James Innes-Smith

No more echo chambers: the internet’s best left-wing thinkers

No more echo chambers: the internet's best left-wing thinkers
Yanis Varoufakis (Photo: Getty)
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As culture and politics become ever more polarised, it's tempting to retreat into the reassuring hum of our own echo chambers and positive feedback loops. But this reluctance to engage with 'the other side' can only corrode civil discourse. As regular readers of The Spectator will know, listening to opposing views in good faith allows us to test our convictions, or as Bertrand Russell put it, 'those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.' 

In these hyper-partisan times, it's not surprising perhaps that there are so few platforms where opposing intellectual heavyweights can go head to head — who wouldn’t want to see Douglas Murray and Paul Mason debate identity politics for instance? But it is possible to see what the other side is up to. So cast aside your prejudices and dive into these left-leaning videos and podcasts. The sentiments might not be agreeable to every listener but you'll certainly have better, more informed arguments once you're done. 

Paul Mason 

Self-confessed 'leftist activist' and former Channel 4 economics editor Paul Mason was once a member of the Workers' Power Group. He has since distanced himself from Trotskyist politics and now identifies with a 'radical social democracy'. He has praised Marx's humanism and believes in moderating inequality and championing workers’ rights through 'networks' rather than 'hierarchies'. Often seen videoing himself at anti-racism marches he is in favour of state suppression of fascist groups. As an economist, Mason has little faith in the free market and questions the very idea of private ownership. His YouTube channel is packed with urgent calls to action and he has plenty to say about Covid and why Labour lost the last election. 

Happiness: Marxism vs Capitalism with Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek debates the virtues of Marxism with clinical psychologist and pro-capitalist Jordan Peterson. The discussion, although lively, never descends into cheap shots and is full of fascinating insights into the nature of human happiness and the various ways in which we strive for a better life. Enjoy 2.45 hours in the company of two of our most colourful public intellectuals. On a similar theme, you should watch Christopher Hitchens' eloquent 1986 Ayn Rand debate. 

Reasons to be Cheerful with Ed Miliband

Ed Milliband, Image: Getty

Billed as a 'cheerful space for optimism and progressive ideas' ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband is joined by radio presenter Geoff Lloyd to explore the 'ideas, people and movements solving the biggest challenges facing society'. Together their aim is to tackle pressing issues of the day head-on. Recent episodes include a discussion about big tech censoring and another on the benefits of flexible working hours. The pair also talk to policy-makers, experts, campaigners, academics and thinkers about a range of topics including climate and ecological breakdown, income and wealth inequality, social care, racial injustice, systemic bias and land reform. 

Talking Politics with David Runciman and Helen Thompson

Covering everything from history to economics, philosophy to fiction, Cambridge academics David Runciman and Helen Thompson try to make sense of the current political and cultural climate. Invited guests discuss the ideas and events shaping the modern world. Economist Diane Coyle and professor of European politics Anand Menon try to pin down the long-term consequences of Brexit while historian Jill Lepore ponders the events of 6 January and asks whether the invasion of the Capitol building was nothing short of an insurrection. 

Thoughts for the Post 2008 World with Yanis Varoufakis

Yanis Varoufakis, Image: Getty

After serving as Minister of Finance under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Greek economist and politician Yanis Varoufakis founded the left-wing political party MeRA25 in 2018. A leading advocate of the universal basic income Varoufakis has authored several best selling books including Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present and Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe's Deep Establishment. His website 'Thoughts for the Post 2008 World' contains a wealth of material including a lively video of Varoufakis debating with Republican senator John Bolton about the likelihood of global stability in a world mired by an escalating climate emergency and a new Cold War between the West and China. Anyone interested in the fate of Julian Assange should watch Brian Eno, Ken Loach, Roger Waters, Frank Barat, Stefania Maurizi and Varoufakis discuss what the unfolding drama means for the future of free speech. 

Novara Media with Ash Sarkar and Hari Kunzru

From a crisis of capitalism to racism and climate change, the controversial Novara Media website contains dozens of videos and audios from leftist thinkers as well as firebrands such as Ash Sarkar (who famously confessed to being 'literally a communist'). Writer Hari Kunzru discusses the alt-right and red pilling and there's an illuminating examination of 'progressive elitism' with co-founder of Novara James Butler and writer Eliane Glaser. Rather than seeking to moderate between two sides of a debate, Novara 'actively intends to feed back into political action'. One for the truly intrepid.

Best of the Left 

An award-winning US podcast dealing in progressive politics and culture drawn from over a hundred different sources. Established in 2006 the forum features a smorgasbord of leftist ideas including most recently a discussion about how white supremacy turned the GOP base into an out of control Frankenstein's monster. Also worth listening to is a 2019 conversation in which various guests debate the rise and inevitable fall of neo-liberalism.