Tuesday 25 June 2013

Tired and Defeated

There is an odour exuded by my person, the odour of defeatism! At least according to sundry contributors to my piece on the People's Assembly over at Socialist Unity. I can understand why some comrades, like Mark Steel might get a little narked about a critical piece when you've put a lot of effort and energy into what is an otherwise welcome trade union initiative. But tough. Faith and enthusiasm are no substitutes for clear heads and the sober analysis of the opportunities and problems confronting the anti-austerity movement.

But what I'm interested in is this notion of 'defeatism', of being 'tired' and 'negative'. Now, I'm going to be honest here. Perhaps the criticisms of "being tired" has a ring of truth to them. I'm certainly not burnt out - I am as active now (if not more so) as I was when I thought the Socialist Party was the bees knees. But I am tired of what appear to be cyclical motions of activity of the left and the labour movement. It goes something like this.

We start with an issue, say a looming unpopular war, a perceived deficit in working class political independence, or opposition to austerity.

An organisation or group of organisations hold an exciting and energising set of meetings. These are usually along the lines of a massive speakerthon in London - typically at Friends Meeting House or ULU. And followed by local launches elsewhere that often see leading figures of the new movement feature as special guests.

The immediate objective laid out by the Steering Committee is a big set piece event, such as a demonstration, a day of action, or a general election campaign.

Once that objective has been met and a Herculean effort pulled off by all concerned, the next target appears - a local mobilisation or another large set piece such as another national demo, another day of action, another set of elections.

For some, especially those who were tempered by the initial 'heroic' phase of the movement, start getting disillusioned. It might be because there's other things going on in their lives, or they're feeling a bit burned out, or their activity is appearing to have little appreciable effect, or, all three.

As disillusionment sets in for large numbers, people start dropping out of activity.

Those remaining, who by this point are inveterate protestors of all types and self-decribed revolutionary organisations, typically turn in and blame each other and the SWP for screwing it up. "If only the right leadership were present ..."

Rinse and repeat.

The frustrating thing for me is, simplified as it may be, I have seen initiatives and campaigns of varying size and real world import come and go over the last 18 years roughly according to this pattern. And each time, the participants pick themselves up off the ground and try doing the same thing again. Very little, if anything, is learned about what went wrong last time.

"Now come on Phil", someone might say, "aren't you being a miserable old, um, miserablist? Mightn't things be different this time?"

The People's Assembly could be different. For one, key trade unions are on board. And not only that, mainstream trade unionists. It's one thing for the enemies of the labour movement to file Mark Serwotka and Len McCluskey under the usual suspects, but quite another to place Frances O'Grady in there with them. And notwithstanding the difficulties I picked up on, union influence could give it the coherence it needs to make a real dent in the austerity agenda. Lastly, it's not impossible that the public mood is slowly shifting against Osborne's extended programme of demented cuts. If the movement can intersect with (and help create) widespread popular rejection of the government's plans, then we will begin to live in interesting political times indeed.

This is only a might-be, however. And it's a judgement based on what I've seen and participated in before. After all, the most reliable indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour ... Who was it who exhorted us to "learn the lessons of history" and added a little something about being "doomed to repeat them" if we didn't pay heed? Certainly, people should get involved in the People's Assembly. But the fire in in the hearts of every socialist should never be allowed to smoke up our view of the way ahead.


Anonymous said...

Protesters don't make policy, politicians do.

What chance the Labour Party being recaptured by the left?

What chance a new, properly socialist, party being formed and gaining mainstream trades union support?

I think that you've every reason to be defeatist, whilst the well intentioned - but ultimately powerless - run around having their People's Assembly meetings. It might make those involved feel good, but does sweet FA in terms of realpolitik.

Howard Fuller said...

Well I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Politicians are susceptible to pressure from people, therefore people do affect policy, even if they don't actually make it!

Mike said...

I hope the Peoples Assembly is successful. It's aspirations are laudable. But key parts of the 'action plan' it has adopted makes little practical political sense.

For example, it calls for the development of 'an alternative programme for a new anti-austerity government.'

In concrete terms, what does that mean?

The only practical alternative to the present Coalition government is a Labour government - which is promising to be a government of 'compassionate austerity'.

If the aim is an 'anti-austerity government' the only way that could conceivably happen in 2015 is for a large leftward shift within the Labour Party capable of forcing significant policy change.

But the large majority of Peoples Assembly activists, the ones who will carry the burden of translating the 'action plan' into practice, are not Labour Party members and have, for the most part, adopted the view that the Party is so right-wing that it is beyond 'saving' for left-wing politics.

So they will play the role of advocating anti-austerity policies from a position of being external to the only policy-making processes that could conceivably deliver them.

A key plank of the action plan is little more than abstract wishful thinking.

As this becomes clear, the resulting frustration and demoralisation will serve only to reinforce the view that some form of austerity is inevitable.

Anonymous said...

David icke. Recently attracted 6000 to an event at wembley arena
The people's assembly attracted 4000
Should the state be more worried about the former or the latter

Howard Fuller said...

In a country of 70 Million people I doubt the state will be worried about either.

I wonder if the the Dr Who writers got the idea for the Slithereens from Ikes lizard conspiracy?

Or perhaps it was a subliminal warning to us all.....

Conspiracy theorists of the world unite!