It’s easy to belittle the G20 protests and write them off as a largely ineffectual blip, but in trying to defend them some unpalatable questions actually do need to be asked and answered—concerning both unity and organisation on the socialist left. The question is old and often asked: where is the actual left-wing unity? What does it even mean to be socialist when there are governmental parties like Britain’s Labour Party, pretending to social justice, yet fully dedicated to money markets, privatisation, presiding over a rise in the rich-poor gap, and corruptly getting into bed with big business; and socialist parties drifting off into one-issue obsessions like anti-racism and the Iraq war. Who are the socialists anymore? It’s probably a big mistake to even suppose that socialism is any longer a shared definition among those who use it to describe their own political allegiences.
Organisation in socialism, and its problems, is not new, but it has been forgotten, to the point where people are having to re-learn what socialists experienced in the ’20s and ’30s. For a while there has been a lot of talk about re-invigoration and a ‘socialism for the 21st century’, and there are times when it starts to sound something like the claptrap of a marketing exercise. In the face of the never-arrived-at revolution (or the über revolution imagined as the final assault) columnists and lecturers on sabbaticals write reams of drivel about the many kinds of revolution that have already taken place if only we could see them; small overthrows in one half of a tiny country; consumer revolutions and consumer power. Yet for all that, when we are not kidding ourselves that widespread worker solidarity is still alive and well, and that socially we have moved into an atomized culture predicated upon an obsession with individual freedoms right or wrong, we know that really the world is still in the grip of powerful elites and corporate capitalism and back-room business-government corruption plotting all manner of assaults on nations, races, workers, consumers and whatever else, in the name of maintaining the power that maintains ruthless financial gain.
The industry of three-author journal articles asking “whither socialism”, has absolutely no tangible connection with child labour, bad housing, failed justice or poverty; half of them don’t even seem remotely interested in the collapse of capitalism as a realistic prospect, just as a theoretical model; if the revolution were to arrive their existence would be in tatters, this industry thrives on “the struggle”. The population at large gets jelly-kneed when the prospect of fallen banks, and hence lost pensions and retirement villas, are on the horizon, because (and this is the plain truth) hardly anyone can visualise a real alternative to the economic system under which we live.
These micro-revolutions, the tiny food-growing collectives, allowed to exist because they pose no threat to agribusiness; the local cries for better recycling; mini-victories in one social housing complex, are not meaningless, they only deserve admiration, but they are not going to bring Corporate Uncle Sam to his knees. Likewise for the fantasies of the ‘market anarchists’ that somehow if they have some little island of mutual free-trade, then it stands to reason that everyone else will follow suit, remains on the drawing board as much as the mocked, never-arrived at revolution.
Socialism, under attack from prophets of neo-liberal capitalism and libertarian hokum, has grown embarrassed of calling for worker solidarity, for strikes, for abolishing the wage-system, especially the possibility of armed struggle and a dozen other fundamental socialist principles. The parties and movements are increasingly peopled by individuals who believe that all overthrows can be necessarily bloodless, that force is not needed, that the ogres of corporate capitalism will give up their money trees without a fight if we all sit down and sing songs and wave candles, the desire for only velvet revolutions (and look at Prague now, another same-old capitalist city in a unified neo-liberal Europe).
Are we, as one recent essay claimed, really still “appreciating” the resilience of American-style capitalism? Or are we just confused, aghast and extremely annoyed, at the “revelation” that the economic system is not very resilient at all and only stays afloat with a lot of help and money, like a child on a bicycle with stabilisers? As socialists, we’ve done the journey through the Communist Manifesto and understand how the capitalist mode of production demolished feudal society, but are we really admiring how capitalism ‘picked itself up and dusted itself off’ after another nasty fall? The socialism I know should be rubbing its hands with glee, urging and hoping for the system to collapse, turning off its life support. THe G20 protests reflect the lack of real unity perfectly: a mass of people protested, but a mass is not organised unity.