How the Left Was Lost

Jeremy Corbyn before the smear campaign and purge of leftists from the UK Labour Party; unlike Jeremy, his former party now supports escalation of the Ukraine war: photo by Sophie J Brown, CC-BY-SA 3.0 

Everywhere you look in the Euro-American nations of the world, you can see the left in retreat, in shambles, in disarray, and embroiled in internal conflict:

  • In the US, Bernie Sanders and The Squad were forced to take back their call for a negotiated peace in Ukraine, because the warmongers controlling the Democratic Party wouldn’t stand for it.
  • Bernie has acknowledged that universal health care, which most Euro-American nations have had for years, is never going to happen there. And for the first time, a majority of Canadians are now willing to accept that privatization of their health care system, and its replacement with a two-tier system, one for the rich and the other for the rest, is inevitable here as well. After all, that’s what “the market” wants!
  • Leftists’ energies to use government regulation, laws and taxes to reduce inequality and provide essential social services have been sapped from within and without by ideologically anti-government elements who think everything government does is necessarily evil, suspect and an infringement on “individual rights”.
  • The UK Labour party, stripped of all its leftists in the anti-Jeremy Corbyn witch hunt, is now accepting the necessity of privatization of the once-venerable NHS.
  • The Scottish National Party has been taken over by a right-wing anti-democratic group that has abandoned its commitment to Scottish independence.
  • The environmental movement just about everywhere has lost all its momentum thanks to identity politics. Its recent abandonment of direct action (partly because that apparently discriminates against members not able to participate in such actions) and its subordination of urgent climate action priorities to feel-good issues of “social justice” and “climate reparations” have essentially destroyed the movement.
  • The Greens in Germany have abandoned ecological protection and become the unofficial War Party in that country, advocating for expansion of the war in Ukraine.
  • The Greens in Canada have imploded when their leader purged all senior members who supported BDS activities and banned those supporting BDS from running for leadership.
  • The BC NDP (provincial Labour) party is supporting massive LNG fracking, pipelines and precarious tanker exports, and ecologically disastrous mega-dam projects, and has continued the destruction of the province’s old growth forests. The only candidate who challenged these positions in a recent leadership race was disqualified by the party brass on a technicality.
  • Self-styled progressives in the US largely support the continuation of the war in Ukraine, and many also now support nuclear brinksmanship through US/Pentagon/CIA/NATO efforts to bring about regime change in both Russia and China, and also favour stricter immigration laws and penalties.
  • Whistle-blowers, who in the Vietnam War era were celebrated as truth-tellers and heroes, are now quickly imprisoned or exiled. Leftists who espouse beliefs unpopular with, or too complex for, the media’s corporate sponsors and ‘average readers’, are now banned from their pages. Fact-free and evidence-free right-wing propaganda has taken their place, so citizens unable to spend an inordinate amount of time delving into alternative media (some of it infiltrated by the same propagandists) simply give up on knowing what is really going on.

Those of us who can remember truly progressive, activist, environmentalist leaders who actually got elected, who received a lot of uncensored media coverage, and who at least tried to fight for action to deal with the polycrisis and the commensurate systems collapses and extinctions we are now facing, have to wonder: What in the world went wrong?

My sense is that the left utterly lost a fiercely-fought PR war for the “hearts and minds” of citizens that began in the mid-1960s and continues today. That happened for three reasons: (1) the population is now far less informed about history, current events and politics than they were in the 1960s, and hence far more vulnerable to groupthink, mis- and dis-information; (2) new technologies and new media have vastly increased the capacity of spinmeisters to shift and alter public opinion; and (3) the right has exploited (1) and (2) to their advantage, while the left assumed that most people would be ‘like them’ and strive to be informed and to uncover the truth no matter what.

We are, after all, emotional creatures more than intellectual ones, and our beliefs represent what we have been conditioned to feel, more than what we have been conditioned to think. More than we’d like to admit, we are motivated by fear, righteous indignation, and primal hatred, anger and resentment, often more than by rational argument.

The Professional-Managerial Caste (PMC) which controlled the centrist parties and centrist (so-called “liberal”) media since the 1960s have now abandoned their progressive principles in a desperate struggle to hold on to power and influence as the right has swept up most of the corporate political donations and hence political control over the rest of the apparatus of state (intelligence, military, police, lobbyists, media, churches, more recently schools, etc).

As a dumbed-down populace abandoned progressive principles that were bedrock in the 1960s, the PMC shifted hard right to try to pander to them, and to the corporate donors on which their wealth and power ultimately depends. In the process, the PMC have now become pro-war, anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government advocates substantially indistinguishable from the right-wing parties and media, other than in style and physical appearance, and as a result they have been abandoned by many disgusted progressives who now have to hold their noses to vote for them for fear that even-more right-wing parties will sweep them out of office.

There is no solution for this. It’s far too late to undo sixty years of persistent, clever, but uncoordinated manipulation of citizens who are now too dumb to know they’ve been had, and are continuing to be had every day, now by all the mainstream parties and media voices telling them variations of the same lies (“Russia bad/evil — torture babies; yes of course but China worse/eviler — lab leak, lab leak!*”).

The prognosis is not good — economic and political collapse are now likely to happen sooner than they would have had more reasonable voices prevailed, and social collapse is now more likely to accompany them. If we’re able to avoid nuclear annihilation, by the time ecological collapse weighs in, our civilization will almost surely already be in tatters, and no coordinated response to it will be possible.

If you’re a true progressive — a believer that peace is always the answer and war never is; a believer that a healthy society is free of both billionaires and paupers; a believer that government has an essential role to play in providing essential goods and services to all and curtailing the excesses of corrupting power; and a believer that we’re all trying to do our best, not our worst, for and to each other — then I think you’ll have to content yourself with knowing what was and is best for the human species, rather than influencing how the human experiment on this planet is actually going to play out.

Tragic, though. It was a really good idea. Turned out we weren’t quite able to make it work in practice. But a nice try nevertheless.

* The latest WSJ/DOE crap about the lab leak was perpetrated by Michael Gordon, the very same right-wing zealot who sold the world on the lie that Iraq had WMD, in order to garner support for the atrocity of the Iraq War. I suspect that this new ‘revelation’ is part of the ongoing CIA/Pentagon campaign to whip up racist anti-Chinese fervour to support a war against China in the next year or so. Unlike the Nord Stream revelations, Gordon’s ‘opinion’ piece was immediately picked up by the NYT and hundreds of other faithful scribes of CIA/Pentagon propaganda. Even Edward Snowden got sucked in by it.

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3 Responses to How the Left Was Lost

  1. Paul-André says:

    You ignore the rise of unionizing efforts in the US, polls showing a significant increase in the favourable perception of unions; the Sunrise Movement and other environmental organizations started by millenials; among other positive changes bubbling up.

    Hope is more potent that doom talk.

  2. Paul Heft says:

    Hope is more comfortable and more convenient for most people. Hope will survive, even after most of us don’t.

  3. Claire Brown says:

    I’m curious to know if Jeremy Corbyn’s former party, the UK Labour Party, now supports escalation of the Ukraine war. Corbyn opposed the war before it started and has been critical of the UK’s involvement, while his former party now supports it.

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