Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time to Learn from the Radical Right

George Monbiot has written a useful, even important piece on the need for the left to finally learn the secrets of success of the far right. It's about time we figured this out for ourselves.

...Both the Freedom Party in the Netherlands and the Tea Party in the US base their political programmes on misinformation and denial. But as political forces they are devastatingly effective. The contrast to the leftwing meetings I’ve attended over the past two years couldn’t be starker. They are cerebral, cogent, realistic – and little of substance has emerged from them.

The rightwing movements thrive on their contradictions, the leftwing movements drown in them. Tea Party members who proclaim their rugged individualism will follow a bucket on a broomstick if it has the right label, and engage in the herd behaviour they claim to deplore. The left, by contrast, talks of collective action but indulges instead in possessive individualism. Instead of coming together to fight common causes, leftwing meetings today consist of dozens of people promoting their own ideas, and proposing that everyone else should adopt them.

...Before this movement [the Tea Party] had a name, its contradictions were explored in Thomas Frank’s seminal book What’s the Matter with Kansas?(6) The genius of the new conservatism, Frank argues, is its “systematic erasure of the economic”. It blames the troubles of the poor not on economic forces – corporate and class power, wage cuts, tax cuts, outsourcing – but on cultural forces. The backlashers could believe that George W Bush was a man of the people by ignoring his family’s wealth. They can believe that the media is a liberal conspiracy only by forgetting about the corporations (CNBC, Fox etc) and the conservative billionaires who run it. The movement depends on people never making the connection between, for example, “mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore” or “the small towns they profess to love and the market forces that are slowly grinding those small towns back into the red-state dust.”

The anger of the excluded is aimed instead at gay marriage, abortion, swearing on television and latte-drinking, French-speaking liberals. The working class American right votes for candidates who rail against cultural degradation, but what it gets when they take power is a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

...Though most of what they claim is false, one of the accusations levelled by both the Freedom Party and the Tea Party rings true: the left is effete. This highlights another contradiction in their philosophy: liberals are weak and spineless; liberals are ruthless and all-powerful. But never mind that: the left on both sides of the Atlantic has proved to be tongue-tied, embarrassed, unable to state simple economic truths, unable to name and confront the powers that oppress the working class. It has left the field wide open to rightwing demagogues.

The great progressive cringe is only part of the problem; we have also abandoned movement building in favour of Facebook politics. We don’t want to pursue a common purpose any more, instead we want our own ideas and identity to be applauded.

Bogus and misdirected as the Tea Party movement is, in one respect it has an authenticity that the left lacks: it is angry and it’s prepared to translate that anger into action. It is marching, recruiting, unseating, replacing. We talk, they act.

...There’s an opening here for trades unionists to move in and agree that an elite is indeed depriving working people of their rights, but it is not an intellectual elite or a cultural elite or a liberal elite: it is an economic elite. The radical right has something to teach us on this side of the Atlantic as well: the world is run by those who turn up.


Fillibluster said...

I couldn't agree more.

ck said...

It certainly does explain a lot. Much like why the Evangelical far right sub culture is growing; they're very organized.

The tea-bagger hit parade have succeeded in shoving the GOP further to the right, if that was possible. It certainly seems like they're pulling the Rethuglican strings.

My father is Dutch and if he weren't so sick as to no longer pay attention to current events in his country, I'm sure he would be embarrassed to call himself a Dutch man; a heritage he had always been proud of. Now reduced to a bleach blonde Dutch male version of Ann Coulter leading a political party that may well end up in the upcoming coalition the Dutch are negotiating now. If my father were well, he would be shaking his head.

As for us in Canada, that theory is spot on. 18 years ago, when I was a student at Concordia, I was a card carrying member of International Socialists. I ended up leaving the group as they were all fantasizing of some utopic society, rather than facing reality of most Canadians and taking action to actually attempt to achieve things that are attainable.

Perhaps this is also why Harpercon media has succeeded in steering the majority centrists rightward these days.

Anonymous said...

Are you saying lefties don't lie?