Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Rise of a New Left


Waltraud Fritz Klackl (European Left Party secretariat) commented briefly on the development of the European Left Party, and added a few points on the idea of a 'New Left'. She argued that at the centre of the current struggles was the problem of political representation. For those looking to build left parties, it was necessary to move beyond the concept of representation and think along the lines of providing a political space *including* representation where people who want to meet and take action. She added that it was right to address such a project to the organised minority of workers, and to the 'precariat', but said that it was also necessary to somehow include the 'excluded' who are turning their backs on any party, left or right - unlike the 'precariat, who may often be well-educated, the 'excluded' are denied education and services, and are ironically often the ones who are often brought into the bargain against the Left. It was necessary to offer such people a place where they can find themselves again: we need to build alliances around these stratas of society, or we lose the fight for sure. She added that while the left is rising, it is not adequate and not uniform across Europe. Addressing herself to my comments, she pointed out that it would be wrong to appropriate the social movements for the Left: not all indignados are on the Left; these movements we cannot claim as such. Regarding political power, she argued that we must not refuse to take governmental power; it is different now, of course, because managing the state is not the same as before, because you have fewer possibilities; the political class has much less before than ever before. But we need to fight for it because real democracy cannot be split from power. All very well, she said, for the indignados to experiment with direct democracy, but this has nothing to do with having power. It is pedagogical. Later, commenting further on the question of representation, she said that she thought people had a right to be passive if they wanted: that people have the right to be at home, and read a book, and rely on representatives to carry out their agenda. She said that she was suspicious of the idea of democracy based exclusively on active participation, as if being an activist should give your voice for weight.

Francine Mestrum (Belgian sociologist, activist) explained that she had never belonged to any of the left parties, and that her frustration with these had to do with the fact that left-wing people begin by interpreting a desire for change as a desire for socialism. And since it is not clear that most people want socialism, and since no one has defined what it is, it makes more sense to focus on what we need to do right now. She argued that our main enemy is not institutions, it is an ideology, it is neoliberalism, it is capitalism: in that fight, we may find we have to change institutions, but we do not start off by seeing institutions as the problem. But if you want to fight an ideology, she added, we need power. How do we get that power? The audience for the Left is not that large in Europe, so how can we enlarge that audience: what kind of change do people want now? She explained that beginning with the obvious needs that people had - jobs, healthcare, pensions - she started to work on rethinking the idea of social protection. Whatever regime you have, people need protection: the Right offers it traditionally in the form of police, and the military; the Left, traditionally through socioeconomic rights. But then, by posing the question of security, this forces you to think about changing the mode of production, and the form of democracy. Social protection has to come from the grassroots, since people have to express what their needs are. If you start from social protection, people's needs, you start to find yourself forced into transformative agenda. She acknowledged that for a New Left, we need both democracy and power - but we should not forget that we already have power, that we are not powerless, and we should make use of the spaces we have.

I'd suggest reading the whole thing. Although focused on the situation in Europe, there is much we could absorb and use in the US as well. Needless to say, I have tended to agree with much of Seymour's analysis for a while now. There has always been an anti-capitalist undercurrent in the US - one that had been largely ignorable until a couple years ago. Right now, our task us utilizing the spaces we have at our disposal, and offering a viable alternative to the sort of neoliberal nonsense that too many of our "progressives" fall for.

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