Left, right in the Respect split

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Just to ponder a little on this question of the alleged left-right split in Respect – I’ve written a bit on this, but I think it’s worth teasing out further. Nothing I have seen in the past few weeks changes my opinion that the “left-right” view being put forward by the SWP CC is anything more than a rhetorical device. What in fact has been striking about the CC’s interventions has been the almost total lack of politics. To date, I have seen absolutely no evidence that there is any deep political division behind the split. Which is not to say, of course, that there is not a serious question here in terms of the future direction of Respect.

Actually, the seeds of this go back right to the beginning of Respect, and the SWP’s formulation that Respect was not a party (there can be only one true party) but that it was a “united front of a special type”. Nick Wrack argues that this is under-theorised, and he’s right, but it’s hardly the point. You have to set this alongside the SWP’s long history of working through “united fronts” which in fact turn out to be little more than fronts, having virtually nobody in them but the SWP. A particularly blatant example occurred in the early 1990s when the British CC relaunched the ANL, and the SWM leadership in Dublin decided that Ireland also needed an ANL – in a country with no Nazis! The Irish ANL’s only regular activity for years thereafter was to march up and down O’Connell Street once a year. (Some anti-deportation work was also done, but there was no reason why an ANL was needed for that.)

Most examples aren’t nearly as staggeringly stupid as that one, but we know the pattern. The SWP will set up a single-issue campaign, get some well-regarded individuals to sit on the committee, and do activity under its banner. The purpose of this is to allow the party to do campaigning work in a broader milieu, to try and get support for a campaign that couldn’t possibly be mobilised by the SWP as such, and, last but not least, to recruit into the SWP. Critics sometimes charge that these campaigns are purely about recruitment, but they aren’t – the other functions are important as well, and it’s too cynical to suggest that SWP comrades don’t care about the issues in themselves. But this way of working – termed “united front” work although it bears little or no resemblance to the Comintern concept – has become a deeply institutionalised part of the SWP’s culture.

Now we turn to Respect, the “united front of a special type”. There was a clear schema at the founding of Respect, and people like Callinicos and Rees were quite open about this. That was that there would be a broad left-of-Labour formation – but not a party – emerging from the antiwar movement, that reformists would be in the majority and that the SWP would be the Marxist wing, which would swim in this formation and recruit to “the party”. The trouble with these schemas is that real life tends to work differently. For instance, the SWP in Ireland has been involved in recent years in no less than three electoral fronts, none of which has included anybody significant outside its own ranks, so it has had to substitute for the absent reformists, vote against policies it believes in, and act as a conscious right wing.

This is one of the big reasons why I was hostile to the setting up of Respect in the first place. If Respect had emerged organically, that would be different, but I didn’t think it was the SWP’s job to set it up. On the other hand, Respect now exists, and poses some interesting questions. One is that, yes, the SWP has acted as a substitute for the absent reformists. Another is that, unlike the usual SWP cornflake-box front, Respect has developed a bit of substance, a bit of a life of its own, and it contains a lot of people who don’t want to join the SWP and for whom Respect is a worthwhile project in its own right.

So, in this light, how are we to judge the issue of the “left-right split”? As I’ve said before, I think much of this only makes sense if you judge things in an idealist sense. And again, there’s a whole lot of plagiarism going on. The arguments being deployed by the CC about “communalism” and Asian businessmen are off-the-shelf arguments that have been used by the AWL, and in a moderated form the Weekly Worker, for several years. (Minus, of course, the AWL’s peculiar stance on “the Mooslims”, which gives its position some substance.) And then the Matgamnites and Conradites return the compliment by regarding, or affecting to regard, the SWP as the proletarian socialist component of Respect which must be supported against the “petty bourgeois” element around George. The justification for that is the idealist one that the SWP are Marxists and the other side mostly aren’t. It also leads to the delicious scenario where the Weekly Worker, whose whole purpose for being in Respect is to recruit the flotsam and jetsam of the SWP, can’t appeal to SWP expellees because it’s cheering on the expulsions.

What I want to argue is this. I don’t think it’s particularly useful to talk in terms of “left” and “right” in this discussion, as formal positions are less important than functional perspectives. But I do think the SWP can be described as the conservative bloc in Respect. That’s why, although I’m much closer to the SWP than to George in formal politics, I hope they get their ass kicked in this fight. If they get their ass kicked, there are possibilities for Respect to grow, to develop, to change – where it would go is unpredictable, but then we’re talking possibilities here. If the SWP win, you’re talking about Respect becoming a tightly controlled SWP front, which is, in the Rumsfeldian sense, a known known. We’ve been there before and don’t need to go back.

44 Comments

  1. johng said,

    October 27, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    This was my response as an SWP member on socialist unit

    In my view the idea that this is all about a dispute about the respective integrities of the SWP and important leaders in Respect, is as mistaken as the view that its all about a dispute between Leninism and Pluralism.

    When Jerry says that a range of things have come to light over a year and a half he is absolutely right. When you have attempts to present packing meetings as an excercise in grass roots democracy, or demands for more ‘professionalism’ being used to denounce those who criticise selection proceedures which let in people capable of defecting to ‘New Labour’ it seems to me your confronting left wing arguments to justify right wing political practice, as good a definition of a very British tradition of Municipal reformism as any.

    In retrospect reading through the contributions in the IB (which importantly have been published and are being read by every SWP member) what you have are sincere comrades being pulled by these well known electoral compulsions, and dressing up more familiar kinds of electoral compulsion in a pseudo-SWP language. I have no doubt that the pulls are real and that this is the result not of consious perfidy but of genuine disorientation in the face of a new situation. But the speed with which the language adopted has shifted to the kind of hysterical denunciations made by Rob and Kevin is rather shocking if perhaps the product of the, obviously and genuinely, shocking dynamic of the last month.

    This is though, of a piece, with a language of contempt directed not at any Socialists, its true, but any Socialists raising questions about selection proceedures (its interesting that George’s intervention focused heavily on this question). In other words its perfectly ok to be left wing so long as you are just a loyal foot-soldier in the electoral process and leave deeper questions of political strategy to the higher ups. This is after all a familiar enough pattern in British left wing politics and the reason is not that people are evil or bad but that if you focus only on the question of ‘electability’ its obviously true that its best to soft pedal on the politics, at least at the level of local commitee’s. The idea here is that our good general arguments would have much greater impact if we had more representation.

    The difficulty is that the result has been an increasing subordination of a general political orientation towards attempting to providing a political home for those moving between Labour and a left alternative towards the imperatives of building local electoral machines which contain methods of operation identical to the thing we’re trying to build an alternative to. The extremely bitter fight in Tower Hamlets (with Kevin trying now to reduce this to a family affair and a couple of demented Trots) escalated precisely because of a clash between a core of people who have done a huge chunk of the leg work and a section of the councilers who seem to have seen Georges intervention as an opportunity to marginalise all these irritating little russian dolls and their hangers on.

    Obviously its true that in the current climate we would hope for the support of many who are not socialists. I also stand by everything I’ve argued about the ludicrousness of suggesting that grocers are members of the British Bourgoisie. But if a logic starts developing where such people are given a whip hand over the activists (the vitriol and contempt towards socialist activists who ‘try the chairs patience’ etc) that is a logic which has to be challenged. Georges intervention, as stated, was directly related to these arguments. And sure enough straight afterwards you had a situation were a kind of ‘all power to the councilers’ move was taken, in the first by now notorious meeting. In the last meeting it was apparently enough that a majority of people who came did not support the councilers position but were more sympathetic to what some comrades in the SWP were arguing, as well as some councilers seen as supporting them, not only for their arguments to be dismissed, but for democracy to be abrogated.

    This to me is the logic of what is going on and this is what I mean by ‘right wing’. Not a conspiracy, not evil people, but a shift which structurally will lead us to the right. I’m told that socialist worker was contacted by two media organisations one of them channel 4. In the climate (particularly of Rob Hovemans intervention which I found grotesquely offensive) I may have over-reacted to the situation. Even Russian Dolls have tempers in this situation. I am very sorry if comrades of the quality of Jerry Hicks are resigning. Its terrible and tragic and I would be the last person to suggest that mistakes have not been made. But if the logic is as I think it is (and I think it is), then in political terms (and I am constantly being told to keep my head and be political by people who seem to me to be doing the opposite) on this one, the SWP is right to argue what its arguing.

  2. johng said,

    October 27, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Much better news:
    http://www.respectcoalition.org/?ite=1615

  3. Phil said,

    October 27, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    the SWM leadership in Dublin decided that Ireland also needed an ANL – in a country with no Nazis!

    Is that right – have you never had any [neo-]fascists in Ireland? I would have assumed there’d be some local outpost of the Hitler/Strasser/Evola/Degrelle/Benda/etc fan club. Where did you go right?

  4. Mark P said,

    October 27, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Ireland has had fascist movements in the past. The Blueshirts in the 1930s were one of the largest fascist movements not to succeed in taking power. After the collapse of the Blueshirts, various splinters survived like the National Corporate Party and its associated Greenshirts. The latter groups were central to sending hundreds of volunteers to fight (poorly) for Franco.

    However there has been no open fascist organising in the South for many years now and a relatively small amount in the North.

  5. Garibaldy said,

    October 27, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    I think part of the reason Ireland north and south has practically no neonazis is because there are other places for extreme nationalists to go, that will earn them more influence and respect.

  6. Mbari said,

    October 27, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    … And that it must be hard to get worked up over a few immigrants “stealing our jobs” etc. when there’s a foreign army hanging around up north.

  7. bysshe said,

    October 27, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    Just on the Irish ANL.

    The ANL in ireland was used, an i use the term on purpose, to tackle attempts to get david Irving, and le pen to speak in dublin. And again with Irving in Cork and on other occasions.

    It also effectiviely, for instance, took up a local response to a racist murder in Ringsend.

    From what i remember of the time the critisim of the ANL was that it was used and dropped rather than being a permanent campaign. ie holding some activity but not enough, it was alledged over the start of the racist response of the irish state to immigration. The SWM/SWP leadership argued that it should be used as and when necessary to tackle specific issues.

    Right or wrong not quite the permanent pointless oconnell street parade you suggest.

    footnote: I also had the misfortune to hear the fascist former lectureer Richard Lynn on the Moral maze bleating about iq and race last week. One of the best things the ANL in Ireland did was run a campaign in Coleraine to try and get that filth sacked — he retired ealry on the encouragement of the university to get rid of some level of embarrassment.

  8. Liam said,

    October 27, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Mark, the loyalist murder gangs were much more serious outfits that the drunken, lumpen British fascists. With one or two small exceptions none of the far left currents gave them the attention they deserved and those that did were described as ultra left.

  9. Mick Hall said,

    October 27, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    Your correct this is not a left-right battle in the normal use of the term, these things rarely are, the window dressing comes later when the CC scribes write the thing up. This is a grubby bourgeois contest over who controls Respect; and from where I sit it looks like the SWP will win the carcass. What good it will do them who knows, for if they succeed SWP people and the odd few lefties who cling to their tail will be all that remains within Respect.

    Galloway will take his supporters and set up a thiefdom in London’s East End, probably winning more council seats in that area, if he is successful and they will have him, he may even march them all into the LP. The SWP will gradually implode Respect for what they consider to be greener pastures as they did with the SA and the whole sorry merry go around will start again. Whether the minnows who inhabit the sects will be desperate enough to repeat this charade will be for them, but in all probability they will as they seem incapable of life without the SWP.

  10. Mike said,

    October 28, 2007 at 1:10 am

    Yes the current struggle in Respect is about prestige and power. But it is also a struggle between a group, the SWP, which calls for workers power and a petty bourgeois populist tendency which is opposed to workers power. If you doubt it simply watch what happens to the likes of Francis, Ovenden and Hovemen in the coming years as they abandon any vestige of socialist and thus working class politics. The SWP on the other hand has a small, a very small, chance of drawing a self critical balance sheet of the last few years and returning to something approximating a proletarian orienttion. A possibility that simply does not exist while they wallow with the filth in Respect the opportunist coalition.

  11. ejh said,

    October 28, 2007 at 7:43 am

    wallow with the filth

    Nice

  12. Andy Newman said,

    October 28, 2007 at 7:50 am

    Mike: while they wallow with the filth in Respect

    as Mike describes the mainly Asian non-SWP membership of Respect as filth, one is entitled to wonder about his own political trajectory.

  13. johng said,

    October 28, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Agree with you on that point Andy.

    Seriously though it is remarkable how reticent people are to actually look at what sparked these arguments. They were all focused around the issue of candidate selection. The argument was that the SWP was being ‘divisive’ by having arguments about this. Maybe so. However in each case the SWP lost. And then went on to provide the bulk of activists to campaign for the candidates (who won). Then George intervenes and, basically, implies that we should not even have arguments about these things. The SWP says no, thats a step too far. And then an attempt is made to mount a coup in TH Respect, in one case a transparently dodgy attempt to pack a meeting in the second simply refusing to count the votes of people who are either in the SWP or support their arguments (interestingly by this stage, the section of the councilers doing this were losing the ability to command a majority, its been suggested to me that this was one reason locally things came to a head so rapidly and so nastily). The poisen out of this embitters existing tensions nationally.

    Whats the politics of this? Essentially the relationship between activists on the ground doing the campaigning and mantaining the branches, and those elected as councilers or MPs. Its not unusual in the history of the municipal left.

    Obviously there might be all kinds of things about the style of particular organisations or individuals. There might also be all kinds of things about how we mantain pluralism in a broad coalition (or how the coalition should be organised). But they’re hardly likely to be resolved when this kind of thing is going on. I think there is a fair bit of naivity about all this amongst some left bloggers, as well as a tendency not to know anything about the real politics of local situations (this is particularly so amongst islamophobic idiots actually).

    There is also a tendency for people who don’t have a dog in the race not to understand that in such situations those on the left who command no forces won’t be seen as a threat and therefore no one objects to them standing around smiling and making friendly noises. Its an added bonus if they start going on about the ‘control freakery’ and otherwise unpleasent behaviour of those socialists who do have an organised presence on the ground of course.

    To read the fine and nuanced programatic declarations of some well meaning individuals about all this is, if you have some knowledge about whats actually happened on the ground in the last few weeks, a deeply surreal experiance.

    In the context of inevitable clashes like this what needs to happen is for an understanding on both sides that this is a fight that cannot be fought to the finish if Respect is to survive (its why many of the more ‘programatic’ arguments are not so much damaging but irrelevent). Arguments about how nice individual swp members are (i would not expect to hear such inanities on a sophisticated blog like this of course!) in the context of what is locally a straightfoward left/right fight in the time honoured traditions of local electoral organisations, rather remind me of people who used to claim that they really liked muslims on demos just as long as they didn’t turn up in groups.

    disengenuous crap really.

  14. October 28, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    […] mensch einen nicht zur SWP gehörenden Dummen für die Drecksarbeit gefunden), geht anderswo die Debatte weiter, fröhlich teilt sich eins in zwei oder mensch führt Metadiskussionen über das […]

  15. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 28, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Just to come back to bysshe on the ANL, of course useful work was done around good issues. But I was never convinced that those things couldn’t be done on an ad-hoc basis. Certainly the way the ANL was conjured up and then dropped again suggests there wasn’t really the basis for an ongoing movement.

  16. johng said,

    October 28, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    “But I was never convinced that those things couldn’t be done on an ad-hoc basis”

    You surely can’t be serious about the whole cultural and political movement of the late 1970’s?

  17. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 28, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    No, you misunderstand me. I’m not referring to the original ANL. What I was referring to was the relaunch of the ANL circa 1992, and specifically the decision of the Irish SWM leadership that Ireland also needed an ANL, even though it didn’t have any fascist movement. This involved PC members doing a lot of arm-waving about Le Pen and Haider, but they could never convincingly explain why that had anything to do with Irish politics.

    I explain it as being a reflex action on the part of the burger-flippers in the Irish franchise. It wouldn’t be the first or last time.

  18. johng said,

    October 28, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    on that i really can’t comment (given my argument about the crucial flaw of left wing bloggeries coverage of the crisis in Respect).

  19. bysshe said,

    October 28, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    On the irish ANL again. to remphasise in response to specific events as outlined above the ANL was a vechile to respond. both in the north and the south.

    The “left” criticism was at the time (wrongly in my view) that the ANL as a start again stop again campaign missed the urgent tasks etc etc. that to me seems to chime with splintered’s point that there was no base for an all out all emcompassing campign but over specific issues it made sense. iis the suggested criticism is in fact what the campaign was doing all along.

    On loyalists etc: what was interesting about the Richard Lynn campaign in Coleraine was that it annoyed all sorts of people. The one march that took it beyond the college was attacked by NF members waving union jacks. the rally surrounded by lots and lots of RUC used the war memorial as a platform. It had no choice but to deal with the bigger issues of british nationalism and sectarianism etc and at a low level it did so quite sucessfully.

    Liam: while the the nature of the sectarian state meant loyalism was the more obvious (and more dangerous) home to the reactionary, it was a worthwhile thing for the left to engage with an tackle a fascist professor and campaign as such. Particularly in such a hot bed of radicalism as coleraine (sic)!!! and at the time the republicans and their cheerleaders moved off to make their peace wih the system.

  20. Andy Newman said,

    October 28, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    It has to be said though I would have been mightily impressed if the Irish ANL really had tried to deal with loyalist paramilitaries

    :o)

  21. Garibaldy said,

    October 28, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    Do people seriously think that the only potential fascists in Ireland are the loyalists? I know that lots of people are naive but seriously. Here are two facts that people might like to ponder from the 1970s. PSF sent people regularly to the VB festival in Belgium; and when the NF asked the UDA for a representative to their conference, they sent a black member. The situation might be a little more complicated than people assume.

  22. cameron said,

    October 28, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    As I told you before Splintered, the CPGB is not backing the SWP against those expelled. Indeed at a national meeting today, the large majority argued that the we should not support the CC in expelling the trio – because for a genuine left to emerge, their has to be space for all shades of opinion in the SWP to debate the issues democratically. It should have been dealt with at SWP conference, not before.

  23. Andy Newman said,

    October 28, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    To be fair Cameron, when discussing a national meeting of the CPGB, the expression “large majority” is a little misleading.

    Do you mean there were 15 for, and 5 against?

  24. cameron said,

    October 28, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    Well, as Splintered knows well Andy, when Jacky Conrad comes down against the CC expelling them at this particular point….

    The great man even let me wash his car during the interval. Then he gave me vouchers to be redeemed at Sketchley’s.

  25. Mike said,

    October 28, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Andy wrote “Mike describes the mainly Asian non-SWP membership of Respect as filth, one is entitled to wonder about his own political trajectory.”

    For the record it is the petty bourgeois leaders of Respect that I consider to be filth. The membership count for nothing being manipulated by communalist.

    That said I suspect that I have more respect for the members of the illnamed populist coalition than do the likes of Galloway.

    As for my political trajectory it is towards the working class as it has always been.

  26. Ciarán said,

    October 29, 2007 at 1:22 am

    The six counties has always been the backwater of the UK where for some reason politicians can pretty much always get away with racism, homophobia, and any other kind of bigotry you can think of. (Apparently, oul’ Lord Craigavon back in the 30s said, “We have the Orange Order, the Black Brethren and the B-Specials and they constitute all the fascism that Ulster wants.”)

    That being said, AFA Ireland and a number of other groups were able to raise a fuss over unionist opposition to a mosque in Portadown four years ago. Fred Crowe of the UUP had said that the mosque would make the place a haven for militants and that Muslims wanted to wipe out Christianity, and Woolsey Smith of the DUP said that the ‘wailing’ would keep residents awake at night. Planning permission was blocked by unionists on the council and I think in the end they had to have the site changed.

  27. ejh said,

    October 29, 2007 at 8:26 am

    As for my political trajectory it is towards the working class as it has always been

    Have you found them yet?

  28. johng said,

    October 29, 2007 at 9:24 am

    And the expelled Bengali councillers Cameron?

  29. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 29, 2007 at 10:16 am

    I’m glad to hear it Cameron. I’m afraid that Jack’s mastery of the dialectic is sometimes too clever for me to follow.

    Nonetheless I continue to think the CPGB is guilty of idealist deviationism here. In that, the SWP’s formal programme makes it the left wing, and that our goal is to have a left split from the SWP, defined in the same formal terms. This is the sort of idealism that got you into trouble in Scotland. (wags finger)

  30. cameron said,

    October 29, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Am I behind the news Johng? Have the four TH councillors been expelled from Respect?

    Not dodging things. If this is confirmed by you or someone else, then I’ll give you your answer.

  31. cameron said,

    October 29, 2007 at 10:46 am

    my answer, that shouls say.

  32. cameron said,

    October 29, 2007 at 10:56 am

    Splintered, for the most considered response I think on the ‘left/right’ thing so far read Dr McNair’s article in WW this week.

    http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/694/swp.htm

    This is why – in contrast to people in some left groups – we do not see it as the left against the right. As I’ve pointed out on here and Andy’s blog before, the SWP is merely posing left. Something Stalin was more than capable of doing.

  33. Cian said,

    October 29, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    And people wonder why the far left became so marginalised…

  34. ejh said,

    October 29, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Surely if something is “far” in the first place, it is likely to be at the margins?

  35. Andy Newman said,

    October 29, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    JOhn is being very naughty by the way in promoting this counter-factual rumour that four councillors have been expelled from Respect. John – have they actually been expelled? Ii so by whom? Under what authority? We should be told.

    And is they haven’t been expelled then why are you all over blogland saying they have?

    First of all we know that the SWP CC has expelled three comrades during the Respect crisis.

    But we are expected to believe that, on their own initiative and authority two SWP members, a close relative of an SWP member, and someone who wanted to joint the SWP but was advised it was an inopportune time, these four people spontaneously decide to resign the Respect group, allowing the Tories to become the main opposition, and costing Respect the fundig from the council for a full time political officer.

    To put it mildly, the CC have their focus on Respect at the moment, it isn’t as if this is a decision was whether to use first class or second class stamps for an ANL mailing. But apparently the four councillors didn’t consult with the SWP.

    The SWP CC (we are supposed to believe according to John G) reacted to the four councillors resigning the whip by saying, well you know best, just decide for yourselves. we don’t care either way.

    The four SWP councillors then hold a press conference and attack the other side to the local paper.

    Having demonstrated their commitment to unity in action in this way, the SWP continue to say it is the Respect loyalists out to provoke a split, and publish an editorial in Socialist Worker saying they are committed to Resepct for the long haul.

    Even when they wrote the editorial they were negotiating the terms of their exit from respect, without once seeking to involve the non-SWP membership of Respect in debate over the politics behind the break up.

  36. Cian said,

    October 29, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    “Surely if something is “far” in the first place, it is likely to be at the margins?”

    Either you’re being tediously, and uselessly, pedantic – or, there’s a much sharper point which you failed to communicate in that sentence. I’d like to think it was the latter (in which case what is it), but I rather fear it was the former.

  37. ejh said,

    October 29, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Bit of both Cian.

    I do think your point was largely rhetorical. One would expect the far left to be pretty much marginalised in nearly all circumstances – hence the pedantic but not irrelevant observation. The idea that it is marginalised because it has failed to do, or to be, something which it should have done or should have become, is a suggestion I view with scepticism. There are, after all, plenty of people who claim to know what should be done and yet nobody actually seems to be able to do it. Which rather reminds me of Bob Hope’s observation that it’s a shame all the people who know how the coutnry should be run are actually driving taxis…

  38. Cian said,

    October 29, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Was it now. And I though it was an amused, throw away, remark. Just shows how wrong you can be sometimes.

    Whatever needs to be done, its unlikely to happen while Marxists are arguing among themselves about which of the splinters of the Russian revolution were right, who’s prolier than thou, or what Lenin/Trotsky/Marx really said in response to contemporary problems. And yet…

    Add that to the fact that most Marxists would be revolutionaries seem to have the unattractive features of aging academics (angry arguments over hairsplitting, and fights over correct use of jargon) than practical politicians of any stripe. They lost sight of the problem, of the vision and all that remained was the hatred. Which is pretty sad.

  39. ejh said,

    October 29, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    I don’t know whather you can do much about the tendency of the left to argue with one another. As you know, I think its their worst failing but I may be obliged to accept that it’s intrinsic to their role and position.

    As I’ve also said before, I don’t think it’s so much that people lost sight of the poblem as that they found their audience disappearing of its own accord. That’s what I mean when I say I’m sceptical about the possibility of it having been (or being any different) had things been done differently. To me, the fact is that for deep-rooted reasons, there has been a huge decline in socialist consciousness, in Western (or perhaps more accurately Northern) countries over the past generation or so – a major loss of faith in socialist ideas or movements or parties and indeed in the idea of organised labout on which all those things rested. And I don’t think that’s because we didn’t come up with the right conception of the party (or of doing without a party) or anything like that. I think it’s because the world changed about us and ideas that were <i<to some degree particular to the old world were seen to have failed or no longer had the same appeal.

  40. Andy Newman said,

    October 29, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    ejh: To me, the fact is that for deep-rooted reasons, there has been a huge decline in socialist consciousness, in Western (or perhaps more accurately Northern) countries over the past generation or so – a major loss of faith in socialist ideas or movements or parties and indeed in the idea of organised labout on which all those things rested.

    Funny that Die Linke manages to have 50+ members in the Bundestag, some 80000 members and is riding aboove the greens in the opinion polls then.

  41. ejh said,

    October 30, 2007 at 7:27 am

    Yes, but it’s not exactly the Day Of Socialist Emancipation though, is it Andy?

  42. ejh said,

    October 30, 2007 at 9:09 am

    I mean it may be that the whole seachange in social and political attitudes over the past generation is just a blip and that given the right form of political organisation the tide will shortly turn. But I doubt it. I don’t do predictions beyond the next morning (the sun will come up and cat will want feeding) but I doubt it nevertheless.

    It’s my view that traditional socialist politics, in its many and various forms, derived from the particular experience and outlook of a relatively recently-formed working class in a condition of material impoverishment, and of course of the radical intellectuals who sympathised with that class.

    Now that period, in the more economically advanced parts of the world at least, is basically over. Of course there is still poverty, inequality is grotesque and becoming more so and labour organisation is not irrelevant to how one defends one’s working conditions or standard of living. But nevertheless it sems to me that if the audience for socialist ideas has shrunk, it may not be solely because it’s not being put to the audience in the right way. It may be because that audience has changed and we don’t know yet what a contemporary socialist politics looks like.

  43. Andy Newman said,

    October 30, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Yes ejh, but you re (quite correctly I think) making the same point that Hobsawm made thirty years ago.

    And left progressive politics now needs to consider organised labour and class conssious workers as just one leg of the stool, and we need to look at broader alliences wiith other progressive strands of politics.

    That only means the left is dead, if the left cannot change its way of working.

  44. ejh said,

    October 30, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Yes ejh, but you’re (quite correctly I think) making the same point that Hobsbawm made thirty years ago.

    Well, not entirely.


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