Say something 'Left'!

Chine Informations
Since you're reading this, you may share my perception: we desperately need to unite against the huge threats to our dignity, our social values and even our physical survival. Urgently. Israel seems about to ignite World War III by bombing Iran, with the backing of the world's greatest, and dumbest, military behemoth; the global environment is being laid waste so we won't even be able to breathe; capital is drained from production and  employment and funneled to bankers and speculators while Greece, Portugal and other countries are strangled; social guarantees (pensions, labor contracts, health care) are being dismanteled in the name of "austerity"; …  and so on.

Lots of people are outraged by one or all of these injustices, and many are taking great risks to confront them. But our actions are dispersed, sometimes mutually conflicting because of lack of commuication or of understanding, and at best have only puny, local effects. The so-called socialist parties have grown too timid and too compromised with the system to oppose it effectively — François Hollande is the only socialist leader with a chance of achieving state power who is even making left noises, but even if he means what he says and even if he wins, the whole political-economic system in which that institution is embedded (not just French vested interests but also the European Union) will make structural changes impossible without massive support from outside the system. As we've seen with Obama, once the great hope (and still the best of the bad alternatives) for the US.

We need some coordinating mechanism, and a widely-shared theory to give direction and define the priority objectives and better ways to mobilize our efforts to work together. We see signs of their emergence, of both organization and theory, but they haven't coalesced yet. And we may not have much time to create such a movement — hardly any at all, if nobody stops Netanyahu. What we need is something comparable to the international communism that gave energy and direction to so many struggles until its spectacular disintegration in 1989 and the years immediately following.

I don't mean to idealize international communism, or to minimize the cruel ways in which its tradition and doctrine were often  used — gulags, famine, massacres of supposed class enemies, mortal struggles among Stalinists, Trotskyists and other self-proclaimed communists, invasions of allies such as Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), China's "cultural revolution" and the other well-documented horrors. But it would be seriously self-defeating, and we would be missing an enormously instructive opportunity, if we did not study that movement to learn not only of its  errors (and its horrors, which were not the same thing) but also how and why it achieved its enormous successes.  For example, the great burst of activity and productivity in the first decades of the USSR, transforming the backward, semifeudal Russian Empire into a scientific, educational, artistic and industrial powerhouse, or the mobilizing of international brigades to fight fascism in Spain, the critical support for needed revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam and other places, and many less dramatic local efforts that widened freedom at least for a time. Those revolutions haven't always turned out as happily as we had expected, and that too we need to understand, but for a time they were all inspiring and gave hope and purpose to millions of lives and they did accomplish good and important things for the people — even when, as for example in Nicaragua under Ortega and his wife, or Guinée-Conakry after Sékou Touré's early heroic years, or Algeria after independence, much of the good work was destroyed by later and narrower ambitions.

So why have I thought it important to tell you all this? I guess it's just my way of explaining, to you and to myself, why we need to examine the history of such a powerful, worldwide movement, including the deeper, structural causes of its embarrassingly sudden collapse, which has left leftists confused and disorganized or even ashamed of themselves when we need all their energy. Given where I am (geographically, socially, temporally), such an examination may be the best way I can contribute to rebuilding our movement.

1 comment:

Dirk van Nouhuys said...

A useful, thought-provoking, and even depressing summary.
It has always struck me how the home culture has tended to mold Marxism in its own image. In Russia the title became Party Secretary where it used to be Tsar, but governance was much the same. As has been true in Russia since Moscow began to dominate in the Middle Ages, some heads of state were despotic, cruel, and competent (Peter the Great, and Catherine the great) while the majority were merely despotic and cruel. It seems to me the government in China now is approaching its classical structure, although the succession and selection of the emperor seems a bit more rational, and there are no (acknowledged) harems and eunuchs yet. Daniel Ortega could not prevent Nicaragua from becoming once again a typical Central American polity -; in fact, it seems to have turned him into a typical Central America head of state. I thought that the only country in which a Marxist takeover really changed things in a profound, general way was Cuba, and it's beginning to relapse.