All these endless ruminations on the left are mostly pointless. They go on and on trying to figure out why they cannot expand and the puzzle of one case that seems to be working, the DSA.
I have frequently suggested over the past few years that all the old models are dead: the world of Lenin to Trotsky and all the rest of it, probably including marxism itself, are terminally dysfunctional and unable to appeal to a new public. Even the term ‘socialism’ is almost unusable, as Sanders more or less proved without trying
I see this confirmed in the recent BLM protest movement: out of the blue, almost without trying and no forethought, a global movement appeared out of nowhere and spread to all continents. That happened in under a month. That’s how the Second International happened. In no time it made Marx’s thinking a global movement, without mass media not as swiftly but in its context in a flash. But after the experience of bolshevism, the whole set of ideas died. And it can’t be revived by hand wringing with old cliches
So one would think that the current situation requires something new, new language, new ideas, disavowal of past failure and new terminology. To even use the term socialism can backfire. I have tried to refer to neo-communism, and never the term without that preface. But even that may not be enough. It is hard to proceed without the term ‘socialism’, so it must be risked, but also clearly defined, disconnected from the past, and with clear discussions of the kind of society envisioned. Simple vague references imply in the minds of most who hear the term a state capitalism with some one-party elite in charge, a version of the Cheka such as Lenin had from the start, etc…We have tried that and it would seem it just doesn’t work, in part because marxism has alwasy been a confusing legacy. Marx made of monopoly of the ideas emerging in the wake of the French Revolution, and not a single figure who created socialism is even heard of any more. Marx and Marx only. His domination instincts crippled the left. To be fair he forestalled the confusion coming from many complete idiots, and created a canon that endures and guided many for a time. But now even his theories seem dated, his followers unable to think out of the Marx box, and blind to any real program beyond sloganeering. Who knows. But something is wrong somewhere. The world no longer listens to the old left. Once it did listen and gave the left many opportunities. In every case the marxist legacy failed. Why? Conservative ranters think they know why, but they don’t, despite the obvious paranoia about stalinism.
Whatever case, the old formulas won’t work. The BLM protests show people will leap at the chance for a radical movement that is novel in its daring and scope. But unfortunately the scope seems too narrow. But if the BLM expands to a socialist theme it might well contract and become the object of vicious attacks.
In any case, the point is clear: the left has to start over. Thirty years after 1989 the left is still peddling marxism-leninism. Face it. It is rubbish.
That’s not to say that much can’t be learned from the past. Dumpsterdivers live on rubbish, it is sometimes good stuff. But frankly marxist rubbish is getting a bit stinky at his point.
And one has to wonder if the whole package wasn’t too far on the German professor spectrum: most leftists wouldn’t admit it, but they find Capital boring. It is boring, and it didn’t really solve the problem. Marx’s strategy of theory was brilliant but it has been subjected to so many critiques that it is a sign of leftist retardation in the peans of marx-worship that attend its non-perusal.
More generally the route to theory can backfire and it did so with Marx: his theories are brilliant but brilliant isn’t good enough in social science, which is a graveyard of useless theories trying to imitate Newton. Stages of production theory seems idiotic now, and probably can’t be revived. At some point you have to stop pounding on that heart muscle. Fling Capital in the rubbish, make Marx/Engels into a prefatory and exciting saga about the era of 1848 and then jump a lacuna into a new subject, rewritten from scratch. You are on your own. That was always the case. Marxism always left everyone in the lurch with nothing to offer in the final stage of social reconstruction. This is fair because marxism after much thunder says nothing about creating a new society.
Our ideas of a DMNC (democratic market neo-communism) are a partial attempt to do something new, even if they may be still too connected to the past. They are abstractions but they can allow modeling some kind of really not yet existing socialism. Economies, markets, planning, constitutions, legal systems, ecology, there’s more, are an awful lot of things to do on the fly which is what marxism advised. Things get so confused that a Stalin inexorably comes to take over.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We have modeled one idea: a liberalism remorphed as (neo-)communism, and vice versa. You have something that works (although in the climate crisis the liberal option is failing) as pre-existing liberal democracy and then you, say, expropriate capital. The whole thing continues, but is also completely change.
There are many ideas, but unless the left can say what they plan to do noone will trust them again.
Meanwhile, once again one can only note the stunning sudden global reach of the BLM. Part of that, and there is much more no doubt, is the start of something new as yet free the mechanization of thought and action that overtakes deal cults.