Doubts concerning a Recent Manifesto for the New Left

This morning’s New Left Project Twitter Feed brought Simon Hardy’s recent manifesto for a New Left to my attention: Though it is already quite succinct, I think the piece lends itself to further synopsis:

Capitalist Realism is challenged by the Global Occupy movement though not yet well enough. Theory needs to be made practical on a global stage through an even more effective organisational strategy than currently exists. Trade unions no longer represent the strong arm of such an organisational strategy since they no longer hold the masses in their grasp. Parliamentary politics is also no longer the avenue to channel radical energy through because the days of the Labour Party’s ideological allignment with the Left are no more. The piece closes with a call to a New Left, currently in formation, to develop a theory and practice of anti-capitalism to match the challenges of the time, lest Slavoj Zizek’s wager that the end of the world is more easily conceivable than the end of capitalism become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is all good chest thumping stuff and not without its practical and analytical appeal. Nevertheless, the doubts which have presumably dogged every left-leaning book worm with a taste for the surreal, particularly in the post Life of Brian era, cannot fail to have experienced, quickly issue forth. What will this new collective revolutionary subject be? How will we know when it has been formed and the new world has been created? Who will not be allowed to take part? What should be done about the baddies? What achievements should be sought by the goodies?  Who is going to lead the way? Where are we going? How should we start? When is the next meeting to decide all of these things? Who will chair that? When will the minutes be distributed? Can’t we have the next meeting over Skype? Etc.

Simon Hardy thankfully does have an answer to all of this cheek muffled tongue wagging, as evidenced in the excerpt below. The problem with his response, or at least my problem with it, is that it is over-coloured by the sort of cliched hail to spontaneity which really does nobody any good:

It would be nice if we had time to sit and contemplate all these issues in their full consideration before we took steps down this road. But, with the movements as they are developing, in the situation we are in, we will have to build this ‘on the move’. It will require a mutual spirit of co-operation, unity and above all, a new spirit of tolerance and respect for one another.

Building things “‘on the move'”  and in “a new spirit of tolerance and respect for one another”, to me at least, sounds too much like a recipe for nonsense. The revolutionary machine cannot be fueled on the hot air of hope and and the energy of enthusiasm alone. Perhaps what the New Left needs to demand is precisely what Hardy proposes it leaves behind, namely, “the time to sit and contemplate all these issues in their full consideration”. It will need more than that, of course, but I think it will need at least that.

There will presumably (hopefully) come a time when the fires stop burning and the revolutionary bands stop playing. Then, the post-revolutionary subject will have to act with(in) the new time and space it has created. There is nothing remotely utopian in the proposal that individual and collective contemplation be suspended in the meantime, or even at all.

5 thoughts on “Doubts concerning a Recent Manifesto for the New Left

  1. Interesting point Stephen…This point about the “a new spirit of tolerance” reminded me the Stengers point about the curse of the tolerance. Where she called Us “to have done with tolerance”; because “tolerance” is precisely the condescending attitude by which “we” (social scientists to put an example) make allowances for other world-views which we nonetheless refuse to take seriously.

  2. Hi Stephen,

    thanks for your comments on my article – I think you make some necessary critiques, as it were. Certainly I do not intend tolerance to mean a never ending live and let live attitude on the left, I know there are real disagreements and strategic differences which must be recognised and understood. However I do not think that simply making time “to sit and contemplate all these issues in their full consideration” will either over come these obstacles, as if Marxists and Anarchists do not agree only because they have not had enough time in a room together to discuss there differences out.

    My point about tolerance is simply that any new left organisation must create an atmosphere which is conducive to not tearing each other apart because of tactical disagreements. Some people want to vote Labour, some people don’t. Some people want a general strike, other people don’t. We have to work out ways of managing the differences rather than always pushing them to some kind of methodological breaking point.

    As for the revolutionary subject, well I am enough of an old leftist to still place my bets on the working class – certainly I think that the post war conditions which ameliorated class consciousness and working class militancy are being ripped up and a new alignment of ideas and organisations on the left is now possible. The best example of the kind of movement we need is the Anti-CPE struggle in France in 2006. Started with students, brought in the workers and unemployed (as well as large numbers of young immigrants – normally trapped at the bottom of the pile in French society) into a protest movement which connected university occupations, mass protests, mass strikes and militant demonstrations. The Anti-CPE movement won, precisely because it brought out the working class, the British student movement (which I was part of) failed because it remained at the level of students and the left – the union leaders largely gave us their blessing but did not mobilise their people to support us.


  3. Thanks so much for taking the time out to repond Simon. I think we are in agreement on many things here. Certainly I too need an account of the Left which isn’t reducible to the contemporary Labour Party, Trade Unionism and the Global Occupy Movement. This also means that I’m absolutely with you when you underline the need to posit the New Left beyond fragmentation and oneupmanship. The New Left, if there is to be one, will have to be built out of fragments taken from a variety of social movements, currently identifiable as well as presently unforeseeable. This is as much a practical difficulty as it is a conceptual one. Your manifesto puts all of this into such sharp relief.

    If we are parting company then it is on the question of the role which we think theory might have to play within the formation of a New Left. I simply don’t think that the streets are the realm of practice and the classroom (or the mind) holds the rights over theory. I also don’t see theory as a barrier to practice nor would I even reduce its value to the role of informing or correcting practice. Theory, whatever else it might be, is a practice. To dispense of it in the face of the demands of the day seems too big a price to pay, to me at least.

    So I wonder: is it possible for your manifesto to make space for theoretical practice? Or is tending to the current situation much more important for you?

    • Hi again,

      sadly your website did not email me to say that you had responded so I only just came across this again!

      I am in favour of more theory and more theory which actually informs our practice. I am also concerned that a lot of the British left are anti-intellectual and not very interested in disucssing these issues. There is a terrible dismissive attitude that ‘intellectuals just sit around talking’ whereas what we need is Activism (capital ‘a’). This artificial bifurcation is unhealthy, it is holding us back and a breeding ground for bad practice and ideas. Any revival of the radical left also needs a revival of dynamic theory.

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