Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Leftwingers and Power
The best line of the programme was delivered by Sayle who grinned at the camera and said feelingly: 'Thank God we never succeeded! Thank God we never got our hands on the levers of power! What a mess we would have made.' And I have to say, he's right. Marxism was an acute and basically accurate analysis of capitalist society but it offers and offered no antidote to its failings. The USSR was a pathetic abortion of justice and freedom for working people and those often very clever people in the west who believed it was bound eventually to improve according to the immutable laws of history as perceived by Marx, were criminally naive.
But can lefties ever rule efficiently and effectively? I heard a very interesting contribution to Today this morning by Christopher Hitchens who argued that the left, having failed to win at the ballot box had embarked on a long march through the institutions to convert them to 'Marxist culture': multiculturalism, political correctness and so forth(he was very vague in defining his terms). Leftwing figures like John Reid, Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers, argued Hitchens, had eschewed their international revolutionary past and seized those levers of power Sayle was so concerned about. Whether these New Labour incarnations of their former leftwing ideologal selves have managed to display competence in power is a question much asked- and answered mostly in the negative I would have said. However, I would like to hear Hitchens elaborate his argument more fully as he may just be on to something.
I think "Bonkers" (as we used to call Hitchens when he was in the Lobby) was making a fairly narrow point really - that the drive to political correctness is a reinvention of the leftie ideals of the 60s. Fair point, but it only really covers the area of sexual politics. In that area it is true to say that a lot of the aims of the 60s lefties have been achieved. But in virtually every other respect - most notably in the crucial area of economic management - they have lost the ideological battle hands down.
What this illustrates is the dichotomy between the left-right paradigm and economic and social liberalism. We have moved towards a much more socially liberal society in the last 30 years and that is generally perceived to amount to a move to the "left." But at the same time we have become a much more economically liberal society - and most people would view that as a move to the "right." So what Hitchens is failing to appreciate is that, simultaneously, we have become both more left-wing and more right-wing.
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