WHERE IS the British left going? Possibly one of the most clichéd headlines in any lefty ‘rag’. I think I’ve possibly seen it a hundred times at least. More appropriate might be the question: “Where does the left think that it is going?”
The answer to that might be: “I haven’t a f***ing clue!” That may well be due to ‘post-election’ ‘blues’ but it might also be due to incomprehension. That is, incomprehension of the modern world; the emergence of new social movements.
Let’s try and break this down.
• In the early 20th century few (possibly less) from the radical/revolutionary socialist left would have raised green issues. Today, it is almost mantra. Yet, in the past it was ‘industrialisation’ ad nauseum. Again, today, there are still those who think that what was written by some Russian geezers over more than a 100 years ago is ‘gospel’. WAKE UP! I don’t go to church for a reason.
• Newer social movements, such as ‘Occupy’, do not slot snuggly into the orthodoxies of the traditional left. A campaign to defend a local library, for example, might well imply a love of books and reading — it may well include a commitment to working class children whose parents would struggle to afford new books or not have access to a half-decent second-hand bookshop — but you don’t require an encyclopaedic knowledge of Marxist-Leninist ‘party-building’ to build such a campaign.
The point, I feel, is this: a new type of socialist/left party needs to engage with people who may have become involved in a local, progressive, campaign for the first time. They don’t require a liturgical sermon.
“… theory for the 21st century …”
This is not to say that ‘theory’ is unimportant. But “theory” for the 21st century will probably be of more use — practical use — than the thoughts of a revolutionary from the early 20th century. I have often argued on Storyboard4 that I think the left needs a new ‘transitional programme’ — for the 21st century. The ‘methodology’ of the past can still be relevant but the link between method, theory and practice do not run in some unimpeded straight line.
• A problem for the British left is that it often shares a similar degree of national insularity with those on the right. OUCH! “Catty, Roland.” A new party, such as Left Unity in Britain, looks to new left parties — SYRIZA in Greece or Podemos in Spain — and declares its solidarity. THAT’S GREAT! A welcome first start. Look closer; neither SYRIZA or Podemos are political parties in the traditional (British-orientated) sense. They are ‘coalitions’/alliances. They are not attempting to construct a political party that many on the British left feel that they are familiar with.
SHOCK, HORROR! Other European lefties find new ways of organising; IT’S OUTRAGEOUS! I return to my previous point, with regard to “national insularity” (above). A new party, such as Left Unity in Britain, should certainly show solidarity with ‘parties’ such as SYRIZA and Podemos, but the British left could also ‘listen and learn’. This is not to suggest that Brits should throw the ‘proverbial out with the bathwater’. Britain has general labour movement traditions that would not be familiar to comrades in Greece or Spain. But … listen, learn and discuss. It won’t hurt … too much.
‘Recomposition’ is not nearly as filthy as it might first sound ✪
This is, no doubt, a subject to which we’ll return
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