A Few Notes on WHAT IS LEFT (or Toward a Manifesto for Revolutionary Emancipation)
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 27 Jun 2011
WHAT IS LEFT in two senses:
–what remains of the historic left, conceived more universally as emancipatory politics independent of place and cultural nexus; that is, not just Marxism, and its progeny, but all forms of resistance to oppression, including by indigenous peoples or in response to religious convictions;
–the definitional challenge associated with defining ‘the left’ under contemporary conditions; the position taken here is that the left is somewhat obsolete if conceived in Eurocentric terms as opposition to the right, and needs to be conceived in relation to visions and projects of emancipation and through the aperture of historic struggles.
Toward a Manifesto for Revolutionary Emancipation:
–the need for a radical depiction of transformative politics that takes full account of the historical particularity of present world conditions;
–the importance of repudiating and transcending the anti-utopian ethos of prevailing political perspectives on change and reform;
–the potentiality of generalizing a politics that seeks a just and sustainable future for all living beings on the planet;
–the engagement with a conversational approach to political advocacy, and a corresponding rejection of all forms of dogmatic thinking.
The ‘left’ agenda of the early 21st century:
–support for the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, including its BDS campaign as both a creative form of resistance to oppressive circumstances, not just territorial occupation, but also to the struggle to overcome the enforced refugee and displacement status that has afflicted millions of Palestinians for more than six decades and a vision of justice and reconciliation;
–struggle against global capitalism, especially in its neoliberal globalizing phase of super-financialization, as fundamentally unjust and unsustainable;
–support for movement from below to push for adjustments to the challenges of climate change; the emissions of greenhouse gasses must be drastically reduced as an urgent priority; waiting until the harm is sufficiently tangible to produce effective governmental responses will be waiting too long, and involves the neglect of justice to future generations and indifferent to the present sufferings of sub-Saharan Africa, islands and coastal areas subject to flooding.
The leading forces for and against emancipatory politics:
–FOR: the declining effectiveness of hard power politics either in its governmental or resistance forms; militarism is failing, although the political elites of the world, led by the United States, seem oblivious to this decisive historical trend; confirmations include the revolutionary potential of the Arab Spring, as well as the outcome of the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the still persisting Afghanistan War; it is not that military power has become irrelevant, but that it rarely in this historical period determines the political outcome; the great series of struggles in the last 60 years against colonialism ended with victory by the militarily weaker side, or by the side, as in India, that did not contest the imperial presence by violent forms of resistance; in contrast, hard power warfare and rulership were effective in earlier historical eras, and throughout the world;
–AGAINST: the spreading of materialist consumerism as the new opiate of the people that hides the destructive and alienating dimensions of late modernity, and shields capitalist behavior from transformative critique; economic globalization as exhibited through franchise capitalism is the most widely endorsed regressive ideology operative in the world today, and is characteristic in different formats of the two leading exponents of the capitalist path: the United States and China. The absence of a counter-ideology of wide applicability after the Soviet collapse combined with discrediting a socialist ethos as alternative foundation for economic and political activity and organization has contributed to a widespread mood of resignation (‘there are no alternatives’). Replacing despair with hope is indispensable if new
globally attractive forms of emancipatory politics are to emerge and evolve.
Comments on Legitimacy Wars as the encompassing form of struggle:
–an overriding recognition of the historical ascendancy of soft power;
–tactical and strategic commitments to nonviolence, although not unconditionally;
–crucial emphasis on gaining the high moral ground to widen popular appeal,
and use of law as an instrument to mobilize support, especially international law (‘lawfare’ as an approved modality of struggle);
–use of international arenas, whether regional or global, local or national, to wage symbolic struggles on behalf of legitimate claims, with a special stress on the symbolic significance of gaining support in the United Nations;
–understanding that most struggles for legitimate goals are non-territorial in relation to the symbolic and soft power battlefields that give potency to public opinion, to exemplary leadership (e.g Gandhi, Nelson Mandela); to tactics such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and to the certification of the moral and legal authority of grievances and claims (e.g. the Goldstone Report);
–patience and perseverance as cardinal political virtues, along with the realization that legitimacy wars can be lost as well as won, with outcomes contingent on many contextual factors (e.g. self-determination for Tibetans, Chechens; indigenous peoples);
–a vision of the goal that includes reconciliation, accountability, and forgiveness, with the realization that there will be tensions and contradictions present in clearing the path forward, away from conflict, toward sustainable and just peace.
These notes are meant as tentative and conversational expressions of an emergent political point of view, and will be revised in response to commentary by others. Obviously, also, there is no pretension on my part of comprehensiveness, or else many other issues would have been addressed: struggles against various types of patriarchy; the need to renounce nuclear weaponry, and work toward a phased process of nuclear disarmament, as well as other aspects of demilitarization; extending rights of self-determination to indigenous peoples variously situated; and establishing institutional arrangements giving opportunities for popular and direct representation of the peoples of the world (e.g. a UN Parliament of Peoples); building in all social spaces substantive democracy based on the equality of persons, reverence for the natural environment, and celebration of diverse spiritual and religious traditions. A cosmopolitan ethos that affirms love of self and others, tradition and otherness, and the familiar and the exotic.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, the author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 20 books, speaker, activist on world affairs, and an appointee to two United Nations positions on the Palestinian territories. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
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