26 Jul 2009

The failure of the Left in this country

Deep in my research into the Zapatistas....I noticed this from John Nicholson, do think we in the UK need to look to Latin America, the left have obviously done somthing right there and of course ecosocialism is strongest in Latin America, are there lessons that can be drawn?

The DPS in Australia and LINKS do this explicitly...any way on to John's thoughts.


Excellent that Caroline Lucas is supporting the convention of the left...


Time for The Left


The left in this country has never been so weak.

Sounds like an academic essay title. 2 pages of A4. Discuss.

And its a symptom of this weakness that the first response, to whatever blog
or left publication which chooses to publish this, will be to focus on some
chance remark I am about to make (whether for or against the SWP, for
example, or whether because of some crime against the movement that I am
personally accused of quarter of a century ago - that probably isnt true but
equally no-one can remember). Rather than to engage with the point.

Perhaps its because we have always been too impatient. Perhaps weve had the
luxury that it hasnt mattered enough. John McDonnell hasnt been incarcerated
by an apartheid regime for 25 years in top security like Nelson Mandela.
Caroline Lucas hasnt been confined to house arrest by a military junta like
Aung San Suu Kyi. Indeed the people who have been victims of that type of
treatment - the Irish Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6 of the 1970s and the
Pakistan Student 10 this year - havent, at the time, had the general active
and unconditional support of the left as a whole. (Though it seems the same
individual legal representative has managed to carry on the same patient
defence of such "unpopular" causes throughout all those years.)

In the last three or four decades theres always seemed the possibility - or
even probability - that huge advances were about to take place in the
movement. So within the left one new venture after another has been set up,
too quickly, without proper process, without the trust or involvement of the
whole of the left, and then dropped again a few years, or even months,
later. And each time a few new people are attracted, by the immediacy of the
moment, but a lot more people whove tried it before and been burnt by the
experience dont come back.


The truth is that those advances havent come. What weve had is defeats.

The miners lost. Local government lost. The war didnt stop. The economy has
even fallen apart from within but we are in no position to take it over.

Labour was elected - as New Labour. It didnt even have to change the name -
as Blair said to their Conference when he won his new Clause 4. That was
perhaps the biggest defeat. Having what should have been our own side
elected - only to inflict on us neo-liberal economics, PFI, escalating
inequalities.... and war. The dockers maintained their strike for 2 years of
the Tories, and collapsed in months after Labour got in and sold them out.

With the help of the unions. The union leadership which in most cases is as
divorced from the base of workers organising for themselves in their
workplaces as Labour's expense-soaked MPs are from their constituents.


And now weve got fascists elected.

No question but that this is Labour's fault . Blair and Brown and a
succession of Home Secretaries have gone out of their way to legitimise the
BNP, in seeking the approval of the Daily Mail for increasingly racist
measures before the far right had even thought of them. Playing up the
so-called fears of ordinary people about immigration (thus spake Labour
immediately upon the election of the fascist in Yorkshire) is not just
repeating Thatcher's "swamping" imagery but is virtually writing the BNP's
website for them. No matter that any logical explanation of migration shows
that its good for the economy, that the Muslim population is more loyal to
this country than any other community, that jobs and houses are just as
unavailable for white as for non-white people. That isnt the point.
Prejudice is never removed by information alone. To change individual
attitude and behaviour requires tackling the questions of power and
prejudice together. What Labour has done is to encourage the prejudice and
give power to those who wheel it out.

This alone is a reason for everyone to desert Labour.

Of course its not just about electoral politics. Strategically there are
three different strands to fighting the fascist threat. First is to fight
the fascists wherever they appear, on the streets, when they try to hold
events or meet in public premises. It was disgraceful to see Labour
Ministers minimising the nuisance of the BNP as no more than "thoughtless"
in "clashing" with football matches and describing this as merely a question
of police resources. Second we must tackle the distortions and lies that the
fascists peddle, in the local communities, and work on the ground with local
campaigners, to explain that we are also angry with the lack of housing and
jobs, but that there is an alternative, which is not to scapegoat other
communities. Racism is not the answer to the recession. And third is to
consider electoral unity - which can include uniting behind one electoral
flag, for particular elections, in particular places. While it may be
important to get everyone to vote and reduce the proportion of the fascist
numbers, it is more convincing to offer people something positive to vote
for. Asking everyone to "vote for anyone else" rings hollow if that means
voting Labour. Certainly that remains true in a region such as the North
West, which sadly still displays Straw, Blears, Purnell..... and Woolas.
These are the people who have most of all legitimised so much of the BNP
agenda, especially regarding immigration.

We have to be tough on the causes of the far right as well as on the far
right themselves.


And to carry out these activities, in and out of election times, we need to
develop an understanding across the left, industrially and electorally, in
the interests of the environment and equality, about how we could work
together, in and out of elections, against consumer capitalism, inhumane
imperialism, and all the appeasement of racism and fascism and warmongering
that has taken place under Labour.

So we may need to define for ourselves a new way of working (reclaim the
word "new"), so as to demonstrate unity in action, so as to develop our
arguments through debate, and so as to create a framework of policy and
action that is environmentally and socially just, inclusive, peaceful,
pluralist, tolerant and one that does not rely either on "leaders" or small
sectarian advantage when there is a far bigger common objective that could
be shared between us all.

It may matter less what organisation we are in that what we are willing to
do - together.


That is what the Convention of The Left sought to do, in 5 days of
discussion and debate last year, as an overt and immediate alternative to
the bankrupt new-labour-fest that was going on next door. And that is why
there will be another Convention event in Brighton, this September 26th, at
the start of Labour's non-event this year, to put forward that another way
of working is possible and another world is possible. We will not blame the
recession on its victims. Racism and fascism cannot be the result of the
lack of alternatives from the mainstream.

With contributions (not top down platform speeches) from Caroline Lucas
(Green), John McDonnell (LRC), Robert Griffiths (CPB), Kay Phillips
(Respect), Matt Wrack (FBU) and so on, there will be a clear demonstration
of unity in discussion and practical action to put forward as an alternative
to the strange death of new labour that the official delegates will witness
nearby.


This is just one example of working together. And there is a spirit of unity
in the air. Calls for unity are emerging from every quarter of the left.

Our response needs to be committed and long term. It isnt unity to put a
flag in the sand and say "this is our party, you must come and join it - and
if you dont, youre the splitter". It isnt unity to set up an organisation
and then get bored and leave when it isnt all going your way. It isnt unity
to create a constitution and use the voting mechanisms to stop plural and
inclusive discussion and decision making.

Consensus is key. Working together in practical action creates the trust
that helps organisational development. Sticking at it is crucial. And it is
worth taking some chances. Creating trust includes the risk of losing
something. But a practical demonstration of unity is worth more than simply
repeating the word as a mantra.


For example, following the Convention of The Left last year, links between
the Green Left and socialists in other organisations in the North West were
developed. An agreement was discussed, within and between. At the Convention
Recall event in January Peter Cranie, leading candidate on the Green Euro
list, spoke about fighting the fascists. Later, the loudest applause of the
day came for Kay Phillips, Chair of Respect and prospective candidate for
North Manchester, who said that Respect was backing Peter in the North West,
specifically at this time and in this one election, to stop the BNP. This
was both logical and political. Unprompted and immediate was the response
from Greens in Tower Hamlets , who said they would endeavour to reciprocate
there in the Westminster election.

Many socialists doubted that this would be possible. Previous "deals" with
the Greens, locally, have been frustrated by "national" decision making.
Candidates havent stood aside for each other. And the Greens are middle
class, vote the wrong way in local councils, and support the EU.

[Oh, so it would be ok to vote for Labour then - the party of big business,
war, privatisation, racism .... ?]


The reality is that the doubters were wrong. The fascists could have been
stopped, in the two particular regions where local left activists had
identified that the arithmetic and the politics added up to uniting in a
vote for the Greens. If all left activists had used their energies not just
to put out "hope not hate" literature or to go on anti-fascist bashes but to
encourage, personally, individually and collectively, a vote for the Greens,
then we would not have the BNP in power.

Rank and file activists and even just armchair leftwingers can see this. The
letters pages of the Morning Star have carried long debates on the subject.
People with no explicit political affiliation have seen the sense of the
left working together and simply expressed their common sense accordingly.

And the reality is that the links between the left in the Greens and in the
socialist organisations involved have strengthened - in both directions -
and can continue.
These arent exclusive or the only possibilities. But the sort of electoral
alliances that have already been made are a good omen for the future. Of
course, they dont and cant add up to a new party [- yet?]. They dont require
more than a broad understanding [- though maybe we can all find a broad
organisational umbrella?] There can be no preconceptions. No illusions. No
impatience. No possessiveness. No blueprint.

We have to take some responsibility, as the left. We dont have the luxury of
any instant fix. It is, now, too serious.


John Nicholson


Footnote



14 years ago Blair announced the abolition of Clause 4 part 4 of Labour's
constitution.

Arthur Scargill formed the Socialist Labour Party - but wouldn't let Dave
Nellist join (Socialist Party / expelled Labour MP), and snubbed Tommy
Sheridan and others out right from the start (Scottish Socialist Alliance /
Scottish Militant Labour).

Dave Nellist went on to chair the Socialist Alliance in England - joined by
almost all the left, including the Socialist Workers Party, and standing
over 100 candidates in the 2001 General Election under the banner People Not
Profit.

Tommy Sheridan went on to lead the Scottish Socialist Party, whose unity
across the Scottish left, including some trade union affiliation, gained
them 6 seats in Holyrood and accompanying campaigns against Trident and the
council tax and for free school meals and public transport.

But in England the Socialist Party moved out of the Socialist Alliance, in
self-fulfilling fear of an SWP take-over, and the SWP duly took it over,
closed it down and formed the electoral party, Respect, which gained George
Galloway as an MP and a number of councillors notably in East London.

The SP started their own Campaign for a New Workers Party.

And Tommy Sheridan left the SSP, forming his new party, together with the
SWP and CWI in Scotland, called Solidarity - and the three way split between
the SLP, SSP and Solidarity ensured that almost all the left seats were lost
in Scotland in May 2007.

Of course, none of this is reminiscent of the life of Brian.

Meanwhile the Greens were themselves reduced to two MSPs in Scotland,
though a larger number of councillors in England and Wales; and the left
wing presence within the party (including at leadership level) has not
prevented the party standing against other left candidates locally.



Sound like the Life of Brian? But that was comedy. This year the vote for
the Greens in the European Elections was narrowly not quite sufficient to
prevent the fascists gaining the last places on the European proportional
representation list in the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside. Its no
longer a joke.

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