The ordinary anti-war protestor says it is unfair to tar them all by the same brush as their Leninist leaders. Most of the protestors were not Leninist supporters of a one-party state. Fair enough, but why did we hear so little dissent from within the movement? If they really believed the movement could make an impact among society as a whole why were they willing for their organisation to be in the hands of the ultra-nihilist cult called the Socialist Workers Party and Stalinists like Andrew Murray?
Why are people, who would define themselves as being on the democratic left, so unwilling to challenge the dominance of those whose overall political outlook should be alien to them?
The answer, in many cases, is simply fear. The control mechanism Leninists have always used. People who get involved with the far left know that if you dare to step out of line, to ask the sensitive questions, to challenge the right of the self-appointed leaders to lead that you will be labelled a ‘scab’ or a ‘traitor’ and made an outcast. There is a culture of conformity on the far left that in a lesser way mirrors the old regimes inspired by Lenin. People are afraid to lose their membership of the left club, lose friendships and fall out of their comfy social circles.
We saw it with the Militant mafia in the 1980’s. If you questioned their motives (which we all knew had nothing to do with building a viable Labour Party) you were in for a rough time whenever you came across them again. Many elements of the soft left, as it was known then, tut-tutted as Neil Kinnock finally moved to drive a self-described Leninist revolutionary party out of an organisation they had no right to belong to and who sought only to feed off it.
The reasoning given, and I used this argument at the time myself, was that an attack on Militant was an attack on the left as a whole. And indeed the exit from the Labour Party of the Trotskyists has left the radical wing of Labour numerically weaker. But so what?
Surely by now we have realised that you simply cannot build a viable radical, egalitarian and democratic socialist movement in alliance with people who desire dictatorship. It is not good enough any more to say these ‘comrades’ may be a bit wacky on the theory but they are good organisers who get things done. The whole issue of Iraq shows that if you support dictatorship in theory you will do so in practice.
So what should those of us on the non-Leninist left be doing?
The absence of a real, active campaigning democratic left has left a vacuum which the authoritarians have filled. There are also real issues of inequality, real social problems that are not being adequately addressed by the Labour Party. These are the very reasons people get involved in left politics but at the moment they are drawn into the orbit of sects who offer no hope of a real solution.
There needs to be a change of approach from the democratic left. It is no longer just good enough to criticise New Labour for failing to engage with a radical agenda, important though that is. We must also challenge those who offer a false alternative. We must not be afraid to expose the undemocratic nature of the ultra-left, to attack them with the same force we would attack other enemies of a democratic socialism. Ask them the tough questions, hold them to account.
For a few of us, the gloves came off over Iraq. More need to do the same.