Radicals look for path beyond capitalism -- book review


Beyond Capitalism? The Future of Radical Politics
Luke Cooper & Simon Hardy
Zero Books, 2013

Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy should be congratulated on producing a thoughtful contribution as to how we build a movement capable of defeating capitalism and creating a socialist society.

From climate change to the financial crisis and austerity, the neo-liberal project has failed. Where it once promised prosperity, it can only deliver ashes.

However while neoliberalism looks fatally wounded, the left in countries such as Australia and Britain (where Cooper and Hardy are based), paradoxically looks weak.

Pessimistically echoing Polish-born revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, if we ask whether the choice is between socialism and barbarism, barbarism is looking strong. Whether in the form of Liberal leader Tony Abbott or the rising fortunes of the right-wing UK Independence Party (which recently came second in the Eastleigh by-election) right seems on the march.

Or to put it another way, while neoliberalism is failing, socialist solutions do not, outside Latin America, even gain a mention in the “mainstream”.

Cooper and Hardy left the Trotskyist group Workers Power and recently launched the Anti-Capitalist Initiative. For them, the crisis of the left is the crisis of the “sect”. In Britain, left organisations outside of the Labour have failed to make an impact. Right now, the largest far left group, the Socialist Workers Party, is in severe crisis.

Cooper and Hardy argue for another way of doing Marxist politics that builds on the radical democracy of the Occupy movement.

I think they Cooper and Hardy absolutely right in their basic analysis, which argues that a Marxist perspective is correct but that we must search for new ways of performing Marxist politics. Politics is not theology, but is about creating necessary change.

Despite the arguments of a generations of “post-Marxists” in the 1980s and 90s, we are not yet in a post-Marxist era. Class struggle defines our political horizons because, above all, the rich and the powerful are launching an assault on the rest of us.

A crisis of capitalism is being used to justify savage cuts and further deregulation. So Marxism and an orientation to class struggle are needed.

But Marxist groups in many countries have not succeeded in creating change and need to reflect on why they have not grown despite the worst economics crisis since the 1930s.

The idea that one group should have a monopoly is strongly challenged in this book, which advocates pluralist Marxism. Radical democracy as a solution is put forward. For the authors democratic ownership of society is the goal of socialism. Socialism which is top down and run by the few is not, in the final analysis, socialist.

I have a number criticism and a number of questions on reading Beyond Capitalism. It challenges my own party — The Green Party of England and Wales — for being too electoralist.

This is a fair criticism and it is for left Greens to rise to this challenge. However I think a problem is their dismissal of the Latin American left. Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa can be criticised in a number of ways, but both left governments and radical social movements from Brazillian landless movement to the Mapuche uprising in Chile, should be studied with care.

Cooper and Hardy intelligently discuss the need for broad left parties and the prospects for the radical left coalition Syriza in Greece, they largely dismiss the gains in Latin America. I think this is a mistake. Millions of people call themselves socialists or Marxists in Venezuela — this is Chavez's legacy. Let's not quote The Economist to shut down debate about his contribution to social change.

While I agree with their criticism of the “sect”, I think they could put more weight on the pressure that a right-wing media and decades of defeat have placed on the left. Left sects, greens, mainstream social democrats, radical social movements have all to a lesser or greater extent failed in Europe.

Also, since E.P. Thompson left the British Communist Party in 1956, there have been many attempts to build “pluralist” new left groups. The “Beyond the Fragments” conference in the 1980s is one example and the group Big Flame is one of many others.

What went right and what went wrong when it comes to previous attempts to build an alternative to the “sects” is an area that authors needed to address. It may be a cliche that those who do not learn from history are defeated by history. It is also true.

So do read Beyond Capitalism, but see it as a sign post not a destination.

[Derek Wall is international coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales. He is currently writing a book on the late US political economist and environmental activist Elinor Ostrom.]