Left Luggage

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Archive for the ‘Ideology’ Category

Leftovers #12 – Left (dis)unity and more on the equality debate

Posted by Left Luggage on June 29, 2009

Can the various Left parties, sects and groupuscules unite around a basic socialist programme in time for the General Election next year? Are they at all likely to attract electoral support if they do?

Judging by the responses to the Socialist Workers’ Party’s open letter to the Left, the first question is unlikely to be answered in the affirmative.

Unlike the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – who responded immediately by requesting talks with the SWP over the creation of a Left coalition – the Socialist Party probably feels it is in a position of strength vis-a-vis other Left groups at the moment. As one of the players in No2EU, the SP has formed links with the RMT, and hopes to be part of an platform involving Crow’s union at the next General Election. On the industrial front, the SP plays a central role in the National Shops Stewards Network, which held a sucessful conference at the weekend. Leading shop stewards in the high profile union victories at Enfield,  Swansea and Lindsey were all SP members.

Confidence shines through in the SP’s reply, but so does its distaste for the SWP’s previous conduct. The first section of the reply is spent addressing the SWP’s failure to acknowledge the formation of No2EU (mentioned only twice in Socialist Worker). “To try to ignore the existence of an initiative as significant as No2EU undermines your stated aim of opening a discussion on creating an electoral alternative for the general election”, it says, before concluding:

Unfortunately, we believe that your brushing aside of No2EU is an indication that your methods have not changed. You claim that: “Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity” but as a party you have never been prepared to countenance working together with others in an honest and open fashion unless you hold the reins; hence your wrecking of the Socialist Alliance and your splitting from Respect. Far from playing a positive role, your approach has actually complicated and delayed steps towards a new mass workers’ party in England and Wales.

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Posted in Elections, Ideology, Leftovers, New workers' party, Strategy | 2 Comments »

Inequality and the battle of ideas

Posted by Left Luggage on June 25, 2009

Tuesday’s report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on public attitudes to inequality shed some light on the state of the battle of ideas that is underway between Right and Left.

The headline findings might be taken to support the suggestion that there is negligible support for the world view and policy proposals of the Left. This was certainly the conclusion of the Guardian, which chose to concentrate on the fact that 69% of respondents said they believed that there were plenty of opportunities for economic advancement, for those willing to take them. Other findings that many on the Left might find depressing include the widespread assumption that benefit claimants will not go on to make a positive contribution to society (p25) and the fatalistic attitude that inequalities are “inevitable in a market economy” (p47).

All of this underlines the challenges faced by the Left in attempting to convince the public of their position. David Osler made this point in a post on the JRF report:

All of this represents a major problem for any left that is actually interested in expanding it base. Capitalism – and the inequality it creates – continue to enjoy moral legitimacy in the eyes of an overwhelming majority.

While the unfolding recession has generated popular outrage aimed against those at the apex of the banking system, clearly general purpose ‘tax the rich’ fat cat-bashing will most of the time have little purchase.

I’m not suggesting any retreat whatsoever from the underlying principles involved. No socialism worthy of the name can be anything but redistributive in nature. But we need to come up with a more effective way of selling the message to the public, and sooner rather than later at that.

If we look at the report in a little more detail, however, we might find more reasons to be hopeful than either The Guardian or Osler. It is certainly true that the report found high levels of support for the concept of “fair inequality” – that differences in wealth were justified as long as those who had more deserved their wealth. There was only minority support, the report found, for “abstract notions of equality” (p43).

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Posted in Class, Ideology, Morality, Socialism, Strategy | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in Ideology, Socialism, Strategy | 10 Comments »