Monday, August 12, 2019

Political Synergy

Go to any large city and you will find that one street where most of the book shops are located. Same seems to apply to antique shops as well. There are also entire villages in Europe devoted to bookselling. You would think at first glance that this situation ought not to be, that so many different shops would compete and many would be driven to bankruptcy. You would think that being cheek by jowl would the last thing booksellers would want. Such a superficial view of economy overlooks the importance of SYNERGY.
The clustering of the shops brings in a much larger clientele than scattered shops. The shops can, and do, practice mutual aid. “Sorry, we don't have this edition, but I know Jane's Books two shops down has a copy.” As well, each shop has a slightly different focus, so they are not really competing for the same customers. One will prioritize antiquarian books, another literature, or Canadiana, or history etc.

I suggest that just as synergy can exist among certain businesses, so too might it exist among progressive political organizations. I got the first hint of this about 25 years ago when in correspondence with the English anarchist, Laurens Otter. I mentioned how I was pleased with the decline of Leninism and social democracy and proclaimed that “our time had come.” now that our political competitors were out of the way. Laurens told me not to get too worked up about this situation since his experience was, “That when they do well, we do well too.” It was true. The English anarchist movement flourished in the 1960s and 70s, the time of the New Left, the new Trotskyist parties like the SWP and Militant, and the Tony Benn Labour Left.

Thinking about this situation as I prepared this article, other historical periods came to mind. The socialist movement of the first two decades of the 20tieth Century was like one of those streets full of bookshops. This period was also the high point for both the socialist and anarchist movements. On that street you would find syndicalism, several varieties of anarchism, right, centre and left tendencies of socialism, and agrarian socialism (then called “populism”) The tendencies learned from each other, giving rise to new formations like a Marxist form of syndicalism such as the IWW, Guild Socialism and Bolshevism. (Keeping in mind that until 1921 the Bolshevik Party was multi-tendency.) All these groups would bicker, and there have always been sectarian fools, but they considered themselves more-or-less as part of the same movement.

From the mid-1920s-on the number of “shops” decreased and the “socialist business” became more and more monopolized by two tendencies – an increasingly moderate social democracy which hated its own socialist left-wing more than the capitalists, and a Stalinized Communist Party for which only one tendency (that of the leadership) was allowed. The influence of syndicalism, socialism and anarchism declined, reaching its nadir in the 1950s, when organizations that once counted their memberships in the tens, and even hundreds of thousands, were reduced to a handful of old age pensioners.

With the 1960s New Left, the little shops re-opened and the two big monopoly chain stores went into rapid decline. Rejecting ossified social democracy and official Communism, the New Leftists were open to the concepts that had previously been repressed and forgotten. There was a revival of anarchism and syndicalism. Feminism was re-born but with a much deeper critique of the patriarchal system. New movements arose such as Gay Liberation and the Ecology Movement..

I think I have belabored the point enough. A multi-tendency movement is absolutely necessary. We need Synergy, not sectarianism. No more sand box politics! The idea that we should be of one mind, let alone all within one group, is a serious error. Our individual tendencies will do well when we all do well. We need diversity of opinion and approach; in order to be creative, in order to meet the challenges of a dying capitalism, not to mention a dying environment. (Of course, I refer to rational, evidence-based approaches, not cults and sectarian know-it-all groupuscules.) None of us have all the answers and we never will. But together we might go a long way in that direction. While keeping our diversity, we must focus on what we all have in common - dealing with the climate crisis, the gross inequality, the lack of democracy, the housing crisis, and our common opposition to racism, anti-Antisemitism, misogyny, homophobia etc. This is the Common Ground that anarchists, socialists, cooperators, syndicalists, feminists and Greens can all stand on. So lets get on it!
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