The first article in the “For a New Left” series looks at how and why we should begin to rebuild and re-establish left wing values.
In the first of this multi-part series, I will be outlining the reasons why we need to rebuild the left – rejecting orthodoxies, making space for the politically homeless and returning to a focus on the working classes. Further articles will explore how postmodernism came to dominate the left, what a more useful philosophical mindset might look like, how we might reset our understanding of equality and liberty, what that could mean for our models of structural inequality, how our current economic system fails to ensure our freedoms, how ideology can be turned into a tool of inequality in itself, how to comprehensively define sexism and racism, and finally, how we could actually establish a movement based on these principles. This first article sees my explanation for why we must have a “new left”. It is necessary to continually re-evaluate our principles, but especially so at the present time, to ensure they are relevant for tackling the issues thrown at us by a new, globalised and technologically advanced world.
It is hypothesised that no civilisation in the universe can proceed past a certain technological level without wiping itself out. Humanity managed to just barely survive the 20th century without a global nuclear war. The 21st century and the centuries following will continue to test us, and the tests will get harder.
It should become increasingly apparent that we cannot face the coming crises by holding on to status quo in terms of economic and political structures. We now have a global economy, beyond the reach of any single country to control. Global economic policy is becoming a race to the bottom, whereby corporations and the rich are enabled to move their assets into tax havens, but increasing restrictions on freedom of movement force the poor to endure the local conditions. Meanwhile, climate change will require a global effort to halt, and many countries have the power to scupper that for short-term economic benefit. Some of them already do.
The study of how women are systematically repressed has been usurped by a ‘queer theory’ which legitimises every unhealthy dynamic, renders it impossible to understand how inequality works and produces a form of feminism so warped that treating gender non-conforming children with chemicals and surgery is considered the height of progressive policy.
In the same way, opposition to imperialism and racism has been used as a justification for supporting chauvinistic nationalism, racial segregation and brutal regimes across the world. Unethical organisations spread fear amongst vulnerable minorities while refusing to confront the structural issues which lead to poverty and discrimination.
Automation and artificial intelligence threaten to make humanity obsolete, first with the working class by replacing manual labour, and then the rest of us. Sex robots will spark a new wave of violence against women by rendering them unnecessary in the eyes of misogynist men.
In the past, machines have always required humans to operate. Soon they will run themselves, build themselves and repair themselves. When an individual’s worth is based on their value to an employer, we risk making the human being worthless. In this global economy, effective regulations will have to be implemented worldwide.
The more our technology advances, the more we will have to proceed with caution, and the more any rogue country can threaten the rest of the world with dangerous experiments.
The development of technology threatens democracy itself, as the power differential between the police, the army and the ordinary citizen continues to grow.
The internet may seem like a paradise for freedom of expression now, but governments and corporations are implementing tools to monitor and restrict its use. Violent revolution must always be a last resort, but it must always be a possible last resort. Each step away from democracy makes the next step easier, so the threat of revolution is the last and final guarantee that our rights will be respected. In the last decade, we have seen governments (rich as well as poor ones) increasingly turn away from democracy.
One of the excuses posited for this increasing authoritarianism in the West is the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. There is no force or coherent strategy in the current geo-political climate which is capable of dealing with the problem. ISIS can and will be defeated militarily, but as long as there remains a belief in a global caliphate and the will to carry out attacks in its name, the world will remain under threat. Islamism is a global ideology which requires a global strategy. The whole world must unite in shutting down the social and economic situations which feed this ideology of hate. While addressing those issues, any sympathy for their cause must be replaced by a philosophy which vehemently refutes everything the Islamists value.
Nation states cannot adequately address global issues because their entire structure revolves around concerns on the national level. At best, an organisation can only represent the interests of its members, and since this is the purpose of the government in most people’s eyes, truly progressive solutions are impossible. As long as the general public demands that foreign policy focuses on delivering ‘the best deal’ for their own country, international cooperation remains incredibly difficult. Humanity must move beyond seeing ourselves as a group of competing tribes and start seeing ourselves more as a family.
Even if we scrape through the 21st century as we did with the 20th, our problems will continue to worsen in scope unless we get to the root of the issues within our social organisation. What would be the point in ending the threat of radical Islam if we still end up under the thumb of authoritarian dictatorships? If we halt climate change but wipe ourselves out through war and hunger brought on by competition with machines, did we really succeed? What we must aim for is to save the world by changing it, and build something worth saving in the process.
In order to achieve this, we need to establish an international alliance. It is no longer merely desirable but fundamentally necessary. In order to act on a global scale, we must win the support of people across the world. As long as they stay focused on short-term, local concerns, they will be either no help or, even worse, a direct hindrance.
“an international progressive alliance… is no longer merely desirable but fundamentally necessary”
This means, first of all, addressing economic issues and lifting millions out of poverty. Secondly, it means developing a political consciousness that extends beyond borders. This will keep us driven to solve the threats to humanity as a whole rather than trying to gain an advantage over each other. Thirdly, it means giving people hope for a better future, grounded in universalist ideals. Perhaps the largest problem facing us, in the western world at least, is apathy and a sense of powerlessness. Being part of a massive organisation dedicated to accomplishing tangible goals can keep people engaged in making positive steps forward.
That makes the political left the ideal starting point from which to begin this project. Left wing philosophy already encompasses those three elements – inspiration, internationalism and egalitarianism.
It is regrettable, therefore, that just as we begin to need it most, there is no international alliance for Earth and humanity. Why is it that the left has been so incapable of organising on a global scale? Instead, small organisations fight amongst themselves for dominance.
Every hitherto existing egalitarian political movement has failed because it has not come close enough to understanding the nature of inequality. Recognising how the state and corporations wield power is necessary to challenging them. Making clear how power can be abused is necessary to prevent the perversion of the cause to nefarious ends. But the modern left is vehemently opposed to establishing solid conclusions about how the world operates, whether through a dogmatic adherence to Marxism which Marx himself would have condemned, or an embrace of postmodern thinking which sees understanding inequality as tantamount to replicating it. This has been the fate of every movement throughout history which has tried to address social inequality – either immediate defeat or initial success followed by degeneration.
If we wish to try again, and we have to try again or watch humanity fall, we must resolve to do better this time. What I will propose in this upcoming series of articles is not intended to be a new doctrine to follow, but another step forwards along the path towards our goals. Even if I am wrong on all counts, I hope the approach I offer – clear and precise understanding, recognising the limits of our reasoning abilities, and dedication to further experimentation and deliberation – will in some small way inspire others to further the reorientation of the left in a more productive direction.
Editor-in-Chief of Uncommon Ground Media