Throughout the many years that I have spent ‘on the left’ I held on to a, sometimes shifting, vision of the type of society that I wanted to see achieved through our collective efforts.
I remained convinced that Marx was correct when he said that the working class would bring about a socialist society, not through the preaching of pious sermons and abstract principles, but because socialism would make every ones life better, and that Capitalism could not hope to meet peoples needs. Tony Cliff used to say that the case for socialism is easy, just look at what Capitalism does.
One of the earliest doubts that I had about the apparent inevitability of socialisms triumph was how dismissive other socialists appeared to be of every aspect of life that made it pleasant or bearable; the Televisions, soap operas, games consoles, washing machines football, etc. etc. The po faced Puritanism of these ‘Comrades’ and their sneering contempt of the ‘proles’ who could be bought off by such trinkets, made me nervous about the type of new world that they would seek to lead, and wonder how exactly a working class might be persuaded to give up all its pleasures and small luxuries to struggle for a socialism which offers them a worse standard of living.
Marx had insisted in the mid nineteenth century that Capitalism would be forced by competition to drive the living standards of the workers down to the point of absolute poverty, whilst simultaneously creating the wealth and productive forces that could provide for the needs of all.
Marx was bang on the money when it came to the potential of capitalism to produce immeasurable wealth, more than enough to meet the needs of every person across the globe, however he was completely wrong when it came to the working class.
Everywhere that Capitalism goes in its search for new markets and greater profits, yesterday in Japan and Korea, today in China and India, it brings wages and conditions, which whilst far worse than those enjoyed in Western Industrial nations are far greater than anything previously known in these countries. It creates markets amongst these new workers for its consumer goods, and in bringing them together creates the collective power for those workers that allows them to force better conditions and higher wages.
Marx was first and foremost a National Revolutionary, he, and Engels fought in 1848 for a unified Germany under a liberal- republican programme, and Marx’s preoccupation with the promotion of a ‘state’ solution, and German unification informed his writings throughout his life.
Stuck in a vision of revolution and Socialism unbreakably saddled to Marx’s failed vision Socialists have repeatedly sought a short cut that could bypass the unforgivable reluctance of the working class to allow the socialists to lead them to revolution. The vanguard party as envisioned by Lenin, which supplanted the role of the Class with that of a disciplined, combat party to capture state power was the most pervasive and long lasting of these , but every generation has adopted Generals, dictators, demagogues and charlatans who it was held would, through autocratic power of will and ruthless denial of liberty, cut through the reluctance of the proletariat to fulfil its allotted role, and each generation has had its subsequent disillusionment and recrimination as these socialists learn once again the meaning of the old song:
“Il n'est pas de sauveurs suprêmes
Ni Dieu, ni César, ni tribun”
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the failure of the embalmed Lenin Corpse god, the search for a short cut for socialism has become more desperate; even those who were formally intensely hostile to the Stalinist Bloc, such as the Trotskyists, shared so many assumptions with their estranged Bolshevist cousins as to have been totally disarmed and disorientated by their sudden, rapid and total collapse.
The failure of state socialism left the Left rudderless. Without a central anchor subsidiary concerns took centre stage.
Anti- imperialism was once a means to an end, the idea being that the overthrow of Imperialist control would empower working class struggles in the Home countries, and that the weakness and cowardice of the native bourgeoisie would ensure that the working class in the colonies would inevitably take the leading role in overthrowing imperialist control and then pass directly on to the socialist revolution. It was a nonsense, but one that fitted into the wider world view of the Leninist Left. Despite decades of experience in which the theory was repeatedly disproved, and one liberation leader after another, promoted and lauded by the International Left, betrayed the hopes embodied in him, the left was unable and unwilling to break with the theory, for to do so would be to show their Gods as fallible.
Now the failure of ‘really existing socialism’ and the increasing irrelevance of the Left domestically led to Anti Imperialism taking centre stage, but now devoid of the old ’progressive’ baggage; now anyone who attacks or fights America, or the West in general is worthy of support; Serbian Chauvinists, Iraqi Ba’athists, the Taliban, etc. etc., no matter how brutal, authoritarian and murderous the regime could be toward its own population, if it stands, temporarily, in confrontation with the US then it will be supported and justified by the western left.
Only certain nations are worthy of support; the travails of Kurds, Tibetans, Armenians and Georgians etc. are ignored whilst all eyes are focussed on the ‘crimes’ of Israel, who uniquely amongst all the states of the world, is denied even the right to exist. The Left rolls itself in the filth of Anti-Semitism, revamped versions of the Medieval Blood libel is peddled without murmur and the left marches under Hamas flags and chants:
“We are all Hesbollah!”
When I left the SWP, it was the wholesale adaptation of its politics to appeal to Muslim communities, and especially Muslim community leaders, accepting the myth of Islamophobia; that there was a world wide war against Muslims, led by the USA and in the service of the ‘Zionists’, that was a major impetus in making me leave.
I began a journey across the left, attempting to rediscover the original vision of the need for a better world which had originally inspired me, but I came to the conclusion that the rot went far further than just the SWP. It was not there was a moral vacuum in the left, but instead a willingness to close its collective eyes to injustice and oppression in the name of a Greater Good.
Only among the Anarchists that could I find those who refused to compromise principle and remain true to a vision of a better world free from the shackles of State and God, however, even within the Anarchist movement they were a small minority whilst the mass of anarchists parroted the lefty lines; but dressed in black and with more swears.
If we want to change the world, we should first ensure that what we want to replace it with is better than what we already have. Our present system has all kinds of faults; a Government driving through its ideologically driven agenda of cuts to the public sector, even though the majority of voters have just voted against these cuts, and that government is propped up by M.P.s who were elected on a manifesto opposing those cuts, invites, if not demands opposition. But such opposition is possible because of the democratic nature of our society, we have the right to protest. All too much of the left who will be jockeying to provide the ‘leadership’ of the anti cuts movement are committed to sweeping away all democratic rights if they ever came within a whisper of gaining power. They are willing to tolerate the murder of gays and women abroad in order to gain the support of Islamist influenced Muslims here.
Before we break the chains of the old oppression lets make sure that in doing so we are not laying upon ourselves even heavier shackles wrapped in shiny ‘socialist’ garb.