The Left will return to Marxism. Eventually.

DISCLAIMER: what follows is wild, unhinged speculation.

DISCLAIMER: what follows is wild, unhinged speculation.

I’m going to go on the record and predict that, unless the Left formulates an new alternative to capitalism, it will eventually return to Marxism. This may take a few generations, but barring the creation of a new left economic alternative, Marx is coming back. ‘Why?’ you ask. The answer is simple. Once the memory of Soviet communism is gone and the low hanging fruit of identity politics is picked, the Left will still want an alternative to capitalism, and will need to appeal to the general public. And that’s only the dynamic on the left. I won’t even discussing the problems facing the right.

Forgetting Soviet Communism
I believe the left is still mourning the collapse of the legitimacy of state socialism, and floundering for a lack of an economic alternative. I think that Marx will remain tainted as long as Soviet communism is in living memory for middle aged people. However, as these people move on, new generations will emerge for whom Marxism is academic and untainted by Stalin and bread-lines. It will lose it’s stigma, and will be re-evaluated for current times, perhaps under a different name. It will be explicitly concerned with equality, not just poverty. It will seek equality of outcome.

We must forget communism before we can remember Marx

The world needs to forget communism before Left parties can revive Marxism

Low Hanging fruit
In the mean time, we work with identity politics. Identity politics has provided orientation for the left in recent decades, and made great strides in addressing very real, lived oppression. But the tendency of identity politics is from formal/legal discrimination to trickier cultural questions of meaning and values, and from larger groups to smaller oppressed identities.

Essentially, the legal/formal discriminations are low hanging fruit. There is no ethical or just case to be made for such discrimination against minority identities, and we leftists will eventually knock these off. The campaign for marriage equality has been a great success here in New Zealand (and in other places), and next legal/institutional fight is for those groups that don’t fit the simplistic binary of ‘men born with penises, women born with vaginas’.

We will succeed in ending formal legal and institutional discrimination against trans people, intersex people, and people not identifying as one of the two largest gender groups (forgive me if I’ve left groups out here). These fights are clear and easy to rally behind. Legal and institutional discrimination is easy to identify, and can be addressed through existing political channels. In political science terms, the ‘negative’ freedoms are easier to secure than the ‘positive’ freedoms. And we will win these freedoms with the largest oppressed identities first, and then proceed to the numerically smaller groups (eg. from women to ethnic minorities to sexual minorities to gender minorities).

Higher fruit is just as important, but it's more difficult

Higher fruit is important, but it’s more difficult

Appealing to the general public
But as these fights are won we are left with complex, nuanced and difficult cultural battles concerning meaning and values. These are harder for the general public to engage with, as they are not simply about ‘rules being fair’. This is not to say such battles are unworthy; they are definitely worthy. They are just not as easy to win. They require understanding concepts like legitimation and discourse; something new and unfamiliar for much of the general public. This is where I see the shift back to a politics of equality, due to political necessity. Once the low hanging fruit is picked and some of the urgency taken from pursuing identity politics via electoral means, leaders on the left will return to where the votes are; the poor. The collapse of the legitimacy of neoliberalism, identity politics successes, and the desire for new thinking will drive us to more urgently seek Left alternatives.

Inequality will still exist, and still resonate

Inequality will still exist, and will still resonate

A Left alternative
Inevitably, electoral rationality will rear its head and require Left leaders to engage with issues that the general public can relate to and rally behind. The pain suffered by marginalised groups is real, but I suspect focusing more and more on fewer and fewer people will not be a huge vote winner. As we delve deeper into identity oppression, we become decreasingly relevant to the general public. Complex cultural battles are not won at the ballot box. In contrast, economic inequality will still be very material, hurting the majority, easily quantifiable, and amenable to government action. Economic inequality will still be a problem, and Marx will still be the Left’s best/only alternative to capitalism.

However, identity politics (particularly feminism) won’t necessarily be killed by this shift back to Marx. There are few oppressed majorities in the west; women are one, non-whites another, the poor are another. Feminism will remain a powerful driver of thought and political action by virtue of its mass appeal and its powerful insights, many of which are still filtering through to the public consciousness. Any Neo-Marxism will have to account for discrimination AND poverty, and do so in a way that is understandable to the apolitical. In doing so, it becomes appealing to the general public, and the Left alternative to capitalism.

Let me be clear: I do not predict the end of identity politics, nor do I predict the return to Lenin or Mao. I predict identity politics will become relatively less central to left-wing politics. I predict the reinvention of, and return to, Marxism. Although maybe we need to return to Hegel, as Zizek says. But that can be the subject of another blog. I think I’ve been presumptuous enough for one day.


Wow, ACT really are irrelevant

Today I changed the ACT party’s wikipedia page to say that they favour eating babies. A bit of this was taken from my blog post, and a bit was new. I then notified some friends who are former ACT supporters and members, some of whom even worked on ACT’s last election campaign. I also sent messages to the most lefty people I know, getting them to enjoy a bit of satire.

No one changed it back. As of 11pm, Monday 23 September, it’s still there. Claiming they favour eating babies. I can’t believe it. When I suggested Cunliffe was a tool of cat lobbyists it was taken down in eight minutes.

Wow. When former ACT members don’t even take it down, you know the party is in serious trouble.

EDIT: it’s finally down, but here’s what it looked like

10 Shades of Gray: The many faces of political non-allegiance

Much is made of political allegiances, and with good reason. Allegiance is what wins elections, and shifts in allegiance can be examined a macro-level and a micro-level. A person can change preferences based on events in the world around them, or due to changes in their personal views (or a combination of the two). Both are highly interesting subjects, and worthy of study. But little is said about political non-allegiance, particularly ‘outsider’ views. And since my own political story is one of outsider non-allegiance, I thought I’d do a blog on the subject. Political people are often a little harsh on the unaffiliated. We’re treated as either uninformed, apathetic, or easily persuaded. I thought it was worth noting some of the main non-affiliated positions that I can think of. Obviously, there is a bit of overlap between some of these views.

1- Ignorance: I don’t know.
Pretty self-explanatory. In this perspective a person simply doesn’t know enough to have an opinion. (Note: This assumes a level of intellectual honesty that is often absent in educated people). It is basically an honest and valid perspective. Not everyone has had the opportunity or the reason to learn what fiscal policy is, or what equity means. This view holds that allegiance cannot be justified due to lack of knowledge.

2- Apathy: I don’t care.
In this view, a person knows enough, but doesn’t care enough, to have an opinion on politics. This is also a legitimate position to hold. A lot of people are happy as long as the basic services that they are entitled are there. They see no reason to get involved in the dirty world of politics. This view holds that allegiance, like political interest, is not worth the effort.

3- Swing voting (uninformed): I’ll vote for whoever sounds good.
In this view, a person is engaged enough to vote, but has no loyalty to a party or ideology. These people decide elections. Their reasons for voting a given way vary, and I don’t feel informed enough to go into them. But I suspect pocketbook issues, leader ‘likeability’, the media, and the views of peers play a large role here. This view holds that present preferences are more important than lasting allegiance.

4- Swing voting (informed): I’ll vote for whoever is best.
This view is held by people who are politically informed, and vote according to the issues of the day, policy proposals, and whoever they believe is most capable. I think this is a great position. These people keep campaigns and parties on their toes, and prevent them slipping further into hacky point-scoring. This view holds that issues, not allegiance, should decide voting.

5- Centrism: They are all unreliable or extreme.
This view is wary of the extremes of politics, and holds that we need to come together and compromise a lot more. It’s almost a framing of ‘centre vs extremes’, rather than ‘left vs right’, and as such holds no loyalty to a given party since any party can be dragged away from the centre by internal factions. This view claims centrists and moderates from both sides of the spectrum have more in common with each other than with their respective extremes and, moreover, represent a greater swathe of the electorate. Therefore, allegiance to a single party is not justified.

6- Principled Individualism: They can’t ever represent me.
People who hold this view believe that parties cannot adequately represent them. This is often because parties require subservience to function effectively. Therefore, the principled individualist holds the party to be a fundamentally inadequate political unit for their views. Thus, no allegiance is justified.

7- Civility: I don’t like their behaviour.
This view bemoans the lack of civility in politics from all sides. It believes more could be achieved if people would abandon their tribalism and engage with each other in good faith. It holds that since no party is able to behave civilly, then no affiliation is justified.

8- Anti-partisanship: I don’t like their tribalism.
This view is a little harsher than the civility view. Where the civility outsider holds that the way parties behave is the problem, the anti-partisan holds that the partisan norms of the parties are the problem. This view is hostile to the hacky and arbitrary support/against a party’s policies, such as the view that the opposition is always wrong, even when it does something you like. The anti-partisan holds that since all parties are partisan, allegiance to any party is unjustified.

9- Antipathy (parties): I don’t like any of them.
This view is harsher still. It holds that partisanship of the parties is not the problem, but the parties themselves. This can be because of the perception that parties are morally bankrupt and packed with self-serving elitists, concerns about partisanship, disdain at party structures, or a disgust at politicians in general. Therefore, no allegiance is justified.

10- Antipathy (system): I don’t like the system. 
This is the harshest view. The political system itself is considered so flawed that support for the players in the system is unjustified. Reasons for holding this view vary greatly, and can be held by reformists or revolutionaries. But all agree that the system at present is so bad that it needs serious change. This view holds that supporting any party is implicitly supporting the system, or is pointless because the parties are products of a poor system. As such, no political allegiance is justified.

10 Reasons why the Right is also in crisis.

The election of Tony Abbott has led to a lot of crowing from my right-wing friends about a ‘tory takeover’. But I think they’re wrong. While, electorally, the right is doing okay, I think there are some serious problems below the surface. I believe the right is also in crisis, and we should stop all our forlorn navel-gazing and talk about it.

I know what you’re thinking- “What? No. The LEFT is in crisis. Death of socialism, no alternative, et cetera”. True, the left may be in a crisis of sorts, but I think it’s a different kind of crisis, a healthier crisis than that of the right. But more on that another day.

The right no longer stands for much (Julia Gillard referred to this in her recent piece in the guardian). Oh sure, it claims to stand for something, but these claims are weak. Much of this weakness stems from the events of the first decade of the 21st century, namely the (failure of the) war on terror, the global financial crisis, and the relative decline of social conservatism. Now, I’m not saying that the right is powerless; clearly it’s not. But public perception on some of the right’s core ideas is shifting, and the right itself doesn’t seem to have much to say about it.

But firstly- ‘The Right’ never existed.
Like ‘the Left’, ‘The Right’ doesn’t really exist. It’s a combination of diverse groups with diverse interests. These groups differ on all the main issues; intervening in markets, the place of morality, the relevance of religion, the necessity of war, and the importance of the nation. But since these concerns often overlap, people call this group ‘The Right’, and assume it’s a whole, even though it contains Christian conservative sexagenarians, coked-up capitalist libertarians, and neo-nazi nationalists. But hey, people believe and perpetuate the myth, and in doing so they make it relevant.

1.    Truly free-markets are a terrible, terrible idea.
Let’s start with the most obvious. The legitimacy of free market capitalism is in tatters, and not just with the usual rabble either. Rightly or wrongly, many people believe the global financial crisis was caused by reckless bankers, and that we need government regulation to control them. This deals a serious blow to the right’s supposed superior knowledge of the economy.

2.    The ideal of the small state is dead.
This was once a pillar of the right- that governments only cause problems economically, and that they inevitably overreach and intrude on freedom. Well, PRISM, NSA and the GCSB have dealt serious damage to that. Big government is back with a vengeance and a high speed internet connection.

3.    “Austerity- a popular and effective policy” (Tui Billboard, 2013).
The old ‘government budget is like a family budget’ line has turned out truer than the right would like. Because when your family is running up debt, you DON’T starve the children to balance your budget. You keep borrowing, keep buying the essentials, and try to figure out a way to get more income. Experiments with austerity have not been famously effective in southern Europe, to put it mildly. Also, it turns out democracy gives the people a say on government (somewhat), and austerity isn’t super popular.

4.    Who is socially conservative these days?
Remember the outrage at the smacking ban? You’re one of a few that do. Remember the outrage at marriage equality? What outrage? And what about the perennial claim that the media is corrupting the minds of our children? It’s just as likely to come from liberals or feminists these days. Nobody laments the rise of divorce rates, or the decline of the nuclear family. Social conservatism just doesn’t hold the sway it used to over the political centre.

5.    When was the last time you went to church?
Need I say more? Chances are that if you’re reading this and you went to church recently, you probably went to a youth church with a cool non-denominational name like Arise or Huge or Radness. The Western right used to be all about good Christian morality. Try getting elected on THAT platform nowadays (I’m looking at you, Colin Craig). A lot of people just don’t trust religion, or super religious people.

6.    Tradition isn’t cool.
Well, western tradition anyway. When was the last time anyone ran a political campaign promoting tradition? Seriously, let me know, because I can’t remember. Tradition is not something we celebrate that much anymore, partly because the idea of tradition is tied up with all sorts of uncool things, like women in the kitchen, non-straight folk in the closet, and brown people absent entirely.

7.    ‘The West is white’ idea is on the way out.
Immigration and multiculturalism- curse of the conservative, enemy of the amateur blogger, anathema of the (insert anything alliterative). Bloggers call them both failures, but as far as failures go, they’re spectacularly resilient. The idea that ‘the West is  white’ is on the way out. That’s not to say that white culture isn’t the dominant culture in the West; it is. But the idea that it should be the only culture in the West (and that immigrants should assimilate) doesn’t fly. Immigration is now considered legitimate, even beneficial, policy.

8.    Militarism- an epic and costly fail.
You can blame Bush for this one. The Iraq war was/is an enormous clusterfuck built on lies, and has made things worse in pretty much every way. As a result, a lot of people have lost the ’this will not stand!’ attitude. Nowadays, things stand. A strong defence and ‘not taking any guff’ used to be a pillar of the right, but not anymore. Now it’s more a case of ‘leave the brown people to their problems, we’re not getting involved’.

9.    Nationalism is cringe-worthy.
Winston still gets a lot of votes from this, and lately the Greens and Labour have started playing it up a bit, but at least they make the effort to call it ‘giving kiwis a fair go’. And it still comes across terribly. It sounds awful to tell your taxi driver that he can’t live amongst us, as we do.

10.  There are no more reds underneath our beds (or terrorists on our trains).
Let’s be honest- nobody is scared of communism anymore. This has undercut the right’s claim to protect us from the red bogeymen, bogeywomen and non-cis-gendered bogeypeople. Terrorists briefly filled that gap but, thank god, the rhetoric from the media and governments has been dialed down since about Obama took office. When was the last time we heard the phrase ‘War on Terror’?

There you have it. The right is in crisis. 

A bad way to start.

“Punditry is fundamentally useless” -Nate Silver.

“The cultural critic is society’s salaried and honoured nuisance” -Theodor Adorno (paraphrase).

“Punditry is what we might call The Dismal Art” -Thomas Carlyle (paraphrase).

With these observations, let the useless, dismal nuisancery begin.