Internal bickering versus “whistling in the dark”

Hopi Sen, in his intellectually impure and prosaic manner, said on twitter last night:

Oh-ho, has the new left thingummy reached stage three of all left wing movements then (tedious internal bickering?) / Campaign model for all leftie “revolutionary “groups – Stage 1: Campaign. Stage 2: overblown rhetoric about transforming world. / Stage 3: Internal bickering. Stage 4: Assign blame for failure to achieve stage 2. Stage 5. Appear on Newsnight to criticise Labour party.

Droll, I’m sure. But what has been characterised here as ‘internal bickering’ is a vital component of assessing next stages of any successful movement of people.

Questions on whether applying theory to practice is necessary anymore have emerged (see NLP here, SWP) as well as questions on whether leadership is necessary in such an organised gathering of protesters (see Seymour; Seymour; and Seymour’s apology) – particularly concerning UK Uncut (a better summary of events can be found at The Great Unrest blog).

The argument against discussing theory – characterised by some as meaningless intellectual masturbation – and against leadership – characterised by some as the adoption of old, stale bureaucratic structures – is made while drawing on the current success of the movement (see Laurie Penny and Marcus Malarky on this, then see Owen Jones on the problems of leaderless youth). But to pretend these structures are unnecessary, and that the movement is unique and distinct from other movements, is a grave error, and one which has been host to so many casualties. Take for example the struggle of German labor movements from 1912 to 1923. Paul Mattick had this to say about them in 1947, and it sounds very familiar to the place where the student movement is at now:

In retrospect, the struggle of the German proletariat from 1912 to 1923 appeared as minor frictions that accompanied the capitalistic re-organization process which followed the war-crisis. But there has always been a tendency to consider the by-products of violent changes in the capitalistic structure as expressions of the revolutionary will of the proletariat. The radical optimists, however, were merely whistling in the dark. The darkness was real, to be sure, and the noise was encouraging, yet at this late hour there is no need to take it seriously. As exciting as it is to recall the days of proletarian actions in Germany – the mass meetings, demonstrations, strikes, street fights, the heated discussions, the hopes, fears, and disappointments, the bitterness of defeat and the pain of prison and death – yet no lessons but negative ones can now be drawn from all these undertakings. All the energy and all the enthusiasm were not enough to bring about a social change or to alter the contemporary mind. The lesson learned was how not to proceed. How to realize the revolutionary needs of the proletariat was not discovered.

Mattick recalls the excitement of the actions; I fear the excitement of the actions taking place during current demonstrations and direct actions today make it difficult to see the necessity of assessing next steps, theory and leadership. But so as to ensure nobody today is “whistling in the dark” internal dialogue must remain – even if Hopi Sen and the other New Labour Dinosaurs laugh about it.