Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Marx revival? (4 of 5) Is there actual evidence of such a thing in US and European politics?

To what extent are there parties or groups that self-identify as Marxist that have real clout in politics in the US and Europe?

For the United States, the answer if fairly simple: none.

In both the US and Europe, the protest movements of the 1960s and early 1970s produced a proliferation of small groups hoping to establish a "Marxist-Leninist" party modeled on a heroic notion of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Chinese Revolution or the Cuban Revolution. In both Europe and the US, those efforts produced mostly endless polemics that served as group identifiers for one tiny sect or the other.

There was a controversy among liberals and progressives in 2002-3 around antiwar demonstrations organized by the International ANSWER coalition, which included people who self-identified as Marxists. There were many other labor and antiwar groups who participated in organizing the impressively large antiwar demonstrations against invading Iraq. The real significance of the marches was the measure they provided of antiwar sentiment among the general public, even at a time where many leading Democrats in Congress were falling all over themselves to not have anyone suspect that they might ever take a stand against an obviously useless and unjust war.

Some of the more fastidious liberal writers found that the fact that some people associated with small leftist sects might be part of those massive demonstrations rendered the marches too impure for them to praise. I thought and still think that it was a plain silly attitude to take. It was perfectly legitimate to look at the broader political agenda of International ANSWER. War advocates would have done so in any case. But it was sad to see some liberal writers obsessing over whether some of the organizers might have impure thoughts.

Republicans now routinely call the Democratic Party and President Obama socialist and Marxist, along with a lot of other things. It's a ridiculous notion. The fact that Glenn Beck and the Republican Party's chief ideologue Rush Limbaugh can babble on about Obama being a revolutionary Marxist who hates America and white people, too, without being dismissed as the bigoted cranks they are, isn't a sign of how radical or "Marxist" the Democratic Party is. It's a sign of how sleazy and dishonest the everyday rhetoric of the Republican Party has become.

The US Communist Party reached the height of its electoral influence in 1932, and barely exists now.

The Communist Parties of Europe are now mostly renamed and are referred to as "post-communist" parties to describe their organizational descent from former Communist parties.

The "post-communist" party with which I'm most familiar is the Left Party in Germany (Linkspartei, DIE LINKE). Their website has some English pages, including their Key Programmatic Points document from March 2007. They describe their program this way:

Democracy, freedom, equality, justice, internationalism and solidarity are our fundamental value orientations. They are inseparable from peace, the conservation of nature and emancipation. The ideas of democratic socialism are key guidelines for the development of the political goals of the Left.

DIE LINKE derives its political action from the connection between goal, path and fundamental value orientations. Freedom and social justice, democracy and socialism are contingent on one another. Equality without individual freedom ends in incapacitation and heteronomy. Freedom without equality is freedom only for the rich. Those who oppress their fellow human beings are not free either. The goal of democratic socialism, which wants to overcome capitalism in a transformational process, is a society in which the freedom of the other is not the limit but the condition for one's own freedom.
At the conclusion of Section 4, the document declares, "Together we fight to ensure that capitalism is not the last word in the history books."

In the fifth part of this series, I'll discuss the original, paradigmatic dispute in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) beginning in the late 1890s over Revisionism and Marxism as the party orientation. It's safe to say that the current Linkspartei program as shown in that document wouldn't have been recognizable as a "Marxist" program back in those days.

Now, official Party programs don't always define the substance of a Party's policies. We are unlikely to see the US Democratic Party adopt a platform plank in 2012 saying that the main purpose of its economic policy is to protect giant banks and their officers and stockholders from ever suffering the consequences of their most reckless and irresponsible policies. Nor will the Republicans explicitly write into their Party platform that they are committed to voter suppression methods aimed at disenfranchising African-American and Latino citizens.

The same is true with the German Left Party and other "post-communist" parties.

But the Left Party is becoming more and more accepted as a legitimate democratic party, and has participated in local governments at the local and provincial (state) levels. Both the SPD and the Left Party are assigned the color "red" in the German partisan color scheme. A "red-red coalition" of the SPD and the Left Party, led by the former, governed Berlin for a decade from 2001-2011. The red-red coalition was defined by its ... austerity economics. ( Markus Horeld, Wahl in Berlin.Rot-Rot war gut für ein Jahrzehnt Die Zeit 18.09.2011)

Former Foreign Minister and longtime Green Party leader Joschka Fischer said this about Berlin's red-red coalition in 2008:

It has been shown in the Federal State of Berlin, which has been governed by a red-red senate for several years, that all fears of a return to socialism are sheer nonsense. Very much the opposite; the red-red senate in Berlin stands for a policy of budget streamlining, the reduction of government jobs, the implementation of the Hartz-IV reforms ["pro-business reforms" which reduce some of the powers of unions] and a friendliness to business that one can with full justification characterize as to the right of red-green. Of socialism, there is not a trace to be found. (From Die neuen Regeln Die Zeit 03.03.2008; my translation)
Neues Deutschland (ND), formerly the paper of the ruling East German Communist Party (SED), today reflects the Left Party outlook.

This article by Karl-Heinz Gräfe, Katastrophe oder Notwendigkeit? 24.12.2011, and this one by Theodor Bergmann, Politisches Buch.»Von der Parteien Hass und Gunst verwirrt« 15.12.2011, discuss the end of the Soviet Union, which officially occurred on December 25, 1991.

I keep looking for some distinctive insights from their articles on the economic crisis and the European Union. But ND's coverage of both has seemed to be pretty lightweight. A current piece by Benjamin Beutler, Mit der Krise in die Arbeitslosigkeit.Rezession in USA und Europa trifft besonders Migranten aus Lateinamerika 27.12.2011, discusses the effect of the current depression in the US on reducing undocumented immigration.

However "Marxist" or not the Linkspartei may be, so far they aren't notably benefitting politically from the current depression. The 2001 election in Berlin left them with too few seats to continue the red-red coalition. And opinion polls aren't signalling some impending shift to the Linkspartei in upcoming elections. National parliamentary elections aren't scheduled until 2013, though if Chancellor Angela Merkel's government falls through the defection of the junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), they could come sooner.

A Marx revival? Maybe. But there's no strong evidence of it the US or Europe that I can see.

Posts in this series:

A Marx revival? (1 of 5) The Marx bogeyman 12/28/2011
A Marx revival? (2 of 5) Some intellectual luminaries of the European left 12/29/2011
A Marx revival? (3 of 5): the former Communist states as real-time challenge 12/30/2011
A Marx revival? (4 of 5) Is there actual evidence of such a thing in US and European politics? 01/01/2011
A Marx revival? (5 of 5) The archetypal left challenge to Marxism 01/02/2011

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