A panel discussion held at University of King's College on 1 February, 2014.
Sponsored by the King's Student Union and Dalhousie Student Union
Eva Curry - Stand
Christoph Lichtenberg - International Bolshevik Tendency
Chris Parsons - student activist
Alex Khasnabish - The Radical Imagination Project, Mount Saint Vincent University
It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism. They emerged out of the same crucible - the Industrial Revolution, the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 and 1871, a weak liberalism, the centralization of state power, the rise of the workers movement, and the promise of socialism. They are the revolutionary heritage, and all significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. In this respect, our moment seems no different.
There are a few different ways these ideologies have been taken up. Recent worldwide square occupations reflect one pattern: a version of Marxist theory — understood as a political-economic critique of capitalism — is used to comprehend the world, while ananarchist practice — understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists revolution must begin now — is used to organize, in order to change it. Some resist this combination, claiming that Marxism rejects anti-statist adventurism, and call for a strategic reorganization of the working class to resist austerity, and perhaps push forward a “New New Deal”. This view remains wedded to a supposedly practical welfarist social democracy, which strengthens the state and manages capital. There is a good deal of hand waving in both these orientations with regard to politics, tactics, and the end goal. Finally, there have been attempts to leave the grounds of these theories entirely — but these often seem either to land right back in one of the camps or to remain marginal.
To act today we seek to draw up the balance sheet of the 20th century. The historical experience concentrated in these ideas must be unfurled if they are to serve as compass points. To see in what ways the return of these ideologies represent an authentic engagement and in what ways the return of a ghost. Where have the battles left us? What forms do we have for meeting, theoretically and practically, the problems of our present?
A panel event which took place the University of Kings College in Halifax, Canada, on October 9, 2013.
Howard Epstein (outgoing MLA for Halifax Chebucto)
Judy Haiven (Solidarity Halifax, Saint Mary’s University)
Alex Khasnabish (Halifax Radical Imagination Project, Mount Saint Vincent University)
This Nova Scotia election season saw an array of positions on the Left concerning the outcome that might follow from the victory of the NDP. Among them, there were some who openly supported the incumbent Darrell Dexter as the lesser of evils, others who opposed him by casting a vote for another candidate, and still others who followed the abstentionist line by not voting at all. Many of those who voted for the NDP did so under the assumption that the they were a broadly center-left party with vaguely social-democratic tendencies, who might be pushed to reverse neoliberal policies and stave off measures of austerity. Some, while generally less optimistic, endorsed the NDP on the premise that organizing a mass movement against capitalism would be easier with the NDP in power. Others argued that the NDP had done nothing to deserve reelection, offering no hope for either change or progress moving forward. The rest, who took no stance either for or against any party, chose instead to eschew electoral politics altogether.
Now that the election is over we are afforded a brief chance to critically evaluate the prospects for the Nova Scotia Left’s transition into the next term. What is different today from the time of NDP's historic win in 2009, when the election seemed like a departure from the course taken under previous Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments? More recently, how are we to regard the Left's renewed focus on parliamentary politics (not only in Nova Scotia, but also in Quebec) when only a year earlier such politics were often deemed obsolete in light of the extra-parliamentarianism of Idle No More, the Quebec student strike and Occupy? Did the last four years since the election and last two years since the 2011 upsurge that started with the Arab Spring, signal progress or regress for the Left? How would the terrain have shifted for the Left with another term under the NDP vs the Liberals? Will government social programs and infrastructure deteriorate yet further? Or will legislative reforms breathe life back into the moribund welfare state? Should we, in fact, take for granted the idea that keeping the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives out of office promises a better environment in which the Left to organize? What does the future hold for a Left caught in the stale air of the status quo?