Does it make sense to talk about socialism in the 21st century?
An attempt at an answer to this question is the purpose of the research initiated last year by Transform! Europe during a meeting jointly organised with our friends from Espaces Marx in May of 2006.
Transform! Italia will organise a second opportunity for reflection in the form of a meeting and conference that will take place in Rome November 8–10.
This event addressing the theme of 21st-century socialism will provide an opportunity to re-examine the research, experience and innovations in political practices which are still to some extent invisible and which above all do not yet give us a clear background for a renewed understanding of what the historical question of transformation and the concept and practice of revolution have become in our time.
It is not enough to have reckoned with the historical forms of socialist revolution, or to have grasped their limits, errors and involutions; today the transformation of cultural, social and political reality suggests a very different kind of development, producing as it does events, subjectivity and patterns of behaviour that not only make old plans and interpretative paradigms inadequate, but also dislocate traditional practices of democracy and of “opposition to the status quo”.
What may make possible a breakthrough in the discussion is finding a centre of gravity for the thematics we want to confront. We propose articulating the theme in terms of the logic of reform of the revolution.
This may at first appear a pastiche, but it is the central node from which to start. An observation first made by Gramsci but still very contemporary involves the problem of finding a form of revolution for the industrialised west; today the problem has to be solved for contemporary capitalism on a global scale.
Two thorny questions from the Gramscian lexicon still ought to be at the heart of our research: capitalism’s ability to reform itself through a constant “passive revolution”, and, on the other hand, the need to think of the revolution as a social, not just a political, process, not a reform effected at the level of power and government, but a molecular, a “moral and intellectual reform”.
In organizing the discussion, we identified some thematic nuclei around which to organise the programme:
1. Hegemony, Non-violence, Transformation: Beginning with how pacifism dealt with war, the arms race and the concept of defence; how non-violence dealt with the question of ”revolution“, ”resistance“, ”armed struggle“ and “popular defence”; the way feminism deconstructed the myth of the warrior, the hero, of fatherland and ”courage”. In short, how do we bring revolution back to the question of a deep moral and intellectual reform of society, beyond a narrow conception of taking power?
2. Migration (the National-international Link) and the Culture of Gender: Immigrant women and men are posing the question of citizenship in new terms: social, universal, sexed. Equality of difference is becoming the most contested element of capitalist mass society. Women’s thought and practice have made a reality of a critique of “natural” affinities (group, community) and “political” affinities (people, state). On this terrain it is possible to develop a strong critique of “communitarianism” as constitutive of identity. This nucleus becomes all the more essential when the sacred dimension once again seizes a dimension not limited to religion, that of the forms and rituals of power and politics, and in so doing reverts to being a “fundamental element” of history.
3. Work and Life: From the productive condition to the extension of the realm of human praxis, and finally to an understanding of intellectual work and the production of the symbolic as determining elements of production and consciousness. How has fragmentation and precarious labour changed the “unitary” subject (the class)? Considering these new conditions, how do we revisit the equality/freedom nexus?
4. Property: A discussion of the issue of ownership is indispensable for a refoundation of socialist thought. This need arises from the crisis of statism and calls for a reconsideration of the link between common goods, new forms of cooperation and equality. Beyond central planning, what forms of democratic governance and solidaristic cooperation within productive processes are possible today?
5. The Crisis of Politics – Parties and Movements: The perception that there is a profound change in the traditional expressions of politics is a sign of how much the new order of the economy, communications and processes of formation of individual and collective consciousness have altered the context of democracy. Politics as a technical, operational exercise – as a profession rather than as the organisation and projecting of the collective will – appears to be the dominant conception. In this context, can the parties be, or become again, entities that can be transformed? To what extent are they capable of self-reform? The movements are experimenting with radically new rules and forms of decision-making. How strong, effective and coherent are these models? It is still urgently necessary to reconsider the relations between parties and the managing of power and government?
6. Nature, Science, Politics, and Ethics: Science is the frame of reference for the consideration of the state of development of capital. Capitalism (as well as socialist prometheism and the subsequent developmentalism) has erased from the history of science the perception of a limit, now taking nature to be an infinite space for the expansion of human activity. This suggests the theme of overcoming capitalist relations as the antidote to catastrophe and as a new consideration of the connection between transformation and ethical responsibility.
The following is a first draft of the programme. Updates, and eventually the full programme, can be found on our website http://www.transform.it. The three days of the encounter will be divided into six sessions, each introduced by two speakers.
1. Hegemony, Non-violence, Transformation (speakers: Michael Brie, Giuseppe Prestipino)
2. Immigration and Gender Culture (speakers: Moema Miranda, Maria Luisa Boccia)
3. Work and Life (speakers: Mimmo Porcaro, Lia Cigarini)
4. Property (speaker: Pasquale Voza)
5. The Crisis of Politics – Parties and Movements (speakers: Andre Tosel, Hilary Wainwright)
6. Nature, Science, Politics and Ethics (speakers: Gianni Tamino, Juha Koivisto)