The Divided Left Need To Unify Now More Than Ever

01/02/2017 12:50 GMT | Updated 02/02/2018 10:12 GMT

As the old saying goes, it's always darkest just before the dawn. After the roller coaster ride of 2016, most people thought 2017 couldn't possibly be worse. But it's trying its best.

At the time of writing, President Donald Trump has issued an immediate travel ban on people travelling from predominantly Muslim countries into the US (while maintaining that it isn't racially or religiously motivated), after also recently signing an Executive Order to defund international abortions that use US dollars. Writing the President's Executive Orders we have Steve Bannon, a man who looks the way a burnt out bus station smells. This Neo-Nazi is the perfect villain for a movie retelling of the real life horror story we're living in. Were he alive Philip Seymour-Hoffman would have been the perfect fit visually, although arguably his decomposing corpse could provide even more of an uncanny physical resemblance.

In Brexit-Britain we have the increasingly frantic and skittish Theresa May leading the charge. Our dear leader appears to be taking Conservative austerity measures so closely to heart that she refuses to even use public resources such as "oxygen", such is her parsimony with saying anything of actual substance. "Brexit means Brexit", anyone?

With this in mind, the dawn seems a long way off, but if the Left can heal their divisions and unify, it needn't be.

The very idea of a divided Left seems to run counter to the binary portrayal of the sociopolitical landscape that the media presents. So often it's "The Right VS The Left", with some centrism thrown in to give the illusion of diversity. But this is far from the truth. The liberal Left take the limelight when it comes to opposition politics in the mainstream.

They want to offer an alternative to the "Establishment", with seemingly progressive social policy. Simultaneously, and almost counter intuitively, they want offer it in a populist way, to reach across the aisle so to speak, and "win the opposition over".

For most on the Right, this is where the political spectrum ends. The radical Left aren't even a blip on their radar, and if they are they exist as some kind of joke fringe group obsessed with enforcing communism and arable farming. For the liberal Left, the radical can often appear divisive, aggressive and exclusionary. But this sorely misses the point.

The radical Left want fundamental change to the superstructures that control us. They believe that the liberal approach amounts to nothing more than appeasement and acceptance of a terminally oppressive and injurious elite. Rather than trying to find a compromise within capitalism and a flawed democratic process, their aim is to deconstruct and replace it with something that functions for the needs of everybody.

The tension this causes among the Left is tangible. The divisions run the gamut, ranging from the political - whether we need to 'engage with the democratic process and respect it VS overhauling it and starting again'; to the social - see the 'Sex Wars' among Feminists; through to the economic - whether capitalism can truly be reformed to something resembling a fair meritocracy, or whether it needs to be stripped away and replaced with a more socialist distribution of resources. Simultaneously, cyberbalkanization has further segregated Left from Right, and consequently Left from Left even more, creating a never ending, separatist Generation-Y echo chamber where debate is limited at best.

These divisions are where the Left falters. The Right have been so consistently successful because of one overarching reason. They rally around the party and the idea of strong government. The details can be worked out later. As long as the party are in power, the specifics come with time. Just look at the Republicans that spoke out against Trump, but ultimately supported him in an effort to maintain the party unity.

If the Left want to affect real change, they need to bridge these gaps and unify in a similar way. Indeed, everybody's favourite Marxist Slavoj Žižek posited that voting for Trump would encourage this, akin to some kind of Robber's Cave experiment. Give society a common cause to rally around (Trump), and together they could enact immense change with much more efficiency than if they were to do it in increments by condoning the "absolute inertia" of Hillary Clinton (politically speaking). This is not to say the disputes of the Left should be ignored, but the movement needs to prioritise.

Shulamith Firestone described something similar in her revolutionary Radical Feminist manifesto 'The Dialectic of Sex', where she pointed out that "...with the granting of the vote the Establishment co-opted the woman's movement". This can be extrapolated from the uniquely female perspective to our current system, where a vote for the Establishment regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum is still just that - a vote for the Establishment. With that comes the ingrained oppression and populism that career politicians embrace with unnerving zeal, consequently never affecting real, long term change.

But it would be dogmatic to assume the radical Left have all the answers. Great change cannot occur without access to power. Indeed, Andrea Dworkin spent her life arguing for radical change, but agreed that "You always need women [...] who have access to power". Again, let's extrapolate this to society as a whole. The "bottom line" is no good without the people in place that can realise those goals. The radical Left might provide the bedrock, but the liberal Left are the ones that engage with the system in an effort to change things. Whether the engagement of the liberal Left is truly progressive is a debate for another time, but I digress...

Needless to say, the Left spend as much time infighting as they do combating the ever more frequent ruthlessness of the Right. With more focus, an amalgamation of thought and a unification of direction, so much more could be accomplished. The liberal Left still need to reach across the aisle, but they need to do it in the opposite direction. Reach out to the radical Left, and recognise that their goals are for the betterment of everybody, not just for upholding the status quo. The radical Left need to take this olive branch and recognise that with a greater access to power they can enact their desired change, and through pedagogy also increase the liberal Left's political and social vision.

Let's not waste the opportunity that the political landscape has given us in 2017, no matter how futile things may seem now.