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The Left, the Market and the Struggle for Socialism

By Elston Gunn / filmsforaction.org
Oct 9, 2006
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The Left, the Market and the Struggle for Socialism

A leader in the revolutionary left in the US should feel like a fox in a chicken coop. Increasingly large capitalists (Walmart, Enron, Wall-Street) are being exposed as so destructive to our society. The Bush administration created global chaos and suffering. Attacks on democratic rights are expanding. Thoughtful people in all strata of our society realize that there are dangerous trends that need to be met with positive alternatives. Young people, and leaders from all sectors, are open to new ideas including the notion of system change. In other parts of the world resistance has and is being converted to system change. We see this taking place particularly in South and Central America as countries shift to the left. In our own country, though, the social movement remains marginal despite deepening anxiety among the majority of our people who increasingly oppose the war, are economically insecure or in outright poverty, and witness the dangerous impact of the destruction of our environment.

Yet despite these optimal conditions, the left remains marginalized. I believe that a major reason for this marginalization lies in the powerful intellectual influence in the liberal and left community that:

  1. Is comfortable in being only opposed to the current model of development, but fails to get about the work of creating a competitive model for sustainable development consistent with our vision of social justice. Finally, great numbers of people are only willing to organize and take the risks that go with change if a practical, comprehensive, and positive alternative is available; and
  2. Is an intellectual and liberal left that is uncomfortable with the market - seeing it only as the arena for the corrupt and greedy rather than a required terrain for our work.

To truly build a powerful revolutionary left, we must recognize that the market is not simply synonymous with Low Road capitalism. The market is an achievement of human civilization that both predates capitalism and will persist for a long time even if capitalism is replaced by another system. It is truly system neutral - a place where politics and different values contend for influence and hegemony. Capitalism has taken the power of the market as a tool for its influence to new heights, and demonstrated the cruelty of its "market reality." A socialist society would use the power of the market to extend democracy and promote sustainable development.

To truly build a powerful revolutionary left, we must recognize that the market is not simply synonymous with Low Road capitalism.

The dominant trend in today's left regards the market only as a capitalist construct. This simplistic view reflects the intellectual superficiality of this trend on the left, as well as the powerful influence of the traditional Soviet and social democratic model for socialism that sees only the state as the defender and protector of society. The extension of this thinking is the one-sided view that the people (businessmen and women, employers, etc.) and the structures, like the "corporation," that emerge in the market are only tools of capitalism and have no role in a socialist transformation of society.

The simplistic generalization that sees the "corporation" as the enemy is the most destructive intellectual construct in our movement. It denies us critical alliances and diverts us from information and work that are fundamentally important and productive in building a competitive model to the neo-liberal capitalist policies. Of course, we have corporate enemies that must be exposed and blocked; but there are important tactical and strategic corporate allies in the business community that we must align with and bring into our movement. These include part of the 8 million privately held small companies that must find local solutions and partnerships if they are to survive. This includes innovative technology people and environmentalists that truly are inventing essential new technologies for the next century. And this includes leaders in the investment community truly committed to sustainable development.

A socialist society would use the power of the market to extend democracy and promote sustainable development.

For the social movement, the market has too often been one-sidedly, simplistically and tragically viewed as only a terrain for Low Roaders. This abstention unnecessarily cedes to the Low Road capitalists the critical arenas for production, defining work, technological progress, knowledge, democracy, among other things. As the Low Road trend comes to dominate business - and engages in the predatory and cannibalistic practices so regularly exposed in stories about Wal-Mart, major oil and other extractive companies, and the investment community - this creates a crisis that begs for a revolutionary solution: a fundamental change in the social relations of production. In every revolutionary transformation, a new class needs to replace the old leaders of society responsible for creating wealth, technology, and driving development. In today's world, this means a broad labor movement and its allies need to demonstrate their capacity to lead development and production as a pre-requisite for gaining the support necessary for a revolutionary transformation.

To succeed in this effort requires the recognition that there is also a High Road trend in business that can be in tactical and strategic alliance with us and including managers, entrepreneurs, owners, investors, and consultants. New leaders in production require partners, training and resources. And it is always better to have more friends than enemies. As a movement for change, we must prove our ability to successfully contend in the market as well as the state and civil society. We must demonstrate our ability to win over key strategic and tactical allies - particularly in the business community - as a prerequisite for prevailing in the critical arena of the marketplace, as a complement to our struggle in the state and in civil society. We need to contend and not sit on the sidelines and whine.

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