When radical is the only reasonable

There have been few times in history when the gap between what needs to be done and what is being done has been as great as today.

In spite of all the great advances in technology and production methods of the last century, society remains incapable of providing a decent life for billions of people. The wealth inequality between the minority at the top and the vast bulk of humanity has never been greater.

In the Third World, access to basic nutrition, health care and housing is a pipe dream for many. And in wealthy countries, most particularly in the US and Western Europe, the ongoing fallout from the global financial and economic crisis has led to the dismantling of much of the social infrastructure – decent pensions, health care, social services – that raised the living standards of workers during the long post-World War Two boom.

Nearly a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, nuclear disarmament has never seemed further away. The fact that governments have at their disposal weapons capable of ending life on this planet many times over has become a dim background noise, something that is considered unremarkable.

And now we have the threat of catastrophic climate change, the effects of which are already being felt.

As Terry Eagleton wrote in After Theory, the need for radical change is today “plain realism. No enlightened, moderately intelligent observer could survey the state of the planet and conclude it could be put to rights without a thoroughgoing transformation.”

And yet, far from a thoroughgoing transformation that begins to deal with the enormous structural problems facing society, politicians refuse to move on even the most straightforward issues.

Even token measures to redistribute wealth are met with howls of outrage from the corporate elite. In Australia, a mining tax that hardly raised a cent is viciously attacked as creeping socialism.

Instead of discussing how to halt climate change, the corporate press remains enmeshed in a farcical debate about whether it is even happening.

The horizon of political debate has never been narrower. In Australia, the Labor Party has long since abandoned any pretence to being substantively different to the Liberals. But the Greens, whose rise was closely connected to the decline of Labor as a real oppositional force, have quickly been sucked in to the logic of “responsible” opposition in which no questions can be raised that seriously challenge the prevailing right wing consensus.

All the attempts by the social democratic and liberal left to moderate their message to make it palatable to the press barons and the powerful have only encouraged the right to go further on the offensive.

For 30 years the left has been incrementally lowering its sights, conceding ideological terrain and hiding what radicalism it retains under a cloak of moderation. It has gotten us nowhere. If we are going to build a challenge to the status quo, it will be done only by being bold and unapologetic about our critique of the existing system, and the radical transformation that is necessary if humanity is going to have a future worth living.