The modern left is completely out of touch with reality. I say that as someone who has always been sympathetic to left wing politics.
What is the modern left?
In my opinion, the modern left consists of people with certain political beliefs, but it also includes a particular aesthetic. Both these factors separate the modern left from traditional left wing ideologies such as Marxism and soft left ideologies such as social democracy. Of course, there are differentiations even within this group and there is not a complete unity of views across all individuals.
I shall begin with the aesthetic aspect. In order for someone to qualify as a member of the modern left, they must first present themselves in a particular way. The first indication of a modern left proponent is that they set themselves up as an ‘alternative’ view that is different from the mainstream media – and in fact often criticise the mainstream media as being largely propaganda. This sets them apart from mainstream liberals, who generally only focus criticism on right-wing media while uncritically imbibing The Guardian. The individuals concerned can work for the mainstream media or for independent media, the key is that they present themselves in this manner.
The beliefs of this particular group include support for various left wing positions on the economy and generally support for Palestine and criticism of establishment warmongering. They are also often supporters of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other similar MPs such as Rebecca Long-Bailey, Zarah Sultana, and Diane Abbott. What sets the modern left apart from other left wing ideologies, however, is not economics, nor positions on foreign policy, but the heavy focus on identity politics that often in their work (implicitly or explicitly) overrides class analysis, or in general, analysis rooted in material reality.
Identity politics in itself is a tricky term to define, and is not just advocated by the modern left. Liberals often advocate a form of identity politics that basically believes that a woman or a black man is power is good regardless of policy. Modern left identity politics is a bit more complicated because they are not quite this simplistic in their analysis. I think the important thing to bear in mind is that they (even if implicitly) override class and the material to focus on identity. The best example of the modern left carrying out this kind of analysis relates to gender identity: a man who says he is a woman (identity) is more oppressed than a woman (material reality). Identity politics also generally involves, implicitly or explicitly, putting the site of oppression on people’s opinions rather than structural factors. This explains ‘cancel culture’, where people are vilified for expressing a slightly different view as if some random person on Twitter is the source of all that is bad in the world.
The focus on identity politics draws a clear distinction between Marxists (focused on material reality) and the modern left. My examples of the modern left would include: independent media outlets Novara Media (edited by Ash Sarkar) and the Canary (edited by Kerry Anne Mendoza), Guardian writers Owen Jones, Paul Mason, and to a lesser extent George Monbiot. There are also multiple random Twitter accounts that fall into this bracket. Left wingers who would not qualify as the modern left would include Paul Embery, George Galloway and Gordon Dimmack, as they lack the identity politics focus.
My point is not to say that the Modern Left is always wrong. Of course not. Nor am I saying that people like Paul Embery are always right. On the issue of Israeli apartheid for example, I agree with the Modern Left while I feel Embery is too dismissive of the harms inflicted on the Palestinian people. But what I am saying is that I believe that the Modern Left has serious – indeed fatal – problems.
In order to analyse this problem, I will start with the most recent problem first and try to work backwards. My aim with this series is not to call anybody ‘controlled opposition’, not because that does not exist, but because it is a counter productive way to analyse the problem. Even if the individuals involved are controlled opposition (possibly true of some of them), many people who are genuine and well intentioned read the works of the people involved. They believe in these individuals as representatives of them that are doing good work. This is why it is important to criticise them from the standpoint of ideology and narrative construction; an accusation of controlled opposition can be much more easily dismissed than an evidence based rational critique.
The year is 2021. The Modern Left has succeeded in destroying itself. The last, fatal blow to this group is their uncritical and fanatical belief in the Official Covid Narrative.
What is the Official Covid Narrative?
The Official Covid Narrative can be defined as the idea that Covid-19 is an extraordinarily dangerous disease that originated in China near the end of 2019, and that the only way to save lives from this disease is to do lockdowns, mandate masks and practise social distancing. If these things were not done then there will be mass death from the virus. Implicitly, this narrative believes that Covid-19 is the most important thing in the world, and everything else needs to be ‘sacrificed’ in order to stop the spread.
On this paradigm, the answer to any problems with the spread of Covid-19 is more lockdowns, harder lockdowns and longer lockdowns. No other method is considered, and any harms caused by lockdowns are dismissed as unimportant and irrelevant, even if implicitly. Covid is more important.
Another important part of the narrative is that anyone who disagrees with it is a terrible human being who doesn’t care about other people and mass death. There is zero tolerance for different opinions, even for people who take a middle ground position on lockdowns or believe that other things need to be taken into account. People who do not wear masks are vilified and hated, even people with genuine medical exemptions. People who genuinely believe that lockdowns and masks do not work are ‘granny killing monsters’. No rational arguments, including peer reviewed studies (there are several showing that masks do not work for instance), penetrate the bubble of the fanatical lockdown supporter.
I was sceptical of the Official Covid Narrative from the start. When the media started their fearmongering about the virus at the beginning of 2020, I thought that ‘The media said we were all going to die of Swine Flu, and it never happened’. When the idea of lockdowns started to be mentioned, I immediately saw that as a power grab, particularly when I examined the contents of the Coronavirus Act 2020. This virus narrative was clearly being used to increase the power of the state and to shut down protests as well as massively increasing police powers. I expected at least some people on the left would have sympathy with my position. Instead, in March 2020 when the government announced the first lockdown, I found myself in almost complete isolation with my view except for a few anonymous Twitter accounts and some individuals on the Right. Basically no leftists were criticising the government decision to lock down.
The Left and the Covid Narrative
So how did we get to this point? How did we get to the point where the Left is fanatically cheering on the authoritarianism of a Tory government, despite their insistence in 2019 that Boris Johnson was a ‘fascist’?
In fact, the left now thinks that the authoritarian Tory government isn’t authoritarian enough.
Kerry Anne Mendoza, the editor of the Canary, is typical in her obsession with worse and worse lockdowns. She tweeted out on Jan 8: “We’re still not in a proper lockdown. Too many kids forced into school because they’re too poor for home schooling, or their parents have been forced to work. Ports & airports are still open without screening/quarantine.”
So, in other words, they want to give the government (a Tory government they purport to hate) more control over people’s lives and more draconian police powers (as that is the only way that this could possibly be enforced).
As a left winger I look at this and see complete and utter ridiculousness. They openly believe that the Tory government is racist and hates the poor. But they want the government they believe that of to have more power to pursue racist policies and impoverish people.
The first key to understanding this nonsense position is given by one of the best writers on the ‘pandemic’, Neil Clark, in his article ‘Covid-19 reverse psychology: Did Johnson play the left by ‘pretending’ he didn’t want a lockdown so it could get public support?’:
The dominant narrative is that Bojo, the hapless ‘clown’ and his Keystone Cops Cabinet were pushed into lockdown. Pushed by public opinion. Pushed by the ‘experts’. Pushed by the Premier League. Pushed by the ‘Left’. Pushed by Piers Morgan. Pushed by ‘Professor Doom’ Neil Ferguson and his ludicrous ‘modelling’.
But if they had already arranged a £119m lockdown advertising campaign [3 weeks before lockdown was announced], which referenced emergency economic measures in its communication strategy, it would mean the decision to lockdown had already been taken many weeks earlier. At the same time, the government was giving every impression that they weren’t going to lockdown.
Why did they do this? Well, put yourself in the shoes of Johnson and his top aide Dominic Cummings. If a Conservative government, and one which has already been denounced as by the liberal-left for being pro-Brexit, and anti-free movement, had said openly in February that they were planning to lock Britain down there would have been an outcry. The big question for the government was: how can we lock the country down, without stirring the liberal-left still further and provoking mass public opposition. What if the answer then was: pretend that we don’t want a lockdown? Then the binary, groupthink ‘culture warriors’ would be sure to press for one!
As we can see, the left were taken in hook, line and sinker by this strategy. However, there are two further questions that we can ask about this: 1) Why was the Left so vulnerable to manipulation on this issue by Johnson? 2) why has the left continued to support lockdowns given the obvious harms to groups that they claim to support (e.g. working class people and disabled people?) And why do they refuse to listen to e.g. disabled people talking about the harms of mandatory mask wearing despite the fact one of their key narratives is ‘listen to people from X oppressed group’?
Why was the Left so Vulnerable to Johnson’s Manipulation?
When considering this question, I have come up with a few factors that I believe have relevance. Clark has already hinted at the first of these: that those who dislike Johnson will have a visceral reaction to him implying that he would pursue herd immunity and knee jerk take the opposite position because they hate Johnson so much. I agree with this point, it is absolutely true. I think we can go into more depth on the question, however.
Clark states that the liberal left types generally hate Johnson because of Brexit. It is true that that correlation seems to exist – pro-EU with pro-lockdown (but obviously, not always). However, the generally middle class Remainer types who support lockdowns are a different group from the modern left because these middle class types are much less likely to have been Corbyn supporters and care about issues such as Israeli apartheid.
So aside from Johnson Derangement Syndrome, what else has affected the left’s vulnerability to manipulation by Boris Johnson?
a) The Conceit of Compassion
The Left generally likes to think of itself as a compassionate group of people, caring about the rights of minorities and the working class, as compared to conservatives, who are apparently racist and homophobic. The idea that ‘lockdown is the compassionate position to save lives’ made the left buy into it, especially as Johnson made it appear as if he was ‘uncompassionate’ (for example, stating that some people would lose loved ones to the virus – assuming the virus exists, a simple statement of fact) which made the left get up in arms about how he wanted to ‘kill people’. Of course, the paradox here is that both the Tory government and the modern left support the idea that if you oppose lockdowns you support killing grandma.
b) Loss of contact with material reality
This is an even more fundamental issue with the modern left. Traditional Marxism was based upon materialist analysis, focusing on the working class and their relationship to the means of production. I would not necessarily agree with traditional Marxism in all its particulars, but because it was a materialist theory it had an objective relationship to reality.
Modern leftism has lost touch with this relationship with reality. This is of course in part because the people in this modern left group are not generally working class. The clearest example of this break with reality is again transgender ideology, where if a male says he is female, he is, despite the fact that female is a biological sex objectively grounded in developmental, hormonal, etc. reality.
Although it is less obvious this issue also applies to lockdowns. When the modern left screech for more harder and longer lockdowns, they implicitly act as if lockdowns are consequence-free. They themselves are sheltered from any bad consequences of lockdowns – they aren’t going to be missing a meal or be at risk of losing their homes. It is bizarre that many of these people claim that austerity kills but if you suggest that lockdowns that crash the economy kill people you are a covidiot conspiracy theorist.
These left wingers are out of touch with how an economy actually works – acting like you can just put it ‘on hold’ when in fact that will lead to the destruction of many jobs. They also act like there is infinite amounts of free money for furlough, probably because they have bought into the problematic theory of MMT, which says governments can print money indefinitely. The modern left also don’t acknowledge the fact that the Tories now have the mechanism for the biggest austerity plan of all time and that they are enabling it: the Tories will say “Well we have to do austerity because we spent all that money on furlough and Covid measures”. Strong opposition to lockdowns hypothetically could have prevented all that money being wasted on furlough.
The comfortable middle class nature of these individuals also prevents them from questioning the fact that we are in lockdown, despite the fact that ‘the wealthy want us all back at work’ (according to their narrative). This of course, completely ignores the evidence that the billionaires are making a fortune out of lockdowns. It also ignores that fact that the Conservative Party is a party designed to represent the rich capitalists and their interests. The idea that this party would do something as large as lockdowns against the interests of the billionaire and millionaire capitalists is inherently extremely implausible, but the modern Left swallows this contradiction without blinking.
Why Does the Left Refuse to Question?
You would think that, after nearly a year, maybe some of the left wing lockdown fanatics would start questioning the narrative that they have been pushing. The thing is, I could understand someone initially getting caught up in the fear and supporting a lockdown because they are scared. But you’d think that might wear off after a bit and that reason would be allowed back into the room.
Apparently not. The left wing lockdown fanatics simply cannot see through the maze they have created: the idea that Tories ‘don’t want a lockdown’ (even though they’ve done three of them) and that the left needs to fanatically advocate for more and harsher lockdowns. Lockdown leftists are stuck in a loop where they have to say that the Tory government doing lockdowns and mandatory masks magically don’t want the things that they are doing.
People generally don’t like admitting that they are wrong, and this is relevant here. If they admitted that the ruinous policy position that they have been promoting for a year is wrong – well,that’s going to make them lose a lot of credibility. It goes beyond that though. In order to concede that the lockdown policies were wrong, they would have to concede that the groups that they care about (or say they do) – the working class, children, disabled people – have been devastated by lockdowns and that would cause them psychological injury. The idea that they are a compassionate and caring person who defends the weak – a key part of their psychological self conception – would be wrecked if they conceded the lockdown damaged and destroyed the weak.
The modern left like to use the slogan: ‘listen to people from X minority group’ (which is in itself reasonable – we should listen to people from different backgrounds). But the modern left must block out the voices of the disabled people who get discriminated against because of masks, block out the voices of the working class people who have lost their jobs, block out the voices of women who have been locked in with a violent abuser, block out the screams of children who have been told they are banned from social interaction. Or else concede – at the risk of their integrity and self image – that they have enabled the absolute worst of Tory monsters to destroy the weak.