As this post says: This should be a great time to be a socialist. The same idea was put to me recently by a certain arch-reactionary of my acquaintance, who said, in essence, “well I suppose you must be over the moon at the moment, what with the impending collapse of civilisation and everything”.
But of course crises in capitalism are only half the story; the other half is something that can take advantage of them, and at the moment that’s not very visible anywhere. Without a capable revolutionary movement – a movement which would, let’s bear in mind, be different from and bigger than pretty much anything ever before seen – this crisis will simply result in a period of depression and then a subtly changed form of capitalism – quite possible a worse one.
Dave Osler writes here about the idea that ‘the left blew its big chance’. As he sees it, there should have been, and could have been, a movement of left-wing intellectuals and groups preparing the ground for this moment, building up a rival ‘common-sense’, so that as soon as neoliberalism collapsed, the obvious alternative was before everyone’s mind.
I think there’s perhaps some truth in this, but what it leaves out is that, at least for dirty revolutionaries, the point of socialism is a shift not so much in the ‘what’ but in the ‘who’: a change of agency. Of course this can be caricatured by speaking in cliches of the proletariat rising “up” and over-“throwing” capitalism, but the point is that the sentence begins with a noun phrase like “the proletariat…”, rather than something like “the government…”.
That, I think, is part of what Osler implicitly rejects when he talks about the need for a “Marxist philosophy…devoid of dialectics”. The right-wing intellectuals he discusses, Friedrich von Hayek etc., were able to re-orient politics principally by re-orienting what governing parties would propose and carry out. The implication is that leftwards progress is to be made by getting left-wing intellectuals in a position to influence the policies of governing parties.
Any real movement towards socialism means movement towards an economy and society owned and run by workers – i.e. in which the activities of ‘owning’, ‘running’, and ‘working’ have ceased to be the distinct roles of different people and become three aspects of the same activity. We can add in ‘caring’ as something else to integrate, along with the integration of public and private spheres, so as to make that socialism feminist.
This means that a basic necessary condition for such movement is that instead of/as well as ruling parties and their ilk having nice ideas, there must be a social force outside of politics that has the strength to revolutionise society. By ‘strength’ I mean, the capacity to begin running society in its new form.
Do we see that? Not really. There are outbreaks of struggle all over the place, from the Visteon car factory workers to the Gulabi gang. But a social force currently competent to take over the management of society? Probably over much of if not all of the world? Sadly not. And it seems to me – though this may be misconceived – that the existence of such a force relies as much on social and demographic changes as on political agitation, if not more.
In the absence of that force, the ‘chance’ that David Osler says we have missed is the chance to persuade capitalist politicians to try and adopt the habits and structures that will be prevalent in a society without capitalists or politicians.