Tag Archives: John Rees

Lukacs and the Pretenders

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I had Stalinism to contend with; what was your excuse?

If there is any writer who sums up in one life all the contradictions of twentieth century Europe it is Georg Lukács. Born in Hungary in 1885, he gathered around himself a literary circle of poets, playwrights and musicians, fusing in their lives and works the militant philosophical elitism of Nietszche with a vague social idealism. Counting among his friends Thomas Mann, Max Weber, Béla Bartók and other future “great names” of interwar European culture, Lukács was converted to Communism in double-quick time in November 1918, that is, after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia but just three months before the “united front” 133-day Red (Socialist and Communist) government in Hungary. Lukács served it as the Commissar for public education. On the defeat of this “Hungarian Soviet”, Lukács was exiled first to Vienna and then ultimately Stalin’s Russia. Lukács’ 1923 philosophical masterpiece History and Class Consciousness (HCC) provided a Hegelian re-reading of Marx, and in particular of Marx’s theory of “commodity fetishism” (i.e. alienation). This part of it was vindicated, at the level of theory, by the ten-year later publication of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, texts Lukács could never have read or heard of, but the core ideas of which Lukács effectively “imagined” into being even before their actual discovery. Disowned by the leaders of the emergent Stalinist state under Bolshevisation, Lukács in turn repudiated his own writing as ultra-left. For the next thirty years, he wrote a series of hack works, arguing that the philosophical ideals which had inspired him in his own youth were a series of infections, by which the entire European mind had been overcome with the disease of fascism. Lukács was brought into the Nagy government in 1956, becoming a reluctant leader of the Hungarian revolt against Stalinism. This final, and uncharacteristic, act of bravery was punished with house arrest, a period of exile and lengthy isolation on his return. Lukács died of lung cancer in Budapest in 1971.

The Lukács who has come back into vogue in recent years is not the Lukács of History and Class Consciousness, but the Lukács who on Lenin’s death published in February 1924, Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought. The beauty of this pamphlet, for those inclined to what Hal Draper called “Socialism from above”, is that it provides a perfect justification for a party which can do anything, led by a caste of intellectuals who are philosophically incapable of ever being wrong. It bears, in other words, the moment of its birth; at the exact point when “Leninism” was degenerating into “Stalinism”.

Lukács’s Lenin opens with a judgment of Lenin’s greatness: Marxism has produced “geniuses”, Lukács argues, and it has produced “mediocre scholars”. Marx was one of the former because he had the ability to think away from the world he know (the English factory system) and predict from it the global future of capitalism. Lenin stands in the same position, Lukács continues, because he grasped that the revolution was approaching. Lenin, Lukács writes, dedicated his life to the idea of the “actuality of revolution”, i.e. the idea that the working class globally had reached a sufficient stage of historical maturity so that “revolution is already on its agenda”.

Now, it is only polite, at a funeral, to say a few kind words about the person who has died. Lukács could not be criticised for praising Lenin on his death. Marx was, on any meaningful scale, a “great” socialist; and Lukács sets out the right test of his genius. But when people are directed towards his pamphlet today, this is not done altogether innocently. They are invited to follow a similar psychological exercise themselves. “Greatness”, any contemporary reader will have picked up is reserved for freelance commentators on Russia Today. Since most of us can only aspire to such an elevated stage, our residual greatness can consist in no more than sitting peacefully while the Leader speaks, and applauding at their  pauses. What is missing is a theory in which knowledge can be developed collectively, in which Marx’s theory of proletarian revolution was shaped by Silesian weavers, Mancunian Chartists or Paris communards. Meanwhile the declaration, seven years after October, that revolution was already on “its” (i.e. the working class’ agenda) must have made compelling reading in its time. Today, it conceals rather than opening up the awkward questions of i) whether the working-class was objectively ready to lead all of humanity (i.e. the debate between the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks and Trotsky), and ii) whether this readiness was a temporary or a permanent condition.

The third section of Lukacs’ Lenin, is devoted to the wisdom of the political party. Here, as in History and Class Consciousness, the party is portrayed as the carrier of the historical interests of the entire working class, a mission which could not be trusted to the class itself. Now, we could have an interesting discussion about whether this really was Lenin’s theory, or whether in so far as Lenin said anything like this, he was merely following the orthodoxy approach of pre-war social democracy (this in essence is Lars Lih’s argument). But where Lukács goes unquestionably further than Lenin is in saying that class consciousness has to be protected not merely from most workers, but even from most members of the revolutionary party. Far too many workers, he argues, want a middle-class (“petty bourgeois”) lifestyle, or would like to have plum jobs working full-time as trade unionists, or would be willing to make the wrong compromise with the bourgeoisie. “Theoretical clarity, corresponding agitation and propaganda by conscious revolutionary groups are not enough by themselves against this danger. For these conflicts of interest express themselves in ways which remain concealed from the workers for a long time; so much so that even their own ideological spokesmen [i.e. the members of the party] sometimes have no idea that they have themselves already forsaken the interests of the class as a whole.”

Lukács’ solution is “the strictest selection of party members on the basis of their proletarian class-consciousness”. IE you could not have a revolutionary party unless it made a policy, and not any policy but the “strictest” policy, of allowing membership only to those who agree with every one of its ideas. But if it is not the class, and it is not the party; who then represents the historic interests of the working-class? Lukács says, in effect, the leadership of the party: only those with “the ability to foresee the approaching revolution.” We find again the same problem of historical knowledge as before. If you have spent your life, as Lukács had until that point, never working, but waiting for several years in the hope of eventually securing your own Professorial appointment, it is easy to assume that all “knowledge” is like academic knowledge in the humanities, i.e. it is produced by original philosophers in brilliant isolation from their contemporaries, seeing the future more clearly than anyone else, thinking and writing by themselves.

In a Marxist party, it is possible to imagine that the only theoretical contributions that anyone is capable of making are “perspectives”, i.e. great global documents stitching together the latest developments from revolutions in one continent to the next “united front” conference in London. A faction which failed to produce a global perspective of life, the universe and everything, would (on this definition) be politically indefensible, whatever else had brought it into being, for it would have failed to match up to the Philosopher’s vision of himself and his project. Once you start down the path of assuming that only those who have the ability to foresee the revolution are the holders of the historic interests of the working class then by definition not merely most of the class, but nearly all of the party (i.e. all those who have a job, who do not spend their days fantasising that the Financial Times gives them a dialectical insight into capitalism’s deepest secrets) had better be quiet. We will not foresee the revolution; there is no role for us.

What do you mean; you gave Owen Jones the 3pm speaking slot?

Lukács describes the democratic deficit of life under capitalism (“the undialectical concept of the majority”), without showing any enthusiasm at all for spelling out how socialism might actually become more democratic than the society it had defeated. We can forgive the lacuna; the Soviet leaders were always likely to be Lukács’s most careful readers. What positive conception could Lukács have given of democracy in the actual conditions of the degeneration of 1917?

Lukács tells his readers that “Leadership over the non-proletarian intermediate strata in the proletarian state is … materially, quite different from leadership over them in the bourgeois state. There is also an essential formal difference: the proletarian state is the first class state in history which acknowledges quite openly and un-hypocritically that it is a class state, a repressive apparatus, and an instrument of class struggle. This relentless honesty and lack of hypocrisy is what makes a real understanding between the proletariat and the other social strata possible in the first place.” This conviction that a repressive apparatus is a perpetual necessity (this is in peacetime, we should recall, three years after the Civil War had ended) makes Lukács a very different socialist from, for example, Victor Serge, for whom repression might be necessary, but only if it was capable of justification on a strictly lapse-by-lapse basis.

The sixth and final section, “revolutionary realpolitik, opens with a critique of reformist social democracy. Lukács accuses parliamentary socialism of bad faith, of losing sight of its original goal of transformation and becoming lost in “everyday questions”, and of filling the gap between its promises and its action by a Utopianism, which anyone can recognise as dishonest. Not so Lenin, Lukács argues, who rejected all Utopianism for a relentless “realpolitik”, a constant focus on the “steps” that would enable workers to ascend from capitalism to socialism.

This method of constant “concrete analysis”, Lukács admits, is a process that is likely to give rise to “compromise” (at this point, it is worth grasping that the Bolshevik revolution’s economic programme in 1924 was still the NEP, a “compromise” with the peasantry”, made after the Civil War, which was won in part through a series of compromises with Tsarist generals, and treaties with imperialist states, at Brest-Litovsk, Rapallo, etc, the revolution itself was in a state of compromise, not creating a Utopia but struggling desperately to survive).

“When defining the concept of compromise,” Lukács writes, “any suggestion that it is a question of knack, of cleverness, of an astute fraud, must be rejected. ‘We must,’ said Lenin, ‘decisively reject those who think that politics consists of little tricks, sometimes bordering on deceit. Classes cannot be deceived.’” This is one of those paradoxical passages which seems right when you first read it but in the context of the text, and in the context of Lukács life, in fact provides something different from its surface meaning.

It is useful to go back a little in time. Published after he became a Bolshevik in November 1918, but written in the last few weeks before he joined the Communist Party, Lukács last non-Marxist journalism, “Bolshevism as a Moral Problem”, had confronted this same question previously: “Bolshevism”, he then wrote, “rests on the metaphysical notion that good can come from evil. That it is possible, as Razumkin says in Crime and Punishment, to lie our way to truth. This writer cannot share this faith, and hence, sees an insoluble moral dilemma at the root of Bolshevism.”

Now that was Lukács in 1918; he clearly did not hold quite the same position in 1924 (otherwise he would not have been a member of the Communist Party). He was struggling with the same problem admittedly, but doesn’t that one quotation from Lenin cut through the problem at a stroke, doesn’t it show that Lukács’ Lenin recognised that an immoral act produces immoral effects, and therefore that socialism would be accomplished through solidarity rather than deceit?

One difficulty is that those who met Lukács learned from him that he was not at all satisfied that Lenin’s prohibition on deceit in fact solved the “Moral Problem” he had identified in 1918. Here is Serge’s account of their discussions in exile: “Georg Lukács … once remarked to me, “Marxists know that dirty little tricks can be performed with impunity when great deeds are being achieved; the error of some comrades is to suppose that one can produce great results simply through the performance of dirty little tricks …”

And Serge again: “Lukács was a philosopher steeped in the works of Hegel, Marx and Freud, and possessing a free-ranging and rigorous mind. He was engaged in writing a number of outstanding books that were never to see the light of day. In him I saw a first-class brain that could have endowed Communism with a true intellectual greatness if it had developed as a social movement instead of degenerating into a movement in solidarity with an authoritarian power. Lukács’ thinking led him to a totalitarian vision of Marxism within which he united all aspects of human life; his theory of the Party could be taken as superb or disastrous depending on the circumstances…” (Memoirs of a revolutionary, 2012 edn, pp 218, 20).

The best evidence of course is the totality of Lukács’ pamphlet. By emphasising the centralised, selective, top-down notion of a party; by opposing the majoritarian instinct of bourgeois democracy and preferring to them the elitist conception of a party led by full-timers, substituting themselves for the rest of the party and of the class; by emphasising the moral utility of compromise (i.e. of an action in which there is by definition at least some tension with the supposed principles of the party making the compromise), what Lukács is arguing for is a conception of politics where compromises are general, not merely a necessary way of doing politics, but the highest form of Marxism, “The dialectically correct fusion of the general and the specific, the recognition of the general (in the sense of general historical tendencies) in the specific (in the concrete situation), and the resulting concretization of theory.”

From Lenin, Lukács does not take the short motto “do not lie to the class”, but the opposite conclusion, that by definition, classes cannot be deceived, and therefore any statement to the class, irrespective of its content, cannot be a lie.

There is of course a grandeur to Lukács tragedy. The pre-Marxist Lukács was capable of inspiring friendship in extraordinary people. On three occasion above all, during the Hungarian Soviet of 1919, in rediscovering Marx’s theory of alienation, and in siding with the uprising of 1956, he was more right than most of us will ever have the chance to be. His friend Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, published in the same year as Lukács’ Lenin, uses him as the basis of the central character “Naphtha”, a Jesuit priest and an arch immoralist, who is also a Communist, a supporter of the labour theory of value, and an advocate of the abolition of all classes. Lukács, who always denied any similarity between Naphtha and himself, dubbed the character a “fascist”, and the term is not altogether inapt. Mann’s is an extraordinary book that pre-empts in art both Nazism and Stalinism.

In a 1965 essay, Alasdair Macintyre of the International Socialists, like Lukács a philosopher, but also then the editor of the magazine International Socialism (i.e. a Marxist committed to the very different project of socialism from below), sought to explain why it was that Lukács was unable to acknowledge himself in Naphtha: “The manifestly desperate character of Naphtha’s project corresponds to the latently desperate character of Lukács’ own enterprise. What is desperate and neurotic, of course, is not Lukács’ Communism or his wish to resolve with the contradictions of theory with the conceptual scheme of a new form of social life; it is his impatience with history, with the slow pace of social development. This he himself was to recognise, but his recognition of this impatience was turned into an acceptance of the subintellectual world of Stalinist materialism and thereby into a disowning of both the origin and meaning of his own enterprise.” (Blackledge and Davidson, eds, Alasdair Macintyre’s Engagement with Marxism, p 326).

This emphasis on the uselessness of get-rich quick schemes is helpful. It points to the very slow political perspectives of the old IS at its most creative (equipped as Macintyre and others were with Kidron’s Permanent Arms Economy, which, in its earliest formulations, put off the actuality of revolution for several decades).

It reminds us of the essential futility of any argument that the government, or capitalism, will be toppled if only the next conference is very big. (What after all if the conference is no bigger than the last; does that mean humanity is doomed for ever?) It points the way also to understanding why it is that Lukács’ Lenin, despite its flaws, never goes away. The same people who collapsed the branches in favour of the movement; who defeated the mood for direct action in the anti-war movement in favour of repetitive marches; who did their best to drive dissidents out of the movement – are still “in charge”. Their pond may be smaller, but they still rule it. And even the places that they have left still bear their imprint. The speakers still need a philosophy to justify their position. It is this characteristic of this pamphlet – Lukács political servility – which makes it so amenable to those who would practise top-down politics in our time.

[originally posted here]

The People’s Assembly: an auto-critique

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The People’s Assembly (PA) is still 13 weeks away, but many aspects of how it will work are already clear. A very large number of national organisations have given the call for the Assembly their support. Nine national unions have already signed up (http://union-news.co.uk/2013/03/unions-signal-mass-resistance-to-austerity-by-backing-peoples-assembly/): good. The chief sponsor of the People’s Assembly is the Coalition of Resistance (CoR), on which something like around 100 different left-wing parties, campaigns etc, are represented. Most if not all of these, we can assume, will sponsor the PA. We can anticipate that there will be speaking roles reserved for individuals who have played prominent parts in the various hospital campaigns, and in the protests against the bedroom tax. Size matters; we are facing a government which is co-ordinating austerity measures in every area of the public sector, social benefits, private employment, health, housing, education, etc. It would be churlish not to welcome an initiative on a grand scale.

The PA will announce “action”, in other words a national demonstration, timed presumably to coincide with the return of students in the autumn. It will coincide with an international anti-austerity conference. It will announce the formation of further Coalition of Resistance groups / People’s Assemblies, which are to be set up in every area. So far, so reasonable. Among those in the audience of the PA there will be many hundreds of people who are not activists, or who have not have had a means of being active for several years. It is possible that some of them will become permanently involved in the movement, and, if so, this is to be heartily welcomed. But for those of us who have been part of the movement for more than a few months, there is a method here, and one that we know only too well.

It was John Rees of Stop the War (StW), Counterfire (CF) and CoR who led off the discussion of how the PA would work at the recent CoR National Council. (http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/2013/02/minutes-of-coalition-of-resistance-national-council-sunday-10-february-2013/). We can imagine, without needing to be conspiratorial, that the plan for a People’s Assembly was first discussed round “that” Clapton Square dining room table, with Lindsey German. Lindsey will have been on the phone to Chris Nineham, then Clare Solomon, James Meadway and Sam Fairbarn, and only much later will the plan have been visited upon the world.

Like Terminator VI (“I’ll be back … back … back”), this is of course a sequel. The first People’s Assembly to be held at Westminster Central Hall was the Stop the War Coalition People’s Assembly against war in Iraq on 15 March 2003. This too was planned by John and Lindsey and then agreed with Chris. This too had various international speakers and spin-off events. This too was intended to be a “meme” (in the Dawkins sense: a unit of cultural transmission, a unit of imitation and replication), to be copied by local assemblies of the parent organisation.

Above all, People’s Assembly I was a talking shop: with dozens of speakers making essentially the same points in lengthy succession. The choice of the venue determines the method: Westminster City Hall is a huge public forum seating 2500 people. There are not 50 separate halls there capable of hosting 50 separate conversations all then feeding back to a single, main event. The “conversation” has to be orchestrated, pre-scripted, and controlled. PA I, like PA II, announced further actions (a concert that evening, protests on 18 March, a demo on 19 March and further “spontaneous protests” five days later). PA II takes place (sadly) in a quieter context, and we can imagine that the action plans will be shorter. Moreover, experience teaches that even the action plans will be “memed” in advance. Tony Cliff used to joke that the first New Left had both theory (reading Edward Thompson) and practice (hearing Thompson speak). The CoR / StW / PA generations has its counterpart. Theory is hearing John and Lindsey address an indoor gathering. Practice is hearing John and Lindsey speak at the end of a long outdoor march.

There are more problems here though than mere repetition. If the various anti-cuts campaigns are to cohere into a national movement capable of bringing down the government (an ambition I anticipate we will hear from PA II, as grand ambitions are needed to keep the troops busy), key to this will be protests of a scale to make the country feel ungovernable, and to achieve that there will need to be a generation of movement activists with a shared political understanding. Don’t get me wrong, by “understanding” I don’t necessarily mean a shared, developed ideology. I just mean an idea, the simpler the better (“No Poll Tax” / “Peace, Bread, Land”).

Behind PA II there is an unstated analysis of how this generation will be formed. And it is based on reasoning that is – ultimately – bleak and unrewarding:

1. Revolutionaries should be organised in parties characterised by a very top-down vertical leadership
2. The leadership establishes its right to lead through forming “perspectives”, i.e. general analyses of the balance of forces within global capitalism which join up the international, the national and the local, finding in each the key point at which capitalism is weakest. By definition, these can only be formulated by a tiny number of talented individuals with time on their hands. Initiative within the parties, it follows, can come only from above
3. The sole, real purpose of the parties are to provide a succession of talented individuals, “cadre”, who can be recruited by the party’s leadership into the regional leadership of front organisations, where they can win individuals to the perspective of the party’s leaders
4. The shelf-life of cadre is narrow: they should be used, exhausted, and new cadre recruited in their place
5. We are in an age where (for reasons which are never properly explained) front organisations are the primary way in which the political left should present itself to the public
6. Front organisations give a practical expression to the assessment by the leadership of the revolutionary party of the point at which capitalism is weakest
7. Front organisations are composed of revolutionaries, who create them as alliances of left organisations with individuals to their right. As long as these individuals are helpful to the revolutionary party they should be courted with the same determination that a lover woos his or her fiancé (should the individuals lose their usefulness, the courting stops abruptly)
8. It is absolutely crucial to the method that the revolutionaries are homogeneous – having different revolutionary groups genuinely represented in the leadership of the front would deprive the main revolutionary party of its hegemony over the movement, lead to arguments over tactics, and diminish the opportunities for revolutionaries to hegemonise the people who join the front
9. It is also crucial to the method that the front brings together more left-wing groups with more right-wing individuals (never groups or parties); an alliance of a revolutionary party and a reformist party would be dominated by the latter, depriving the main revolutionary party of its hegemony over the movement
10. This is a plan for rapid movement when times are propitious. There is no plan B to deal with (for example) if capitalism has no weak spot at a particular time or if the revolutjonary party (for any reason) has difficulty in finding enough allies or members to sustain a front.

I have not drawn up this list maliciously: everyone who was there and is still capable of looking back at the period honestly will admit that the first incarnation of Respect was wrecked by mistakes by each of its key leaders, a declining window of opportunity as the anti-war movement (its motive force) declined, political differences between its constituents (“a united front of a special kind”), and the inability of John and Lindsey’s method to deal with periods of retreat.

If you take just the last sentence of number 7 in the list above; this actually happened. When you read George Galloway’s description of the last days of Respect (‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/pages/politics/GallowayRespect.html) some of the most moving passages are those where he describes the seemingly-inexplicable shift in John and Lindsey’s behaviour, from wooing him and other leaders of Respect, to ignoring them. He focussed on the treatment of Salma Yacoob:

“There is a custom of anathematisation in the organisation which is deeply unhealthy and has been the ruin of many a left-wing group before us. This began with Salma Yaqoob, once one of our star turns, promoted on virtually every platform, and who is responsible for some of the greatest election victories (and near misses) during our era. “

“Now she has been airbrushed from our history at just the time when she is becoming a regular feature on the national media and her impact on the politics of Britain’s second city has never been higher. “

“There appears to be no plan to rescue her from this perdition, indeed every sign that her internal exile is a fixture. This is intolerable and must end now. Whatever personal differences may exist between leading members the rest of us cannot allow Respect to be hobbled in this way. We are not over-endowed with national figures. “

The key text explaining the Rees-German method is a small book by John Rees, ‘Strategy and Tactics: How the left can organise to transform society’ (available for only £4 from Amazon and from the Counterfire website). Rees’ Little White Book explains how with proper leadership a political party can use the movement to start a revolution. It distils the StW experience into various lessons, which he suggests can be applied generally. A surprisingly large number of the lessons set out at 1-10 above (but admittedly not all of them) find their way into Rees’ book.

Just to take number 4 in my list above, the deliberate destruction of the human personnel that form the rank and file of the revolutionary party. Rees writes:

“The cadre of the organisation gives it stability, durability, and effectiveness in the struggle. But this can also give rise to problems especially when the conditions of struggle change quickly”.

There is then a quote from Trotsky before Rees continues:

“This highlights an important point: cadre only remain cadre if they continue to relate correctly to the turning points in the struggle. If they do not, in spite of their accumulated knowledge and experience, they turn from an asset into a liability.”

After another Trotsky quote he continues:

“Especially at such times, new members of the organisation may much more accurately understand what it necessary for the party to act effectively.”

I focus on these examples, because common to them is an idea that at the heart of revolutionary politics is a “churn”, under which the leadership constantly appoints new people to work with it, as allies in the united front, and as followers in the party. It is far from pleasant to be on the receiving end of the purges.

A few further problems occur to me:

This method I have just described is expressly very “Leninist” in that strange Zinovievite way that the British left does. The last two sentences of John’s pamphlet are a quote from Lukacs writing in defence of Leninism: “Leninism represents a hithero unprecedented degree of concrete, unschematic, unmechanistic, purely praxis-oriented thought. To preserve this is the task of the Leninist.”

This notion of defending Leninism from history, from the present, from all of us outside the leadership who risk corrupting it, is made doubly odd by the seemingly very open public, democratic politics of CoR / CF, which constantly emphasises new, participatory media-friendly ways of doing things. Like in all capitalist advertising; you are invited to “see” one thing; what you get is something else.

This kind of top-down, personalised leadership requires a very high degree of trust between the leadership of the party and both its allies in the movement and its followers in the organisation. Top-down leadership of the left can just about work when the person who asks for your loyalty is someone with a very high degree of personal incorruptibility, or someone who has made a political, theoretical or practical contribution which earns your trust. Without that trust, both the party and the front are constantly no more than a mistake away from disaster.

I haven’t pointed out here how these politics will shape the People’s Assembly on the day, beyond observing that the speeches will be in succession, and that their content will significantly overlap. But it seems safe to me to predict that every effort will be made to repeat certain core messages – in terms of particular, pre-sanctioned activities, which will be repeatedly plugged from the top table. This is what happened in StW, and, going back to those CoR minutes, you can seem the same mentality (once memorably satirised by the anarchists as “Monopolise Resistance”). This contribution, for example, gave me a pre-emptive chill:

“There was an appeal for people not to organise alternatives, but to organise for the PAAA to be inclusive, reflecting the diversity of the movement.”

I know what this means in practice: finding a line of least resistance, which is acceptable to the least dynamic within an alliance, whoever that may be, and closing down anything else with a spark of originality about it.

In this article, I am not going to say very much about which forces within the unions CoR plans to work with. Thinking away from CoR for a moment, I spent Saturday at a meeting of the Blacklist Support Group (BSG), where the word “rank and file” was used repeatedly, and in a way that chimed with the group’s authentic politics. There were two General Secretaries at the BSG, but they were repeatedly challenged and had at times to fight for their audience. They had to go to the rank and file, for fear of being isolated. There was nothing cosy about the BSG meeting; the atmosphere was very different from the top-table love-in I expect of PA II.

Now if you look carefully, you will find plenty of people today in CoR, CF, StW etc who will tell you that John and Lindsey have changed, that despite the similarities between the present method of organising (PA II) and things that were done 10 years ago (PA I) all is much better beneath the surface. I am hearing this not just from the usual faces, but from people whose good judgment I trust. My own party, the SWP, plans to support the People’s Assembly, and I am not disagreeing. If people are to join – it is a process – they should join, but with their eyes open.

What I am really criticising here is a method, a way of doing politics. Yes, I have focussed on one or two individuals, but no-one who is active on the left and has been active for several years, should be under any illusions that my applies only to Counterfire, or John or Lindsey, or the People’s Assembly.

The left is awash with acronyms; far too few of them are based on a principled, active unity. Far too often, they are supposed to fill a need where there is no need at all. This is a self-criticism.

How many national “Stop the Cuts” movements do we have now anyway: PA, CoR, UtR, NSSN, do Right to Work or the People’s Charter still exist? How has the left been strengthened as we have “grown” from 2 to 3, 4 or 5 of them? Do any of them work to strengthen the self-activity of the majority of people?

My real criticism is of the “front” method; and of the assumptions behind it. The revival of the left on a sustainable basis will depend on working out which – if any – of those 10 dubious assumptions I set out above are worth retaining.

(Originally published, with thread, here).