De Omnibus Dubitandum: Why business as usual is no longer an option for the revolutionary socialist left

I am convinced that there is little force left in the original Marxist stimulus to revolution. Its impetus is petering out as the practical failure of the doctrine becomes daily more obvious. It has failed to take root in the advanced democracies. In those countries where it has taken root – countries backward or, by tradition, authoritarian – it has failed to provide sustained economic or social development. What is left is a technique of subversion and a collection of catch-phrases. The former, the technique of subversion, is still dangerous. […] As for the catch-phrases of Marxism, they still have a certain drawing power.

Margaret Thatcher, Foreign Policy of Great Britain Speech, December 18, 1979


At the level of general society, socialist ideas – ‘socialist’ here understood in the specific sense as the proposition of socialism as a form of organising society distinct from and opposed to that of present, capitalist, society – not only enjoy less currency than they did, say, twenty or thirty years ago, they are probably as marginal as they have been ever since the idea of socialism itself first manifested itself alongside the appearance of a working-class political movement in its modern form.

Within this general context, what I would call ‘serious’ socialism – a socialism that would present itself as the product of a concerted and conscious struggle against capitalist society; a socialism as the objective dynamic of partial oppositional struggles within existing society; a socialism which justifies its actuality through a dispassionate investigation of the nature of existing society and its historical genesis – is today granted the kind of respect previously normally accorded the more exotic fauna of religious discourse. This kind of socialism – in its most refined and developed form Marxism – once perceived as an ideologically legitimate but politically dangerous ideology to be, under normal conditions, subsumed – and therefore tolerated – as a minority opinion within the political organisations and academic institutions that have afforded stability to the existing capitalist order, and, under the whip of crisis, to be crushed by the police, the prisons, and the concentration camps, not only today enjoys a level of mainstream credibility of the same order as that accorded the partisans of the idea of the Flat Earth, but is considered equally innocuous for the existing social and political order.

This ideological marginalisation of socialism in its various stripes sees itself accompanied by an institutional decline within mainstream bourgeois politics. Those social-democratic parties that still maintain an electoral position in the classical bourgeois democracies do so increasingly less on the basis of, or even despite, their opposition to the existing order – be that opposition real or perceived – than on their being seen as more credible administrators of that order: even the traditional high day and holy day acknowledgement paid to socialist ideas by these parties has largely been jettisoned as either no longer necessary if not actively counterproductive to their present-day concerns. And where smaller oppositional parties, be these of Communist origin, or emanating from the non-Communist revolutionary left, or the products of splits from mainstream social democracy (or some combination of such developments), have previously enjoyed a mainstream political legitimacy, a diminishing electoral base, an increasingly marginal institutional role and an ever greater tendency to be stricken by recriminatory infighting and political splits all combine in a vicious circle of decline and irrelevance. Political currents previously susceptible to socialist ideas – nationalism, ecologism – find themselves increasingly drawn to a perspective of seeking better concessions within the system rather than one of mounting an opposition to it. In good part, the vacuous psycho-babble that passes for mainstream political discourse in the advanced capitalist democracies nowadays stems from the fact that there is no longer any meaningful antisystemic project worthy of being polemicised against.

More (pdf: 135KB): De Omnibus Dubitandum


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