One of the best sources for informed debate in the labour movement is often overlooked. The Morning Star (requires subscription – well worth just £40 for a year) has opened its pages to a diverse set of voices in recent years, and for example provides a regular column for Gregor Gall I am a bit slow of the mark commenting on a column Gregor wrote ten days ago, that was particularly interesting, not least because it received a thought provoking reply by Jim Addington in the following Saturday’s paper.
Gregor argues an interesting point that part of the failures of the left have been inability to work upon tasks within their grasp. This is perhaps complementary to my habitual argument that the ostensible difference between “reformist” socialists and “revolutionary” socialists, at a time when neither reform or revolution are actually on the historical agenda is irrelevant. The real distinctions are between those serious about rebuilding class confidence and organisation (the class struggle left) and those who capitulate to neo-liberalism and the myths of humanitarian wars. Anyway, this is what Gregor argues:
“Other than one or two exceptions at certain points in history, the far left has always been far, far smaller than the numbers needed to achieve the historic project that it has set itself. And, again, you might say that the far left has to aim high and then "go forth and multiply." Former fellow travellers of the far left would castigate the lofty ambition as laudable but naive and unrealistic. But the point is that the gap between the aspiration and the forces to hand has had, more often than not, a detrimental and distorting impact on the far left. This distortion has further compounded the far left's weaknesses.
“The roots of this distortion have been the general inability to relate the far left's political credo to workers' everyday concerns in a way which draws masses of workers to-wards the left, making the far left more credible and respected. In turn, the consequences of the isolation and marginalisation of the far left have been frustration, sectarianism and impatience.
“The frustration felt by the far left at being utterly convinced of the "rightness" and "correctness" of its views, perspectives and beliefs, which are rejected or ignored by the mass of workers, has meant that, every time an opportunity for making headway arises, it is vastly blown out of proportion. Every new opportunity is the next big thing. Every new period is more favourable and exciting than the last. The size and strength of the opportunities, especially for party building, are exaggerated to motivate members and supporters.
“Then exhortation to members and supporters to go all-out in their efforts to take advantage of the opportunity outweighs reasoned analysis and reasoned actions. So desperate and so keen is the left to realise the next opportunity that it forgets that you need the numbers on the ground to do so. But the other side of the far left's myopia here is that it never stops to look back at why it did not connect with the masses of workers in the way that it wanted and in the numbers that it wanted to. Seldom looking back, seldom engaging in critical self-appraisal or self-reflection, the far left is always looking forward to the next campaign and next battle. Consequently, lessons are not learnt and the same ill-thought-out approaches are used the next time round, with the same predictable and poor results.“
As a useful partial corrective, Jim Addington, points to the success of the Stop the war Coalition: “This campaign came to a head … with the largest anti-war march numbering over a million people. … That event drew hundreds of thousands who were not aware that the anti-war coalition was supported by left-wing groups”. Jim then goes on to argue that the greatest problem for the left are the lack of money and power of the mainstream media in marginalising the left.
Generally I don’t think Jim’s analysis stacks up, because the left have always lacked money, and the media have always been dominated by the rich and powerful, yet the left has been stronger in that past. However, it is useful to point out that in campaigns like the Stop the War Coalition the resources of the left groups, the infrastructure, publications, people and ideas, can be used as cogs that can move much larger forces into action.
Does this mean Gregor is wrong? No, I think it actually vindicates him still further, because the left over estimated the potential and depth of the anti-war movement, just as we overestimated the Poll Tax campaign, or other campaigns. Had we concentrated thorough all these campaigns on the steady. patient and long term tasks of networking the activists, building participation in the unions and mass membership campaigns, and promoting broad based socialist organisations then we would be in a much stronger position now.
The alternative of building idelogically pure "Bolshevik parties", in preparation for a British version of the Russian revolution (that will surley never come) has been an utter failure, being totally unrealistic in the traditions and history of the british Labour movement - it is the long term failure of this model of organisation to prosper that has led the left groups into one get rich quick scheme after another.
yet neither should we make the opposite mistake of assuming that the left groups are simply a hinderence and an obstacle. The Stop the War Coalition could not have been built without the left groups, and it has been a major acheivement, but it is an organisation that shares both the weaknesses and strengths of its genesis.