What Should Socialists Propose?

This is a copy of an article written for Demand Nothing.

In the quest for a scientific socialism, I think it is fair to say the former element has received undue attention compared to the latter. For several generations now, Marxists (and for that matter other socialists) have focused on defining capitalism, discerning its laws of motion, explaining and theorizing what it is and what it does, and how it is historically differentiated. This is an important task, that is not to be denied. Yet a socialist (or communist) politics is not the same as a socialist theory, and it does not have the same requirements. Like all radical movements of whatever stripe, a socialist politics is confronted immediately with the fact that its achievements need to be threefold: first, it must convince people of its understanding of present society; secondly, it must convince them that change is desirable; finally, it must convince people that change is possible, and in what way – including what it would look like. There is not necessarily any order of priority to these, although theorized for practical purposes, they will tend to flow from each other in that sequence. However, ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate’ politics – i.e., the politics suitable to the ruling establishment – has an easier job of it. All they need to do is the first, and they can safely ignore the other two, as they do not serve their purposes anyway. Liberals and conservatives do not need to convince anyone of systemic change, and can rest lazily on the comfortable bed that is technocratic management of existing conditions.

Sadly, the history of Marxist theorizing so far has seen a vast accumulation, if one may make that joke, of books detailing the first element, at the expense of the others. Continue reading “What Should Socialists Propose?”

Excursus on Marxism and Religion

The rise of a movement known as the ‘New Atheism’ has given cause to much controversy among the left on the right attitude to develop towards religion. For a long time, the secularization of Western societies and the decline in active religious participation seemed to have made the question altogether redundant, but the open theoretical confrontation with theology initiated by the New Atheism has created an equal counter-reaction. Neither side has shown necessarily impressive motives here – there is little doubt that much of the anxious fervor of some of the New Atheist writers, such as Sam Harris, has been influenced by the perceived growing threat of Islam in Europe and elsewhere; a threat to secularism, freedom, equality, and perhaps even modernity itself, as the school of ‘Eurabia’ would have it. Equally, much of the response by religious figures has shown the same venal dishonesty, banality, and special pleading that has characterized ‘sophisticated’ apologetics for most of human history. Continue reading “Excursus on Marxism and Religion”

Marxism and Distributionism

Whether it’s the Occupy movement in the US and elsewhere or the indignados in Spain, the Greek revolt against austerity or the British response to the depredations of the coalition government, one source of frustration for many socialist activists and intellectuals has been the inability of these movements to formulate a truly socialist demand. There have been many arguments about the economics of the crisis lately, and books from a left-wing viewpoint expounding the causes and tendencies of the crisis sell very well. There is no doubt that the current crisis, both in its scope and its severity, has undermined the dominance of neoclassical liberalist economics on the mindset of the public, and opened up the possibility for different economic theories and viewpoints to take hold. As Marx pointed out, theory too becomes a material force once it grips the masses; this goes for economic theory not in the last place. Continue reading “Marxism and Distributionism”