Issue 280 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
Debating the basis of unity
There were so many positive features in Mark Holt's contribution (Letters, November SR) that it is worth stressing a few.
For example, it is certainly true that some of what passes for 'the left' has gone into apoplexy about others working with Muslims in the anti-war movement. For my own part, prior to the massive February demonstration I, along with others, was invited to a meeting with people from the local mosque to discuss how we could jointly build for the demonstration. Later, although a known socialist, I was allowed to speak from the steps of the town hall following a local Muslim-organised demonstration. Additionally, people from the Islamic Human Rights Commission were not only involved in our Stop the War Coalition but played a central and positive part.
All this was excellent, and certainly didn't stop local socialists from putting their wider case across. Indeed, there was general agreement on 90 percent of that case. As Mark argues, this is the key reason for the joint work, not any disagreement over religion.
Indeed, when you see the changes that are taking place at this level, and other changes within the trade unions, I suspect the ultra-left critics will soon go their own way into oblivion, and I certainly don't think we should do anything to stop them. It appears that whenever there is a chance of people coming together around an agreed strategy--or when an audience wants, possibly for the first time, to discuss the iniquities of capitalism--a minority of head bangers would rather attack the constituent parts of that debate and drive the whole movement back into their ghetto.
Therefore you get groups, parties, and individuals being denigrated and lied about in their tiny journals. Every 'criticism' of a policy that is politically inclusive on the left is accepted uncritically as if it must be true, simply because the SWP, or whoever, was involved in some way.
But Mark poses more than a healthy wish that all this could be put behind us. He argues that the many elements of the left should come together to form a mass party.
On the surface, of course, he is right. A mass party clearly opposed to Labour would be a big step forward. But it is not as simple as we might all wish. Mark hints at the problem himself when he mentions the 1930s popular fronts. In distinction to that which our critics claim, the 'fronts' of this period were quite different from any unity agreement that might come about today. They were created under different conditions and with different political objectives--such as the determination of Stalin to defend the USSR at the very cost of undermining the massive anti-capitalist and anti-fascist movements which were in existence all over Europe.
We must also recall that Stalin's local Communist parties didn't just work with others, but came to ditch any vestige of social transformation, which led to the uncritical attitude towards right wing trade union leaders and the Labour Party as the years progressed.
Today this is not the case. We can work with and agree on many things with those who do not agree over the method of social transformation. But it is necessary that there must be an argument that exists within these unity movements that poses the question of 'method' and also propagates against the movement being dragged into historical blind alleys.
In that sense, a simple coming together of the different strands that Mark lists is not sufficient. Creating a political party that would just haemorrhage when a central issue arose around what attitude one should take towards strikes--to give just one example--would push socialism backwards. However, Socialist Worker is involved in the Scottish Socialist Party and operates as a 'platform', still keeping its distinctive political solutions in the frame, although not without understandable and well known difficulties. In England the situation is very different, but does not preclude some future realignment provided that the distinction between reform and revolution is not ditched for 'popular' agreement.
So yes, let's be totally enthusiastic as Mark suggests in defining the future of socialism. Let's continue to work honestly and openly with others (and indeed change our methods if required). But we must remember that there are still real differences in approach that can't be denied or glossed over. The distinctive politics and arguments presented in Socialist Worker, and the solution to such a corrupt and rotten system, must be maintained.
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I generally admire everything that Mike Davis writes, but his analysis of the recent California recall election (November SR) is way off the mark. Davis sees the result--the removal of Democratic governor Gray Davis and his replacement by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger--as mainly the latest manifestation of anti-immigrant racism.
But this ignores the fact that almost half of those Latinos voting in the election supported the recall, and almost a third voted for Schwarzenegger. Davis also ignores the fact that the racist Proposition 54--which would have banned the state from collecting racial data, making it more difficult to uncover discrimination--was defeated by nearly two to one.
The fact is that Arnie did not run a hard right campaign, but posed as a liberal on social issues like abortion and gay rights. The vote didn't represent a shift to the right so much as an anti-incumbency revolt and the rejection of a pro-corporate Democrat who had betrayed nearly all his party's traditional constituencies.
As the political commentator Kevin Phillips noted in the Los Angeles Times, Republicans should take little comfort from this result, since if it was possible to recall a president, George Bush might find himself on the chopping block next.
The site www.socialistreview.org.uk is brilliant. I use a screen-reader (JAWS) because I'm blind, and the site is easy to navigate with it.
A great resource. Thanks for the effort you've put into it.