Thursday, 8 November 2007

Is the left psychologically flawed?

This week’s edition of Socialist Worker contains several articles, a column by Alex Callinicos and an editorial about the crisis in Respect. As you might expect, the SWP puts it down to an ‘underlying left-right political split’, with George Galloway and company cast in the role of the Mensheviks (‘patronage politics aimed at electing a few big names’) to the SWP’s Bolsheviks ‘true to [Respect’s] original vision as a radical left-wing party with appeal across the working class’.

If only it was so simple …

Alex Callinicos is at least right in his assessment that ‘what has been happening in Respect is very far from being unique’. As he points out, ‘Right across Europe the radical left is in crisis.’ He might have added that, right across the world, and throughout political history, the radical left has rarely been out of crisis.

There is something endemic to left politics about this state of permanent upheaval. Divisions often coalesce around particular individuals (George Galloway in Respect and Tommy Sheridan in the Scottish Socialists are only the latest in a long line in both the UK and internationally), while those on either side insist on the importance of key principles and politics.

But it’s hard to escape the feeling that when something is repeated so often and in so many different circumstances, both historically and geographically, something else is going on. Part of the explanation, no doubt, is to do with the impotence of opposition (though the left has never been noted for its unity when in positions of power). And the SWP is right in identifying a common theme in what’s happening to the radical left Europe-wide that boils down to the old left dichotomy between revolution and reform – or, less grandly, as it applies today, between a focus on extra-parliamentary activity or electoral politics.

But I can’t help feeling that there’s a more emotional, or psychological, explanation underlying so much of this sort of thing. Is the left psychologically flawed? No more so than any other current in human thought and behaviour, in my opinion – but then that’s not saying much, is it?

7 comments:

Alice said...

But I can’t help feeling that there’s a more emotional, or psychological, explanation underlying so much of this sort of thing. Is the left psychologically flawed? No more so than any other current in human thought and behaviour, in my opinion – but then that’s not saying much, is it?

Confused? Are you saying your opinion does not matter much or that everythig in history is psychologically flawed? No hedging your bets.

Probablyblonde said...

The problem's not that it's flawed, ‘course it is -like everything, nothing and no one goes through life unscathed and all these experiences add to the sum of what is the left. But as long as the left hides behind diversionary mudslinging and recriminations, focussing -outwards-on blame rather than honest, brave and open examination/dialogue, then perhaps it’s a case of an unexamined politics is one not worth having...

Steve Platt said...

I'm saying the left is psychologically flawed - no more so than any other current in human thought and behaviour, but that's not saying much.

The problem is that by and large it doesn't recognise it - and until it does it will be condemned to repeat the same old mistakes. A materialist view of the world takes us only so far, as we ought to have learnt by now.

freda people said...

We're all flawed....... but some of us can see through the cracks. Don't trust in leaders, that's all. Ever.

DM said...

An interesting take, but I wonder whether the issue is not so much psychological, as conceptual.

The problem seems to me this: to the extent one believes in concepts such as historical laws, false consciousness, and so on, one finds oneself in a position of being unable to explain why, objectively-speaking, one is in a situation of political impotence.

Under such circumstances, to the extent one doesn't wish to junk the theory tout-court, the answer can only be: the party is not pure enough.

Historical laws exist, so the thought goes, but the party must have deviated from them in some way. If it could only be purged of its errors, it would be back on the track. Thus it divides, potentially infinitely.

Colin Watson said...

Does anyone on the left still believe in historical laws these days? It seems to me that it's the equivalent of the Doomsday notion among the religious believers. Are there parts of the left that think historical laws exist but they just got the timetable wrong?

Anonymous said...

The left-wing is finished. Everyone knows this. It has passed through its post-communist, post-feminist agonies and now stands on the edge of oblivion. Confused, baffled, dejected. Completely bankrupt of ideas for the real world, engaged in meaningless theoretical arguments and dubious alliances with Muslim extremists. It's painful to watch a bunch of middle-class students marching up and down Trafalgar Square, mumbling florid apologies for Palestinian suicide bombers, just as their parents tried to ignore Stalin's concentration camps.

If the Guardian is such an ethical progressive newspaper, why does it cravenly chase advertising from multinational companies?

How can Terry Eagleton call himself a radical Marxist scholar if he owns three homes?

There's no answer. The left is a joke.