Left unity: reach out, don't just huddle

Submitted by Matthew on 4 June, 2013 - 8:43

You are absolutely right to conclude that a whittled-down consensus will not inspire people to political activity (“How to make Left Unity”, Solidarity 284). If any of the groups on the left had an inspiring and coherent strategy they would be doing very much better and we would not be despairing at the state of the left.

The left as a whole is weak and disorientated or in some cases stubbornly confident of success in the far-off future.

We need unity, but not for the sake of unity. There is no point simply huddling together with those politically close to us simply to feel there are a few more people listening. The process of coming together must be one which also clarifies our ideas into a set of practices and policies which engage with possible allies and can strengthen and grow our movement.

I also agree that it would be wrong to focus mainly on electoral politics. I would not argue that voting or even standing candidates is a bad thing, but many others would.

Many people are disengaged from electoral politics — we have to accept this and try and work with them in ways that seem more relevant to their lives.

Trade unions and workplace disputes are the most obvious way but again this is a difficult way to engage with people and there are many people to which it is not applicable.

There are many other paths to reach out to people already engaging in politics in its broadest sense: Tenants/Residents Associations; cooperative businesses; welfare charities; self-help groups; community and social centres; affinity groups; intentional communities and households; self-build projects; housing cooperatives; workplace committees; cultural groups (sport, music, art). I would suggest trying to federate all these diverse groups together into local community unions.

Economic policy is one major thing. I would suggest we need to drop the old socialist dogma of nationalisation and look at principles of localism, federalism, sustainability, cooperativism.
The other big debate which you have touched upon is of organisation/democracy. This is of course important to us in organising ourselves but also has implications for the type of society we are trying to achieve.

Consensus and majority decision making can both work, but both have their problems. I think the early history of the French Parti Socialiste is an instructive example of how to bring organisations together. The way they used a system of debate, voting, compromise and negotiation to arrive at their manifesto seemed to keep most people in the organisation happy — perhaps it is a model to be developed.