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Connexions Other Voices - November 11, 2017 - Left Parties
November 11, 2017The November 11, 2017 issue of Other Voices looks at Left parties.
"There is no alternative" That is capitalism's message in the neo-liberal era. The rich keep getting richer and richer, millions of people are unemployed, millions more are trying to survive on precarious, marginal, and part-time work, hundreds of millions are without health care, housing, education, or clean water. Environmental collapse is increasingly likely, masses of people are fleeing wars and economic disasters, nuclear war is a real danger. And all that the corporate elite, the corporate media, and the mainstream political parties have to offer is their insistence that there is nothing we can do about it: there is no alternative.
In those countries where some version of liberal democracy still exists, an ever-increasing percentage of the population has stopped participating in elections where none of the parties offer an alternative. The parties that used to offer something for working people - the various versions of social democracy - have been absorbed into the neo-liberal consensus, and where they form governments, alone, or in coalition with other neo-liberal parties, they enforce the same neo-liberal program.
The political vacuum left by the mainstream parties has opened up space for new parties and political movements to emerge on both the right (see Other Voices October 9, 2017 [http://www.connexions.org/Media/CXNL-2017-10-09.htm] ) and the left. In recent years, a number of left parties have emerged out of mass movements in countries like Spain (Podemos), Germany (Die Linke), and Greece (Syriza). In Latin America, in the last two decades, left movements or parties have formed governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay. In Britain, exceptionally, the emergence of a socialist left has happened within the mainstream Labour Party, inspired by Jeremy Corbyns articulation of a socialist vision that attracted enormous numbers of new members to the party. In the United States, Bernie Sanders campaign also showed that a politician who calls himself a socialist can inspire millions of people, though Sanders insistence on channelling their energies into the Democratic Party undermined the possibilities for a new political movement that his campaign could have opened up.
What these new left parties/movements have in common is a strategy of engaging in grassroots organizing and also running in elections. They all describe themselves as socialist, though in many cases their programs are more reminiscent of what social democrats used to advocate decades ago: reforms that would tame and manage capitalism rather than abolish it. Their ultimate vision may be a world without capitalism, but their immediate proposals are more modest and incremental, though still significantly to the left of the neo-liberal consensus.
The ambiguities and contradictions in their goals are in large part attributable to the fact that, being based on social movements, they are therefore coalitions incorporating diverse points of view, some radical, some less so.
A second tension is one that emerges in every leftwing political movement that engages in elections. Those who are elected to office, and the party/parliamentary apparatus that surrounds them, are almost inevitably absorbed into the narrow world of elections and parliamentary politics. This is all the more true if a left party manages to attain office.
Indeed, the experience of the left parties to emerge in the last two decades shows that the real test, and the real danger, comes when a left party forms a government, or becomes part of a coalition government.
A coalition by definition requires the parties participating in it to sacrifice parts of their programs. When a socialist party enters a coalition with a non-socialist party, it is always on the basis that the socialist parts of its program are set aside in exchange for including some of the specific reforms it wants in the coalition governments agenda. The prospect of achieving a share of political office in a coalition can be extremely tempting, but for a left party the result is almost always a political disaster.
The dangers and challenges of achieving office are most starkly posed when a left party comes to power in its own right. Being in government is not the same as being in power, as it soon comes to learn. Real power is wielded by the capitalist class, those who control the levers of finance. When they dont like the results of an election, they move their money out of the country, and international money markets institute a de facto boycott of the disobedient country. International institutions, such as the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the biggest and most powerful international institution of all, the American Empire, bring enormous pressure to bear. In this, they have the help of a fifth column within the country: the corporate sector (including the corporate media), as well as significant parts of the state apparatus, such as the senior bureaucracy, the police, and the military.
If a left party is to have any hope of surviving and carrying out its program, it has to have a clear understanding of the obstacles it will face, and a strong determination to meet them head on. Even more importantly, it can only succeed if it remains the expression of a broad-based social movement. An isolated left government has no chance. A movement of millions of people which is committed to an ongoing process of social transformation can sustain a left government, even as such a government can help to achieve the goals of the movement.
In this issue of Other Voices, we look at the experiences of a number of left parties. The Connexions Subject Index provides links to many more insightful articles and books.
Other Voices is available by email, or you can see it online at http://www.connexions.org/Media/CXNL-2017-11-11.htm
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