Op-Ed: Progessives Must Reject Conventional Politics

Shannon Ikebe

It’s probably become too cliché to say that we are in a turbulent, troubled times. But we indeed are. Since I came to the Oberlin community nearly four years ago in the summer of 2007, the world has changed to a much greater extent than it did in other times, even though it might be difficult to ascertain it in the relatively tranquil campus of Oberlin. The dual crises of the capitalist economy and the planetary environment are systemic, paradigmatic and deep. In the recent few years, we have seen the crisis of global neoliberal capitalism leading to the further austerity agenda, any effort to make our economy sustainable coming nowhere close to realization, and relentless, hateful, sadistic war on women’s fundamental freedoms in this country in the past few months. So far, so bad.

My dear fellow progressives we need to be radical in our thinking because our age that demands us to be radical. In the times when the basic paradigm of economy and society is becoming unstable, to be radical is to be sensible, and to be conventional is to be short-sighted. Being radical in a most meaningful sense is not about presenting some funky and fashionable aesthetic with shock value for its own sake. Only radical thinking can solve the chronic unemployment and fiscal problems, global climate destabilization and exhaustion of resources, because these problems themselves are caused by the prevailing way of life and thought.

Let us imagine the alternatives, lest we are trapped in the prison of TINA (There Is No Alternative). We have seen how the Democratic establishment can continue to monopolize support of the progressives while furthering the corporate agenda. How do we say that enough is enough? We need to create a political force and identity that is distinct from the Clinton-Obama liberal paradigm that has reigned for our entire lives. The Third Way is dead, but its rotting corpses will continue to poison progressive politics until they are swept off and buried by the real social democracy that fosters the sense of the public.

Let us reject a conventional model of politics in which the mythical “middle” is supposed to be rewarded by voters, even though the majority is made worse off through the corporate-centrist politics that is supposed to represent common sense. We must strive to change people’s pre-existing preferences or manufactured notions of them rather than accepting them as unchangeable — the positivistic political “science” and poll-driven electioneering preclude the very meaning of politics, which is to make change. The way of thinking based on the assumptions that things can be predicted because people behave in a conventional pattern is constitutionally incapable of creating a paradigm shift. Unless we take an initiative to fill the most glaring contradictions in contemporary politics — the lack of viable politics that represents the interests of the people — there will be no shortage of nefarious forces that are willing and capable to take advantage of the void.

Let us fight against all forms of oppression, but in a unifying rather than a divisive manner; intersectionality must be conceptualized as a tool for broadening and uniting movements rather than being a purist exercise. To think radically and commit to the Left should not be about abandoning the difficult assessments of reality and retreating into utopianism. We need to squarely, smartly and strategically engage in the hegemonic paradigm in order to defeat it. Disengagement is not an option, and we need more than performative or discursive actions; it might be easy and somewhat sexy to dismiss and disdain politics, but politics will not abandon you.

Let us be proudly Left and self-confidently ideological. Ever since the advent of modernity, the Left has relentlessly fought for democracy, freedom and human dignity against formidable odds and hardships. We are the brighter side of modernity; modern history without the enduring emancipatory tradition of the Left would have resulted in an unspeakable hell. We cannot be “post-Left” or “post-ideological” now because, whatever post- we are, we don’t live in a post-capitalist age. The lack of a grand narrative hinders our ability to discern structural forces in our society; abandoning the Left and wandering into the field of ideological nothingness, masqueraded as radical liberation or sensible relativism, simply perpetuate the status quo.

We live in the richest society in the history of the Earth, whose bounty we know not to last for much longer. Despite the dizzying level of wealth produced, our generation is entering into the world in an age of decline. Millions are needlessly trapped in misery and insecurity, even in the privileged parts of the world. It is not so because of a natural condition; it is so because of politics, namely the three decades of the ruthless dominance of the Right. Even when the light of hope is dim, the defeat is not destined — and it is because of you, my fellow progressives and leftists in this beautiful community, that I can begin to imagine a better tomorrow. Let us be smart, compassionate and principled, because we know that we deserve better and we can be better; and we have a world to win.