For progressives, whether they be of the liberal centre or the hard left, 2016 was a traumatic year in so many ways. Brexit and Trump are but the most obvious signifiers in this psychological landscape; there are all sorts of ways in which this past year has damaged the collective psyche of the left of centre.
Paul Mason has written an article in The Guardian which provides insight into where these thoughts are going. He accuses many of being in the first stage of grief, denial, with all this talk of Brexit not really happening and Trump surely thinking about quitting the White House before he even enters it. Yet Mason is clearly in the third stage, bargaining, and his article is subconsciously rooted in this thinking. I think this is where left-wing thought will be throughout 2017, sadly enough.
The basic gist of this trope is that while the upheaval caused by everything that happened in 2016 had so much in it that was bad from a left-wing perspective, it was upheaval nonetheless, and surely this means that two big things the Left doesn’t like – both of them cited in Mason’s article, namely neoliberal economics and American hegemony – will be crumbling soon as well.
While the latter of those two things might happen, what people like Paul Mason assume is that something better will automatically take its place. This is the historic weakness of all left-wing thinking, to be fair; that the revolution will always leave everyone better off. What’s sad about this supposition is that history tells us the opposite is pretty much always the case.
Also, I don’t see neoliberal economics going anywhere soon. If anything, western economies will probably get leaner in the decade ahead. Taking the more statist stuff said during campaigning from someone like Trump is to ignore what we’ve already seen of what his administration will be like (i.e. the appointments he’s made). The hope on the Left appears to be that the New Right will carry through on its statist pledges, or if it doesn’t, a new left populism will usurp it. The problem with this mode of thinking is straightforward: until the Left has a programme for government that resolves its internal contradictions and appears to make sense to swing voters, it will continue to lose elections to the New Right. All the bargaining in the world won’t change that.
David Leslie says
I don’t mind a spell in opposition, it is in many ways cleaner. Britain appeared to have a liberal concensus, but more and more people were left behind as the wave of change swept on; finally it triggered a reaction. People now plan to swim against the tide, not acknowledging that the past is gone. Let’s watch with care and concern as they try, then gently help them when they tire. Bargaining? What for ?
I noticed a while ago that the Remain side, by focussing on the idea of a second referendum on the post-Brexit deal, had moved to the ‘bargaining’ phase: their initial demand for an immediate second referednum was rooted in denial, the idea tht the result was all a big mistake (‘the tests must be wrong, do them again!’) but now this, a recognition that the result was correct but being convinced that if we work hard enough we can stop things, is bargaining (‘if I stop smoking and do more exercise and drink lots of fruit juice then I can get better!’).
Jonny Axelsson says
Actually a second referendum would have been the sane choice, never mind that it won’t happen.
Compare Iceland, considering to join the EU. First there would be a referendum whether to start negotiations, then, assuming a yes, another to accept the negotiated outcome. Now, crisis aborted, both referendums are on hold. If there were only one referendum, it would make more sense to have one based on the negotiated outcome, instead of the Leave option being the “whatever will be, will be” option.
That of course was not what the Conservative Party set up, and it would be political suicide for them to change that setup, and politicians abhor suicide. Furthermore the Article 50 isn’t set up to facilitate this. If done all over again, by rational parties, both these mistakes should be fixed. That would be in a better world. Here and now this thing is a mess, with no sound way out.