Thursday, 30 April 2009

Nostalgia, again

As I posted the other day, I'm getting feelings of nostalgia for the 20th century. In particular, its politics. Or more precisely, the left*.

I've never counted myself among their number, with the possible exception of a period in my youth when, owing to a love affair with France and 1789, I was a proponent of what the Marxists would call a bourgeois revolution. This, despite making me quite properly 'left' (though far from a montagnard), wasn't really productive of any agitation beyond some arguments in the pub. However, an interest in ways of explaining the world combined with what you might call my cultural context (Welsh, etc.) gave me a lively interest in socialism in its many varieties.

I guess what I really miss about present day political debate is the structure provided by the socialist systematising of the world and everything in it. This, with its class-based taxonomy, provided real substance and definition to debates. And because socialism was a religion of the book (from Morris to Marx) it was underpinned by proper, literate learning.

Now, the main opposition to the status quo is provided by environmentalism. As it stands in ill-defined opposition to most everything to do with the modern world, its debates tend towards the loose and baggy, fueled by calls to replace the modern industrial economy with something nicer and just, well, less modern. Also, as its theoretical foundation is provided by science rather than the literary arts (unlike socialism, whatever Marx and Lenin claimed), its influence on culture is not as benign. One can't imagine environmentalism leading to the founding of a host of self-organised, working-class science labs in the way socialism created the miners' libraries.

Environmentalism's innate lack of rigour in its political philosophy is compounded by the contemporary lack of respect for facts and disbelief in the objective that is the main legacy of postmodernism. An indication that po-mo pervades the mental geography of the culture is that no-one talks about it any more. It now channels mainstream habits of thought.

Nick Cohen has elegised the left at book length. He personally represents the best of what remains: a forthrightly intelligent, cultured and (perhaps, rarer) analytically reasoned interest in justice.

But where can you go nowadays for proper, class-based, old-fashioned leftist analysis? Aside from a bit of park-kick-about dialectics with the odd friend brought up in the Party (one of whom now helps to run the global financial system) there's not a lot to latch on to. However, I have discovered a blog, which, despite having a Private Eye-derived title presumably indicating humourous self-awareness (Dave's Part), does seem to talk in all seriousness about the working class as an historical agent in the class-struggle. Though posts entitled 'Iceland: What Is To Be Done?' confirm that we're at the farcical end of Marx's dictum concerning historical recurrence.

I do find reading this blog enjoyable. I guess it's rather like watching the antics of those people who dress up to re-enact the Civil War, but just from a more recent period of history.

*That is, the nice left. Not the murder-us-in-our-beds, send-you-to-the-gulag one.


Gadjo Dilo said...

Wow, "the main legacy of postmodernism", this truly is intellectual fare and I'm rather gasping for air. I must read that other blog you mention. I feel one may need an appreciation of farce to understand such things without exploding.

Gaw said...

Can't help myself I'm afraid. It just comes out like that. But it does make you feel you're getting on a bit if something called post-modernism is slipping into the distant past.

Anonymous said...

Since both the socialism that sends miners off to set up libraries, as well as quite a lot of present-day environmentalism, could claim Ruskin as shared ancestor, does that mean it's possible to blame him for pretty much everything? That would simply things considerably.

Anonymous said...

By the way, for 'simply', please read 'simplify'. I think I must have been sunstruck ...

Hey Skipper said...

Socialism and Environmentalism are essentially religious.

The primary difference is that they make material claims. However, that is their Achilles Heel. Unlike sacred religions, materialist religions find their claims continually tested by reality.

... fueled by calls to replace the modern industrial economy with something nicer and just, well, less modern.That "less modern" is always left undefined.

How about we replace modern dentistry? Anyone for that?

Gaw said...

Fugie: That's a good point. More broadly I can't think of a 20th century political idea or ideology that wasn't at the very least strongly prefigured in the 19th. In the 21st century we still seem to be living off the intellectual capital of the Victorians. People like Ruskin, Morris and, I'm afraid, Marx were amazingly productive of ideas. What an exciting time they lived in.

Skip: I'm sure you're on to something in believing that much of our nominally political thought is underpinned by religious impulses. The idea that humans are, in the main, hard-wired to have faith is one I find persuasive. God may well be dead but religion lives on in many sublimated forms. I suppose Weber was more right than he knew.

worm said...

hi gaw, what a thought provoking post!
Of interest regarding Marxism is the website, edited by modern ultraliberal marxists like Mick Hume- on reading it appears to be strongly right wing.

Funny how post-modernism, that ideological baby of the left, has also managed to disassemble what they stand for too. Personally I can't wait for post-post modernism to hurry up and get started properly

Gaw said...

Welcome worm. Do you live in one of the many bellies of a ruminant? I will check out that Spiked site. Popopomo? Yeah, we're running out of sensible labels aren't we?