Readers who have been on this site before may know I am not a fan of the ‘left vs right’ dynamic that is used to divide public opinion over irrelevant concerns, mostly because they are extremely subjective. Specifically, no one can tell whether it refers to social or economic policies, and many people who use the economic factors to label things often get it entirely wrong.
But let’s pretend the terms have meaning for a moment.
In an article I read earlier today, the Democrats (US), Labour (UK), and Labor (Australia) were all considered the ‘progressive’ parties in their respective countries. The premise of the article was explaining the conservative media’s hold on Western governments, and particularly Murdoch’s hold on ours. When compared to those rags, and the parties they support (with great success seeing as all three countries have ‘right-wing’ leaders at the moment), yes, the ‘progressive’ parties seem ‘left’.
This, however, is in stark contrast to what anyone who considers themselves to be on the political ‘left’ actually thinks. What positions is ‘left’ usually attributed to? Socialism, communism, Marxist, anarchist, postmodernist (whatever the hell that even is). if we consider those the definitive spectrum of ‘leftist’ thought, then there is hardly a politician, let alone party, that can be legitimately called ‘leftist’.
(I should note here that the author of the article did not specifically call these parties ‘left’, but appeared to frame them as the only notable opposition; this piece of mine is not a critique of theirs, but just uses that as a starting point to move onto another discussion.)
The closest you could get is Bernie and the ‘Squad’ in the US, the Greens in Australia, and Corbyn’s half of the UK Labour Party – but even they are all bound by the capitalist system, if at least a more desirable iteration of it. They’re what can, realistically, be called ‘left of centre’. The centre/right of centre, in this case, would be what is loosely referred to as liberalism – which is, importantly, not ‘leftist’. Liberalism has always been tied with capitalism, a bond that grew ugly under the ‘neoliberal’ rise in the 80’s and onwards.
The Democrats and the Blairite Labour members fit the right of centre mould, while the Australian Labor Party (until recently) one could get away with calling centrist with a heavy Union backing.
They are all, undoubtedly, preferable than the Morrison, Trump, and Johnson shitshow we currently have, and look like a refreshing ‘left-leaning’ spring at the end of a climate change-heated tunnel. But it is wrong to call them ‘left’ for two reasons.
The first is, as I said before, these terms are subjective and have a lot of unnecessary baggage attached to them. When liberal is equated to left and therefore socialism, it completely warps the meanings of those words and, sadly, quite a large percentage of the population cannot tell the difference between them. Not only, then, is ‘liberal’ seen as radical, but any issues that arise under liberalism can then be blamed on ‘leftist’ ideas.
The second is that it just completely destroys the political spectrum. We are at a stage where governments are so far to the ‘right’, with your Trumps, Johnsons, and Bolsonaros, that your Morrisons and Bidens actually seem reasonable – something the complacent masses scarily seem to be leaning towards. It narrows the spectrum of debate as well. We can shout all we like about what different ways there are to run a capitalist society, using ‘right’ and ‘left’ variations, but it rejects the notion there is anything beyond that.
When the Greens are considered the ‘extreme left’, while operating entirely within a capitalist framework, it really just eliminates any potential for introducing legitimate alternatives to the current system. When the Blairite Labour members are considered ‘left’, well, the Party tears itself apart over false anti-Semitism claims, apparently. When the Democrats are considered ‘left’, the term ‘left’ and the whole political spectrum may as well just be carefully thrust into the bin.
Liked this? Read The Lewis Powell Memorandum: How We Got Here
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