Between the winter issue of Catalyst and this one, the world has changed. The pandemic unleashed by the coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill, sending the global economy into a tailspin. It has also revealed, more starkly than any recent event, how deeply interdependent our lives are. It is impossible to imagine a more striking refutation of Margaret Thatcher’s insistence that “society” is merely an agglomeration of individuals. It is, as Marxists have always insisted, a dense web of social relations that both constrain and enable the individuals embedded in it. And the particular social relations typical of capitalism have placed billions of us in a state of precariousness that the pandemic, and the economic collapse triggered by it, have made all too apparent. It’s even more important that we explore alternative arrangements — models of society that might encourage forms of interdependence that enable individual flourishing.
In this issue, we take on the issue of social transformation: a concrete proposal for socialism, a diagnosis of a radical experiment in peril, and the story of a scholar dedicated to exploring the rise of, and challenges to, capitalism. In the opening essay, John Roemer updates and revises his model of market socialism, initially proposed a quarter century ago in his 1994 book A Future for Socialism. While there are changes in the institutional setup in comparison to his earlier approach, what is more novel is a shift in the model’s behavioral assumptions. Whereas agents in the earlier work were competitive individualists, Roemer now examines the macro logic of allowing that agents might operate with a more cooperative orientation.
His proposal for a future socialism in this issue is complemented by a sober diagnosis of a current experiment that has spiraled into crisis. Nicole Fabricant and Bret Gustafson analyze the events leading to the ouster of Evo Morales in Bolivia, which has brought to an ignominious end a once-inspiring radical agenda. They note that, whatever his personal shortcomings might have been, Morales’s chief weakness was his inability to recognize and engage the structural constraints on his experiment. This essay offers an excellent rejoinder to the sweeping analysis of the Pink Tide by René Rojas in Catalyst’s summer 2018 issue.
Two essays take on the question of class in our time. Leo Panitch rightly observes that while Marxist theory is anchored in a structural account of class, the challenge of understanding class formation is as pressing as ever, especially the boundary between working class and middle-class formation. His essay is a clarion call for socialists to advance theory in tandem with the practice of negotiating the relation between these classes. Bryan Palmer presents a deeply sympathetic yet critical essay on Eric Hobsbawm, one of the great historians of the twentieth century. By way of a review of Richard J. Evans’s massive biography of the man, Palmer deftly relates Hobsbawm’s awesome scholarly production to his lifelong commitment to socialism and immersion in the British left. And finally, David B. Feldman engages Suzy Lee’s argument for an open borders labor strategy, expressing great sympathy for Lee’s position while contesting her concrete proposals. Lee responds by agreeing that the present moment presents great challenges, but she nonetheless defends the essentials of her viewpoint.