Posted by Left Luggage on June 12, 2009
It has been a busy week in the Left blogosphere with the Euro elections, the meltdown of Labour and the BNP’s victory. Plenty of questions have been thrown up, but most central is the need for the Left to get its house in order and begin rebuilding. This was addressed in a call by the Socialist Workers Party for a new left-wing political initiative to combat the BNP and to resist cuts to services and jobs in the next few years as the Government begins to introduce measures to cut national debt. Although there are some problems with this letter, it’s worth highlighting three important points that the SWP recognises:
Those who campaigned against the BNP in the elections know that when they said to people, “Don’t vote Nazi” they were often then asked who people should vote for. […]
The European election results demonstrate that the left of Labour vote was small, fragmented and dispersed. […]
The SWP is all too aware of the differences and difficulties involved in constructing such an alternative. We do not believe we have all the answers or a perfect prescription for a left wing alternative.
Many people will immediately cite the experience of both the Socialist Alliance and Respect – the Unity Coalition as evidence of the immpossibility of such a union being formed. Clearly the severe problems these organisations encountered were not unconnected to the groups involved and their modes of operation. Louis Proyect makes the point well in a post on Socialist Unity, arguing that another “united front” style formation with different “tendencies” coexisting, or contending, would be disastrous. Instead he suggests the Left should leave aside questions of socialist dogma, become more democratic, and begin to address the immediate problems facing the working class:
What the SWP should consider is a total break with their modus operandi and moving toward the approach of the NPA in France. Initiated by the Trotskyist LCR, the New Anticapitalist Party decided to put aside questions of “distinctively revolutionary socialist views” and emphasize the real questions facing the left in 2009. Hopefully, since the SWP seems to have a good grasp on these questions, they can begin to take the next step and evolve toward a more transparent and open political framework that has the possibility of truly uniting the left.
There is certainly a problem in forming the sticking-plaster solution of a temporary alliance for the next general election, something that seems implicit in the statement and in SWP member Richard Seymour’s post: “I would particularly emphasise and duplicate its call to convene of a conference of all those who want to find a way of uniting the left in the coming elections”. It should be abundantly clear, especially after the failure of No2EU that more fundamental strategic questions need to be addressed. Most centrally, unity will get the Left nowhere unless it begins to relate to the concerns of working class people.
The reasons for No2EU’s abject failure are dissected at A Very Public Sociologist this week. He highlights the platform’s “top down nature” and its last-minute, ad hoc flavour:
Much effort was put in but the rushed last minute launch was a big mistake. If you want to be serious about electoral politics you have to play the long game.
He says it was a mistake to exclude the SWP and the platform’s lack of democracy also alienated many independent socialists up and down the country. Yet he holds out hope that No2EU will prove a milestone along the way of refounding the working class movement:
Judged on votes counted alone, No2EU was a failure. But it was never just about the votes, it was part of the process of refounding and renewing working class political representation in Britain. No2EU was the vehicle through which the RMT became committed to that project, and that ultimately is how it will be remembered.
Something that distinguished No2EU from some of its Left critics was its approach to the European Union and its position vis-a-vis the free movement of capital and so-called “social dumping”. This week blogger Vengeance and Fashion has an interesting post on these questions in a post stimulated by his experience with an employer who told him: “We don’t hire any English people”.
Is it possible to shift the Labour Party leftwards? This topic is pondered by David Broder at The Commune this week. He points to the lack of democracy within the party which in the final analysis means the Left is incapable of making headway (a point even acknowledged by Labour Representation Committee vice-chair Susan Press):
The whole operation is a stitch-up, and even to elect new Labour-left MPs has become an impossibility due to the top-down controls on the selection candidates
David also points to the weakness of the Left outside Labour and the need to build a viable political movement the existence of which puts bourgeois democracy under attack.
Left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell mounts a valiant attempt to propose how Labour can return to its “high ideals”, but the tone of the article is weary and one wonders how much hope or stock John really puts in such ideas as:
setting in train a recall Labour party conference – one that is properly open to all our members, supporters and progressives – at which we can debate the policies, democratically agree a new way forward and motivate our supporters once again with the high ideals that our party was founded upon.
Certainly there is close to zero chance of that suggestion being implemented by Labour high command. An even more optimistic analysis from the centre-left Compass group posted on the Socialist Unity blog proposes an internal discussion of Labour values and policy ahead of the next general election.
(1) The Stanford & Corringham branch of the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) features a commentary on a recent graffitti clean-up scheme launched by the local council and police in the area, using the initiative to argue the value of community restorative justice.
(2) Thanks to Duncan for highlighting this article from Anti-Fascist Action, now 14 years old but utterly timely. This document – “filling the vacuum” led to the founding of the IWCA and much of its analysis matches what is being produced by various Left groups today: observing the BNP’s change in strategy in the mid-90s towards electoralism, seeing the political gap left by Labour abandonment of the working class, and recognising the need for a left-wing political alternative.