A thoughtful and challenging proposal.
George argues that the Leap Manifesto is a critical opening for moving beyond social democracy. But the arguments here are not compelling. Addressing key issues raised by the Manifesto ("an end to poverty and inequality and serious climate change"), certainly requires massive structural reforms and dismantling the building blocks of capitalism.
But no matter the verbal gymnastics George tries to use, Leap in no way calls for targeting capitalism, breaking with U.S. imperialism and building a political movement of the working class that integrates the many vital issues highlighted in the document.
The Leap Manifesto is an important contribution in identifying key effects of neoliberal capitalism, but it avoids the underlying system and a potential movement to transform it. The Manifesto can be part of such an effort, but this is not the same as being an anchor for a larger Left project.
The notion that somehow we have reached a "real shift in progressive consciousness" is also problematic. Working people, not to mention environmental activists, are increasingly sick of the effects of neoliberal capitalism, and there is a palpable feeling among many that the system is not working for them. But few believe the system can be replaced. There is a general lack of understanding about the possibilities of alternatives, collective capacities for change, knowledge or basic literacy about what the system really is, how it works or its underlying logic. There is little readiness to abandon social democratic and liberal solutions--or even, at times, the potential for right-wing populism.
Martell ends up with an overly optimistic reading of just where working people--or the larger "progressive" community--are at politically. He therefore ignores the real tasks needed to actually bring such a "shift in progressive consciousness."
This error continues into his organizing proposal. It looks for political radicalism in the wrong places, with a rather problematic assertion that "the country's social democratic supporters and Left liberals make up the bulk of institutionalized resistance (however limited) to capitalist relations."
People who believe in the NDP and identify with social democracy aren't necessarily open to socialist or anti-capitalist politics. Opposition to austerity, inequality, neoliberalism, racism and movements for reforms, while essential, do not amount to "resistance to capitalist relations"--but to the effects of those relations. That is positive, but very different.
Community building as building socialism
George's organizational project is extremely impressive. It is a proposal for the creation of democratic assemblies on a community level; an ongoing series of "learning-by-doing" experiments working to create alternative approaches across the main elements of social life, based on collective action, solidarity and socialist alternatives to engaging in mainstream politics and social institutions.
The basic logic seems to be to bring together Left political, labour and social activists from bases in the working class, communities of colour, LGBTQ, people living in poverty, precarious workers and Indigenous communities in order to collectively build the institutions described above. The approach is to be one that works towards a socialist critique of contemporary practices and institutions, and seeks to build within particular communities; laterally, across to other communities and spaces; and upward, towards higher levels of government.
This impressive set of proposals requires in-depth and concrete engagement. I can't do this here, but I can make the following evaluative notes:
* George touches on many necessary tasks that socialists need to carry out in order to build beyond the tiny enclaves we currently inhabit. He emphasizes the need to engage in different forms of class struggle, figure out how to apply socialist principles in each situation, and bolster our own capacities and those of other working people, many of whom will become the backbone of a mass movement.
* He properly sees this as a longer term project that requires mustering resources and organizing capacity from existing working class and popular organizations, placing a responsibility on unions and social movements to contribute to building differently.
* He alludes to the importance of political leadership, but is ambivalent about what this means and where it might come from. Frankly, I can't see such a project happening without a strong core of socialist activists building, educating (themselves and others) and expanding. We don't have that at the present time. Without it there is no guarantee that local collective institutions won't end up as spaces for narrow interests or electoral bases for Liberals or NDPers (not that folks with these politics couldn't participate). Not having coherent political engagement from organized socialists will result in failure.
* These experiments require enormous resources of time, dedication and commitment to a given community. Currently, the critical mass for this type of experiment doesn't exist in Ontario. Perhaps Halifax is the closest to having it.
* I won't repeat my critique of the central role of the NDP in this proposal. While there certainly are NDP members and supporters who would be important participants and allies, it is absurd to think that the NDP could be a key institutional foundation. Many community movements are already lost in social democratic electoral dead ends and orientations, and this could make it even more difficult to construct a common socialist intervention, necessary to move this forward.
* There are several fresh notions about shadowing existing bourgeois-democratic political institutions; developing alternative perspectives in education, taxes, transit, employment (such as canvassing for real community needs that can be addressed differently). I think we must see how we can learn to apply them in ways that are currently within our current range of resources.
I look forward towards further engagement with George.
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|Title Annotation:||Leap, the Left & the NDP: ... some responses to George Martell; Leap Manifesto, New Democratic Party, Canada; article in this issue, p. 10|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2016|
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