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Book Review How ‘anti-politics’ threatens left advance

Anti-Politics: On the demonisation of Ideology,
Authority and the State
by Eliane Glaser
(Repeater Books, £8.99)

IN THIS short but no-holds-barred attack on the retreat from politics with a capital P, Eliane Glaser questions why there has been a withdrawal from political parties in recent years, from effecting change at the level of the nation state and from thinking big in terms of ideology and widely despised grander narratives.

In its place, she suggests, there is a fairly amorphous and structureless perspective where priority is given to localism, so-called autonomy and ill-defined concerns about identity and participation.

Convincingly argued and eminently quotable, Glaser’s overriding aim is centred around building 21st century socialism rather than middle-of-the-road notions about citizenship.

She makes a convincing case that, despite its radical veneer, the most important consequence of “anti-politics” is to have weakened the radical left and strengthened the populist right. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that its historical roots lie largely in Thatcherism, New Labour and the cold-war triumphalism of those like Fukuyama who welcomed what they called the end of history.

What does come as a surprise is how much of the liberal left accepts anti-politics as a series of self-evident, common-sense truths in which contesting ideas are dismissed as outdated, undemocratic and unviable.

Older readers might recognise aspects of the project in earlier arguments put forward by the so-called new realists and eurocommunists, but this would be an unfair and wrong characterisation. Whatever one might think of the latter’s politics, they didn’t take their political line for granted and at least argued on the same territory — more charitable evaluations might see them as having asked the right questions even if they did come up with the wrong answers.

None of this is present in the anti-politics outlook of today and hence it is far more insidious and dangerous.

This is not a book without limits. Glaser's description of the existing left is not one I'd recognise, revolving as it does around a number of supposedly radical personalities, think tanks and largely web-based organisations. No mention is given to groups such as Momentum or to those on the left of the Labour Party and Glaser’s critique is surprisingly ahistorical and parochial.

The election of Corbyn, the resurgence of the Labour left and the emergence of a mass membership critical of neoliberalism might have helped to undermine some anti-political tendencies, but it’s a battle which has by no means been won.

Interestingly, while Glaser’s work shows some understanding of what lay behind the post-war social democratic settlement, there are no references at all to the October revolution or to continuing struggles and developments in China, Cuba and Venezuela.

This isn’t just an exercise in political point-scoring. If these aren’t to some degree effective refutations of those who would seek to demonise ideology, authority and the state, then we really are in trouble.  

 

 

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