Monday, 30 July 2018

The culture of the left

The UK has had a left wing movement for almost 200 years.

It's far older than modern neo-liberal conservatism which originated in the 1970s and 80s and it's far older than fascism which originated in the 1920s and 30s. The roots of the left in the UK go back centuries earlier amongst the peasants of the middle ages. Left wing thought amongst certain groups of people and in certain areas of the country has very deep routes.

During all that time certain ideas have become classic left wing positions and have formed key parts of a left wing cultural outlook which is distinct from the kind of sterile fabricated British national culture - drinking tea, being overly apologetic, complaining about the weather etc. These positions reach out beyond economics and electoral politics and into the soul of our movement.

Despite this, outside of our movement people are often totally confused by us, even the rest of the working class, those people in whose name we are struggling!

The positions we take on many issues can almost seem like a random collection of intentionally contrarian views but below the surface, if you dig down to the roots you'll see that it's all connected and it all makes sense. Let's examine some of them:

Peace/ Anti-war
The left wing are anti-war because we see most wars as being fought in the interests of the rich, and yet it's working people who are sent to fight and kill each other. We believe that working people have common interests all over the world and shouldn't align themselves with, and ultimately fight and die for, the interests of rich people just because they are from the same country as them.

More specifically to the UK the left have a view that this country is an imperialist nation (a rich country which exploits people and resources from poor countries) and therefore any wars it fights tend to be in the interests of maintaining this dominance and crushing resistance to it. This means the left will sometimes even support the forces that the UK military is fighting against.

Sometimes the left wing position on this can solidify into a general anti-military outlook, a cultural disgust at anything to do with the UK military. We make no apologies for this even if it looks disrespectful it is a natural outworking of having a full understanding of the place of the UK military in maintaining global imperialism.

All left wing people are against the monarchy, by definition (it was the original definition of what it meant to be 'left wing'). The monarchy is the epitome of unearned and undeserved wealth and it encourages nationalism as opposed to identifying with the global working class' interests. It's a relic of the feudal past which has no place in the present or in our future. The royal family are figureheads for nationalism and sometimes participate directly in the imperialist wars this country fights in order to inspire others to do the same. They also have a central role in our political system - not primarily through exercising their will personally but due to the fact that the power of the crown is absolute, the crown is sovereign and it's power can be wielded through the monarch's 'prime minister' in an absolutist anti-democratic fashion (such as deciding to drag the whole country into war without consulting anyone).

Traditionally the royal family has been a bastion of reactionary views (racism, sexism etc.) and have slowed progress in combating these views in society at large. More recently they have attempted to clean up their image. A key difference between left wingers and modern 'liberals' is a refusal to be taken in by a facade. The left will settle for nothing less than abolition!

Again, similarly to the above anti-military outlook, the anti-monarchist position becomes a cultural outlook for the left, with songs and art about it's abolition being celebrated and a tendency to be disgusted when faced with anything to do with royalty.

Internationalism/ Anti-nationalism
As already hinted at, anti-nationalism is very important to the left. The false idea that working people have common interests with the wealthy people who run the country and become rich from exploiting their hard work is dangerous and is the main idea competing with socialism for the hearts and minds of the working class.

Anti-nationalism can also become a part of a left wing cultural outlook too and will include a derision of national flags, anthems and other symbols and often a lack of enthusiasm for national sports teams which only seem to reinforce the vertical lines than divide us up by race and by nation pitting us all against each other and obscure the horizontal lines of class.

Some people find this a stumbling block, where would people get their sense of identity from without national pride? Elitist liberals claim that we should look to ourselves as individuals for the source of our pride insisting that the unenlightened working class only embrace nationalism because we're all personal failures. This is bollocks, the left offers alternatives. From pride in the history of our movements, pride in what we've achieved to things like anti-fascist sports teams to get behind, we cheer on huge protest marches and when someone 'sticks it to the man' we're all behind them. There is a place for solidarity and pride on the left, in things we've all done and made together and it's much more meaningful that basing in on 'the nation'.

The left wing are primarily concerned with efforts to unite the global working class and overthrow capitalism. It isn't possible to do this without addressing the internal issues within the global working class such as the oppression of women by men or the oppression of people of colour by white people and other forms of bigotry. Global working class unity cannot be done on the terms of the relatively privileged sections of working class, it must include everyone and it has to be something that we sort out for ourselves this is about working class solidarity, not learning upper class manners.

The left wing have a particular understanding that the roots of racism lie within the capitalist system itself. Capitalism produces huge amounts of wealth and technological innovation in comparison to it's predecessor feudalism - whilst it still gets to a point where it hampers further development and is incapable of sharing out the fruits of the development fairly. For a variety of reasons (none of them involving any inherent superiority of the people) capitalism and industrial development began in countries where the majority of the population were had pale skin. This led to the conceptual invention of a 'white' race and other races of 'black' people and brown people. Racist ideas about the superiority of white people were invented in order to justify the imperialist empire building of the European and North American capitalist states. These made it easier to convince white people within them to fight and kill people of colour from other countries in wars where necessary. Racist ideas also helped to convince them to move away from any ideas that they might have common interests with the global working class and instead to believe that they were special and superior to others which in turn helped them to accept their lot as being relatively poor and powerless themselves in comparison to the rich and powerful people who ran their countries.

Capitalism requires a massive industrial workforce. When industrial development occurs families no longer work within their own homes or on their own land together but go elsewhere to factories and offices and down mines etc. In general men have traditionally gone out to do these kinds of jobs and have been encouraged to think of their wives at home as a free source of labour to look after their needs, bear them children, raise and educate the children  as well as often having to do other, less well paid and less secure jobs. This has caused men to view women as less than equally human - as objects to be used, which also encourages sexual violence and objectification of women.

In terms of both racism and feminism the left has sometimes struggled to find unity and at times both men and white people within the left have been guilty of only very superficially abandoning the ideas they were initially socialised into - i.e. to feel superior to everyone else. In general though the left has attempted to form an anti-racist and anti-sexist cultural outlook challenging assumptions, sexist and racist jokes and traditionally having an aversion to using things like pornography or paying women for sex as these are seen as a product of women's oppression and objectification

Whenever fascism rears it's ugly head championing racism, sexism, nationalism and any other form of bigotry they can dream up - the UK left are there on the front line actually doing something about it. Whether that has meant volunteering to fight Franco in the Spanish civil war, volunteering to fight ISIS with the Kurds in the Middle East or showing up on the streets of towns and cities all across the UK when a mob of fascist bullies comes out we're always there.

Perhaps more than any other strand of what it means to be left wing anti-fascism has had the biggest cultural impact. Anti-fascist bands, boxers, festivals, sports clubs etc. etc. are popular across the left.

The left are usually passionate environmentalists. Environmentalism is relatively new in comparison to a lot of the other positions we hold most of which have their roots in the 19th century. Environmentalism only really took root as a key issue in the late 20th century - the reasons for this are that it was at this time when human activity reached a state where it was at genuine risk of destroying the natural ecosystem of the planet and also the point at which our scientific capabilities reached a point where we could understand what was happening. The left are not the only ones who care about the environment - you'll find conservatives and liberals chatting about it too and attempting to recycle more or buy more sustainable products. The left takes the fight to where it matters - capitalist corporations destroying the planet that we all share in common to make private profits.

Abandon culture based on plastic nationalism, twee ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman, race etc. embrace a left wing culture and feel part of something real.

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