Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Finding the Left

There has been much recent discussion about trying to identify what it means to be "on the left" these days. The OZ ran a series of forgettable articles under the title "What's Left?", which is incidentally also the title of a great book on the topic by Nick Cohen.

Cohen's thesis is that he can't identify with a "left" that has redefined itself to be "anti-American" and hence aligns itself with various fascist states merely because they too are "anti-American". He correctly punctures the theory that "my enemy's enemy is my friend", and questions how defence of Iraq from the US could be a "left" agenda.

It doesn't help the left cause that it can be so easily characterised as being, well, flakey. Gerard Henderson writing in the SMH has justly criticised the Sydney Peace Prize winner John Pilger. Quite frankly I find Pilger an embarrassment of the first order. I've never really been able to find an essential philosophy inherent in his writing just a desire to criticise the ruling classes - the neo-Trotskyite strategy that the revolutionary needs to align himself with every cause that opposes the state.

This strategem is what Nick Minchin seems to believe lies at the heart of climate change activism. He said on Four Corners "For the extreme left it provides the opportunity to do what they've always wanted to do - to sort of de-industrialise the Western world. The collapse of communism was a disaster for the left and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion. For years the left internationally have been very successful in exploiting people's innate fears about global warming and climate change."

Nick might be interested to learn that the theory of climate change was actually first publicly sprouted by one part of the industrial complex - the nuclear power industry - against another - the fossil fuel industry.

But perhaps he needs to also learn the lesson of the left with respect to fascism, just because a theory is being supported by the left doesn't make it wrong. On climate change it remains the fact that the underlying theory is incredibly convincing, and that waiting for sufficient evidence before acting is too late. But there are also benefits in acting. There is the ongoing need to diversify energy sources because the energy crisis that will ensue if we have demand continuing to grow when known reserves cease increasing will make the oil shocks of the 1970s look inconsequential. There is also the additional benefit of being able to change geoploitics but not being dependent on the "oil-rich" Middle Eastern states.

The left stands for concepts of political and economic equality that should transcend national boundaries. It believes in the ongoing role of the state in pursuit of this goal, domestically and internationally. The "socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange" does not require that these activities are controlled by the state, but that their pursuit serves social goals. (Your typical market theorist actually justifies their theories by trying to demonstrate that a free market results in the "socially optimal" outcome).

I do not recognise the left in the writings of John Pilger or in a conspiracy on climate change.

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