What is a 'Progressive'?

We often hear the use of the term 'progressive' as applied to a socio-political position or belief.  However, it is extremely rare to find someone in modern society who understands the history of the term, a problem exacerbated by others adopting the term in ignorance.

So, what is a 'progressive' in the modern socialist sense?

To understand this term, one must be familiar with Marx and Engels' 'Communist Manifesto' and Marx's 'Das Kapital'.  Essentially, Marx outlined an evolutionary path for economic systems.  Being obsessed by economic class and economic 'production', Marx used the terms 'mode of production'.

Marx believed that economic evolution in the modern world would follow a linear path from Feudalism to Capitalism (Liberalism) to Socialism.  He hypothesised that the 'Capitalist mode of Production' would result in crises that would be resolved by the emergence of a new mode of production, the 'Socialist mode of Production'. 

Movement along Marx's path of economic evolution was deemed 'progressive' and those who believed his hypothesis to be reflective of future reality were labelled 'progressives'.

In a less pedantic context, 'progressives' were those who accept the bulk of Marx's philosophy, primarily the division of humanity into oppressor and oppressed, the rejection of religious belief and the 'egalitarian universalism' that stems from it.  A wide range of extreme leftist ideology falling out of Marxist thought labels someone 'progressive'. 

When the spontaneous revolution of the working class failed to materialise, Marxism split into three primary branches, Marxism-Leninism (Bolshevism), Fascism and Maoism, or variations on these three movements.  The title 'progressive' was claimed by all prior to WWII and, despite notable conflicts, there was broad agreement between the groups that they were ‘socialist brothers in arms’, evidenced by Lenin’s support of Benito Mussolini and Stalin’s support of Mao.  In the US, FDR expressed considerable support for Mussolini while his wife Elanor was broadly supportive of Stalin.  There was plenty of sibling rivalry between fellow socialists, but all were progressives pushing one version of socialism or another.

Post WWII, when the identity politics of the Frankfurt School became more widely accepted, progressivism remained the title given to those pushing these newer socialist movements and, subsequently, the post-modernist movement that evolved from them.  Modern progressives remain the vanguard of socialist activism, despite the naïve adoption of the word ‘progressive’ by political movements of genuinely liberal, and therefore anti-socialist and anti-progressive, foundations.

Of course, the ultimate irony of all this is that modern Socialism is little more than a modern variation on tribal feudalism, rendering Marx's linear evolution a circle.  'Progress' along Marx's evolutionary path actually results in a return to feudalism in a slightly modernised form, a massive 'regress' from the advances of liberalism.

Poor Marx, caught in the old 'one step forward and two steps back', the story of anti-liberal reactionaries everywhere.

Anyway, it is also worth noting the use of the term 'progressive' as an adjective attached to another political label.  For example, in Canada, the term 'Progressive Conservative' emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.  All this indicates is a move from a more classically conservative ideology toward liberalism as Canada's 'Liberal' parties abandoned liberalism for democratic socialism, primarily of Petainist fascist influence at the Federal level.  Between the 1957 election and the 1968 election, the Liberal Party of Canada moved from being Canada's centre-right liberal party, to electing a committed Petainist leader and moving to the centre-left.  Ironically, the Canadian Conservatives, which in 1957 were Canada's centre-left party, moved right under increasing liberal influence and occupied the centre-right by the early 1970s.  However, true liberalism largely faded from influence in Canada for several decades, re-emerging briefly in the mid-2000s, with Paul Martin (Liberal Party) pushing his party back toward economic liberalism and Steven Harper (Conservative Party) building the first predominantly liberal policy platform in Canada in nearly 50 years.

That's why the modern term 'fiscally conservative' is a pointless complication.  The simple term 'liberal' would do nicely, and is 100% accurate.  It is the growing realisation of what 'progressive' means in a political context that has led to many classically liberal political parties dropping the term entirely.

The use of the term 'progressive' in the modern sense simply implies the antithesis of any sort of true 'progress' and actually signifies the slow replacement of modern civilisation with prehistoric tribal barbarism.  Of course, every 'progressive' believes they're embracing a 'new' idea, completely oblivious to the fact that all their 'new' ideas date back to antiquity and that 99.9% of them are just as terrible as they were when two cave dwellers first sketched them out in the dirt with a stick.

In conclusion, the term 'progressive' provides an excellent example of a trend in which the adherents of political ideologies wishing to return to pre-modern tribal, patrimonial or oligarchic economic and social structures adopt seemingly positive terms to describe a movement or idea that is decidedly regressive or reactionary.  In this case, 'progressive' describes a desire to adopt an economic and social structure functionally identical to tribal feudalism, where the majority of the population occupy a legal status indistinguishable from serfdom.

Reading List:

'Communist Manifesto' - Marx & Engels

'Das Kapital' - Marx

Last Edited - 14 Jan 19