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The Left, Moving Front and Center

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E.J. Dionne wrote recently regarding the moderation of the left

Dear Mr. Dionne:
I am a college instructor of political science and a political activist and a life-long leftist with roots in the SPD and Jusos.

While I am sensible to the thoughts regarding moderation that you expressed in your story "The Left moves front and center," I think that there is something very different going on.

As an American with ties to Western Europe, I have struggled for decades to define a leftist philosophy independent of the doctrinaire socialism that crippled the east.

Even in China, the left is recognizing the strength of free enterprise and a non-coercive market based economy.

The beauty of the market is its lack of coercive restraints and its responsiveness to need. In theory, and to some extent in fact, the market entails a voluntary transaction between buyer and seller; if either is dissatisfied he is free to walk away. There does not appear to be any other way to organize economic transactions with such a high degree of autonomy for all parties. Hence, the left must adapt itself to the market.

The second strength of the market is its responsiveness to need. This is well documented. In theoretically solving the problems of human need while providing autonomy for the players the market system is attractive to people with leftist sensibilities, as well as others.

What then is the role of the left?

The left still has a future as the means to critique the market's weaknesses and provide solutions.

The market is incapable of accounting for externalities. Pollution, poverty and social structure are externalities. The market cheerfully poisons the environment, tolerates abject poverty and abets the unjust and iniquitous class structure.

A separate weakness is that the market can be easily distorted by the wealthy. Whether it is a corporation like MLB diverting productive resources to panem et circensis or individual malefactors of great wealth, the market is incapable when it comes to protecting the dignity and rights of workers, providing for widows and orphans, caring for the sick, educating children or succoring the poor.

Another huge detriment to the market as a method of political organizing is its bellicosity. The market orientation seems to include qualities of aggressiveness and greed that on the national level translate into militarism. The US is suffering vastly from five decades of uninterrupted and almost unrestrained militarism.

Despite its weaknesses, the market system has triumphed. It is the globally accepted system of economic organization. I see no prospect short of a cataclysmic collapse of society that the triumph of the market will be short lived. We are living in a new age.

As yet there has been no Marx who has correctly diagnosed our symptoms, described the etiology of the disease and prescribed a remedy. We are still in a period of ad hoc responses to massive social problems.

As the French election has just shown the shopworn nostrums of doctrinaire socialism are inadequate as responses to our difficulties.

We need a vigorous response, Sarkozy showed vigor and made an appeal to shared values.

I think leftist leaders need to show the same. As we gain more power and the movement shows that it can successfully deal with our near and mid-term problems, a more coherent and effective theoretical body will arise for the transformation of society toward the pursuit of social justice.

The current tenativity among the leaders and rank and file of left is less a sign of moderation than a symptom of our current lack of an overarching theoretical and strategic analysis of our new circumstances.

 

Robert Chapman is greatly interested in developing political awareness among as many people as possible.
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