|The Early Days of a Better Nation
Friday, June 06, 2008
The privatisation of the Labour Party, mooted here and discussed in the post below, may or may not be a joke. What is well past a joke is the need for creative market-based solutions to the problems of the farther left. The way forward has long since been pioneered by two groups at opposite poles of the British Marxist spectrum: the ultra-left RCP became the contrarian, libertarian think-tank spiked, while the right wing of the old CP morphed smoothly into the left-of-centre think-tank Demos. Both are more influential than they ever were as parties: a strong indication that a wealth of untapped talent and assets await the enterprising venture socialist within the crumbling edifices of democratic centralism. A thousand weeds are ready to bloom, just as soon as the walls are knocked down and the roof blown off.
So how could the rest go?
Let's start from the top. The diverse, diminished, but still millions-strong international Communist movement has global brand recognition, and could very well be run as a franchise. Who better placed to do that than the mighty CPC? This is less outlandish than it sounds. In the 1970s, squabbling sects of US Maoists contended for what they quite openly referred to as 'the China franchise' (the losers had to make do with Albania). Meanwhile, China's official Foreign Languages Publishing House even-handedly flooded the market with cheap, excellent translations of the Marxist classics, whose font and print were so easy on the eye as to make reading even Stalin's duller pages tolerable. With China's more general turn to the market, FLPH disposed of its surplus Marxist stock by shipping bales of the stuff to any Communist party that would take the books and pamphlets off its hands for nothing. Local stocks around the world are now dangerously low, and the Chinese Communists could earn some much-needed goodwill on the left by cranking up the presses again, in whatever slack time the FLPH has between production runs of business manuals. As for the supply of baseball caps, flags, T-shirts, ball-point pens and other agitational ephemera, it would merely be a matter of changing the stencils in the sweatshops. If 'Free Tibet' flags can turn out to be Made in China, why not Red ones? With its decades of diplomatic experience and ingrained sympathy for national prickliness, the CPC would be well placed - and could well afford - to take an above-the-battle view of the minor differences among its clients.
Trotskyism presents a knottier problem. The only answer here is in radical restructuring. Trotsky himself was notably better at producing interesting descriptions of reality than at devising practical policies to change it, and the flaw has replicated down the entire clade of his successors. However, the whole point of this exercise is to turn setbacks into opportunities, and here the answer just drops out of a clear statement of the problem: separate the analysis from the actions! The Socialist Workers Party is the obvious case in point. If only the intellectuals who produce International Socialism would concentrate on what they're good at, and the rank-and-filers who sell Socialist Worker and who hand out placards and leaflets did likewise, everything would be fine. It's when the intellectuals try to formulate a policy that they tend to come to grief. Policy formation should therefore be taken out of the hands of the Central Committee and hived off to a think-tank (details below). Having no say in the policy of the paper they sell shouldn't embarrass the sellers, who have no such say at the moment in any case.
OK, so we have our Marxist intellectual book publishers, and our socialist street newspaper sellers. That leaves the little matter of the policy that will inform the papers they sell. How is that to be decided, if not by the intellectuals? Why not the rank and file? We search the blogs of the far left with a sinking feeling. How is it that so many bright, well-informed, intelligent people can bear to either carry the cross of their party's line, or drift into inactivity (disguised, often enough, as left-wing blogging)? Again, a clear statement of the problem provides the answer: turn the army of lefty bloggers into a prediction market! The clearing-house of that market would then determine policy from week to week; and a small automated system, from day to day.
Speaking of predictions and markets, the rigour of Marxist economics spokespeople would be greatly stiffened if they had to put their money where their mouths are. If their salaries were to be linked to the performance of shares bought and sold on the basis of their predictions, many economic crises that have never happened would never have been predicted. Again, there's a real-world precedent for this: in 1987, while more excitable Marxists (and others) were predicting the final crisis, the Communist Party's pension fund did very well by buying shares hand over fist at the bottom of the crash.
To take this further with more detailed suggestions for the smaller groups - to consider, for example, the Scottish Socialist Party's potential as a relationship counselling service - would take us too far into the realms of speculation.