“The real enemy?” Why we should reject left unity as a concept

“The real enemy?” Why we should reject left unity as a concept

A number of pieces have been written recently on “unity” amongst the left and the ways we can achieve that. What follows are the reasons I reject left unity as a notion and the kind of real unity that the workers' movement needs – and, to a large extent, already has.

I've written about this previously in relation to specific issues, both here and here. However, the issue rears its head again and again, and as certain struggles gain momentum the question will continue to crop up ever more frequently. So here I'll go over the two broad schools of left unity and why they only serve to undermine the class struggle.

Left unity as a harness

Very recently, Owen Jones wrote a piece for the Independent where he argued that “Britain urgently needs a movement uniting all those desperate for a coherent alternative to the tragedy of austerity.” This, he said, should not be a new party or another Leninist front organisation but “a network” which would “give the angry and the frustrated a home” and “push real alternatives to the failure of austerity that would have to be listened to.”

This provoked a variety of responses. From Anticapitalist Initiative saying that the main flaw is “low horizons”; to Luke Akehurst insisting that this network is “called the Labour Party.” However, they all largely miss the point.

The key point on which Owen's argument turns is the idea that “so long as trade unions ensure Labour is linked to millions of supermarket checkout assistants, call centre workers and factory workers, there is a battle to be won in compelling the party to fight for working people.” Not a new idea for Labour leftist, nor one which lacks lengthy critiques, of which Anticapitalist Initiative's is just the latest. But key here is that he is not asking everyone to join Labour to move it leftward. Rather, he insists that a broad network which includes “those in Labour who want a proper alternative to Tory austerity, Greens, independent lefties, but also those who would not otherwise identify as political, but who are furious and frustrated” could by the weight of its own activity see Labour “face pressure that would not – for a change – come from the right.”

It doesn't take much examination to see why this wouldn't happen. Not least because, even at the moment in history where it was building its greatest achievement in the welfare state Labour was also doing what all parties in power do – serving the interests of capital. From wage restraint and breaking strikes to supporting imperialist war, “old” Labour was every bit as wretched as “New” Labour. The only difference was perhaps that illusions in it were stronger.

However, whilst the Labour right would reject Owen's network, the Labour left would support it for much the same reason the trade union left support embracing the likes of UK Uncut. It gives them credibility.

Over the past few years, there has been a growing mood of anger and defiance in relation to austerity. Crucially, that mood has found expression in movements and networks which have rejected traditional forms of organising and the hierarchy and bureaucracy which comes with it. From the likes of UK Uncut and Occupy, to the less activist-based community resistance to Bedroom Tax. The myriad of Trot front groups have been unable to harvest that mood as they did with the anti-war movement, for example, and the trade unions have appeared as lumpering relics in comparison.

However, for the “left” unions like PCS and Unite, speaking that language has enabled them to piggyback off the sentiment. They clearly can't and won't support the most radical aspects of anti-authoritarian organising and direct action, because it threatens their role as mediators with capital. But if they support the watered down version they can harness the energy of this new generation of activists, giving themselves a faux-radical veneer. We know that Len McCluskey is all talk when he speaks of “direct action,” but the rhetoric opens up a potential new subs base with more people joining his community branches and he gains a credibility that sees off criticism from the left.

A copycat move by Labour would have similar benefits. Whilst many people see through “Red” Ed Miliband, even now he is trying to piggyback on opposition to the bedroom tax, supporting a “new, networked movement” which harnessed a safe version of the militant, grassroots resistance would give him credibility. No doubt the motivation behind the Labour Left day of action over the issue on March 16 – already condemned as cynical astroturfing by those organising on the ground.

Responses to such criticism are predictable. We should be fighting “the real enemy” rather than each other. We're all on “the same side.” Without “unity” we can't win.

Except that we're not on the same side. If we allow the anger and determination of working class people to resist these assaults to be funnelled towards electoral support for the likes of Labour, we lose. Those in government grant concessions to working class movements when we are a threat to the status quo and have the strength to disrupt capital. By conceding that power to the hope that one party in power will be less ruthless than another, we give up all our weapons in the class war.

Far from being something we need in order to win, left unity in the sense described above will only guarantee that we lose. This goes whether Labour is holding the harness, or any new party of the left that might take their place.

Left unity as a recruitment front

This second form of left unity, virtually everyone will be familiar with. Whilst harnessing the energy of movements in a sanitised form doesn't actually require direct recruitment, the leftist front organisation nearly always has that as its explicit goal. First, join the united front (or popular front, in the SWP's case). Then, why not buy our party's paper? Finally, well if you join the party you can get more involved in the struggle – sign here.

The most obvious problem with this type of unity is that it's not actually unified at all. In every popular campaign that crops up, each party has its own separate front. For every National Shop Stewards Network there's a Unite The Resistance and a Right To Work Campaign and a Coalition of Resistance and so on. And if more than one left sect is involved in one front, you can guarantee a split and the emergence of a new front sooner or later.

Alongside the now tedious Monty Python joke, however, there's also the draining effect the united front (of whichever hue) has on the movement it seeks to dominate and siphon recruits from. Owen Jones's citation of the Stop The War Coalition as a “crucial” contributions by the SWP actually shows how much the recruiting front and the harness for radicalism overlap. But they are a good example of this point.

Stop The War mobilised over two million people – and them led them, over and over, from point A to point B and back again. It grabbed headlines, people felt they had done their bit to oppose war, and the war went on regardless. This may have opened peoples' eyes up to the fact that passive, peaceful protest achieves little to nothing – but it did so in a way that offered no alternative, suggested therefore that nothing was worth doing, and probably demobilised most of that movement out of politics completely.

Moreover, as we see time and again, such fronts brook no debate about tactics. They are rigidly controlled from above, their conferences and assemblies are little more than platforms for bureaucrats to sound off (with wannabe bureaucrats sounding off in the “open floor” sections) and they continually fail to do anything effective.

This is why we are best off dismissing them out of hand. Each time the latest new rallying cry for yet another talking shop comes out, we're best shrugging our shoulders, leaving the fossils of the left to it and carrying on organising.

Real unity – class unity

Having said all this, it goes without saying that unity – disentangled from all of the above – is something that the workers' movement needs. But it is not left unity, on the spurious basis that we all stand on roughly the same side of the political spectrum, that we need.

In practical terms, whether we organise in the workplace or in the community as tenants, claimants or whatever else, what unites us is the material conditions we share. In a word, our class. Our common enemy is not “the right” or “the Tories,” but all of those on the other side of the class divide – those who we have to sell our labour to, those who we have to pay rent to in order to keep a roof over our heads and those who run the state which serves this system where we're all subject to the process of money making more money.

By making class the basis of our unity, we necessarily exclude elements of “the left.” That radical activist who busts unions and uses workfare, that union bureaucrat who cuts a deal on pay cuts to “save jobs,” that union for screws, that party leader who accepts austerity but says it's “too deep, too fast.”

Moreover, this kind of unity doesn't demand that we all belong to the same organisation or front. For example, Solidarity Federation and Boycott Workfare following their own paths over unpaid labour hasn't stopped them both making significant dents in the scheme together or coordinating and supporting each others' days of action.

Likewise, the absence of a Trot front to dominate resistance to the bedroom tax hasn't stopped the campaign from flourishing. To the contrary, open meetings are attracting huge numbers and a broad variety of groups and individuals are getting involved and supporting effective, militant resistance. It has already rattled housing associations enough for them to insist the scheme won't work and seen some councils rush to head off resistance by reclassifying homes.

Genuine unity doesn't mean us all signing the same membership form. It doesn't mean silencing criticisms of bureaucrats and would-be leaders. It certainly doesn't mean allowing ourselves to be harnessed as props for the left wing of capital. Rather, it means us standing in solidarity with each other as a class and taking direct action in our collective material interests, all the while openly and critically debating the best way to win.

That is why, in the name of real class unity, we should reject left unity.

Posted By

Phil
Feb 17 2013 16:20

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Chilli Sauce
Feb 18 2013 09:07
Quote:
For example, Solidarity Federation and Boycott Workfare following their own paths over unpaid labour hasn't stopped them both making significant dents in the scheme together or coordinating and supporting each others' days of action.

F*cking awesome blog--well deserving of all the likes it's gotten so far. I just want to say that above point is really key. I mean, at least every other year we hear a call for (A)narchist unity in the UK--sometimes formalized into a new organizations, sometimes into some sort of catch-all coordinating network. And they sputter along for a few months, and then dissapear.

However, that doesn't stop UK anarchists organisations from finding effective ways to work with each other. While no doubt there's room for improvement, we've found ways to find overlapping areas of agreement in terms of politics and tactics and work side-by-side. I think that's the best way to build a movement--different organisations with slightly different focuses trying out different tactics--who conciously seek to work together when it makes sense to do so. Oh, and to have basically unquestionable solidarity when it comes to a member of a friendly organisation being victimised at work or by the cops.

Spikymike
Feb 18 2013 12:01

Phil rightly rejects calls for 'left unity' in favour of 'class unity' but it seems primarily on the basis of a different anarchist approach to strategy and tactics, when a pro-revolutionary politics would need to distinguish itself at a more fundamental level from the whole of what amounts to the capitalist programme of left wing politics in all it's varieties.

But do anarchists actually reject this identification with 'the left' in practice? bearing in mind that left wing unity can be an informal as much as a formal process. It is noteworthy for example that some anarchists have found favour withn the UNITE's community union initiative (indirectly criticised by Phil) and previously in the SP dominated shop-stewards network alongside various other footloose left wing activists and such other informal alliances have not been so uncommon in the past.

On the other hand Chilli's last comment about showing unquestionable solidarity with members of other 'friendly' organisations should not be limited to anarchists but on the basis of class solidarity can often mean showing the same solidarity towards individuals of 'unfriendly' organisations who are victimised - so for example of solidarity shown to the SWP's Karen Reissman in her fight over past victimisation by the NHS.

Perhaps things are a bit more complex?

plasmatelly
Feb 18 2013 12:48

Best piece ever!

Lugius
Feb 18 2013 23:25

An excellent article. Although the context is British, it could apply to the current situation in Australia.

Spikymike wrote:

Quote:
But do anarchists actually reject this identification with 'the left' in practice?

I think this depends on where you are. Of all the Spanish anarchists I have known (and I only refer here to the ones in Australia) none of them had any illusions about the Left. "Neither right nor left but straight ahead to revolution!" they would say.

Not a few Australian 'anarchists' however, labour under the illusion that anarchism is part of the Left.

Last year, at an event called 'Camp Anarchy', (held at a former Communist Party retreat on the outskirts of Melbourne) some of the local einsteins came up with an idea loosely referred to as 'Anarchist Campaign Network'. It was proposed that three organisations would be approached to enter into discussions with a view to establishing a network that would present an alternative to the 'non-trotty left'. The terms 'libertarian left' and 'radical left' were employed on rotating shifts. Although nothing very concrete was being proposed as it was suggested that its final form would emerge from an open meeting called to discuss the how and why of this 'network'.

The three groups mentioned in dispatches were the Melbourne Anarchist Club (MAC), the Melbourne IWW and the Renegade Activists Action Force (RAAF ).

Of these three groups, only the MAC was openly and avowedly anarchist. While some members of the IWW proclaimed themselves anarchist or even referred to the IWW as an anarchist group, the IWW eschews anarchism as an 'anti-political sect'. Whereas the RAAF had a vaguely defined 'anti-capitalist' position.

This proposal prompted a vigorous debate within the MAC which apparently caused a few members to leave in the wake of its ultimate rejection.

The problem I saw, among other things, was that the proposal was based on the false premise that anarchism amounts to nothing more than the 'libertarian' component of the left wing of politics.

The other problem I could see was that lumping the MAC in with other groups that and not clearly anarchist subsumes anarchism into some broad vaguely defined 'radical' 'libertarian' left (ostensibly to provide an alternative to the statist left) and as such de-means anarchism and denies it a separate identity. The sum total effect makes anarchism meaningless and by implication, reinforces the idea that change can only come from state action.

For more on RAAF:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Renegade-Activist-Meetings-Events/130292800376706?v=info

ajjohnstone
Feb 19 2013 06:26

For what it is worth (and some will probably say not a lot) the SPGB blog had post on left unity.
.
http://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2010/04/left-unity.html

Over the long decades the SPGB has seen many calls for unity. In the case of the unions we has supported unity and opposed setting up of "politicalised" breakaway unions instigated from the SLP to the CP. In regards to political alliances with other parties with our hostility clause the SPGB ,of course, places principles before opportunism which sets us against parties of the left whose all attempts at "united fronts" have failed, anyways.

Spikymike
Feb 20 2013 12:22

The ajj/spgb linked blog makes some valid points but doesn't of course tackle the more complex issues around the development of practical 'class unity' as opposed to the various misplaced and opportunistic calls for 'left unity' beyond the formalist, but frankly problematic, support offered to trade unions. In so far as many spgb members individually do sympathise with or offer support to particular 'reforms' and other social, non-trade union activities from time to time, it also perhaps lack transparency. Offering principled opposition to calls for left unity with various trotskyists and similar left-wingers is often just an spgb cover for opposition to any co-operation with anyone else at all on however limited a project. See for starters the late John Crumps criticism linked on the 'Impossibilism' Reading List and other critiques ajj is surely familiar with.

Don't really want to encourage a 'me versus the spgb' discussion here but rather to bring it back to the practicalities we face, day to day, in encouraging 'class unity' as against sectional and trade union type unity in situations where we have to deal with our fellow workers expressing a whole variety of different politics.

ajjohnstone
Feb 22 2013 05:10
Quote:
Don't really want to encourage a 'me versus the spgb' discussion here

i have complete respect for your differences with ourselves, Mike, and your opinions are valued as they do highlight points of debate within our party and outside it.

Quote:
"Offering principled opposition to calls for left unity with various trotskyists and similar left-wingers is often just an spgb cover for opposition to any co-operation with anyone else at all on however limited a project."

True but things are a-changing. In response to the recent Freedom bookshop arson attack our discussion list raised the issue of how to help out even a suggestion a cash donation (but that won't happen) but it is an indicative of an attitude change, as is our recent policy of foregoing adversarial formal debates for a more comradely forum-roundtable structure of discussion and argument. We have avoided any blanket condemnation of Occupy. Can you imagine such things during your time as a member without disciplinary charges being taken?

But it is not a one-way problem. Many contributors on Libcom have their own "hostility clause" against the SPGB. You also well know that we are prohibited from participation in the annual anarchist book-fair.

Personally i accept John Crump's description of the "the thin red line" of groups with a common objective and have argued for closer co-operation of shared platforms, for instance. I find little to disagree with the AF against nationalism pamphlet or SF economics of freedom pamphlet. You know individual members of the SPGB contribute chapters to anthologies, why can't we do so as political groups in a joint book?

But there is no getting away from the fact that we do still possess differences, chiefly parliament, trade unions and reformism but if the SPGB bends will others reciprocate too? You are aware that we are have never been a pure and simple electoral party, or that we are uncritical supporters of the unions, or that we oppose actual reforms. Those who accuse us of that do not recognised the nuanced analysis of these issues that we possess and often proved right by the course of time and events such as being against SLP/IWW/CP separate unions (even when our own members engaged in breakaway unions such as a London bus-drivers union of the 30s). Would the AF actively endorse and support SPGB candidates in elections when our purpose and conduct in such elections no way reflects or can be compared with the practice of other political parties? We are already discussing conflicting views on GM, fracking (some critical of the latest Standard article on it )) and nuclear energy on our lists and how we should relate to those anti movements.

I acknowledge that too often the SPGB has stood on the outside pissing into the tent and as Crump's critique highlighted we consequently failed to take advantage of changes in attitudes. Earlier today i posted a message to our discussion list suggesting we make more of an attempt at overtures towards the Left. Sure, rather arrogantly and clumsily declaring that we know best but in regards to the Trotskyists we more probably do!!!
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/spopen/message/15555

Ideally i would like to see a coming together of all those calling themselves "libertarian socialists", and identify what our objective is and the way we advocate to achieve it. And just see how far we can reach a concensus. Let's discover who are the real sectarians - Parecon, Zeitgeist, ourselves, yourselves, the ICC, and or all the various Trots. Too often we are working on archaic caricactures of our past politics. We have all shifted our positions over the years. Lets create a "congress" and put its discussions online. A project a step too far perhaps?

Chilli Sauce
Feb 22 2013 08:11
Quote:
And just see how far we can reach a concensus. Let's discover who are the real sectarians - Parecon, Zeitgeist, ourselves, yourselves, the ICC, and or all the various Trots. Too often we are working on archaic caricactures of our past politics. We have all shifted our positions over the years. Lets create a "congress" and put its discussions online.

A just want to confirm here, you're suggesting building some sort of discussion/action group that includes Zeitgeist and "all the various Trots"? And the correlary is that those who don't participate are the "real sectarians"?

Out of curiosity, have you participated in any sort of broad left groups before?

plasmatelly
Feb 22 2013 09:44

Clearly not.

ajjohnstone
Feb 23 2013 09:21

"those who don't participate are the "real sectarians"? "

no that is not the suggestion nor is building a broad left alliance, temporary or permanent. I linked to an article where i said that it would be flawed

It is simply a fact that there is little interaction amongst those who consider themselves on the Left. We don't even read rivals papers that often, assuming that we already know what it is going to say and that partys remains the same as before, monuments, not movements to hijack a phrase.

But in recent years i have sensed a shift in axis of many groups. Okay, it might all be just a change towards a more "libertarian" language, i just don't know.

Despite party affiliations people are growing more inclusive and seeking common cause and it is being reflected in their organisations and leading to them splitting, usually for the wrong reason. In simple language i am suggesting that we all place our cards on the table and just see where we we stand on what issues and if we aspire to similar aims. Many will quickly withdraw, others will try to control and manipulate, but some may discover where they can co-operate and collaborate. It will hopefully spur members of groups to re-evaluate the politics ot their own party in relation to others an dtart a chain reaction of change within "socialist" parties.

As been pointed out elsewhere the SWP debacle may not result in its disenchanted members jettisoning democratic centralism but instead rejecting any kind of anti-capitalist politics from their disillusionment. Apathy for some will be the better option than re-building. John Crump pointed out that when Hungary 56 happened, those who finally recognised the consequences of Stalinism, were left in limbo, the SPGB failed to provide an alternative for them...and i am sure he would have included the others in the thin red line in that analysis of a missed opportunity. Occupy lacked the necessary structure for continuity.

Clumsy attempts have been made at alliances and coalitions in the Left and to create various new parties. I think i first realised it when the Liverpool dockers and Reclaim the Streets recognised an affinity with one another struggles and those who left the WRP after Healy's sex scandal sought a new approach and teamed up with RTS. I think there is a genuine desire for something new. Occupy was just another (but better) attempt to offer an umbrella to opposition to capitalism and its most promising moment was when it too linked with strikers in Oakland.

i don't hold my breath that anything will come of my suggestion. i simply express it as a sign of hope for my own party and those i consider perhaps not exactly political blood-brothers but at least cousins from the same family.

And to answer if i been part of the broad left, i consider the IWW to be a model where members of various political parties can cross-over and join together as individuals as comrades in collective action. The other experience was once more trade union, during the militant strike wave of the mid-90s where various unionists from CWU, RMT, UNISON and the Claimants Union came together with party representatives of the SWP, ex-WRP, Scottish Militant Labour (pre-SSP days) for joint ventures under the Lothian Workers Liason Committee, adopting the slogan of the Red Clydesiders “We will support the officials just so long as they represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them". It faded when the strikes faded but the balance was there to stop any domination by any one group. So my experience with working with those i have political differences with is practical not theoretical. And striving for practical co-operation underlies these posts. Theoretical unity will sprout and grow organically from joint ventures.

Maybe i am just mellowing with old age...and going senile... groucho

Spikymike
Feb 23 2013 15:42

I don't think there is any basis for what I think ajj is suggesting - some kind of more permanent organised framework for the 'wider left' of political groups to debate issues and work together as and when some points of agreement emmerge - if I've interpretated him correctly? But there is already some limited basis for co-operation between a more genuine libertarian communist milieu, as already represented by the libcom web and some smaller initiatives, that we can build on, if we can be a bit honest about the limited potential which even all of us together really have in changing the world around us.

The later part of ajj's comments above relating to the experience of the Liverpool Dockers, some of the international occupations movement and possibly the Scottish LWLC (and I would add my own experiences during the Thatcher era British Miners Strike) has more relevance however and describes a different practical situation in which class struggle activists from a variety of political groups and traditions can often work together, though more often as individuals rather than 'party reps', but I would say inevitable for a limited duration. Limited though it might be it is often these experiences which both change individuals thinking on broader issues and also sometimes store up personal ties of solidarity and comradeship of value in the future.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 23 2013 17:18
Quote:
It is simply a fact that there is little interaction amongst those who consider themselves on the Left.

I don't want to sound snarky, but I'm not sure how many of the regular posters on libcom consider themselves on the left.

As Spiky alludes, there can be productive personal relationship between anarchist militants and militants who belong to various Trot/Left parties, but organisationally I don't think there's much value in pursuing it beyond that.

rooieravotr
Feb 23 2013 18:52

An interesting article from Tom Walker, an SWP dissident who left the party recently because of the scandal there: http://rethinkingtheleft.blogspot.nl/2013/02/learning-not-lecturing-why-left-doesnt.html He is dumping some of the more ridiculous aspects of SWP politics, fior instance those top down united fronts that party is so fond of (which is why I mention it here):

Quote:
If we are to make the left fit for purpose, we need to ‘bend the stick’ towards democracy, towards the kind of genuine participation in movements I have described, and away from sectarianism.

. And:

Quote:
It means not setting up our own ‘fronts’, but working in the organisations that are thrown up by the struggle, such as the local anti-cuts campaigns, and throwing everything we have into building them. It means ending the search for one united front to rule them all.

And

Quote:
We should be the experienced campaigners who they want to come to for a bit of help, advice and discussion, not the scary types in the corner who look like they’re plotting to take over. We should do more listening than speaking, and have more questions than answers.

This all still within broadly Leninist framework and ambition :

Quote:
We have to understand that leadership is not taken, it is won, and constantly re-won. And we have to understand that our failures so far show that if we hope someday to teach, we first have a lot to learn.

. Still that ambition to 'leadership'. Yet, it would not be the first time that thoughts moving in this direction start breaking with the Leninist framwork itself. It is good to see Walker discard this 'unity, but under OUR leadership or else' mythology.

ajjohnstone
Feb 24 2013 13:22
Quote:
"but I would say inevitable for a limited duration."

This was what you moreorless warned me when we met up at a Glasgow Anarchist day-school at the time. And you were proved right. When the strike militancy ended the raision d'etre for the committee made it superfluous and it died a death.

Quote:
"Limited though it might be it is often these experiences which both change individuals thinking on broader issues and also sometimes store up personal ties of solidarity and comradeship of value in the future."

Certainly in regards to IWW, I found that a solidarity developed based on trust of motives.

Quote:
"But there is already some limited basis for co-operation between a more genuine libertarian communist milieu, as already represented by the libcom web and some smaller initiatives, that we can build on, if we can be a bit honest about the limited potential which even all of us together really have in changing the world around us."

A more realistic over-view for sure. And even that would be a worthy accomplishment.
Certainly since its foundation when the original members did view the SPGB as the liberatory vehicle for the working class to capture political power, that optimistic aspiration has now been qualified to it being a contributory element of a future and still to be created mass socialist party with a small p as we more honestly explained our own limits in the Parliament pamphlet

Quote:
"The socialist political party (of which we are just a potential embryo) will not be something separate from the socialist majority"

[my emphahsis]

But all i suggest is that the invitations to the ball are sent out as widely as we can, because after all they don't need to actually dance and are welcome to be wall-flowers.

Anyways i was just doing a weather check because at the moment the SPGB has the wherewithal for financing a half-decent get-together and i saw a possibility of reducing the rivalry....lets be honest, the one thing that makes the ordinary worker suspicious of the feasibility of socialism is that he looks at all the sects and see that they cannot even work together so what chance would socialism be a co-operative society.

I don't advocate unity, but accept challenging capitalism takes more than one tactic and one strategy and currently different groups have stressed different aspects of the struggle turning them into canon and dogma rather than dependant upon conditions and situations. And as an SPGBer i would be first to hold up my hand and say mea culpa, that historically because we were contesting other parties who saw parliament's bourgeois democracy as the antipathy of class politics we failed to press home the fact that there is also an extra-parliamentary struggle going on alongside the SPGB parliamentary endeavours. I keep recalling a James Dean quote when asked about his sexuality - i don't go through life with one hand tied behind my back.

Anyways in this thread i popped my head above the parapet and got some food for thought.

orkhis
Feb 24 2013 18:44
ajjohnstone wrote:
lets be honest, the one thing that makes the ordinary worker suspicious of the feasibility of socialism is that he looks at all the sects and see that they cannot even work together so what chance would socialism be a co-operative society.

No let's be honest, most workers don't even know about all the sects, let alone whether they 'work together' or not.

kevin s.
Feb 25 2013 14:26

Good article and interesting comments. I've been slowly- very slowly- working on a draft for awhile on the same thing. I gotta agree with the following points-

Quote:
Responses to such criticism are predictable. We should be fighting “the real enemy” rather than each other. We're all on “the same side.” Without “unity” we can't win.

Except that we're not on the same side. If we allow the anger and determination of working class people to resist these assaults to be funnelled towards electoral support for the likes of Labour, we lose. Those in government grant concessions to working class movements when we are a threat to the status quo and have the strength to disrupt capital. By conceding that power to the hope that one party in power will be less ruthless than another, we give up all our weapons in the class war.

Far from being something we need in order to win, left unity in the sense described above will only guarantee that we lose. This goes whether Labour is holding the harness, or any new party of the left that might take their place.

A funny thought here is, there probly are real benefits to having ''leftists" in power, in terms of being more pliable to working class pressures... thing is "left unity" basically means sacrificing class militancy for the sake of more votes, which removes the pressure on the "leftists" when they are in power.

I get the point about class unity but, to be honest, I don't think libcommish type politics have much to do with class unity, so much as class consciousness and militancy. I mean how do the various politics you find around here point to "class unity"? Best way to class unity is "no politics" and even me being more conservative than many folks on here, am not supportive of "apoliticism," especially not for the sake of a broad "unity." I'd say more so some balance of "politics" and direct action, is probably more important than "unity." And both of those come with a political price- a lot of proles may be down for "politics" but not militant action, others may be down for the action but disagree with the politics. That's the part I guess I'm more interested in these days is balancing the ideological and practical concerns, as far as unity goes, I guess "unity is as unity does" so to speak. I'm for unity when it "gets the goods" (or whatever) and fuck it when it doesn't. Probably the individualist in me talking.

edit

Clarification- "more conservative than many folks here" I just mean in terms of degrees of how much I think the union should adhere to a "specific" political ideology.

Battlescarred
Feb 27 2013 16:32

an excellent article, well written and well argued,

NannerNannerNan...
Apr 21 2013 05:14

I know this is old, so old my comment might be pointless, but I want to propose an even more radical position with Phil's argument anyway - do accusations of sectarianism stem entirely from the belief that "revolutionaries" make revolution rather than the working-class? Is it a coincidence that the left always talks about the lack of a "coherent response" to this latest capitalist crisis from themselves rather than the working-class?

Isn't it interesting that the root of 'sectarianism' is 'sect', as though the embiggening of individuals who don't like (the current form of) capitalism will somehow lead to capitalism's destruction?

I think that, if we ever get into an argument like this, we should declare that the emancipation of the working-class will only be done by the working-class - something which is a controversial opinion on the left today.