Saturday, 12 January 2013

Why is the Revolutionary Left Not Growing? A Reformist Reply

Mark Perryman - known for his role in Philosophy Football - sent me a response to my previous post on the revolutionary left. I've decided to publish this as a separate post. I should clarify that the title is Mark's own - I'm not undermining him by using the dirty word 'reformist'! Food for thought here...

An interesting and thought-provoking piece, reflective too of recent online debates. Unfortunately, by and large this isn't being reflected in any kind of wider, more organic discussion, the reasons for that I'll return to at the end of my contribution below.

Firstly though, some issues on terminology. I assume by 'revolutionary left' Alex means mainly a Trotskyist influenced left. I would include the Communist Party and its off-shoots, Respect and other outside Left formations. Where does the Labour Left fit in? And the Red-Greens in the Green Party?

Secondly, the European dimension. It seems in Greece the Left are doing very well, with good results in France and Holland too. In all three countries though the Far Right are doing very well. In Germany and Italy the Left is facing significant setbacks. In Ireland, Spain and Portugal the position is stagnation at best. In Scotland there are new signs of hope with the two SNP MSPs now standing as independents but the legacy of the SSP implosion remains.

It is vital to learn from experiences across Europe but it is wrong to generalise and even more wrong to only listen to those there who share your own tendency's viewpoint at home. Any Left grouping here that engaged seriously with the European Left would be a significant step forward.

Beyond Europe advances in Latin America remain key, with the Arab Spring in the balance. Internationalism will be shaped by both; the lessons for the home Left less clear.

Now to Alex's notes on the 'Revolutionary Left'.

I take this to include the SWP, SP, Counterfire, AWL, Socialist Resistance. We might add CPB, Respect.

These can count membership numbers in hundreds, SWP in thousands. There are other groups but these are mainly in the tens of members.

None of the first list are enjoying anything resembling dynamic growth. Most do at least one or two things of some importance, eg The Marxism Festival, Coalition of Resistance, The Morning Star, winning in Bradford West. None have anything resembling a significant footprint in society nor a local base of any significance either.

The Green Party isn't making much of a breakthrough and with Labour announcing it is to target Caroline Lucas's seat has a real fight on to hold on to its MP. The Greens though can claim some kind of local base: Brighton, Norwich and elsewhere. Despite the efforts of 'Green Left' the Red-Green element in the Green Party is scarcely visible and mostly it appears as a left-wing Liberal-Democrat Party (I don't mean that as an insult, more a shorthand electoral characterisation).

Inside Labour, Compass has a strong media profile and does some interesting things. Its version of pluralism looks mainly rightwards, to left-wing Lib Dems, and it hasn't the activist base that's the size of its email subscription list might suggest. The more orthodox Labour Left depends on a declining and ageing group of MPs which is most unlikely to either grow or be renewed. Neither have any kind of meaningful strategy to shift Labour Leftwards.

For those who don't join up to any group,  the web is full of sites and blogs to gravitate towards, or indeed set one up yourself if the fancy takes you. But, including Red Pepper, few have any kind of life outside online contributions and none have any sort of social footprint.

The latter is made the more severe, and is partially caused by, the lack of any mass movement, certainly on the scale and with the roots of Stop the War, The Miners Strike, The Poll Tax, CND or Anti Nazi League. We cannot simply wish that lack out of existence, we have to address the reasons.

UK Uncut remains incredibly dynamic and creative but has been fatally wounded by the 2011 criminalisation of protest at the Fortnum & Masons action and elsewhere. Student protest has to date proved transitory, the marketisation of HE threatens to consumerise education and it is unclear if any resistance will take shape rather than doleful resignation, from staff and students. Occupy has come and gone - it remains unclear whether what remains reaches far beyond a pre-existing milieu of direct actionists, brave yet socially marginal.  

Where does this leave us? With an audience, bigger and less tied to Labour than ever before. But the ideas and forms  of either Alex's 'revolutionary left' nor my broader definition don't appeal. It is remarkably difficult to develop a dialogue between contesting experiences, some of which are fiercely competitive and shaped by fallouts, splits and expulsions, but this is a vital process which must also engage with those  entirely outside organisational and ideological orbits yet share an outside, dissident. leftism. It is unlikely, in fact impossible, that a single group could construct such a process but without one it is hard to see a better Left emerging.

A recognition that such a conversation , however difficult, is key, would at least be a start towards establishing how.


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