‘No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part
of the members are poor and miserable’.
— Adam Smith
The Right are winning across the globe and will continue to win because liberals and
socialists, the two major ideological factions which make up the progressive Left, cannot
reach a political consensus. In fact, currently, both sides are actively seeking to undermine
The power of interdependence
Be under no illusion, almost every post-1945 progressive government in the West has been
built on a broad coalition of liberals and socialists. Tony Blair could not have won in 1997
without such a coalition, as Clement Attlee could not have won in 1945 without one either.
Brexit and leadership issues aside, Jeremy Corbyn failed to win in 2019 because he was
stuck in a war on two fronts: one against the populist Right (the Tories and Brexit Party) and
the other against continuity liberals (the People’s Vote). Indeed, for Joe Biden to have become
President of the United States in 2020, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party needs
Sanders-inspired socialists to have voted for him in spite of their own antipathy towards
him and his politics.
All in all, there can be no immediate path to power for socialists nor liberals without each
other. What’s more, as Biden might very well find, if liberals choose to alienate socialists
when in office their tenure will be short and their policy impact upon society will be totally
A broken West
Liberals and socialists, by nature, will never fully agree on issues. However, there is one
thing both sides can temporarily unite around and that is that our current model of
capitalism, whether you call it ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘crony capitalism’, is very much broken.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, Western economies have remained stagnant and its
people have become progressively poorer. For the young especially, the current system has
all but trashed their futures and shackled them to a gloomy life of low wages, precarious
employment, little-to-no savings, unpayable debts and rampant rentierism.
On top of that, we are on the precipice of an environmental crisis which, even at the most
conservative of estimates, will fundamentally disrupt society as we all know it. Many
communities will suffer, and many people will die.
The solution to these environmental, economic, social and political crises requires a
radical shift from the economic status-quo liberalism has traditionally aligned itself with since
the 1980s and Thatcher’s free market revolution.
And this is where liberals must compromise. In order to preserve the fundamental tenets of
classical liberalism; individual liberty, equality under the law, and the social contract, liberals
must decisively break away from the rotten economic ideology at the core of these
simultaneous crises. Otherwise, xenophobic and authoritarian forces across the globe will
continue to grow and evolve fuelled, in part, by the very collapse of this economic model
and the inertia to break free from it. Thus, the threat of a resurgent Fascism, the
deterioration of democracy, and the end of liberal society itself, grows stronger each day the
system is kept alive.
But this does not mean the end of capitalism; quite the contrary. And this is where
socialists must compromise too. There is no widespread support amongst the electorate, at
least for the time being, to end capitalism and subsequently establish socialist society.
Furthermore, certain institutions and nuclei of capitalist power traditionally in conflict with
socialists will have to be safeguarded in order to defeat the Right and enter a stable
coalition with liberals.
A different kind of Capitalism
Ultimately, ending neoliberalism means crafting a different kind of capitalism which is able to,
at least temporarily, adequately address the major problems we are facing as a society and
species: wealth inequality, poverty, climate breakdown and the hollowing out of democracy.
Think of it as a ‘Radical Continuationism’. In order to preserve the basis of liberal capitalist
democracy, there needs to be immediate structural overhaul of our economies and societies.
This is where parts of the Left’s policy platform, articulated by the likes of Corbyn and
Sanders become key. It doesn’t mean going on Palestinian solidarity marches, or reading all
three volumes of Das Kapital, but it does mean that liberals recognise a) that their own
ideological parameters are limited, especially in the current context; and b) socialism is a
legitimate political movement with valuable insights and suggestions.
The reality is, given the scale of the crises we are facing, and the severity of the threat from
the Right, radicalism is the only moderate option. Shutting your eyes and pretending it’s
the ’90s will not lead you out of this mess, as much as some liberals wish it were so. In fact,
doing this will only strengthen the Right and hasten the arrival of the Neo-Fascist dystopia
which presently awaits us all, socialist and liberal alike, unless we change course.
So, what do the policies look like in this liberal-socialist consensus?
Fix the economy. After the 2008 financial crisis, a decade of austerity, and now Covid-19,
the economy is in desperate need of rescuing. As a result, there should be state
coordination of the economy working strategically alongside the private sector to both
protect and create jobs, foster growth, and oversee the introduction of a Green New Deal. In
some cases, this will require bringing certain industries into public ownership.
Invest in the future. There can be no return to austerity. In the short term, states should
enact a Keynesian fiscal stimulus to create new jobs, foster growth, and encourage new
enterprise and innovation. For instance, public infrastructure should be updated; low-cost
housing should be built to address the housing crisis; and a National Investment Bank
should be established to ensure investment and economic prosperity is shared by all
regions, not just the epicentres of financial capital.
Save the environment. This would mean the introduction of a Green New Deal which not only seeks to
rapidly decarbonise the economy, but to also hand control of these new industries into the
ownership of people and communities as opposed to predatory shareholders looking to
make a quick buck.
Address inequality. An end to multinational tax evasion; the introduction of a fairer taxation
system which seeks to tax wealth as well as income; and to curb the worst excess of
corporate greed via limiting the rights of shareholders and, in some cases, breaking up large
conglomerates to protect democracy and prevent market monopolisation. Unproductive
profit-seeking activities, such as landlordism, should also be actively discouraged.
Deepen and strengthen democracy. Proportional representation in national elections;
devolving centralised power to encourage local democracy and give communities a greater
degree of agency; and a progressive foreign policy which seeks to promote democracy
abroad and not do business with despot states — especially by selling weapons to them!
Press reform. Simply put, the very wealthy should not have a monopoly over public
discourse nor dictate the terms of political debate for their own financial ends.
A liberal-socialist coalition which genuinely seeks to stave off our Rightward ascent and
address the major problems facing society must embrace these kinds of policies as the
absolute minimum. Radical as they might seem to some liberals now, capitalism is not
suddenly going to fix itself. Historically, in times of crisis it never has. Both sides must
compromise a degree of their own ideological purity for the benefit of all.
A final note
And a final note on capitalism itself. Capitalism is neither eternal nor does it have a divine
right to rule. In the immediate, yes, we have to save liberal capitalism by creating a new kind
of liberal capitalism, but the system will always be dogged by internal contradictions and
injustice, especially in the face of climate breakdown. Any new capitalism we create should
therefore also have the courage and confidence to embrace new ideas and new forms of
social interaction and economic organisation; the DNA, perhaps, for a new kind of system to
This generation has no widespread appetite to move to a post-capitalist society but the
next generation might. And that is a decision for our children and grandchildren, not the
ushers of a broken world who now must put it back together again.