For younger readers who grew up under Major and Blair, the Far Left might seem something of an abstract notion. It’s difficult to believe that they were once a force in British politics, certainly within Labour. Yet today the Class Warriors seem confined to vitriolic personal blogs and hashtags on Twitter.
How did this happen? The theory goes that extremist parties prosper in extreme situations. Just look at the terrifying rise of Golden Dawn in Greece. Although Britain
is in nowhere near the state the Greece is, there should be fertile ground for a proper socialist party to emerge, especially since Labour have tied themselves to the centre ground. So why isn’t there one?
A major factor is that Britain has changed since the 1970’s. For a start we are older. There are more over-65’s than under-16’s in the UK, and older people tend to be more conservative. Given that old people have an excellent record of voting, this is bad news for the Left. Secondly, labour intensive industry has declined and the age of millions of unionized blue collar workers is at an end. The union movement is now reduced to a public sector rump. Private sector unions have all but disappeared, and those that remain are a far cry from the fire breathing shop stewards of yesteryear. Immigration has played a role too. Whereas thirty years ago people tended to identify themselves by class, today they are more likely to define themselves by their ethnicity, especially in the big cities which used to be the bastions of left wing support. In addition, many who come to this country do so to keep their heads down and work hard to make a better life for themselves. Smashing the Establishment is hardly high up on their to-do list.
The world has also changed. It’s hard for us to see it now, but there was a time when the Socialist model of a planned economy was a real alternative to Free Markets. The Soviet Union not only propped up its East European vassals and a scattering of socialist outposts in the Third World, it provided inspiration and tangible support for the British Left.
When the Soviet Union imploded, its socialist allies collapsed quicker than a house of cards in hurricane. The British Left were discredited by association. Today China, Vietnam and even Cuba are adopting capitalist aspects into their economies, embracing the Free Market and allowing their citizens the choices and disposable income that were deprived to the citizens of the Eastern Bloc
The Far Left themselves have to take the bulk of the blame however. Firstly, they are terrible communicators. Using phrases like proletariat, means of production and dialectic are a sure fire way to alienate your average voter. That’s just not how people talk. Those phrases have no resonance outside socialist circles. An especially unattractive trait among some socialists is the arrogant assumption that they already know what’s good for people, so don’t need to bother engaging with voters on their term. Rather than listen to what peoples concerns are, too many socialists will TELL people what their concerns should be.
This leads onto the second point. The Far Left talk to themselves, a lot. All parties and ideologies are guilty of this to some extent. It’s human nature to enjoy speaking to people you agree with. It’s validating. But for the Far Left it’s almost all they do. I don’t know if it’s because there are so many varieties of Leftist (more on that later) or if it’s because they prefer it to facing the real world. The internet has only served to exacerbate this habit. The web is swarming with chat rooms, forums blogs where Leftists can pick over the minutiae of the effects post-modern radical feminism has on unionizing the Belgian biscuit industry…….I’m only semi joking with that too.
Linked to the previous point, the Far Left love nothing more than a good split! Marxists, Anarchists, Trotskyites, Leninists, Collectivists, Syndicalists, Respect, SolFed and the TUSC. They spend at least as much time arguing with each other as they do trying to ‘smash’ capitalism. As well as the inevitable clash of personalities that all political movements have, the principle cause of division among the hard Left seems to be an endless game of “MY socialism is better than YOUR socialism”. In addition, previously unified local groups can be torn apart by completely irrelevant topics. For example at university I saw a reasonable enough debate on organising support for strikes derailed after a side debate started on whether Israel should retreat to it’s 1967 borders or become a federal republic incorporating Gaza and the West Bank. You couldn’t make it up.
When we look at the riots in Greece and Spain, we should take comfort in the knowledge that the British Far Left, for the time being at least, remain in the self-imposed exile of their echo chambers.