D Hunter looks at the difficult but necessary task of building working class solidarity in the aftermath of the general election.
It’s been three weeks since the election and I’m fairly sure everything has already been said. Everyone has been blamed, everyone has done some blaming. It was Corbyn, it was Brexit, it was media bias, it was the Labour Party, it was the Lib Dems, it was the canvassing, it was the white working class, it was immigration, it was racism, it was that there is no working class, it was a rigged election, it was London, it was the North, it was Nationalism, it was Globalism, it was the voting system, it was the hard left who supported the Labour party, it was the hard left who didn’t support the Labour party, it was the liberal metropolitan elite in London, it was they/them pronouns, it was Blairites, it was Neoliberalism.
But having agreed to disagree on why we’re facing five more years of Conservative rule, we’ve now got to come up with ways to fight against it. Hopefully this will involve people finding a moral position which suits them, and then yelling it as loudly as they can via as many mediums as they can. I reckon it’ll involve most of us being called liberal cunts, racist gammons, middle class activists, dogmatic Marxists, the out of touch elite or some other combination of all these.
By now I’m sure you’ll have detected my slightly snide tone, so it’s worth me offering a mea culpa: I have definitely done some of the above, both over the last three weeks and before. The blame game is a safe refuge for those of us who feel defeated; when I lose to a team I’m supposed to beat in my latest Football Manager save, I will nearly always take it out on a few of the players I’ve already got a bit annoyed at. Equally when I’ve seen the class I’m a part of get their asses handed to them on a regular basis for several decades I’m inclined to point fingers. This isn’t entirely unreasonable. Defeats like these (those in class war not in Football Manager), aren’t due to any of us doing anything wrong as individuals, us taking on that responsibility would be pretty narcissistic, but we’re hurt and frustrated, we need to put the blame somewhere. We could point at the political, economic and social system, I think white supremacist capitalist patriarchy describes it, but you might have another name. Thing is if we just blame that, then it chips away at the hope we have at defending our class, any hope we have of our class coming out on top in the end (if that’s not your end goal, this might be the wrong opinion piece for you). If it’s only due to the political, economic and social system being powerful, and that the fight against it was without flaws then why bother carrying on? The system, much like the house, always wins.
So we look at others, others in our class, others struggling to survive, others fighting back, and we say “You motherfucker, you are fucking this up for all of us”, and as we say this they start back at us, because they’ve just gone through the same thought process, “No, you motherfucker, you are fucking this up for all of us”. And because we’re in a public space, others enter into the conversation: “No, you are both wrong, it’s yous Motherfuckers, that are fucking this up for all of us”. And then other people chime in, either agreeing with one of the previous points or offering up a fourth, fifth, sixth; “Motherfuckers, you’re all wrong”. And so it goes, the discourse of the left.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreement per se. Debate is often healthy: it can help develop ideas and, at times, propel us into action. But within the class-struggle left, it’s got to a point where it’s hurting us more than it’s helping us.
Part of this is due to the fact that we don’t know who “us” is. Are we those fighting the Tories? Are we those fighting the economic system? Are we those fighting the political system? Are we those fighting the social system? I see these fights as one and the same, but there are many many people who tirelessly dedicate their lives to fighting for their class, that focus in on one or two of them, claiming realism, priorities, political ideals. Some think that we can reform the economic system, that we just need the right government at the head of the political system, and that from there we can improve the lot for all people of our class. I disagree with this, but I’m not inclined to write these people off, nor do I think repeatedly telling them they’re wrong is particularly helpful. There are those that believe we should just all unite and fight to end the current economic system, whether it be through parliamentary or extra-parliamentary methods, or some combination of the two. All other differences should be put to one side, these people say, either because they can be dealt with later or because they’re the narcissistic hand wringing of middle-class Goldsmiths students. Again, I disagree with them, but I’m not going to write these people off or refuse to engage with them. Then you’ve got those who believe that focusing on the ways in which we’re socially organised should take precedence, that every act, every organising moment must be ideologically pure, and that every time this purity is betrayed someone needs to be punished. Much like the first two groups, I disagree with them, but I’m not going to ignore them. There are other groups of people who think different variations on these, some who define themselves within an internationalist paradigm and others for whom local issues must be at the forefront. For some it’s the environmental crisis that must be the sole focus, and everything else is a distraction.
I’ve said it before, as have many others: our class is stratified but so is our resistance. Working class resistance and the resistance of the left are not mirror images of one another, but they are broken down into different spheres, different contests, different nuances and different features. And it’s in this context we’re fighting against the rise of fascism, a force which seeks to unify and quash all the competing elements of the right. From the state protecting corporate power via continued austerity, to the recruitment in our communities of footsoldiers willing to swear allegiance to violence and oppressive power (as seen in the members of Britain First joining the Tory Party over the last couple of weeks) – what we’re facing is grim. That our response is to exacerbate the ways in which we’ve been stratified is fucking depressing.
Are we going to be able to address the ways in which our working class and the left have been stratified? Probably not. Do we need to, in order to resist the coming fascist onslaught? I don’t think so. What we need to do is cut out the mudslinging, finger-pointing, self-aggrandising bullshit. What we need to do is understand and accept some of the differences, and find where we can act in solidarity with one another. This does not mean we need be uncritical of the tactics, attitudes, strategies and philosophies of one another, but recognise that we don’t need to die on every hill. Not every disagreement is a battle to the death, and to act like it is is spitting in the face of those who are quite literally dying.
On the night of the election I was in Birmingham co-hosting with a comrade a launch event for Lumpen: A Journal of Poor and Working Class Writing. There was a bit of election chat, a bit of chat about working class trauma, the usual type of thing, and this carried on well after the event. I had to dash off just before 10, when some Labour canvassers arrived at the venue to watch the election results come in. I said hello to a couple that I knew and went to catch my train, in my head muttering (yes, I mutter in my head) something unhelpful about canvassers, working class communities and parachutes. I caught my train to Nottingham and by the time I got to my friend’s house it was pretty clear that the Tories were in for another 5 years. I got into bed, watched half a TV show, and went to social media and wrote this:
“They’ve been killing our friends for my entire life. They’ve been killing our families for centuries. They’re going to keep on killing us where we stand. Our organizing has been needing to improve for a while now. Our caregiving has to get better. We have to protect, and if we can, rebuild and fortify our communities. If we don’t we will continue to be killed. Tonight a chance to breathe a tiny bit easier was taken away, but we’re not dead yet. Build relationships with your neighbours, with those you look down on, with those you think don’t get it, those whose experiences are different. Build bonds with them, share ideas, make plans. ‘Cause the state wants our blood and capital wants our bodies, and we have nothing but each other.”
I stand by it. Whether you’re the dankest anarchist in the whole damned world, or were baptised in your Labour rosette, or ya Marxist-Leninist credentials go back to that time where you lent Mao some sugar for his tea, or if you voted UKIP ten years ago because they said they understood the pain of queuing in food banks and your kids school being shit and overcrowded and now you realise they were liars and knob heads, or if you’re twenty years old broke living in the city and sick of older generations telling you what politics looks like. I’m sorry but all we’ve got is each other, and as long as we don’t deny each other’s humanity, we can build solidarity. It might have to be small, it might have to be rare, but it can be built.
There will be lines in the sand for each of us, but I’d argue that these lines need to be carefully drawn. Not based on abstract notions of political ethics, but on whether the crossing of these lines legitimises suffering, be it our own or of others we live and survive alongside. If, for example, your organisation, your community, your gang want to deny the legitimacy of trans folks to live, work, organise and thrive; if you think sex workers don’t have the right to safe working conditions or shouldn’t be collectively organised; if you think migrants are stealing white jobs; if you believe that racism isn’t something that we have to challenge in ourselves and our communities in order to end its reproduction; or, if you think there are deserving and undeserving poor, then you are diminishing the possibilities of solidarity within your class, you are punching out at marginalised groups. Sometimes that line cannot be crossed and we’ll have to fight. But some of the time, some of us will have to push a little harder, work a little harder, listen a little harder. People like me – who is no longer a sex worker, is not directly affected by transphobia or the policies of the hostile enviornment, who is not amongst the most marginalised members of our class – may have to organise in grey areas. We might have to try and build forms of solidarity with those whose political positions and beliefs we find problematic. Uncomfortable conversations need to be part of our future if we are to build practical solidarity in our communities and our workplaces. When we decide that someone is a lost cause or a permanent class traitor, we have to be sure. We can’t just leap to that conclusion because the work is too difficult, too challenging to our political schemas.
We may have nothing but each other but that doesn’t mean that we need to aim for total unity, either of the working class or the left. There is power in a variety of ethics, tactics and forms of resistance. What we need is to find ways to express practical solidarity with one another beyond our differences.