Friday April 25th, 2014

The Question of Strategy: Socialist Register 2013 reviewed in The Spokesman

"The Socialist Register has been the intellectual lodestar for the international left since 1965."
—Mike Davis

Socialist Register
Leo Panitch, Greg Albo and Vivek Chibber (editors), The Question of Strategy: Socialist Register 2013, Merlin Press [published in the U.S. by Monthly Review Press], 320 pages, ISBN 9780850366310, £16.95

Malcolm Ball

The 2013 edition of Socialist Register is titled The Question of Strategy. However, because of the themes which this edition addresses, it could be titled ‘What is to be Done?’ The editors have designed this volume in conjunction with the Registers for 2011 and 2012. The aim of those two volumes was to analyze the global financial and economic crisis. The 2013 volume extends that analysis, but offers a more concentrated focus on the ‘choices faced by the Left today, the models of strategy available to it, and the innovations that are being made by groups as they organize in diverse settings’. (SR2013, p.ix)

The editors’ preface is particularly appropriate. It offers the reader a guide through the nineteen essays which make up the volume, but it also draws the important political lessons from recent political history, and offers a conjunctural analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of post-2007 opposition to the continuing neo-liberal assault. It notes, firstly, that mobilizations against the neo-liberal solution have, ‘for the first time since the 1980s, put the question of capitalism back on the political agenda’, and secondly, that class politics are beginning to exercise their power. The power of neo-liberalism is confronting ‘the ninety-nine percent’ (pp.ix-x). The weaknesses of the Left are noted; firstly, the limitations of political organizational forms, including European social democratic parties, trades unions and Leninist parties, limit the responses available; secondly, the enduring strength of the capitalist state has contributed to the failure of the Left to analyze adequately a response. The editors write:

‘For now, in this world, the hard reality is that capitalism is in economic crisis, but politically secure – even if some regimes are experiencing instability.’ (p.xi).

The essays in The Question of Strategy address three related themes, drawing from a wide range of actual historical global experiences. One is to contrast the practices and ideas of ‘horizontalism’ – mass, popular movements and anti-bureaucratic activism such as the ‘occupy’ and ‘uncut’ – with traditional forms of organization such as political parties and trades unions. Social democratic governments across Europe are seen by many, active in the ‘movements’, as part of the problem, failing to contribute acceptable solutions. In addition, Left activism in response to the crisis of capital during the late 1960s to mid-1970s has not left a lasting legacy, it is contended. More recent examples include countries such as Egypt where mass movements have played an important role in opposing or removing reactionary governments but have, so far, failed to consolidate a continuing political solution…

Read the entire review in The Spokesman [PDF]