What Happened to the Western Left?


Johan Galtung, 16 May 2011 - TRANSCEND Media Service

From St Gallen, Switzerland

The 41st St Gallen Symposium, an academic version of the Davos World Economic Forum, took place last week, organized by the students of that school of business. “Leaders of today meeting leaders of tomorrow” kind of stuff; competently done.

Western right-wing mentality was easily identifiable:

* The primacy of the free market; as against state and civil society (St Market fits better than St Gallen for Gallus the Irish monk);

* The primacy in the market of free companies competing for market share; as opposed to clients-consumers, communities, nature;

* The primacy in the company of free CEOs-chief executive officers, leaders, entrepreneurs, as opposed to workers, even shareholders;

* The supporting role of the state to guarantee these freedoms;

* The supporting role of democracy to produce legitimacy;

* The supporting role of the police to protect CEOs-companies;

* The supporting role of the military to protect free markets;

* The supporting role of religion-culture to produce legitimacy.

Consequence: callousness about suffering at the bottom of companies, societies, the world; turning their back to US killing in support of dictatorships and privatization to limit accountability in the economy.

This is more than just ideological preference for capitalism.  There is also the cult of the strong individual, the Gründer, entrepreneur and above all leader, with endless explorations of the nature of the magic of leadership.  The leader leads by giving the followers good reasons to follow. This does not exclude dialogue, but the landscape of individuals is not flat.  Leadership talent should be identified at an early age for all walks of life.  But, given the primacy of the market, within the market of the company, and within the company of the leader, the CEO attains a magical aura.  Much is expected, high are the rewards, deep is the fall, golden is the parachute.

“Leaders” in science, arts, religion would agree that they are at their best when free to pursue their lights.  But their pursuits are mainly nonmaterial.  Scarce material goods are not involved; these are for the CEOs.  Their decisions impact on the material livelihood of millions, billions.  And even more so when politics, the police-military, and non-material culture are instrumental to the primacy of the free market.  Thus, human rights can be seen as setting a maximum number of people free to find their place in the market, as producer or consumer, supplier or worker.  Choice of products and choice of political parties is seen as freedom being self-reinforcing.  And the almost unquestioning support of the USA is the support of the major supporter of the free market, also by intervening militarily when states are suspected of not doing so.

This is a right-wing package combining elements from centuries old “capital over state” and “capitalise over workers” ideas, with contemporary geopolitics.  Question: is there a left-wing package?

No.  The left in the West is weakened into a shadow of what it was only a generation ago; segmented, fragmented, marginalized.  Of course there are oppositions to all the nine points above, to wit:

* The primacy of human life, basic needs, life itself, of nature;

* The primacy of civil society–traditional clans, modern NGOs;

* The primacy of joint decision-making, of dialogue and consensus;

* The role of state and capital cooperating to guarantee this;

* The role of democracy as transparency, dialogue and consensus, debate and elections, in family, workplace, local, national, global;

* Increased capacity to handle domestic conflict without police;

* Increased capacity to handle global conflict without military;

* A culture of peace, conflict resolution; more we, less only I.

This is anti-imperialist, and the US-Israeli empires are today the carriers of that economic-political-cultural-military injustice.

This is all compatible with business[i], cooperative more than competitive, softening the right-wing package, with its faith in the individual if s-he is strong enough, and in the market if strong enough.  The right wing has made dramatic and anti-human choices, but there is also beauty to their faith in the creative, hard-working individual.  But something fascist in the leader cult.

Of course there is the old left, social-democrat, industrial; today embracing the market and the company, trying to soften CEO power, in Western Europe, but unable to develop alternatives to US politics, and to distinguish between the US empire and US republic.  Absorbed, co-opted like the Democrats by and large in the USA.

And of course there is the new left, green, defending nature, local, but unable to develop an alternative economy, friendly to nature and without flagrant inequalities in companies, countries, the world.  Thus, the World Social Forum is a forum, nothing more.

Why this vacuum?  Maybe because the Left was more marxist and Soviet-inspired than it admitted and collapsed with its demise?  Never able to bridge the gap between tough marxist materialism and the softer spiritual approaches drifting in from the Orient?  Callous about the dark sides of the Soviet experiment with humanity?

The Western right wing is today not challenged by the Western left, but by the subtlety of Chinese capi-communism and yin-yang, far beyond Western thought, right or left.  And by islamist terrorism, countered by right wing hard christianist and judeaist state terrorism.  The Left fails to understand the former, rejects the latter and is unable to be enriched by the best in the buddhist, muslim, Japanese and Chinese models, stuck in its Westernness when the right wing is relishing a globalization in their image.

The Western left has to open up, not only recite “Globalization NO!”  No brings you nowhere.  Some Yes’es are needed.  And creativity.

und galtung, galtung-zitat, zitat galtung, er-vergleich, Galtung-Zitat, Zitat, Johan Galtung, breivik, galtung


[i].  See Peace Business, TRANSCEND University Press, 2009; www.transcend.org/tup.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 May 2011.

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3 Responses to “What Happened to the Western Left?”

  1. “The Western right wing is today not challenged by the Western left, but by the subtlety of Chinese capi-communism and yin-yang, far beyond Western thought, right or left.”

    The below observation shall also be calculative:

    “Nepal’s National Intelligence Department (NID) has listed 23 Bud­dhist monasteries in the Kathman­du Valley with six of them placed as ‘very sensitive’ and 17 ‘sensitive’ in terms of the Free Tibet movement. Some of them have stored weapons (eKantipur: December 5, 2009). International communities namely, Japan, Taiwan, USA and European nations, etc. financially support the three dozen Buddhist monasteries (eKantipur: December 6, 2009). On September 15, 1974, the Nepalese Army disarmed some 9,000 Khampas (Tibetan tribesmen resisting Chinese authority) engag­ing in guerrilla warfare from the soil of Mustang, Nepal.” For more pls vicit to http://www.transcend.org/tms/2011/05/insecurity-in-security/

  2. Ove Thygesen says:

    In the paragraph starting with “Why this vacuum” you hit the reasons for me leaving th marxist – lininist movement. But what is the follow – up? Perhaps: * The marxist understanding of capital, updated with new knowledge * Understanding of the big cultures (as you mention above) but adding the 4th world(!), * Understanding of sustainable developement, not to preserve, but to develope * Extending the Mao – teaching of “contradictions within the people and between the people and the enemy” into modern conflict resolution with creativity.
    Just to start with??

  3. Ringo Starr says:

    The most important cause of the weakening of the left in Europe, I guess, is immigration from poor countries, which makes people vote conservative. In the USA civil rights had a similar effect(http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/19/opinion/19krugman.html?_r=1):

    “The centrality of race — and, in particular, of the switch of Southern whites from overwhelming support of Democrats to overwhelming support of Republicans — is obvious from voting data.

    For example, everyone knows that white men have turned away from the Democrats over God, guns, national security and so on. But what everyone knows isn’t true once you exclude the South from the picture. As the political scientist Larry Bartels points out, in the 1952 presidential election 40 percent of non-Southern white men voted Democratic; in 2004, that figure was virtually unchanged, at 39 percent.”