Lewis Akers concludes a series of short essays reflecting on the tasks of socialists in the new global crisis. Each part can be read separately, but the first part on the death of Neoliberalism can be read here, and the second on the failures of the ‘institutional left‘, here.
It is clear that we need to create new organizations, relationships and ideas outside of the institutional left, and not guided by the ruling logic of capital. But what should those organisations look like and what principles should be guiding them in the new era of pandemic capitalism?
Socialists must modernise, but do so by drawing on insights and traditions from the past. The Italian Marxist Philosopher Antonio Gramsci offers some of the most important contributions to Marxism on this topic and highlights the need for socialist organisations to have a reciprocal relationship with the wider working class – attempting to perform the role of both student and teacher, drawing on existing dynamics to proliferate active resistance. It is crucial for socialists to engage in struggles such as strikes and community campaigns in order to escape isolation. This approach allows us to reject both the elitism of those who believe they are the ‘vanguard’ but also the utopianism of those who reject consciously constructed organisation and believe that organic change will somehow occur in its absence.
We currently have socialists strewn across every organisation and none. For this reason, any organisation needs to arise from common struggle. It is crucial we learn from the failures of previous left unity projects which have sought to monopolise social movements or gain instant success in electoral politics. The present crisis is unique and challenges all the various leftwing traditions and ideas with new tasks. We can only understand them by actually engaging in struggles that emerge. It is integral that we engage in these struggles as the crisis will throw up new challenges but also new opportunities. It will force us to employ new tactics while learning the lessons of the past.
It is crucial we throw ourselves into struggle so we can take advantage of what Chantal Mouffe calls the “populist moment” and start to construct a concrete form of counter-hegemony to challenge the dominance of capitalist ideas, for this specific period. We can see that the ruling classes are already taking advantage of this moment in order to create a narrative that seeks to foster a new consensus based around the needs of capital. Although, some may dismiss the wartime rhetoric the Tories are using as merely jingoistic it has a much more pervasive purpose – to prepare us for the re-orientation of capitalism. The construction of new narratives is an important tool for the capitalists. We have seen this time and time again when capitalism goes into crises, whether it be Thatcher’s war on the welfare state or Osbournes austerity agenda, it has practical implications for us on the ground. This populist moment is being re-organised and re-articulated through the crisis.
This is why we also need to think afresh about what we are calling on activists to do, what their relationship to organisation and political work is. One central way to foster a new sense of political belonging in whatever organisations come out of struggle is to rediscover what comradeship means. Jodi Dean, in her excellent book on the subject argues that the form of political belonging generated by comradeship has been abandoned in favor of ‘allyship’ and narrow identities.
She highlights this can only lead to atomisation of just the kind capitalism thrives on. Therefore, it is necessary for socialists to rediscover what it means to be ‘comrades’ and all the responsibility that comes with it – discipline, commitment and belonging to a shared set of goals. This transforms what we expect from each other and equalizes our relations. Comradeship also contains within it the ability to hold each other to account and to offer criticism in a way that seeks to construct not destroy.
We need to also consider what kinds of intellectual traditions we want to foster. We need to develop, in the Gramscian sense, disciplined organic intellectuals who can not only challenge capitalism practically but intellectually too. They will need self education both within the movement, and through practical activity in developing struggles. This form of self-education will be crucial for any organisation seeking to challenge the miseries of capitalism in this new crisis.
We have a world to win, if we are able to learn the lessons of the past and develop new strategies for the future. If we fail, then we cannot point the finger at anyone but ourselves.
Image: Peter H