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Saturday, January 6, 2024

Does 'Radicalisation' have to be a Problem?


Dr Tristan Ewins

Often we hear in discussions of Islamic/clerical Terrorism and the far right that the problem is ‘radicalisation’. This now has an integral place in how people view political ‘extremism’.  No doubt some political extremism is bad. There is no place for right-wing ethno-nationalism or fascism in Australia.  And there is no place for religious Terrorism.  But ‘radicalisation’ used to mean more than this.  When Spartacus rebelled against slavery and forced gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome he was a radical in his time. So too were the early, revolutionary social democrats who critiqued capitalism’s exploitative nature ; and well as its toll in exploitation and human suffering.  And the anarchists in Spain who fought against fascism ; and sought to build a co-operative economy. 

Discourse on ‘anti-radicalism’ has the underlying narrative that centrist, capitalist neo-liberalism is the only legitimate choice ; and all other choices are ‘radical extremes’.  It poses as an absolute ; and hence is anti-democratic in the final instance. Some would even call this scenario as ‘verging on the totalitarian’. (locked into an absolute system with no way out ; and very little scope to even discuss or propose alternatives)

But remember that before the French Revolution democracy was barely heard of.  And the French Revolution itself descended into Bonapartist dictatorship ; but it left a lasting impression which led eventually to the ascendance of liberal democracy.  That was progress for its time ; but today subtle and not-so-subtle cultural manipulation has people denying their own interests in favour of capitalist Ideology.  At the same time we can view the Russian Revolution of 1917 in a similar vein as the French Revolution.  It began with high hopes of equality and liberation ; but under pressure from internal and external threats descended into the personal dictatorship of Stalin.  Similarly, though, as with the idea of democracy, the  idea of socialism is relevant still.  And we should not give up on the prospects of its future re-emergence.   It resonates in a world where people continue to suffer exploitation and deprivation ; and the system delivers waste, crisis, and instability. But the ‘left intelligentsia’ has all but given up on class politics ; and somehow we need to restore an ethical and social-scientific critique of capitalism and the class system.  This does not mean we turn away from modern critiques of race and gender.  It does mean we re-conceive of our responsibilities on the Left to lead struggles for change.  The future of struggle is in our hands. We should also remember when people point to the ‘toll’ of socialism, that capitalism delivered two World Wars with tens of millions killed ; and countless ‘interventions’ – also with millions of deaths.  We can also consider Western Marxism – which made its peace with democracy ; as well as avowed Marxists like Rosa Luxemburg, Julius Martov and Karl Kautsky – who early on worried about the trajectory of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

So ‘radicalisation’ does not need to mean senseless violence, religious intolerance and Terror without end.  Radicalisation can mean questioning certain fundamentals of the socio-economic system.  Critiques of gender and race were radical in that they challenged ground-in discrimination, oppression and segregation.  But somewhere along the way the critique of capitalism and class was abandoned ; and does not even figure into the thinking of many self-styled radicals of today.  Starting with the Critical Theory of Marcuse in the 1960s Leftists began to suppose the working class had been co-opted by capitalist prosperity.  Hence Marcuse turned to a ‘Great Refusal’ from those at the margins to challenge capitalism.  Hence race, gender and sexuality gained a new sense of importance.  For a time students were also central to this New Left. And though Marcuse retained a critique of capitalism (and remained a revolutionary) , many of those who followed refused ‘Grand Narratives’ – which in practice meant it was ‘unthinkable’ to propose  a large scale alternative to the existing systems.

The socialist Left currently occupies a similar position to that suffered by democrats between Bonapartism and the end of the First World War – which saw widespread embrace of liberal democracy in an effort to blunt the challenge of socialism in the wake of unimaginable slaughter.  The Great Depression also saw an ascendance of socialist ideas in response ; but polarisation in the context of Cold War saw their widespread stigmatisation and abandonment.  Especially in the US in the wake of 1950s McCarthyism and the decades which followed.

Today there is an opening for  a ‘new radicalism’. Modern capitalism leaves millions struggling amidst a precarious existence – with inconsistent and exploitative labour. Housing is widely unattainable ; and many struggle to subsist amidst inflation ; and the use of interest rates (as opposed to tax for instance) to contain that inflation.  The wage share of the economy is at an all time low (or at least is as low as in living memory). Many are expected ‘as a matter of course’ to commit to unpaid overtime.  And many capitalist interests resist the necessary actions for neutralising climate change because it would impact on profits. 

Amidst all of this, also, there is an attempt to divide middle and higher income workers from everyone else.  Social Democratic and Labour Parties do not talk much about class inequality anymore ; but governments of all stripes preside over a flattening of the tax system, the extension of user pays, and labour market bifurcation with declining labour market regulation and declining union organisation and militancy. Some very-well paid workers comprise what Marxists once called a ‘labour aristocracy’, living in relative material privilege.  It figures we cannot always take everyone with us, and we cannot stop capitalists playing ‘divide and conquer’.  We need to deal with this without giving  up and abandoning our values. Almost no-one points to the problems associated with all this ; especially so-called ‘Third Way Centrists’.  Into this scenario socialists could readily propose an alternative.  Beginning with the restoration and extension of the social wage and welfare state ; and leading to a democratic mixed economy where co-operative and government enterprise rise to new prominence – also providing competition which counters capitalist monopolism or collusion.  Also we could do with re-regulation of the labour market at the lower end. This would be the beginning of a long-term struggle to improve society and end waste and exploitation.

Therefore we need to begin to question whether ‘radicalisation’ is always a bad thing. There is a liberal-capitalist hegemony ; but it is one which is not afraid to abrogate its essentials (eg: freedom of assembly, association and speech) when powerful interests are threatened.  And it occupies an economic space ‘that is not to be questioned’ ; but comprises a neo-liberalism which could itself seem ‘extreme’ if compared with the assumptions of the pre-Thatcher and pre-Reagan world.  We need to challenge the fundamentals of this social and economic order if we are to rekindle hope of a better world.  Hopefully there will be a realisation that the radicalism of a revived revolutionary social democracy (and other associated movements) is not a threat to liberties ; but in fact may comprise the very movements which will save them.  Most importantly this ‘new radicalism’ must involve a movement which mobilises from below ; and attempts to construct what Gramsci would call a ‘counter-hegemonic historic bloc’.   This means organising at all levels to challenge capitalist power and Ideology in social formations, popular culture, workplaces and even the State itself.  And even where such a bloc is not mobilised or coherent enough to take State Power ; the mobilisation itself will affect public and popular discourse ; and this will influence policy.  

But this is all predicated upon a rejection of the hegemony of neo-liberal ‘Centrism’ and the realisation that radicalisation is not always such a bad thing.  We can change the world ; but it all starts with a rejection of the ‘Common Sense’ that ‘There Is No Alternative’.

1 comment:

  1. back in the day I was proud of being radicalized ... but it was by the strange means of going on a scholarship to a private school

    most who do that are bought