OULC’s disaffiliation is a testament to the failure of the left….
I have every sympathy with those comrades in Oxford University Labour Club who have chosen to disaffiliate from Labour Students. In their letter they cite the ‘democratic failings’ of Labour Students. Amen to that and the situation they describe is writ large in the wider Party. However, questions have to be asked about whether disaffiliation is the right tactical response.
Trade unions that have taken this route have done so because they feel they are no longer represented by the Labour Party and again I understand this feeling because for one thing I actually agree. They are not adequately represented by the Labour Party or the Labour leadership. Nonetheless, I think the comrades were wrong to do what they did tactically speaking because we proceed from the basic principle that unity is strength.
Having said that we say this too often without acknowledging another basic truth; the buck stops with the left. When unity splinters for reasons like those outlined those by comrades in Oxford we are as much to blame as those who take this regrettable step. At the recent Labour Representation Committee conference I remember vividly how exasperated Matt Wrack came across in his speech. Again, he is right to feel that way. After all, it’s his members that are paying the price for a weak movement and a lack of leadership on the left. I would feel exactly the same in his position. It’s all very well for us to moan about it but his members are paying the price in livelihoods lost and a thousand other indignities. Others are paying another price right now in terms of seeing their much needed benefits cut etc, etc and those who fall deepest into the pit of despair will pay the ultimate price.
So, it’s really not good enough to repeat the ‘unity is strength’ mantra unthinkingly. When it comes to the reasons OULC left that is patently because there is not a strong enough force fighting for democracy within Labour Students and the Labour Party and this is pretty much the root cause of all the wider movements problems. The left’s democratic deficit is crippling the movement and our organisations.
– A cardinal sin and consistent failure of the left is the religious fidelity to Bolshevism. It’s amazing how we have spent close to 100 years travelling around in the same circles. Too many good comrades are walled-off from the rest of the labour movement, and usually wider reality too, in the various far-left cults that exist hoping somehow capitalism will conveniently, from their point of view at least, fold in on itself in the same way it did a century ago in an autocratic state whose reality is a million miles away from ours today.
– This is not to say that the social democratic left is much better. It basically hasn’t recovered from the glory days of post-WWII Labour governments which came closest to implementing its kind of socialism from above (interesting dialectical relationship between the two things here incidentally, for all the ‘Marxist’ left and ‘social democratic’ left like to say they are different, the route of degeneration both have taken has run on parallel tracks).
In short, both the ‘Bolshevik’ and ‘social democratic’ left have gutted socialism of its democratic content and this has left it a weak and ineffective challenger to capitalism; it is a will o wisp when a gale is needed. Unity is strength but simply repeating this will not make it so; it has to be won through a strong and united commitment by the left to return the progressive struggle to transform society to its democratic roots.