Sunday, 31 December 2006

Left Behind: 2006

2006 was a funny year for the left.

The crisis of political representation has deepened as Labour continues to shed members like they're going out of fashion. It carries out policies that kick its electoral base in the teeth, and then moans about the disconnect between parties and the wider public,

The BNP did pretty well during the year's council elections and scored a massive publicity coup with the stupid and unsuccessful prosecution of Nick Griffin and Mark Collett.

There have been stirrings in the trade unions with an increasing willingness to take action. For the most part these are led from the top and tended toward stalemate. This means everyday bread and butter struggles are particularly vulnerable to the interests of union bureaucrats. Take Unison for example. The bureaucracy has singularly failed to take a serious lead in the fight against the government's programme of NHS cuts. The pattern has been repeated throughout the country - Unison is willing to lead threatened staff out on a march but beyond that, forget it. It has been upto grassroots activists, rank and file workers, patients and others to link up the increasing number of local struggles. This is often in the face of bureaucratic opposition and is nothing short of disgraceful. But should we be surprised their concern to ease Gordon Brown's path to coronation comes before members interests?

On the subject of Labour, 2006 finally saw some movement from the Labour left. Only the most blinkered of sectarians would not have welcomed John McDonnell's decision to stand for the party's leadership. If his challenge has succeeded in mobilising people around left wing politics, even when the arena is the husk that the Labour party is these days, this is a good thing. But it is doubtful McDonnell will make it onto the ballot, let alone win the contest! Nevertheless of those outside the Labour party most of the left have struck the right attitude towards this development. The Socialist Party for instance, takes the principled position of urging remaining Labour lefts to get involved in the John 4 Leader campaign and argues all trade unionists should back him. This to me makes far more sense than merely calling on people to leave Labour and get involved in the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. But nor should we let these comrades off the hook - every John 4 Leader activist I've spoken to have refused to be drawn on their plans after the campaign. My hunch is even if they fail to get McDonnell on the ballot, most will remain in Labour because there's nothing sufficiently viable outside to most of their tastes.

Well, that is not strictly true. The Greens have had a good year. While the BNP grabbed the headlines the Green Party had made good, if quiet advances. There's two reasons for leftists to be cheerful about its progress. First was June's successful launch of the party's ecosocialist platform, Green Left. Second, one of its leading activists, Derek Wall, was elected male co-speaker (chair) in November. The left here are on the march. I certainly look forward to the Greens deepening their commitment to social justice and turning their back on a strategy aiming to "green" capitalism. There are problems around the Green's sandals-and-muesli image. Their consensus-based party structure is also a major albatross in my opinion. There are lessons green lefts can learn from the Trotkyist movement on this score but one hopes without going through the sectarian excesses that has so deformed its potential.

Speaking of excesses by far the most depressing domestic political event has been the split in the Scottish Socialist Party. Like many my first instinct was to hail Tommy Sheridan's court victory over the News of the World. The celebrations didn't last long in the BC household. As the days went by after the case it became increasingly apparent it wasn't as clear cut as matters immediately presented themselves. I'm not going to rehearse these arguments as they're in the public domain. But considering the bitterness existing between the anti-Sheridan and Sheridanista factions they couldn't really cooperate effectively. As regrettable the split was, I don't think there was any alternative but for Sheridan and co to launch Solidarity. One would hope that comrades would try and build as many bridges as possible to put the split behind us, but if Solidarity's embarrassingly self-aggrandising new year statement is to go by - don't hold your breath.

This is not a sectarian dig, but it does look like Respect has hit the buffers. The capacity to get councillors elected where it is strong stands testament to the roots the coalition has managed to put down. The big but is the decline in membership and the increasing dissatisfaction independent activists and on-off SWP allies, the ISG are having with Respect's centralised but ramshackle structure. Chief among their beefs is the lack of control the organisation has over its representatives. The Celebrity Big Brother fiasco with George Galloway is one memory that won't be going away in a hurry, but according to the Weekly Worker and internet gossip a number of local councillors tend to do as they please. If Respect is to be more than a small but moderately successful then the accountability issue has to be sorted out. Liam MacUaid's analysis is one all Respect activists and supporters should seriously reflect on.

Things haven't been particularly fantastic for the rest of the revolutionary left. I'll leave the SP's year for a future post. But those mighty titans the International Bolshevik Tendency have done well - their recruitment of former SP youth NC member, Michael Wainwright has brought their UK membership perilously close to double figures. Will they be able to add another comrade to their ranks before he clears off? But this was eclipsed by THE left story of 2006. No not Sheridan, I'm talking about the split in Workers' Power. The most entertaining aspect of this falling out between uber-bolsheviks was the publicising of WP's international membership figures. The internet feeding frenzy just had to be seen to be believed!

Groping for something of an overall verdict I'd say 2006 was a year where the left stood still. This is simply not good enough. The BNP's turn to far right populism has given them the name recognition they could only have dreamed of 10 years ago. We should be appalled at the failure to make ourselves the natural alternative for all our class to turn to. I doubt we will be able to in 2007, but if we keep this objective in mind we can make a significant stride toward it.


Phil said...

I forgot to add something with regards to the Greens. Sian Berry won the female co-speaker's position and she's a socialist too. Excellent news.

Duncan Money said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duncan Money said...

It hasn't been a great year for the left which is a bit depressing since 2006 was the first year I became properly engaged in far left politics.

Oh well, I suppose if it was easy they wouldn't call it struggle.

Geoff Collier said...

I don't really grasp how the critical support for John McDonnell squares with the belief that Labour is now a purely bourgeoise party. You wouldn't have supported any candidate standing for the leadership of the Lib Dems, or anybody such as Jessie Jackson standing in the US Democratic primaries. So does labour retain some residual trace of its working class base?

Phil said...

Well you know my position on this Geoff, which is why I'm glad the SP has called for lefts remaining in the Labour party to give him their support.

J.J said...

I loved Solidarity's New Year message. It gave me the best laugh I have had for ages. The miserable sods!