Resistance and Reform in an Age of Reaction
Image credits: National Library of France
The backslide into oppression of our current era has taken on many forms. The "Dark Enlightenment", "Trumpism," the "alt-right"—regardless of the taxonomy used to conceptualize the increased influence of the populist right, it is evident that we are experiencing an age of reaction. What makes this seem particularly thorny for those on the left is that it is not a reaction to an era of hegemonic leftism (as some on the right have portrayed it), but instead a reaction to modest social gains made by oppressed groups. Ostensibly opposed to neoliberal globalization, this reaction nevertheless augments the oppression created by the pre-existing neoliberal consensus—making the prospect of substantive gains for workers, women, people of color, religious minorities and the LGBTQ* community increasingly precarious.
It is in this context that many commentators have constructed the image of a pathetic, beleaguered left that has failed to capture popular imagination. The left, pundits argue, must compromise on the most incisive components of their platform and develop a pragmatic program to fight against the likes of Trump. The compromise being extolled here is submission to centrist neoliberalism, a policy position that will obviously be ineffective in tackling the status quo and "Trumpism" alike. We maintain that contesting the space currently occupied by the neoliberal centre and the alt-right requires a theoretical approach. A unified, effective response to the right-leaning reaction of our time will take the form of praxis flowing from sound theory—anything less will be a subversion of the values of the left that give it meaning in comparison to the violence of neoliberalism and the hatred of the alt-right. The “left” is obviously an inherently nebulous term, something which our journal recognizes in sharing perspectives from disparate fields and degrees of radicalism. Nevertheless, cohesion will be integral to the drive for change.
Calls for the left to compromise on their unrealistic “utopianism” fail to acknowledge how pragmatism on the part of the left has simultaneously betrayed its core values and is disastrously ineffective in achieving reform. The recent history of the British Labour Party has, for instance, been one of compromise, precipitating the collapse of their working class base and persistent electoral failure. Reform within the neoliberal framework, though not impossible a priori, has proven to be perniciously illusive. If the recent past of the British Labour Party is instructive of anything, it is that confronting reaction will require a principled, left-wing approach to politics, history and theory.
A unified, effective response to the right-leaning reaction of our time will take the form of praxis flowing from sound theory—anything less will be a subversion of the values of the left that give it meaning in comparison to the violence of neoliberalism and the hatred of the alt-right.
Luckily, the time is ripe. The days of the “end of history” were anathema to radical action—general contentedness makes it impossible to agitate for material change in the space of social interactions. This contentedness disguised the gradual encroachment of the Orwellian surveillance state and the rapid increase in inequality in the developed world, along with the continued exploitation of developing countries. Now that the neoliberal status quo is being challenged and cracks are appearing in its flawed model of expropriation and violence, we believe that the left can move to fill the power vacuum left behind. The racism and inequality inherent in Western society is finally being exposed for what it is, a fact simultaneously terrifying and motivating. Never before has it been so obvious that the status quo is unacceptable.
Leftist movements are realizing the opportunity contained in these times. While it was highly unlikely that Bernie Sanders’ campaign would have resulted in winning the Democratic nomination, it did show that a democratic socialist platform can resonate with millions of Americans—a success seemingly inconceivable since the days of Reagan. The candidacy of Keith Ellison for chair of the Democratic National Convention similarly provides hope that out of the ashes of the neoliberal order could emerge an inclusive, egalitarian form of politics that could dwarf the narrow-minded ethnic nationalism of the right-wing populist front. Though events such as “Brexit” and the election of Donald Trump have rightfully been regarded as major obstacles to progress, they equally equipped the global left with a new vocabulary to articulate their defiance.
The racism and inequality inherent in Western society is finally being exposed for what it is, a fact simultaneously terrifying and motivating. Never before has it been so obvious that the status quo is unacceptable.
The precise form that this new model of left-wing political action could take is yet to be determined, and the events of the coming year will in large part determine which direction it takes. However, a hopeful sign is that movements across the west and beyond seem to have taken to heart the lesson that decisive action is what drives political success. Technocratic regimes cannot win the hearts of the public—instead, it is imperative that political power flow from the bottom up. Not every group will be inherently predisposed towards the movement that a renewed left can offer, but with a thoughtful approach and direct platform, an honest and just coalition is possible.
On this note, we return to the importance of this newly-founded journal. We believe that the responsibility of journalists and academics in this age of hope and terror is to maintain their integrity while keeping the public informed of the many abuses to come. By offering a clear alternative to the headwinds of right-wing populism and neoliberalism alike, the left can provide alternatives for those who see the need for radical change. No single person has the answer to the questions raised by the current crisis, which is precisely why this journal aims to encompass a broad array of leftist perspectives in seeking solutions. We hope to spark dialogue, share different points of view, and create an atmosphere of collaborative learning and cooperation. Letters to the editors and article submissions from varying perspectives are highly encouraged, as it would be hypocritical for a journal to dictate any solutions while simultaneously saying that change arises from the bottom up. The key to any political movement is an open discourse.
Though events such as “Brexit” and the election of Donald Trump have rightfully been regarded as major obstacles to progress, they equally equipped the global left with a new vocabulary to articulate their defiance.
Never has our generation lived in a more pressing time. The recent shift of the Doomsday Clock shows that we may have to take action far earlier than we thought—or would have liked—but one cannot dictate the conditions that history bequeaths. We need to accept the responsibility that comes with being here, now, and work to ensure that the ultimate legacy of this “age of reaction” is a positive one: a precipitant that elucidates the urgent need for a radical transformation of our societal relations.