Sunday, 1 November 2009

Which way forward for the Progressive movement?

Against the backdrop of unemployment, the rising tide of fascism and the strike action by the posties, we must face the elephant in the room, which direction must the left take now?

In many ways the movement is divided in terms of attitudes towards tactics. This division causes paralysis and acts as an obstacle to unified action. Together with this, especially in regards to anti-fascism, is the disorientated manner in which progressives approach subjects that concern the very conception of what it means to be British, about our identity and traditions. This two issues are deeply intertwined and are often the core reasons for division on the left at this point in time.

After recently visiting the battle of Cable street mural in East London with my brother, these two issues struck me.

Firstly, the battle of Cable Street is only one chapter from a whole library of British folklore. This indigenous labour movement history is a much neglected, but powerful weapon for progressives to use. However, several local residents of the street that we asked had no clue as to what we were talking about. When we found the mural, there were no signs to tell a bit of the history behind the image.

Stressing the need to come to grips with our radical past could be simply dismissed as a cliche. Many figures have indentified this as a problem with leftwing politics in Britain, but have often been attacked for this, Billy Bragg's excellent 'Progressive Patriot' springs to mind. Nevertheless, it is an important issue that needs to be worked on.

Popular political figures like Tony Benn are incredibly good at stressing the role of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists etc.. But these days, the need to celebrate these heros and use this platform to encourage the general public to make connections between the solution these historical figures advocated to the problems of their day and the solutions that progressives offer to contemporary issues is a huge gap in the tactics of the progressive movement that desperately needs to be filled.

This problem is reflected in the anti-fascist movement. There is a world of difference between the tactics of groups such as Hope Not Hate, who argue that the BNP directly contravenes Britain's values of tolerance and moderation. Hope Not Hate point to our grandparents fight against Hitler to display that the BNP's professed patriotism is a sham. This tactic is effective in persuading the general public to make links between British traditions and past history and the arguments that the anti-fascists are making. In short, if we can demonstrate that events, such as the battle of Cable street, tie into a shared sense of Britishness and the experience or living in Britain, then we will always beat the fascists.

It is often said that socialists and Communists in France find it a lot easier to fuse a radical political stance with waving the drapeau tricolore and singing La Marseillaise. This is due to the revolutionary foundations of that country, as a result it is easier to make revolutionary arguements and still appear to be within the national political tradition. This is a more difficult task in britain, especially in England, where the nation's historical experience appears to be bound to Monarchy and Empire.

Within the anti-fascist movement, more headstrong anti-fascist activists are perceived to prefer to isolate rather than engage with communities. Some of these activists are likely to blockade roads, jeer houses that hang the Union Jack, or shout 'Nazi' at working class males who happen to have a short haircut. This is clearly the wrong approach, and enables the BNP to label anti-fascists as somehow not just un-British, but anti-British with 'alien' values.

In much the same way as we need to stress the indigenous foundations of our radical politics, we need to adopt tactics that are more likely to appear to be compatible with the general public's conception of Britishness. Cutting across the solutions to all the major issues facing us has to be the People's charter. The People's Charter's format is designed to be inclusive, associations with the Chartists are encouraged to persuade the progressive majority in Britain to stand up and reject the Neo-Liberal idealogical framework that mainstream political debate has been working in the last thirty years.

The People's Charter offers an alternative that is lacking in the approach of Hope Not Hate, I.E. 'Vote for anyone, but not BNP'. The manner in which the People's Charter avoids the Ultra Leftist posturing that is so easy for fascists to dub 'alien' to british values.

I urge anyone who has not already done so to sign the People's Charter and publicise it to your friends, family and workmates.

(P.S. All progressive bloggers are urged to include a Picture-link to the People's charter website at

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