Zygmunt Bauman on The Progressive Future

As part of the Guardian’s Who Owns The Progressive Future? Series, master social theorist (and a favorite of mine) Zygmunt Bauman wrote a column dealing with the differences between the left and the right on economic matters (or lack thereof). His verdict is quite bleak:

Indeed. What is now meant by the "the left" is either "the left-of-center" or simply, as is the case for the current US Democratic Party, right-of-center moderates who split from the insane warring right (I can safely predict that an Obama presidency will be a right-of-center presidency). Actually, what "progressive" means, if one looks at the major blogs, is the taking-over by libertarians and moderate conservatives of the label "progressive" (the Obama camp and its economic advisers from the University of Chicago), elbowing out old-fashioned liberals (the Hillary camp). That battle was fought in the primary, the liberals lost. The Democratic Party now belongs to conservatives, moderates and libertarians (with the ideological luminaries such as Kos, Huffington and other former Republicans).

It is quite noticeable that social policies rank very low in the hierarchy of priorities of this political clique as opposed to the self-affirmation derived from just being the good guys who "nominated the black guy" as another figure of the "progressive" blogosphere put it a while back. Don’t expect universal healthcare and other social policies. It’s already a done deal that it is not going to happen and the economic crisis provides cover for that. After all, Obama was a strong advocate of the Wall Street bailout while he has already stated that he will not implement social policy plans, on education, for instance, he had indicated in his platform.

But for Bauman, the liquidation of the left (and, for anyone familiar with Bauman’s work, the concept of liquidity is central, so, my pun is definitely intended) has a lot to do with one central aspect of globalization: the declining political and economic significance of the nation-state.

Again, this argument is applicable to the American political situation: the Democratic victory of November (it will be a Democratic victory, the only question will be that of actual numbers of senators and representatives) is actually more the collapse of the Republican party, as dominated by the neo-cons (failure of military and foreign policy), neo-liberals (economic collapse) and religious fundamentalists. That particular coalition is at an end and the rats are leaving that sinking ship as fast as they can (see: Powell, Colin). It will take probably several years for the Republicans to reexamine their coalition and rebuild it.

Either way, the Western block is facing a crisis of legitimacy and the left has not been able to take advantage of the global disasters brought about by US policies to advance a truly social-democratic agenda (at least not yet, one can always hope).

My view on this is that the promotion of a social-democratic program will have to be articulated in global terms and promoted by structures outside of the traditional political party. It will come from the global civil society organizations and social movements (such as the World Social Forum) and will seep through the interstices of the decaying nation-state structures and the current loopholes of the global system. Of course, there will be struggle involved as the current powerholders (the global financial sector) still have the power to demand the emptying of national coffers in the name of the global economic system and obtain the satisfaction of such demands without much protest, which, in itself, is quite revealing of the state of the left, either complicit or neutered or in disarray or co-opted.

8 thoughts on “Zygmunt Bauman on The Progressive Future

  1. I was hearing an interview with Slavoj Zizek and he gave a very good observation. He said that giving a picture of the economic world is a job well done by the left, eg Naomi Klein. But besides describing or even explaining, where is the alternative?

  2. You know, that’s a really good point. And so far, from what I have read (admittedly, not a whole lot), no one is offering anything remotely like an alternative. A lot of patches, yes, a lot of “the same + some regulations” but that’s about it.

    I have to say that I miss real alternative economists like Alain Lipietz.

    Which is why I think alternative economics will come out of the global civil society and social movements, but since these guys do not have access to the mass media, we don’t really hear about the work being done (and to be sure, these guys – such as the World Social Forum – are the masters when it comes to getting bogged down with semantics to avoid any remote trace of neo-colonialism).

    Or maybe economic alternatives will come from the grassroots, from the ground up, in local initiatives, such as solidarity economics (something I have blogged about previously).

  3. I am going to find a fruitful way to be part of this discussion. I would offer a slightly different left-right spin. I guess there are a few things that Bauman might have overlooked when talking about the hidden ramifications of third way politics.He is correct to claim that many Social Democratic Parties have very few economic policy differences than most political parties from the right platforms. However,Germany and Sweden have faced serious political consequences with the introduction of third-way policies into their traditional social democratic politics. First, Gerhard Schroeders plan to bring in NEO-liberal policies AKA, “HARTZ Recommendations” into the social-democratic stream produced the splintering of the left and mobilization of the unions which produced the WASG (Wahl Alternative fuer Soziale Gerechtigkeit) that later formed an alliance with the LEFT PARTY. (((There is a long laundry list of dates th I could mention here but decided to leave out for now))) One major failure of neo-liberal politics was the attempt to completely privatize all train roads and federal train operations over to private investors which resulted in a number of strikes including the GDL “Gewerkschft Deutscher Lokomotive Fuehrer) .Interestingly, because of the recent Financial crisis and growing mistrust of capitalism the complete attempt to sell the remaining parts of German railways was placed on a freeeze. In the state of Hessen, there is now a RED-GREEN-RED Coalition being formed which will have permanent future ramifications for the German Social Democratic party to adjust with the LEFT PARTY. In Sweden, the longest EVERruling Social Democratic party was voted out of the Rikstag/ parliament and a NEW CENTER ALLIANCE took over.To be sure, Third way politics often attempted to produce (quasi) centrist approaches as first authored by Anthony Giddens who wanted to give some intellectual advise to the large Social Democratic parties in Europe ( New Labor) and in the Unitid States (Clinton).It is very important to also look at the contexts and social locations Giddens wrote this book.He wrote the book during the mid-90’s and at that time he was Director of the London School of Economics .I am going to argue that third way politics was a re-framing effort and political spin that attempted to find a centrist way to tackle the new waves of Radical/Neo-conservatism and proletarian conservatist streams of ideological politics that were on the horizon in the U.S.

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