What is radical politics?

Interesting piece on this on the Compass website written by John Pugh. It forms part of what will no doubt (as soon as Labour shuffle out of office) by wider soul-searching on the left; something that will usher in a very starkly right-wing Conservative government (perhaps more right-wing than its own leadership would like). Pugh survey’s thirty people on the ‘left’ and rather glibly concludes that things are ‘up-for-grabs’ in the current atmosphere of financial and certainly in Britain established political crisis.

Some of his contributors argued that part of the problem was that ‘radical politics’ was far to diffuse a term; too fragmented, as if this has not always been the case for most of history. It is certainly always been the case that the flag of ‘progressive’ and radical critiques of politics and society has always been one whose ownership is hotly disputed.  I think I can agree with;

some contributors think radical politics today does not have support from broad sections of society.

and feel that it contributes to the aforementioned fragmentation which all flows from;

most solutions to the present crisis coming from society will push us further into debt, since they generally rely on returning to the status quo, guaranteeing the availability of limitless credit. Yet as some point out, radicals on the Left have not developed a grand counter-vision to this. A truly radical politics – which curtails exploitative attitudes – is lacking.

It was right to save the current system and avoid the wide scale social misery the complete collapse of the banking sector would have caused.  However, the challenge is now to move beyond that and not return to the ‘good times’ because as we know full-well they will end; the system is fundamentally flawed. Weak radical politics is actually bad for politics as a whole and it leads to apathy and politics becoming ‘boring’ in the eyes of some.

Some in Pugh’s survey argue that this fragmentation is a source of strength but in terms of the impact the diffuse movements he cites make it is clear that lacking a unifying vision limits that impact. He talks of the need for a wider dialogue between the diffuse movements;

Some think that today’s radicals do not work hard enough at reaching out to different parts of society, at bridging the gaps; that they are not seriously committed to their radical causes. The modern protest – such as Live8 and Make Poverty History – is sometimes seen as illustrating this. At these protests people meet up with their friends for the day, listen to Bob Geldof or Bono talk about poverty, and express their personal outrage at the world. But when it comes to actually working collectively for instrumental change, rolling up their sleeves, some contributors to the survey argue that these protestors are much less interested. They are more worried about being seen at the right protest, wearing the right coloured bracelet.

However this leads to a tension;

some contributors note that the stakes of radical politics have changed post-crisis, arguing that radicals on the Left need to seriously re-engage with representational politics, in order to challenge the rising power of the Right and capture the institutions that matter most at this time.

Labour’s spell in opposition and the splitting of what would be considered those committed to progressive/leftist/radical politics party political lines however mirrors the wider fragmentation which leads to the salient observation;

Despite a global crisis, there is no obvious alternative to neo-liberalism for people to mobilise around.

It maybe the ‘lefts time to shine’ but whether it will or not remains an open question.


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  1. What is radical politics? « Moments of Clarity « News - November 4, 2009

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