The needed transformation of the Left
Yesterday Emmanuel Macron easily won the French presidential election.
In France there is a first round where about fifteen party choices are available to voters. The top two candidates face off in a second round. This year a candidate of the center (Macron) came in first and a candidate of the Right (Le Pen) came in second.
The Socialist Party of France came in tenth.
Here are historical vote totals for the Socialist Party of France in the first round:
They had a popular candidate in the 2007 to 2012 period, but otherwise support for the Socialist Party has been declining.
There happens to be a Socialist Party in the United States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Party_USA) but it gets very few votes.
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It’s taking a long time for the Left to carry through a very necessary transformation.
Surely radical change is needed. Our generation of social changers at first had some new ideas during the Sixties, but those new ideas were very inchoate at the time and did not congeal into a discernible new orientation until much later. So we had turned back to Marxism during the Seventies.
By 2000 I had the idea that our generation might very well have been the last to make that kind of (retrograde) turn, but if you see the discourse of the recently reinvigorated Democratic Socialists of America it’s clear that “back to Marxism” has happened again.
This is to the detriment of the Left, which must start listening to Greens instead of Reds. For example:
Who will be (or are) the change agents? The position we are expounding gives rise to an immediate theoretical tension, given that in radical political thought the traditional locus of revolutionary potential has been in the working class. But this class has in many ways subscribed to the ideology of growth, in the sense that the proletarian struggle since industrialisation has been for a greater, more equitable share of a growing economy pie, especially higher wages — and quite understandably so. Capitalism tends to concentrate wealth in grossly unjust ways, as economist Thomas Piketty (2014) has famously established in recent years with reference to vast historical data. This historical struggle for distributive equity has been a just and necessary struggle.
The demand for higher wages, however, can render the working class complicit in the ecocidal drive for ongoing economic growth that has no viable future in an age already marked by the transgression of planetary boundaries.
Marx always saw a need for the proletarian consciousness to develop before any revolution could transpire, but in an age of ecological limits it seems that the revolutionary consciousness may need to evolve in ways that transcend the growth paradigm. Furthermore, the traditional goal of the proletariat has been to take control of the means of production in order to be in control of their own working lives. That is a coherent goal as far as it goes. But as Andre Gorz (1982, p. 67) pointed out long ago, the goal should not be to take control over work, merely, but to ‘free oneself from work by rejecting its nature, content, necessity and modalities.’
To do so is to reject the traditional strategy and organizational forms of the working class movement.
It follows that in an age of increasingly severe ecological limits, traditional theories of change must be reconsidered, both in terms of who the change agents will be, and what outcomes should be pursued or demanded (Albert 2004, Gibson-Graham 2006). The working class struggle must be grounded in an ecological context and revise its demands and strategies accordingly, as eco-Marxists and eco-socialists are beginning to do (Sarkar 1999, Baer 2017).
In our view, the change agents in this neoproletarian grassroots transformation will obviously need to include workers, who we argue should seek to increase their participation in non-monetary, informal and sharing economies as times of crisis deepen (Gibson-Graham et al 2013, Nelson 2018). We give more content to this broad post-capitalist strategy in the next section and review its emerging manifestations. Change agents will also need to include members of the more affluent middle classes, who, in growing numbers, will need to withdraw from the vapidity of consumer culture, embrace radical forms of voluntary simplicity or downshifting, and act in solidarity with others who are building new, fairer and more localized economies within the shell of a global capitalist system in decay. Thus we do not posit a homogeneous proletariat but recognize a fractured ‘multitude’ (Hardt and Negri 2004) or ‘neoproletariat’ that may act in heterogeneous ways for a post-capitalist future.
It should be clear that this is not in any way to dismiss the material groundings of systemic change; it is only to invite political strategists to be open to reimagining modes of transformation for the present era of increasingly severe ecological limits.