Radical leftwingers must recognise ‘legitimate concerns’ or they’ll cause widespread destruction
Credit: Flickr   

There’s an old joke from the Soviet Union that goes something like this:

A man applies for permission to emigrate to West.

For this he is summoned to a meeting with a grim-faced apparatchik.

“So, Comrade, why is that you want to leave? Are you perhaps dissatisfied with the leadership of our glorious motherland? “

“I have no complaints, ” says the man.

“Well, then, is it your job you’re unhappy with?”

“I have no complaints. “

“What about the housing we’ve provided you with?”

“I have no complaints.”

The apparatchik continues to challenge him, but each time comes the same reply: “I have no complaints.”

“So why do you want to live in the West?”

“I would like to have some complaints.”

Writing in the New Statesman, Helen Lewis observes that, in our own time and place, the hard left doesn’t just discourage complaints, but also legitimate concerns:

“There’s a meme on Twitter among the what I think of as the Woke Left :  a group that’s hard to define, but one you might associate with some or all of the following concepts: open borders, tone policing, privilege, ‘sex work is work’, no platforming, Corbynism.

“The meme is this. You put heavy quote marks around the phrase “legitimate concerns”  –  maybe make it “““legitimate concerns””” if you really want to have them rolling in the aisles  –  particularly when it comes to discussions of immigration. The implication is that there are no such things as legitimate concerns .”

By recognising, and in some cases sharing, legitimate concerns on matters like immigration and transgenderism, moderate leftwingers are standing in the way of a wrecking ball

Lewis sees this attempt to delegitimise legitimate concerns as a “dismissive rhetorical trick”:

“The… meme is very Twitter: snarky, a bit dickish, superior. I understand the impulse: sometimes the temptation to rebut an opponent’s point by turning it up to 11 is irresistible. The trouble is that it absolves you of the hard work of argument.”

Take the debate over immigration:

“If you truly believe that immigration doesn’t drive down wages, there is academic evidence available to back up that thesis. But you also have to engage with the fact that, as one political adviser once put it, ‘voters don’t live their lives in the macro’.”

But why bother dealing with the complexities of the issue when you can simply label anyone who disagrees with you – however mildly – as a bigot?

Similar tactics are played out elsewhere:

“The same dynamic is now apparent with transgender issues. A big debate has opened up about the relationship between biological sex and cultural gender, and how that should be inscribed in law. The left, by and large, is ducking it  –  using the same put-downs as it did with immigration.

“Want to talk about how letting people self-define their gender might affect female-only spaces such as prisons and changing rooms? Then you’re a bigot, cloaking your bigotry in the language of ‘legitimate concerns’.”

But is it solely a case of intellectual laziness? I fear it’s much worse than that:

The “woke left” is one variety of the radical left – and what they all have in common is the totality of their opposition to the status quo. They see nothing good in it and seek to destroy it completely. It’s a point well made by Donald W Livingston in the American Conservative:

“The conservative political tradition is usually thought to begin with Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke observed that the Revolution did not aim at reforming society but at overturning the entire social and political order and replacing it with one grounded in man’s natural ‘reason.’ He offered this quote from a leader in the National Assembly: ‘All the establishments in France crown the unhappiness of the people: to make them happy they must be renewed, their ideas, their laws, their customs, words changed … destroy everything; yes destroy everything; then everything is to be renewed.’

“Burke saw that total criticism demands total transformation, which demands total control.”

Of course, Helen Lewis and her centre-left colleagues at the New Statesman are not conservatives. But that won’t save them from anathematisation by the zealots.

By recognising, and in some cases sharing, legitimate concerns on matters like immigration and transgenderism, moderate leftwingers are standing in the way of a wrecking ball.

From our 'The Rise of the Global Left' series

How the Left conquered social media

By Helen Lewis