As the Brexit process – and quite possibly the United Kingdom itself – continues to jump the shark, original and rational (let alone coruscating) analysis of this phenomena remains that scarcest of commodities. It was therefore with great relief that we were alerted (via the Twitter feed of the inimitable Paul Mason) to the existence of Lea Ypi’s excellent There is no left-wing case for Brexit: 21st century socialism requires transnational organisation.
Ypi – who is a particularly iconic Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science – posits a compelling and sophisticated case for why Britain’s impending departure from the world’s most valuable single market is unlikely to engender a more humane set of outcomes for a general population apparently in thrall to that curious mix of uncritical neoliberalism and buck-passing xenophobia laced with deliberate ignorance.
However, it is her analysis of why those social demographics commonly (and not always accurately) lumped together as ‘the Left’ have failed to advance politically from the 1990s onwards which stopped us in our tracks: ‘As representatives of the centre-left wore business suits and moved into central bank buildings, those of the radical left kept the squares, the flags, and the slogans. But both lost ordinary people.’
After some reflection on this exquisite sentence, we at Mediolana aver that it merits unpacking as follows:
- The non-distinction between those members of society who (to use a Chinese metaphor) leap into the sea of business and those in the financial services sector mirrors the Left’s broader analytical weakness in not distinguishing between people who engage in productive wealth generation on the one hand, and those who use this same wealth to subsidise their own bad bets (cf. the 2007– global financial crisis).
- More broadly, the Left’s antipathy towards capitalism as a whole – and not, say, the grotesque elements of financial capitalism specifically – is not merely analytically bankrupt, but helps ensure the continued rampant exploitation of vulnerable groups by its misidentification of the problem, which is fundamentally a moral and even spiritual one, albeit one with a partially material solution. (Indeed, the most extreme instances aside, whether an economy is ‘capitalist’ or not tells us surprisingly little about the state of equity and the quality of life experienced by the people who inhabit that system.)
- On a final and related point, given the fundamental nature of the problem, the Left must at last seriously consider how it is going to mine the world’s great ethical systems for guidance on how to sustainably address complex human impulses such as greed, dehumanisation and the erosion of empathy. To this end, Karl Marx’s facile orientalism needs to be rapidly discarded; instead, sustained and respectful engagement with both Western and global spiritual traditions should commence with immediacy.