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What counts as radical in the context of politics, not just feminism?

(86 Posts)
DeviTheGaelet Wed 11-Jan-17 14:39:26

This morning I heard Jeremy Corbyn's plan to introduce legislation to ensure bosses pay was capped at x20 the lowest paid in the company described as "radical".
A few days ago on a thread about what do radical feminists want to achieve I said i thought that use it or lose it paternity leave legislation would be a radical change to improve equality of the semester. But got told this isn't radical because it's using legislation to enforce a change.
Now I'm confused about what radical change actually is? Did the reporter use radical as a word for "a big change" rather than as a change targeting the root of pay inequality?
Can radical change be enacted through existing legal frameworks? Or by definition does this mean it isn't radical?
I'm confused confused
I would really appreciate it if we didn't derail into "rad fems are mean" please!

qwerty232 Wed 11-Jan-17 15:00:12

I think radical these days anything which goes against the tenets of neoliberalism and open markets - because they've been hegemonic for about thirty years now.

So challenging that system would mean challenging the 'existing legal frameworks' that support it. Yes, some people on the radical left have tried to challenge it within existing frameworks - like Syriza in Greece and Sanders in America - but they have failed.

What is interesting though is that the people considered radical at the moment are not on the far left, but the far right. European nationalists like Farage, Le Pen and Wilders are considered insurgents against global capitalism, as is Donald Trump. But curiously when you look at their economic policies you see that they really represent a new species of neoliberalism. Donald Trump's cabinet is made up of corporatists, hedge fund managers and investment bankers. I think one appointee is this hedge fund guy who has made billions from the same failing steel industry that Trump is supposed to be saving. Of course the rust belt people he claims to represent are just going to get screwed over even more.

Imo, what has happened is that capitalism is fucking up - or at least the market capitalism that we've had in the West for the past three hundred years. And while the populist right have got a radical response to this (blame migrants, Muslims, cuddle up to Putin and Assad and make lots of offensive comments about groups favoured by liberals, basically), the left are stumped. They have no idea what kind of system to argue for in its place.

So while I think Corbyn and people are right to put forward these quite radical and much needed policies (like a wage cap, for a universal living wage), they are not coming up with policies which address core problems like automation. We cannot go back to the kind of mixed economies with full employment that existed in the post-war era. The left need to think of something else.

So I would say no one much is being particularly radical on the left at the moment. Everyone is just fumbling around, not quite sure what to do while the world goes wrong, and proposing policies which are essentially sticking plasters rather than structural correctives.

Worryingly the only people who do have a radical agenda with electoral viability are crypto-fascists. This could be the beginning of another fascist Europe. Or it could be the start of a new form of social democracy. Who knows.

SpeakNoWords Wed 11-Jan-17 15:05:09

My understanding is that radical means changes at the root, so dismantling existing frameworks and creating new ones. So extending paternity leave isn't a radical change, even if it is a big step away from the current position.

I think that many people, me included, are very used to radical meaning a general "big change" rather than a specific meaning of removing existing systems and developing better replacements.

I don't think Corbyns proposal is radical, I think it's a big change but not radical in its actual nature ifyswim!

DeviTheGaelet Wed 11-Jan-17 15:07:10

Hmm. I don't think the right are particularly radical. To me they seem to want to revert back to some k8nd of post war golden era rather than actually change anything.
I actually think JCs idea is quite radical but it's been communicated wrongly. Rather than talking about capping top exec pay they should be talk8ng about raising the pay if the lowest workers to the 20x ratio. Then companies could still attract "talent" just the hire cost wouldn't need to be their only consideration.
But, can it be a truly "radical" idea if it's legislative?

SomeDyke Wed 11-Jan-17 15:07:23

As a radical feminist, I think the issue here is two different uses of the word radical. So, radical feminism to me goes back to the latin radix (meaning root of a plant. Blame my O-level english teacher who kept telling us that 'radix mallorum est cupiditas' from Chaucer means that greed is the root of all evil.).......

Anyway, I understand radical feminism as meaning that male supremacy etc is at the root of society throughout history, and probably a lot of prehistory as well.

Hence something that means we need to redesign from the root to counter it, that a series of legislative changes to the existing system probably won't cut the mustard. Thinking twigs here.........

Hence why we have the confusion, I think, between 'radical' meaning root as above, and 'radical' change meaning just big (or shocking) change.
So 'radical' just meaning big change is kind of like 'quantum leap' -- strictly speaking misapplied (since quantum leaps are actually the smallest possible leaps you can have), but so frequently used now that we just have to live with the dual meanings. And then just guess which one someone meant when they used the word ambiguously.

Plus I'll be unhelpful and just stick to radical feminism, that's hard enough at the moment without getting into what other 'radical politics' is supposed to mean, and whether or not someone is being correctly radical .

DeviTheGaelet Wed 11-Jan-17 15:08:26

A long period of "Use it or lose it" paternity leave isn't really extending existing provision is it? Don't know

qwerty232 Wed 11-Jan-17 15:16:06

Hmm. I don't think the right are particularly radical.

Well, they're radical in a very retrogressive way. Obviously not a good way. I suppose could Nazism was radical, but in the monstrous way imaginable.

We should remember that ideological radicalism - whether left or right - can be very dangerous. People who can do terrible things in the name of radical ideologies.

qwerty232 Wed 11-Jan-17 15:21:23

Rather than talking about capping top exec pay they should be talk8ng about raising the pay if the lowest workers to the 20x ratio.

Hmm..I believe in just imposing higher levels of taxation on the rich. If you want to pay people more at the bottom, you're going to have to tax people at the top.

A 60p top rate of tax makes much more sense than a cap.

SpeakNoWords Wed 11-Jan-17 15:34:37

Well, paternity leave already exists, albeit to a very limited degree. So extending it to longer and making it "use it or lose it" is a big change to an existing policy. So not radical using the first definition of changes from the root up. But a big change, so radical in the common usage sense.

girlwiththeflaxenhair Wed 11-Jan-17 16:03:23

I understood the same as speak but was admonished for suggesting that this implied radical feminists were seeking dramatic or far reaching societal changes that were of any business to anyone other than women.

qwerty232 Wed 11-Jan-17 16:33:01

Just thinking a bit more about this. I think the kind of radicalism which says 'we're going to smash the existing system and rebuild the world anew NOW' is always pretty questionable. That kind of 'Year Zero' paradigm shift. If you think of people who have done that in history the results have been pretty dire. The French Revolutionaries, The Khmer Rouge, the Leninists have all created equally oppressive or even worse regimes to the ones they overturned. Even if you think of less extreme examples the results have not been good. Margaret Thatcher was a radical in that she completely bulldozed the post-war consensus and imposed a regime that caused massive problems - many of which we're still living with today. Similarly Blair and Bush's radical attempts to overthrow Middle Easter dictatorships and rebuild them as liberal democracies were calamitous.

All the best kind of change in history has happened quite incrementally and through dialogue and gradual reform. Of course sometimes life under autocratic regimes is so intolerable that radical solutions are necessary. But even then those revolutions often lead from the frying pan into the fire. Look at Libya. And how much better life is in Russia since the wall came down is debatable.

Lots of people say now they want to overthrow the capitalist system. But you can't do that. The capitalist system is not a discrete entity, but a near global economic culture. You can just address bits of it at a time, and slowly push towards what is hopefully a more just economic system. But that process is partly organic too. The capitalist system will eventually just auto-destruct by itself as a result of its own internal contradictions - just like the communist system did.

DeviTheGaelet Wed 11-Jan-17 17:48:30

qwerty I think Corbyn's is hoping that the bottom pay in a company will get higher so they can keep inflating the pay at the top. Mind you I am not sure it's a huge priority with everything else that's going on.

dyke I've heard that too. But surely we need legislative change to effect radical change?

DeviTheGaelet Wed 11-Jan-17 17:50:18

The capitalist system will eventually just auto-destruct by itself as a result of its own internal contradictions - just like the communist system did.
Will it? Communism was having to be controlled top down by a few people I think. Whereas capitalism seems to me more organic and fluid. I can't see capitalism crumbling, might be nice if it did though.

qwerty232 Wed 11-Jan-17 18:28:39

Well I think this particular species of financial capitalism will auto-destruct, albeit very slowly, because the levels of inequality and damage to the environment that will result from it will simply not be sustainable.

Capitalism is no longer driving productivity and job creation. Much wealth is now created by speculative currency deals, private investment and hedge funds. The result is huge asset bubbles in the hands of small elite that are completely divorced from the real economy of tangible economic output.. As Thomas Piketty says, the rate of return on capital will exceed economic growth. When that happens capitalism will no longer function on its own terms.

Capitalism is not a bad thing as such if regulated; but completely unfettered capital flows can only result in disaster.

I agree that communism was more localised and top down, so could collapse very quickly. The late capitalists system is more diffuse and has global tendrils. It's breakdown will be slow and painful.

HelenDenver Wed 11-Jan-17 18:31:00

Agree with somedyke

SomeDyke Wed 11-Jan-17 19:07:59

"dyke I've heard that too. But surely we need legislative change to effect radical change?"

Well, yes, but it's just the start, not the end of the process. Boils down to, we have equal-pay legislation etc etc, but women still doing the majority of the domestic labour. We have laws against rape and sexual assault, and even rape in marriage is a crime in some countries, but male sexual violence against women and children is still an enormous problem.

Thousands of years of patriarchy isn't going to be over-turned that quickly.

DeviTheGaelet Wed 11-Jan-17 19:09:54

No. I'm finding it hard to articulate what I mean and I don't want a rerun of the feminism thread sad
What would a radical political solution look like?

M0stlyHet Wed 11-Jan-17 19:47:15

I think, picking up SomeDyke's excellent analysis upthread, that maybe what's at issue is a distinction between the framing analysis, and the means then used to tackle the issue the analysis brings to the fore.

For instance, a radical analysis of prostitution might want to shift the terms of the debate away from how free (or not) individual women are to make the supposed choice to go into prostitution, towards an analysis of why some men feel entitled to use women's bodies for sex when the woman would not freely consent in the absence of money. This, I'd argue, would still be a radical feminist analysis regardless of what action you then wanted to take in the light of that analysis.

On a legislative level, you could then argue that the Nordic model implements that radical analysis within a pre-existing legal and policing framework. (Presumably the German model, with its mega brothels, drive through sex stalls in motorway services and red light zones which are no-go areas for women not in the sex industry is the preferred solution of "sex positive" lib fems: it looks more like a reductio ad absurdum of their position.)

It might be that at this stage some would say that the mere act of trying to fix the problem within the existing legal framework turned it from a radical solution to a liberal tinkering round the edges solution. I think they'd be wrong about this. Radical means to an end don't have to involve erecting barricades across the street and throwing Molotov cocktails.

I dunno, having trouble expressing this right - but I think for some people radical has come to be so conflated with violent or revolutionary that they can't see that radical analysis and solutions to problems can exist within a pre-existing social framework in a liberal democracy.

qwerty232 Wed 11-Jan-17 20:05:46

I dunno, having trouble expressing this right - but I think for some people radical has come to be so conflated with violent or revolutionary that they can't see that radical analysis and solutions to problems can exist within a pre-existing social framework in a liberal democracy.

That's a good distinction. I think radical policies, by governments, in response to pressure from activists is a completely different thing to the 'Molotov cocktail' kind of thing. Many of the civil rights activists were radical, but the actual repeals of segregational laws that they fought for were repealed by the US government that they pressured.

The dangerous type of radicalism is then type that seeks to bypass democratic, governmental institutions and impose ideologies by force, with violent shocks to the existing social structure.

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHorrid Wed 11-Jan-17 20:41:29

Great thread devi

Lurking, because I struggle to understand radical as well.

I do tend to agree with this though the best kind of change in history has happened quite incrementally and through dialogue and gradual reform
But I'm a wishing washy liberal so I'm bound to agree with that grin

DeviTheGaelet Wed 11-Jan-17 21:50:17

M0stly That's kind of how I think it should work too.
Maybe no one really understands what radical action is which is why we get so tied up in knots about "radical" vs "liberal" feminists. Maybe the analysis is different but the actions could look the same.
Gaah. I'm a scientist and I like certainty but this feels a bit messy smile

whenshe it was our debate on the derailed thread that made me start thinking about this and I wanted to explore further. If we had a politics topic I'd have posted there but in lieu of that I thought I'd stick to feminism!

HelenDenver Thu 12-Jan-17 09:01:37

There is a politics topic, isn't there??

Stay here, though. We've got crumpets with lashings of butter.

YetAnotherSpartacus Thu 12-Jan-17 09:49:38

My understanding was that 'radical' denoted a level of system change in some way, shape or form that went beyond legal change. Liberals, stemming from an Enlightenment tradition that valued the social contract, rule of law and human rationality were more apt to favour incremental system change via legal processes and democratic agreement whereas radicals (in the old days, socialists) were more likely to want to 'smash the state'. With regard to feminism I think radical feminism developed shortly after liberal feminism because some women felt that change was too slow, benefitted the middle-classes or was not possible under patriarchy. Liberal feminists thought that the only thing standing between women and equality with men were unfair laws, sex role socialisation and old fashioned attitudes. Marxist feminists argued that women would not achieve equality under Capitalism. Radical feminists asked deeper questions about wanting equality with men and what this might mean. They also argued that male dominance / patriarchy was at the core of women's oppression and not simply social conventions / laws - and further that women's oppression was the 'original sin' as it were. Some claimed that all other forms of oppression (class, race) stemmed from the original oppression of women by men. Cultural feminists (including the political lesbians) wandered off by themselves to create matriarchal cultures that excluded men. Some radical feminism was quite essentialist in this period, or at least it was criticised for being so. Part of the issue was that there was controversy (and a bit of an impasse) over what kinds of radical changes were required and how these might be achieved.

Marge Piercy Woman on the Edge of Time is a novel (from an anarcho-feminist perspective) that explores some of this (and involves men having babies). Other early texts are Susan Griffin's Woman and Nature and Pornography and Silence as well as Dworkin's Woman Hating, Our Blood and Pornography. Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex is another perspective (I doubt she'll find many friends here - she argued that women needed to stop having babies). I think that Millett's Sexual Politics might have been one of the first Rad Fem texts? Of course there were mixed collections such as 'Notes from the First (second and third) years in which different perspectives developed. UK feminists were more likely to be writing about elements of social class and feminism (Mitchell, Rowbotham) although Spender and Oakley tended towards being more 'radical'. Many UK and French feminists also wrote about domestic labour and the impact this has on a more public division of labour, power and status. Friedan is of course the seminal lib fem text. It was an exciting time. Then it all went pomo and confusing.

Of course, this is a snapshot only.

makeourfuture Thu 12-Jan-17 09:53:55

"Lots of people say now they want to overthrow the capitalist system. But you can't do that."

Qwerty, it is of great interest. Thinking of the financial crisis, there were many who said that the financial industry should be left to fail. If you think of the invisible hand....they should have been.

But what would have happened? I don't know if we would be here talking about it.

It perplexes me...and I think at other times we could rely on muddling through....but I'm not sure, given the nature of our interconnected world and the finite nature of resources that we can keep on doing nothing.

SomeDyke Thu 12-Jan-17 10:09:27

YAS, great summary.

But if anyone can explain what Monique Wittig and her statement that lesbians aren 't women, then I'd be very grateful. Every time I think I've grasped what she meant, then my understanding slips away. Course, I'm old-school and expect stuff to mean stuff and be comprehensible................

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