cut the richest, most ecology-ravaging sections of society down to size, and much smaller, sustainable economies direct investment towards social wellbeing and producing only what people really need.