Recently, Scott Jay wrote a scathing attack on left-wing tactics and theory in libcom.org, criticizing the inability of present leftist struggles against austerity and various social issues, involving the various police killings in Ferguson and parts of the US. He accuses the left of engaging in some form of “postmodern” neoliberalism, being complacent in the face of exploitation done by neoliberal policies both in economics and politics. At first glance, Jay’s evaluation might appear correct. With the rise of popular right-wing groups in the US, France, UK and some parts of Europe (with Donald Trump as the obvious candidate but also other Republican hopefuls and Marie Le Pen in France), one could not stop saying to oneself: “where is the left in all of these important issues?” With the flood of refugees coming to Europe and the politics of fear gripping its citizens, it seems that the left is being blamed for allowing refugees (often called migrants instead of refugees), making space for terrorist activity in mainland Europe and posing a danger to traditional European values. Leftist politics appears complex and mostly confined to universities, while the right attempts to cater to common sense reason, posing an easier enemy to blame, an enemy that we can eliminate without remorse.

It is with the rise of right-wing populism that I would enter into argumentation with Jay’s essay which I find too rash in dismissing current left-wing attempts at combatting neoliberalism

The Postmodern Bogeyman

            Jay’s accusation starts with a brave declaration against current theoretical efforts of various philosophers and intellectuals. For him, their work is not sufficient enough and not grounded on a grassroots foundation; furthermore, they have been to confined to the university system, catering to university students engaging in phrase mongering instead of a proper political program in resisting neoliberal policies both in economics and its lackeys in the state apparatuses. Accusing SYRIZA, he argues that the Greek left-wing party is simply good at portraying itself as a unified left, instead of being a genuine resistance to the hostage taking by its creditors. From here, Jay calls the left postmodern neoliberals (and SYRIZA is a postmodern neoliberal par excellence)—a ready-made term (much like revisionism during the 60s) to accuse those who failed or were considered deviant in their theoretical positions—citing the failure of the Greek administration in resistance and instead of acting with the permission of the people during the referendum, followed the whims of the EU. Such is for Jay the elements of postmodern neoliberalism. Today’s leftists can say that they are against postmodern but in reality they are postmodernists in practice, “preferring style over substance and feel good moments and flashy leaders over the brute reality of resisting capitalist exploitation.” [1]

This criticism describes current left-wing tactics simply as an engagement with populist tropes, attempting to win elections and convince people of their worthiness to win than engaging in proper resistance towards neoliberalism. For him, today’s left lacks engagement with the masses, preferring the comfort of electoral politics than of its original goal of organizing the masses. Lastly, all of these criticisms boil down to the incapability of the left to look at reality. It is simply is not doing enough to do proper dialectical materialism and social practice (one is reminded immediately of Mao’s “where do correct ideas come from”), focusing on the construction of a dialogical, non-confrontational, conversational, and academic analysis of current social conditions and proposing soft solutions to social antagonisms than allowing these antagonisms to be revealed and confronted. Hence, the picture that Scott Jay wants to portray the left is that of an outspoken postmodernist, while at the same time denying their attachment to it as such.

Scott Jay’s evaluation however is confined to the failures of the SYRIZA party to resist the exploitative conditions of Greece’s creditors and the electoral antics that followed after its reelection. Postmodern neoliberalism can be described as the two-faced tactic of SYRIZA i.e. to espouse a left-wing program while at the same time, agreeing to neoliberal economic and political frameworks, as seen in the demands of its creditors (i.e. decreased government involvement in industrial and financial sectors as well as defunding social services in lieu of NGOs and charitable organizations, a way for the private sector to invade social security). It is evident from the tone and the way Jay uses the word postmodernism, it is utilized widely to discredit today’s leftist tactics especially their parliamentary election driven moves (from SYRIZA in Greece to PODEMOS in Spain and other attempts at creating a left-wing administration in other parts of the world.) Perhaps, Jay’s fear of a soft left is informed by the loss of the Partido Socialista Unidad de Venezuela (PSUV) against a reactionary group that aims to put Venezuela back on the tracks of neoliberal globalization. That given, do elections and a populist tone make the left deviate from its original goal? Is unity among various echelons and cadres of mass organizations, unified by a single goal a form of showman’s gimmick or a part of a well thought-out tactic, considering the difference of today’s contexts and determined by various elements of the masses? Given these questions in mind, our time demands further examination of conditions from various economic, cultural and social standpoints.

What can be Done?

I would not defend the tactic of parliamentary struggle over armed struggle or vice versa. Both tactics deserve to be heard, given whatever circumstances necessitated by the particular material conditions, determining what can be possible and how to achieve victory for the masses. It is one thing to engage in a genuine criticism of current leftist tactic but it is another to engage in worthless phrase mongering, creating arguments without the full disclosure of what you are fighting for. In the case of Scott Jay’s remarks against SYRIZA, indeed they have failed in resisting the demands of their creditors but what they Greeks have achieved is showing how the current financial market preys on hapless victims of its own financial speculation while at the same time capitalizing on a politics of fear to cement its legitimacy. One should not fail to see this inherent connection between right-wing populism and neoliberal economic policies. The protection of tradition and the security of the borders against an external and easy to blame enemy goes hand in hand with deregulation and salient exploitation of labor, blaming the wrong ones for the disintegration of the economy.

What can be done with failure is a full disclosure of the success of the movement. Slavoj Žižek already makes this point clear in reference to various left-wing failures from the demise of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the various defeats in new left-wing adventures into government. What it reveals is that the masses are prepared to engage in various ways of liberating itself from the clutches of those in power. From the power of the vote (in Europe, from SYRIZA to PODEMOS and the current victory in Portugal, as well as the victory of socialist groups in Bolivia and the continuing struggle in Venezuela) to the power of the gun (with the Kurdish struggle in Syria and Iraq, the NPA in the Philippines, the CPN in Nepal and so on), both tactics work to agitate those in power and hence use whatever at its disposal from imperialist control of natural resources and neocolonial influence over Third World countries; but even in these ways of control, the masses, guided by the party, always moves against these elements, through grassroots education and engagement with various labor, cultural and economic sectors, including the university system in the organization of students. Both the power of the vote and the power of the gun are constitutive elements of a common struggle against capitalism in its neoliberal mode. What will determine the course of action is of course not some inherent idea or historical necessity but the contingent elements that surround the lives of those who toil.

[1] Scott Jay, “The Postmodern Left and the Success of Neoliberalism,” http://libcom.org/library/postmodern-left-success-neoliberalism


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