The left is a process, not an entity

Posted: August 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

The following post began life as a comment on the following article:

It grew too long for a comment, so I continued until it was long enough for a blog post, and instead of leaving a great big tower of text at the bottom of the article I left one polite little link. 


This is an interesting model presenting several aspects of “the left” as a phenomenon or culture. The use of a Marxist-to-eclectic continuum is valuable and the various groups well-defined. It makes some true and astute observations, such as that in the present period Trotskyists and Anarchists are closer together than either are to Stalinists.

However you acknowledge that the object of the model is limited enough, to serve as an introduction etc. So forgive me if my disagreements are partly a critique and partly a recce beyond the limitations you yourself acknowledge.

In Ireland, either one of the Socialist Party or the SWP are bigger and have more connection with the working class than the CPI and the WP put together. And the orange planet, social democracy, has in most countries not only faded in colour but changed to a light shade of blue.

You say this model only applies to the post-1917 world. But it applies more than anything to the pre-1989 world – a strong social democracy and Stalinism whose weakness and/or absence are defining features of the neo-liberal period. The ground on which social democrats used to stand is very small at the moment. When the markets will punish any vaguely progressive measure, how can anyone be meaningfully “moderate” and “constitutional” and also be on the left?

The general problem with the model is that it doesn’t allow for change over time, for history.

One group that’s predominantly young, intellectual, confrontational and male and another that’s also all four of those things might have very different outlooks, methods, activities and ideas. One might be able to connect with and politicise the masses, another might die out in a few years.

Remember that every organisation from the “Team USSR” and “Social Democracy” planets started out as just a few “Far Left” types before they were raised up by great events. At certain times in history, some groups from planet “Far Left” grew very large indeed without shedding their politics. How do we explain this?

You say that confrontation and radical politics are “unappealing to many beyond this core demographic” while “social liberalism, gradualism, constitutionalism” are more popular. In what country, in what historical period, in what context is this true?

These assertions do not hold true for most of Europe in the context of the crisis when increasing numbers are drawn toward confrontation.

No pinpoint in history is an eternal default setting. No population maintains the same mood forever any more than does any individual. Other factors play into the relative strength of political forces: social democrats are funded by trade union bureaucracies; Team USSR parties were generally helped along with money from the motherland.

Right now across Europe, a serious factor holding back struggle and radicalisation is not an eternal preference for constitutional mainstream parties, which are in fact increasingly hated and distrusted, but frustration over the lack of leadership and alternatives being put forward by the official “leadership” of traditional parties and trade unions.

This lack of leadership implies a vacuum to be filled. In the next period the organisations you characterise as a fringe of angry young men will have to be tested to the utmost, and some will defy your characterisation and rise to the challenge. When this happens the weaknesses and limitations of this planetary model will become more clear.

  1. chekov says:

    Hi there, I finally got around to responding on my blog.

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