Thursday, July 14, 2011

How can the Left win?

An updated and expanded version of my previous for Jacobin magazine:

The thrust of this article, focusing on the UK, will be that the Right has so far had the initiative because it has successfully piloted a series of ideological articulations that speak to a certain neoliberal ”common sense” and thus plausibly explain and offer solutions to the crisis. These articulations mediate between popular discontent (manifested in loathing of the bankers, distrust of the parliamentary process, and fear of penury) and ruling class imperatives. This strategy is obviously not limited to the Right: the Democrats in the US and social democratic parties in Europe perform a classically ”transformist” role, absorbing the elements of dissatisfaction among subaltern groups, expunging their oppositional content, and incorporating them into a politics of the pro-capitalist centre. Nonetheless, it is the Right that has played the dominant role in securing the ”austerity” narrative, tailed by the center and center-left. This shouldn’t be surprising. In organic crises, the forces best equipped to adapt and re-deploy are those of the ruling class and its allied parties.

For the Left to win, it needs to find adequate modes of political organization and an appropriate series of ideological mediations that explain the crisis, mobilize points of discontent and maintain the unity of the anti-austerity alliance. This should not be seen as opposed to ”industrial” struggles; rather, it will have a formative, organizing role in the economic class struggle, ensuring that localized conflicts are generalized (rather than isolated in a way that allows them to be picked off one by one by the ruling class), and giving the working class a chance to move into a ”hegemonic” moment in which it both leads and incorporates the interests and perspectives of allied groups. In none of the advanced capitalist states are revolutionary groups currently in a position to challenge for leadership of the working class – far from it – but they should be ready to take the initiative in alliance with sections of the social democratic left, as well as the left-of-social-democratic left...