Sunday Hot Take, May 16th, 2021

Labour Left again.

Is this how I win? — Griffin Mahon, University of Virginia

Following last week, I’m writing about James Schneider’s Novara series.

Schneider begins his article on the state by rightly dismissing the anarchist common-sense of the ‘00s in favor of political action. He oddly says the Corbyn movement operated on an implicit “Leninist parliamentarism.” This is understandable enough as “the elected officials lead the movement,” but mislabeled: Lenin had his own parliamentarism, and it worked! 

Schneider says that the socialist strategy must be “in and against the state” — i.e., use the state to transform it. I think this is objectively correct for advanced capitalist democracies, though it raises a question that the Atlantic Left will face: What happens when the socialists who are “in” the state aren’t as “against” the state as their supporters?

Schneider points out that the first actions of a socialist government must be about undermining capitalist class power, not introducing socialism per se (which is up to the working class). This is an important point, alongside the fact that socialist governments in office immediately find themselves managing a capitalist economy — and needing to do it well, for better and worse. He then recommends activating paper Labour members in campaigns to win local council elections, build experience and confidence, and expand Labour’s metropolitan demographic.

Next, Schneider examines global capitalism. Socialism requires internationalist coordination across borders because capitalists who suffer defeat in one country can simply flee to another. There is not much in the way of suggestions besides political education and a global Green New Deal, which might attract progressives but frankly seems deficient in details. Positive reference is made to the Pink Tide without particular reasoning or an argument that that process is replicable or even desirable. I have read more specific things elsewhere, but I think the field of “socialist foreign policy” is a bit undertheorized beyond “send money and guns to revolutionary parties abroad.”

Finally, Schneider ends with the media. I am a bit skeptical that an approach towards the media merits placement alongside an orientation to the state or organizational forms. The working class will never enjoy equal or favorable coverage on the news channels of the rich; our own media institutions should instead be aimed at spreading our views to the public, enlightening our members, and disciplining our organizations. 

But really, Schneider’s media essay is about our rhetoric. It might seem idealist to focus on the words we use, but (for example) if our theory of electoral politics is premised upon bringing more people into the fight, then the words we use really matter! There is a difference between how Bernie and AOC speak — whether the results diverge only time will tell. But we must at all opportunities expose the corruption of the ruling class and present the alternative of socialism and how we win it — working-class organization.

All in all, there’s little to outright disagree with in Schneider’s series except emphasis. But one gets the sense of official optimism… Has Corbynism’s defeat set socialists back to square 1 or square 0?

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