The accumulating failures of both Communist and Social Democratic parties over the past 50 years was accompanied by a marked shift on the radical left toward a broad-ranging ‘movementism’ – whether in its pressure-group or protest-oriented dimensions.
As Jodi Dean has recently argued, those trying thereby to escape ‘the constraints of party’ often reduced it to ‘the actuality of its mistakes’ while ‘its role as concentrator of collective aspirations and affects [was] diminished if not forgotten.’
She observes that more and more movement actors themselves today ‘increasingly recognize the limitations of a politics conceived in terms of issue- and identity-focused activisms, mass demonstrations which for all intents and purposes are essentially one-offs, and the momentary localism of anarchist street fighting. Thus they are asking again the organizational question, reconsidering the political possibilities of the party form’.
It is just this which also serves to heighten a sense of the importance, and yet also the inadequacies, of Syriza and Podemos among the newer parties, as well as of the Corbyn/Momentum and Sanders/Our Revolution insurgencies in the old ones (and ). These have emerged in direct response to the severe demobilizing effects of the old social democratic reformism even vis-à-vis its own base. Yet they also clearly have regarded the Bolshevik model as anachronistic.
What new party forms will emerge to succeed both of these in the very different conditions of the 21st century, with all that will mean for class formation as well as state transformation, remains to be seen. But one thing is very clear. The question of the party – which appeared to have been relegated to the political scrapheap of history, rather like the steam locomotives that once powered certain teleological representations of historical materialism – is palpably back on the agenda of the left.


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