The book has only been out for a few days but already responses are appearing.
‘Perhaps the best kept political secret of our time is that politics, as a democratic undertaking, can be not only “fun”, in the entertaining sense, but profoundly uplifting, even ecstatic.’ So writes American activist and critic Barbara Ehrenreich, who in turn is quoted by Jeff Sparrow in the new collection, Left Turn, which he’s co-edited with journalist and blogger Antony Loewenstein.
This fragment of thought perhaps best sums up what Left Turn is all about – not so much a manifesto or a declaration, but an attempt to recapture political imagination, or as Sparrow wrote in our recent Q&A, ‘an ecstatic sense of the possibility of real change’.
The collection indeed packs a punch when it comes to tackling disillusionment, gathering together a series of provocative pieces from our best and more progressive thinkers. Christos Tsiolkas holds the magnifying glass to the affluent Left and and exclusion of migrant voices from radical politics; Senator Lee Rhiannon contemplates the future of the Greens in the face of Labor’s declining popularity and their hand in the next era of government; Guy Rundle writes on the current wave of branded consumption and ever-expanding nature of our giant malls and shopping precincts; Chris Graham argues controversially about the use of violence in Indigenous politics and Jeff Sparrow examines the Occupy movement and its repercussions.
As Mark Rubbo wrote in his review, ‘It is to the editors’ great credit that they have managed to pull together such a range of provocative commentary that will stimulate and lead to further debate and discussion. For many people the markets do not provide the answer to achieving just, humane and equitable societies: what political and economic structures might?’
Right-wing blog site SkepticLawyer has a much less charitable view:
“Left Turn”, with the secondary title “Political essays for the New Left”, edited (I’d say “assembled”) by Antony Loewenstein and Jeff Sparrow, is a series of essays from a range of lefties with different perspectives and concerns, each essentially a single issue, with some “doubling up”. The introduction and back-cover blurb acknowledge the despair of many on the left, and offer the promise of suggestions for a way for the left to make a difference again.
It’s a book of bits: disparate opinions, varying styles and varying quality. That makes it tricky to review – like a food critic trying to give a concise impression of a “bring-a-plate” dinner, nothing consistent, apart from in this case, needing to say “Hang on … there was no dessert … where is my dessert?”
If there is something striking about the book for me, it was what is missing.
Reading the book feels like being in a slightly too-small room full of ardent lefties, all wired on lattes, tongues loosened with chardonnay, everybody talking at once. Aaaah … memories of times before I met my grandson’s grandmother, when Big Mal Fraser was the Big Bad … the nods or wry smiles at good points, the rolled eyes at stating-the-bleeding-obvious and the lowered slowly-shaking head at clangers.
If you are much younger than I am, you might instead feel you are reading a “Best of Larvatus Prodeo” – for better and worse.
The “bring-a-plate” dinner has some tasty bits. Some morsels come with a nice dipping-sauce of self-criticism. There are few, not quite enough, meaty bits of common-sense suggestions.