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On ideology


What do we stand for? What brings us together as a movement? What is our vision for the future? These are questions I keep hearing: at NGO and think tank meetings, anti-austerity op-ed pieces, and comments by Labour backbenchers.

There is something about these questions that smacks of reinventing the wheel. Those with a long memory of socialist struggle will be wondering what is prompting us, right now, to go back to basics. I’m not exactly a veteran of the cause, having grown up under Thatcher, but even I can remember a time when there would have been a clear and resounding answer to the question, ‘What is our ideology?’ Namely, ‘The ideology of the Left’.

Yes, there’s been a massive financial crisis, but why has that not prompted people to take up the existing tools of anti-capitalist opposition, rather than forging new ones from scratch? To me, the big conundrum is whether these are indeed exciting new times, or whether all this Year Zero atmosphere is a neoliberal scam to persuade us that history really has ended by wiping our ideological memories and rendering our ideological language obsolete.

Should the people formerly known as the Left now identify as ‘progressive’, ‘democratic’, or espousing the ‘common good’? We (and I do mean we, because this is unashamedly addressed to fellow travellers) are excited but tongue-tied, casting around for words that don’t seem to quite capture the task at hand.

Why this dilemma? In campaigning circles there’s a broad tendency to associate ideology with the old, broken party system. There’s an explicit focus now on process over programme, of enacting the change we’d like to see. Explicit agendas are associated with traditional hierarchies, and the trend is towards decentralised organisation and horizontalist collaboration. Activism is fragmenting into single-issue campaigns rather than a joined up ‘ism’ or ‘ology’. The centrifugal character of online culture is dissipating political drive and atomising political identity.

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