Monday, 16 May 2011

Why So Miserable?

A major Manchester militant and Secretary of Manchester Trade Union Council , Geoff Brown, asked me this week 'why are you so miserable about it?' He was referring to my downbeat account of this year's May Day march in Manchester on May 1st (see 'May Day Mess' below).

I am miserable because the British Left is so profoundly conservative in every way. I am miserable because the Left here is not even aware of its own abject conservatism. I am miserable because each succeeding generation of the British Left is content to react to events and defend the status quo.

Examine, if you will, the faces on the video of the '40 or so' participants at the rally following the small May Day demo. Make your own judgement. Compare this with the Worker's Memorial Day event, organised by Hilda Palmer a few days early, with its healthy interaction between the participants. Or with the freshness of the spirit of the 3-week squat - the O.K. Cafe - down at Castlefield, which finished on May Day. The May Day demo was not a patch on either of them. I also had the benefit of seeing a Southern event the Anarchist Bookfair at Stokes Croft in Bristol or the People's Republic of Stokes Croft, on the Saturday following - the 7th May: say what you like but these Southern anarchists, both in London, and in Bristol know how to organise a bookfair.

What is wrong with the British Left is its underlying conservatism and silly slogans? To my mind the problem is rooted in its reactionary approach to politics and in this I include most of the anarchists and syndicalists. As I listened to the inane hectoring slogans on the May Day March, calling for an end to the Coalition Government, I felt overcome with weariness because I'd heard it all before. Without Blair, or Brown, or Cameron or Clegg to dispose of, the British Left would have next to nowt to say because the identity of the Left in this country only has meaning in reference to whoever is in power at this moment in time. There is no clear alternative program for change coming from the Left.

In his book 'The School for Dictators' Ignazio Silone said through his character Thomas the Cynic: 'A regime of freedom should receive its lifeblood from the self-government of local institutions.' He goes on to say: 'When democracy, driven by some of its baser tendencies, suppresses such autonomies, it is only devouring itself.' 'Unfortunately', as Silone points out, 'the democratic and socialist parties have always been, at least in Europe, the most active in promoting centralization to the detriment of local and regional autonomy, following the tradition of the Jacobins, who felt that the hegemony of the (State) capital over the rest of the country provided them with a weapon against the priests and the nobles.'

The whole purpose and being of the British Left is defined by the Government and the establishment, in its reaction to the agenda which the governing regime sets. If the Left has any tin-pot plan it has been historically that of the 'All-Providing State', which at one time through its cry for subsidies and protective laws gained supporters for the socialist parties while at the same time stifling local autonomy. Thus in some countries, like in pre-Nazi Germany, this led to a startling contradiction of what Silone calls 'the maximum and numerical strength of the democratic and socialist parties immediately preced(ing) the collapse of democracy.'

It seems to me, given the recent goings on between the SWP and the Socialist Party in the National Shop Stewards Network which has now been reduced to just another anti-cuts campaign, that most elements of the British Left have yet to understand this apparent contradiction in their programs in so far as they have such a thing as a program.

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