New Politics Conference on the “Crisis of Politics and the Politics of Crisis”. A compelling international conference where 60 activists from around the world (except from Asia, regrettably) converged to develop new left thinking and strategies in the search for a new emancipatory politics. There was robust debate on a number of important issues with a number of important questions asked that we need to reflect upon as develop new left perspectives and strategies.
Convened in Cape Town on March 14-18, including a public forum, series of workshops followed by the timely international conference. The questions we asked ourselves was – in these times of political, economic and social crisis manifesting all around the world, what is a new emancipatory politics, what are the lessons we can learn from history and each others struggles in mapping out a new politics in response to the multiple crises we face around the world. It was a space for old and new, a space for learning and unlearning, for robust but constructive debate. A willingness to make mistakes, to fail and a readiness to change was of outmost importance.
A new emancipatory politics cannot be a once of conference, it is a process, thought to be carried out through a new politics platform. The New Politics Platform is an initiative aimed at developing new responses to the multiple crises we face locally, regionally and internationally. Many of the changes to the context, and the crises arising as a result, are interconnected and reinforce each other in various ways. We need to think about how we on the Left position ourselves in response to this constant dynamism.
Rise of the Right
The Left has created the conditions for the right to rise. The right has been allowed to rise, because people worldwide are looking for alternatives to growing unemployment, inequality and poverty – as well as to the major ecological problem that we face, but the Left, for the most part, has failed to capture the hopes and hearts of people in the same way as right wing populists.
This crisis is best illustrated with the rise of Trump in the USA. Trump’s election means an intensification of misogyny, patriarchy and the systemic war on women, along with a stated climate denialist.
One can anticipate that Trump will not deliver on his promises of creating jobs, or for that matter, “making America great again”. In fact, one can indeed expect a rise in conflict in order for to divert attention away from Trump’s inability to deliver on his promises.
The rise of Trump cannot be seen in isolation, there has been a rise of right wing populism around the world (Brexit, Erdogan, Temer are just a few examples of this but not the only ones, and the list of right wing governments keeps growing).
So, the rise of the right cannot be spoken about without mentioning the weakness of the left both intellectually and in terms of being able to build and organise mass movements that can counter the dominance of a rising right-wing narrative.
There are exceptions, Podemos and Syriza are perhaps glimpses of this. Some may argue that the rise of Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK signals a resurgence of the Left in these countries but this is highly debatable considering that they were recently trumped by right-wing forces – as mentioned above. Thus, a rough overview of the balance of forces suggests that the Left is in retreat.
Crises we are facing today
We need a new way because the old way was not working. What is the old way? It is the way things have been and are still is being done in present day. After the rise of Trump in the USA , and the determined rise of the right around the world we see the bolstering of power of rich men with an authoritarian agenda, who are pro-corporate, seeking to reduce taxes and roll-back civil rights, in order to increase their profits and further debilitate any possibilities of uprising against themselves and the system which they ultimately depend upon in order to maintain power.
The consequences of this is there for all to see and feel – rapidly growing inequality within and among countries (the 8 richest men own the wealth of the poorest 50% of the worlds population), long term changes to our natural environments and high levels of personal economic debt are some examples of this.
These pressures in addition to the general attack on the standard of human life has brought humanity to a crossroads – things can no longer continue as they are – something has got to give. At this juncture human existence on the planet can go one of two broad ways: either we collectively head towards a harmony between humans and nature, and restore the universal humanity in all of us or we regress into state of barbarism, forced by the degradation of the basic conditions of life for the sustenance of our current society
The problem is that it will not naturally go in a way that leads to a general improvement of human life and a universal elevation in our humanity. Only the strength in our masses will be able to demand real social reforms towards radically transforming society. Urgency is key, and the desperate need for strong mass popular organisations cannot be overstated, especially considering the global multi-layered, with little optimism about short-term prospects. The costs of the crisis will continue to be socialised.
What is a new emancipatory politics?
New politics is developed all the time. New politics as an idea., and as an emancipatory praxis, it will develop and evolve as we create it together.,I as we think about new perspectives and the ways in which we carry them out. It is critical that we reimagine not only the substance of a new emancipatory politics but the form that it takes. Nevertheless, regardless of the form it takes, it is clear that any new emancipatory politics must be pluralistic, participatory and intersectional in its thinking and approach.
We need a pluralism of perspectives and ideas. There are a number of ways of understanding the world and the its issues. In the current juncture, there is a need to recognise that there may be limitations in our diagnosis of a fast changing world, and our prognosis for a program of action.
A Marxist analysis provides a sound foundation for both understanding a changing world and being able to develop a plan of action in response to the contradictions that continue to arise as a result of the current state of our society.. However, it we need a pluralism of Marxisms – drawing on what works, from various other traditions which may offer a different way of understanding the world.
New politics needs to be inclusive. All spheres of society, including organisations and movements, must feel welcome to join the struggles and to actively participate regardless of their particular motivations. Different people can and will contribute in different ways, this must be valued and respected. We must understand our roles and see how we fit into the collective.
Recognising our positionality within different spaces is very important, not in order to silence ourselves or others but to try and get greater levels of participation from everyone.
While recognizing that total horizontal structures have their limitations, it is imperative to have participatory democracy in our organizations and that the conditions for active participation are created. A top-down bureaucratic leadership structure is disempowering in any system, so there must be a conscious effort to address hierarchies and power structures – this will go a long way to tap into hidden creativity and new ideas.
There are a number of different oppressions, and we must recognize that certain intersections of oppressions are more prevalent. Nevertheless, competing about who is more oppressed than the other (“the olympics of the oppressed”), in order to legitimise what we have to say is ultimately divisive and counter-productive.
It is vital to understand how different identities are oppressed in different ways, and seeing the intersection between class, race and gender as sites of oppression, while not falling into a trap of identity politics. In this sense, even though we cannot essentialise class, it must be emphasised. Falling into this trap will inevitably lead to a self-induced paralysis, with no way of being able to build a counter hegemonic force to the current paradigm whose foundation rests on patriarchal, racist, sexist and able-ist traditions.
The implications of this are that reforming the economic structure of society is imperative but not enough to put an end to racism, patriarchy and other forms of prejudice and oppression. In organising ourselves, in our movements to build power to force for social reforms towards radical transformation of society, it will be essential that we learn and unlearn lots of things about our relationships. We must reinvent and build new relationships towards constructing a new society and new social consciousness.
Language of transformation
Language is immensely important to any transformation project, new politics must be spoken and written in the languages of our communities, in ways in which people can understand. Language can also be inspiring, it can be used to stir emotion. This includes poetry, and song to evoke imagery and the imagination of possibility and utopia
How do we create solidarity?
Human beings are capable of great acts of solidarity. We are more than just selfish beings. There is a human nature, and it is relevant to think about what is at its essence. But human nature is never decisive. History shows us that there have been many times of human change spurred by the need to adapt to changing social and material conditions.
Solidarity equals love, This raises the salience of a human centered approach, where we emphasize the essence of life – human life and the life of the entire eco-system.
The butterfly effect
In the words of Ahsok Subron from Mauritius the symbolism that the butterfly represents is key for social activists. Like a butterfly, New Politics must represent Diversity, it must Colourful, its must be transformative. By taking leaps, a New Politics must be in harmony with nature and the Ecological system. There must be a politics of love and life at the centre of any transformative project.
Although these are just some aspects of what would constitute the approach to a New Politics of the left, we cannot be confined to them. The New Politics of the Left needs to be build together through activism, and through finding new forms of struggle. The key is to start to open up the politics of possibility. The more people and groups of people who want to come together (in different ways) in order to map out and forge new paths and trajectories, the better.
Many other issues deserve and require great intellectual sparring, not to mention the tactics and strategies to be used to most effectively bring about the change we all seek. Issues such as the role of the state; the politics of power; the sufficiency of the a call for deindustrialisation; how to reclaim our cities and expand the commons; the relationship between progressive political parties and social movements; the future of the labour movement, are just a few examples.
We are in a critical moment in the history of our society, and we cannot miss it . Considering the urgency ecological crisis – if we miss this critical moment we may just be too late. We need to take the opportunities presented to us by the rise of the right to build global support and solidarity, and forge the future our planet deserves
Following our aim to socialize updated information and insights from struggles on the ground, our intention is to publish bi-monthly. Please note that while we are building our own People’s Dialogue website, we will publish our articles on the Rural Women’s Assembly blog.