What is Political Party for the Left? Halifax, 21 January 2015
What would it mean for the Left to take "political action" today?
Wilson Common Room, University of King's College
Sponsored by the King's Student Union and Dalhousie Student Union
Jackie Barkley - Solidarity Halifax
Carlos Pessoa - Author of Post-Marxism and Politics: the case of the Brazilian Workers' Party
Leo Panitch - Socialist Project (Toronto), Author of Renewing Socialism
Antoni Wysocki - Stand
In spite of many different political currents and tendencies, perhaps the most significant question informing the "Left" today is the issue of "political party.” Various "Left unity" initiatives have been taking place in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent downturn, following Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, alongside continuing "post-political" tendencies inherited from the 1980s-90s (perspectives such as expressed by Hardt and Negri's Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth, John Holloway's Change the World without Taking Power, the Invisible Committee's The Coming Insurrection, the California student protestors' Communique from an Absent Future), the formation of SYRIZA in Greece, and the new party Podemos in Spain (who reject the organized "Marxist Left" as well as the established labor unions as part of the existing "political caste"). In Germany, Die Linke appears poised to break into high political office. At the same time, there has been a growing crisis of the largest "orthodox Marxist" ("Trotskyist") political organizations in the Anglophone and Western European countries, which has been characterized as the "crisis of ('actually existing') Leninism" in the developed capitalist countries. New publications have emerged such as Jacobin magazine, N+1 and Endnotes journals, as a new "millennial Marxism." And there has emerged a related discussion of the legacy of Marxism in principles ofpolitical organization going back to the Second International 1889-1914 ("neo-Kautskyism"), for instance in Lars Lih's revisionist history of Lenin and Bolshevism and the Communist Party of Great Britain's member Mike Macnair's book Revolutionary Strategy (2008), the latter occasioned by the formations of the Respect Party in the U.K. and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France. Today, perhaps the most significant question facing the "Left" internationally is goes all the way back to Marx’s dispute with the anarchists in the First International: What would it mean for the Left to take "political action" today?
However, the issue of “political party” seems to generate more problems for the Left than it solves. Formalized political organization would appear indispensable for a long term perspectives beyond the ebb and flow of movements. Yet the role of a party in sustaining activity and discontents over time -- of building towards a revolution -- has had, at best an ambivalent legacy, leading as much to rationalizing politically ineffective strategies or giving cover for various forms of opportunism (e.g. reformism, careerism, etc.). Today the idea of political parties as a means for the Left -- through which the necessity for social transformation could be developed within society -- as opposed to an end in itself, is difficult to envision both theoretically and practically. Yet the existing default --politics without parties -- seems unable to do more than give sanction to the vicissitudes through which capitalism changes, but invariably persists. Worse still, without parties of its own, the Left is forced to either passively or actively support or at least place hopes in other parties. There appears no escaping the question of Political Party for the Left.
Questions for the panelists:
- How do you think that addressing the question of political party today potentially helps or rather might undercut the Left?
- How do you view the problem of political organization in relation to the various currents on the Left that have emerged in the last three years since #Occupy? What should be the long term vision of Left relative to the issue of political organization?
- In what sense is a party different from a political organization? What is its peculiarity?
- Political parties, movements and the state have been around for a long time. Is the way they have related in the past different from how they relate now? Do you consider any or all of them as permanent or transitory? More specifically is the need for a party fixed under capitalism, including its most fundamental characteristics? Or are these characteristics open to reconsideration?
- How do political parties/organization relate to society as a whole? How ought they for the Left? How can the Left transcend the specific interests of political constituencies (e.g. the workers, minorites, the poor, the marginalized) with an eye to transforming society as a whole? Should it? How can a political party/organization of the Left be representative and revolutionary at the same time?
- How has the need for the Left to take political power reasserted itself today? What are the most important historical precedents for this? How has this problem changed at present from the past?
- The current trend towards political organization (e.g. SYRIZA, Podemos) has largely found the Left opposing traditional social democratic and communist parties. What is the significance of this trend? Is it a temporary, transitory phenomenon or does it mark a permanent change? Do you regard it as an advance or a regression with respect to the Left's approach to politics?