DPP presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) recently gave a lecture at the London School of Economics entitled, "Taiwan's New Middle Way," on the invitation of Anthony Giddens, its director. The London School of Economics is a top ranked academic institute in Britain, and it is an honor for Chen, who is trying to develop his international standing, to be invited.
Giddens is a renowned sociologist and is rumored to be Prime Minister Tony Blair's favorite intellectual. A few years ago, Giddens, who is no stranger to Marxism, observed that although communism is discredited, support for capitalism is also waning. He began to think of a "third way" that is neither right nor left that which could guide us in new historical circumstances.
The twin legacy of the post-war Labour government and a decade of Thacherism has created the political context for the "third way" of Tony Blair's New Labour coalition. The policy allowed Blair to eject the ideological baggage of the Neil Kinnock, the party's previous chairman, and win the seat of prime minister.
The French Revolution and writings of Karl Marx have to a large extend shaped public values in Europe. Moreover, the Western European Left is closely linked with a socialism that eschews class struggle in favor for a more humanist approach to issues. The traditional Left in Europe has established welfare states to protect the disenfranchised, and advocate high taxes and industrial nationalization to combat the centralization of wealth. Tony Blair and New Labour are viewed as center-left, however, because they would like to reduce the role of the state in the economy and shift economic policy towards the center, in order to allow economic growth, which they see as being hampered by government.
The Left in Britain may be able to accept this revisionism, but the German Left will not take it sitting down. Chancellor Schroeder adopted policies similar to Tony Blair's in his bid to end Kohl's 16 year rule and claims that he and Blair are both promoters of a "new middle way," drawing sharp criticism from the left wing of the German Social Democratic Progressive Party. This is not a surprising reaction from a country in which the government's social spending makes up a full half of the nation's GDP. Leftist forces make up the mainstream of post-war intellectuals in Germany, including philosopher Jurgen Habermas and Nobel Prize author Gunter Grass. Schroeder will not be able to change Germany's political environment alone. At the summit of social-democratic leaders from around the world recently held in Italy, Schroeder stated that, "We are only interested in redefining the welfare state, not abolishing it," in a bid to win support from leftists in Germany.
Before Chen explains the details of "Taiwan's new middle way," perhaps he could tell us where the left-wing parties in Taiwan are hiding. The KMT, corroded to the core by "black-gold politics," obviously lacks the proper credentials, but the DPP, although considerably less corrupt, is also a far cry from being a party of the left. The media does not view the DPP as a leftist party, nor does the DPP does not try to paint itself as belonging to the left wing of politics in Taiwan. National pensions for the elderly may be the DPP's idea, but it is only a single policy proposal designed to win votes in the short-term. The DPP's position towards Taiwanese independence and its "boldly go west" (大膽西進) policy are clear, but the party has yet to enter into a debate over social policies, even though social inequality in Taiwan is actually on the increase. What is the DPP's stance on this issue? What about the impact on labor after Taiwan enters the WTO? These are issues that are related to equality and fairness, but only a few DPP legislators have voiced concern over them. The public's image of the DPP ends at calls for Taiwanese independence, and not without reason.
form over content
The fact that the DPP is not moving in a leftward direction is a good indication of the situation in Taiwan. Taiwan's "left" was virtually eradicated during the White Terror period in the 1950s, and the word "leftist" was virtually synonymous with "communist bandit." If you happened to have a few books by Karl Marx lying around your house, you'd be in trouble. Today, a decade after the lifting of Martial Law, the word "left" remains absent from Taiwan's vocabulary, and intellectuals are almost completely isolated from anything that even resembles the political left.
Taiwan is afflicted with a rightist disease, and it seems pointless to talk about a "new middle way" in Taiwan. Without the existence of a left-wing, there is no one to promote social policy. No wonder that in all the sound and fury of the presidential race, none of the candidates have mentioned anything about social welfare. The emergence of independent candidates is only the reflection of political opportunism, rather than an attempt to seek out real alternatives.
In Chen Shui-bian's autobiography The Son of Taiwan (台灣之子), he wrote that the "new middle way" refers to a way of bridging ethnic and political contradictions, as well as dealing with the thorny question of independence or unification for Taiwan. So what will Chen say if Giddens asks about the left in Taiwan?
Huang Juei-min (黃瑞明) is an assistant professor of labor relations at National Chung Cheng University.
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