In this month’s post we are going to talk about the main currents of the leftist movement. The subject matter will be the political proposal developed from the decade of the ‘60-70s until nowadays. We will outline our view on these political trends and offer, more specifically, our critique of identity politics, of pluralism and of radical democracy.
Within the leftist movement, there are diverse standpoints when defining social classes and identifying the nature of their composition. Nowadays, however, there are two political mainstream that predominate amongst such conceptions: workerism, which clings to the traditional form of worker and the new left, which responds to the multiple forms of subordination with the concepts of identity and pluralism. Even though both viewpoints or political proposals differ at first glance, they derive from the same definition of the working class. They equate the political subjectivity of the working class with the models of identity, organization and mobilisation that recreate the traditional imaginary of the industrial worker. This definition distorts the complex composition of the working class and offers a limited understanding of the economy. They reduce the economy to quantitative data and understand it by means of business analyses, rather than presenting its social dimension, that is, the nature of the bourgeois power. However, having an economistic conception of the economy causes detrimental theoretical and political consequences; among them to ignore the current characteristics of the proletariat.
As stated above, we identify two political currents as being the main amongst those that deal with the issue of the working class. The first one, workerism, would aim at defending the political prominence of the strata that have usually been identified as “traditional working class”. Nevertheless, the way workerists conduct politics does not differ from that of other left-wing parties: they work within the state apparatus, they undertake the protection and the defense of the traditional form of worker in the discourses and they direct their political practise to the administrative management and to operate in the traditional trade unions.
We have named the second political mainstream the new left. They defend the existence of various subjectivities, that is, based on the analysis of the multiple oppressions, their political proposal aims at integrating all those diverse viewpoints. In an interview by the magazine Erria with Jule Goikoetxea and with Iñaki Soto, Goikoetxea (2019:29) states we will gradually understand that all these wrongs are structured in different subordination systems. This political current underlines the diversity of social relations and practices, of which the economic oppression, the lack of economic equality, would only be one part.
When denying the common root of all forms of oppression, they deny the need for a joint strategy to tackle all of them (Wood 2000). That is, if the scope of the influence of the bourgeois economy is limited to wage labour, and if we equate class oppression with all the other forms of subordination, we reject the strategy for the construction of the classless society from the beginning. Thus, rather than socialist universality and the comprehensive politics of the fight against class exploitation, the political programme of the new left offers disconnected individual struggles (Wood 2000). Therefore, if instead of characterizing the capitalist system as a specific power structure and functioning logic, we characterize it as a diverse and indefinite structure, we indicate that all oppressions have a different basis or root, with implies a different oppressed subject, a different fight strategy, a different oppressor, etc. regarding each oppression.
The new left supports diversity in a fragmentary sense-understood as structural inability for unity-, what Goikoetxea (2019:37) describes as unity in diversity. To understand this, three concepts are necessary: identity, difference and plurality. On the one hand, according to identity politics, the individual will develop its political viewpoint depending on its personal experiences. Rather than leaving individualistic interests aside, debating according to compelling reasons and responding to a historical and collective interest-to fight for those who suffer the worst living conditions-, the political practice of the individual will respond to a personal and spontaneous choice. On the other hand, the issue of pluralism is characterized by: the growing fragmentation, the diversification of social relations and of experiences, the diversity of lifestyles, the increase of personal identities. Thus, through pluralism, the new left denies the systematic unity of capitalism; according to Wood (2000), they have denied the social function of capitalism and have turned it into a plurality without structure and fragmented into different identities.
The political movements that work through identity politics insert their strategic proposal within bourgeois democracy, and understand democracy itself as the political organisational form that leaves the class struggle perspective aside, meaning it denies class antagonism as premise, and therefore analyses all the oppressions in the same way. The democratic perspective suggested by the new left adheres to the bourgeois-parliamentary democracy, since it wishes to implement a strategy that incorporates social movements within the framework of liberal democracies. But to defend equality and coexistence among all personal identities through democracy turns impossible if we analyse class antagonism. For class character is not determined by one identity or another, but by the systematic function that each one fulfils. Placing both main classes from the bourgeois order at the same level will therefore be impossible, since they perform a structural function that is opposite and incompatible from the beginning.
In the context of that political programme, we can distinguish two types of lines of action. The first one, the one that is conducted outside the institutions (even if only formally), would be the practice carried out by the social movements in the streets, the neighbourhoods, the schools, the factories or other areas. In this case, they suggest demands oriented towards obtaining formal equality (that different subjectivities may have the same living conditions, but keeping the current structure) and carry out communication and practical proposals to socialise them-seemingly radical, activist and based on multitudinous mobilisations-. Yet, all these actions do not correspond to a real struggle, but rather seek for the institutions to meet these demands and are in charge of generating a progressive left-leaning opinion to guarantee it.
All those social movements show the need for political parties that will give an institutional response to their demands. On the other hand, for those institutional parties that profit from the initiative of the popular movements, these become an important asset in order to gain more votes. Therefore, they obtain greater social support for their political agenda, capitalising that social backing in the elections.
As mentioned before, these political mainstream exclude a basic premise: that capitalism lies in the exploitation of the working class. Thus, they ignore that the bourgeois power defines and determines the entirety of our lives mercilessly.
We, on the contrary, underline that, since the working class is the exploited class, the real benefit for it, or its real liberation, will only come with the end of such exploitation. That being said, it is our obligation to address this historical duty: to make a political programme in line with the class axis a reality through the political independence of the proletariat.
To this effect, we must know and analyse the new expressions of the working class first. We cannot equate the characterisation of the current proletariat with the one half a century ago (for instance, the era of the predominance of the labour aristocracy); for in these times of change in economic and social conditions, the composition, the characteristics and the views on life of the working class change too.
Nevertheless, we must analyse the proletariat with a critical eye. Us communists cannot turn a blind eye on reality nor advocate novelty and spontaneous forms. To give an example and in relation to our habitual occupation, we must specify how the working woman undergoes gender oppression; define the origin and the specific role of the concrete problems she suffers at work, concerning household chores, the conditions when becoming a parent, etc. within the economic structure.
So which will be the direction and the nature of the struggle? We ought to focus on the interests of the proletariat, as we must respond to all the specific problems it endures. This will be achieved through the socialist strategy, that is, through the strategy of the working class to take the power.
We must fight for everybody to have the same living conditions, so that we transform the capacities today controlled by the bourgeois power into a universal capacity tomorrow.
Sakonean. (2019). Erria, 14- 37.
Wood, E. M. (2000). Democracia contra capitalismo. México: Siglo veintiuno.