Academic journal article Capital & Class

Left-Wing Convergence: An Introduction

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Left-Wing Convergence: An Introduction

Article excerpt

Introduction

The idea of convergence around a broad alliance of the left is something that has bedevilled socialist organisations since the 19th century. It has often been easier to show what divides us than that which unites us. The Marxist left is a rich tapestry of difference, but the cleavage between these various Marxisms and equally diverse anarchisms is often said to be insurmountable in theory and/or practice. Assuming that the split between Marxism and anarchism does not exhaust left-wing politics, although it has frequently been seen as an intractable division within it, what might signs of convergence here tell us about a wider convergence across the full spectrum of the left? In an era of the decline of state socialism and the rise of the civil 'multitude', contrasting understandings of how the politics of the left might position itself have emerged. The so-called 'globalisation' of the nation-state and the rise of regional EU governance, coupled with the emergence of civil society 'from below', have led to questions about the level at which a left-wing response should be levied. The age-old debates over state/party that plagued previous divisions between anarchism and Marxism have waned because neither seems particularly viable today, while social movements have recaptured the socialist impetus. In this context, convergence between the two has not merely become a possibility but, one might suggest, a necessity. In the post-crisis arena in which politics is being ordered through a free-market doctrine that appears to be narrowing in its application, convergence is, surely, also required.

Conventional wisdom might suggest that such a thing is impossible. And yet, perhaps not. Both now and over the past 150 years, anarchists and Marxists have combined and struggled together for common cause across multiple sites of power and resistance (Prichard et al. 2012). It is time to reject the dominant narrative of division and incommensurability that was never, in any case, more than part of the story (Kinna & Prichard 2012). Indeed, left unity groups are today springing up across Europe and the world, with the radical left making a comeback in electoral terms and within social movements. Both anarchism and Marxism have captured something of the political Zeitgeist in the post-Occupy era, but propose radically different strategic solutions.

Of the new electoral left, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, Alexis Tsipras and Pablo Iglesias are typical but also radically unconventional. All four are men, a fact that speaks to wider concerns of gender inequality on the far left, and all four seek electoral paths to radical social change. Tsipras's repeated failings and re-election speak directly to the conventional hopes and failings of this mainstream left: that the state is the machinery that must be controlled in order to generate radical social change, and that pragmatism is the best hope in the face of repeated failure.

But alongside this up-swell has come a revival in anarchist political theory and activism. Anarchist groups have been of central importance to grass-roots organising and resistance to the neoliberal agenda; and their visibility, and the airtime they have generated around Occupy, particularly in the USA, has pushed public discourse to the left, thereby creating space for electoral challenges to the Blairite 'Third Way' as well as constituting a radically alternative vision of their own (Bray 2013). Viewed, as is typically the case, in this 'twin-track' way, it is hard to discern the linkages between these two processes of electoralism and social movement activity; and yet it is plain to see, for those who have been out on the streets over the past ten years, that black and red flags wave a common cause, with Jeremy Corbyn marching alongside anarchists at more than one march. This is rarely acknowledged or discussed, in public or, more pertinently, in academic-facing publications such as this one. …

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