Tuesday, April 18, 2006

More on the Euston Manifesto

INTERNET CAFÉ, BUDAPEST: Shuggy continues the debate on that damn Euston Manifesto, and queries some of my objections to the initiative.

'And I'm left wondering if he finds nothing progressive in the co-operation of British socialists in the Labour Party and trades union movement that have in the 20th century co-operated on various occasions with liberals such as Manyard Keynes and Beveridge to create the welfare state and with the liberal FDR and the conservative Winston Churchill to defeat fascism in Europe.

'In contrast, and contra-Dave Osler, the achievements of those who have sought to retain the purity of the socialist faith in perpetual opposition have been insignificant historically with regards to the welfare of ordinary working people.'

These are traditional objections to revolutionary socialist politics, and were until recent decades, not without a great deal of weight. Those making them could point to the very real achievements of social democracy around the world. Welfare states. National health services. Powerful trade union movements, sometimes with board level representation and powers of co-determination.

Meanwhile, the far left remained - as it does to this day, admittedly - small and fragmented, incapable even of winning any real political implantation outside a handful of small third world countries.

So why not take the obvious pragmatic course, and work within parties like Britain's Labour Party to win real incremental progress, instead of dreaming about re-running 1917? And after all, look where that experiment ended ...

My answer would be this. The era in which that brand of politics prospered was made possible by a certain set of circumstances that are no longer there. Chiefly these were a 30-year boom in the world capitalist economy, and a fear of revolution on the part of the ruling classes that left them cornered into allowing reforms.

But that historical period ended in the mid-1970s. What we have witnessed since then is three decades of neoliberal permanent revolution, in which avaricious elites have returned to the offensive and pushed back many of the gains secured by the social democratic/liberal axis Shuggy feels so nostalgic for.

It's not that I scorn, belittle or find nothing progressive about what the earlier labour movement achieved. Far from it. It is just that I don't think it can be repeated now. And that is why popular front politics of the Euston Manifesto are doomed to prove spectacularly ineffective.

PS: There is one further obvious point I somehow missed when writing this post last night. The very parties that initially secured the basic gains of social democracy have betrayed the legacy of past generations, passing -as New Labour has effortlessly done - from reformism to counter-reformism.

In most countries, they are an integral part of the neoliberal project. In many countries, they are at its forefront. It is now only the Marxist formations - LO-LCR in France, Rifondazione in Italy, PDS-WASG in Germany, SSP in Scotland - that even defend the struggles of the past.

I hope that they will be able to lead new ones. Many Eustonites claimed to be inspired by Orwell. Therefore they should remember this: if there is hope, it lies with the proles.

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