Corbynism, Sanderism, and party politics vs. social movements

Viewpoint Magazine published this essay a few days ago about the underlying dynamics of Corbyn’s election to the head of the Labor Party, titled “Beyond Parliamentarism: Historical Bases and Prospects for Corbynism”.  The first part is mostly about the historical evolution of the Labor Party from the ’70s up until today, and the second part is an analysis and prescription for how the radical left can preserve and enhance its gains in the Labor Party.  I would draw attention to the second part, and the fact that, “There is no possibility of Corbynism’s survival without the Labour Party becoming a social movement, as Corbyn himself made it clear.”  This has analogies to Bernie Sanders in the US, and his call to make his campaign more about a protracted mass movement, rather than a single presidential election.

I liked this excerpt (emphasis added):

What does a social movement party look like? Most importantly, such a party becomes an agent of successful political articulation. As political sociologists Cedric de Leon, Manali Desai and Cihan Tugal have argued, politically-articulative parties “integrat[e] disparate interests and identities into coherent sociopolitical blocs”; or, as Antonio Gramsci put it, such a party functions as a “constructor, organizer [and] permanent persuader” of the popular will. It means not only that elections and parliaments cease to be the sole focus of party activities and that party activists become involved in other social movements, but that it articulates a comprehensive worldview, based on institutions that become the focal points of social life for masses of members and activists. Despite their tragic failures in the end, the pre-1914 German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the postwar Italian Communist Party (PCI) became mass parties with social roots, with their daily newspapers, reading clubs and sports clubs, theaters and bars.

I also liked this excerpt on the nature of opinion polls, and how traditional bourgeoisie electoral machines see public opinion as static:

The logic of elections does indeed differ from that of militant mobilizations; while the latter depends on depth of activist commitment and capacity to disrupt, the former depends on large numbers with limited commitment. In particular, opinion polls have certain disciplinary and performative effects that reify the status quo. The polls showing radical positions as unpopular, based on the existing state of “public opinion,” shift the balance of power within the party so as to disadvantage those advocating for strategies to change the existing distribution of political opinion; and as the party accepts the existing distribution rather than seeking to change it, it gets reproduced.

There is also some good commentary on the tensions and relationships between parliamentary politics and extra-parliamentary militancy, and resisting “parliamentary dogmatism”.  Do check out the whole essay, especially if you’re thinking heavily about the nature of Sanders and socialist electoral politics in the US.

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One thought on “Corbynism, Sanderism, and party politics vs. social movements

  1. […] is to chase popular opinion.  This is a false assumption, and to quote a Viewpoint Magazine piece I discussed a few days ago, an effective and radical party would seek to shape popular opinion and link people with day-to-day […]

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