Some thoughts on left unity and disagreement


6:20 pm - December 11th 2010

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contribution by Emily Davis

In the wake of accusations against Ed Miliband for not vocally supporting occupations, and the recent left-backlash against Obama in the United States, I think a new conversation about left unity in the UK has begun.

Much of this is counter-productive. I would emphatically urge a respectful discussion and cooperation between all of those on the centre and moderate left. A campaigning coalition of social-democrats and democratic-socialists need to be able to work together on the issues we agree on –and remember our common enemies.

Since the west’s various right-wing political parties have recently taken a massive shift further away from the centre, there’s an even bigger fight for hearts and minds going on right now than the last few years.

We can’t afford to self-indulgently navel-gaze and score minor victories against those on broadly similar sides to us just because it may be considered an easier fight to win.

Some on the left sometimes consider ideological purity more important than actual real-life progress in left-wing aims – and regard anyone who thinks differently using the ‘you’re either with us or against us’ paradigm.

This is rather childish and what’s more, politically it’s just not going to work. I don’t advocate selling out your ideas to the extent of the Liberal Democrats – there’s a difference between working with others for shared goals, or actually enabling policies you don’t agree with (or said you didn’t) to become enacted.

Cooperation and respect need to become the norm throughout left-wing organisations, groups, and even on a person to person basis (for e.g. dare I say it, internet forums and comments sections). To use a metaphor, one of the most basic rules of parenting is not to argue in front of the kids. Wise advice, and also in parenting, as in politics, disagreeing respectfully and still cooperating is actually positive.

However, to stretch this metaphor, there comes a point when disagreement becomes divorce and that’s what the left needs to do with the far-left.

Some left-wing acquaintances see nothing wrong with someone declaring Communist views. One friend also said recently that they believed Communism to be ‘a nice idea that didn’t work out’! This isn’t true. Communism never was a ‘nice idea’ – it always involved an advocation of ‘dictatorship’ and violent suppression of dissent, and evidence shows that this brutal attitude has always borne itself out in practice.

They obviously have the right to say what they think, and to protest where they choose, but social-democrats and democratic-socialists can and should tell them and others that we think their views are comparable to Fascism in their disregard of human rights.

At this current time of fightback against the new Coalition government, we need a centre- and moderate left- coalition of opposition. What we don’t need and shouldn’t want are allies on the far-left who aren’t progressive in the slightest – they remain stuck in the past. We need to think about what is best in the long-term for our future.

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Reader comments


You make a sensible call for unity and then spoil it by attacking those on the left whose views you disagree with.

If we are to achieve unity we need to accept those who hold views we disagree with in order to challenge those we oppose.

So your definition of a leftish coalition runs the full gamut of opinion from social democrats to democratic socialists.

3. Chaise Guevara

To repeat the point @2 but in more practical terms:

Ideology is always a sliding scale. So you see yourself as being a long way away indeed from the Marxists, but there’ll be people that you consider to be potential allies who nevertheless get on well with the far left. Somewhere along the scale (and actually it’s at least two scales, economic leftism and social leftism) some groups are going to find themselves bickering in the exact way you wish to avoid.

On the other hand, inclusiveness taken to its logical extent would mean refusing to argue with ANYBODY. I think grand schemes of unity are doomed to failure, although of course it’s best if individuals and specific organisations agree to put their differences aside when fighting a larger battle.

Well this is ludicrous. I think the far-left often have rather odd opinions, and they can negatively impact upon our PR, but that is no reason to cut them loose. They are extraordinarily good activists with roughly the same principles as us- or at least as me. Now Stalinists and their ilk can go and do one, but do we really have to alienate the SWP completely? Most of them don’t advocate dictatorship- you have a poor grasp of Marxism if you feel that all of them ever did. They’ve developed in their opinions too- most revolutionary socialists advocate extreme violence no more than Fabians advocate eugenics.

5. Alisdair Cameron

That’s a pretty narrow church, built on the centre ground, with no entrance on the left, but quite probably an exit on the right.The stand-in vicar is Miliband E, but I get the feeling you’d prefer the permanent incumbent to be Miliband D.
St Anthony’s church is a naturally based in one of the leafier parts of central London and was popular with the wealthier, more celebrated denizens of the city,who liked to make their professions of piety very public,and found the theological strand pursued by the church comforting and not in the least challenging to their standing, based as it was on the Apocrypha texts of Margaret and Joseph:discredited nowadays, but unaccountably popular within certain seminaries, despite the well-founded doubts expressed at the time by the laity.Those with grave misgivings about this doctrinal path and less esteemed members of the community felt excluded from the congregation, as did those who professed a desire for some alms and outreach work to be funded from the Sunday collection plate. The church’s decline seems irreversible, as its well-heeled former flock sought even more mollifying sermons jest over the road, while those who’d been excluded felt little compunction to return as they were still deemed heretics by the pitiful clergy, who clung to their nonsensical nostrums.

I’m sorry but this is truly awful. The question of the times is that the economic system is in crisis and governments around the worlds solution is to make the working class and poor pay with the hard won gains of the past hundred years to restore profitability. The IMF argue for the slashing of living standards to save the banks. The so-called ‘moderate left’ can’t even bring itself to support strike action let alone call for a revolt to stop the ultra rich and multinational corporations from smashing up the welfare state. But the author of this piece thinks it’s unhelpful to criticise Obama, who is actually doing this, or Milliband, who isn’t even willing to attack in class terms.

Also no-one on the far left is a stalinist nowadays.

‘…but do we really have to alienate the SWP completely?’

Yes

I think a new conversation about left unity in the UK has begun…

Ah, so it’s that time of week again is it…

This isn’t the first article I’ve ever read that starts off talking about unity and ends up listing everyone the author doesn’t want to work with and what arguments are unacceptable, even after denouncing those who want to maintain ideological purity.

I guess it wont be the last either.

I don ‘t particularly *want* to work with extremist parties that think bombing and invading nations is acceptable, or locking kids up because of their parents’ nationality is laudable, but yet I still work with Labour Party members on those areas where we agree because practical, campaigning unity is more important.

@7

Why? Many of them are lovely people, and not particularly extreme in their views. The Socialist Worker is a pretty good paper, if only because it actually covers protests and strikes in any detail.

Rethinking Left perspectives should NOT be just a Euro-centric or even an English – speaking effort (i.e. UK, USA, Aus).

There is a lot of Left thinking being developed in Brazil, India, South Africa and even Russia and China. Tackling poverty, improving health and education in the context of a new economic system is being debated very sincerely.

Labour Party and Trades Unions have to shape and direct the debate – as all the Left group(let)s do not have the mass support required for a long-term transformation. Activism is their best contribution.

I’m convinced by this cleverly argued post.

I’m pleased to announce that I am now setting up a united front consisting of the broad church of me and my mate Dave.

Actually, on reflection, not Dave. He has silly hair.

14. Chaise Guevara

LOL @Waterloo Sunset

First let us ask ourselves, who are our common enemies?

Apologies in advance for a long response.

I have never studied politics and my understanding of Marxism is very naive. It has always struck me as offering a very convincing critique of society’s ills without offering a convincing solution but as I have said, I am ignorant.

Since the fall of the Berlin wall, it seems to me that there’s been a consensus that capitalism is the only option and many purporting to be on the left are all too happy to play along with the idea of the supremacy of the markets even if that means, like in Ireland, reducing benefits for the blind while paying bonuses to those that lined their pockets bankrupting the economy.

I can’t accept that.

For me, the bailing out of the banks was the Berlin Wall of capitalism. The gods of the free markets were shown to be straw dogs. All those years we were told there was no money for education, for the sick, for the poor, for science, for the environment – then suddenly that money was there. All those years, people who couldn’t pay their bills found themselves destitute or thrown in jail – but when the immeasurably rich went bankrupt, we all had to chip in so that they could keep paying themselves obscenely high salaries.

It feels like the poor are being made more and more to pay to keep the extremely rich in luxury.

I am nearly 40. I grew up under Thatcher and saw what a heartless ideology her party represents. I could see that people were not free under the Soviets but I could also see that capitalism justified many of its evils by stressing its opposition to the “Evil Empire”. I had always voted Labour until the last election where, disillusioned by Blair and Brown, I allowed myself to be seduced by the lies of the Liberal Democrats. I never doubted that Cameron was the enemy; I now know that Clegg and Cable are of the devil’s party too. But does it automatically follow that Ed Milliband or Obama are right? Or that I cannot criticise them if they turn out to be hollow men like Clegg?

People like Blair and Clegg seem too happy to use the rhetoric of the left as window dressing to win votes and justify their decisions – but when it comes to the crunch, the markets come first. I fear Milliband and Obama are no different and Milliband’s hesitation to take a stance seems worrying.

Yes, I agree that anyone who cares about the vulnerable and doesn’t want the clock turned back to a darker time where workers had no rights needs to urgently oppose the current government. I also agree that we need to talk to one another with respect and to resist the urge to squabble, that disunity will not help.

But I refuse to accept what seems to be your premise that the debate is already over and that opposition has to belong to the “centre- and moderate-left” not least because I fear we will not see much difference between that and the “centre- and moderate-right” Cameron and Clegg claim to represent.

I really admired the way Michael Chessum responded when asked by a journalist “But surely this scheme is more fair than the proposed graduate tax?” He replied that the question was irrelevant, he was against the graduate tax too and accused the journalist of trying to move the debate – as Cable and Clegg and sadly Ed Miliband too are doing – away from whether the cuts were justified.

Let’s be wary of excessively restricting the terms of the debate and in doing so moving it away to a restricted choice of products.

As I said, I don’t consider myself to be a Marxist and I am unequivocally opposed to dictatorship, the violent suppression of dissent and the violation of human rights but I no more want to be told “Your only choice is between a graduate tax or loans for fees” than to be told “Your only choice is between Ed or Dave”.

How about a united front of Dave and the OP?

Seems a little pety to call for respect between people then call other lefties ‘childish’. I sometimes think that OP’s are childish but I don’t usually say this in the comments.

Obama has just copied Blair in pretending to be left to get elected and then magically turning into a hard right wing tit. Clegg is the latest in this new trend of fake left/liberals.

From a former Obama supporter……….

“1st Obama endorses the Bush agenda of spying on and killing americans
2nd Obama attacks Unions
3rd Obama double downs on Bush Wars, (now they are Obama wars)
4th Obama attacks Teacher Unions (teacher unions now hate OBAMA)
5th Obama does not attack the Banks? he bails them out? (sorta like what the GOP does)
6th Obama passes the Bob Dole Health Care Bill (Bob Dole is a republican)
7th Obama kills the Public Option
8Th Obama kills Drug Importation
9Th Obama APPOINTS an insurance executive to manage his health care Bill
10th Obama does not APPOINT Dawn Johnsen
11th Obama hand picks the commission to destroy Social Security
12th Obama supports Blanche Lincoln, a candidate who hates Unions, and has no chance of winning
13 Guantanomo still open for business
14.Patriot Act renewed
15. renditions continue
16. Bernanke reappointed
17. Americans targeted for assassination
18 Obama is all for sending more USA jobs off shore
19 Obama is for tax cuts for the RICH!
20. Obama and the TSA porno Scandal
21 Obama freezes federal wages for 2 years”

No doubt like Blair there will be plenty of corprate millions for this fake.

Sally – Obama isn’t right wing. Clegg was never left wing. Basic mistakes I know, but ones a lot of people still seem to be making.

6. Joe

” The IMF argue for the slashing of living standards to save the banks. ”

I think you will find that it is the IMF nowadays who are arguing against national governments imposing austerity on the people least able to bear it. Moreover, they have been telling indebted countries to impose losses on their external creditors. In the recent Irish bailout it was the IMF that the Irish government felt was being the most reasonable. After the Asian financial crisis the IMF completely altered their thinking. In contrast, the EU and ECB were being complete bastards to the Irish. Hence, why the Irish have been hit with such a punitively high interest rate. Bizarrely, lefties still think the European institutions are cuddly.

“Obama isn’t right wing.”

Read the list above.

If that is not right wing then I don’t know what is.

Whats “The TSA porno scandal” ?

How are people who excuse dictatorial regimes like the Soviet Union, or the present Iranian govt, any better than a moderate right-winger?

I wouldn’t like to be in an alliance with them.

I remember some lefties a few years asking me to endorse something where the ‘broad church’ included Hizb ut-Tahrir on the account of them being ‘anti-imperialist’. I told them to fuck off.

@ 22

That’s fair enough. (And my reaction in the example you give would be similar).

What it boils down to then, is specifically what you consider to be the factors that puts a group or individuals “beyond the pale”.

Considering that this fight is, in many ways, against the policies of the current government, is it also fair to exclude anybody who voted Liberal Democrat? They are directly responsible for the policies being implemented, after all. For that matter, can we also exclude Labour supporters, considering the reversal of social mobility that took place under their government?

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 22

“How are people who excuse dictatorial regimes like the Soviet Union, or the present Iranian govt, any better than a moderate right-winger?”

Any apologist for the USSR is so far worse than a moderate right-winger that they’re not even in the same hemisphere.

“I remember some lefties a few years asking me to endorse something where the ‘broad church’ included Hizb ut-Tahrir on the account of them being ‘anti-imperialist’. I told them to fuck off.”

Quite. Good for you. And that’s the point: by calling for unity among leftists, the OP actually means “unity among people I pretty much agree with anyway”. It’s politically self-centric, a case of assuming that you represent the ‘real’ left and that everyone else will happily eschew the lunatics on the fringes. Doesn’t work out that way because opinions don’t break down into convenient and easily distinguishable camps.

25. Chaise Guevara

@23

Not directly!

Perhaps there are a core list of values that a coalition of resistance should subscribe to – at the head of which would be democratic accountability instead of totalitarianism. Perhaps that list axiomatically excludes a number of parties/movements including Hizb ut-Tahrir and some (all?) Marxist parties.

However, while “totalitarianism” seems fairly easy to define, “democratic accountability” seems less so. Earlier I heard what seemed to me to be a morally convincing claim that because the Liberal Democrats were elected on a pledge on tuition fees that they then broke, the government’s position was illegitimate. Is it democratic to win votes on a platform that you then abandon?

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 26

That’s a much more sensible concept. Define broad values up front, then ask people if they’ll agree to group themselves under those values for the duration of the campaign.

‘How are people who excuse dictatorial regimes like the Soviet Union, or the present Iranian govt, any better than a moderate right-winger?

I wouldn’t like to be in an alliance with them.

I remember some lefties a few years asking me to endorse something where the ‘broad church’ included Hizb ut-Tahrir on the account of them being ‘anti-imperialist’. I told them to fuck off.’

This is the third time I’ve agreed with Sunny this week. One of us is an imposter – and I’m no longer sure its him.

the problem here is that many people seem to be assuming that the ‘extremist’ left (Marxist groups) are either still wedded to the old Stalinist dream or are apologists for it and do not face up to the fact that it was an incredible distortion of the principles of marx
this is a fallacy because in fact the majority of Marxist groups nowadays are neither. for example, any Trotskyist group (i.e. the Socialist Party and maybe the SWP – im not sure there) is bound to be in a separate camp.
and also the idea that communism always invoked an “advocation of ‘dictatorship’ and violent suppression of dissent” is another fallacy based on failed marxist states. the ‘extremist’ parties you speak of that have condemned these failures have different views, many of which are incredibly democratic and actualy fight this fascist/communist stereotype
just as there is a sliding scale of views within the Social Democrats and the Democratic Socialists (this term actualy seems to refer to the people herein denounced as ‘extremists’), there is a sliding scale of views within the socialist and communist parties. Of course, some will be more apologetic for the USSR than others, and it is these that must be treated with suspicion
the act of dismissing all marxist parties as power-crazy, dictatorship-hungry, oppressive, exploitative maniacs is in itself dangerous to left unity. perhaps what this article sincerely hopes for is a Social Democrat unity?

as for the SWP, their leaders work hard enough to stop left unity, and use enough sectarian tactics, that they have alienated themselves from the rest of the socialist parties.
dont worry about alienating them, theyve done it themselves

@ 26

Even totalitarianism strikes me as somewhat problematic as a way of finding common values. Next to nobody would say they’re in favour of it. (And I’m not convinced all Marxist groups would fit even a very broad definition. The Socialist Party of Great Britain aren’t totalitarian by any stretch of the imagination).

And you’re right that defining “democratically accountable” is going to be even more difficult. Can I insist that anybody signing up believes in direct democratic control of industry?

The way round this is just to make sure that groups are organised in a democratic way. Mass voting. Directly recallable delegates. Etc.

More important then ideological differences is strategic/tactical questions. That’s what I’d see as the most important thing to build unity around. Practically, there isn’t enough common ground between people who believe in direct action and those who are against it to work together productively.
People are overcomplicating this. If you don’t want to work with Trots, just say that. Just don’t combine it with a claim that you care deeply about the “lack of unity” on the left

“Some left-wing acquaintances see nothing wrong with someone declaring Communist views. One friend also said recently that they believed Communism to be ‘a nice idea that didn’t work out’! This isn’t true. Communism never was a ‘nice idea’ – it always involved an advocation of ‘dictatorship’ and violent suppression of dissent, and evidence shows that this brutal attitude has always borne itself out in practice. ”

Yeah, seriously, no.

I do understand that much of the liberal and social-democratic left has abandoned anti-capitalist positions, and certainly Marxist positions. And I do understand that there’s a lot of people who will agree on most if not all current political issues with the anti-capitalist left who themselves are resolutely opposed to communism for any of a myriad of reasons. That’s fine. I’m a communist and ultimately seek a communist society and world communism, but I understand why people may not agree with that vision. I’m opposed to you in this regard, but alright, we can agree to disagree to an extent, particularly because we’re trying to build a coalition of opposition here, not create a single unified political line, and that doesn’t really factor into it practically. And you start out well, going on about how we need to look past ideological unity and work with each other on these common causes.

And on this, you’re entirely correct. We have common goals in so many areas. We want to stop the cuts, abolish tuition fees, oppose unchecked neoliberalism, and so on, and so on. Yes, our fundamental goals are different at the end of the day, that’s true, but right now our cause is united (on these issues and more generally in that we are opposed to the coalition government). Left unity is important and there are definite problems with factionalism in certain areas; there’s a danger in using that excuse to actually stifle debate but generally the goal needs to be to work together as far as possible in opposing cuts (the example of the NUS is I suppose a decent one for the pitfalls of mindless unity incidentally; Aaron Porter’s line towards the protests has been rather unstable and while unity is important in opposing cuts I’m happy that we have protest against his tepid and indeed at times concerningly ‘moderate’ line within the movement, because that could do as much danger to the anti-fees movement as any spectre of disunity).

But then you go and ruin it all with this utter nonsense about communism.

Support for, say, Iran and so on is rather worrying, and it should probably be condemned wherever it’s seen. But really, where do you get off with saying that all us communists are fascists, hate human rights, hate democracy and so on? This isn’t saying “the left should not work with pro-Islamist groups” or something of that ilk. It’s not even characterising, say, Venezuela or Bolivia as dictatorships (they’re not, but it seems to be a fairly common view among social-democrats) and warning about their fellow travellers. It’s just outright saying, “all communists are authoritarians, are anti-democrats”.

The reason that we don’t work with neo-Nazis and the like – apart from the fact they’re repgunant – is because they are inherently authoritarian, seeking the separation of communities on racial lines, usually the creation of a militaristic and authoritarian state and society, and so on. Such doctrines are inherently authoritarian. There is nothing inherently authoritarian about communism. The goal of communism is a transition to a society based on democratic, collectivist grounds, as outlined broadly in the Communist Manifesto (which incidentally is something that a lot of people I talk to haven’t read; it’s worth doing because it’s really very short, all things considered, and it provides a decent overview of the basic Marxist worldview and goal). Some communists may support dictatorship or suppression of dissent. Fine, and if you don’t want to work with such groups, or even people in such groups, I can understand that at least. But there’s nothing inherent in communism that makes this the case for all communist groups.

And there’s nothing inherent in communists that makes this the case, either. That’s the more important point. Sure, you may disagree with the goal of communists. And hell, I’ll admit that there are even Marxists who don’t balk in the slightest at Stalinist methods and the like – they’re a very small minority, but they exist. But do you seriously think that all advocates of communism are all imagining torturing your social-democratic behind, or theorising about what it’d say on your GULAG documentation? It’s ridiculous. A belief in communism does not certify anything about a person’s character, nor about their methods, nor their morality.

Let me make this clear. I am a communist. Human rights is at the very centre of my philosophy; indeed, I’m a communist because I believe the entire capitalist system inflicts economic, social and political oppression on the masses, and I see the only way to abolish oppression as being the abolition of capitalism, and the construction of the democratic communist society. There is nothing fascist about communism. It’s a nice idea, it’s the correct idea, and I won’t trot out the cliche about it never being tried, but communism is more than the history of the Soviet Union and red China, let’s put it that way.

I think the most amusing thing about all of this for me is the comparison to the 1930s. The communists then attacked social-democrats as social-fascists, and said quite clearly “they are pro-capitalist, therefore they’re the same as the fascists”. What we are now seeing is social-democrats going “they are anti-capitalist, therefore they’re the same as the Soviets”. It was a ridiculous generalisation then, and it’s a ridiculous generalisation now.

We see what’s happening, and we want to stop it. And we want to work with non-anti-capitalists who oppose the cuts because we share a common goal – and indeed, we both see that there is a certain injustice in what is happening, and while our methods differ I should think most of us are striving for the broad aim of democracy, equality and justice. But neither of us will get anywhere if we are breaking movements because of ludicrous exaggerations and inventions about “what THEY think” and accusations of Stalino-fascism.

All we want is to contribute to the cause, to be taken at face value and not be excluded simply because once upon a time there were some bad men who claimed to be reading from the same book.

31
Communism with democracy and human rights would be a form of democratic socialism – not communism. And I have read the the communist manifesto – I’ve also read quite a lot of ‘Capital’ for my degree as well, more’s the pity. I stand by what I said in the post.

@31: I do understand that much of the liberal and social-democratic left has abandoned anti-capitalist positions

It’s because capitalism — in the sense that the allocation of scarce resources is determined by the market — happens to be a more efficient way of doing things than central planning. That’s why West Germany was richer than East Germany, and why South Korea is richer than North Korea. It’s also why China and Vietnam have shown high growth since embracing a market economy.

So anti-capitalism (in the sense of opposition to markets as a way of allocating resources) is intellectually bankrupt.

@22 – I’m one of those that instinctivly associate communism with an authoritarian society. I struggle to envisage how communism run through democracy can be anything more than a tryanny of the majority. Under such a system I tend to think that this promotion of human rights you speak of will come only at an expense of civil liberties.

^@31 (sorry)

32:
It really isn’t as simple as that.

Democratic socialism and communism are not just the same thing. Democratic socialism can go together with communism, yes, but there’s a reason why people call themselves communists rather than democratic socialists.

First things first, what does democratic socialism mean? Ask a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred and two responses. I seek the organisation of the economic structure on democratic, socialist grounds, so I could be described as a democratic socialist. The Fabians advocated a “scientific socialism” which is far different to what I’d seek, even in its entire structure (top-down rather than bottom-up), but they called themselves democratic socialists. Attlee’s Labour Party talked of democratic socialism. The current Labour Party, under Blair and Brown, called itself democratic socialist; it’s the first sentence on my membership card. Democratic socialism is an extremely widely-used term.

Practically, it isn’t a particular good description, in the British sense at least. While ‘communist’ has its own problems because of the many despots who trumpeted themselves as such, it at least entails a rejection of the view of the likes of Blair and makes clear our ultimately radical intent in terms of our social goals and so on.

But it goes further than that. Communism is not just a political and economic ideology, it’s a social one. It seeks the abolition of the existing power structure and the existing social structure in favour of a new one. It has that as its goal, whereas democratic socialism doesn’t necessarily; even in the purest sense it is concerned with the reorganisation of the economic structure primarily. In theory, and definitely in practice, you can have democratic socialism without communism.

We don’t call ourselves communists necessarily because we thought Stalin was a great guy and that China is leading the way for the future of mankind, or some such ideas. We call ourselves communists because in the social element – of our seeking of a collectivist society and so on – we are distinct from social-democrats and those commonly known as democratic-socialists in the West.

Even with all that, you may still disagree with us calling ourselves communists; forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted what you’re saying, but one of your points is that we should not call ourselves communists because if we were truly committed to democracy and socialism we’d put that first. In all fairness, a lot of groups have taken that tack, particularly those of a Trotskyist disposition such as the SWP and Socialist Party.

But I doubt those groups will disown communism, and for as long as I remain a believer in these ideas neither will I. We are democrats. We are socialists. But we are also communists, in that we seek the implementation of the communist socio-economic system as our utopian goal. And I for one will call myself a communist because I believe in that goal too. Why should I be excluded from these movements simply on those grounds? We share the same values, the same short-term goals, and so on, so why the accusation of fascism just because of that?

I should note here, incidentally, that I’m not claiming to speak for all communists, or for any party, or for any faction, or whatever. I’m just trying to provide my own perspective, from my own understanding, as a self-described communist.

33:
Ah, well, you’ll understand that I disagree about that. This probably isn’t the place really to get into a big debate of the pros and cons of the capitalist economic model, but I will just say that 1) a central planned economy is really rather different to basically any envisioned communist model, 2) the growth of those economies whom have adapted less statist models doesn’t necessarily prove in itself that even the statist model is inferior let alone alternative models (there are other factors to consider – there are reasons why economic development and economic growth may have coincided with such policies in terms of geography, technology, international factors and so on, for example; there’s the problem of outside factors, of the whole fact that you’re dealing with a capitalist world economy and with fairly dramatic geopolitical pressures; there’s even the problem that simple economic growth can’t be said to be the only measure of success, for what would the point of it be if all that extra wealth only went to a small minority of the population?).

Yes, East Germany for example was less developed than West Germany. But neither existed in a vacuum; both had different geography, different natural resources, different geopolitical relations, different individual policy bents within their system at certain times, hell, even different histories. China and Vietnam have experienced dramatic growth, but there can be doubt on how much that development was necessarily a cause of capitalism, and so on. You may disagree with anti-capitalism, but it’s not bankrupted just because of the examples you cited.

Sorry for all the words there. I’m not trying to start a big debate on the pros and cons of capitalism, really. Another time, I guess.

34:
I do disagree with you there – I don’t think that democratic communism is necessarily any more given over to tyranny than any other democratic system for various reasons (for example, there’s nothing to say that the constitutional limitations that tend to exist in non-tyrannous societies past and present won’t be in place at all in communism; there’s also a social bent to it with regards to the nonfixity of human nature but I’m barely confident in explaining it let alone proposing it so I’ll leave that for now).

My main point here though is that even if it’s true and communism leads to authoritarianism, as you propose, that doesn’t make communist groups pro-authoritarian, and particularly not individual communists. The assertion by Emily was that communism necessarily means supporting and advocating violence, and that communists are as bad as fascists because of that and should be excluded, which I strongly disagree with on all counts.

Who knows, we communists could be completely wrong. But we’re not necessarily malicious authoritarian anti-humanists because of that, and we certainly shouldn’t be excluded on the basis of such theorising. After all, I could just as easily say on those grounds that all Fabians must be rejected because scientific socialism could lead to an authoritarian government in order to enforce its planning!

sally, @20. Ah, Obama the “rightwinger”.

Look at Obama’s background, before he became President, and see if you can figure out where the “rightwingness” crept in. Far as I can make out, it didn’t. There was a huge grassroots effort to secure the Democratic nomination for him – and that happened because large numbers of ordinary Left-wing people genuinely believed he was the perfect Left-liberal, based on his personal background and achievements. (The Nobel peace prize committee agreed.)

And then he became President.

As soon as he won the election, it became totally unimportant to appease his Left-wing supporters. What are they going to do, vote Republican? Never! So Obama stuck with Bush policies and forgot about his campaign policies, knowing that this cost him nothing, because the Left will grumble but grudgingly vote for him anyway. Very much like Tony Blair, who also figured out that the Left would support him no matter what (He was right; he won the 2005 election despite Iraq).

Going back on topic. Unity is important, and good Lefties should make sure they are at least on friendly terms with everyone else on the Left. They should say things like “I don’t agree with the SWP about much, but they’re right about […]”. Remember that extremists are always useful to moderates, because moderates can selectively endorse their actions. For instance, as a moderate, you might say you condemn violence in the student protests, but still support the general *aim* of the protests. You might say “I don’t agree with the violence but I *understand* it, given that the Tories are […]”

Always stand by your fellow Lefties even if your agreement with them must be qualified. Equally, it is essential to absolutely despise everyone that you perceive as belonging to the Right, even if some of their ideas appear logical or reasonable. Remember that when the Right appears to be using logic and reason, it’s a trap! In reality, there are no shades of grey, and all rightwingers are Hitler.

Left-wing unity is easy. “Pas d’ennemis a Droit, pas d’amis a Gauche.”

What it boils down to then, is specifically what you consider to be the factors that puts a group or individuals “beyond the pale”.

People who excuse openly dictatorial, genocidal regimes.

Let’s be clear – this happens on the left and the right. I have no more love for neo-cons and their war-mongering ways than I do for people who think Ahmedinijad is just misunderstood and we should stop watching Fox News etc (earwicga knows what I’m talking about).

I think Emily Davis’ post is quite nuanced, though I expected some of the obvious snorts here.

The point is – where does the left draw the line? And let’s not pretend we don’t draw lines, because we do with right-wingers. And yet I find it utterly bizarre that we tolerate absolute nutjobs who just believe in conspiracy theories.

Far-left people who like to excuse the likes of the Iranians, Soviet Union etc are also likely to be the most sectarian people around. The minute you disagree with them they’ll accuse you of being some zionist/Fox News lackey. Is there any point in allying with them?

I don’t see the advantage. They’re ultimately destructive to the cause.

vladimir: o Obama stuck with Bush policies and forgot about his campaign policies

Ummm.. yeah, that’s why he pushed hard for, and lost a lot of support over healthcare, financial reform, and the stimulus.

Joseph: and I see the only way to abolish oppression as being the abolition of capitalism, and the construction of the democratic communist society. There is nothing fascist about communism.

What’s ‘fascist’ about communism (though I’d prefer dictatorial) is that it never works in practice without someone tightly enforcing the rules, to make sure that society does not fall apart through the free rider problem.

Communism broadly works only if everyone believes in it. On the other hand capitalism doesn’t need that. You can opt in or you can opt out.

38:
The problem I personally had with what Emily was saying really was not that she was saying that certain groups shouldn’t be touched. Neo-Nazis may be anti-Israeli but you sure as hell aren’t going to find a lot of them being invited by the left to pro-Palestine rallies.

The problem for me comes when you make it a point of political theory rather than of political reality. Someone’s advocating white nationalism? Bugger off. Got a guy who’s constantly advocating for North Korea and Iran and getting into disputes about the Zionist menace? Probably not someone who we should be holding up as a leader of men, to put it mildly. A group committing themselves to Marxism and to communism? On its own, that doesn’t seem to make them untouchable as far as I’m concerned.

39.
I don’t really agree with that, but I’ll let it rest; I don’t wish to derail the comments any further onto what is a fairly toxic debate, and this isn’t about the practicality of communism so much as it’s about the, well, you could call it the personality of communism I suppose.

As I said above, my contention on the exclusion of communists was simply that being a Marxist and a supporter of the communist ideal and system doesn’t mean you believe in dictatorial or authoritarian methods or ideas. I don’t see how making communists (as communists rather than Juche or Ahmadinejad apologists, let’s say) persona non grata in the resistance to the cuts and the coalition is necessary or helpful.

I also don’t think demonising communism in general, even attempting to look at it from a non-communist perspective, is helpful because there’s a danger in taking the step from condemning communism to writing off everything it draws upon, although I think other (non-Marxist, non-communist) commenters have made the case there quite effectively.

If you’re committed to fighting what’s being inflicted upon us, and you believe in the general ideals of the anti-coalition movement (justice, fairness, democracy, etc) that should be enough.

. A group committing themselves to Marxism and to communism? On its own, that doesn’t seem to make them untouchable as far as I’m concerned.

I think that’s reasonable – as long as they’re keeping it theoretical. Though most rarely do.

was simply that being a Marxist and a supporter of the communist ideal and system doesn’t mean you believe in dictatorial or authoritarian methods or ideas.

Accept that too, though Emily would then categorise you as a ‘Democratic socialist’.

It is quite interesting that groupiscules who have no electoral prospects whatsoever and who have some very iffy positions on what constitutes freedom are the tail that is wagging this dog.

I am, for instance, a member of the SNP. And as far as I’m concerned, they have done more to defend left wing principles than the whole of the Labour Party or their fellow travellers. Yet even allegedly left wing politicians in Scotland couldn’t make an alliance with us.

It is necessary to look outside the box to form a wider based consensus against this government. Left wing, as defined by self reporting left wingers, doesn’t cut it.

I think I somewhat agree with the OP, particularly as glossed by Sunny (22). I’m a member of the Labour Party but would rather vote Conservative than vote for *some* far left groups/people. But I think in principle it should be possible to have an idealistic belief in the principles of Communism without being considered (automatically) beyond the pale.

@36: there are reasons why economic development and economic growth may have coincided with such policies in terms of geography, technology, international factors and so on

Very true — one reason economics isn’t an exact science is you can’t do controlled experiments.

This is one of the best articles I’ve read on LC for some time. Unfortunately it’s a little misunderstood judging by some comments ?

All the author has done is suggest that the far left is not progressive and ultimately damaging to the true moderate left – true.

Those old enough will remember when the tories had to do something similar by detaching themselves from the far right or face political oblivion.

46. Robert Anderson

Whilst I agree that we need to stop in fighting, I am a socialist who believes passionately in society which has a collective frame of mind, whilst celebrating the rights of individuals. I might be regarded as far left but I also might be regarded as a christain socialist. What we really need to discuss is how we reign in the abuse of power that distorts and utlimately destroys what we are searching for, a society that is more equitable and works within the confines of spaceship earth. I say discard those who who seek power for their own ends and then abuse it!

Sunny Hundal:

“How are people who excuse dictatorial regimes like the Soviet Union”

But who does this?

You are in danger of merely parroting the right-wing line, namely that if you apply nuance to historical understanding, you are somehow ‘excusing’ Soviet terror.

On the article, as others have pointed out, it’s limiting in its own right. There is no reason to assume that the Third-Way nonsense is somehow the ‘right way’ for the ‘left’. It’s been tried and was an utter catastrophe.

I’m not at all a SWP supporter (quite the opposite in fact), but I find articles like this extremely counterproductive.

It starts by saying we should ditch navel-gazing, but then it’s exactly what it does. It continue with claims that we should ditch in-fighting and look at the common “enemy” and then it proceeds with singling out the list of obnoxious ones whose ideas differ from the author’s.

We have the biggest set of cuts in decades on our doorstep; large spontaneous demonstrations for the first time in 20 years; a coalition which is alienating millions of voters; debates on tax avoidance, climate change and civil liberties etc …and what do we do…we’re still discussing whether Communism (RIP) was a very good/good/ok/mildly bad/bad/terrible idea? What percentage of the UK population cares, 0,01% maybe?

I think Jim Jepps @9 was spot on: “I don ‘t particularly *want* to work with extremist parties that think bombing and invading nations is acceptable, or locking kids up because of their parents’ nationality is laudable, but yet I still work with Labour Party members on those areas where we agree because practical, campaigning unity is more important.

@ 46. Robert Anderson

Good intentions I’m sure but doomed to failure. There is no such thing as ‘society’ just groups of individuals who happen by chance to share this time frame of history. What they have in common is always changing due to their personal circumstances.

Society was once described to me as “lots of people standing in the same place who are all looking for their next opportunity”

As for those who seek power for its own sake, it’s essential or nothing would change. We would still be living in caves if these people did not exist. As for governments, they’re irrelevant as they can only create the climate for people to prosper or fail – they can’t do it for them. From this comes an old saying, “only strong individuals can make a difference”. Everything else is only political spin.

47 olching

“There is no reason to assume that the Third-Way nonsense is somehow the ‘right way’ for the ‘left’. It’s been tried and was an utter catastrophe.”

Sadly it remains to be seen whether Newer Labour will ditch their attachment to the baleful policies of the Blairite era: calling for unity is one thing, but I’m no more inclined to close ranks with the control freaks responsible for the nauseating New Labour project, than I am with One Nation Tories or LD Orange Bookers, since none of them can be regarded as being “of the left”.

Ed Miliband and his clean sheet of paper will need to persuade the many voters who deserted the Labour Party that the ghost of New Labour has been laid to rest. There is a real opportunity with the current state of the LD’s to make progress in this regard, and it doesn’t require cosying up to elements on the far left that are more of a liability than a help.

It’s about time Labour actually started defining both what it stands for, and what it stands against. The signs so far aren’t encouraging.

49
If a group of individuals only share the same time frame how do they communicate? This ‘no such thing as society’ sounds as peurile now as it did when Thatcher first uttered it.
Strange that you believe that governments are irrelevant, I take it that you would like to see the demise of the state, strangely, just like Marx.

I tend to think that having a politically correct opinion on 1917 shouldn’t be something that we allow to divide the anti-cuts movement any more than having the right view about (as Jim Jepps mentioned) Iraq or the Vietnam War.

As for Marxism we know that virtually all European social democratic parties were founded on Marxism, and their adoption of liberal democratic principles was seen by Bernstein and others as a revision of Marxism not an abandonment.

The squeamish social democrats here must be glad they don’t live somewhere like France, where Socialists and Communists cooperate frequently, even electorally. I suppose Emily might reclassify the Communists as democratic socialist – but this sort of claim to be the sole correct interpreter of political labels will inevitably lead to confusion.

Finally, was it justifiable for the ANC to form an alliance with the SACP? Was it also justifiable to include Communists among the broad front that overthrew Portuguese fascism? Was it right to have liberal/socialist/Communist Popular Fronts in the French and Spanish 1936 elections? And would it have been wonderful if the SPD and Communists had worked together to prevent the rise to power of Hitler? My answers are all Yes.

Here’s a new suggestion.

How about we agree that the end goal of any campaigning coalition is a democratic election in which the winning party or coalition of parties enacts through parliament a different response to the economic downturn that does not disproportionately penalise the poor and most vulnerable.

Any party aiming to overthrow the state and replace it with a system that imposes its will through force is not invited although we may happen to share common enemies and maybe agree on certain issues with them.

@30

The way round this is just to make sure that groups are organised in a democratic way. Mass voting. Directly recallable delegates. Etc.

This seems a good pragmatic way of cutting through the debate.

@48

We have the biggest set of cuts in decades on our doorstep; large spontaneous demonstrations for the first time in 20 years; a coalition which is alienating millions of voters; debates on tax avoidance, climate change and civil liberties etc …and what do we do…we’re still discussing whether Communism (RIP) was a very good/good/ok/mildly bad/bad/terrible idea? What percentage of the UK population cares, 0,01% maybe?

You’re quite right.

I take the position that @47 puts most succinctly:

There is no reason to assume that the Third-Way nonsense is somehow the ‘right way’ for the ‘left’. It’s been tried and was an utter catastrophe.”

which is why some debate (to me) seems necessary and I (perhaps wrongly) interpreted Emily’s original piece as having made choices up front that were perhaps limiting.

But there is a real danger of getting distracted.

@30

More important then ideological differences is strategic/tactical questions. That’s what I’d see as the most important thing to build unity around.

If we all agree that we are in favour of the democratic system of Great Britain continuing in roughly the same form as it has now (debates about alternative voting systems can happen elsewhere) then I think we need to focus on getting the arguments for why these cuts or unjust to a broader audience instead of preaching to the choir.

The demonstrations are heartening; the violence, sickening; but while the message is getting across that people are very angry, in this case, about the education reforms, I still have the suspicion that the paternalistic, patronising “You just haven’t taken the time to read and understand the reforms” message is the one that most voters will take from it. And I also fear, again talking specifically about the education reforms, that Labour in very hesitantly endorsing the “graduate tax”, are prematurely ending debate and helping the Conservatives/Liberal Democrats close the deal by reducing discussion to an either/or option.

Of course it’s bigger than education although that is the spark that has ignited the most spontaneous passion in years.

So, how do we continue to challenge the half-truths and outright lies trotted out by ministers and repeated uncritically or maliciously by segments of the media?

How do we, as Sunny has written elsewhere on this site, prevent the press coverage of demonstrations from being dominated by pictures of SWP banners and people kicking in windows?

Which I suppose comes back to Emily’s original point that we need to distance ourselves from certain factions on the left although I would stress that we also need to distinguish ourselves from them in the eyes of the public (and, again possibly naively, not be too hasty in our exclusions).

52

It’s right only in the sense that, as Churchill said he’d happily make a positive reference to the devil if Hitler had invaded Hell!

The difference today is that it isn’t necessary to use a long spoon to sup with the far left, however you care to label them, because they don’t have any significant influence. There is already enough of a left of centre majority to construct a viable alternative to the Coalition, or the Right, without having to take too much notice of insignificant splinter groups on the far left: the UK isn’t France or Italy, we don’t have to worry about the equivalent of the PCF or Italian Communists, even in the etiolated guise of Euro-Communism.

What we need is a Labour party cleansed of Blairism, and a coherent set of progressive, radical policies which will draw support from social democrats, left leaning LD’s, Greens and others. The far left will follow the lead, or head off down the same ideological cul-de-sac as the far right.

“They obviously have the right to say what they think, and to protest where they choose, but social-democrats and democratic-socialists can and should tell them and others that we think their views are comparable to Fascism in their disregard of human rights.”

But we don’t, because they aren’t. Hell, I’m no kind of Communist and I know exactly how bad Communist regimes were, but to try and exclude the far-left (who are essentially a harmless rump these days anyway) from the left is preposterous, especially since many of them opposed the system in the Communist bloc anyway. Like it or not, these people do share many of “our” values, misguided though they are in certain ways and I reject the idea that they are somehow comparable to fascists, who are motivated by hatred and authoritarianism. Give me a far-lefty over the ultra-Blairite tendency any day.

Oh great, the standard “we need left unity – but not with these guys” article. Emily, the whole point of unity is that it’s difficult and that sometimes you have to work with elements that are more moderate or extreme than you’d like.

Calling for unity and then saying “except these guys” at the end is just a long winded way of calling for fragmentation of the left.

Point of order. People like to use the word “communism” as a sort of pejorative. Real communism has never been practised anywhere in the world. The USSR did not practise real communism. It created a sort of worker’s state where the workers were locked out of power. Power was held by a political class not the workers.

Are we getting rid of Ken Livingstone, too?

I don’t think it’s fair to brand Venezuela as evil- it has democratic failings but then I don’t think many of the SWP would express support for Chavez unconditionally? Last time I checked, the democratic movement within Venezuela was more left wing than the government 😉

And Bolivia really is an example of a country doing rather well. Just because we wouldn’t use that model of socialism here isn’t a reason to completely disown it.

Can’t we be pragmatic? Acknowledge the few successes of the USSR as well as the many failures? I’m far from being far-left these days, but IMO so are many members of the SWP, SPGB, etc 😉

“I would emphatically urge a respectful discussion and cooperation between all of those on the centre and moderate left . . . half a bottle of red later . . .
I don’t advocate selling out your ideas to the extent of the Liberal Democrats”

Classic.

Let’s just clarify the ‘centre-left’ or ‘moderate-left’ is in mainstream UK politics:

http://www.politicalcompass.org/ukparties2010

That’s right. Lib Dems, Tories, Nu Labour are ALL right-wing, neo-liberal, make the poor poorer and the rich richer parties. So the so called ‘centre-left’ does not exist in mainstream UK politics.

The point is that the declining turnout and disenfranchisement of my generation from mainstream politics has been because of the blatant lies, deceit and manipulation of the 3 main parties. In short – they are bereft of ANY political principles, ideals or values.

Well in fact they are not. They just cannot admit their real ‘values’ publicly. They are all wedded to capitalism and the ‘values’ of: inequality, hierarchy and domination with the Tories being at the extreme end.

The fact is young people know that the electoral system is a sham masquerading as a democracy that produces no-mandate government after no-mandate government who all make the majority of people in this country worse off.

The SWP is the only party I have found which has a clear understanding of class politics and the nature of our capitalist society. The SWP was the only party to have an representation with placards at the protests and if the direction of politics changes in this country, it will be because of direct action by students (and hopefully workers on the streets) with a much deeper understanding and sense of iniquity than most on the ‘moderate/centre-left’.

In short if you have any pretensions of actually being left wing, rather than kidding yourself that you are, you either: join the Green party (if you are a reformist), participate in direct action yourself or join the SWP (if you are a revolutionary socialist).

Everything else and you are kidding yourself.

@59

Splitters!

(Come on, I’m not the only one thinking it.)

60
Yep

Yet even allegedly left wing politicians in Scotland couldn’t make an alliance with us.

Labour can’t make an alliance with the SNP in Scotland because that is its main opposition. That’s just electoral politics. If both of them strive to push their politics more leftwards – better for everyone.

If you understand socialist theory, you realize that it is mutually incompatible with dictatorship on a fundamental and conceptual level.

65. Matt Sellwood

This is all quite bizarre. Basically the OP seems to be saying that if you aren’t BAD then you are a ‘democratic socialist’, whereas if you are BAD then you are a ‘communist’. Whereas other people are, quite rightly, pointing out that this is a subjective judgement and that many people who call themselves communists are in no way apologists for Stalin, Mao etc.

For what its worth, I’m a libertarian communist and on the far left. The kind of people I politically agree with got shot in the USSR in the early 20s….they certainly weren’t praising that regime.

66. Matt Sellwood

P.S. Sunny: “Communism broadly works only if everyone believes in it. On the other hand capitalism doesn’t need that. You can opt in or you can opt out.”

No you can’t! THe entire point of capitalism is that it is constantly seeking out new opportunities, niches and commodities. Communities which try to opt out entirely (let alone building a counterpower) are habitually stamped on. Hard.

What Matt said.

Not only is it not possible to opt out of poverty, the example of the new age travellers is a stark illustration of why “opting out” isn’t possible under the current system. Most of those that do so (communes etc.) are actually from relatively well off backgrounds which gives them the freedom to do so?

If we’re serious about reconstituting the left, we need to find new and better ways of doing things. At that applies as much to liberals as it does to Trots. Nobody is going to rally behind a battlecry of “bigger cages, longer chains”.

@67 “bigger cages, longer chains”.

That’s brilliant. I have never heard that before. Just googled the source and will make sure to print out a copy from the Internet Archive and leave it on the train when I’m done with it to provide someone else with an alternative to the daily celebrity gossip. Thanks for that.

[geeky threadrot]The Spectacular Times pamphlet isn’t the first to have used that particular slogan. They took the title from a slogan that was chanted at demonstrations back in the 80’s.[/geeky threadrot]

54.How do we, as Sunny has written elsewhere on this site, prevent the press coverage of demonstrations from being dominated by pictures of SWP banners and people kicking in windows?
Is there a necessary identity between SWP banners and kicking in windows? And if not, what is wrong with pictures of SWP banners per se? Unless you are following the post’s author in trying to scare the children away from the spectre of communism when the reality is that the denizens of the far left have less of the for us or against us attitude than she displays, and are better at identifying the common enemies of the Left than she ever seems likely to be.

66 Matt S

Spot on. In which world does Sunny live where capitalism hasn’t been aggressive and totalitarian? India? Africa? South America?

Yeah, Pinochet let everyone opt our of capitalism didn’t he?

Not everyone is a Market slave but you can’t exist in this country without being a Market slave and slowly but surely they make sure you join the greedy capitalist machine.

Do you want to spend spend spend at christmas? Did you need to be bullied into buying that mortgage? Do you HAVE to drive? Etc etc

Communism is honest about it’s agenda of wanting to create controlling structures which leave little room for individual freedom say if you get your kicks showing off about how large your house is or how big a car you drive.

Capitalism is dishonest and works like a parasite. It’s about freedom but isn’t really and needs you to buy, buy, buy, spend, buy for the economy to ‘thrive’. The media in line with big businesses make sure that you never stop looking for deals you don’t need and we create such a poor transport system, that you need to drive to get yourself anywhere on time which makes more money for the manufactures and keeps the economy thriving!

Communism does not create un equal societies and Capitalism does just that to ‘thrive’. I know who’d I would prefer to be in a group with!

“The SWP is the only party I have found which has a clear understanding of class politics and the nature of our capitalist society. The SWP was the only party to have an representation with placards at the protests”

The far left is probably the only market in the world that actually comes close to fufiling the conditions of perfect compition as described in economics textbooks.So far from being the “only party” with a clear understanding of class politics, there are actually numerous parties all claiming to be the true heirs of marx/lenin/trotsky/whichever marxist thinker you think got it right. I’m pretty sure the socialist party, CPGP, AWL etc will all want to take issue with you on the idea that the SWP are the only ones with a clear understanding of class politics. I’m also sure that they’ll all be claiming in their newspapers that they were at the protests.

Which sort of leads me into the next point. Usually these groups see protests and movements in a different way to the others in a movement. They see the success of an action as being measured in terms of numbers of papers sold, and numbers of new members recruited. Everyone else in a movement regards success as ultimately being about the issue involved, whereas the far left will regard the issue as just something to hook people into the wider ideology – like a sales tactic. Hence why the SWP famously turned up to the fuel protests in 2000.

This is one of the main problems with them. They’d rather have marches from A to B before a series of speakers than do other actions that may have a greater chance of success. (as marches mean a captive audience for paper sellers). This isn’t to say that this is a conscious decision, but its just a tendency that stems from seeing the point of protests as an excersise in spreading propaganda.

This is linked to the second main problem, which is ideological purity and the lack of willingness to worth within mainstream parties (except as entryists). This can be seen in the failure of the anti-war movement to produce a unified electoral alliance, or the failure to make any alliance (like socialist alliance) last beyond a couple of years before splits.

This would be harmless if it didn’t severely damage the rest of the left wing infrastructure and resources. But what it does is mean that young activists get recruited and used for their enthusiasm, energy and idealism (and looks – looks sell papers) before they get disillusioned and burnt out before they are 30.

Finally, yes I think the central ideology is questionable. Whilst each particular brand has it’s own way of answering the question, the answer to the question “why would you end up different to how the soviet union was in practice?”. I have yet to see convincingly answered in a way that demonstrates the party has actually thought about the nature of power, the state and how good intentions that drive revolutions frequently turn out in authoritian hellholes.

As I said on a different thread last week, if you were a drug company that developed a new drug to tackle morning sickness, you would not call your new drug “new thalidomide” would you?

So, Emily, what are you actually going to do?

74. Cheesy Monkey

This is not a particularly democratic country in regards that the average person has little influence in how the state is run—even if like-minded people group together. Unions, protest movements and the smaller political parties appear toothless and impotent. Surely a cause for the wider Left to coalesce around is the need for greater democracy in Britain. The key is to argue for a much greater democratic framework than we have already, but one in which parties of the left and right can participate in equally. Because the whole point of democracy is that different people’s political beliefs may well be different from each other. I’m a socialist—most of my views are probably more to the left than most ‘social democrats’ and ‘democratic socialists’. But I don’t want to live in a country where one ideology was allowed or enforced. Build a movement for better democracy and more accountable politics. Most of the left will agree—as, potentially, will most of the country.

@70

Not at all. Looking back, I expressed myself badly, so I apologise. As I said but didn’t stress loudly enough was how do we change the *press coverage* of the demonstrations.

I most definitely do not mean to associate the SWP with those out to smash things up. I think it’s great that people are being exposed to ideas the right has tried to pretend are extinct but which I believe are still valid and largely unexplored.

But what I really love about the protests is that they feel spontaneous and I fear the press concentrates on a slick, professional organisation at the expense of school children with hand-drawn banners because it’s easier to ignore.

Cameron is trying to demonise the majority of the protesters as violent militants. That’s a seperate point and I shouldn’t have conflated the two. I personally don’t agree with the tactic of provoking police brutality to increase outrage and justify an escalating cycle of violence but I fear that there is a very tiny minority who are using these protests as cover to gain that end. I think resistence to the cuts would gain a broader support base if those people could be isolated.

Sorry for any confusion I caused.

@32: If you really believe that – and in a sense you’re right, in that communism is the absolute most democratic form of socialism or any social structure – that’s fine. But the logical conclusion isn’t that all self-identified communists hate democracy and freedom and all things decent, it’s that the vast majority mis-identify ourselves, which shouldn’t stop you from wanting to work with us.

“Some left-wing acquaintances see nothing wrong with someone declaring Communist views.”

Is this an unattributed quote from one of the McCarthy hearings?

“They obviously have the right to say what they think, and to protest where they choose, but social-democrats and democratic-socialists can and should tell them and others that we think their views are comparable to Fascism in their disregard of human rights.”

Utter nonsense. Anyone capable of writing something so historically uninformed & untroubled by the slightest knowledge of the ideas involved; of being so crassly ignorant of the record of Communist resistance to fascism – & of the fates of many Communist anti-fascists (actually – is it an unattributed quote from the Pope’s recent visit?), is incapable of writing anything of any political/intellectual value whatsoever.

To Emily and to all –

The “far left” would like to draw attention to several things:

1) We are not in the 1930s anymore; we are in a very different situation

2) We would like to draw attention to the atrocious human rights record of the centre/”centre-left”/”moderate-left”: e.g. that of the Blair and Brown Labour governments, Obama, the current Greek Govt., etc.

3) Socialists can and should tell the so-called “centre-left” and others (e.g. all parties of the “centre”) that we know that, not only “their views”, but their existent capitalist system is “fascist” (i.e. I use Emily’s term, but I mean: deeply and thoroughly oppressive).

4) The minimum requirement for being called a socialist – or, indeed, Left-wing at all – is not the individual’s thought that “I am a good person” or “I want to see a fairer world”, as everyone from the “moderate-left” to the far-right – and especially the centrists – likes to believe. Instead it is actively and effectively working for the total destruction of capitalism and wage-labour, the end of alienation, and the institution of collective ownership of the means of production.

5) Emily, I’m glad you’ve struggled your way through the Communist Manifesto for your BA, but clearly you do not know anything about “socialism”, “communism”, “anarchism” or any other left-ism. The banalities you have written above are simply read from a script deeply inscribed on the brains of the citizens of the UK and the USA by a system of oppression and control. You are not speaking the untold truth to us; you are mouthing ideology.

Best wishes,
The Extreme Left


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Some thoughts on left unity and disagreement http://bit.ly/dH4xdi

  2. Boycott Procuts35

    Time for a united left? http://t.co/OQKqEn8 via @libcon

  3. Joe Cassels

    RT @boycottbgbizsoc: Time for a united left? http://t.co/OQKqEn8 via @libcon

  4. Heywood Hadfield

    RT @libcon Some thoughts on left unity and disagreement http://bit.ly/dH4xdi

  5. Emily Davis

    See what you think of my latest post on @libcon blog: Some thoughts on left unity and disagreement. http://bit.ly/fFDa8l 🙂

  6. Rachel Hubbard

    Some thoughts on left unity and disagreement | Liberal Conspiracy: http://bit.ly/eckjQu via @addthis

  7. Phil BC

    New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  8. DarrellGoodliffe

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  9. Moonbootica

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  10. Alex Snowdon

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  11. NewLeftProject

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  12. mark wright

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  13. John Brissenden

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  14. Matt Sellwood

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  15. Steven Zhang

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  16. Adephagia

    RT @averyps: New post: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  17. Phil BC

    Cheeky retweet: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity #ukuncut

  18. Michael Oswell

    lol @ this: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/12/11/some-thoughts-on-left-unity-and-disagreement/ @spitzenprodukte

  19. Alasdair Thompson

    RT @averyps: Cheeky retweet: In Praise of the Far Left http://is.gd/iDhMz Reply to @LibCon piece on unity http://is.gd/iDhUj #solidarity …

  20. Owen Hatherley

    @palmer1984 the (ongoing) comments to this http://tinyurl.com/2udvyqk
    I rather like Libcon on the whole but sometimes it's a bit oh dear

  21. It is right to have no confidence in Aaron Porter…. |

    […] by the fact that not more than a few days Liberal Conspiracy published an article calling for ‘left unity’ between everyone the author, Emily Davis, liked with absolutely no place for those who she did not. […]

  22. piombo

    "Communism never was a ‘nice idea’" http://bit.ly/eUHz3q @libcon providing a happy platform for the ignorant Left.

  23. Why I Have a Problem With the Liberal Left « Everybody Hates a Tourist

    […]  Possibly the most hilariously unselfaware version of this in recent times is Emily Davis’ post on Liberal Conspiracy.  But I’m being unfair.  She calls for both parts of the left, […]

  24. Raightning

    @myacehen http://t.co/1vhn5J5a he didnt write it but he published it and then said stupid shit in the comments for good measure

  25. Aidan R

    @hughgreen Yup check the comments http://t.co/96w3u186 The article itself is also dreadful (though not written by him).

  26. Aidan R

    @gawkrodger Comment #39 http://t.co/96w3u186





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