The Cult of Activism

April 27, 2013

cultureLeft Unity supporter Mark Perryman argues the need for a new political culture

This may seem a tad premature. Signatories to Ken Loach’s appeal are still pouring in, most local groups have only had their first meeting in the past few weeks with some still yet to meet, we don’t even know what to call ourselves yet. But if we don’t start in the ways we mean to go on then the dream of a new party for the Outside Left will turn into the nightmare other efforts turned into within a depressingly short time.

These were either founded by the socialist this, that and the other parties as a lash-up between themselves. Or in a short space of time came to be absolutely dominated by them. But it’s too easy, and lazy politics, to just stick a label on those you disagree with and otherwise all will be comfort and joy on the road to socialism.

What is dominant in a particular version of Left politics is the cult of the activist. That if we all just did more, and there were more of us doing it then capitalism would come crashing down and the new Jerusalem built. Of course I’m not against campaigning, without that our new party won’t amount to very much. But the question that should always be asked is, is our activism the most effective action we could be taking? Thanks to the cult of activism a space for this kind of questioning is rarely provided. Instead a dull routine is stuck with because that’s what has always been done before, so why change? The lack of positive outcomes barely addressed before we’re on to the next issue to campaign about.

In most decent-sized towns there will be a group selling papers, or more accurately standing there and not making much of a sale, to perplexed passers-by. Sure it provides a visible presence but does it repel far more than it attracts? Sometimes such pitches are supplemented by a stall, but except on rare occasions of topicality what do those piles of pamphlets offer to appeal and engage. Public meetings are held where almost everything that will be said could be predicted beforehand. No sense of the unpredictable, the open-ended, the politics of doubt rather than the convictions of certainty.

And every now and then there will be a national campaign, or in the jargon mobilising, to commit to. A frantic round of leaflets and posters, meetings and phone-rounds, to what end? To fill a coach, which if north of Watford will leave at some ungodly early hour in the morning, to speed down the motorway, drop off the occupants to march from London’s Embankment to Hyde Park and then rush off to catch the coach back home. The impact on those taking part more often than not negligible, the effect on public debate almost non-existent. Of course there are exceptions, Chris Nineham’s book and Ian Sinclair‘s offer differing accounts of the two million strong anti-war march in February 2003. Clare Solomon‘s and the collection from Open Democracy Fightback offer likewise contrasting accounts of the 2011 Student tuition fee protests. But these are the once in a generation exception, not the annual rule of gross disappointment such so-called mobilisations mostly amount to.

Our new Left Party I suspect includes a substantial number of us disillusioned and disaffected by the usual way of doing things on the Left. Certainly no previous initiative in recent years has attracted anything like the response that Ken Loach’s appeal has. Now we begin the process of what this might become. But let’s think for a moment what caused this initial spark. A much loved film-maker and his superb film, The Spirit of ‘45. Not a manifesto, not an issue, not a rally in some Central London big hall with the top table of speakers, not a cabal of left wing groups. Even the appeal we’ve all signed up to isn’t much more than a few sentences. What the appeal connected to was a mood of disappointment with how things are and hope in how things could be different. A combination that Ken’s film brilliantly captures on the big screen. Sentiments now locked out of Westminster Bubble politics given for a change a voice and thanks to Left Unity the beginnings of some kind of substance.

So the beginnings are different, and so far, so good. The most effective action now is to find the ways that the 8000 plus signatories can turn signing up into becoming the party we want. Of course many won’t join in this process, the initial sign-up as much as they end up committing to. That’s part and parcel of the era of clicktivism which just like activism has its flaws too. But anything much less than a quarter joining in that process has to be judged a failure and recognised as such. This is our first test of our break with the way others have organised in the past. This means placing the members, our needs, hopes, expectations, emotions absolutely at the core of the organisation. This isn’t about being inward-looking. But it does mean recognising that without a qualitative leap in numbers and means of participation compared to all the previous, and failed, efforts Ken’s appeal and those of us who signed up, will have amounted to not very much. It means not a detailed set of policies at the outset, it means a values-led organisation, values rooted in how we do our politics as much as what our politics are. Paul Mason recently quoted in an article in Soundings the German Social-Democrat Eduard Bernstein ‘the way is everything, the goal nothing’. We might not want to go quite so far down that road but for a renegade Eduard had a point! Being part of Left Unity I hope will mean being in meetings which are a journey of discovery for all of us. Where we don’t know the answers before proceedings have even begun. A meeting that has failed if at some stage not everybody has taken part. A night out which if it hasn’t involved at last one burst of involuntary laughter wasn’t much of a success. Without pleasure why would anybody but the most committed keep coming back for more. We should be a party for the uncommitted every bit as much as for the committed. We know where the latter are coming from, yet we’ll learn far more from the experiences and contributions of the former.

In breaking with pre-existing models of mostly ineffectual activism there won’t be one single replacement model, that’s the point. But we can perhaps start to identify what a new activism might look like.

Firstly the central role of communications. No this isn’t sufficient in itself but the 21st century has in part been characterised by a communications revolution that writers such as Manuel Castells recognised as transforming what it means to be ‘politically active’. Most organisations of the Left are still rushing headlong to catch up with this revolution, terrified by the horizontalism and open-ness it brings with it. more often than not dragging their feet in the process. As a bottom-up party Left Unity is already being influenced by these necessities of change. That process needs to be embraced and accelerated. The possibilities of each local group to develop a twitter feed, facebook page, a website, a youtube channel are clear and present. The role of the party to facilitate, not control, providing the training so that Left Unity at the base becomes characterised by citizen journalism, photography and film-making, able to make instant use of social media as eruptions of protest occur, developing a media presence rooted in localities.

Secondly the crucial importance of language and visual communications. We cannot begin to underestimate how neoliberalism has succeeded in creating a reactionary common-sense. This is key to its success. Yet there exists a great variety of contrary opinions rarely given a voice within the political mainstream. As a party we need to find ways to develop a common-sense understanding of the alternative, in words and images. Not the jargon of leftism that outside the orbit few can make sense of. Nor a politics of shouty slogans either, ‘Fight/Smash/Stop’. OK for life on planet placard but as a language of hope for the everyday, worse than useless. The importance of this language of hope was absolutely evident in The Spirit of ‘45 what would it look like in 2013?

Thirdly as Jim Jepps has pointed out in a most interesting recent blogpost despite the resources at its disposal, which including the trade unions are considerable, the Left in this country lack in large measure any kind of physical or cultural infrastructure. Where are the social and resource centres, the meting halls, the pubs, cafes and restaurants, even the summer festivals we can call our own? Few and far between, and those that do exist are mostly trapped by the history from where they came, incapable of adapting to the new social and cultural terrain. The newish, and small, Left Wing group Counterfire must have surprised many when as one of their first major interventions they set up a cafe, Firebox. It may or may not succeed, for sheer boldness and imagination it certainly deserves to. Not only to survive but to flourish too. By this one act a small group put much larger organisations to shame which haven’t come close to anything of this sort. A chain of Left Unity sandwich bars? Not perhaps what most of us signed up to. But in each locality a serious audit of what opportunities might exist to initiate a meeting point, a social and cultural space, temporary, mobile or pop-up yet sustainable too. Perhaps a mobile coffee stand, fairtrade, with tables and chairs when the weather’s good. Or a big red bus touring the country with the facility to put on a stage, show a film, space on board for a mobile bookshop and cafe, the Left Unity roadshow. Yes it sounds different, even a little crazy. Nothing like we’re used to taken as our starting point because almost everything we’re used to has failed.

Fourthly Locality becomes the absolutely central focus of our activism. How many Left groups today can talk in terms of any kind of ‘local base’. Hardly any. I live close to Brighton, a city with a majority Green council and an outstanding Green MP, Caroline Lucas. Yet even here there is no sense when you’re in Brighton of it being a Green Party stronghold, no public presence. no impact on the physical culture of the place. Of course the Green Party are doing something right, their vote in the city remains strong but have they shifted the cultural identity of Brighton in any obvious way? Our party will start at a much lower level of course, it may be a while before we have any MPs! But a local base, that includes but isn’t restricted to votes in elections, must be our ambition. This will take imagination and daring ambition but surely it should be our vision, and the start with 80+ local groups gives us the beginnings to put this into practice.

Fifthly Practical internationalism. Our internationalism should be shaped as much by learning as giving. The era of looking overseas for a single model of socialist excellence to reproduce for domestic consumption are for most of us long gone. But across Europe, of most immediate relevance to us here, but elsewhere too, there are countless examples we can learn from. Yet the English Left for all its internationalist principles is remarkably isolated from almost all of these in terms of them impacting on our own political practice. A party culture that sees many of us spending a long weekend, a fortnight or all summer long embedded in the life and activities of a local branch of Syriza, Front de Gauche, Die Linke, Left Bloc and others would both enthuse but also transform our own energies and ideas for what we can do here. I can still remember the impact on those who went to Genoa to join the huge protests against the G8 led by the Italian Left. But this should be part of our everyday activism, not once-in-a-lifetimes. A localised internationalism twinning and exchanging between towns and communities across Europe that have far more in common than the Europhobes will ever admit.

What what will be the shape of the party to come? We don’t know. Let’s celebrate that uncertainty, be liberated by it. But one thing we can be sure of. If we simply reproduce the cult of activism of those efforts that went before us, even if in greater numbers, then more of the same will take us backwards not forwards. What a waste.

Mark Perryman’s account of life as a political activist ‘The Revolution is Just A T-shirt Away’ is available as a free download from here

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59 Responses to The Cult of Activism

  1. Emil Christian
    April 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

    Excellent points, Firebox is an interesting and crucially rare anonomoly. It’s a problem I’ve perennially found within the hard left scene. It’s almost like innovation is this reactionary distraction because it might actually connect with people.

    A lot of the creative protest from Occupy and UK Uncut and other actions/groups are loose networks that are able to innovate and attract people but the level of cohesiveness and solidity is far less than that of the many groups and parties traditionally amenable to the working ‘revolutionary’. This along with the federated/single-party question gets to the heart of what Left Unity should be and what the UK needs.

    Where do we strike the balance of maintaining a single organisation with some form of management and centralised bureaucracy and the looser, networked/affinity-group creative protest that has been recently successful in the last few years at getting otherwise apolitical or non-activist members involved in politics? I see no reason why we cannot have both, but it makes an administrative question a deeply political one.

    Very important point about normalising politicised thinking and action. Protests and direct action is effective, but so is a soup kitchen, and we all have different skills and desires and ways of getting involved. It must be an individual’s choice how and how much they want to partake in LU, and it’s our collective duty to enable people to make those choices (i.e. not inhibit people with awesome ideas like radio/cafes).

    Hopefully the national conference will have an important debate on these issues and think about the appropriateness of various past and present models to our current situation. Doesn’t it feel exciting?

  2. Tom
    April 28, 2013 at 1:28 am

    Mark Perryman quoting Eduard Bernstein approvingly? Why am I not surprised. The father of revisionism (the exact opposite of socialism) is the theorist of surrender to capitalist exploitation. Bernstein said the goal is nothing because he was a traitor to the class struggle that, for Marx and Engels is the key to scientific socialism. Bernstein was nothing more than an agent of the capitalist class within the workers’ movement. Left Unity is socialist or it is nothing. Those who want the left to reconcile the working class to capitalist exploitation are not part of the left. Left Unity has to be an organisation of socialists, socialists who know what the goal is and who understand the need to debate not whether we want to go there but how do get there, as rapidly as possible. Surrendering to the capitalist status quo is useless at the best of times. But capitalism globally has entered a new epoch of protracted crisis. Our pensions, our NHS, our homes, health and safety, civil liberties and everything else are all under threat today. And that is because the capitalists can’t even afford what the working class managed to wring out of them over generations of political and economic struggle. Socialists have to come together in Left Unity because we have the potential to rally the mass of the exploited and oppressed more today than in for several generations. That is because because they are fighting to defend what they have come to expect, what their children take as a given. It is easy to persuade the majority that if capitalism cannot afford a decent life for the 99%, then we can no longer afford capitalism. Reject Eduard Bernstein, and embrace Rosa Luxemburg.

    • Ray G
      May 1, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      Tom

      I’m sorry but it is crystal clear to me that Mark quoted Bernstein as a tongue in cheek comment, and goes on to describe him as a renegade! The wider point Mark seems to be making is that the WAY we organise can be as important as the ultimate goal we seek. Indeed, one will inflkuence the other.

      Can we just have a bit more of a sense of humour.

      Incidentally, I do not know Mark at all, and have never met him even though I seem to be defending him all the time!

  3. Rich Will
    April 28, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Excellent article, so many ideas it’s hard to know where to begin. The idea of having a cultural presence locally is certainly an original one and I for one will certainly be raising it at my local meeting this Wednesday. Similarly looking to build direct international links also seems like a very appropriate thing to do. I hope all local groups across the country will distribute this article and take its suggestions on board.

  4. Mark Perryman
    April 28, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks Emil and Rich. Many flowers blooming is I think what lots of us are hoping for.

    How do we do it? Well we appear to have a decent number attracted, draw on all the skils we can offer, not just the ones we are used to utlising. Provide the initiatives to fit what we have. Turn those signatories who can afford it from sign ups to donors. If the ideas are good enough and ambitious enough that will help spur the donations. Persnally I rather like the idea of a big red bus criss-crossing the country all summer long for the cause, probably too late for this summer but would give us something to aim for and gawd, we’d be different from the rest. Not National Express, the Trans-Global Unity Express!

    To. Actually quoting the renegade (sic) Eduard Bernstein in an article illustrated by the artist Rodchenko I thought a very neat way of symbolising Left Unity’s heterodoxy and dissidence. Next up, Kautsky illustrated by Banksy!

    Mark P

  5. Edd Mustill
    April 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    The cultural question is interesting – I have no time for Counterfire’s politics but still acknoweledge that the left needs a much stronger cultural/social presence. I don’t think it should come at the expense of an industrial base though. Difficult question.

    What do comrades think of the idea that the left should perhaps set up foodbanks etc?

  6. Mark Perryman
    April 28, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Edd

    Mmm, altho’ I’m not opposed to food banks and similar that wasn’t so much what I was thinking of or suggesting.

    What I was pointing towards was the idea of a focus of a practical activism creating a space, temporary, semi-permanent or permanent where those on the Left can come together, learn from one another, grow together. A cultural dimension to this would be important, as well as the pleasure principle. It is somewhat bewildering that despite the resources of the Left these scarcely exist, and whatever the political differences a crdit to Counterfire that they’ve at least made the effort.

    This isn’t in contradiction to an ‘industrlal base’, as far as I’m aware worhers drink coffee as much as anyone else!

    As Left Unity becomes a party we need elements of our make-up that make us distinctive and effective. I hope this idea will be one of those seriously considered.

    Mark P

    • Emily P
      April 30, 2013 at 3:30 am

      Personally I think some sort of community cafés would be better than food banks. The idea of having local gathering spaces is a good one but tbh I wouldn’t class Counterfire as that sort of thing. There is already a big Community Café movement and with the right venues there would be room for much more.

      Things like that also give a chance to show that we practice what we preach rather than being more reminiscent of the ineffective left with their infighting, paste tables and failed paper sales.

  7. Suzanne
    April 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    I do so hope this is what Left Unity will be about. Thanks for the cogent overview.

  8. Tony Walker
    April 28, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    it was a good article. its early need to keep people on board. i was never particularly attracted to the traditional left activist model so after getting ignored by the Labour Party i didnt join in nothing there i could communicate with – impenetrable in the period where there as been a need for a plurality of groups opposed to the status quo.

    • April 28, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      Paul Salveson’s book ‘Socialism With a Northern Accent’ describes an interesting sounding wave of cultural activities at the heart of the ILP-based socialism of the north a century or so ago. Review the book here – http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/socialism_with_a_northern_accent – Alex Niven suggests creating the left look to create community-based sports organisations. That sort of thing could compensate for cuts in some areas and could potentially be a useful way of reaching working class young people in particular, perhaps?

  9. Mark Perryman
    April 28, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Suzanne and Tony

    Thanks. Whats really refreshing about LU so far is that when people disagree they say so. But when they agree there’s a real warmth to the response too. Lets keep that as a big part of our new political culture.

    In my view what we need as the next stage isn’t a set of policies, we don’t have the structures to deliberate on those nor an obvious route to implementation. What we need is a set of values, a political culture. These should be set out as a Statement of Intent then shaped from below, an editorial group moulding the statement as the process unfolds. A vision determined by consensus not central command.

    I would hope such a statement would revolve primarily around participation, locality, communications, political culture and practical internationalism.

    Mark P

    • KJP
      April 29, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      I absolutely agree that we need to identify our values. At this early stage it’s also helpfull to think in terms of ‘outcomes’ (what do we think will be different) rather than ‘outputs’ i.e. how we will do things (e.g. structures, policies, etc.). However, (and a bit one), our casual references to the ‘working class’ in this stream needs to be addressed to encourage inclusion and discourage alienation. My view is that greater emphasis should placed on values rather than variable categories of ‘class’ however much we all may understand what we think this still means.

      • Ray G
        April 29, 2013 at 7:53 pm

        I agree with what you say about the knee-jerk use of ‘the workers’ or ‘the working class’.

        I do accept that any party we set up will have failed if it does not attract and represent low-paid, relatively powerless working people. It would be good to recruit from the hard-pressed private sector workers, those in call-centres, mass retail and the like, as well as hard pressed public sector workers (I say as someone who was in NALGO – UNISON for 20 years). There is a danger of being another party of teachers and social workers, and other public sector ‘professionals’.

        I also accept that a very high percentage of people describe themselves as working class in opinion surveys.

        Yet, still, we need to reach beyond those and unite the vast majority of people in the country against the tiny minority of the rich, even winning those who do not so-identify as workers. We can and must talk about class, poverty and equality of opporunity AND of outcomes but we should not use it as a tired old cliche, like a good pair of old slippers.

  10. April 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    In this article, there are some things that I agree with, also there is a lot that I disagree with. The very reason for Left Unity is to bring together those who want to stop the destruction and misery being wreaked by the current ‘Condem’ govt. and bring about something better. We need to optimise our forces, and so I cannot agree that, fundamentally, we do not want to harness as many of us as possible in agreement about the way forward. Some aspects of the ‘dull routine’ identified by Mark certainly need to change, others are worth keeping.

    Through his attack on the Cult of Activism, Mark pours scorn on the idea of mobilising to demonstrate. Mass campaigning and demonstrations; such as the Poll Tax, brought down Thatcher and have been an expression of working people’s power internationally for generations. When thousands of people decide to take to the street, this is not because a small number of far left groups have made it happen. (Although sometimes they like to think that this is so). It is because of the objective circumstances, that have motivated people to get involved, this type of activism I like.

    What was one of the things that we talked about at our first meeting of Left Unity? The fact that we had all been on the local Bedroom Tax demo! These are occurring regularly, in almost every town in the country. Surely, if Left Unity had been organised earlier, we would now be involved and helping to generalise this protest more widely, both geographically, numbers wise and in terms of related issues. I disagree with Mark’s view that we will necessarily be aiming to have MPs, this was by no means the view of the majority of people in the meeting, that I attended.

    I do not share Mark’s mood of ‘disappointment’ at the current situation, I am outraged, angry and saddened, on a daily basis, by the constant attacks on weak and vulnerable, people on benefits, the unemployed, the low paid, the NHS, the state education system. If that sounds too much like the ‘politics of shouty slogans’ perhaps this is because the ‘Spirit of 45’ was about the hopes and expectations when building the welfare state, now they are trying to tear it down!

    The description of what a meeting should be like, certainly matches my experience, at my first meeting everyone spoke, because numbers were small, everyone contributed. The majority were in the meeting for change, and a new way of organising, they wanted to be heard not educated. We set up a Google group and a Facebook page. This is obviously the way forward, joint decisions and ideas, rather than a ‘top table’. But to also get out there, have fun and change things. We have met, because we want to work together, this is where the fun comes from. Having a laugh, in itself, will not sustain political organisation. There is no disguising that.

    I agree we need to develop a social/cultural identity that can be used as a focus, to encourage more people to join, yes this does require imagination and creativity, and we had plenty of good ideas in our group. What ever cultural/social forms of working take over, these will arise from what fits the circumstances of protest first and socialising second. Situationist events have their rightful place for propaganda and publicity purposes, and any more permanent structures/ arrangements; such as meeting places/cafes will be sustained and shaped by the activity and not the other way around.
    The article reads as though we are aiming to raise the profile of Left Unity, so that it can become elected, even if we stick with Bernstein and the process is more important then the end, then we cannot predict exactly what shape the end will take??
    .

  11. Lee Rock
    April 28, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Hi Mark.
    These are all very interesting ideas. The idea though that they are new and untried is wrong. We can look back at the history of the left in this country (as well as Germany etc) to see many of these things put into practice. The German SPD ran vast amounts of social/cultural activities over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, despite their paper adherence to marxism, come the onset of world war they collapsed into nationalism and the barbarism of WW1. I am sure you agree that it is the politics and practice combined that is key.
    That is not to say the ideas you suggest are wrong. I think it important not to dismiss ideas/activities from the past – but to learn from them.
    We also need to keep in mind our small size. It will be important to see how many of the 8000 will attend even one event to start with.

  12. Mark Perryman
    April 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Bev and Lee thanks.

    Bev firstly. Yes the anti- Poll Tax campaign was magnificent. But it was 23 years ago, before many of the students occupying Sussex University recently were born. And Thatcher was brought down because of a catalogue of catastrophic by-election results, she was knifed in the back by her own MPs. The Poll Tax protests were part of the picture but only part. The Tories remained in office for a further 7 years.

    But the Poll Tax, Stop the War in 2003, the student protests in 2011 come along once or so in a generation, some more successful and momentous than others. The dull routine of the cult of activism in the interim and the aftermath reducing any increase in numbers and enthusiasm as quickly as possible. This is what we need to break with, its getting us nowhere fast with diminishing returns. If Left Unity repeats this model its doomed, even with what I see your group, Socialist Resistance, has agreed to organise a ‘Revolutionary Platform’ inside Left Unity to show the rest of us the error of our ways. What a surprise.

    As for the appeal of ‘shouty slogans’, if it was easy as that we wouldn’t be in the mess we are.

    And not wanting Left Unity MPs? I somehow think this won’t be up to us to, not for a while yet.

    Lee. Of course the Left has a long tradition of developing its own political culture. In the 1930s the Workers Olmpics were bigger than the ‘official’ Games. Lsons can, and should be learned, I am completely poosed to an ahistorical Left, but this was a different era.

    The key point you make tho’ about size is hugely important. If Left Unity in reality numbers a few hundred rather than the 8000 signatories then the reality is any change from the models of the pre-existing and failed Left will be far more difficult to achieve, if not impossible. That is why I have suggested a signatories online audit as soon as possible, to establish the depth of commitment at this stage, including skills, time and finances signatories are willing and able to offer. If the response is anything more than 25% we’re in business, if not then I’m not sure any kind of breakthrough is likely, or even worth the effort.

    Mark P

    • April 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Perhaps one of the values that might be adopted by LU is honesty and respect for the views of others, without any attempt to smear them, with what you perceive as dishonesty. Your assumption about my membership of Socialist Resistance is wrong, they are not my group and I am not a member. I did meet some members, for the first time in my life on Wednesday at our meeting. I found them to be positive, welcoming and scrupulously aware of the need to fairly represent the views of all. I have only a genuine interest in engaging with other like minded people in resisting and protesting against Austerity

      I am a socialist and active trade unionist and expect to be taking strike action shortly, so I do hope that you do not class that along with demonstrations as outmoded. By the way, I don’t think that the Sussex Occupy Movement would agree with you.

  13. Jimmy Haddow
    April 28, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    As a socialist activist and social campaigner for 35 years I attended the brilliant All Scotland Anti- Bedroom Tax Conference on Saturday, 27 April 2013 in Glasgow . I would estimate there was circa 260 people of both delegates and visitors from Anti-Bedroom Tax Unions/Groups from all over Scotland. I would estimate that 99% of the people who were there were from the working class who gave vent to their anger to the Bedroom tax, a Cut in reality, and the Austerity programme that is being conducted by the ConDem government. But this conference was not a talking shop, but one of action on how to defeat the bedroom tax and defend the ever growing number of social housing tenants who will be affected by this. For this end a Founding Statement for an All Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation was democratically voted on by the delegates and overwhelmingly passed; and 6 officers elected again overwhelmingly by democratic vote, which will help to implement aims, objectives, decisions and priorities as determined by the All Scotland Steering committee.

    There is going to be a Scottish national demonstration against the BT in Glasgow on Saturday 1st June and some of the Federation Aims that was democratically voted on are to support local communities to set up anti- bedroom tax meetings and form local anti-bedroom tax groups. Help coordinate local groups to form a strong and united fight-back to stop evictions and scrap the bedroom tax. Call on all local authorities, housing associations, and the Scottish and Westminster governments to support a no evictions policy and refuse to implement the bedroom tax.

    To recognise that the Scottish Government has the power to amend Section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, to treat bedroom tax arrears as ordinary debt – not rent arrears – and calls on the Scottish Government to implement this change immediately, in line with the Govan Law Centre petition to lift the threat of bedroom tax evictions from the 105, 000 households effected by the bedroom tax in Scotland. Build an anti-evictions army of ordinary citizens to physically oppose, resist and prevent attempted bedroom tax evections anywhere in Scotland through all peaceful means necessary, and assemble phone trees, Facebook lists, and other social media networks that may be required to facilitate the building of such an anti-eviction army.

    Call on the Scottish Government to prevent both bedroom tax debt and job losses resulting from the bedroom tax, by funding the loss of housing benefit income and then fighting to win that money back from the Tory-led Government at Westminster. To work closely with trade unions to stop evictions and scrap the bedroom tax, and work with trade unions to help support workers affected by the bedroom tax and those who refuse to implement evictions or the bedroom tax. Campaign for the writing off of any debt incurred due to the bedroom tax and campaign to recover the shortfall for local authorities and housing associations from the Tory-led government at Westminster. Support the building of new social housing to provide the homes people need. Oppose all cuts and austerity measures. Oppose all attacks on the poor, unemployed, disabled, vulnerable and working class people including the so called “welfare reform bill”.

    This can only be done by people who are active in their community, house estates and at meetings. This is what activism is all about, not re-inventing the wheel. The non-payment of the poll tax campaign that started in 1998 in Scotland and spread through-out Britain until it got rid of Thatcher in November 1990 and the poll tax withdrawal announced in March 1991, which at that time there was 18 Million non-payers, started just like the event in Glasgow on Saturday. Mark P may say that the non-payment of the poll tax campaign was 23 years ago and the young do not know anything about it, but it is up to activists like myself who was involved in the day to day anti-poll tax battles with the Councils, in the Courts, building the Anti-Poll Tax unions, hassling the bailiffs, and so on to be the memory to the younger and new generation so that they can be involved in the anti-bedroom tax and anti-austerity campaign. What was it that George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”, today’s generation of social activist should bear this in mind when they discuss the present day economic and social crisis within capitalism.

  14. Ben McCall
    April 29, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Exactly Mark: “is our activism the most effective action we could be taking?”

    The imagery and iconography of LU, to date is instructive. It ranges from the cliche clenched fists gripping banner/flag poles of the (provisional?) logo to images that look like they come straight out of neo-’socialist realism’, such as left-unity-the-first-meeting-14th-january-2013. When the El-Lissitsky (red wedge) et al images start appearing, we should start worrying, as that suggests we are looking backwards or do not have the first clue about – or have rejected – how the visual arts have contributed to the development/critique of the left over the past 100 years.

    Apart from anything, the ‘art’ imagery is so Russo-Euro-centric. And what about C21st left artists?

    The faux lino print ‘People’s Convention’ illustrating the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, for example: smoking chimneys and terraced houses – ?!

    These are a visual metaphor for what Mark is expressing in this timely contribution.

  15. Mark Perryman
    April 29, 2013 at 5:00 am

    Bev. Apologies.

    The point about groups already seeking to organise as a ‘Revolutionary Platform’ within Left Unity stands. That isn’t meant as a ‘smear’ its a statement of fact. There may be absolutely nothing wrong about such a platform tho’ those of us who haven’t signed up to a revolutionary wotsit won’t want much to do with such a platform thankyou very much and there is absolutely nothing wrong in saying so.

    Jimmy, and Bev. I wasn’t saying the Poll Tax movement of 1990 was irrelevant or forgettable, absolutely not, But it did take place 23 years ago, again that is a simple statement of fact. Simply reproducing in the present out of the past doesn’t always work.

    Mark P

  16. Len Arthur
    April 29, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Comrades
    A quick response just to point you toward our Welsh Labour Grassroots website: http://welshlabourgrassroots.blogspot.co.uk/ which has been on the go since last August. We have been discussing these issues rooted in the context of a Marxist and climate change situation. Recently I posted three pieces on how we can bridge the gap between where we are now and need to be as socialists, they overlap in a useful way with the points made by Mark and others in this string. The website also indicates that at least some of us – particularly around the LRC of which WLG is the Welsh part – are thinking about the same issues.

  17. Mark caulfield
    April 29, 2013 at 9:14 am

    The idea that we are building an organisation of the ‘English left’ makes me uncomfortable. How do you define Englishness and what is the theoretical basis for that Organisational delimitation?

  18. Susan Cook
    April 29, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I am worried that Left Unity will not be in a position to put candidates up for the 2015 elections..and if they are they will simply be the Left’s version of UKIP and split the vote. I am leaning towards joining my local Labour Party and trying to effect change there. If we all did that surely we could get some changes to Labour’s Tory-lite policies. An injection of ‘Old Labour’ policies by up to 8000 passionate people would be a good thing. And we would avoid the re-election of the ConDems ‘by accident’.

    So, can I be a member of Left Unity AND the Labour Party? What do others think?

    • Ray G
      April 29, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      I sympathise with your plight and I really wish it was possible to reclaim Labour, but people have been talking about doing that for decades. The high water mark for the left, after the Atlee government, was the Wilson government of 1974-1977, but it still wasn’t a socialist party, and in any event, the move to the left under Foot in the 80′s caused the split from the right (the SDP) and Labour were still shut out of office by the ridiculous electoral system (Thatcher never got a majority of votes, in spite the BBC’s attenpts to say how loved she was). They would split again before allowing Labour to adopt a full socialist programme.

      Even in 1931 Ramsay McDonald split off and joined the Tories in coalition. Labourism will always play the game of ‘loyal opposition’ or junior partner in suppressing attempts by the poor and powerless to really challenge capitalism.

      And if the left did take over the moribund local branches, and took control and even won the election, that would be no guarantee that people ‘out there’ would actively support them when they are brought down my the ruling class economically or militarily, as they would have to be. If you sare going to challenge capitalism you need to be able to kill it, not just irritate it. As I said elsewhere on the site – if you are in a room with a tiger don’t poke it with a stick unless you are sure you can kill it.

  19. jonno
    April 29, 2013 at 11:27 am

    The Independent Working Class Association(IWCA) an attempt to not repeat the left mistakes of the past, etc undertook some projects like sports clubs/tournaments as well as film showings, etc, with some success on a number of council estates. It also took the almost unprecedented step of (by the use of questionaires) asking what people needed, felt strong about.

    LU could learn a lot from the IWCA approach and its engagement with the working class, however, it has/had a very robust(imo realistic) attitude to mass immigration ,shared by the majority of the estates, which may be unpalatable to a number of LU supporters.

    reposted for clarity

  20. Doug
    April 29, 2013 at 11:30 am

    I’m afraid there’s a profound conservatism about Far Left organisations that manifests itself in its suspicious attitude to the Internet and modern means of communication, viewing it as some sort of threat rather than an opportunity to get across socialist ideas to a wider audience. There’s an obsession with stalls, paper sales, demos and the occasional public meeting, along with ridiculous expectations about activity that probably put off many people with normal lives. After years of this, the Far Left has made no little or no headway in terms of membership and influence. Part of the problem is that short cuts are chosen all the time but the Left has no choice but to settle in for the long haul, establishing credibility by actually doing stuff with and for people on a regular basis. A classic symptom of this has been a wholly inadequate approach to building TUSC as a serious long term organisation rooted in local activity, which should involve going out and talking to people where they live and not hiding behind the comfort blanket of stalls (which most people ignore anyway)and public meetings (which people don’t go to), having a regular presence in working class areas and actually canvassing during elections. Seriously, some people in the SP didn’t have a problem with the Eastleigh vote (I kid you not).

    • darren
      May 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Doug. I went door knocking for an SP general election candidate in 1997 and 2001, so believe me when I tell you that knocking doors does not automatically rouse people into a hunger for socialist ideas. I am presently involved in campaigns that use facebook pages, twitter accounts and other means of social networking to communicate ideas and information. Again, the masses have not flocked to them in their millions. It involves a lot of hard work to organise local protests and local public meetings that bring people together to discuss politics and build lasting campaigns. Knocking doors on a regular basis with leaflets and other material that help spread the word takes up time. printing currnet material takes time and money. Maintaining up to date twitter and facebook accounts takes up time. Keeping up with local asctivism and the wider news and debates such as these demands a certain amount of my time and info. Social networking may merely facilitate a revolution. It still requires activists to lead people in the direction of online left-wing campaigns. It requires activists with a decent intellectual level to inspire confidence in people. It requires a certain level of commitment in such an activist to put in the time to become knowledgeable, informed and well connected

  21. Mark Perryman
    April 29, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks. Some more good contributions.

    Ben. Must admit I have a bit of a soft spot for the old constructivists. But you are absolutely right, Left Unity needs its own visual language not just reproduce the same old same old.

    Mark C. Interesting point. There are Left Unity groups in Scotland, Wales and England. Left Unity is yet to discuss devolution/independence. Personally I am an English Republican and hpe we will organise as three separate but sister parties. But thats down the road. I use the term ‘English Left’ for the mo’ siply to distinguish ourselves from the Scottish and Welsh lefts , on both those countres it is an entirely different party political dynamic to the one in England.

    Susan. I doubt Labour would alow that! One of the issues however Left Unity will have to settle is does it immediately aspire to be a party or more of a plural network of the Left. If the latter then it can involve fully members of other partie which also contest elections, if the former almost certainly not.

    Jonno. Any electoral project must learn from others’ experience including the IWCA, theres no doubt about that.

    Doug. Absolutely! Its that combination of social media and localised activism which I would hope will define the new Party.

    Mark P

  22. Mark caulfield
    April 29, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    What criteria do you use, what assumptions are being brought into play that allows you to generate a list that limits it’s self the nations within Britain? Why not a list that includes France and Chile? You seem to be opposing national to international politics. On what criteria is the opposition made? Is a strike in Scotland international politics, for someone living in England and a strike in England national? If so strikes are simultaneously national and international. If we were standing on the English side of the border campaigning about a strike on the Scottish side of the border would the English protestors be engaging in international politics and vis versa? In my view nationals are ‘imaginary communities’ and the seats of reaction.

  23. Mike Scott
    April 29, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    I’ve been trying to avoid making once-and-for-all statements at this stage, but I do think it’s important to point out that the terms “socialist” and “Marxist” don’t mean the same thing. There is no reason to suppose that LU will be a Marxist party, or indeed that it should be.

    If this project is going to have any chance of working, it’s absolutely crucial that different varieties of socialists/lefties don’t try to dominate or exclude others on the left. It actually doesn’t matter which particular spot each of us occupy as long as we are somewhere on the left and can agree a constitution and a set of principles – if we’re going to start by trying to identify a specific ideology, we might as well give up now. I’ve always taken the line that I’ll work with anyone who’ll work with me and it’s served me pretty well: I recommend it as a practical way forward!

    I also think that it’s essential LU is a new start, not just a continuation of old and sterile factional squabbles that hardly anyone understands or cares about – this is supposed to be the beginnings of a mass movement, but it certainly won’t be unless we can put aside where we came from and concentrate on where we’re going. What’s important is not the name or the logo or the jargon (especially the jargon!) but the beliefs behind them. And LU must be a party that empowers disadvantaged people to do things themselves, not one that just says it wants to do things on their behalf.

    Mike

  24. Mark caulfield
    April 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Who moderates the moderators?

  25. Mark Perryman
    April 29, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Mark C

    Its a way down the road I suspect before Left Unity settles on any positin regarding independence for Scotland and Wales from the British state.

    There will be some of us who already have a view on that, for what its worth I support an independent Scotland, Wales and Emgland, a united Ireland. Bt I certainly don’t seek to impose that on Left Unity. As I’ve argued the priority I would make is to establush via consensus an over-arching set of values for the new Party to inform the ways which we will do our politics.

    All I would rspectfully ask is not tho’ to put words in others mouths. I haven’t counterposed a national and an international politics, not once. I see the two co-existing and in no meaningful sense contradictory. Others might not, I don’t.

    Mike. Absolutely agree. In fact I would go a little further, that if the marxist inclined groups have a disproportionate presence in the new party then we will have failed because they are very small and we purport to have reached out to 8,000 plus.

    Mark P

  26. Jules Horsler
    April 30, 2013 at 12:01 am

    Mark – I think you suggest some interesting ideas about how LU could organise and build. A social aspect, building in local communities in a permanent way (ie not just for a opportunistic campaign), using communications in a less centralized way etc are very positive. Your tone towards people who are involved in other left organizations however is less so. We must learn in the left not to start a discussion by disparaging the activities of others. Demonstrations and protests have a great importance and much more than you have given them credit for – they just don’t have to look and feel the same as they always have. The English Disco Lovers outing against the EDL in Brighton was an example from just a week ago that demonstrated that protests can be inclusive fun events as well as really important in ensuring we do not cede our streets to fascists and racists. I dont think that would have happened however without the breath of fresh air that the Seattle protests brought in 99 – which was taken up by established left, Marxist, anarchist and other groups via Prague, the World Social Forum, Genoa etc. (but sadly often lost I recent years). LU Unity had to be inclusive or it will die before it begins. It is all too easy to accuse others of being dogmatic and sectarian but we must all check ourselves (stones and greenhouses and all that). Reformists, anarchists, revolutionaries, environmentalists, feminists etc all have their histories and traditions – they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Lets listen to and then learn from each other without belittling their past efforts.

  27. Mark Perryman
    April 30, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Jules

    Thanks. Yes tone is important but disagreement and critique are also important. The latter is sometimes needed when a certain way of doing things, tolerating a particular version of Leftism, means that we can never aspire to anything better.

    I’m enthused by Left Unity because at last an initiative seems to have reached out to those many of us alienated and disaffected both by Blairist/Brownite and now austerity-lite Labour and the Leninoid groups who’ve ‘ucked up every previous initiative of this sort. That isn’t to reject left hostory and traditions but nor is it to absorb them uncritically so we end up with more of the failing same.

    I very carefuly pointed out I am in favour of activism, but effective activism not the ineffective sort we are too often forced to endure. Many of the examples you cite, from Seattle to the English Disco Lovers League are successful precisely because they originated and organised outside the leftist norm.

    Here are two other examples, Occupy Tours, http://occupytours.org and this superb self-made film http://www.actofterrordocumentary.com/

    The question we should be addressing is whether a party is the best way to generate the new forms of effective political action we so urgently need, or is the party itself pat of the problem? For me, that remains an open question but a most important one.

    Mark P

    • Jules
      April 30, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      My concern is that you seem very quick to criticize the far left but not to recognize their contribution. Without the far left organising, remembering and agitating throughout the noughties (often doing so alone when the unorganised / unaligned were at home feeling angry and frustrated) i dont believe Seattle would have led to the Occupy movement or the disco lovers. Argument and criticism is all good but not if its one sided or blinkered. See the good too Mark please. All are worthy of criticism not just the far left. All have something to bring to the table too. But all must be made to feel welcome.

  28. Mark Perryman
    April 30, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks Jules.

    This is an important conversation. Its taking place across many posts on this site and from reports at the first Left Unity local group meetings.

    In my view it is one it is absolutely wrong either to duck or to pussy-foot around.

    I am drawn to Left Unity precisely because it has all the appearances of being nothing much to do with the pre-existing Far Left and their various failed lash ups. 8000 + signatories illustrates this and if the Far Left end up with a role in a formation anything resembling that size then the initiative has failed, its failed to break out of the bunker. No bans, no proscriptions but they are few, the rest of us are many, if Left Unity fails to reflect this its dead in the water.

    As for the 2000s. The story you tell reflects precisely why Left Unity cannot be a Far Left lash up dominated by the socialist this, that and the others. Stop the War in 2001 wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the spine of organisation provided by the SWP. Nobody but a sectarian fool would deny that. But after 2003 when 2 million plus march the SWP stagnated then declined, it never grew despite the mostly superlative role it played in Stop the War. Why? Because people don’t want to join an organisation of this sort except in very small numbers and most leave after a short time. The Leninist form of organisation the SWP and the other socialist this, that and the others reproduce is deeply unappealing. It can on occasion generate an organisational dynamic, that the virtue of vertical command structures but in terms of enduring significance its a turn-off to a much broader constituency who won’t tolerate being dictated too. And the same applies to the upsurge in the 2011 student protests numbering 40,000+ almost all young people. Again vey few signed up to the SWP or suchlike afterwards. Why? Because their ,models of organisation are almost entirely ill-suited for a new generation shaped by a new post-Leninist political culture of dissent and revolt.

    Left Unity has to be shaped by the thousands who have signed the appeal. It should reject delegate type structures, we’re small enough not to need these. It has to provide the means for maximum participation. Anything less will simply reproduce the failures of the lash-ups and their Leninoid backers. A decisive break, nothing else will do.

    Mark P

  29. Ray G
    April 30, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Jules and Mark

    Of course it is essential to be balanced and fair to people who have spent their time fighting for the left when they could have been having much more fun. (Although I take Mark’s point that it would be great if fighting for the left was a bit more fun in itself).

    Individual members of Leninist parties are often dedicated and passionate.However, one has to ask why so many people are burnt out, demoralised, EX-members of these groups. The philosophy of ‘recruit them young, burn them up, throw them away and recruit some new fodder’ just won’t do any more. It is not just ineffective; it is counter-productive.

    However, I don’t think the Leninist parties are the only problems. Some single-issue campaigns (I would highlight those concerned with identity-politics) also have poisonous, petty and sectarian inner regimes, and are no less ridiculous to the general public than the little left parties.

    Let’s just agree that in order to be in the same party we just need to agree on more than we disagree on, and it is not necessary to agree with every obscure philosophical nuance. For example, you do not need to agree a full analysis of the socialist way forward in the middle-east, in order to have a policy of solidarity NOW with the resistance struggles of the Palestinians to achieve the withdrawal from the occupied territories, the right to return of refugees, and full equality for all Palestinians inside Israel or elsewhere.

    Let’s agree that doing stuff in a united party is more important than always getting your own way, unless the issues is so enormous that it becomes a major ‘them or us’ dividing line (like the Iraq War for example). I am willing to go along with sorts of policies that I think are a bit misguided, provided the party as a whole does good stuff on MOST of the issues I care about, and that it is closer to my politics than any other party.

    The only exceptions to this rule – and this is important – is that people elected to represent us (MP’s, formal spokespeople etc) follow our agreed policy in action or resign to allow someone else to do so. We can’t have elected people sticking two fingers up at us once they are elected. That leads to Labourism.

  30. Jules
    April 30, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Ray – spot on. Agree with every word.

  31. Alan Story
    April 30, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    This is such a good and constructive debate that is being had here; let’s keep the same spirit going.

    My contribution can be found here:
    https://nottsbedroomtax.wordpress.com/materials/

    Open the two PDFs:

    The People’s Assembly flyer –
    PA flyer Pg. 1 & 4
    PA flyer Pg. 2 & 3

    It is a flyer that was developed here in Nottingham by 10 people working co-operatively( 8 people on an editing panel and two artists) and that tried to have just a little bit of fun about a serious issue.

    On Friday we start distributing 3300 copies (folded A4 to look like a bar menu on tangerine-coloured paper) in Robin Hood’s home town.

    PS: If you have a few minutes, take a tour around this anti-bedroom tax website; one of the best in the country I think and shows what can be done.

  32. Mark Perryman
    May 1, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Thanks Ray. Really helpful contribution.

    Of course we shouldn’t decry those who are ‘politically active’ but at the same time if being active is getting neither them nor theor issue anywhere, fast, its only right to question the purpose.

    Likewise, people join the socialist this, that, and the others for all sorts of reasons. Most leave fairly quickly after, never to return. Its absolutely right to question why and reject this model of organisation as failed.

    And you are also quite correct, there are plenty of single issue campaigns – I wouldn’t restrict this to identity politics – that are characterised by a conservatism in the the way theu campaign leaving them divorced from a broafer audience.

    But the key point you raise is what will bind us together as a party. You are spot on, at the outset we shouldn’t be weighed down with a policy-heavy agenda we will be nowhere near implementing. Instead we need a broadish set of values, a vision, a way of doing our politics. Central to this should be an explicit rejection of both a vanguardist Leninism and a top-down Labourism.

    The clearer we are on this from the start the better those of us who sign up to it will be in the new party will get on building it. Those who don’t like the explicit choosing to go elsewhere.

    Mark P

    • Ray G
      May 1, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      Thanks

      Actually, rather than the ‘broad vision’ thing, I am keener on uniting over what we DO, rather than what we think, or what our background analysis is. People can come to the same resolution on actions with out having the same analysis. All the analysis stuff can happen on blogs and seminars and so on. Policy is about what we want to commit ourselves to do.

      Of course, we have to set out broadly what kind of society we want. I would suggest a commitment to equality of opportunity and hugely greater equality of outcome. Thorough democratic and electoral reforms. The democratic control of the main levers of economic power and natural resources (so public/community/worker co-operative control of banks, major energy companies, water, and public transport and some other strategic industries) as first steps, but no commitment to total top-down public ownership on a Soviet model or a utopian fully planned economy. The thorough understanding that just getting elected and voting for it will not and cannot bring such a society into existence, and that people will have to mobilise and act to bring it about themselves. Full social equality for all regardless of who they are. Solidarity with those oppressed by the same capitalist system abroad, including and especially the new industrial working class in the emerging economies.

      On the left group issue again, I have made clear that I am not for any blanket bans on Left groups, even if they form factions, etc. Some groups in particular seem to have a sensible, cooperative, respectful attitude. The ones that don’t may need sorting out later if they become the authoritarian, scheming raiders and splitters that some of us fear they might. The essential point is that no group should have their own delegates. If they work locally and gain support in a branch then they can get the vote, but no short cuts to the national or regional leaderships/coordinators/facilitators.

      The key is the SIZE of our party and the energy and activism of the real loyal Left Unity people. If we are no bigger than the other little groups put together, or if they are ten times more active or vocal than we are, (which is often the case), then we will lose, and deserve to. It is no good, having lost the debate, to start hounding people out and holding investigations as to who is, or used to be, in which party. That will quickly become an acrimonious, bitter mess.

      We have to fight for our ideas as fervently as the often young, newly recruited, soon-to-be-burnt out ‘revolutionary cadres’ that might be thrown at us. However, there are so many of us that have been through that process that we might just stand a chance. Let’s hope.

      Happy May Day

      • Ben McCall
        May 3, 2013 at 8:15 am

        As Jules said above and Mark echoed, spot on Ray (you know I’m a fan and once a comradely hug has been promised it will one day be delivered).

        A couple of points on your May Day contribution: “especially the new industrial working class in the emerging economies” – I hope our solidarity will extend a bit further than this, as Marcos, Morales and many others have shown, agrarian and ‘traditional’ / ‘peasant’ people demand our support as much as proles.

        Also, the issue of peace: how we think of this and theorise it, and how we struggle for it (means and ends) is, I think, one of the core themes we need to get our collective heads around.

  33. Jimmy Haddow
    May 1, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Revolutionary May Day greetings to everyone and good luck to all the anti-capitalist candidates in the Local elections tomorrow, 2nd May.

  34. May 1, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    These debates on and surrounding what is or is not the most appropriate model of activism have raged in anarchist circles for some time. I would suggest that people think about looking to that discourse. After all, the idea is to rethink the left…why not rethink using the whole panoply?

    For instance http://libcom.org/library/anti-activism

  35. Elspeth Parris
    May 2, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Excellent article. What I find strange is that an article largely about the need for a new ‘common-sense’ of the left and implying a need for a new language of the left receives so many comments which refer back to socialism/communism and authors like Marx. The article also refers to the need for development of left-wing culture. I would remind of the extent to which in the 19thC the writing of Dickens contributed to a real public awareness of issues among the poor, an awareness which was not aimed at creating any political party but existed in it’s own right. It was however part of the development of a change in thinking which eventually resulted in the creation of the welfare state – an unimaginable idea at the time Dickens was writing.

    So I would agree with the article, we need creative and cultural endeavour to open up new ways that we can think, help us to find a new language. There is nothing new in the idea that the wealthy have a moral obligation to allow space in life for the poor to be able to exist and find opportunities to improve their lot (you can find the idea in even the earliest books of the bible so pretty old then) but it is apparent that it doesn’t work to rely on people’s altruism since there are always people who are not altruistic, nor is it possible to legislate for human decency, so the question is: How do we create a society which has human decency built in to such an extent that it cannot be derailed by those among the wealthy and powerful who do not possess altruism as a characteristic? To answer that question will indeed require the ability to think thoughts for which we currently have no language – so we need to learn one!

    • May 2, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      Good point. Some of my comments on here, from as recent as last night, have fallen into this trap of the need to repeat old names and speak in an old language. The idea of rethinking the left also means rethinking its terminology and its referents. Perhaps this is the way to go. You remark on human decency…I’m sure there are people who would point to this as a liberal notion but it is precisely spoken in an immediate language. Is that the kind of language the left should be looking for? A spontaneous language. Let people speak in their own voices, and let us speak to them in the terms that they use. Our way of talking should reflect that of those we are speaking to and/or on behalf of. In my nursing work, this is the degree zero of interpersonal communication skills.

  36. Mark Perryman
    May 2, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Ray G

    Another thoughtful contribution, thanks.

    The questions of what we do and size are absolutely inter-connected.

    We need to be wary of simply duplicating existing successful single issue campaigns, eg on the bedroom tax or the NHS, or initiating our own in the form of party fronts. This is the old politics, the politics of the socialist this, that or the other’s graveyards.

    So a vision of a new society, an ideology that connects these issues all together, a practice and values that prefigure that vision will all be cricial and mark us out from the rest. A ‘Spirit of 45′ for the 21st century if you like.

    But what that might turn into organisationally depends on size. 8000+ signatories, 80+ local groups is a very good starting point. But Left Unity needs to urgently establish what those signs ups and volunteers to be local contacts amount to. I am assuming all 8000 have signed up online, we need a signatories audit done by email to get a sense of the current and potential commitment before we start thinking what Left Unity might become. There is a huge difference between a party of several thousand and one of a few hundred, right now we’ve no real idea which we are. The sooner we do these debates, interesting as they are, will acquire some substance.

    Mark P

    • Ray G
      May 2, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      Yeah – i agree with that.

  37. Vulcho
    May 2, 2013 at 9:08 am

    REGARDING INTERNATIONALISM: “the English Left for all its internationalist principles is remarkably isolated [...] A party culture that sees many of us spending a long weekend, a fortnight or all summer long embedded in the life and activities of a local branch of Syriza, Front de Gauche, Die Linke, Left Bloc and others would both enthuse but also transform our own energies and ideas for what we can do here.” This seems clear.

    FIVE POINTS:

    1. The European Left (EL) has a no. of parties — here list: http://goo.gl/EbS3J — none from the UK or Ireland. To really link with DIE LINKE (http://www.die-linke.de/ ), you need to know German. Very little of their material is ever translated. The knowledge of German among educated Britons and Irish in general — and perhaps even more so on the left — is at its lowest level in a century and continues to decline, esp. among British youth. French ditto. Look at GSCE trends in French and German: http://goo.gl/sRXWk UK university courses: http://goo.gl/nw2oM

    So one question is about the left across the Anglo world being more engaged to learn other people’s languages, it sure is not.

    2. Some parties associated with the EL are revitalized communist parties, such as the KPOE in Austria (http://www.kpoe.at/home.html), the CPF in France, the PCE in Spain; other CPs have observer status, such as the DKP in Germany, the Partito dei communisti italiani, CP of Bohemia and Moravia: http://goo.gl/WkXP0 The DKP is a remarkably solid formation (http://www.dkp.de/ ), but you need German to follow what they’re doing and saying.

    These are also important groupings that the left in the UK and North America, in its Anglophone insularity, should be learning from. It’s time to move beyond the Cold War in the international left.

    3. One inherited myopia: few leftists in the Anglophone world ever had any concrete grounded knowledge of real experience and everyday life in the socialist experiments now trashed in Eastern Europe — actual realities on the ground as experienced, and now often powerfully remembered by East Europeans.

    Many over the age of 40 recall in living existential depth a system of full employment, free hi-quality social services, a moral economy of labour, affordable food, a partially demonetized economy, in some ways decommodified, huge levels of communal solidarity and much else, whatever the recognized failings.

    4. NOSTALGIC MAY DAY 2013: Interviews with older citizens yesterday on May Day in some post-socialist countries reflected that strikingly, as people recalled what once was a major international holiday, with its complex culture of activities, marches, celebrations — now uniformly trashed. Yet Marxist Michael Lebowitz sitting in Canada can write a book THE CONTRADICTIONS OF ‘REAL SOCIALISM’ (2012, http://goo.gl/HMTIb ) that does not have a single reference in a language other than English, and no direct interview data of his own, nada. It boggles the socialist mind.

    5. So a “summer embedded in the life and activities” of ordinary working people in the Czech Republic or Bulgaria, inside the demographic born ca. 1970 and before, talking with them in phenomenological depth about the living reality of the socialist worlds they grew up in and remember often with a huge sense of loss — that too is needed.

    Neither Mark’s article nor any of the comments above mention CP anywhere, ????. Writing from Europe’s harried East, I wonder why. You don’t have to be associated with the CP in Britain to understand the value of the ‘radical post-socialist studies’ we should be doing across the ruins of what Eastern Europe
    – as the colonized ‘new periphery’ (Boris Kagarlitsky, NEW REALISM NEW BARBARISM, 1999) — is going through under capit?lism restored. Yesterday on May Day still another distraught Bulgarian (aged 47) set fire to himself. (http://goo.gl/6Tvl7 ).

  38. Mark Perryman
    May 2, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks Vulcho

    Those are really useful points towards shaping a practical internationalism for Left Unity. Key to this should be an internationalism is as much about learning as giving, something the English Left are particularly bad at.

    > On Ireland. We could do with an account of the ULA, came from nowhere to get TDs elected but seems to have imploded victim of the sectarian in-fighting of the Leftist swampland. Ugh!

    > On Die Linke. I’m pretty sure they are linked to the Rosa Luxeburg Foundation that produces material in Englush > http://www.rosalux.de/english/

    > Interpreters Left Unity should have an interpreters grouo to faciliate these exchanges. Just the kind of skill that should be in our members’ audit, hint! hint!

    > On Communist traditions. Vukcho is spot on, these parties remain strongish in Greece, France and Portugal and retain a presence in many of the former East European countries too. However this is scarecely the case in Britain.

    > On embedding our internationalism. Featuring contributions from across Europe should be a natural feature of Left Unity’s political culture, not something out of the ordinary. And spending time as part of other countries’ political cultures a key feature of being a Left Unity member too.

    Mark P

    • Vulcho
      May 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm

      thanks Mark Within DIE LINKE, the grouping on its radical left, AKL (Antikapitalistische Linke) is not much known in UK: a radical anti-capitalist socialist formation inside DIE LINKE
      http://www.antikapitalistische-linke.de/topic/1.startseite.html AKL deserves to be better known in Britain. Not much translated. Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung has nothing. Here a recent strong statement on building ecosocialism from the grassroots up, AKL a co-signer: http://www.antikapitalistische-linke.de/article/676..html Google Translate will yield a rough trnslation

    • May 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      ‘spending time as part of other countries’ political cultures a key feature of being a Left Unity member’.

      How would everyone that wanted to be a member of Left Unity achieve this? Not everyone can afford (monetarily, affectively, temporally) to go away and work with politically in other countries.

      • Ben McCall
        May 4, 2013 at 8:29 am

        Political will and ‘practical comradeship’ (as Mark rightly calls it) Arran.

        We won’t be able to solve everyone’s money/personal circumstances/time etc issues and remove the barriers to them doing this and other things in LU, but enabling activism of a new type is – I think – part of what Mark and others on the site, are suggesting.

        Lots of this has been done before – from ‘pooled fares’ to childcare – but much of the old-style activism is/was based on a very narrow ability/will of participants and assumptions of leaders/organisers – eg. that everyone can/wants to go to the pub after a meeting and if they don’t, what are the knock-on effects of their exclusion, if this is the main form of socialising/post-formal meeting consolidating of comradeship, etc.

        Without being po-faced about it, LU needs to be careful its inner and associational culture does not slide into lazy habits that excludes more people than it involves. If we aim to be revolutionary, or evolutionary, we need to think how – in an ends informing means sense – what we do and how we do it, contributes to our goal.

  39. May 7, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Mark is explicitly talking about ‘other countries’. I’m all for a new kind of activism (the activism I’ve been involved with has never centred on selling papers etc.). My point was that it seems a bit much to make this a ‘key feature’ given that a hell of a lot of people- even with pooled fares and/or childcare- can’t and won’t want to do this. So would they be excluded from LU membership? What does it mean to say this internationalist embeddeness is a “key feature”?

    • Ben McCall
      May 9, 2013 at 9:20 am

      Arran, of course it wouldn’t mean excluding people from LU if they couldn’t do this, or didn’t want to. But one of the valuable things about the left, that we should not throw out with the bathwater that we are discussing here – and Mark is highlighting – is “internationalism … shaped as much by learning as giving”.

      That means supporting comrades to participate, as many parties, trade unions and other organisations have often done – which can be a life changing experience for some people who would never have done this otherwise – and feeds back into LU and the wider movement too. I can’t see what there is to disagree with?

  40. Jacob Richter
    May 19, 2013 at 8:32 am

    Left Unity should go gung-ho on “the social and resource centres, the meeting halls, the pubs, cafes and restaurants, even the summer festivals we can call our own.” These have provided solid (non-monetary) returns on political investment time and again.

    Positively, I refer to pre-WWI German Social Democracy and the brief Independent Social Democracy (Vernon Lidtke’s The Alternative Culture), the Blank Panthers, and SYRIZA (“solidarity networks”).

    Negatively, I refer to far-right soup kitchens for indigenous voters (like in France and now in Greece) and Hezbollah.

    Edd Mustill above is pointing to a particular activity that is in the right direction for this.

  41. gillmand
    May 28, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    In the words of Whitney Houston “I believe the children are the future”

    Those simple words illustrate to me the key demographic to aim at. The young have to be the first group to target because primary school children are still open to suggestion, why else are so many millions spent on advertising to them?. They also have the innate human sense of fairness, right and wrong and crucially they are not yet so indoctrinated that they cannot open their eyes to see the reality around them as unfortunately so many adults are.

    We should alongside many other forms of activism be developing strategies that allow us free our children from capitalism by attracting them to what is good about Socialism.

    How about a Moscow State Circus for the 21st Century that tells the story of persecution, freedom fighting and the struggle for whats right. How about local fairs that give proceeds to local groups that benefit society but who are identified by local school children. The knock on effect will also be felt by parents who may just open their eyes as well.

    Adults with children always struggle to find things to do with them so if we can provide a space for the young we can populate that space with our message and in 15 years time we will have a larger group of leftists, socialists, anarchists and greens than we do now.

    The war is long and hard and we’ve lost some major battles but never surrender to the capitalists.

  42. December 4, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    What a data of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable knowledge on
    the topic of unpredicted feelings.

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