A New Politics? Movements, Power and Transformation

Churchard, Adam

Publisher:  Socialist Project
Date Written:  14/05/2018
Year Published:  2018  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX22627

Hilary Wainwright’s latest book, A New Politics from the Left (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press), represents a timely appeal for a democratic, participatory, and bottom-up political transformation.



Role of the State

One point I would like to raise about these examples though, is that they all sought to turn the state into a positive ally. In the remainder of the book, Wainwright argues that to develop ‘power as transformative capacity', the state's 'power as domination' is a necessary condition for its full realization. I agree with Wainwright that state institutions can be used, "where the balance of political power is favourable, to pursue social goals" (p. 76). I think it is important to work to elect left governments that will enable social transformation. That being said, positive transformational change is also possible through a more adversarial approach with state actors. Moreover, sometimes it is necessary.

Not all issues can be won through electoral victory. Moreover, many marginalized communities have distrustful relations with the state (for good reason), and are not interested in producing change through engaging state institutions, but instead wish to emancipate themselves from such systemically oppressive institutions. Movements, instead of "occupying the institutions," may choose rather to confront institutional actors and force institutions to change. I am thinking of movements such as those seeking indigenous sovereignty. I am thinking of groups such as Black Lives Matter, who have sought to transform policing institutions through direct confrontation with those in power. These groups have been able to create positive change without winning government as an ally, but by using the power of their movement to force change. Social movements should not see winning institutions of power as a necessary condition for creating larger social change.

That being said, I do believe in a diversity of strategy, and taking government power where possible. And as I noted at the beginning of this review, the right has been capitalizing on distrust of elites and technocratic politics in order to bring in politicians seeking austerity budgets and police states, which the left has been largely unable to counter.
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