Class, Party and the Challenge of State Transformation

Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin


The delegitimation of neoliberalism has restored some credibility to the radical socialist case for transcending capitalism as necessary to realize the collective, democratic, egalitarian and ecological aspirations of humanity. It spawned a growing sense that capitalism could no longer continue to be bracketed when protesting the multiple oppressions and ecological threats of our time. And as austerity took top billing over free trade, the spirit of antineoliberal protest also shifted. Whereas capitalist globalization had defined the primary focus of oppositional forces in the first decade of the new millennium, the second decade opened with Occupy and the Indignados dramatically highlighting capitalism’s gross class inequalities. Yet with this, the insurrectionary flavour of protest without revolutionary effect quickly revealed the limits of forever standing outside the state. A marked turn on the left from protest to politics has come to define the new conjuncture, as opposition to capitalist globalization shifted from the streets to the state theatres of neoliberal practice. This is in good part what the election of Syriza in Greece and the sudden emergence of Podemos in Spain signified. Corbyn’s election as leader of the British Labour Party attracted hundreds of thousands of new members with the promise to sustain activism rather than undermine it. This transition from protest to politics has been remarkably class oriented in terms of addressing inequality in income and wealth distribution, as well as in economic and political power relations.

All this compels a fundamental rethink of the relationship between class, party and state transformation. If Bolshevik revolutionary discourse seems archaic a hundred years after 1917, it is not just because the legacy of its historic demonstration that revolution was possible has faded. It is also because Gramsci’s reframing, so soon after 1917, of the key issues of revolutionary strategy – especially regarding the impossibility of an insurrectionary path to power in states deeply embedded in capitalist societies – rings ever more true. What this means for socialists, however, as we face up to a long war of position in the twenty-first century, is not only the recognition of the limitations of twentieth-century Leninism. It above all requires discovering how to avoid the social democratization even of those committed to transcending capitalism. This is the central challenge for socialists today.

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