Radical, liberal and identitarian left “locked in an unproductive deadlock”

It’s common in political forums here to see accusations of (looney) ‘leftie’ or ‘rightie’ or RWNJ by people of different leanings. More often than not it is an exaggeration at best.

Here is an international view on left wing bickering.

Helen Pluckrose at Areo:  No, Liberal Lefties are Not Right-Wing

Left-wing liberals who are opposed to the identity politics developments on the left increasingly find ourselves accused of being right wing, referred to as “right wing” and scornfully urged to admit that we are right wing by identitarian lefties.

People in politics often seem to like applying labels to themselves, and also to people they disagree with. Calling someone the opposite (ish) of what they are is one of the ultimate political insults.

Leftism

To understand this, it is probably necessary to have a quick look at divisions on the left right now. While all lefties support economic policies which seek to redistribute wealth, reduce inequalities and support the most socially disadvantaged in society, the largest and longest split is between the socialists who advocate social ownership of the means of production—thereby putting control in the hands of the workers—and the social democrats who seek to redistribute wealth within a regulated capitalist system within a liberal democracy.

These have loosely been understood as the “radical Left” and the “liberal Left” and this is also loosely connected to differing principles around social issues such as feminism (radical feminism vs liberal feminism).

More recently, we have seen a rise of the identitarian lefties who hold very different ideas about objective truth, evidence, reason and language and who view society as structured by discourse (ways of talking about things) which perpetuates systems of power and privilege.

As they often fit the definition of “radical” but have little in common with the older radical leftism and seldom address economics or class issues coherently, preferring to focus on identity groups like race, gender and sexuality, things have become much more messy, and communication and compromise much more difficult.

Liberalism

Liberalism is a broad concept which holds to certain values of freedom (both of markets and individuals), humanitarianism in the sense of assistance for those unable to support themselves and equal opportunity in relation to removing any barriers that prevent certain groups in society from accessing all the opportunities it offers. Liberals believe in social progress and that it can be achieved by refining all of the above.

The Identitarian Lefties

They are a product of an intellectual shift which occurred in the sixties when leftist intellectuals became disillusioned with Marxism and developed the concept of postmodernism. This mode of thought saw society as a system of hierarchical power structures and argued that knowledge was actually a construct of power perpetuated by speech (discourse) which served the interests of dominant groups in society. B

y the nineties, this had been incorporated into several fields of scholarship like feminism, postcolonialism, queer theory and critical race theory. It had also been made more explicitly political and actionable. Concepts like “intersectionality,” “toxic masculinity” and “white fragility” became a part of social justice activism.

Consequently, these left-wing academics and activists saw identity politics as politically empowering and were critical of liberal leftism which sought to make identity categories socially irrelevant.

They tended to see liberalism as part of an outdated and inadequate modernist system which was created by straight, white, rich, western men and therefore can be understood to support the interests of straight, white, rich, western men. They still do.

The New Conflict

We are now in a situation in which the three parts of the left—radical, liberal and identitarian—are locked in an unproductive deadlock.

The radicals oppose the identitarians whom they see as bourgeois elitists rooted in the academy who have completely abandoned the working class and the meaning of leftism. They remain at odds with the liberals for their lack of support for socialism.

The liberals oppose the identitarians whom they regard as profoundly illiberal and threatening to undo decades of progress towards individual freedom and equality of opportunity regardless of race, gender and sexuality. They find the radicals of little help in supporting liberalism.

The identitarians largely ignore the radicals except in the form of radical feminist rejection of trans identity which they condemn as transmisogynistic hatred but pay some confused lip-service to anti-capitalism (which does not mollify the radicals). They reserve most of their ire for the liberals who are addressing the same social and ethical issues that they are.

The Solution

The only way for the liberal left to fix this problem is to engage with it.

For too long, too many of us have minimized the problem due to a perceived need to maintain solidarity against the rise of the populist right, alt-right and far right.

Others have not addressed the problem, simply because they do not understand the counterintuitive ideological core of it and feel that anyone who seeks racial, gender and LGBT equality is an ally, even if some of them go too far in their zeal.

Others are afraid of being called racist, sexist or homophobic and associated with the right which is, in fact, what is happening. Some have become so alienated from the left due to being called racist, sexist or homophobic that they have genuinely gone right, feeling that there, at least, they will be welcome.

I find it funny how people seem to want to fit into one or other political box.

There is also that problem inherent to liberalism: an excess of tolerance, a willingness to compromise and a desire not to impose on other people. Because the liberal left is the least radical, least authoritarian branch of the left, it is vulnerable to being shouted over by more radical voices who come to define the left for waverers.

These louder voices undermine the left, however.

We need to get more visible, more unified and braver.

We need to accept that the problem exists, understand how it works and speak out against it calmly, civilly and reasonably at the risk of being called racist, sexist and homophobic—despite being the ones who reject the evaluation of individuals by their race, gender and sexuality.

We need to remember how to argue our case and not assume it is obvious.

The more of us who do this, the easier it will be for more to join. This is the way to win back the left, win back public confidence, win elections and bring about the policies we want to see made. We are not right wing. We are liberal lefties, we are the majority and we can fix this.

There is some interesting analysis in this article, but it finishes on an odd note – “we are the majority and we can fix this”.

Are they claiming that the left is the majority? Or the liberal left is the majority on the left?

I doubt that claiming to be a majority and claiming to be the ones to “fix an unproductive deadlock” is going to win a lot of favour from other political boxes that see themselves as the left.

“Disaffected youth” and radicalism

A committee set up to advise New Zealand’s security services – the Strategic Risk and Resilience Panel – says that “disaffected youth” in New Zealand are at risk of being radicalised and should be a key focus in combating terrorism.

Disaffected youth tend to be prominent in poor crime, mental health and suicide statistics too – which have much bigger impacts on our society than terrorism, which is mostly a threat and a fear rather than being real here.

NZH: Homegrown terrorism threat is angry young people adrift from society

New Zealand’s security risk remains at “low” after being heightened in 2014 with an assessment a domestic terrorism event is possible but not expected.

But intelligence sources have told the Weekend Herald that the possibility of an attack is constant and it is a matter of “when” and not “if” terrorism will appear in New Zealand.

Details of meetings of the panel, released through the Official Information Act, show the panel’s focus was developing a “risk register” which posed specific security threats to New Zealand.

It showed key issues included “the importance of continuing to focus on the threat of radicalisation of disaffected youth”.

Deliberate targeted radicilisation of disaffected youth is a problem overseas.

It also stated that there was a need for “a more forward looking approach in particular focused on community cohesion” and “more focus needed on the drivers of domestic extremism”.

Examples given to the panel were “those radicalised due to strong positions on ecological and technological issues” but the security services have previously expressed concerned over online targeting by Islamic extremists.

Massey University’s Terry Johanson – a lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies – said disenfranchisement was a significant factor in radicalisation and recruiting.

“It needs to be because they feel disenfranchised from their own society. That tends to be because these people don’t have the community framework around them.”

Johanson said closer communities were an element in fighting that dangerous disaffection because people didn’t tend to attack groups of which they were part.

But they do attack similar kinds of groups (gangs).

The key issue identified in the summary of the minutes was the need to create an overarching “risk register” for New Zealand which forecast dangers to our country and ways to meet the threats.

The development of a register would meet a gap in our security system identified by Johanson in the recently released New Zealand National Security book, which drew articles from a range of experts in the field.

The panel minutes show it would allow a specific risk to be assigned to public agencies which would be held accountable for dealing with it.

Examples of risk areas developed for the panel to consider included terrorism, corruption, large-scale people smuggling, biodiversity loss and price shocks which impact across the community.

Young people have always had greater tendencies towards radical behaviour, rebelling against the system. Some of this is just growing up.

Extreme and violent radicalism needs to be the biggest focus of concern.

We need to be wary of the possibility of terrorism, but most problems involving radicalised youth are more mundane and more pervasive – and far more damaging to young people and to society.

 

 

 

Turei: “a very radical economic and social agenda”

In an end of year interview with Stuff  Green co-leader Metiria Turei claims that National have “a very radical economic and social agenda” that will become more obvious now “they don’t have the friendly face of John Key to soften its blow.”

The most common criticisms of the National dominated Government led by John key and under Bill English’s economic management has been that they haven’t done enough, that they have been a do nothing ‘steady as she goes’ Government.

I think that more people will see Turei as the one with a very radical economic and social agenda.

That’s why National have been getting in the high forties in the last three elections (44.93%, 47.31%, 47.04%) and Greens seem to have plateaued (6.72%, 11.06%, 10.70%).

I think there is a fairly strong voter resistance to a government strongly influenced by the Greens even under Russel Norman’s attempts to present a moderate, fiscally responsible party. Turei has always been seen as a radical.

Stuff: There’s a new political landscape now, and Greens co-leader Metiria Turei is here to play

Solving child poverty is so obvious…if only leaders didn’t cheapen the seats of power and the media calmed down a bit.

We should all calm down, let Turei wave a Green wand and all our social and environmental problems will be fixed without any adverse impact on the economy. Heaps of money redistributed to the poor and no oil for the rich.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has some choice words about the political year past.

It delivered some shock results, one shock resignation and a “disgraceful” lack of progress on social issues like poverty and housing, she says.

There has certainly been challenges for the Government on housing, but they have been criticised for not doing enough, not for being radical.

There has also been growing pressure – by political design and aided by media – on inequality and child poverty, and again National have been criticised for not being radical enough.

“John Key never had a commitment to public service. For him, it was never about the best public welfare. I think he saw it as a challenge for him personally and I think he enjoyed quite a bit of the job, at least until these last couple of years.

“He certainly made the role of Prime Minister a much more superficial one than it’s ever been before.”

The public/media side of Government and Prime Minister has always been superficial. Key has generally done well with that, but that doesn’t mean more in depth things haven’t been done with less publicity.

However, Turei offers some praise for Key’s decision to leave when he did.

“I’ve always thought politicians should go at the top of our game…rather than getting kicked out and carried out, walking out on your own two feet is a much better thing to do.

“It was wise the way [Key] did it for himself. What he hasn’t done is leave a genuine legacy for the country.”

It’s too soon to judge Key’s legacy. But Key has succeeded where Turei has failed – they both became MPs in 2002, Key by ousting a sitting MP and winning an electorate, Turei as a list MP.

Key spent 6 years in opposition, then the last eight years leading the Government.

Turei has been 14 years in opposition. The Greens have increased their vote since she has been co-leader but seem to have hit a Green ceiling.

She may still get to experience the realities of being in government, and discover that rapid radical economic and social changes are not as easy to implement as she seems to think. And not without adverse effects.

Next year’s election could be make or break for Turei’s legacy.

“I think it’s going to be a really exciting election, because changing the Government is so possible this time around,” she says.

It’s certainly possible – but it was also possible in 2014 and the Greens were very confident of growing their support significantly so they would have a big say in government, only to be disappointed – so much so that Russel Norman decided to opt out.

But if Turei talks too much about others being very radical on economic and social issues she risks drawing attention to herself and her own ideals, and they are far from conservative.

“A very radical economic and social agenda” probably describes Turei more than any other MP, and certainly more than any other party leader.

Most voters probably see Turei as a Mad Hatter compared to TweedleDumLabour and TweedleDeeNational.

Radicalisation of the Greens and Labour

Losing Russel Norman last year and now losing Kevin Hague are blows to the Green Party. Their replacement MPs move Greens more towards a radical social activist party.

Norman did a lot to try and ‘normalise’ the Greens, to make them appear as if they were credible on business and economic matters in particular. He succeeded to an extent.

But last year he decided to move on (to Greenpeace). He was replaced by next on the list, Marama Davidson, who is more of a social activist who has attracted some attention, currently to the forefront of the inquiry into homelessness.

Hague tried to take over Norman’s co-leadership position but was rejected. Hague was one of  the Green’s best assets as a practical and hard worker who backed his principles but was prepared to work with anyone from any party or political leaning to try and achieve results.

Hague is now moving on to head Forest and Bird. So both he and Norman have moved on to environmental roles, and away from the Green Party.

Hague’s replacement will be next on the list, Barry Coates. He used to head Oxfam, and  aid organisation that has become more active in promoting social reform.

Coates has been leading anti-TPP protests in New Zealand. Social activism.

Norman’s replacement as co-leader, James Shaw, has not made a huge impression yet.

Greens’ other co-leader Metiria Turei has been involved in social activism for some time.

Greens could soften their radicalisation somewhat if they elevated Julie Anne Genter, but despite quiet rumours there is no solid sign of Turei stepping aside or down. Fortunately Genter at least looks to be a stayer at this stage.

While Greens do promote environmental issues such as clean rivers and climate change they appear to be moving more towards social activism with a strong socialist tinge.

Greens were ambitious last election so were disappointed not to increase their share of the vote in 2014, despite Labour’s weakening. They seem to have hit a Green ceiling.

This year they have entered into a Memorandum or Understanding with Labour so they can campaign as a combined Labour-Green ticket.

Labour under Andrew Little’s leadership also seem to be trying to move left and have also become more involved in social activism, promoting a number of petitions and joining the Greens in the homeless inquiry, and also appear in part at least to oppose the TPP.

With the growing radicalisation of the Greens and their closer association with a more radical Labour it’s no wonder Winston Peters sees growth potential for NZ First in the centre.

Greens and Labour may think their future lies in popular movements similar to Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK but neither of them have succeeded yet beyond exciting a vocal minority.

While our next election is probably more than a year away Greens and Labour have tied their colours to the campaign mast – fairly red colours with a tinge of green. They either know something about the future intention of voters that isn’t apparent, or are taking a huge punt.

It’s probably about 50/50 whether National would need NZ First to form the next government. It’s closer to 90/10 that Labour+Greens would require NZ First.

A more radical Greens+Labour plus the determination of Peters to remain an unknown quantity will be a hard sell to voters. Add to that recent policy announcements on education and housing indicate an attempt to outdo Labour’s large spending promises and we could have a fairly radical option next year, versus National plodding along.

 

Metiria Turei’s State of the Nation Speech

Metiria Turei gave Greens annual ‘State of the Nation’ speech yesterday. It was more a State of the Greens speech, which is fair enough.

The worst part was the last line – “Together we are heading towards a beautiful tomorrow.” Her Green fans will probably love that but I doubt if it’s a new vote winner.

The best part was a proposal to establish an election policy costing unit in Treasury.

Today, the Green Party has sent a letter to each party leader, asking for support from across the House to establish an independent unit in the Treasury to cost policy promises.

Political parties could submit their policies for costing to this independent unit, which would then produce a report with information on both the fiscal and wider economic implications of the policy.

This was well reported and applauded. More about this in a separate post.

She promoted Green policy successes from outside Government over the years and tried to overcome one of their problems.

And I hear the same doubts expressed about the Greens as they said to Savage. We like you. We like your ideas. We’re worried about the future. But you’ve never been in government before, so how can we trust you with our vote? It’s a Catch-22.

So today I want to talk about these reservations people have about us and tell you why you can trust us with your vote and with the responsibility of helping to govern the country.

She tried to dispel the notion that Greens were radical, trying to attack that label to National.

The first thing I want to talk about is this idea that the Greens are too radical. Too outlandish. We have all these audacious ideas that won’t work in the real world.

There are two lessons here. The first is that ideas that are attacked as radical when the Greens propose them become conventional, sensible solutions very quickly when other parties adopt them. That tells us something about the gap between perception and reality when it comes to the Green Party.

The second is that if you still think Green ideas are too radical for government then you have a problem. Because no matter which party you vote for, a lot of the new ideas and new solutions still come from us.

It’s not radical to stand against the disintegration of our environment and our society. It would be radical not to do so.

The solutions to the problems we face are not radical, or outlandish, the solutions are transformative.

Instead she claims the current and previous governments have been radical.

We think that the economic experiment imposed on our country over the last thirty years is radical. We think that doubling the number of dairy cows and the increasing pollution killing our rivers and streams is radical. We think a government that wants to mine our national parks is fanatical. We think the steep rise in child poverty and poverty related child death is radically irresponsible.

However most people won’t read about this attempt at a radical shift in radicalism. It’s a hard argument for Greens to make.

Saying ‘radical’ ten times in speech trying to dispel a perception of Greens being radical is unlikely to dissociate them from the term.

But Turei got some useful headlines, on a practical policy suggestion – costing policies – that is a good approach from a party from Opposition.

So overall it was a useful speech that had an impact, padded out with most parts that are unlikely to reach any new voters let alone swing them towards the Greens.

Most people won’t even care about costing policies, there’s a lot of scepticism of election promises regardless of who has costed them.

“Together we are heading towards a beautiful tomorrow” sounds like wistful Green dream of utopia if only the people would listen and understand. Most of them never will.

Full speech: Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei’s State of the Nation speech