This is the decisive decade for humankind and other species. We tackle dire trends now. Or we face a bleak future in which our constricted pandemic life now becomes the norm for all but the wealthiest. Our rational and technological prowess, in combination with market-based power structures, has brought us to the brink of catastrophe. Can movement politics be part of a solution?
Recently, I had occasion to ponder the important role of activism, especially today under conditions of impending disaster. Continue reading
“Philosophers have only interpreted the world [but] the point is to change it.” Those of us in the peace, justice and environmental movements embrace this Marxian aphorism. If we want to live by the dictum, what does that entail? Continue reading
In an unpublished article circa 1934 entitled “The Fascist Virus”[i] Karl Polanyi sketches a theory of fascism that remains relevant. This theory is further elaborated in an article entitled “The Essence of Fascism”[ii] and in The Great Transformation (1944). In light of current politico-economic trends, this theory is worth revisiting. Continue reading
To be honest, I never set out to write such an ambitious book. I originally conceived the project as a critique of neoliberal development doctrine. But one thing led to another, and my inclination to move beyond critique to the central question of “what might be done” came to the fore. This, to my mind, raised the issue of the viability and promise of the democratic left. Continue reading
An article by #MichaelWalzer (Dissent, Summer 2010) offers a clear and practical understanding “of the only #socialism we will ever know.” Striking off in a new direction, he purposely elides the distinction between “socialism” and “social democracy” while adopting a critical stance toward both. He rightly emphasizes the progressive nature of the goals of the latter – participatory democracy, regulated markets, and a universalistic welfare state – even though we need to be very critical of the actual practice of current social democratic parties in the West. Although many readers will feel that there must be more to it than that, Walzer advances the view that movements aimed at extending the three goals and defending existing achievements is actually what a practicable socialism is all about. I agree. Continue reading
With both statist and market-based models of governance having failed at a time of enormous challenges, especially #climatechange, where do we turn? Socialism remains a grand idea, but its transformational nature ensures that the struggle to achieve it would be lengthy, divisive and highly conflictual. Even then, the outcome of a struggle for socialism would remain uncertain – would the new model avoid the excesses of the old? And so many progressives turn to #socialdemocracy. But of course social democracy is in crisis too, discredited in many countries by its semi-conversion to neoliberalism. What is the best path forward to reclaim the earlier promise of social democracy in an age of widespread cynicism and withdrawal from politics?
A recent debate between Martin O’Neill and Neal Lawson on this subject is highly illuminating. Both are committed to building a future for the democratic left. Their implicit frame of reference is Europe. However, with the old distinction between developed/less developed, First World/Third World increasingly irrelevant, the debate is of broader significance. It indeed mirrors similar differences of opinion within the democratic left of the global south as well.
The debate begins with polarized positions, but what is particularly interesting is that the differences narrow as the exchange draws toward its end. O’Neill adheres to a more traditional statist/top-down approach in which social-democratic parties regain their self-confidence in pressing their vision. Lawson adopts a “post-materialist” conception that is essentially a society-centric, bottom-up and participatory model. But as the debate continues, the positions converge in what is close to a synthesis of the two outlooks. Interestingly, the recent experience of Podemas (Spain) and Syriza (Greece) enters into the discussion, as it should in any debate about the future of social democracy. (Whether the two parties should be understood as social democratic at all is an important question; regardless, these experiences are central to the future of the democratic left.) The debate concludes in a balanced view of the role of the state and society in any social-democratic experiment that is capable of regaining the commitment and enthusiasm of citizens and constructing a more egalitarian, sustainable and secure future.
During the past several years, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the unpalatable dilemmas that confront the Left, both socialists and social democrats. What is the way out, for those concerned to build equal freedom and a more democratic society? Continue reading