1. Decline of trade union activism. Being a lay official or activist in the trade union forces you to interact with a varied membership, whose political views could vary from entrenched Tories to the apathetic and the nonpolitical, plus of course a few like-minded souls. But because you are working for and on behalf of a diverse membership you have to use many skills and types of arguments. That is not the case when interacting with other lefties, most of the arguments are shortcuts and basic. Questions such as why trade unions are important or why nationalization might be a good idea often goes unanswered.For a spectacular example of the left getting it wrong, we turn to our old friend George Galloway, defending the Ahmadinejad theocracy. (H/t Ent/JohnnyG.) A slightly softer version comes from John Wight at Socialist Unity, wondering (in an article which, I have to say, is pretty good in places) if what we are seeing is a "counter-revolution" because it is middle class people doing the protesting. (Odd that when Palestine Solidarity action, university occupations and throwing eggs at BNP leaders is done by middle class people in the UK that doesn't make it counter-revolutionary.) He also uses the uprising as an opportunity for facile anti-Americanism, comparing the political energy of the Arab street to "the apathy of the American people which met the constitutional coup d’etat which ushered in the Bush administration back in 2000". (Hmm. Maybe because the Bush "coup" didn't involve shooting at Ralph Nader supporters or beheading Al Gore supporters.) Endemic anti-Americanism: ought to be no.6 on Modernity's list.
A prime example, is the Martin Smith Newsnight interview, he wasn’t prepared to think about other people’s arguments, how they saw it and respond cogently. But those of some of the skills that you need to be a competent trade unionist.
That’s been lost in the past 20 years as far as I can see it.
2. The bubble, much of the British Left seems to exist within a nice confined bubble, without too many external distractions and that breeds lazy thinking. It means that sometimes Lefties and politicos have a problem talking to ordinary people in ordinary language, too much jargon is used. My favourite is “neoliberal”,when you know what it means it’s obvious, but to the uninitiated it might sound like a quasi member of the Liberal party :)
3. The decline of antifascism which tends to go hand in hand with various groups political priorities, but it means overall that the Left doesn’t reach out, or go to those awkward places, unless an election is on or something similar. Equally it means that one whole aspect of previous Left thinking is lost, opposition to fascism whatever shape or form it comes in, opposition to authoritarianism whatever shape or form it comes in, etc Skills are lost.
4. Crass Leninism. Whilst I could see a case for a Leninist party in Iran or Syria, Burma, etc all of those repressive regimes, it doesn’t really work too well in the West. Or at least all of the implementations since the 1930s seem to have failed one way or the other.
I think that Leninism is inherently hierarchical, it concentrates far too much power in a few individuals and not unsurprisingly those individuals sometimes become power crazed and act as if they can do no wrong, when the reality is they are probably more fallible than most of us.
On top of that it breeds a mentality, the leaders and the led, someone who gives the instructions and someone who takes it, which I think profoundly limits debate.
Finally, there is a problem with the “line”, where Leninists will often spin you some argument that they don’t really believe in, but have been told to push out, and it often comes over as very insincere or silly. People switch off as a result, so when these Leninists actually have something interesting and intelligent to say, no one is listening, or very few people are.
5. Which brings me to the final problem as I see it, argumentation skills or lack of.
The British Left are notorious for believing the worst of their political opponents and wish the most charitable interpretation to be placed on all of their endeavours, no matter how ridiculous or obviously faulty.
This links into the preceding points, so much of what passes for discussion on the British Left is done in bad faith and the motives of others always open to question.
The net result is that people switch off.
If someone is going to cynically produce fallacious arguments, ignore evidence, wish for charitable interpretations but put the worst on everyone else’s view, then in the end no one really wants to discuss issues in that cynical way.
It doesn’t happen absolutely all the time, but surprisingly, in my experience, much of the time and in turn it breeds a very bad atmosphere, it is not conducive to winning people over. It makes the British Left look like a pile of argumentative cranks, quick nitpickers but slow to the do anything meaningful.
That’s not a comprehensive list but I suspect portions of it are true on different occasions with different people.
I think the culture of the British Left has to change or be consumed by a resurgence neo-fascism, which is just waiting to flex its muscles.
That’s a few of my ideas, I have probably miss some.
As an antidote (and I'm not sure how I missed this: it's from April), Christopher Hitchens on how Karl Marx speaks to the current economic crisis.
Iran links: I'm re-posting the Iran links from my post earlier this week, where the sites have continued to be updated or where I added the link more recently and suspect you might have missed it: Revolutionary Road,Michael Totten, Jeff W, Entdinglichung, Maryam N, Bataille Socialiste (mostly in French, but lots of photos and videos), AWL, The Hitch, Jams. Links and more links from Mod.
Euro-fascism and left unity: I've been adding more links to this post too.