Thursday, November 12, 2015

How to Reform the Modern Left

It’s very easy. The left needs to do this:
(1) end the absurd attachment that many people on the extreme left still have to Marxism and Communism. These were, and are, totalitarian ideologies, and any attachment to them is just a disgrace and embarrassment.

(2) the mainstream left needs to abandon neoliberalism. Return to strong Keynesian and social democratic economic policies. Post Keynesian economics should be the foundation of left-wing economic thought – not Marxism, not neoliberalism, and not watered-down neoclassical Keynesianism.

(3) the academic left needs to abandon Poststructuralism and Postmodernism, and all the ridiculous related ideas such as truth relativism, moral relativism and even cultural relativism.

(4) end the climate of political correctness and even hostility to free speech that some left-wing people have. Free speech is sacred in a free society, and you will achieve nothing by demanding that governments silence people whose opinions you don’t like – except to dismantle more of our freedoms and set yourself up for having your own free speech taken away, especially if right-wing governments start imposing their own restrictions on free speech. Hate speech laws, while they are well intentioned, simply go down a dangerous route. There is a real part of the left that is better called the regressive left. It is often intolerant of free speech, is strongly connected with Postmodernism, and obsesses over divisive identity politics.

(5) following on from (4), end the obsessing over extreme identity politics, as it tends to divide people and draw attention from the far more serious issues of economic management and economic justice.

(6) the mainstream left needs to radically rethink foreign policy and even bring Western war criminals to justice. We have just been through the most bizarre periods where even some mainstream left-wing parties (e.g., Britain’s New Labour) have supported the most outrageously immoral and disastrous wars. Even more disgustingly, they have never been held to account for it. Just look recently at Tony Blair’s “apology” for the Iraq war. Apology, my eye. Any decent mainstream left in Britain would be demanding that Blair – and his New Labour charlatans who planned the war – face charges for war criminality.

(7) the left should strongly defend modern science and secularism, and end the truly bizarre hostility to rationality and science that has emerged from Postmodernism. Related to this, the left should seriously rethink the role of religion in society. Secularism does not necessarily mean hostility to religion, but removing the harmful role of religion from politics, law and society. E.g., there should only be one system of law in a Western secular society, not parallel legal systems for different communities.

(8) the mainstream European left needs to vigorously oppose the Eurozone and European Union, and stand up for national democracy and economic sovereignty. The EU is one of the most outrageously regressive forces in the world today, and it probably should be dismantled.

(9) finally, the most painful and controversial issue for most left-wing people: the left needs to rethink whether mass immigration is a good thing, especially in Europe, on economic and social grounds. The public hostility to mass immigration in Europe is rising. If it really gets to the point where a solid majority wants an end to mass immigration and open-doors borders throughout the EU in each nation, shouldn’t a democratically-elected government – even a left-wing one – respect what most people want?
There is a lot to be said here, but I will just focus on (9), because it is the most controversial.

First, it is mystery to me why a totally open borders immigration policy has become fashionable to some people on the left these days. Totally unrestricted, open-borders mass immigration has traditionally been an anarcho-capitalist libertarian position. That is, a position held by the crazies who want to totally, or almost totally, abolish governments. Totally unrestricted immigration would be an utter catastrophe, and everybody sensible can see this.

Secondly, just to take the European context, if it gets to the point where large majorities support an end to mass immigration, will the left in Europe just continue to ram the policy down people’s throats? It will be electoral suicide. It is far better that the left think of a humane, compassionate and reasonable re-assessment of mass immigration instead of just leaving it to the reactionary right, whose anti-immigrant policy would be far harsher and more brutal.

Thirdly, it is not as though there aren’t reasonable left-wing economic and social arguments for opposing mass immigration, such as that mass immigration tends to hold down real wages (especially of the poor), that it tends to increase unemployment, and that it provides big business with what it always ravenously wants: a cheap source of powerless, exploitable people who can undercut more organised, unionised or politically-active labour in the Western world. Even worse, there are three devastatingly inconvenient truths that should give left-wing people pause before supporting mass immigration:
(1) our disgusting neoliberal governments have been utterly incapable of creating full employment in the West for nearly 30 years now.

(2) we are seeing more and more jobs being automated by information technology, robotics and machine intelligence: this is already causing unemployment problems and neoliberal governments are doing little to address it.

(3) free markets do not naturally converge to full employment equilibrium. This is the central conclusion of Keynes and of Post Keynesian economics. Free markets will not create full employment, nor can our useless neoliberal governments.
It follows quite clearly that mass immigration should in many cases in the West tend to increase unemployment when governments favour austerity, markets do not naturally generate a clearing in the labour market (that is, when private sector employment growth is weak or stagnant) and increased automation is tending to raise unemployment as well.

And then there are the issues of overpopulation, increased pollution, greater strains on already underfunded public services, and a tendency for mass immigration to cause housing and rent problems.

And big business clearly loves mass immigration for the reasons given above. Remind me again why people on the left should reflexively support it?

I’ll leave you with Ralph Nader – hardly a conservative or xenophobe – giving a left-wing perspective on US mass immigration.


  1. No. 4: would you tolerate Holocaust denial for it?

    1. The shameless idiocy of holocaust denial can be combatted and refuted by free speech, instead of jailing people, which actually allows these crazy bastards to pose as martyrs for free speech.

    2. On this note, it is also amusing that many defenders of totalitarian ideologies these days like to paint themselves as martyrs of free speech. From neo Nazis to Islamic radicals and whatnot.

      In fact, they are even correct to do so, since they indicate that their opponents claim to hold to certain values, but compromise when they find it convenient.

  2. I agree completely, but I must say that precisely for this reason I don't consider me leftist. I believe more in civilization and democracy that in the left. The left seems me more conservative than the right in many aspects.

  3. (4) is little more than a canard of the right wing, though it may not be immediately obvious as to why.

    Stanley Fish wrote one of the defining essays on this subject:

    for a more recent/contemporary discussion, this is also very thoughtful

    plus, even leaving aside the theoretical and practical (and legal) considerations above, there's this simple pragmatic point: if we accept the time-honored principle that BS is an order of magnitude more work to refute than to produce, must not "free speech absolutism" inherently favor the producers of BS over reasoned counterparts? (ESPECIALLY given the fact that moral reasoning, as we now know empirically, tends to function just as often as a post-hoc justifying mechanism as a principled guide)

    1. (4) canard of the right wing, my ass. Just look at how a world famous leftwing feminist -- product of the 1960s New Left no less!-- is harassed and even subjected to threats of violence for what are just some views that many women actually do believe:

      (2) the rest of your comment: unconvincing. Most B.S. -- e.g., holocaust denial or evolution denial -- can be refuted easily by tons of good work already done.

      What is more free speech does NOT mean, for example, that creation science has to be taught in the biology class, or that lunatic holocaust deniers must be allowed to speak in synagogues. Free speech means the government does not send you to jail or prosecute you for saying you think evolution is wrong and the world is 6000 years old.

      Let the crazy bastards say this in their fundamentalist churches or on street corners.

    2. 1. Are you saying you agree with Greer? Or that you are fine with both what she says and the reactions thereto? Or what? I don't understand your point.

      2. So your response to my points re: moral reasoning and BS and so on is "so what?" What about the legal fact, as discussed in the second link, that hate speech has historically been given a privileged place legally over forms of radical speech? Is that also unconvincing?

    3. (1) your claim that the climate of political correctness is some right wing myth is the issue. I posted the link to Greer precisely to refute this, and it does.

      (2) you're not even responding to my points

    4. (1) Yes, I get that you are saying this refutes me, but I'm asking you in which way? Is it the fact that she's a vocal trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or the fact that people are making impassioned, sometimes abusive responses? No one has outlawed anything she's said, nor her detractors, so I'm not sure how any of this makes your point.

      (2) If i understand you correctly (please correct me if this is not the case), you're saying my point does not matter because you can always argue against bigotry and other unenlightened opinions? I don't see this as convincing for the reasons already given.

      You speak of jail/prosecution, but being opposed to free speech absolutism does not mean one supports incarceration of TERFS or Klansmen or whatnot; merely that legal impositions should exist against their being provided with a platform in the first place. This is very different from the tyrannical picture you paint.

    5. (1) the PC culture is clear: she was invited by people at the university who clearly wish to hear her speak (and may even share here views). Some people cannot tolerate this and demand she not speak. Of course, this is not like the state jailing you: it is a lesser form of left-wing PC culture.

      (2) no problems. Let us have a government that
      introduces legal impositions against you being provided with a platform in the first place. No doubt they are some people somewhere who think your personal politics are evil. Then we'll see how much you value free speech.

    6. (1) I don't see the harm in a community speaking up against a message they do not wish to promote. It is entirely within their freedom. And you yourself say it's not the thing you're arguing against.

      (2) But now you've ignored Fish's key point (emphasis mine): "It is a counsel that follows from the thesis that there is no such thing as free speech, which is not, after all, a thesis as startling or corrosive as may first have seemed. It merely states that there is no class of utterances separable from the world of conduct and that therefore the identification of some utterances as members of that nonexistent class will always be evidence that a political line has been drawn rather than a line than a line that denies politics entry into the forum of public discourse. It is the job of the First Amendment to mark out an area in which competing views can be considered without state interference; but if the very marking out of that area is itself an interference (as it always will be), First Amendment jurisprudence is inevitably self-defeating and subversive of its own aspirations."

      Perhaps someone finds my views abhorrent and worthy of banning; that just means a political struggle is in order. Merely sticking one's head in the sand and pretending that the "nonexistent class" of free speech is somehow not inherently political won't make it so.

  4. Ha I just came back from reading Orwell's essay on how to refrom the British Left in the late 1930's ( some of his policies couldn't work today though) and then I come to this excellent list. I agree with all points.

    On number four I think that college kids have to get used to hearing unpopular opinions. I say, let an out-and-out right-wing fascist/theocrat have a college debate tour and have intelligent debtors knock down his/her idiotic arguments through logic. That way kids can see the proper way to refute repusive ideas and will have a higher tolerance for differing opinions.

    I would be careful about using the term "regressive left" though, it's become something of a catchphrase for internet reactionaries posing as "liberals" who want to concern troll the left into being socially conservative.

    1. Regressive left is accurate, so it has that going for it. But I have heard it from leftists with solid left wing credentials who are alarmed at the growing authoritarianism they see. Think of Orwell and the communist left.
      On the right, William F Buckley famously denounced the Birchers and Buchanan. It is a GOOD thing when the sane people in a movement police themselves.

    2. I'm not disputing that. The left-wingers who want to silence free speech are nutty and other leftists should call them out (I'm would guess the majority of leftists hate "the regressive left"). I'm just recommending that when using the term to try to be careful not to get mixed up with online right-wing groups (MRA's, Neoreactionaries, internet racists, etc.) who abuse the term as a whipping boy.

      Of course people on the deep end of identity politics will do that regardless but more moderate leftists can tune people out after hearing the term as well because so many internet conservatives (some who weirdly enough pretend to be liberals) abuse it.

      In other news a state senator in Missouri is trying to silence a students dissertion on abortion. I think liberal leftists needs to call out the right-wing for their political correctness as well (See Starbucks cups "controversy), because if you watch Fox News and see how oversensitive they are they are even worse about it then the left is. They just get away with it more because it's not officially called "political correctness" like it is when left-wingers are oversensitive. I think there is a larger problem in our political culture that causes people to be oversensitive, as if both sides think they are fighting for their very survival (what Orwell would call "nationalism"

    3. The term "regressive left" has a quite different origin and usage:

    4. I'm glad to see Maher, Dawkins, and yourself using the term correctly and hope you continue to do so, but some of the people in the comments section with hundreds of upvotes show how it's being abused by idiots.

      One guy with hundreds of upvotes says ANY discussion of race/gender/"Islamophobia" (I don't like that term either, it should be called "Anti-muslim bigotry" or something) is somehow "regressive" as opposed to just the people on the deep end of identity politics. Same goes for another guy with hundreds of upvotes who applies the term to Cenk Uygur to make him out as an apologist for Islamism. I have issues with Uygur but the guy frequently mocks fundie Muslims and Islam in general how it applies to him is beyond me.

      I think the problem is that you and Maher are smart people who are using the term correctly but the concept is nonetheless being misunderstood and abused by idiot internet trolls who frequent 4chan and YouTube. Alot of these guys are former internet libertarians ("RON PAUL 2012!!") who became opportunistically left-wing on a handful of economic issues after they went to college and realized they needed some government services after all, but they remain radically right-wing on most other issues (TheAmazingAtheist is a prime example of this).

  5. Honestly, I sorta disagree with (4) and (7),

    While it's true that postmoderns have taken over certain academic fields, specially those regarding gender and race studies, and in fact, academics influenced by postmodernism made a theory that tries to explain social phenomena by "oppresion" and "privileges"

    This theory, definitely has many, MANY flaws, but if corrected, and deprived from PC and it's postmodern influences, it can be useful to explain stuff like racism and sexism.

    Regarding (7) I think you are very ambiguous on what "defending modern science" it's, if by "defending" means promoving a neopositivist/sciencist/scientific skceptical view of the world, then I to disagree. As these kind of people tend to use science for political or economical reasons, including.

    -James Randi denying climate change.
    -Penn & Teller working for Cato.
    -UK lobby "Sense About Science" using "good science" to promove the interest of multinational corporations

    I found a very interesting essay detailing the problems with scientific skcepticism, specially the one proving that assumes that accepting skcepticism may mean accepting neoliberalism.

    However, if by "defending science" you mean "defending science of potential toxic ideologies that try to use it like means to an end" then I'm totally agreeing with you. I think that a reformed version of postpositivism can achive better than both postmodernism and neopositivism.

    But that's just my 2 cents.

    1. Not even sure what you mean by "neopositivist/sciencist/scientific skceptical view ".

      You also appear to mean "scientistic", not sciencist.

  6. Well this is going to be a fun thread to read.

    Your program is hopeless of course. Perhaps sometime I will try to explain why ( hint: positional goods) but I think it's obvious from the parlay of so many changes you want. To my mind you are more likely to find skeptical Seventh Day Adventists who support gay marriage and worship Baal.

    Fwiw I am sympathetic on all but 2 and 6. So here I am LK, closer to your ideal leftist than anyone you will find calling the self a leftist! *The left is not where you will find what you want.*

  7. LK, a question. In the push-back you have received over the past few posts, how much of it has come from hell-yes-lets-censor-and-Stalin-did-great-things-his -failures-can-be-forgiven types as opposed to the maybe-you-misjudge-the-EU-or-monetary-theory types?

    1. The pro-Communist people are just unusually loud and their ramblings make people think there are more of them than there really are.

      Privately, in my experience many non-Marxist left-wing people, when you press them, will admit many of the things above are actually serious issues and some even agree with them. They don't speak up in public is the problem.

    2. It also strikes me that even many Marxists reject (2), (3), (5), (6), (7).

  8. As far as I'm concerned genuine communism is anarchistic and based on voluntary free association. As such it may be an unrealistic ideal but it is not totalitarian in the slightest.

    1. Then it is a vision as impractical, utopian and dangerous as anarcho-capitalism.

    2. if we talk about Marxist vision of communism, than it's totally a free association of free individuals, but that emerge only on the basis of highly developed material base, which needs to be built in advance.

      though building of said base may become the neccessity in not yet so advanced society, the process itself cannot be completely free and voluntary.

    3. "though building of said base may become the neccessity in not yet so advanced society, the process itself cannot be completely free and voluntary."

      Yes, it requires this:

      “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?
      Friedrich Engels, “On Authority,” 1874

      But I expect you are going to tell me that no communist system was ever totalitarian, right?

    4. as I said, in his late years Marx believed that not all countries needed a revolution (he talked about Great Britan), though I think that 20th century clearly illustrated that without an actual revolution you can implement some progressive policy, but can't secure its results.

      there were no communist systems itself, some revolutions and countries which were led my Marxists (speaking of USSR) indeed let to contradictory results, where some degree of authoritarian rule and oppressions were part of the equiation.

    5. And yet you say:

      "Marxism is more of a method to analyze history and social processes and forecasting the trends that are inevitable for mankind."

      But now you say authoritarian states were ruled by Marxists.

      You bizarrely contradict yourself.

    6. please note where do you see a contradiction?

      I'll try my best to elaborate on that

    7. the soviets referred to their society as socialist. Their aim was initially, supposedly, to bring about communism at some point in the future, but they didn't describe their existing system as communist.

    8. Marx's idea was that there would be a transitional period (of unspecified length) between capitalism and communism, which he described as state socialism. Communism itself is supposed to be classless and stateless.

      Anarchist and libertarian communists usually reject this Marxist idea and argued that it would lead to oppressive authoritarianism and the replacement of the existing ruling class by a new ruling class. This is basically what happened in the USSR.

  9. Item 1 is dead wrong. You should probably read Losurdo's "War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century." It completely obliterates the historical revisionism that would lead someone to say something like that.

  10. I'm guessing that these aren't the issues you are more concerned about, but I'm curious to know your position on firearms and the Second Amendment, and the war on drugs.

  11. This is the one that conflicts with the others:

    "(7) the left should strongly defend modern science and secularism, and end the truly bizarre hostility to rationality and science that has emerged from Postmodernism."

    Science has now become part of a technocratic language that seeks to displace most of the political language that you refer to in the other points. This new quasi-scientific technospeak is at the heart of neoclassical economics and many other things.

    It is for this reason that the only coherent strategy is to make people aware of the serious shortcomings of the scientific method. It is absolutely fine in the hard sciences (although certain aspects of astrophysics are getting increasingly silly). But it has extremely limited applications outside of this.

    I've worked around policymakers. This is the key problem. It completely stifles any capacity for action and debate and replaces them with worship of some "expert" or "forecast" or some other such nonsense.

    And do you know what you're told if you attack the pretensions of the lab-coat wearing priest? You're told... that you're a "postmodernist".

  12. This is absurd. The people in the physics or biology departments are not dictating how we do economics.

    What you are referring to is the fraud of neoclassical economics and physics-envy down in the economics departments, and gross ignorance on the part of policy makers. Just because neoclassicals falsely claim to be "scientific" does not mean the natural sciences are to blame or their method.

    What's more, nobody said point (7) means you must actually adopt the same methodology in the social sciences as in the natural sciences.

    Defending modern science means defending modern science from religious encroachments on it and claims that it is only one culturally-constructed narrative amongst many valid narratives and that it can never discover real objective empirical truths.

    If you believe that B.S. you need to go to a faith healer when you get cancer.

    1. Stop strawmanning and stick to the point. I never promoted faith healing so stop putting it in my mouth. It weakens your article.

      This is NOT just about neoclassical theory. Neoclassical theory is an outgrowth of a tendency that permeates everywhere. It was with us with eugenics in the 20th century -- and that is being quietly resurrected in soft form in, say, evolutionary psychology. It permeates ALL policymaking. It is not unique to economics.

      I suggest actually working in policy space for a while and interacting with the bureaucrats. Go out and ask them about their assumptions. Ask them how their forecasts are constructed (don't like economists? ask demographers! or ask financial analysts in your Treasury department!).

      It's all lies. A complete hotch-potch of lies. And the lies rest on a singular ideology: scientism. Scientism rests on something vague called "science" for its authority. And charges of postmodernism are thrown at anyone who questions the validity of this ideology.

      You are trapped in this ideology because you imbue science with powers that it does not have. It is an ideology that is as powerful as any religion and appeals to people based on the same emotions.

    2. "Ask them how their forecasts are constructed (don't like economists? ask demographers! or ask financial analysts in your Treasury department!). "

      (1) You appear to be saying that when policy-makers need advice they shouldn't -- as a general principle -- turn to experts?

      Again, this is totally absurd. The problem you are referring to is that they are asking the WRONG experts **in some cases**. Are you going to tell me that if a UK government called in leading UK Post Keynesian economists to give policy advice that this would be wrong?

      (2) You imply that nobody the government ever consults know what they are talking about. In vast numbers of other cases, the experts know what they talking about.

      E.g., does the government need advice on public health policy? You'd be mad not to consult senior and experienced physicians or academic medical authorities qualified to give advice on given issues.

      (3) As for "scientism", if this is supposed to mean that the social sciences must have exactly the same method as the natural sciences, this is just putting words in my mouth. I've said no such thing.

      (4) finally I have to tell you it is not even clear to me what your position on natural sciences even is. If it is actually that of Michel Foucault, it is clearly utterly incoherent and indefensible.

      According to Foucault, all truths are made by power and not by the hard test of empirical reality. I've demonstrated time and again how this leads to Bedlam.

      If we believe that nonsense, we would quickly be forced to say that the proposition that the earth revolves around the sun is not objectively true and was just some "truth" made by some sinister power system. E.g., did those evil scientists conspire to foist this oppressive truth on us?.

    3. That's not what I'm saying. Read my comments and try again.

  13. For sure communism isn't a totalitarian ideology by any measure (though those who haven't investigated what it's all about may assume so), but saying the same about Marxism is just hilarious.

    Marxism is more of a method to analyze history and social processes and forecasting the trends that are inevitable for mankind. Though revolutions and other significant changes are usually advocated, they aren't neccessary in some cases, like countries with strong democratic traditions may transform to communism in a non vilolent manner.

    1. "For sure communism isn't a totalitarian ideology by any measure "

      Yes, and if you believe that, you might as well say that "communism" can mean anything you like.

      Or you are playing the stupid trick of using "communism" in the sense of the anarchist pure stateless communist system envisaged by Marx -- which has never existed and is an utter fantasy.

      Or possibly you are so ignorant you actually think that all communism states we have seen in history were not repressive, authoritarian police states, some with gulags and were thought crime was a reality.

      Anyway, here is Engels on how he envisaged the actual transitional communist state (you know, I mean the only fu*king one we have seen in the real world, right?):

      “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?
      Friedrich Engels, “On Authority,” 1874

    2. we haven't (and we probably won't) see any communist states ever because communism is the kind of society where there's no more need for any distinct government system and strong hierarchy.

      if any government calls itself a communist one, or a socialist, or just a democracy, it doesn't they indeed have that properties.

      I agree with Engels, revolution (at least all serious revolutions we've seen in the history of the latest 4-5 centuries) are really hostile and authoritarian, I doubt that anyone can really debate that any war itself is actually not a paradise of personal freedom.

    3. "I agree with Engels, revolution (at least all serious revolutions we've seen in the history of the latest 4-5 centuries) are really hostile and authoritarian,"

      lol.... So the revolutions that overthrew Eastern European communism just led to ...authoritarianism? Not democracy? Even the French revolution, despite the violence, actually was a movement away from absolutism to less authoritarian, constitutional government at least in its early stages.

    4. revolution in Russia for sure led to extremely hostile and authoritarian type of a wild peripheral capitalism indeed.

      French revolution was a really progressive one, but as you've noted yourself, it was a pretty violent one. That's the essense of a progressive revolutions (and even civil wars for that matter), they lead to a more progressive (and thus, less authoritarian) system by not so kind and pleasant methods, which is sad, but that's how history's done.

  14. It's weak to suggest that a policy stance should be adopted just because there is a solid majority in favour of it. On that basis economic policy would continue to take the household analogy as a starting point of macroeconomic policy.

    We'd adopt a policy because our analysis of the evidence suggests it is correct.

    The proposal to adopt a Post-Keynesian outlook for economic policy is, in 2015, an extreme left-wing position.

    Of course Bryan Gould's position on the economy shows that needn't be the case.

    Academic economists and politicians of a centre left scoff and roll their eyes when their positions are described as neoliberal. So, that needs to be clearly defined in readiness for such a reaction.

  15. With the possible exception of 6) I think most Australian Labor parliamentarians have held to these principles over the last 40 years.

    The British Labour seems to have had greater problems with what Dr Peter Brain called the 'Marxian Trap' (Beyond Meltdown) and identity politics.

    Not the British Labour Party.