Thunder on the left

Issue: 143

Alex Callinicos

The paradox of the present situation is that capital is weak—but the radical left is much weaker. Alternatively, capital is economically weak, but much stronger politically, less because of mass ideological commitment to the system than because of the weakness of credible anti-capitalist alternatives. The most obvious evidence of economic weakness is that the relatively modest recoveries from the Great Recession of 2008-9 finally under way in the US, Britain and even the eurozone are dependent on massive infusions of money by the central banks. Leading economists join ex-US treasury secretary Lawrence Summers in warning that the advanced economies face “secular stagnation”.1 Meanwhile the Financial Times worries that slowing growth in the “emerging market” economies will push many in what it calls the “fragile middle”—the 2.8 billion people in the Global South with an income of between 2 and 10 dollars a day—back below the extreme poverty line.2

The present moment—a protracted crisis of the capitalist system, what Michael Roberts calls the “Long Depression”—should offer a more favourable terrain for the anti-capitalist left to put forward alternative perspectives.3 This is not because of some mechanical relationship between economics and politics where capitalist crisis automatically produces mass radicalisation and social revolution. Both Leon Trotsky and Antonio Gramsci long ago refuted this kind of deterministic misrepresentation of Marx. But, although the last great systemic crisis—the Great Depression of the 1930s—led to the victory of the extreme right in Germany and Spain, this came at the end of a period of intense social and political polarisation that saw the growth of both the Stalinist and social democratic lefts (even if their politics contributed to the ultimate triumph of Hitler and Franco).

Rise and fall

By contrast today, nearly seven years after the financial crash began, the radical left has not been weaker for decades.4 We have seen the following pattern over the past 15 years. The period between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s can be described as an era of good feelings for the radical left. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in 1989-91 neoliberalism had seemed all-conquering. But the Seattle protests of November 1999 marked the beginning of a wave of new movements of resistance demanding another kind of globalisation that were based not just in the North but in parts of the Global South. The events of 9/11 and the proclamation of a global state of emergency by the administration of George W Bush provoked an extension of resistance from the economic to the political, as the altermondialiste networks that had emerged from Seattle and the July 2001 protests at Genoa launched the anti-war movement responsible for the unprecedented day of global protest against the invasion of Iraq on 15 February 2003.5

Developing independently of these movements but interacting with them were a cluster of new left parties whose founding impetus was the rejection of social liberalism—social democracy’s embrace of neoliberalism. These had different histories and internal ideological configurations, but the development of these formations—Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, Die Linke in Germany, Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece, the Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark, Respect the Unity Coalition in England—seemed to mark the opening up of a new political space to the left of social democracy. The radical left began to have an impact on the bourgeois political scene, most notably in France, where an alliance of altermondialistes, the far-left Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), and the left wing of the Socialist Party led a successful campaign against the European Constitutional Treaty in the referendum of May 2005. And, on the horizon in Latin America, were much more spectacular advances—Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution” in Venezuela and the risings of 2003 and 2005 in Bolivia that swept Evo Morales into the presidential palace.

But May 2005 represented the high-water mark for the radical left in Europe. Afterwards the process went into reverse. Sometimes this took the form of organisational implosion: the splits in the SSP in 2006 and in Respect in 2007 removed the most serious left electoral challenges the Labour Party had faced for decades. Sometimes there were electoral reverses, such as that suffered by the Bloco in 2011. Sometimes it was both: Rifondazione cracked up as a result of both electoral eclipse and a series of splits following its participation in 2006-8 in the centre-left coalition government of Romano Prodi, who continued the neoliberal and pro-war policies of their predecessors.

Disarray set in among the radical left before the onset of the economic crisis: thus George Galloway launched his attack on the role of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) within Respect in August 2007, just as the credit crunch was beginning to develop. But the process of fragmentation has continued against the background of the crisis. Although developments in France have exercised a major influence on the radical left internationally, new political formations came relatively late there: the Parti de Gauche, which split from the Socialist Party in 2008, and the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) launched at the beginning of 2009 by the LCR. But, bested electorally by the Parti de Gauche and its allies (mainly the Communist Party) in the Front de Gauche, the NPA suffered an agonising internal crisis in 2011-12. This ended with the departure in July 2012 of several hundred members, including many of the historic cadre of the LCR, to form Gauche Anticapitaliste as part of the Front de Gauche.

Meanwhile, the other major organisation of the European revolutionary left, the SWP, suffered no less than four splits—one in the immediate aftermath of the Respect crisis in 2010, one involving a group of mainly young members in Glasgow in 2011, and two associated with the intense crisis in 2012-13 precipitated by allegations of rape against a leading member.6 This crisis saw about 700 members (including, once again, some of the historic cadre of the SWP) leave and three new far-left groups formed. Of course, this particular drama underlines that the splits had very specific driving forces: setting the SWP’s troubles in context in no way dismisses the issues of oppression and women’s liberation that for many were the central issue. But the broader pattern seems undeniable, as is indicated by the internal divisions that affected the largest far-left group in the United States, the International Socialist Organization, in 2013-14.

In the era of good feelings (1998-2005) the impulse of a growing movement was to play down or finesse political differences in the name of unity. This didn’t mean that there were not important arguments—for example over the relationship between neoliberalism and war, and also over that between party and movement. But there was a very strong shared desire not to allow them to undermine the broader unity of the coalitions (whether parties or movement) formed in this period. But at times in the past few years there has seemed to be a positive will to fragmentation. This is very clear in Britain, where the launch in 2013 of Left Unity captured the longings of many activists for a united alternative to Labour—only for it simply to lengthen the list of would be alternatives (Respect, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, No2EU…).

Moreover, issues that seemed to belong to the bad old days—for example, the nature of Stalinism—have returned to haunt the radical left. This is very evident in the trajectory of the Stop the War Coalition, which had played a leading role in the development of the anti-war movement, not merely in Britain but internationally, after 9/11. After the movement declined during the second half of the 2000s, the Stalinist politics increasingly dominant among Stop the War’s officers shaped its initiatives—for example, denouncing Western intervention in Syria while ignoring the murderous activities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and adopting a campist approach to the Ukraine crisis that condemned Nato and the European Union but not the Russian takeover in Crimea.7

Of course, there is a very different narrative that can be told of the past few years: that parties may be in crisis, but the movements are fine. This would dismiss what I have described as the crisis of the organised left. Paul Mason’s Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere perfectly expresses the basic theme of this narrative—a celebration of the new wave of anti-capitalist resistance that started with the Arab revolutions (rebellions as much against the polarising and impoverishing effects of neoliberalism as against autocracy) and the echoes it gained in the North with the 15 May movement in the Spanish state and Occupy Wall Street and its numerous imitators.8 Other protests—somewhat earlier (British students, 2010) or later (Brazil and Turkey, 2013)—can easily be folded into this narrative to present a panorama of decentralised horizontal struggles that simultaneously subvert capital and outflank the “old left”.

The trouble is that the state, the broader political process of which it is the focus, and the parties that struggle over it remain fundamental determinants of the social, whatever autonomists and neoliberals fondly claim. To take the most important case—Egypt—Philip Marfleet showed in our last issue how the errors of one party (the Muslim Brotherhood) and the betrayals of others (the liberals and Stalinist and nationalist left) opened the door for the military to mount a counter-revolutionary offensive.9 The occupation of Gezi Park in Istanbul came and went, saving the park itself from demolition but leaving Turkish politics still dominated by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite his embarrassing struggles with the obscure Gulenist movement and outrageous response to the Soma mining disaster.

The Occupy movement undoubtedly changed the political conversation in the US, bringing economic inequality onto the agenda, but the American left remains fragmented and localised, allowing the Democratic Party to maintain its dominance. The following description of America’s twenty-something “Millennial Marxists” is meant to explain their radicalisation, but it as much highlights the importance the Democrats still have as a reference point:

Barack Obama owed his election to support from under-30s, but the visions of his youthful supporters—something like a second Camelot, but with more Beyoncé—were inchoate. Once Timothy Geithner, Rahm Emanuel and Hillary Clinton proved disappointing substitutes, new outlets appeared for the expectations that Obama had aroused. The political itinerary of the archetypal millennial might have started with volunteering for Obama’s 2008 campaign and joining one of the enormous crowds that thronged his swing-state rallies in the run-up to the election; then, jumping ahead two years, attending Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear”, a satirical rendition of “Hope and Change” pitched to much the same demographic; and, finally, in the autumn of 2011, a trip to Zuccotti Park or some other scruffy redoubt of Occupy Wall Street.10

More generally, evidence of a new form of left politics emerging has proved more apparent than real. The profound economic and social crisis in Greece and intense working class resistance to the austerity policies imposed by the troika of the European Commission, ECB, and International Monetary Fund allowed Syriza to skyrocket into the dominant position to the left of centre in Greek politics. After Syriza’s spectacular advances in the parliamentary elections of May and June 2012, there was much tut-tutting about my description of its politics as left reformist which, or so it was claimed, failed to acknowledge the extent to which Syriza represented a break with the old polarities of reform and revolution. In the subsequent two years, under Alexis Tsipras, Syriza has marched firmly onto the centre ground in order to project itself as a responsible party of government, in the process marginalising its left opposition. This shift is epitomised by Tsipras’s coming out after the European elections in favour of the shopworn centre-right architect of austerity Jean-Claude Juncker for president of the European commission: left reformism would look good by comparison.

In Britain the student movement exploded spectacularly and vanished almost as quickly, leaving the student left paralysed by nostalgia for 2010 and mired in opportunism. Resistance to the Conservative-Liberal coalition’s version of austerity has led to a flurry of initiatives, ranging from UK Uncut, through the local version of Occupy, to the attempt by the People’s Assembly to provide an over-arching framework for this resistance. But, far from conforming to the model of “autonomous social movements” that became a dogma for the social forums that emerged after the turn of the millennium, these various coalitions have proved to varying degrees dependent on the support of the biggest trade union, Unite, whose general secretary Len McCluskey is a conventional left wing union leader seeking to “reclaim Labour” from the social liberalism of the Blair and Brown era.


Across Europe the bitterness caused by the crisis and austerity has found expression mainly on the populist right. Even in Greece the open Nazis of Golden Dawn proved to be one of the main beneficiaries of the collapse in support for the mainstream parties. Elsewhere a range of parties, from the rebranded fascists of the Front National in France to the rather cosier Europhobes of UKIP, have combined anti-immigrant propaganda with a broader denunciation of the political elite that has presided over the crisis, in the process winning substantial votes. The European elections of May 2014 confirmed this trend, though it also showed a powerful cross-current across the Mediterranean, with Syriza topping the Greek poll and Podemos, a product of the 15 May Movement in the Spanish state, coming from nowhere to win eight percent of the vote.

This combination of developments has prompted much speculation about “anti-politics”. For example, two Australian Marxists, Elizabeth Humphrys and Tad Tietze, write:

So what is this anti-politics?… :

1. A widespread mood among ordinary people related to Gramsci’s description of “detachment” [when “social classes become detached from their traditional parties”]. This can manifest in spontaneous popular outbursts or be reflected in volatile electoral results, but tends to peter out if not given some kind of direction …

2. A political strategy by sections (or aspiring sections) of the political class, drawing on this mood for support. There are lots of variants on this, not confined to left or right: Bob Brown, Kevin Rudd and Clive Palmer have all appealed to anti-politics in Australia, while UKIP, Beppe Grillo, and the people who led the early phases of the 15M (Indignados) movement across the Spanish state are overseas examples. In each case the limited nature of their anti-politics (few actually want to destroy politics altogether) means that these represent limited challenges to the existing order and often fall back into being “just like the other politicians” or collapse into moralistic opposition to the status quo.

3. A consistent strategy of social revolution, which seeks to concretely intervene on the effective terrain in order to build a movement that overcomes politics by overcoming the state. This is “communism” as the end of politics (as Engels put it, when “the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things”), a real movement that is a simultaneously theoretical and practical critique of politics, not simply replicating the inner logic of capitalist politics for different ends.11

Humphrys and Tietze make a fundamental error when they equate politics with “capitalist politics” and treat “communism” as a form of anti-politics. Of course, the state operates in the interests of capital, but this does not mean that struggles over the state are all versions of bourgeois politics. Marx wrote of the “concentration of bourgeois society in the form of the state”.12 In other words, just because the state plays a decisive role in the reproduction of capitalist relations of production, all the contradictions of bourgeois society are fused in it. Consequently struggles over the state can not just perpetuate capitalist domination, but also threaten it. No one has drawn out the political implications better than Daniel Bensaïd:

Criticising the “disorganising” confusion between party and class, Lenin was indeed one of the first to conceive the specificity of the political field as a play of forces and transfigured social antagonisms, translated into a specific language, full of shifts, condensations and revelatory lapses. Pursuing the analogy, one might say a party in the role of an analyst listening to the social, whose dreams and nightmares it interprets. Conceived not in the mode of reflection, but that of transposition, this relationship between the political and the social determines the possibility of alliances and founds the very notion of hegemony.13

The wager of Leninism is that a revolutionary party can intervene in the political field in order to help bring about the overthrow of capital. From this follows, as Bensaïd also stressed, the centrality of strategy—of the determined, persistent, organised effort to relate specific tactics to the overarching aim of socialist revolution. Gramsci expresses the fundamental connection between grasping capitalism as a totality and giving primacy to politics perfectly in the following passage:

The philosophy of praxis…does not aim at the peaceful resolution of existing contradictions in history and society but is rather the very theory of these contradictions. It is not the instrument of government of the dominant groups in order to gain the consent of and exercise hegemony over the subaltern classes; it is the expression of these subaltern classes who want to educate themselves in the art of government and who have an interest in knowing all truths, even the unpleasant ones, and in avoiding the (impossible) deceptions of the upper class and—even more—their own.14

In equating “communism” with anti-politics, Humphrys and Tietze make concessions to the autonomist myth that it is possible to change the world without taking power and thereby to renounce strategy.15 Many young revolutionaries in Egypt in 2011-12 were lured into abstaining from electoral politics by the illusion that the street movement was sufficient to itself, therefore handing the terrain over to the opportunist politicians who prepared the way for the military under Field Marshal el-Sisi. It is to be hoped that they will have the time to learn that it is necessary to pursue a variety of tactics in order to win the active working class support needed to break the system.

Worse still, by associating the anti-capitalist left with the prevailing forms of “anti-politics”, Humphrys and Tietze make the present situation seem better than it is. Gramsci discusses parties becoming detached from their social base in the context of:

The crisis of the ruling class’s hegemony, which occurs either because the ruling class has failed in some major political undertaking for which it has requested, or forcibly extracted, the consent of the masses (war, for example), or because huge masses (especially of peasants and petty bourgeois intellectuals) have passed suddenly from a state of political passivity to a certain activity, and put forward demands which taken together, albeit not organically formulated, add up to a revolution. A “crisis of authority” is spoken of: this is precisely the crisis of hegemony, or general crisis of the state.16

Gramsci warns: “When such crises occur, the immediate situation becomes delicate and dangerous, because the field is open for violent solutions, for the activities of unknown forces, represented by ‘charismatic men of destiny’”.17 He goes on to discuss different forms of political authoritarianism—Bonapartism and Caesarism, but certainly unstated in the background lurk Benito Mussolini and the fascism confining Gramsci to prison. But is it really plausible to describe the present situation in the advanced capitalist societies (as opposed to Egypt, for example) as a “general crisis of the state” necessitating a ruling class shift to more repressive methods? Gramsci envisaged the breakdown between ruling class and masses as one where the latter play a more active role. What we see today is a general decline in popular support for all the mainstream parties marked chiefly by a relapse into passivity, punctuated by spasms of protest voting, and by mass movements that erupt explosively but that, so far, have been unable to sustain themselves.

This decline is a consequence of two processes, one long term, the other more short term. In the first place, the general tendency in advanced capitalist societies towards the greater fragmentation and individualisation of social life erodes the bases of many mass organisations—not just political parties, but mainstream churches and many of the other institutions that helped to impose a degree of order and security during the early chaotic phases of capitalist development. This phenomenon was already visible during the post-war boom, when it was diagnosed as “apathy”, a disease of “affluence”. But it was limited then by the considerable investment that workers made in workplace trade unionism as a means of winning wage rises in conditions of full employment. As Tony Cliff argued at the time, “At a certain stage of development—when the path of individual reforms is being narrowed or closed—apathy can transform into its opposite, swift mass action”: the result was the explosion of mass workers’ struggles in the late 1960s and early 70s.18

Secondly, neoliberalism—a result of the ruling class response to this insurgency—has accelerated the tendency to fragmentation and individualism and weakened working class organisation. But it has also reshaped bourgeois politics as the mainstream parties have converged on acceptance of neoliberalism. What in France is called la pensée unique (the “sole thought”) ideologically integrates the political elite with media bosses, big capital more generally, and much of the academy in acceptance of market capitalism and bourgeois democracy as defining the horizons of rational social life. The resulting absence of genuine choice in electoral politics, combined with the material effects of neoliberalism and crisis, serves to alienate the “political class” (an expression symptomatic of the them and us terms in which mainstream politics is now represented) from the mass of voters. This alienation is reinforced by the centralisation of party life around the leaders and their personal staffs, closely integrated into the 24-hour media cycle, a micro-world from which the rest of society is excluded—with the signal exception of the corporations whose lobbyists indeed permeate the political field.

As Perry Anderson has pointed out in the case of Europe:

With this generalised involution has come a pervasive corruption of the political class… Commonplace in a Union that presents itself as a moral tutor to the world, the pollution of power by money and fraud follows from the leaching of substance or involvement in democracy. Elites freed from either real division above, or significant accountability below, can afford to enrich themselves without distraction or retribution. Exposure ceases to matter very much, as impunity becomes the rule. Like bankers, leading politicians do not go to prison… But corruption is not just a function of the decline of the political order. It is also, of course, a symptom of the economic regime that has taken hold of Europe since the 1980s. In a neoliberal universe, where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes, more straightforwardly than ever before, the measure of all things. If hospitals, schools and prisons can be privatised as enterprises for profit, why not political office too?19

The structural divorce of the political class from the citizens it is supposed to represent and its integration into the moneyed world encourages popular rejection of all parties, summed up in “¡Que se vayan todos!”—All of them must go!—the slogan of the Argentinian revolt in 2001-2. This rejection—which can be called “anti-politics”—may be reinforced by more specific factors such as economic crisis, austerity, or scandals such as that over British MPs’ expenses. But on the whole the right-populist currents that have been most successful in exploiting this mood are not themselves “anti-politics”. It may suit Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage to project themselves as “outsiders”, but their real aim is to reconfigure the bourgeois political scene under the hegemony of their specific projects. Thus a new study of UKIP argues its leaders are no longer so interested in merely garnering protest votes in the European elections: “They were now more ambitious, training their sights instead on Westminster, and the ultimate goal for their grassroots insurgency: winning a seat at the high table of British politics”.20

The heart of the matter

This brings us to the heart of the matter. Why has it been the populist right that has, in the context of the economic crisis, given most effective expression to popular alienation from mainstream politics? One can point to various specific factors. For example, institutionalised racism is such a pervasive feature of our societies that the right’s anti-immigrant agitation cuts with the grain. Indeed, Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin argue that UKIP has been able to tap the concerns of a hitherto unrepresented constituency, “the ‘left behind’ in modern Britain”, “older, less skilled and less well-educated working class voters”, who “share a clear and distinct agenda, mixing deep Euroscepticism with clear ideas about immigration, national identity and the way British society is changing”.21 One might also contend that the crisis came “too early” in the cycle of recovery of the radical left. The new formations were too new, too weak, too immature, too ideologically incoherent to begin to shape popular responses to the crisis on a large scale.

There is something to these explanations. Nevertheless, as we noted, the decline of the radical left began before the onset of the economic crisis. Moreover, the exception that proves the rule, Syriza, enjoyed a spectacular leap forward in the society that, after decades of intense social struggles, saw by far the most sustained and spectacular mass resistance to austerity. It was the epic scale of workers’ struggles in Greece, not Tsipras’s boyish charm or ideological skill in squaring the circle of reform and revolution, which projected Syriza into the frontline of bourgeois politics. Even here this electoral breakthrough has reacted back on the level of class struggle, which has fallen from its peak in 2010-11 as workers wait for a Syriza government.

The particular case of Greece highlights what has been missing elsewhere.22 What we have experienced over the past 15 years are waves of anti-capitalist radicalisation—notably in 1999-2005 and 2010-12—that have not been accompanied by a sustained upsurge of working class struggle. Historically, periods of advance for the left—in the 1860s and the 1880s, around the First World War and the Russian Revolution, in the 1930s or during the last upturn of 1967-76—have been symbiotically linked to comparable steps forward by the workers’ movement. But in the period since Seattle this connection has been missing. Even the most important political upheaval in that period, the Egyptian Revolution, which saw the working class play an important role first in the build-up before 25 January 2011 and then in forcing the military to remove Hosni Mubarak, has been marked by the predominance of the street movement over the factories.

The absence of any generalised upturn in workers’ struggle isn’t just a negative factor: it actively shapes the situation. Mass strikes, as Rosa Luxemburg famously argued, raise the confidence, self-organisation and political consciousness of the working class. By demonstrating the power of collective action, they make the idea of a socialist alternative to capitalism more credible. Finally, they offer a terrain in which rival “strategic hypotheses” (as Bensaïd calls them) can be developed and tested by different left currents. As we have seen since Seattle, political radicalisation can take place in the absence of mass workers’ struggles. But it tends to be less robust, and more diffuse, and such movements leave little behind them in the way of lasting organisation. Thus the social forums so important in the development of the altermondialiste and anti-war movements in the early 2000s have dwindled into a bureaucratic talking shop (in Europe at any rate). The debate between autonomists and Leninists cycles round and round, as it has for more than a decade, without any decisive test that shifts the weight of the argument in favour of one side or the other or of some new synthesis.

It’s important to emphasise that the present situation is not one where there have been no significant struggles. On the contrary: the French pension protests in 2010, the British public sector strikes in 2011, the Chicago teachers’ strike in 2012 all showed the potential that exists for mass working class action.23 But the economic class struggle during the present crisis has nowhere been sustained on a sufficient scale or assumed the offensive form required to break with the pattern of fragmentation and defeat that has defined the condition of the workers’ movement since the 1980s. Explaining why this is so is the most important single task facing revolutionary Marxists today, as I elaborate below.

But the fact that this is so is crucial to understanding why the modest advance of the revolutionary and radical left during the 2000s has been halted, and indeed has gone into reverse. No doubt the other factors mentioned above have played their part, as have the political weaknesses of the radical left. Stathis Kouvelakis’s bracing diagnosis of the “strategic perplexity” of the radical left in the face of the crisis has lost none of its pertinence since it was published more than three years ago.24 On the whole, the European radical left has failed to offer an alternative programme capable of addressing the eurozone crisis, the most dangerous economic upheaval that Western Europe has suffered since the mid-1970s, and has been feeble in its response to the rise of the extreme right. But the pattern of retreat and fragmentation requires a more general explanation than this subjective factor can provide.

Theoretical conundrums

Confronted with the tremendous shock of the outbreak of the First World War and the collapse of the Second International, Lenin withdrew into the library to read Hegel and Carl von Clausewitz, ignoring his comrades’ protests.25 Lenin’s instinct was sound. Getting the proper measure of the situation requires careful analysis that does not respect inherited orthodoxies. This article can’t offer this analysis, but it can identify and offer some reflections on three of the main issues.

I have already mentioned the first: the defensive and fragmented character of the economic class struggle today. One can distinguish three kinds of explanation, in descending order of radicalism. First, neoliberalism represents a profound social transformation that has remodelled our subjectivity in a manner that radically compromises the possibilities of collective action. This is argued systematically by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval in a recent book that has been widely praised in some quarters. For them, neoliberalism is a “new global rationality” that aspires “to create a world in its own image through its power to integrate all dimensions of human existence”. Drawing heavily on the work of Michel Foucault, Dardot and Laval argue that “the so-called ‘modern’ western subject pertained to normative regimes and political registers that were heterogeneous and in conflict”—those of the church, the nation-state, and the market. By contrast, “the neoliberal moment is characterised by a homogenisation of the discourse of man around the figure of the enterprise. The new figure of the subject effects an unprecedented unification of the plural forms of subjectivity”, through a series of practices that seek to ensure that “individuals should work for enterprises as if they were working for themselves, thereby abolishing any sense of alienation and even any distance between individuals and the enterprises employing them”. At the limit, the subject must treat him or herself as a “personal enterprise”, shaping all his or her desires, abilities and aspirations into a project aimed at enhanced competitiveness.26

This isn’t the place for a full assessment of an interesting but uneven book.27 Dardot and Laval are right to stress that neoliberalism has involved the subordination of, not just the economy, but the whole range of social relations to the logic of competition. The continuing process of transformation of British universities into business enterprises is a good illustration of how this logic becomes internalised by institutions with supposedly very different objectives from maximising profit.28 The main flaw in their argument is that, paralleling Foucault’s classic account of the “disciplines” during the industrial revolution, they portray the neoliberal remodelling of the subject as a top-down process with a uniform and fully achieved set of results.29

But there is little evidence to support this view. Is it, for example, really plausible to suggest that the neoliberal era has seen a weakening of religious and national identities? Moreover, how is the persistence of resistance and indeed radicalisation consistent with the formation of a monolithically “entrepreneurial subject”? There remain powerful bases of solidarity and collective action, arising, as Gramsci argued, from the shared experience of the production process, but also from the heritage of past struggles that the workers’ movement and the left still manage to embody (think how memories of the wartime occupation have been mobilised against austerity in Greece) and from the influence, partly in consequence, of ideologies that reject market imperialism (this is very clear in popular identification with the National Health Service in Britain). Rather than Foucault’s reduction of the subject to a “relay” of power, Gramsci’s conception of a composite and contradictory subjectivity fractured by conflicting economic, social and ideological forces continues to offer the best guide to how we act in contemporary capitalist societies.30

The second kind of explanation holds that it is the economic restructuring that has taken place under neoliberalism that has undermined workers’ capacities for collective action.31 The third highlights a vicious cycle of betrayal and defeat where each reverse undermines workers’ confidence and strengthens the trade union bureaucracy, thereby increasing the probability of future reverses. The length of time that now separates us from the last real upturn in the class struggle suggests that it is in some combination of the second and third kind of explanation that the answer is likely to lie. But it’s important not to see economic restructuring as a force that necessarily undermines workers’ capabilities. This has never been true in the past, and is unlikely to be so in the present. The recomposition of the working class—its feminisation, for example, and the continual inflow of migrant workers—can provide a radicalising impetus as resistance to exploitation fuses with the revolt against oppression. We saw some of the potential offered by this fusion during the early phases of the development of the anti-war movement in Britain in 2001-3, which were marked by a massive mobilisation of the Muslim sections of the working class and of Muslim communities more broadly.

A major theme of the recent issues of this journal has been the attempt to get the full measure of the state of the economic class struggle; this needs to continue. This discussion has to transcend one of the effects of the influence of autonomism on the left over the past decade or so—the disabling polarisation over “precarity”, easily caricatured as “all workers are precarious” versus “nothing has changed since the 1970s” (positions, of course, that no one seriously holds). The social reality is much more complex, partly because of how the shadow of insecurity falls increasingly on “permanent” workers, and partly because of the myriad forms in which the part-time, the temporary and the workers on zero-hours contracts shade off into the rest of the working class. As always, these contrasts can be sources of division, but they can also interact to precipitate social explosions. Revolutionary theory and practice need to be informed by an understanding of these complexities.

A second area concerns the question of political organisation. Does the phenomenon of anti-politics suggest that what the philosopher Alain Badiou calls the party-form is obsolete? And, if the answer to this question is No, what kind of party offers the best framework for pursuing anti-capitalist politics? More specifically, is the Leninist conception of the party finished? My attempt to answer this last question in the negative was widely attacked, even though it was an attempt to respond to Owen Jones’s opportunistic intervention in the SWP crisis to promote his own version of left-Labour politics.32 But it is clear that there is a much more widespread reappraisal of Leninism taking place on the Marxist left, at least in the English-speaking world. The catalyst for this seems to have been provided by Lars Lih’s monumental reappraisal of Lenin’s 1902 text What is to be Done?. In seeking to correct the mythological portrayal of this book as advocating a conspiratorial and elitist form of organisation, Lih argues that, far from developing a distinctive party model, Lenin was seeking to apply to Russia the “Erfurtian” approach of German social democracy expounded by Karl Kautsky.33

While a welcome corrective to the standard bourgeois caricature of Lenin as a demonic totalitarian, this interpretation has subsequently been used by Lih and others to argue that Lenin had no distinctive or original approach to revolutionary politics in general or party organisation in particular. This would have come as a surprise to Lenin himself, who after all wrote “LeftWing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder in 1920 in order to introduce Western revolutionaries to the specific political experiences of the Bolsheviks, but also to contemporaries such as Georg Lukács, who, through the debates in the early Communist International, developed a hard-won understanding of Lenin’s originality.34

Lih’s deflationary interpretation of Lenin is discussed by Paul Blackledge elsewhere in this issue, in the crucial context of the break in the international socialist movement in 1914; it will receive more extended attention by Kevin Corr and Gareth Jenkins in our next issue. But it is worth underlining that what is at stake in this debate is no mere matter of historical scholarship. At a time when, in the wake of Syriza’s successes and the crises in the NPA and SWP, the lure of “broad parties” of the radical left is at its strongest, Lih’s work can be used (irrespective of his own intentions) to deny any legitimacy to the project of building an independent revolutionary Marxist organisation. The historical experiences of Bolshevism and of the more recent far-left attempts at party building need to be assessed in a sober and serious way that avoids mythology and pays proper attention to the demands of organisation in the present. It is crucial, above all, to refuse the romance that movements can find from within themselves the resources needed to overcome the political problems they face. Whatever else recent experience shows, it has definitively refuted this illusion.

The third debate centres on the remarkable revival of discussion about and agitation against women’s oppression. This is a sensitive subject both because the SWP’s crisis focused on rape allegations and because the claim was made by successive oppositions within the SWP that the leadership responded by targeting “creeping feminism”. This was entirely false. We would never dream of treating feminists as enemies. The SWP indeed can be proud that it identified early on the “new sexism” characteristic of the neoliberal era, where the objectification of women’s bodies is represented as “empowerment”, and welcomed the emergence in response of a new wave of feminism.35 Because of its importance, I will say a little more about this debate than the other two.

The revival of feminism is an international phenomenon that must be seen as part of the broader anti-capitalist radicalisation. It has had important and positive consequences, notably in challenging the “new sexism” and in drawing attention to issues of rape and sexual violence. But, inevitably, it is marked by the context in which it has emerged. Three features of this context seem relevant. First are the limitations of the radicalisation itself—its defensive character and the lack of a strong forward thrust provided by an insurgent working class. Secondly, while all capitalist societies remain deeply sexist, one effect of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s is that lip service to feminism, mediated by the very language of “empowerment” used to legitimise lap dancing and the like, has become institutionalised in the state and the business world. Thirdly, the different theoretical versions of feminism developed in the 1960s and 1970s have become entrenched in the humanities and social sciences especially in English-speaking universities, where, together with postcolonialism and queer theory, they have helped to define what counts as critical thought. Meanwhile new theoretical inflections have been developed by important figures like Judith Butler and Nancy Fraser.

This constellation has a particularly strong effect among students and recent graduates, who form a very important element of the present radicalisation. They are confronted by the false promises of equality and empowerment offered by neoliberal capitalism and constantly reminded in their own experience and in what they read on social media of the very different reality that women and other oppressed groups actually suffer. At the same time, there seems to be no powerful force capable of offering emancipation. The political language and modes of organising of the organised left often seem remote. It is not surprising that this leads to an approach to politics in which moral critique takes priority.

There’s nothing wrong with moral critique in itself, given the scandal of the conditions, both material and spiritual, that women continue to endure. But unless conjoined with analysis and strategy it is ineffectual. The result can be a discourse that shares many themes with the dominant liberal capitalist ideology, but that turns its hypocrisy against it. Hypocrisy indeed is sought everywhere, including in the movements and on the left. Some of the theoretical concepts currently influential in radical circles, especially privilege theory and intersectionality, serve then to legitimise a hunt for differences among the oppressed themselves. Intersectionality as a descriptive concept may usefully capture the way in which different forms of exploitation and oppression can fuse together. But it can also legitimise what I called nearly 20 years ago in a critique of identity politics “oppression-trumping”, “which set in among the declining social movements from the 1970s onwards, a process of differentiation ad infinitum as various groups formed claiming the special, and often especially acute, character of their oppression” as opposed to that of others—a process of fragmentation that threatens the possibility of any unity against capital.36 At the limit, the result can be an extreme subjectivism in which individual experience has unchallengeable authority, making critical analysis and political debate impossible.

It is not surprising, indeed quite inevitable, that a newly radicalised generation should draw on the theories that they find around them. But most of these theories have very little to say about capitalism, and one of the most important features of the post-Seattle radicalisation is that it targets the system. So how to understand the relationship between capitalism and women’s oppression? Here the most readily available resource is provided by the debates about Marxism and feminism that took place during the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Sometimes these debates have been rediscovered by younger intellectuals; sometimes the original participants are still around and happy to contribute to their revival. The general shift to the right that took place in the 1980s involved a collapse of interest in Marxism in the academy, which led many left wing intellectuals simply to abandon the theoretical positions they had previously occupied. In discussion of women’s oppression, this contributed to the triumph of radical feminism and of versions of postmodernism and later postcolonialism, where the relationship between class and oppression was simply invisible. At best it is reduced to the incantation of the holy trinity of “race, gender and class”, with the connections between the three left unanalysed.37

In this environment socialist feminism, which during the debates of the 1970s sought to offer a synthesis of Marxism and feminism, can be very attractive to those seeking to bring the contemporary revolt against women’s oppression into connection with the critique of capitalism. A key reference point for socialist feminism was offered by Heidi Hartmann, who in 1979 argued that capitalism existed in “partnership” with patriarchy, which she defined as “a set of social relations between men, which have a material base, and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women”. Hence “a society could undergo transition from capitalism to socialism…and remain patriarchal”. She concluded that “while men and women share a need to overthrow capitalism they retain interests particular to their gender group”.38

It is striking then that a recent attempt to revive socialist feminism by the American Marxist Sharon Smith should home in exactly on the question of whether or not working class men have an interest in the oppression of women. She does so in the context of an attack on the theory of women’s oppression that has been developed in the International Socialist tradition, notably in the pages of this journal. Smith charges us with a tendency towards “reductionism”, which, “in its purest form…is the notion that the class struggle will resolve the problem of sexism on its own, by revealing true class interests, as opposed to false consciousness”.39 Elsewhere Smith has gone even further, arguing that the IS tradition’s critique of

modern-day middle class liberal feminism—and by extension, so-called “cross-class feminism”…strongly implies that the many demands of the women’s liberation movement—including abortion rights, legal equality for women, awareness about rape and violence against women—all those demands that have advanced the rights of all women across classes—do not also benefit working class women.40

This is a grossly unwarranted slur. Of course winning these demands benefits working class women. Anyone familiar with the SWP’s record of, for example, campaigning in defence of abortion rights will know that the suggestion that we regard sexism as something that will look after itself is complete nonsense. One reason why we suffered such a severe crisis was because we take combating sexism so seriously. Our argument with feminists is over the causes of women’s oppression and how to overcome it. But we share with them as strong a commitment to women’s liberation and to the imperative of fighting for it in the here and now. Following Lenin in What is to be Done?, Tony Cliff, the founder of the IS tradition, strongly insisted on the necessity of fighting all forms of oppression, irrespective of whether or not the victims were workers, as an essential part of the struggle for what Marx calls “human emancipation”.41 The SWP has accordingly demanded that fighting oppression in its multiple shapes is the responsibility of all its members, and not merely of those directly affected, as is all too frequently the practice of the contemporary left, where sexism is the special preoccupation of women activists, racism of black activists and so on. Precisely because we see oppression as a class issue, we fight for the whole of the working class and for all our members to make combating it their priority. Thus, from the very first attack on abortion rights in 1975 onwards, we have made a point of campaigning in a trade union movement that to this day is male dominated to win support for women’s right to control their bodies.

Nevertheless Smith is quite right to see the IS tradition as an obstacle to the rehabilitation of socialist feminism. During the debates of the late 1970s and early 1980s Lindsey German and Chris Harman challenged many of the assumptions that Smith and her like are seeking to revive.42 They demolished the theory of patriarchy, showing it to be idealist and positing a transhistorical and unchanging structure of women’s subordination to men. They also argued that the distinctive form of the family that emerged under the impact of industrial capitalism provided the framework in which working class women were compelled to reproduce the labour power required by capital. Therefore the oppression of women benefited, not working class men, but capital. In words that could have been directly addressed to Sharon Smith, Harman answered the accusation that “the Marxist view effectively denies the reality of women’s oppression by reducing everything to a matter of class”:

We don’t “reduce” the issue to one of class. Women of all classes are oppressed, just as ethnic minorities of all classes are oppressed in certain societies. What we do say, however, is that you cannot get rid of this oppression without challenging its roots in class society. There are not two struggles, one against class society, the other against “patriarchy”. There is one struggle against the cause of all forms of exploitation and oppression.43

In criticising the theoretical assumptions of even socialist feminists, German and Harman were therefore not dismissing the fight for women’s liberation, but integrating it into the revolutionary socialist struggle against capital. Slavoj Zizek has more recently made a closely related point, albeit in a rather different theoretical idiom:

The wager of Marxism is that there is one antagonism (“class struggle”) which overdetermines all others and is, as such, the “concrete universal” of the entire field. The term “overdetermines” is used here in its precise Althusserian sense: it does not mean that class struggle is the ultimate referent and horizon of meaning of all other struggles; it means that class struggle is the structuring principle which allows us to account for the very “inconsistent” plurality of ways in which other antagonisms can be articulated into “chains of equivalences”. The feminist struggle, for example, can be articulated into a chain with the progressive struggle for emancipation, or it can (and certainly does) function as an ideological tool used by the upper middle classes to assert their superiority over the “patriarchal and intolerant” lower classes. And the point here is not only that the feminist struggle can be articulated in different ways with class antagonism, but that class antagonism is, as it were, doubly inscribed here: it is the specific constellation of the class struggle which explains why the feminist struggle was appropriated by the upper classes.44

But the charge of reductionism doesn’t go away. In a recent article David Camfield of the New Socialist Group in Canada argues for a widening out of “the best Marx” into an “anti-racist queer feminist historical materialism” that recognises that “once gender and racial oppression exist neither are any less real than class relations, and it is a mistake to think that their operations can simply be explained through class”. He claims that classical Marxists such as myself “treat forms of oppression as derivative, ultimately passive players in explaining social processes”.45 But a Marxist approach doesn’t involve denying that the various forms of oppression are real. Racism, for example, is an enormous historical reality that explains a great deal about Western capitalist societies. Recognising this doesn’t contradict the fact that racism itself needs explanation in terms of the prevailing forces and relations of production, particularly since (as Camfield acknowledges) racism is a historically specific and distinctly modern form of oppression.46

A good example of the classical Marxist approach is provided by Lise Vogel’s Marxism and the Oppression of Women, first published in 1983. On its recent republication, it was hailed by two of Camfield’s co-thinkers, Sue Ferguson and David McNally, as a founding text of what has come to be known as “social reproduction feminism”.47 But when one turns to Vogel’s original text, what one discovers is a careful critical re-examination of the entire Marxist tradition on women concluding in a rigorous argument that explains the oppression of women through an analysis of the necessary labour required to reproduce labour power on a daily and a generational basis. Without this latter component, which involves bearing and raising a new generation of direct producers, surplus labour will not continue to be extracted:

Of the three aspects of necessary labour—maintenance of direct producers, maintenance of non-labouring members of the subordinate class, and generational replacement processes—only the last requires, in an absolute sense, that there be a sex division of labour of at least a minimal kind. If children are to be born, it is women who will carry and deliver them. Women belonging to the subordinate class have, therefore, a special role with respect to the generational replacement of labour power. While they may also be direct producers, it is their differential role in the reproduction of labour power that lies at the root of their oppression in class society.48

Vogel sees a contradiction developing between the drive of the ruling class to extract surplus labour from women as direct producers and its need for women to bear the next generation of direct producers. Normally this is resolved through “relationships between women and men that are based on sexuality and kinship”, with “men of the subordinate class” taking on “a special historical role with respect to the generational replacement of labour power: to ensure that means of subsistence are provided to the childbearing woman”. Vogel’s argument is framed for class societies in general: under capitalism, “a severe spatial, temporal, and institutional separation” develops between wage labour producing commodities, through which capital extracts surplus value, and domestic labour, which prepares the commodities purchased by wages for consumption and undertakes “the generational replacement of labour power”, mainly within the framework of “working class families located in private households”.49

What is striking about Vogel’s argument is that it conforms exactly to the Marxist approach attacked by Camfield, explaining the oppression of women by reference to the forces and relations of production in class societies in general and in capitalist society in particular. Moreover, her explanatory focus on the privatised reproduction of labour power under capitalism resonates with the kind of analysis developed simultaneously but independently by theorists in the IS tradition. This is a very different approach from that involved in current attempts to revive socialist feminism. Camfield, for example, criticises Marx for “lacking a theoretical appreciation of how gender, sexuality and (after its historical development) race are constitutive dimensions of the interlocking matrix of social relations of which social materiality is composed”.50 But this “interlocking matrix” is likely to amount merely to piling the different forms of oppression one on top of the other. The problem is the same as the one we encountered with intersectionality: theory is replaced by a description of how these forms “interlock”. Attempts such as Camfield’s to give socialist feminism a more secure intellectual basis by transforming it into “anti-racist queer feminist historical materialism” are merely an adaptation to some of the poststructuralist and postcolonial ideologies prevailing in the academy.

This doesn’t mean that the rediscovery of the debates about feminism of the 1970s and early 1980s isn’t a positive development. The intellectual quality of some of the contributions to these debates was considerable, as the example of Vogel’s book illustrates. But a genuine renewal of the Marxist theory of women’s oppression requires both development and application. That work has started in the pages of this journal.51 But it is only a beginning, and it will have to be developed in dialogue with all those concerned to strengthen Marxism as an instrument of emancipation.

But whatever innovations emerge, there is absolutely no need for Marxists who continue to work in the IS tradition to feel defensive about the contribution they have already made. In particular, as we have seen, Marxists have highlighted the material determinants of gender oppression often neglected in the current feminist revival. Moreover, the continuing privatised reproduction of labour power and the commodification of women’s sexuality that underlie rape and sexual violence coexist conflictually with another very powerful tendency for women to take on a growing and increased role in the waged workforce (women make up nearly 50 percent of paid non-agricultural employment in the advanced economies). This tendency means that women workers have gained the capacity to play a leading role within the working class as gravediggers of the entire system of exploitation and oppression. The challenge for revolutionary socialist organisation, as for the workers’ movement more generally, is to ensure that it reflects this truly epoch-making development.

Marxists have always understood that the oppression of women is the oldest oppression and will be the most difficult to overcome. Not only will the socialisation of reproduction after the overthrow of capitalism take time, but the ensuing and necessary transformation in attitudes leading to a real withering away of sexism will take sustained effort. Trotsky showed a very clear understanding of the complex and protracted nature of this process of transformation in his writings after the Russian Revolution.52 The effect of thousands of years of women’s subordination to men through the structures of the family and of class society more generally will not be easy to overcome. Establishing the norm that all human relationships should be based on consent won’t happen quickly. But the required transformation in personal relations cannot be separated from the transformation in class relations that working class women and men will achieve when they break the domination of capital. And the fight for women’s liberation as part of the broader class struggle can’t wait for the socialist revolution but must inform our daily practice now.


It is important to keep the present difficulties of the radical left in proportion. The economic crisis has vindicated the Marxist critique of capitalism. Capital in the TwentyFirst Century, Thomas Piketty’s vast new study of growing economic inequality, is a kind of backhanded tribute to Marx, which, although it seeks to sideline Marxism theoretically and politically, confirms crucial aspects of Marx’s critique of political economy.53 Reflecting on the ideological impact of the crisis, Benjamin Kunkel writes: “In any genuine renaissance of Marxist thought and culture it will probably be decisive that capitalism has forfeited the allegiance of many people who are today under thirty”.54

Moreover, the past few decades have seen a global expansion of the working class thanks to the spread of industrial capitalism to parts of the Global South, but also because the neoliberal restructuring of the advanced capitalist societies has intensified processes of proletarianisation—once again universities offer a good example of this. The problem is that this vast reorganisation has broken up the existing structures of the workers’ movement, and building new structures amid the storms of crisis and under constant pressure of capitalist attack is proving a difficult and protracted process. The present crisis of the radical left has to be seen against this background. The enormous world-wide growth of the working class creates the possibility of immense struggles breaking out especially in the “emerging market” economies of the South, which—as the Arab Spring showed—will impact on and interact with the struggle in the core capitalist countries including the US.

Some 35 years ago, at the dawn of the neoliberal era, Chris Harman wrote a memorable analysis in this journal of the crisis the European revolutionary left was then experiencing. That crisis was much more severe and concentrated than what we are currently experiencing because it represented the collapse, in an astonishingly short period of time, of many of the quite substantial far-left formations that had emerged during the great upturn in workers’ struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s—formations that had grown very quickly, but that proved to lack the political strength to cope with the downturn in class struggle that developed in the second half of the 1970s. The present crisis is much more diffuse, but in some ways more threatening, because the revolutionary left is much weaker than it was in 1979. This makes the attempts to split and even to destroy organisations such as the NPA and the SWP so irresponsible. These parties represent decades of concentrated efforts by thousands of militants to develop credible revolutionary alternatives. They are not to be thrown away lightly.

Harman concluded his article with the following words:

Revolutionary patience is the order of the day. It is the only alternative to either allegedly “transitional” but in reality reformist palliatives that suggest that something other than the self-emancipation of the class can deal with the crisis of the system, or to running off in pursuit of ephemeral “new movements”. But revolutionary patience must not be confused with sectarian passivity. It means seizing every opportunity to intervene in struggle, using those opportunities to test the organisation, to draw to it the best new activists, to build its reputations within the class, and to slowly move towards the necessary party.55

It is striking that in his autobiography Daniel Bensaïd advocates something very similar, what he calls “a slow impatience”—in other words, “an active waiting, an urgent patience, an endurance and a perseverance that are the opposite of a passive waiting for a miracle”, the determined effort to intervene in and shape the present so that, as a more favourable balance of forces develops, revolutionaries are well placed to make history.56


1: Summers, 2013. Thanks to Esme Choonara, Joseph Choonara, Panos Garganas, Charlie Kimber, Sheila McGregor and John Molyneux for their comments on this article in draft.

2: Donnan, Bland and Burn-Murdoch, 2014.

3: Roberts, 2013.

4: By “radical left” I mean those currents that reject neoliberalism, whether on an explicitly revolutionary basis or in a manner that avoids the choice between reform and revolution or even embraces some version of left social democracy. This is the spectrum from the NPA and the SWP to the Front de Gauche and Die Linke, with Syriza somewhere in between. In this article I concentrate mainly (though not exclusively) on Europe.

5: For an assessment of the movement of another globalisation during its initial expansion see Callinicos, 2003.

6: For background, see Kimber and Callinicos, 2013.

7: Shamefully, some former leading members of the SWP among Stop the War’s officers have adapted to the prevailing campism-evidence that long involvement in revolutionary politics is no substitute for the steadying influence of membership of a strong organisation.

8: Mason, 2012.

9: Marfleet, 2014.

10: Shenk, 2014.

11: Humphrys and Tietze, 2013, responding to Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman, which can be found here:

12: Marx, 1973, p108.

13: Bensaïd, 2013, p86. See, for a discussion of Bensaïd’s understanding of politics, Callinicos, 2012, and, for more on the state, Harman, 1991, and Callinicos, 2009, chapter 2.

14: Gramsci, 1995, pp395-396.

15: Compare Holloway, 2002, and Bensaïd, 2007.

16: Gramsci, 1971, p210.

17: Gramsci, 1971, p210.

18: Cliff, 2002, p134. See the classic study by Goldthorpe, Lockwood, Bechhofer and Platt, 1969, and Harman, 1977, part 2.

19: Anderson, 2014, pp3, 3-5.

20: Ford and Goodwin, 2014, p3.

21: Ford and Goodwin, 2014, pp10, 11. Ford’s and Goodwin’s analysis is weakened by its reliance on a wholly inadequate theory of class; for an alternative approach see Callinicos and Harman, 1987. See Andy Jones’s article elsewhere in this issue.

22: I don’t want to suggest that the workers’ movement in Greece is somehow exempt from the more general pattern. On the contrary, it is dominated by a reformist trade union bureaucracy (currently engaged in shifting its allegiances from Pasok to Syriza) that has limited resistance to austerity to one or two-day general strikes that-aside perhaps from the quasi-insurrectionary moment of May 2010-have lacked the punch needed to break austerity. But the scale of the struggles in Greece-not just since the onset of the crisis but over the past few decades-makes it an outlier that shows the political difference a relatively high level of class struggle makes.

23: For an assessment of recent struggles in Europe, see Choonara, 2013.

24: Kouvelakis, 2011.

25: Löwy, 1993.

26: Dardot and Laval, 2014, Kindle locations 109, 6188, 6261, 6276, and see generally Dardot and Laval, 2014, chapter 9.

27: The book is strongest (despite the authors’ criticism of those who reduce neoliberalism to an ideology) in tracing the development of the different intellectual configurations that contributed the crystallisation of neoliberalism (for example, the German school of ordoliberalism that played an important role in the formation of the Federal Republic after 1945). At its weakest it comes close to reducing the EU to a realisation of ordoliberal ideology: Dardot and Laval, 2014, chapter 7. The book draws heavily on the interesting study of neoliberalism in Foucault, 2008.

28: Collini, 2012.

29: Foucault, 1977. For a devastating exploration of the contradictions in Foucault’s theoretical assumptions, particularly effective in demolishing the idea of a “strategy without a strategist” on which Dardot and Laval rely heavily, see Taylor, 1984.

30: Gramsci, 1971, pp326-343.

31: Davidson, 2013, attempts a version of the second kind of explanation.

32: Callinicos, 2013.

33: Lih, 2006. August Nimtz’s important new study of Lenin’s electoral strategy stresses a different, and more interesting, continuity between Marx and Engels and Lenin (Nimtz, 2014).

34: See Lukács, 1970, still the best single text on Lenin.

35: See especially Orr, 2007 and 2010.

36: Callinicos, 1995, p198. See the excellent discussion of these issues in Choonara and Prasad, 2014.

37: See the scorching critique of the holy trinity in Gimenez, 2001. Slavoj Zizek has made the ideological complex of which this is part one of his main targets: see, for example, Zizek, 2006, chapter 6.

38: Hartmann, 1979, pp11, 13, 24.

39: Smith, 2013. Smith, a leading member of the ISO (US), for many years shared this approach to women’s oppression. Her current position represents a reversion to the “revolutionary feminism” adopted by the previous ISO leadership in the late 1970s and early 1980s: see Winslow, 1978 and 1979.

40: Bakan and Smith, 2013.

41: See for example, Cliff, 2003.

42: German, 1981, and Harman, 1984, further developed in Cliff, 1984, and German, 1989. Although Lindsey German subsequently left the SWP she has responded forcefully to the gross caricature of our position as “Marxist Anti-Feminism” by Smith and Abbie Bakan, another former member of the International Socialist Tendency (the international current to which the SWP belongs): see German, 2013, replying to Bakan and Smith, 2013.

43: Harman, 1984, p22.

44: _i_ek, 2006, pp361-362.

45: Camfield, 2014, pp 9, 10, criticising Callinicos, 1990.

46: Callinicos, 1993. Camfield’s argument rests in part on a misunderstanding about explanation: see Callinicos, 1990, pp165-166, and (in relation to Marx’s own method), Callinicos, 2014, chapter 3.

47: Ferguson and McNally, 2013. Elsewhere Ferguson seeks to integrate a treatment of race into social reproduction feminism: Ferguson, 2008. But the detail of her argument seems to support rather than contradict a classical Marxist approach.

48: Vogel, 2013, p150.

49: Vogel, 2013, pp152, 159. Ferguson and McNally criticise Vogel for directly equating domestic labour with (part of) necessary labour: 2013, ppxxxiii-xxxiv. It is true that, as Vogel herself notes, domestic labour does not create value because it is not involved in the process of social equalisation enforced by competition among capitals required to transform concrete useful labour into value-creating abstract labour. But the paid necessary labour performed by waged workers materially sustains the women performing unpaid domestic labour in these workers’ households.

50: Camfield, 2014, p12.

51: For example, McGregor, 2013, and Miles, 2014.

52: Trotsky, 1973.

53: Piketty, 2014.

54: Kunkel, 2014, p19.

55: Harman, 1979, p87.

56: Bensaïd, 2013, p19.


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