Published in Critique 39: 1
Bensaïd suggests that this return to strategic thinking reflects, in part, a generalised realisation on the part of the radical left as a whole that the ‘anti-capitalist movement’ could not, as many of its participants had thought, ignore or side-step the issue of political power – that, contra Holloway, the world simply could not be changed without taking power (specifically, state power). Another key factor in the revival of interest in strategy, Bensaïd suggests, has been the political and electoral success of the left in Latin America, which has posed the question in very immediate terms of how, and to what extent, the left can utilise capitalist state power for socialist objectives.
Nevertheless, despite this apparent return to strategy, contemporary thinking about strategies for socialist transformation, it is probably fair to say, remains at a largely undeveloped level. Those theorists who do devote their energies to questions of strategy often frame their analysis in terms of the perspectives of the Second and Third International as if nothing much has changed since the time of the classical debates between Bernstein and Luxemburg, and Lenin and Kautsky and as if, therefore, no fundamental revision of strategic approach is required. Furthermore, it is striking how little strategic thinking there is amongst left-wing intellectuals.
For a political tradition that is explicitly committed not simply to interpreting the world, but to changing it, it is quite remarkable how few socialist intellectuals seem to be very interested in the process of seeking to identify how, exactly, we should go about bringing another, better, world into existence. With this in mind, then, the recent return to strategy Bensaïd identifies, though a welcome development, is a return on a disappointingly small and unadventurous scale to what should be the central intellectual concern of socialists.
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