The left must put aside obscure ideological differences and unite on what matters

spirit of 45The SWP – one of the most successful organising forces on the British left over the last few decades – is close to death, says Salman Shaheen, its good work sacrificed on the altar of the cult a flawed model of democratic centralism created.

I will spend no time mourning for there is no time to mourn. The left must not slip further into recriminations, sectarian squabbling, backbiting and bloodletting. Every second that it does is another second the rest of the country doesn’t care.

Do the vast majority of working class people think it’s terribly important what Lenin said to Trotsky in 1917? Or are they more concerned about wages, housing, education, healthcare, cuts and simply surviving the government’s onslaught on their lives? It’s time to put aside the obscure ideological differences of the past and unite on what matters to people.

There are already broad campaigns against the cuts which draw together activists from across the far left, Labour and the Greens.

But when the demonstration is over, when the placards have been put down, do we say to people you have no choice but to vote Labour because it’s the best you’re going to get?

The collapse of the SWP and the failure of RESPECT do not take away from the fact that there is a vacant space to the left of Labour and an urgent need to fill it. Firstly as a campaigning force against Tory austerity. Secondly to represent a class abandoned by the neo-liberal husk Blair and Brown turned a gutted Labour Party into. Thirdly to act as a gravitational pull, supporting socialists in Labour to help steer it back to the left.

As Ken Loach told the Evening Standard last week: “We desperately need a new movement … What UKIP has done for the right, we need for the left!”

If this new movement is to emerge, it cannot be a temporary electoral alliance, a patchwork of the tiny Trotskyite groups sewn together in a banner hung out for the General Election and then put in a cupboard again while its constituent elements focus on building their own organisations.

It has to join peoples’ everyday struggles; it has to matter to their everyday lives. It must stand with them, not on top of them; speak with them, not down to them with high theory. Only then will it win the right to ask them for their votes come election time.

Many dedicated socialist activists will have suddenly found themselves homeless in the last few days. But the death of the SWP does not have to spell the death of the left if we put aside the 10% of obscure ideological differences on which we disagree and unite around the 90% of what matters to us and what matters to the most disadvantaged people of this country.

Ken Loach has made an important call and the Left Unity project has opened up the discussion around it. Now it is the task of all socialists to ensure we can do all we can to protect the vulnerable from austerity by coming together to make a difference.

That is why I have signed up to support Ken Loach’s appeal.

This article was originally written for The Third Estate


20 responses to “The left must put aside obscure ideological differences and unite on what matters”

  1. KS says:

    The SWP have been irrelevant for decades. Most real ‘workers’ have never heard of them, or think they are a bunch of university lecturers.

    Socialists who can’t be bothered to work alongside real working class people, the real poor, the real disabled by getting alongside them and understanding that their priorities are:

    *jobs and pensions,
    *fair pay that doesn’t have to be topped up by a tax credit,
    *proper assistance with sickness and healthcare and disability,
    *fair access to good schools,
    *affordable housing and
    *inclusion in consumerism

    Lose sight of the above and you can give up now before you’ve even started and shuffle off with the SWP to the graveyard of dead Lefties.

    The focus must be on the basics along the lines listed above.

  2. KS says:

    p.s. And when you start pursuing the above list of practical requirements by allowing ordinary people to guide you, do expect all hell to be let loose against you. Do expect the likes of Cameron and Milliband, clothed as they are with immense power, to unleash that power against you.

    Here’s a new word that we may need to acquaint ourselves with, “Cojones.”

    • JS says:

      And using Spanish words is a good way of speaking to the working class in Britain? And the fact that you as a woman have to say you have metaphorical male genitalia to say you are courageous and prepared to stand up and fight is NOT submitting to the stereotype that men are braver than women? Come on!

      • Salman Shaheen says:

        I think we run the risk of getting hung up on small details. Whether or not anyone agrees or disagrees with the use of the word cojones doesn’t detract from KS’s original point that any left wing party should be speaking to people about the things that matter to their lives. I should point out that I’m not saying gender relations is a small detail – but a quip about balls is.

  3. Merry Cross says:

    I completely agree with Salman’s comments. But please, KS, remember that there are plenty of women who are courageous! We don’t need male genitals for that!!

  4. KS says:

    @ Merry Cross:

    I am a woman and I have metaphorical cojones!

    Its this very obsession with ‘identity,’ such as gender, with always being fully ‘correct’ which has way laid the Left up a variety of cul de sacs (no joke intended)and which has displaced attention from the core issues of working class life.

    • Salman Shaheen says:

      The two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. The left should oppose all forms of inequalities and prejudices.

      • KS says:

        Salman, I quite agree with you. But if colourful language is a problem then how will you deal with the plain-talking people you’re so desperate to help. If you are picking them up on lexis how far do you think you will get.

        is it the case that one can only be a Leftist if one has the ‘correct’ lexis?

  5. KS says:

    I would like to support this group and believe me I’m as inclusive as the next person in fact more so and often that has been to my cost. But I noticed you posted what look like Spanish Civil War or Latin American images of armed women marching along …the ‘Mujeres Libres,’ Try to understand ‘cojones’ in its Spanish Latino context. Then you might understand what I am trying to convey to you.

    I won’t continue this as obviously I am inappropriate to your grouping.

    • Merry Cross says:

      Oh dear! I had no intention of being heavy when it comes to language. But it was the second time in a week that I’d read something that used the balls or cojones reference for courage. I haven’t gone up to the ceiling in rage – I just know that language matters and these small things can add up to making people feel bad about themselves.

  6. Salman Shaheen says:

    KS, I can’t claim to be the most politically correct person in the universe when it comes to language and I understand what you’re saying. I don’t have a particular objection to the word cojones. As long as you’re not deliberately offending or excluding, I think actions and ideas are more important than watertight language.

  7. Mark Evans says:

    A certain irony that a piece headed “The left must put aside obscure ideological differences and unite on what matters” should instantly lead into a flurry of comments dealing with minor semantics. If Left Unity is to have a desperately needed chance of actually unifying a disparate and factionalised Left and crack on with the Augean task ahead, such tetchy discussions are probably best left at the door.

    • KS says:

      I made good points about economic and class, which I felt supported this article. Then my exuberant postscript was pulled up by a semantician, instantly proving that the problems which the article outlines are all too real.

      Mark Evans, do have a care, your allusion to the Augean task might be a sign of gender exclusive. masculinist elitism. (Tongue in Cheek)

      Let’s got on with unity now.

  8. Sean says:

    Using the word cojones causes a dispute obviously. So why use it. If you want to talk in this way talk about the need to have cojones and ovaries.

  9. Guy Harper says:

    One thing about the above discussion on cojones: this is exactly the sort of discussion I would want to be a part of in a left party.

  10. Lee says:

    Would it be too obscure to begin by referring to Mark Twain, and his comments concerning reports of his death?

    I have mixed views of the SWP. One that they are too constrained by the same portmanteau of policies as are most left-wing groups. One that they are at least dedicated and sincere in their commitment to the working class. Whether disputes between Lenin and Trotsky are irrelevant or not may be disputed. What should not be disputed is the importance of an interaction between theory and practice which must result in a pragmatic approach.

    As much as I would welcome a serious left-wing party, there is little chance of one being elected under the current electoral system (thanks to the rejection of AV) and certainly with the current ownership of the Press. I would suggest one should start by reclaiming the political Labour Party and start to transform it into more than a party: into a people’s union. Trade Unions are too small now to be effective — particularly when they have become part of the problem. They are too interested in maintaining their own status within the capitalist system. And that is something I believe Trotsky said, whether to Lenin or not. Beyond that, stop talking balls!

  11. Tom says:

    The left have to put aside differences and unite on what matters? So, what does matter? Does the theory of surplus value matter? Does the irreconcilability of antagonistic classes matter? Can there be real democracy in a world of haves and have-nots, when what people are born into having and not having is access to the means of production, distribution and exchange?
    The workers are wage slaves. How do they expropriate the expropriators, the parasites, the capitalists? Or do you simply not think that that is important? For socialists it is important. And that brings us to the question of how we can change things.
    You say no one cares what Lenin and Trotsky argued. That is like saying no one cared what Galileo argued when The Pope placed him under house arrest. Burying the truth to appease vested interests doesn’t make hard facts disappear. And scientific socialism is all about facing up to reality. And one hard fact socialists can’t ignore is that the capitalist state is, at the end of the day, special bodies of armed men (and women) whose key role is to protect the haves from the have-nots. The question then arises as to how to defeat the capitalist state. And the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky very much do matter when you ask those sorts of questions.
    By the way, the SWP are not close to death. Sorry to disappoint you.

    • Salman Shaheen says:

      I’m not saying theory doesn’t matter. But I do think articles defending Leninism are not the most pressing concern for the majority of working class people. Defending the welfare state is. And I didn’t mean this to be an attack on the SWP, that would seem to serve little purpose.

      • Tom says:

        What you say in response to my comment is reassuring in several respects. Firstly, I agree with what you say about theory. It does matter but cannot be counterposed to the needs of agitation for immediate demands. Are articles defending Leninism the most pressing concern for the majority of the working class just now, or likely to be at any time in the near future? Absolutely not. That doesn’t mean that those who think it has a bearing on a successful long term strategy are wasting our time. No one has to listen to these debates who isn’t interested. Leninists know they need to relate to the majority of our class with their consciousness as it exists in the hear and now. Transitional demands do that. Defending the welfare state works for me. But only as one of many demands around which a significant section of the class can unite. As for the SWP, if you are happy for them and, for the SP, to get involved with this new left wing party, then I am completely satisfied. Let’s make it happen.

  12. Graham Ritchie says:

    Do the people who have posted above really expect to gather votes on working class sink estates using the airy fairy language above ?
    The whole idea of Left Unity is to put aside these idiotic differences, and form a party of the left that will APPEAL to voters.
    They don’t care about Marx, or Lenin, they care about having a home to live in, decent food to eat, that isn’t controlled by the likes of Monsanto. The idea is for disabled people to have a decent quality of life, not for folks to be afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing, in case they are branded politically incorrect. Get your heads out of your arses, Britain needs a quality party of the left, not a bunch of self-obsessed know it alls, who have everyone too afraid to speak, in case they speak out of turn. A great start has been made already, don’t let it get bogged down by semantics.

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