Certain types of political writing in the UK give me a deja-vu feeling: New Labour is a refined version of Thatcherism, David Cameron is a synthesis of New Labour and Thatcherism, crisis undermines free market ideology yet the new Keynesianism is a form of neoliberalism, government reforms create new forms of surveillance and construct the financial citizen or self-controlling Foucauldian subject…etc. Well, critique of ideology embellished and refined with a Zizekian rhetoric has become a substitute for proper, well-grounded political analysis. And our mere political responsibility lies in unveiling the fetishism of the market. As if everything around us reflects the unfolding of a neoliberal logic, which perpetuates itself. I am not against critique of ideology, but it is naïve to believe that action will be more revolutionary when ideology is decoded, given that ideology itself is a material production and fetishism of commodities is quite ‘real’.
In Turkey, the situation is not more promising. We try to conceptualise the rise of nationalism with Zizekian psychoanalysis without any need to do some fieldwork in the social base of the nationalist party; the recent attempt to change the Constitution by the governments is described with tragedy and farce metaphors and never ‘explained’.
Once upon a time, we had less technology, less empirical fieldwork and less access to information. Yet we had better political analysis. Look at, for instance, a fine piece by Sergio Bologna (http://libcom.org/library/tribe-of-moles-sergio-bologna) on class composition in Italy. Don’t you think we need to popularize political analysis by facts, figures, history, agency, strategy as much as films and jokes?
Here is a modest proposal to left-wing political analysts in the UK (where access to government documents is especially easy as compared to developing countries, development studies scholars would know how good data is a nightmare in the third world!)
Let us read documents such as Parliamentary Trade and Industry Committee Reports, relevant laws, parliamentary debates, reports of independent regulatory agencies (Financial Services authority’s report on financial crisis and new regulations for instance; sectoral reports on water, communication and electricity and gas markets by OFCOM, OFWAT, OFGEM annual reports), Green Papers, White Papers, statistics of Ministry of Health and Education…
One of my former bosses when I was doing part time work to support my PhD was a member of the House of Lords and I should say that he was bloody hard working, reading every single thing especially regarding the housing issues which was his specialty and then lobbying at the parliament. Yes, we need more boring reports to read in order to do good analysis, rather than making simply aesthetised sentences…(having said that, those reports can be more interesting than it seems)
Then let us try to take regular notes on the changes in different sectors, on the way in which the government set problems and developed strategies to tackle them, on how policy proposals were made, enacted, resisted and reversed. Doing this regularly is important given that patterns can be only identified in the long term and intuition can be developed by the accumulation, observation and analysis of facts in a time frame.
Then let us make a list of how the left-wing has reacted to the policies of the last three decades we do call neoliberalism and where it made mistakes, missed opportunities, intervened cleverly or failed catastrophically…I remember that I had made angry a trade unionist organizing NHS workers by asking him whether his union ever sat down and thought about the mistakes it made during the process by which NHS came to its current situation.
Meaningful strategies cannot be developed by pure rhetoric or by lazy last minute campaigns of resisting a specific policy. They can be developed by a dynamic historical analysis of facts and figures, identification of relations of forces in society in a given context and finding out a multiplicity of manoeuvres, bifurcation points, interventions. The knowledge of the empirical accompanied by good analysis and synthesis is a must for this. This is what former student of E. P. Thompson, historian Peter Linebaugh reminded while doing an inspiring reading of what he calls the five gates of Capital in the closing plenary of Historical Materialism Conference in 2008. He pointed out how Marx was waiting for the most recent reports of the Ministries in order to write.