Even if Labour manages to tie up a coalition deal with fellow right wing party New Zealand First, it will be little more than a changing of the guards protecting the interests of 'the market'. The limitations of Labour's politics reminds us of Rosa Luxemburg's observation that "there can be no socialist movement without the socialist aim."

AS I HAVE WATCHED, somewhat disinterestedly I must admit, the Labour Party try to tie up a coalition deal with  New Zealand First, I have also found myself reflecting on Rosa Luxemburg's classic Reform or Revolution, written in 1915. I can confidently say that Reform or Revolution will not be mentioned by any of The Commentariat anytime soon. But sometimes it is worth taking the long view.

Rosa was only in her mid-20s when she wrote what was to become a classic text of the socialist tradition. It was her withering response to Evolutionary Socialism by Eduard Bernstein, published in 1898.

Bernstein argued that capitalism had fundamentally changed since Karl Marx had put it under the knife. He argued that capitalism had reached a new level of stability that meant class struggle was an anachronism and no longer relevant. As a consequence the focus should not be on revolutionary struggles but on the mechanics of winning elections. It was a rejection of Marxism and a promotion of parliamentary politics.

But Bernstein's supposed 'realism' and 'pragmatism' was dressed up as an alternative path to socialism. Capitalism could be calmly and methodically reformed out of existence. There was no need for revolution.

Bernstein even went as far as to say that : "What is usually termed the final goal of socialism is nothing to me, the movement is everything.” By this he meant that there was little benefit in concentrating on some final and abstract goal - better to concentrate on the immediate issues in the here and now.

But it was Rosa Luxemburg who completely demolished Bernstein's argument for reformism or 'evolutionary socialism'. She wrote that temporary and superficial changes to the economy did not constitute a fundamental break with the past. She said, colourfully, that you could not choose between reform and revolution as if you were choosing "different sausages from the buffet of history."

Rosa teased out the fundamentally anti-socialist character of Bernstein's work:

"Bernstein thus travels in a logical sequence from A to Z. He began by abandoning the final aim in favour of the movement. But as there can be no socialist movement without the socialist aim, he necessarily ends by renouncing the movement itself.

Thus Bernstein's conception of socialism collapses entirely."

But it was Bernstein's erroneous politics that laid down the theoretical framework for social democratic parties like the New Zealand  Labour Party. Labour not only contented itself with trying to ameliorate the worst excesses of capitalism - which was even described as 'socialism' - it eventually became the political vehicle for the poisonous ideology of neoliberalism.

In 2017 the Labour Party remains committed to the priorities and interests of 'the market', reminding us again of Rosa Luxemburg's view, written over a century ago:

"Those who declare themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal."

For those of depressed and disillusioned by the prospect of yet another right wing government, led by either National or Labour, it is worth remembering that it is not about taking power now. Rosa Luxemburg reminds us that revolution takes time.They are not formed "from above" but from the "“consciousness of the masses.”

And while there will be some  who will try to rationalise and excuse the behaviour of the Labour Party - and even try to cloak their rhetoric in the garb of 'progressive politics" - Rosa Luxemburg also reminds us that if we compromise, we extinguish hope.

All this is worth bearing in mind as we watch the new episode of what Marx described as "parliamentary cretinism".


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