More than 30 years since Beyond the Fragments (BTF) was originally published, it is being reprinted with one new chapter by each of the original authors. The old part of the book is a historic document: it reflects the state of the English left at the time. All three authors were then preoccupied with the institutional structures required to realise a socialism that reflected the creativity of the women’s movement while also securing the power to effect societal change. The new chapters reflect on the rationale for the original book, its subsequent reception and the political changes that have occurred since.
The original BTF represented a plea for the established left traditions of socialist organisation – focused on theory, the party (both Leninist or social democratic), the state, fixed notions of class and internal discipline – to embrace the energy and creativity of this new non-authoritarian grassroots politics to create a socialist society. BTF was part of a wider debate between the old and the new left during the 1970s. The authors wanted the new autonomous organisations to find a way of linking up together – moving beyond the fragments – in order to secure the power to make structural societal change.
Lynne Segal highlighted the key innovations of the post-1968 radicalism: autonomy and new forms of participatory democracy; the importance of personal relationships (‘living your politics’); learning from your own experience and action; and a related rejection of vanguardism. This new left developed alongside the women’s movement with its focus on consciousness-raising, individual creativity and expression and practical action. Writing today, Segal remembers ‘a myriad of local community resource centres, campaigning groups and radical trade unionists, all intermingled with the burgeoning women’s, gay, black and ethnic minority movements’. BTF reflected the extent to which this grassroots political creativity had to confront other forms of radical organisation.
With hindsight it is clear that the autonomous radical movements came to exert very profound influence over the cultural politics of the late 20th century without the need for any unity on the left, or indeed, even any left at all. On some issues, as illustrated by the contemporary Conservative Party’s commitment to gay marriage, the influence of autonomous identity politics stretches right across the political spectrum. Certainly, the energy of those times has gone on to effect social change, but alongside a dramatic decline in the left (and any talk of socialism).
Today’s political activists are even more wary of left-wing political parties than their radical forebears were in 1979. But this is not necessarily the case everywhere. Hilary Wainwright, in her new chapter, highlights experiences in Latin America and Greece where there are ongoing attempts to create new kinds of political parties rooted in, and learning from, local social movements. Sheila Rowbotham notes that BTF’s original focus on political parties may mean that today’s activists are likely to find much of the original book incomprehensible – albeit that political representation remains important – and to be fair, even in the late 1970s, relatively few people would have understood all of the detail about the Communist Party, the International Marxist Group, the Socialist Workers Party and Big Flame!
In her new chapter, Lynne Segal highlights the extent to which she and her co-authors under-estimated the challenges involved in getting people from new movements to connect to each other to effect structural change. Part of the challenge was that many of these people were already politicised; they already knew what they wanted to achieve and in many cases, they also had an ideological commitment to the way they would act. Without a genuine openness to the possibilities of working together, any shared arena would necessarily become a confrontational and sectarian affair.
So while BTF reminds us of the ways in which the post-1968 radicalism exemplified the power of relationships, the importance of personal experience and the potential of collective creativity, the question of what further elusive ingredients are necessary to realise an effective coalition for transformative political change still remains.
Over the past decade I have worked with the broad-based community organisation, London Citizens, comprising local groups that are committed to working together. In this form of politics relationships are forged over shared interests – for a living wage or genuinely affordable housing – and differences are put to one side. Being open to other traditions of organisation and being genuinely non-sectarian is essential to any success. To this extent, the women’s movement was right to focus on the practices of relationship-building. Such is the ground on which politics can and will move beyond the fragments of experience, identification and organisation.
Red Pepper is volunteer led and we rely on your support to be here. We strive to counter right-wing myths, to provide a space for debate across the left and to put forward alternatives ideas for a more just society. Please support independent media at this crucial time while we face environmental crises and the destruction of the welfare state, become a Friend of Red Pepper today.
In return, you’ll receive a subscription to the magazine plus invitations to events. To claim your free book email email@example.com to arrange delivery.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
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