Saturday, November 27, 2004


The death of the Left?

An interesting speculation on the death of the Left by Martin Jacques was published last week in the Guardian.

Jacques focuses on the historical incongruity of right-winger Tony Blair as head of the Labour Party.

"Think the unthinkable" was the message - though it never amounted to more than entertaining what previously would have been regarded as too rightwing. Neoliberalism became the new commonsense, privatisation was embraced with ardour, the notion of equality banished from the lexicon. This is all familiar territory. Yet we need to be reminded of it because, by any pre-97 yardstick, it is extraordinary. Apart from a very limited attachment to the state, this prime minister, by that old yardstick, does not belong to the left; he lies to the right of every Tory prime minister since the war bar, of course, his political lodestar, Mrs Thatcher.

And the reason?

The reason for the collapse of the left could not be clearer - or more fundamental. Its parameters, its confidence, its mode of organisation, its narrative, its very being, depended on the existence of the labour movement. And it is the latter that has effectively disappeared. The trade unions are a shrunken and wizened version of what they were, pushed to the perimeters of political life, while the party itself has, in its New Labour guise, been reconstituted, such that in style, funding and apparat, it looks much like what a modernised Tory party might be. Labour has been shorn of its roots and meaning.

And the consequences?

The left may have been marginalised - but the imperatives that gave rise to it and which it sought to address are now more glaring and insistent than at any time since the second world war. Inequality, at both a global and national level, has been steadily increasing, an integral product of the neoliberal model of globalisation that has dominated the world order over the last quarter-century. And the consequences of this inequality have played a crucial role in helping to shape the present phase of global politics, namely Arab Muslim grievance, terrorism and American unilateralism.

And then there is the other imperative — imperialism. It is ironic that a term, a concept, nay a phenomenon, so deeply associated with the left, should have returned with such a vengeance — in its most naked form since the collapse of the European empires — so soon after the demise of the left and when so many New Labour-style witchdoctors were declaring the old to be dead and history to be bunk. Welcome to empire and colonialism: history is back in town

Jacques concludes—

The left, as history knew it, will not be reborn. But one can be sure that its concerns will find expression in new forms, albeit in a world where Europe counts for far less and ethnicity for far more.... If the left is dead, the concerns that gave rise to it are as powerful and urgent as ever.

Perhaps I'm not so convinced of the trend as is Jacques. Certainly Western capitalists would like to convince not only the citizens of the West but also the governments and peoples of non-Western lands that capitalism has once and for all proven its superiority over socialism and communism. But they have had to buy the mainstream media in order to get the message out.1

Recent national elections have not been friendly to the Right. Spain, India, Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay come immediately to mind.

And if corporatism and consumerism are ascendant, their very excesses may be the cause of their downfall. If the labor movement provided a stable and powerful community of interest to oppose capitalism, the small-d democrats2 of today, aided by the organizational opportunities afforded by the internet, may well arise as an even greater and more powerful community of interest for tomorrow.

Related posts:
Who is this Republican?
Have you been trickled on yet?
The truth about the truth
The best place in the world to do business (edited)


1The internet has suddenly reared its democratic socialist head like four and twenty blackbirds popping up in the king's pie, and the capitalists are beside themselves trying to figure out how to own it—along with water and air.

The first and foremost effort of the Left, with respect to media, should not be to re-establish the Fairness Doctrine nor even to prevent further monopolization. The hope for media does not lie here but in the internet. And the protection and democratization of the internet should be uppermost in everyone's mind. Unfortunately that is not always the case. [back]

2 In a previous essay for the Guardian Jacques writes

.... Far from the free market and democracy enjoying the kind of harmonious relationship beloved of western propaganda, democracy grew in fact as a constraint on the market, holding it at bay and enabling a pluralism of values and imperatives....
But then he's not very optimistic about the future of democracy either. [back]

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