There has been an interesting debate going on within the British left which I have been following over the past three weeks or so.
It was a debate that columnist Laurie Penny sparked with a column she wrote for The Guardian in late December.
Writing about the recent massive student protests, Penny commented that '... the new wave of activists has no interest in the ideological bureaucracy of the old left. '
Penny's argument is that organising methods and strategies of the 'old left' - but not the organisations themselves - are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the new protest movements emerging in Britain and Europe.
Although she claimed she wasn't having a go at the organisations of the socialist left she took a few swipes at the Socialist Workers Party - which also has its followers here in New Zealand.
Penny's column provoked a response from Alex Callinicos of the SWP. Callinicos is Professor of European Studies at Kings College, London and he is on the central committee of the SWP. It would be fair to say that he is the SWP's leading theoretician.
In his reply, also published in The Guardian, Callinicos argued that Penny had 'articulated one of the characteristic illusions of any new movement, namely that it has rendered all existing theory and past experience obsolete.'
Penny has since responded to Callinicos and other columnist and bloggers have added their opinions to the lively and interesting debate
While I have been mulling over my own opinions on this debate its not my intention to go into the mechanics of it here . So those of you who break out in a cold sweat when the word 'theory' gets mentioned can safely continue reading.
What is interesting is that this exchange of views has occurred against the backdrop of the large protest movements that have emerged in Britain and Europe dedicated to fighting the austerity policies that government's are attempting to impose on ordinary people.
And the movement is now taking on board an anti-capitalist dimension, with real and urgent questions being asked about the structures of western capitalism
It seems that a 'by-product' of these new movements has been the growing interest in socialism. . While I don't want to exaggerate this development, debates and discussions that would of once been confined to the periphery of political life have taken on a new centrality.
The exchange between Penny and Callinicos is evidence of this. A debate like this, I suggest, would have once been confined to small circulation socialist journals and newspapers . Now they are occurring in the British national media and across the blogosphere generally.
It is also significant that such discussions owe little to either the British Labour Party or its ally, the trade union bureaucracy. Indeed they have largely been identified as part of the problem.
These developments though have barely touched New Zealand politics.
We seem to be locked in some kind of political backwater where the usual suspects parade their anti-socialist prejudices on almost a daily basis.
Most of this year will be spent banging on about the general election. as if the result will radically change our lives. We will again be asked to believe that there really is a difference between Labour and National. And all the while ordinary people will continue to be dumped on.
Despite the Government's determination to make the working class pay for this massive economic crisis, the lack of real opposition and real protest has just been appalling.
There were hopes from some that the CTU would lead some kind of fightback but that this inevitably came to nought. After decades of collaborating with the governments of neoliberalism the CTU has simply lost the will to fight.
In 2011 it has again raised the white flag of surrender and will be spending a lot of rank and file money trying to get another right wing Labour Government elected. This is not only no solution it is a betrayal of ordinary people and shame on everyone who participates in this travesty.
Not uncoincidentally the lack of any real protest movement has been mirrored by a level of debate that barely rises above the level of stupidity and crassness.
While I expect little or nothing from the mainstream media much of the so-called 'alternative media' is equally culpable for a level of debate that isn't so much a debate but a whole load of aimless commentary, political sloganeering and, at the centre of it, a hostility to even contemplating that the Labour Party, as a progressive force, gave up the ghost a long time ago.
Instead of having real discussion about organisation and tactics, about ways of overcoming the obstacles that are the Labour Party and the union bureaucracy and about what socialism can mean in a New Zealand context - to name just few topics off the top of my head - the level of debate in much of the 'left wing' blogosphere hasn't risen above the inane level of 'Isn't John Key terrible - let's all vote Labour'
On Citizen A (Stratos TV) the other night columnist and blogger Chris Trotter managed to, yet again, claim that Labour was no longer the right wing party that it once was. The host of the show, blogger Martyn Bradbury, nodded his head in agreement.
Is it little wonder that the left struggles to make any progress when the likes of Bradbury and Trotter peddle this sort of nonsense? How the hell is to the left going to advance its cause when the likes of Bradbury and Trotter continue to fuel delusions about the Labour Party?
This sort of rubbish simply makes life more difficult for people and groups who are trying to move the debate beyond Labour.
When are we are going to get our act together? When are we going to tackle the real issues and begin to have the kind of debates they are having in Britain and Europe right now? When we going to stop behaving as if Labour wasn't at the heart of the last thirty years of neoliberalism and that its all just 'water under the bridge'?
What we need is a new movement that would sweep aside all the charlatans that purport to speak for the working class but, in reality, are its enemies.
What we need is a new debate that talks about socialism as if it mattered.
Out with the old politics.
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