What would a serious radical left reaction to the economic crisis look like? It’s a serious question, I don’t really know, and from here it doesn’t look like there is one yet. Maybe it’s the warped perspective from Australia, where the crisis remains to most people a reality only on paper: newspaper, retirement fund statements and stimulus cheques. As chief Business Spectator Alan Kohler put it on April Fool’s Day, there’s an “air of complacent unreality in Australia at present, as if this country can somehow escape the Great Recession.”
But elsewhere in the Anglosphere, where crisis has well and truly come, there are endless pronouncements and diagnoses but not much resembling a mass movement. The G20 protests in London are exciting as spectacle but I can’t help but think things look like more of the same old ‘activistism’, as Henwood et al put it. The far left comes together as a (particularly fractious) identity group, making shows of ‘resistance’ that reinforce self-identities as radicals. Police co-operate in the psychodrama by cracking down hard, giving the impression of a real battle with something at stake. But the recurring ritual ends up a sublimation of political energy, amounting to little more in the broader political culture than a colourful few seconds on the news.
Now, this view has a fair amount of currency among the people in the crowd themselves, and I don’t mean it as a moral critique of activist failings. After all, you could say something pretty similar about the lefty grad student blog international (represent!), the Communist Conference-going professoriat, the Trots and their theory of permanent paper subscription drive, soft-left NGOs and think tanks promoting ever-so-reasonable policy reforms without a show in Hell… All gears turning and turning and not catching on anything. We’re still ghettoised, the channels of communication with the public at large remain closed, and it’s not entirely certain what we would say if they opened.
It’s a time of political hope in some ways, with capitalist triumphalism taking a beating in the broader culture, but not capitalism itself, because in most people’s minds there’s either nowhere to go or no way to get there. Meanwhile the radical left is energised, ready to join up and do something, but whatever it is we join has yet to precipitate.
Am I wrong?
P.S. I started this post intending to link to the interesting post-protest discussion breaking out among the UK chapter of the lefty grad student blog international: Owen, Savanarola and see also the great pics at Infinite Thought, which despite the above make me wish I was there. Apparently k-punk’s also written something worth reading but my employer’s firewall blocks it as ‘adult/mature content’ so I’ll have to draw the curtains and have a look when I get home.