Over the last quarter century, the left in most of the developed world has been marginalized as a social force. The ‘culture of possibilities’ for left alternatives has correspondingly narrowed. But historic changes, above all the discrediting of neoliberalism, hold out the potential of at long last reversing that earlier defeat. With the continuing financial turmoil and the global economy about to enter the worst downturn since the great depression, the desperate need for alternatives is clear enough; the question is whether we can develop the capacity to once again be a relevant social actor.
To this point, this opening for the left has been primarily polemical. Its true of course that in the recent elections, politicians – in Canada no less than in the U.S. – continued to insist on their allegiance to lower taxes and to run from significant redistributions in income, let alone wealth or power. In the U.S., an affirmation of American patriotism remains the condition for raising even moderate criticisms of foreign policy. But neoliberal ideology is reeling and the delegitimation of freer markets as the solution to everything has already made the right more defensive on economic issues than it has been for a generation. They can no longer get away with calling for the freeing of corporations and financial institutions from regulation to ‘unleash the creativity of markets,’ or rejecting out of hand state involvement to address social needs.
Moreover, the depth and global scope of the downturn will leave the state with little choice but to introduce massive public expenditures. Working families, experiencing the frightening erosion of their effective savings – their pensions and home values – have already started to cut back on consumption in order to rebuild some future security. Private investors, seeing few opportunities and reacting with caution and uncertainty toward the future, are not investing. For the immediate future, neither private incentives nor freer markets, neither the easy hand of more credit nor the promise of more exports, will end the news of failing companies and rising unemployment. Only public investment has a chance of leading an economic revival.
It is difficult to imagine an alternative politics that can match what we are up against without an organization whose focus is on building the essential relationships and political capacities across sections of the movement and within them. There should, for example, be hundreds if not thousands of meetings taking place every week across the country to discuss what we currently face and what to do about it. But this simply can’t happen spontaneously. How we build this kind of capacity is what the question of ‘alternatives’ is ultimately about.
This latest pamphlet in the Socialist Interventions Series has a range of contributions that look at the nature of the crisis in Canada and internationally; and also takes up the questions of building left alternatives.
Financial Crisis Analysis and Resources
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