Magazine article The Spectator

How the Left Eats Itself, Part III

Magazine article The Spectator

How the Left Eats Itself, Part III

Article excerpt

The left will always tear itself apart rather than face its true foes

At the start of the 21st century, no one felt the need to reach for studies of 'third-period' communism to understand British and American politics. By 2016, I would say that they have become essential.

Admittedly, connoisseurs of the communist movement's crimes have always thought that 1928 was a vintage year. The Soviet Union had decided that the first period after the glorious Russian revolution of 1917 had been succeeded by a second period, when the West fought back. But now, comrades, yes, now in the historic year of 1928, Stalin had ruled that we were entering a 'third period' when capitalism would die in its final crisis. As the Wall Street crash was only months away, this was not as fanciful as it seemed.

The strategy for hastening its fall was suicidal, however. No compromise was possible with anyone who stood in history's path. Reformists were opportunists and traitors. Social democrats were social fascists; as bad as the Nazi gangs which were already gathering on Berlin streets. Or perhaps worse. For at least the fascists were honest in their way. The parliamentarians and the compromisers were sneaks who had been 'bribed by the bourgeoisie' to deceive the masses, as no less an authority than Lenin had said.

When Stalin's enemy, Leon Trotsky, who was hardly a moderate, warned that instructing left-wingers to fight other left-wingers was a sure way of allowing fascism to 'ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank', Ernst Thälmann, the leader of the German communist party, denounced him for his 'criminal counter-revolutionary propaganda'.

The Soviet Union admitted 'third period' communism had failed in 1934, for reasons anyone who knows who took power in Germany in 1933 can guess.

That seemed to be that. A warning of the dangers of sectarian delusion, no doubt, but one from so long ago it was of historical interest only.

Not so. And not so long ago. Substitute 'Blairite' or 'neo-liberal' for 'social fascist' or 'criminal counter-revolutionary' and a large section of 2016's Anglo-Saxon left is back in 1928. The red Tories and establishment liberals are as bad as or worse than real Tories or Republicans, they say. The City or Wall Street has bribed them. At this moment of economic and political crisis, they are the true villains, who stand in the way of the people's victory.

I can see how they got that way, as I have been that way myself. I could write you a book on what is wrong with Hillary Clinton, and did in fact write several books on what was wrong with Tony Blair. What I said was true, I hope. But I cannot deny that it left the worst of my readers with an unwarranted feeling of superiority. They could say that they had seen through the spin. Unlike the manipulated sheeple the establishment herded into polling booths, they were sophisticated enough to know there was no difference between the major parties.

Let us accept that, if you want to shift the consensus, you have to change your own side first. Let us also accept that on most issues, differences between the major parties can be small. In normal times, left- or right-wingers hoping for change can live with their opponents in power for a term or two while they concentrate on moving their party. Live with it, that is, until the times veer away from them, and leave their supposed sophistication in shreds. …

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