Diamond Geezer asks: “Why do we never end up in the middle?”
It’s unfair to pick on him, but I will because he posted on a day when my annoyance at centrist liberals has well and truly peaked.
First off, the “centre ground” is a concept that is entirely relative. When Jeremy Corbyn campaigned to become and was elected leader of the Labour Party in 2015, he managed to shift the centre ground — the Tories very quickly ditched a plan to bomb the Syrian government.
The centre ground is inherently unstable because it only exists relative to the two dominant forces either side. At our present moment that’s a fairly right-wing Conservative Party and a reasonably social democratic Labour Party. Any “centrist” must define themselves in opposition to their closest opponents on the left and right.
Ultimately if you do that it means you have no principles, nothing that anchors you on the left-right axis. In reality — as much as we joke about spineless politicians — few define their positions in this way and instead the “centre” in various countries is the home to a party that has “right-wing” economic policies and “left-wing” social policies. In Britain that would be the Liberal Democrats, despite Tim Farron’s recent attempts to win over the homophobes.
Left and right are in scare quotes above because this shows the point at which the left-right axis breaks down.
Ultimately the idea of centrism is bankrupt. Politics is a clash of interests. The ideas of the “centre ground,” of the “national interest,” are rubbish. Howard Zinn put it best in his People’s History of the United States:
Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex.
As a socialist, to use our compromised axis, the boss class sits on the right and the workers on the left. Given that the boss class is but a tiny sliver of the population, what credibility does a “centrist” party have, one that pretends to balance the desires of the exploited and the exploiters?
It this this “refreshing centrism” that irks me the most, as it is always right-wing economic policies paired with some ameliorating factor — support for gay marriage, say — to assuage the liberals.
But if you’re gay, does being able to officially consecrate your relationship make up for the fact that you spend half your wages on rent?
This has run on, so let’s talk about Emmanuel Macron. The Guardian loves him, noting (without the expected contradicting clause) that it “is tempting … to conclude that European liberal values have successfully rallied to stop another lurch to the racist right.”
And so Macron, an explicit neoliberal, is raised up having defeated (we’ll see) the fascist Marine Le Pen.
The celebration is of liberal values, embodied by Macron. But Macron’s liberal values go a long way to explain the surge in support for France’s fascist National Front, as Cole Stangler shows. His liberal values are likely to increase “unemployment, inequality and poverty” through his right-wing economic policies — along the lines of the French law that bears his name (loi Macron) and hacked away at workers’ rights.
The assault on workers’ rights and public services has been ongoing for nearly 40 years yet liberals and centrists deride the term that describes our current phase: neoliberalism.
The refusal to recognise this trend puts us in a position where the Guardian celebrates the likely victory of Macron, cheering his defeat of the fascists in blissful ignorance. But his political current is the reason why we have ended up with the fascists contesting the second round of the French presidential election (again).
Faced with falling employment and living standards for four decades and (generally) abandoned by the organised left, people have turned to those who promise to take action to improve their material conditions.
Yet Macron’s policies will just exacerbate these problems. This isn’t the end of the fascist challenge in France; should Macron win and pursue his neoliberal programme we could well be in the same situation in five years’ time.
(Unless, potentially, the French left organises a strong anti-fascist campaign like that waged in Britain from the 1970s to the present time, in which the fascists have more or less been suffocated.)
This isn’t a “bold break with the past,” it is the continuation of the rule of the boss class with a fresh coat of paint.