As I said in my post 'Strange Days' New Zealand mainstream politics is characterised by a consensus about neoliberalism. Despite its abject failure, all our parliamentary parties act and make policy on the assumption that there is no economic alternative.
Despite the biggest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, there has been no rise in the political fortunes of socialist forces in the West - although this is not the case, of course, in the 'emerging' nations' of Venezuela and Bolivia.
When the socialist argument should be pressing on the discredited ideology of neoliberalism , we find that socialist forces are , in practical terms , perhaps more marginalised now than at any time during the last 150 years.
Socialism's political rival - social democracy - is now a spent force.
The reformist project of social democracy has exhausted itself. It began with the misguided idea that it could somehow 'reform' socialism into existence, then it retreated to a position of reforms within capitalism and then, finally, embraced neoliberalism.
And so, here in New Zealand, we now have a Labour leader and a party that has rejected its own social democratic history as 'irrelevant' and now regards itself merely as a manager of the market economy - the best economic system we can hope for, according to Phil Goff.
The class struggle is something Labour has tried to sweep under the carpet in favour of short term electoral gains and the career advancement of its MPs.
Unfortunately its a position that has been adopted by MPs in other parliamentary parties that some thought were on our side.
Some of us though still retain hold a vision of socialism that rests on the transformation of capitalism through the mobilisation of the working class. But our cause has not been helped by a Labour Party that, over a long period of time, has done much to discredit socialism and virtually rendered the term meaningless.
I'm sure many of us have had the misfortune to meet a Labour Party supporter or member who claims to be 'socialist' yet, at the same time supports the neoliberal policies of this increasingly absurd party.
Labour apologists like Chris Trotter have tried to reconcile this hopeless contradiction but seem to think that simply replacing Goff is some kind of cure all. This is a forlorn and disastrous political position to take, especially with the likes of Annette King, David Cunliffe and, a little behind them, 'business friendly' Andrew Little standing in the wings.
For socialists its very difficult to have a meaningful and productive discussion about socialist ideas. A lot of the time we are forced into batting off, for the umpteenth time, the hoary old prejudices and lies that are thrown at us. You know the type of thing: 'socialism didn't work in the former Soviet Union', 'Marxism is an irrelevant historical oddity', 'the working class no longer exists', 'socialists all have big bushy beards and no fashion sense.'
In particular the idea that socialism has been a complete failure has perhaps been the most damaging charge thrown at the genuine socialist.
Socialism has come to mean a lot of different things over the past 150 years.
US socialist Hal Draper clarified the arguments about what we mean by socialism by distinguishing between ideas of socialism from below and from above.
Socialism from above is associated with increased state and party control over the society in the name of the people, while socialism from below is based on the collective and democratic seizure of power by the mass of the working class with their own hands.
Much of the failure of socialism' is associated with the 'socialism from above' strategies that sought to use state power to moderate the impact of capitalism on the population and/or run the economy directly. This was true of the one-party Stalinist forms of rule associated with the Soviet bloc and Maoist China as well as with the social democratic parties in the West.
The neoliberal restructuring of capitalism since the late 1970s has specifically squeezed out the space for certain forms of state regulation of the economy associated with the welfare state, the imposition of conditions on corporations and the nationalisation of property. there can be no return to the post-war Keynesian economic consensus.
The socialist Left the world over is essentially in limbo today, living through a period of intense political disorientation after 30 years of marauding neoliberalism, which has been aided and abetted by the social democratic parties like Labour and its trade union allies.
Periods of retreat are especially difficult for the radical Left. It feels as if we are in some state of political stasis. When people find it daunting to make even modest improvements in their lives, thoughts of a radical socialist transformation of society appear to be wildly utopian and sadly misguided. This is the argument you will often hear from Labour Party supporters. But these 'enlightened' people have proven themselves to be weak defenders of the reforms that have actually helped working people.
While some introspection is necessary it can also lead to paralysis by analysis. While we want to avoid mindless activism we also do not want to see socialist politics simply become a debating issue in comfortable university forums and pub talk shops.
To stay to the left means adopting a politics of sober senses,' to borrow a phrase from Karl Marx. It means persisting with the struggle for a better world while acknowledging the odds are presently against us. It requires openly acknowledging that the whole socialist project has been thrown into question by events of the last thirty years or so.
And yet, important sources of socialist opposition to capitalism persist. These include capital’s intense exploitation and oppression of the majority of the world's inhabitants; powerful and inspiring movements of resistance to these realities ( eg Venezuela); dreams and struggles that point toward a fundamentally different future.
Because of these realities, socialist politics will not disappear, however marginalised they may become. And, of course, new groups will eventually emerge.
For such groups I think there are three important tasks that will have to be addressed.
First, socialist groups must figure out how to contribute to significant struggles of resistance, so as to nurture opposition and build people’s capacities to change society
Secondly, they must develop ways of keeping the socialist dream – the radical vision of a democratic and egalitarian society – alive and relevant to people seeking alternatives. While we draw lessons and inspiration from the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Gramsci the language of socialism often, perhaps most of the time even, appears alien and remote to ordinary people. I think we need to develop our own culture of action and theory - our own culture of dissent, if you like.
And, finally, they must seek out ways to organize themselves as democratic organisations based on activism and socialist education.
If we are to renew socialism for these difficult times, we cannot be bound by the versions of socialist organizing that emerged through the 20th century but nor can we casually dismiss the experience of 150 years of struggle for freedom.
As long as a small minority continues to have dictatorship over the key productive resources in society, democracy and equality will be limited and formal. We have no real democratic control over what is produced, how it is produced, how work is distributed or how knowledge is disseminated. Further, citizenship is necessarily exclusionary, granting limited rights to some while stripping others of any rights.
As long as this is our reality then there will remain a world to win.