Sixteen years of age, a naive young activist who’d read a bit of Marx and wanted to make the world a better place, I was walking along Lowestoft high street when I encountered a stall of scruffy-looking men campaigning against the impending Afghanistan war who were saying all the things I identified with. They called themselves the SWP.
I signed their petition, took a paper and joined them on a coach down to London after the war broke out to say it wasn’t in my name. Before long I’d joined the SWP and got involved in the Socialist Alliance. My new political family was soon to come apart, however, when the Socialist Party pulled out of the SA over concerns about SWP dominance.
I didn’t understand at the time the complexities of internal far-left politics. “Why can’t we all get along?” I thought, like Baldrick in Blackadder. Here we had a clear common enemy in rampant neoliberal capitalism and neoconservative warmongering. Why couldn’t we put aside the 5% on which we disagreed and unite around the 95% on which we agreed? The rest could wait till after the revolution.
The SA soon fell apart and I left the SWP, somewhat disheartened by their inability to provide left unity. But now the Iraq war was in full swing, the anti-war movement had thrown up the biggest demonstration in modern British history and the cause of a united opposition to Bush and Blair’s policies was never more apparent.
When RESPECT was formed, I jumped into it, naively again, hoping that this momentum of popular outrage would finally give the movement the glue it needed.
A few years later, despite its impressive electoral success, RESPECT came apart under the strain of conflict between George Galloway and the SWP. History repeated itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.
These days, while my convictions remain as resolutely left-wing as they always were, I steer clear of the internecine squabbling of the far-left. I’d been burned enough times and frankly, it bores me.
“Workers of the world unite”, seemed nothing but a nice line.
But left unity is now more vital than ever in this age of austerity. We need a united front against the onslaught of Conservative cuts. Not just in Britain, but across Europe.
The left must organise together to resist with every last ounce of our collective strength a government which has declared war on the working classes, and it must bring all the pressure it can bear on Labour to provide a radical alternative.
That is why I am encouraged to see a new project of Left Unity rising from the ashes of austerity to bring these vital voices together. And that is why, naively perhaps, but I hope not, I support their Appeal.
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