First published: 28 December, 2010
By the time you’ve finished the public nit-picking with other parts of the Left, the small opportunity for change that exists now will be gone. Who cares what traditions people are starting from ! Please be realistic, the Govt isn’t about to be brought to its knees. But there is a chance to build something fresh and new for the medium term and the future. You may be right that more action is what is needed and “leadership” is not. But it is true I’m afraid that leadership is happening already and lack of structure doesn’t disprove that, it just means that it is opaque, partially democratic and difficult to grow. And why waste time attacking Penny Red ? Her reporting has done so much to build wider consciousness ?
And why waste time attacking Penny Red ? Her reporting has done so much to build wider consciousness ?
There are no attacks on Laurie in this piece. I’ve disagreed with Laurie (under her recent NS piece) over the language she’s used to describe the SWP, because I thought it was unhelpful. But the broader views I’ve critiqued here seem widespread.
My own remarks were based on what I’ve seen and heard amongst activists both at the time of the student protests and subsequently. Overstating the uniqueness and the potency of this new movement, and taking an overly dismissive attitude towards the “old left” was something many of us were guilty of from time to time, (including myself if I’m brutally honest). I think anyone who was involved or in touch with the occupations and protests will recognise that.
But in the cold light of day, the more nuanced view you’re advocating, and which I’ve tried to encourage on in my contribution above, seems a bit more sensible.
“The danger we face is of creating a new tier of leaders who, however well-intentioned, seek to manage the movement and end up sapping it of its power, radicalism and creativity. They would come under intense institutional pressure to police the movement from within and dilute its aims – indeed, this is why the Met, the mainstream media and the political establishment have been craving for “leaders” to point the finger at.”
Completely agree with Guy’s sentiments. As Rancière would (I hope!) say, it is precisely the refusal to conform to the dominant distribution of the “visible and the sayable”, and crucially the rupturing of this distribution of the visible and the sayable, that has made this movement political.
It’s always tough trying to predict how a student-based movement will run when it’s split across a break in term (however big or small the movement), but the rise of UK Uncut has been an inspiration. It’s *inspiration* that is most needed for the movement to continue, and a decentralised network of activists is best able to provide it.
Good stuff. It’s great to hear people so informed and passionate about the causes to which they’re committed. I sort of agree with Guy about wanting to keep certain organisations out of their struggle as they [those organisations] have a tendency to subvert a movement towards compliance with their own internal order (usually undemocratic). I will say, however, that plenty of decent activists belong to such organisations and they are truly friends of the students, so please don’t mistrust well-meaning comrades just because they happen to be marching under a different banner to your own. In regards to Porter, I find him particularly pathetic and no friend whatsoever to your struggle. If i hadn’t experienced the same type of baffling selection of right wing individuals to senior posts in the trade unions myself, I would be asking the students what the hell they were thinking about when they voted in this individual. This is also a reason, as Len pointed out, that members should have the right of instant recall of those officials who become detached from the developing movement. In the spirit of solidarity i therefore call on the students to come out in force with the workers on the TUC day of action on March 26 to guarantee that a combined movement will really put it up the ruling classes. I for one will be there and i will continue to support the students in their struggle. Just a little aside for those that seem to think that the status quo is such an impenetrable obstacle: everything is in a constant state of flux, so what might appear insurmountable may be, as circumstances change, relatively easy to tackle. 1968, remember, was just a millesecond ago relatively speaking.
“But it is easy enough to acknowledge that the so-called “old left”, whether Marxist or otherwise, did achieve a few things in its time: like the vote…”
This seems a bit glib - talk of the ‘old left’ refers not to its age, but rather to its organisational structure - in official trade unions, or in political parties (some on the Leninist model, some not), with permanent elected leaderships and a certain level of bureaucratic organisation.
To imply that the chartists, the suffragettes, and the early trade union movement can be characterised as ‘old left’ is a bit dubious.
Thanks, Patrick. I think you’ll concede that terms such as “old left” do by definition imply that age or chronology is a relevant criteria upon which to make a value judgement. I think it was New Labour that popularised the term.
You are quite right to point out that many previous incarnations of the left worked with looser organisational models. So if we want to adopt that approach then there are things we can learn from the past. In addition, it’s worth pointing out that left organisations with “permanent elected leaderships and a certain level of bureaucratic organisation” also contributed to the progressive victories I mentioned. So perhaps there’s something to be said for both, and more specifically, something to be said for us thinking about how we can fuse the best characteristics of both approaches
If we want to talk about ‘Old’ vs ‘New’ look at the Soviet experience in April 1917. The ‘Old’ Bolsheviks - Stalin included, wanted to stifle the movement under support of the ‘Liberal Bourgeois’ Revolution. On the other hand, Lenin, almost single handedly, galvanised the movement around power to the Soviets (where the Bolsheviks were in the minority) with their grounding in the factories and barracks, with the instant right of recall etc.
I am sure some comrades here will be surprised to see Lenin characterised as anti-authoritarian and in favour of the kind of grass roots democracy that the ‘new’ movement appears to be seeking - but it is true nonetheless, and an experience worth learning from.
When somebody is hit, if he is alive, he react some how. British students being badly hit by the ruling coalition, showed that they are alive and reacted by some actions. As it is mention in the publication: “The cold truth is that the students movement did not prevent the tuition fee vote from passing, and has not prevented any of the government’s other austerity measures being passed as yet”.
In this regard it is important to mention that there are three opportunities to react in such situations: protests of different forms, riots and revolutions. The usual reply of the system of power to protests is to ignore them. When riot takes place the reaction is to smash it by brutal force. As a result both actions against the power are fruitless and finally people become patient.
Established system of power, which serves interests of particular groups (which ones are related to increase of tuition fees?) can be changed only by revolution. In practical terms it means revolution which is to replace capitalism. It is strange that in protests against austerity measures worldwide the aim for replacement of capitalism is not mentioned. “Why?” is the problem which should occupy students’ thinking and as result should appear a model for a system which will replace capitalism and programme to achieve this.
In discussion two main aspects are introduced: leadership and top-down organisation. Generally, both are related. It is iron rule that when to do something which requires participation of more than one person leadership is inevitable. In the simplest case to move a table by two persons on of them saying “Up!” become the leader. When a lot of persons are involved in common activity they are organised in several levels with correspondent leaders and top leadership existence is natural. Every project has a top manager, no army with several commanders.
The problem of students’ movement is mainly in the kind of leadership. According to remarks above useful leadership could be the only who is able to direct activities to replacement of capitalism. Do British student have potential to create such a leadership? Let’s hope!
Prof. Lozan Stoimenov
Here is a reponse to some of the issue raised in this debate, I wrote for Ceasefire magazine:
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