Thursday 1 January 2009

A shift of position

by Liam MacUaid 8 April 2009 It’s not often that a leading figure on the far left sets out to “express my disagreements in some humility” and admits to having “shifted my own position”. Alex Callinicos may be starting a welcome fashion in the current issue of International Socialism. As part of an ongoing discussion with Panos Garganas and François Sabado about the connection between broad parties and revolutionaries he says that the evolution of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France altered some of his views. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope that this rethink eventually leads him to appreciate the difference between the united front and the wholly owned party subsidiary (Unite against Fascism, Globalise Resistance…). The near universal malady of the Anglophone left. In a certain sense the details of the discussion are not as important as the fact that it is happening. All the formations which have emerged to the left of Social Democracy in recent years have been very distinct and comparing one with another can be as productive as comparing apples with shoes. The LCR has been able to launch the NPA on the crest of a wave of struggles with an explicitly anti-capitalist programme. On the other hand Die Linke has a large group of members from the PDS tradition who are likely to be less receptive to a message of not sharing power with Social Democracy. One of the things that gives this debate in Britain a real urgency is the response of the unions to the loss of 4500 jobs at the Royal Bank of Scotland. It’s “truly devastating” was how they summed it up. There is no hint that they can do anything about it, no suggestion of the workers taking charge of the bank. The absence of an authoritative combative political leadership is taking a heavy toll on the British working class and while it is right that much of the left is building solidarity with struggles such as the one at Visteon that is insufficient. A political response which transcends selling a couple of papers and maybe recruiting a striker for three months is what is required. Some faltering steps are being taken. The No 2 EU campaign has its deficits. Wilfully excluding the SWP because of the Lindsey dispute; a tenuous commitment to internal democracy and some infelicitous phrasing in its propaganda among them. Nonetheless a major union with a record of fighting is contesting an election in opposition to Labour. That’s a big positive and maybe it will be a catalyst for a realignment after the elections. Add to this the fact that Respect still has an electoral base in some parts of the country and the Socialist Party have a habit of getting people elected and the outlines of a new formation appear. That is the significance of Alex Callinicos’ article. It reminds us that the discussion may have been muted recently but that it is still necessary. Under much more favourable circumstances a new party is emerging in France but it has been demonstrated that it is possible to launch a modestly successful project in Britain too. If one were to take a single aspect of the NPA that can be transplanted across the Channel it is its inflexible approach to internal democracy born from an understanding of the necessity of meaningful political pluralism. That is the one thing that is absolutely universally transferable.

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