Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Leftovers #3

Posted by Left Luggage on April 20, 2009

We’ve had an eye of the US this week, following some remarkable poll results from across the pond and the publication of three of our articles on American websites. Our pieces on crime, the unions and strategy for the Left all went down well in the States, at a time when socialism appears to be creeping back onto the mainstream American agenda. We reported last week that only 53% of the adult population in the US prefer capitalism to socialism according to a Rasmussen poll (among under-30s support for capitalism and socialism was evenly split at 37% to 33%).

How should the Left take advantage of this promising situation? Liberal US magazine The Nation addressed exactly that question by launching a discussion last month on the way forward for socialism. Under the heading, “Reimagining socialism”, a range of leftwing commentators from around the world offered their views on the best strategy for the American Left. One positive aspect of the discussion was the way many authors stressed the need to focus on values and vision. Michael Albert’s contribution was a good example of this.

Perhaps predictably, most of the authors failed to identify the working class as the agent of social change, so there were few detailed prescriptions for how to build working class self-organisation. Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr. recommended that socialists try to build on “the social movements that are battling injustice every day” and argued that “we have to build organizations, including explicitly socialist ones, that can[…] develop leadership and advance local struggles.” Red Pepper’s Hilary Wainwright pointed to what she saw as encouraging developments: “traditional actors, most notably a minority of trade unions, showing a capacity to play a new and intrinsically political role, taking responsibility with others for alternative policies and becoming allies with social movements and communities.”

Back in the UK, discussions on whether the recession will lead to progressive change continued on the Guardian’s Comment is Free. Imran Khan focused on the need for a “vast expansion of human democracy into the social and the economic spheres of life”, but neglected to mention how such an expansion might be brought about.

There was discussion of tactics and strategy elsewhere, however. A lengthy piece in The Commune looks back on the G20 protests and asks “why, like all anti-establishment protests nowadays, does the heat of the moment not translate into a lasting political movement?” The author pins the blame for this on the lack of a clear and coherent political programme among the Left as well as the weak and unorganised nature of the British working class.

This latter problem is addressed in a lengthy article in International Socialism, the journal of the Socialist Workers’ party. The SWP is generally highly optimistic about the state of the class struggle and the prospects for revolution, but in this piece on the trade unions in Britain, the party’s industrial organiser Charlie Kimber is frank about the situation facing socialists:

Rank and file organisation is far weaker now than in the 1970s. Then networks of stewards had some capacity to organise activity independent of the officials, hold national conferences and coordinate solidarity. But the defeats of the 1980s and 1990s, the wave of closures in the most militant industries, the mass redundancies, the very low level of struggle, and the weakening of a socialist culture took a terrible toll on the militants in the factories and the offices.

Kimber paints a silver lining around this cloud by pointing to several recent strikes – including the ongoing industrial action by London bus drivers – which he suggests might be part of an upsurge in industrial militancy. Socialists must capitalise on any increase in trade union activism and build rank and file networks through “political trade unionism”, Kimber argues. Is “political trade unionism” merely shorthand for pushing new union militants to join the SWP? We invite readers to decide for themselves after reading the article.

One important political intervention by trade unions in Britain is No2EU – a leftwing electoral platform set up by the RMT to contest this summer’s European elections. There’s been a mixed response on the Left to the initiative so far, with some arguing that a leftwing anti-EU vehicle is long overdue and others labelling the group reactionary. The Commune puts itself firmly in the latter camp with a very critical article this week. Allegations include a lack of internal democracy, strategic errors and short-termism, but the most vehement attack is on the group’s “nationalism”:

The No2EU leaflet complains about “social dumping” which refers to foreign workers coming to Britain for jobs. This is a disgraceful, reactionary statement. It is one thing to talk about defeating the BNP and UKIP in the European elections but surely not by stealing their political clothes! Workers of the world unite does not just mean British workers; it means the fight for equal wages, rights and conditions for all workers wherever they live – and not to be divided by the capitalists and played off one against the other.

We hope to publish an article on the relationship between the Left and immigration policy in the near future, and also have a feature on No2EU in the pipeline. Meanwhile, we’re interested in hearing peoples’ views on No2EU as well as immigration. Drop us a line or write a comment.

It looks increasingly likely that the BNP will come close to picking up a seat in the Euro elections, following some good results for the party in recent council by-elections. The long running debate over how best to address the rise of fascism continues over at the relatively new blog Vengeance and Fashion. The article savages Searchlight’s “Hope not Hate” campaign and the SWP-led Unite Against Fascism for defending the status quo, failing to offer an alternative to the BNP and ignoring the legitimate concerns of local people. The writer prefers “grassroots local campaigns, which generally have better politics, and certainly have a greater awareness of the nature of BNP support in their areas, and how best to separate the hard-core proper fascists from the soft racists and the disgruntled.”

Broad fronts may be the wrong tactic for anti-BNP campaigns, but they have been useful for Defend Council Housing, according to a Red Pepper article this week. The article highlights how DCH has worked with parties, unions and tenants’ groups to oppose privatisation. An important part of their strategy is the positive focus on a clear “fourth option” beyond the three forms of privatisation offered by councils. DCH has pushed this option by working through tenant activists, and has achieved some real victories.

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One Response to “Leftovers #3”

  1. Thanks for the mention. I would agree with you about Defend Council Housing, an exemplery campaign.

    My views on No2EU would be mixed. I am heartened by the entry into electoral politics of a good, left, trade union, but have serious doubts whether the approach taken, and the programme in particular, is adequate as the basis for any new organisation or undercutting the BNP vote in the Euro elections.

    I think any initiative coming out of the unions has to be thoroughly and dogmatically democratic, and there’s an awful whiff of this being cooked up without even the most basic consulatation with RMT members.

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