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For quite some time, questions of traditional political representation have been passed up on the left in favor of thoroughgoing critiques of the contemporary global economy and its technological concomitants. Although such critiques have roots in Marxist political economy, a genuine question still remains as to their serviceability with respect to the interests of working people: if many things said are not quite to be believed, a tragedy it certainly would be if all that was solid melted into air while a throng went about business formerly vouchsafed by infrastructural considerations. In other words, a left-wing critique of democratic values is not quite to be believed; such that any such endeavor in truth promises the transposition of those values promised into a different register. What possible options do we have, when forced with social needs far exceeding our own? How could those of us with eyes bigger than pockets possibly prepare the fantastic concoction which popular sovereignty is supposed to be?

It is to be granted that there is a certain style or art which permits such expansive sentiments without remainder, and it is perhaps not the least of the radical’s virtues that he or she permits of easy relations of man to man, a skill which proves crucial when tentative steps towards engaging with the social panorama are taken. So much so, in fact, that I imagine it pains nearly every social revolutionary to consider actions involving trespasses upon going civilities in the wider world; and thusly, that a rather serious question concerning the foundations of social critiques with no end save completeness is thereby raised. One attempt to address these problems is the genre of political statement often going under the name Party and Class, as written by Bordiga, Pannekoek, Goerter and even comrade Lenin himself. The faithful among us may wonder why the last is here invoked as a theoretician of something more fragile than actually existing socialism, but I suspect those familiar with the span of Lenin’s writings are not all surprised when someone there detects traces of a good social democrat within a shattered husk.

That is to say, the questions raised by Lenin’s actual political practice throughout his decades of agitation — as well as those Lefts unwilling to cease discoursing with him — are those of the popular mandate construed as theoretically independent of parliamentary representation, that is to say constructed out of the realities both of political organization and concrete economic life in a manner truly red in tooth and claw. What is worth saying sine ira et studio employs the democratic principle with respect to those institutions that can be expected to benefit from it: and this because there are very few stories from the book (modes of organization employed by conservative elements in the masses) which pass social-democracy’s constitutive test, principled resistance to unreasonable demands placed upon the people by capitalists and their minders. But to what extent does such god-building in truth break with the traditional strictures of social-democratic politics?

In the intellectual matrix from whence such writings sprung this is not quite a thought to be thought, and in no very moralistic sense. These works instead pose the question: Why place one’s trust in a political organization which permits only one draft of the work ethic, rather than a modulated understanding of those demands of industrial production spanning both persons mobilized to address serious threats to worker safety and those entrusted with vouchsafing the integrity of class consciousness? But this is such a question as to raise another question: To what extent has social-democracy historically been sometimes a great notion: a failure spanning nearly the entirety of political modernity, a failure limning the bounds of political sense? In reality, Marxist politics as a serviceable expression requires no less than such a unity of worker politics: but perhaps the number of all those to the left of the socialist mainstream today removes even this question from the realm of simple instrumentality.

In fact, I imagine there are people today who are already tempted to ask: Where is an opportunist on earth? What portion of the traditional demand for liberal democracy does not presently resonate as a strike against the abstract terror of globalized capitalism? But to address such questions is to take up the theory of the present, and this is no very exalted task: the precondition of the bulwark against reformism is equanimity as regards the comeliness of every political project possessing such practical and theoretical bounds as are desirable, the understanding that every militant stance permits of an undesirable appropriation by the social totality (and necessarily so).

Are there viable resources today from world socialist history which permit such stances to be assumed in good faith? I think so, but if it is so another question facing those who find the thought of such plain-spoken assessments of their political environs attractive is the extent to which the impersonal forces invoked above delineate the total context of left-wing political activity, determining those topics less than senseless and choices not to be chosen; figures of the chauvinism which is less than social, realities harder than the heaviest of hands. In light of this, persons wishing to promulgate a principled radicalism ought to observe certain proprieties: but those wishing to observe certain proprieties may offer the very best argument for such a thing, as debate requires subjects to not be out of the question and norms not subject to debate are entirely too all-consuming.