The most important “conversion” in my life was not religious but political. This is the story of how I came to be a radical leftist, committed to the goal of ending injustice and tearing down oppressive power-structures, and why I am convinced that radical leftism is the only hope for the future of humanity.
I’m an unlikely leftist. Just four years ago I identified as a libertarian conservative, and publicly supported the Conservative Party. Those so inclined can probably find my name in an old edition of a student newspaper, in connection with an election scandal in the Oxford University Conservative Association. I even once attended an event at the Heritage Foundation. I would never have predicted that, a few years down the line, I would be a committed socialist and a campaigner against immigration controls. So how did my outlook change so radically?
My Friedman-reading libertarian years were not wholly wasted. Granted, I now think that libertarian economics is hopelessly naïve at best, naked class warfare at worst, and that libertarianism as an ideology primarily serves the class interests of the wealthy. But it was libertarianism, despite being a flawed paradigm, which first made me interested in immigrants’ rights, combating police brutality and abuse of power, ending the War on Drugs, and other issues which I would now regard as fundamental social justice issues. In particular, I came to realize that the system of immigration control is indefensible and barely comprehensible: why should we discriminate against people, much less detain them in degrading conditions and subject them to violence, merely because of where they were born? This is a conviction which I carry to the present day, and which underlies my unequivocal support for immigrants’ rights.
My drift away from libertarianism towards the radical left was a gradual process. I slowly came to realize that the violent state oppressions I opposed were intricately interlinked with capitalism, that capitalism itself was created and sustained by state violence, and that the libertarian mythos, appealing as it was, often served as a pretext for policies which further marginalized the poor. I have to give much of the credit to Jadehawk, and to another internet friend who goes by the name strange gods before me, for my deconversion from libertarianism. Many of the other commenters at Pharyngula, and a number of other people, online and offline, also played a role in my changing outlook. This shift also occurred against a backdrop of political change in Britain: the Conservatives came to power in May 2010, and implemented harsh, ideologically-driven austerity policies which have served to make life harder for the poorest and most marginalized people. I slowly realized that despite the promises of its proponents, a capitalist philosophy can never be a philosophy of liberation. It only leads to the concentration of more wealth and power in the hands of the most privileged. And it also does not account for the impending environmental crisis: a capitalist, growth-focused model of economics can never respond effectively to the devastating threat of climate change.
Libertarians are wrong about economics, but they are, I think, right to be suspicious of a strong centralized state, and to point out that our governments are guilty of repression and racist violence on a grand scale, at home and abroad. That is why my political inclination is now towards the anarcho-socialist tradition: a decentralized economy, in which the means of production are controlled by democratic worker collectives. And radical leftism must also be intersectional. Class is not the only axis of oppression; we should also understand the realities of institutionalized racism, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and ableism, and how these inequalities intersect with one another. And we should be dedicated to ending all of the oppressive power-structures that exist in society, not just classism.
It is also important that the voices of the privileged – white Western middle-class cisgender men, like me – should not be the dominant force in the debate. I am not qualified to speak firsthand about the experience of oppression, marginalization or poverty, and I possess no special wisdom on those subjects. Although I am bisexual, an atheist, and a sufferer from mental illness, I do not speak for all of the people who fall into these groups. And although I have chosen, as a lawyer and activist, to work with asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants, I certainly have no right to speak for them in the political arena, and my voice should not drown theirs out. That is why I seek to promote the work of grassroots activist organizations such as the Movement for Justice, organized by and for immigrants campaigning for immigrants’ rights and racial justice. For me, standing in solidarity is not just about knowing when to talk, but about knowing when to listen.
My younger self was, at times, very wrong and very foolish. And of course I am still quite capable of being wrong and foolish. Learning and changing are integral parts of the human condition, and I claim no special wisdom. But I want to take this opportunity to thank those who helped me to recognize the ways in which my own privilege previously blinded me to the oppression of others.