The Asymmetric Battle of the Left

Left wing politics face a number of political obstacles, but most of all systemic power and the gate-keepers of the status quo — liberals.

Across the left-wing political spectrum, from communism and socialism to left-libertarianism and anarchism, the Left wrestles with the idea of power. How best to wield power without instituting oppressive hierarchies that maintain old inequalities or generate new ones? This is a question all left-wing movements ask themselves at some point.

This is because critiquing, exposing, unpacking and eliminating the enormous power of capital — held by class, institutions, nations, and individuals — is the central occupation of the Left. Individual inequalities may vary and be to a greater or lesser extent a matter of chance (being born in one location rather than another), but widespread systemic inequalities are the result of concentrated power.

It is for this reason that the Left are constantly challenging modes and locations of power, whether they be sovereign states or representations and discourse in media. This reflection also points inwards, leading many to the impression that it is the Left’s infighting and internal factionalisation that prevents it from gaining political power.

The critical impulse has turned supposedly left-leaning liberals into crusaders against ‘woke’ and ‘cancel’ culture, which they argue is limiting free speech and the production of valuable entertainment.

But a political movement that doesn’t move norms, behaviour and issues towards social justice is not progressive. It is no movement at all. At the very least, political progress should make people reflect on how they act and how they are positioned. It should them feel uncomfortable about beliefs they earlier subscribed to or conditions they failed to notice. Guilt is not a form of oppression.

Liberals: defenders of power

Historically, revolutions are achieved through blood. When anti-capitalist revolutions do gain power, they are often crushed by leading capitalist countries through violent coups and the support of dictatorial power and genocide. It is the same story throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia. And it wasn’t just right-wing conspirators like Dick Cheney leading the charge, much of the Cold War anti-communist crusades were at a high during the liberal leadership of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

This shows that having a common enemy does not mean being united. The Left have historically conceded much ground to liberals to keep rising right-wing extremism at bay. But it is liberal governance that ushered in fascism to Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Likewise, although both Left and Right are fiercely critical of liberals, it doesn’t betray any unity. The Left oppose the Right more than any other political faction, historically facing down fascism in each its incarnations, and bearing the most immediate and violent of treatments after fascists take power.

Liberals are attacked so forcefully not only for their hypocrisy but for their position as guardians of progressive values. Their discourse and ideas, accepted into the mainstream through an abiding media, set the ceiling for political ambition and define what is radical. More than anything, they have the power to materialise their ideology in the political world of policy.

Though the meaning of ‘liberal’ varies from region to region, the most important feature is a belief in the protection and propagation of capitalist markets as the wellspring for societal progress, equality and freedom. This belief is at the heart of liberal democracy, along with theories of liberalism which gained traction in the seventeenth century. It conceptualises market choices as freedom from oppression, choosing to aim to ‘contain’ negative effects of market-capitalism rather than transform them.

This is why there is little difference to be found in the governing policies of Democrats and Republican’s in the US (Obama’s unwavering commitment to corporate power), Conservative and Labour governments in the UK (Tony Blair continuing Margaret Thatcher’s project of privatisation and welfare cuts), or Liberal and Labor governments in Australia (Paul Keating’s ‘New Labor’ initiating the neoliberal restructuring of the 1990s).

It is they who hold the Left captive and aim to achieve electoral success with as little change as possible. “Nothing will fundamentally change” was Joe Biden’s reassurance to big Democratic Party Committee (DNC) donors. And of course, he was right. Biden has failed to fulfil his promises of student debt cancellation, pandemic relief and Medicare expansion that were used to placate the progressive campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Comparing the policies, actions and legacy of Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama and now Joe Biden, there is little difference to conservative manifesto’s found in the ostensibly opposed Republican Party.

And so while the leading ‘left’ parties of each of these countries may coat their rhetoric with ideas of progress, emancipation, and at times mild distribution; their underlying commitment to the tenets of capitalism — private property, market dependence, competition, profit — are never shaken.

These are the people who strangle the Left, while squeezing each drop of value from genuine grass roots movements. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights and Black Lives Matter are employed superficially by liberals to gain political points and to maintain their position as progressives. While Democrats pat themselves on the back for Biden overturning Trump’s ban on LGBTQ+ members of the military, the nature of US imperialism or the military industrial complex is never addressed. Instead, a massive $777 billion military budget is signed into law.

Drowning glimmers of hope

Those who truly push progress have done so for years, and have consistently critiqued the unjust wielding of power. Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have been major critics of capitalism in their respective parliaments for decades, and from their commitment to left-wing values they oppose racism, discrimination, inequality and oppression of all kinds.

It is not from these values that Joe Biden supports LGBTQ+ rights, it is instead a testament to those fighters that its message is now mainstream. Biden’s voting record attests to this, his involvement in the 1994 crime law that saw incarcerations skyrocket among disadvantaged groups as well as his support of the Iraq War have placed him firmly against social justice in the history books.

But although these issues are so clear that even Biden and his colleagues have to acknowledge, their consistent ideological position ensures that it continues indefinitely. Corbyn and Sanders were both leading opponents of the Iraq war, in what is now recognised as both contravening international law and a fabricated pretext for a decades long bid for geopolitical control.

Their positions have been vindicated with retrospect, though at the time those opposing military invasion of the Middle East so shortly after 9/11 were attacked viciously by mainstream media and politics. Not only most clearly partisan Fox News, but the ostensibly objective reputable liberal outlets like the New York Times are normally in lock-step with US foreign policy and capitalist ideology.

For young leftists who’s coming of political age was during the Obama years, these hollow messages are no longer a disappointment. Established political parties, their stranglehold on voting blocs, and their alignment with corporate power are now as predictable as they are depressing.

Young people have made it through the global financial crisis of 2007-2009, and are now living through COVID-19, all within an economic climate where their rising productivity isn’t matched by rising wages. Add to this the looming catastrophe of climate change, and the complacency of liberals claiming to represent them is disillusioning.

Corbyn’s image was assassinated by a united media — the BBC and Murdoch’s news empire — who branded him as a dangerous, anti-semitic, treasonous crypto-communist who was unfit to lead. Within his own party, Labour staffers actively worked to lose the election to remove him from power. This is the price paid for proposing a genuine criticism of the dominant capitalist system.

In similar faschion, Bernie Sanders — both in 2016 and 2020 — faced an almost insurmountable uphill battle, and despite a huge number of young activists turning out to advocate for the material benefits of his policies, opponents eventually coalesced around establishment choices in Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden.

But to think that either of the candidates discussed — Sanders or Corbyn — would establish an ideal form of government for the Left is to be mistaken. They were both compromises, with most left-wing political commentators sober to the fact that large-scale reform may be unachievable even from office. In leading capitalist nations, the power of capital both in public and private life is enormous. The likelihood of a revolution through reform is low, and efficacy of electoral politics in a capitalist liberal democracy is being questioned.

As conditions deteriorate for almost all segments of the population, and the wedge between the billionaire amateur-astronauts and workers thickens, it is hard to imagine long term sustainability. Another economic crisis and revolution may be afoot. Though as history tells us, in times of civil unrest and rising labour movements, it is the fascist enforcers of capital who are most effective at sweeping power.


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