Knowing our left from our right: social justice, human freedom, and utopian realism

What does it mean to be ‘left’ or ‘right wing’ today? Does it even matter? There seems to be a lot of basic confusion out there coupled with a lot of instinctive contempt and fear for what is understood as left-wing politics. The media is central to the production of this contempt and fear. They can’t seem to use the word ‘left’ without preceding it with either the powder-puff adjective of approval – ‘centre’ – or the adjectives of danger and condemnation – ‘hard’ or ‘extreme’. We are repeatedly told, for example, that the Labour Party is now ‘infiltrated’ by ‘hard left’ elements.1 In contrast, only racist parties like the British National Party or movements like the English Defence League are similarly labelled. So, we begin our answer to these two important questions with the observation that the default mainstream media position is that the right is, well, right. This is a position often held and expressed by journalists indirectly, even subconsciously, and it is often justified by a belief in the greater realism of centrist/right-wing politicians and parties and their ideas and policies.

the far left

What I’m going to argue is that left and right totally matter. I’m going to say that the political division is clear and expresses fundamental ideological oppositions, and that’s because, in turn, these ideologies are rooted in very material social conflicts. So, it’s not primarily about ideas, but about real material social power. I’m going to suggest that this divide is not today really over what the mainstream media tell us it’s about – the size and limits of the state’s economic and social role vis-a-vis the market. Instead, I‘ll argue that it’s primarily about social justice, human freedom, and, yes, realism. I’ll post about the state-market red herring tomorrow and the social justice and freedom stuff later this week. But, first, here are ten things (in no particular order) I believe in that apparently make me ‘extreme’, ‘far’ or ‘hard’ left, but I think make me a regular intelligent, sensible, and caring human being…

  1. There is no place for weapons that can obliterate millions of people. They make no military, political, or economic sense. Get rid of nuclear weapons;

  2. Homeless people should be allowed to live in peopleless homes. People not property are the priority. End homeless now!;

  3. There is no room for profit-making in the provision of the basics we all need to live a safe, healthy, and dignified life;

  4. Rich corporations and individuals should pay tax, they should pay more in absolute and relative terms than poor people, they should pay even more for income derived from rents and speculation, and this tax should be used to improve the inequalities of opportunity and material needs caused by market relations and hereditary privilege;

  5. Working people should co-own and run the businesses they work in. No one should be obliged to work for someone else. Workers co-operatives, in their myriad forms, are generally great;

  6. Everyone should receive an unconditional basic income – an amount of money considerably smaller than a minimum living wage, but enough to enjoy a tolerable, basic life. This would allow them to truly freely choose the work they wish to do;

  7. The best way to end terrorism is to end imperialist war. Western militaries should leave the Middle East and anywhere else immediately;

  8. Our financial system should serve us., but we currently serve it. Most of what goes on on financial markets is gambling that benefits the rich and, when it all blows us, destroys the poor. The banking system should simply allocate capital to socially beneficial sectors and enterprises. We should nationalise and democratise our banking system, our central bank, and, eventually, the money supply.

  9. An economic system that condemns people and societies to lifelong debt servitude is a system of effective slavery. We should cancel all odious debts;

  10. An economic system based on infinite growth will lead to inevitable catastrophe on a planet with finite resources. We need to transcend capitalism and establish democratic socialism quickly.

There you go! There were more I could and probably should have picked, but that’s yer ten! They’d improve the lives of every single person on the planet a great deal! Right. Tomorrow I’ll post about why the left-right divide isn’t really about states-versus-markets. (I’ve now jumped into the future and here’s the link for the second post in this series!)



1Here’s a recent example from the most left-wing large UK newspaper, The Guardian:

  12 comments for “Knowing our left from our right: social justice, human freedom, and utopian realism

  1. Liv Singh
    November 2, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    Totally agree with all you say. Well done for putting it so succinctly. I’ll post it on Facebook.


  2. Alison
    November 3, 2015 at 12:38 am

    I agree Liv- why don’t we hear more people advocating these basic egalitarian principles?

    • November 3, 2015 at 10:07 am

      Thanks to you both. I think the answer to your question, Alison, lies in the huge imbalance of class power which has been achieved by the ruling class over the past four decades. I think a combination of profound and prolonged economic crisis and the internet is changing this rapidly. We are beginning to hear again what many people think and feel but, because they haven’t seen others saying it, haven’t dared to say it out loud. In short, the Emperor has no clothes, he never has, but now many more people are seeing that and starting to find the bravery to speak out about it and demand a very different society.
      Thanks for engaging! Joel

  3. November 3, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Totally with you Joel. There is a new book, INVENTING THE FUTURE, byNick Srnicek and Alex Williams, which proposes a campaign based on the long term vision of Basic Income and Full Automation. The book is about the strategies required to bring groups together to bring this about. Please read and comment in your columns. Authors giving open discussion meeting in Leeds , Nov 14

    • November 3, 2015 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks Anna!
      I don’t know this book. Looks great. I’ll get it. Unfortunately, I live in Oxford so a bit far from Leeds.
      I was thinking of writing a guide/review to Paul Mason’s recent book on Postcapitalism which I thought was generally great.
      I also have another idea related to bringing groups together which I’ll blog about soon.
      I’m really glad that you like my blog. Honoured actually

  4. Anonymous
    March 25, 2016 at 3:26 am

    shouldn’t the percentage (%) be switched, 0 and 100, 100 should be closer to the left right?

    • March 25, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Now you mention it, you’re right, yes.

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