---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 02 Jan 2002 18:13:29 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
Tuesday January 1, 2002
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,
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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