Swept along by the moment
In the name of cuddling up to the Greens, Socialist Resistance warns about the dangers of the ‘ultra-left’. Paul Demarty objects
It seems a week cannot go by without Socialist Resistance - the British section of the Fourth International, and the self-described “Marxist-feminist-ecosocialist” contingent most aggressively dragging Left Unity to the right - giving us some reason to despair.
Last week, there was the fallout from SR’s calamitous intervention in the transgender ‘debate’ within feminism (more like a dirty war, at this point), in which SR managed to alienate more or less all interested parties - either by deciding to run a piece by Victoria Smith objecting to transgender politics, or beating an undignified retreat and slapping a ‘trigger warning’ on it when the screams of fury built up from the Twitter/Tumblr intersectionalist types.1
Now, there is the small matter of a truly staggering statement from Resisting Socialism’s national committee on the ‘Green surge’. It lists off the numbers: the membership of the Green Party in England and Wales “has doubled in the past year and currently stands at 54,500, making it the fourth largest party in Britain - bigger than the Lib Dems and Ukip”, while its Scottish sister party “has increased [its membership] in the last few years by a staggering 700% to 8,500 members today”.2
Thus begins a serious puff-piece. The Greens “have shifted to the left in recent years”, and are occupying the space to the left of Labour effectively: “most young people find the Green parties an easier option to contemplate rather than going directly to the more radical socialist (or revolutionary) organisations”. Glowing encomia to Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett follow.
This is not the first time that Resisting Socialism has gotten a little starry-eyed over a few left Greens, of course - that ‘ecosocialist’ branding is designed as a licence to schmooze with such characters. So what do the comrades actually hope to achieve on the basis of this guff?
In practical terms, unfortunately, it amounts to a call for Left Unity to keep a low profile. After all, that space for a ‘broad party to the left of Labour’ is now presently occupied. Perhaps it could respond by carving out its own space, as a radical socialist alternative to the capitalist order? Certainly not: “The danger is that the ultra-left in LU will attempt to push LU to the left and force it to abandon the space in which a broad party can be built.” (No prizes for guessing whom the comrades mean here, although why they do not just say it defeats me.)
Instead, socialists “should work with the Greens in the campaigns and encourage LU to do so. We should urge LU to seek electoral arrangements with them if possible.” Those of us who are concerned that this will mean LU abolishing its own profile to act as leftist bag-carriers for Bennett, etc, need not fret:
Although [the Green Party] is a response to the space to the left of Labour, it does not resolve it in the form of the kind of a broad radical left party that is required in order to build a socialist alternative … The main reason for this is that it has a substantial conservative wing that would never accept its transformation into such a party.
Only LU, or something like it, can produce the right kind of party: provided, presumably, its own ‘conservative wing’ (viz Socialist Resistance) find it in themselves to ‘accept’ it.
The core of this argument is fatuous in the extreme. We may first of all deal with the calumny against the “ultra-left”: we in the Communist Platform, the semi-official “ultra-left” of Left Unity, have argued all along for a party that will fight for what we need, not for what happens to be popular during a Socialist Resistance NC meeting. That means a party committed to the independent revolutionary action of the working class: a Communist Party.
Whoever happens to be grabbing the votes of well-meaning leftie youths right now is a secondary, tactical question. (I will say that I have heard the argument parodied here advanced in earnest, that LU should move to the left as an instrumental and tactical manoeuvre in response to the success of the Greens and SNP - but not from any traditionally ‘left’ quarters of the organisation.)
SR’s schema, however, amounts to a patchouli-scented popular front: its right wing, the Green Party, will inevitably discredit itself, and LU - as grimly envisioned by SR - will emerge as the ‘best fighters’. SR’s only novelty is to skip out the social democratic component of the popular front entirely, subsuming itself directly into its ‘radical bourgeois’ component.
The most striking consequence is that the substance of the Greens’ politics escapes notice almost entirely: they are anti-austerity, yes; they are concerned with the environment, yes; and there is a malevolent “conservative wing” of some kind.
Yet the Greens’ alternative to capitalist austerity is localism, preferential treatment for small business over large, and so on. It is, from a certain perspective, quite an inspiring vision - it is a clearer view of an alternative future than radicalising youth are likely to get from, say, SR comrades, who can only ever fret about ‘campaigns’ - which are almost invariably against things nowadays (cuts, closures and suchlike).
Those more vulgar leftists who say the Greens are straightforwardly ‘just another capitalist party’ miss the point - the Greens offer a petty-bourgeois utopia. It is utopian because capitalism grows anew out of all commodity production; a utopia of small businesses can only be the prelude to the return of the dark Satanic mills. By burnishing the ‘anti-austerity’ and eco credentials of the Greens, SR becomes insouciant about all these radicalising youth dedicating themselves to a project that by definition cannot possibly work.
Alas, in what went before, I have made the error of assuming that the Greens are not a working class organisation! How fortunate that the good ‘Marxists’ of Resisting Socialism are on hand to correct me:
Some argue that the Greens are not working class parties … [but] most members of the Green Party and most of those who vote for them have to sell their labour-power as much as do the supporters of the Labour Party, Left Unity or any far-left group.
Taking this bizarre sentence at face value, one could first object that a considerable majority of people in this country are, from the Marxist point of view, working class; they do not all vote Labour, Green or far left. What about the Scottish Nationalists, comrades - are they now a working class party? Hell, what about Ukip, or even the Tories? There are not enough capitalists to get the Tories in on their own, and it is certainly not pinstriped bankers who go out on the knocker for them come election time.
Then one could reply, crudely, that it is not a party’s votes that matter so much as its sources of funding. The Labour Party gets the majority of its funding from trade unions, and would go into financial crisis without that money. The Tories are straightforwardly reliant on money from big business. The Greens are funded, in the main, by the type of people who own quaint shops in the North Laines. It is petty bourgeois in its social base, as well as in its politics.
But really we feel we are beyond the point of sensible argument here. What a sorry pass we have come to when ‘Marxists’ - even if they are “Marxist-feminist-ecosocialist” - present sophistries as intellectually vacuous as this little gem! We wonder why SR even bothers to keep ‘Marxism’ on its masthead. Marxism is time-consuming; there are so many books to read and, while some are great works of world literature, others certainly are not.
Moreover, Marxism leads the humble Marxist to sometimes counterintuitive political conclusions. We are no longer permitted to evaluate a political phenomenon on the basis of an instinctive ‘feel-good factor’, but instead we must analyse what its unconscious motive forces are. We cannot separate whatever nice things Natalie Bennett says from what she is likely, or indeed able, to do. It is exactly this that gives Marxism its power, however, for it allows us to plan strategically, to think about politics over decades, and even centuries, not week by week.
So is the ‘Green surge’ a progressive or reactionary development? On the face of it, it is both: a positive thing that many people are willing to be active participants in politics outside the neoliberal consensus; but a negative thing, in that the Green ‘alternative’ is a petty bourgeois utopia. The real story here, however, is the departure of the far left from the field of political struggle, and with it the severe weakening of even the idea of independent working class politics.
The latter is an effect of world-historical transformations, principally the collapse of the USSR; but it hardly helps matters when the likes of SR attempts, as it does here, to demobilise itself in the face of ephemeral shifts in bourgeois politics. It is one thing to be swept into the gutter by one’s enemies, but quite another to politely set up camp there of one’s own accord. And we are supposed to be the wreckers …
1. ‘Headlong into a trap’ Weekly Worker April 9 2015.