Thursday, October 29, 2020

Whither the Left After November?

Even if Biden wins and the Democrats take back the Senate, the challenges for the left in moving forward will be immense. Sheri Berman has an excellent article on the Social Europe site on how the left should seek to overcome these challenges.
She notes:
"If there were ever a time when a strong left—committed to defending liberal democracy, fostering social solidarity and promoting dynamic and just economies—was needed, it is now.
Yet it isn’t necessary to remind...readers how elusive has been a left with distinctive and viable plans to deal generally with the west’s problems—and capable of earning the electoral support to implement its solutions—over the past generation.
This lack was perhaps most painfully highlighted by the financial crisis of 2008, which created immense dissatisfaction with neoliberalism and austerity and a general recognition that capitalism had gone ‘out of whack’. But it saw no surge in support for the left and concomitantly no major change in the economic status quo.
Indeed, the discontent and grievances generated by the financial crisis and its aftermath ended up benefiting right-wing populists in Europe and Donald Trump in the US, which of course only deepened our societies’ problems and made them harder to solve. If the aftermath of the...period of dislocation and turbulence we are experiencing is to be different from that following the financial crisis, the left will need to learn from past mistakes."
Berman goes on to highlight some points made by John Judis in his new book The Socialist Awakening and by myself in my recent Five Deadly Sins of the Left article:
"One extremely helpful recent intervention in the debate on how the American left should move forward is John Judis’ The Socialist Awakening. What’s Different Now About the Left. Judis analyses the left resurgence accompanying Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly successful campaigns for nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 and 2020. He sees signs of hope in developments on the left in recent years—but also reasons for concern.
Economically, Judis argues the left needs to thread its way between two temptations which have bedevilled it in the past. The first, present in left-wing intellectual circles in the US today as well as in many European left parties—perhaps most notably Britain’s Labour Party when Jeremy Corbyn was leader—is a tendency to engage in unmediated critiques of capitalism and ‘eschatological fantasies’ about revolutionary transformations of it.
Another active participant in American debates, Ruy Teixeira, refers to this as the sin of ‘retro-socialism’. He notes: ‘By grasping nostalgically at revolutionary rhetoric, the Left sets the bar high for public embrace of what might otherwise be quite popular policy ideas, from single-payer health insurance to free college to a job guarantee.’....
But if it is important to avoid scaring voters with demands that they do not favour and which cannot be achieved, it is also necessary to go beyond ‘merely’ ameliorative reforms. There can be no return either to the technocratic management of capitalism characterising the ‘third-way’ approach of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as embodied in the US presidency of Bill Clinton or the British premiership of Tony Blair.
Significant structural reforms are needed to deal with capitalism’s extensive problems and the risks and disadvantages workers and the middle class face today. But these types of reforms, Judis stresses, must be practicable as well as ‘conceivable in the space of a generation’....
If developing comprehensive and convincing plans for reforming contemporary capitalism is one prerequisite for a successful centre-left today, the other, obviously, is winning power, and here is where this latter tendency—what Teixeira, for example, calls the ‘sin of identity politics’—comes in.....
This means designing policies and appeals that are positive rather than zero-sum. Rather than demonising particular groups for their purported privileges, ‘erroneous’ thinking and so on, the goal should be to remind voters that helping historically disadvantaged minorities is an integral part of the larger progressive goal of creating a more just and equal society that will benefit all citizens.
As Teixeira puts it, as long as the ‘left appears more interested in finding new enemies than in seeking new friends, it will fail to advance its many important priorities’. This is true not only because it is politically limiting but also because recreating a sense of social solidarity, of shared commitment among citizens, is the prerequisite for repairing the damage done by Trump—and the decades of unaddressed economic and social problems which provided the foundation for his rise in the first place."
That's the challenge. We'll see if the left can rise to the occasion.

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