Fame at last. Alex Callinicos writes
In the aftermath of this debacle [at Grangemouth], much of the radical left have rushed to give it the cast of inevitability. Chief among these is Richard Seymour, who, since breaking with the SWP last spring, has been working overtime to widen the gap separating him from revolutionary politics:
It’s important to recognise that, quite possibly, there was nothing that the left could have done that would have changed the outcome of this particular struggle. This is the intellectual leap that we have to make: not every puzzle has an answer; not every immediate struggle can be won. There isn’t a short-term solution to every problem.
The fact that things could have been done differently, and better, is no guarantee that with the balance of class forces as they presently are the workers at Grangemouth could have achieved victory. We have to break from the habit of thinking that struggle itself is sufficient, that an outburst of class or social warfare can by itself shift the overall balance of forces in our favour.3
Seymour’s last sentence is puzzling. What else could shift the balance of forces except “an outburst of class or social warfare”? The class struggle is precisely a war, in which the two sides can only establish their own and their opponents’ strength and resolve through actual combat. Thatcher installed neoliberalism through inflicting a series of major defeats on the workers’ movement. Of course, every struggle has a host of conditions-economic, political, ideological and the rest-that shape the antagonists’ determination and capacity to win, but their relative importance and joint effect can themselves only be tested in struggle.
Now, the 'Seymour' who appears in the pages of the ISJ may occasionally say fragments of things that I have said, but otherwise any resemblance to a real person is almost entirely coincidental. That 'Seymour', it has been suggested to me, is a manifestation of the unconscious. Against this, corrections and clarifications are futile. Still, just this once, for demonstrative purposes, I will state a bit of the obvious.
You know, it really doesn't take a professor of politics at Kings to remind me that the class struggle is a war. Nor even that Thatcher instituted neoliberalism through brutal class and social warfare. One is not - how do you mammals say? - 'thick'. I even wrote something about this
for a small quarterly journal once.
But Callinicos's last sentence is puzzling, in that it suggests he isn't at all puzzled by my last sentence. He gets exactly what I'm talking about. Outbursts of struggle are not in themselves sufficient to shift the balance of forces in favour of the working class or the left; you have to work on building up the infrastructure, the material conditions in which outbursts of struggle will have more chance of success. This is actually made clear in the cited article from The Exchange
, in the paragraphs immediately following those quoted, in which I say, among other things: "We need to begin a process of reconstructing class capacities, articulated with an equivalent process of rebuilding the left’s political capacities."
Not that opaque, surely? And is the point in any way rebutted or qualified by stating (whether accurately or not) that the relative importance and effect of these conditions can "only be tested in struggle"? If not, then the reason for the feint, and the non-sequitur, ought surely to be obvious.