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Reformism, revolutionary left

October 10th, 2012 · No Comments

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A comment on Greece and Syriza
Issue: 136
Posted: 9 October 12
Richard Seymour
http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=854&issue=136
The perplexity of the left is not mysterious: the double-sided confusion of reformism failed, and revolutionary bolshevism failed creates an ‘argument over’ that gives neoliberalism its free hand. But now we confront neoliberalism in failure, that’s three failures, not two against the one. However, the question of social democracy apart, the radical probably revolutionary left can reinvent itself beyond Bolshevism to find a new audience. But that revinvention requires weaning from the Marxism/Leninism that is choking all innovation here. Look at the revolutions of the early modern: their objectives were achieved, while the rigid marxist canon presided over failure. You are fired then.
Starting over with a new initiative, a revolutionary (probably, but not necessarily) New Communism, defined from scratch. Activists in this new strain should be fined an ample weight of kopeks for even using the terms, marx, marxism, lenin, bolshevism, in active ideological promotion, etc…
This is a reminder that Marx demanded no definition of the ‘communism’ to come. He broke his own rule with his denigration of the legacy of rights, and we got the Leninist anathema of liberalism and rights, a calamity. Real socialism/communism should disown this capture of its legacy. Take the issue fresh in the mindset of the 1830/40’s, and start over.
The question of social democracy is unclear, and its failures are now clear. There is no simple solution, however, to the question of the place of markets in the early transition to some form of ‘new communism’. A thousand alternatives will be offered to those who wish to transition beyond capitalism.
In any case, the way to proceed is to translate the canon into a new language, test it against its failures, and begin to do it differently than the defined/undefined disaster of the Second Internationale’s mediocre performance. A communist society needs definition, and a context of revolutionary early modern movements, trying to upgrade the democratic revolution with a clear transition from liberalism and its fundamentals of right to a communist democratic revolution that is able to mediate the abuse of right in industrial capitalism without becoming a totalitarianism infected by Lenin’s hatred of rights and will to the police state.

The “strategic perplexity” of the left confronted with the gravest crisis of capitalism in generations has been hard to miss.1 Social democracy continues down the road of social liberalism. The far left has struggled to take advantage of ruling class disarray. Radical left formations have tended to stagnate at best. Two exceptions to this pattern are the Front de Gauche in France and Syriza in Greece. While the Front de Gauche did not do as well as many hoped, it did channel a large vote for the radical left in the presidential elections won by Hollande. Meanwhile, Syriza is potentially a governing party in waiting.

In Alex Callinicos’s piece for the last International Socialism, he offered a complex analysis of these developments.2 At the most general level, he argued that the capitulation of social democracy to neoliberalism in combination with the capitalist crisis is opening up a space to its left. He suggested that the reason why Syriza and the Front de Gauche had succeeded was that they were dominated by “left reformists”. They speak the language of an older reformist tradition with deep roots in the working class and are thus far better placed to capitalise on workers’ discontent than revolutionaries.

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