Facebook page and website for a group calling itself Left Unity. I was drawn to it because it spoke boldly of its desire to form a new political party of the left, severing for once and for all the irrational political umbilical chord that for so long has joined the British so-called “left” – reformist and so-called “revolutionary” - to the party that is called Labour.
It is by no means the first time such an idea has been mooted, of course. The recent history of our national politics has been littered with left groups which have half-heartedly gone it alone, with varying degrees of unsuccess. The problem has always been the same – the separation from Labour has been from the head but never from the heart, and as such any manifestations of independent activity have invariably been a cry for help rather than a serious and sustained effort to create a lasting left alternative both to the unashamed reaction of the Conservatives and to the capitalist establishment’s safety valve that is the Labour Party.
Left Unity has, from first impressions at least, the outward appearance of being something different. Mobilised around an appeal by television and film director Ken Loach for a new party of the left, it would appear already to have gained some considerable momentum, with a network of local and regional groups to which new names seem to be being added by the day. By any measure, and certainly by any comparison with earlier attempts to achieve the same end, this is pretty big stuff.
Personally I find myself wishing the new initiative every success, but from a safe distance. Although I reject the logic of capitalism and stand four-square with the forces of labour (small “l”) in its various battles I do not consider myself as being especially of the “left”. It’s not that I dislike what it stands for, I just seem instinctively to dislike the people it attracts.
In large part this could be a simple consequence of the treatment that I have personally received at the hands of much of it. A former extreme rightist who rejected unequivocally all things racist and fascist some two decades ago, I still have doors slammed in my face by local so-called “lefties” who seem to share an almost pathological dedication to the cause of keeping alive my 1980s incarnation as an NF rabble-rouser, for reasons which only a qualified shrink would venture to probe. Whilst this causes me no loss of sleep whatsoever it does make for an interesting psychological and sociological study of the mentality of those concerned.
There have, of course, been others formerly of the extreme right who have seen the light and whose bona fides have been accepted by the generally left-dominated anti-fascist movement. So why am I regarded differently?
The only possible, logical answer is that despite my unqualified rejection of racism and fascism I remained a fierce critic of the political establishment, and of Labour in particular (for the simple reason that Labour was the party in power in my own neighbourhood, to which I effectively retreated). There is absolutely nothing else that differentiates me from other former fascists who have gone on to be actively involved in the anti-fascist movement.
So in other words the “anti-establishment” left rejected me because I rejected the establishment! C’est la vie.
This enforced separation between myself and the local representatives of this peculiar tendency in British politics led me to the view, which I have held for so many years, that the “left” in this country is utterly incapable of disengaging itself in its own mindset from the Labour Party – a party which for the most part accepts the Tory austerity agenda, enthusiastically supports capitalist wars, competes with the parties of the right in a perpetual willy-waving contest over who can strike the most macho postures on immigration, and voted down proposals to diminish the power of the House of Lords.
But there is another reason why I do not feel I belong to the “left” and that is its obsession with economic issues seemingly to the exclusion of all else. Yes we should resist attacks on benefits, low wages, diminution of employment rights, privatisation, the dismantling by stealth of the NHS and all the rest of it, but the empowerment of people travels hand-in-hand with the disempowerment of capitalism and that is something that the “left” just never seems to show an interest in. Taking power out of the hands of the bosses and placing it into the hands of bureaucrats and political apparatchiks does not a revolution make.
Yet on the other hand there is something irresistible about the rapid progress of the Left Unity initiative. In this mass communications age it is just about possible to create a really viable alternative without having access to millions of pounds and the Murdochs. What is really needed to make it happen is a vacuum, and the vacuum that exists on the left of British politics with the betrayal by Labour is immense.
What we could feasibly see within the space of a few years is a complete readjustment of the political dynamic, with the right broadly aligned to UKIP and the left organised around something like Left Unity. Whilst I have no brief for UKIP I admit nevertheless to some excitement about the prospect of the old establishment losing its grip in such a way.