Tuesday, 7 April 2009

What Do We Want? Who Will Help us Get It?

Chris over @ S&M has a challenging post today, bewailing 'just how very far we are from any Marxist notion of revolution'. He says this for three reasons: the weakness of any plausible agency of change; the similar absence (or at least lack of popular awareness) of any plausible non capitalist economic models; and the continual framing of the debate in terms of a state v free markets dichotomy. He is, of course, completely right.

Of course, there are those on the left who, like some mechanistic old Social Democrat of the 1890s, feel capitalism is quite capable of seriously shooting itself in the foot without very much opposition at all. But even GTR ,who likes this stuff, only concludes it means ,"We are all fucked in other words. Unless we all get our shit together."

Well, yeah. No shit Sherlock.

A British Left has disappeared before. In some obscure way, I find it comforting that the 'Left' which disappeared, more or less, during the mid nineteen century, was driven by a democratic, ultimately post French Revolution agenda, albeit with an important Owenite subsidiary strand. It was primarily about electoral arrangements and the franchise (cf Chartism). The 'Left' which re-emerged afterwards was different - more focussed on industrial struggles, more concerned with financial as well as democratic equality, more 'socialist' or at least incipiently socialist) in a sense those of born in the twentieth century might recognise.

I've often wondered if we're currently living through a similar period, when the ideological foundations of the Left of my youth crumbles - but a period of apparent capitalist hegemony actually acts of a midwife to a new way of looking at the world. A flight of fancy, perhaps, but one way of looking at the times we're living through in terms of framing a coherent Red-Green response to changing conditions. But it won't happen during this crisis. I fear the most we can hope for is that the coming economic storm - and it is still coming, for the majority of us, no matter what happened at the G20 - acts as a midwife for the popularisation of some of the ideas Chris Dillow is talking about.

But that will still leave us with the problem of agency, a subject to which I'll have to return another time.


  1. '...that will still leave us with the problem of agency, a subject to which I'll have to return another time.'

    Is that post on the working class on the way then?

  2. Hi Rab,
    The more I read about the financialisation of capitalism, th more I have a feeling that its not just an issue of the working class, but of the relationship of the controlling class to the means of production. Ownership and control seem strangely divorced compared to standard marxist theory; I've been reading the new collection of eassays from the Monthly Review peopl on all this and will post about it when I've finished the book. & then I'll gather my courage and try to assess the forces of opposition, including what remains of the labour movement I grew up in.