Bryce Edwards on the death of the ‘left’

by Jake Quinn

A few weeks back, Otago Politics Lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards gave a talk to Dunedin drinking liberally.  He blogged his notes.

Bryce believes that the New Zealand political left is possibly at the lowest point that it’s been at for over a hundred years.  Bryce said:

I’m not going to waste much time cataloging the left’s desperate situation except to say that there are no significant leftwing groups around anymore, the so-called ‘leftwing political parties’ aren’t particularly left anymore, there’s no major journal of the left, magazine of the left, there’s few leftwing intellectuals of any prominence, and few people participate in leftwing protests…

There has also been a significant decline in the level of traditional working class militancy…

In terms of the left’s disorientation, I believe that the left has a major identity crisis at the moment, but that it’s a bigger problem than that – as a society we are having trouble understanding politics at all. The old ways of understanding and explaining politics isn’t really working.

Does a political movement really ever die? Or does what motivated it simply move on?  The left’s goal posts have shifted miles away from where they were 50 years ago.  Socialism, for instance, is now a dirty word (for many) in the Labour Party.

Does this mean that the left is dead? I do not think so.  Socialism probably is, in New Zealand at least, but these days the left is much more defined by issues like war, employment levels and the environment, than it is by stuff like nationalising the means of production or price setting.

Times have changed, communities and their issues evolve and so must political movements.  Decades of social liberalisation have left us with far less appetite for anti-establishment protest or ‘working class militancy’.  We just don’t have anything like enough to complain about any more, and we should count ourselves lucky.