11 comments on “Crisis in the left: a modest proposal

  1. A key component of the left’s retreat to the right is the ongoing assault it’s internet intelligentsia have subjected “Leninism” to. Wheather nor not the leadership of the British SWP constitutes the real deal or not insofar as Leninism goes is not the issue here. Just the fact that they utilize Lenin to legitimize their activities has given their mainly reformist, i.e., even more more right wing opponents, yet another excuse to rail against Leninism as original sin and call for its abandonment once and for all. Of course if they actually had something better to replace it with, then maybe they might be worth listening to. But when all is said and done, and mostly said, since they are almost to a man (and/or woman) internet inteligentsia who make a living off of masturbating at the mouse, we hear little more than paeans of praise to anarchist “spontaniety” or reformist Labor party politicing, neither of which has amounted to much insofar as building a viable anti-capitalist left goes. It does, however, provide then an avenue to student radicals and left-talking trade union bureaucrats insofar as the British radical milleau goes.

    Indeed, it would seem that the main gripe that the assorted opponents of the SWP leadership all seem to have is that the organization’s “Leninism” gives it more bang for the buck when it comes to organizing. In other words they are just plain jealous of the SWP’s successes and hope that the current crisis will push this ostensibly revolutionary roadblock out of the way and in the process discredit “Leninism” as well. Only insofar as radicals and revolutionaries go, just what’s wrong with a small organization (providing it aspires to become a bigger one) that, because it adheres to a common set of ideas (or program, to use a bad word in some of these circles), can put them into practice by organizing even bigger mass movements. Isn’t that what happened with Occupy Wall Street…or rather didn’t happen because they had no real program. Isn’t that what Workers World and ANSWER did in building the anti-war movement when the liberals were too cowardly to do so after “9/11.” It’s certainly what the SWP did with the Stop the War Movement and then with RESPECT in the UK.

    If anything, the SWP could be considered “opportunist” insofar as it’s uncritical tailing after movement celebrities and superstars goes. None of the academics and authors that the SWP made superstars out of back in anti-globalization days had a problem with the SWP until it raised its own politics. Indeed, when things were going good between the SWP and George Gallagher in RESPECT, there were few complaints either…in spite of the SWP’s toning down its politics (on abortion and gay rights, amongst other things) in order to pursue Muslim clerics and petty bourgeois civic and community leaders. But when the shit hit the fan and there was a fall out, the SWP, whether it was in the right or the wrong, was held as the villain for sabotaging a desperate left’s chances at electoral success. Likewise when it comes to Greece, the SWP (and its Greek comrades) are attacked for suggesting that the Euro-reformist SYRIZA comes up short as an anti-capitalist alternative to the austerity regime there, since SYRIZA’s success at the ballot box is seen as the latest quick fix for the left. In spite of their hostility to Leninism, not a few of the SWP’s critics were ready to dig out Comintern formulae such as the “workers government” in anticipation of a SYRIZA victory…and their uncritical adaption to it in “Leninist” lingo.

    One could do a lot worse than reading Alex Calinicos recent article on Leninism, in which he not only lists what he considers to be the key components of the SWP’s “Leninism,” none of which sound on the surface to be the stuff that sectarians are made of, but counterposes them to the fly-by-night anarchist and reformnist panaceas of his opponents. He also points out that the failures of the French NPA just might have something to do with the anti-Leninist nature of that organization, which not too long ago was being hailed as the future of the far left. So with capitalism as oppressive and exploitative as ever, if not more so, let’s not be so quick to dump one of the few weapons that the working class has had in its fight against it…even if much of the left is willing to do so.


  2. Interesting suggestions and sure to be completely disregarded by all the revolutionary paper and magazine sellers who lurk on the margins of demos all around the world!I don’t know about the US,but in Oz the only people who persist in trying to engage with people through street stalls are the Salvation Army and the so-called ‘Leninists’.Is this a ‘revolutionary act’ in the internet age?


  3. There is much in your piece I like, especially about humans view history, and they way we should. That is excellent.

    But your proposed solution:

    “Every left group in the US to go out of business tomorrow, spend a few years in the social movements and working class creating political space free from current organizational fetters so that the organizational reconstitution of the left might come about through the needs of the class and the movement rather than the needs our current organizations have….”

    For the most part, this has actually occurred. There are some zombie organizations left, but by and large, most comrades left these groups, and have gone on to do labor work and community organizing and the like.

    When these comrades get active again, they come up with groups like Solidarity and Freedom Road Socialist Organization, etc. The cure is every bit as bad as the disease.

    I posit that there is a new revolutionary movement, the most visibile expression of which was the Occupy movement. All across the U.S., you can see comrades, tired of the old Zinovievist BS, but also learning the lessons of groups like Solidarity and FRSO trying to forge something new: groups like Kasama, the North Star Network, Black Orchid Collective, One Struggle.

    Time will only tell whether these new efforts will work.


  4. The problem with much of the left, in both Europe and the US, is that they still continue to try and pin any hopes for revolutionary struggle with political and social organisations tied to the main capitalist parties hoping to get an audience. Unfortunately, like the papcy, it is not only extremely difficult to get such an audience, but even if one succeeds, it is highly unlikely they will take anything said into consideration. It still feels too much like the vanguard of the proletariat, but those advocating it are sitting at the same table with the very people entrenched in the bourgeoisie doing the bidding of the capitalists. The ISO is a good example of this very tendency, but there are others who will preach revolution but allow themselves to be co-opted by the centrist parties in power, thereby stunting any potential to advocate any revolutionary agenda. Unless we begin to break away from this tendency, this will continue.


    • Connie,

      I certainly agree that class independence is, and always has been, the main source of the major divisions in the left since the beginning and part of the class transforming into a class ‘for itself’ is precisely the struggle to break those chains.


  5. Swift’s proposal was eating babies, yours is letting the sclerotic gaggle of sects that make up the outward face of the present left die the death that by all rights should have happened a generation or more ago.

    Perhaps I am just too far gone but I think there need be nothing ‘modest’ about this proposal. Yes, the sects won’t take it seriously, but they aren’t the ones who are going to decide the course of the class struggle.

    It is something in the nature of the period that everything built in previous periods of struggle now seems to block its progress – the sclerotic sects still selling newspapers, nationalist dictators aged into bloody monsters, the unions committing some bureaucratic equivalent to self-immolation… If the left cannot get it together to play a positive role in the development of the class the least it could do is get out of its way.


  6. I like your thought process. Some orgs are better than others, but we are definately trapped in different organizations repeating the same efforts. We are thinking really small and narrow when we should think big and broad. I recently put to film some similar hetetical thoughts about breaking down barriers that you might appreciate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHSbINT-AOU


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