Help or Hinderance?
The largest split on the left for some time has been between democratic socialists and social democrats. This remains true today in Europe according to Robert Taylor : "The current crisis of mainstream social democracy is in part due to the surprising tenacity and advance of more radical movements to it's left." He goes on to cite the success of Die Linke, the Norwegian Socialist Left Party,Dutch socialists, Danish Socialist Peoples party and the new Anti-Capitalist Party of France, all capitalizing on the failed compromises of Labor Parties while invigorating young activists and the disenchanted. These parties must negotiate in a parliamentary environment where coalition building is key so that anti-capitalist theory is coupled with defending the gains of social democracy from it's heyday such as health, education and pension systems.
Social democrats, on the other hand, often accuse their more idealistic brethren of undermining their goals by using off-putting anti-capitalist rhetoric. An example would be Sweden's Social Democratic party which insists the future lay THROUGH capitalism rather than BEYOND it. This would be the difference between figures like Karl Kautsky,and Michael Harrington on the one hand, and Eduard Bernstein or Norman Thomas, on the other. In starker terms this might be called the Reform or Revolution split. Social democrats insist capitalism does not face a "terminal crisis", that it is more resilient than Marx foretold, and that tangible gains for workers is the real task, an accommodation based on unions and populist parties with progressive agendas. All my progressive friends say using the "C" word only hinders their organizing efforts and the "S" word is totally discredited due to historic failures.
A couple of questions come to mind. First,does the social democrats claim that "the intransigence of radicals hurts their movement" hold any water?
Second, does the current crisis change this equation in any way?
I suppose a third consideration would be the differences between the European parliamentary system and the American two-party system. A party like Die Linke could reasonably claim that it's efforts toward reform is combined with a vision of radical structural transformation. This does not open them to being crushed by the right-wing. Of course Germans, unlike Americans, are a reasonably intelligent people who understand that saying capitalism has served it's purpose and must be transcended does not translate into Stalinism.
Coming back to America,my answer to the first question is No. This is a red herring. Progressives have lost because they don't understand the nature of power and believe the political, through the state, can check the economic. They don't understand the role of hegemony in cultural reproduction of capitalist ideology. And they don't understand how globalism has changed the terrain, that Roosevelt and Keynes are not coming back, not even war brings prosperity any more.
To the second question I say Yes. This crisis is a confluence of crises,forcing a confrontation with the stark limits capitalism has till now, but can no longer, shove off into the future. The crisis of sustainability, of inequality, of meaning, and of declining profits all fly in the face of social democratic assumptions. It is actually they who stand in the way of a brighter future with their false "pragmatism".