Since the 2008 financial crisis, Greek society has been devastated by economic austerity. The crisis, however, has inspired ordinary people to support each other. The creative activity in the streets is often ignored by the focus on the betrayal of the Syriza coalition, which gave into the European Union (EU) “troika” demands (the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, and European Commission) in 2015. In his article, “From Resistance to Hegemony: The Struggle Against Austerity and the Need for a New Historical Bloc,” Panagiotis Sotiris attempts to theorize the ongoing struggles in the street. He proposes that they may be able to create a path toward power that doesn’t rely on electoral coalitions that are locked into austerity imposed by the troika.
In this week’s discussion, we continue mapping the resurgence of the global Left, shifting our focus to the UK to examine the emergence of the “Corbyn phenomenon.” The veteran leftist Jeremy Corbyn initially came into power in 2015 as leader of the Labour Party, riding high on a wave of popular support, including new members who joined the party specifically to vote for him. He renewed his leadership mandate in 2016 in the face of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s strong opposition, including resignations of most of his shadow cabinet.
Although Conservatives remain in charge of the UK government, in “Radicalizing the Movement-Party Relation: From Ralph Miliband to Jeremy Corbyn and Beyond,” Hilary Wainwright argues that Corbyn’s victory signifies the emergence of a much deeper movement. She notes that many media commentators who attack Corbyn believe that he is not “leader-like enough.” Wainwright argues that Corbyn’s frumpy, self-effacing attitude is precisely the point, insofar as Corbyn is creating a space within the Labour Party for popular voices to emerge.
The Left today must tackle two fundamental problems in the struggle against neoliberal capitalism: how to gain political power and what to do after coming to power. In our previous conversations on Perry Anderson’s “Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci,” we discussed political strategies in Western and non-Western states, especially the distinction between the “war of position” and “war of maneuver” in the Left’s quest to capture power and transform the state.
In their essay, “Class, Party and the Challenge of State Transformation,” Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin focus on the second part of the equation, what to do if the Left comes to power. They discuss the possibility of a pragmatic approach to achieve democratic socialism, referring to several recent examples such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Bernie Sanders’s campaign in the US and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labor Party in Great Britain.
Hal Draper’s short pamphlet The Two Souls of Socialism, published in 1966, outlines the difference between “Socialism-from-Above” and “Socialism-from-Below.” According to Draper, the former is frequently statist and elitist while the latter is based on the belief in the inherent capability of the masses to organize. Draper writes from the perspective of American socialism, but he fits broadly in the New Left paradigm that was equally critical of state socialist suppression as it was of capitalism.
In capitalist society, we generally assume that the “economic” sphere is separated from the “political” sphere. Economists argue that the separation occurs in order to maximize economic production. They claim that collapsing the economic into the political sphere would obstruct industrial production. This conceptualization underpins arguments against trade unionism and related activities, such as protests, strikes and other means of mobilizing and organizing workers.
In the “Specificity of the Political,” Ernesto Laclau addresses the debate between Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband on the Marxist theory of the State in order to develop its critical implications. Broadly speaking, Laclau agrees with Poulantzas that Miliband has not done enough work to theorize the concepts he uses. He is equally critical of Poulantzas, however, for his tendency to become more abstract, producing circular arguments about the nature of State power. In addition, Poulantzas ignores the question of why there is a theoretical difference between the questions posed by him and those posed by Miliband. Laclau notes that Miliband wants to understand how, empirically speaking, the ruling classes influence State bureaucrats, while Poulantzas attempts to theorize politics as a regional domain within capitalism (p. 67). They not only have different questions, but different methods.
We end our discussion of Perry Anderson’s text by looking at his views on Gramsci’s political strategy. According to Anderson, Gramsci’s work was preceded by a series of debates about the best approach to organizing the overthrow of capitalism. The first was a debate between those such as Georg Lukács who supported the German strategy of “Teilaktionen,” which advocated partial, cumulative attacks on the capitalist State, versus Lenin and other Russian revolutionaries who argued that the State must be defeated in a single revolutionary blow. The former strategy caused the German communists to pay a high price, when the aborted revolution of 1919 was anticipated and suppressed by the government. Anderson agrees with Lenin and Trotsky that there must be a fundamental rupture with the unity of the bourgeois state (57-58), meaning it cannot be conquered in piecemeal fashion.