With a Brexit deal seemingly close, the Left must learn from the mistakes of the last four years, argues Kevin Ovenden
"No deal" has been used for two years by both Conservative governments and Labour oppositions as a mantra.
It was deliberately used by continuity-Remain to press a course of action and parliamentary tactics that severely weakened Corbyn-Labour in 2018-2019.
From different standpoints and with different end-goals it meant the squeezing out from national politics of the radical left and any kind of socialist approach to Brexit.
Now it seems there is a capitalist deal and that Starmer-Labour will vote it through.
In all of this one thing held against the broad left was a political weakness at its heart. It is that the dominant thinking is to avoid crisis and rupture but to see progress as evolutionary. In that view, crises are to be avoided (wishful thinking) and when they occur the main thing is to get back to stability so that "normal" political processes can resume.
To be clear. There's hardly any socialist who favoured a capitalist crash out. But a failure to see that as something that was also a moment in which capitalist priorities could be contested - whatever the difficulties - meant that most of the left was enthrall to disabling arguments on all sides.
This is why there is no point saying that the radical left should have been stronger or bigger and that would have solved everything. (How big do you want? In government a la Syriza and capitulating from that position?)
The radical left in Britain - in the broad sense - was stronger in 2018 than at any time since 1984.
The problem was the politics. There was and is not an anti-capitalist case for membership of the EU. There is a reformist and broad left case, but that is a different matter.
No one wants to re-divide fronts of struggle or movements on the Brexit question. But don't let that totally correct view obscure trying to think through from an anti-capitalist point of view how the last four years have been let slip and what to do about that in coming years of struggle.
We want a bigger left. But we need above all some anti-capitalist clarity on that left and in the struggles taking place.
For these dilemmas will come again and again: reformist/liberal common sense, reactionaries harnessing some of the opposition and the question posed to the anti-capitalist left.
That cannot be resolved by folding back into left-liberalism.
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Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.
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