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Keywords for a New Left
by Ian Parker
(Zero Books, £17.99)
CRITICAL psychologist Ian Parker is emeritus professor at Leicester University and is a prolific left academic, having penned over 30 books, some on radical research methods, and numerous academic works.
A brilliant academic and highly committed “psy,” he is a political activist of four decades standing, giving the lie to the claim that being an academic and an activist is mutually exclusive.
His latest book offers short essays on 50 keywords commonly used on the left, with each one explained and deployed to explicate a contemporary political issue.
An example is an exploration of the keyword Islamophobia, in which the British state’s demonisation of Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets council is explored, with the 2015 electoral court ruling illustrating how the Establishment operates. Parker is clear that “the claim that Rahman ran a corrupt 'dictatorship' in the East End of London [stinks] of Islamophobia.”
Parker is interested in the rapid change to which continuous revolutionary discourse is subject. Language and its deployment really do matter for activists, with meanings evolving in ways that demand to be thought about rather than taken for granted.
Keywords covered range from the familiar, ecosocialism, fascism, globalisation, Islamophobia, neoliberalism, wages and zionism, to some far less familiar in the traditional Marxian canon, campism, Cis, intersectionality, Pabloism, performativity, queer and trans.
A contextualising introduction looks at why left keywords and their articulation matter and the book concludes by mapping the development of progressive keywords over three historical periods — before the “century of revolution” beginning in 1917, those emerging in the 50-year period of struggle from 1917 to 1967 and revolutionary keywords for the new left today.
The book ends by looking at current paths and revolutionary tasks, with an excellently annotated further reading section.
A practising Lacanian analyst, Parker’s writings can sometimes be challenging, though this is by no means a “psychoanalytic” book. As Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky famously argued, it’s occasionally good for us to be taken beyond our familiar “zone of proximal development” and this book does that in ways that always interest and enlighten.
Parker, whose “post-dogmatic” Marxism is evident throughout, wishes to update critical Marxist praxis in light of recent cultural developments that are unavoidably not reflected in Marx’s original formulations.
His is a truly critical Marxism for the 21st century and his book is a must-read for thoughtful activists.
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