Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Labour and BNP – both got what they deserved

Posted by Left Luggage on June 11, 2009

While posts on its website are a rare phenomenon at best, the Independent Working Class Association consistently produces startling content. Considering the recent Euro election results, the IWCA argues along similar lines to Left Luggage that the BNP’s victory (which it undoubtedly was, despite attempts to minimize it extent) demonstrates conclusively that the Left now needs to adopt a “strategy of winning-over rather than side-lining the alienated working class voter”. In other words, the way forward is for a genuine political alternative from the Left to be built. And, as we have highlighted, the IWCA admits there are lessons to be learned from the BNP’s success:

Ideology aside, the BNP has established a benchmark for how smaller parties can advance. There are lessons to be learned there and it is futile to deny it.

The IWCA also points to Labour’s historic drubbing and the hollowing out of the party’s activist base as presenting a historic opportunity for the Left, but it is without organisational or ideological presence or coherence:

to say that progressive elements are ill-prepared to take advantage is to underestimate the scale of the disarray. Putting it bluntly, the working class and its allies are utterly adrift. […] For the first time in living memory there is no identifiable working class/left leadership visible anywhere in Britain.

Furthermore, the IWCA points to the failure of Left groups to have learned the lessons from the BNP’s early successes or the IWCA’s own pilot-schemes where the group had members. We recently highlighted some of the problems of Left sects focus on party-building at the expense of the working class. The IWCA say:

Ideology aside, perhaps the one key ingredient missing from all of the failed unity efforts was the failure of any one of the groups, or prominent individuals to engage with the process in a way designed to meet the political needs of the working class as a whole, rather than those of themselves as individuals or their groups. Even when IWCA pilot schemes proved again and again that the mainstream parties were as vulnerable to an attack from a progressive working class party as they were to the BNP, this critical lesson was not taken on board. The example was not imitated. And though it is unlikely there will be any retrospective drum rolls for us getting it right, the overall terrain is nonetheless simplified to enormous advantage. Potentially, that is.

The IWCA is also self-critical (something which tends to be unusual on the Left), pointing out that both it and the BNP made their first electoral breakthroughs in 2002 but while the far-right now have dozens of councillors and two MEPs, the IWCA only has two councillors in Oxford after peaking at four in 2006. It is right to ask why the IWCA failed to achieve its aims, ambitious as they were, of meeting the challenge of the BNP in electoral terms.

There have been small pockets of success, most notably Oxford. But many local groups appear to have become inactive or drifted out of the IWCA to form separate organisations, Hackney being one of the most obvious examples. Perhaps one reason for this is the failure to achieve critical mass; with its small membership base the IWCA was always going to struggle to succeed nationally despite achieving results locally. Where a local group might depend largely on one or two activists, it is always vulnerable to folding.

We would also argue that while a reorientation towards communtiy politics was (and is) essential, this should not lead to abandoning work in the industrial sector. The IWCA in its founding manifesto was rather too dismissive of trade unionists’ potential as trade unionists, in our view.

It is encouraging that the IWCA now seems to be recognising it needs to find a new way forward with other Left activists, to learn lessons from their experience and to attempt to find a new long-term strategy to rebuild working class self-organisation:

At a political level we will renew the search for a way forward with other progressive forces. The strategic objective would be to eventually match the reach of the BNP nationally.

[…]

Systematically building an infrastructure to rival the BNP’s is not simply out of a desire to compete with the Far-Right for working class hearts and minds on the ground in the here and now. Instead we will be encouraging other independent groups and individuals of a like mind to set our sights on being in the right place, when Labour as a ‘natural party of government’ is no more.

[…]

But how to get from the present to there is the tricky bit. One factor is certain. A long-term strategy is now required. It is unlikely there will be any short cuts. So it is the long game or nothing. A daunting prospect. But on the plus side, the opportunities unfolding before our eyes do have an undeniable once-in-a-century feel about them.

As we have said before, there are many groups engaged in community politics focussed on the working class now at work throughout the country; some are explictly political projects, for example Liberty and Solidarity, while others are campaign-led, “apolitical” in a sense, but are broadly left-wing. There are opportunities there, if this fragmentation can be overcome.

There is another aspect: there seems to be an increasing recognition among the Left as a whole of the need for unity and the to create new political initiatives. As ever, the prospects are uncertain but we are witnessing a moment of possibility at the least.

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3 Responses to “Labour and BNP – both got what they deserved”

  1. Danny said

    The IWCA always spoiled their analysis in the past by taking a sectarian approach to left wing activists, the sort of people who could have been won over and would have prevented ‘critical mass’ becoming a problem.

    In my view this ensured they were just as much a problem as they groups they were slagging off. I’d like to see a bit of acknowledgement of that before taking them seriously as an organisation. The analysis, and your own, I’d broadly support but we need to build a movement to put it into practice

  2. Bob said

    Waterloo Sunset, who comments on some of the blogs around here, endorsed the IWCA statement, but raised these two questions:
    1. Do we also need to go back to a twintrack strategy with the BNP. If so, do we need a new antifascist group to do so?

    2. Considering their (welcome) self-criticism, where do we go next? Specifically, who are the IWCA now seeing as “progressive forces” that they wish to work with?

    I added the following points in my comments thread, which I thought it’d be worth sharing here:

    I have some reservations about the IWCA statement.

    a. Given the rather un-democratic practice of RA/IWCA in the last decade, can we expect them to genuinely be involved in building an open, democratic movement in which diverse viewpoints can flourish?

    b. Do they have the spread and the clout to actually play a leading role in creating a UK-wide federation? Their forces are concentrated in a few places. They will need to find serious allies to break into new areas, but who would these allies be, if they are not the same left sects peculating around every other top-down unity initiative?

    c. I am not sure about the electoralism implicit in the statement. I am not against getting involved in elections. But I think that the focus on elections distorts things. I think instead we need to be working on issues, starting at the bottom and then seeing if there is the momentum to get involved in electoral politics.

    d. I’m not sure how to articulate this exactly, but I feel we need to re-think how an IWCA-type organisation talks about its class orientation. It seems to me that some organisations, e.g. some of the London Citizens initiatives, some of the local anti-BNP coalitions, perhaps the Community Action Party in the NW (about which I don’t really know much) are having better success in generating working class support beyond the left ghetto without explicitly talking about a working class orientation. Is there a lesson there? [This point echoes things Left Luggage has said in previous posts, about some of the grassroots campaigns.]

    e. I’m still thinking through the twin-track strategy issue. I don’t know if we do want to go back to a twin-track strategy at this particular moment; we need to prioritise the political. But I think I agree with WS that maybe we do need to think about an anti-fascist group, probably a loose network of the like-minded rather than a full-blown re-launched AFA.

  3. Paul B said

    The IWCA website has been a little quiet lately but they have had this to say in the discussion thread on their latest article:

    “We are putting the final touches to something at the moment. But what needs to be understood from the outset and it is accepted within the IWCA that there will not necessarily be any ‘leap’ from the pilot schemes to the nationally based organisation that is required to compete on something like an equal footing with the BNP.

    Especially now as the political vacuum is showing every sign of expanding even further. Indeed from the analysis offered above, even if the IWCA pilot schemes shown to be most competitive electorally, eg Glasgow,Havering, Islington, Hackney, Oxford had maxed out and delivered a return of say 10 councillors, due to the speed of the BNP advance, it would profit us (IWCA credibility apart) next to nothing.

    Even with a full compliment of councillors there would in other words still have to be a serious strategy review. Which is where we are at now. At present work is being conducted at a sub-committe level. After that there will be an EGM to discuss their conclusions. When the time is right we will be able to say more.”

    The contributors to this site seem to be serious about the task of thinking through what needs to be done to rebuild progressive ideas and forces in working class communities and I would hope that they will contribute to the debate. I would suggest that the task IWCA have committed themselves to is a critical one and is what sets the IWCA approach and analysis apart from that of the irrelevant middle class left.

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