Addressing the crisis of the left

Below is the introduction to a PDF discussion bulletin, “Socialist Perspectives”

You can download a copy here: sp1

Despite the global economic crisis which has discredited neo-liberalism and ‘light regulation’, socialism as an organised force has not been the beneficiary of the crisis. The left in Britain is in a state of disarray, fractious and unable to work together in a collaborative fashion. With Labour captured by Blair’s ‘project’, with its implementation of neo-liberalism in government, there has never been a greater degree of disaffection of its traditional base of support. Yet each effort to build a political alternative to New Labour has failed to break out of the marginalisation of the far left groups. The only exception to that was the Scottish Socialist Party which succeeded in getting 6 MSP’s elected to the Scottish Assembly. Yet even this advance was lost as a result of the crisis resulting from the Tommy Sheridan affair.

The reasons for this need exploring. The sectarian method of the far left groups is one of the main reasons for their failure. They place their own interests above those of the working class. These organisations have shown themselves incapable of democratic methods of working, and democratic internal functioning; to such an extent that there are many thousands of people who have been through them but could not live in them. Whilst this was a demoralising experience for many, especially in the period of working class defeats from 1980 onwards, those activists who have survived and maintained their commitment to working class activism, have continued with trade union activity or campaigning of one sort or another. Frustrated with the socialist groups and unconvinced of their usefulness, they have worked as best as they can. Sometimes they have managed to maintain local socialist groups, or they utilise Trades Union Councils as vehicles for building a labour movement, supporting workers struggles and so on.

Socialist Perspectives has been produced to attempt help promote a discussion on the crisis of the left and how it might be addressed. We start with three contributions. Socialist Perspectives is not a political grouping but a modest attempt to assist in opening up a serious discussion about the crisis of the left, in Britain in particular. The name originates from a grouping formed in the Socialist Labour Party to fight against dogmatism and for membership control – a battle lost. It refers to what it described as ‘a crisis of socialist perspective’.

What passes for debate on the British left is too often a dialogue of the deaf, or posturing, often the result of sectarian arrogance from political currents who dismiss other groups as ‘sects’, and consider that they themselves alone are the ‘genuine’ revolutionary leadership in the process of formation. The fact that many of these groups have no democratic internal life is a reflection of their wooden ‘orthodoxy’ and the absence of self-criticism and a lack of willingness to test their perspective against real life experience. Just as individuals can only develop to the degree that they are honest with themselves so political organisations have to endeavour to be objective about what they represent and be open to learning from others in the course of struggle and debate. Failure to to do so produces only a sect.

As it indicates on the cover this publication is aimed at “activists who are not satisfied with dogma or ‘orthodoxy’ but recognise the need to test all programmes and theories against real life experience.”

Please feel free to email this to people who might be interested.

We welcome feedback and constructive criticism.

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  1. 18.This looks like a useful paper for discussion and thought.
    The reality is that there are huge opportunities for the left. Capitalist certainties have evaporated making the future of ordinary people darker and more alarming than ever before – the threats that face us in terms of mass unemployment, cuts in public services, climate change, an escalating and unending war of imperialism against the peoples of the excolonial countries, have all been created by capitalism and can only be addressed by socialist measures.

    I disagree though with the analysis of why the left has failed so far, the emphasis on blaming the far left is actually focussing on one of the symptoms of the crisis, rather than the roots of the problem.

    The key problem is the absence of any political representation of working class people.

    Labour abandoned it’s commitment to the working class with it’s abandonment of Clause IV. If Labour was ever ‘democratic centralist’ as someone writes above, it has totally smashed the ‘democratic’ side of that equation, meaning that activists and trade unionists no longer have any meaningful say in party policy.

    Very much like the 1890s, we have a diverse and fragmented left, and a huge vacuum to fill. We need to consider the organisational form that will allow the left to work together to fill that vacuum. My own feeling is that a federal structure that does not force the views and approaches of one group onto all the rest can be the only way forward. Through creating a ‘broad church’ with tolerance for different viewpoints, banners and tactics, the left can move forward to harvest the seeds that the crisis of capitalism is sowing, before they rot in the field.


  2. Hello Martin,

    Thanks for another great initiative: ‘Socialist Perspectives’. I’ve been following all the material on this international debate. Now a large body of literature. Much of it actually going back many years. The heading I use is ‘revolutionary organisation or broad left party’. There is a subsidiary debate on whether marxists should maintain a separate organised presence in a broad party. The debate covers a wide rage of issues of course, relating to organisation, method and perspective.

    A few independent members of the People Before Profit Alliance over here have been discussing the questions under the heading of ‘what kind of a party are we aiming for?’. Coincidentally we hope to begin a blog soon.

    Hope to meet you again before too long.

    Des D


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