The Samovar

The left is “amorphous and ineffectual”
November 17, 2006, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Activism, Politics

Jeremy Seabrook argues in the Guardian that the left has become “amorphous and ineffectual”. I think he’s right that the left is not doing very well at the moment, but it is it for the reason he says?

He says that the “global elevation of civil society” (that is, things like NGOs, faith groups) is connected with the idea that “governments must everywhere retreat, not only from economic activity, but equally, from the provision of basic services”. Those on the left who work within civil society are being tricked into supporting a view of government that they don’t believe in. Or to put it another way, it’s a form of champagne socialism, a middle class hobby that seems to be in favour of good things but actually supports a system that works against the poor.

No wonder civil society is now an essential part of developmentalism: it sets up a strident competitive clamour between groups of the privileged. This creates an agreeable impression of diversity and democratic pluralism; but is designed to ensure that nothing challenges the destructive system of which civil society is both ornament and agent of control.

Is he right? If so, what should we be doing?



I’m not familiar with the terminology so I can’t comment intelligently. I do think poor people are losing out. I think it’s directly related to an increase in materialism. A larger percentage of people believe happiness, peace of mind, or whatever “it” is, is to be had by accumulating things, including paper, or digital, fortunes. This column hints at what I think I perceive in society at large.

Comment by J

Hehehe, that article is quite funny but I think it’s bad science really.

But I think your post suggests an interesting question. If materialism is on the rise, why is it on the rise?

There’s another related point – a much older question – right wing style capitalism does the poor no good even in materialistic terms, so why do they support it?

I think at least part of the answer has to be that the left’s alternatives don’t seem credible to people, for whatever reason.

John McDonnell (who intends to stand for leader of the Labour party when Blair leaves) published an alternative manifesto of sorts. I think there are some great ideas in there, but I suspect that comments by some right wingers that nobody would vote for it might be true.

Comment by Dan Goodman

“If materialism is on the rise, why is it on the rise?”

Because more people have access to cheap manufactured goods. When people get a taste, they want more, kind of like cocaine. Businesses and governments are well aware of this, hence things like “planned obsolescence”. The desire for stuff is insatiable. In fact, getting stuff only stokes it.

For the most part I suspect the really poor are too busy trying to survive to spend much time pondering economic systems, or political solutions to their problems. If they are slightly better off, many probably spend their time trying to get more stuff, rather than getting educated and organized.

In the US, the right has done a better sales job. Most people who do think about it, believe that while capitalism is awful, it’s the least awful of the known economic systems. There would seem to be ample evidence to back that up. (Europe’s sluggish economies, the US’s pending fiscal catastrophe due to entitlements.)

I scanned the manifesto you linked to. Of course I have no idea what the Brits might support. For something similar to take hold in the US would require a complete collapse of the economy, and probably the government. That said, capitalism doesn’t seem to work so well when scarcity is a problem. Who knows what the US will be ready for in 50 or 100 years. (10 years?)

Comment by J

“Because more people have access to cheap manufactured goods.”

Somehow that answer doesn’t feel quite right to me, but then I don’t have a better one.

“For the most part I suspect the really poor are too busy trying to survive to spend much time pondering economic systems, or political solutions to their problems.”

That’s very likely to be true. I’m unemployed at the moment so I can spend all my time thinking about things like this, but at times when I’ve been much busier I’ve really lost touch with what’s important and had a much less critical view of what was going on in the news.

Comment by Dan Goodman

Comments are closed.

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