CfP: Special Issue on Strategy | Historical Materialism

Call for papers, deadline 31 January 2022

In 2006, French Marxist theorist Daniel Bensaïd made an urgent plea to reopen the strategic debate within the anti-capitalist Left. Fifteen years later, and after a major capitalist crisis, a series of important movements and also significant defeats of the Left, a pandemic and a new major economic crisis, along with the rise of the far Right and the impeding climate disaster, we are within the contours of a conjuncture where strategic questions seem to be more urgent than ever. If Bensaïd attempted to reopen the strategic debate in a conjuncture marked by the exhaustion of the alterglobalisation and anti-war movements, today we need to reopen it in a situation marked by important social movements which have not had a conclusive political impact

Moreover, one can say than some of the strategic failures and defeats of the Left can be attributed exactly to the lack of a strategic debate that consequently leads to the prevalence of a conceptualisation of left-wing politics that has more to do with populist strategies of electoral politics and the mechanics of political communication rather than the dynamics of social transformation.

The result is an increased tendency to think mainly in terms of tactics, of questions based on everyday challenges, including those posed by the electoral cycle and the immanent antagonisms of the political scene, rather than in terms of the necessary links between everyday struggles and political projects focused on the confrontation with the capitalist relations of exploitation, oppression, and ecological catastrophe. And, even when strategic notions or lines of demarcation are evoked, these are mainly used to support tactical – in the narrowest sense of the term – choices, rather than actual strategies.

This has led to a discussion within large segments of the political Left and radical social movements which tends to oscillate between a full immersion in traditional, bourgeois politics and a sectarian exodus from any confrontation with the actual complexities of political power and potential of the conjuncture.

However, this is not the only aspect of the contemporary debates. There is also an increased interest in more strategic questions. This takes the form of both a return to previous important strategic debates within the working-class movement and an attempt to rethink contemporary movements and challenges in a more strategic manner (from climate change to questions of social reproduction). 

Recent important struggles and movements (from the ‘Arab Spring’ and Occupy! to the Greek or Catalan crises, to Black Lives Matter, to Indigenous movements, to important social uprisings such as the one in Chile in 2019, not forgetting the new dynamics of feminist movements and ecological struggles from Fridays For Future climate strikes to Extinction Rebellion) offer the experiences that can fuel strategic theoretical debates and pose the urgent questions.

Questions of governmental power at national, local and municipal levels also became pertinent, due to the challenges anticapitalist organisations and currents faced, leading to a revival of interest in the strategic debates around the question of political power, from the debates around dual power to the renewed interest in left social-democratic and Eurocommunist theories and controversies. The experiences of SYRIZA in power or of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party also stirred the pot of questions around political power.

The struggles and movements that have erupted over the past years around questions of race, gender and sexuality, reproductive rights, indigenous demands and aspirations, the impending ecological disaster and so on, have also brought forward new questions about the social dynamics that could be transformed into a political movement for social transformation and emancipation, new challenges for the very notion of a politics based on a working-class perspective and an urgent need to rethink programmes and transitional demands (from questions of growth/degrowth and energy transition to questions of reparations, decarceration, abolition of the police etc.).

At the same time, the strategic and organisational crises of important political currents and organisations of the anticapitalist Left point to the need to rethink the questions of organisation and of political practice associated with a strategy for communism. Of particular importance is the way the question of the ‘united front’ has been brought to the fore as we face the challenge to overcome the fragmentation of both movements and anticapitalist organisations but also to connect strategy and tactics.

The new wave of research on the history of revolutionary movements is also an indication of the urgency of strategic debate and the need to revisit the relationship between strategic and tactical questions. From questions about the degree to which the October revolution was actually an example of dual power, to research on how national liberation movements conceived the link between national and social emancipation to the revival of the interest on specific writers from different traditions and past periods of the working-class movement, it is obvious that there not only historical preoccupations involved but also strategic stakes.

The recent renewed interest in these questions, especially from a younger generation of militants, scholars and researchers offers reasons to be more hopeful, but, at the same time, points to the need to open the debate to the fullest extent. Moreover, some of the important contemporary strategic debates are, to a large degree, shaped by national experiences and specific politico-cultural contexts, and this makes necessary an effort to internationalise them, without decontextualising the debates and the specific experiences.

Historical Materialism wants to contribute to this debate by dedicating a special issue to the question of strategy today. To that end, we would like to see contributions dedicated to questions of strategy and, in particular (although not exhaustively), the following questions

  • - What is the meaning of a strategy for communism today and in what sense can contemporary struggles, resistances and aspirations point towards the possibility of radical social transformation? And what actor(s) can be the subject of such a transformation today?
  • - How can we define today the very meaning of a revolutionary process and what forms of democracy can be associated with it?
  • - How can we relate questions of imperialism and anti-imperialist struggle to questions of revolutionary strategy today? How can we relate the debates of revolutionary processes such as those in Tunisia or Egypt to the debates in ‘western’ bourgeois democracies? Does the Global North / Global South divide imply different strategies for emancipation and transformation?
  • - How can we conceive today the possibility of seizing power and what forms can this process take? How are we to conceive forms of popular power or counter power from below? What is the meaning of dual power today and to what extent can it combined with the question of governmental power? What is the meaning of a ‘withering away of the state’ today and to what extent can this be combined with strategic options such as ‘democratic socialism’?
  • - In what sense can the impending ecological disaster act as the catalyst for a rethinking of the necessity of revolutionary change and how can this ecological dimension be an integral aspect of any strategic debate?
  • - The fight against patriarchy is an indispensable aspect of any emancipatory politics as is the centrality of social reproduction, but what implications do they have for any potential revolutionary strategy today?
  • - What does means to think of social transformation as collective experimentation with new social and political configuration and in what sense can contemporary movements be considered experimental sites and learning processes for a strategy for communism? What does this mean for contemporary forms and experiments for self-management, solidarity and mutual aid networks, or the reclaiming of public space?
  • - What could be the starting points of a transitional programme today? What are the crucial demands that can transform the aspirations of movements into political projects for transformation? In what sense can we offer radical alternatives to the dominant ‘growth paradigm’ (including dealing with the dangers and opportunities associated with the growth in contemporary technology) and how do we incorporate the urgent ecological dimension? How can demands around the economy be articulated with demands around race and decolonial struggles, sexuality and gender?
  • - What kinds of organisational forms can help a contemporary revolutionary perspective? What forms of democracy are necessary and in what sense can revolutionary organisations be laboratories for the elaborations of strategies and new forms of mass political intellectuality? Is it possible for them to also be examples of the new social relations and forms that we are struggling for? How are we to think the notion of the ‘united front’ today and what forms can it potentially take?

 

Please send article proposals to historicalmaterialism@soas.ac.uk. Proposals should include the provisional title and an abstract (up to 400 words). Please indicate in the subject of the email that it is for the ‘Strategy CFP’. Deadline is 31 January 2022. Proposals that will be selected will then have to be submitted as full texts by the end of May 2022. All texts will be submitted to a peer-review process.

Posted: 
24/01/2022