A Leap Toward Radical Politics?

The Bullet
Date Written:  2016-06-07
Publisher:  Socialist Project
Year Published:  2016
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX19635

The Leap Manifesto is, in a way, Canada's version of the burst of Left and socialist energies that have come with the Bernie Sanders campaign in the Democratic Party in the U.S. and the Jeremy Corbyn leadership win in the Labour Party in Britain. As with these, the explosion of popular interest reflects general disquiet about the limits of recent protests demanding changes from the state but having no strategy to transform it, on the one hand; and disappointments with electoral politics and social democratic parties that only seem to reinforce neoliberalism, on the other.


The distinction between social democratic parties like the NDP that organize to win elections and pursue policies of modest redistribution of incomes and opportunities within capitalism, and parties committed to transcending capitalism and realizing an alternative society no longer governed by the logics of profit and endless accumulation, does not lie primarily on the terrain of the policies articulated. It lies in the vision each ascribes to the organizational capacities being formed, and the willingness to engage in political mobilizations inside, against and outside the state. In capitalist societies, all reforms involve compromises on policies in trying to make social change. The crucial differences lie in compromises that accept the ‘reality’ of the existing political terrain as given, and compromises that are part of a determined longer-term goal to develop the popular capacities to moves beyond that particular ‘reality’.

The truncated vision of social democracy – with its rejection of a world beyond capitalism – leads directly to the truncated politics of diminishing expectations and limited mobilizations. This fits so well with parties organized exclusively around electoralism. What is needed, even in relation to a more immediate objective of breaking from neoliberalism, is a larger political project oriented to developing the popular understandings, organizational capacities, and institutional supports for coming to power with the will and ability to transcend capitalism. This cannot emerge at the level of individual choices and attitudes. It can only come out of building socialist organizations that see this as a collective task, rooted concretely in local communities, and willing to engage in the struggle over state power.

Social democrats claim, in dissenting from more radical interventions, that they are being ‘practical’, and that anyone who challenges them from more socialist perspectives within their parties are being ‘unrealistic’, if not ‘dreamers and wreckers’. The problem, however, is that with modern capitalism having in increasingly closed the ‘middle ground’ of social compromise, being practical has come to mean accommodating to neoliberal globalization (with its material linkages to fossil fuels and ecological dumping). This is repeatedly demonstrated when social democrats have come to office: they soon become complicit in the lowering of popular expectations, disorganizing social movements, and pursuing a ‘kinder neoliberalism’. The outcome, ironically, is to act in a way that is the essence of being impractical by often campaigning on worthy goals without building the capacities to get there.

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