What is the biggest question facing the left today? Paul Mason, in his latest piece for the New Statesman, says it is:
"[W]hat do we do about long-term economic stagnation, which has led to a rush for the exits from the multilateral global system, posing the possibility of trade wars, the fragmentation of the global finance system, military conflict and a threat to the global architecture that protects universal human rights?"
Agreed. He answers:
"[D]esign and execute a new kind of capitalism that meets the needs of people in the developed world. The design is not impossible: the elements of it lie in the provision of universal basic incomes or services, a Green New Deal, rapid automation and the creation of increased leisure time, massive investments in education, and an end to outsourcing, offshoring and privatisation.
We can either do this collectively, as Europe, or the G7, or as NAFTA. Or, more likely, as a series of national projects where borrowing to invest, printing money where necessary and stimulating moderate inflation creates the same - albeit unstable - synergies as in the “thirty glorious years” after 1945.
For the left it means thinking beyond party designations. In Britain, the Greens, Momentum, maybe 50-plus truly Corbynite Labour MPs, half the SNP and the diffuse membership of two or three big NGOs are those who really get it. In Europe, however, many green parties have become bastions of neoliberal complacency: they will be musing on the possibility of degrowth and digging their organic allotments the moment the AfD and the Front National take power.
As for social democracy, it falls into three camps: outright conservative economic nationalists, as in Slovakia; enthusiastic participants in the failed neoliberal model, as in Germany; and people like Austria’s Christian Kern – a technocrat flung into a crisis who had to throw away the playbook – or Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, who understand the need to reconnect and rethink. And of course Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.
We now need an alliance of parties, movements and individuals who are not going to fight for the system that has failed but to imagine a new one: a capitalism that delivers prosperity to Wigan, Newport and Kirkcaldy, if necessary by not delivering it to Bombay, Dubai and Shenzhen.
Is that an argument for economic nationalism? No, rather an internationalism that says to the rest of the world: if the developed, democratic countries of Europe, America and Asia collapse into authoritarian rule, the 400-year upswing of industrial societies alongside democracy will have, once again, stalled - and, with China's inevitable hegemony, it might go into reverse.
To save what we can of the multilateral order, we need to reverse out of its extreme forms. It’s a tragedy that it took the Five Star Movement in Italy to argue for a pre-Maastricht form of the EU. That position is implicit in the left’s critique of the eurozone and of German mercantilism. As progressives, not nostalgics, however, we should argue for a post-Lisbon Europe."
In short, the left has to reinvent itself so it can reinvent capitalism. In the process, the left will likely be reconfigured to include many new political actors in increasingly influential roles as part of a broad, and perhaps messy, coalition. That will upset many traditionalists on the left who see their party or ideology as entitled to lead. But recent history indicates that their leadership has been woefully lacking. It is time to try something new.