Progressives and the poor…

The Guradian seems to be doing allot of searching of its progressive soul and in that vein David Edgar has an article in Comment is Free arguing that ‘progressives will start fighting the poor’. Edgar has obviously lost some bearing, because, for me the term progress and progressive has no meaning if it is not elevating the most disadvantaged groups in society and addressing fundamental structural inequities that prevent people from elevating themselves to their full potential. Progress and its ideal is for those that need society to change fundamentally in order for them to have a chance of realising that potential.

This is why democracy and it’s extension is fundamentally important to a progressive society and this is a point the Edgar misses in his article. The left, speaking in the broadest possible sense, lost the battle for ‘progress’ and to be considered ‘progressive’ because it has lost its historical allegiance and association with democracy and instead has focused on the state as the means of achieving social change as opposed to people.  So focused it is on changing societies structure that it sees the state as the only agency powerful enough to change that and never dreams that it should be people that are the agency of change with the support of the state not the other way around.

How Edgar can extrapolate from experiences in Thailand and Iran to a western industrialised nation like Britain is beyond me. No ‘urban, rural and conservative poor’ exists in significant social weight to act as a barrier to change like they do in Iran for example, Britain’s poor is as urbanised as the intelligentsia and often lives just a few streets away. But Edgar has a riposte, he looks at the turning of the disaffected and reaches the dangerous conclusion that because people do this it means progressives have to ‘make war’ on these people. In cases where they are genuinely bigoted and prejudiced it is true this is the case but it has to be said the war is on their ideas not them as people per se.  He says;

Abandoned and berated, sections of the non-white poor turn to religious fundamentalism and parts of the white poor to the BNP,”

while seeming to purpose that the solution is? More abandonment and berating; hardly likely to constructively solve the problem. He also makes a fundamental mistake when he berates New Labour for ‘compartmentalising’ and so-called ‘identity politics’ as if issues around discrimination on gender and sexuality should not be part of a progressive struggle which they of course unequivocally are and should be. Another mistake made by the traditional left is to boil everything down to class and not all the other structural inequalities that exist in our social system and need to be changed as part of a progressive struggle.

Any battle to change society on progressive lines has to address all structural inequalities and not narrowly focus on social class although it also needs to recognise that these inequalities still exist and need to be challenged as part of the wider battle to fundamentally change society for the better.  It is through integrating these struggles that new alliances will be formed between all those structurally disadvantaged by how society is governed and the poor remain a part of that despite what David Edgar thinks because they remain a group that is fundamentally disadvantaged and therefore has a fundamental interest in change.


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3 responses to “Progressives and the poor…”

  1. Joe Otten says :

    Yes, I find this whole otherness-of-the-poor thinking troubling. It is not just (a few of) the poor who support the BNP and their ethnic analogues. You’ll find them in the middle classes too. And perhaps the poor supporters of the BNP really do believe that shit as much as the richer ones do.

    I’m a little wary of your view that it is natural for all “structurally disadvantaged” groups to ally for change because any individual may be advantaged in one way and disadvantaged in another. It would be cheap identity politics to assume each person has a strong identity of belonging to a particular disadvantaged group.

    It has been textbook leftwing MO for decades to co-opt the workers, the students, the gays, etc, etc, but it has always been about those lefties’ garbage politics at the end of the day and not about promoting the interests of any of the co-opted groups.

    Time to show people the respect they are due recognising they have complex identities and values and ideas of their own.


  2. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Agreed about the BNP support passing the class divide; whether they believe it or not I would say some do and some dont as is pretty much the case with any political party.

    I would say to that that the commonality is in the problem being the structure and the solution being to change the structure so that is where the common ground is. It has but ultimately it is seen through the prism of the class struggle and that is where the mistake is made I think; it sees class as the common meeting point not the stated position above that everybody has a common interest in changing how society is structured. I agree totally with your last paragraph but I think it is possible to say these struggles are progressive in nature one and all for the above reason and therefore are part of a broad sweep for progressive change.


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