It is not at all surprising that the world is fucked up. The people who have taken charge of it are fucked up people — that is, people who have no allegiance to anything but themselves (or, at best, their own short-term interests where these coincide with the interests of the class which they perceive to benefit them personally).
Because they are not interested in anything but themselves, they are ignorant, and often seem stupid, but in reality they are more to be seen as single-minded; their minds are devoted to their own advancement. Therefore, when they get into power, they use that power to rig the system which put them in power so that they can stay there, and bring their friends and the members of the class which they perceive to benefit them into power.
All these people are fucked-up, and one of the ways by which you may know this is that they don’t want to hear anything except praise for themselves — they are not only selfish, they are extraordinarily vain. Therefore, when in power, they suppress all criticism, partly by simply promoting all toadyism. Hence they neither know nor care about the consequences of their actions. Hence the global calamity, and the incomprehension with which their agents view notions like Xi’s “Ecological Civilisation” in China, which is simply a propagandistic way of expressing the notion that countries ought to have some thought for how their populations are going to stay alive in future.
Yes, we know all this. But there remain two obvious questions. Why is it that there has been such extraordinarily little resistance from the left to the rise to power of these people, including, now, a pathetically restricted level of criticism of the conduct of these people even though they are plainly pursuing policies which will not only immiserate us all, but probably kill us? And, as a corollary which is also an embarrassing truth, why is it that there has been some resistance in some countries, even though it has for the most part not come from the left?
Let’s be clear about the nature of actual resistance. The countries which have resisted are many and varied: Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador in Latin America (and also Brazil before the coup, although this was a highly limited resistance) plus Cuba in the Caribbean; Zimbabwe in Africa (with some support for its resistance from South Africa, suggesting a modest sympathy for resistance of a sort); Iran in the Middle East; Russia and China in Eurasia; Malaysia and North Korea on the Pacific Rim. India, while not resisting, has made some noises of resistance; so have Iraq, Syria, and on occasion Turkey. Also, many of the former states of the Soviet Union have made accommodation with the form of resistance evolved in Russia.
What have these countries in common? The actual resisting countries are all fiercely nationalistic. They are also countries with a fierce desire to possess strong governments, having all had weak governments or puppet governments imposed on them by outsiders in the past. In other words, there’s a universal desire among these countries to run their own affairs properly and decide their own futures. It’s not that they oppose capitalism, but they oppose a homogenizing neoliberal capitalist project which ultimately best serves foreign powers. What is more, they are doing so in a loose concert, and in a way which deliberately appeals, and in some cases is intended to appeal, to a wider audience.
Of course, collaborative nationalism is something of a contradiction in terms. These countries do not all see the world in the same way, do not share identical values, nor do they act with equal energy and commitment to their goals — which makes them weaker than the unified, monolithic plutocratic capitalist states. Yet they all identify a common enemy and their governments, supported by a majority of their populations, are prepared to resist that enemy — to the extent that the enemy acts, or is suspected to be acting, as an enemy. (It’s worth pondering how long it has taken for this attitude to evolve, and what bitter experience China, Russia, Iran and the Latin American countries have gone through to recognise that the United States and its allies simply cannot be trusted to compromise on any issue, but always want everything for themselves.)
So this resistance does not come from pure, altruistic or socialistic sources. It comes, however, from sources which do wish to make a better world. China is run by a Communist Party which purports to — and to some extent, actually does — represent a practically implemented Marxist viewpoint. Iran is run by theocrats, but theocrats who also view their country as the spiritual home of their sect, and therefore as a country deserving to be defended in the same way that god is to be defended. Russia is run by an interlocking cabal of politicians and businesspeople headed by Vladimir Putin (but much too complexly so for him to be called a dictator by anyone who isn’t quite consciously being dishonest), a cabal whose common ground is the desire to restore Russia to something like its former status, more or less in the tradition of Peter the Great.
To sum up, although some of the resistance to the impending global disaster caused by Western countries’ corrupt and (on any terms but their own) incompetent governance comes from countries which have leftist impulses and histories, the resistance is not driven by leftism. How, then, has the global left responded to the disaster, and how has it responded to the resistance?
The answer is that to a very large extent the global left has become part of the problem. Liberal social democracy — the attempt to construct a left separate from Marxism but nevertheless responsive (in a modest way) to the problems which Marxism identifies — has collapsed into neoliberalism. There are hangovers from liberal social democracy still existing in parts of the West — Corbyn in Britain and conceivably Sanders in the United States are two examples — but these are generally assiduously prevented from any access to power, and it is not likely that if they gained power they would be able to restore anything like the liberal social democracy of the 1960s. Across most of the world that liberal social democracy never existed anyway, except as a puppet-show played by Western imperialists to legitimate their corrupt activities, so elsewhere such things don’t matter.
Outside that, there was Stalinism and the various forms of anti-Stalinist leftism, whether Bolshevik or anarchistic. Stalinism has largely collapsed, cravenly, into neoliberalism, covering up its treachery with a blizzard of rhetoric. (This is not altogether true everywhere, of course — Asian Stalinism, while it colludes with neoliberalism in many ways, remains one of the few leftist power-bases from which neoliberalism may be questioned and critiqued. However, it is certainly true of Stalinist leaders in Europe, even though their members may feel otherwise as their support for the resistance leader Melanchon illustrates.) Anti-Stalinist leftism was never able to build a solid powerbase anywhere (it is now clear that Catalonia in 1936-8 was a freak which could not be repeated) and the problem with it is thus that it never felt a need to be responsible, so that it was all too easily co-opted by neoliberalism.
The result of all this is that the global left, where it has not simply sold out, has been able to provide a series of critiques of global disaster, but these critiques are necessarily incoherent and unconnected to real power-structures. In consequence, these critiques are easily confused with the absurd and corrupt factionalism which characterises the anti-Stalinist left and which has permeated the Stalinist left to some degree. Above all, these critiques are unprincipled and, generally speaking, lack any Marxist consciousness worth mentioning.
This is partly because both the Stalinist and the anti-Stalinist left leaped onto the “new social movements” and “identity politics” bandwagons (an acknowledgement made as far back as 1999 by Naomi Klein in her soft-left book No Logo), bandwagons which they did not create and which turned out to be steered by the neoliberals and their treacherous social democratic agents. As a result, instead of refashioning the real issues of party, ethnic and gender discrimination within an overarching framework of class-consciousness, the lefts abandoned class-consciousness and plunged into the futile mire of postmodern politics, leaving economic reality behind.
Therefore the left is incapable of analysing the situation separately from the way in which the rulers of the world wish it to be analysed — it is thus incapable of effective critique, and all too often repeats the slogans of the oppressors, merely using different jargon. (Of course there are individuals who are more capable than others. There are intelligent people on the left capable of engaging with reality. But as an organised force, this is, to put it politely, the most common aspect of the left.) In effect, then, the left has lost power and lost consciousness of the need to possess power, and the impact of both losses has been disastrous for its capacity to interpret the world, and therefore for its capacity to change it.
This being the case, shouldn’t the left simply get out of the way and allow those who are in power and who are effectively fighting the battle which the left ought to be fighting, to get on with it? Well, no, because the people who are fighting are not on the left and cannot be trusted, in the long run, to serve the left’s ends. So the left’s response should be complex; qualified support, together with endeavouring to build its own support-base by opposing the disastrous policies of neoliberal plutocracy and, ultimately, opposing the compromises which the current resistance will inevitably make with those policies, and the current resistance’s own policies where those are anti-leftist.
But the left’s actual response is not this. The Western non-Stalinist left discovered early on that the USSR was not truly leftist. Soon after that, the Stalinist left discovered that China was not truly leftist. Not long after that, the non-Stalinist left also discovered that China was not truly leftist. If Russia and China were not leftist, then surely the countries which had been their satellites or allies, and the parties which had been their supporters, were not leftist either. Therefore, nobody was leftist except for the Western left. This was a fortunate discovery, since it exempted the Western left from the obligation of defending the USSR, China or anybody else against the criticism, condemnation, destabilization and ultimate aggression of the plutocratic neoliberal oligarchy of the West.
In fact, if the USSR and China and so on were not leftist, this provided a useful gold standard by which to declare that South Africa, or the Bolivarian republics, or the surviving Middle Eastern secular states, were not leftist either. Admittedly some leftists might choose to identify one or more of these states as being more or less leftist on occasion, as Tariq Ali did about Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba. But this placed no obligations on any other leftists to do the same; all were free to attack whoever they wished to attack for not being leftist and therefore for not deserving support. Therefore, the only reason for condemning an attack launched by Western plutocrats was that the attack was in some way wrong by Western standards; no country in the world deserved to be defended against such attack intrinsically, according to the Western left.
From the 1880s to the 1980s, the left had two major reasons for opposing imperialist and counter-revolutionary activities by the capitalist powers: in order to defend the homeland of socialism (wherever that was) and in order to follow the orders of the left party’s politburo, or central committee, or boss, or whatever. In practice, this meant furthering what appeared to be the interests of the left in a broad sense (even if it didn’t always turn out that way, as with the Nazi-Soviet Pact). Today, the left instead opposes such activities only when they appear to be popular in the corporate press and when it is absolutely certain that the Daily Mail and the Guardian will not criticise the left for doing so. As a result nobody expects the left to say anything original or interesting or, indeed, left-wing.
So in the end, the left does not offer any resistance because it does not dare to, and it has abandoned the project which might provide a basis for such resistance. Where it criticises the projects of plutocratic neoliberal oligarchs, it does so on a very crude and primitive basis by the standards of the leftists of the past, because it can only follow the models laid down by the oligarchs themselves.
If the left is to gain any traction, it must break free from this. At the present, the left seems to be completely irrelevant to the struggle being played out for the future of the human race. This is a truly extraordinary development, and one which is anything but healthy.