[The] assertion that ‘everything is possible in human affairs’ is either meaningless or false.
—E. H. Carr
What Happened to the Socialist Revolution?
Anyone who has pretensions to being a revolutionary socialist nowadays, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, is surely obliged to answer one simple, if salient, question: what on earth has happened to the socialist revolution? For those of us who believe that the socialist transformation of society must through necessity pass through the gate of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist order the fact is that moves to do just that have, since the mid point of the last century, been almost entirely absent from our planet; and absolutely absent from that part of our planet where the locus of capitalist power is lies––the advanced metropolis of western Europe, north America and Australasia. While the first half of the last century, as we shall see, was indeed a period rich in revolutionary experience in just this part of the world capitalist system, since the restabilisation of social and political order following the Second World War the metropolitan capitalist citadel has remained pristine in its resistance to revolutionary challenge.
For sure, the quarter of a century following the Second World War witnessed a period of economic growth and social stability arguably without parallel in human history: that openly anti-capitalist struggles were marked only by their absence in the bourgeois democracies of the ‘west’ in this period was only to be expected. But what of the period which opened up at the cusp of the sixties and seventies of post-Second World War boom? Those who believed that the ‘long detour’ of the previous two decades would end in a renewal of the conditions favourable to placing the socialist revolution back on the historical agenda will have been sorely disappointed.
While some will surely use this state of affairs as further ammunition for the argument that the revolutionary struggle for socialism was always a chimera, it is incumbent for anyone maintaining a commitment to socialist transformation with a modicum of intellectual honesty to point out that other roads to socialism––the so-called parliamentary one, for example, or the once modish strategies of ‘counter-hegemony’ and the like––have been found even more wanting in their efficacy in shifting the power of the bourgeoisie and its political institutions than the socialist revolution. The hard truth is that capitalist power has only ever been directly and successfully challenged by a revolutionary socialism. So, if the conclusion that the struggle for socialist emancipation was only ever a naïve and utopian dream is to be avoided, the question poses itself in all its force: what is it that is absent from the current world set up that was present in the first half of the twentieth century; and what might be the circumstances that will announce its return?
More (pdf: 155KB): Through what stage are we passing