The Western left is in dire straits today. Supposedly, the Left (at least the political parties on the left side of the political spectrum) is suffering from an acute sickness. Or is the Left dead?
What if the self-inflicted debacles of the Hollande/Valls administration in France, or of the Renzi coalition in Italy are not the symptoms of a sick socialist movement, but rather a clear manifestation that the Left as we know it has ceased to exist?
Up until now, debates within left-wing political formations have always been about direction, strategy, ideology and semantics. This is a tradition of the anti-establishment, or anti-capitalist movements that has varied throughout the decades and the past century.
Consider the debate between Bakunin and Marx, during the First International. Bakunin supported anarchist decentralization and horizontal organizing, while Marx argued for centralized, communist organizing, with an emphasis on the importance of the party structure. Also think of the indirect debate between Rosa Luxemburg‘s position of virulent war of movement and Gramsci‘s theory of cultural hegemony and his strategy attrition warfare during the la belle époque. And then there’s the debate between orthodoxical marxism and the New Left in the 1960s.
Debates concerning ideas have always been the tempo to which left-wing movements have danced and they have created the space and the horizon for the evolution and mutation of such movements. Through these debates, for example feminist, anti-racist and Queer agendas have been able to impose themselves, making left-wing movements put a greater emphasis on the notions of patriarchy, the subaltern, racism, gender and recognition. But today the left, especially the European “traditional” left, doesn’t debate ideas anymore, it debates the central idea that braids all of these different threads of struggles together: the idea of socialism.
Emmanuel Valls, the current prime minister of the French socialist government, didn’t create many ripples when he stated earlier this year that it was about time the French Socialist Party came to terms with what he called the modern world. His vision of modernizing the Socialist Party was to change its ontological conception and drop the whole notion of socialism to the extent of dropping the word from its name.
This has already happened in Italy where once the strongest Communist Party on the continent, outside of the Soviet orbit, which at its peak boasted one million card carrying members, decided to drop its Communist label and opt for a more modern appellation, re-branding itself the Democracy Party of the Left. This maneuver was then as it is now the manifestation of a roller-coaster magnitude slide to the right.
Dropping the word Communist threw the flood-gates wide open. First the non-Marxist-Leninist lefties and socialists joined the fray, then its was the social democrats, then confused and dazed centrists who still considered themselves progressive, but actually were neo-liberals at heart but couldn’t come to terms with it (kind of like the Liberals here in Canada) and finally anyone and everyone who like the color red or later on fancied pink.
The story of the Italian Communist Party is like the story of Jesus transforming water into wine, only that in this case it’s about wine being transformed into water. With every new section of adherents further from the Communist ideological base, the new Democracy Party of Left became more and more diluted until it finally reconstituted itself along neo-liberal ideological guidelines. Today the ideological differences between Matteo Renzi and the remainders of Silvio Berlusconi’s political group are non-existent, both are the guardians of an austere status-quo.
In the aftermath of WWII in eastern Europe, Stalin had operated a similar strategy. To impose the hegemony of his Stalinist communist affiliates in the newly self-proclaimed people’s republics, Communists parties would side during the first set of “open” elections with left-wing non-communist political groups to fend off the fascist threat and thus succeed in outlawing them. Then they would cut off any centrist opposition and so on and so forth until there would be no opposition left.
At the end of this process Stalinist ideology and the Kremlin’s line reigned supreme. This was known as the salami-slice strategy.
In 2014 its seems that the Brussels or maybe the Frankfurt line reigns without any constraints or limitations. The opposition that should have been offered by existing left-wing governments or by socialist parties is dead, these political formations have slowly been devoid from any of their founding ideological principles, they are the walking-dead of neo-liberalism.
In a context such as this strange things can happen, such as a Socialist prime minister addressing the Business TV awards and telling the 1% audience with a rather soothing and gentle tone that he would make sure that next year they would capitalize even more on the plight of the French working-class. Such a turn of events has pushed many commentators to disbelief and denial.
Fédérique Lordon had to publish in Le Monde Diplomatique of September of this year, a lengthy article entitled The Left Cannot Die to feel better about the whole ordeal. Unfortunately, in most cases, when debating if something can or cannot die then the thing in question (in this case the left) is probably already dead.
But amidst this windfall of Socialist auto-destruction there are some glimmers of hope. The breach opened by the tragic suicide of the traditional left has allowed in some places such as Greece and Spain new movements with new ideas to breed.
The death of the left as we knew it has allowed a new generation of anti-capitalist, progressive and alternative perspectives to enter the political scene, this apparent ontological death carries within itself the power to give birth to a new ontological premises for left-wing movements. So maybe “socialism” must die, for socialism to thrive.
A luta continua,