Life on the Left

I’ve criticized liberalism enough that I should probably unpack my version of the Left.

Hint–it’s not communism.

Marx, as an economist was a trenchant and amazingly accurate critic of capitalism but his blueprint for utopia, at least as enacted by his followers, has been a series of dumpster fires. Indeed, as practiced, state communism veered so dramatically from Marx’s vision of communism as a form of emancipation, equality, and the withering away of the state, where we reduce labor time to a minimum and we are finally free to be creative and ultimately human. Instead, communism, as practiced, produced a dystopian, bureaucratic hellscape.

As we shall see, my Left is conservative in the conservation of culture, customs, mores and our natural world. It’s a traditional conservatism before it was hijacked in the US by reactionaries, although my Left is certainly in reaction to neoliberalism, the political/economy I’ve been subjected to my entire adult life.

Neoliberalism as practiced has been an economic program that crushes labor, privatizes public services, deregulates industry, unleashes capital mobility, and slashes tax on the rich. And far from being classic liberalism or a Laissez-faire system, neoliberalism absolutely requires the takeover and utilization of government to implement its market-centric system, and is ultimately a technocratic state ruled by experts to protect the market from democracy.

Sound familiar?

But neoliberalism is much more than simply a set of economic policies; it’s also something that governs us–society, culture, ways of understanding ourselves, and ways of configuring social relations. Neoliberalism transforms us not just at the level of economic policy, but at a much deeper level pertaining to how we are to understand freedom, the state, our relations with one another, society, and morality.

Why does this matter? Because neoliberalism delivers a full-frontal attack on the very notion of the public good and society. Margaret Thatcher said it best: “There is no such thing as society. There’s only individual men and women.”

Moreover, neoliberalism literally converts workers into human capital, not just by generating a gig economy, but also by disseminating the idea that your task is to enhance your own value, keep it from depreciating, and do this at every level, from your social media profile to your résumé.

That’s hardly what it means to be a citizen in a democratic republic.

Going further, neoliberalism has had disastrous effects on our world, breeding a sort of nihilism that has destroyed any attempt at representative democracy. That democracy, with its promise of self-government, and achieving through such self-government a caring society and a humane future on this planet, has been curtailed by neoliberalism.

It’s the task of the Left, then, to fight for the social and for democracy, to build power while expanding people’s horizons, to insist that our fates are linked, and that we can together, imagine, and fight for a livable future.

Following that logic, my Left is a vision of a more radical democracy, a more socially just world, a more sustainable one. But it’s also a vision of a world in which we have a much more decentralized system of governance and commerce. Most importantly, it’s a rediscovering of community where we can be human.

I truly believe that that’s the way out of the mess we’re in right now. The way in which we defeat the crazy nihilism that Trump represents is actual material politics where Americans feel like government is actually working for them and delivering for them.

Therefore, my Left is an economy that is planned by the state and enacted through representative democracy; yet a hybrid: a mix of public and private ownership without the wholesale reliance on market structures that neoliberalism dictates. As I’ve stated here more than once–every economy is planned. Right now we have one that’s planned by Wall Street, resulting in the capture of the state by plutocrats, that has not only made the rich richer, but has also throttled our economy at the level of productivity.

My Left is also an economy mobilizing the people for popular power, for social movements, for popular demands, for all the right things. Education, health care, transformation of the way we understand public goods and public provisioning. It’s universal policies that help all Americans, rather than means tested like a lot of liberals want to do policy.

Right now liberals in the Democratic Party seem incapable of imaging what a party of the Left could offer working-class Americans. But if we examine history parties of the Left are supposed to be about working-class people. Moreover, it’s incredibly easy to come up with things that a party of the Left would do for working-class people. For one thing, universal health care. For another thing, make it easy for them to form labor unions again. I firmly believe that it will negate some of the powerlessness instilled by neoliberalism. It changes people’s attitudes about their whole life. Also, make school good, accessible and cheap again. And make housing affordable. These are all no-brainers, off the top of my head that a party of the Left could do.

Of course, the Democrats, as presently configured, are not the party of the Left but that’s a story for next time.

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