13 August 2016

Distinguishing Progressivism and the Left Coalition

A commenter again objects to the idea that "left" and "right" is a useful categorisation of political ideas.

On the subject of "left" and "right", there is confusion because I use the terms in two distinct but related senses.

When I talk about the long-term political trends--"leftward drift" and so on, what I am talking about is what is sometimes called "progressivism". It would be good to define that more satisfactorily, but it is an intellectual-political movement of great age, oriented around a cluster of ideals mostly centred on "equality". There is no corresponding long-term definition of "right", there is only occasional opposition to progressivism.

In day to day politics, "left" and "right" have much broader meanings, relating to every area of political controversy. Mostly they have no permanent meaning in relation to ideas about policy, and no meaning in relation to practice of any activity outside of politics. They are, however, an essential feature of any kind of struggle for power. There cannot normally be more than two coalitions seriously engaged in seeking power; if you bring any desire to a power-struggle, it is necessary first to get one or other of the competing coalitions to agree to your desire.

The reason these two very different meanings of "left" get confused is because, given the inevitable division of politics into two factions at any given place and time, we label the faction more in line with "progressivism" as "left" and the other as "right". In some cases, the choice is rather difficult and ends up being pretty much arbitrary.

So, immigration is a progressive and therefore long-term "left" demand when it is premised on the equality of "natives" and "foreigners". However, while that is in line with long-term progressive principles, it is actually very new for it to be advanced with significant powerful backing on the basis of those principles.  As the commentator rightly observed, going back only a few decades, it was much more a practical issue pushed by businesses in order to advance their own economic interests. Because those businessmen were part of the (short-term) "right" coalition, immigration at that point was more a "right"-wing than "left"-wing demand. It is by no means the only issue falling into that category; for a century the progressive agenda focused on advancing the status of the working class relative to the employing class (because equality is the central progressive value), and so many people define "left" and "right" as permanent ideas relating to the two sides of that economic divide. As the same commentator put it in 2011:
In the world I was brought up in (and you were born into) Right/Left politics was quite simple. At the extreme of the Right there were bosses and millionaires, and the extreme of the Left there were deep-sea fishermen and coalminers...
But during the 70s the world as I knew it changed into something else. The first inkling of descent into (what appeared to me to be) silliness was called “Rock against Racism”. Then there was the Feminist movement, relying on a series of absurd illogicalities and parodying Marxist class dialectics. Together, and with other ingredients, they formed the basis for the time-wasting activities of so many “equal opportunities” employers today.
It is readily observable that that "fishermen and coalminers" model does not hold in the twenty-first century. Indeed, there is massive opposition to Trump from the existing "right" coalition on the grounds that his stated platform is not "right" at all in twentieth-century terms.

The existing right coalition in the United States, however, is still defining itself in opposition to the left coalition on a field of issues which the left coalition sees as essentially done with or for other reasons not currently important. The force of the left coalition is directed in new, but still progressive directions, including open borders, but the right coalition has the habit of not opposing those policy demands. Hence the "Alt-Right", which is the term for opposition to the new progressive demands of the left coalition, rather than opposition to the old progressive demands of the left coalition.

If the Alt-Right takes over the right coalition, we could conceivably get to a situation where the right coalition is focused on policies of advancing the status of the white working class against the white elite, while the left coalition is focused on advancing the status of immigrants against the white working class. Since both of those are actually progressive values, in terms of long-term advancing of equality, it would be one of those situations where the labelling of the coalitions as left and right could be argued to be backwards.

The summary of my prediction in the original post is that that will not happen. I expect the left coalition to back-pedal on immigration, which it only seized on because the right coalition was failing to oppose it..

Another way of putting my prediction is that over the long term "left" and "right" do usually describe politics well (though they aren't guaranteed to), and that the current left demand for open borders is an aberration that will be corrected before it is allowed to destroy a coherent progressive left coalition. It is reasonably progressive to say that foreigners should have the same rights as natives, but it is not practical for the more progressive coalition to actually go and do it.

A fuller historical explanation of the "descent into silliness" is needed as a matter of the first importance. Did the cause of further advancement of the proletariat run into diminishing returns? Was it sabotaged by clever rightists? Was the obsession of the left coalition with that one issue over such a long period of time itself the aberration, perhaps caused by the Russian Revolution and the resulting alignment with Marx?


sigsawyer said...

"It is reasonably progressive to say that foreigners should have the same rights as natives, but it is not practical for the more progressive coalition to actually go and do it."

Since when did practicality constrain the leftist from attempting to bring his insane ideals to fruition? His attempts to make the races as equal as he thought they should be destroyed America's cities and cost an unimaginable amount of money and blood.

Left and Right describe all politics, and the distinction between them is simple: The Left is any intellectual movement that is antinomian and believes that humanity is inherently pure and all human evil is the result of institutions. The Right believes the opposite: that Man needs institutions and cultural norms to regulate his animal nature and reach a transcendental state of being.

(Ancaps and 'classical liberals' occupy a position in the middle, where they believe that institutions and cultural norms are the organic and natural expression of Man's nobility in a state of nature. Of course, they muddle the issue by inexplicably defining an unnatural and artificial 'tyranny' that has to be separated from the natural and good outgrowths of anarchy; i.e. the sovereign corporation. It does this through an arcane and logically unsound formulation of property rights- one that Hoppe and Rothbard eventually discarded.)

A Nonny Mouse said...

An Englishman was in a mountain village in China. He told the head man that he was from伦敦 Luen duen (London), which is in英国 Ying Guo (England), which is part of 欧洲 Ou Zhou (Europe). The villager grew markedly impatient, and eventually blurted out: Never mind this luen ying ou palaver, just tell me this: when you leave the village, do you turn to the left or right?

So I would suggest that your ideas of Left and Right are as appropriate as the villager’s idea of geography. You are imposing a binary solution on a 5 dimensional universe. Googling ‘open borders policy’ I find two quotations worthy of repetition. The first:

Immigration… reduces the strength of unions, both because of more cheap labour but also because ethnically diverse workforces tend to produce weak unions. And so it helps to increase the profits of big companies – no wonder that major American corporations spent $345 million lobbying for just three pro-immigration bills between 2006 and 2008.

The second quotation is Bernie Sanders’ opinion of the open borders policy:
Sanders responded that it the idea is “a Koch Brothers proposal,” a “right-wing proposal” and added that
“It would make everybody in America poorer—you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state…
“What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.
“You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? … You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?”

A Nonny Mouse said...

Altogether it seems to me that your argument has no foundation in multi-dimensional reality. I look to a source that seems to me to be clearly Right Wing, the corporate lobby, and find that it is pro-immigration. I look to a source that seems to me to be clearly Left Wing, Bernie Sanders, and find that it is anti-immigration. There is as far as I know no language in which there is a single word for ‘farting and blaming the smell on others’ but I wish there was, so I could use it here.

I am however sufficiently Right Wing here not to agree with Bernie Sanders. If everybody is paid less, then we should all be better off. But it has to be everybody, not just miserable Mexican peons. You would need to tax the rich to provide cheaper food, transport and accommodation for the low paid. As things stand, the price of food seems to be coming down due to unbelievably miserly market forces, while transport shows no sign of doing so and accommodation is empowered to soak up all the savings from other spheres.

However in this country we do not have much of a system for pushing prices down and the reasons for this are historical.

Mrs Thatcher really, really wanted to destroy organised labour, and did so by a method which, while it was not dropping an atom bomb, certainly inflicted just as much unintended fallout on people unconnected with organised labour.

The method she chose was a structural revaluation: the creation of an overvalued currency, which effectively wiped out British Industry. Deep-sea fishing had gone already, due to various events which cannot be blamed on the Right or even, I think, the Left. In Mrs Thatcher’s time mining and other heavy industry disappeared, but also, the unintended consequence, large swathes of agriculture, worked by people who up till then had voted Conservative.

What happened to the industrial working class? If we are to believe our popular entertainment, the children of coal-miners grew up to be ballet dancers while their fathers took retirement, and whole troupes of redundant steel-workers formed themselves into male strippers.

But internal evidence suggests that these industries were already in decline. As the steel-workers turned strippers were able to find sufficient hen parties to employ them, it follows that a parallel, non-industrial economy was already in place in which heavy industry was probably only an archaic survival.

Aristocles Invictvs said...

I have to disagree with your postulation that the "Left" will abandon immigration as if it were some tertiary concern. The "Left" is dependent on immigration to keep them in power and to justify their parasitic existence, there very raison d'etre is to agitate on behalf of the pitiful, wretched and downtrodden detritus of the "developing world", a penultimate euphemism, losing them would be tantamount to a dog losing his master.

What remains of the old, actually admirable Left (Zizek et al.), are feckless in the face of the prog pseduo-leftists pwned by neoliberalism and a hefty dose of New Left indoctrination. They find themselves, ironically but perhaps forseeably, in the same boat as NRx and other such deep-right conglomerations. Most of them wait for what Badiou calls "The Event", a non-contingent catastrophe that would rupture the neoliberal malaise and allow a true political polarity to arise, a foreseeable end to the last man state of late neoliberalism/postmodernity, a beginning of fierce dialectical struggle and achievement.

Anomaly UK said...

@Mouse : here you are simply repeating the error of thinking that the essential meaning of "Left" is the interests of workers, and "Right" the interests of capitalists. My argument is that those were merely incidental features of Left and Right during your formative years (and for some decades before), and are no longer in effect. Those groupings that still approach politics in those terms, such as the CEI or Bernie Sanders, are mostly irrelevant today.

Perhaps you are also mistaking the purpose of my argument. If you read it as "The left is responsible for immigration, therefore the left is bad", you would be justified in calling it grossly unfair, given the actual policies of actual mainstream right-wing parties. For thirty or forty years, immigration has largely been a non-partisan issue, and it is only today that it is beginning to shake into a left-right issue, with the right defecting from the pro-immigration consensus. I am also arguing that it is stupid and insane for the left to hold the pro-immigration position, even on its own terms, and that I do not expect it to continue to hold it for many more years.

The counter-argument to that is the one given by @Aristocles_Inv above, that immigration is necessarily a left-wing argument because the left-wing parties rely on immigrant votes. There is some merit in that claim, but it is also possible that the left-wing parties are reliant on immigrant votes precisely because they have lost the white working class, and it is possible for them to get them back.

It may be that @Aristocles_Inv is younger than you and me, and it does not even occur to him that the left could represent the interests of the working class. I am old enough to know it is a theoretical possibility, but not old enough to think it is a tautology.

Aristocles Invictvs said...

@Anomaly UK

I understand that entirely, the White working class was abandoned because of their increasing refusal to adopt leftist policies. There are plenty of books on this, one of most famous is "André Gorz-Farewell to the working class_ an essay on post-industrial socialism". The adoption of non-White paupers as the new 'revolutionary subject' was done out of desperation I would imagine, in other words out of lack of any other obvious choices.

A Nonny Mouse said...

The only meaningful use of the words Left and Right for me is to indicate the divide between Workers and Management, or Rich and Poor. I do not say capitalists because this word may entail Marxist connotations which I do not necessarily wish to invoke, and because some employers don’t actually have any capital.

Apart from this, it’s all a matter of where your particular village is on the side of the mountain in respect to other villages. I cannot see that Ecologists represent the Left. You have to be reasonably well off to start with to worry about such abstractions as the future of the planet.

When Andrea Dworkin undertook her famous Paris vacation to pursue martyrdom through fatuous charges of rohypnol facilitated rape, she flew 1st class and stayed in a 5* hotel. Her problem was not male chauvinist oppression but an excess of inherited wealth allowing her to devote her life to self-indulgent pseudo-political rants and dietary over-indulgence. So feminism is not a Leftist movement, otherwise the Conservative Party would be to the Left of the Labour, having had two female leaders.

It is I think true that the Irish Labour Party has no connection to Irish Labour or even the Irish working class. It is very strange that the leader of a Labour Party should represent somewhere like Wicklow. It is possibly a party for people whose grandparents had some connection with the Trade Union movement. There seems to be no Left/Right or class based politics at all in Ireland, North or South: each political movement is a nexus of interconnected families contending for political power with no inherent connection to any particular ideology or any desire to rock the boat.

But in England and Wales, there is a clear relationship between the voters and the ideology of the parties. You can drive me through a constituency and without knowing where it is I will predict, with approx 85% accuracy, whether it returns a Labour or Conservative M.P.. Equally without leaving one’s desk, by looking at a chart of wealth or poverty, one can do the same: the poorer constituencies vote Labour, the richer ones Conservative. The Left/Right drive is thus firmly in place: whatever silliness prevails in Parliament, the M.P.s know who their constituents are and will always be looking over their shoulder to ensure they are acting in a way which suits their constituents.

My M.P. is Luciana Berger. She was selected for Liverpool Wavertree though an all-woman shortlist (-). She is by no means local, but then, neither am I. Born in Wembley she is Mannie Shinwell’s great-niece (+). She was educated at Haberdashers (-), a fee-paying school. She could well be the original of Pandora Braithwaite (-). She has complained that (a section of) the NUS is anti-Semitic and has promoted Jewish causes in Parliament (-), but Liverpool Jews (a very small community) say she has not done enough for Israel (+), so maybe she has struck the right balance. She has campaigned in Parliament against companies that ignore their health and safety obligations (++) and made a film, Breadline Britain, dealing with food poverty (++).

So on the whole we are getting a moderate Leftist agenda, slightly diluted by feminism and philo-semitism, but sufficient to assert that Left/Right politics exist, since the same influences are equally present in the Conservative Party. Probably the bulk of Wavertree constituents would regard me as over-privileged, so I should not complain.