Left versus Right

From theI have a friend, a professor of history at London University no less, who always has a criticism of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. It is that the process of attacking other parties and people on what is vaguely called the left is equivalent to splitting the ranks of the faithful and can only be good for the others, the anti-socialists.

It is an old argument, and one that we socialists have often had to deal with. It is one which is so clearly unsound that it should by now be impossible for anyone with an intelligent interest in politics like my friend to believe in it. But clearly it is still necessary to point out the fallacies involved. First, it should be obvious that the very concept of left and right in politics is now a figment of the imagination, whatever it was in terms of the seating accommodation in the Assemblies of the French Revolution. The concept of the parties being stretched out in a long line with the good boys who are eager to present Socialism to the long-suffering masses at one extreme, the left, while at the other you will find the die-hards and the reactionaries (more vague, hardly definable terms, of course).

This concept should surely never have survived the real life experience of the thirties. For what happened was that the two parties who were, according to the mythology, at the extreme ends of the line and never the twain shall meet, the Russian “communists” and the German Nazis, not only were able to meet but to embrace with as much fervent warmth as cynical, cold-blooded politicians can ever hope to generate.

In Germany before Hitler achieved power there were plenty of instances of the two extremes joining hands to dish their mutual opponents (Social-Democrats masquerading as socialists, Catholic Centrists etc.); while the notorious pictures of Ribbentrop and Molotov, the representatives of the extreme rightist Hitler and the extreme leftist Stalin, shaking hands with the utmost cordiality as they gave the green light for the Second World War with its slaughter of millions of workers the world over, will still be in the minds of many.

And before leaving this aspect, let nobody imagine that this handshake was a momentary affair which cooled after the two bandits had shared out the swag in Poland in 1939. On the contrary, as a recent letter in the Times mentioned, Stalin did not forget a year later to send his beloved Hitler his heartiest congratulations on his conquest of France, which meant that the whole of western Europe was in his hands — with all that that meant for millions of Jews and others (the others including, of course, “communists” who had faithfully supported Stalin in all his murders).

Indeed, the romance lasted forever and a day as far as the “communists” were concerned. Stalin was not so much the husband who is proverbially the last to know that his bride is faithless. He deliberately refused to listen to his own spies like Richard Sorge who gave him all the score of the music that Hitler was going to play in June 1941 so that the “communists” went on being faithful to the fascists right up to the time when the German ambassador told them the worst and Molotov asked what they had done to be treated like this !

It is clear then that the concept of a straight line is, if anything, a circle, so that although parties may move in seemingly opposite directions, sure enough, when the time is ripe, they find they have come round into each others’ arms. The Socialist Party firmly declares its implacable hostility to all other parties, all of whom are non-socialist (which means of course anti-socialist whatever the protestations, sincere or otherwise, of the individuals concerned). Any fragmentation which our activities may cause, wherever it may occur, on the so-called left or the so-called right, is not a matter for regret or shame. For what can possibly be wrong in socialists causing fragmentation of anti-socialists? Would that we were powerful enough to cause more such fragmentation!

Of course we are not unaware that this attitude seems harsh and unfair to many sincere but misguided people who would like us to play ball with them in their multitudinous efforts at improving the social scene with their piecemeal reform programmes. Recently I found myself involved in a long and heated argument with some students who had read some criticisms of their activities in the so-called anti-apartheid demo’s and were prepared to agree that there was some force in our contentions but nevertheless insisted that “the left” should stick together.

It is an attitude which flies in the face of all experience, much of it bitter. But it is one that seems to trap so many would-be socialists, old as well as young, professors as well as students and thus confuses the issue of Socialism, which can do with all the clarity it can get. And it may be worth a digression to mention that, in the same argument, I was told that the Socialist Party was not only to blame for attacking the left, it had compounded its sin by attacking the right! In debate with the fascists of the National Front.

We must be held guilty, it seems, because we deigned to attack them with words instead of with blows. We debated instead of using our fists (and no doubt knives and guns as well). This matter was ventilated at length in a recent issue of this journal but we make no apology for referring again to the vital issue of using free speech to demonstrate the superiority of the socialist case in front of a working class audience whom it is our job to convince.

We will only attain Socialism when the majority of the workers have learned to understand what it’s all about. And, for this, freedom of discussion is a must. Those who use their influence over the young to show that there are ifs and buts before this “must” are taking a grave responsibility for the atmosphere of intolerance they help to create.

Of course, to conclude, there is a line. A straight line. A line of battle. On one side are the people who stand for Socialism, the whole Socialism and nothing but Socialism as being the only way of ridding mankind of all the vicious social problems from which it suffers and of building a new world which is fit for human beings in the full sense of that term. On the other side are all the rest; whether they call themselves left, right, centre makes not an iota of difference. They are all on the wrong side of the line.


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