The Sad Death of the Critical Left….
Harpy Marx’s blog post (here) got me thinking; not just about the lamentable state of the Labour Representation Committee which the comrade attests to well, but about the bigger, wider issue of the lamentable state of the left. Firstly, we have to say there are brilliant, critical and insightful voices on the left, but when you think of these, you tend to come up with names like John Pilger, Noam Chomsky and Namoi Klein. I am sure comrades will have their own list which springs to mind and this list isn’t meant to be an exhaustive and exclusivist one.
However, what you tend to notice is that voices are generally not connected to any left-wing organisation (Labour or otherwise). Variously, they are journalists, or exceptionally talented academics and theorists. This really shouldn’t surprise anybody who is involved or has been with organised left politics. Simply put this isn’t geared to producing free-spirited, critical thinking individuals but instead, in a cruel mirror of the capitalist society it seeks to replace, it is geared to producing drones. Politics is inculcated to people from above and your only given the bare minimum, enough to be a convincing and effective paper-seller usually does the trick. Woe-betide you if you want an actual say in the direction of your organisation let alone have a critical thought and dare to express it.
If your not subjected to a formal bureaucratic tyranny then your subjected to an implied tyranny of manners where comrades who are the target of criticism parade their wounded feelings like an injured puppy and your told to be quiet in the name of ‘comradely debate’ (which is pretty much what happened to Harpy). It’s like Parliament and ‘un-Parliamentary language’ only ever so slightly less po-faced but much more completely hypocritical. If all that fails you summon to your aid the bogeyman of potential state hostility to cover your tracks and your complete lack of sense of what democracy and a healthy democratic culture looks like.
Of course, this all means that the intellectual atmosphere on the left is less lively than your average morgue. In demanding democracy of others it is also entirely two-faced and hypocritical, for example, the Labour Representation Committee demands openness of Labour but it is happy to bureaucratically silence reporting of its own National Committee meetings and impose a mind-bending set of standing orders. When it comes to democracy and democratic questions, it is very much a case of ‘physician heal thy self’ when it comes to the left. It simple does not have the moral or intellectual legitimacy to criticise capitalism when its own practice and culture is so deficient. Sadly, it also it suggests to me that the organised left is totally incapable of creating a more democratic and socially just society (if ‘socialist society’ looks anything like the internal life of the left, count me out) because what you become is in some way linked to what you were. Until this fundamentally changes then the left had better get used to the social margins and political irreverence because it isn’t going anywhere else fast.