A Left That Matters?

This entry is a response to Chris Maisano's "A Left That Matters," published in Jacobin on February 8, 2021. The article, which at time of this writing sits behind a paywall, argues for DSA operation within the Democratic Party.

The context for the Left that should matter that is absent from Chris Maisano’s analysis is the still-invisible dinosaur in the room, i.e., fossil carbon now in the atmosphere and growing every day. So I would take this piece more seriously if it at least attempted to address this context, with the title being “A Left that Matters in the Existential Crisis of Climate Change.” Then it would confront the ever-shrinking time for the Left to act to prevent climate catastrophe with horrors much worse than we now witness. Then it would analyze the political and economic obstacles that must be overcome with a well thought out strategy, anticipating contingent diversions on the way. And then it would take note of the fact that DSA already has started to map out this strategy, with a goal of an ecosocialist Green New Deal (GND), which must be global in scope.

The essay makes a good case for a continuing struggle within the Democratic Party,but downplays mass movements and political initiatives outside of it. Black Lives Matter — the largest social movement in US history by the measure of protests on a single day (June 6, 2020) — is not even mentioned, nor any other struggle of the exploited and oppressed which surely must be taken into serious account by a Left that matters (likewise the central role of white supremacy in service of the ruling class in capitalism as we know it).

AOC and Markey’s GND Congressional Resolution paved the way for Bernie’s GND and then even Biden’s, though we know he denied this label for his climate program in one of the debates with Trump. But those like Chris Maisano who promote an inside strategy should at least acknowledge that the Green Party pioneered the ecosocialist GND, putting it into the national political discourse for millions with Howie Hawkins’ campaigns for New York Governor starting in 2010 and Jill Stein’s and Hawkins’ campaigns for President in 2012, 2016 and 2020.

Maisano argues that “The failure of revolutionary socialism to grow even in the midst of major capitalist crises underscores its lapse into futility.” Further “political currents that flow from the Leninist and Trotskyist traditions are exhausted.” Not so fast. Where is an account, for example, of the recent record of the apparent growth of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, a US Marxist-Leninist formation? Or, if Maisano is referring to the global arena, no evidence is provided to support this conclusion. Let’s simply respect political currents on the Left that don’t necessarily flow in our preferred direction, and work for synergistic convergence. In any case, a revolutionary socialism of the 21st century has emerged, an ecological Leninism (after Andreas Malm): ecosocialism. What form the prospect of revolutionary overthrow of capitalism will take is unclear, but a final rupture from the rule of capital is a revolution, without it having to be a reprise of previous revolutions — whether in Russia, China or Cuba, as some still argue (see my critique of Heron and Dean). The termination of the capitalist system is the goal of revolutionary (eco) socialism, but the path to achieve this goal is very likely to unfold in multi-stages, with a global GND now looking the most plausible.

The defeat of Trump was a blow to the political power of fossil capital, but not yet to the hegemony of the neoliberal imperialists in power. So what is the prime challenge now for revolutionary ecosocialists? A real revolutionary always fights for reforms, but what kind should take priority, taming or eroding the power of capital (to use a formulation of Erin Olin Wright)? Now the immediate task is to erode and finally defeat the power of fossil capital, the driver of climate catastrophe, by making an alliance with “green” capital to make this defeat possible in the shortest possible time so as to have a chance to meet the IPCC warming target of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Using green capital to build a global renewable power infrastructure while simultaneously creating the capacity of the transnational working-class power and that of its allies to end the rule of capital forever on our planet: that’s the task of revolutionary ecosocialists. I assume that DSA applying Marxist reformism will not settle for a return of social democracy, but push the limits of what the capitalist state can deliver and transcend it to a post-capitalist future.

A final observation: As socialists, we should avoid adopting the redefinition of words like “radical” and “revolutionary” as does the neoliberal press. Like saying revolutionary socialism is dead. Radical is going to the root. We are proud radicals, yes, promoting radicalization. Let’s be as radical as reality itself.

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