Above Photo: People attend a left-wing May Day demonstration, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Berlin, Germany, May 1, 2021. Christian Mang/Reuters.
Enter the populist left.
The ruling class across Europe and in the US would rather see people divided than united against oligarchy, that’s why Left populism coupled with the working-class outlook represents a greater threat to the establishment.
In the aftermath of the recent German Federal election many people were wondering how Die Linke (The Left) had become so relegated to the sidelines as to lose 30 seats and become the smallest party in Germany’s parliament.
Many liberal publications were quick to place blame on Sahra Wagenknecht, one of Die Linke’s most prolific politicians, for the release of her book “The Self Righteous.” In the book, Wagenknecht attacks “lifestyle leftists” for whom being on the Left has become more about labels, identity, and lifestyles rather than the working-class roots that made leftist politics such a threat to the political establishment in the first place. She writes:
“Left-liberals claim to stand for diversity, cosmopolitanism, modernity, climate action, liberalism, and tolerance. On the other hand, they declare war on everything that left-liberal thinking considers right-wing: nationalism, locking backwards, provincialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia. For left-liberals, faith, nation, and homeland are signs of backwardness.”
This is part of a much larger problem that has been facing the Left for years; far too many on the Left are quick to organize and agitate around anything but the issue that most unites the people class.
The liberal establishment spent years trying to figure out how politicians like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and many other what we might call “right-wing populists” became so popular or won power. In the face of increasing economic inequality, lower or stagnant wages, unemployment, evictions, drug addiction, and so many more social ills, this should be a time for the left to thrive! Unfortunately, it is the right-wing populists who have captured this working-class anger while the Left has failed to seize these opportunities; they no longer have an economic or working-class constituency or analysis.
When the Left focuses on its working-class roots with a healthy injection of populism, it wins. Podemos, the spanish political party, was born out of the 15-M anti-austerity protests in Spain. Podemos utilized a Left populist class analysis and quickly earned over five million votes in the 2015 election.
In the wake of the mass protests over economic conditions, Chavismo and Kirchnerismo gained power for decades in Venezuela and Argentina. The French left-populist “La France Insoumise” obtained seven million votes in the presidential elections of 2017. At the same time, “left” forces that have disavowed populism and a focus on class analysis have faltered in popular support and influence.
The American Democratic Party is not Left by any stretch of the imagination, but they too have fallen into the identity politics trap. The 2016 election pitted an establishment candidate who called half of her opposition a “basket of deplorables,” against a political outsider who called for an end to foreign wars, and rightfully called out issues affecting American workers such as the opioid crisis and terrible trade deals. Liberals during this time pulled out all the stops to degrade and label everyone who would vote for anybody besides Hillary Clinton as a “sexist, racist, homophobe,” etc.
Meanwhile millions of people are worrying about their job status, their children’s futures, their bills, and so many more problems faced by the working class. What answers did the Left offer these people? They would rather lecture Joe and Judy workers about the necessity of understanding xi/xir pronouns than talk about how capitalism keeps all workers down.
If a working-class person wonders whehter increased migration results in lower wages, much of the “left” has nothing to say, besides accusing that person of being xenophobic and racist.
We have seen what happens when the Left refuses to listen to the people and instead offers lectures. When, for instance, the British Labour Party backed a 2nd referendum on Brexit, they were punished at the ballot box. In the aftermath of this betrayal of Brexit voters, former MP George Galloway founded the Workers Party of Britain which argues that “It is not ‘homophobic’ or ‘racist’ for socialists to focus their attention on those contradictions that concern the whole working class in its struggle for socialism.” It is with this attitude that the WPGB has seen a flood of new members and organizers as well as coming quite close to sending Galloway to parliament again.
Covid exposed a lot of things, including showing how out of touch many on the “left” are. With the introduction of lockdowns across the United States, millions of workers and small business owners were scolded and attacked for questioning the lockdowns and for continuing to work.
Those that work at a desk may be able to work remotely, but the same cannot be said for much of the working class. Location data shows that being able to quarantine has been a luxury for a select few; the poor or working class cannot just get food delivered, pay others to take care of family members, or afford to miss so much work.
Large corporations and the rich could afford the lockdowns, but the world’s poor couldn’t, with the UN reporting that more people could die from hunger because of lockdown-related economic disruption, than of Covid-19 itself. People who call themselves Left were quick to label anybody who questioned the establishment narrative as a “Covid truther.”
A real Left would have redirected this anger at the profiteers and politicians who failed the workers, giving them only crumbs in the form of stimulus payments. A worker-focused Left would argue for the appropriation of corporate delivery systems like Amazon for basic necessities if they wanted people to stay home, end evictions, protect wages, support those who continued to work, and much more. None of that happened, but at least Mr. Potato Head is now gender neutral. Tell that to the next class reductionist who wants to be protected from eviction!
Dakotah Lilly is an independent political scientist and analyst. His work has featured in publications such as MintPress, OrinocoTribune, and Popular Resistance. His areas of specialty include political economics, left populism, Venezuela, and socialism of the 21st century. His website is DakotahLilly.com @GringoChavista.