Is this the same Mark Fis(c)her who was until quite recently, a leading light of the CPGB/Weekly Worker group? A BTL commenter (below) thinks not. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything Fisher writes here (I think he’s excessively enthusiastic about Russell Brand, for instance), but it’s an interesting piece, well worth serious consideration and discussion. Fisher’s comments on the rise of self-righteous identity politics and the concomitant decline of class politics, certainly ring true:
The article first appeared on the North Star website:
Exiting the Vampire Castle
By Mark Fisher
This summer, I seriously considered withdrawing from any involvement in politics. Exhausted through overwork, incapable of productive activity, I found myself drifting through social networks, feeling my depression and exhaustion increasing.
‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism. The reason I didn’t speak out on any of these incidents, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. The bullies were in another part of the playground. I didn’t want to attract their attention to me.
The open savagery of these exchanges was accompanied by something more pervasive, and for that reason perhaps more debilitating: an atmosphere of snarky resentment. The most frequent object of this resentment is Owen Jones, and the attacks on Jones – the person most responsible for raising class consciousness in the UK in the last few years – were one of the reasons I was so dejected. If this is what happens to a left-winger who is actually succeeding in taking the struggle to the centre ground of British life, why would anyone want to follow him into the mainstream? Is the only way to avoid this drip-feed of abuse to remain in a position of impotent marginality?
One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.
Then there was Russell Brand. I’ve long been an admirer of Brand – one of the few big-name comedians on the current scene to come from a working class background. Over the last few years, there has been a gradual but remorseless embourgeoisement of television comedy, with preposterous ultra-posh nincompoop Michael McIntyre and a dreary drizzle of bland graduate chancers dominating the stage.
The day before Brand’s now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman was broadcast on Newsnight, I had seen Brand’s stand-up show the Messiah Complex in Ipswich. The show was defiantly pro-immigrant, pro-communist, anti-homophobic, saturated with working class intelligence and not afraid to show it, and queer in the way that popular culture used to be (i.e. nothing to do with the sour-faced identitarian piety foisted upon us by moralisers on the post-structuralist ‘left’). Malcolm X, Che, politics as a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality: this was communism as something cool, sexy and proletarian, instead of a finger-wagging sermon.
The next night, it was clear that Brand’s appearance had produced a moment of splitting. For some of us, Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous; I couldn’t remember the last time a person from a working class background had been given the space to so consummately destroy a class ‘superior’ using intelligence and reason. This wasn’t Johnny Rotten swearing at Bill Grundy – an act of antagonism which confirmed rather than challenged class stereotypes. Brand had outwitted Paxman – and the use of humour was what separated Brand from the dourness of so much ‘leftism’. Brand makes people feel good about themselves; whereas the moralising left specialises in making people feed bad, and is not happy until their heads are bent in guilt and self-loathing.
The moralising left quickly ensured that the story was not about Brand’s extraordinary breach of the bland conventions of mainstream media ‘debate’, nor about his claim that revolution was going to happen. (This last claim could only be heard by the cloth-eared petit-bourgeois narcissistic ‘left’ as Brand saying that he wanted to lead the revolution – something that they responded to with typical resentment: ‘I don’t need a jumped-up celebrity to lead me‘.) For the moralisers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism. In the febrile McCarthyite atmosphere fermented by the moralising left, remarks that could be construed as sexist mean that Brand is a sexist, which also meant that he is a misogynist. Cut and dried, finished, condemned.
It is right that Brand, like any of us, should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses. But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance – although when Brand was questioned about sexism by Mehdi Hasan, he displayed exactly the kind of good-humoured humility that was entirely lacking in the stony faces of those who had judged him. “I don’t think I’m sexist, But I remember my grandmother, the loveliest person I‘ve ever known, but she was racist, but I don’t think she knew. I don’t know if I have some cultural hangover, I know that I have a great love of proletariat linguistics, like ‘darling’ and ‘bird’, so if women think I’m sexist they’re in a better position to judge than I am, so I’ll work on that.”
Brand’s intervention was not a bid for leadership; it was an inspiration, a call to arms. And I for one was inspired. Where a few months before, I would have stayed silent as the PoshLeft moralisers subjected Brand to their kangaroo courts and character assassinations – with ‘evidence’ usually gleaned from the right-wing press, always available to lend a hand – this time I was prepared to take them on. The response to Brand quickly became as significant as the Paxman exchange itself. As Laura Oldfield Ford pointed out, this was a clarifying moment. And one of the things that was clarified for me was the way in which, in recent years, so much of the self-styled ‘left’ has suppressed the question of class.
Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and pre-emptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it. I’ve been speaking now at left-wing, anti-capitalist events for years, but I’ve rarely talked – or been asked to talk – about class in public.
But, once class had re-appeared, it was impossible not to see it everywhere in the response to the Brand affair. Brand was quickly judged and-or questioned by at least three ex-private school people on the left. Others told us that Brand couldn’t really be working class, because he was a millionaire. It’s alarming how many ‘leftists’ seemed to fundamentally agree with the drift behind Paxman’s question: ‘What gives this working class person the authority to speak?’ It’s also alarming, actually distressing, that they seem to think that working class people should remain in poverty, obscurity and impotence lest they lose their ‘authenticity’.
Someone passed me a post written about Brand on Facebook. I don’t know the individual who wrote it, and I wouldn’t wish to name them. What’s important is that the post was symptomatic of a set of snobbish and condescending attitudes that it is apparently alright to exhibit while still classifying oneself as left wing. The whole tone was horrifyingly high-handed, as if they were a schoolteacher marking a child’s work, or a psychiatrist assessing a patient. Brand, apparently, is ‘clearly extremely unstable … one bad relationship or career knockback away from collapsing back into drug addiction or worse.’ Although the person claims that they ‘really quite like [Brand]‘, it perhaps never occurs to them that one of the reasons that Brand might be ‘unstable’ is just this sort of patronising faux-transcendent ‘assessment’ from the ‘left’ bourgeoisie. There’s also a shocking but revealing aside where the individual casually refers to Brand’s ‘patchy education [and] the often wince-inducing vocab slips characteristic of the auto-didact’ – which, this individual generously says, ‘I have no problem with at all’ – how very good of them! This isn’t some colonial bureaucrat writing about his attempts to teach some ‘natives’ the English language in the nineteenth century, or a Victorian schoolmaster at some private institution describing a scholarship boy, it’s a ‘leftist’ writing a few weeks ago.
Where to go from here? It is first of all necessary to identify the features of the discourses and the desires which have led us to this grim and demoralising pass, where class has disappeared, but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent – and not because we are terrorised by the right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement. I think there are two libidinal-discursive configurations which have brought this situation about. They call themselves left wing, but – as the Brand episode has made clear – they are many ways a sign that the left – defined as an agent in a class struggle – has all but disappeared. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve just returned from a get-together with some old comrades – in a couple of cases (well, three to be exact), people I’ve known more or less since first getting involved with the serious left in the early-to-mid seventies. It dawned on me that as well as being comrades they’re some of my oldest and closest friends. And one of them, at least, I rate amongst the most admirable and principled people I’ve ever known.
I also learned a new (well, new to me) sectarian song that some readers might enjoy:
Given the importance of the Grangemouth dispute, the scale of the defeat and the implictions for British trade unionism, we make no apology for returning yet again to the subject. This article by Dale Street, analysing the pathetically inadequate, self-deluding and unserious response of much of the British left, first appeared in the AWL‘s paper Solidarity.
Above: Stevie Deans in his Grangemouth office
The Unite union’s defeat by Ineos at the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant in Scotland merits serious analysis and discussion by socialist organisations. We need to understand what happened and draw appropriate lessons in order to minimise the risk of such defeats in future.
Much of the left press has been desperate to spin a narrative of a militant workforce champing at the bit to take radical action, but being held back (and, ultimately, stitched up and sold out) by a capitulatory bureaucracy.
Workers Power told us: “The workers and their shop stewards, who bravely campaigned for a ‘No’ vote (i.e. rejection of the new terms and conditions), refused to be blackmailed.” By contrast, “McCluskey shamefully fled the battlefield at the first threat from Ineos billionaire boss, Jim Ratcliffe.”
The WP version of reality continued: “What followed (after Ineos announced closure) was an utter disgrace to trade unionism and a total betrayal of the loyalty of the workforce to its union. So-called socialist general secretary and darling of most of the left, Len McCluskey, not only accepted all of Ineos’ demands but ‘embraced’ a deal that extended the strike ban for three years.”
A common pattern. But is it what happened in this case? A statement by Ineos Unite convenor Mark Lyon said: “I made the call to accept the company terms and it was not at all easy. The decision was made by me but with the full endorsement of our stewards and our members. I make no apology to anyone for this decision.
“It is our judgement that they (Ineos) were prepared to close the site down and our members preferred to keep their jobs and take a hit on terms with the plan to work our way back.”
“Len McCluskey came to Grangemouth to give us support and solidarity. He did that but did not make this decision… we did.”
The eventual deal at Grangemouth represents a huge setback for workers, but it is simply not consistent with facts to suggest it was foisted on an unwilling workforce from above by Unite’s national leadership.
Both Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Network paint a similar picture, with both deeming Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party a central cause. Socialist Worker said: “Despite McCluskey’s often fiery rhetoric, his strategy rests on winning a Labour election victory, not on workers’ struggle.” And, according to the ISN, “Unite’s leadership was still distracted, playing games in the Labour Party. Not only did they lose those games, they took their eyes off what was happening to their actual members.”
The SWP and ISN’s starting point is not an analysis of the actual events at Grangemouth, but their own position on the Labour Party (that it is an irrelevance and a diversion, and that no struggle against its leaders using the existing Labour-union link is possible). The facts are then interpreted to justify the preconceived position.
Such an approach entails ignoring events in the real world which contradict that “analysis”. Thus, when Mark Lyon’s statement was posted on the ISN website over a week ago, the response from the ISN was… not to respond at all.
This was despite the fact that the person who posted Mark Lyon’s statement was the author of the article which it contradicted! But what did reality matter for the ISN when compared with an opportunity for (inaccurate) denunciation?
And if events at Grangemouth unfolded as claimed by the SWP and the ISN, then one would expect no shortage of Unite members in Grangemouth to be criticising their leadership (at plant, Scottish and national level).
But neither the SWP nor the ISN articles (or any other article written from the same angle) carry any quotes from Unite members in Grangemouth criticising their leaders for having sold them out.
In fact, the best that the SWP could come up with by way of a Unite activist providing the obligatory statements about “bullying bastard bosses” and “what was needed was to occupy the plant” was a Unite convenor in Donnington in Shropshire (who has been providing similar on-cue and on-message quotes to the SWP for over a decade).
The ISN’s references to “playing games in the Labour Party” and Unite taking its eyes off “what was happening to their actual members” merit particular attention.
The mainstream media, the Tory leadership, and Tory strategists like Lynton Crosby have launched countless attacks on Unite’s alleged activities in Falkirk Labour Party, using them as their central conduit for their attacks on the Labour Party.
But the ISN majestically dismisses the focus of those attacks (i.e. Unite’s involvement in the local Labour Party) as a mere case of Unite “playing games”.
ISN is right to insist that Unite focus on what’s happening “to their actual members”. But one of those “actual members” is Stevie Deans.
When Unite defended him — not just in Ineos against management’s attacks. but also in the Labour Party against attacks by party officials — it was not getting bogged down in “playing games in the Labour Party”. It was defending one of its “actual members” — which is what trade unions are meant to do.
In contrast to the above analyses, the Socialist Party (SP) focused heavily and sympathetically on the dilemma facing shop stewards in the plant itself. But it too approached the situation by looking for opportunities to justify its own dogmatic and sectarian position on Labour. Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, the SP said, were “holding the union back,” Labour “does not support workers in struggle,” and Unite should therefore “come out clearly in favour of a new mass workers party.”
In other words: Unite should pull out of the Labour Party in exchange for… the SP’s spectacularly unsuccessful Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.
The other curiosity about the SP’s analysis was what was not in it: a call for a general strike.
This was not an oversight. The SP leaflet distributed at the rally in Grangemouth on 20 October also made no mention of a general strike. Nor did the SP’s model motion for union branch meetings, drafted in response to Ineos’ announcement of closure of the plant.
For the SP, a general strike is something to demand in motions to TUC congresses and trade union conferences or when Cameron suffers a defeat in Parliament (e.g. over Syria). But when a potential major industrial and political dispute looms on the horizon — the call for a general strike suddenly disappears. Perhaps the reason is that it’s a sloganistic article-of-faith designed to catch a mood, rather than a serious strategy proposal.
What characterises much of the left analysis of Unite’s defeat in Grangemouth is:
• Substituting a simplistic notion of workers-want-to-fight-but-leaders-sell-out for serious analysis (and, even if that simplistic notion were true, failing to explain how the leaders managed to get away with selling out such a highly organised workforce).
• Adapting their analysis in order to fit in with their own pet themes and hobbyhorses.
November 14, 2013 at 10:35 pm (AWL, Catholicism, communalism, From the archives, history, immigration, Ireland, Islam, islamism, left, Marxism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion, stalinism)
My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:
The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now
There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.
For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.
Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.
Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.
Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.
The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.
The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.
The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.
We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)
For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.
In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.
(from the Workers Liberty website)
Looks like a worthwhile (if somewhat bureaucratic and reformist) event: certainly healthier than the travesty that was ‘Marxism 20013′…
The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) is pleased to announce its first national conference will be held this autumn
Class Conference 2013: Leading the Debate
Saturday 2 November 2013
TUC, Congress House
23-28 Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3LS
Class is holding its first major conference featuring a range of world class speakers for delegates from across the labour movement.
This large-scale conference aims to provide a unique opportunity to debate the policies we want to see implemented in 2015.
The day will consist of two main sessions with a selection of plenaries in the morning and afternoon. In these sessions we will address the most important concerns of the day including economic alternatives, the welfare state, work and pay, the role of trade unions in society, young people, housing, equality, inequality, public services, the NHS, amongst many more.
Allyson Pollock, Ann Pettifor, Angela Eagle MP, Billy Hayes, Christine Blower, Claude Moraes MEP, Professor Costas Lapavitsas, Professor Doreen Massey, Duncan Weldon, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Emily Thornberry MP, Fiona Millar, Frances O’Grady, Ian Lavery MP, Jack Dromey MP, Cllr James Murray, John Hendy QC, Jon Trickett MP, Joy Johnson, Kate Bell, Professor Keith Ewing, Ken Livingstone, Kevin Maguire, Laura Pidcock, Len McCluskey, Lisa Nandy MP, Manuel Cortes, Professor Marjorie Mayo, Mark Serworka, Mehdi Hasan, Melissa Benn, Mick Whelan, Owen Jones, Prem Sikka, Shelly Asquith, Stefan Stern, Stewart Lansley, Lord Stewart Wood, Wilf Sullivan, Zoe Williams… and many more still to be announced.
Come along to have your say.
To book a ticket please visit our Eventbrite page http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/event/6122960941
To find out more about the event please visit our website http://classonline.org.uk/events/item/class-conference-2013-leading-the-debate or the Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/500706923317709/?ref=22.
Projects and Events Officer
Our mailing address is:
Class: Centre for Labour and Social Studies
128 Theobalds Road
London, England WC1X 8TN
Comrade DK writes:
There seems no doubt in the author’s mind that a mass party can be achieved. But then again if his definition of mass party doing well is a limited relationship with one medium sized union and getting 3-5% of the vote in the places it stands then it probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
Valuable contribution to an essential debate…or the latest posturing from a discredited old ’New Left’?
After Neoliberalism? The Kilburn Manifesto
Edited by Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin
Although the neoliberal economic settlement is unravelling, its political underpinning remains largely unchallenged. Our manifesto calls into question the neoliberal order itself, and argues that we need radical alternatives to its foundational assumptions.
The manifesto will be published (free) in online instalments over the next 12 months.
Chapter 1 Framing statement After neoliberalism: analysing the present Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey, Michael Rustin
Chapter 2: Vocabularies of the Economy Doreen Massey
Comment on the Kilburn manifesto
Next instalments Michael Rustin Relational welfare (June) Stuart Hall and Alan O’Shea Neoliberal common sense (July) Beatrix Campbell Feminism and the new patriarchy (August) Ben Little Generational politics (September)
Further comment introduced by Doreen Massey over at Open Democracy / Our Kingdom
By Martin Thomas at the Workers Liberty website:
On 8 June the International Socialist Network – the group formed by some of the 200 to 400 people who quit the SWP after the SWP’s special conference in March – held its public launch meeting in London.
About 50 people, maybe 70 at the peak, were at the meeting: ISNers; people from the two groups with whom it is discussing unity, the Anti-Capitalist Initiative (a group mainly of ex Workers’ Power people) and Socialist Resistance (remnants of the old “Mandelite” group); and leftists who came from curiosity.
The meeting was organised in three sessions, one after the other – fighting oppression; anti-cuts; and where next for the left?
The speaker panels were:
First: Toni Mayo (ISN), Laurie Penny (Independent and New Statesman journalist), and Brenna Bhandar (a law lecturer at QMUL).
Second: Ian Llewellyn (ISN) and Sarah Murdock (a former SWP full-timer who quit recently, but introduced as representing PCS).
Toni Mayo described the ISN’s stance as: “We’ll set up a network and work out what we are about after that”. Laurie Penny lauded “network politics”, by which she meant chatting with like-minded people on blogs and other web forums as distinct from activity in workplaces, door-to-door, etc. The internet, she announced, makes all “party lines” impossible, and newspapers “defunct”.
Toni Mayo also placed great stress on opposing sexism, homophobia, prejudice against disabled people, etc., though it was not clear what this opposition would involve other than people telling each other over the web how pro-liberation they were.
Other speakers questioned some of these themes. But they set the tone for the meeting, together with China Miéville’s introduction in which he located the failing of the “traditional left” as not being sufficiently keyed in to “angry young bloggers”, “Laurie Penny’s constituency”.
Another tone-setting contribution was the first from the floor, a “Generation Y” type speech in which an ISNer said how glad she was to be free of the SWP and declared that for her, “politics has always been about what my needs are”.
I thought the most substantial contribution was Richard Seymour’s. He argued against facile optimism.
Neo-liberalism, he said, is now stronger than we think – woven into the fabric of everyday experience. To understand that, we should read Michel Foucault and Stuart Hall. (Hall was the first editor of New Left Review in 1960, and then a staple of the Eurocommunist Marxism Today in the 1980s).
The left has had much of its infrastructure cut away by the “increasing privatisation of life”. “Network politics” is not an answer: it provides only a “short-term buzz”. Nor is the invocation of “new social movements”. Unlike other ISN speakers, he saw “serious difficulties” in the People’s Assembly approach of rally after rally, “top-down”.
A couple of speakers from the floor questioned Seymour’s praise for Hall, and instinctively I sympathised with them. Maybe I am “sectarian” from memory of the polemics of the 1980s, and looking back at them I would find valuable ideas in Hall’s writings under the rightward-moving Eurocommunist politics. I don’t know.
To my mind, Seymour’s contribution pointed to the need for systematic, consistent socialist propagandist activity in workplaces and working-class communities. I don’t know whether any such conclusion is in his mind. He said only that we need a “convivial democratic organisation or system of organisations with a mass base“.
That would be nice. What a small band of socialists can achieve now he didn’t say. Whether he is privately drifting to the conclusion that it can do nothing I don’t know.
Brenna Bhandar’s speech also had substance, though from a political stance distant from AWL’s. As a model of where the left has done well, she cited India, on the grounds that the Communist Parties there have been in government.
She explained, however, why Laurie Penny’s “network politics” are inadequate. Social media circulate information fast. But real change comes from consistent organising, which requires “thicker and deeper” connections.
Bhandar centred much of her speech around a denunciation of a seminar she had attended on 6 June at Birkbeck College, addressed by socialist-feminist academics Nancy Fraser, Lynne Segal and Nina Power. All of them are white, she said. That shows that socialist feminists are way behind non-socialist feminists on addressing issues of racism.
Speakers from the floor took up the theme. No doubt, they indignantly declared, the panel had also failed to include disabled women, lesbians, etc… I don’t know what Fraser, Segal, and Power said, but I think they were entitled to discuss without including representatives of all oppressed groups in their panel, and I don’t think it possible for an individual to “represent” all the world’s billions of non-white women in a theoretical discussion.
Somewhat on the same wavelength, one ACI speaker said that “lots of people” (including himself, he suggested) saw the Woolwich murder as a reasonable “act of war”, and young people smashing up their neighbours’ houses or nearby corner shops in the 2011 riots as the sort of political action that “the left has to engage with”.
After the meeting, a socialist who is friendly with ISN members said to me: “It was more like a therapy session than a political meeting”.
Cruel, but true. In many hours of talk, no-one spoke about plans for active interventions by the ISN in workplaces or in campaigns.
Apart from Sarah Murdock and Ian Llewellyn (from Sussex University), almost no-one spoke of recent struggles in which they’d been active or of events in their workplace.
No-one spoke of the political basis for ISN-ACI-SR unity. Simon Hardy of the ACI said: “We [ACI, SR, ISN] haven’t really talked about politics yet, and we have to do that”. He said he was confident that there was much agreement, but cited as agreed only the idea that they all want a democratic left that doesn’t burn people out.
Within Left Unity, ACI people back Nick Wrack’s push for an explicitly socialist and working-class platform, and SR backs the plan of Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson for a “softer” political programme akin to Die Linke in Germany. There were echoes from that dispute in the 8 June meeting, but there was no arguing-out.
No-one proposed specific ISN policies (many seemed to think that anything like that would be the dreaded “party line”).
The activists quitting the SWP recently were mostly young, but few people in the meeting looked under 30. The ISN has picked up a few older people who left the SWP long ago, or were never in the SWP. Despite much proclamation of feminist virtue, the meeting was no less male-dominated than other left meetings.
Though you would expect ACI and SR to be excited about the prospects of merger with ISN, few of them turned up apart from their platform speakers. A scattering of other leftists (including at least a couple of SWPers) were there from curiosity, but no-one other from us AWLers sold literature. We sold only a little: refusals to buy our papers and pamphlets were often not the courteous “no, thanks” we get on the streets or door-to-door, but instead “no chance!”, “absolutely not!”, etc.
I spoke from the floor, near the end, about the ISN’s letter to the AWL refusing to discuss with us on the grounds that the differences are too big. If ISN doesn’t want to talk with AWL, I said, too bad. AWL has plenty else to do. But if ISN insists that “big differences” rule out discussion, then it has cut its own intellectual throat.
The person who refuses even to discuss ideas very different from her or his own, and remains content with general enthusiasm for “networking”, will never progress politically.
From the Alliance for Workers Liberty:
The letter below has been sent to SWP, SP, Left Unity, ISN, ACI, Counterfire, Socialist Resistance, Workers’ Power, and Weekly Worker.
We believe that the best way to get a good result from the current discussions about left unity would be to start talks for the establishment of a transitional organisation – a coalition of organisations and individuals, organised both nationally and in each locality, which worked together on advocating the main ideas of socialism, working-class struggle, democracy, and welfare provision; in support of working-class struggles; and in such campaigns as it could agree on (against bedroom tax? against cuts?), while also giving space to debate differences.
We’ve written the explanation below, and invite your comment and response.
Since 2008 global capitalism has been lurching through a long depression, with some countries in outright slump, and no end in sight. Millions of workers have lost their jobs or their homes.
In 2008 even governments like George W Bush’s in the USA felt obliged to impose large measures of “socialism” to avert chaos. It was socialism for the rich. Banks and insurance companies were nationalised, but left to bankers to run, on the same old criteria of private profit.
Vast sums of public money and credit were poured into the financial system to “socialise losses”, and governments have organised things since then to “privatise gains” yielded by the patches and flurries of economic recovery.
The economic tumult makes visible to all the need for social regulation of economic life; and also visible to all, the fact that the present system is regulated only in the interests of the wealthy.
The workings of capitalism itself are providing ample evidence why we need a different social regulation of economic life — a democratic social regulation exercised through public ownership of the main concentrations of productive wealth, workers’ control, and a thoroughgoing, flexible, responsive democracy in government.
But to go from evidence to conclusions requires argument. Argument in the teeth of the consensus which has dominated political life for the last two decades or more. Argument in defiance of the daily barrage from the mass media. And the argument requires people to argue it: socialists. Read the rest of this entry »
By Cathy Nugent (from the AWL website and their paper Solidarity)
In an online article the Socialist Party’s Hannah Sell tries to convince activists not to sign the statement initiated by Unison activists Marsha-Jane Thompson and Cath Elliot (“Our movement must be a safe place for women”).
“Safe Place for Women” is an unarguable appeal to the left and labour movement to stand in solidarity with women who are victims of male violence, especially when an incident takes place within our own movement.
Sell cannot directly contradict that sentiment so she takes the line “context is everything”. She says the statement will be used by the right-wing in the labour movement, and society, to witch hunt the left. It will distract from fighting capitalism and women’s oppression.
Readers who are familiar with the Socialist Party (SP) will recognise two of their techniques here.
First, using the line “You can’t say that against the left/the SP/the union because the right wing will use it” as a way of shutting down debate.
Second, the “sledgehammer and nut” approach. A tediously long exposition of how capitalism perpetuates women’s oppression precedes the “dangerous distraction” argument.
But what of the details of Sell’s right-wing backlash?
Sell says the Savile scandal has created a febrile atmosphere which will make an attack on the left more likely. That’s possible but, as Sell herself says, far, far better that such scandals are out in the open and discussed.
Second, Unison’s right-wing leaders and their friends in the Labour Party will seize upon this statement to attack the left… because that is what they do. But if it wasn’t this issue, it would be something else, surely?
Third, the Daily Mail etc. will seize on anti-left criticisms because of “a correct fear by sections of the ruling class that, given the profound crisis of capitalism, the socialist movement will be able to become a mass force in the coming years.” I hope that is true. But more likely this Marxist “prediction” is randomly inserted here to boost the argument. Read the rest of this entry »