Monday, 9 December 2013


The global economic crisis of 2008-2013, took place against the background of the US-led military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and US-EU intervention throughout Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa where popular movements of heterogeneous ideological inspiration ranging from militant Muslims to secular leftists. At the same time, there were grassroots popular opposition movements across Europe, protesting the massive redistribution of wealth through austerity programs from the middle classes and labor to the top 10 percent of the income earners.

Yet, against this background the leftist - Socialist and varieties of Marxian-inspired groups, movements and political parties had a tiny influence. Why is this?
1.  Is it because Communist regimes are finished and China as the sole remaining such regime in name only pursues capitalist economics?
2. It is because the 19th century leftist ideology has no relevance in the 21st century when many societies have a middle class and a social safety net of some type?
3. Is it because leftist - self-baptized political parties, trade unions, and other groups have been so thoroughly co-opted by the mainstream that people perceive them as another extension of the broader opposition that talks a big game but cannot help the common man?
4. Is it because varieties of ethnic/racial minority, feminist, gay rights, and green movement groups have absorbed the protest citizenry that would otherwise support the left?
5. Is it because a large segment of the population does not want want social justice for the broader society if it means sacrificing self interest rooted in materialism?
6. Is it because so many people continue to believe in God and see theism contrary to leftist politics?
7. Is it because governments and media have brainwashed people to associate "left" with terrorism, anti-establishment, anti-social and dogmatic?
8. Is it because leftist ideals lack a pragmatic base and simply represent a utopian vision that is fine for books and articles but can never be implemented?
9. Is it because mainstream institutions have thoroughly coopted the majority of the people whose primary concern is surviving and doing well instead 0of risking their personal safety and material comforts for ideals that would improve society?
10. Is it because people believe that the best society is one rooted in "middle of the road" (synonymous with liberal democratic) politics, and not with either rightist or leftists are seen as undermining the national or general interest of society? 

In traditional societies where religion and nationalism are very strong it is very difficult for a leftist movement to become popular. This is evident in Muslim countries. In the most advanced capitalist countries, the institutional structure is so powerful that is has managed to coopt not just a segment of self-appointed leftist groups, trade unions and political parties (Socialist parties in Europe are now neoliberal favoring austerity), but the superstructure has coopted a great deal of the population that would not even dream of risking safety and security of material life in exchange for leftist ideals rooted in egalitarianism and social justice. Because religious justice transcends social justice in many traditional societies, leftists have difficulty mobilizing grassroots support. At the same time, because conservative and liberal parties, including those calling themselves "Socialist" but pursuing bourgeois policies have embraced human rights and civil rights, it becomes just as difficult for leftists in Western and secular societies to attract followers.

In THE RISE OF THE GLOBAL LEFT: the world social forum and beyond, Portuguese scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos that takes a serious look at cases around the world of how the left has been evolving - renouncing violence that is invariably linked to capitalist exploitation, veering toward humanism (the early Marx), etc. struggling with varieties of reformist trends where the labor movement seems to be immersed, etc.  There have been many similar books like that of de Sousa Santos, simply because the left has been in crisis mode for the last three decades or so - in my opinion since the early Cold War. It is obvious to the average person that the term "left" has such a broad generic meaning that in the US, Obama is "left" according to the Tea Party, while in Europe the Social Democrats that have been pursuing neoliberal policies are also left. One problem, therefore, is that political parties and groups assign themselves or are labeled ''left" without any context based on historical precedent.

I am in favor of what de Sousa Santos is proposing, but because I have studied leftist groups in their historical context in different countries, I am not at all optimistic that the strategy he proposes has even a remote chance right now. Perhaps in the next cyclical crisis that I believe will take place in the 2030s, as I have written elsewhere, there may be a coalitionist approach that will take place. Moreover, I disagree with de Sousa Santos on the cookie-cutter approach and believe that leftist movements must be grassroots and reflect the needs and character of the people impacted.

Although technology has changed everything, and it is true that social forums are key to social movements today, we cannot possibly expect the same approach, methods and results in the UK as we would in Chile or Egypt. History has proved that type of dogmatic thinking is flawed. I am not suggesting that de Sousa Santos is unaware of this reality, given his discussion on the gap between theory and practice, but Marxian thought aims as much as possible at homogeneity of tactics to secure the desired goal. I would be more comfortable with people at the grassroots making mistakes and correcting them along the way, than any to-down approach that has anticipated problems. Having said all of this, my position is that there will always be elites in some form or another, probably until the end of the species. This does not mean that there must at the same time must always be a struggle for social justice until the planet can no longer support life.

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