Welcome To The Far Left

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?

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6 Responses to “Welcome To The Far Left”


  1. 1 LeftAtTheCross May 14, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Yes. That’s a good analysis.

    My commente on that thread at ILR was that the scuffle thing will turn some people off attending the next protest, people who are “angry” and starting to believe that there’s some truth in what you’ve summarised above but wouldn’t consider themselves on the Left.

    Like the “I’m not a lefty but” guy who says he’s in the GP but is moving to Labour. Ok you can argue it’s not much of a move on that left-right spectrum you’ve described, but it’s a sign that the political status quo is not satisfactory for him, and he may not find in Labour his end point on the journey he’s embarking upon.

    And similarly for maybe of the “civilians” on the march last Tuesday. Does the far Left really benefit from being bolshie and turning them off?

    We’re in this for the long war, there’s no revolutionary moment around the corner at the moment, we don’t have a mass membership of any far Left party like they have in Greece.

    So despite the relatively bland politics of the centre-left ground I think we need to encourage volumes of people a bit leftwards in the near term, and not concentrate on stuff that only appeals to and satisfies the mania of the miniscule numbers of hard Leftists.

    And having said that, yes, that’s a good analysis you’ve posted and I’d agree with the ultimate futility of centre-Left social democratic politics.

    • 2 LeftAtTheCross May 14, 2010 at 9:08 am

      I should clarify that I use the word “mania” in the sense of “all consuming enthusiasm” and not in a negative or derogative sense.

  2. 3 Hugh Green May 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the comments LATC.

    Regarding the scuffle-cum-skirmish. I’m a bit conflicted over it. Part of me thinks it’s just ridiculous, cringemaking and counter-productive, and as you say a total turn-off for people who are starting from a different place.

    I was on a march last year organised by them, and at one point they wanted people to sit down in the road in front of the Dáil. And I had brought a couple of people along with me who would not think of themselves as leftists as all. And I was getting asked, “why do they want us to sit down?”, and I was like, “Dunno”. It’s that sort of complete incoherence, or protest just for the hell of it, -more so even than the ‘violence’- that I think many people find a turn off, and with good reason. You might as well be asking people to do freestyle boogie in a bear suit.

    But then another part of me thinks that however stupid and illogical it was, it illustrates -not as an example to follow, though- that well-organised and consequent agitation has potential under present circumstances to capture people’s attention and imagination. Now the form of this agitation has nothing to do with rings-around-the-Dáil stunts. In fact I don’t even know what it form it might take. But when I got handed a copy of the Metro Herald the other morning and it had a front page feature on the protests, it looked to me like something had been accomplished, or at least a possibility had been presented that wasn’t previously apparent. So I think the SWP can take some heart that their spontaneous side of their stupidity (I seriously doubt it was pre-planned) might have served a useful purpose.

    I think we need to encourage volumes of people a bit leftwards in the near term

    Well, one of the things I was thinking about when I wrote the above posts is that there are very few people out there -this is an untested belief on my part- who actually think that state power should be used to redistribute upwards.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are loads of people, who fear they might be turning into leftists but are fighting the urge, who are already way to the left of what any ‘centre-left’ alliance might do, and it becomes a matter of developing ways of helping people cast off the chains of illusion.

    I really don’t know the standard fare of accusations of treachery, bail-out-the-people-not-banks slogans and getting a belt from the guards will have any real effect. What Conor was saying on the ILR about alternative media forms is far more to the point. But that is far more difficult to organise and sustain, and not something the likes of the SWP are likely to assist with.

  3. 4 Tomboktu May 15, 2010 at 11:30 am

    there are loads of people, who fear they might be turning into leftists but are fighting the urge

    You would not believe how that so resonates for me circa 25 years ago, but replace “leftists” with “gay”.

    • 5 LeftAtTheCross May 15, 2010 at 1:19 pm

      That’s a very good analogy. I’ve been a closet socialist since my teens, only becoming politically active in the past 18 months. It’s a liberating experience.


  1. 1 The Centrists United, Will Only Occasionally Be Defeated! « Circumlimina Trackback on May 13, 2010 at 3:30 pm

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