One organiser said after this weekend in Edale that it felt like ‘the end of the beginning’, which may not mean much out of context, but this is a huge step for a left that has been struggling to remake itself for decades.
Over the weekend of the 12th -14th September over 150 activists and organisers came together for a residential weekend conference in Edale. Whilst this alone may not seem newsworthy, the outcomes may be some of the most important for the British left in a decade or more.
The decline of the British left has been commented on by many for a long time. The causes are vast and complex, and can be traced back to the defeat of the miners in 1984, and the collapse of the USSR in 1989.
British society has become a little more socially liberal since then, and technologically far more advanced, but it has also become vastly more unequal, less democratic, and less free. Day to to day living has also become more precarious, stressful and unsure.
Against the array of forces creating these conditions – imperialist states such as our own, multinational corporations, global trade deals and organisations, religious extremists and climate changing industries – the left has been able to do little.
There have been notable exceptions but, when it comes down to it, everyone has been confused about what to do and how to do it.
Our often weak response to the austerity agenda and the misery it has caused has been indicative of a left that, among other losses, failed to stop an invasion that no one wanted, failed to genuinely tackle climate change, failed to save free education, and failed to stop the privatisation of the NHS from within.
The fear of creating – or working with – the all encompassing Parties of the Leninist Socialist/Communist tradition after the collapse of the USSR created a space for new organisations to flourish. These ‘horizontalist’ ‘networked’ ‘consensus based’ organisations had been around for a while, but came into their own over the past 25 years.
Back to Fast Forward Festival.
Organised by Plan C (a name that suggests communism, but also the failures of both Plans A and B to the credit crisis), experienced organisers who had worked in both Leninist and Horizontal groups over this period came together to discuss ‘what is to be done?’
This may seem like something that happens a lot, but rarely – in this writer’s time involved with the left at least – has there been a gathering where the organisers and attendees were so honestly committed to answering this question.
There was no rush to organise for the next campaign, or build a coalition, or to recruit to a party. There was no organisational form that was lauded over any other and no dogmatic solutions proposed.
These are the usual failings of left wing groups. Either they are obsessed with party building and recruitment in pyramid scheme like factions, or they are rushing from in-vogue crisis to the next in-vogue crisis.
If we all know that there is a fundamental systemic flaw in capitalism which creates huge amounts of misery and destruction unnecessarily, it is hard to work out why this happens. The type of people who are critical enough to challenge this system, and are compulsive active enough to make a living from doing this may, ultimately, be the flaw that causes these repeated mistakes.
After recent years where the largest party on the radical left (the SWP) has collapsed, and the flaws of horizontalism (networks that come and go with the seasons) have been shown up in their entirety with no functioning long term organisations able to face the crisis, this was a massively important step.
The shape of the conference is briefly outlined below, but I wont be drawing conclusions here, except how to say how I will be helping us look forward, by (not entirely paradoxically) looking backward.
What I would say is that for those who are interested in answering the questions posed by our flaws, please check in on Plan C. The group is not interested in recruitment, but is providing a much needed space for us all to draw a breath.
We must all realise that the task of creating social change is massive, and it is long term. So we should take plenty of time for reflection. This is not merely an academic tendency, but a necessity for us to grow and achieve more – and hopefully a new and better progressive movement can be born from it.
Hopefully this can increase the joy and effectiveness with which we undertake the task – because ultimately it is a beautiful and necessary endeavour.
The main plenary originally focused on the use of making demands.
‘Why demand?’ may seem an academic question, but what we ask for and who we ask it from (the government, big business, or ourselves) shapes the outcomes of our struggles for change in a fundamental fashion.
After that the discussions focused on Work, on Movements and Organisations, Territory and Power, Migration and Borders, Reaction and Populism and finally Social Reproduction (or the work of living day to day).
With discussions on ‘Work and Anxiety’ and ‘Beyond Europe’ proving very popular as well, the festival finally ended with a ‘Where Next’ discussion.
The ‘Where Next’ for me has come in the form of an inspiration to write a series of social histories on the movements of the past 25 years.
In discussing ‘movements and organisations’, one of the many flaws we recognised from organising over the past couple of decades is that we have no idea of our own history, of our own power and our own failings. As such we are forced to repeat them again and again.
This series will be my little contribution towards rectifying that – hopefully with some films to come out in the new year.
There are stories of hope and failure from across the past 25 years to learn from, and in our upcoming series ‘This Is Just The Beginning’ we will tell those stories and try to evaluate what went right, what went wrong, and what a new generation can learn.
In a capitalist society at least 50% of all new businesses fail in their first year. Organisations of global scale fail and collapse all the time. And of course capitalism itself relies solely on the exploitation of people and the planet, which is just one on-going failure.
In the light of this we should not be too hard on ourselves or our attempts to change this system. We are learning, we are growing, and we are getting better.
This is just the beginning.
Please check out Plan C