I wrote a comment under this post at the left-wing academic blog, Crooked Timber, and it was deleted during pre-approval. This has been happening a lot recently, so this time I saved it and present it here, with some additional discussion below:

I guess JohnQ hasn’t heard of the insect apocalypse, or thinks it’s a good thing. It’s weird he thinks that pesticide use is down since he supports GMOs that are specifically intended to allow increased use of herbicides. There isn’t any evidence that their use is going down anyway, this is just wishful thinking. Furthermore, dismissing deforestation in low-income countries as due to “the need for firewood” is really something else. Did you really mean to reduce the entire structure of post-colonial appropriation of ecosystem services in poor countries to “they use too much firewood”??

There is a democratic pathway out of this disaster but enabling it requires choices that aren’t easy reading for the liberal left. That pathway was on clear display in the UK between 2015-2019, and the response of the liberal left was to move heaven and earth to destroy it – first by the action of Starmer and his clique of class traitors in undermining the 2017 election, and then when that failed to dislodge radical democracy from the labour party, enlisting the entire liberal left elite (from octopus Cohen in the Guardian to various enablers in the US blogosphere) to destroy the project with a fake campaign of “anti-semitism”, which allowed an actual anti-semite to win a crushing victory for capital in 2019 and usher in the greatest impoverishment of the British working class in generations. A simple search of past posts at CT will show where its liberal left members stood on this – one of them continued to support Starmer after the revelations of his treachery. 

If we want a democratic path out of this we are going to need the liberal left to accept that their ideas have failed, and the campaign to deradicalize leftism in western democracies has hollowed it out and led to a 30-year long string of defeats, while the right has consistently grown more and more radical. This is going to involve throwing away some of the most cherished ideas of the centrists and the liberal left, like “free speech” and “british values” and also it’s going to require recognizing that liberalism has always served as the intellectual and political handmaiden of fascism. It’s going to require a proper commitment to decolonization, recognition that the western left has been complicit in the colonial project, and along with that a far greater tolerance of “authoritarian” and “illiberal” regimes, along with a recognition that the entire concept of “authoritarian” is an empty nonsense intended to hold back national liberation and progressive movements.  This is going to require recognition that fascism is an entirely western political movement that is constantly at risk of returning, it wasn’t put to bed at the end of world war 2 and it is our duty as leftists to oppose it everywhere and stridently. This means fantasies like those sometimes put forward here and elsewhere that Trump wasn’t special, or that Ukraine is a liberal democracy, need to be ruthlessly dealt with. We don’t have time for liberal wet dreams anymore. 

This is also going to require that the liberal left and its elite allies in media, academia and politics recognize some hard truths about their own disconnection from the realities of political struggle. This can start with a recognition that the entire discipline of economics is a failed joke that exists solely to support the propagandistic needs of capital. We can follow that with a hard look at exactly which political and organizing principles much of the western left has thrown out because of the taint of leftism associated with them rather than any real intellectual or ideological problem with them – e.g. nationalization, which should absolutely be at the centre of every political program in the west, proudly and with force, along with unionism. Pacifism – both locally and internationally – needs to go in the bin. The idea that we can sell out some small parts of our movement to win hearts and minds in “the mainstream” needs to go – trans women is the current vogue for under-bussing in the UK, but they’ve already thrown the entire cis female community in the US under the bus so they can slightly increase their chances of winning a couple of milquetoast senate seats. It’s going to require that the elite left and its remaining institutions – the Guardian, the left wing university departments and organizations that remain – recognize that all the best ideas and action are in the gritty, embarrassing corners of our society, amongst environmentalists and uncool allotment-working grandpas and not the suits and spivs of the Blairite movement.

It’s also going to require a return to the cynicism about western media, intelligence and military sources that we had before and after the Iraq war. They’re lying to you – about everything. This means that you need to reject all their narratives, not just the ones that are politically convenient. This is going to mean asking some hard questions about your own complicity in the ridiculous, facile, and openly far right propaganda campaigns of the past 10 years that too many liberals have supported. That means being full-throated in support of Palestine, putting a Yemen flag in your Twitter profile pic in place of the blue-and-yellow, and listening to the voices of ordinary people in low and middle income countries, not whatever fashionable cipher or white representative the western media have currently chosen to parade about.

I don’t see any of this happening anytime soon, and we’re running out of time. If we don’t re-energize a real left there will be no democracy of any kind within a decade, and no pathway – democratic or not – out of this ecological crisis. But as a first step to that rejuvenation it would be nice to see it start with a few mea culpas here.

The collapse of Crooked Timber (CT) over the past 7 years from a relatively well-subscribed, combative and intellectually engaged blog to a liberal vanity project that serves primarily to recycle Economist talking points and American mainstream propaganda is a microcosm for the collapse of left-liberal thought in the west more generally. The liberal order has completely failed, and while right-wing liberals have largely accepted this and shifted so far to the right that they’re indistinguishable from the fascists who are going to eat them, there remains a rump of “centrists” and leftist liberals who haven’t got the message yet, and somehow think that a political system of moderate leftist democracy with mildly regulated capitalism, coupled to the “rules-based international order” is going to save us from the catastrophes that are coming. It isn’t, and while these left-liberals fiddle with electoral politics through the machinery of empty suits like Starmer’s labour, vapid clown shows like the Liberal Democrats, or hollowed out fund-raising machines like the US Democratic Party, the world is shambling faster and faster towards the inevitable mid-game crisis of full-blown environmental collapse coupled with the demise of late-stage capitalism. The material conditions in which democratic countries attempt to manage their politics are not getting any easier from here, and from now until we find a radical solution to our problems every year of your life is going to be the best year of the rest of it. In the face of this we can see what left liberals and their scammy political parties are doing: nothing, coupled with useless propaganda.

So it is that on the same day that the Uvalde mass shooting occurred Matt Yglesias tweeted out some pro-American bullshit about how America is the greatest country on earth; or on the same month that we learnt about Keir Starmer’s treachery the authors at CT were admitting they voted for him as leader and would do so again; or in another week of multi-thousand COVID deaths in the USA the democrat-appointed leader of the CDC’s covid response proudly stated that he wanted to privatize vaccine provision and testing as soon as possible; or as we learn as many as two thirds of Britons face fuel poverty this winter the Starmer-led “Labour” party refuses to consider nationalizing the bandits that are driving the British population into poverty. We have resource economists like John Quiggin of CT still breezily confident that technology plus free markets will avert climate change disaster even as half of the world is struggling to deal with actually-existing climate change disaster – and dismissing deforestation in poor countries as “too much firewood” (see above my point about leftists having to grapple with their role in the colonial project!)

Ordinary people can see this and are voting with their feet. The UK Labour party recently revealed it lost some 90,000 members after its betrayal of Corbyn and is now millions of pounds in the red, which puts it even more in hock to the corporate donors who wanted Corbyn out. UK unions are considering removing funding from that same party while a wave of strikes rolls across the country, and union leaders demand Labour return to its roots, but Starmer bans his frontbench from being seen near them. The gulf between the beliefs and aspirations of left-liberal public intellectuals, political leaders and organizations grows wider and wider, while the political leadership that represents this political tendency tries to convince itself that it can assemble winning electoral coalitions from the shrinking number of ordinary people who can still convince themselves that this is working – in the face of obvious evidence that it isn’t, and can’t, and most people know it.

The political endpoint of this will be fascism. We can see it in the USA, where this tendency is at its most advanced: ordinary voters have checked out in the face of the Democratic party’s ridiculous oblivious optimism, refusing to engage with either the party itself or the ballot box, as the Republican party carefully and consistently dismantles democracy everywhere it can. There is some hope that the Democratic Party – on the back of a wave of cruelty unleashed on women by the outlawing of abortion – will recover a bare majority of seats in the Senate this Autumn (though they may lose the House!) but no sign that they’ll do anything remotely useful with them, because they value the “institutions” of liberalism far more than the actual political goals they claim to pursue. After they fail to capitalize on even that small gain (or can’t, if they lose the House), and with their liberal blindness paralyzing them in 2024, what hope that they will retain the White House or that they will survive the fascist uprising that follows a Dem victory? And what hope that in the face of Starmer’s prevarications in the UK, the Tories will lose the next election? We can already see that the strategy for UK Labour is going to be a continued rightward shift, that will fail to satisfy anyone and alienate everyone who cares about our future, while the Tories continue to advocate openly fascist ideas. In order to prevent climate disaster we need an active, strong and committed left wing political leadership in every major western economy within the next 5 to 10 years, even sooner in the case of the USA, but we’re going to see nothing short of fascism.

This is the end of the liberal project. It’s not going to win anything anymore, and when it does it will achieve nothing of any good anyway, because there is nothing left within its ideology that is able to stand up to the pressures of these times. We need a return to radical leftist democratic parties, or there will be no democracy left. So no, CT, there is no democratic pathway to civilization survival, until we all give up on the petty little daydreams of liberalism and return to a real left-wing politics that prioritizes the needs of ordinary people over glib liberal shibboleths.

UPDATE (2022/8/25): There is some doubt being expressed in comments as to whether this is a real issue outside of some anonymous commenters on CT, so I present here a screenshot of a tweet from Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, an important left-wing organization in the UK that forms the intellectual underpinnings of the labour party there. It is a simple, categorial dismissal of a bill strike in the UK, not on the basis that it wouldn’t work, but that it is simply too radical for ordinary British people. There are serious concerns being expressed by some left-wing people about the dangers of acting on the Enough is Enough campaign’s suggestions, but that is not Harrop’s concern. No, his concern is that a payment strike is “far left” politics that ordinary British people wouldn’t be able to support. See how far British left-wing politics has been enervated by this kind of liberal drivel!