Some socialist wishes for the new year / by Zoltan Zigedy

After the Democratic Party brought in legislation to block a national rail strike this month, 2023 may be the year the US left moves beyond the two-party system

From social democratic dreams of coexistence with capitalism, to misunderstandings over the nature of imperialism, ZOLTAN ZIGEDY hopes the left’s confusion can be eased in 2023.

AT this time of year, many people are coming up with their wish lists or sets of resolutions for the year ahead. My wish list follows.

First, I wish that the idea of socialism would again become popular, but I would rejoice if it would at least be discussed seriously in the US.

Now I don’t mean the weak-tea version of socialism associated with the Democratic Socialists of America or with Senator Bernie Sanders.

That kind of socialism is really a cold war relic — a brew of schoolhouse participatory democracy and a minimalist welfare state stirred into a consenting capitalism.

But capitalism doesn’t mix well with social democracy, except when capitalism anticipates an existential threat from real socialism, like the popularity of communism.

The political marginalisation of European social democracy after a diminished communist spectre following the Soviet collapse of 1991 proves that point.

Real socialism — to be crystal clear — cannot amicably coexist with capitalism. There can be no lasting peace treaty between capitalism and socialism, despite the best efforts of many socialists and communists (there have been few if any of the rich and powerful who sincerely advocated coexistence with socialism in the centuries since socialism was first envisioned).

For real socialism to take root, the power of the state must be wrested from the capitalists. History shows no sustainable road to socialism through power-sharing with the capitalist class.

That is not to say that there cannot be a transitional period in which capitalists and socialists struggle for dominance over the state, but that period will not be stable.

That is not to discount the importance of parliamentary struggle in fighting to establish a socialist-oriented state. That is not to preclude a socialist programme that engages with national specifics, class alliances and shifting tactics.

But socialism must be the professed and uncompromising goal of those who claim to be socialists and winning state power must be accepted as a necessary step to achieving any real socialism, where socialism is both the absence of labour exploitation and the ending of the dominance of the capitalist class. Any “socialism” that doesn’t respect these truths is engaged in self-deception.

But what, you may ask, is People’s China? Clearly there is labour exploitation in the People’s Republic of China, where powerful private capitalist companies exist alongside state enterprises.

And it is just as clear that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains a tight grip on state power. For over 40 years, the balance of forces between these two realities has shifted frequently, with the CCP leadership, nonetheless, claiming firm control and a commitment to socialism.

Whether genuine Marxists in the CCP can ride this tiger is yet to be decided. Partisans of socialism must follow this development with a critical eye, but an open mind.

Advocates for socialism — real socialism — are not so naive as to believe that socialism is around the corner or that socialism is likely to solve the immediate problems of the working class.

It is useful, however, to be reminded that when Lenin left Zurich to return to Russia just months before the 1917 revolution, he spoke to young revolutionaries, explaining that he likely would not see socialism, but they surely would. He was spectacularly wrong.

But even a heavy dose of pessimistic realism does not explain the absence of the word “socialism” in the political narratives of progressives, the self-styled left, and even self-proclaimed Marxists living in the US and Europe.

Moreover, in conversation, eyes roll or go glassy when the idea surfaces. Everyone is an anti-capitalist; everyone is against some form of hyphenated capitalism — disaster-capitalism, neoliberal-capitalism, financial-capitalism, etc etc. But no-one is for socialism!

You can see this dismissal in the current debates over inflation raging through the left. All disputants recount the effects of inflation on poor and working people.

All recognise the negative consequences of official policy — raising interest rates — on all. All fumble for alternative solutions, most of which have a past history of failure.

None will pronounce this as a contradiction — an intrinsic failure — of the capitalist system. All are too busy trying to repair capitalism to even hint that there might be a better alternative. Will there ever be a better time than today to inject socialism into the conversation?

We suffer from the leftover fears of communism and socialism in the wake of the cold war. We are suffocated by the limited options allowed by our corrupted two-party system. And we are overwhelmed with cynicism and a poverty of vision.

Surely a frank, honest discussion of socialism is in order.

My second wish would be for left clarity and unity on the war in Ukraine. To a great extent, the left’s poor understanding of the relationship between capitalism, imperialism and war has spawned wide divisions in an already fractious left.

On one hand, liberals and social democrats discount the history of conflict in Ukraine and mechanically apply a simplistic concept of national self-determination to what is, in fact, a civil war.

They see Russian intervention as simply a violation of Ukraine’s right to decide its own future. Using their logic, it is as if the US civil war was construed as a war over the South’s right to self-determination and not a war over slavery.

Or in a 20th century instance, it would be as if the war in Vietnam were viewed as a fight for the rights of the people in an artificial South Vietnam to choose their own destiny.

Both the idea of the South’s right of secession (states’ rights) and the “freedom” of South Vietnam were abusive of any legitimate right to self-determination. Neither took the measure of the desire of the masses; both served the interests of privileged elites or foreign powers.

Leading historian of the Korean war Bruce Cumings reminds us that civil wars are complex conflicts with complex histories and little is gained by pondering who started the war in assigning blame.

Obsession with determining the immediate “aggressor” in the Korean war clouds the understanding of the deeper causes, colliding interests and political stakes at play to this day.

Without a historical context, without understanding the conflict and clash of vital interests within the borders of Ukraine, a defence of US meddling in Ukraine constructed on the facade of self-determination is wrongheaded and dangerous.

There can be no self-determination when the US and its allies undermined an elected government in 2014. That intervention effectively put an end to any pretence of Ukrainian self-determination.

On the other hand, many self-styled anti-imperialists view the Russian invasion as a war of liberation, with Russia removing Kiev’s oppressive government, thwarting US and Nato aggression, or defending the interests of the people of eastern Ukraine.

They both overestimate the selflessness of the motives of the now capitalist, former Soviet Russian republic and underestimate the dangers unleashed by an invasion that opens the door widely to a further reaching, more intense war.

They also fail to see that in its essence the conflict in Ukraine has been a civil conflict since the demise of the Soviet Union. Without the ideology of socialism, that conflict has been driven by a scramble for wealth and power with ensuing corruption, manipulation and crude nationalism.

Foreign powers — East and West — have manipulated this scramble, forcing it to a proxy showdown. Any escalation — whether it is a coup, an invasion, or the continuing arming of belligerents — would further risk pressing the war beyond the borders or at a greater tempo and should therefore be rejected.

Behind some defenders of the Russian invasion is the neo-Kautskyian theory of multipolarity. This view sees US imperialism, and not simply the system of imperialism, as the force disruptive of a peaceful, stable and orderly world order.

It is possible, even likely — according to the theory — for capitalist countries to conduct international affairs benignly if only a predatory US were tamed.

They go beyond denouncing US imperialism as the main global enemy to imagining a viable, co-operative capitalist order without US dominance. Like Kautsky, multipolarity projects an era of “balance” between imperialist powers and the softening of rivalries.

Lenin rejected this view. Like Kautsky’s theory of super- or ultra-imperialism, multipolarity reflects an inadequate understanding of class dynamics — the unlimited drive for competitive advantage by the capitalist state — and a failure to recognise that socialism is the only answer to imperialism’s destructive anarchy.

The carnage of imperialism’s last hundred years since the Kautsky/Lenin debate surely underscores these truths.

Along with the revival of Kautskyism, neo-Malthusianism threatens to confound the thinking of the left in addressing the critical environmental crisis.

No-growth as a facile answer to the abuse of our environment is as misguided today as it was in Marx’s time. The critical question is how the global economy grows and not how much it grows.

My wish is that the left does not ignore the class issues — nationally and internationally — in developing a programme to address this vital matter.

A no-growth solution that freezes in place the internal and global inequalities, or exacerbates them, cannot be accepted. A programme that does not address the connection between imperialism, militarism, and war in despoiling the planet is inadequate.

As the lights go out on the nine-and-a-half-billion-dollar midterm electoral extravaganza, leaving a bad taste and a strong sense of emptiness and disappointment, we can only wish that the US left will take a critical look at the two-party system with the idea of uniting to create some independent presence in electoral politics.

May 2023 be a year of deeper discussion beyond chirping on the shallow platforms crafted for triviality and abasement by the ruling class.

Zoltan Zigedy is a US-based writer. He blogs at

Morning Star (UK), December 29, 2022,

At Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s 10th anniversary conference: Current struggles and future prospects for the left in a time of right-wing resurgence / by André Frappier

In October, the New York office of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung celebrated its 10th year of operation | Photo by Behance.

Originally published in Canadian Dimension on December 8, 2022

The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung held its annual meeting in New York on October 28-29, the 10th anniversary of the opening of its New York office. A number of international delegations were invited and I had the honour of representing Québec solidaire.

Under the heading “Step by Step, Feeling the Ground – Transatlantic Left Dialogue and Internationalism in Our Time,” panelists tackled crucial issues for the left in the current political environment. The discussions ranged over assessments of the left in power, the left in parliamentary opposition, colonialism, reparations, affirmative action, multilateralism and international organizations. Fighting the extreme right was seen as the most urgent issue. Speakers compared political notes and debated strategies for the internationalist left.

Four members of the New York office opened the meeting with an explanation of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s origins and a survey of the main issues for the left today.

German political foundations are unique institutions established under government policy and funded by the Foreign Office and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is the foundation set up by the left-wing Die Linke party under that policy.

It opened its first four international offices in 2003 in Moscow, Warsaw, Johannesburg and Sao Paulo. For financial reasons, no new offices were opened in the following four years. Then the Mexico City office was opened in 2007, followed by a major expansion over the 2008-2012 period, during which 12 more offices were set up, including the one in New York City. The Stiftung currently has 17 offices worldwide.

The anniversary was an opportunity to reflect on the changes in the political landscape over the past 10 years. Panelists agreed that the situation has deteriorated. It was not so long ago that the United States elected its first Black president, stirring excitement and spurring hopes that the country would move in a better direction. At the same time, the US was still in the throes of the mortgage crisis.

Speakers considered Occupy Wall Street in 2011 to be even more significant for the left in the US. It was a transformative movement that changed the left’s outlook; without it, Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the subsequent growth of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) would not have been possible.

Ten years ago, Hungary had the only far-right government in Europe. Most European extreme right parties were fringe. Today, not only does Hungary have an authoritarian regime that is immune to effective challenge from within the political system, but Poland shifted to the far-right in recent elections.

The extreme right has displaced centre-left governments in Sweden and Italy, where a new fascism has emerged. Marine Le Pen garnered more than 40 percent of the vote in France. The US has seen the rise of Trumpism, which had its roots in the Tea Party movement. There is growing fear in US that the election of a Republican president in 2024 could spell the end of liberal democracy there, or what’s left of it.

The challenge before us today is to find strategies for fighting back against the global rise of the far-right.

Photo supplied by André Frappier
Confronting the far-right

The panelists analyzed the conditions that paved the way for the rise of the far-right and looked at fightback strategies. The positions they articulated reflected current debates on the left, particularly on the question of alliances: how and with whom?

The starting point for the debate was an assessment of the situation in Western Europe—specifically France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Norway—and Eastern Europe, namely Hungary and Poland. Italy figured prominently in the discussion. In 2018, Giorgia Meloni’s party took only four percent of the vote, but now Fratelli d’Italia has become the largest single party with 26 percent. The fragmentation of the left was seen as part of the problem, but low turnout was also a major factor. In 2006, 16.4 percent of eligible voters stayed home; this year, the number was 36 percent. So for the first time in the post-Mussolini era, Italy has a national government led by a party with fascistic roots—not just a right-wing populist party, but a party born of the Italian fascist tradition. Its program rejects equality for homosexuals and calls for an end to immigration. There is fear that Meloni’s success will galvanize extreme-right parties across Europe.

The far-right is also making headway in Germany. Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a relatively new party founded in 2013 by Eurosceptics, shifted to an anti-immigration platform in 2015 and has brought together a wide spectrum of right-wing currents: national conservatives, the hard right, neoliberals, Christian fundamentalists, ethnic nationalists, homophobes, antisemites, and anti-feminists. AfD has two main wings: an economically liberal, socially chauvinist tendency that seeks a coalition with the mainstream conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and a radically different current that eschews bourgeois government coalitions in favour of street action and alliances with violent fascist groups. This wing’s goal is a more successful Beer Hall Putsch. It is at odds with the neoliberal tendencies in the party and presses social demands, but exclusively for Germans.

This wing is especially strong in the former East Germany. After the collapse of the Eastern bloc and German reunification in 1990, the former East Germany was hard hit by social decline, poverty, unemployment and humiliation. It was fertile ground for authoritarian ideologies and chauvinist responses. Today, the picture in Germany is bleak for the left: in the last federal elections, Die Linke took 4.94 percent of the vote and the AfD 10.3 percent.

Brazil under the Bolsonaro government was raised as another example of the far-right ascendant and the left besieged. The right-wing parties in Brazil had realized they couldn’t win at the polls, so they sought other ways to undermine democracy. They succeeded: Bolsonaro was able to win because Lula was in jail.

Some panelists argued that the decline of Brazil’s mainstream conservative parties was responsible for the victory of the far-right, which had succeeded in occupying the space once held by the traditional right. They suggested that the lesson had been learned and this was why Lula chose a pro-business running mate.

Some traditional figures and political parties, and even the mainstream media, had concluded that things had gone too far and felt that democracy and the country’s main institutions were in danger, for Bolsonaro had dismantled a number of institutions, including the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Ministry of the Environment, and bodies that upheld women’s rights and fought racism. The Supreme Court was also under attack by Bolsonaro and his allies.

Other panelists argued that bourgeois forces are not a firewall against right-wing movements. Many European leaders congratulated Meloni on her victory and promised cooperation. We must not rely on liberal parties, they urged, but rather build our own strength in opposition to both neoliberalism and the far-right. Europe’s left-wing parties must build a common front against the right and present a comprehensive social alternative to neoliberal politics.

The left in power: the rise and challenges of the Chilean left

Chile was a country where the outlook for the left had seemed dire, but in 2011 a mass popular movement changed the cast of Chilean politics. The seeds had been planted earlier but they came to fruition in the student protests of 2011 and 2012, which laid the foundations for the emergence of a new left.

For the first time, at least in Chile, a left-wing movement had its base not in labour but in other social groups. This may have been a consequence of the fragmenting effect of neoliberal development on the social fabric. The injustices and inequality generated by neoliberalism gave rise to many grievances, which however were often confined to narrower segments of society. The students were one such segment. Their emergence as a political force could not have been predicted 15 years ago, but they came to exert a powerful influence on national politics and became the backbone of a new left coalition that was able to reach out to other social groups. Subsequently, pensioners forged a mass movement against the privatized pension system; a new feminist movement arose and is now able to bring millions of young women and allies onto the streets every year. But these new mass movements reflect, in a way, the fragmentation of neoliberalism itself.

Though the left in Chile is now strong, it was suggested that it has not been able to frame a strategy grounded in a unifying set of demands and reforms with appeal to a broad strata of workers and the poor. When the constituent assembly drafted a progressive new constitution, the new left was unable to persuade working class and poor voters that it was an instrument for advancing their interests. Voters remained skeptical of the reforms for a number of reasons and the proposed constitution suffered a crushing defeat in September, with 62 percent of Chileans voting against it.

The challenge for the Democratic Socialists of America

In New York State, there was a Democratic supermajority in the State Assembly and a Democratic majority in the State Senate, but nevertheless the Democrats lost control of the state government in 2011 when eight or nine senators who had run on the Democratic Party ticket and won election as Democrats split off to form the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and caucus with the Republicans, handing the Republicans de facto control of the Senate.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2018 was a catalyst for grassroots organizing across the country and particularly in New York City, home to the DSA’s largest chapter. Many left-wing Democrats ran for office. A left coalition including the DSA and the Working Families Party fielded candidates against the IDC senators and defeated most of them. The result was a banner legislative session for the left in New York State, starting with the Reproductive Health Act, which codified the rights established by Roe v. Wade and provided some of the strongest protections for abortion access and reproductive rights in the country. Important progress was also made on immigration rights.

In 2020, there was still a robust left-wing movement in New York State and nationally but, argued some panelists, the Democrats were forced to capitulate to the right and adopt centrist positions in order to elect Joe Biden. At the same time, Democratic socialists continued to build; five more socialists were elected to the New York State Assembly and one more to the Senate. The left in general has been growing and becoming more critical of the Democratic Party’s leadership.

Die Linke has maintained close relationships with social movements and left-wing organizations in Québec and Canada for years, and has also provided financial support for activism through the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. It is an exemplar of international solidarity from which we may well draw inspiration. Against unfettered globalization, the deepening climate crisis and the reenergized extreme right, the left must reach across borders and build unity to confront the challenges ahead.

André Frappier is a regular contributor to CD and a member of the magazine’s coordinating committee. He also serves on the editorial board of the online weekly Presse-toi à gauche and has been a member of the FTQ Montréal Labour Council for many years.