Wed, Sep 21, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Politicians, heed the rising call of the left

By Chang Tieh-chih 張鐵志

While meeting with representatives from the Alliance of Fairness and Justice (泛紫聯盟) on Sept. 7, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said that he was ashamed of the KMT's shift toward the right, for when it was originally established its political position was left of center.

To further elucidate Ma's statement, it is necessary to point out that apart from the socialist coloring of Sun Yat-sen's (孫逸仙) political philosophy, the party's actual policies have always leaned to the right. It espoused the right-wing ideology of capitalism when it was in power in China, party-state capitalism during the authoritarian era in Taiwan and plutocracy in the 1990s. In all his years as a politician, Ma has never been linked to the political left.

Moreover, as the chairman of a party that brutally cracked down on the nation's left-wing forces for several decades after the war, Ma's words were especially surprising. This shows that the political left has quietly gained a certain legitimacy in Taiwan.

In fact, in Western societies, left-wing politics represent fairness and social justice, and a distrust of the market as a mechanism for the distribution of resources. In Taiwan, powerful left-wing thinking and political forces existed during the Japanese colonial era. But the KMT rooted them out. On the other hand, over 50 years of KMT rule have entrenched economic development as the supreme ideology. In the name of this relentless development, the Taiwanese people have sacrificed not only their political freedom, but also their environment and many other basic social rights.

Even after democratization, the nation is still haunted by the ghost of the KMT's "developmentism." Not only is this idea deeply rooted in national policies and systems, but it has confined the public and the ideology of the now governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). For example, the government continues to boost investment by preferential tax cuts, disregarding the increase of fiscal deficits and the fairness of income distribution.

Ironically, Taiwan's democratization failed to challenge the core of the existing economic policy. Although the DPP did not come up with complete social and economic policies before it came to power in 2000, the party was generally believed "center-left" at that time. When it first took office, it proposed several welfare policies and intended to push for national pensions. But after the economic downturn in 2001, it lost its leftist credentials, and could not even be considered a "new centrist party."

Meanwhile, the public has remained conservative. Many people even choose a good economy over democracy in polls asking what they value the most.

Such developmentism is finally being challenged. Thanks to protests by social groups, the tax system that favors the rich and the uneven distribution of income have been put in the spotlight. The government's so-called "second financial reform" forced white-collar banking employees who originally lacked class consciousness to take to the streets. The employee strike at the state-run Taiwan Business Bank (台灣企銀) also demonstrated the power of labor to challenge the government's economic policies.

Obviously, a new social force is growing. As today's social conflicts expand, left-wing concepts have started to re-enter Taiwan's mainstream opinion. History tells us that the call of the left rises when people begin to realize that the political and economic structure of their country is unjust.

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