Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Leftovers #2

Posted by Left Luggage on April 13, 2009

The second in our weekly round-ups examines some recent developments that suggest there is a renewed interest in engaging in a reassessment of strategies for the left, along with some forecasts of political radicalisation during this recession.

This seems to be an unusually fruitful time for discussion of strategy on the left. There have been a range of new initiatives launched in recent weeks alongside wide-ranging debate about the way forward. Some of this came in reaction to the G20 protests, but more generally is product of economic crisis and its potential to reconfigure the political scene.

We begin with Red Pepper, which examines the potential for resistance to government policies that aim to “[sit] out the social consequences of the recession.” The article, written by the editors, acknowledges the need for political organisation “to be connected to social forces rooted in the struggles of daily life against oppression and injustice”, in other words “engaged with the day-to-day disaffection in working class communities”. The magazine suggests a new political direction for trade unions, and is calling on activists to share their experiences of resistance and alternatives to further this debate.

In another article on the same site, Ben Lear discusses this year’s numerous international summits and the “counter-summit mobilisations” that will inevitably follow, questioning the efficacy of these “mega-spectacles”.

The factory occupations in Belfast, and Enfield, north London, have received widespread coverage and support. The Independent Working Class Association suggests this “local and community-focused” resistance could be the future of protest against a discredited economic and political system. Richard Seymour, of the of the Lenin’s Tomb blog, while reviewing attempts to fix the neoliberal economic system, acknowledges the left is “historically weak” but suggests “we are in for a protracted period of crisis, and struggle, in which objective factors will have exaggerated importance.”

David Osler also examines the factory occupations in a blog post, and makes a number of interesting points. Firstly, he cautions about the left’s tendency to trumpet any “minute uptick in working class activity as evidence of a ‘new mood’”. He also suggests that, unlike in previous decades, the process is “not being refracted through the official structures of the Labour movement”. Yet, as he points out, the radicalism that is emerging will inevitably find political expression in some form and it is by no means clear that “Britain’s disorganised and dishevelled far left is up to the job”, warning of increasing electoral support for the British National Party.

The Morning Star highlights two recent political initiatives it argues could “open up new perspectives for left at labour movement advance in Britain”. In discussing the potential of the People’s Charter, Robert Griffiths points out that “the traditional vocabulary of the left is not always the most effective language with which to address millions of workers and their families”. He goes on to say that “very few people in Britain today believe that ‘socialism’ is the answer or even understand what socialism is or could be.” Something that sheds an interesting, tangental, light on this is a poll this wek of adults in the US that showed only 53% of Americans believe capitalism is better than socialism.

Griffiths, also highlights the No2EU – Yes to Democracy electoral platform, which has so far won the support of the RMT union, and numerous left-wing groups. He suggests this platform “should not be seen as the mass electoral alternative to Labour at the next general election, but has an important stream feeding into a resurgent left and labour movement.”

Another online development that suggests there is a renewed interest in approaching the fundamental challenges facing the left i.e. a reassessment of strategy and revitalisation, is PPS-UK, the Project for a Participatory Society. This initiative, linked to the American website ZNet and basing its ideas on those of Z’s founder, Michael Albert, urges a “radical rethink of our vision and strategy” and an “honest assessment and examination of our history in the hope that something better may develop out of the process.” According to the site, there are chapters established in Cardiff, London, Birmingham, and the East Midlands. This site contains some interesting points about how the left operates and it will be interesting to see what comes of this initiative.

2 Responses to “Leftovers #2”

  1. Mat said

    Again another interesting article… On the face of it, it is gratifying to see the “left” finally appearing to at least partly realise that we have become entirely disconnected from the working class.

    But, when we look closely at the Red Pepper and Morning Star articles we see what is either a lack of understanding of the nature of the established and existing social structures that are historically part of the workers or progressive movements, or a desire to actually promote those structures – and simply convince the calcified leaderships, or factions “on the left” of those leaderships, or wannabe leaderships to shift in the direction we are looking.

    The Red Pepper article says;

    “Trade unions will clearly be central to any new configuration of social forces underpinning a new politics. But they will play a different, more intrinsically political role, requiring a wider range of allies. This is partly a result of the transformation of labour, as the mobility of capital and deregulation has enabled employers to break up union organisation, casualise the labour market and use new technologies to intensify exploitation. This process has led people to create new, including global, forms of organisation, new allies beyond the workplace and new strategic thinking.”

    All well and good. But, do they like the Morning Star, and the likes of the SWP think that the best way to reorient the unions is through appeals to left leaning bureaucrats? They don’t make this clear, and that seems worryingly vague to me – Yes unions are absolutely essential to working class organisation, as are community groups, but we need to be organising on a rank and file basis, frankly the national leaderships of most unions are unwilling and unable to develop coherent strategies for building working class militant self organisation. However at a grassroots level, it is possible and should be a natural part of organising at work and in our neighbourhoods.

    A strategy that can work, has to be based around solid work on the ground over a period of time, building and rebuilding progressive and militant working class organisations, from residents and tenent’s groups to decent unions, and campaign groups. Once we can see real rooted groups starting to appear we can talk about linking them up in a more formal (maybe federal) manner, but that is a ways off yet.

    Some union leaders will no doubt genuinely support such intiatives, and others will want to help to build their credibility if we start to grow, and that is all well and good as long as we accept such help on our own terms – but targetting them, actually as a strategy (especially at the begining) is frankly going to lead us back up a deadend.

    Likewise organising to reclaim the Labour Party, or to build a Labour Party mark II, sorry but that is never going to happen – the fact is most working class people have seen well past Labour, and the union bureaucracies, and are looking for something else entirely, as the support for the BNP shows.

    I could go on but I’ll leave it there, check these links out though the websites aren’t great quality but this group has been doing this for awhile, and is starting to see it bare fruit.



  2. Thanks for your comment, Mat.

    The articles from Red Pepper and Morning Star both flag up the fact that there is an unusual amount of strategic discussion taking place on the Left at the moment. This in itself is significant; it could lead to a genuine recognition of the current state of play and the Left’s historic weakness and strategic errors. However, diagnosing the problem does not inevitably lead to prescribing an effective solution.

    You have a good point regarding the Morning Star article. On the People’s Charter, they say: “More disturbing, and much more baffling, is the reluctance so far of some trade union leaders to join it”, and it talks about “labour movement figures”, as if these are the key people to bring on board. In many ways, regarding resources, financing, and the ability to reach members, this is probably true, but it does possibly betray an unhealthy focus of attention on union leaderships.

    They also say: “A reinvigorated popular movement around left and progressive demands would, on the other hand, at least give the Labour Party the opportunity to respond positively to a more positive mood.” While it is unclear precisely what this means, I think we would agree that the lack of a “positive mood” has not been the primary reason for Labour’s failure to represent the interests of working clas people or, indeed, to follow policies such as those demanded by the People’s Charter.

    The Red Pepper article is a little less clear in this respect; their attitude regarding union leaderships is left unsaid. Although to be fair they do lay empahsis on “engag[ing] with the day-to-day disaffection in working class communities”, which I think gives some indication of their thinking. However, I do remember well the fanfare over the so-called “awkward squad” of union leaders a few years ago that was trumpted in both Red Pepper and by the SWP and others. Well, we all know how awkward to Labour the likes of Billy Hayes and Tony Woodley turned out to be!

    The fact that the editors still hold out the possibility of Labour (plus the Greens and the nationalists) providing “an effective instrument of social change, a political organisation of the left” is worrying. But this doesn’t square with many other aspects of the article, so I think a certain amount of confusion (and openness – it is, after all, an article meant to kick off a debate) is detectable here.

    Thanks for the links. We’re familiar with Haringey Solidarity Group, and will take a look at the other one.

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