Fifteen years after the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in Europe, and following an equally dramatic – even if more gradual – turnaround in China, the global Left still lacks strong organizational expression of any kind. Its most characteristic face is the now fiveyear- old tradition of the World Social Forum. As a vast umbrella of progressive movements, the WSF signals new levels of commitment and of international awareness. But actual victories still emerge only sporadically, in most cases one country at a time, and in the face of the relentless and unabashed rollback-threats that constitute Washington’s “War on Terror.”
Under these conditions, we find it useful on the one hand to continually refresh our basic understanding of capitalism and socialism (with special emphasis on actual performance) and, on the other, to encourage wide-ranging discussion of new approaches to movementbuilding. This issue of Socialism and Democracy features a special section on Left strategies, but we preface that discussion with a set of articles that remind us of the context of achievements and failures within which those strategies must be worked out.
In the face of commercial media and a mainstream political consensus that treat as axiomatic a totally negative view of 20th-century socialism, it is important to insist on a more nuanced understanding. Both Hans Aage and Peter Roman offer evidence to help right the balance, while Jonah Raskin recalls for us a period in which, even in the United States, the idea of socialism found wide resonance. Aage’s article is a comprehensive critique of the methods used by mainstream economists to exaggerate the shortfalls of “actually existing socialism” and to downplay those of capitalist restoration. Roman, in his firsthand study of the Cuban legislative process, offers an indispensable corrective to the media-imposed assumption that that country’s revolutionary government lacks democratic credentials. Raskin, finally, shows us, in the person of Jack London, a figure who, despite his flaws, helped give the socialist idea a place in North American popular culture.
Our “Symposium on Left Strategies” is, we hope, only a first step in a much fuller discussion. Much of the symposium reflects the immediate aftermath of the 2004 US elections, and we are well ware of gaps in its overall scope. Despite this limitation, however, it offers a wide range of approaches, making no attempt to avoid possible disagreements and incompatibilities (whether among the authors or between some of us and any given author). Taken together, we feel that the articles make an important contribution to a collective rethinking that is needed as the Left adapts to the heightened challenge posed for it – whether inside or outside the United States – by the new levels of interventionism, illegality, and repression emanating from Washington.