‘But what’s your strategy, oh revolutionary?’ asks @PaulMasonNews


by Sunny
13th May, 2011 at 1:13 pm    

A lot of anti-cuts activists and students radicalised by the jump in tuition fees cite the Suffragettes. After all, they took on the establishment and won. They even used violent tactics! Take that you wimpy non-violent people who want to stick with the status quo!

But the Suffragettes were fighting for the vote. This point seems to be getting lost in all the noise. They were fighting to get representation in Parliament because there was no alternative to the laws passed there. A law had to be passed to kill off slavery. A law created the NHS. A law created income tax. A law created the BBC, broke up the railways and promised everyone a Living Wage. The Suffragettes were keenly aware that unless their vote was counted, the law would ignore them.

Now. Paul Mason of Newsnight has reviewed ‘Fightback’ the book edited by Dan Hancox, on the recent rise of activism. There’s one line that is key:

And yet, throughout Fight Back!, the lingering question is one of strategy. Given that the default ideology of this new movement is what Noam Chomsky calls “libertarian communism”, it would be worth exploring why all its predecessors fell victim to their “sour-faced” opponents from the right or the left (or, as in the Spanish civil war, both at the same time).

This is a key question. This is also why I hitched my bandwagon to the Labour party, because without strategy and a plan – you’re just ranting. To be fair, a lot of the activists aren’t just ranting (though its about the only thing the libertarian communists do). Many are organising events, getting activists involved, leafleting, providing inspiration to others, having debates etc.

But where’s the infrastructure? What are the goals? What is the strategy to achieve those goals? These questions not only remain unanswered, but are actively avoided because that always lead to some form of compromise – to reach out to people beyond the already converted. And if there’s something many of the activists hate, its compromise. So the strategy debate goes nowhere. And its never clear what the goals are, beyond opposing the Tories.


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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : 'But what's your strategy, oh revolutionary?' asks @PaulMasonNews http://bit.ly/mfLGx2


  2. Simon Davies

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : 'But what's your strategy, oh revolutionary?' asks @PaulMasonNews http://bit.ly/mfLGx2


  3. Homer Pennington IV

    MT @sunny_hundal 'But what's your strategy, oh revolutionary? http://bit.ly/mfLGx2 < some truths but are Labour party way forward?


  4. Tom Miller

    But what's your strategy, O, revolutionary? http://t.co/zdFZLFba


  5. David Rose

    But what’s your strategy, oh revolutionary?’ http://t.co/jv4J9y1H




  1. Sarah AB — on 13th May, 2011 at 1:39 pm  

    I agree – and I also joined the LP after the election. I have sympathy, of course, with those protesting against the cuts, particularly those who are protesting against a specific cut, eg disability cuts, which really affects them. But – I voted for a party which wanted to make cuts, so I find it difficult to join those who just want to have a general rant. So I didn’t join the cuts marches, just one local HE one, but I did help out a bit at the recent local election – and think, ultimately, the way to change things is going to be via the ballot box.

  2. damon — on 13th May, 2011 at 2:19 pm  

    Paul Mason is a top chap and explains things in a way that even I can understand.

    I’m one of these people who have been turned off the radical protest movements from even before the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.
    There was something about them that just didn’t sit right with me, and it’s always hard to put one’s finger on exactly what it was. Class was something to do with it I think. And the smug mindlessness and behavior of the ”Black Block” type people.
    Rioting in Gothenburg and Genoa for example. To the point where one young protester was shot dead by the police he was attacking. He was trying to smash a policeman’s head in with a fire extinguisher and was shot in the face I think.

    And since then, a lot of these protests have difinitely ‘had something of that’ about them, which I have just found quite off-putting. Even UKuncut have dallied with this ”oohh, we might get up to all kinds of mischief and smash a few windows” air about them.
    I can’t stand it myself.

  3. Optimist — on 13th May, 2011 at 2:22 pm  

    “Let a thousand flowers bloom”, I don’t think the left is at a stage, at this moment in time, to have some sort of ‘Transitional Program’. Any rigid ‘structures’ or ‘goals’ would only end up producing some top down constraints capable of snuffing enthusiasm out of any young and eager students, nurses, disabled , or the pensioners fighting against the cuts/tuition fee, or to preserve NHS etc.

    No doubt, the time will come when all that energy would need to be directed into the right channels.

    But, Sarah AB’s point that ‘the way to change things is going to be via the ballot box.’, really, just like all those Labour and Trade Union leaders told us to ‘wait for Blair’ or ‘wait for Gordon’, and what did we get, some illegal and immoral wars and the ‘worst economic crisis in 60 years’, all under Labour!

  4. Arif — on 13th May, 2011 at 2:31 pm  

    I think they key worry might be the ambiguity of whether you control the infrastructure etc or if the infrastucture etc controls you.

    Such movements, let us not be naive, do have infiltrators and agents provocateurs to contend with, but very little in the way of resources to implement surveillance and control of members, nor willingness to submit themselves to such controls. If there is a charismatic leader, their authority may make up for this lack by providing a clear direction which is more difficult to subvert. The infrastructure then might build around them to implement their strategies. But some degree of faith would substitute for reasoning by followers.

    I think what you are calling for with your comparison to the suffragettes is not a coherent strategy or infrastructure, so much as a clear limited goal. Anti-fees is a clear limited goal. It may have too narrow a constituency and too low a standing as a justice issue to involve people in the long haul that might be necessary. Stopping a war is a clear limited goal. Protecting benefits is a clear limited goal.

    Is the problem that the desire for coalition between people with different goals creates the confusion between priorities and the need for a strategy and infrastructure? Is another problem that many of the infrastructures (eg Labour and Lib Dem parties) belong to organisations opposed to many such goals, and would see those joining as troublemakers or entryists?

    However, maybe a charismatic person within one of those parties standing consistently for their widely ridiculed ideas may provide a legitimate focus and entry point for such people into such an infrastructure, a bit like Rev Jesse Jackson did briefly in the US Democrats with his rainbow coalition.

    Over to you, Sunny. :)

  5. Josh Mostafa — on 13th May, 2011 at 6:19 pm  

    Without revolution, there would have been no social democracy; the political elite did not suddenly create the welfare state out of the goodness of their hearts. I don’t mean to downplay the achievements of the labour movement, or to glorify the Soviet Union; I’m simply pointing out cause and effect. The background to the ‘postwar consensus’ was the choice facing Western Europe, and from the fear struck into the hearts of the political elite by the fact that people might actually now have a choice, or might realise that they have a choice (same thing) meant that a number of concessions had to be made in order to save capitalism. And then glasnost, perestroika – as the Soviet Union unravelled, so did social democracy.

    It was of course a good thing in itself that the Berlin Wall came down; but 1989 led to 1997, and the transmogrification of Labour to a husk of a party deserted by its membership and controlled by warring factions of a cynical neoliberal elite. Britain is not an outlier in this – the same pattern has been repeated across Europe.

    To mock revolution is not realism; it is in fact the greater utopianism, placing unwarranted faith in reform.

  6. dad — on 13th May, 2011 at 6:23 pm  

    it’s

  7. Peter Stewert — on 15th May, 2011 at 2:33 pm  

    “it would be worth exploring why all its predecessors fell victim to their “sour-faced” opponents from the right or the left (or, as in the Spanish civil war, both at the same time).”

    Well it is usually a case of falling victim to being ruthlessly hunted down, tortured, and then murdered. A cautionary tale that you have to pick a side, because to suggest that all parties are completely out of touch (unless the Sun starts to grumble) ideologically driven mad men (and it is mostly men) is to invite the wrath of all parties because nobody likes their bubble of delusion being popped.

    Most people outside of the little media/politics bubble are sick of the whole process, and especially repelled by the on going instance that you must pick a side. This is why movements like UKuncut are much more successful than previous movements in the past at attracting a very broad church as people come together to protect those part of society that they love rather than to help promote the political ambitions of a high-functioning psychopath.

    Parties might have made sense when, with poor levels of education, it took a lot of effort to communicate an idea, and effort to get people organised to work together across the nation. Now we can do it all via text message.

  8. BenSix — on 15th May, 2011 at 3:52 pm  

    So, what’s the “strategy” and “plan” within the Labour Party? How are ye going to force white-bread Ed to follow your agenda?

  9. Lucy — on 15th May, 2011 at 8:24 pm  

    What are the Labour Party’s goals beyond opposing the Tories – and getting back into power?

    I like Paul Mason too and read him with interest. All very vague, isn’t it, this generational notion of the politics of the “boomers” – as if that word represents a single outlook, let alone a single political strategy. I’m not clear from reading Mason’s review who is saying what about “boomers” – Mason himself – or the author of Fight Back! But putting that aside, I can’t see what is wrong with UK Uncut doing their bit to make more people aware, as they plan to do on 28 May, of the severity of the threat to the NHS. Trying to add their voices, as they put it, to “the widespread outcry from the public, doctors, nurses, unions and politicians who have condemned Andrew Lansley’s plans”? They are certainly not alone. UK Uncut might as well get out there and make their case: that the government is using the shock of the financial crisis as a means of unravelling universal healthcare in Britain whilst sparing the banks from paying for the damage they caused. That sounds clear enough.

  10. MaidMarian — on 16th May, 2011 at 10:35 am  

    ‘These questions not only remain unanswered, but are actively avoided because that always lead to some form of compromise – to reach out to people beyond the already converted. And if there’s something many of the activists hate, its compromise. So the strategy debate goes nowhere. And its never clear what the goals are, beyond opposing the Tories.’

    Well, there was something that answered these very difficult questions for the Labour Party – Blairism. That had clear goals, made common cause etc and for three years we got the most genuinely progressive government we are likely to see in my lifetime.

    I agree with damon that recent UKuncut protests, like many before them have had something of an echo chamber air about them – that An Agenda must be rammed down the throat of the public because of its inherent right.

    Blair went out and made it stick with the voters, and the worrying refusal on the part of many to acknowledge that Blair is not the devil incarnate is a bad thing.

    Anyway – I’ll sit back and take my pasting now.

  11. damon — on 16th May, 2011 at 3:43 pm  

    I think you’ll get ignored rather than pasted MaidMarian. That’s the way it seems to work these days.

  12. douglas clark — on 16th May, 2011 at 7:08 pm  

    Maid Marian,

    England desperately needs a non racist, middle of the road party that is neither called Labour nor Conservative.

    Before you ask it is not the screwballs of UKIP, nor, sadly, the Liberal Democrats.

    I get the impression, from reading here and at LC that there is a huge democratic deficit. Certain commentators, ahem, *cough, cough*, such as our good host, is struggling to be a Labour boy. Well, that’s my impression anyway. It is hard to subscribe to something when there isn’t anything obvious to subscribe to.

    You do not have any party that is at least mainly evidence based. You do not have any party that treats the North as somewhere that matters. Frankly, you don’t have any party that can see outside the Westminster bubble. And the commentariat are just as bad. They are encouraged to think that the world revolves around Westminster and London.

    Well, it doesn’t.

    That is a democracy short of a shilling.

    Labour, rather conveniently, lies to the rest of England about it’s redistributive powers whilst doing nothing of the sort. The Tories own constituencies that are paid for through EU largess. And, obviously, the richer parts of London. What do they offer the rest of you?

    Frankly, you need to reform your politics, big style.

    Seems to me that neither party is actually capable of doing the best for England. They say they do and you all listen to their self serving plutocratic drivel.

    What’s Blair getting paid for his speeches these days? And apparently Brown has given up on Parliament, despite still being a sitting MP, in order to follow a similar yellow brick road.

    These folk have shafted you. Cameron will also find Oz when it suits him.

    Who were they?

    Oh yes,

    “On her way she meets a Scarecrow who needs a brain, a Tin Man who wants a heart, and a Cowardly Lion who desperately needs courage.”

    You decide who Cameron is. No cheating! He is one of the three.

  13. Shamit — on 16th May, 2011 at 7:48 pm  

    Douglas -

    Despite whatever Blair is making he did get elected Prime Minister thrice and he swept Scotland each time. And he did deliver and would have delivered far more if the coup leaders Brown and his mechanised 10 Brigade Ed Balls and Miliband did not back stab him on a continual basis.

    Maidmarian is right – somehow the Labour party is regressing and it is not in touch with the voters and do not have a politican in its senior ranks (except may be jim murphy) that people buy into. All they do is sell false bill of goods to their choir – and retreat into the philosophy of I am not going to compromise with the electorate.

    David Cameron – again I am not a Tory but the man is a winner and a strong leader. And he transformed the AV vote on his own backed by John Reid. And John Reid, Alan Milburn, James Purnell and David Miliband have been forced to become voices of the past because of idiots. Despite this, all new ideas are still coming from that circle – what does that tell you about the so much hyped intelligence and intellect of our Leader of the Opposition and Chancellor.

    People never like traitors and Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are traitors and they are disliked – so while they will preach to the choir there is no hope in hell for Labour to win elections with this intellectually starved back stabbing leadership the party has.

  14. Shamit — on 16th May, 2011 at 7:58 pm  

    Douglas – I would also not get too confident that Scotland wwould break away – why do you think Salmond does not want to offer a Yes/No choice.

    And before that the SNP has to meet its pledges – they have rpomised everything to everyone and Labour copied them almost verbatim. That was one of the reasons Labour lost and of course due to the brilliant idea of Miliband and Balls to make Scottish elections are a referendum on the Westminster government.

    But saying all that SNP has a mountain to climb:

    For starters: http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/41917

  15. dave bones — on 16th May, 2011 at 8:12 pm  

    Yeah good point. I like Paul Mason too. You would think without a rizzlas worth of difference between all three main political parties someone would be able to articulate an alternative.

  16. douglas clark — on 16th May, 2011 at 8:33 pm  

    Shamit @ 14,

    I am keeping my hopes under wraps! Where did I ever mention the SNP? I was, well I thought I was at least, careful to avoid any comparison between England and Scotland. You, in fairness, saw through that very thin veil!

    But the point stands. You are being left with a very narrow choice. You are being strangulated by triangulation. There is not much of a choice left.

    Shamit, seriously, you know a hell of a lot about modern Scottish politics. I am not used to having to get out of first gear in talking about this sort of thing with most people that post here. Out of curiosity, where does your quite detailed knowledge come from?

    I was pretty sure you were a Londoner, but perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps you are a nom de plume for this guy:

    http://tinyurl.com/6ehnfah

    Maybe not. That is Partick Thistle tartan by the way!

  17. Shamit — on 16th May, 2011 at 8:34 pm  

    another bigger point about Labour – have a look at the Canadian Liberal Party.

    Jean Chretien despite bringing in massive spending cuts where hospitals and schools were not only closed but blown up got three election wins under his belt and in a coup by his Finance Minister Paul Martin and his cronies he had to go.

    Paul Martin could not secure a majority in the following election and tried to govern as minority but failed letting in Stephen Harper – the Tory leader who is still Prime Minister and has secured a majority in the House of Commons for the first time in his third election.

    During that time, Stephen Dion (a Martin disciple) became Leader of the Liberal party and pretty much killed it and then from nowhere they brought Ignatieff from Harvard on – result end of Liberal Party as the second largest political party in Parliament. NDP is now the official opposition and Liberals – the natural party of governance under Chretien are fighting for Survival.

    If Labour does not change its leadership soon that is the fate that awaits it. Its one thing to run a coup internally against an elected Prime Minister and Leader of your Party and another thing completely to win elections.

    And like martin and his disciples – Gordon and his disciples don’t know jack about winning elections because Blair did that for them.

  18. Shamit — on 16th May, 2011 at 8:47 pm  

    Douglas,

    “Out of curiosity, where does your quite detailed knowledge come from?”

    Thank you.

    Because I run eGov monitor (http://www.egovmonitor.com) and we have a good team in Edinburgh/Aberdeen – who have taught me well.

    And we get fed a lot of info from Scottish think tanks and academia and political parties and the VCS- same with other parts of the UK and EU institutions.

    On a bigger point, UK electorate have become very independent recently and they don’t like politicians not keeping their promises and don’t buy the blame game – if you deliver you get elected – Labour promised One Wales and won. SNP ran a competent minority administration and there was no real policy difference between Labour and SNP – so Salmond got another chance.

    But he has promised everything to everyone. If he fails to deliver not only will he lose the referendum but SNP would be punished severely. And that is why Salmond is hedging his bets on more devolved power than independence in the referendum.

    Good political move.

  19. douglas clark — on 16th May, 2011 at 9:37 pm  

    Shamit @ 18,

    Hmm…

    I didn’t know there were any Scottish Think Tanks. Well, at least none worthy of the name.

    Anyway, it is a lot more complicated than that. Down to less people voting, the near complete collapse of the Liberal vote, the electorate sliding away from Labour vote in (some) key constituencies and a general disbelief, shared by many, in just how poor Iain Grey was. Plus a mistaken belief within the Labour Party that they just had to turn up to win. As you say, that doesn’t work anymore.

    It was, from an SNP point of view, a perfect storm.

    We – the SNP – have to seize the day – for it is unlikely to come along again for a long long time.

    I hope and expect that we will.

    I think you are wrong about Salmond hedging his bets. He only has the one to put on the roulette table and it is labelled ‘independence’. Quite how he wins that bet is still a bit moot.

    But that is what he is about, the rest of it is just flim flam. In other words the objective is independence, the route however is run by a wonky Tom Tom.

  20. douglas clark — on 16th May, 2011 at 9:50 pm  

    Shamit,

    Getting carried away with the words there. I just loved ‘wonky Tom Tom’, great phrase but not exactly applicable perhaps. More of a wobbly gyroscope, y’know the one that nearly falls over but self corrects?

    OK, I’m giving up on this analogy stuff….

  21. Wibble — on 17th May, 2011 at 10:45 am  

    It’s an interesting narrative about Blair, Brown, Cameron etc. Here are a few naive questions:

    Was Cameron so obviously successful initially? He was in charge of Howard’s unsuccessful election campaign. Is it correct that he won the leadership contest because of AV (David Davis having won the first round) ? My gut feel was that when Blair was leader Cameron could hardly score any points on him at PMQ. Did he also not have big problems with UKIP initially because he was not perceived as Euro-sceptic enough? Why could he not secure an overall majority despite Brown’s personal unpopularity, the backing of most of the press, and the general public mood on other issues such as immigration? The way things work here, he needs the Lib Dems.

    Point is why is that Ed Milliband is seen to be so obviously disastrous in few months?

    Regarding Blair: I think Brown as Chancellor was responsible for some of the success he enjoyed (and Brown managed his third term election campaign). Can’t
    some of the problems in his third term be due to his announcement that he’d step down at some unspecified time? All this stuff about political treachery : isn’t
    that why Ken Clarke is unpopular with die-hard Thatcherites – he told her it was time to go.

    I’ve heard the Canada analogy for the ouster of Blair by Brown, followed by the election of a right leaning government that made big cuts. It was said that this is what the Tories are emulating. However it’s been pointed out that those cuts were palatable because trade with the US was booming at the time.

  22. Sunny — on 17th May, 2011 at 12:40 pm  

    that An Agenda must be rammed down the throat of the public because of its inherent right.

    An agenda around 80% of the public agree with. Funny definition of ‘ramming it down people’s throats’

  23. damon — on 17th May, 2011 at 1:12 pm  

    80% of the public might agree with UKuncut’s aims – and I do too. Who wouldn’t?
    For me it has nothing to do with wanting rich people and companies to pay their dues, but about the protests themselves. They exclude people like myself, as I couldn’t get involved with anything as cringeworthy as this kind of thing in Edinburgh.
    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/05/15/ukuncut-protester-arrested-merely-for-holding-a-banner/

    It’s so middle class and studenty that it becomes exclusive. It excludes. That the people themselves couldn’t see how, is part of the problem IMO.
    But the evidence of how it does is there in the links of that LC piece.

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