In a piece entitled "Making Waves (Part 1)," the editors of Viewpoint magazine examine the renewed interest in creating a social democratic political party in the US, one that would build on the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign while also being more radical and directly democratic. While praising the turn to concrete strategic discussions in the aftermath of Trump's election, the editors critique the historical limits of social democracy as a form of governance, especially its tolerance of capitalism. Instead, suggest the editors, perhaps this moment calls for a renewed discussion of what "communist practice" might look like today. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
Especially given such histories, we would argue that for those who look toward revolution, parties do not primarily exist to compete in elections. If they do run candidates, that is a secondary function. This is because the capitalist state is not a neutral apparatus. We cannot legislate socialism. Winning elections can potentially accomplish some desirable ends: we may secure some basic improvements in our lives, we may manage to alter the terrain of struggle in our favor, and we may heighten contradictions and tensions within the ruling bloc. But if running for office can accomplish specific tactical aims under certain circumstances, we need to be completely sober about the limits of action within the state, always framing these goals in terms of a larger strategic and, for us, revolutionary orientation.
For such an orientation, one of the primary functions of a party is to articulate distinct social forces into a unity, because unity cannot be presupposed or taken as the automatic recognition of interests in common. It must be constructed, and the party historically names a primary form within which people collectively work through this process of articulation, serving as a binding element that holds these disparate forces together. For Ackerman, however, the party does not play this function, not even secondarily. He is speaking to an audience that is already presumed to exist at some level of unity, even if this unity appears to be little more than that of like-minded individuals. So if this form of unity can serve conjunctural needs (as the Sanders campaign may have done), it is nonetheless a necessarily limited intervention which demands supplementary work if it is to be turned toward a longer project of revolution.
Still, aside from the specific problems of Ackerman’s blueprint, there is a risk that lurks behind any contemporary call for the revival of a party: that it will reduce the live question of organization into the goal of mere integration into the state apparatus. For us, the articulating function of the party is primary, and any parliamentary activity is a tactic. To fetishize the tactic alone, as such calls do, means leaving aside any real confrontation with the question of the potentially larger purpose of even an electorally-driven party of the left. Does this party seek to get elected and implement ambitious policy reforms? Or does it want to get better compromises with the existing parties? And if it does champion serious reforms, are those ends in themselves? In short, do we have a blueprint for capitulation, for reform, or for revolution?
Image of Bernie Sanders via Politico.