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Beyond the usual fragments

Red Pepper has always been about more than radical journalism. Our origins lie in the extraordinary movement that converged across parties, movements, identities and geography to support the mining communities. The Chesterfield Socialist Conferences, and then the Socialist Movement, attempted to realise the potential of this convergence. As its limits became apparent, we created Red […]

March 29, 2009
5 min read

Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper

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Red Pepper has always been about more than radical journalism. Our origins lie in the extraordinary movement that converged across parties, movements, identities and geography to support the mining communities. The Chesterfield Socialist Conferences, and then the Socialist Movement, attempted to realise the potential of this convergence. As its limits became apparent, we created Red Pepper as a fexible, open and modest contribution

towards the same goal.

This movement of the 1980s, with its roots in industrial trade unions and the

Labour left, can never be recreated. Mrs Thatcher and Neil Kinnock saw to that. But an equivalent movement of resistance and alternatives has to be built, able to stand up to the consequences of both global depression and the environmental crisis with convincing alternatives – but in the context of a fragmented working class, and in the absence of any adequate political voice.

People are recognising the urgency of this challenge – see the Green New Deal, the People’s Charter launched last month, the No Going Back debate initiated by Compass and the continuing work of the Convention of the Left, to name just a few.

It has become clear that, apart from bringing forward a few infrastructural

projects, government policy is focused ruthlessly on strengthening and

rationalising the private banking system and sitting out the social

consequences of the recession, as if it is some natural disaster for which trauma therapy and advice is all that politicians can provide (see David Harvey).

The kinds of policies we need – an expansion of public services, turning the

banks into public utilities and a radical green conversion programme – require a radical shift in the balance of social and economic power towards working people, constraining capitalist elites and requiring governments to respond to the needs of the majority. !is was the condition for the Keynesianism of the postwar years.

The problem now is to build a new sources of power for egalitarian and

democratic politics in the wake of the destruction of so many of the traditional – and emerging – sources of collective leverage for such values. !e fundamental question, then, is what are the social forces and configuration of social forces on which a new left politics can be based?

Thus the issue for the left at this moment is not only one of political

representation. There is a crisis of political representation. The gulf between the political class and public opinion has grown dramatically. But to be an effective instrument of social change, a political organisation of the left – whether a part of the Labour Party, the Green Party, nationalist parties or some new hybrid political organisation – needs to be connected to social forces rooted in the struggles of daily life against oppression and injustice. To illustrate the point: the Labour Party was founded as a party of

the trade unions, and the Workers Party of Brazil emerged from an alliance of

industrial unions, the landless movement and urban social movements.

Trade unions will clearly be central to any new configuration of social forces

underpinning a new politics. But they will play a different, more intrinsically political role, requiring a wider range of allies. This is partly a result of the transformation of labour, as the mobility of capital and deregulation has enabled employers to break up union organisation, casualise the labour market and use new technologies to intensify exploitation. This process

has led people to create new, including global, forms of organisation, new allies beyond the workplace and new strategic thinking.

It’s also a matter of a different approach to society-wide policies – on

public services, international issues, industrial strategy and so on. Historically,

on all but employment issues, unions delegated matters to the parliamentary

Labour Party, via conference resolutions and ‘beer and sandwiches’. As this

relationship is reduced to ritual, activists engaged in real change are building alliances through which trade unions themselves take responsibility, with others, for alternative policies and seek out new, direct sources of political leverage.

These kinds of social foundations for a new politics are beneath the mainstream radar – and too often the radar of the left. A focus on bringing together those already politically active is therefore not enough. We need rather to be engaged with the day-to-day disaffection in working class communities and with the ways in which activists not even born at the time of the miners’ strike are experimenting with a radical and egalitarian politics, whether or not they call it socialism.

It is here that Red Pepper, as means of communication and inquiry, should

be useful. But we need your help: first your reports on experiences of resistance and alternatives (e-mail resistance[at]; secondly your becoming a supporting subscriber and helping us promote the magazine and thereby the new politics that you, our readership, are trying to create.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper

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