[Marxism] Debt & Greece - Why Capitulate? Another Way Is Possible

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 21 10:56:39 MST 2015

On 12/21/15 12:39 PM, Ken Hiebert via Marxism wrote:
> What was the point of running hard for government if so little could be achieved in government?

That's the crucial question. Edward Rooksby takes this up in an article 
on his blog:

The ‘reformist’ way of attempting to resolve the dilemma (Bernstein’s 
the emblematic representative of this path – though I think a very lucid 
one and quite honest about what he was doing) is essentially to kick the 
end goal into the long grass. For ‘reformism’ the socialist goal is 
always already not just yet, just over the horizon, relegated to a 
perpetually postponed future. This is, of course, a kind of bad faith on 
the part of those apparently committed to the attainment this end goal 
(though not necessarily on the part of Bernstein for who, famously, the 
‘ultimate goal’ of socialism was nothing, the ‘movement’ everything).

But the ‘revolutionary’ resolution of the dilemma has always seemed to 
me not to be a resolution either. Indeed it’s the mirror image of the 
‘reformist’ side-stepping of the terms of the problem. Crudely, it 
pivots on a kind of in-a-flash-everything-is-transformed 
semi-millenarianism. Few ‘revolutionaries’, of course, argue that we can 
move straight to socialism (first comes the transitional period of ‘the 
dictatorship of the proletariat’ after the ‘seizure of political power’) 
– but the point is that the idea of ‘the revolutionary seizure of power’ 
serves as a kind of magic-bullet solution to all problems and as such it 
is not really a solution at all but a rhetorical dodge.


I have my own thoughts on this that will be fleshed out in my concluding 
article on Swedish social democracy that will address a 1980 NLR article 
by erstwhile Analytical Marxist Adam Przeworski titled "Social Democracy 
as a Historical Phenomenon" where he writes:

A party that participates in elections must forsake some alternative 
tactics: this is the frequently diagnosed tactical dilemma. As long as 
workers did not have full political rights, no choice between 
insurrectionary and parliamentary tactics was necessary. Indeed, 
political rights could be conquered by those who did not have them only 
through extraparliamentary activities. César de Paepe, the founder of 
the Parti Socialiste Brabançon, wrote in 1877 that ‘in using our 
constitutional right and legal means at our disposal we do not renounce 
the right to revolution’. [7] This statement was echoed frequently, 
notably by Engels in 1895. Alex Danielsson, a Swedish left-wing 
socialist, maintained in a more pragmatic vein that Social Democrats 
should not commit themselves to ‘a dogma regarding tactics that would 
bind the party to act according to the same routine under all 
circumstances’. [8] That the mass strike should be used to achieve 
universal (and that meant male) suffrage was not questioned, and both 
the Belgian and Swedish parties led successful mass strikes that 
resulted in extensions of suffrage.

Yet as soon as universal suffrage was obtained, the choice between the 
‘legal’ and the ‘extra-parliamentary’ tactics had to be made. J. McGurk, 
the Chairman of the Labour Party, put it sharply in 1919: ‘We are either 
constutionalists or we are not constitutionalists. If we are 
constitutionalists, if we believe in the efficacy of the political 
weapon (and we do, or why do we have a Labour Party?) then it is both 
unwise and undemocratic because we fail to get a majority at the polls 
to turn around and demand that we should substitute industrial action.’ 
[9] The turning point in the tactics of several parties occurred after 
the failures of general strikes organized around economic issues. While 
strikes oriented toward suffrage had been generally successful, the use 
of mass strikes for economic goals resulted in political disasters in 
Belgium in 1902, [10] Sweden in 1909, [11] France in 1920, [12] Norway 
in 1921, [13] and Great Britain in 1926. [14] All these strikes were 
defeated; in the aftermath trade-union membership was decimated and 
repressive legislation was passed. These common experiences of defeat 
and repression directed socialist parties toward an almost exclusive 
reliance on electoral tactics. Electoral participation was necessary to 
protect the movement from repression: this was the lesson drawn by 
socialist leaders. As Kautsky wrote already in 1891, ‘The economic 
struggle demands political rights and these will not fall from heaven.’ [15]

To win votes of people other than workers, particularly the petty 
bourgeosie, to form alliances and coalitions, to administer the 
government in the interest of workers, a party cannot appear to be 
‘irresponsible’, to give any indication of being less than whole-hearted 
about its commitment to the rules and the limits of the parliamentary 
game. At times the party must even restrain its own followers from 
actions that would jeopardize electoral progress. Moreover, a party 
oriented toward partial improvements, a party in which 
leader-representatives lead a petty bourgeois life style, a party that 
for years has shied away from the streets cannot ‘pour through the hole 
in the trenches’, as Gramsci put it, even when this opening is forged by 
a crisis. ‘The trouble about the revolutionary left in stable industrial 
societies,’ observed Eric Hobsbawn, ‘is not that its opportunities never 
came, but that the normal conditions in which it must operate prevent it 
from developing the movements likely to seize the rare moments when they 
are called upon to behave as revolutionaries. . . . Being a 
revolutionary in countries such as ours just happens to be difficult.’ [16]


The NLR article is behind a paywall but you can read Przerowsk's book 
"Capitalism and Social Democracy" here: 

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