Has the politics of the left departed the stage for good?

Would it be asking the state too much to tame itself up and re-dedicate government to adopting more equitable, balanced and sustainable pursuits?

Left to itself, politics – whether of the right or of the left – degenerates. This process of degeneration makes it assume, after the passage of time, a totally distorted form compared with the genuine original political project. The distortion itself is a product of different forces which come to bear upon it – grabbing after personal power, self-promotion, conceding to undue corporate pressures for private gains, running after short term benefits, absence of a comprehensive social vision and a series of ad hoc decisions to cope with unforeseen problems.

There are numerous states of the world littering the passage of history with failure both at the altars of socialism and of crude capitalism. Why? The leaders simply lost the way. The once high point of statecraft, unaccompanied by self-seeking, that inspired an entire past generation of politicians in advanced and emerging decolonized countries alike, appears to have died down with a past race of genuine politicians that has all but gone extinct.

It would be difficult today to spot a handful of committed, self-abnegating leaders who see politics as a vocation for the good of all. It’s all boiled down now to a self-created realpolitik which places the primacy of small bits and pieces of society on top of the general good, the interest of the single politician above that of the government. The democracy-socialist project today is more a game about amassing a coalition of hotchpotch support, left and right, to secure power. The question often arises how far this devalued view of doing politics can go on and what amount of havoc will it finally have wreaked on the genuine social construct that should have been.

Politicians are constantly engaged in a game of accommodation. In places like Europe, it’s an epochal event if a left-leaning political party is elected to power in current circumstances. Greece’s Syriza party’s double victory recently in the face of a hostile European right came more as a rare event than an ordinary phenomenon. The emergence of left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn as head of Britain’s Labour Party is treated as an aberration and even with disdain in most political headquarters.

Even where so-called socialist governments have been elected to power, they don’t really have an authentic political project to go for; soon, they get enmeshed into things like higher taxation, bigger government and ruining nationalizations. Just like their right-wing counterparts, they also start considering education not as fulfilment of the individual’s deeper aspirations to become a worthwhile citizen. They see it instead as an instrument for maximizing individuals’ earning potentials. Unlike others, fortunately, they still cling to public dispensation of free education. Like right-wingers, they see workers not as contributing to the bigger edifice of a cooperative social project but as pieces of an unfeeling machinery set to achieve “targets” of output. This is so removed today from their original ideals of preserving human dignity. The pendulum has, sadly enough, swung in their case too on too many public issues, to the extreme

On the other hand, right-wing politics has gone to further extremes. It has played most of the time in the hands of corporations which superficially claim to be having corporate social responsibility as one of their core values. Yet, those very corporations have kept extracting as much as possible from the planet using vile methods of wealth accumulation. All of this is mirrored in the terrible cost imposed on the overall global environment and the taking away of the personal honour and pride with which individuals used to consider themselves when engaged in work.

Impersonal corporate pursuits have led right-wing governments to minimize public spending in the name of budgetary discipline, to snatch away welfare benefits, to come hugely to the rescue of hugely mismanaged banks and even to crush economic and social development in relentless pursuit of theocratic ideologies. Such governments have had little time to consider the aggravated income inequalities they have created in society, leaving the worse off members of society to fend for themselves. They have simply lost the cue of why really they are in government.

Right-wing governments are the very governments which keep privatizing all and sundry in the production processes of the countries in the name of so-called efficiency. It is the context in which we should see the recent proposal by the government to put our water sector into private hands. Not only does such an approach display fully the negation of originally left-leaning governments to make it a fundamental principle to never yield basic ‘public goods’ into the hands of private corporations. It also shows the absence of rigour and discipline with which such ‘commanding heights’ of the economy have been continuously mismanaged to the point of having to look to profit-seekers to redress the harm caused in such a basic sector.

The world has consequently been facing a continuous process of increasingly concentrated wealth and power in country after country. Backed by statistical research over past centuries, Thomas Picketty, French Professor of Economics, picks up the strains of this irretrievable process of inequality-aggravating wealth accumulation by a few in his book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’.

The just, fair and free society which was once the dream of inspired politicians of a generation ago appears to have retreated from the potential of hope once it held for aspiring millions, nay billions. This shattered hope is moving around in quest of a better future – away from harsh dictatorships and depersonalised governments which increasingly see things through the corporate spectrum of unending power accumulation. One outcome is the mass movement of international migrations on the lookout of safer living conditions elsewhere.

The original left-wing project contemplated a state which ensured greater social equitableness by redistributing income, confronting (not condescending to) corporate power, balancing its own role against that of “free markets”, forging international agreements for advancing general welfare and dismantling the arrogance of the heretofore ruthless feudal state.

Corporate pressure has unfortunately led it to re-focus its role and to espouse policies far estranged from pursuit of a balanced general good. As things stand, its actions appear to be going unidirectionally in one sense – that of supporting corporate greed.

Instead of persevering in this direction of ever-yielding to corporate excesses, would it be asking the state too much to tame itself up and re-dedicate government to adopting more equitable, balanced and sustainable pursuits – without having to call itself leftist or whatsoever?

 

  • Published in print edition on 16 October 2015

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