07 June 2010

A vacuum above

The question is fairly posed, in the wake of Cardiff's successful counter-demonstration against the EDL this Saturday: why do we only hear left slogans in the anti-far right demonstrations, if these events are meant to be from the whole community?

It's something we on the left have to take seriously. Any real anti-far right movement must build a mass base, not just shuttle the same list of supporters from city to city (doing so would be more of this "substitutionism" thing I keep talking about). The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of people still aren't revolutionary leftists nor are they especially activist; and this is true across all classes, not just the (increasingly uncomfortable) comfortable middle. What we put forward has to be uncompromisingly positive, but not so far ahead of the average person that it's alienating: the classic transitional problem.

UAF led most of the chants on the march from the Milennium Centre to the Bay on Saturday. In classic SWP fashion, they were talking loud but they didn't listen. Each of the chants that was put out for the march's consideration got a different level of response. "EDL, go to hell, take your Nazi friends as well" — lukewarm. "Nazis, Nazis, Nazis, OUT OUT OUT" — a bit better. "Whose streets? OUR STREETS!": the clear winner, far and away getting the loudest and most enthusiastic response. If UAF had been listening to the march they could have gotten the enthusiasm level up just by tuning their message a bit more carefully.

It was when we'd left UAF in the dust and gone into Gorsedd Gardens to confront the EDL face-to-face that we took the lead. At this point we were working without a net; UAF only allowed CCAR to have one steward. It was us ordinary activists with the police against us. My friend Katie got ahold of the megaphone. Here's what she said:

"Workers of the world — unite!" Well, that's what we need to do, isn't it? It's (almost) the last line of the Communist Manifesto, so I can understand why some people might find it alienating; but what else are a bunch of socialists going to say?

Let's turn the problem around. Who was out on the streets on Saturday? Everbody. People from every political party. Organized groups from the Socialist Party, the SWP, the Communist Party of Britain, the Greens, and Labour. Lots of anarchists. I know for a fact that a number of Lib Dem and Conservative members were out there.

Who was speaking on UAF's platform? SWP members, Labour MPs, a Plaid AM. (Again, we were cut out.) Who was leading chants? Socialist Party members, SWP, Anarchists.

Anyone could have brought a megaphone. Anyone who wanted to bring a banner was welcome to. The problem was not that the left did, the problem is that everyone else didn't.

If people from what now passes for the political "center" are feeling left out in the political atmosphere of anti-far right demonstrations, I have to ask these questions.

In Cardiff we have MPs from the Big Three parties and AMs from Wales' Big Four. If Labour and Plaid political leaders could make it, where were Jenny Willott and Jenny Randerson? Where were Jonathan Evans and Jonathan Morgan and David Melding and Andrew Davies?

If the shambling husk of the Cardiff Labour Party could get groups on the street on Saturday, why couldn't the Cardiff Liberal Democrats or the Cardiff Conservatives?

Rather than asking us on the left why we dominate the anti-racist movement, shouldn't the center be asking itself why its leadership and its membership stay so silent? I think the answer may be that the leadership has nothing to say. In building Cardiff Communities Against Racism, which was quite a broad group, one of the biggest arguments was over our message in the demonstration; left members argued for "Jobs and homes, not racism", an explicitly positive and political (though not party-political) message. More centrist people argued for only the negative half, "no to racism", with no positive message being put forward at all, only opposition to the EDL.

Lewis Black once said that American politics is the politics of ideas: the Democrats are the party of no ideas, and the Republicans are the party of bad ideas. There is no reason why the same should not be so in Britain.

Here we walk a tightrope between Hegelianism and Marxism. Key to Marx's theory of history is the notion that material conditions determine which ideas come to the fore, become the "ruling ideas". Simply put: in theory everyone has free speech, can say what they like. But if only rich people own printing presses, radio & TV stations, then only rich people's ideas will get out into the media. The ruling class controls the ruling ideas.

Important, meanwhile, for the application of dialectical materialism to practical history is the proposal that the bourgeoisie, while once a progressive class capable of taking society forward, is progressive no longer, indeed holds back the only force capable of advancing history: the proletariat.

Consider some abstract state. We always have a left, a right, and a center. But how does the right define itself? A modern political right is generally against public spending, against business regulation, against equality; in its core program, the right is defined, and can only be defined, by reaction to the ideas of the left. The center is doubly worse off; the center, especially the "radical center", defines itself by, it claims, taking the ideas of the left and moderating them with the ideas of the right so they can appeal to business to help spread the ideas. This is equivalent to discarding the milk and meat of a coconut and then banging the shells together as loudly as possible. The center is not just a reaction, but a reaction to a reaction! Look at what's happened here: we have a politics where only the left is making an effort to advance the conditions of the people as a whole, while the political formations of capital are proud that their only role is to say "no!"

No ideas and bad ideas. Democrats and Republicans. Labour and Lib Dems and Tories.

Is it any wonder that out on the street, out among the people, it's the voices of the left that are the loudest?


Robert said...

Well I'll bow to your superior wisdom that the SP is correct in all things and only the SP.
But many,many people were out on the grass outside the museum (Gorsedd Gardens apparrently) as well as SP comrades including members of the UAF including myself . The chap on the megaphone ( you know, the curly haired young lad ) telling us to stand our ground is in the UAF and as it happens the swp . I'm sure you recognised him.
Please stop using Saturday for sectarian attacks.
Oh, and the slogans chanted on our demo sounded fine to me (by "our demo" I'm including all of us including you and your comrades ).

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

Your are right Robert, The SWP were in the park, but the arrival of the SWP was sometime after everyone else, then the SWP became fixated with the park even whilst the EDL were being marched through town and many activists were confronting the EDL along the route, that curly haired fella you mention was still in the park talking on the megaphone about what a great victory it was at the same time anti-fascists were in the city centre confronting the EDL!

Robert said...

Glyn,say what you like, I'm pretty much beyond caring.And to think I've always tried to be friendly and polite to you lot.Why did I bother:-(