The Postmodern Left and the success of neoliberalism

Jay, Scott

Date Written:  05/01/2016
Year Published:  2016  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX18554

The international Left promotes its own image rather than engaging in the bitter reality of resistance against neoliberalism. It does not need to believe in postmodernism because it is postmodernism.



The defining moment of SYRIZA and of the international Left of the current generation occurred in the early morning hours of July 11, 2015. Many histories will forget this detail as just one of many parliamentary sessions, yet this was by far the most significant. In this moment, just days after the spectacular “Oxi” vote by the Greek people rejecting austerity, their parliamentary representatives chose to embrace it. With 149 seats in parliament, only two members of the radical coalition of the Left dedicated to ending austerity found themselves voting “Oxi” along with the people they claimed to represent. It was a stunning moment that no radical should forget for the rest of their life, unless they simply want to repeat these exciting failures over and over indefinitely.


In the face of unrelenting neoliberalism, the international Left has embraced postmodernism, not in theory but in practice, putting style over substance and feel good moments and flashy leaders over the brute reality of resisting capitalist exploitation. The Postmodern Left does not reject metanarratives or objective reality in theory. In fact it embraces the metanarrative of its own centrality to altering the course of history, but when it finds itself at the center of historical development, then history is treated like an ethereal, formless blob that nobody can make any sense of. It simply happens, and no options are possibly available that can shape it. Once the Left is placed in the driver seat, there is no alternative other than to passively participate in the machinations of the system. Anything else is just too difficult

The Postmodern Left avoids building actual power among the poor and the oppressed, instead focusing on self-promotional spectacles which feel like struggle and power but are entirely empty.


The Postmodern Left is not the result of the declining relevance of objective reality. On the contrary, it has a solid material base from which it arises, and to which it is shackled, specifically in the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) form. Under neoliberalism, the destruction of social welfare programs and other sources of stability for working class people have been replaced by services granted by NGOs, funded by foundations and governmental grants as well as directly from corporations. This organizational form has extended beyond the service sector and into the Left itself, where protest movement organizations can build up an infrastructure of full-time staff members through many of these same grants. The problem for NGOs, then, is to challenge the status quo without challenging the elite sources which fund the operation. This has proven to be an impossible problem to solve, and instead NGOs have served to reproduce neoliberalism rather than challenge it.


The Left exists in the general milieu of NGO activism created by such organizations. That is, not all radicals have to succumb to the NGO form, they merely need to adapt to the activism led by NGOs, which is the appearance of militancy, in order to build up a base of support and win reforms, without the substance of militancy, in order to avoid embarrassing important funding sources and allies.

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