One thing that made me see a different side to the Convention of the Left – to socialist meetings in general, in fact – was speaking to the anarchists who’d come along for the ride. They were simply amazed at how unproductive our meetings were – and with good reason. ‘There’s just no structure,’ said one (somewhat ironically, I thought). ‘It’s full of political showboating – nothing actually gets organised,’ added another.
They had a point. As ever, I had to sit through hours and hours of the same old cliches to get to the interesting bits (one contributor suggested taking a tip from Just a Minute by banning hesitation, deviation or repetition – if only). As ever, people got up and flogged their pet issues to death with no regard for the topic of the meeting (vegetarianism, fiat currency, Palestine … it all gets dragged up at random). And, as ever, people made about ten ‘last points’ after the chair had told them to shut up.
Robin Sivapalan of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty praised the anarchists he had worked with while campaigning against immigration controls, and said we should learn from their methods: ‘They get things done. They show agreement and dissent collectively.’ Most socialists write consensus methods off as ‘that stupid hand-waving thing’, but consensus is a serious framework for organising practical action. In other words: it works.
If we’re talking about building the broadest possible left forums, then we should note that every socialist who spoke about working with anarchists agreed that their meetings are far more advanced and effective than ours. They have clearly set out ways to encourage participation, make plans, keep records and work through conflicts – much better than just getting a bunch of people in a room and giving them two minutes each to harangue the audience. Putting a proper structure in place moves a meeting away from being a never-ending debate and towards becoming a useful organising forum.
As things stand, we are too often obsessed with gazing at our own navels, refusing to set to do anything until we’ve checked and critiqued it for ideological purity (and damn, arguing about whether a campaign is ‘cross-class’ or not is dull). Concrete proposals are given far lower priority than discussion. Facilitation isn’t taken seriously enough (although the convention is better in this respect than most lefty get-togethers). Speakers preach to the converted when they could be building real networks and proposing united action – the decisions about dates and methods are left to party offices or individual whim rather than collective self-organisation.
Centralist methods can certainly build big demonstrations – you just ring your members up and tell them where to be and when – but they also tend to breed unhealthy organisations that fall into a rut and stop being open to new ideas. A member of Socialist Resistance caused controversy today when he proposed ‘treating sectarians like scabs’, meaning that anyone who didn’t go along with majority decisions would be vilified and abused. I can understand why frustrated activists might feel that way – but, if you ask me, we really need to look for better ways of working.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
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The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
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Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
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Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
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Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
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The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
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Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
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Social Workers Without Borders
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The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
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Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
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Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
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Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
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Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
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Utopia: Work less play more
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Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
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