Monday, 28 March 2011

The West-Obsessed Left

fIt is understandable that the global left expend a great deal of effort towards countering the many headed mythical beast referred commonly referred to as "the West", as the disproportionate concentration of wealth and power in the West has widespread consequences across the globe. It is true that the west has disproportionate influence over socio-economic and ecological trends that emerge in locales and regions across the globe that are often physically far removed from the daily lives and activities of people in Western countries - but is at the same time intimately linked to them. This is undeniable, and hence it follows that locating and challenge the locus of global power - for the global left that is - constitutes in attacking the hegemony of the west.

Yet this creates a selective blindness to the other, equally potent influences on the lives of people across the globe who suffer  - not just because of policies and actions that originate in the West - but because of regional and local issues that choke and frustrate the plight of the marginalised, poor and underprivileged. In many cases across the globe it is not the evil west that perpetuates grossly inhumane beliefs and practices, but local, national and regional actors that bring about the suffering of everyday people under their leadership and control. If charity should start at home, then surely so should activism and resistance? But perhaps starting at home isn't as sexy as taking on the forces of global dominance - after all, shouldn't a revolutionary be cast in the Che Guevara mold, and heroically pursue an agenda for global change?

Perhaps this is a cynical view, but the global left has more likely failed ordinary people everywhere by becoming so inextricably caught up with discourse on global power that is reinforced and fed by knee-jerk narratives on western hegemony. This is not to pretend that western hegemony doesn't exist, or isn't destructive in some ways, but rather that it is pulled out at every opportunity to recreate the west as bogeyman, to the detriment of the debate about how to solve the critical problems facing the "bottom billion" that reside on planet earth. In short, locating a singular scapegoat is attractive, but it does not help solve the problems that are facing the planet in the 21st Century.

In my view (and similarly, in Cornel West's view), the west itself needs to be understood in terms of its duality; that it is simultaneously hegemonic and the originator of the great project for freedom and democratic expression. Once you adopt this position, the safe, default positions adopted by the global left reflect a laziness to think through and act in recognition of the complexity of this duality. Placing the blame for all the worlds problems at the door of the west is dishonest and ignorant. The west, to start with, is not all powerful. It is not a God to which we must appeal or challenge. It is what it is and we are what we are.

For example, there are many local and contextual factors that have a strong bearing on creating and reinforcing socio-economic and gender inequalities, on keeping dictatorships and dictatorial regimes in power, on upholding culturally derived practices of discrimination, mutilation and continued human slavery. These are not phenomena that were created by the west alone, even though the west may have played a part in ensuring their perpetuation in many recognised cases. Patriarchal practices in particular, have a devastating effect on the ability of society to obtain mobility and freedom, yet in many regions of the world misogynistic practices are defended under the guise of maintaining cultural and traditional integrity of a locale, country or region. In respect of the project for human rights, the west has undeniably been a source of inspiration across the globe.
And it is not the west that daily humiliates people as much as the people they interact with everyday. Progressive activists in Eritrea, for example, might still have their cook sit under the kitchen table while they dine at leisure in their living rooms - the poor cook awaiting the end of dinner so her slave-ritual can end. South African lefties are also sometimes found wanting when it comes to everyday interactions with the marginalised underclass they claim to represent. The left tends to conveniently forget that even slavery was not a purely colonial phenomenon - indeed, slavery was upscaled to horrifying global levels by colonialism, but it did not start with colonialism. Neither does exploitation or genocide for that matter. Human oppression, in all its forms, originates with everyday people everywhere. It does not originate with one select group that can be marked and tagged and blamed for all of mankind's problems. And indeed, some people caught up in the rhetoric of the left actually might need something to direct their frustrated impotence at, so that it doesn't turn inwards and consume them. After all, some of us need our punching bags to avoid engaging ourselves more honestly about what role we play in bringing about the societies in which we live and the west is a convenient target in this respect.

And in this sense the left has conveniently fallen into apathetic patterns of analysis, choosing to adopt default positions that ultimately lead to placing blame outside of themselves and those they may be intimately connected or related to. In particular the avalanche of left anti-west voices that have assailed news networks in respect of the NATO led intervention in Libya all fail to address the role of their own governments and regional bodies. A case in point is Africa itself. Individual countries have not had the courage to take a stand on the situation in Libya, playing the situation from a distance, allowing the west to come in and take the heat from the beloved lefties they con into voting them in come elections. Indeed, the deafening silence from both African and Middle Eastern countries has gone unchallenged by the left, and they have said and done nothing to question the politics at play at home, preferring to lump all the blame at the door of the Obama presidency and EU NATO partners. In doing so, the left plays out a stereotypical and predictable role and helps prevent honest solutions from emerging, and local actors don't mind as they escape criticism entirely and can make a pretense of solidarity with the lefties, tut-tutting and shaking their heads at western intervention.

It's all too convenient, and quite frankly a disservice to the real and pressing needs that the understandably partisan left are tasked with representing. When the left claims to be representing the desperate needs of the Libyan people, while at the same time espousing their absolute rejection of any forms of intervention - denouncing the Libyan rebels as sellouts - a reality check is needed; one which jolts them out of mindless repetition about western hegemony and forces them to move beyond mere regurgitation of conspiracy theories towards a deeper understanding of how they can act upon actors around them to bring about change. After all, it is not just the popular narratives that the left are tasked with representing, but the deeply unpopular views and opinions that fall beneath the radar and remain out of sight. The left need to be able to act upon local and regional inadequacies as much as they deal with inadequacies on the global stage, and by focussing their attention exclusively on the western bogeyman they achieve little in the way of thinking up and acting upon practical solutions, preferring the comfy chair of derision to the bed of nails of action. Radical positions are comfortable resting places, radical ideas are not!

The positions that have been adopted on Libya by the left are farcical. The familiar narrative is to conflate conflicts in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan with the conflict in Libya, yet in none of these countries did a rebel group have the slightest chance of mounting resistance or indeed, directly asked for international intervention from the UN (maybe with the exception of Palestine). Moreover, the widespread push towards democracy in the middle east did not exist when these conflicts were unfolding, and neither did the technological platforms for communicating real-time information and news exist when these conflicts were undertaken. Instead, we had embedded journalists, and not real-time news. Those who pretend that somehow journalistic integrity has been compromised by the emergence of real-time news ignore the history of media manipulation and the manufacturing of consent role that the media played under the neoliberals and their predecessors. Media is now finally opening up to bottom up feedback from the grassroots, and with that comes a lot of uncertainty where real-time news is concerned, but on the other hand you hear the stories straight from the sources, warts and all and can decide for yourself.

When a call emerges for a no-fly zone from people who are being bombed, and the usually gutless UN makes a stand on it and decides to act, the left should support it - albeit warily and with vigilance, lest the campaign be hijacked by those with more base, material interests. The global left, of all people, should know that they have no right to speak for the people on the ground - they have the right to listen and represent, but not to impose their own dogma upon a people who are in the midst of a civil war or revolution or whatever you want to call it. You don't impose your own set of values, beliefs and norms upon people who are living under oppression and in the case of Libya, the constant threat of death. There is a humility that is required of the global left that has disappeared from their vocabulary. They speak and act as though they are lackeys of a forgotten dream, a dream that can save us all from ourselves, and in doing so become the very thing they wish to challenge - autocratic dictators who disregard the real needs of the pepole they claim to represent. And so they resort to the ultimate lie - that they can't bear to see people being bombed ... what absolute rubbish - the very same lefties played critical roles in marxist-lenninist uprisings around the globe and supported armed struggles that were conducted in the past. Which leftie can tell me that they didn't support the Cuban revolution, or the others that occurred around the world? Indeed, they heartily clapped their hands when Cuba came into Africa to rescue Angola, and left without taking a penny - a pure humanitarian intervention from an external power that eventually led to the end of the Apartheid regime. So please, before you start flashing peace signs in the air and spouting rhetoric about how much you hate seeing external powers intervene in domestic conflicts, sit back and reflect, because you may not be as much of a peace-lover as you claim.


  1. Interesting perspective.Agree - for the most part, aside from perhaps that -the 'global left' ,as you refer to them, are not by any description a homogenous entity , but comprise various interests.They may however be unified and perhaps defined by what they are not, which is - motivated by profit and capital.

  2. Tx for the comment. I really didn't think anybody was reading this blog - it's just a space for exploring ideas. The 'global left' that I refer to is commonly understood as the marxist-lenninist, socialist and labour oriented left - and while I am aggregating here, it is not an unfair aggregation.

    I agree with your comment, in fact I am arguing that if the left doesn't allow for plurality then it is perpetuating a hegemonic discourse of its own that is dangerous in itself. The blog originates from my disagreement with calls from across the globe for the left to unify against intervention in Libya - despite what Libyans are calling for. This constitutes imposing an agenda upon the Libyan situation - and while the left may not be motivated by profit and capital they are motivated by power and a messianic zeal that blinds them to the plight of Libyans.

    One of the groups I have been debating it with go so far as to denounce the rebels for their 'collaboration' with western powers. Other's on the left have claimed that anybody who is 'truly' left would denounce the interventions - I find this all to be opportunistic and hegemonic in itself. Power is more addictive than profit and capital and the left is not by any means above falling prey to this.

    I am a left oriented thinker and always have been, but recently it has become all too trendy to don leftie clothes and spout rhetoric instead of encouraging true plurality and tolerance - letting ideas evolve instead of jumping into camps. Even the eco-jihadi's fall into this trap.

    Letting people speak for themselves is the first priority of anybody that is seriously interested in furthering left leaning policies but my fear is that this is not happening in the case of Libya in particular, and on global issues of importance in general. The left needs a shakeup as much as the right does. Nobody has moral authority when it comes to power, and the humility that is required is to put people first and theories and radical positions second IMO.