Saturday, July 4, 2009
I'm in muddy waters. My very own ideological quagmire. I spent the afternoon and evening at the Marxism Festival held at the University of London campus. What I thought would be a loose organization of left wing groups, concerned about how aspects of Marxism are still relevant today, about how we have to fight retrenchment, the alliance of corporations and government, and about how we can awaken people to the reality that unmanaged capitalism is a destructive force, turned out to be something very different. Most of what I heard appeared to be contrived table stomping. I know they would all slap me silly if I said Sweden was the ideal (which it really is, and I want to live there), but I didn't expect them to be SO dogmatic.
The socialist workers movement in the United Kingdom has been historically robust and militant when compared to the rest of Europe. But most former supporters of Labour in many ways feel betrayed by the party. Some will stay, out of habit, others (this shouldn't be exaggerated though) will join nationalist parties, like the BNP, and still others drift further to the left. The most mainstream party in the UK that represents this new group is the Socialist Worker's Party. They were the ones who organised the festival. They constantly receive heavy criticism from the other communist groups, for 'buying into the parliamentary game'. What I find troubling, is that the SWP seems way too concerned about this criticism, and they've taken to heavy posturing in the past few months. Individual members talk about the coming revolution, that now is the time to take the state in the name of the workers, and expel capitalism once and for all.
This is all well and good, and should technically be taken seriously, because the SWP has a significant support base. But it's not serious. The party has never done anything to embrace this so-called revolution beyond hosting anti-capitalist street parties at Canary Wharf, and large talking shops for left wing academics. (Who I am mostly fond of, I might add). However, as a free thinking individual, with anarchist leanings, I felt entirely offended that young dudes from the (also) sell-out organization patronised me, and shamed me for not joining the party. I thanked one guy for his work on the festival, (ironically, it wasn't well organized, considering they are communists) and gave a polite no thanks when he told me to join the SWP. I specifically remember the words, "If you really care, then join a revolutionary movement, join the SWP". Now THAT's insane. I wanted to ask him with all honesty, if he knew how to shoot a gun. My guess is he can't. And there certainly won't be a peaceful road to socialist revolution, because the democratic state just isn't going anywhere. Also, the left is divided on the matter of how to 'smash the state' as it is. So without violence, there really is NO revolution in the West. What the festival brought to light was just how diverse the left is! The Spartacist League, the Socialist Equality Party etc etc. They mainly try to deligitimise each other. It's a waste of time.
And here's my biggest quibble: the way 'comrades' went out of their way to point out that what was going on in Latin America wasn't really revolutionary. For example, there was criticism of Evo Morales' politics. Many believed he was 'negotiating with the fascists' in Santa Cruz. This just seems silly to me. In light of the complex societal dynamics there, and the historic and ongoing power of the military (see Chile '73, Honduras '09) what else was Morales to do? He isn't Chavez. He doesn't have the power to simply drive through reforms. (To their defense, it is from a marxist point of view analytically sound to critcise 'reforms' in and of themselves, because reformism can never be revolutionary). Call it what you like, but in my mind, reformism is just delivering more right now. What is going on in so many countries in Latin America is more revolutionary in actuality than anything that talk-shopping marxists in Europe could ever hope to do. They will remain irrelevant, while Latin American leftist leaders will struggle and achieve some successes in bringing equality to their people by avoiding bloodshed.
My main conclusion has been that the trouble with Western marxists today is that they want to have their cake and eat it too. From their high horses, and deeply informed marxist views, they asses every situation without taking account of nuances or limitations. In fact, they are betraying the entire movement by leaving BEHIND the dialectic analysis of the historical role of monopoly capitalism. Zizek's contributions to the debate were the most entertaining, and interesting. Where I think Marxists should play a role is in fact in criticism. Agitation. ETC. Keep building the kadres, keep an open mind, and embrace every comrade on the left, regardless of whether they are eco-socialists or feminists etc etc. If they fail to do that, then I'm afraid they will lose ALL relevance, and people will indeed find nationalist parties more appealing. I don't need to bring up THE example, but I think we all know what happens when the ranks remain divided in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis. Fascism will win, democracy will collapse, and the entire left will be thrown into camps. The proletariat will never benefit from a divided left. However, the route to overcoming this division is NOT imposing uniformity on the movement in a Leninist/Stalinist way, but rather to accept differences of opinion, and to continue to debate them in the open. In many ways that was the one positive thing about the Marxism festival. But I must say, the Anarchist Book fair back in November was much more enjoyable. If any communist accuses me of being afraid to join 'the revolution', I would ask them where the potential for revolution in the West lies? I would ask them to stop eating meat, and start TRULY living in solidarity with the world's poor, to embrace TRUE internationalism, which means NOT shopping at Tesco for cheap food. Solidarity means personal sacrifice. Too many members of the SWP are two-faced hypocrites. This is something I can't say I found under the anarchists. They lived their cause.
Here's Zizek's contribution, if you're interested. He's inspiring, and I loved his answer. I agree because its logical. Revolutionaries are those who want to overthrow capitalism and replace it with something new and modern. I don't think anyone on the left is brave enough to carry out his prescriptions, though: