Dreaming of a new left
a new left culture
One of the grand old
traditions the left would do well to leave behind is the sectarian and,
frankly, bad mannered approach to other sections of the left. It’s hard
enough to conduct a decent political debate without additional
unpleasantness and deeply entrenched sectionalism.
I doubt any of us
has a totally ‘clean slate’ but it’s hardly surprising that some SWP
members have been less than enthusiastic about the Socialist Alliance
because, for them, it was the place they’d go to be personally abused
and be expected to swallow with a smile.
In fact, the way
in which we conduct a debate can dictate whether meaningful discussion
is even possible. Due to the level of
baiting it became completely impossible to have a real discussion about
the workers wage and what it signifies. This issue became so bound up
with the attacks upon this anti-imperialist, reformist socialist member
of parliament that many who would have supported the workers wage found
themselves completely unable to do so. If the movement had been giving
support, despite both the real and imagined political differences, it
would have made proper dialogue possible.
If only we were as
vigorous in our attacks upon our enemies as we are upon our potential
We can all of us
find reasons not to unite with any given person – but the over
arching principle of the post-Seattle left has been that of unity.
Whether in the anti-capitalist movement, the left in the unions or
political re-groupments, the entire trend has been a coming together. It
may well be that this period is ending and certainly the establishment
of RESPECT has been difficult to regard as an example of consensus
building and democracy, but that period is not yet dead and it is still
possible for us to make gains.
The recent National
Union of Students elections show a worrying backward step where
Socialist Worker chose to stand a candidate against the only left winger
capable of over turning Labour’s strangle hold on the presidency.
Thankfully Kat Fletcher was able to win despite the divide in the left,
though what their few dozen votes achieved for SWSS God only knows.
The given reasons for standing against Kat Fletcher was that they held a
different position on Israel / Palestine, this would be the most
abstract bit of sectarianism if it were not a pretext. Socialist Worker
members will have no difficulty voting for RESPECT members who have a
different view on this question, nor a left wing candidate in a trade
union election that holds a different view. The real reason is
unfortunately the attempt to retain a hermeneutically sealed
organisation at the expense of the wider movement. Let’s hope the
lessons have been learned from this little episode of grubby
UNITY ACROSS THE BOARD
We need to develop a
more cooperative blend of politics on the left against the prevailing
mood. I think that every socialist, no matter what their affiliation, or
lack of it, can play a part in building a positive and collaborative
culture. Refusing to involve ourselves in progressive movements, no
matter how much room for improvement there is, would be a real mistake.
Where we are
involved in any real campaigning in our area we should seek out
potential allies no matter where they might be. Having a positive
relationship with RESPECT is clearly part of this, and any serious
campaigner cuts themselves off at their peril.
I believe that unity
is the name of the game, not any one particular organisational form that
this may take, and this is the question we have been attempting to
address. How do we achieve greater left unity? Not just of those who
marched against the war, nor simply of the left organisations but
across the board unity.
DIVERSITY IS STRENGTH
There are three
golden rules to building a successful socialist movement in this
country. Unfortunately no one knows what they are. But we can see that
the closed circles and cliques of the old left are not up to the job of
realising the fantastic potential that exists in this current period.
These natural tendencies can be habit forming but let’s break with the
mistakes of the past and take a revolutionary leap into a fresher, more
open collaborative politics.
The diversity that
exists in the movement is a source of strength, not concern. The left
needs to become a more pleasant and interesting place to be. It is not
enough to want to be in the same organisation as other left wingers
whilst conducting a war against them – we should be allies in the
fullest and deepest meaning of the term.
To do this we
should, I think, try to develop a culture where we can explore ideas and
be ourselves without fear of bilious condemnation. This is not
incompatible with being an organised and effective socialist. Axe
grinding is not politics – harping on about the issues that divide us
cannot bring about greater unity, it can only poison the waters.
At the same time
part of a democratic debate is the recognition that we have something to
debate about – we are not of one common mind and often these
differences take organisational forms – that need not bring about
disunity in action, and can prevent a group becoming locked in paralysis
by its internal disputes.
FOR A GOOD VOTE FOR RESPECT
Personally I think
RESPECT made a mistake on the workers wage, republicanism and, Lord help
me, even its name – but should I allow these issues to distract me from
what are the most urgent tasks? Money, members and momentum. A defeat
for RESPECT would be a backward step for us all, and a success will pick
up the pace for everyone on the left – this means all serious socialists
should hope for a good result, no matter how painful we have found the
How could any of
us hope to gain a hearing in a movement where we play a less than
positive, or even disruptive, role? If we are genuinely in favour of
a successful progressive coalition we should do our best practically as
well as politically to making that coalition work. Whilst we cannot
allow political disagreements to obstruct making a valuable contribution
I hope people will not take that to mean I believe our political
differences should remain unobtrusive – it is simply a question of how,
when and why we raise these issues.
Due to the frantic
pace of its development RESPECT has, by necessity, left dirty great
holes where we would wish to see flesh on the bones. Be these questions
of democracy, policy or organisation the best way that we can influence
its future direction is through unconditional involvement today.
The fact that the
French left were able to achieve more than a million votes at the last
elections is an impressive feat we are unlikely to match, but we should
be realistic about what a good vote is lest we only bring people on
board until June 11th when they see a respectable vote as a
total, crushing defeat.
BUT WHAT IS A GOOD VOTE?
My assessment of
this is that if we have anyone at all elected that will be an
achievement that was not on the cards five years ago. For the first time
in my life I regret not living in
because to work for a candidate like Lindsey German, who both can and
should get a seat, would be a real incentive to hard graft and that
dreaded word enthusiasm.
If we got 3% (Nader’s
share of the vote at the US presidential elections) this would be a good
result. 3% of an entire country, not simply our strong holds, would be
A swath of under 2%
votes and being seen to lose a sitting Green MEP their seat would be a
bad defeat and, in all honesty, RESPECT will have to work hard to avoid
that, but avoid it we can.
But however large
the job in the run up to the June elections it is an ongoing progressive
organisation that we need, that can fill the gap that used to be
occupied by Labour which can fight on the ground in the estates all over
the country. A mass national organisation can only be made up of
hundreds of local groups who have gained respect in their town over the
victories and principled stands that they have made – it cannot be
built with a very efficient press organisation and national
The former has the
added advantage of requiring any progressive bloc to remember why we are
standing in the election in the first place, and quite a number of
people are becoming worried that this is exactly what we are beginning
FOR A SOCIALIST LOVE IN
We do need to bring
about a balance between vigorous political debate and unified action.
There are stubborn tendencies in all of us that swing all of one way or
the other. Either “the task is action so shut up now” or becoming
completely paralysed and bogged down in our disagreements due to a
purely polemical style of political activity.