Tuesday, 9 July 2013
caused a row by openly backing the planned change to extend the signing on waiting time from three days to a week. According to Simon, the far left are as dangerous as the far right because their political positions are as equally unrealistic. I don't disagree in fundamentals, but there is absolutely no equivalence between the extreme left and the extreme right. But before we move onto that, it is worth pointing out the Unite farrago is getting used as an occasion for all kinds of left-bashing. We're not talking Leninism here, but anything smacking of the 1992 Labour Manifesto is ripe for a potshot. If only some of these people attacked the Tories with equal gusto.
But anyway, there is a difference on the continuum between the far left and the centre. As no lesser a person than Rosa Luxemburg observed, "That is why people who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal". The soft, reformist left therefore are, in the grand scheme of things, as compromised and beholden to capital as their opponents on the right. And, of course, this is a view practically all the far left still observes. Oh, and by the way, Owen, Tony Benn, Len McCluskey, etc. etc. are all part of the reformist problem too.
For its part, mainstream Labourism and social democracy take an equally dim view of the far left. Danczuk may be an extreme example, but I've come across people further to the left of him who hold self-styled communists and Trotskyists in as much contempt. They see the far left as apologists for the USSR, or dangerous fools that threaten liberty, or represent a creeping totalitarianism of the Nineteen Eighty-Four variety. Labour and trade union lefts should never consider these people their comrades. Or so it goes.
Nuance is always out of fashion, but I'll take it. The reason the far left in the developed world hasn't got anywhere is that, in the main, class struggle is routed through institutional channels capitalism has thrown up in the course of its development. To a large degree labour movements are an integrated part of political life. Even in Britain and the US where those structures have been attacked and eroded, the workers' movement and working people as a whole all have material stakes in the preservation of the system as it stands - even though, drawing on a Marxist schema, their class interests are fundamentally at odds with it. It's not the lack of a revolutionary leadership to blame for integration, it's the lack of a structural impulse that can drive a revolutionary appetite. It also partly explains why in its initial phases the workers' movement tended to be radical and revolutionary - because they stood outside the prevailing political settlement that governed the relations between classes.
This is not to say revolution is impossible. It's just that it's extremely unlikely. We're talking Is-Scientology-true? unlikely. And, for that reason, why Trotskyist and communist politics have had little salience in the British working class compared to Labourism and, *gasp*, conservatism.
But, despite that, and despite now being opposed to the revolutionary left's pet projects, general outlook, and dead-end strategy for achieving a socialist society; I will not and never would put an equals sign between them and the far right. This is for three main reasons.
I've had plenty of comrades complain to me about the shenanigans of the SWP, the counter-productive roles of the Socialist Party, and the madness of the other 57 varieties, but for all that they are part and parcel of the labour movement and they and their forebears have been so from the very beginning. British communism, for instance, did not begin with the CPGB's formation in 1920. And to get their politics across, they have to promote the labour movement to a wider audience. The far left have played a modest but important role over the decades winning workers and intellectuals to socialism and the workers' movement that may have been lost to passing radical fads.
Secondly, on occasion, the far left can act as a catalyst for a wider, progressive social movement. The Militant/SP's and SWP's roles in the Anti-Poll Tax Federation and Stop the War respectively has been talked up by those organisation for their own reasons, and while not entirely without their problems and shortcomings nonetheless they performed a great deal of the necessary spadework that helped two mass movements achieve take off. But more than that, in some instances - especially during the late 90s and throughout the best part of the last decade - self-described revolutionaries have done the labour movement a service by initiating and assisting hundreds of localised protest and solidarity campaigns, as well as keeping bits of the movement going. How many trades councils today owe their survival to socialists who aren't part of the Labourist tradition? More than a handful I'd wager.
And thirdly, no doubt much to their chagrin, the far left has provided Labour and mainstream trade unionism a steady stream of experienced recruits for as long as there has been a labour movement. The basic political work I, for instance, undertook as a Socialist Party member provided a foundation for what I do now in terms of self-discipline, critical political thinking, building and running campaigns, and so on. I can't tell you how many "normal" Labour people I've met who had a radical past and came to their present situation through the skills and commitment they picked up during their days in a small left group.
As far as I'm concerned, the far left are a small but persistent trend in the labour movement because they articulate the grievances and interests of that tiny minority of our class that do not believe their interests are served by the present set up, place more emphasis on this than the immediate material stakes they have in capitalism as it actually exists, and believe revolutionary political struggle is the only way of sorting the situation out. It's a recipe for conflict with the wider labour movement, but at the same time it also enriches it.
If the far left didn't exist, in my opinion, there would then be a case for inventing them.