Not much time at the moment, but I wanted to note something I saw on Irish Left Review: people saying ‘I’m no lefty but..’ and other people talking about how there was a need to preserve the centre ground and not allow a vacuum to be filled by the ‘far left’ – groups like the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party.
Well, I have a problem with this.
It’s not up to me to come up with a definition of ‘the left’, but it seems to me that any such description is a sort of metaphor to do with space, signifying one’s position, relative to others, on a line. And that line, or spectrum, if you want to be fancy about it, concerns attitudes and beliefs about what should be done with state power.
So people on the left, generally speaking, think there should be actions, usually in the form of government-enacted policy, that lead to redistribution of wealth from the privileged few to the many.
People on the right, on the other hand, stand for actions that lead in the opposite direction: cutting government spending on assistance to poorer groups, cutting income and corporation taxes, opening up the provision of essential services to private entities and getting ‘government’ to the size where they can ‘drag it to the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub’, as Grover Norquist is famed for putting it.
Now, some people on the right will say that this is a vile accusation, that they are not opposed to more people becoming wealthy, and that they are opposed to state power regulating people’s lives precisely for this reason, because state intervention inhibits economic growth, and that’s why they taxes should be cut and why people should be ‘incentivised’ to go out and get a job and do things for themselves.
The latter position is complete nonsense.
Capitalism requires all sorts of state power in order to sustain growth, whether by enforcing private property rights through legislative forms and guard labour, corporate subsidy, the building of infrastructure to improve capital mobility, the development of technologies through military spending and so on and so forth. To say nothing of the fact that the richest nations in the world reached that position on the back of all sorts of trade tariffs that fly in the face of the free trade mythology that is widely propagated. And then you have massive state intervention in the form of propping up currencies.
Take the European Union, which is a free-trade space par excellence, and look how its commissioners are now talking about overseeing the fiscal decisions taken by Eurozone states with the purpose of maintaining a stable currency and exacting disciplinary measures on states that fail to meet the criteria that they set down.
It takes a rare genius not to see that the preservation of capital mobility, which is one of the objectives of the EU, demands a massive expansion of state power (without any corresponding expansion of the degree of control exercised by citizens over that state). (It also takes a rare genius not to see that when we are talking about the EU, we are talking about a state).
So: who controls this state? Why, capital, of course. Big banks, corporations. Rich people. Let us linger at EU level for a moment. There was some Fianna Fáil dick on the radio yesterday saying that the people of Europe were standing in solidarity with the people of Greece by lending them a load of money.
In fact, what was happening -and what is happening with the €750bn monetary fund, which the EU will be operating with its IMF tag team partner- is the expropriation of ordinary people to serve the interests of bondholders. So workers across Europe, in Greece, in Spain (and let’s not forget the Irish vanguard) and so on will be forced to work for longer hours and for more years on lower wages with progressively restricted access to essential services. Why? To reassure the markets, i.e. finance capital i.e. the same avenging angels whose actions produced the current crisis. The rich. Big banks.
Sticking with Greece. The head of the Socialist International is the Greek Prime Minister. And his government is enacting draconian actions on behalf of these avenging angels. Look at Zapatero’s government in Spain. Same thing happening. Incidentally, PSOE stands for Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. These are parties nominally of the left. And you will get loads of people in both countries, supporters of these parties, who will say ‘I am a leftist’, far more people proportionally than you get in Ireland, where saying you’re a leftist, in many circles, holds a similar sort of stigma to saying that you’ve just got back from the syphilis clinic. But the function of the policies these governments are enacting is to distribute wealth upwards to the privileged few, not downwards.
So my point, finally, is this: if you agree with my definition of what it means to be on the left, and if you desire a government whose function -regardless of what bromides they come out with- is to use state power to enact policies that distribute wealth upwards to the privileged few, then you cannot be a leftist, or a lefty, or on the left.
On the other hand, if you think state power should not be used to distribute wealth upwards, then, under current circumstances, given the fact that any Irish centre-left grouping will continue with the same policies (though perhaps with a differing degree of viciousness, perhaps even more viciously on account of a ‘democratic mandate’), you are to the left of these parties, and therefore, in terms of the constituted order, on the far left. It’s nothing to be proud of, or worried about. It’s just a matter of fact, and I recommend you get used to it.
Now, what are you going to do about it?