Writer Alexandra Agar explores the growing and changing world of leftist groups and movements.
Leftist politics and youth collectives have gone hand-in-hand for decades. The origins of these groups, as we see them today, began around the 1960’s following the US invasion of Vietnam in 1965, the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and civil unrest in France in the same year, harking back to the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s and 40s. With growing consciousness of social injustice, students and young people began taking to the streets demanding change through protests, riots and the formation of collectives.
Not much has changed since then, as young people today throughout Glasgow, the UK, and the rest of the world continue to organise collectively to tackle fascism and inequality in its many forms. On one side of this, important work is being done, such as the student occupation of lecture and office buildings at Manchester University over an ongoing rent strike, demanding for rent prices to be lowered. In October, many left-wing groups and trade union members came together to demonstrate against the cost of living crisis. Whilst this shows clear work and dedication from leftist groups, I do believe there are many shortcomings below the surface level that prevent their most effective work from being done.
To anyone who has had experience within left-wing groups, hearing of disagreements between the groups will not come as a surprise, and why should they? With different groups such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Marxists, Young Communist League (YCL) and Labour Society, all with a diverse group of people with a multitude of ideals, disagreements are only natural. I believe, like many, that nuanced discussions with those who you might not agree with is an essential part of human development to understand perspectives other than your own. However, I believe it is clear that an environment has been created, particularly within predominantly young leftist groups, that consists of ‘yes-men’. This comes at the detriment of leftist groups as these are people who are refusing to question and challenge policies of their party, creating a culture of die-hard members who find it difficult to engage in a more practical and effective way with other groups, viewing them as their adversaries rather than their partners.
This arguably creates young people with a very black and white understanding of leftist politics, leading to friction and a lack of organisation due to a failure in communication between groups. This makes it difficult for more proactive work to be done between groups. Anti-fascism, for instance, is an ideal that remains the crux of leftist political groups. For this to be addressed, unity and solidarity, rather than animosity between groups, is needed to be able to confront far-right extremism in the most effective way. Whilst many of these problems could be solved over time with groups working constructively together by discussing their differences in a productive way, there are however further underlying issues within the left that are creating divisions.
These issues have recently become more public with the organisation of the Stand Up To Racism demonstrations orchestrated by the Socialist Worker Party (SWP). Whilst this is a positive effort, it has proven to be contentious. Many groups have spoken out against the SWP’s inclusion of Zionist groups in their march, creating a divide within the left as many groups who take a pro-Palestine and anti-apartheid stance refuse to align with the SWP and their march as a matter of principle . Following this, discussions of sexual abuse within the left have also emerged as some groups have taken this opportunity to call out the SWP in their cover-up of sexual abuse allegations. This came after members of the party accused some of the leaders back in 2013 of alleged sexual misconduct. However, it later emerged that an effort was made by the party to save face through covering up any allegations to protect those who were being accused.by alleged intimidation and coercion of the victims.
Whilst these abuses should be heavily condemned, and those who are guilty of both committing and covering up these crimes should be held accountable, I would argue this stems from a larger issue of hierarchical abuse within the left. In the example of the SWP, this hierarchy, the existence of which counters many ideals of socialist groups, has allowed for older and more senior members of groups to dominate and manipulate younger, newer members. Due to the existence of this hierarchy, I would argue members should be encouraged to call out these injustices and feel comfortable addressing negligence without intimidation by party leaders and other members.
I would also argue, from my own experience, that many groups and collectives have lost sight of what they represent. Primarily, accountability is essential to the success of leftist parties for these groups to operate in an effective way. In order to do this, parties must address sexual abuse allegations to allow for transparency amongst leaders and their party members and for reparations to be made. Instead of mounting hostility and polarisation between groups, issues could be solved by groups taking accountability, therefore allowing for more vital work to be done. What is also vital is that party and group members must learn to not see things in black and white and begin instead to engage with other groups in a more nuanced way to organise more efficiently. Once leftist groups begin working together, I trust that they will begin to remember the reasons they originated: to fight injustice together as collectives, not as rivals.