There's one issue raised by Nick Cohen's What's Left? that hasn't gotten the attention it should. It's the question: why has the left gotten itself into such a mess that some of it (how much is unclear) excuses fascism and totalitarianism?
On this, Cohen is long on description, but short on analysis.
He says the left has been "driven half-mad by the death of socialism." This death, he says, has "freed [the left] to go along with any movement however far to the right it may be, as long as it is against the status quo in general and, specifically, America." He says:
A part of the answer is that it isn't at all clear what it means to be on the Left at the moment. I doubt if anyone can tell you what a society significantly more left-wing that ours would look like and how its economy and government would work.
This is just gibber. It's obvious what such a society would look like: a citizens' basic income; workers' democracy, especially in public services; more progressive taxation; fiercer inheritance tax; more direct democracy; equalization of exam results across schools.
Of course, this doesn't touch all bases and you might not like it. But it's obviously more left-wing than our current society.
The claim that socialism is dead is moronic. It betrays an ignorance of the real utopias project, Basic Income Studies, Equality Exchange, Network on the Effects of Inequality, market socialism or the work of John Roemer, Marc Fluerbaey, Herb Gintis, Sam Bowles, Richard Arneson or Kevin Carson, to name but a few.
The answer to Cohen's question, What's Left? is therefore: plenty.
In this sense, the crime of the left is actually greater than Cohen realizes. It's guilty of squandering a fantastically rich set of intellectual resources.
Why has it done this? Here are three inter-related possibilities:
1. The left wrongly identified socialism with statism, and so become wrongly demoralised by the collapse of statist social democracy in the UK in the 70s and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It failed to draw the radical inference from these - to ask: why, if a centrally planned economy is a stinking idea, should a centrally planned company be a good one?
2. The left fell out of love with economics. This is partly because its statism led it to identify good economics with free markets, which it cretinously identified with the right, and partly because it drifted away from class politics towards identity politics in the 70s and 80s.
3. One legacy of the 1960s is that the left stopped thinking rigorously about consequences, preferring symbolism and self-righteousness. For me, one of the most offensive aspects of the anti-war demos were the placards reading "Not in my name" - as if evil were tolerable as long as one's own conscience were clear.
What's the solution here? Partly, it lies in abandoning the rootless posturing of the soft left, and reasserting proper Marxism - the Marxism that recognises the importance of economics, class, liberation and the empowerment of ordinary people against their rulers.