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Analysing the pseudo-left

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Analysing the pseudo-left

Author: albert

Date : Nov 20, 2003 3:26 am


There's an interesting topic on the pursuit of unicorns at Harry's Place.

I just added the following comment there:


I'm assuming, (without really knowing) that the British "alternative globalization" movement is somewhat similar to Australia's and that the British SWP is somewhat similar to the Australian International Socialist Organization (although more dominant within its milieu.*

If so, while I share Harry's hostility to that movement and the particular SWP forces within it and reject Clive's optimism about its potential, I would have to agree with some of Clive's specific points and disagree with many of Harry's points.

First, I don't agree that the anti-war movement is "a product of the nihilistic culture of oppositionalism and futile revolutionism that dominates the anti-globalisation scene". Those are important factors within it, and especially in the organizational leadership, but it seems obvious that mass opposition arose directly from rejection of the arguments for war put forward by Bush and Blair and was a mainstream view, not the product of any nihilistic oppositional and futile revolutionism.

For example it was a majority view led by governments in countries such as France and Germany. Schroeder and Chirac can hardly be described as nihilist, oppositional or revolutionist. Likewise most of the hundreds of thousands who marched against the war in both Britain and Australia had nothing whatever to do with the alternative gloabilization movement and held conventional "mainstream" fairly conservative and isolationist views about "international law" etc etc.

Second, "almost all of us who got involved in [alternative globalization] politics in our youth did so out of a desire to transform the status quo". This is as true of the youth getting involved in the alternative globalization movement today as Harry's unamended statement was of youth getting involved in left politics. Most of them are not nihilists but naively enthusiastic about wanting to change the status quo to a "better" world. A more accurate description of the difference would be that the left movements (which were also quite incoherent) sought to change the world in a progressive direction while the alternative globalization is distinctly reactionary so far as its political tendency can be identified. For example it mobilizes against globalization (even though the crudest form of that is mitigated by now speaking of "alternative globalization" rather than "anti-globalization", the content remains directed against global forces that are breaking down national barriers - which never could be part of any progressive left position).

Third, Harry notes that a reformist movement (in the sense of the former "Communist" Party or a less managerial Labor Party) is not just incoherent like the alternative globalization movement but completely missing.

Likewise of course a revolutionary or "hard" left is not even nailed to its perch but "resting" flat on its back on the floor of the cage.

This certainly does mean "the field has been left free" for the pseudo-left. But lets be clear. The fact that any sort of genuine left (however defined) is currently absent is what makes it possible for people with fundamentally reactionary politics to be mistaken for "leftists" merely by using a thin veneer of "left language". But that absence is not the cause of the reactionary politics nor is the pseudo-left the reason for the absence of a genuine left.

I'm delighted to see Harry again using the term "pseudo-left" as widespread adoption of that term will help clarify a lot of things. But it simply doesn't make sense to hope that the likes of Monbiot finally realizing that they are not opposed to capitalism could be a step towards the emergence of a left that isn't pseudo.

The point is that the underlying world outlook which Monbiot expresses is reactionary (fearing the future and explicitly yearning for an allegedly more compassionate and "human" past). His ability to pass himself as a leftist is what makes him a pseudo-leftist (as opposed for example to a conservative like Jacques Chirac). But strip away the pseudo and you are left with a common or garden reactionary, not a leftist.

Posted by: Albert Langer at November 19, 2003 05:22 PM


Comments :

Re:Analysing the pseudo-left

(by harry on 11/19/2003)

I think you are right that the anti-war position was a mainstream view.

My point was more a reflection on the rhetoric of resistance that comes from these groups. I think you know from my other posts that I consider the psuedo-left as you call it, to be reactionary and/or essentially conservative.


Re:Analysing the pseudo-left

(by keza on 11/19/2003)

I think we need to find a way to use the label pseudo-left in a way that isn't too sweeping. We need to target the leadership of the anti-war, anti-globalisation movement rather than those who attend demonstrations and feel upset in a diffuse way about "the state of the world".

I strongly identified with some of the sentiments expressed by Harry under the heading I hate you (Harry's Place 18 November)

eg "Please don't tell me that Harold Pinter, Tariq Ali and John Pilger are isolated individuals. They are poisoning young people and destroying what little moral credibility remained on the radical left.

"I despise them and I despise that their pals in the media present them as the "left" and leave the field open to the Tories to present themselves as the voice of reason.

"But we can't leave the left to these people."


People like Harold Pinter, Tariq Ali and John Pilger et al are people who should know better - in my view they simply choose not to. They deserve to be attacked for the views they spread - with the enthusiastic support of a significant section of the media (another indication that their views are conervative rather than radical).

Most of the people who attend demonstrations, carry pseudo-left posters and chant pseudo-left slogans are naive. It's not surprising that they feel the way they do about US imperialism - they're just following their gut instincts.

Apart from the Pilger's and Ali's of "the movement" the other group of people who make me really mad are those who have the opportunity reconsider their views and just refuse to do so - often resorting to abuse in the process. These people usually have a strong left background but they have allowed themselves to become mentally stagnant - so in the curent situation they are deliberately ignorant rather than "naive". They don't want to know because it takes them outside their comfort zone - socially, emotionally, intellectually.

I despise all the talk of the Iraqi "rsistance", the barely suppresed gloating in the way every attack on coalition forces is reported, the constant comparisons with Vietnam. It makes me sick actually - I cam hardly watch BBC World News any more and the ABC (Australian) is almost as bad.

But its not the people who go on marches who are at fault. We need to accept the reality that most people aren't independent thinkers. They tend to choose between an array of views rather than developing their own. At the moment a genuine left position isn't one of their multiple choice options.



Your turn

(by albert on 11/24/2003)

Hi Harry,

Sorry about the delay getting back to you. Welcome aboard!

I guess your post above is intended more as a "hello" than a substantive response to the invitation I added to the above thread at "Harry's Place" following your reply to my comments above.

Here are Harry's and my messages, both as background for LastSuperpower readers who haven't looked up the "unicorns" link above yet, and to repeat the challenge "your turn" ;-)

(BTW there are 17 comments and more were still being added to that topic by others up to a couple of days ago. Other recent topics at Harry's Place also involve closely related discussions that should be of interest to LastSuperpower readers).


Interesting comments Albert and points taken.

Could you maybe expand on this:

"But that absence is not the cause of the reactionary politics nor is the pseudo-left the reason for the absence of a genuine left."

Maybe the absence of another kind of left doesn't cause the reactionary politics but it certainly explains its dominance.

But what is a genuine left in your eyes Albert?

Posted by: Harry at November 19, 2003 06:33 PM


Those are very big questions and I certainly look forward to discussing them further with you.

Unfortunately it's 5:30am here and I've been up all night so I'll have to postpone a substantive response.

Instead I'll use that as a good excuse to invite you to have a first crack at those issues in a separate posting yourself. Sadly I'm much better at responding than initiating so the excuse is also quite convenient for a more productive discussion.

Briefly though, for purposes of this discussion I'm treating anything that bases itself on both solidarity with the oppressed and promotion of progress as being (very vaguely) "left". That is not as empty as it sounds - it excludes for example most of the "alternative globalization" people who usually base themselves on solidarity with the oppressed (even though their actual policies might be harmful to people they think they are supporting) but are hostile to progress. Likewise it excludes that section of the libertarian right which is enthusiastic about progress but has no solidarity with the oppressed.

Note that above is purely for current situation. If there actually was a significant organized left meeting those criteria I would be writing about why social democrats, reformists etc should not be considered part of the real left ;-)

To expand on the reason why the left is absent I would say both reformists and revolutionaries had no plausible program that could actually lead anywhere. Again that isn't as empty as it sounds - it rejects for example any theory that it was somebody else's fault.

To expand on the reason for the domination of reactionary politics, I view the propaganda from the BBC etc as a reflection of ruling class ideology. A moribund parasitic class rules and its ideas are the ruling ideas. That may well be as empty as it sounds but it is different from thinking that reactionary ideas don't have any social basis (or are due to the absence of movements with opposing ideas).

Above was "off the top of my head" but should be sufficient to insist that now it's your turn ;-)

Posted by: Albert Langer at November 19, 2003 07:54 PM


I'm hoping that three things could come out of a further (and wider) exchange concerning the questions Harry raised.

First, as already started above by keza, taking up some other remarks by Harry, we should be able to proceed to a deeper analysis of both the anti-war movement and the state of the left generally with a view to figuring out what is to be done.

Second, in that respect the remarks by others in the "unicorns" thread pointing out differences between the "alternative globalization" movement, the anti-war movement and specific trot organizations like the British SWP (Australian ISO) are important. Also important is developing a wider (and more accurate) critique of precisely what it is we do reject about the "alternative globalization" movement (and what if anything can be done about the positive features of many people involved in it).

Third, I would like to see some sort of "campaign" for the term "pseudo-left" instead of "left" or "hard left" etc to be widely adopted among people who feel queasy about "what happened to the left, how come they are so conservative/reactionary/apologetic for fascists etc etc".

If this was successful it could hopefully spread among liberal pro-war blogs and perhaps also some of the right-wing pro-war bloggers that interact with them. If it started being used by liberal and other opinion and analysis writers in the mainstream media that could be strategically important.

As keza points out: "At the moment a genuine left position isn't one of their multiple choice options."

Accurately naming and precisely defining the (various) tendencies that are currently substituting for and blocking the emergence of a genuine left alternative is an essential step (among many) for left positions to emerge from hibernation.


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Created by keza
Last modified 2004-03-19 05:26 PM

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