Tag Archives: socialism

Left-Wing, Right-Wing: How Useful is This Distinction?

We are often told that the left-wing, right-wing distinction is trivial or irredeemably vague and that various “postmodern” Issues, such as those concerning difference, render the distinction irrelevant. But a recent book by Christopher Cochrane – Left and Right: The Small World of Political Ideas> – tells another story. Continue reading

The Emerging New Left: Seven Key Issues

Many of us are drawn to the idea of a New Left because we yearn for change of a certain type: toward a more democratic, egalitarian, cooperative and sustainable society. In practice, however, the left is in a perilous state in many countries. Reactionary populist and nativist movements are making inroads among constituencies, especially the working class, who might be expected to favour progressive causes.

What needs to be done to rejuvenate the left, to build a new left in sync with the 21st century? No one has all the answers. But at least we can identify the key questions and reflect on the possibilities.

Market and State Have Failed: Community to the Rescue?

Of society’s three potential steering mechanisms, market and state have each proved disastrous as the preponderant principle for allocating resources, production and power. The closer societies approximate the self-regulating market system, the steeper the costs. We see those costs today in the form of high inequality and insecure jobs, environmental destruction, economic volatility in the form of periodic booms and busts, the dilution of democracy, and the rise of right-wing populism in a context of widespread anger. The directive state, in the form of bureaucratic collectivism (communism and state socialisms), state capitalism and top-down social democracy, has also proved defective. The dominant state has, at the least, stifled civil society and market forces with its paternalistic embrace; at its worse, it has fostered a new class within a totalitarian system. Where do we look for a progressive alternative? Continue reading

Revolt of the Working Class

The working class is in revolt against neoliberalism. But there is a problem. The revolt is led, not by the left, but by far-right populists. How did this happen? And how should the left respond? Continue reading

A New Vision for the Left II: Challenges

When I showed When the People Awake to an undergraduate class in the mid-70s, the militant documentary received a strongly favourable response. It had been made in 1972 by left-wing Chilean film-makers who supported the democratic-socialist administration of Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular. When I screened the same stirring documentary in the same course 25 years later, the students responded negatively. In fact, they voted with their feet, most of them withdrawing from the classroom under the cover of dark. What had changed in the interim? Continue reading

Towards This Generation’s New Left

Every generation develops its own New Left. This is a natural process as proponents struggle to come to grips with new challenges and old failures. Continue reading

Why Identify with Left-Wing Politics?

“A young person who isn’t a socialist hasn’t got a heart; an old person who is a socialist hasn’t got a head.” Is this true?

This old adage suggests that an attachment to the left is merely a romantic and naïve phase that should eventually pass as we mature and gain a more “realistic” understanding. Realism from this viewpoint involves the acceptance that There is No Alternative (TINA) to presently-existing capitalism and liberal democracy, that the most we can expect is some minor tinkering.

But this conservative viewpoint is unconvincing for two reasons. Continue reading

Interview with Richard Sandbrook on Reinventing the Left

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Ali Burak Guven (ABG): What was your motivation for writing Reinventing the Left?

To be honest, I never set out to write such an ambitious book. I originally conceived the project as a critique of neoliberal development doctrine. But one thing led to another, and my inclination to move beyond critique to the central question of “what might be done” came to the fore. This, to my mind, raised the issue of the viability and promise of the democratic left. Continue reading

Socialism: A Journey, Not a Pre-determined Destination

An article by #MichaelWalzer (Dissent, Summer 2010) offers a clear and practical understanding “of the only #socialism we will ever know.” Striking off in a new direction, he purposely elides the distinction between “socialism” and “social democracy” while adopting a critical stance toward both. He rightly emphasizes the progressive nature of the goals of the latter – participatory democracy, regulated markets, and a universalistic welfare state – even though we need to be very critical of the actual practice of current social democratic parties in the West. Although many readers will feel that there must be more to it than that, Walzer advances the view that movements aimed at extending the three goals and defending existing achievements is actually what a practicable socialism is all about. I agree. Continue reading

Does Social Democracy have a Future? A Debate

With both statist and market-based models of governance having failed at a time of enormous challenges, especially #climatechange, where do we turn? Socialism remains a grand idea, but its transformational nature ensures that the struggle to achieve it would be lengthy, divisive and highly conflictual. Even then, the outcome of a struggle for socialism would remain uncertain – would the new model avoid the excesses of the old? And so many progressives turn to #socialdemocracy. But of course social democracy is in crisis too, discredited in many countries by its semi-conversion to neoliberalism. What is the best path forward to reclaim the earlier promise of social democracy in an age of widespread cynicism and withdrawal from politics?

A recent debate between Martin O’Neill and Neal Lawson on this subject is highly illuminating. Both are committed to building a future for the democratic left. Their implicit frame of reference is Europe. However, with the old distinction between developed/less developed, First World/Third World increasingly irrelevant, the debate is of broader significance. It indeed mirrors similar differences of opinion within the democratic left of the global south as well.

The debate begins with polarized positions, but what is particularly interesting is that the differences narrow as the exchange draws toward its end. O’Neill adheres to a more traditional statist/top-down approach in which social-democratic parties regain their self-confidence in pressing their vision. Lawson adopts a “post-materialist” conception that is essentially a society-centric, bottom-up and participatory model. But as the debate continues, the positions converge in what is close to a synthesis of the two outlooks. Interestingly, the recent experience of Podemas (Spain) and Syriza (Greece) enters into the discussion, as it should in any debate about the future of social democracy. (Whether the two parties should be understood as social democratic at all is an important question; regardless, these experiences are central to the future of the democratic left.) The debate concludes in a balanced view of the role of the state and society in any social-democratic experiment that is capable of regaining the commitment and enthusiasm of citizens and constructing a more egalitarian, sustainable and secure future.