I've been thinking further about the Left Foot Forward challenge to come up with the most influential left-wingers. (See here.) I decided to present my own lists, one of good influences, one of people who have been too influential, and one of people I wish the left were more influenced by. I have confined myself to living people, and the idea of the left I had in mind is probably very anglocentric. Being negative, I start with bad influences, to get them out of the way.
- Noam Chomsky - gives a veneer of apparent wisdom and academic rigour to simple-minded explanations and a manichean view of the world, thus giving teenagers of all ages over the world permission to think they are being clever and radical when they're not.
- John Pilger - has squandered the immense credibility he has accumulated from his investigative journalism to promote a darkly moralistic view of the world, but a moralism that is curiously silent about dictators and falsely attributes all evil to the US/UK/Israel axis.
- Slavoj Zizek - admittedly funny and clever, this posturing windbag and his ne plus ultra radicalism (oh so daring celebrations of violence and of totalitarian dictators) is so completely divorced from the real world that anyone caught in his headlights is lost to the effort of making it a better place.
- Hugo Chavez - hugely influential for attempting to de-link Venezuela from the neo-liberal hegemony, Chavez has managed to persuade otherwise sensible people outside his country that socialism can be achieved via thuggish repression of journalists, trade unionists and dissidents.
- Frank Furedi - Furedi and his cult have probably been more influential than any other bit of the British far left in the last decade. Although some of this influence has undoubtedly for the good, some of it has been very malignant. They give a veneer of intellectual respectability to denialism about climate change, have acted as PR agents for the agribusiness, airline and pharmaceutical industries, aided and abetted AIDS denialism and its enormous death toll in Africa, given succour to Serb nationalism at its most aggressive, helped Boris Johnson capture London, provided ideological cover for cuts in the funding for arts, reduced the number of decent free festivals in the parks of London, and, arguably, are the architects of David Cameron's election victory. Or am I paranoid?
- Norman Geras - a pioneer of political blogging (and therefore influential in opening up on-line audiences to left-wing cranks and crackpots like me), but also a profound thinker of Marxism and its limits, and an inspiration to those of us who like to think that left-wing values of justice and freedom are compatible with moral sense.
- Evo Morales - his election five years ago, with his humble ways and stripy sweaters, was a great inspiration, and his landslide re-election last year was too. In contrast to his companero Chavez, he showed that it is possible to de-link from the neo-liberal world without going down an authoritarian route.
- Maryam Namazie - although she comes very much from the trad left, she exemplifies what was best about it: an uncompromising internationalism and secular humanism.
- Antonio Negri - I have a lot of criticisms of Negri, and find his celebrity cult status unnerving, but he has introduced a generation to some of the most important ideas of the left, and helps provide a ground for the possible renewal of radical thought.
- Peter Tatchell - although sometimes I think he is a little nutty, and some of his obsessions (e.g. the Pope) are quite alien to mine, Tatchell is an inspiration because of his extraordinary courage, consistency and commitment – despite his health problems caused by taking beatings from Mugabe's thugs in 2001 and Russian bigots in 2007.
Not influential enough
- Gita Sahgal - stands for a recognition that human rights are for everyone, not just for brown-skinned men with beards, and that some apparent forms of radicalism are also forms of repression.
- Eric Lee - stands for a commitment to the class struggle and social justice, globally, rather than all the fads and obsessions that the left has been seduced by.
- Terry Glavin - stands for genuine internationalism, and a great writer.
- A Sivanandan - Sivanandan has always been an untimely figure, and has therefore always been marginalised by the left - his savage critiques of the dogmas of ethnic identity politics, fashionable New Times postmodernism and bureaucratic multiculturalism in the 1980s were not heeded by enough in the movement, and more recently he saw before almost anyone else the way in which racism against immigrants (including "white" ones) was eclipsing older colour- and even culturally-coded forms of racism in British society.
- Peter Linebaugh – I think the left would be a better place if it was Linebaugh and not Zizek or Negri who was the global superstar. He is a much deeper and richer thinker than them by a country mile.