Left Luggage

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Spoiling the party

Posted by Left Luggage on April 22, 2009

Lenin’s Tomb blogger Richard Seymour makes a revealing observation from the Left Forum in New York this week, commenting that while debates at the event were stimulating the absence of Left political parties was unfortunate. He says:

It has gone very well, with a very high level of debate and discussion, although it is sad to see that the only parties really present around the perimeter of the premises where the event is taking place are tiny sects with placards that look like a mixture of The End of The World is Nigh messages and Scientology posters. This perhaps speaks to a particular dilemma of the US left: huge numbers of knowledgeable, talented, committed people, but hardly any organisational presence. Sad to say it, even the ISO [the Socialist Workers’ Party’s sister organisation in the US] don’t appear to have a stall

This comment resonated with me because my experience of similar events in the UK has given me precisely the opposite impression; the British Left’s dilemma is precisely the proliferation of parties.

What strikes me most about the US Left is its comparative openness when compared to the UK. It has several excellent online publications that are both widely read and present a broad range of discussions and opinions. Since launching last month, we have easily been able to place three articles on such sites, even on controversial issues such as questioning the Left’s attitude to crime. Contrast this with the British Left. How many well-read publications or websites exist that have a relatively relaxed editorial line or are not tied to a particular party or sect?

The multiplicity of small groups with failing strategies, and the political alignment of virtually all well-read Left media, has quite an impact on our political culture. It leads to hostility to comrades in other groups or none, and leads us to spend energy directing our fire on each other. It leads to an unwillingness to debate strategic issues or engage in honest self-criticism, for fear of “giving ground” to opponents. It leads to suspicion about the agenda of others. It leads to groups whose policies are virtually indentical not cooperating or even acknowledging each others’ existence publicly. To a certain degree, this is all the inevitable outcome of politics, though the British Left seems particularly infected by this disease.

So, are more far-left parties what the US working class needs? Well, the British working class has plenty to choose from. But the Left here is largely marginalized politically and, almost uniformly, its strategies are not leading to increased membership, effectiveness, or support among ordinary people. At the same time, unlike the US it does not have a culture of open debate and discussion, most importantly over questions of strategy. Therefore the “huge numbers of knowledgeable, talented, committed people” in the US are potentially far better placed to adjust their strategies and create groups that are focussed on the enormous tasks at hand – re-engaging with and winning victories for working class people.


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