Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Time for the Left to Think Big!

And by "big", I don't mean just plumping for a big program like Medicare for All, however worthy an idea that may be, and trying for a big election victory, however desirable that may be. I mean thinking carefully about the left's overall objectives in both the short and long term and how they could be implemented in the face of inevitable reactionary counter-attack.
Paul Mason has a very interesting analysis along these lines in his latest monthly column on the Open Democracy site. There's a lot in this ambitious piece, but this sets the scene:
"[T]he project I am trying to outline in this series – namely the programme, philosophy and moral basis for a radical social democracy in the 21st century – has increasingly to be conceived as a plan for picking up the pieces, not the deepening and extension of an essentially stable system.
In my book ‘Postcapitalism’, I argued that information technology creates the possibility of a long transition beyond market-based societies towards an economy based on relative abundance, high automation, low work and free utility produced by network effects. This remains, for me, the 21st century equivalent of the “maximum programme” adopted by social-democracy in the 1890s.
However, the crisis of the short-term demands answers – and better ones than the re-treaded Keynesianism on offer from the traditional social-democratic left.
A programme of immediate, “minimum” actions and principles – which social democratic parties across Europe and North America could sign up to – would have at its heart two twin aims:
1. to revive economic growth, prosperity and social cohesion in Western democracies; and
2. to defend and deepen their democratic rights and institutions.
It would also need to contain elements of “transition” – though not of the kind originated by the Communist International in the 1920s and later associated with Trotsky’s Fourth International. Then the aim was to introduce elements of planning and workers control into the programmes of left governments, moulded around scarcity. Today the transition path has to embrace the potential for abundance contained in information technology and, of course, to deal with climate change as an urgent issue.
So the core issue for those who want to radicalise social democracy is: what kind of capitalism is it possible for us, in these conditions, to create?
Before attempting an answer I want to recapitulate the argument of my previous essays in this series for openDemocracy:
To solve the problem of working class atomisation, and create a narrative for social democracy, the British Labour party and other social-democratic parties should focus their efforts on achieving a tangible upward movement in incomes, health, lifestyles and prospects for working age adults over the next 10 years.
To solve the problem that globalisation empowered corporations while limiting the sovereignty of electorates, we must be prepared to retreat from extreme globalisation, into a “second trench”, consisting of national economic policymaking in the context of international solidarity, abandoning certain supranational regulations deemed currently to have the force of eternal law.
To solve the problem of agency, we need to understand that oppression and exploitation take many forms in late-neoliberal capitalism, and that the movement to deliver a progressive government will most likely be a tribal alliance of people adversely affected. In that alliance, the traditional working class and labour movement structures will exist, but will not have hegemony; where working class culture has been inverted into a form of nostalgic ethno-nationalism, the movements and demands it produces will have to be resisted."
Mason develops his ideas at length in the rest of essay, which is admirably informed by his deep understanding of the history of the left and its challenges to capitalism. By no means do I agree with everything he says, but this is a very serious contribution that asks a lot of the most difficult and important questions--questions that most on the left don't even bother to ask.
Oh, and you really must read his book Postcapitalism. I promise it will make you think new thoughts!
OPENDEMOCRACY.NET
To win power, the left must build a narrative around ending privatisation, empowering the workforce and borrowing to invest. To stay in power, left governments must transition towards an economy based on high automation, shorter working hours and free services. *** After Trump, Brexit, the formation...

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