Marxist-Humanist Initiative held a public discussion around this question in New York City on July 19, 2012. An audio recording of the meeting is below. In calling for the discussion, MHI emphasized that it insists on discussing capitalism versus socialism, immediately and with everyone, at the same time as we support mass social movements. For this, the left calls us unrealistic. The general left view is that the masses of people are backward and must have their consciousness raised before they will be ready to talk about socialism. We see that view as a noose around the masses’ necks.
At the meeting, we broke down and examined the theoretic underpinnings of the long-time assumption that the masses are backward, and we looked at the very real organizational consequences that follow, from vanguardism to certain strategies pursued within some Occupies and other movements. In contrast to the “backwardness” view, we considered the meaning of recent events—from Arab Spring to strikes and struggles in China and the U.S., as that meaning illuminates the role of ideas in shaping people’s perspective of the future.
If recent mass movements have not taken a social-revolutionary form, we suggested, it is because people are not certain that it is possible to get beyond bourgeois democracy or reformed capitalism. This uncertainty is the fault of the left, which has failed to account for the fates of the 20th century revolutions and failed to theorize how to uproot and replace capital.
We argue that working people, far from being “backward,” are searching for a liberating alternative to existing society, whether or not they call it socialism—and are demanding ideas about whether and how it is possible to get there. Further, we argue, the left’s job is not to talk down to them, but to engage them in developing answers to the most important question of the day: what must be changed in order to uproot capitalism and begin a sustainable new way to work and live?
The audio recording contains three presentations—by Mike Dola and Anne Jaclard of MHI, and by Andrew Kliman. Discussion with those present follows the talks.