Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Greanville Post • Vol. IX | Reinventing Socialist Politics

‘There is no Alternative Unless We Build One’

Ingo Schmidt

The varied left histories dating back to the long 19th century gained momentum during the tumultuous first decades of the 20th century and for some time after. They came to an end, at one point or another, between the military coup in Chile (1973), the elections of Margaret Thatcher (1979) and Ronald Reagan (1981), the political u-turns by Francois Mitterrand (1986) and Deng Xiaoping and the collapse of Soviet communism (1991).

Since that time, communist parties in the West have shrunk to insignificance (with the partial exceptions of the French and Greek parties). Social democratic parties surrendered the countervailing power they had acquired during the long post-war boom to the imperatives of international competitiveness. New parties of the left that originally positioned themselves somewhere between social democracy and communism lost their points of reference and have proven, thus far at least, unable to invent a socialism for a world after Soviet communism and social democratic welfare-states.

Social movements, often presenting themselves as more democratic and inclusive alternatives to party bureaucracies opportunistically chasing voters from all walks of life, in the case of social democracy, or, in the case of communists, claiming to be the vanguard of narrowly defined working classes, are in no better shape than the parties of the left. When they were new decades ago now, they could legitimately claim to voice the concerns of social strata – women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, and sexual minorities – excluded from the welfare-state bargain. It is also thanks to the new social movements that the ecological destruction that was one of the prices to be paid for prosperity and welfare-state expansion became an issue even staunch earth-haters can’t ignore. However, rather than forging one pluralistic and democratic movement, the new social movements quickly splintered into multitudes of single-issue campaigns. Ironically, in many cases, their professed anti-statism served as an entry ticket into an emerging NGO-world picking up the pieces from a welfare state already under siege from neoliberal anti-statism. At the same time, grassroots initiatives became more and more dependent on activists with a background in left party politics.

A List of Failures

More recent attempts to build a movement of movements, the approach suggested by the World Social Forum and its regional offspring, initially created much excitement. But they proved unable to sustain momentum. Massive mobilizations in the short-run, from the February 15, 2003 demonstrations against the war in Iraq to the Arab Spring and Occupy, shouldn’t conceal the fact that, at this historical juncture, social movements in themselves neither represent significant countervailing powers nor an alternative project to neoliberal capitalism.

Complete story at - The Greanville Post • Vol. IX | Reinventing Socialist Politics

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