A right, Left problem

Written By: - Date published: 1:17 pm, July 24th, 2018 - 78 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Deep stuff, Economy, greens, labour, Left, liberalism, national, nz first, political parties, Politics, social democracy - Tags: , ,

Throw out the name of a political party, and almost subconsciously, anyone with an interest in politics will immediately brand the party as either “left wing” or “right wing”. That would be fine if any given point on capitalism’s political spectrum was a point on a singular continuum. So, for example, if the entire political spectrum was simply shades of liberalism, then it could be useful enough to refer to a “right” and a “left”. And if the entire political spectrum was simply shades of social democracy, then again, a simple dichotomous labeling system of “left” and “right” would allow people to orientate where any political party stood in relation to any other. But politics within a capitalist context are comprised from a mix of two entwined but contending strands of political thought/theory, and one or the other tends to dominate at different points in time in such a way as to alter politics at a fairly fundamental level.

Up until the 70’s, and across the western world, the policies generally pursued by political parties were regarded as being social democratic in nature. In that setting, to refer to “left wing” was to point to a party that was more statist in nature than “right wing” parties. In short, “left wing” parties wanted to push social democracy further along statist lines while “right wing” parties wanted to hold back that trajectory.

Since the 1970s and the resurgence of liberal priorities (often enough referred to as “neo-liberalism”), the direction of travel for parliamentary politics has been towards greater market freedoms – the precise opposite direction of travel than that taken by social democracy. And the traditional labeling from the social democratic period of capitalist politics doesn’t transcribe to that change in environment very well – if at all.

Whereas it was Tory or National Parties that were conservative and seeking to dampen or hold back the push towards greater levels of statism during the period of social democracy, it is now the Labour Parties (for the most part) that play the conservative role of merely resisting or slowing the liberal or market orientated direction of travel that politics have taken (ie – since ‘84 in New Zealand and since the 70s elsewhere).

And that change in the respective positioning of political parties occasioned by the shift in the political ground from social democratic to liberal, can’t be adequately described or captured by reference to “right wing” and “left wing”.

To illustrate, using only the terms “left” and “right”, where would you say NZ First today sits in relation to the NZ Labour Party of 1973 – and/or 1984 – and/or 2018?

And where would the NZ Labour Party of those years sit in relation, each to the other?

Or where does the NZ Labour of 2018 sit in relation to Muldoon’s National Party of 1982?

Which of these things are more to “the left”, and which are more to “the right”? It’s not so easy to maintain a coherent picture of NZ’s political landscape through time using only designations of “left” and “right”. And that’s before throwing the likes of The Green Party into the mix.

I’d argue that we can only begin to make sense of political positions like those above, when we acknowledge that two entwined strands of politics (social democratic and liberal) always constitute politics under capitalism, and when we acknowledge the resulting change in what “conservative” means, depending on which one is more evident,

“Yesterday’s” NZ Labour Party (ie- pre 1984) was social democratic and pushing change in a statist direction. Today’s NZ Labour Party is liberal and merely resisting the trajectory of liberalism – ie, it’s conservative.

If NZ Labour had a social democratic platform (for example, like UK Labour with Corbyn as leader), then maybe using the term “left” could make sense insofar as the party had the belief that a socialist end point could be arrived at via the social democratic policies and settings that it was looking to pursue in spite of liberalism dominating the political environment. But that belief (that socialism can be arrived at by social democracy), contentious as it was, isn’t one that NZ Labour harbours. The NZ Labour Party has become – maybe irredeemably – conservatively liberal, as arguably evinced with its penchant for free trade deals, fiscal responsibility, private partnerships and an “independent” reserve bank. (As an aside – well, it’s not really an aside, it’s why I’ve used the term “irredeemably” above – how’s that demand for the properly empowered democratic participation of Labour Party members coming along…?)

If the idea of “left” is to have any currency or meaning at all in NZ mainstream or parliamentary political thought, then that “great leap backwards” to liberal policies and liberal macro economic settings that took place in ‘84 must be walked back and a social democratic or statist path taken in its stead.

Obviously, that’s not something that will just happen because people want it to happen, as a quick glance at the multiple resistances to Jeremy Corbyn and UK Labour’s attempt to return to social democratic roots shows. And the mere enactment of social democratic agendas definitely isn’t a panacea for the troubles NZ faces as a society, or for the problems facing humanity at the global or planetary level. But it is a damned sight better for a lot of people at the level of personal circumstance than anything liberalism can offer, and it encapsulates more potential hope for prospects at that planetary level than can ever be wrung from liberalism.

We need huge, perhaps unprecedented levels of change across multiple facets of our lives to happen very fast. Leaving the starting blocks would be a start in us ‘getting up to speed’. But before that, recognising the starting blocks, and positioning ourselves within them might be useful too. Lazily saying that something is “left” on the grounds that we’ve always said that thing is “left”, and then going home to put our feet up because “it’s all getting taken care of”… well, it isn’t getting us into position, is it?

78 comments on “A right, Left problem”

  1. Carolyn_Nth 1

    It’s only a problem if you try to classify parties as left and right, rather than policies, values, and views.

    The ‘right’ and ‘left’ parties in the US are really just 2 right wing parties, with some lefties supporting the Dems cause limited choice.

    • Bill 1.1

      It’s only a problem if you try to classify parties as left and right..

      Yup. We agree on that front.

      I’d go a tad further though, and suggest that (broadly speaking) policies, values and views can be categorised and to a degree predicted by any over-arching political allegiance to either social democracy or liberalism.

      The US has two liberal orientated parties (Sanders tried to usurp that to a degree). The UK had two liberal parties (Corbyn seems to have successfully usurped that and re-orientated UK Labour in a social democratic direction)
      NZ has had some social democratic parties these past years (The Progressives, Alliance and NZF) sitting alongside liberal parties (NZ Labour, National, ACT etc), and some attempts to re-orientate NZ Labour (Cunliffe).

      Scotland’s kind of enviable. Two major social democratic parties in the shape of the SNP and a resurgent Labour 🙂

  2. I think this ‘confusion’ has only, rather conveniently, developed more recently as the traditional ‘Left’ Parties have started moving away from supporting the poor and the workers, in favour of policies that are more ‘Middle Class Aspirational’.

    But there is still that little prick of conscience, a guilt that maybe they are not advocating strongly enough given the massive destruction and transferal of wealth wrought in the name of Capitalism and Neoliberalism and Market driven policies.

    So rather than being labeled, more accurately as ‘Centrist’, the Liberal parties waltz around babbling about how its not ‘Right’ or ‘Left’ anymore..its all about paradigms-or-something. And being ‘pragmatic’. Maybe topped off with a little sprinkling of ‘Hope’.

    and they wonder why the people who should vote, the people who need help urgently, the people most at the mercy of Government policy, don’t bother turning up on election day.

    • Gosman 2.1

      Except parties that are more ‘traditional’ left such as Mana don’t attract much in the way of a supporter base either so people can’t be crying out for those sorts of policies in NZ.

    • Carolyn_Nth 2.2

      Yep. And also the mainstream media and some of social media reinforce that, which muddies the waters for a lot of the population, and contributes to a few decades of demonising social democrat and socialist policies, views and positions.

      • Gosman 2.2.1

        That is the default fall back position of lefties who cannot understand why more of the electorate doesn’t support traditional left wing politics. It is all the MSM and the prevailing “Culture” which is to blame and nothing to do with the fact the policies themselves might be suspect to many.

        • Stuart Munro 2.2.1.1

          Yes it’s all a fantasy – the MSM has no influence.

          Which is why the despicable right invest so heavily in it, as they strive to stifle every move away from the sociopathy and dysfunction that characterizes their misgovernance.

          • Gosman 2.2.1.1.1

            Did I state the MSM had NO influence? Of course there is a degree of influence from MSM. However it is massively overblown by the likes of people such as yourself.

            • Stuart Munro 2.2.1.1.1.1

              Actually the influence of the MSM is difficult to quantify, which means it’s hard to tell how effective it is in any given period.

              But the expectations of the Left, of a rational, balanced and informative media run counter to the needs of the extreme right.

              A well-informed populace will halt the Right’s anti-social plans for self-enrichment and prevent them socializing such things as environmental costs. That’s the last thing the rabid Right want, they want to pollute until the last other lifeform is dead.

              They’re determined to be the last dinosaurs.

              • Gosman

                The left always think that until they get in power and then they start misinforming the public as much as any. You just have to see people trying to blame economic issues of left wing countries on made up ideas such as “Sanctions”. It is as much “Fake News” as anything Fox News promotes.

                • Stuart Munro

                  The ignorance of the far Right is only exceeded by the vehemence with which they promote their nonsense – for they know if they let the mask slip for even a moment all their stupid games are over.

                  As the vermin responsible for imposing the Rogergnomics bullshit on NZ that has set our country back a generation, a reasonable person might expect a degree of hesitance from the perpetrators. That responsible caution one sees in science professionals, who are concerned with possible consequences.

                  But not from you – you’ll deny your culpability all the way to the block. As outcomes decline however, you’re going to find New Zealanders less susceptible to your blithe assurances and casual lies. A generational shift is coming that is likely to oblige the parasites to work for living for a change.

                  • Bill

                    As the vermin responsible for imposing the Rogergnomics bullshit on NZ …

                    That was a NZ Labour Party government, right? A party that was thought of as “left” at the time and that is still thought of as “left” today.

                    So what happened?

                    There was a wholesale disavowal of social democratic priorities in favour of liberal ones. And for a while, the NZ Labour Party was more avowedly liberal than the National Party – while Winston Peters, to this day, has remained in that conservative social democratic position that his old National Party used to occupy when NZ Labour were social democratic and pushing down along the road of statism.

                    “Left” and “right” can’t adequately explain or capture those shifts or phenomena – making reference to “social democracy” and “liberalism” does.

                    • Stuart Munro

                      “There was a wholesale disavowal of social democratic priorities in favour of liberal ones.”

                      I’d characterize it more as the Left being conned, than disavowing their core values per se. There was a narrative (neo-liberalism) that stated that the superior efficiency of private sector values would enable governments to deliver more from a finite pool of resources.

                      Thirty years on the only positive outcome is a healthy skepticism for the professional pretentions of the private sector, and probably, an increased preference for a properly resourced public sector.

                    • In 1984, the voting public had a choice between Muldoon’s failing Zimbabwean model or the far more appealing social progress promised by Labour. It’s easily forgotten that the Lange government promoted nuclear free NZ and made significant progress in sexual law reform. For a lot of people, that was progress worth voting for and getting rid of Muldoon was the icing on the cake. Socially, Labour were definitely left.

                      Most left leaning folk who voted for them in 1984 were focussed on the social improvements and the vague promises of an end to the stagnation of the Muldoon era and they pretty much ignored the finer details of what Douglas had planned for the economy.

                      In 1987, Labour almost won Remuera because the rich twigged to what what Douglas was doing and voted according to their class interests. Three years later, the majority of voters shunned Labour and voted Tory because Bolger promised the country he’d back away from the Douglas reforms. That was bullshit, as it turned out.

                      In short, it’s only half the story to think of the Douglas reforms when talking about 1984. It’s a bit more complex than that because economics isn’t every voters primary driver.

                    • Bill

                      it’s only half the story to think of the Douglas [economic] reforms when talking about 1984. It’s a bit more complex than that because economics isn’t every voters primary driver.

                      Fair comment. But the economic framework is what every government hangs policy from. And “left” and “right” doesn’t tell us anything about the likely policy prescriptions of a government, precisely because those terms are deaf, dumb and blind on what the economic framework is or may be.

                      That, and “left” arguably only makes sense when the political direction of travel is, or claims, to be headed towards socialism as a destination.

                    • Stuart Munro

                      @TRP

                      I think Muldoon partly got an undeservedly bad rap for his economics – given the oil crisis some of his think big made sense. But, for all that he was a relatively decent nationalist, he had the soul of a dictator – democratic or participatory processes really weren’t his thing, he alienated the unions just before he needed to cut a deal with them for example.

                      Rogergnomics was a big deal not just because of what occurred under Lange, but because abandoning the tense détente that had restrained the worst impulses of the rabid right locked in two decades of rightward drift without even the shadow of a public mandate or any real social or economic benefits.

    • Bill 2.3

      Mostly agree. But I don’t think there’s anything particularly “centrist” about a party that ascribes to liberalism. Those reluctant or somewhat hesitant in their belief, or the execution of liberal policies – eg, NZ Labour – are basically just being conservative. (Not a bad thing given what we’re talking about)

    • Siobhan 2.4

      I forgot this link to the Democratic Socialists of America, who to some extent question the ‘Left Wing’ label, but instead push the concept of ‘The New Left Wing’. (my caps) which seems remarkably sensible.

      “In fact, the most important difference between the documents is neither strategy nor program,mission nor vision, but rather expectation. The founding document called for carrying out a strategy and program that were already the mainstays of mass liberalism, but moving this broad liberal coalition considerably to the left. DSA’s new document points in another direction, toward the founding of a new progressive movement…a next Left. That is because the political momentum of mass liberalism is depleted. If we once positioned ourselves as the left wing of the possible, there is now no “possible” to be the left wing of. Of course, considerable opposition has arisen in response to the program of the conservative and corporate elites. But, that opposition confronts a profound crisis of leadership, particularly at the national level.”

      https://www.dsausa.org/where_we_stand

  3. roy cartland 3

    Broadly, I understood the terms to mean:

    Left: cares about most people, at the expense of a few people having huge wealth.

    Right: cares about oneself, and the right to compete for extreme wealth at the the expense of everybody and everything else.

    Left: advocates fairness, limits unfairness

    Right: encourages unfairness

    • Gosman 3.1

      Why would people who support the right agree with the definition you give? Nobody I personally know supports unfairness yet they still vote for right leaning political parties.

      • roy cartland 3.1.1

        Really? Isn’t that what the whole purpose of ‘individual responsibility’ is about? Look after yourself, the rest can look after themselves?

        • Gosman 3.1.1.1

          Not at all. The right has no problem with the concept of group responsibility. Indeed that is why they form groups to fight for their views.

          Have you ever spoken to a right leaning person about their political views Roy or do you base your opinion on what you think they believe?

          • roy cartland 3.1.1.1.1

            Of course I have. But I know that what people would like to think of themselves and their actual behaviour is often inconsistent. I’m like that myself, in ways.

            It is true that I’m trying to understand the terms themselves, not the holders of them.

            • Gosman 3.1.1.1.1.1

              Did you ask them why they supported the political parties that they did?

              • roy cartland

                Yes, and excluding the tribalism (I’ve always gone blue), it’s broadly the winners and losers argument. Everyone could have what I have if they wanted, and since they don’t [meaning can’t], I’ll take it. No one owns the water – I’ll take it all, sell it, and spoil it if I like.

                • Gosman

                  Then you haven’t really been discussing right leaning politics with anyone sensible. It would be like me stating that left wing people are all obsessed with the politics of envy who want to screw over the wealthy based on the views of Draco and similar minds.

                  • roy cartland

                    It’s true I look for evidence in actions more than people’s opinions on themselves, but feel free to enlighten. What is Left/Right?

                    • Gosman

                      As far as I can tell it is that those who think there is a more centralised (or at least non private sector) approach to dealing with issues are on the Left and those that support a more private sector approach to the same issues are on the Right. There are cross overs of course but the common differences seems to be that the Right wants to use private means whereas the Left wants to use public means.

                    • roy cartland

                      Right, I think we’re on different axes. You’re referring more to a authoritarian-private axis, me the collective good-individual good one.

                    • Gosman

                      No, we are on the same axis. I believe that the private sector solutions provide better outcomes for society than public sector solutions. Hence my motivation as a right winger is not primarily driven by my own self interest (which you were trying to argue was the difference).

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    It would be like me stating that left wing people are all obsessed with the politics of envy who want to screw over the wealthy based on the views of Draco and similar minds.

                    I’m not envious. I’m furious that these fuckers are allowed to screw over everyone else to cater to their greed which is destroying our society and life on Earth.

            • Gosman 3.1.1.1.1.2

              Do the NRA believe in collective strength or are they only champions of individuality?

              • roy cartland

                I don’t know any, do they represent fairness?

                • Gosman

                  I believe they think they represent fairness for people. They believe they enable people to protect themselves and therefore make society safer. You are entitled to disagree of course but that is where politics comes in.

                  • roy cartland

                    Thanks for the permission, I think I will. I think NRA are more likely to represent the right of the individual to have a gun for any reason, over the safety of everyone else. That’s not fair.

                    Similarly I would say the right, at least in practise, supports the individual’s right to have a superyacht even if it means legions of poor and degradation of the environment (which it surely does).

                    In this respect, I think both ultimately support unfairness, no matter what they would like to think about themselves.

                    • Gosman

                      Why would owning a Super Yacht lead to more poor people?

                    • roy cartland

                      Because you can’t be rich in a vacuum, someone has to do the work in order to enable it.

                    • Gosman

                      And that makes them poor how?

                    • roy cartland

                      Resources, money and labour being used for the benefit of the yacht-owner rather than the collective good. Resources are finite, at least at this point in history. The more some has, the less there are for the rest.

                    • Bill

                      ffs Gosman, don’t you think it’s time to stop splattering inanities up and down through the threads today?

                      Rich person has successfully taken advantage of the market’s propensity to mis-allocate resources. That mis – allocation (through concentrating wealth) means that relative poverty rises. So, y’know, “country x” having 300 more billionaires this year is a bad thing if your concern is for the general well being or standard of living for the general population in “country x”.

                      Great if you reckon that you too might be of the 1% some day (though hint – 1% of people is always only ever going to be 1% of people, and the nature of wealth is such that it tends to be “locked in”)

                    • Gosman

                      And this is where we disagree. I don’t think having one billionaire or even 100 billionaires harms the rest of us at all. Bill Gates wealth has little direct negative impact on me or even on the wealth of other Americans.

                    • roy cartland

                      Then would it be even better if we were all billionaires?

                    • Gosman

                      Considering the average Joe or Joanne has a level of wealth and lifestyle that the richest Billionaire 125 years ago could only dream of then you are not wrong.

                    • KJT

                      Tell that to the average Jo in Northland.

              • Tricledrown

                Gossipman Butima and the NRA the backlash of business and young people is exposing the NRA’s corruption.
                Gun manufacturers are going bankrupt.
                The flow of arms to the Mexican Cartels has been stifled.
                The pale stale male hierarchy is coming to an end with a bang.
                The arrogance of their leadership is motivating those who are against the born to rule buffoons.

      • Gabby 3.1.2

        They’re great pretenders gozzers.

    • Bill 3.2

      And those ethical or moral definitions of left and right fit rather well with notions of social democracy and liberalism (statist and market driven policies), but can’t speak to the overarching ideology that informs or limits, either the execution of those ethics, or their translation into policy.

      • roy cartland 3.2.1

        Agreed, I’m trying to understand the terms themselves. Conflating the what and the how complicates the discussion I realise (as I’m finding with Gosman above).

  4. marty mars 4

    The whakapapa of the left is why I’m proud to be left wing. Too many people want to push their square peg into a round hole and they blame the hole.

  5. Cemetery Jones 5

    It is becoming an increasingly irrelevant way of framing politics. Not yet completely irrelevant, but well on the way. Brendan O’Neill’s latest on Ash Sekar vs. Piers Morgan as an example

    • Bill 5.1

      That’s a fun read. And yes, Corbyn belongs to the camp of (to quote) soft social democrats, boring state socialists

      But a movement to that state of affairs as a stepping stone or point of departure is worth conditional support in my book.

      The “trick” would be in avoiding what happened last time social democracy was actually being practiced by political parties in power – that is, to prevent it becoming rooted/ seen as an end in itself – to challenge it and keep it moving until, when it can’t accommodate demands any more, it gets rolled aside to rot off into the ground alongside whatever other abandoned “bad political ideas” there might be.

  6. SPC 6

    The New Zealand Labour Party caucus is increasingly like the US Democrat Party, except in that what it is protecting is sometimes what the Democrats aspire to – such as universal health care. In that Sanders is not really left.

    The war against the (secular) left in western democratic politics has largely been won and anyone seeking to return the left to political governance is now seen as a risk to the orthodoxy of the current world order.

    As for Corbyn, he is only leftward in that he is Labour unreconciled to going along with the Blairite build on the Thatcher regime base. Which of course was in lockstep with US leadership.

  7. Molly 7

    It is notable that even on the Standard, a political blog, a lot of comments are trying to ‘agree’ or ‘define’ what political terms like – left, right, liberal, conservative etc mean. If the definition is not shared by all commenters, the threads often go off on a tangent.

    Billy Bragg, said that the old terms such as “socialism” etc, take too long to explain before having discussions about politics. He suggests using terms such as “compassionate society”. He refers to very few agreeing on what socialism is, but even his granny understands what he means when he says – I want a compassionate society.

    • UncookedSelachimorpha 7.1

      I like that idea! A good expression that everyone can understand – and is actually what progressive politics is all about.

      We often aren’t as effective as the right wingers when it comes to ‘sound bites’ or one-liners, but “compassionate society” is fantastic.

    • Ed1 7.2

      I have always quite liked the political compass:
      https://www.politicalcompass.org

      Years ago this was discussed on the usenet group nz.general, with David Farrar described his personal position. (Look in his introduction to himself on Kiwiblog) . It does not seem to cover some of the modern issues such as the tradeoffs between egalitarianism and crony capitalism, or of the tradeoff between sovereignity and trade arrangements – some of those who protested against the TPP and variants also thought that the UK should have stayed in the EU.
      I suspect the Nats dislike the Political Compass because it shows National as being close to an extreme, and close to the Republican party – but the website has now left out the graphs for USA parties . . .
      Perhaps there is no single answer – see also
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goRiEPXsD3I or
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t78q_79VYWI or

      If anyone has a better (but still simplistic) analysis I am sure many would be interested!

    • gsays 7.3

      You are right Molly, changing the term will often portray the vibe without the listener/reader getting caught up in their ideas about something.

      My favourite is God. Replace the ‘G’ word with consciousness, love, awareness- and the conversation can continue without reference to a sky fairy.

  8. DS 8

    Left-Right isn’t a great categorisation, but it’s OK as short-hand. My bigger complaint is that people today have a bit of trouble wrapping their heads around “economically left, socially centre,” or variations thereof – what would be termed the Old Left.

    (Then there’s the fun of explaining the difference between Old Left and Old Right. New Zealand First are Old Right, in the Muldoonian tradition – they’re economically interventionist, socially conservative… and actually don’t like unions very much).

    • Carolyn_Nth 8.1

      Those terms “old” and “new” left and right really refer to political parties inter-related to the factions that get most support in the mainstream media.

      On the left, there always were anti-racist and feminist and gay liberation elements since 19th-20th century. But the organised labour movement and Labour Parties tended to be dominated by white males. Women, Māori, Pacific and other people of colour had a long struggle to get their issues treated equally with those most supported by many of the more dominant white men.

      On the right, Conservatives and the Nats, were pretty much always socially conservative, capitalist, patriarchal and imperialist. In the 70s-80s, there was the rise of a mix of neo-cons and neo-liberals in response to widespread successes of social movements – especially in the US. In the UK in the 60s and 70s there was a great deal of success with working class politics, as well as with social movements. NZ probably sits somewhere between the 2.

      Neo-liberals have tended to achieve the more successful philosophy/rhetoric in recent decades (small government, free trade, etc), while the neo-cons (anti-abortion, anti-feminist, anti-LGBT as with the Bushes and Regan eras in the US) took a bit of a back seat- but continued to exist in an uneasy alliance with the neoliberals – think Blinglish in NZ.

      Since the GFC, the neoliberal ethos has been fragile. Recently we have been seeing a rise in neo-conservatism as seen with neo-nazis and a toxic form of masculinity (Trump era), nationalism, with a touch of white supremacy.

      The “left wing” parties had swallowed a big part of the neoliberal pill, but still have a strong element of old style social conservatism.

      Meanwhile, away from organised party politics, there always have been a range of left-right wing views, which are recognisable by those who study it – and can be roughly mapped onto a spectrum – yes a useful shorthand, DS.

      Popular public views, though, have been influenced by all the party political shifts, spin and corporate media cheerleading.

      • Dennis Frank 8.1.1

        Your overview seems accurate & complements Bill’s useful essay well. I keep hoping for the left to evolve but almost half a century of nothing so far. Conceptual, I mean. They did adopt non-violence eventually after so many leftist guerilla warfare movements petered out. Nicaragua showed revolution can still succeed but peaceful coexistence is better.

        No leftist intellectual has even attempted to produce a general theory of identity politics as far as I can see. Yet they seem to tacitly concede that an ideology to replace Marxist class-identification is required. My diagnosis is that sectarianism operates as a collective mind-set to prevent perception of common ground. That’s why the left has taken so long to copy the Greens’ praxis of consensus politics. That’s why I support our current govt in its attempt to prove that the left has now institutionalised this learning.

        • Carolyn_Nth 8.1.1.1

          Thanks, Dennis.

          I think there are academics and others who have attempted theories of social and economic justice. (I now dislike the term “identity politics” because of the way it is used as a derogatory term by some).

          Political economy (associated with Marx) includes a mix of material realities and class identification – ie there’s an element of “identity politics” in Marx’s analysis. He said that when the working class moved into urban factories, they would share their individual experiences and thus become aware of their shared exploitation and oppression.

          The Labour movement really took off in the UK in the late 19th century, when urban workers began to identify as working class.

          Manuel Castells is a major social theorist”- often called a post-Marxist. He began as a Marxist, but later embraced social movements (feminism, environmental movements) in his theories).

          Also, there’s Naomi Klein and bell hooks. And those are just a couple of theorists i know who come to mind at the moment. I suspect there are more.

          Maybe a large number of people need to be prepared too accept a theory that embraces anti-capitalism and social justice across all dimensions – ethnicity, gender, sexuality, able-bodiedness, etc., before such a theory will gain widespread traction?

          It’s probably more that no one theorist has been accepted across the left as providing the way forward….?

          • Dennis Frank 8.1.1.1.1

            I do have Castells’ Rise of the Network Society but haven’t read it. “The Information Age trilogy is his précis: “Our societies are increasingly structured around the bipolar opposition of the Net and the Self”;[10] the “Net” denotes the network organisations replacing vertically integrated hierarchies as the dominant form of social organization, the Self denotes the practices a person uses in reaffirming social identity and meaning in a continually changing cultural landscape.” [from that Wikipedia page]

            To translate this academic-speak into everyday lingo, he’s defining the Self as a social construct rather than personal identity, and empasising the bipolar relation of this social self has to the internet and its component groups. A generic theory of political psychology could then be developed on the basis that any person interacting with a political group online forms a political persona as an organic consequence of their interaction. Multiple such interactions constellate this persona, and multiple political online contexts for their participation deepen it.

            To use myself as an example, my participation in this forum oscillates according to the topic context and which of my two selves gets motivated. If the topic is values or ideals motivating, my inner leftist-sympathiser self tends to respond. If the topic motivates my identity and social self, my centrist political praxis kicks in. A lifetime spent in alternative circles makes both selves extremely deep-rooted for me (comfortably so). I suspect most commentators here lack practical political experience to call on, but I’d be interested if you or other readers are likewise able to differentiate personal & political selves.

            • Carolyn_Nth 8.1.1.1.1.1

              Yes. The individual, social and political selves interact and are intertwined and yes, they do become naturalised and not totally seperable. And the context will bring one or other aspect to the fore.

              The problem with a lot of the “identity politics” detractors are that they assume the “identity” is about the individual self, and not a group identification. they tend to associate it with individualism.

              Social movements, and class based ones, are about a shared sense of socially and economically/materially defined parts of the self. i.e. a collective identity.

              There’s an element of it that is institutionalised (patriarchy, imperialism, ‘racial’ inequalities). They are a material reality, experienced by people in their everyday activities. So it is not only class inequalities that have a material (economic) reality.

              e.g.For most women there are material realities like menstruation, fertility, etc, that they share with most other women, and not with most men. These have an impact on our lives in ways that are subject to repressive treatment in a patriarchy.

              For many Maori and Pacific people, they are more likely to be treated badly by our criminal justice system, etc.

              I have read all of one or two of Castells’ triology, a few years back, and some of his other writings. He uses two examples of the way forward politically: the feminist movement and the environmental movement. This is because they are international, and there need to be global movements to connect the oppressed and to deal with problems the world faces in a positive way. And, according to his theme, they are networked movements.

              Castells also favours local politics over national/federal ones. This is because they are closer to grass roots, and thus more likely to be democratic.

              He is against the reactive nationalisms that have developed in recent decades. So these two linked approaches (global networks and grass roots democracy) aim to circumvent reactive nationalisms.

  9. Pat 9

    Both parties pre and post 1984 have largely adopted the economic thinking of the dominant economies of their time,,,although Muldoon went down fighting. I think it may be accurate to suggest that even the first Labour government wasnt entirely contrarian due to the great conflict of ideas at the time. So the political class (in NZs case at least) dont seek to row against the tide in terms of predominant economic thought and are unlikely to do so now….until such time as at least one of the major economies does so.

  10. peterlepaysan 10

    “left and right” have become meaningless perjoratives that define the utterers persuasions. Like all perjoratives they are not very useful in meaningful discussion.

    I am old enough to remember when “socialism” was being discussed. One could put three self avowed socialists in a discussion group and wind up with at least 7 different meanings.

    I have always lacked the courage to enter the discussion on “communism”, that made discussions on socialism kindergarten stuff. Communists and socialists rubbed shoulders uneasily, but often over a beer.

    “neo-lib” is often used in a perjorative fashion as well. Some wear the tag with pride, some use it as a badge of shame.

    Maybe we should discuss issues rather than name calling.

    Am I being too radical and extreme?

  11. Anne 11

    Am I being too radical and extreme?
    No.

    I’ve always despised political ‘isms’ for the reason you have given. They mean different things to different people. I use the neoliberal tag but usually in conjunction with ‘market forces’ as a clear reference to my thinking.

  12. adam 12

    But is it though.

    I mean really apart from the members of the beige mafia muddying the waters and forcing people away from politics – are the definitions really broken?

    I think many people are confused about liberalism as an ideology, and its place as the dominant ideology. As an ideology it wants to limit the debate, just look at the people here who fully support liberalism in one form or another, they are forever trying to shut down people.

    Political economic was the original term for what we call today economics. I think we need to get back to that term, becasue it shows there is a divided in how people think an economy should work. It shows there is a left and right divide, and in NZ there is virtually no left when we are forced to think about it in political economic terms. We have no left in parliament, and no left operating outside of parliament. All we have in NZ is a whole lot of left leaning liberals and a whole lot of right leaning liberals.

    • Gosman 12.1

      “As an ideology it wants to limit the debate, just look at the people here who fully support liberalism in one form or another, they are forever trying to shut down people.”

      Where is there an example of that?

  13. R.P Mcmurphy 13

    hah. the real problem is industrial capitalism that will not stop till it has completely exhausted all resources and fucked the whole world. Adam Smith wrote in his essay on the ‘the theory of moral sentiments’ published before ‘the wealth of nations’ that what gives human beings the most psychological satisfaction is command over labour. an assertion supported by bronislaw malinowski in his analysis of the ‘big man’ in melanesian society’s. In other words some people just want to be the boss and th emoney is just a tool for them to use in becoming top dog. this trope has lead to the almost complete destruction of forests and oceans and rivers and will ensure that while we all have all the goods we think we might need and more that counterintuitively we are headed on the path to destruction instead of a glorious future. right and left are both going to have to suck that one up sooner or later.

    • Gosman 13.1

      There a an element on both sides of the political divide but which seems to be more prevalent on the left of Apocalyptic reasoning. This is a good example of it.

      • Anne 13.1.1

        Heres a good example of pending Apocalypse from the Guardian:

        https://www.theguardian.com/world/natural-disasters

        Have a look down the ‘page’ and see all the deadly wild fires currently raging across the Northern Hemisphere… Britain, parts of Europe, Greece, Sweden (as far north as the Arctic Circle) and America.

        If it hadn’t been for the blindingly dumb attempt by right-wingers to turn Climate Change into an ideological/political issue, we would have all the steps now in place to at least avert the worst of the pending disaster. Perhaps these wild fires would still have occurred but not on anything like the same scale, and they are going to become bigger and more frequent in the years to come.

  14. gsays 14

    Great post thanks Bill.
    A couple of things occur to me.
    When the national party was formed, it didn’t stand FOR something, but was intended to stand against something.

    I suppose the social influences in our politics takes second fiddle to the role of the state in politics.

    I had a wry smile at gosmans “approach to dealing with issues “, as opposed to how society is organised.
    As if the responsibility of education, health care, defence, police and administering the social safety net were trite.

    There seems to be a habit here on TS of slurring folk of being ‘right wing’ when volatile subjects are being discussed e.g. 9/11, abortion, euthanasia.

    The climate reminds me of the early 80’s, the rise alternative comedy and the pureness of your lefty credentials.
    There was a lot of change needed (anyone for another mother-in-law joke?), but there was and now is more scorn poured on those not quite with the agenda as opposed to identifying the real oppressors.

  15. Dennis Frank 15

    I’ve got a book somewhere in my library called “Beyond Left and Right”, published 1968, still haven’t got around to reading it due to feeling that the title says it all really. Sixties rebels knew both were part of the problem, so we had to co-create the solution by navigating through the middle way: thus the Greens `neither left nor right, but in front’. It’s an integral stance. Takes the best of both.

    Political psychology seems a discipline devoid of intellectual content. A while back I printed out the intro to Theoretical Foundations of Political Psychology, sat down with a highlighter poised to identify all the key points but finished reading it without a single usage. Co-authored by three professors of political science (one including psychology). So it’s a field of endeavour waiting for folks to plough, plant & harvest therein. A focus on group psychodynamics, stakeholder relations & incentive structures would be the way to design a suitable new infrastructure for political economy.

    Best to identify the left and right as attractors – that suck people into their orbits like gravitational attractors do. Chaos theory developed in the eighties on the basis of attractors defining the trajectories of complex systems, so they can be described via maths as well as physics. Creativity emerges in nature at the boundary of influence: in a binary attractor dipole the region where the competing forces balance creates the basis for the middle way. Thus Odysseus had to sail midway between Scylla and Charybdis to avoid his ship getting sucked into the vortex on one side and the reef on the other.

    • Gosman 15.1

      Most of what you wrote is far too abstract to digest .I am curious about this point though :

      “Sixties rebels knew both were part of the problem, so we had to co-create the solution by navigating through the middle way: thus the Greens `neither left nor right, but in front’. It’s an integral stance. Takes the best of both.”

      How is this any different to Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s theory of “Triangulation” and the “Third way”?

      • Dennis Frank 15.1.1

        I took it as a lame attempt to fake the reinvention of the left that their situation required. Those guys probably thought they were doing good, of course. When you’re a creature of the establishment you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, so they could never give the people they represented a real share in power and economy. Authenticity was out of the question. Same for Obama.

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