The Left

What’s Left ?

Yeah, Yeah – I know I said Harry’s Place contributors didn’t have time to define what the non-Trotskyist, non-New Labour Left was but I’m in all day today awaiting delivery of a television so I can at least begin to attempt to define my position while I’m not too busy. Harry and Gene may have slightly different ideas on some of the stuff below but this site is not subject to Democratic Centralism as far as ideology is concerned.

As far as the economic base of society is concerned I think it’s difficult to argue against the fact that private enterprise and free markets are a more efficient engine of economic growth than the alternatives. A rich economy in a fairly high-trust society like Britain could get away with nationalised industries for a few decades with only a loss in international competitiveness as the result but central-planning and state-control have held back the development of third-world countries where the difference between economic failure and success is measured in malnutrition and hunger. It’s sobering to remember that South Korea and Burma started from the same level of economic development just a few decades ago. Where would you rather live ?

Having said that I think the state has a legitimate role in the economic life of any country where it can effectively mitigate against the operation of the free market where such operation has an unnacceptable human cost. The example I had in mind was the contrast between what happened in Japan and Scotland when it became clear that shipbuilding was non-viable because of cheaper competition from abroad. In Scotland the jobs just vanished within the space of a few years leaving terrible poverty and bitterness amongst the a large group of workers and those who relied on the wage packet they brought home. I was in the Inverclyde valley a few weeks ago and the effects of the massive loss in jobs decades ago is still very visible in the number of Poundstretcher stores and pawn shops on the high streets along the valley.

The Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry were a bit more pro-active and retrained the shipyard workers in skills more suitable to the coming High Yen future when South Korea would be able to make the ships more economically. I spent a year in Kyushu studying Japanese and the contrast with Inverclyde was amazing. There was no mass-unemployment and attendant social problems despite the similar economic history of shipbuilding and coalmining.

That’s the economy, what about society ? I think the Left have more to be proud of here historically speaking. The great campaigns for the civil-rights of marginalised groups would not have happened without the work of people and groups which are “of the Left”. I’m thinking of the black voter registration campaigns in the USA and the struggle to achieve equality before the law for homosexuals in this country to give just a couple of examples off the top of my head. The struggle against imperialism and apartheid was something which the Left championed in Britain and I’m proud to have played a small part in that struggle. It wasn’t so long ago that the rights of nations to self-determination was a phrase that gave you away as a trouble-maker. Now it’s mainstream (and before US readers comment I am aware that Woodrow Wilson had a grasp of this principle long before most of us in Britain).

It’s easy to characterise those on the Left as subscribing to a “package” of ideas and its certainly true that some people take positions without thinking about them in great detail. However, the same thing can be said for those on the Right and it would not be any less true. I don’t subscribe to the whole package of ideas which people think of (erroneously) as Left wing ideology. For example the recent prohibition of fox-hunting, which some think of as a victory in the ideological struggle agaist Feudalism is obviously nothing of the sort and as a measure which will criminalise otherwise law-abiding people as well as leading to an increase in the number of foxes which die slowly of gangrene from non-fatal gunshot wounds cannot attract my support. Packages of ideas are like bundles of computer software and should be avoided.

As far as the way we are governed is concerned democracy, whether federal republic or constitutional monarchy has proved to be better than the alternatives offered so far. That’s not to say that we can’t improve on what we’ve inherited from the past but arguing for change without carefully considering how that change would work in practice can lead to all sorts of trouble. I don’t trust people who say that things will work themselves out in future after we’ve smashed this system or destroyed that institution. Let’s see what we’re going to get before we destroy anything. Oh and don’t buy into a system of thought from someone whose opposition to the presently existing one stems from his bitterness at not doing well under it.

I’m not comfortable being Left-wing. People automatically assume they know what your thoughts are going to be. Perhaps being Right-wing is no different but I suspect it is particularly bad being a Leftie because there is an unspoken assumption that you are automatically in favour of more state intervention in people’s lives.

The older I get the less I am in favour of state-intervention. This really isn’t a question of right or left but a question of efficiency. I have posted on this subject before and have drawn comparison with the dynamic, self-organising working-class of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with the much more passive proletariat we have today. I think the lumpenproletarian lifestyle of going “on the sick” is a major and growing fiscal and social problem in this country. That doesn’t mean to say I’m in against offering a helping hand to those in need, I’m more than happy to pay taxes to help those in temporary trouble but I think the state would be better off spending our money doing all it can to attract jobs and mitigating against the loss of jobs rather than actually underwriting long-term unemployment which is what it is doing at the moment.

The benefit system should be made much more flexible and not a trap which you can’t get out of. I forsee lots of people writing in to accuse me of being a “fake lefty” because of what I’ve written above – so intertwined are the ideas of social progress and state-intervention – but that intertwining is a new phenomena and is not permanent. Speak to your Grandfather.

I’m also in favour of using our armed-forces where neccessary to protect ourselves against those who wish to harm us. If in doing so the military bring democracy and the rights we have fought so hard for and enjoy in this country to a place where they haven’t previously existed then that’s a great big cherry on the cake. Again I can see people criticising me as a “Neocon” I’m not one of course but given the choice would rather be a citizen of a Neocon government than subject to a Fascist or Islamist regime. Peace comes at a price and is not the natural order of things.

I suspect sensible people on the right would be able to find one or two things to agree with in this post. I actually hope so because I’m not interested in posturing or taking a point just because it is different to my ideological opposite numbers. What I am interested in is improving the lives of as many people as possible, as quickly as possible and with as little unneccessary opposition as possible. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I’ve seen enough to know that we can make further progress if we keep our desire for progress seperate from the belief that positions we took in the past should neccessarily be defended in the new circumstances.

The world is always changing. We will either keep up with the changes or become irrelevent. Choosing relevance gives us a stake in the future and the chance to further improve people’s lives. I’m in favour of that.