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Why the Left is going nowhere

These thoughts are prompted by an article by George Monbiot in today’s Guardian.

The British left had two main foundations – non-conformist Christianity, and the works of Marx, J S Mill and Henry George. The last named was the most revolutionary but the Catholic Social Teaching Encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 was first seen as condemning both Marx and George. It was not until about 1910 that George was accepted, but it was too late. The Catholic working class movements were effectively knocked out of play for the next half-century.

By then, the left had been subverted and the revolutionary ideas of George were pushed aside in favour of welfare state socialism with more than a dash of Marx. However, as late as 1946, about one-third of Labour MPs were supporters of the reforms proposed by George.

By the 1970s, welfare state socialism with Keynesian economics had shown itself to be a recipe for ever-growing state spending and inflation to the point of unsustainability. This opened the way to the conservative reaction with the Thatcherite/Reganite reforms, with privatisation and monetarism being seen as the new way forward. The left then seems to have become more Marxist for a while, until the 1989 collapse of the Marxist empire left it discredited. Marxism had in any case already been undermined by Marxist intellectuals themselves from the 1960s onwards.

This leaves the left with no coherent ideology to fall back on, and the right is currently making the running. This is setting up the conditions for a social collapse and conflict on a grand scale. The one body of philosophy that the left could usefully look at again is that developed by Henry George, but because political leaders these days tend to be wealthy careerists and would personally lose from the “Georgist” proposals, they do not want to go along with it. A further difficult with the Georgist reforms is that they are counter-intuitive and have to be thought about before the penny drops. Monbiot himself has never even talked about George, which tends to demonstrate the point.

It does not look as if things are going to get better any time soon.