Magazine article New Internationalist

A World to Be Won: The Left Must Dare to Think the Unthinkable

Magazine article New Internationalist

A World to Be Won: The Left Must Dare to Think the Unthinkable

Article excerpt

A world to be Won

THE RIGHT has swept all before it. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been in the ascendant everywhere in the world. Growing social injustice, the aggravation of inequality, the preservation of wealth and power where these are already concentrated - this is the stirring programme of the Right. To 'think the unthinkable' today means solemnly to enunciate the most barbaric, discredited and inhumane political ideas.

As we have seen over the past two decades, today's unthinkable becomes tomorrow's orthodoxy. Privatizing healthcare, cutting government support to nutrition programmes, dismantling the structures of welfare, undermining education, leaving the poorest and most vulnerable to make their own accommodation with the global system - this has been their unthinkable. It is distinguished by having been much thought about, not only in the recent past. It was elaborated, implemented and vigorously defended during the heyday of laissez - faire in the early industrial era. What we are now seeing is its spectacular second coming: the greatest comeback in the history of the show business that is politics.

No - one on the Left speaks of thinking the unthinkable. Why is this? Is it because everything on the Left is, unlike the revelations of the Right, truly unthinkable? Or is it because the Left has been so thoroughly routed that the best it can hope for is to think yesterday's orthodoxies? A kind of conservatism by default; an institutionalized nostalgia for the time when History was on our side. Is this why the Left worldwide has, in the declared absence of any alternative overarching ideologies, rushed to nestle beneath the overarching ideology of profit? Or why the Left, timid and imitative, now offers only the most pallid reflections of the prevailing orthodoxies of the Right?

The Right's rethinking is a resurrection of mouldering graveyard ideologies which we once imagined laid to rest for all time. What strikes people as 'new thinking', 'audacious new policies for the twenty - first century', the breaking of taboos, is all deeply familiar. The only novelty is that it is now being disseminated globally. It is a kind of economic fundamentalism promoted with missionary zeal and fanatic ardour, much as religious missionaries once went forth to baptize the heathen in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

How to renew hope

The error of the Left has been to assume that this return to fundamentals by its enemies must and can be matched by an equivalent return to its own roots. This is untrue; the roots have atrophied with the old industrial culture. The moment in which the project of the Left was formulated is past; only the formulae remain. This is why the Left appears to have been stranded, like sectarians selling their tracts on windy street corners to unbelievers and sceptics who scarcely give them a second glance.

The people have indeed changed. They have become locked into capitalism's version of answering need, dependents of a market economy (the real dependency culture) which knows no other way than mediating all need through money - which prioritizes the whims of the rich over the necessities for survival of the poor.

The unthinkable for the Left does not mean a return to relying on a benign State to establish distributive and social justice. Governments in any case can exert only the most marginal moderating influence on the vast privatizations we have seen in the world, as all the global commons have been enclosed, the resources expropriated, people evicted from lands that are required for mineral concessions or agribusiness controlled by the transnationals.

For the Left, the unthinkable can no longer even mean cradle - to - grave welfare, for this was always dependent upon the wealth - creating processes of the capitalist version of industrialism. And it is the industrial system itself which, at the moment of its greatest apparent triumph, is now in crisis. …

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