Published on Socialist Unity, by Mark Perryman, Jan 12, 2013.
On the eve of the carcrash of last weekend’s SWP conference, which has consumed all the anger and energy of a small fragment of the British Left for the past week , Alex Snowdon of Counterfire posted an assessment of the state of the ‘Revolutionary Left’ on his blog here.
I hold no brief for Counterfire, they do some things with a degree of flair and imagination, other things not so well and I’m personally unfamiliar with the backhistory of the key figures involved. Nevertheless I would cite Alex’s piece as an interesting and thought-provoking piece, reflective too of a recent online debate at the Socialist Unity Website. Unfortunately by and large though 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 this contribution below.
Since the Socialist Unity and Alex Snowdon piece’s appeared the SWP fallout has erupted of course. Within a small circle this is of some considerable import, but beyond? Laurie Penny’s excellent New Statesman piece points to some potential broader ramifications for Left practice, reminiscent of the Beyond The Fragments debate of over thirty years ago. Spookily the book is being reissued in an updated edition in March of this year by Merlin Press perhaps now to be read by a new generation of Left activists with fresh interest.
Richard Seymour’s equally excellent post on his blog is of interest to non-SWP members for different reasons. It is internally focussed yet reveals the basic problem with enforcing Democratic Centralism short of a party holding state power. Without the full force of the state to wield this Leninist-inclined structure depends on a high degree of collective self-discipline, which has immense strengths when it holds but once that ‘spell’ is broken is shattered entirely. Richard is boldly asserting the right to dissent from a majority decision because he believes that this particular majority decision was corrupted. Either he will be part of forming a new majority, agree to abide by the former majority’s decision, be expelled or leave. There is no other end game, he and the SWP must know that.
Both Laurie and Richard’s contributions hint at the broader debate that perhaps should be taking place and this is where Alex Snowdon”s piece is most useful as a beginning
Some brief points then in response to Alex.
Firstly on issues on terminology. I assume by ‘revolutionary left’ Alex means mainly a Trotskyist influenced left , I would also 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. 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 also doing very well. In Germany and Italy the Left is facing significant setbacks. In the Irish Republic, 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 these 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 remains key, the Arab Spring in the balance. Internationalism will be shaped by both, the practical lessons for the home Left however are less clear.
Now to Alex’s notes on the ‘Revolutionary Left’
I take it he would include the SWP, SP, Counterfire, AWL, Socialist Resistance. We might add the CPB and Respect.
These can count membership numbers in hundreds, the SWP in thousands. There are other groups but these are mainly in the tens of members.
None of this 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 great measure either (that might develop in Bradford for Respect but not much sign of it yet).
Beyond the parameters of this list the Green Party isn’t making much of a breakthrough and with Labour shamefully announcing it is to prioritise targeting 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. However despite the efforts of ‘Green Left’ ,the Red-Green element is scarcely visible, and mostly The Green Party appeals to voters 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. But its version of pluralism looks mainly rightwards, to left-wing Lib Dems, most recently here and it hasn’t the activist base that the impressively large size, numbering tens of thousands, of the Compass email subscription list might indicate it would be able to boast. 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 Compass nor the Labour Hard Left have any kind of meaningful strategy to shift Labour Leftwards … //
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