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The revolution has come, and the left is terrified

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The end to unbridled neoliberalism has unprecedented momentum, but it hasn’t come just from the left, the presumed champions of such a cause.

No, it is voters who tend to be nationalist, conservative, with past histories of voting for free-market ideals who are setting out to destroy the modern design of the marketplace.

They are poorer, older, and less educated than the majority of the voters on the left. They are, perhaps, the very same voting block that has empowered the unbridled corporatism of the west for decades. Some of them are racist, sexist, puritanical, zealously religious, and opposed to everything you have fought for in your activism, consumption, and voting. Some, hopefully only very few, are even willing to take those thoughts to violent ends.

They are also our neighbours, and our only hope of ever changing the trajectory of our society. 

We’re right to be uncomfortable — the pace of events is quickening, the rhetoric getting angrier, and the fear becoming more palpable. There have been spikes in hate crime following Brexit and the launch of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

However, in the face of fear we must not subscribe to the same reactionary and chaotic instincts that drive a political dialog which we, as the left, have protested for decades. We must understand how we came to where we are, and how to move forward.

My central premise is simple, though perhaps highly unpalatable: the left and the right together have built modern corporate-parasite super states, and in order to stop the flow of money from poor to rich we must unite with those we face in the streets.

It is citizens coming together that will save us from the self-serving institutions that have allowed for the decay of the middle class.

We let it come this far

Occasionally, useful language sneaks into public discourse from the lips of our political leaders. One such instance was the spat over ‘sociology’ between Prime Minister Trudeau and former PM Harper. In their exchange, though generally immature, they identified a key difference in policy between the left and the right: the right would seek to punish those who break the law or engage in warfare, whereas a liberal may seek to end the conditions under which such violence became reasonable. From crime and punishment to foreign military occupations, reactionary versus proactive responses divide our decision makers and voters.

 From crime and punishment to foreign military occupations, reactionary versus proactive responses divide our decision makers and voters.

In the given instance progressives could not understand how conservatives could continue to support a policy of war that generated terrorism as a fairly direct response. Conservatives, meanwhile, were appalled that liberals would go out of their way to justify the actions of people they would consider mad.

A dissonant new chord had been struck in the culture wars, and our neighbours looked even less familiar than they once did. Our society was left-divided, the world was not made more safe, and the core sociological causes of the conflict were left unattended. This is, essentially, how the dialog around the Middle East has played out for 30 years.

Shortly after this spat the Liberals were elected to a majority government, with a generation betting on big change and voting to rip up the script. Though there has been a major change of tone, it seems all too reminiscent of deceptions past: the TPP remains unchallenged, Canadian arms still flow into the hands of Saudi princes and their warlords, the middle class still faces an existential threat, and our planet remains at war.

Such has been the case under Liberal governments for decades. 

Consistent betrayal

This isn’t just a story of the most recent Canadian government. Rather, it is another painfully similar chapter among past ‘progressive’ governments in the west, playing out a stayed and unchanged dance for 30-odd years. The system was always simple — campaign to the left and govern to the right.

During the 1990s Clinton Democrats cluster-bombed the Middle East, deregulated Wall Street, and increased incarceration with an intensified push in the war on drugs. Stock markets rose and employment figures were better than under Republicans, but much of the same rot remained and was repackaged as being ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative’.

The free trade deals championed by Democrats and Republicans alike, coupled with the bipartisan war on drugs, has lead to the destabilization of Mexico and much of the border problems we see today.

Canada bore witness to a similar story. Although Liberal governments of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s advanced a then unpopular legalization of gay marriage, they also administered the largest cuts to program spending and health care transfers in modern history. Since the liberal ‘debt slaying’, provincial, municipal, and personal debt have skyrocketed.

Although they were wise enough to not engage in the illegal occupation of Iraq, we still went into Afghanistan with no long term plan, contributing to a long-running destabilization of the Middle East by the west. This was done in the same manner as most campaigns in the Middle East — supporting a marginally more cooperative brand of despot willing to take our bribes.

 We have accepted cheap theatrics that disguise an essentially identical agenda carried out by the major political actors of our time.

This business model for engagement in the Middle East has lead to the rise of many terrorist organizations, turning them into “neoliberal clients”. This engineered chaos is the source of untold numbers of refugees, and a wave of radicalization that continues to generate new threats for citizens of the Middle East and the west alike.

In the UK the Labour Party supported the invasion of Iraq, the deception of the public, and the continued march of global capital unabated. The neoliberal movement was championed by the political right and left alike in both domestic and foreign policy.

We have accepted cheap theatrics that disguise an essentially identical agenda carried out by the major political actors of our time. Progressives (Liberals, Democrats, and Labour) have carried out the vision of ‘small c’ conservatives (Conservatives, Republicans) for decades, and what should have been periodic relief from austerity and class war simply served to prolong the slow bleeding of the middle class while sustaining the mechanisms of wealth transfer.

On the left we enjoy the comforting lie that it’s dumb and racist conservatives who ruined our country. On the right they see liberal cash from governments as bribery and corruption, creating the entitlement generation. The reality is we built this house of cards together.

Sociology comes home to roost

An impoverished society is a radical one, and Liberals as much as Conservatives have brought us to this place, though the Conservatives did it in a more authentic manner.

The result is a society more divided than in a generation, more scared than anytime since the Cold War, and less interested in the political system than perhaps in the entirety of the existence of modern western states.

Citizens are cynical and jaded, and for exceptionally good reason. The first long-running manifestation of this is voter apathy and the feeling that the single voter cannot make a difference. The downward trend is long-running and well beyond the point of embarrassment. The public has internalized the belief that the political system will never listen to them and people act accordingly by not even taking the time to participate.

 We should share in that outrage together, assist in the dismantling of the neoliberal model as there is now the appetite to do so, and begin the discussion of what we want to replace it.

However, this passive discontent is mutating into an active desire to destroy the system — a lofty notion floated in seminar rooms and at community meetings, but never in an organized and intentional way to the scale we are now seeing.

In the U.S. it has manifested in the destruction of the modern Republican Party that has existed since the end of Camelot. The emergence of the Tea Party eight years ago was an organization practice for those fringe voices that did not wish to see the centre hold.

Trump’s success heralds the end of a movement that was, and leaves us to wonder what this new Republican Party will actually stand for. The UK, and much of Europe, has seen the same populist anger manifest in the multiplication of insurgent right wing, nationalist, parties such as the UK Independence Party, with the crown jewel of the movement being Brexit. Many commentators suggest this may lead to the end of the EU. If such a reality comes to pass, the right would feel emboldened as never before. In the struggle against big government in the west, this is a massive black eye to the neoliberal order.

And we can’t even be happy about it!

No, there isn’t much for the left to celebrate in these times; the working class has come out decidedly on the side of protectionism, tribalism, and anger. Much mocked and reviled in the wake of the Brexit vote, the working poor of the UK were chided for, once again, voting against their own self interest. The election of the centrist liberals is only a trivial click away from the conservatives; on trade and foreign policy little of substance has changed.

In the U.S., conservative presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, machine-rolled over Bernie Sanders, with emails showing in some detail the coordination between Clinton staff and DNC staffers clearly attempting to rig the results. There is perhaps no finer example of the revolving door casual corruption on the left than former Chair of the DNC Debbie Wasserman-Shultz resigning from the DNC for this collusion and being appointed to the head of Clinton’s Campaign within the day. 

The sad reality is, almost without exception, we have all been duped. We should share in that outrage together, assist in the dismantling of the neoliberal model as there is now the appetite to do so, and begin the discussion of what we want to replace it.

Theft from on high

The slow decay of the middle class is no accident and we must accept that it is by the design of conservative and liberal politicians alike.

For progressives it is hard to accept our fault in the matter. Moderate reformers are right to say the system is toxic, nothing big can happen overnight, and big change comes at a risk. Many of the people who make that argument do so from a very kind and well-meaning space. With intent or without, this argument allows the corporatist side of the left to continue the plundering of the working class unabated, and often encouraging it.

Our lovely Island of Newfoundland is showing just how vicious the Liberal establishment can be. After campaigning with Justin Trudeau against Stephen Harper austerity, when the N.L. Liberals formed their own provincial government last fall they administered the most severe austerity in recent memory in total contrast to their election promises.

Photo by Daniel Smith.
The N.L. Liberals “administered the most severe austerity in recent memory in total contrast to their election promises.” Photo by Daniel Smith.

Taxes were slapped onto the working poor seemingly without thought, essential services cut without a moment’s thought of the cost, all while slandering their political opponents for forcing them to make such choices in an attempt to divorce themselves from any responsibility.

This behavior is not unusual, it has been seen before, and it is characteristic of the Liberals and Conservatives alike.

Within the European context we can see the same draconian approach taken with Greece, with German debtors putting harsh penalties upon the people of Greece for terrible choices made by corrupt politicians, often at the behest of other EU member states (including the UK, the main advocate for neoliberalism within the EU).

The EU, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank, is another mechanism that exists within the neoliberal model. It was born from an economic union with corporate profit as a primary goal. It was never about the founding of a peaceful Europe, and all about the flow of profit being dictated on a larger scale. Peace in Europe was, at best, a side effect. 

A black eye like the disruption of a major capitalist institution like the EU, then, for this neoliberal body could be seen as a victory for the forces that wish to push back against corporate control. It seems like Brexit will cause real and substantial disruptions to the TPP and other free trade deals, which would stand as a massive victory for working citizens protecting their jobs, but also as a temporary reprieve from the loss of civil liberties and the empowerment of transnational corporations.

The left has not only dreamed, but fought in the streets to achieve just these ends.

Unlikely allies

Anecdotes cannot dictate our discourse, but we are in a season of novel and unexpected ideas, and the prognosticators of the day are increasingly unable to auger our future. As such there is perhaps extra merit in the examination of quirky ideas that live outside those we expect to be true.

I had the pleasure of sharing a chat with an older American couple on vacation shortly after Trump seized the Republican presidential nomination. They said they wanted to see Sanders and Trump on the same ticket, and that America wasn’t just Republican or Democrat, but rather a community of people who disagreed, argued, and more than anything hated the way things were being run.

 If we want our citizenry to stop fighting amongst ourselves over moral struggles, we must clearly engage in the class struggle, united against the bandits who have plundered our collective fortunes, and reclaim that wealth as our own.

I scoffed, of course, as I am sure you do now. Then it made me think and wonder why cooperation was such a hilariously novel concept, and that made me deeply worried for our coming together as citizens within the West.

There is hope then in people like Bernie Sanders. Clinton, like Trudeau, will come to power and signal a time of new stability: wage theft will slow, debt levels may soften, and the neoliberal order will be stabilized for another short period. But the public, aware that the house of cards is falling, is insulated less and less from the failures of the ruling class.

Our collective wealth and prosperity is being squandered, and with it, an increase in panic and fear from all citizens. This requires us to dismantle the institutions that have failed us—like the leading progressive political parties in the west—and replace them, as the right is about a decade ahead of us in replacing them.

On the left we march against the G20. On the right they rally against immigration. But, at least for the time, we seem to share a common enemy in finally targeting the very top of the structures of power in our society.

We cannot take given realities as true or necessary. The world is reimagining itself, and we need to be sure to remember our own sociology: poverty creates radicalism and wealth destroys it.

A wealthy society is one where workers are recognized as the driving force of the economy — not housing prices, the stock markets, foreign direct investment, or free trade.

If we want our citizenry to stop fighting amongst ourselves over moral struggles, we must clearly engage in the class struggle, united against the bandits who have plundered our collective fortunes, and reclaim that wealth as our own.

Chris Bruce is a former NL NDP Leadership candidate, as well as the NDP candidate for Topsail-Paradise in the 2015 Provincial Election. He works full time with Jumping Bean Coffee, and would love to make you a latte some time.

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