The third book of Kagarlitsky I recommend, The Return of Radicalism (Pluto Press 2000), was written around the same period as the previous two (New Realism, New Barbarism and The Twilight of Gloablization). In this volume Kagarlitsky examines the decline of the trade union movement in the West and the rapid growth of unions in the developing world en new industrial countries. He also analyses the left in its broad sense, from the post-modernists to the Zapatistas in Mexico.
In his introduction Kagarlitsky points out that the historical struggle between capitalism and the so-called communist system unquestionably ended in the victory of capitalism, despites its own crisis. “But however deep the crisis of capitalism, the crisis of the left movement is even deeper. Demoralization and conscious treachery, the opening of a broad gulf between the ‘left’ political class and the workers, a lack of new ideas and the bureaucratic degeneration of the old organizations –these are merely a few of the visible systems of this crisis,” confirming everything we wrote about this question. In the 1990’s the collapse of communist parties was followed by a crisis in social democratic parties; “By the end of the decade they had recovered in electoral terms but not politically,’ says Kagarlitsky. “Ironically, it was in Eastern Europe where the electoral left made its fastest come-back.”
“The greatest problem has been the powerlessness of the radical forces, which are incapable of placing the centre-left under noticeable pressure. Every ‘left government today encounters very strong pressure from the right –from the bourgeoisie, from international financial institutions and from corrupt bureaucrats. Only rarely it comes under pressure from the left. Even where the mass movement makes its presence felt, the left parties, with few exceptions, are incapable of providing the movement with strategic perspectives, or of becoming its political expression.” These lines, written more than a decade ago, are still valid today. Furthermore, “New Left formations typically define themselves in relation to regional, continental and global issues rather than mainly to the sphere of national political life: ecology, migrant labour, anti-racism and anti-militarism being the main concerns.” As to the Green Parties, they “gradually are losing their identity as a radical force without acquiring a real reformist culture.”
“The crisis of the left movement is usually seen as having three causes: the disintegration of the ‘communist bloc’; globalization; and the technological revolution. It is true that these developments have made it impossible for the left to remain as it was. But in the new conditions, the need for a radical anti-capitalist alternative has become greater, not less.”
“As for the technological revolution, it had not led to the supplanting of the old economic and social order by the virtual economy of the network society,” argues Kagarlitsky, “All that has happened is that new economic and social structures have been superimposed on the old, complicating all the processes involved and making them harder to manage. (…) While we are promised that industrial workers will disappear as a class, on the scale of the planet as a whole, their numbers are increasing. Meanwhile, huge numbers of people (…) trying to make a living from the most primitive, unskilled types of work. (…) They are part of a growing army of economic ‘informals’, an army that is constantly gaining new battalions, from post-Soviet ‘shuttle traders’ to Latin American and Arab street vendors.”
Then follows some quotes as if the author had this reviewer in mind: “People sitting at computers doing clean jobs, perhaps not even leaving their homes while they immerse themselves in the Internet, at times simply refuse to notice this mass of ‘unmodernised’ human beings. (…) The techno-elite hopes that in the near future, as resources increase, technology will make it possible to find answers to all the accumulated problems, resolve all the contradictions and simply perform an upgrade on all the people who have remained ‘outside the bounds of progress’. (…) And the arrogant post-modernist intellectuals don’t want to recognize that there is a growing number of people who will never swallow their theories.”
“Several generations were needed for technological modernization to be organically assimilated. A peasant became an industrial worker, while his or her descendants gained an education and became engineers, representatives of the new middle-class, and finally came to make up the backbone of today’s technological elite. Economic progress was perceived as a natural precondition for social progress, and everyday experience confirmed this. The labour movement rested on a natural social dynamic: upward mobility for the representatives of the ‘lower classes’ increased simultaneously with the development of industry. The self-confident evolutionary optimism of social democracy was based on historical experience.
“By the late twentieth century the Industrial Revolution had exhausted itself, and capitalism made a new technological break-through that showed how naïve the technological optimism of the preceding generations had been.” Unlike machinery, people are not a resource that can simply be loaded onto aircraft and transported from one place to another: “They love their homes, their languages, their countries. Why should people have to move to where there is work? Why cannot the work be moved to where there are people? (…) Success, mobility and the ability to make one’s own choices are becoming privileges of the inhabitants of the ‘top floor’. Life on the bottom floors is no longer either interesting, or capable of providing people with self-respect. There is no ardour, nothing to strive for. The technological elite is not in the least hostile to everyone else. It is criminally indifferent to them.”
“Under the conditions of globalization and technological revolution, capitalism acts increasingly as a destructive force, disrupting natural social bonds and relationships, including those that are essential for the stability of capitalism itself. The left, by contrast, is destined to become an integrating social force, counterposing to the logic of fragmentation its own logic of collectivism and solidarity. (…) The left is afraid to speak of redistribution, when redistribution is becoming a question of life and death for society. Everything has to become redistributed from the top down – technology, resources, money, knowledge.”
“A renewal of the left depends on the readiness of leftists to challenge the prevailing norms and principles. These principles appear unshakeable precisely because no one has the resolve to dispute them. The logic of capitalism seems ‘natural’ because no one calls it into question. For all the monstrous problems and empirical proof that another social logic was possible besides that of capitalism. In effect, the collapse of the Soviet system made the left forget everything it had known until then. Everything now has to be learnt over again, and there is little time available. (…) The left has to recognize its responsibility as a force calling not only for more just distribution of wealth and a more democratic state, but also for the preservation of society, of civilization as such. (…) Ultimately, all the problems have their roots in the historical limitations of capitalism. These problems will not be solved without a comprehensive transformation of society.”
“The left-wing politicians of the neo-liberal epoch are like those bishops of the late Roman Empire. They owe their success tot their earlier radical preaching, but they themselves no longer believe in it.” (…) There is very little to admire in the really existing left. (…) Often the forces that challenge social democracy from the left are themselves gradually becoming social-democratized, but this is not always irreversible. The left is entering a period of historical re-foundation.”
Few will disagree with the statement that “More and more often, the trade unions themselves figured in popular consciousness not as the embodiment of the might of organized labour, but as a ineffectual, conservative, bureaucratized and in some cases corrupt formations.” There are several reasons for that. There is the decline in trade union members. The unions failed to implant themselves to a significant degree in the growing high-technology sectors. “In the West, the 1980s and 1990s have been above all a time of enormous technological change. Computerization and robotization have brought a dramatic reduction of employment in many fields. (…) Paradoxically, it is by no means always the case that the computerization of production imposes increased demands on the worker. On the contrary, the appearance of modern equipment may mean that the level of qualifications require of workers may even fall. This means not only increased unemployment, but also a reduction in workers’ self-esteem, and an increase in their dependence on employers.”
“Trade unions have always thought of themselves above all as organizations of the industrial working class. While the number of industrial workers in Western countries is shrinking, an increase is occurring in the number of people employed the area of services (… ) Employment is also increasing in the financial sector, and in the systems of management and marketing. Finally more and more people are accepting part-time employment, working at home or performing work simultaneously for several employers. All these categories of workers have their particular interests and problems, but the traditional forms of trade union organization, orientated towards large-scale industry, do not suite them.”
“The trade union movements in Third World countries have also entered into crisis. (…) The Filipino trade union movement lacks a ‘motive force’, while locally based actions cannot make up for the lack of a strategy.”
“A third factor has been the decline of the ‘welfare state’. (…) With the beginning of the area of neo-liberalism and with the victory of the west in the Cold War, this situation has finally vanished into the past. The social revenge of the bourgeoisie has made dismantling the system of social welfare one of the authorities’ main concerns. In this situation, trade unions are being transformed from partners of the state into ‘obstacles to the implementation of reforms’, or even into enemies. (…) Changes in the policies of the sate have in themselves been a cause of the decline of trade unions”. (…) And the ideological crisis of the left has been another factor weakening the trade union. The collapse of communism struck a mighty blow against all types of left ideology and all forms of the worker’s movement, including trade unions.
Kagarlitsky sees also the globalization of enterprises as an important factor in the decline of the trade unions: “(This) has distanced the representatives of wage workers from the centres of decision-making, to the point where the latter have become almost ‘virtual’. It is now increasingly rare for trade unionists to come face to face with a real director.”
In the next pages, he looks closer at the trade unions in Russia, South Korea, South Africa and Latin America and Europe, France in particular. On the basis of these experiences, he pleads for a change of the concept of unionism. “The class struggle has its own dynamic, which depends on the social-economic processes, on the evolution of workers’ organizations, and on the spontaneous development of workers’ consciousness. Suring the second half of the 1990s a new generation, that had not experienced the shock of previous failures and is free from old ideological stereotypes, has entered the labour market. (…) In order to play an appropriate role in changing society, trade union organizations are going to have to change as well. Solidarity acquires another meaning in the times of globalization when workers must be organized and struggles coordinated internationally. However, it is totally wrong to expect a new militant response to globalization to emerge at the international level without radical transformation and strengthening of the labour movement on a national level.”
“Under present-day conditions the trade unions will be able to fulfil their role only if their own structures reflect the processes occurring in the world of labour. It is clear that the problems which the trade unions are facing are not only external. Centralized, bureaucratized and in some cases completely undemocratic, the structures of the traditional trade unions are becoming an anachronism. If the trade unions are becoming genuinely representative organs, they still need to pass through the difficult and perhaps lengthy process of self-reform. The social base of the trade union organizations also needs to undergo changes.”
“A purely representative trade union will inevitably rest on a passive loyal membership, and is unlikely to succeed in becoming a force facilitating profound changes. It is precisely the representative tendency that is dominant today in the trade union movement in Eastern Europe and a significant part of the West. It would, however, be premature to state that this is where the future of trade unions lies. Another crucial problem is the need to overcome the divisions between ‘white-collar’ and blue-collar’ workers.”
“New technologies require new organizational forms. When transnational corporations use the mobility of capital as a weapon for lowering wages, it becomes essential to unite workers not on the basis of enterprises and workshops, but according to technological sectors or regions. Also essential are transnational labour unions. (…) The working class of the late nineteenth century consisted primarily of white males engaged in physical labour. Modern-day workers may be Christians or Muslims, men or women, white or black; they may work with a computer or with a spade. Modern trade unions have to find what unites these people, have to become organs reconciling their interests. In the conditions of the late twentieth century the democratization of the trade unions has become impossible without their feminization, without changes to their culture, traditions and membership base. (…) Modern working masses need unions not only to protect their interests, but, even more, to establish themselves as a social force.”
“The weakening of ties to social democracy does not by any means signify that the trade unions becoming depoliticized, or that they are shifting to liberal positions. On the contrary, it seems that we are witnessing the first steps toward a ‘new political unionism’. The essence of this lies in the fact that the trade unions are ready to intervene actively in politics from radical positions, relying less and less on the mediating function of the traditional workers’ parties.”
“The traditional ideology of the labour movement assumed that centralization and discipline made workers stronger in the face of the class enemy. The history of the twentieth century shows that centralized structures have been used precisely in order to bind workers to a bureaucratic compromise that is against their interests”.
“Finally, the globalization of the economy is forcing the trade unions to concern themselves with new forms of international solidarity. The decisive role here will be played not by contacts between leaders in various forms, but by the development of direct ‘horizontal’ links between trade union organizations and activists within the framework of one corporation or sector. Modern technology makes this possible. Even today one can speak of the birth of a system of global trade union communications. To a significant degree this is happening spontaneously, regardless of decisions taken by trade union hierarchs. Sooner or later this development will make its effects felt throughout the whole area of trade union organizing, creating new democratic possibilities.”
In the market place, the customer ceased long ago to be the central figure says Kagarlitsky. “What is purchased is no longer a good, but a trademark, an mage, a reputation. Something similar is happening in politics. The simple old formula of ‘class struggle’, ‘social transformation’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘popular power’ are becoming ‘old-fashioned’ not because they are remote from the needs of present-day humanity, but because they are forced onto a subordinate level by new ideas formulated so as to accord exactly with the principles of modern advertising. New goods have to keep appearing constantly on the market, not because consumers need them, (they do not even know about them yet), but because the whole system of commercial propaganda would otherwise lose its motive force. The more the field of ideas becomes a sphere of commerce, and the more it is penetrated by the criteria and the demands of the market, the more kaleidoscopic are the shifts of ideological fashion.”
“Whether we like or not, the ideological revolution of the 1960s provided the starting point for this process. (… The degeneration of social democracy and the disappearance of the revolutionary left helped ensure the success of a respectable bourgeois radicalism, reflecting the needs and tastes of the educated middle-class. (…) Postmodernism provided leftists with the chance to free themselves from the need for a complex strategy, for an integrated worldview, and for definitive evaluations. (…) The ideology of social revolution was put off until the future, while self-affirmation allowed people to live in the present.”
On the notion ‘working class’, Kagarlitsky says the following: “the world of labour is becoming less and less homogeneous, and old concepts of ‘the working class’ have therefore to be re-examined. (…)
It is hard to exaggerate the intellectual shock which socialists suffered as a result of the postmodernist critique. The victors seized the field of battle almost without resistance. But after finishing on top in the struggle against left-wing traditionalism, postmodernist ideology ran up against its own internal contradictions. Identity politics became possible thanks to the ideological decay of socialism, as a result of which the only real alternative to the dominant neo-liberalism appeared to be a sort of radical liberalism.”
Kagarlitsky claims that the divorce between the left intelligentsia and the masses had become an accomplished fact in most Western countries by the mid 1950s. “Intellectuals have a natural desire to be radical; this is how they prove their superiority over the ‘grey’ masses, whether these masses are bourgeois, proletarian or consumerists. (...) No less natural is the human longing for a comfortable existence within the framework of the system –the system on which research funding, academic posts and publication in prestigious journals might well depend.”
“Repetition of the past is a natural phenomenon for an epoch of reaction. The problem, however, lies in the fact that the present repeat edition is noticeably inferior. The old radicalism paved the way for socialism; even if its protests were inconsistent, it was full of sincere enthusiasm in making them. Its cultural traditions found their continuation in communism, anarchism and modernist art.
“No one can accuse the 1990s style radicals of supporting traditional bourgeois values. There is no longer any need for them to do so. Symbolic, ritual protest against ‘traditional bourgeois values’ has become a market symbol in itself. It can be bought and sold. (…) In Eastern Europe this link between consumer capitalism, individualism and counter-cultural youth revolt has been even more obvious, since even in the 1960s this revolt was never aimed directly against capitalism. (…) Eastern Europe neoliberals represented the negation of the traditions of communism. Its ideology was simple, limited and attractive: money opens the way to a world of diversity, self-realization and freedom. The legalization of homosexuality in Russia coincided with the beginning of the transition to capitalism. Gat activism as a distinct movement did not exist here; if a certain politicization of homosexuals had taken place, this was exclusively within the framework of right-wing neo-liberal ideology.”
Capitalism has changed more than the conception which the left has of it. Kagarlitsky quotes Tom Frank, editor of the Chicago newspaper The Buffler: “Capitalism has changed dramatically since the fifties, but our understanding of how it is to be resisted hasn’t budged. As existential rebellion has become the more or less official style of Information Age capitalism, so has the countercultural notion of static, repressive Establishment grown hopelessly obsolete. However, the basic impulses of the countercultural idea may (and it is a big ‘may’) have disturbed a nation lost in Cold war darkness, they are today in fundamental agreement with the basic tenets of Information Age business theory. So close are they, in fact, that it has become impossible to understand the countercultural idea as anything more than the self-justifying ideology of the new dominant class that has arisen since the 1960s, the cultural means by which this group has proven itself ever so much better skilled than its slow-moving security-minded forebears at adapting to the accelerated, always changing consumerism of today. The anointed cultural opponents of capitalism are now capitalism’s ideologues.”
“The decline of the left movement, caused among other factors by the chronic gap between theory and practice, thought and action, led ultimately to the degeneration of intellectual criticism as well. In general, struggling with bourgeois morality made sense only in that blessed time when the bourgeois itself had a certain morality and certain principles part from extracting profit at any cost. (…) The bearers of the new ideas are already isolating themselves not only from the mass movement, but also from the significant sector of the intelligentsia that is perturbed by the crisis of education, the erosion of traditional democratic values and the deterioration of its own position in society.”
“For academic radicals, real political struggle has always been something alien, consisting at best of vicarious experiencing of the exploits and tragedies of others though the medium of ‘solidarity campaigns’. (…) However ‘solidarity campaigns’ have never been ‘anti-capitalist’. (…) Theory has a certain point only if it interprets and reinterprets concrete practice, instead of various (narratives’. Postmodernist Marxism has had no relationship to the changes that have occurred in the American trade unions. (…) While some people have theorized about the meaning of ‘anti-capitalist work’ and have tried to ‘re-imagine capitalism’, others have struggled against capitalism in practice. In the new system of reference points the ideological place of the proletariat, taking on itself the world-historic mission of liberating humanity, is occupied by oppressed groups and minorities –racial, religious, national and sexual. All are of equal worth and significance, and none can claim a ‘leading’ or ‘historic’ role. Nevertheless, women have a special place in the hierarchy of ‘minorities’, though strictly speaking they are a majority.”
“However, political success is as transient as fashion, especially if it is not consolidated through structural changes in society. The gains of feminism were placed in question by the neo-conservative wave of the 1990s. (…) It is significant that the Western feminism that was imported into the countries of the former Soviet bloc had no links with the revolutionary tradition of the Russian’s women’s movement of the early twentieth century, represented for example in the views and activity of Aleksandra Kollontai. …) For this reason (winning legal equality as the right to vote) the women’s movement of the 1920s was closely linked to the labour movement: it sought to improve the position of women by changing society. (…) Earlier the central idea was equality, now it is identity.”
Individualist Mass Movements
“Against the background of the overall crisis of left politics in the 1980s and 1990s, the problems arising out of the new social movements have not only gone unsolved, but have become much more profound” argues Kagarlitsky, using the green movement as an example. “The real environmental movement, however, has not made a rapprochement with socialism, but, on the contrary, had moved further away from it. The cause has been the weakness of the left parties themselves; these have sought less to rethink socialism through the prism of the environmental ideas than to hide themselves from these ideas. (…) The desire of many environmentalists to evade the question of capitalism and socialism has simply created political problems inside the movement.”
Also, “It is now difficult to find a party which calls openly for discrimination against women and for the destruction of nature; in this sense the ideas of feminism and environmentalism have really become hegemonic. Nevertheless, the destruction of nature continues, while the position of the majority of women has either failed to improve or has even deteriorated. (…) Many of the values of the new social movements could easily be co-opted by most parties, not just those on the left”, says Kagarlitsky quoting Sassoon. However, referring to Irina Glushchenko, he also points out that “When it comes to social programmes that would have immediate and significant economic impact –such as the expansion of cheap, high standard, child-care facilities – the gains made by women have been virtually non-existent. In other words, there is a fundamental gap between the readily fulfilled demands of the liberal ‘new feminism’ and the interests of the majority of workingwomen”.
“Feminism ignores these aspects of life, reducing everything to a mechanic opposition between women and men, instead of recognizing the complex issues of family hierarchies. In Soviet society it was difficult to speak of male authority, sine in most cases women played the major role in the family. (…) The problems of the patriarchal family are simply incomprehensible in the West, where the nuclear family has long since triumphed. (…) The presence of a combination of patriarchy and matriarchy, such as existed in Soviet society, means that phrases about male domination mean nothing in themselves. Patriarchal society is based on a system of mutual obligations. This system is not symmetrical, and its destruction often affects women more painfully than men. But in certain respects, it subjects men to very strict rules.
In bourgeois society private individuals are not bound by any obligations apart from legal ones. Their personal relationships as well are merely formal, or are based on mutual agreement. Everyone is free, and each must look out for himself or herself. However, a normal society cannot exist in such circumstances; the family, and ties with relatives, must be retained despite the triumph of individualism. In practice, bourgeois individualism has freed only men, reducing to a minimum their obligations toward family and kin.
For women, individualism has turned out to be an unattainable luxury. (…) Now, the question concerns the ability of women to share in a general way in the values and rights of individualism. But if this occurred on a broad scale, society would simply not survive. (…) Meanwhile, such demands have no point in a real patriarchal society, where collectivist relations have not yet been undermined by individualism. (…) One of the reasons for the rise of feminism is that men led an individualist way of life, and women a patriarchal one. (…) Hence western feminism (…) has broken decisively with the traditions of the earlier women’s movement. From struggling to change society, it has moved on to trying to bring about the more effective participation of women in the existing system, restructuring and modernizing the social elites. This feminism is not simply reformist, but bourgeois; it expresses the needs of women of the upper and middle classes.”
Then, Kagarlitsky moves east and takes a look at the women’s question from the point of view of the Zapatista’s in Mexico. “The initiatives of the Zapatista women have outstripped the feminist movement just as they have outstripped the left”, states the Paris journal Inprecor. ‘Their demands seem very simple, but they are fundamental.’ The Zapatista women merely demanded the right to choose their husbands themselves, and to take part in political life –rights which bourgeois women won almost a hundred years ago. But this movement, which challenged patriarchal traditions, was not the result of feminist propaganda. It arose of the needs of the oppressed –out of demands by women, and by men as well, that their human dignity be respected. (…) The ideology of Western feminism contradicts a traditional culture which is also an important token of identity for most of the population, including women. (…) It is essential to recognize that the specific concepts, methods and values of feminism themselves bear the stamp of social and cultural narrow-mindedness.”
“The discrimination against bourgeois women is not class-based, and is indeed aimed at maintaining, in pure form, the power of men within the elite. The discrimination against working women, by contrast, is often simply a means of ensuring the additional exploitation of cheap labour power (just as the labour of immigrants, for example, is exploited). In the first case counterposing men to women appears logical, but in the second it merely impedes the development of the solidarity that is essential if the problems of the oppressed are to be solved. “
The real differences
Traditional Marxism has been dominated by the idea of the uniformity imposed by the capitalist factory. (…) (The Jewish Bund) was one of the first left-wing organizations to be constructed not on a territorial but on an ethnic basis. (…) The Jewish worker’s organizations had its own distinctive features. While Russian and Ukrainian workers were concentrated in big plants, Jewish workers predominated in small workshops. He combination of ethnic with class solidarity made possible the rapid organization of a party, but the Bund later ran against severe problems. It could nit achieve its goals outside the broader social democratic movement, but within this movement it sought constantly to affirm its separate identity as “the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat.”
“Identity politics help to strengthen the existing situation. Despite its radical slogans, it is conservative and opportunist. The proponents of identity politics are convinced that, in speaking out against the oppression of their particular group, they are acting in the interests of general emancipation. The oppression however, is linked with division, which also reflects the identities that have been established. Politics that are aimed at crystallizing differences, and not at consolidating common interests, serve in practice to d-class hired workers. (…) The politics of emancipation must be aimed at going beyond the bounds of identities. The goal should not be to suppress these identities mechanically (which is impossible, since people are different, as is their cultural and social experience), but to surmount them, achieving unity on a higher level where differences of sex, education and skin colour become immaterial or secondary.”
“At the same time as middle-class feminists show little interest in the women who clean the floors in the offices, sturdy males in the trade unions prefer to have dealings with people who are like themselves. Millions of working women are left to fend for themselves.
The historical problem for socialism consists in the fact that, while expressing interests of the industrial working class, it has tried at the same time to be a movement defending the rights of all the oppressed. The theoretical basis for this was set out by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, where they speak of the proletariat as the most oppressed class, and therefore as capable of the most determined struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation. (…) But this broad social mission is also the source of problems and contradictions. Ultimately, it is from this that the initial impulse for replacing class politics with identity problems arises.”
The Marxist approach
“As long as the 1920s it was alleged that Marxism, through reducing social development to the struggles between classes, was ignoring the diversity of social and cultural life. Nikolai Bukharin in his prison manuscripts of 1937 tried to answer this criticism declaring that the problem could not be reduced to the counterposing of ‘diversity’ and ‘uniformity’. (…) Diversity in itself is neither a boon for society nor part of its ‘riches”’.
“Transforming a broad left movement into a totality of ‘specific’ movements does not guarantee even the support of the respective ‘specific’ groups, which are well able to find other means of self-organization and self-expression. That is needed is not a mechanical ‘unification’, but collaboration on the basis of a strategic initiative. Whatever we may think of spontaneity, someone has to take on the role of a vanguard. A strategic initiative does not mean returning to the Bolshevik concept of the vanguard party. What is involved is not the mechanical leadership by ‘specialized’ movements and ‘front organizations’, but the creation of new opportunities and prospects which various groups and forces will address independently. This activity has the potential to set up a resonance in society; it stimulates self-organization and an escalation of demands, as in the 1950s revolution in Russia, where there were revolutionary parties but no vanguard.
As the contradictions of identity politics become more and more obvious, the need emerges for inter-group and inter-ethnic solidarity. Some writers therefore try to suggest a new, broader approach.”
Kagarlitsky does not believe that a unification of all different kinds of minorities (ethnic, homeless, gays…) is the answer: “However radical such appeals may sound, all they express is the contradictory nature and lack of prospects of identity politics. First, the identities here are in reality products of the imagination, or the result of some conscious agreement between political activists; they van be arbitrarily refashioned in order to include (and consequently to exclude) particular categories of people. (…) Any bloc turns out to be a mechanical coalition of groups. In principle such coalitions can be neither durable nor effective. Much as it is necessary to defend the rights of oppressed groups, their problems are not of equal significance for society. Any serious strategy therefore presupposes that an attempt will be made to distinguish the main contradictions and general strategic tasks whose solving will open up the possibility of dealing with others as well. In other words, any strategy involves a hierarchy of goals. Contrary to the ideas of revolutionaries in the past, victory on one front does not automatically ensure victory on another.”
Hegemony and Postmodernist Strategy
“Capitalism is structured hierarchically as a society and as an economic system. And because of that some forms of oppression and domination are objectively more important for the reproduction of the bourgeois order than others. Some relations are essential for capitalism, others are not., some compose the core of the system, others its periphery. And because of that, different struggles simply cannot be strategically equal whether we like it or not.”
“Marxists view the contradiction between labour and capital as the central on, both for the reproduction of the system and for the emancipation struggle. This does not mean of course hat these struggles are not just. For those who suffer they may be much more important than other struggles waged to transform the world. But effective strategic unity cannot be achieved without formulating priorities. The truth of the matter is precisely that different interests and identities v-can’t be integrated mechanically and democratic equivalence at best will leave them coexisting peacefully, not converging. On the other hand, secondary interests cannot be simply subordinated to the primary ones. This is just another mechanical approach and, as the experience of the vanguardist parties shows, it will not work either.”
“Will socialism resolve all contradictions and solve all problems we are facing under capitalism? Clearly not. That is why many of the struggles will continue long after the victory of socialism, if it ever happens. But without overcoming capitalism many of these struggles will have very little chance of succeeding. Only when this simple truth is understood, does democratic unity become possible. It necessarily means creating hierarchy of strategic priorities but at the same time a real equality of people in the movement. (…) We must realize our ecological project, we must affirm women’s rights and minorities’ rights through and in the process of anti-capitalist struggle, not as a substitution or alternative to it. (…) It means simply that no one must except tee socialist left to drop its own culture-, tradition, and, last but not least, its identity for the sake of ‘democratic equivalence’.”
Kagarlitsky is also vehemently opposed in dropping the struggle for socialism replacing it by the struggle for radical democracy or ‘liberal socialism’: “The labour movement contributed a great deal to broadening democracy, but it was at a time when it was inspired by socialist ideals and anti-capitalist anger, not identity problems. And subordinating it now to the project of liberal intellectuals under the banner of ‘radical democracy’ means stripping it of its own democratic potential, its own culture and tradition.”
Universalism and Democracy
“The choice of an identity is subjective, and to a significant degree arbitrary,” Kagarlitsky argues. “Under the influence of identity politics the collective political consciousness of radical movements comes to resemble the self-perceptions of a mental patient.
From the point of view of feminism the march of a million black men organized by Louis Farrakhan in Washington in 1995 was a manifestation of ‘reactionary sexism’. From the point of view of racial consciousness it was a giant step forward. Farrakhan’s success, however, became possible only because of the crisis of the traditional left movements, which saw the liberation of the black population as being indissolubly linked to the emancipation of the working class. The more each identity group retreats into itself, the more basis it has for complaining that it is misunderstood by others. To criticize one identity or group culture from the position of another makes no sense at all. With the rejection of ‘universalism’, common criteria disappear.”
“For all its radical-democratic rhetoric, postmodernist ideology has little in common with the democratic movement as this has traditionally been understood. The idea at the heart of democracy has always been equality. If privileges are to be abolished, ‘special rights’, ‘particular status’ and so forth are unacceptable. “
“It is not surprising that the universalism of the Enlightenment thinking served as a starting-point for the development of socialist ideology (…) Enlightenment ideas have shown their limited and authoritarian character. Western concepts of rationality, imposed on societies with different cultures, have been combined with a linear view of social progress and have been used to justify monstrous acts of violence against humanity. But does the criticism of Enlightenment universalism mean that a complete break with it is necessary, or that, on the contrary, we need to work out a new, more profound and divers concept of ‘universalism’? (…) This goal cannot be attained without a radical self-criticism by adherents of Enlightenment ideology, something which is just as necessary as self-criticism by socialists. In this sense the attacks of postmodernists may turn out to be thoroughly beneficial, since they reveal the genuine or imaginary weaknesses of the Enlightenment. (…) It is not just the future of the left that depends –on this, but also the survival of democracy.”
“All the decisive victories in the struggle against racial discrimination were gained beneath the banner of Enlightenment universalism and of the idea of the equality of citizens that proceeded out of it. In other words, racism did not give birth to slavery and oppression, but slavery and oppression gave birth to modern racism. It is therefore necessary to struggle not only against racist ideology, but against the system of social institutions and relationships which might in themselves seem quite neutral, but which, in the long run, give rise to racist, anti-Semitic and other similar practices. (…) While preserving a united hierarchy based on knowledge, the Enlightenment was authoritarian. (…) Whatever neo-liberal theoreticians might say, the reality of the late twentieth century is that the market is destroying civil society. (…) Identities are themselves being commercialized and institutionalized.”
Rejecting ‘universalist’ concepts, including Marxism, postmodernist sociology has advanced its own formulae which have been embraced by large numbers of intellectuals disillusioned with socialism. The theory of identity politics has given rise to its own political practice, whose main achievement has been affirmative action, aimed at improving the career prospects of members of oppressed groups within bourgeois society. (…) Programmes of affirmative action that are not linked with ‘general’ measures for job creation and the democratization of society are at best fraudulent, and at worst are aimed at strengthening the elite. Social differences play a lesser role here than cultural ones. Significantly, affirmative action has been of very little help to the American black population, whose position has improved scarcely at all during the 1980s an the 1990s. In the case of white American women, however, the success of affirmative action has simply been phenomenal. (…) What we see before us is not so much democratization as the restructuring of the system of domination.”
“In countries were the traditional workers’ movement is stronger, the position of women also improved at significantly more rapid rates in the 1980s and 1990s. (…) An alliance with organized labour was valuable for dispossessed groups within the middle class so long as the workers’ movement was on the rise. As soon as it became clear that a bloc with socialist forces would not bring a quick outcome, a process of reorientation began. This was expressed in an ideological shift to the right –in the defending of ‘specific’ interests, in identity politics and in radical feminism. Attempts by leftists to keep the rightward-drifting ‘new social movements’ within their orbit through ever-new ideological concessions and symbolic gestures brought nothing except a still greater erosion of the traditional socialist bloc.”
Kagarlitsky develops this thesis further in looking at the women’s question in Russia, where high ranking officials in the 1990s proclaimed that women should stay at home. They were met by virtual no resistance because the strong position women held in Russian society was a result of the quota system under the Soviet nomenklatura system: “Bureaucratic measures solving the ‘women question’ meant that when ‘progress’ engineered from above was replaced by reaction from the same source, there was no one to struggle against it.”
From Defence struggles to Corporatism
“By the mid-1990s ‘radical democracy’, identity politics and affirmative action had become transformed from offensive strategies into defensive ones. The neo-liberal political strategy included the encouragement of ‘diversity’ within the framework of the ‘open society’, but only so long as ‘diversity’ and cultural pluralism were necessary as a means of struggle against ‘standardizing’ and ‘depersonalizating’ communism. (…) The practice of modern bourgeois society is increasingly leading us away from the Enlightenment ideology of civic equality toward medieval concepts of specific rights, liberties and privileges possessed by each particular group. These groups are fundamentally unequal. The difference in rights makes a single democratic process impossible. (…) In addition, each community or category of no-longer-citizens needs its own corporate formation representing its interests before this arbiter, and recognized by this arbiter as a partner.”
“Corporative authoritarianism is the logical outcome of such pluralism. Ensuring a certain freedom for the expression of group egoism, society leaves no openings for democracy. From bourgeois individualism we make the shift to something far more archaic and dangerous. (…) Affirmative action does not lead to the eradication of racism, but propose to eliminate its consequences, as one institution against another. This provides a perfect analogy for the social democratic attitude to the free market and private property: eliminating the imbalances within the system while retaining the system. (…) The problem, however, is that struggling for redistribution within the bounds of the system is itself a dead-end. The history of social democracy has already shown this quite well. Only where redistribution has been the consequence of structural reforms, including reforms that affect property relations, has it had any major social consequences.”
After radically destroying the arguments in favour of affirmative action, Kagarlitsky goes on taking a more balanced view on the issue: “In the short term affirmative action can represent a correct tactical choice, like many other measures applied by social democracy or the Soviet system. As a first step toward improving the situation, it is simply indispensible. (…) To cease applying affirmative action is in principle as illogical as to regard it as a panacea. To the growing criticism of affirmative action from the right, socialists need to counterpose not useless attempts to defend liberal policies, but their own radical criticism, demanding structural reforms. Leftists have to recognize affirmative action as a half-measure, inadequate and contradictory, that does not solve the problems of the oppressed sectors of the population”
“For right-wing social democrats the ideas of identity politics, feminism, ‘civil society’ and ‘radical democratization’ are becoming political life-savers, allowing these people to claim that their movement is still trying to change society. (…) Just as the crisis of the traditional left has been closely connected with the erosion of the welfare state, the rise of the new corporatism and of identity politics has been inseparable from the aggressive implementation of he ideology of ‘civil society’. (…) Since the 1980s the idea of civil society has come to be widely used in the writings of liberal ideologues. Postmodernist socialism and neo-liberalism are as one in their denial of the key role of the state in the process of social change. While using the term ‘civil society’, postmodernist radicalism understands it in a way quite different from Gramsci. For the Italian Marxist, the state and civil society were closely interconnected, and the idea of replacing the one with the other would have seemed an obvious absurdity. Gramsci conceived of democracy as a type of state resting on a developed society, unlike ‘eastern’ governments which in the absence of civil society, themselves carried out its functions. The new radicalism sees this question entirely the other way around”
“Rejecting the struggle against bourgeois society, leftists are inclined to take on the ‘unfinished work’ of the bourgeois revolution, which the ruling class itself has refused to force though to completion. In other words, the task of ‘radicals’ is reduced to making bourgeois society even more bourgeois. Here however, there are insurmountable obstacles. Classical republicanism is no longer especially attractive to the bourgeoisie itself, while the lower strata of society, suffering from the effects of the social crisis, remain indifferent to this struggle, since they do not see any direct link between it and their own current problems.”
“For some time the social nature of the state has ceased to arouse interest, just like the question of the character and structure of ‘civic society’ itself. Everything is reduced to such essential ‘neutral’ and ‘technical’ concepts as ‘complexity’, ‘multi-level structure’ and so forth, though in fact any idea of the essence and social tasks of the various political mechanisms disappears behind these secondary characteristics. ‘Never before has it been so necessary to regulate complexity by means of decisions, choices and “policies”, the frequency and diffusion of which must be ensured if the uncertainty o systems subject to exceptionally rapid change is to be reduced.”
“While some speak of the growing complexity and heterogeneity of society, others argue with no less conviction that ‘the uniformity of thought’ is taking on unprecedented scope, and that global standardization is affecting even ‘cultural Diasporas’. (…) not only is formal democracy deprived of any meaning, but the functioning of civil society and of social movements loses its points as well. The more complex the system, the less comprehensible is its logic, and the greater the scope for manipulation; the less access the citizens have to information, the less they understand their place in society. A labyrinth cannot be transparent, by definition. The task of democratic change is precisely to bring about a radical simplification of the system.” (my emphasis)
“The politics of special interests, identities and single issues no longer require traditional-type organizations, whether parties, trade unions or even mass movements. The new social movements are notable for being neither social (in the sense of representing some relatively broad social layer), nor movements. The place of mass organizations is taken by specialized groups and by a network of ‘non-government organisations’ (No’s). (…) it is the apparatus which serves as the central element of the new politics. The professionalization of the NGO also presents enticing prospects for radical activists who have grown tired of poverty and self-sacrifice.”
“In reality, such institutions could not exist if hey did not have close links with the state, which effectively transfers to them part of its own functions and at the same time removes from itself responsibility for the results of its activity. On the one hand, lobbying, corporatism and paternalism are becoming the basis for the new social movements. On the other, there is a partial privatization of civil life and even of the social sphere. This is far more dangerous for democracy and citizenship than traditional corporatism.”
“The ‘new social movements’ and NGOs began with a justified criticism of the centralism, authoritarianism and bureaucratism of the ‘old’ labour movement, of its parties, trade unions and mass organizations. They finished up being transformed into narrow groups of professionals, completely outside the control of the majority of the population and dependent on external sources of funding. Bureaucracy is an inevitable evil in any organisation. The only thing that makes it possible to limit this evil is a system of democratic control, something which existed, even if only to a limited degree, in the traditional mass parties. It was precisely for this reason that the bourgeoisie needed a considerable time to integrate the labour movement elite into he establishment. The organizations themselves have never been integrated fully; from time to time even the most ‘tame’ and ‘moderate’ trade unions and worker’s parties present the ruling hierarchs with unpleasant surprises. By contrast, the new social movements and NGOs were integrated quickly, easily and almost completely.”
In the space of fifteen years, the new social movements, not only in Russia but also in the West, followed the same trajectory of bureaucratization and decline that the old workers’ movement had taken one and a half centuries to trace out. The lack of a clear class base helped ensure the accelerated decay of the ‘radical’ political elites.
Class Politics comes back
According to Kagarlitsky, the state can only serve as a shield for ‘special interests’ if it embodies a universalist, unifying idea, in the name of which all redistributive efforts were undertaken. “Such an idea was present in the New Deal and the welfare state, but it is not and cannot be present in identity politics. The right wing that has consolidated itself on the basis of neoliberalism is confronted by a fragmented and ideologically amorphous left movement. (…) The rejection of universalism and of the class approach has led to the fragmentation of the left movement itself. The left has lost not only its common reference points and clear general goals, but also its link to the democratic tradition and to the ideas of citizenship and equality. It was universalist values that inspired the first fighters for civil rights, whether these were rights of women or of national minorities. With the rejection of this, all demands and struggles were ‘privatized’ by particular groups – in precise accordance with the logic of neo-liberalism. Civic action was reduced at best to ‘lobbying from below’.
“Only environmentalists were willing to pose the question of general rather than specific interests in an important way, and it was this which to a significant degree was responsible for their success. But disowning such concepts as class, labour and capital as irrelevant to their cause, they refused to joint the founding of an united front to include the trade unions and traditional workers’ parties.
(…) The point however is that class identity unlike all other identities was created by the capitalist system and by it alone. All identity is social, but class is the quintessence of the social. Unlike race, sex, culture or place of birth, class cannot be determined except by the position of then individual in society, and cannot be reproduced except through participation in the functioning of the economic system. Class politics is possible only within the framework of capitalism; it was created by capitalism and is reproduced together with it, and for this reason poses a real danger to it.”
Against the background of the weakening of the traditional workers’ movement, the overall relationship of forces has changed. By aiding the demoralization of the workers’ movement, the supporters of postmodernist radicalism have strengthened the bourgeoisie. (…) This means that in conditions when neo-liberalism threatens the very basis of people’s normal human existence, these resources and strengths should not be dispersed over a range of ‘different, but equal struggles’, but should be concentrated as far as possible on the main lines of resistance. Neo-liberal politicians know this, and do not squander their energies on trifles. (…) The real guilt lies with communist and social democratic bureaucracies, with the capitulating intellectuals, and with the workers’ movement itself and its tradition of ‘factory discipline’.
Kagarlitsky quotes Leo Panitch in the Socialist Register: “What has always been missing (…) is something that would be more than the sum of its parts (…) These include providing activists with a strategic, ideological and educational vehicle; a political home which is open to individuals to enter (rather than restricted, as today’s social movement networking is, to representatives of groups); a political community which explicitly seeks to transcend the particularistic identities while supporting and building on the struggles they generate.”
“The alternative to the politics of bureaucratic philanthropy has to be sought in the struggle for decentralization, in work in communities, in the strengthening of local self-government, in the struggle to create jobs, in public investment and in education. Equal rights will become a reality only as a result of all-round reforms that change the logic of social reproduction. Structural reforms do not solve cultural problems, but they create the conditions in which solving these problems becomes a serious possibility. The struggle for a culture of difference solves neither economic nor cultural problems. It merely forces us into a vicious circle of attempts to treat the symptoms of society’s illness.
The left began with the slogan of changing society from below. Reforms are impossible except through the state, but this in no way signifies that their essence has to consist of bureaucratic decision-making. On the contrary, I create conditions under which people have less need of being ‘defended’ by the state and are better able to look after themselves. The point is simply that the road to this does not lie through the ‘free market’, nor through the philanthropy of NGOs and the lobbying of interests groups, but through social changes that free people from the power of capital and from control by the ‘invisible hand’ of the ruling class”.
The Third Left or the Third Socialism
Here; Kagarlitsky quotes the economist Jan Otto Andersson: “The first ‘left’ was the bourgeois republican movement, which demanded liberty from absolutist and feudal fetters, called for equality through the abolition of rank and privilege, and extolled brotherhood over the power of the masters. It was ‘the Left of liberty, citizenship, democracy’. The ‘second left’ was the working-class socialism of social-democratic and communist parties. This left struggled for economic and social rights and was the main vehicle of the welfare state project. It favoured collective solutions to social problems, and saw nationalization and plannings as means toward a more just and progressive society.”
The ‘Third Left’
“The ‘third left’, in Andersson’s view, has to combine the values of radical democracy, human rights and socialism. According to Andersson “it will become a coherent political force only when it has grasped the full implications of the dramatic transformations of the past two decades: the shaking of the advanced industrial societies, the hollowing out of the national welfare states and the collapse of Soviet communism.”
Kagarlitsky continues quoting the Spanish sociologist Jaime Pastor who also speaks of the birth of a ‘third left’: “this left has to be ready to renew both the content and the forms of political action, beginning with the political party form itself and continuing with the subordination of institutional action to the recreating of an alternative social fabric and to changes in behaviour in then ‘world of daily life’”
Kagarlitsky claims that “Andersson stresses the need for leftists to arm themselves with the liberating ideas of early bourgeois democracy, while Pastor urges an anti-capitalist alternative formulated in a new way. (…) The historical project of bourgeois-democratic radicalism was on the whole realized successfully, at least in Western Europe, but working-class socialism has met with failure. (…) It is impossible to see a strategic perspective for the left simply in a mechanistic combining of the values of radical democracy with socialist principles, especially since such a combination has already been typical of the socialist movement for many years.
Furthermore, the failure of he ‘second left’ has placed in doubt the values of the ‘first left’ as well. In a world in which democratic principles receive almost universal lip service, the 1990s have seen an obvious weakening of democratic institutions in the traditionally ‘free’ countries. Historically, the workers’ movement has not been in the least bit hostile to democracy. It was born out of the democratic movement, and played a decisive role in the conquest and defence of civil liberties.
The ‘Third Socialism”
This term was introduced by Samir Amin, who considers the first socialism as tee one that belonged to the nineteenth century, the socialism of the first en second internationals. The second was born of the world wars and of Florist technologies of mass production and died with the Soviet system. The third is now beginning, it is the socialism of globalization and computer technology. Kagarlitsky: “Neither Andersson nor Amin identifies socialism with the labour movement. In heir view, the new socialist project should encompass a broad spectrum of social forces on a global level. (…) At the same time, the social and political configuration of the new bloc remain quite diffuse, and the strategy and programme for its concrete actions unclear.”
“In neither instance is there a clear answer to the most painful and perhaps most important question: what needs to be discarded from the heritage of the traditional left, and what should be retained? In what form will the historical values and goals from socialism be realized in a changed world? (…) The crisis of neoliberalism has not sparked revolutionary outbursts. There are instances in which left parties again enjoy mass support and even hold the political initiative, but these parties now often lack not only revolutionary strategies, but even reformist ones. (…) The fact that leftists are coming to power signifies that the elites are in crisis. But are the forces of the left ready to present an alternative? Here we are once again forced to return to the problem of radical reformism. Where does the border lie between radical reformism and elementary opportunism on the one side, and between radical reforms and revolution on the other? An obvious and rigid dividing line simply does not exist, but there are fundamental differences.”
“The reason for the failure of the majority of reformist projects during recent years has been their ‘top-down’ character? In this sense Mitterrand as the bearer of ideas of the technocratic elite and Gorbatchev, resting on the ‘enlightened’ section of the Soviet bureaucracy, were equally remote from the people they promised to make happy. Among the reactions to the failures of reformist and revolutionary parties were calls for replacing them with “new mass movements”, and for substituting ‘alternatives from below’ for ‘policies from above’. (…) Leftists must not reject the traditional strategy of seeking to win control of state institutions. But success here only makes sense if the state institutions are themselves under constant pressure from below –that is, if here are mass organizations capable of controlling their own leaders, and if necessary of forcing them to do what they would otherwise lack the willingness or resolution to do.
A turn to radical policies requires that left parties simultaneously carry through a socialist reorientation, and also demands a sort of moral revolution within them. Most organizations are incapable of coping with –this dual upheaval, but this simply means that sooner or later they will finish up on the sidelines of history.”
From Zapatistas to new left parties in Europe
In the next pages Kagarlitsky goes deeper in some famous ‘new leftist groups’: the Mexican Zapatistas, the Italian Rifondazione, the Party of Democratic Socialism in Greece, the Brazilian Workers’ Party and developments in Eastern Europe. I leave the details out here because the developments in these parties and movements need to be updated since the book was written more than ten years ago. But I think the conclusions are still very valid today, especially on the question of ‘unity’.
“The modern left movement –cannot and must not be homogeneous, since the working masses are not uniform. In this sense the situation has changed radically since the early years of the twentieth century, when the trade unions and socialist parties were being established in Europe. Differences of qualifications, incomes and cultures within the working class existed then as well, but in the period since, they have increased dramatically.
The social base of left parties is no longer made up only of industrial workers. At one pole is a mass of unqualified workers and of people active in the (informal sector’, while at the other are operators of computerized equipment and highly qualified workers in traditional industries. White-collar and blue-collar workers find that they have a multitude of common interests, but a quite different psychology. Scientific workers recognize themselves as a ‘new proletariat’, but are in no hurry to join organizations of the ‘old’ labour movement. Representatives of various races, religions and cultures are not only united by common work and shared problems, but are also divided by traditions and prejudices. This motley world of labour cannot be united and organized mechanically. This does not mean that unity and a united organization are impossible in principle. It is the diversity of the working masses that makes the task of political unification especially important. The only organization that can be effective in such circumstances is one that is democratic and pluralist, combining features of both a party and a movement, and, to some degree, even of a coalition. As theoreticians of the German PDS note, social mobilization under present-day conditions is impossible unless old concepts of discipline are decisively rejected. ‘New, open organizational forms ‘are essential. This openness, together perhaps with a certain organizational looseness, is at the same time a guarantee against opportunism, since the leadership cannot longer be sure of the unconditional support and loyalty of the membership base.
Trotskyist critics of Stalinism, while accepting the idea of a disciplined vanguard party, constantly discovered in it a ‘problem of leadership’. In reality this was the problem of the centralized structure and ‘factory discipline’ of the old workers’ movement. The late twentieth century is seeing the opportunity open up for the triumph of a new approach. It is no doubt for this reason that the Brazilian Workers’ Party and the German PDS, despite their obvious looseness and the contradictions of their policies, have been the most effective left parties of the ‘new generation’.
At the beginning of the century the ‘model’ for leftists was the German Social Democracy. After 1917 the same role was claimed by the Bolsheviks, and then by the Maoist Communist Party of China and insurgent organizations founded in line with the initiatives of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Now there is not such model, and nor can there be. The German PFS, the Brazilian Workers’ Party and the Mexican Zapatistas are phenomena of the same order precisely because they are unlike one another. The ‘new wave’ left movement cannot be homogeneous; it is united precisely by the fact that in dealing with common tasks and goals it does not employ a standard form or single model. On the whole, the organizational forms are changeable and unstable, since they are determined on the basis of extremely contradictory practice.
However great the value of pluralism, it is essential to have unifying and consolidating mechanisms that make it possible to take common decisions, and, most importantly, to carry them out. Without a common organization various groups of workers will not only be unable to defend their common interests (not to speak of changing society), but will be unable to solve their specific, ‘private’ problems. The lack of solidarity and help from ‘other quarters’ will invariably result in defeat.
Heterogeneity is a characteristic of ‘new wave’ left organizations irrespective of where they carry on their activity –in Europe, in Asia, or in Latin America. In New Zealand, where a sharp turn to the right by the old Labour party forced socialists to create the NewLabour Party as an alternative to it, the influence of he new party at first remained confined to traditional sections of old Labour’s working class base.”
Kagarlitsky also looks at the Party of Freedom and Solidarity in Turkey that emerged on the political scene in the late 1990s. “A first step toward the unification of the left was the founding by ten revolutionary groups in 1995 of the Unified Socialist Party (BSP). It was only after this that the formation of a broader organization –The Party of Freedom and Solidarity- became possible. Turkish leftists identified themselves as a coalition of ‘democratic modernizers of Marxist and non-Marxist inspiration”. It is described by its leader Ufak Ursas as ‘pluralist’ and ‘transparent’, a distinctive coalition of ‘the revolutionary left, socialists, rank and file social democrats, feminists, greens, anti-militarists, anarchists, etc. Its task is “refounding the left”. Other examples he analyses are the Socialist Party of Labour in the Philippines, the SP in Holland, the Scottish Socialist Party, the joint lost of Lutte Ouvrier and League Communiste Révolutionaire in France.
“At a time when the mainstream lacks principles, radicalism is rewarding. And that creates new opportunities for those who dare to express their opposition to the system. Finally, the left wing of Social Democracy is still alive, though not well. (…) The social democratic left still hopes to win back the old parties to their initial socialist cause. This approach has failed so far and most probably will continue to fail in the future. However, there are progressive currents within these parties and they will have a role to play in the debate shaping the new project of the left. (…) Eclecticism is a necessary evil for the left in overcoming its own sectarian traditions. And a new, more organic ideology
Between resistance and ‘constructive work’
Municipal politics is becoming the main strategic area of work for the ‘new wave’ left, a laboratory of change. “In theory, municipal socialism makes it possible to combine an orientation to state property with decentralization, with transforming the structures of power, and with using market stimuli. In practice, everything is far more complex. Municipal socialism has to create and reproduce its own local power base, confronting numerous problems along the way.”
“In the late 1980s and during the 1990s Latin American leftists scored successes in such large business and industrial centres as san Salvador, Caracas, Montevideo, Sao Paolo and Mexico City. In many cases their practical work in the municipalities was highly successful. Experience has shown that successes in large cities does not guarantee that the left come to power ion the national level, but they are an important stage in the struggle to transform society.”
But off course even very radical left-wing local administrations cannot simply ignore the logic of the capitalist system. Kagarlitsky also makes an important observation concerning coalitions: “Coalitions are naturally tempting, since a serious party cannot simply say ‘no’ to society; it has to engage in real work here and now on behalf of its social base, and this means that in certain cases it cannot avoid ‘constructive collaboration’ with the establishment. The question of the basis for this collaboration, and the goals, is something else completely.” He makes also an important point about ideology: “The heterogeneity of the left movement does not remove the need for an unifying ideology.”
“Success of the left depends on its capacity to be firm in its resistance to capitalism. But the pressure to be ‘constructive’ (working with the system) also grows, together with the success. In late 1990s, parties and forces that place themselves to the left of Social Democracy in many countries achieved such a degree of success that in many cases societies became ungovernable without them. That was the case of the PDS in some parts of East Germany. The Left Party in Sweden gained 12 percent in the 1998 elections and the Social Democrats were not able to rule without its consent. (…)”
“Reformers who try to cure the illness of the system are usually devoured by the system as soon as they fulfil their task. But at the same time reforms really can make a difference. The people expect the left in office to be radically different from the liberals. But the left does not have enough strength to change the system. It is possible for the left to be involved in the daily management of the system without losing its identity as then force for resistance and change? Maybe it is not, but that is exactly what the people want it to do.
The Left needs to become different again, says Kagarlitsky. “But in the long run success will not depend on management technologies but on democracy, on the ability of the left to express the needs of the people and the ability of the people to control their leftist representatives.
Implementing the principle of class politics poses a serious challenge, especially in a period when the social structure itself is undergoing profound changes. A class approach cannot replace a policy of broad alliances; society is not only divided into ‘two classes’, as the popularisers of Bolshevism thought. But ‘class’ unification is a first step, an initial condition without which the success of a ‘broad”-‘ alliance is inconceivable. The politics of the left, formulating common demands, ideas and outlooks for various social layers, helps in transforming the atomised masses and corporate social groups into a class, conscious of its role and mission in society.”
From networking to challenging the system
“The twenty-first century has not yet begun, but sociologists have already characterized it as a time of ‘network structures’. This is quit correct; ‘vertical models’ of organization and rule are more and more often failing to yield results. But it does not by any means follow that the need for parties and trade unions is disappearing. They simply need to undergo changes. From being hierarchical organizations aiming at a ‘monolithic character’, they need to transform themselves into flexible structures, linking and coordinating different struggles and actions. The key task of a party is to ensure hegemony. A party brings elements of consciousness to a movement., it brings purposefulness and coordination, and transforms casual, spontaneous actions into a united offensive.”
The globalization of economic life does not mean the end of political parties, but simply broadens its tasks. The slogan ‘Act locally, think globally,” is correct only in so far as local struggles are coordinated on the regional, national and global levels. Without this, no ‘global’ thinking will help. The coordinating of actions is becoming the main task of political organizations. The link between acting and thinking does not come about of itself; it is a political task, which needs to be carried out if parties and organizations are to be established.”
“The heart of the problem evidently lies in the fact that the epoch of globalization requires far more concentrated and intensive collaboration on the level of concrete actions, while at the same time the new cultural heterogeneity of the left and its natural aversion to the centralized bureaucracy of the past are preventing the creation of unified leadership structures.
The world has changed, and the old forms of the left movement are turning out to be unsuited to solving the new problems. Organizations are trying to survive by demonstrating their loyalty to the ruling elites, but the more inoffensive they become, the less interesting anyone finds them. The time has come for a change of organizational forms.”
“To change the world the left has to change itself. Sectarian forms of leftism were adequate to the situation of defensive ideological struggles of the 1980s. But to regain the initiative the left has to find a way to be ideological without being sectarian. The political left can grow only in parallel with the social left: an authentic revolutionary organization doesn’t grow just through increasing its membership, but only when it roots itself in social movements as well. If the left does not meet the challenge of the times, other forces will become the mouthpieces of protest. Socialists must again issue a challenge to the established order. Otherwise, political barbarians will do this for them.
Conclusion: the stage we are in
In his conclusion, Kagarlitsky goes deep into history and draws parallels between the transition from feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to socialism. “The Russian Revolution of 1917 should in fact be regarded as one among a series of initial, unsuccessful attempts at the socialist transformation of society. Other ill-fated essays in revolution are destined to follow.”
“The late bourgeois revolutions were at the same time ‘early socialist’. This historical cycle began with the Paris Commune and, after failing to realize it possibilities there, found its expression in the great revolutions of the twentieth century, the Russian and the Chinese. It culminated in the 1950s and 1960s with the people’s wars in Cuba and Vietnam. The final surge of the revolutionary wave saw the coming to office of the Popular Unity in Chile, and in the events of 1974 and 1975 in Portugal. It was no accident that the anti-capitalist revolutions of the twentieth century took place in countries where a fully realized bourgeois society had not come into being.”
“At first national-democratic or national-liberation in character, the revolutionary movements swiftly and inevitably broke out of the framework of ‘bourgeois social change’, but were incapable of creating socialism. (…) In exactly the same way Western Europe reformism, even in its moderate forms, exceeded the limits of the bourgeois order, although in essence it was trying merely to improve and modernize capitalism. The tragedy of reformism was exactly the same as the tragedy of the revolutions. It could not achieve its goals without destroying the society it was trying to preserve.”
“Perry Anderson in his book ‘A zone of Engagement’ argues that neo-liberalism will remain the dominant ideology until socialists are able to offer ‘feasible alternatives’. The problem, though, does not lie in any lack of feasible theories, but in the weakness of then political organizations that espouse them. Concepts of democratic planning, of a renovated mixed economy, and of market and post-market socialism are discussed in the most detailed manner in academic circles, and no ne has yet proved that in their ‘pure’ form these are less serious constructs than the ideas of the neo-liberals.”
The failures of the Soviet system made socialists suspicious about any kind of central planning and more enthusiastic about the market. Like the Greens with their ideas of the “democratic economy”, theorists of market socialism put forward different models of the stakeholding economy, allowing everyone access to property rights, and on community ownership. “Communal property looks much more attractive than giant capitalist corporations and Soviet-style monster ministries. Unfortunately, the modern economy needs coordination above and beyond the level of community. Looking for answers, many socialist theorists insist on combining capitalist efficiency with public property and democracy.”
“The problem with capitalism, however, is not only in distribution, it is also in the way it allocates resources and structures investment. While socialists now are discovering the relative advantages of the market, capitalism itself is evolving in a completely different direction. Multinational corporations, which dominate the global economy, really do compete between themselves, but this competition has very little to do with the traditional market behaviour as described in the books of Adam Smith or Karl Marx. The corporations not only do a lot of planning, they even impose their own regulation on the states, influencing government policies in the spheres of taxation, interest rates, social standards and public investment. This regulation is basically anti-ecological and it is aimed at subordination public interests to private profit. (… Now nations have to compete for private investment. As Canadian economist James Rinehart writes:
“Competiveness now means not cheap prices but which workers, which tax payers, which provinces, and which countries give the most to the corporation in exchange for new investment or to insure that work does not move elsewhere. While workers compete against each other in a concessions race to the bottom, corporations have found ways of avoiding or cushioning dog-eat-dog competition. Ford owns 25 percent of Mazda and has joint ventures with Volkswagen; General Motors has joint-ventures with Toyota, Suzuki and Fiat, Chrysler was allied with Mitsubishi.”
“At the same time corporations deliberately force their own plants to compete against each other in order to bring labour costs down further. Is this exactly the kind of economic mechanism we want to have in a socialist society?
What we see now in globalized capitalism is an interaction of some remaining market mechanisms with competitive private planning. The real problem is not in socializing the markets (they are increasingly being socialized by capitalism itself) but in socializing and democratizing the planning, in replacing private strategic decision-making by public policies. That also means going beyond the profit motive as the basic incentive for economic activities and changing the criteria according to which we judge enterprise performance.”
“Socialists must not base their approach in repeating such nonsense about ‘pure economic criteria’ for management. The left has to develop its own performance criteria and managerial ethics for public sector. Instead of internalizing the visions of the owners, management must be capable of reacting to democratic pressures.”
“The world always changed and will keep changing. Even within capitalism the role and the very form of the market was different in different historic periods. For that reason, market mechanisms cannot be simply rejected by the left: in a different social and institutional context they will also change. But at the same time we must remember that the historic meaning of socialism for Marx was to overcome the dependency of people on ‘blind’ uncontrollable economic forces. Actually, in modern capitalism those forces are not completely uncontrollable. They are just controlled by the few, against the interests of the many. The failures of modern capitalism do not come from a lack of control over the economic system but from the nature of this control. Being undemocratic, this control can’t be efficient. Bureaucratic struggles inside corporations are no less important for decision-making than the structure of prices and marketing strategies. In a situation when huge power is concentrated in a completely undemocratic manner, short-term private gain inevitably becomes prioritized over the sustainability of the system. The negative consequences of decisions made by ‘competent management’ are ignored even when they are evident. This creates the impression that the anarchy of spontaneous economic forces typical of the earlier stages of capitalism re-emerges at the level of the globalized economy. In reality, it is the anarchy of bureaucratic corporate decision-making, which has at least as much to do with hyper centralization as with the blind forces of the market.
The Socialist alternative is needed precisely because non-market allocation of resources is now necessary and unavoidable. The difference between current corporate investment and the socialized investment is that the public sector must be transparent, accountable, democratic, with decisions pen to debate. It must prioritize ecological, social and humane development over profits. And development also must be sustainable, which is not possible in conditions where private interests dominate.
It is very characteristic that today’s market-socialists concentrate their efforts on describing abstract models instead of discussing concrete proposals of economic transformation. At the same time, traditional socialists spend most time criticizing their pro-market colleagues without offering a clear alternative. That is absolutely inevitable in a period when socialist practice is poor. That is why many questions are not formulated correctly. For example, socialist transformation can only be started in the context of capitalist historic past and thus inevitably any feasible socialism at the first stage is doomed to be a kind of ‘market socialism’. A mixed economy is the best strategy to navigate out of capitalism. But this does not mean that the market is an ideal mechanism for socialist economics. On the contrary, during the development of a new society and economy we can overcome the limitations of the market, and that is exactly why socialism is historically necessary. In the long run all these problems will not be resolved through theoretical ideas. The only way forward to find answers is through practice.”
Radical utopias make sense only when they cease to be utopian and when social criticism becomes part of the struggle to reconstruct society. (…) The transition from antiquity to feudalism was accompanied by the decline of civilization and by the lengthy epoch of he ‘dark ages. ’It took many centuries before European society acquired the potential for new growth and, after regaining its former level, began developing at an accelerated pace. The epoch of the crisis of feudalism and of the rise of capitalism was a time of social convulsions, many of them bloody. But it saw also impressive cultural achievements and economic growth. What will the third transition be like? Ultimately, that will depend on us.
We are responsible fro the future and we simply have to act according to our principles. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet we have to stop out-r endless hesitation and say: “The readiness is all.”