Archive for August, 2018
Toward the end of Considerations on Western Marxism (1976) Perry Anderson makes some interesting remarks about what he sees as the core problem of Lenin’s analysis of the capitalist state and bourgeois democracy in terms of its applicability in a ‘Western’ setting. They are worth quoting in full;
Lenin started his career by acknowledging the fundamental historical distinction between Western and Eastern Europe in What is to be Done? At various later dates (especially in Left-Wing Communism), he alluded to it again. But he never seriously made it an object of Marxist political reflection as such. It is notable that perhaps his greatest work, State and Revolution, is wholly generic in its discussion of the bourgeois state – which could be anywhere in the world from the way in which he treats it. In fact, the Russian state which had just been eliminated by the February Revolution was categorically distinct from the German, French, English or American states with which the quotations from Marx and Engels on which Lenin relied had been concerned. By failing to delimit a feudal autocracy unequivocally from bourgeois democracy, Lenin involuntarily permitted a constant confusion among later Marxists, that was effectively to prevent them from ever developing a cogent revolutionary strategy in the West. This could only have been done on the basis of a direct and systematic theory of the bourgeois-representative state in the advanced capitalist countries and the specific combinations of its machinery of consent and coercion, which were foreign to Tsarism. The practical consequence of this theoretical blockage was the inability of the Third International, founded and guided by Lenin, to achieve any mass implantation in the greatest centres of modern Imperialism in the twenties…. Another type of party and another type of strategy were needed in these societies and were not invented.
These comments are all the more remarkable given that at the time Anderson wrote them he cleaved to a more or less Leninist orientation – and indeed went on to affirm a few years later in his wonderful book Arguments Within English Marxism ‘the greater cogency and realism’, in comparison with the ‘reformism’ of figures such as Nicos Poulantzas and Geoff Hodgson at least, ‘of the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky’. Even here, though, Anderson’s affirmation is less than emphatic. Specifically he admits that ‘the critical weakness’ of this tradition is,
its difficulty in demonstrating the plausibility of counter-institutions of dual power arising within consolidated parliamentary democracies: all the examples of soviets or councils so far have emerged out of disintegrating autocracies (Russia, Hungary, Austria), defeated military regimes (Germany), ascendant or overturned fascist states (Spain, Portugal).*
So, again, the core problem with this strategic approach is the way in which the historical evidence indicates that it does not resonate in societies in which the institutions and traditions of parliamentary democracy are relatively consolidated and have sunk deep roots. Anderson is, surely, absolutely right about this. To think that it’s possible to transplant the dual power model of socialist revolution from the specific circumstances of Russia in February to October 1917 (an autocratic state in conditions of virtual collapse in a society exhausted by a disastrous war) to the very different conditions of, say, Western Europe today, simply doesn’t take the hegemonic strength of bourgeois democracy seriously – whatever the limitations of the latter and even given the advanced state of its ‘hollowing out’ in conditions of neoliberalism, crisis and austerity.
This isn’t to say, of course, that this problem necessarily validates the classical ‘reformist’ alternative (to the extent that this putative alternative orientation was ever really a coherent one – see the blog post below) – it doesn’t (and of course Anderson is clear that it doesn’t). But it does suggest – especially given, of course, that conditions of consolidated liberal democracy now hold in almost all ‘advanced capitalist’ countries – that the dual power strategy as it’s normal conceived needs to be fundamentally revised.
You only have to observe the typical trajectory of leftist insurgency in recent times to be convinced of this. Time and time again when leftist challenges emerge, if they go beyond mere protest, they cohere in terms of some sort of electorally focused (that is, ‘reformist’ or perhaps left social democratic) mobilisation. That is to say that, over and over and over again, even in conditions of relatively heightened struggle (as in Greece a few years ago), the working class fails to perform – fails to come anywhere close to performing – its allotted functions in the revolutionary sequence envisaged in Leninist mythology. It doesn’t spontaneously throw up soviets, doesn’t provide the longed-for conditions in which x or y self-proclaimed nucleus of the future mass revolutionary party can suddenly expand its membership and active support in great leaps and bounds, while outflanking the reformists and winning leadership of the class, doesn’t begin to construct a parallel proto-state apparatus and set in train the paralysis and decomposition of the bourgeois state machine. The 1917 redux – even a rough approximation of it in embryo – simply refuses to materialise.
Many readers will be familiar with the typical Leninist narrative today in terms of the various historical ‘near misses’ and ‘pre-revolutionary situations’ that obtained at various times (all of them a long time ago now) which are taken as signs of hope (or articles of faith) in relation to the continuing salience of the classic dual power scenario and the subterranean cunning of history which is, for some reason, sure to throw up such social explosions again in a lightning flash from the blue. Because…. Aha! Nobody expects the dual power scenario! Among the favourites here are post-WW1 Germany (an utter disaster) and Portugal 1974-5 (contained, eventually, within the limits of a broadly social democratic ‘transition’ from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy, despite the best efforts of the PCP – perhaps the only CP in the West at that time that was really serious about revolution, much to the acute embarrassment of its Eurocommunist sister parties). Most of these examples are among the list Anderson sets out above in relation to the ‘critical weakness’ of the Leninist schema.
But there’s a ‘near miss’ that Anderson doesn’t mention – probably because it didn’t throw up soviets as such beyond a few rudimentary instances. Nevertheless, this has passed into the Leninist pantheon of thwarted near revolutions and was indeed a major catalyst for the reinvigoration of the Western European revolutionary left, allowing the Trotskyist tradition in particular to win a more secure niche in the European leftist eco-system, escaping to some extent the suffocating bunker to which it had previously been confined in the days of the Old Man himself. I refer of course to the ‘May Events’ in France 1968.
France, May 1968
There’s no doubt that May was a mould shattering social eruption that completely changed the political landscape – its various significances and effects rippling out far beyond France itself. In many ways ‘the events’ sounded the death knell of the post-war social order – May presaged the coming collapse of the class compromise that had cohered in a more or less social democratic form in the context of the long boom. It certainly heralded a crisis for the ‘new revisionism’ of the European social democratic left, which had assumed since the 1950s that serious social antagonism and upheaval had been confined to history by the arrival of the ‘mixed economy’ and Welfare State. For many, the street battles, demonstrations, massive and unprecedented general strikes of May, seemed at last to have vindicated the insurrectionary perspective of the revolutionary left. But among the really remarkable things about May was the ease, in the end, in which this apparently existential political and social crisis of Fifth Republic was contained within constitutional and electoral limits.
On 29th May de Gaulle fled Paris. Many observers believed that he had effectively been toppled by the ongoing strikes and demonstrations and that his official resignation would surely come very quickly. But the next day he announced in a televised address to the nation that he was dissolving parliament and calling a general election. That day five hundred thousand people demonstrated in support of de Gaulle – the biggest demonstration of May, delivering a rude shock to the left in that it seemed to reveal that the actual balance of forces in the country wasn’t necessarily in their favour. Far from it in fact. It was a taste of things to come.
Thrown onto the back foot, the PCF and Socialists (and the PSU, though it also argued that the strikes should continue) agreed to participate in the elections and immediately set about urging workers to end their strikes and go back to work. Indeed the PCF is usually identified, in the left narrative, as the treacherous bad guy in this whole process – had it thrown its weight behind the uprising rather than seeking to dampen it down at every turn things may have turned out very differently. Perhaps so. But what this narrative usually downplays is precisely the relative ease with which the PCF were able to dampen down and eventually pull the plug on the events. This requires a more serious explanation than the suggestion that an otherwise insurrectionary working class was mislead by the machinations and cowardice of their reformist leaders. What this narrative misses, in other words, is the popular hegemonic pull of parliamentary democracy and its limits. When push came to shove, the working class by and large saw little alternative. The May events had taken the Fifth Republic to the brink of the precipice – but what concretely, if the process had been pushed further, would have replaced the extant order? There were no widespread workers’ councils. There was no situation of dual power or anything like it.
The results of the general elections revealed that the Gaullists had clobbered their left wing opponents at the polls – the socialists lost 61 seats, the PCF lost 39 and the Gaullists became the first party in the Republic’s history to win an absolute majority in the National Assembly. Indeed they had made serious inroads into the working class, winning more votes among them than the PCF. In his essay ‘The Lessons of May’ Ernest Mandel offers an explanation of the election result that turns on the idea that workers and young people, demoralised by the failure of the major parties of the left to offer more radical leadership, simply abstained in large numbers. People tend to side with the political forces demonstrating the most initiative, and had the major parties of the left more resolutely backed the May actions, calling for their continuation during the election campaign rather than squashing them, the election result might have been otherwise. His account is only partially convincing, however, because you can’t help the feeling that he’s simply trying to explain away the defeat in such a way that is designed to evade the rather obvious alternative explanation – which is that the election revealed that the real balance of forces in France in May 1968 turned out to be very different to the way they might have appeared to look from a barricade in the Latin Quarter.
Lurking in Mandel’s account of the failures of the left of course is the familiar argument about ‘the absence of a well implanted revolutionary party’ that pivots on the typical Leninist counter-factual claim that, had such a thing existed in some parallel universe, it would surely have been borne forward toward power by the social forces that so desperately felt its lack in our historical time-line. But of course the absence was real and requires some sort of explanation. In fact the wider, repeated absence of such an entity over and over again in each of historical ‘near misses’ in the Leninist canon of proto-revolutionary situations needs to be accounted for too – it can’t just be a run of bad luck.
Interestingly, however, Mandel admits in this essay that the conditions for immediate insurrection did not exist. The alternative course of action he suggests is the application of a modified version of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme – or ‘structural reforms’ as he terms them in this essay. As with all such strategies of transitional demands in their Trotskyist iteration, however, the large question of who or what is to implement these structural reforms – who or what is to be demanded to deliver them – is left rather undefined. The state, yes – but specifically the Gaullists in government? Are they to be expected, even under severe pressure, to deliver a series of revolutionary reforms calculated to further unbalance and undermine French capitalism? What Mandel can’t really admit, in other words, is that he needs a ‘Left Government’ to be elected for this strategy to be vaguely feasible. The logic of the strategy necessarily pivots on a combination of extra-parliamentary mobilisation, strike action and so on on the one hand, and an electoral strategy to get a Left Government in place on the other. The strategy, in other words, demands recognition of the hegemonic weight of parliamentary democracy and the determination to work with it and to probe its limits rather than to reject it as inherently a dead end.
The sort of strategy that Mandel was groping toward here, but was unwilling to fully grasp, was worked out most fully by Andre Gorz in his essay ‘Socialism and Revolution’ written indeed in the immediate aftermath of the May events and anticipated to some extent by his book Strategy for Labor (1964). I’ve written about Gorz’s iteration of the strategy of ‘structural reform’ or ‘non reformist reforms’ elsewhere. The key point is that Gorz starts from the observation that the Leninist strategy is untenable in France and is founded on the assumption that parliamentary democratic politics can’t be neatly sidestepped or evaded. The essay is a brilliant (though at times rather opaque) attempt to think through what a left-wing government, borne forward by waves of popular mobilisation, might accomplish and how this might be steered in the direction of radical social transformation.
The events that unfolded in Chile between 1970 and 1973 are normally understood as a salutary warning as to the limits of parliamentary reformism – for very good reason. Indeed (as I’ve suggested in the previous post) we might in some ways see the Allende government as perhaps the only historical example of a seriously and definitely reformist socialism in office (as opposed to governments of ‘social reform’ in Miliband’s terms), and as such its eventual fate at the hands of the military forces in whose proclaimed ‘constitutionalism’ Allende put such store, is surely very significant. In the Leninist narrative the example of Chile is usually deployed as a sort of once and for all proof, not just of the limits of reformism, but of the impossibility of any sort of strategy for socialist change that doesn’t pivot on the model of 1917. But there are alternative lessons to be drawn.
For one thing when you read up on the history of the Popular Unity administration it’s impossible not be struck by the various choices and decisions of the Allende government and its supporters that might, actually, have been made differently. It doesn’t seem to me that the Chilean experiment was somehow inexorably doomed from the beginning to the bloody end that it met. Miliband’s considerations in this respect in his brilliant, angry essay, written in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September Coup is worth reading in this respect. In particular, it’s clear that the government had a very good idea that the military was plotting something from at least June 1973 and indeed received an explicit warning in August about the imminent coup from loyalist sailors and workers stationed at the Valparaiso naval base. Criminally, Allende chose to abandon these whistleblowers to the punishment meted out to them by their superiors (they were tortured) rather than acting on their warning. But things might have been done differently. Similarly Allende didn’t need to allow the October 1972 Law for the Control of Arms (that was passed during the Bosses’ Strike of that month) to go through – he could have vetoed it. The law provided the pretext for the army to start raiding factories in order to break up occupations and so on.
It might be objected here that these considerations are no less counter-factual ‘might have beens’ than the Leninist ‘if only there had been a well implanted revolutionary party’ manoeuvre criticised above. Further, wasn’t it the inherent logic of Allende’s constitutionalism arising from the parliamentary strategy to which he cleaved, that determined these choices? Well, yes. And no. It takes a little less of a leap of the imagination, it seems to me, to envisage alternative choices in Chile than it does to imagine the presence of a ‘well implanted revolutionary party’ in the various near miss situations in which this thing has always, very predictably, failed to exist.
But the most interesting thing, to me, about the events in Chile is less about the various wrong turns of the Allende administration, but the way in which it stimulated the emergence of an advanced form of popular power outside the state in (an often, but not entirely, tension-ridden) alliance with the Popular Unity government.
One of the remarkable dimensions of the Allende period was the way in which the economic crisis – a classic investment strike on the part of the bourgeoisie, supported by efforts at economic sabotage by the US in particular – that started to bite from 1971 and which was increasingly buttressed by a creeping political strategy of tension, tended overall to radicalise the movement in support of Popular Unity. The received political wisdom might suggest that a government overseeing an economy running more and more into serious problems of shortages and inflation would see its support collapse. But, in this case, not so. One of the best indicators of this is the way in which Popular Unity increased its share of the vote from 36% in 1970 (when it was first brought to power) to 43.4% in the Congressional elections of March 1973, after about a year and a half of economic crisis. Indeed it was probably this disastrous election result for the opposition that set it on the path of serious preparations for the coup – they knew by this stage that Popular Unity presented a real and serious threat to the continuation of capitalist power in Chile.
From mid 1972 a wave of mass activity swept across Chile in which workers and peasants started to build and extend articulated forms of popular power in their workplaces and communities. This process of radicalisation accelerated further from October of that year in response to the Bosses’ Strike, with the ‘expropriation from below’ under workers’ control of factories and other work places to keep the economy running in the face of concerted and acute economic sabotage. As Roxborough, O’Brien and Roddick describe these developments:
The organisations of Popular Unity’s political base which had been set up in the first year were revitalised: assemblies of workers in the factories, People’s Supply Committees in the poblaciones… Peasant’s Councils in the rural areas. Committees of action sprang up uniting these local organisations into bigger units: committees of all the factories in a given municipality, the so called industrial cordons, and joint committees of industries with neighbourhood organisations, the community commands.
This wave of ‘popular power’ was in no sense organised in conscious opposition to the government itself – it oriented itself as form of mass mobilisation in support and in defence of Popular Unity and to some extent as a deliberate attempt to push Allende further to deliver more fully on his promises to take Chile toward socialism. Indeed, although Allende attempted to return some of the factories expropriated in October to their capitalist owners under the terms of Plan Millas, the large majority of them were nationalised or otherwise left in the hands of the workers who now ran them.
What was emerging in Chile 1972, then, was a peculiar form of dual power. But this was no ‘classic’ dual power situation of the type envisaged in the tradition of Lenin, in which either pole of the duality confronts the other as implacable enemies in a struggle in which only one of them can prevail. Here, in Chile, dual power expressed a relation of dialectical tension in which both poles constituted a source of (at least potential) strength for the other and which opened up (at least potentially) the possibility of a positive and dynamic interplay between the two. Here, a few years after Gorz had first theorised the possibility in France, was a Left Government that had (though not entirely intentionally) provided the conditions for the emergence of popular organs of power that could really challenge the capitalist order.
Had Popular Unity more consistently embraced the possibilities opened up by this form of dual power – and had it, in particular, moved more decisively against the coup plotters things might have been very different. It’s certainly hard to see how some sort of violent denouement might have been avoided, but maybe – just maybe – this might have been contained in a form that didn’t spill over into the civil war that Allende (to his great credit, in my view) dreaded more than anything else.
The key thing to grasp about this process in Chile is that these organs of radical popular democracy – the Cordons, the Peoples’ Supply Committees, the Community Commands – would not have emerged were it not for the prior election of the Popular Unity government. The situation of dual power (‘of a special type’?) that obtained in Chile by mid to late 1972 would not have emerged by any route other than via engagement with the process of parliamentary democracy in order to put a Left Government in power that could begin to probe the limits of ‘reformism’.
Here in the Chile of 1972 then perhaps we can glimpse the ‘another type of strategy’ – in broad outlines at least – that Anderson in the quotation above suggests is needed in conditions of bourgeois democracy. It’s one that requires taking parliamentary democracy seriously in order to expand its democratic promise and to find a way beyond its present limits.
* This isn’t quite true, at least to the extent that the Cordons that emerged in the industrial centres of Chile in 1972 represented soviet type organs – but more about this below.
A problem. Most overviews of the debates on strategy within (or in the vicinity of) Marxism draw a distinction between ‘reformism’ and ‘revolutionary socialism’ or some variant of these terms. Further, many of them (Miliband’s various accounts for example) draw a further distinction between ‘reformism’ and currents of ‘social reform’ or ‘social democracy’, where the latter two terms refer to an orientation toward amelioration of capitalism, whereas the former refers to a more or less gradualist strategy that aims to go beyond capitalism. There’s usually some sort of grey area in between (dismissed rather breezily more often than not) – ‘left reformism’, the Austro-Marxists and ‘the Second and a Half International’ and the ‘Marxist Centre’ of Kautsky’s time for example – but the basic pivot remains reformists vs revolutionaries. Most would go along with something like Perry Anderson’s definition of ‘reformism’ as ‘belief in the possibility of attaining socialism by gradual and peaceful reforms within the framework of a neutral parliamentary state’. Miliband would quibble with some of that – there’s nothing *necessarily* peaceful about it for example (it depends on the willingness of the opposition to stick to constitutional methods) and nothing necessarily ‘gradual’ in the sense of a smooth evolutionary process about it either for that matter – the key pivot for Miliband is the commitment to parliamentary constitutionalism as the primary focus of the process. But no matter.
The genesis of the emerging division between these two classic orientations is usually traced back in some way to the Revisionist Controversy of the late 19th century and to the increasingly apparent gap between the rhetorical commitment to revolutionary rupture on the one hand and the parliamentary orientation of day to day practice on the other of the SPD in particular. The double shock of 1914 and 1917, it is said, brought this hitherto more or less subterranean strategic bifurcation into full view – one that’s lasted ever since (notwithstanding further complications to do with the ‘degeneration’ of the Russian Revolution and so on and the drift of Moscow backed CPs toward Popular Front reformism – this, it’s usually said, was a simple retreat into more or less classic reformism rather than a further splintering of an essentially binary division).
So far so familiar. Most accounts also acknowledge that reformist parties underwent a slow (or not so slow) drift toward social democracy – symbolised perhaps by the Godesberg Programme, the ideas of Crosland, the abandonment of Clause IV. Even so, reformism (as at least partially distinct from social democracy), it’s said, remained (remains?) a major current. So Coates and Looker, for example, claim quite confidently, as if merely rehearsing a well known truism, that it’s the ‘reformist tradition’ that ‘has managed to secure a majority of proletarian support at most times and in most countries of industrial capitalism in the twentieth century’ – certainly ‘reformism’ has always won much greater mass support in these countries than revolutionaries have (Ernest Mandel says as much too when he comments that the proletariat is ‘naturally reformist’ in non revolutionary conditions – i.e. 99.999% of the time). But… has it consistently won more support than social democracy? Really? If we’re distinguishing reformism as a separate category from social democracy (i.e. an orientation toward social reform without any definite intention to transcend capitalism) the claimed ‘reformism’ of the 20th century western proletariat looks a little dubious.
But the problem doesn’t end there. When you actually look at what the (tacit or not so tacit) ‘reformists’ of the Second International were saying it’s not really clear that many of them were ‘reformists’ in the sense defined by Anderson or Miliband. Bernstein didn’t really think this – ‘the final goal’ for him, after all, ‘was nothing’ – and neither did Kautsky whose ‘strategy of attrition’ at least up until WW1 pivoted (rhetorically at least) on the ‘accumulation of forces’ in advance of the ‘decisive day’ that would be catalysed by the final catastrophic collapse of the system – i.e. perpetual delaying tactics. The figure from this period who perhaps comes closest to Marxist ‘reformism’ as usually understood is Jean Jaures who did at times seem to envisage some sort of smooth process of evolution toward something beyond capitalism. But aside from him… who? The Fabians – the Webbs, Shaw and Wells – fit the mould fairly well in terms of the famous conception of the ‘inevitability of gradualism’, but they weren’t Marxists, and were in fact quite explicitly hostile to Marxism (at least until the Webbs discovered an admiration for the statist bureaucracy they encountered when visiting Stalin’s Soviet Union).
So who were the reformists of the Second International and beyond? Where were the figures and currents that cleaved to this classic strategic orientation? Did it ever actually exist as anything more that a phantom category – a retrospective myth?
As Miliband argues in Parliamentary Socialism the British Labour Party never really developed a strategy of reform as such, until it discovered Keynes and experienced the possibilities of state direction of the economy during World War 2. Prior to this they seemed to inhabit (or their leading figures at least seemed to inhabit) something like a ‘Kautskyan’ space in which nothing could yet be done to reform an essentially unreformable capitalism – leaving little alternative than the ‘responsible’ implementation of orthodox British Treasury policies as a sort of ‘holding tactic’ while their parliamentary forces slowly accumulated. Something similar to this orientation seemed to prevail among most other parties of the Socialist International too – with the exception of the Swedish SAP which discovered a proto-Keynesian approach relatively early, allowing it to set off on the path of ‘social reform’ (rather than ‘reformism’) a decade or so in advance of most of its sister parties.
So it wasn’t really until the 1940s that anything like ‘reformism’ as a clear, practical strategic orientation really took off – and even then the leaders, if not the rank and file, of parties like the Labour Party were clearly dominated by the perspective of ‘social reform’ by that stage. With not a little irony, then, it’s perhaps the parties of the Third International in the post war West that became the first really mass reformist formations in Marxist history. The Popular Front approach of the 30s had served as a sort of dress rehearsal for this new orientation – but it wasn’t really ‘reformism’ as such at that stage. The Popular Front was conceived quite explicitly as a purely defensive anti-fascist tactic, and the CPs were always quite convinced at this stage that meaningful reforms within what they claimed was a system in terminal decline were impossible. They supported Blum and Cabellero for example on the understanding that they were quite moderate figures who didn’t believe that a transition to socialism was anything more than a hazy, long-term prospect. The reformism proper of the Western CPs really took off in the post-war period – pioneered by the PCI in particular in the guise of Togliatti’s via italiana al socialismo. By the 1950s various ‘national roads’ to socialism (among them the CPGB’s British Road) had proliferated – all of them, very definitely, reformist. Of course, the term was never openly embraced as such by the various CPs for obvious reasons – absurdly the CPs started to redefine ‘reformism’ from this point as a position that pivoted on the support or repudiation of the ‘Imperialist foreign policy’ of the capitalist powers.
This sort of CP ‘reformism’ reached its zenith perhaps in the period of Eurocommunism – and the term describes quite accurately the strategic orientation of Berlinguer, Carrillo and Marchais (though not necessarily the left flank of Eurocommunism – Poulantzas, Claudin, Magri… but that’s another story). To the extent that this sort of strategy underpinned Berlinguer’s ‘Historic Compromise’, ‘reformism’ shaped the contours of mainstream Italian politics – at least indirectly – for a few years.
We might say, then, that ‘reformism’ dominated the workers’ movement in Italy and to some extent in France (the PCF never hegemonised the left in France the way the PCI did in Italy) from the second half of the twentieth century. But did it ever dominate the reformist ‘reformist’ parties – the formations commonly assigned as such?
Allende’s Popular Unity government probably comes the closest to a concrete example of an actually ‘reformist’ formation seeking seriously to implement an actually ‘reformist’ programme – although, again, beside Allende, the driving force behind UP’s strategy (the most scrupulously ‘reformist’ section of the coalition) was actually the Chilean CP. Much of Allende’s Socialist Party – and indeed sections of the Christian Left that broke away from the conservative Christian Democracy – was well to the left of Allende and the CP with many misgivings about Allende’s (suicidal as it turned out) unwavering and absolute commitment (at least until the eve of the 11 September coup) to gradualism and constitutionalism.
Other candidates for the designation might include the Mitterrand administration of the early 1980s (again with the CP as a driving force in the coalition) and the SAP at the time of the Meidner Plan to gradually socialise investment capital. But I’m not sure about that – although there was some sloganeering about a ‘break with capitalism’ from figures such as Michel Rocard (!) within the French coalition it’s not clear that this signalled a real intention to move beyond a radicalised form of technocratic social democratic dirigisme. It seems to me that it’s also quite hard to argue that the Swedish wage-earner funds plan was a strategy for socialism as such rather than for a more egalitarian and democratic capitalism. Perhaps the ‘Bennite’ current within the British Labour Party in the 1970s and early 80s comes the closest in recent times to an unambiguously ‘reformist’ current within a party normally referred to in the literature as, at some time and to some extent, ‘reformist’, although, again, the appellation isn’t necessarily a perfect fit given the uncertain space that the Bennite iterations of the Alternative Economic Strategy inhabited between a vision of muscular dirigisme on the one hand and a political economy beyond capitalism on the other.
So it’s not at all clear, then, that with one or two exceptions ‘reformism’ – in the sense of the term that is usually understood – has ever been more than a minority current or an occasionally significant orientation within the Western workers’ movement. Certainly there’s an argument to be made that the usual differentiation that’s made in the literature on socialist strategy in terms of the reformism/revolutionary axis is based, in relation to the first term in this opposition at least, on a myth.