Radicals have being saying for years that the electoral system is a fake, and that real change cannot come through parliament. In the recent elections millions of people did not vote, and millions more voted reluctantly and without enthusiasm; most of these will not vote in the next election. They can see that, at bottom, there is little difference between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Millions of people, perhaps the majority, can see this.
From the beginning, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been condemned by radicals as wrong morally, militarily and politically. The West has lost in Afghanistan and is losing in Iraq. People are sick of these wars and do not believe in the politicians, politics and parties who sold them the war. Millions of people can see this.
Practically since its inception, Left politics has said that capitalism cannot create a better society, that it is based on exploitation and subject to crisis. The current economic crisis and the cuts that are hitting society have shown the brutal reality of capitalism. Millions of people can see this.
The radical analysis has been proved right. Yet, these millions are not drawn into the orbit of the radical politics. Why? Why are radicals isolated from the masses of people in society, with so little influence?
Partly, it is the ‘objective conditions’; Britain is a first world country that benefits from imperialism, and the whole of society, even the working class, benefits to some extent. However, it seems that many of the first world privileges will now disappear with the cuts, and as a consequence, many people will be drawn to radical ideas and movements, either of the left or the right.
But there are also problems with the ‘subjective forces’. The disparate radical forces do not present a coherent line, plan or program. Let us take the left-wing groups in Cardiff as an example. Aside from the Anarchists, who have their own problems, the main Marxist groups are the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Socialist Party (SP), and the remnants of the once influential ‘official’ Communist Party, now called the Communist Party of Britain (CPB). The CPB have some influence among the trade union bureaucracy, but not much, and they are largely a spent force. Their political line does not differ much in practice from the SWP and the SP, but their cadres tend to be older, and they do not have much support amongst younger people, for whom the USSR is just history. There are other smaller groups, but they are insignificant. All these groups claim descent from the Russian Bolsheviks, but there is really no plan for revolution, as they have no mass base.
In the absence of a revolutionary plan, they instead try and influence the Labour Party or pretend they are the old Labour party. In the absence of a mass base, they instead organise amongst students. They have been doing this for a while and it has led to nothing. So, I make the following suggestions:
Break with Labour
The Labour Party is, for people under a certain age, the party of Blair and Brown. It cannot be reclaimed to what it supposedly was in the past, nostalgia means nothing for the young; old Labour is not even a memory. Forget trying to set up new versions of old Labour under a new name, such as Socialist Alliance or Respect. These have failed dismally. Do not think that by supporting ‘left’ Labour politicians you can influence the Labour party or you can ‘use’ a professional politician to further your ends-you cannot; they will use you. Stop nominating Labour politicians to head coalitions, speak as honoured guests on platforms, and benefit from popular discontent. Stop channelling popular protest back into electoral politics. Labour party (or Plaid Cymru) politicians can join but should never lead popular mass campaigns, because they will lead it back into electoral politics. This is what happened with the anti-war movement (Stop the War Coalition headed by Tony Benn), the Anti-Fascist movement (Unite against Fascism Wales headed by Peter Hain!) and will probably happen with the anti-cuts movement. Break with Labour and do not support Plaid Cymru; do not lead people disillusioned with electoral politics back into electoral politics by the back door.
Leave the University
Radical politics is largely based in the university. In the summer vacation, the students go home and there is little activity, until the start of the new term and the students return. Students are important for any political movement, but no movement can be based just on students - most will leave when their course ends. They are not rooted in the community. Radicals in Cardiff must seek to organise in areas such as Butetown, Riverside, and Ely, not just in the university area of Cathays.
Dissolve the existing Left groups-set up something new
The existing radical culture is not attractive to the majority of people, because of the sectarian infighting of the parties, the insincere politics of front groups, and the weird leftist subculture. Many of the cadre of the SWP and SP leave after a few years, disillusioned with radical politics, as they realise that these parties cannot achieve much and are tired of competing against other similar groups. Some stay in the parties not out of positive belief in their programs, but in desperation at the lack of anything better. It would be better for these parties to dissolve, to allow for something new to emerge. I am sure that there is enough experience and intelligence amongst Cardiff radical activists to create something better, without the nonsense of the existing left.
As it stands, the radicals do not pose any threat to the state or to capitalism. Disillusionment with the political system, the disaster of the Afghan and Iraq wars, and the financial crisis present big opportunities for radicals. But unless the radicals radically change, this opportunity will surely be lost.