Highlights from ‘In Defence of Radical Politics’ – 2

steve-statsThis paper by Steve Schofield has been republished from his new website in full on this site. It has attracted widespread interest (left, with most readers from UK ). In In Defence of Radical Politics, he continues to look at Labour Party strategies from the 1979 election defeat:

“(T)he over-riding objective of a new generation of parliamentary Labour leaders has been to carry out what, until recent events, was a remorseless elimination, both intellectually and organisationally, of any semblance of radical politics within the party . . .”

Though the rhetoric was of a radical centre and a ‘Third Way’ of providing public services through partnerships with business and through social enterprises, Schofield itemises the reality:

  • a form of creeping privatisation,
  • a distancing from the trade unions
  • and an even closer attachment to an aggressively militarist United States

He continues by looking at grass-roots actions: through the Occupy Movement initially across the United States and into Europe, millions of people came together to challenge the legitimacy of a system that had extended and accelerated the accumulation of wealth and power by a corporate elite at the expense of ordinary working people. Many grass-roots actions volunteer support in New York and New Jersey for communities affected by flooding after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, stemmed from this experience of direct democracy, as did the Spanish anti-eviction campaign, Plataforma de Affectados, which spread across the country using civil disobedience and direct action to prevent thousands of families from being evicted. Those radical energies have also led to the growth of anti-austerity parties such as Syriza in Greece, Front de Gauche in France, the Five Star Movement in Italy and Podemos in Spain, all of which have fundamentally challenged social-democratic orthodoxy.

Schofield then turns to the UK and the United States where that power struggle has been played out internally through the Labour Party and the Democratic Party respectively:

“Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have attempted to re-align their parties around social justice and anti-austerity policies, drawing on the sheer energy and enthusiasm that emerged from the Occupy movement. Sanders, after an extraordinary campaign based on grass-roots support and funding, ultimately failed to gain the nomination but challenged the establishment consensus in a way that would have been unthinkable only a few years earlier . . .”

He gives a brief, definitive explanation for Corbyn’s election:

“For the mass of ordinary members, and those encouraged to participate as supporters with voting rights, the virtual extinguishing of a radical alternative by the Labour elite was intolerable in the face of the crisis facing working class communities. Corbyn’s was an authentic alternative voice that represented how they felt about issues like austerity, privatisation and disarmament. In effect, the Labour movement was attempting to take back the power, through the leadership campaign, that had been lost during the Blairite years with the neutering of party constituencies and conferences, as well as the fracturing of the relationship with the trade unions”.

After an overview of what he sees as ‘irreconcilable differences’ he expresses the need for a new party of the left, combining the traditional strengths of Labour with the new politics of participatory democracy and embracing a range of social movements. It would have to bring together both organised labour and workers without any trade union representation in the precarious world of zero-hour contracts and self-employment; as well as attract left-wing members of other parties like the Greens and the SNP, and the many millions of working people who have become so alienated from politics that they simply don’t vote.

In essence, Schofield writes, this party will be rebuilding a world-view that was second-nature to past generations, steeped as they were in a culture of working-class radicalism.

(Ed: perhaps like the Common Wealth Party?)

Past radical generations would have witnessed the latest crisis as further evidence that capitalism as a system only survives by further extracting the surplus value of labour through profit; they would have looked at the legacy of social democracy as, at best marginal and fragile, and at worst, by embracing much of the neo-liberal economic agenda, a capitulation to the power of capital; finally, they would have been disgusted by the behaviour of the New Labour elite who used their status as senior politicians, only gained through the support of the labour movement, to secure lucrative directorships and consultancies with the very corporations that have benefited from privatisations decimating public services and eroding workers’ pay and conditions. Schofield continues:

“There has never been a better time for organising around a new radical programme. Over recent years, grass-roots initiatives such as community renewable energy projects, co-operative housing schemes and local food networks have provided signposts, albeit on a small scale, of how the economy might break free from the tethers of capitalism”.

He asks: “How can we develop a social wage to reconcile new technologies with the loss of traditional work, or how can we achieve a no-growth economy with zero-carbon emissions that restores the integrity of planetary eco-systems and diversity of life while still providing a material base that benefits all working people?”

Campaigns like the Green New Deal and the Just Transition movement have brought together trade unions and environmental groups in support of just such radical programmes. But the challenge is to embrace the very diversity of these ideas and approaches in a way that can mobilise mass support for radical politics and create a common ground based on a strong ideological vision of a post-capitalist society. This can only be achieved through a vigorous but also generous debate on political and economic priorities, such as on the balance between parliamentary representation and extra-parliamentary action. A vibrant and confident political movement with a strong ideological base and sense of purpose can achieve precisely that. Some core elements are clear in the short-term:

  • public ownership of major utilities and the railways,
  • the reversal of privatisation in the NHS and local government,
  • accelerated council house building and renewable energy programmes
  • and nuclear and conventional disarmament.

However, individual policy areas should only be seen as part of a medium to long-term strategy for a fundamental redistribution of power to working people through devolution and economic democracy leading to a post-capitalist society.

For example, the democratic consensus might be to create a decentralised energy infrastructure based on renewable energy and community ownership. By having increased control over the means of production, working people will be able directly to assess the merits of any economic activity, weighing all issues including employment and environmental factors. If the balance of the argument is that quality of life considerations lead to the rejection of a particular form of production, this can be done in the knowledge that public investment is taking place across a range of socially-useful activities and that necessary work is being equally shared. The traditional threat of unemployment without destructive and wasteful capitalist development will be consigned to history where it belongs.

My own interpretation of the legacy of the radical left has remained the same throughout my lifetime, that it is impossible for working people to realise their own creative capabilities without removing the shackles of capitalist exploitation. Fundamentally, post-capitalism isn’t about a form of economic rationality but human creativity.

The utopia of shared work and the emancipation of time to realise the full potential of every human being is worth any amount of struggle in the face of grotesque inequalities and environmental breakdown that could, if we let the capitalist elite prevail, lead to the destruction of all life on the planet.

 

Read the full article here: http://stevenschofield.co.uk/?page_id=63

 

 

 

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Posted on December 2, 2016, in Defence, Democracy, Economy, Environment, Labour Party, Peace, Trident and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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