Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The future of the far left

Workers’ Liberty offers the following stark assessment of the outcome of the municipal elections earlier this month. Diplomatic, the wording ain’t:

‘The savage truth - but it needs to be said - is that Respect in inner East London and the BNP in outer East London are mirror images of each other. They are the twin poles of a division of the working class into two hostile, competing, inter-warring communal camps, one led by the BNP and the other supported - not led by, far from it, supported - by the erstwhile revolutionary socialist left now bizarrely turned Islamic-communalist.

‘A rational, anti-communalist, secularist left is being defined and redefined in battle against the emergence of sharia-socialism - which now includes the biggest contingent of "revolutionary socialists" in Britain! - but it needs to define itself positively. It needs to spell out the political platform on which it stands, and regroup - even if only, in organisational terms, very loosely.’

Thankfully, the first premise is a major league overstatement. The biggest overall problem with working class politics over the last decade or more has been apathy and atomisation, a radical disconnect from strong identification with any party whatsoever.

To argue that the British working class as a whole - outside of a handful of boroughs with exceptional local peculiarities - has split into ‘two hostile, competing, inter-warring communal camps’ is an irresponsible exaggeration.

Then again, it may just accurately reflect the situation that prevails in Tower Hamlets on the one hand, Barking & Dagenham and perhaps one or two other far right strongholds on the other. And if nothing is done to check such developments, matters are not going to get any better, any time soon.

I have no argument with the contention that the Respect project represents the political suicide of the perhaps 70-80% of what was until only recently British revolutionary socialism.

Some differences really are too important to split. If the difference between the programme of theocracy on the basis of a capitalist mode of production and the programme of socialism from below is not one of them, what on earth is?

Worryingly, I’m not sure either that a ‘rational, anti-communalist, secularist left’ is emerging in response. I only wish it was. I’m not even sure who, besides themselves, Workers’ Liberty would include within that definition.

About the only other political trend – if that’s the right word for them – that would use such words in self-description is the Euston Manifesto grouping.

The British revolutionary left is smaller in number than it has been for 40 years, and has reached a major impasse born of its desperation to find a quick fix solution to the isolation generated by successive decades of Thatcherism and Blairism. I am not optimistic for its future.

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