Thursday, 30 December 2010

Open Your Mind - Foul Play

Within this beautiful student movement there has been an ugly undercurrent of un-comradely reds-under-the-bed style attacks on the far-left. To the extent that our focus remains outwards and that we're all moving towards a similar goal, diversity and debate within the movement is only a good thing.
Emily Davis' notion that a "coalition of social-democrats and democratic-socialists" would constitute some sort of broad front is risible. So too is her Godwin baiting claim that "[Communists'] views are comparable to Fascism" in what is meant to be an article about left wing unity. The centre-left and the far-left can and must work together. Here are a couple of reasons why:

1) We share the same goals.
I am a Revolutionary Socialist, but I'm not a very revolutionary personality. Violence kind of scares me and I tend towards searching for practical solutions for immediate issues. If I believed that legislation and changing social attitudes could result in a global Norway; If I believed that reforming capitalism to purge it of its worse excesses could end with Zimbabwe having full employment on a 35 hour work week with a generous paternity and maternity leave system in place, then I would be a Social Democrat. Unfortunately I'm convinced that this isn't the case. The capitalistic economic system is a totality that absorbs and neutralizes dissent. This is why something radical like the post-Stonewall LGBT Rights movement ends up in the position today where its biggest public cause is the fight to allow LGBT people access to the reactionary institution of marriage. This is why seemingly permanent gains in people's living conditions, brought about by the welfare state, are in retreat across the developed world, even in the Nordic countries. Though the word 'revolution' seems big and scary, at its most basic it just refers to the need to change the basis of the economy away from one in which the market allocates goods and dictates price towards something different.

2) We need each other.
To look at Europe, the countries with the strongest and largest far-left organizations are those with strong centre-left traditions. A Marxist systemic analysis of the inevitable failure and end of capitalism, though objectively correct, is certainly less able to capture the public imagination than a pragmatic call of "let's raise wages". A strong centre-left provides a certain level of class-consciousness and the narrative of asserting one's rights which the far-left requires. But this relationship goes both ways. The Soviet Union was a Very Bad Thing™. But we in the developed world also owe the Social Democratic gains of the post-war to its existence. If it wasn't for the threat of this alternative economic system which completely did away with their class as a whole, the ruling classes of the Western World would not have so easily made the concessions of the welfare state that they did. It is significant that it is after the fall of the Berlin Wall that we see the rise of the 'Third Way' among the mainstream left, the Thatcherite pact with the devil pledging "there is no alternative". It takes a strong revolutionary current to scare the ruling classes into reformism.

Their are other benefits that we westerly comrades bring to the movement that the centre-left would do well not to forget. Our tradition and experience of direct action, our ability to get feet on the ground for demonstrations, our strong presence in the trade union movement and our ability to put students and workers in direct contact. I may disagree with the means of Social Democracts as ultimately ineffectual, but I would also hope to engage in productive dialogue in the spirit of solidarity and not aim to exclude them from the movement. To suggest that it was my place or Emily Davis' to decide who's in and who's out would run contrary to any notion of democracy. Social or otherwise.

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