What is the Alt-Left about?

Never before has the Left – in all its different forms – been losing on so many fronts as it is today. Accordingly a new Left is rising from the ashes of the old. I have chosen to label it the Alt-Left, but history may very well decide to go with another term. The important thing is that the Left is destined for radical transformations in light of the many changes the world is currently going through and the major transition towards a global information society.

This is the first in a series of blog posts were I’ll attempt to provide a rough outline of the positions of this emerging Alt-Left. Of course, all of the items are up for discussion and most points are likely to be derided by traditional left-wingers as “centrism” or “liberalism”. But the Alt-Left is not centrist, and even, to some extent, it is anti-liberal. It should not be confounded with the Democrats in the US or Social Democrats in Europe. As you’ll see, the positions I outline in the following few posts can hardly be found in the mainstream center-left.

You will find, over the years, that these positions will become increasingly common. This is because they reflect the attractors of how society is evolving: we are entering a new age, with an entirely new form of global economy and society. This means that many of the Old Left positions become unsustainable, irrelevant or downright counterproductive.

If the Old Left paradigm could transform the world, it already would have. If the labor movement could take over production and turn it into cooperatives, it already would have. Has this movement produced ecological awareness, animal rights, global solidarity, even solidarity within the borders of the affluent countries? Did it even create a genuinely progressive politics of gender, sexuality and identity? The answer is no. Progressives need a new movement, and a new paradigm; an Alt-Left.

Let’s begin with the basics:

Alt-Left basics

“The progressives, then, must adopt more complex stances and rely upon avant-garde groups and networks in order to affect the overall political climate and debate.”

The Old Left still thinks and functions according to the logic and classes of industrial society. In this analysis, capitalism stratifies society into different classes and it is this stratification that must be curbed and eventually brought to an end. The Alt-Left reacts to the class divisions of a postindustrial, digitalized society.

In this kind of society the political game changes dramatically. People have much more complex class divisions, ideologies, interests and identities. Hence it becomes increasingly difficult to “represent” a segment of society.

Instead, you need to target these many complex relationships and try to develop them in a manner that reproduces less inequality and less alienation. One way of doing this is by deliberately supporting the elements of the economy that are less governed by the logic of capital. In the old days, you needed a lot of capital to start a business. Today you need skills, contacts, mutual trust, cultural capital – and a laptop with an internet connection. These are the primary goods and resources that must become more evenly distributed if people are to be empowered.

Because people to a lesser degree are divided into discernible classes and identities, traditional party politics also becomes more difficult to pursue in a meaningful manner – at least if you’re the progressive. This doesn’t affect the populist anti-immigration movements; they can build upon etnhic identities and single issues. The progressives, then, must adopt more complex stances and rely upon avant-garde groups and networks in order to affect the overall political climate and debate. They must work more across and beyond the traditional political parties. An important part of this is to try to improve the quality and inclusiveness of deliberation and political culture. In the end, this should lead to a greater enfranchisement of citizens through innovations within the fruitful field of internet democracy. Delib in the UK is a promising example and the Finnish think-tank Demos have also done impressive work towards this end.

In a better democratic climate the more universal and progressive ideas can win out against the lowest common denominators, the simplistic solutions of populist movements. This, in turn, requires that we relax some of the narratives of “struggle” and “resistance” and the impulse to “fight the power”. We must lead by example, creating more intelligent political processes, a starting point for which is to treat our political adversaries with kindness and respect.

This is the principle of co-development: that we develop the political landscape as a whole. We can’t change people and tell them what to think or who they should be. There are going to be political strands of all kinds. The point is, rather, to make the Left more efficient by arming it with better social technologies, to make the Right pick up and steal some of its ideas and to make the populists less polemic and aggressive.

By means of better deliberation and processes that harness collective intelligence (as described by the MIT Institute of Collective Intelligence), you subtly implant progressive ideas and ideals across the board. This is done in a deliberate and, in a sense, manipulative manner. But it is a very open and transparent form of manipulation – the avant garde groups don’t have anything to hide.

What policies should such a progressive avant-garde pursue? What is the “metamodern virus” that should be spread? Stay tuned for more on the Alt-Left, the next post will address its position on economy.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.