Links 16: Editor's introduction

What alternative to neo-liberalism?

The spreading protests against a "globalisation" that represents the agenda of international big capital reflect, among other things, the discrediting of the ideology of neo-liberalism among ever widening sectors. Its program of privatisation, savage cutbacks to social welfare spending and the unfettered rule of the "free market" is increasingly exposed as having failed to deliver on its promises of improved living standards for the majority. Just the contrary: the sacrifices demanded by neo-liberalism, rather than being a brief prelude to better times, are both permanent and growing.

But the widespread opposition to neo-liberalism is not yet matched by a similar breadth of agreement on what should replace it and how that change can be brought about. In large part, this is due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the regimes of Eastern Europe, which has convinced sections of the left that a gentler, perhaps neo-Keynesian, capitalism is the most that humanity can aspire to for the foreseeable future.

This issue of Links leads with a quite different view, one presented to the February 2000 meeting of the São Pãolo Forum by the Cuban Communist Party. This argues that capitalism is far from having established its ability to endure indefinitely; the contrary view is based on an identification of the international capitalist system with the so-called welfare state that existed in parts of western Europe following World War II. The authors go on to outline economic and social processes that "point towards the historical exhaustion of the capitalist mode of production" and its eventual replacement through "the conscious and organised action of peoples".

Marta Harnecker, the well-known scholar and writer of the Latin American left, takes up a closely related theme in "Making the impossible possible". How, she asks, should the left relate to its traditional goals in an "ultraconservative period" of the "globalisation of poverty" and the seemingly unchallengeable domination of capital?

"The left, if it wants to be that", she writes, "can't define politics as the art of the possible. It has to counterpose to 'realpolitik' a policy that, without ceasing to be realistic and without denying reality, seeks to create the conditions to change that reality."

Doing this, she continues, requires a political organisation that can critically assimilate not mechanically imitate the experiences of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet Union.

In attempting to change reality, the left of course has to confront the attempts of the right to change reality for the worse. One of the most reliable criteria of the status of this struggle between progress and reaction is the condition of women. And, as Kamala Emanuel writes in "Unfinished business: the struggle for abortion rights", it is also the case that "women's reproductive rights are a vital measure of their relative oppression or liberation".

Emanuel goes on to explain the reasons for the central importance of reproductive rights in class society and to outline the course of the recent struggle over women's right to choose abortion.

Issue 15 of Links featured a discussion of internationalism and left organisation. In this issue, the discussion continues in the form of a draft "international left platform" put forward by leaders of the South African Communist Party. This takes up what the authors regard as "the six most important challenges facing the international socialist and progressive people's movements".

Also from South Africa, Dale McKinley writes on the struggle over the political course of the African National Congress government and examines relations within the Alliance the institutionalised political collaboration between the ANC, the Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

McKinley argues that the ANC has largely succeeded in harnessing the SACP and COSATU to its own project of creating a liberal bourgeois democracy and presiding over a non-racial capitalism. Ironically, the pursuit of this goal has involved a restriction of democracy within the Alliance itself.

Two contributions in this issue deal with a topic that has long been debated on the left: the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. In the first, Phil Hearse defends Trotsky's position against the criticism contained in the pamphlet Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution: A Leninist critique. In the second, the pamphlet's author, Doug Lorimer, replies to Hearse's argument.

The discussion of this topic cannot, of course, be contained within a magazine the size of Links. In fact, both articles here are condensed from longer articles, and each author has written a further contribution. Readers who would like to follow the full exchange can obtain Lorimer's pamphlet for A$10.50 and the four complete articles for A$5.50 (both prices include postage) from the Democratic Socialist Party, PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007, Australia.

The book review in this issue is also quite relevant to the theme of left alternatives. David Yaffe examines a new biography of Karl Marx by Guardian columnist Francis Wheen, arguing that it attempts to bury the most important aspect of Marx's life and work: its revolutionary character.

The issue concludes with a brief survey of important events in the progressive movements, including some important upcoming conferences and meetings a sign that alternatives to neo-liberalism are indeed being debated and discussed.