Some comments by Ollman on Marxism & Political Science

Theory?

One neglected aspect of this blog is to develop and/or encourage theoretical discussion.  I’m hoping to build up that aspect over 2014.

One thing I often do is write up excerpts from books I’m reading, and then add some of my own comments to them.  I usually use a notebook for that, but it occurred to me that having them online, on the blog, serves as a sort of ‘cloud’ storage system, and could encourage some useful discussion, further informing my own thoughts.

So, here’s some excepts from the work of the Marxist dialectician Bertrell Ollman:

Dr Ollman is a professor of politics at NYU, with a particular background in Marxist dialectics.

Dr Ollman is a professor of politics at NYU, with a particular background in Marxist dialectics.

The reasons why a Marxist school of political scientists has not yet emerged, despite what appear to be favourable conditions, are rooted chiefly in the historical peculiarities of both Marxism and political science.  Marx concentrated most of his mature efforts on the capitalist economy, but even aside from essays on French and English politics and the early critique of Hegel there is a lot more on the state in his writings than is generally recognised.  In particular, Capital contains a theory of the state that, unlike Marx’s related economic theories, is never fully worked out.  This is a subject Marx hoped to develop if and when his work in economics permitted.  An outline of his overall project gives the state a much more important role in his explanation of capitalism than would appear to be the case from a glance at what he completed.

After Marx died, most of his followers erroneously attributed an influence to the different social spheres in proportion to the treatment accorded them in his published writings.  This error was facilitated by the standard interpretation of Marx’s well-known claims on the relationship between the economic base and the social-political-cultural superstructure.  If the economic life of society is wholly responsible for the character and development of other spheres, the activities that go on in the latter can be safely ignored or, if need be, deduced.  Engels’s end-of-life correspondence is full of warnings against this interpretation, but they seem to have had little effect.  Among Marx’s more prominent early followers, only Lukacs, Korsch and Gramsci wholly reject such economic determinism as the framework in which to understand the state.

Given the minor role of the state in Marxism, as interpreted by most Marxists, it is little wonder that academics who chose to study politics were not attracted to this theory.  The history of political science as a distinct discipline, however, has also contributed to this disinterest.  Unlike economics and sociology, which began as attempts to understand whole societies, the origins of political science lay in jurisprudence and statecraft.  Instead of investigating the workings of the political process in its connection with other social processes, political science has seldom strayed beyond the borders of the political process as such.  Aims have generally revolved around making existing political institutions more efficient.  There is no radical tradition, no group of major radical thinkers, and no body of consistent radical thought in political science such as one finds – at least to some degree – in sociology, economics, and history.  From Machiavelli to Kissinger, political science has been the domain of those who – believing they understood the realities of power – have sought their reforms and advancement within the system, and it has attracted equally practically minded students.

The above is excerpts from Ollman, B. (2003) Dance of the Dialectic – Steps in Marx’s Method.  University of Illinois Press, USA.

Notes

*These notes are not supposed to be earth-shattering.  They’re just my initial thoughts on reading the excepts above.*

A key anthology in laying the foundation of my ideological perspectives.

A key anthology in laying the foundation of my ideological perspectives.

This reminds me of thumbing through the big red book of the ‘Marx & Engels Reader’, which, during my undergraduate years at Trent, was almost a bible for me, reading it religiously and thoroughly, providing the foundation for my subsequent understanding and application.  The collected letters, especially the letters where Marx or Engles sought to clarify against vulgar interpretations of base and superstructure, the emphasis on the dialectical interactions between them, this was instilled in my from the start of my studies of Marxism, in as much as the letters were a ‘low hanging fruit’ – a more manageable chunk of text to read and digest, even before I read the Communist Manifesto.

A whole generation of professed Marxists appear to have had a distorted view of the Marxist method, or, rather, of Marxism itself.  To a degree this distortion no doubt contributed to the errors of what became ‘actually existing socialism’, of 20th Century socialism, the authoritarian regimes best represented by the Stalinist Soviet Union.  A vulgar Marxism led to a vulgar and nightmarish caricature of what socialism meant to be.  Too much emphasis on industry to the detriment of other aspects.

A whole generation for whom dialectics was vulgarised and corrupted, with those who grasped the dialectics properly were marginalised and at times purged.  Leading to distortions within both ‘actually existing socialism’ and those outside, be it in the national liberation movements of the imperial periphery, or the prospects of the left in the ‘West’.

Although in the resurgent Marxism of the 1970s the role of the State became the subject of fierce debate amongst Marxists (see Milliband, Poulantzas, for example), it was ignored from ‘political science’ proper.  Political science became a tool of hegemony for capitalism and empire, in all its forms.  This continues today, with the dominance of political mercenaries, the spin doctors and the advertising specialists that dominate formal politics today.

Machiavelli though, it is questionable whether he was writing a manual for the rules on how to sustain power, or if he was making clear to the people how such rule was maintained, providing by subtext a revolutionary alternative?  See, for example, Gramsci’s interpretation, and the role of the ‘Modern Prince’ – the modern Marxist and revolutionary movement?

2007 Notes on ‘Progressive Labour’ – Part Two

Below are some notes I drafted in in the weeks after the 2007 election, as an analysis of the PLP’s decade of power.

At the time I was a member of the PLP, and involved with the youth wing and on the Central Committee.

A Decade of Power

When considering the outcomes in socio-economic terms that the past decade has seen, and the cost, in terms of widespread popular passivity and cynicism, along with growing skepticism and renewed resistance, I see no strong reasons to alter my perceptions of the new PLP hegemony.

The two elections since the 1998 victory have seen little of the passion for change that swept the PLP to victory.

Bermudian democracy, as seen in the passive 2003 and 2007 elections, has failed to deepen the movement for human liberation.  Rather, we have seen our democracy become a ‘disillusioned’ democracy, not unlike those seen elsewhere.

To a degree, then, the 1998 election saw the ‘normalisation’ of our democracy in terms of liberal conceptions of democracy, but it also saw a betrayal of the desire for popular democracy.

The Political Landscape

Although the continued existence of the relic UBP still retards the development of new, critical, oppositional voices, in spite of this new voices are beginning to be heard.

The rich in Bermuda continue to get richer and the poor continue to get poorer.  It is clear that the PLP is pushing a neo-liberal capitalist agenda, co-opting Black wannabes into the charmed circles of the ruling elite.

A decade of PLP hegemony has enabled some Black Bermudians to profit immeasurably while simultaneously failing to alter the economic structure that disempowers the majority of the population.

This in itself is not surprising in retrospect (or even before) in that the dominant faction of the PLP was – and continues – to be a Black middle-class, along with an aristocracy of labour bureaucrats.  Their political aspirations were, and are, limited to the first stage of revolution, of expanded liberal democracy, and not substantial radical change.

Despite the PLP’s decade of failure, there remains many workers who still believe in the PLP as both their liberator and guarantor of a better life now and in the future.

What are the prospects?  One would predict an increasing demoralisation of the PLP base with the continued PLP failure to meet their aspirations of a progressive and labour party.  While the UBP remains moribund it leaves the PLP subject to a slow decline, where the UBP may benefit (if it does not decay further and instead maintains its current, albeit limited, support) more by default than active victory.

That is, the PLP risks a passive decline and sleepwalking away from power.  At what rate this will be realised is hard to answer, being subject to multiple external and internal factors.

What does seem clear now though is that the probability of radical change from within the PLP is unlikely without a significant event.  And even then it would depend on the balance of forces and the rate of ideological decay within the party to determine whether such an event would really lead to anything beyond a cosmetic change.

Despite the internal euphoria from the recent election result, the decline is evident and, all things remaining equal, terminal, even if the tempo is unclear.

It is increasingly unlikely that the radical resurgence can be initiated from within.  The options remaining then are continue within on a doomed path, forge a new direction outside (with the hope of articulating and inspiring change within from outside) or opting out altogether.

2007 Notes on ‘Progressive Labour’ – Part One

As the PLP engages in a thorough post-election self-analysis and restructuring, I thought it may be useful to revisit some of my old writings on the subject.  

I made these notes in the weeks after the 2007 election, as part of my ongoing analysis of Bermudian politics.  At the time I had been a rejoined the PLP (in late 2005 or early 2006) and was involved with the youth wing, Progressive Minds.

One wonders, how accurate where they?  And what relevance are they for today?

The Crisis of Progressive Labour

Progressive Labour’s crisis today is a crisis in the meaning of ‘progressive labour’.

There are today a lot of people who call themselves pro-PLP, but there has perhaps never been a time when the label was less informative.

The nearest thing to a common content of the various ‘progressive labours’ is a negative – anti-UBPism.  On the positive side, the range of conflicting and incompatible ideas that call themselves progressive labour is quite diverse.

In very real terms, for many in the progressive labour spectrum, they have eliminated any specifically socialist demands from the program.

Democratic Socialism, Social Democracy & Stalinism

My conception of progressive labour is perhaps better known as democratic socialism.  This differs from the social democracy/Blairism that has eliminated virtually all socialist positions in that I stand for a socialist society, for social revolution.  It differs from the Stalinist model in that it is based on ‘socialism-from-below’ – on grassroots direct democracy and not on authoritarian centralisation and bureaucratism of power.

Though the social democratic (of which the PLP generally represents, historically) and Stalinist model are very different, they share the concept of ‘socialism-from-above’.  Social democracy  dreams of ‘socialising capitalism from above’, in this case.

What unites the many different forms of ’emancipation-from-above’ is the conception that emancipation must be handed down to the masses by a ruling elite; that only a centralised organisation would be successful.

My view, of ’emancipation-from-below’ is the view that emancipation can only be realised through the self-emancipation of the masses in motion, mobilised ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors – not merely subjects – on the stage of history.

Post-1998 Transition

Just what has the transition from the old UBP Bermuda to the ascendant PLP ‘New Bermuda’ achieved?

The whimper that the ‘New Bermuda’ vision of 1998 has become today constitutes a setback not only for domestic Bermudian progressive and socialist development, but also on a Caribbean regional perspective.

While there are still some within the organised labour movements who still think and speak of an alternative development, this is relegated to a minority subversive current.

Even those critical of post-1998 developments are often resigned to the Thatcherite mantra of ‘there is no alternative’.

Long before November 1998 it was clear that the PLP was in ascendance, a process accelerated by the fracturing of the UBP in the mid-1990’s.  But as the picture of what kind of PLP would come to assume power became clearer, it was increasingly obvious that the result of its ascendancy would not prove to be so great a triumph for ordinary Bermudians as originally hoped.

Looking back over the last decade of PLP governance, its trajectory away from its popular perception of its founding goals is particularly striking.

To Critique & To Be Critiqued

Interestingly, my criticisms of the post-1998 developments have been both well received and strongly opposed by various militants in the struggle.  In general, those who have been formerly prominent in the struggle and now intimately linked to the new PLP hegemony – those who benefit most from the new PLP status quo – perhaps unsurprisingly are the most opposed to these criticisms.  But among what may be considered the rank-and-file grassroots, the criticism is readily received and welcomed.

This speaks to the co-optation of the former leaders of the struggle, who have forgotten the struggle in exchange for the trinkets of power.  They squabble over position, over titles of prestige, over the trappings of power and in so doing they squander the point of being in power, and use their power to oppose those who maintain the struggle.

And why?  Partly because they fear, in a ‘king of the hill’ mentality, that these others seek only to replace them in the seats of power and prestige.  And partly because they fear being exposed as traitors to the struggle, and that the struggle would do away with the colonial mentality that they express in their co-optation and trinkets.

Amongst the grassroots, the benefits of the new PLP status quo are marginal.  Life remains as it was under the UBP, only the face of management has changed.  They see but the swapping of one oligarchy with a new one, albeit an oligarchy in the making.  As the conditions of life remain unchanged, so does the conditions of the struggle.  And so the critique of the new PLP status quo cuts through the rhetoric of the co-opted leadership and speaks to the need for continued struggle.

The co-opted leadership resists this, and struggles to suppress such critique, both formally and informally.  And in so doing they risk losing all, even the marginal gains that 1998 has achieved for progressive labour.

2004 Notes on the PLP – Part Three

Some more notes from 2004, during a period when I had left the PLP but was analysing the current situation and potential options.

Against Factionalism

The PLP would be unable to discharge the historic mission of ‘progressive labour’ if it dissolves into factions.

It can prevent the dangers of factionalism only be developing and consolidating the new course towards workers democracy – democracy of the grassroots.

Bureaucratism of the party apparatus is precisely one of the principal causes of factionalism.  It ruthlessly suppresses criticism and drives the discontent into the depths of the organisation, either through formal penalties or by bureaucratic stifling.

Mechanical centralism is necessarily complemented by factionalism, which is at once a malicious caricature of democracy and a potential political danger, both in terms of open civil warfare leading to self-destruction, or the pig-headed plowing into the rocks by stopping up the ears to criticism of the captain with his hand on the wheel.

A Crisis of Democracy

Only through ruthless criticism will we avoid potential pitfalls, and thus the party must encourage critical thought always.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does politics.  If decisions are not made by the people, for the people, they will be made instead by default, by bureaucrats, the rich or opportunists, for their own interests, regardless of how they try to fool the people into thinking otherwise.

The main crisis for our nation today is one of conceptions of leadership and democracy.

The retreat away from democracy, particularly within the PLP, has seen a de facto coup of careerist apparatchiks whose interests are more that of the UBP than the PLP.

Democratic participation in society, be it PTAs, workers councils, union locals or parish groups, are all speed-bumps in the path of outright oligarchic bureaucratism.

It is time now for the party rank-and-file to reclaim progressive labour and replace the top-down democracy of the leadership with the bottom-up democracy of the workers, and dissolve the colonial-induced conceptions of leaders and led.

On Losing Power? [2006 Notes]

Even should the UBP return to power, it would be a mistake to equate this with the defeat of progressive labour.

A defeat of the Progressive Labour Party, for sure, but this would be but a defeat of arrogance, of social and racial chauvinism, of cronyism.  In short, it would be a defeat of Bermudian politics as we have known it for the majority of its existence; but it would not be a defeat of progressive labour.

1998-2006/7 may well go down as a watershed moment in Bermuda’s history.  For once and for all it will be no longer possible to uphold the myth that race is the sole problem with our socio-economic system.  Rather, race in Bermuda is a result of our historic and continuing class system – a function of political economy, past and present.

The loss of the PLP would be the defeat of UBP-lite, in as much as the leadership of the party has caricatured the UBP in its actions.  It would open the potential for the idea of progressive labour to reassert itself within the party that bears its name, and exorcise the demons that have perverted it.

In many ways, as much as the return of the UBP would see a revenge of Whitness, and all that represents, it also opens the door for the PLP to reclaim itself, to face its failures and be returned to its senses, as well as the benefit of the opportunists, those parasites of power, leaving (why stay when there is no power to suckle on?) and the grassroots once more taking power.

The question is, would they learn from such a defeat?

2004 Notes on the PLP – Part Two

These notes come from 2004, during a period where I had let my membership lapse following the failure (in my eyes) of the 1998-2003 PLP term and the 2003 election events that deposed Ms Smith.

On a side-note, excerpts of these notes were used by me in letters to both the RG and the Workers Voice, and I maintain I beat Mr Julian Hall to the ‘out-UBPed the UBP’ phrase, but I’m happy with him taking the credit – afterall, maybe I unknowingly took it from him in the first place!

Additionally, this note formed the basis for this blogs name ‘Catch a Fire’.

The Vulgar Democratic Centralism of the Leadership

The Leaderships’ vulgar democratic centralism first fully revealed itself under Smith.  The transition from bottom-up democracy to top-down democracy was formalised at this time (and, indeed, took advantage of the chaos of branch restructuring with the new constituencies).

The resulting confusion and demoralisation of the grassroots led to a decline in party activism – further ceding power to the Executive.

A ‘last stand’ of the grassroots was, arguably, represented by Hodgson’s leadership challenge (albeit open to possible charges of mysogynism, a la the historical challenges to Brown-Evans?), but was already weakened to such a degree that this failed miserably, setting the stage for future events.

The resulting excessive centralisation of power at the expense of the grassroots caused a feeling of uneasiness within the party which in turn manifested itself in general disillusionment of the rank-and-file, but also in the forming of secret groupings – ‘rebels’.

These secret groupings resulting in the ‘coup’ against Smith, and the resulting compromise of Scott.  This has set-up fractures and fault-lines for the PLP going forward – it has set precedents.

Due to his compromise position Scott was forced to tread carefully, but he has increasingly followed the same path as his predecessor.

Storm Clouds

There is now a gathering storm on the horizon within the party.

This storm is developing as a result of the centralisation of the power within the Leadership, the aristocracy of labour in Bermuda.

Without the advancement of workers democracy, the Leadership has transformed itself; in the eyes of the worker the PLP’s leadership has become seen as simply another section of the ruling oligarchy.

One of the ironies of history is that while the PLP historically accused the UBP of ‘stealing its manifesto ideas’, the PLP has now out-UBPed the UBP.  The UBP now finds itself thrown into confusion simply because the PLP assumed the general ideological positions of the UBP.  Differences between the two parties now are more cosmetic than substantial, in ideological terms.

The necessary result is confusion and demoralisation amongst the workers.

On the present course this will be manifested in a growing apathy and dwindling election numbers.

A general decrease of democratic participation will necessarily result in an erosion of democracy itself.  Not simply in terms of internal democracy of the party, but also in the increasing abdication of democratic participation in society itself.  Decisions are increasingly made by special interests and corporate boardrooms rather than the shop-floor and the grassroots in general.

The Solution is Revolution?

The solution to this problem can only be the reintroduction of workers democracy within the PLP, and a resumption of progressive labour as a radical historic force, with a radical vision for our people.

This need not be a top-down decision, where the leadership reintroduces workers democracy by its own accord.  Indeed, this would be a contradiction in terms!

The grassroots can reclaim the party themselves through sheer force of numbers and agitation.  The challenge is the need for a vision with which to spark this move.  How to get the grassroots to catch a fire with a radical vision for their party, of a better world being possible?

By all means, let there be unity in action in preventing the return of the UBP!

But this does not mean self-censorship on the part of the grassroots or individual members.

After all, at present there is no real substantial difference between the PLP leadership and the essence of the UBP, ideologically.  Despite this, the membership, the rank-and-file, constitutes the party still, and remains the only mechanism to reclaim the party from the opportunists.

Instead of the current situation of donkeys leading lions, let us put lions in charge for once, and return to the ideals of progressive labour!

 

2004 Notes on the PLP – Part One

I’m in a bit of a nostalgic mood right now.  I’ve been flipping through some old notebooks that I used to keep, where I wrote observations on current events, theoretical perspectives on local politics and drafts for Letters to the Editor in the days before I set this blog up.

As the PLP engages in its self-reflection and a period of restructuring, I thought it may be of interest to provide some of my notes on the PLP over the years. 

The notes below were written in 2004, when I had let my PLP membership lapse for the first time and was considering the political options available to me (previous notes discussed the potential for a Green Party option).  I later rejoined the PLP (in 2006), but did so with the hope of a last-ditch attempt, on my part, to defend and advocate a socialist perspective within it.

“The Gathering Storm”

The need for a revival of workers democracy.  A return to ‘progressive labour’ and away from political opportunism.

The PLP Leadership – ‘an aristrocracy of labour’.

The PLP ‘grassroots – The foundation of the party, the ground beneath the Leadership’s feet.

The Leadership is frequently seen as a Judas, selling-out the Party’s soul for ’30 pieces of silver’ – it has become an ‘Uncle Tom’, simply a different section of the oligarchy.  Opportunism.

The PLP Government (1998 to present 2004) can be characterised by the phrase ‘donkeys leading lions’.

The contradictions between what the PLP ‘was, and was thought to be’ and what the PLP ‘has become and is becoming’ is great and increasing.  This cannot but help lead to a gathering storm of contradiction and antipathy between the grassroots and the collective leadership of the Party.

Will this storm manifest itself as a violent tempest, or sustained and increasingly frequent squalls, or as an anti-climatic whimper, a ‘storm of the doldrums’ where the Party finds itself listless, going nowhere, and eventually overtaken – even by default – by an alternate force, either one continuing with inertia as the PLP falls short, or powered by a new force, or organisation of components, like the Clipper overcoming the Carrack sailing ship.

Democratic Centralism – An Achilles Heel

The right of free and comradely criticism – exercised fearlessly and unflaggingly.  It is necessary to regenerate and renovate the party apparatus, and to make it feel that it, the party, is nothing but the tool of the collective will – that the party is the people, rather than separate, above and leading the people.

The renovation of the party apparatus must aim at replacing the ossified leadership and party aristrocracy with fresh elements linked to actual life, or capable of maintaining such a link.  In this way it keeps the party as part of ‘life’ rather than increasingly detached and ‘out of touch’ with the genuine concerns and dreams of the people.

Before anything else, the leading posts must be cleared out of those who, at the first word of criticism, of objection, or of protest, brandish all manner of reactionary penalties at the critic.

The Leadership believes that democratic centralism means that all power, all democracy, is centralised only with the leaders – the executive of the party – or the Premier itself.  This is not what the original meaning of the phrase meant.

Democratic centralism meant, originally, the diversity of opinion, ruthless self-criticism – its motto is ‘de omnibus dubitandum‘ – doubt everything – but unity in action.  Action decided on by consensus or, only once attempts for consensus are exhausted, a simple majority vote.

The flawed version of democractic centralism, the perversion of its meaning, this lead to a superficial strengthening, of decision, of authority, but a corresponding weakness of vision and collective energy on the part of the PLP to realise its historic task.

It proved to give the Party an illusion of invincibility, cloaked in the remaining aura of the 1998 victory, but in reality it left the Party open to a historic failure, a fatal vulnerability.

 

The Crisis – Opportunities, Ideas, Threats. Part Two

Key Questions

The continuation of the Bolivarian project in Latin America, the outcome of the Arab Spring and the lessons of the (primarily Southern) European movements will be key in forging the future opposition.

In Latin America the question is whether the Bolivarian project can continue and deepen, especially with the likely retirement of Hugo Chavez from the spearhead.  The resurgence of the Zapatistas and other movements in Mexico (Oaxaca is something to keep an eye on) could open a new front in Central America too.

In the Middle East and North Africa it is unclear whether we will see this area fall back into neo-colonial status or if it can forge a new developmental path.  The battle between social forces of the left and the right (as much as the Salafists may be seen as a novel and particular form of fascists) is also key.  Their are also implications for a move against Iran and a general fragmentation of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Key lessons can be learned from the resistance in Southern Europe.  These lessons extend to new militant forms and transformative political structures built along a horizontal model, as seen in the Greek Syrizia and the Spanish Indignados.

Bermuda Options

The situation for Bermuda is limited.

As noted previously, the possibilities for even a limited socialist system in Bermuda alone is not practical, without similar movements overseas, particularly in the USA.  And with the brutal crushing of the Occupy Movement there, and the overall poor prospects of the ‘left’ there, this is unlikely.

The Occupy Movement itself was limited, and most certainly open to criticism in terms of vision, tactics and strategy.  It was, however, one of the most profound mass movements to have developed there in decades, and warrants further analysis.  The main question now is whether it can reform itself in one way or another.

In Bermuda, the nominal ‘left’ remains quite strong.  But what is this ‘left’?

It consists of the Progressive Labour Party, the various labour unions and a number of civil society organisations that express progressive views.

The PLP itself is essentially a Third Way social-democratic party, albeit with some unique characteristics, and in these the closest ‘similar’ party (for the sake of comparative analysis) is, arguably, the South African ANC, although direct comparisons are difficult on account of the radically different contexts.

Following the 2012 defeat, after 14 years in power, this Party is undergoing some restructuring.  It is unlikely to return to ‘socialist’ perspectives, but a move towards a new social-democratic vision cannot be ruled out.

The Unions are strong, although weakened after years of decline, and their vision is arguably limited.

It is unclear what the strength of the civil society actors is, as they are not generally thought of as mass organisations.

There are also a number of ‘lone wolves’ of the left, such as this blog.

The Challenge

The challenge is to:

1 – Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the existing ‘left’.

2 – Articulate alternate visions for these agents – not to dictate but to ‘seek to inspire’ – but also to help ‘re-arm’ them, after a fashion.

3 – Provide an alternative to the austerity turn and neo-liberal vision that the OBA appears to be representing.

4 – Provide a ‘defense’ against the expected charge against the public sector and the unions; but this defense must also articulate a new vision.

5 – The overlying challenge is to help reform the left (beyond the formal agents of the PLP and the unions), in terms of ideological re-armament, laying the foundation for a better moment.

This will involve defending against the neoliberal and austerity agenda and developing a counter-hegemony to it, at least in terms of ideological contestation of what is and what could be.

The Crisis – Opportunities, Ideas, Threats – Part One

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph” – Thomas Paine, The Crisis, December 23rd, 1776.

We are now entering the fifth year of the first Great Depression of the 21st Century.  The crisis was brought about by the contradictions of neoliberalism, and the ideology of neoliberalism – and capitalism in general – is increasingly suffering from a legitimation crisis.

Despite this, neoliberalism perseveres, the system has maintained itself, albeit in a zombie state.

A Revolutionary Moment?

The opposition to the system required to transform the current crisis from a crisis in capitalism to a crisis of capitalism has not yet formed.

There is opposition, outbreaks of resistance, particularly in the European periphery, and the ‘Arab Spring’ cannot be understood outside of the economic crisis.  Even in the capitalist core itself, in Western Europe and North America there is opposition, perhaps best represented by the since brutally repressed Occupy movement in the USA and the UK.

But no where has the opposition reached an order of magnitude sufficient to challenge the system itself (although the Southern European movements are developing the most advanced forms).

All economic crises, and especially one of the current magnitude, offer potential for rupture, for a revolutionary moment away from capitalism and towards socialism.  But they only open the potential, the actual realisation of such moments depend on the balance of forces and the various unique circumstances involved.

Currently the oppositional forces are too weak and too disorganised to adequately challenge the system.  This is a legacy of the general ideological disarmament of those forces which could constitute such opposition.

The reasons for this disarmament are many, but the key ones are the defeats of the 1980s during the neoliberal revolution, the collapse of the flawed ‘actually existing socialism’ in the form of the Soviet Union and the Chinese turn under Deng Xiao Peng, and the ‘Third Way’ turn of social-democracy in the 1990s.

Neoliberalism Rebooted?

The failure of the oppositional forces, even of a social-democratic Keynesian revival attempt, has allowed the system time to regroup and reorganise.  The system is increasingly moving from zombie form to a new and aggressive version of neoliberalism, although it is not quite clear what form it will take.

It seems clear that the main thrust will be a global attempt to discipline labour, particularly in the capitalist core.

This will involve moves to crush what is left of ‘strong’ unions, notably the public sector unions; to remove what little remains of public welfare (the general thrust will be an aggressive ‘personal responsibility’ attack); further lift restrictions to capital accumulation (especially the privatisation of public sector areas); and a strengthening of police forces.

Moves to ‘open up’ markets (consumers, workers, resources) remains ongoing, and the potential for outright military force to help carve up the world remains on the table (notably Iran and North Korea, but the Libyan and Syrian conflicts may be seen in this light too).

Glorious Defeat?

It seems unlikely that oppositional forces will develop sufficiently to mount a proper challenge and convert the crisis to a crisis of capitalism.

It seems, at the moment, that the best option is to resist resurgent neoliberalism and the austerity turn as best as possible, albeit more in a defensive action than anything else.

There will be defeats.  Glorious defeats.  These will help prepare the opposition and help forge a more cohesive opposition for the future, one that can pose a proper challenge and, conceivably, emerge victorious.

And the level of resistance will determine the level of defeat.  The greater the resistance the lesser will be the losses.  Some ‘battles’ will even be won, even if the likelihood is the ‘war’ will be lost, this time.

Socialism. But in Bermuda?

Socialism in Bermuda?

I imagine that many readers will have read my recent posts on a ‘socialist’ turn for this blog and asked what the relevance is for the Bermudian context.

Socialist theory is one thing, application is something completely different.  And its application in an isolated island with limited natural resources is something else altogether.

A Bermuda Revo?

I’ve written elsewhere, starting from my first attempt to develop a socialist perspective for Bermuda in 2002, that the prospects for socialism in Bermuda, without the development of socialism in primarily North America, but potentially also Europe (with Latin America and Africa secondary ‘supports’) is not practical.

There is the lesson of the Grenadian Revo of 1979-1983 to indicate the challenges of socialism in a small island, and in Bermuda which has even less resources than Grenada (as well as greater strategic importance relative the North America) the potential to either develop socialism in Bermuda, or to maintain it, would be extremely difficult.

RevolutionGrenada

This does not mean that socialists in Bermuda abdicate any work towards building a socialist consciousness in Bermuda.  It just means that one has to be aware of the limitations of a socialist project in Bermuda in isolation of a simultaneous movement in, primarily, North America.

An ‘uprising’ of sorts is more than possible in Bermuda, especially with the challenges facing the Government in terms of the economic malaise, and with the OBA likely to have worse labour relations (compounded by the ongoing issue of race) than the PLP, the potential for industrial action and other demonstrations is quite possible.

But even if such an ‘uprising’ went beyond strikes and demonstrations and into riots and insurrection, even if it led to a successful overthrow of the State, without similar developments elsewhere Bermuda will be isolated and economically devastated, let alone extremely vulnerable to ‘intervention’ by the UK and/or the USA.

And, quite frankly, despite capitalism being in a prolonged crisis, one has to assume that capitalism will continue to structure the environment in which we function, both in Bermuda and globally.

Limited options, yes, but options all the same…

For socialism in Bermuda, the objective should be to develop a socialist consciousness, a critique of capitalism, and advocacy for social, economic and political reforms that will lay the foundation for a more just society.

Some socialists will seek to work within the existing party system, most notably the Progressive Labour Party, advocating for socialist/ic positions within the only nominally social-democratic organisation in Bermuda.

Others will seek to work within civil society or organised labour, advocating and defending socialist/ic positions and perspectives.

Others will seek to develop a socialist/ic consciousness/identity outside of the PLP, be it through radical art or spectacular events intended to capture and expand the popular imagination, or through more theoretical contributions and critiques (of which this site feels situated).

There are many avenues and tactics for a socialist consciousness in the Bermudian context.

The overall strategy, within the confines of the Bermudian context, is limited to expanding a more socially just alternative to dominant  positions (in terms of political, social and economic reforms) and establishing a space, in terms of discourse and consciousness, for socialist resistance and perspectives.

“Forward ever; Backward never!”

Such was one of the main slogans of the Grenada Revo.

Despite the limitations placed on socialist strategy within the Bermudian context, the development of a socialist consciousness, through its various avenues and tactics, provides the wider society with the potential to resist the lie that ‘there is no alternative’.

A better world is possible, a more just society can be realised, even within the limits of Bermuda’s unique circumstances.

Capitalism is in crisis, and it must be challenged everywhere.

Not just in Europe and Latin America, but in Bermuda too.

Not just in the realms of economics and industrial disputes either.  Capitalism influences all aspects of life, from education, nature, politics, families art and more.

The logic of capitalism in all spheres must be contested by the logic of humanity.

It will be difficult, and the means will determine the end.  And in Bermuda socialist strategy is necessarily limited.

But it is not impossible, and we must take that chance.

21st Century Socialism

Clarity of Purpose

Visitors to this site may be aware that I’ve recently changed the sub-title of the blog from ‘For worker’s power’ to ‘Bermudian politics and socialism for the 21st Century.’

Explaining what it is that I mean by the phrase ‘socialism for the 21st Century’ is not something that is easily described in a single post, but rather will take a series of posts (if it is even possible to truly express it), I will try here to at least give an opening to the idea.

So, what is it?

The phrase itself comes from the German-born, Mexican-based theoretician Heinz Dieterich, who seems to have coined it in 1996.

It has, however, become popularised as a result of the Chavez-initiated movements throughout Latin America.  Indeed, Chavez perhaps captured the essence of its meaning the best in his 2005 address to the World Social Forum:

“We have to reinvent socialism.  It cannot be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on co-operation, not competition.  If we are ever going to end the poverty of the majority of the world, capitalism must be transcended.  But we cannot resort to State Capitalism, which would lead to the same perversion of the Soviet Union.  We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the State ahead of everything.”

Hugo Chavez speaking to the people

Hugo Chavez speaking to the people

Now, I want to make it clear right here that just because I am using a phrase by Dieterich or quoting Chavez, this does not mean that I agree with everything they say or do.  It just means that I think they’ve helped introduced a useful concept into the general discourse, and I’m building on that.

What I get from Chavez’s comments above is that at the heart of 21st Century socialism must be humanity, not the State, not the means of production, not the Party.  Those may be important, but we need to learn from the errors and deformations that occurred under 20th Century socialism, both in terms of the ‘actually existing socialism’ of State Socialism (such as the Soviets, the People’s Republic of China, etc) and the social-democratic approach (of which our PLP is a representative of, of sorts).

Go on…

The logic of the new society must be one where wealth is used to satisfy the full development of all, of the individual, rather than the inverse, which dominates under capitalism, where humanity exists to serve the logic of capital (which reduces humanity into deformed consumers and workers).

It must also not be one which subordinates the development of the individual and the whole to the logic of the State, the Party or bureaucracy.

In many ways it must be the ‘third way’ – not in the sense of the betrayal of socialism (even in terms of lip-service) that the social-democrats under Blair, Clinton and Schroeder (the three main ones, but the PLP very much adopted this turn – but that’s for another post), but a third way in the sense of retaining the idea of socialism while also ensuring the democratic and human aspect of socialism.

Ultimately, the goal must be a society where, to quote Marx, ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’.

We must learn from the errors of the past and guard against a repeat of the nightmares that they too often became, even though they also helped move the idea of socialism forward.  Socialism can – and must – learn from its glorious defeats and the failures of the past.

It is necessary to embrace the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ that the ‘there is no alternative’ propaganda of capitalism has been so successful with in disarming the desire for a better, more human world.

At the moment we have a crisis in capitalism, expressed by the continued economic malaise.

For it to become a crisis of capitalism requires a reinvigorated vision of an alternative, a vision which can animate the conscious resistance to the inhumanity of capital.