The Left

Whither the Left?

Andy Beckett wrote a rather tedious piece for The Guardian this week asking “Has the left blown its big chance of success?” The subhead continues, “The collapse of unfettered capitalism should have been a golden opportunity for the left. So where did it all go wrong?”

Beckett makes his first mistake when he decides that the Socialist Workers Party’s Marxism 2009 is somehow representative of “the Left” in all its idealism and despair.

He quotes a number of radical-left hand-wringers, one of whom managed to make some sense.

“The left just gave up on economics,” says the economist Paul Ormerod, who retains sympathy for the cause. “Marx and Keynes cast such long shadows. There was too much of the left saying, ‘It’s all there in the old masters.'” Marx died in 1883 and Keynes in 1946; by the 80s – some would say much earlier – the world economy had changed sufficiently to invalidate some of their ideas. Yet the left was more interested by then, Ormerod argues, in other issues such as race and gender and sexuality. Lawson agrees: “We’ve had a hollowed-out generation of economic thinkers.”

It also might be worth noting that, in predictable political fashion, last year’s financial meltdown in the US under a right-of-center administration helped enable a left-of-center administration to come to power. Maybe that’s not the kind of Left Beckett has in mind, but it’s close enough for many of us.

Yet Beckett glides over what many of us who identify ourselves as leftists consider a big part of the problem: the refusal of so many self-declared leftists to stand up for universal democracy and human rights.

The problem came into clearer focus when Socialist Unity republished Beckett’s article– and the comments quickly turned into a dispute between those who believe China was and still is a genuine workers’ state, those who believe it was but isn’t any more, and those who believe it wasn’t and isn’t (Answer: it’s not and never has been). Perhaps part of where it all went wrong is that “leftists” still consider this worthy of debate.