[sixties-l] This is the year of the right (fwd)

From: sixties@lists.village.virginia.edu
Date: Mon Jan 07 2002 - 21:44:17 EST

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    Date: Wed, 02 Jan 2002 18:13:29 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: This is the year of the right

    This is the year of the right

    But progressives can fight back if they abandon all the old strategies

    George Monbiot
    Tuesday January 1, 2002
    The Guardian

    The left, almost everyone agrees, is on the run. George Bush's seizure of
    power has dragged governments everywhere still further to the right. Most of
    the world's media are deeply hostile to progressive ideas. Now the war in
    Afghanistan has greatly empowered the illiberal men who launched it. 2002,
    most commentators believe, will be the year of the right.
    All this may be true, yet it fails to describe the full scope of problems
    the left now confronts. The real crisis for progressives, indeed for social
    democracy in general, arises from a much deeper trend: the gradual
    atomisation of society.

    Collectivism has been both the principal source of social oppression and the
    principal means of liberation. It has destroyed the lives of women,
    minorities, heretics and foreigners. It has provided monarchs, capitalists
    and communists with populations which are easily led and readily deceived.
    It has also offered health and education, social security, the rule of law,
    universal human rights, environmental protection and representative
    government. Today, totalitarianism may be unachievable, but so, perhaps, is
    the effective redistribution of wealth.

    There is a widespread fallacy that the destruction of society was engineered
    in recent times, notably by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The notion
    is comforting because it suggests that the trend is reversible. But social
    fragmentation has been the work of centuries.

    In Britain, the rise of the merchant class undermined the cohesive power of
    the church, the monarchy and the aristocracy. Enclosure dispersed the
    peasantry. The urban proletariat was, paradoxically, fragmented by
    successful mass action, which helped bring about universal education and a
    better distribution of wealth and power, in turn enabling people to pursue
    their own destinies.

    Now, the state has little to gain from social cohesion. We no longer require
    collectivity even in warfare: battles are fought by a handful of
    specialists, while the rest of us gawp at them on TV. The only national
    tasks which demand our engagement are taxation, voting and spending.
    Otherwise, as far as our leaders are concerned, the less we act in concert,
    the better.

    While we can celebrate the end of socialisation imposed from above, we have
    also lost the class loyalty, the worker solidarity and the coherent demands
    for universal rights and services developed from below. Political parties
    and trades unions are withering. Charities are likely to follow. The absence
    of effective mass action has enabled tiny numbers of people to capture much
    of the world's wealth, and tiny populations of target voters to capture the
    attentions of government.

    There is, in other words, not much left with which traditional social
    democrats can work. Mobilisation has acquired a new meaning: it's not just
    that people aren't moving together; they're not moving at all, from in front
    of the TV or the computer screen. Anti-corporate campaigns have brought
    together vast numbers of people every few months, but they have so far
    largely failed to generate a sustained mobilisation of the kind once
    deployed by trade unions, suffragettes, Chartists, Diggers and Levellers.
    This leaves them vulnerable to capture by outsiders, such as the alienated
    young men of the black block, which rampaged in Genoa.

    It is striking that those campaigns which have proved capable of sustained
    action - such as the peasant movements in Mexico, Brazil and south-west
    India, or the strikes by the Liverpool dockers and the Dudley hospital
    workers - have drawn on people who are still bound together by geography,
    class and profession. These may represent the end of the old collectivity,
    rather than the beginning of a new one.

    What this implies is that those of us who remain committed to the principles
    of distribution and social justice must strive to develop new forms of
    collectivism, which do not rely on existing loyalties or patterns of
    behaviour. This is a formidable task. But, just as mass action accelerated
    individualism, individualism may help us develop a new kind of mass action.

    The smashing of society provides us with the means of building movements
    which are not limited by national or ethnic loyalties, by adhesion to the
    workplace or the village. It may permit us to create an internationalist
    movement far bigger than any before, united by a common opposition to what
    is now an international ruling class. But first we progressives may have to
    abandon almost every strategy which has worked in the past.

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