WITH these opening words, Mike Stanton poses a question which will I dare say have occupied every left activist, of every persuasion, and probably everyone who has ever raised their voice in protest:
“Left Unity is urgently needed. But why is it so hard to achieve?“
Mike’s ‘historical’ approach is helpful. He traces the genealogy of today’s schools of socialist thought with reference to two major evolutionary ‘branches’, identifying divergences, firstly over the nature of Russia after 1917, and, secondly, over the potential role of the Labour Party in Britain (or kindred parties elsewhere) in delivering socialist transformation.
Having thus mapped out the terrain, however, Mike proposes no solutions.
Here, I intend both to develop his arguments, and offer solutions comprising the immediate and longer term tasks for socialists whose mission, with Mike, is to “destroy the heart of the beast that is capitalism“.
First, a short digression. Some who desire ‘unity’ approach the various differences on the left, and their organisational expression in competing parties and groups, as though these are merely the product of pointless rivalries, inflated notions of self-importance or a species of political self-indulgence inimical to the broader interests of the working class.
Such criticisms, whilst understandable, are wrong. They are wrong because different political appraisals inevitably determine and precipitate different actions and activity for those who adopt them. If, for instance, you have concluded that Jeremy Corbyn was too ‘left’ or ‘radical’ to win a general election AND that winning one trumps all other considerations, then Keir Starmer is at last getting it right. But, if you begin from different premises, different assessments, then Starmer is not a saint but a scoundrel, a dishonest and opportunistic betrayer of all you had thought were Labour ‘values’ etc.
Returning to Mike Stanton, he shows how the development of Leon Trotsky’s thought, arrested by a Stalinist assassin in 1940, has bequeathed serious and fundamental divisions on the revolutionary left.
Like Mike, my political alignment is that of the International Socialist Tendency. I will not deal here with Trotsky’s mistaken theory of the ‘deformed workers’ state’, but it is curious that Mike did not turn to Trotsky’s 1930s’ writing on the ‘united front’ (collected as ‘Fascism, Stalinism and the United Front’) given their immediate and urgent relevance to the question of unity on the left.
The united front has far wider application than Trotsky’s contemporary concern with defeating the rise of fascism across Europe.
It means, and meant, unity in action among forces on the left with different political perspectives (including, of course, both reformist and revolutionary parties).
In the context of the upsurge in class struggle with which Mike concludes his article, the relevance of united front politics could not be clearer. Socialists seek to draw into that struggle the widest possible forces, without first enquiring as to their theoretical compatibility, and without regard to whether newly politicised layers were first propelled by climate resistance, wage struggles, opposition to war, disability or LGBT+ rights, or the fight against racism and Islamophobia.
And, as Luxemburg, Lenin and others have understood, it is in the struggle itself, and only there, that the relevance and power of ‘theory’ can be tested.
Or as Marx put it in his ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ the objective truth of human thought was a “purely scholastic question. Man (sic) must prove the relevance (‘Diesseitigkeit’) of his thinking in practice.“
Right now, the test is to be found in the size, organisation and confidence of the nearest picket line.
Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Critical Mass.