ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Emerging Left in the 'Emerging' World

There is much more dynamism within the global left, especially in the South, than is often perceived. The rejection of capitalism in many of left movements in the South tends to be accompanied not only by imagining alternatives, but also by shifting views about what constitutes the desirable alternative. This, in turn, has meant an interrogation of some previously standard tenets of socialist understanding. This essay reviews several features of emerging left movements in Latin America, Africa and developing Asia that suggest a move away from some traditional ideas associated with socialist theory and practice even as there are two important areas of continuity with the leftist thinking of the past.

This is a slightly modified version of the text of the “Ralph Miliband Lecture on the Future of the Left” that was delivered in the London School of Economics, London in May 2012. I am grateful to C P Chandrasekhar, Abhijit Sen, Prabhat Patnaik, Robert Pollin, Servaas Storm, Prasenjit Bose, Radhika Desai and Alan Freeman, whose comments on an earlier draft have enriched this version.

The topic “The Emerging Left in the ‘Emerging’ World” may appear to be an excessively ambitious one. After all, to talk of one single “emerging left” even in any single part of the world is not just brave but foolhardy. Left politics and left positions have always been – and will continue to be – extremely diverse, within and across national boundaries. Given the profusion and variation of the multiplicity of approaches, it could justifiably be argued that attempts to fit all types of progressive thinking in very different parts of the world into a common box would be over-simplistic and even misleading.

This perception is also a reflection of the accentuated fragmentation of “left” positions. For much of the 20th century, it was easier to talk of an overarching socialist framework, a “grand vision” within which more specific debates were conducted. Of course there were many strands of socialism, however defined, and there were also fierce and occasionally violent struggles between them. Even so, they shared more than a common historical lineage – they also shared a fundamental perception or basic vision. At the risk of crude simplification, this vision can be summarised in terms of perceiving the working class to be the most fundamental agent of positive change, capable (once organised) of transforming not only existing property and material relations but also wider society and culture through its own actions.

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