Reports of socialism’s death have been greatly exaggerated – its progressive dynamism could be the key to a brighter future
Posted byJayati Ghosh
Monday 28 May 2012
Even as resistance to global capitalism builds, it tends to be accompanied by gloomy perceptions that grand socialist visions of the future are no longer possible. But there is much more dynamism within the global left than is often perceived, with variegated moves away from tired ideas of all kinds. Left movements in different parts of the world increasingly transcend the traditional socialist paradigm, with its emphasis on centralised government control over an undifferentiated mass of workers, to incorporate more explicit emphasis on the rights and concerns of women, ethnic minorities, tribal communities and other marginalised groups, as well as recognition of ecological constraints and the social necessity of respecting nature.
Seven common threads appear in the emerging left, in what are otherwise distinct political formations and dissimilar socio-economic contexts. These are not always “new” ideas – more often than not, they are old ideas that appear new simply because of the changing context and the collective failure of memory.
The first is the attitude to what constitutes democracy. Unlike earlier socialist formulations, which saw all institutions of the bourgeois state as inherently and deeply tainted, the emerging left has shown a much greater willingness to engage with formal democratic processes such as elections, referendums, laws delivering rights, and judicial processes.
Radical governments in Latin America derive their legitimacy from ballot boxes, and in other countries the emerging left is often the greatest champion of formal democratic institutions, the most concerned about their corruption and manipulation by entrenched interests and corporate power. There is strong support for new democratic experiments in popular deliberation and consensus building, and greater rejection of top-down models of party organisation, with respect for a plurality of opinions within the left.
The second relatively “new” feature is the rejection of overcentralisation. The centralising, homogenising state was a central element of actually existing socialism throughout much of the 20th century. Of course, there are good reasons for the socialist celebration of largeness: the need for social co-ordination of investment, especially large-scale investment, as well as state direction of the redistribution of wealth and income. But the new aim is to find the right balance between large and small, according to context. There is greater emphasis on the need to generate or enhance the viability of small-scale production, and a reaction against past attempts at centralised control over all aspects of material life, which have been experienced as rigid, inflexible, hierarchical and lacking in accountability.