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SoL1: Are we still relevant?

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Freien    104

Announcement here: https://theredand.black/forums/topic/731-school-of-the-left/

 

 

I was wondering with what I should begin. Of course the first thing that struck my mind was something from Karl Marx. Those of you that know wouldn't be really surprised by that. Then I thought about starting with something more 'neutral'. Answering what is socialism, for example. However, in the end I chose to begin with a different question: are we, the Left, even relevant anymore? On a first glance, this may seem like a pretty pointless question. We are here and we are talking about how to achieve a Socialist society, what it would be like and all these conventional themes for discussion between leftists. Nevertheless, I believe that the question of relevance is far superior than any other, at least at our times. If the demand of Socialism is irrelevant today, then every other discussion about it would be meaningless. In that case capitalism has won and the end of history lies here, in liberal democracy, as some supported at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse. For this reason, the question of relevance should precede any other. In order to attempt an answer for it, I have found an article from the Marxist Student Federation. Note: It talks about the relevance of Marxism, specifically, but you should take this as if it talks about socialism in general, if you are not a Marxist. Read it below:

 

"All too often, Marxists are posed with questions such as “surely Marxism isn't relevant any more? We've moved on since Marx was writing” or “why do you still defend a man who was writing about the conditions of a couple of centuries ago?”

The answer to such questions is simple: not a lot has changed.

In What is to be Done? Lenin famously talks about the spontaneous development of the masses, expressed through trade union politics, that can sometimes to economism, i.e., the waging of the economic war alone, and not the political. This is dangerous because the struggle for socialism must be political as well as economic and without an understanding of that, political ideas alien to the working class can creep into the movement. While we must fight for reform that benefits the working class, by no means is it the be all and end all of the struggle. In the words of Lenin: “Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the labour movement from its spontaneous, trade unionist striving to go under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy.”

These words can be seen as truer than ever today. The trade unionist leadership, left without communist ideas and direction, has adopted bourgeois ideas of reformism and “responsible capitalism”. Trade union bureaucrats can get away with such policies during a period of capitalist upswing, and the relative economic boom of the last 60 years has indeed seen a move to the right by union leaders and the Labour Party, epitomised by Blair. As stated before, while we must fight for reforms that benefit the working class, it is not the be all and end all of struggle. However the Labour Party and the trade unions, in the last period and still today, treat it as such. At a time like now, when capitalist crisis is crushing the workers, this reformism without reforms leads only to further misery for the working class. To quote Lenin, “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” Quite clearly the modern trade union movement, whose leadership has been left completely without revolutionary Marxist thought, needs revolutionary theory now more than ever so as to build a revolutionary movement against austerity. This is why Marxists must be on marches, demonstrations and rallies making the argument for revolutionary socialism. We should always be where the masses are.

Therefore, we, as Marxists, must argue for a socialist direction for the mass trade union movements. We must use the institutions of bourgeois democracy as well as trade unions, demonstrations, rallies, etc. as a platform to speak our views and to convince people of the need for a socialist transformation of society, which will not fail us in fighting for decent living standards and protection of our rights. To conclude with regards to trade unionism: the relevance of Marxism here is to act as a force for socialist ideas amongst the mass of people, to direct them to a new, internationalist proletarian cause—to break the link with bourgeois politics and economism.

As far as the economic struggle goes, it is fundamental that it is not split from the political struggle. However, that does not mean that it mustn’t go without analysis, without scrutiny. In Wage-labour and Capital, Marx pretty much sums up with the near enough prophetic lines: ‘[But] capital not only lives upon labour. Like a master, at once distinguished and barbarous, it drags with it into its grave the corpses of its slaves, whole hecatombs of workers, who perish in the crises.’ By this, Marx is of course referring to the endless anarchy and cyclical crises of production under capitalism, the crises that take place in the international markets which claim victims each time, be it through poverty, famine, desperation, slavery and even death in the most down-trodden and exploited countries.

In Wage-labour and Capital, Marx explains the dialectical and dependent nature of both wage-labour and capital, and how one sustains the other; without capital, the wage-labourer cannot survive, as he receives no wages; and without wage-labour, capital cannot exist and profits cannot be made.

The question is this: do these social conditions still exist? The simple answer is yes, they do. We have not abandoned this system, thrown away the chains, and released the wage-labourers from the dominion of capital. Workers are still routinely exploited for profit; commodity production, i.e., producing in the name of profit, still exists; imperialism is still attempting to secure its gains in many countries; cyclical crises, owing to the anarchy of production and overproduction, are still borne by sacrifices made by the proletariat without their consent; and the list goes on.

From this, then, the economic relevance of Marxism—in its explanation of the nature of capital, in its offering of an alternative—can be seen in the bluntest and most upfront manner possible. It is to free the workers from the dominion of capital, from the capitalist parasites who, to quote Marx, ‘will do anything for the workers but get off their backs.’

Marxism is still hugely relevant in both the economic and political struggle, as one without the other will inevitably lead to concessions to bourgeois thought. With the seizure of power and with the smashing of the old system, the proletariat will fulfil its potential to change society, and become able, for the first time, to act in its own interests, to free itself, and to lead the way to communism.

Marxism’s relevance in the 21st century is thanks to the fact that things haven’t really changed, and the proletariat is still subordinate to capital. What’s more, as a result of this people are still taught, from a young age, that greed is good, and that merciless selfishness is the basis of their so-called (actually distorted) conception of “human nature”. The most relentless propaganda wars against Marxist thought are waged; people are encouraged not to look past the bourgeois democratic pantomime of Parliament. The ideas of Marxism are the ideas we need to fight back against all these things.

‘‘Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common.’’ —Karl Marx "

(Link for the source: http://marxiststudent.com/what-is-the-relevance-of-marxism-today/)

 

Question: Do you think that the capitalist system has changed much (if its roots have changed) from the time of the Russian Revolution (1917)? If so, what are the biggest changes that the Left should try to cope with, in order to maintain a relevant program?

 

Next post will be about the difference between socialism, only, and communism. Awaiting to see how this goes.

Edited by Freien
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Balloch    7

Capitalism has become a little more complicated over this time period with the growth of a so-called "middle class" which does have more wealth than your traditional working class proletariat, although I think overall not much has changed because the wage labour relationships remain and exploitation remains albeit in the kinder form of social democracy in some cases. Though wealth has increased in Europe and America and some parts of Asia, still most of it goes to an elite bourgeoisie that not only still privately controls the means of production, but also the means of communication (the media) and still has oligarchic control of power over others. Therefore, it is my feeling that capitalism and its power structures are fundamentally very similar.  

I think the Left overall needs to wage a two-front battle: we cannot abandon class politics, although I think getting involved with social struggles is a way of giving a rebirth to the organised left because it is through social struggle that revolutionary thought is created and the current mentality is broken. I think a big challenge for us is tackling the immense influence of the media, who have unchecked power and basically indoctrinate whole generations. That being said , I think education is key. A lot of people are simply ignorant about collectivist ideals, and I found that talking to them in a legitimate, empathetic, and friendly manner can at least open some minds to different ideas. We need new blood in the movement, and I think by approaching young people in this way we can constructively build a viable movement and programme for future times

Edited by Balloch
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Capitalism has simply worsened over the years, but it's basic form hasn't changed at all. As it was mentioned in the article, a lot of people seem to think that Marxism (and in fact Socialism) is no longer relevant since the conditions that Marx was writing about over 100 years ago no longer exist. This simply isn't true. While it is true that in Europe there is no mass poverty on the scale that there was during the Industrial Revolution, poverty and exploitation has instead been shipped across the world on a much larger scale to meet the growing demands of consumer capitalism. This is most noticeable in Asia, Africa and Latin America where millions are enslaved in sweatshops in return for barely enough to live. Sadly, the average person in the West is either unaware or wilfully ignorant of the fact that the vast majority of our clothes, gadgets and technology that we pay so much for is produced by workers (often children) working in slave-like conditions for well under £1 an hour.

Another solid proof of the extent of modern capitalism is the fact that well under 1% of the world's population now controls over 90% of global wealth. Capitalism has also changed slightly and become more complicated with the rise of the "middle class". While it is true that the middle class typically has more wealth than the proletariat, in the grand scheme of things it is very little. In reality the "middle class" is more of an "upper working class" - all the real wealth is hoarded by the upper classes. The only difference between the middle class and the working class is that one thinks he is rich, the other knows he is not.

If the left wants to survive it needs to keep up the two front battle: if we do abandon class politics then the left may as well be considered irrelevant. A good example of this would be the Democrats in the US. While most of us would agree that the Democrats were never true leftists, they still serve as an important reminder. One of the main reasons that Clinton lost the 2016 election was that the Democrats failed to engage with and represent the people they claimed to represent - the working class. This abandonment of class politics effectively allowed the Right to capitalise on the suffering of the working class and paved the way for Trump's rise to power. A very simillar situation occurred in Germany in the 1920s and 30s. Although as much as I'd like to, I won't discuss the rise of Fascism in the 21st century in any more detail since it's going off topic.

Personally, I think that if the Left is to remain relevant, we firstly must not abandon the class struggle, but also we will have to up our game. Since the 1970s, Socialism has been brutally and viciously attacked by the media (and many over things) as the ruling classes attempt to crush any resistance to global capitalism. One of the main reasons that the far right has been able to rise without anyone turning an eye is its ability to rebrand itself as the "alt-right". This has allowed them to gain far more support and than they would have without rebranding. Whilst we all agree that the far right are scum, it may be worth playing them at their own game, rebranding the left to appear less extreme and more acceptable, if we want to remain relevant.

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I don't see the left as being irrelevant, since the right is still relevant. The political environment is never going to stray much from that dichotomy, even if people aim to have a 'middle ground' between the two, since even THEY disagree. I, however, think some of the ideas of the left are still based on outdated and sectarian ideas - ideas stick to one group and are not looked at by others at all, out of fear of not appearing as part of their own clique. Don't get me wrong, I am not preaching left unity here, as that itself is a dead-end, but I am calling for a larger spread of ideas in the left; to be able to weigh ideas from other ideologies and to humor them, without thinking one has to accept them; to look past idols as infallible and to point out faults and what can be done to remedy the fault in their ideals; to pull away the blinders of 'purity' in the left, when no such 'purity' exists; to strike at the ideals of the right with a pointed rationale and nobility, while not using other leftists as cannon fodder.

 

We are not irrelevant - we are simply outdated at points.

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"The irrelevancy of the left" is a side-effect of the prolonged global exposure to Eurocentric capitalism. The 1st world opposition to even basic leftism has put a deep-rooted hatred amongst the global population. Many of former leftist/revolutionary nations blame the problems of their country both today and decades ago on socialism and fail to consider that it was imperialism that set them up to fail in the first place. After the Cold War the ""2nd World"" (Soviet Aligned nations) should have become part of the 1st World (modern highly developed nations) but with the exception of Russia and the Warsaw pact all of these nations instead decayed further into the the 3rd world (poverty stricken nations that lag behind most of the world). This "failure of leftism" turned many discontent with liberal society to neo-fascism and hate. The "left" ruined their lives and Liberalism is a failure so they go to the darkside of the world to repression and bigotry.

Problems of this irrelevancy is that because of the ease of communication it allowed the media to portray the violence of a revolutionary society and of brutal leaders who ideologically are often removed from Marxism and basic leftism, and condemn the whole of the left meaning that even Socdems like Sanders and Corbyn are seen as hard radicals. The corruption of the world by capitalism, imperialism and the status quo have made treating people well and economic equality into far-flung utopianism.

Now we all cringe (including me) at the condemnation of Stalin and Mao but their methods made it all too easy for the west to condemn all of the left and allowed McCarthyism and Regan/Thatcherism to control the world until this past decade where radical opposition to the status quo has become the norm and the only safe-heaven for most is the unhealthy status quo.

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Lam Lause    3

One important thing to consider when asking about the current relevancy of the left is to reflect upon how modern capitalism differs from that of two hundred years ago.

While yes, there are still the working class and the elites, there is also a third class artificially created by the elites as the simultaneous stick and carrot to keep the workers in line. This class is most typically called the 'middle class' and serves as both a hollow promise that the oppressed might finally make it big one day and become successful under their socioeconomic regime, as well as a means of turning the working class upon themselves. Instead of revolutionizing as a whole, they are pitted against one another to fight, some pushing for socialist reform, and others battling tooth and claw to hold on to what they already have, blinded by the promises of more to come if they keep the status quo.

This class isn't just white collar workers however, and the only way in which 'middle class' is accurate is in that it describes a buffer - more important than how much they earn, is what their role in society is. Therefore police, corrupt politicians, and even the small business owner who doesn't have the wealth of the elites all become active barriers to progress. Not because they want to cause harm in their minds, but simply because of what the capitalist regime has made their roles to be.

This in conjunction with mass media has poisoned and retarded progressive thoughts. If you want more control and power to enforce policy, run shows about police in dramatized heroic fashion while blasting even the tiniest implication of terrorism far and wide to raise fears. If you want special policies and rules which benefit you specifically, you hire lobbyists to bribe politicians looking for election campaign funds. If you want regulations and taxes to be eased no matter how loose they are, have your lobbyists raise the rates of things while your lawyers weasel yourself out - the small business owners will all vote your way to escape the very burdens you shifted onto them.

This has turned into a bit of a tangent but is something I thought was important to consider, especially since we are discussing both politically and economically here. Even true and well meant efforts at progression will be attacked and undermined and turned against itself with this 'class proxy war' if such movements are not extremely wary.

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Kassimo    4
On 9/23/2017 at 6:17 PM, Freien said:

Question: Do you think that the capitalist system has changed much (if its roots have changed) from the time of the Russian Revolution (1917)? If so, what are the biggest changes that the Left should try to cope with, in order to maintain a relevant program?

The capitalist system has changed immeasurably over the last century. The fundamental mechanics of capitalism, that Karl Marx comprehensively analysed, remain within todays economy. And it will continue to be so until capitalism comes to an end. Our society is a class society, and therefore class struggle remains one essential aspect of collective liberation. One conceptual pole of capitalism participates in the ownership and management of the means by which we create the environment and content of our lives and relationships, and therefore has an interest in maintaining the hierarchies (including property relations) of which they are benefactors. The other conceptual pole of capitalism is dispossessed of the above, and therefore has an interest in destroying the hierarchies by which they are subjugated and impoverished. Yet the real manifestation of this abstract class divide is qualitatively different from 1917. I believe I am correct in stating that Marx argued that as capitalism developed the class divide would intensify, as part of society became increasingly 'proletarianised' while the other part accumulated ever more capital. In some ways this has proven accurate: for example the sectors of the economy which lingered from the feudal era were absorbed into capitalism, and for another example we can highlight the concentration of the vast majority of the worlds capital into the hands of perhaps a few thousand people (on this planet of seven billion). In other ways Marx's projection couldn't be further from the truth as the real expressions of ownership and authority in society become ever more graded, and, especially, as relations of power become ever more dynamic and capital circulates ever faster. To put it another way, we can no longer speak of a proletarian class who have nothing to lose but their chains, and a bourgeois class, who own the fields, factories, and offices. Workers have truly bought in to capitalism, we have become invested in the status quo in various ways. The consolidation of imperialism in 'globalised capitalism' makes us all (in the 'first world' countries) beneficiaries of the exploitation of labour. And as far as the bosses go, it is a lot more complex than simple ownership of private property. Control of the workplaces/businesses, control of infrastructure,  control of public space, social control, etc. have become the eminent features of the-powers-that-be. There is no categorical divide between a ruling class and a subjected class. In the workplace, for example, there is not a boss and his workers, but a gradation of positions each with increasing authority and pay. The many inter-dependent hierarchies (including but not limited to property relations) which all together constitute our class society manifest in different forms and are distributed across the population in varying and often conflicting patterns. The same person can be advantaged by one power-structure and disadvantaged by another.

This is just one tiny exploration of changes since 1917, as far as I see it; yet it would take a whole library of books to cover everything. I wouldn't hope to summarise all that.

While the reformist left continues to decay (let us celebrate), with the occasional death-throes of social-democracy, the anti-capitalist left becomes ever more relevant, simply because the crises that face our capitalist world continue to intensify and appear terminal. The ecological crisis is perhaps the most pointed among these, because whereas human suffering can be overseen by bullets and antidepressants, the collapse of the ecology which sustains human society and the exhaustion of natural resources which fuel the vital continual growth of markets, cannot be corrected by any process compatible with the continuation of capitalism. Socialism is the primary (perhaps only) viable alternative to capitalism, for those who value freedom and equality.

In my view, the biggest change that the left needs to cope with in order for leftist social movement to remain relevant is the annihilation of authentic human society, that is, authentic individuality combined with authentic social relationships (community), all of which has been inescapably eroded by the community of capital, where all of our relationships are mediated by commodities, where we define ourselves by image, and our grasp of reality is constructed for us as a grand spectacle. Possibilities of liberation open up as we break free from this essential dehumanisation and build new relationships: a process that can only be pursued in antagonism to every fiber of this social order.

Edited by Wayward Nomads
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