RecensionsBook Reviews

The Socialist Challenge Today, By Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin (2018) London: Merlin Press, 102 pages. ISBN: 978-08503-674-09.

  • Travis William Fast

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  • Travis William Fast
    Professor, Département des relations industrielles, Université Laval

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Cover of Volume 76, Number 1, Winter 2021, pp. 3-176, Relations industrielles / Industrial Relations

The truth has a habit of being relentless: those who seek it through critical analysis even more so. In general, the socialist instinct is a mix of optimism and a concerted realism that seeks to both be pragmatic—accepting where the limitations and opportunities of a given society are—and programmatic—having a realistic sense of where humanity could be in the future. Above all socialists understand that human beings determine their own history with all the down stream caveats that statement requires. In this short book of six tightly written chapters, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin continue their long collaboration on questions concerning the possibility of a socialist project. This book was published in the summer of 2018 and that may seem like a generation ago to some. This is not to fetishize our current moment. Rather, it is to note that some two short years after the book’s publication it can seem as though “now” is a world apart from what were probably optimistic times for socialists and like-minded progressives in the summer of 2018. Since the summer of 2018, observers have been witness to the continued economic grinding of Greece; watched the British Labour Party fall into an internecine struggle calumniating in a stinging electoral defeat and the resignation of Corbyn; and subsequently, watched Sanders’ second bid to become the Democratic nominee fail through a series of disparate missteps and structural calamities in the COVID laden early summer of 2020. Yet for all this, the book’s sub-title: Syriza, Sanders, Corbyn does not date the book. Far from it, as Panitch and Gindin observed in their concluding chapter with respect to the challenge in front of Labour even if Corbyn had succeeded: A similar such observation could have been made about the Democratic Party in the context of a Sanders win of the nomination. Electoral victories are one thing and the realities of the political context both within and outside of political parties is quite another. It is to those pragmatic realities and strategies for organizing around those challenges where this book makes its largest contribution. In the above regard, Greece is perhaps the sharpest of instructive cases. Within liberal democratic systems socialist parties, when elected, are in a position that “bourgeois” parties are not. They must simultaneously maintain order and continuity in the short to medium term, while at the same time pressing forward with strategies that have as their goal a transformation from a capitalist to a socialist economy: they are thus faced with a dual mandate. Quite apart from what one thinks of socialism as a viable economic system, it is evident that this dual mandate is fraught with dangers. This is a point worth stressing because it helps political analysts appreciate that for any political party with what may be termed a radical project, they must cooperate with the present to change the future: a delicate political dance indeed. In the case of Syriza, the situation was not simply one of cooperating with, in the short term, the agents and institutions of Greek capital, but also those of European capitalism. This was a tall order and, as Panitch and Gindin point out, Greece is not a large country, has limited natural resources including oil and unlike what might be the analogous case of Cuba does not enjoy a strategic geopolitical location in the context of a Cold War with a ready and willing patron. Outside of these large economic obstacles, Gindin and Panitch make the argument that Syriza did not manage to significantly mobilize like minded social movements and incorporate them in a meaningful …