Academic journal article Capital & Class

Neither Pragmatic Adaptation nor Misguided Accommodation: Modernisation as Domination in the Chilean and British Left

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Neither Pragmatic Adaptation nor Misguided Accommodation: Modernisation as Domination in the Chilean and British Left

Article excerpt

Introduction

During the 1980s and 1990S, most Left parties underwent a process of modernisation, after which they increasingly moderated their political aims and turned away from emancipatory and egalitarian goals towards programmes that emphasised the facilitative, managerial and/ or ameliorative role of public institutions. The academic literature is divided over the degree to which these modernised Left parties retain a redistributive and potentially transformative role. On the one hand, scholars with a sympathetic leaning towards the modernisation process tend to view it as the pragmatic adaptation of traditional leftist aims, ensuring the continued relevance of those aims within the contemporary social and economic context. For instance, Giddens argues, 'Far from displacing social justice and solidarity, third way politics ... represents the only effective means of pursuing these ideals today' (Giddens, 2000: 29). Similarly, Panizza argues that 'there is little room in the [Latin American] region for an anti-systemic model and ... instead the emphasis should be placed in making states, markets and democracy work to better represent the people, promote development, address social demands and attack the root causes of discrimination and inequality' (Panizza, 2005: 730).

According to this perspective, the commitment of leftwing parties to traditional concerns such as equality remains an important goal; but the contemporary requirements of the market and democracy require that it be conceptualised and implemented in alternative ways.

On the other hand, those with a less sympathetic view see modernisation as an unnecessary rejection of traditional redistributive and/or transformative aims and values, and as an 'accommodation' of ascendant international neoliberal values (Hay, 1997; Watson & Hay, 2003). For instance, Moulian argues that the Chilean Left has abandoned its progressive role and developed instead an 'end of history' discourse in which globalisation is assumed to be a naturalised phenomenon, while traditional social democracy and democratic socialism are inaccurately viewed as outdated and dangerous (Moulian, 1998: 50-61). 'Modernisation' is therefore portrayed as the abandonment of macro-level redistributive and/or socially transformative aims by Left parties' elites and mass memberships, who mistakenly view modernisation as the only viable political agenda. It thereby represents a misguided (because it is unnecessary) accommodation of the demands of the market. (1)

This article presents an alternative perspective. In each of the approaches outlined above, the modernisation of Left parties is portrayed as a passive reaction to changes within political, economic and social 'structures' (whether that reaction is viewed as necessarily pragmatic or unnecessarily acquiescent). As a result, the pragmatic adaptation accounts of modernisation theorise a structurally determined process that removes the potential of political agency to change and transform neoliberal capitalism, thereby reinforcing an 'end of history' discourse that helps to maintain the disarticulation of alternatives. On the other hand, the unnecessary accommodation perspective posits a form of subjective idealism that underestimates the obstacles to counter-hegemonic movements within modernised Left parties. With this article, we would like to suggest that it is possible to gain a more insightful account into the modernisation of Left parties through a consideration of the active impact of those parties' political agency upon the political, social and economic contexts within which they are located. Our approach, therefore, is to seek to understand the reproduction of historicised social structures and the role of agents in reproducing those structures. In this way, we hope to produce an account that helps to develop a concrete historical understanding of modernised Left parties' relationship with neoliberalism, and the impact that this relationship has had on the possibilities for counter-hegemonic struggle within those parties. …

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