Left unity, here and there… May 8, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left, US Politics.
Many thanks to Tomboktu for pointing in the direction of this piece on Jacobin by Bhaskar Sunkara which calls for further left unity in the United States.
It’s finally time to make a call for joint action on the Left with an eye towards the unification of the many socialist organizations with similar political orientations into one larger body. This idea has been trotted out for generations, but new agents and desperate necessity can finally make it a reality.
And Sunkara continues:
If it comes to fruition we’d see the convergence of American socialists committed to non-sectarian organizing under the auspices of an overarching democratic structure. This in itself may not seem like a significant undertaking — we’re only talking about a few groups and a few thousand people — but we shouldn’t let those humble beginnings obscure the potential that a fresh start for the organized left holds.
And while it’s not entirely clear to me, at least at first reading, whether the intention is to work in tandem with ‘liberal allies’ or to supplant them, it remains a genuinely interesting piece because sitting, as we do, on the far side of a left unity project in this state there’s an odd nostalgia to read the outline and reasoning for it as stated even if the terrain being contested is extremely different in the US. And one could add that the reasons haven’t changed for left unity, of one form or another, here or there.
Sunkara lists problems with the left, taking as a starting point what follows:
Last week… on a Euclid Avenue-bound C train, I sat across from someone getting to know himself through his Sunday best. It was jarring, but not nearly jarring enough. In a strange way, years on the radical left had prepared me for such an encounter.
You see, subway masturbators don’t care that everyone else is trying to get away from them; they don’t care about being a nuisance. They care about jacking off. Not unlike a certain variety of American socialist: enthusiasts of sectarian minutia, reenactors of old battles, collectors of decontextualized quotes. Leftists have a lot to say. What they don’t always have is the social literacy to speak to a broader audience, a literacy that comes with a grounding in practical politics. They lack self-awareness about the timing or propriety of their actions, and they don’t see why that’s a problem.
I think that’s true. That there’s a sort of social ineptness about so many on the left, me too – I know over the years – a lack of understanding of how to communicate with people beyond itself. And perhaps a disinterest in doing so. We all know how there is an inclination to see that figures on marches and protests are inflated, how actions however small somehow becomes vastly more important than their objective reality and so on. And how the language itself is one that is weirdly disconnected from that used by those who are not a part of it. A lot of this is inevitable, unfortunately, in a context of general antagonism or indifference to
the left but its also the rssult of a situation where prior paths are held up as valid approaches however difficult they are to map onto contemporary socio-economic contexts. How texts that have tangential – at best – utility or aplicability are overly referenced. And again I suspect we’ve all seen and done that .
Of course, the C train masturbator likely suffered from afflictions more serious than a lack of tact. But the Left is not mentally ill. It’s insular and inconsequential. Thankfully, many do want to see a change in its internal culture, but usually this sentiment takes the form of vague “can’t we all get along and talk about how much we hate drones” platitudes. That attitude isn’t quite right either.
So much of it rings true in an Irish context, not least this:
But it’s impossible to deny that institutionally the socialist left is in disarray, fragmented into a million different groupings, many of them with essentially the same politics. It’s an environment that breeds the narcissism of small differences.
And this in particular:
In a powerless movement, the stakes aren’t high enough to make people work together and the structures aren’t in place to facilitate substantive debate.
Thinking over the history of the ULA I’m reminded of one of its first appearances at one of the big union-backed marches through Dublin where there was a profusion of ULA posters, people in T-shirts if I recall correctly and so on. There was genuine enthusiasm, and one person I was with from a different political background on the left was very surprised at how many numbers the combined forces within the ULA were able to field. Actually, let’s say that was one of its first and last general public appearances. And consider the words above – ‘the stakes aren’t high enough’.
But at that march in late 2010 the stakes were high - even taking the broader crisis into account – because it was but a hop skip and a jump to the 2011 General Election and most everyone involved in the ULA had skin in that particular game. All were aware that even if the broader political outcomes from the new ‘brand’ weren’t perhaps that great they might cull a few more activists, a few more second and third preference votes.
I don’t mean that to sound overly cynical because it was right and proper that energy should be poured into gaining seats at that point in time but is it that institutionally the stakes now aren’t high enough for a left unity project. Individually the parties, formations and others that comprised the ULA may think that they can go it alone into the next set of local elections, though one presumes they are aware of the limitations of CAHWT in the face of the government’s measures in regard to the property tax. That there’s a sense of let’s get to the next hurdle after that, which might be austerity itself, or the water charges or something else as yet too hazy on the political horizon to make out.
Looking at the ruin of the ULA it’s difficult to see what happens next. Further left unity is clearly a non-starter for a considerable time to come, not least because it will be essentially the same faces as were around the table for the ULA who would constitute the basis of any future attempt and it is difficult to see why it would be more successful in three or five or ten years – even if one believes the socio-economic situation will worsen radically from here.
Indeed there’s another argument which is that there was a very specific window of opportunity which opened up in the 2009 to 2012 period where the further left was able to capitalise on a generalised crisis, a grievously weakened FF, an SF still sub-10 per cent of the vote and a broader sentiment towards the left, however vague that might be – a sentiment that some of the subsequent campaigns were able to capitalise upon to some degree.
Can’t see that happening in that way again, not with a renascent FF, a consolidated SF and the example of the ULA for every unhelpful FF and other canvasser to point to in two or three years time. And the crisis? Still there, but even the inability to capitalise on that further points to serious problems in terms of the approaches being used by not just the further left but all oppositional and semi-oppositional forces to the orthodoxy.
None of this is to say that many of the current further left TDs won’t be re-elected. But the limitations on growth are plain to see. And it’s hardly difficult to see seats being lost due to specific local issues.
But left unity?