Opinion: On “Infighting” And The Left
From the Cautiously Pessimistic blog.
A fair amount of the stuff I write is made up of criticisms of various parts of the left. Lefties and anarchists famously spend a vast amount of their time arguing with each other, and a lot of people, understandably, get upset by this and tend to think that if only we could just get on and work together we’d achieve so much more. It’s certainly a view I used to take when I was slightly younger and less cynical. So, here’s my attempt at giving a few reasons why I think it’s perfectly legitimate to spend a lot of time sniping at the left:
1) I think it’s more important to say something that isn’t that obvious, rather than to say something that everyone knows. Pretty much everyone can tell you that the BNP are bad. Ed Miliband, the Guardian, and probably your gran can all tell you that David Cameron’s a wanker, even though they might not all put it in those terms. An explanation of the way that unions and left-wing parties, rather than just standing up for workers, actually often suppress workers’ struggles, is a lot harder to find, so offering that kind of criticism feels a bit more worthwhile than just reminding everyone that the tories are bad, again.
2) Being politically active necessarily gives you a skewed viewpoint on reality, something that all activists would do well to remember. Obviously, the extent to which your perspective gets warped will vary wildly depending on what you do and how active you are – camping out in an eco-village is very, very different from normal life, trying to get the people you work with to go on a go-slow not so much – but still, if you’re politically active in some way, your experiences will differ from the experiences you’d have if you weren’t active. You’re unlikely to bump into a BNP organiser on a picket line, and the chances of meeting a hardline tory at a march to save your local hospital aren’t great, but you are pretty much guaranteed to meet someone selling Socialist Worker wherever you go. So it’s not really that much of a surprise that you build up pretty strong opinions on much of the left quite quickly.
3) This is the important one that needs to be borne in mind: these people are part of the problem. From Germany in 1919 and the Kronstadt rebellion to the Spanish revolution and May 1968 , those claiming to be on the side of the working class have often ended up as the most dangerous enemies of a revolution. But this isn’t just some dry historical point: there’s plenty of examples to prove the same point today. Of course, the most dramatic case is that of Greece, where Communist Party members joined with the police to protect the Parliament from attack last week , a move which has been condemned by the popular assembly of Syntagma Square . Elsewhere, an “Anarchist Watch” twitter account has been set up by McCarthyite elements in Occupy Denver to try to drive radicals out of the Occupy movement; it’s already inspired an “Anarchy Watch UK ”, which may or may not be a pisstake, it’s anyone’s guess.
But, even though the left here doesn’t actually assemble squads to fight in defence of capitalism, and the “Anarchy Watch UK” account may well be fake, there’s still plenty of examples to show how keen the left are to serve our rulers: from the tiny Trotskyist groups mourning the tyrant Gaddaffi to the Labour Party supporters taking the opposite approach and arguing that “now the left should back UK big oil” , the perspective of international working-class struggle against all dictators and exploitative companies doesn’t even get a look-in. I don’t often look at the Weekly Worker, but I happened to do so this week* and found a very revealing article on the recent violence in Rome , which is especially relevant in light of last week’s battle in Greece, where they complain about the fact that anarchists and autonomists had been “allowed” to fight the cops, and blaming this tragedy on the Spanish movement’s hostility to political parties, because “parties have a degree of internal cohesion, group loyalty and discipline” that would have allowed them to take control of the situation. In an article complaining about the black bloc’s fighting with the cops, this can only mean that, as in Greece, the left groups see their role as being to act as an external guard for the police, beating back militants before we can even reach police lines. Of course, groups like the Communist Party of Great Britain or the Workers’ Revolutionary Party are far too weak to actually play the thuggish, reactionary role they’d like, and they’re totally irrelevant to most people’s lives, so confronting them won’t be a strategic priority for the forseeable future; but still, just because they’re weak enemies doesn’t mean we should forget that supporters of Gaddaffi, UK oil companies and the police are still our enemies.
Still, it’s not enough to just be against the various defenders of capitalism; we also need some idea of what we want, and what kinds of action we want to encourage. So, to turn over to the positive section of this post, parents and staff at Bournville School in Birmingham have recently defeated plans to turn their school into an academy , the Indian car workers who occupied their factory have won the reinstatement of 1,200 jobs , disabled folk and their supporters rallied all over the country at the weekend , Frank Fernie, the student jailed for his role in the March 26th protests, is now out , students occupied Chile’s senate building for several hours last week , and the rank-and-file struggle in the construction industry continues with protests in London and Manchester on Wednesday 26th October and plans for a national demo on November 9th . Since that’s the same day as a major student demonstration, things could get very very interesting then, and I’d urge anyone who’s a student or unemployed to try and get down to London for the night before, since things are likely to start pretty early in the morning.
Finally, a few interesting articles that I’ve seen recently: Italy Calling has a piece on the clashes in Rome one week on , Open Democracy has a big analytical article looking at the Occupy movement and UK Uncut as examples of a new kind of movement without organisation , and libcom’s Occupy Wall Street tag just has loads of interesting stuff, updated fairly regularly . Of particular interest is this communique from Baltimore . “Identity politics” and class struggle are often seen as conflicting, but the W.A.T.C.H. communique does an excellent job of showing how feminist, queer, trans, and anti-racist “anti-identity politics” are vital to a truly revolutionary class struggle anarchist/communist analysis.