Thursday, 30 December 2010

Five debating points for the left

On the left, and in the student and anti-cuts movements, there are a number of major strategic and tactical issues we can anticipate becoming the focus for debate in the early months of 2011. When I say 'the left' I'm not merely thinking of established organisations or seasoned activists, but many of those who have recently become involved in student activism, anti-cuts campaigning and so on.

The 'initial euphoria' stage of the new student movement is over, so consensus (if there's ever such a thing) is now giving way to important debate about the way ahead. For anti-cuts campaigners it's now obvious there will be resistance, but that opens up all sorts of questions about the shape and direction of that resistance - what is needed to give our side the best chance of victory against a government dedicated to savage cuts? What forces are required, what are our priorities, what tactics are needed? etc.

I predict these five issues will become major talking and debating points on the left in the next few months. I'm not going to outline my own views here, but merely indicate what I expect to be the big issues:

1. The nature of 'student-worker unity'.
Everyone wants more action by the unions. There are some on the left who blandly argue we need action by workers to complement the student protests, but that's largely accepted and rather a non-issue. The interesting questions concern how we bridge the  massive gulf between student militancy and the still very low levels of union struggle, e.g. what concrete actions to call for.

2. How to take the student movement forward after the initial upsurge.
Universities, colleges and schools all operate on a termly structure and there's no guarantee of regaining momentum after the current holidays. This is particularly unpredictable as the Commons vote on fees is now in the past. What tactics are required to renew the movement in January (a new wave of occupations? a major national demo? etc) will be of urgent and crucial importance. 

3. What kind of organisation and leadership we need.
I'm especially thinking of the student protests here, but also things like UK Uncut, with considerable enthusiasm for the notions of being 'leaderless', 'networked' and 'non-hierarchical'. It's clear the old debates, familiar to some of us from earlier movements, are re-emerging about what kind of organisation is required. The illusion of 'spontaneity', and of being able to dispense with old forms and methods, won't last much longer. But how should we be organising to build a movement that can endure?

4. How to build on the success of a massive national demo.
This will become a huge issue on Sunday 27 March, the day after what we can safely assume will be a very large national demonstration called by the TUC. What do you do next? That will become a dominant question, especially for the trade unions.

5. Where the Labour Party fits in.
If it does at all. An interesting feature of the six months following the general election was the comparative 'turn to Labour', with tens of thousands of people joining the Labour Party and a discernible sense that the left increasingly saw it as a vital site of debate and struggle. To an extent that changed after the national student demo on 10 November, with the focus of attention for left-wing activists clearly moving to the streets, but there are still many people looking to Labour as a vehicle of opposition to ConDem cuts (despite Ed Miliband's failure to make any impact on anything).

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