Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Losing the battle of ideas

Posted by Left Luggage on May 26, 2009

There is always a battle of ideas going on in society and it is not an exaggeration to say that the Left has been consistently losing this battle for most of the last thirty years.

Given this fact, the lack of critical self-examination on the Left is truly startling. There seems little recognition even that we are marginalized and should be on the defensive, trying to rebuild our force, ideas and strategies. Instead, much of the Left too often engages in self-delusional triumphalism, trumpeting a minor uplift in militancy as the beginning of a tidal wave of radicalism.

So in what is largely a vacuum as far as serious strategic analysis is concerned, John Wight’s recent post on the Socialist Unity blog is welcome. He argues the Left is losing the battle of ideas to the Right and radically needs to rethink its strategies. He points to the “wave of patriotism” stimulated by Joanna Lumley’s Gurkha campaign, the furore over the increase in the top rate of tax, the disarray of far-left electoral platforms, the sectarianism of the Left, and the failure of trade unionists to mount a militant response to the economic crisis.

This is a welcome piece of self-examination by a Left activist. We would not agree with all the conclusions, especially his thoughts regarding the prospect for Labour after the forthcoming general election and the notion that it could take a major shift to the Left and get into bed with Respect:

Attempts to move the Labour Party left from within have thus far lacked any real focus or coherence and remain at a nascent stage of disparate meetings and conferences. It will take Labour’s defeat at the next general election to provide the catalyst for the shake up within the ranks of Labour that could spell the death of the New Labour and a turn to the left. If such a change in trajectory were to occur, the ramifications for Respect could be significant, not to mention interesting.

But we can agree with his conclusion. He argues that unless the Left now engages in a spell of critical reflection and rethinking of its strategies, as consistently advocated on Left Luggage. If it does not, it can only look forward to a longer spell in the doldrums:

The rebuilding of an ideological and political alternative to free market capitalism and the racism and reaction which it has spawned will take some time. The key question will be whether we are able to learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward on solid foundations.

This is the challenge facing a Left which has been missing in (in)action during a period of great economic and political crisis, a time when the central tenets of the ruling ideology have been open to question in an unprecedented way. We have to make sure we are present in future.

10 Responses to “Losing the battle of ideas”

  1. Bob Morris said

    The Left needs to reinvent itself. Everyone else does. the Left hasn’t, yet. It needs to.

  2. Alderson Warm-Fork said

    Random question: what does the Left Luggage think of Parecon?

  3. […] Left Luggage There is always a battle of ideas going on in society and it is not an exaggeration to say that the Left has been consistently losing this battle for most of the last thirty years. […]

  4. […] Union and the BNP are in the news a lot right now. And many lefties are worried that the left is ‘losing the battle of ideas‘, or in general stumbling around with its pants around its ankles. In the spirit of […]

  5. A vote for the BNP is not a protest vote … it’s a vote for fascism

    The BNP is the most successful fascist/nationalistic organisation in the United kingdom’s history. How should we confront this threat?

    The British national party led by its current leader Nick Griffin are the most successful fascist group this country has ever known. As of today it has around 50 odd county/borough/parish councillors in town halls in places like Burnley, Stoke on trent etc. It has around 10,000 members though only a few thousand are politically active. It also has an elected GLA member in London Richard barnbrook, and are possibly on the verge of winning seats in the European elections. Compare this with the old National front of the 1970’s/1980’s it is easy to see why they are easily the most successful fascist party in britain ever. The reasons for this are varied but include:

    The Tory party move to the centre of british politics especialy under Cameron

    The Labour party utter contempt for the Working Class especially the white working class.

    The improvement in the BNP organisation and image

    The utter complacent attitude of the media

    The Left and anarchist being in utter denial

    Lack of credible fascist rivals

    Political climate regarding concerns over imigration, asylum seekers, terrorism
    A vote for the BNP is not a protest vote … it’s a vote for fascism

    So what should we do and not do?

    Give the appaling situation that anti fascists find themselves in it would be advisable if the left/anarchist drop the nazi stereotyping of the BNP. The BNP is not in whole a Nazi party it is a postmodern fascist party. The BNP have jewish people in the party for a start plus they dont wear swastikas and jack boots regardless of what certain individuals in that party do in private and may still think in private. Fascism is a mutating ideology and we have to recognise that they have changed in that respect.

    We need to take the BNP seriously and not keep assuming that they will fade away and then the left will have its time, aka 1933 germany.

    We also need to exploit the tensions that undoubtedly exist in the BNP between the postmodern fascists and the rump nuckleheads who still hang on in there.

    We need to exploit the tensions between those who still believe in the streets approach to building the BNP and those who wish to focus on electoral methods

    We need to focus on the BNP’s populist and contradictory message. As it tries to build the coalition of the white working class, the Tory middle class and petit bourgeoisie, those contradictions will emerge even more clearly. Like all fascists they will find it hard to reconcile policies which please both classes.

    We also need to reject any co-operation with the Searchlight magazine a magazine with dubious links to the state. Any co-operation with them is not in the interests of the left/anarchists in general despite its appearance as an anti fascist magazine. The left does not require help from the british state to defeat fascism. Indeed the state regard the left and the right as essentially the same.

    Finally opposition to fascism is not enough we need to outline a new vision of how society should look based on decentralisation and enpowering working class communities written of by the chattering PC middle classes and the rotten stinking Labour party.

    The BNP is growing and spreading its poisonous message. The current tactics on how to deal with them are clearly not working. We need new Militant ideas such as ANTIFA not picnics in the park with dolly mixtures and fizzy pop and listening to Middle Class Wankers like pete doherty. Some of the ideas outlined above have a better chance of suceeding than the UAF strategy of picnics in the park. The situation is serious and there are no easy answers to this problem but we need to do something urgently before it is too late.

    We would like to remind those supporters of Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems in their hasty condemnation of supporters of the BNP that THEY themselves have little to boast about, in particular New Labour.

    Let’s remember that it is Labour that has taken us into TWO illegal wars, based upon a deliberate LIE, and which has seen the deaths of 100,000 plus Iraqis, and many of our own service men and women. They have then tried to keep the whole sorry affair under wraps. These wars are costing us billions every year – that’s OUR money.

    It was Labour that promised us a referendum on the EU; another deliberate LIE – there was never any intention of allowing us the opportunity to withdraw from the EU superstate which currently makes over 70% of our laws.

    It was Labour MPs that have been the most enthusiastic beneficiaries of the allowances system, ripping off the tax payer to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds for everything from plasma TVs to porn films.

    It has been Labour that has flooded the country with immigrants, allowing them to undercut British workers for jobs, and seemingly throwing money at them whilst our pensioners die through lack of heating in winter. To get us to accept this we have been force-fed the ‘Political Correctness’ LIE – anyone objecting is a racist.

    It is Labour that seeks, for political gain, to destroy our precious green belt by allowing tens of thousands of houses to be built on our last remnants of countryside.

    It is Labour that seeks to poison our water with the highly toxic fluoride. Whether this is to appease the aluminium and fertiliser industries or whether it is to bring about our dumbing down through its effects on the central nervous system, is at present a moot point.

    And it is Labour that is in the process of turning our country into the most surveyed police state in history through CCTV cameras on every street corner, vehicle number plate recognition technology, compulsory ID cards, the saving of innocent persons’ DNA , and the recording of every website visited, every phone call made, and every text message sent. Truly frightening, yet mind boggling that anyone could vote for such criminals.

    Oh yes, all of you who have voted Labour over the past twelve years have nothing to be proud of we can assure you, whilst those who voted for the other of the big three parties who might currently be sitting high in their ivory towers should remember that all this has been brought in with barely a word of opposition.

    The BNP has now political influence, power or broad support. They are as about likely to gain some as the SWP or Greens. There are bigger problems that need attention and energy.

    They’re going to win seats in the European parliament, which will put them on the Euro $$$ gravy train providing them with more opportunities to spread their bile. Take your head out of that bucket and understand that these fuckers are a threat for all the reasons in Simon’s post, then we can work towards defeating them.

    • The BNP has avoided paying income tax and National Insurance contributions by pretending that some staff were self-employed.

    • Their 2007 party accounts failed their audit as several thousand pounds of expenditure was not properly recorded.

    The EU elections offer the BNP a gravy train of over £2 million—how much will go to line their own pockets?

    With friends like these…

    • The BNP has recently welcomed the support of Dr Sean Gabb, a man who hasargued that there shouldn’t be any laws against the possession of child porn.

    • BNP members Ian Hindle and David Wells were jailed for child sex offences in 2008.

    • BNP leader Nick Griffin has strong links with David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, as well as many other neo-nazi groups around the world.
    BNP leader, Nick Griffin, cosying up with officials from Hungarian fascist party, Jobbik. The party is strongly anti-Jewish and organises a private army of uniformed fascists.

    BNP leader, Nick Griffin, cosying up with officials from Hungarian fascist party, Jobbik. The party is strongly anti-Jewish and organises a private army of uniformed fascists.

    All politicians are scum

    We all know politicians can’t be trusted, they’re a bunch of lying hypocrites who just want to get their greedy snouts in the trough at Westminster and Brussels and gorge themselves at our expense. Now we’re all being made to pay the price for the mess they and their fat-cat banker friends have made. People are right to be angry, the system is rotten to the core, why should we vote for any of these scum?!
    But whilst support for the mainstream parties seems virtually non-existent, one party is busy making gains—the BNP, a fascist organisation busy ‘rebranding’ themselves, hiding their jackboots, swastika armbands and thuggish past under suits and ties so that they can get their snouts in the trough too.

    The BNP — A party on the take

    • In Barking & Dagenham, seven BNP councillors attended only 27% of meetings—but each still pocketed the full £9,810 allowance.
    • One BNP councillor in Sandwell attended no meetings at all for six months and was booted off the council—but he still took his allowance.

    And in the BNP’s own words…

    “What we urgently need, and must have to survive, is very much less democracy, a very much smaller, more carefully selected and more intelligent electorate … Granting a vote to each and every one of the natives of Britain was madness … lunacy could hardly go further!” (Internal BNP document)

    For fascists like the BNP, any form of democracy is a hated interference in their running of society. So when the BNP say they want your vote that is exactly what they mean. Their eventual aim is to deny you any say or representation. We fully understand why working class communities feel abandoned by politicians. But a vote for the BNP is not a ‘protest vote’ – it is a vote for fascism!

  6. modernityblog said

    It is good to discuss these issues and I’d recommend Anna Chen’s insights, she’s honest, smart and witty.


    and the question of why the British Left could not captivate and grow sizably with the advent of the anti-war movement, needs answering too.

    Millions as an audience and it all slipped thru the fingers.

  7. Alderson Warm-Fork – thanks for your comments.

    This reply is long overdue – apologies – so I’ll be brief. I think Parecon has some very good ideas, many of which are commonsense within the tradition of libertarian socialism. As an attempt to envision a non-capitalist future (insofar as this is possible) it is interesting and useful. However, I can’t see how it provides a basis for action beyond some useful insights regarding internal democracy and participation.

    Cheers for your comment again


  8. A number of comments by third parties on this thread have been edited and removed by Left Lugagge. Our aim on LL is engage in serious and fraternal dialogue about strategy for the Left rather than reproducing the intra-left backbiting and bickering that is common within the the “blogosphere”. For this reason, we took the decision to avoid any further arguments over these comments.

    It is a sad feature of much of the Left’s internet presence that posters and bloggers often turn their fire on other comrades rather than focus on the pressing issues facing us. This is mirrored in some of the outer reaches of the Left’s real-world presence as well. The reasons this happens so much are not entirely clear, but it must be related to the Left’s weakness and small size.

    There’s a simple moral point here about how we conduct ourselves in relation to others, especially in such an enduring and public forum as the internet. But there is also a strategic point: the more we focus on obscure intra-Left debates and attacks on other comrades or groups, the greater the gulf that is built between us and ordinary people. Our thinking is shifted away from where it should be: focussing on the concerns of and issues affecting working class people. Also, the time we spend embroiled in non-constructive internet debates or attacks on other comrades is simply time wasted.

    There are urgent issues at hand, not least the momentum of the far-right and the absence of any credible Left alternative. Across the Left there now seems to be a recognition of the need for serious discussion of where we go from here. So let’s get on with it.

    Left Luggage

  9. Bob said

    LL, I think Wight’s post was OK as an analysis of what’s wrong, but gave no hint whatsoever about where this injection of new radical ideas from the left is going to come from or what it might look like. I have no idea what he is arguing for, except perhaps a more broad-based left party along the lines of Die Linke/the New Anticapitalist Party?

    I also think that calling the Lumley campaign for the Ghurkas some kind of right-wing nationalist campaign is simplistic and wrong: it suggested that there is the potential among the British public to buck the Daily Mail all-immigrants-are-scum line that Phil Woolas and New Labour in general has attempted to ride. Breaking with the anti-immigrant agenda is one of the key tasks in winning the battle of ideas. The Gurkha campaign was a positive step in this regard, not a negative one.

    I much prefer Project Sheffield’s assessment above.

    • Hi Bob

      Thanks for the comment. Sorry for the delay in responding.

      The first point is obviously problematic. What discussion there is around an alternative has tended to ignore the very real issues around strategy and forms of organisation that really need to be addressed if a new formation is not simply to replicate previous mistakes. Personally, I can see how the idea of a new anticapitalist party is tempting, but I think this only obscures some pathological features of the Left as it stands; these need to be addressed urgently, in my view.

      The Gurkha campaign is interesting in that it demonstrates clearly how ideas are not fixed but are a terrain of struggle. On the one hand much of the support for the Lumley campaign was rooted in a kind of patriotism, plainly this is the case. But on the other, you’re right in saying it could move beyond this in some senses. It shows how new ideas and ways of viewing the world can only be constructed on the basis of what exists; nothing is invented anew. In this instance we can see the opportunities and limitations inherent in this fact.



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