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February 11, 2007



I'm in! When do we start bombing?


But your proposal won't answer their needs. Many on The Left were there because they want to get power and then bully and kill people. They have more chance of getting that with their new allies than with intellectual, guitar-playing bloggers who have a mild case of chip-on-the-shoulder. To take a case at random.

tom s.

This piece from Erik Olin Wright seems interesting (PDF) on the same subject: "Taking the Social in Socialism Seriously" at http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/Socialism.pdf.

Charlie Whitaker

"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."

I think that's an odd reading of the 'not in my name' sentiment. These people were marching; not something you'd normally associate with passivity. What would you have them do? Throw petrol bombs? Allow themselves to be jailed for withholding tax payments?

'Not in my name' means in essence: non placet. Additionally, it implies an understanding of the limits of peaceful protest. Marching couldn't in itself stop the war: I think almost everyone who went both knew and feared this.

Maynard Handley

"proper Marxism"? What exactly is that?

OK, let's assume the whole party discipline/dictatorship of the proletariat thing is Lenin, not Marx. Even so, Marxism qua Marxism has always struck me as uncomfortably close to religion.

Specifically in your "proper Marxism" what place is there for dissent? What place is there for arguments based on facts and experiments rather than quoting from scripture and authority?
Marxism seems to be nothing if it is not at least
- a claim about human nature (and thus how humans can live together) and
- a claim about human history.
Both of these are, as of now, claims, not incontrovertible facts.
What becomes of Marxism if close scrutiny of these claims reveals them to be not as Marx claimed?

I go on about this because it strikes me that the implicit structure of your post is both insane and highly unlikely to convince anyone not already a believer. Essentially your response to the question "how can we build a better society?" is "we should all follow the religion of Marx". This is no different from the equivalent answers that swap out Marx for Jesus, Mohammed or Moses.


This trope about 'not in my name' being symbolic of the decline of the liberal left is bizarre. A democratic government acts in its citizens' names: it is their agent, selected - however imperfectly - by them. To say 'not in my name' is to deny, that in this case, it is acting as your agent. Since its legitimacy is supposed to be derived from the fact that it is its citizens' agent, denying that in this case it is your agent is to deny the legitimacy of its action in this case.

Rob Spear

Regarding the Cohen quote, our Chris above seems to be confusing the terms left-wing and socialist. Cohen's point appears to be that the current left-wing does not have a direction, while Chris is saying that there are ways we can make society more Marxist. Chris is right, but "the left" is a political alliance, and is not currently interested in Marxism. I suppose that it is inevitable that intellectuals tend to mistake political theorists with political activists.

james higham

'Proper' Marxism? Look down, Chris, your idealism is showing. Proper Marxism is the elimination of incentive and the subjugation of one person by another. And yes, I did take philosophy and politics at uni, sir.

Igor Belanov

I think the problem with saying 'proper Marxism' is that people have so many different interpretations of it. Including the pathetic effort made by James Higham above. But, I do agree that the left needs to recommence making a lot more reference to Marx and the various varieties of Marxism


I don't see this. "The Left" have had a number of pretty massive wins in the field of economics over the last ten years

1. The more or less destruction of the neoliberal project
2. Opening up an entire debate on intellectual property rights in the context of drug and software patents
3. The cancellation of billions of Third World debt

and all this despite the massive drain on the political resources of "The Left" of having to provide the backbone of the compaign to recognise global warming as a serious problem. Nick Cohen (among others) just seems to bracket the Green movement as if it didn't exist, wasn't broadly of the Left or hadn't been doing much of interest. He's representative of the really destructive tendency of a lot of left wing people - to mistake the lack of success of their own particular party for evidence of a wider and more general pathology.


What's Left?

Perhaps an apology for unleashing the most murderous religion ever?



what was the neoliberal project and when was it destroyed by the left? (I mean, I really don't know what you're refering to here - is it to do with Iraq?).

and can the left really claim the IP and debt things? wasn't the debt thing pushed for by most of the development industry as such - and please don't tell me that development belongs to the left.

also Chris, while you point to strains of socialist thought that are alive and well, the references you cite demonstrate that they are esoteric and marginal enough to make the claim 'socialism is dead' a pretty fair piece of rhetoric. Perhaps it's ready to burst into life again, but right now it certainly seems to be hibernating. Plus, taking the word socialism to mean what most people who use it mean by it, not what you think it ought to mean, he's not far off the mark is he?


Neoliberalism was, in my book, the combination of zero tariffs, zero capital controls and largescale privatisation - the policy mix advocated by the IMF throughout the 1990s. It mainly fell apart because the developing countries started rejecting it because of the currency crises it caused, but left-wing political movements played their part.

On intellectual property, the credit goes specifically to the protestors at the Seattle WTO meeting in 1999. They were protesting against a very strict TRIPS regime, and they were largely responsible for the talks falling apart. This was a big victory for which nothing like enough credit is given.

I don't understand why you'd say that the debt forgiveness movement wasn't of the left. It really was.


oh right, well I guess i don't know enough about the political history of these things, but I'm pretty sure you don't have to be on the left to advocate either 1. more sensible policy prescriptions for developing countries 2. revising IP regimes or 3. debt forgiveness. But if you say it was the left that did the pushing, well I'll a have to take your word for it.

james higham

Well, Igor, that's another characteristic of the left - argument ad hominem, rather than argument to the point in question. You'll have to do better than that to demolish that definition above.


Well James, he did call your effort pathetic rather than you personally, so I'm not sure that counts as an ad hominem attack. It could well be taken as an ad hominem attack on the left, though, to say that ad hominem attacks are a characteristic of it. Can't we all just be friends?


luis enrique, I'm intrigued by the idea that there are "non-left" people interested in all 3 issues. I know some libertarians go for 2 (IP stuff) but that's about it.

Any information gladly received!



well I guess we can talk at cross purposes depending on what we both mean by left, but whatever definitions we were to settle on, I hope we'd agree that somebody can be non-left and still be interested in helping poor countries, for instance (they may just have different ideas about their welfare is best served) and if you are interested in the interest of others, then 1. and 3. are pretty easy to support from a non-left perspective. I couldn't say for sure, but I imagine that The Economist, a pretty good proxy for non-left, would be behind both.

Do you think that all development economists are left wing, for instance? Or that only left wing development economists advocate debt forgiveness or more sophisticated policy advice?

I'm rather intrigued that you think the idea that people might be non-left yet still be interested in 1. and 3. intriguing. Or perhaps I mean I find it depressing - have you really not encountered non-lefties who favoured debt forgiveness, for instance?

Kevin Carson

Thanks for the link, Chris.

Some variants of Rothbardianism offer a model of free market liberalization that would be pretty unfriendly to the current form of corporate globalization. Rothbard himself and some of his leftish followers have argued that the only just way of "privatizing" state property is to treat the state's ownership title as invalid and then allow the "vacant" property to be homesteaded by those currently in occupancy: that would mean turning schools and public utilities into consumer cooperatives, and handing state industry over to workers' syndicates, and so forth. And Rothbard was also death on latifundismo and landed oligarchies, and big on "land to the tiller" land reforms on Lockean principles, when land titles were based on quasi-feudal grants. And of course, there's the IP thing. On debt forgiveness, I'm pretty sure radical Rothbardians would consider loans contracted through the World Bank to be odious.


You seem to be defining the left in terms of the objectionable characteristics of parts of the left. And when someone refers to libertarian and decentralist elements of the left that don't share these characteristics, you eliminate them tautologically by defining them out of existence. There is a considerable segment of the left, Proudhonian and cooperativist--a "recessive strain," as one of the editors of Radical Technology put it, that shows itself only "when the dominant strain of Lenin and Harold Wilson is occupied elsewhere."

Such libertarian elements may be, as Luis Enrique says, "esoteric and marginal." But they're probably more reflective of the historical roots of the socialist and workers' movement in the early 19th century, which was largely cooperativist and included large free market strands like Hodgskin and the American individualist anarchists. The Georgists, of all variants, can also be seen as a direct outgrowth of this cultural strand of the nineteenth century left. This older left was largely crowded out by Leninist and Fabian authoritarianism, true enough. But it's always lurked in the background, and the end of Soviet-model state socialism may have cleared away the weeds for it to grow again.

There's reason for hope. Even on the conventional social democratic left, there's a surge of experimentation with market prices and cost internalization as a solution to the ills of corporate capitalism, and a move away from the Art Schlesinger rhetoric about "laissez-faire" to the statist reality of corporate welfare. Among the Greens, there is a strong affinity for market solutions like "taxing bads not goods" and taxing unearned wealth (like land rent) rather than labor.

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